--- December 28, 1931 ---
The church was alive with quiet sounds. He was immediately aware of them as the heavy door fell shut at his back, its dull wooden echo fading around him as the bitter cold of the street dissipated from his hands.
The evening service was sparsely attended. Even so, he could hear the whispering breaths of the congregation, the rustling of their heavy winter clothes, the movement of hands across the pages of the prayer books. The human sounds bounced from the gothic arches, from the branching vault of the ceiling. The vaulting was like the arms of trees rising in a dense forest.
It might seem strange, that he should come here. It might seem that way-- but it wasn't. It was somewhere out of the bitter wind that he could wait for his train. Somewhere away from the wet streets.
But truth be told, he enjoyed the music.
It drew him in, sometimes, when he saw lights inside a small chapel in the winter cold. He could never explain why.
He stepped into the sanctuary, behind the columns, and against the outer walls. His footfalls were crisp, and broke the quiet sharply as he moved.
The choir children began to sing, lined up in an orderly row.
"Lulley, Lullay-- Thou little tiny child, By, by lulley lullay..."
The ancient melody moved over him, solemn and slow. Medieval, and shrouded with age and wonder. The bodies buried in the floor below him had listened to it. He walked over their names where they were carved on the stones. More plaques covered the walls with their dead, cobwebbed, encrusted with dust. This church was ill kept, and the dusty smell of decaying wood rose from its neglected corners. A small brown mouse ran swiftly across the stones.
"Oh, Sisters too, how may we do, For to preserve this day, This poor youngling, for whom we sing By, by lulley, lullay?"
And now this congregation listened to the old song-- to its gentle, rhyming movement. They were a pathetic assemblage of dowagers, of trembling old men. Of workers and grocers and their ill-behaved children.
He had never understood that. Their clumsy, earnest faces, staring up at the rose window, trusting in something beyond their own poverty to see them through. The Army of God should be shining and lithe, finely tuned. Like Slayers-- all fire and decisive movement. Bursting through with the brilliance of their own power. Something strong-- understandable and concrete. Something he could touch and fight.
This couldn't be the true face of things. It was too normal. Too full of human sentiment, too muddled with searching and uncertainty and simple trust. And yet he felt a discomfort here that he never experienced in any battle. It crawled on the back of his neck.
"Herod the King, in his raging, Charged he hath, this day, His men of might, in his own sight All young children to slay.'
He almost turned to go, driven away by that uncomfortable sensation creeping into his skin like a swarm of beetles. He started back towards the doors. But at that same moment, he heard a distant noise. It made him start. He froze in place.
The gasps and sighs were faint beneath the perfect, ringing chords of the choir. He tilted his head towards the sound, closed his eyes, and let it fill his mind, separating it from the tapestry of singing voices around him. It came from the far end of the church, from beyond the grated entry there.
From the Lady Chapel. It wept in the presence of the Virgin.
"Then woe is me, poor child, for thee And ever morn and day, For thy parting, neither say, nor sing, By, by lulley, lullay."
He walked through the arches in their symmetrical rows, against the wall, past the memorials and stained glass windows, which were dull and dark with the night. Had he paused to look, he would have seen Saint George slaying the flailing, sinuous dragon, and Saint Michael the Archangel, casting Satan from heaven, pierced through by the holy sword.
"Lulley, lullay-- Thou little tiny child, By, by lulley, lullay..."
The minor key broke into thirds, and the last note split into a pure and major chord. It was bright and clear, ringing and complete, but he did not hear it where he stood in the arched iron entry.
He was intently watching his prey, where she knelt weeping.
Her dress was expensive, but very worn. Its wool was smooth with age, and the butterflies embroidered there were faded with many washings. There was a carefully mended seam on her right arm. She was perhaps fourteen years old.
Her shoulders were shaking, making her hair tremble in light brown strands, where it fell from her loose braid. She was kneeling before a stand filled with candles, most of which were lit. Their dim flickering glow surrounded her, creating a strange brilliant rim of gold around her hair. Their was no other source of light, and long shadows fell across the small room, its kneelers, and its statues.
She was praying as she wept, her lips moving in the shapes of words. But there was no sound. He stepped into the room. She froze with the noise, and exhaled in a soft sigh. She smiled thinly as she turned around.
"Dennis--" she said with relief, as she turned.
Her face fell when she saw him before her, her smile fading as she looked at him with grave intensity. Her red-rimmed eyes seemed to fight a moment, the glimmer of panic moving through them in a lightening flash. But the inner struggle passed off, fell away. There was nothing she could do. And then there was a strange calm in her face. Her eyes were laced with a solemn gravity, woven smoothly through their youthful green.
She knew. She knew exactly what this was.
He did not understand it, but, very rarely, they just looked into his eyes and knew in the seconds before.
And after, he carefully folded her hands against the iron rail, where she knelt before the candles. He checked his watch. It was coming very close to his departure time. He would have to hurry if he was going to catch the train. He turned to go.
But then he paused, and lit a wick for his mother before walking away.
The snow was coming.
He could smell it in the cold air, in the dull matt blackness of the sky. The peculiar, electrically charged feeling one senses before a snowfall filled his senses. It hung on the homely girders above the train platform.
He would see her again soon-- her. It had been far too long, and he ached for her. His watch told him his train would be a while yet. The impatient hum of excitement hovered all around him, through him. It fluttered in his skin like a dragonfly. He would see her again-- soon-- in mere hours.
He was uncommonly happy. The cold nipped at his fingertips as he deftly lit a cigarette, and eased onto a bench.
His train was late, and there was no one on the platform with him. Alone with his thoughts and anticipation, his simply took in the night, hands alight with tension as they rapped the iron arm of the bench on which he sat.
It was cold, bitter even. But it did not bother him. His blood was warm.
And so he sat, in the electric air, the scent of the cigarette smoke and coming snow twining in the cold wind.
"I know you," a harried, mumbling voice called over to him.
He started, a small thrill of anxiety passing through him. He immediately scanned the face in front of him, wracking his memory for somewhere to place the old visage. Hundreds of random encounters and violences and old schoolteachers ran through his mind, until his companion calmed the race of memory with his words.
"You're in love," said the old man. So that was the shape of it.
The hoarse sounds had broken his reverie. He had been thinking of pale hands and soft lips and the eternal, ever-present wonder in her beautiful, black eyes. He was unconsciously rapping his foot against the metal legs of the bench in a fast and anxious rhythm. He checked his watch again, sighed, and looked up as he replaced it in his pocket to see what was before him.
The tired old eyes were glazed and red. The heavy folds of its face were surrounded by wiry, greasy, peppered hair. Its clothes hung on it, and it smelled of any number of dead and unclean things. Most of this left him indifferent. But its eyes were lucid, and that disgusted him somehow. He did not respond, and looked around to see how many were watching, weighing the difficulty in getting to his train with a body left behind. There were passengers departing from the other side of the platform, the crowd swiftly moving to escape the cold.
He simply sighed, and put down his newspaper.
"You're in love, " the old man continued, "You're going to see her again now, after some time. I'm sure of it. Wife?"
"You could say that."
"Ahh s'good," the creature said in a tone that set itself down to business, gesturing to the cigarettes in his coat pocket, "Could you spare one of those for an old man?"
He reached into his coat, and offered the old creature a cigarette. He lit it for him. He noticed a bit of ash that had fallen onto the grey wool of his pants leg, and he brushed it away casually. The old man sat down next to him, patting his shoulder amiably. His hands were worn and the skin was thin. Unsavory smells rose from it and mixed with the rancid odor of his breath.
"Things have gone all wrong," the old man said, gesturing at the newspaper folded neatly beside them, "These are ridiculous times, my boy. Ridiculous times. Desperate. Not many the likes of you around, mate."
"I wouldn't disagree," was all he replied, smiling to himself again. The crowd was dispersing, and soon they would be alone again.
He could hear the progress of his own train as it rumbled in the distance. It was right around the corner. The support beams tremored faintly with the sound.
"As well you shouldn't," the hoarse voice continued on, as if in an eternal race to spew out words, "No, no you shouldn't. You're too young to know-- but when I was as young as you, things were different. We knew who we were, and we weren't afraid. No, not afraid at all. Nothing crawled and crept. Nothing twisted itself to fit... nothing burned with it all."
The roaring of the train came closer, and it pulled into view, coming to its stop with a stately slowness. There was no one, for a moment, who could see them there, together.
He casually noted that the old creature was missing a leg. It was a shuffling mass, a disgusting pile of the worst of humanity. It wheezed into a soiled handkerchief as he studied it.
And he realized, suddenly, that they were roughly the same age.
He stood from the bench, and the old man stood with him. Before he moved to pick up his bags, he took a step towards his companion.
Miserable thing, it'd be a mercy to break him, really.
He pulled his hand from his coat pocket, and found himself offering some coins to the old man. The old man smiled at him warmly as he pocketed the meager profit.
"God bless you, son," he said kindly, and hummed as he walked away.
The snow fell fitfully, in small dry flakes as Spike walked towards the train in the night.