The old one-room white church was located on the top of a long hill that overlooked the valley and the countryside beyond. Originally, at the turn of the century, this site had been chosen for their house of worship because the elders in the tiny, Vermont village believed that because this place was the highest in the area, then it must be closer to God and if they built their church on the highest hill, surely God would notice and would answer their every prayer.
Anyone driving by the aging church on that chilly fall evening in nineteen fifty-three, upon seeing the flickering light in the stained glass windows, might have paused to wonder for a brief moment what was going on in the old dilapidated building at that time of night.
If they had stopped and rolled down their window, they would have heard the strong north wind soughing in the tall pines behind the church and felt the threat of impending winter in the frigid Vermont air. Looking up and seeing the clouds scudding across the face of the pale moon would have put a feeling of dread into anyone's soul and sent them scurrying for home and a warm bed as though the Devil himself was after them. After all, a church is the last place that anyone would suspect as a place of evil but it was there all the same.
It had been three years since Father Conner, the new priest, had come to the small town of Ashley and had found his way to their church. The townsfolk who still attended the newer Catholic Church in town were thankful that Father had chosen their town out of all the others that must have begged the Bishop to send a new priest. He was young, tall and quite handsome with dark, auburn hair and grey eyes. He had the smooth white skin of his Irish ancestors and his manner was humble and pleasing to the folks in the parish.
Seeing the flickering, yellow light in the old church, most of the townsfolk would have probably just shrugged and thought that the young priest must be prayin real hard for all the lost souls in this little valley and continued on their way. But, if one of them had chanced to look through the window on that cold and lonely wind-blown night, they would have seen a truly shocking sight.
Lying on the worn-out rug of the alter floor was the silent, naked form of one of the town's young girls. Arranged, around the girl's body to form the sign of the trinity were three candles, and every now and then, a draft of air in the cold room, caused the candles to flicker, burn low and nearly go out. Kneeling beside her, head bent in prayer, was the young priest. He was also naked and his bare white skin flashed in the flickering candle light as he moved silently around the girl's body.
Finishing the lengthy prayer, the priest made the sign of the cross over the young girl and then carefully, he began to bathe her. Dipping the cloth in a chipped, white enamel basin, he wrung out the excess water and tenderly drew the wet cloth over her lovely face. Then he washed her long, golden hair in the basin and dried it. All the while he was performing this cleaning ritual; he was singing the Ave Maria in a very soft voice. He carefully cleaned the rest of her and when he'd finished, he rubbed oil, scented with roses, into the soft skin of her body.
Satisfied, that she was now ready, he rose, walked over to the alter and picked up the small bottle of Holy Water. He pulled the stopper out of the clear, glass vial and then, he recited the Lord's Prayer as he slowly sprinkled the drops of clear liquid all over her naked form. He poured a small amount of the cool water onto her forehead and using his thumb and forefinger, he gently made the sign of the cross on the smooth skin. Then, he moved down to her slightly rounded belly where he again dribbled a small amount of the Holy Water and made the sign of the cross on her taunt skin. He knelt, kissed her gently on the forehead and she was pure once again. Now she was ready for God.
Standing, he walked over to the small closet that was located in the corner of the sacristy office, opened the door and withdrew a couple of clean white robes and an alter cloth. He quickly carried these back to the body and knelt down beside it. The priest slid one hand under the silent form to lift her and with his other hand; he slipped the pure white vestment over her head, down over her body and adjusted it. Then, he laid a robe that had a large cross embroidered in gold thread over her and carefully folded it under her pretty chin and smoothed out any wrinkles in the cloth as he moved down the length of her body. Next, he tucked the rest of the robe under her small, pale feet.
He stood, shook out the long alter cloth and lifting her slightly again, he began wrapping her slender body very tightly with the cotton cloth. Finally, when he was finished, her body was completely enclosed in a pure, white shroud with only her lovely, silent face still showing. He knelt and gently pressed her dark lashed lids down over her deep blue eyes and then he caressed her face with his long fingers for just a moment. He gently kissed her pale lips and rising once again, he walked to the alter and began the ceremony for the consecration of the dead.
At the end of the long prayer ritual, he shook open a large, black plastic trash bag and being careful not to disturb the shroud, he slid the still form into the bag, twisted the plastic until it was nice and airtight and then he tied it closed. He took another bag and slid it over the first, tied it and then he was done. There was nothing more that he could do for her. Now it was up to God.
He quickly threw on his vestments and wiped his arm across his tired eyes. He knelt, picked up the plastic covered body and cradling it close to his chest, as a mother would hold a child, carried her into the sacristy and out the door to the small storage shed that was located directly behind the church. He walked past the ramshackle shed to the ancient graveyard that was located in the vacant overgrown field off to the right of the church.
The stone markers in the graveyard were cracked and moss covered and they stood like silent sentinels in the weak moonlight, a ghostly reminder of the poor souls who had gone before. Most of the tombstones dated to pre-Revolutionary War and the one that he stopped before was dated November first, eighteen fifty-three, exactly one hundred years ago. This old graveyard was never used any more, now that there was a newer one closer to the new Catholic Church in town and he knew that this was the perfect place to bury her. "Nobody in their right mind would ever dream of looking for a body in a graveyard." he thought to himself.
Father Conner held the soft body closer to him for a couple of seconds as though he was reluctant to part with it. Then he laid her down on the wet, leaf covered grass. He hurried back to the storage shed and returned carrying a large shovel and an old burlap sack to hold the extra earth that he needed to remove from the grave. He carefully cut out the sod that covered the top of the burial place and laid it to one side. He would replace the sod on the original grave when he's finished burying the girl. He scraped aside the heavy, moldy earth and began the task of digging down into the other person's grave. It was a difficult work and he didn't stop until he was finished.
Satisfied that he could easily fit the small body into place, he lifted the girl and slid her plastic covered form down inside the dark hole. Then he knelt beside the grave and said a short prayer. "Holy Father, I pray that you will accept this poor soul into your heavenly home. Her time on earth is through and she and her child deserve the peace that they could not find in this sinful place. I pray that you will accept this ultimate sacrifice that I have made in your name and you will record this act in my heavenly journal. In your name, I pray, accept Holly Lynn Chambers and her unborn child into your home and forever may they reside with you, in Paradise until the end of time. Amen."
The priest made the sign of the cross and standing once again, picked up the dirt encrusted shovel and began the task of filling in the grave. Then, he knelt in the wet grass and began replacing the sod back over the dark soil. Satisfied that the newly dug grave wouldn't be detected because of something that he had forgotten to do, he stood once more and made the sign of the cross. Without a backward glance, he walked away towards the back of the storage shed, dragging the dirt covered shovel and the half-filled sack of leftover dirt behind him.
He hung the shovel on a rusty nail that had been pounded into the wall of the storage shed and dumped the extra dirt onto the ground behind it. Satisfied that he'd done all that he could, he returned to the room behind the sacristy. He removed his dirty clothes and then he poured clean water into the basin that he'd used to bathe the girl and began washing himself.
When he was finished, naked, he walked into the church and prostrated himself in front of the alter, in the age old sign of repentance and he sighed deeply. This day was done at last. She was his first and he was certain, she wouldn't be his last. He'd made a promise to his God when he'd become a priest to keep the world as pure as he could and he'd kept it. Exhausted, he fell asleep there on the floor of the old church. A shaft of light from the sliver of cold moon, shining through the old windows, slid across his naked body making his alabaster skin gleam just like the body of the plaster figure hanging from the cross on the wall high above his head.
When he finally awoke early the next morning, cold and shivering, he glanced at the wan sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. The weather had changed during the night. "There might still be a chance of an Indian summer before we are once again inundated with snow," he thought to himself as he drew his cramped body into a sitting position.
Hearing the sound of the old clock in the back of the church strike five, he scrambled to his feet and hurried to dress. He knew that there would be long days ahead and many questions to answer. But, he smiled at his reflection in the cracked mirror that hung over the sink in the bathroom. "I'm ready! I'm more than ready to do the work of the Lord!" he swore to himself and to his God.
It was three days before the town was aware that the girl was really missing and Father Conner heard many different versions of her sudden disappearance. Some folks thought that she'd been picked up by a trucker headed south. Another version was that she'd gone to visit her sister who lived in the neighboring state of Connecticut and another was that she'd gotten herself "knocked up" and she'd gone across the border into Canada to get rid of the baby.
The two-cop town made a big show of tryin to sort out the facts but they quickly gave up and simply listed her as a "missing person." They printed out some flyers with her picture on them, hung them in the local post office and stapled them to some of the telephone poles around town and out near the interstate and that was about it. She was just another kid who'd taken the wrong road in life, just like lots of others.
Her family kept hoping and praying that they'd hear from her and every time her name was mentioned they'd remember their loss and cry a lot. As the months slid by the pain that dwelled in their hearts eased a little and they went on. She was gone in an instant just as though she had never existed except in some people's memories and in the faded pictures in the family album.
But every year without fail, on the anniversary of her disappearance, Father Conner always remembered. He'd go to his office, pull out a long file drawer and take out a small piece of her clothing. He'd put it into a bag, address it to her family and drive to the next state to mail it.
Upon receipt of the item, her family would cry, hurry to the police station and demand that they try to find the person who kept sending them pieces of their daughter's clothing, but the police never figured out who was sending it. They knew it had to be a sociopath or maybe the girl was still alive and was just trying to torture her own family.
For her memorial service, he'd donned an exact replica of the gown that he'd buried her in and stood in front of the congregation and waited for them to settle down. Then he announced her name and the day and date of her disappearance. He'd wait for them to remember the lovely girl who'd once sat and prayed among them and then he'd lead them in prayer for the repose of her soul. At the end of the prayer, he'd recite a poem that he'd written especially for her.
I came for such a little while
To briefly stay with you
My life was filled with things I loved
So much for me to do...
I lived each day as it came to me
And I never missed the chance
To sing the songs that touched my heart
And I took the time to dance...
Don't be sad now that I've gone
For I'm in a better place
Deep in your heart you know again
You'll look upon my face...
So, look for me in moonbeams
Or in a shining star
I'll still be really close to you
Because Heaven's not that far...
"Remember," He'd say to the congregation. "Holly is always here with us. She's just a little out of sight." "Amen." He looked out at everyone and smiled as folks, hearing the meaning in his words, wiped tears from their eyes. He would never let them forget her. He and God knew where she was and truly she was just a little out of sight.
Father Conner stayed in Ashley, Vermont for twelve years before the bishop moved him on and over his forty-year career, he'd been parish priest in twelve other small New England towns. The people and their sins were pretty much the same in each and every place; the only things that changed were the names and locations of the towns. And, oh yes, over the forty years, twelve other girls went missing from some of these towns and like Holly, were never heard from again.
There was Amber in Lumberton, Vermont, Sarah in Carrolton, New Hampshire, Elaine in Portersville, New Hampshire, Sandra, Charlene and Anne in Westford, Massachusetts, Connie and Martha in Waterford, Connecticut and Carina, Allison and Nona in Waldoboro, Maine. There were several things that all of these girls had in common too. They were all young, all Catholic and all very pregnant. With every one, things got a little easier for Father Conner to do what he had to do to keep his promise he'd made to God.
After the first one he'd "saved," he could usually look out over each tiny congregation and immediately tell which girl was in trouble or who would be in trouble in the very near future. They generally had a certain air about them. Already looking like little lost souls, they'd come alone into the dimly lit church and sit in a pew way at the back. Some came to confession but most didn't. He made it a practice to check the church every hour or so to see if they were still sitting there in the same place long after everyone else had gone and they usually were. Just like a large black spider, he'd slide quietly past the pew, pretending all the while that he didn't see her sitting there.
Sometimes, he walk slowly past the kneeling girl and hearing his approach, she'd usually life her head and look at him with tear-filled eyes for a moment and then ashamed, her eyes would slide away and she'd drop her head. Father Conner would usually leave her be for a while, while he busied himself with matters within the church but he always kept a surreptitious eye on the girl.
Then, after giving her some space, he'd walk up to the pew and stop. The girl would again look up and seizing the chance, he'd begin. "Suffer the little children unto me, Jesus said." Father Conner waited for this to sink in and then he said, "All of God's children are welcome here. If you have trouble, lift your heart to God, he is always there to help you, as am I." Then, like a spider watching a fly crawl towards her trap, he, in his long black robe, patiently waited also and his trap was equally well-laid.
The distraught girl, hearing the soft words, would begin sobbing and the story that was as old as man came tumbling out. He's slide into the pew, slip an arm around her trembling shoulders and say in a gentle voice. "There, there, my poor child, all is not lost. There is still hope for you yet. Come with me, I know exactly how to help you. Trust in me and the Lord."
He'd gather the girl up and gently guide her to the sacristy office located behind the alter at the back of the church. Once there, he'd sit her down on his old sofa and prepare her a drink from a tall black bottle that he always kept at the ready in the cupboard. He never failed to look at the bottle; it had been with him since the beginning. He'd used the same concoction many times and it always had the same effect, it never failed. First a calming, then a profound sleepiness, a lasting peace and a final state of grace.
All the while the girl was sipping the heavily-laden barbiturate drink, he'd be walking back and forth in front of her, continually citing examples of the saints who'd sinned against God and who'd found their way again and been forgiven. "So," he'd say, stopping his incessant pacing and turning to her, "It's never too late. There's always hope, if you are truly repentant, my child. Trust in me and the Lord and we will find a way for you too"
If the young girl hesitated to drink the concoction, Father Conner would quickly pour himself some of the pale, blue liquid and pretend to drink along with her. Suspicion erased, by the time she'd finished the glass, there was no turning back.
As she fell, unconscious, back against the sofa, he'd grab her empty glass and place it in the sink. Then, he'd go over to the sofa and swing her body into a laying down position. He'd pace back and forth for about half and hour until he was certain that the sedatives had worked and then he'd kneel down next to her drugged form and begin to pray. It was a short prayer, for he had hours of things to do before he slept and promises to keep.
Next, he'd take a small pillow from the other end of the sofa and gently place it over the face of the comatose girl. There was no struggle. He'd simply press the pillow down over her nose and mouth and hold it firmly in place until her shallow breathing stopped. All the while he was waiting for life to cease; he'd close his eyes and pray for the girl and her child that would never be born. Guilt? He never felt guilt. He was simply keeping a promise that he'd made and he always kept his promises.
Never once, in all the years that he'd been purifying these lovely young girls and sending them on their way to God, had he ever been suspect. No one had ever seen the girls come to the church and there really wasn't any way to tie their disappearance to him.
Once it became public knowledge that a girl was missing, he simply continued on in the way that he always did. He'd promptly visit the grieving family and offer any and all assistance. He held prayer vigils and prayer chain meetings in the community. He arranged candle light ceremonies in the church for those who were too old and feeble to actively join the search parties. And he let it be known that he and God were always there to help, any time of any day or night. When weary folks patted him on the back and thanked him for all his help, Father Conner would humbly hang his head and say, "That's why God sent me to you." And that's the way it all would be.
Sometimes, late at night when he was alone with himself and his God, he'd let his mind wander back over the years and the girls. He'd lay in his lonely bed, thinking about each one and where he'd left them. He didn't consider himself a sociopath, he considered himself a savior. He never had a bad dream, a nightmare, a sleepless night. He was a man with a clear conscience. With each killing, in his own mind, he was closer to God.
By nineteen ninety-three, in the middle of April, an elderly and slightly rotund Father Conner had meandered to St. Stevens, a small predominantly Catholic settlement in northern Aroostook County, Maine. From the very first day that he'd laid eyes on the small town, he knew he was meant to be there. It was almost an exact replica of all the other small towns that he'd lived in throughout his years in the priesthood.
As in many towns in New England, the early settlers had chosen to build their town in a valley nestled between two large hills. Somehow, the early settlers thought that the surrounding hills afforded them a hint of safety from the bands of Indians that pulled surprise raids on the first inhabitants of the area.
The Aroostook River, clean and sparkling, ran along the south end of the town towards the boundary that separated St. Stevens, Maine from New Brunswick, Canada on the north. As Father Conner drove his old black Cadillac slowly down the steep hill into town, he felt as though he were coming home. The town, really, only consisted of four short streets, Main Street, Hayward Street, Morin Street and Oak Street and the population was about fifteen hundred if Bishop Jordan in Portland had been correct. It was a town supported by two industries, potatoes and logging, with lumber being the most important.
On the right side of Main Street there was Gagnon's Grocery, Michaud's Bar, Pelletier's Barber Shop and a Maine State Liquor Store and to the left was the old unused Victorian movie house, a hardware store and Tilly's Garage. "Just my kind of place," Father Conner smiled to himself and he left the center of town and drove slowly towards the large, pale yellow church that waited for him on the crest of the hill.
Gravel crunched under his tires as he pulled into the round dirt drive that ran in front of the church. Getting out, Father Conner reached into his shirt pocket and felt for the key that he'd dropped there before he'd left Portland early that morning. After seven hours of driving with only a couple of short stops for gas, coffee and the toilet, Father Conner was glad to finally come to the end of his journey.
Grasping the large, brass key in his hand, he walked slowly up the seven broad pine steps until he reached the double doors at the front of the church. He turned and looked at the beauty of the land as it rolled away to the east, and it took his breath away. He stood where he was for along time, taking in all the landscape that surrounded him. "Those old settlers certainly knew what they were doing," he thought to himself. "If your faith was slipping slightly, all you had to do was stand in this place for a little while and your belief in a higher power would be immediately restored because of the beauty of the land all around you."
He turned and pushed the tarnished key into the rusty lock and unlocked the door. He pulled the heavy oak door open and stepped into the room. A hand-built font containing a small amount of holy water stood in an alcove off to his left and he stopped and dipped his fingers in the little puddle of cool water and blessed himself. A distinct smell of dust, mold, and floor polish assailed his nostrils as he walked down the long center isle to the alter. He looked up and smiled as the late afternoon sun came streaming through the two windows on the right side of the church. It felt as though God himself was bestowing his personal blessing upon him in his move to this small town.
The simple architecture of the interior of the church appealed to his senses and he immediately felt an inner peace. He turned and saw the hand-carved Stations of the Cross that were spaced at regular intervals along each side of the room.
Turning around, he looked back and saw steep stairs off to the left that led directly up to the choir's balcony that had been built over the entry doors and at the extreme right side of the balcony there was another small, steep set of enclosed stairs that led two thirds of the way up the inside of the steeple of the church.
"Perhaps the Bishop knew what he was doing after all," Father Conner said to himself. "I'm an old man now and maybe it's time for me to have a small parish to look after and finally take it easy." He rubbed his fat, white hands together and then went back to his car to get his things. It wasn't too long before he'd arranged his meager belongings in his room and set about getting his church ready for his first mass the next day.
Old Father Conner got up early the next morning, washed his body and prayed and then he set about readying the church for his first mass. He swept the dry floorboards and dusted carefully along the windows and altar. Then he hurried to the front and opened both doors in a gesture of welcome that the townspeople would understand. Then he went into his small room where he drank a weak cup of instant coffee and chewed on a dry piece of bread. Now he was ready. "Let the people come Lord, let the people come," he intoned this prayer over and over until finally, he heard the first hesitant step as someone came into the church.
Father Connor, kneeling by the side of the altar, stayed where he was until he heard the front doors being closed by the last church goer. He stood and turned and looked out over the small assemblage who had come to hear his first mass. He lifted his hand high over his head and carefully made the sign of the cross and said to the small gathering, "Both God and I welcome you here today and we hope that you will continue to come and spend some time with us." With that, he turned on his heel and proceeded through the rest of the Sunday mass that he knew by rote in his silver haired head.
At the end of the mass he turned and made the closing benediction, "God be with you," and the small gathering murmured, "And also be with you." He smiled and said, "Go in peace." He watched as the congregation filed slowly out the door. The old priest heaved a sigh that the first mass was finally over and snuffing out the candles, he retired to his back room to pray and think about how his life had changed.
It wasn't too long before a routine had set in and spring turned into summer and summer into fall. Father Connor found that he was now able to remember most all of his parishioner's names and the pertinent details of each family. Like any predator, he had the ability to ferret out little nuances and hints about people that other's didn't notice or question.
He waited with great patience because he knew that sooner or later, he would be called upon to "save another poor soul from the hellfire of damnation." He rubbed his soft hands together, he couldn't wait!
The weeks slid into months, and the weather changed overnight, and winter was just around the corner. He felt a growing unease as he looked out at the small gathering who were waiting for him each week to begin the mass. "It's getting smaller everyday," he thought to himself. "It seems as though everyone is headed south just as fast as their legs can carry them. The town is shrinking right before my eyes."
Not waiting to see the last person file out after the final benediction, he slipped the surplus over his head; he folded it carefully so that he could use it again for the evening mass. After turning off the lights, he slowly made his way past the sacristy to his small apartment that was attached to the back of the church. Leaving the door open, he poured himself a cup of black coffee and walked into the small living room and sat in his favorite chair. Just as he was about to pick up the St. Stevens' Valley Times, he heard a slight sound that made him pause. He'd heard that sound before and it made his old heart race and blood rush to his head.
Holding his breath and listening carefully, he heard the sound again and it came from the direction of the church. He got up and walked over to the door that separated the church from his living quarters. Pushing the door aside, he peered into the dim interior and then he saw the girl. She was still sitting where she'd been sitting all through mass.
When he'd first noticed her at the beginning of the ceremony she'd held herself as though she was fragile and if she moved, she might break. But now, she had slid out of the pew onto her knees and she was crying openly. Tears, like small streams, were making their way down her pale cheeks and every now and then an emotion would overwhelm her and she'd emit a slight sound of anguish before she covered her mouth with a slender, white hand.
That was the sound that he'd heard so many times before in so many different places. It was a sound that only a human being could make when they found themselves in the depths of despair. Barely able to contain his excitement the old priest watched her silently for a couple of long minutes and then he pushed open the door and walked softly across the altar and down the three steps into the church.
Hearing the sound of his footsteps as he walked towards her across the wooden floor, the young girl quickly wiped her sleeve across her eyes and sat back against the seat. She tried to avert her face in the hope that the old Father would go away and leave her alone. She felt the seat tip slightly forward as he sat down next to her.
The priest didn't say a word or even look at her as he clasped his hands in front of him. He merely sat quietly beside her and looked up at the large crucifix that hung on the wall behind the altar and waited for her sobs to subside. Finally, when she'd calmed down somewhat, he turned his head and looked sideways at her for a moment and then he said, "God would never wish for another human being to suffer and you, my dear child, seem to have more than your share of suffering." He waited for his message to sink in and not hearing any response, he said. "We are only human and our heavenly Father understands all things and He who is so great, does not judge us." Again, he waited for this to sink in and then he heard a small voice say. "There's no hope for me Father. I've sinned and God ain't interested in me, except maybe to punish me." Saying this, she started to cry again.
Father Conner turned slightly in the pew and waited for her sobs to cease a little and then he said, "God is the way and the light and he never turns his back on us. He is not a punishing God. He is a loving and forgiving God. If you turn to him in this, your darkest hour, surely he will hear you and help you, my child."
The young girl turned her luminous dark eyes on the priest and then she said in a low voice, "I doubt that he will forgive me, Father. You see, I'm pregnant and when I told my boyfriend, he left town and my family will never forgive me. I have no place to go and I can't take care of no baby all by myself." She covered her face with her exquisite hands and began to cry hysterically.
All the days and ways of his years of training took over and it wasn't too long before the priest was guiding the girl towards the back of the church, all the while talking to her in a voice that was both seductive and soothing. He opened the door to his room and slid her carefully into his rocker before going into the small kitchen for his trusted bottle of purifier. He unscrewed the cap and poured an ample amount of the blue-tinged liquid into a glass and took it in to where the girl was sitting.
"There, there my child, there are too many tears in Heaven already. No need to add any more. Have a sip or two of this and you will be able to think more clearly and then we'll decide what it is that we must do." He thrust the drink into her hands and waited until she had drunk the contents in one long gulp. She shuddered as the foul tasting liquid slid down her throat, quickly wiped her mouth on her sleeve and with a soft sigh, laid her head against the back of the rocker and closed her eyes.
Father Conner sat on the edge of his bed, rocked the chair gently back and fourth and smiled to himself as he saw her eyelids flutter once or twice and then finally come to rest on her flushed cheeks. "There, there, my dear, God is the one you need right know. Trust in Him and all your worries will disappear." With that, the old man slid her small frame out of the chair and laid her gently on his bed as he began the "saving" ritual that he had perfected so many times before over the years.
When everything was done and she and her child were ready to "go to the Lord," the Father prostrated himself in front of the altar and began his rites of passage too.
Early the next morning as the first wan rays of the wintery sun slid into Aroostook County, Father Connor had already been awake for hours. He now had to make the final decision and that was where to bury her. He'd lain awake hour after hour and then it had finally come to him. "Ask and ye shall receive," he chuckled to himself. "The Good Lord never lets us down." He knew where she was going to be laid to rest and no one would ever think of looking for her there. No one would ever find her. She was really going to be "closer to the Lord" when he was done.
He slid the plastic covered body over his shoulder and breathing heavily he slowly made his way across the church until he reached the stairs that led to the second floor and the bell tower. Then he placed one foot in front of the other until he was halfway up the steps. When he felt winded, he paused until he had regained his strength and his old heart had slowed a dite and then proceeded up the second half of the stairs until he'd reached the door that led to the steeple. Still holding the body in place, he opened the peeling door and stepped inside.
Startled by the sudden opening of the door, several crows and pigeons that had made their nest inside the steeple over the years, flew off into the morning air, cawing harshly in protest at having been disturbed. The old man carefully laid the girl down on the floor of the steeple, where he made the sign of the cross over her, blessed himself once again and left. Pulling the door shut, he withdrew a key from his pocket and locked the door. Patting the door, he smiled to himself, "No one will ever think to look for her here." Then he turned and made his way down the stairs to rest. His work was done, for the moment anyway or until another wayward girl found her way to him.
Just like all the others, when someone who is loved, fails to come home, this sets up a cry and hew heard round the world and even in the isolation of a small country town, it was no different. The parents called the neighbors, the neighbors in turn called all their friends and pretty soon the better half of Aroostook County's population of seventy-eight thousand people had heard about the missing girl.
The town cop really tried to find her and he even sent a missing person's report down to the State Police Headquarters in Houlton but nothing ever turned up. She was just gone. The cop, Officer Rossignol, questioned all her friends but they didn't have any answers for him either. Some of the kids dropped hints here and there about her maybe being "preggers" but after questioning her parents and their outrage at being asked such an insensitive question, he withdrew his query. Her boyfriend, if she'd even had one was nowhere to be found.
He even paid a visit to the priest to see what he knew about her disappearance and the old man had listened to his questions and denied any direct knowledge about her. He even stated that being new to the parish, he wasn't even certain that he had even met her or that she had been one of his parishioners. The cop thanked him and moved on.
As in any place, once a tragedy had occurred, folks hear of it, deal with it in their own way and somehow, in their own way, carry on. The girl was gone, but every now and then, her lovely face would slide into their memory and they would be reminded that she had lived; she had been one of them.
Winter still held on through February, March and even into April, when just to make life miserable, it snowed two more feet. The state plows kept the roads open and the snow finally began to melt. It was only then that the townsfolk dared to hope and they anxiously began looking for signs of spring.
The day, weeks and months all blurred together as they are want to do in any small town. Folks didn't necessarily remember what month it was, they usually knew what month it was by what was being planted or harvested in the immediate area. If the fiddleheads were all ready showing themselves along the riverbanks, it must be May. If the wild strawberries were ripe in the fields surrounding the church, it must be June. If the air is filled with the sounds of droning bees and folks are all slathered with fly dope on every part of exposed skin, it must be July. If the normally cool air turns hot and sultry and the thunderstorms come scudding up from the south, it must be August. September brings the newly dug potatoes that Aroostook County is famous for.
Winter finally relinquished its hold on the county and the old priest smiled as he thought of the young girl resting on the floor of the steeple, high in the air above the church. "She's better off than the rest of us," he thought to himself. "She's already in heaven with her wee child and we poor miserable mortals are still stuck here on earth."
By the beginning of summer, the girl had been up in the church steeple nearly six months and Father Conner thought of and prayed for her daily. During the warm days, he often heard the wild birds that had made their nest in the church steeple, quarreling over their territory. Hearing the birds fighting day after day, he knew that soon all that would be left of her would be some clean, white bones and some tattered remains of cloth and trash bags. "She isn't there at all, she's in God's hands now," he smiled to himself as he went about the business of the parish.
As the everyday demands of life took over, folks went about their business and forgot about the missing girl. Every once in a while, someone who had ventured across the Canadian boarder to visit relatives or to buy some Moosehead beer, would come home with a tale of having seen the girl in Canada. This would setoff a frenzy of searches to no avail.
Then, bright and early one morning the town cop had stopped along the road just below the church to drink his coffee himself and as he stood beside the car in the early morning sun, he happened to look up at the lovely old church standing guard high on the hill and saw something that caught his eye. Several crows were roosting on the top of the building and he watched as other crows and birds flew in and out of the opening in the steeple where the ancient church bell hung. Finished with his coffee, he squinted his eyes to get a better look.
The large birds would fly into the steeple opening and after a little while, they'd fly out again with pieces of something in their mouths, land on the church roof, tear it apart and eat it. As officer Rossignol watched the birds fly in and out, over and over again, he began to get a little niggle of suspicion. "Maybe those friggin birds have killed another bird and that's what they're eatin." He reasoned with himself. "Something jist ain't right," he thought as his years of police training took over. "Always trust your gut feeling," the old sergeant down to the Police Training Academy in Bangor always said. "Well, there's something that they're eatin in the steeple and sure as shit, I'm going to find out what it is."
He slid into the cruiser and keyed his radio to alert the station and waited until Jake Stevens, his partner, answered and asked what he wanted. Officer Rossignol explained what he had been seeing the birds do and the other cop laughed and said. "Are you sure that you ain't hallucinatin? How much of that Canadian shit did you say you had to drink last night?" Slightly annoyed by his partner's reaction to his request, he replied. "Well, why don't yah mosey on up here and we'll jist have a look up in the old church steeple." "Ok," Jake replied. "If that's what it takes to float your boat I'll come, but you're really gonna owe me for this one. All you're gonna find is a lot of bird shit, that's fer damn sure!"
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
The Most Recently Republished Articles include:
The Manure Spreader
Aroostook River Fishin
Vengeance is Mine Pt. 1
Aroostook County Memories
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.