Originally written for an English Language AS Level piece, this is the most recently updated version of Tyler Turner’s original short story ‘Pray-Ground‘.
Shane, shrouded in trepidation, drank in the scene around him with reluctant awe. A sea of pews stretched out before his eyes, supporting masses of hollowed out human corpses all praying to a God that could no longer save them.
Proceeding the dawning of the apocalypse, the world had morphed into one titanic battle ground. Humans, now in their minority, had resorted to primitive methods of survival. Men who were once valued by society now scavenged the streets like rodents, and children were mothered by squalor and disease. For many, crime was the new deity; something they turned to in times of doubt and despair.
People were disappearing in their dozens. The authorities didn’t act on the reports as they saw it as fewer mouths to feed and fewer degenerates to deal with. Shane, revolted by their corrupt philosophy and overpowered by his own curiosity, took it upon himself to investigate.
After much digging, Shane had uncovered that the victims were strict Christians or recent religious converts who had decided to seek refuge in the church. He had also deduced that they had all vanished on Sundays and were last seen entering the austere building. Shane concluded that a conference with the old reverend was required.
Smog clung to Shane’s exposed facial flesh like a shroud. He shivered though the air was mild, trying without success to shake loose the feeling of apprehension. Exhaling the nihilism from his lungs, he set off down the withered winding road that lead to the church, unsure of what to expect from this untimely visit.
Eventually, Shane found himself at the foot of the hill upon which the church was erected. Wind whistled through the rusted gate that stood menacingly between him and his destination, thrashing it around violently and creating a threatening ethereal rattle. Shane grasped it with both hands and thrust through, plunging himself grudgingly into the graveyard. Tombstones scattered the area, jutting out of the ground like strewn shrapnel. The door of the building seemed to stretch further and further away with each step.
After an endlessly anxious trek up the hill, Shane had finally reached the entrance. The grand oak door was left slightly ajar. He gently nudged it further open.
At first Shane didn’t understand the scene he was observing. The victims all looked forward in unison, their backs to the unknowing spectator. The realization struck him like a bullet. Every fibre in his body screamed at him to get out or to be shortly re-acquainted with the contents of his stomach. Despite this, he swallowed hard and continued down the aisle, daring to glance down at the glassy eyes staring blankly onwards as he went. Looking up, he noticed that the usual religious relics and artefacts you would expect to find mounted on the walls of a church had been replaced with unearthly equipment of torture. Pickled human body parts had been rammed into glass jars and displayed like trophies all around the room.
“Joel chapter two: verse thirty to thirty two.”
Shane’s heart jolted at the sound of the gravelly voice that greeted him. He studied the room for a source and soon noticed an older man, possibly early sixties, clothed in torn old reverend’s attire, leaning against the door to the bell tower. He was reading from a Bible.
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the Earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The Sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the Moon into blood,
Before the coming great and awesome Day of the Lord,
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the Name of the lord…” Illinstorf paused and smiled sadistically. “Shall be saved.”
“Rev-Reverend Illinstorf?” Shane called out, trying with great futility to steady the tremor in his voice. Illinstorf bowed his head and idly drew nearer his guest.
“What the hell is going on here, Illinstorf?”
“Mass, communion, call it what you will.” He slid a flask out of his pocket and took a swig. He was evidently intoxicated. “What’s on your mind, Shane? You here to repent for your sins?”
Shane’s jaw hung limp, causing him to mumble numbly, “I think you’re the one who ought to be repenting.”
“Yes, yes I’m sure, I’m sure.” The smile stretched further on Illinstorf’s lips, threatening to split the already splintered skin. “But is it really a sin, if it was ordered by God himself?”
Perplexed, Shane paused, considering the question. As he did, Illinstorf reached out to the lifeless shell of a girl sat rigid in the front pew and delicately caressed her face.
“Magnificent aren’t they?” his inquired melodically. “Yes, God did ask this of me. He came to me in a dream in the form of a beautiful white shining light, and told me that Lucifer had broken free from his prison in Hell and had unsheathed the apocalypse in the process. He told me that only I had the power to send that monster back from whence he came. Me, of all God’s children! Me!”
“So what’s with all this?” Shane gestured towards their audience with a sneering grimace.
“An awful shame, that’s what. I took no pleasure in betraying the trust of God’s people. One after another, plunging daggers into their hearts, blowing out their brains, hacking through their gristly neck bones… But alas, I had no choice.”
“But these were good, innocent people… th-they were scared!” Shane barked, feeling the bile return to the back of his throat. “I’m taking you to the police.”
“No. I saw all of this in one of the dreams. You can’t take me away tonight for I shall hand myself in tomorrow. You see, in the dream I handed myself in and I was covered in blood. Black blood. Your blood. You won’t be leaving tonight… Lucifer.”
Shane choked. “You think I’m Lucifer? You’re insane.”
Considering the possibility, Illinstorf shrugged.“Perhaps so, though God is not.” He took another swig from his flask and wiped the moisture off his mouth with the back of his gnarled hand. “God said that the sheer power it had taken to conjure the apocalypse had stripped the Devil of his essence and had forced him to refuel by latching himself onto the nearest strong human vessel he could find. The vessel wouldn’t even be aware of his presence, but the aura of something as diabolically evil as the scene you see around you would naturally draw him to it. Of course he remains dormant within you for now, but once his rage drives you to make that first kill, he will wake within you. The Devil will wake within you and continue his work… I’m here to prevent that from happening.”
Suspense polluted the air; the two men acted as fiery furnaces, chugging plumes of disoriented fear, confusion and elation into the atmosphere which swelled with decay.
Not daring to prise his eyes from his opponent, Illinstorf drew out a sword and studied it with his fingers. He ran a decrepit thumb along the blade, breaking the skin and producing a fine trial of deep vermilion as he did so. Shane watched him, bewildered.
That sadistic smile slithered across the reverend’s lips a second time. Then, without warning, Illinstorf plunged forward with astonishing speed. He was a whirlwind of distorted colour that collided with Shane, bringing him to the ground before he had chance to brace himself. Illinstorf sprawled out on top of him with the blade of the sword pressed horizontally against his chin. Shane gripped the blade, trying to depress the force working against him; he felt his palms prickle with a cocktail of blood and sweat. Illinstorf straddled him, and thrust the blade harder upwards, nicking the skin of his jaw. Shane managed to pull his knees up to his chest and he pushed the old man off him with ferocious force, sending him flying into one of the pews and almost knocking him unconscious. Shane ran over to him and retrieved the sword resting loosely in the reverend’s grasp.
“See you in Hell.” Shane made the promise as he plunged the sword deep into the reverend’s chest. His mind fogged with rage, his senses distilled. Biting his own lip, he burrowed the blade deeper and deeper into the old man’s heart, watching persistently as blood bubbled out of Illinstorf’s open mouth, along with his last ounces of breath.
Shane marvelled triumphantly as the reverend’s eyes rolled into the back of his skull, exposing the sepia whites. Shakily, Shane unplugged the sword and dropped it to the ground with a clatter before falling to his knees. The taste of iron lingered on his lips.
Within the following hour, Shane has returned safely to the bomb-blistered communal refuge he sheltered in with his wife. He regurgitated to her the events of the evening, not sparing her of the gruesome details. She bestowed no less than a dozen kisses on the bridge of his nose and lectured him about how lucky he was to be alive.
“You have to be more careful, you let your curiosity get the better of you every time!” She had wailed.
“I’ll be more cautious from now on.” He replied. “If I’m not more careful in the future, my reckless behaviour will be sure to get me sent back to perdition.”
“Perdition? Shane, what are you-”
Her jaw fell slack as she looked up and noticed that her husband’s once hazel eyes had been replaced by two vermilion orbs. The nick from the Reverend’s blade was oozing black gunk, and a sinister smile crept insidiously across his colourless lips.
By Tyler Turner