Two weeks after my roommate’s boyfriend moved in, I started taking my evening meals in the diner two doors down from our building on Wilson Street. It was the only way I could get any peace; Cody didn’t know what the word ‘quiet’ meant, and the TV was permanently tuned to the sports channels. He ate like a pig at a trough, and Lesley was too grateful to have a boyfriend to say anything.
The diner was the kind of place where the staff know the regulars, and no one talks unless they have something to say. I started sitting at one of the tables by the window, my netbook open in front of me, where I could write and watch the street as I ate. I often stayed an hour or so after I’d finished eating, and Phyllis would ply me with black coffee and nibbles.
The Wilson Street Mission was across the road from the diner. People would drop by alone or in pairs every night, but on a Wednesday, a whole congregation would turn up. I’d watch maybe fifty people pile into that old red brick building, and at 7:30pm sharp, the doors would close, and I’d watch the light show against the stained glass windows at the front of the Mission. By the time I left an hour later, they were all still in there.
I watched this go on for a month – one night, I even tried to see if they were still there at midnight, but our apartment was on the wrong side of the building, and I didn’t want to venture into our street so late at night.
One Wednesday night, as Phyllis was taking away my soup bowl and pouring me another coffee, I asked her about it. She shook her head at me.
“No, I don’t know nothin’ about that Mission there, ‘cept it does a lotta good work for folk in this neighbourhood.”
“Why’s it so busy on a Wednesday?”
“I guess the pastor got somethin’ special to say.”
I knew Phyllis wasn’t telling me everything but there was nothing I could do – if she didn’t want to tell me, then I couldn’t make her. I decided to stay a little later that night – the diner closed at 10pm, so I settled down with my coffee, and a slice of cheesecake, and started writing.
The diner was empty by 9, and Phyllis went home, leaving just Cathy working the front. Marco pottered around out back, bursting into snippets of opera he’d picked up back home. Cathy never spoke to anyone, so I didn’t bother asking her about the Mission, and she didn’t ask why I was working late. She just brought me another coffee, and went back to cleaning the counter.
My intention had been to see when the congregation left the Mission, but I got engrossed in my work and forgot to look. I’d made good progress on my novel when Cathy coughed, and looked at the clock. 9:55pm. I nodded, shut down my netbook, and paid my check. As I left the diner, I noticed the Mission’s doors were still closed, and the light behind the stained glass windows was throwing coloured shapes across the road. A chorus of singing voices filled the late night air, and echoed along the empty street. It sounded beautiful and haunting at the same time, and I couldn’t stop myself from crossing the road.
The information board outside the Mission featured special events or forthcoming visits by doctors and priests, but it was blank for Wednesday night. I tried to look through one of the windows but they were too high up in the wall. The singing definitely came from inside, but the congregation sounded like a lot more than just fifty people.
On a whim, I tried the door. The handle stuck at first, but I put all my weight on it, and the door opened. I pushed it inwards with my fingertips, hanging back in case anyone came to see what I wanted. I expected someone to rush over and send me packing, but no one came. Feeling bolder, I poked my head around the edge of the door.
I expected to see a congregation, enraptured and following an enthusiastic pastor, with bright lights shining behind him, lights that I could see outside through the stained glass. Instead, the building was empty and in darkness. I figured it would be like the old soup kitchen four blocks over, but it was laid out like a theatre. A layer of dust covered the velvet flip seats that faced a platform at the end of the room – no one had been inside for years.
I couldn’t hear the singing any more, or see the light, so I turned to leave. The door swung shut in my face, and the darkness swallowed me up. I felt around on the door for the handle, but there was nothing on the inside, just smooth black wood. Suddenly, a voice broke the silence.
“Good evening, Celine. We’ve been expecting you.”
A hand touched my shoulder and I screamed.
I’ve been screaming ever since.