Lettie and I both stared at each other in horror.
“Have we been chosen?” Lettie asked. “To go… to go the other side? Last rites?”
“Did you not hear me?” the priest snapped.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to shake off his grip to no avail.
“Father Dane.” He stopped as we approached two large double doors. “But you already knew that. And you already know what is going to happen next.”
In your mercy and love,
Lettie and I followed Father Dane down the long aisle leading to an alter. Our pitter-patter of bare feet on tile floored echoed through the large ornately decorated room. Pews were on both sides of us made of dark wood and polished clean. A large statue of Jesus Christ paying for the sins of man mastered the room ahead of us. His eyes, with blood coursing down his stone-chiseled face, staring at me as we got closer. Warm light shown in through all the stained windows on the high arched ceiling. The Church was most likely the only beautiful thing left in this God forsaken world we lived in. Decay and rot all around, but not here.
Not here at The Church.
Jesus continued to stare at me. Could he see?
Could he see that I was a sinner? Always a nonbeliever? Could this statue see that I was a woman living in a damned reality with the hope that my sinner soul could somehow find salvation someplace else?
“What are we doing?” I whispered to Lettie as the alter got closer and closer. I could smell burning sandalwood from the candles’ flickering light.
There were two large slabs of wood on either side of the main alter that held a chalice, several silver bowls, a jeweled and carved dagger, strips of rope, and white linen fabric folded perfectly.
“Your last rites,” the priest snapped as he continued to walk ahead of us and never looked back.
Lettie looked at me and silently smiled. She was doing her best to reassure me, but failing epically at it. This didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right. Maybe it was because I was a sinner and Jesus fucking Christ wouldn’t stop staring at me.
I shook my head and mouthed the words, “No.”
She smiled again. “It’s going to be all right.”
Father Dane stopped and turned to face us when we reached the alters. “Disrobe. Completely.”
Now I knew this was wrong. To get naked as Jesus Christ continued to stare at me was just plain wrong. I didn’t need to be a churchgoer to know that getting naked in a church was just… sacrilegious or something.
When neither Lettie nor I made a move, Father Dane said, “Hurry up. There are others waiting in the intake room. I don’t have all day.”
“Do we have to get naked?” Lettie asked as she glanced my way.
“Either you want the last rites performed on you, or you don’t. What is it?” Father Dane scowled and his jaw tensed.
I really didn’t give a fuck if I was angering him or not, but I saw the pleading in Lettie’s eyes as she began to take off her clothes. She wanted this so bad. Would my defiant act of telling a priest to go fuck himself ruin her chance of crossing over to the other side? If there was such a place.
Not being able to take the look of desperate plea on Lettie’s face any longer, I removed my dingy clothes and left them in a pile at my feet next to Lettie’s. Father Dane glanced at our bodies, but not in a lecherous way that most men would have. He simply wanted to make sure we were compliant with his orders.
“Get on the alter and lay down. Put your arms over your head and spread your legs to each corner.” Father Dane wasn’t asking.
“Lettie…” I began as my heart thumped so hard it nearly knocked the air out of me.
“Hannah…” She looked at me with her big blue eyes. “This is what we came here for. It’s what we want. The other side. The afterlife people have spoke of. Remember that. Don’t be scared.”
I watched her emaciated frame crawl onto the slab of wood and spread her limbs to each corner of the alter as she waited for Father Dane’s next command. I froze in place, contemplating if I should run or do as the priest ordered. Run or die? Cross over or remain in this hell with the scratchers? End my misery or plunge right back into it by leaving The Church?
With the eyes of Jesus Christ burning upon my shivering pale flesh, I climbed on the alter and copied Lettie in her actions.
Father Dane didn’t waste any time as he took the rope and secured my wrists and ankles to metal hooks on the edges of the alters. I was spread wide and now completely exposed and vulnerable in front of the gawking statue I had grown to hate. But Jesus wasn’t alone in watching down upon me now. I could see Virgin Mary casting her judgment on me as well as statues of other saints I couldn’t name because I was a sinner and didn’t know more than church 101 for sinners.