ASN 2.4 In the Churchyard

by Matt P.

“Do we really have to go to this thing?” Siobhan asked with a sigh as she and her friends slid out of Monica’s van and began to walk toward the church. “I mean, churches really aren’t my thing.” She sighed and reached down to brush down her black slacks, even though they were fine. She matched it with a black button-up shirt and, for some visual differentiation, a black blazer.

“Worried about bursting it in to flame?” Lacey asked with a grin as she came around to join them from the other side, with Monica sliding out and locking the van a second later. “This church is pretty cool, you don’t have to worry about it. And since it was my civics project for AP Government to do this, yes you do. Also since you’re here, and your father will be here, you might as well.”

Siobhan sighed, leaning her head on Antigone’s shoulder as they walked. Antigone just gave her sister a smile and a pat on the head as they passed the sign naming the church. “I think it’s a great project. A night for the community to talk about fighting Salvation.” She paused as she caught sight of the name of the church. “Huh.” The sign proclaimed it Gethsemane United Church of Christ. “That seems a little bit…on the nose for a church with a garden,” she pointed out.

Monica shrugged. “Try to keep the existential crises to a minimum, that’s so last semester,” Monica said with a standoffish shrug that she softened with a smile, taking Lacey by the arm and walking with her toward their project.

The basic premise had been simple, and yet the community had responded with surprising enthusiasm. With a growing problem with Salvation addiction in the city, and usage spreading among teenagers, an evening discussing strategies to address it between community leaders and high school students seemed like it could be helpful. Monica and Lacey had confessed that they expected it to be a very small affair at first, but it had quickly ballooned—fortunately the church in question had volunteered its spacious gardens to be the site of the event, and the weather had held up.

“I’m not sure seeing Dad here tonight is an argument for it,” Siobhan said with a sigh as they walked. Antigone grinned, dressed much more normally in a floral spring dress that swished as she walked, and sandals.

“But him not seeing us here would have caused a lot of questions,” Antigone pointed out as they came up to the arched entryway of the gardens. The church was built in what had to be a consciously older style, large and tall and stone. A large stained glass window was set above the main entrance, and another looked from the church into the garden. The gardens themselves took up most of the rest of the lot that the church sat on, and the space served as part botanical garden and part community park. They were built in the style of a sunken gardens, with winding down a shallow incline to long and low fountains set at the base. Siobhan had seen them during the day, visiting to scout and set-up, and they were lovely; but at night they were beautiful. Luscious even early in the season, the twinkling lights on the sculptures and arches gave it an inviting warmth.

The first person who came over to greet them was their father. He was dressed in a dark suit with a sapphire blue tie that Siobhan was reasonably sure that Morgan had bought him, because it went with the dress she was wearing. “Good evening Monica, Lacey. This looks like it will be interesting.”

Both girls smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Richards,” Lacey said honestly. “We’re hoping something good comes of it, even if it just ends up being people talking.”

“Much good in the world has come because people were willing to sit in a room and discuss things, Lacey,” a voice said from behind them. The speaker was a tall woman dressed in a black button-up shirt and slacks. She was tall enough that Siobhan almost missed the white tab in the collar of her shirt, partially covered up by her graying hair. She looked like she was maybe ten years older than Walter. “Also probably much of the evil in the world, but we’ll ignore that for now.” She held out a hand to Walter, who shook it politely, before doing the same for Morgan. “Naomi Morrison, I’m the pastor here at Gethsemane.”

“Walter Richards,” Walter introduced himself. “Border PD. I’m here to make sure these two don’t cause too much trouble for the talks tonight,” he offered with a gesture at Siobhan and Antigone, and a smirk.

Naomi smiled gently at the two of them as they both glared back at their father with the best look they could muster. Apparently it didn’t live up to Army standards, because he didn’t seem put out in the slightest. “Nonsense, Lacey and Monica have told me how helpful they’ve been. You are very lucky to have such considerate children.” Walter regarded them with an eyebrow raised, as if trying to assess when exactly the pod people had replaced them, as Naomi went on. “I asked Monica to invite you all to come to services, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to meet you before now.” She softened what could have been a hard sell with a smile. Antigone suddenly found a loose thread to pick at on her skirt, while Siobhan shrugged unapologetically at her father.

“I don’t go to church much, Reverend,” Walter offered with a shrug, absent malice or anger. He looked like he was going to say more when another man strode up and inserted himself forcefully in to the conversation.

“Ah but Detective Richards, what thought have you given to the state of your soul!” The man who came up could not have been more different from Naomi if they had been specifically created as opposites. Short and with a shock of dark black hair slicked back with enough product to stock a barber shop, he had pale skin and a bright white suit—a gold cross gleamed in the lapel, reflecting the soft lights of the garden.

“Reverend Franks, how good of you to…join us,” Naomi offered tactfully. She started to say something else, but the man blew past her to reach out and take Walter’s hand and shake it non-consentually.

“I don’t believe in the soul, Reverend Franks,” Walter offered with less equanimity as the man assaulted his hand. Franks gasped, shaking his head and clucking his tongue like an overbearing nanny.

“Now that is a very serious thing to say, Detective Richards. Walter, do we not stand in the Garden of Gethsemane? Are we not blessed to be alive, and you of all of us. A warrior, doing God’s own work and clearly protected by the divine, or else how would you have survived so much?” He asked, his voice carrying. A small group around them began to turn and look at the brash man who was nearly shouting. Siobhan started to step forward toward Franks, but Antigone caught her arm and gave her a look. “At my church we would call it a tragedy for a man such as you to have shaken faith, when you have held the sword of St. Michael himself and vanquished evil. Was it not God who saved you in your time overseas, the shootout in Kansas City, and your heroics in our own humble town?”

He started to pull his hand back but Walter caught it, and though his lips were in the right position the look he gave Franks was only a very distant cousin to a smile. “I developed a need for men to not have souls, Reverend, about the time I became professionally responsible for sending them to investigate the matter.” His voice was quiet, low and flat, without even the faintest flicker of emotion. It was worse, far worse, than if he had yelled. “Now if you will excuse us, I think my girls want something to drink before the discussion starts.” He reached out to take Morgan’s hand and turned, Siobhan and Antigone hustling to follow.

“Perhaps your daughters will think of their souls even if you will not, Walter…it would be a shame for them to join you in damnation,” Franks called out, his pride clearly wounded by the harsh rebuff. Walter stopped and his shoulders went from loose to instantly tense. Siobhan’s hand tightened in to a fist and she knew she could be back to him in two heartbeats and break his jaw on the third. But it was Morgan who moved first.

She flowed like water rushing down a hill, crashing into Franks’ personal space like he was a rock that would very soon not be standing against that tide. She leaned in close, her flame red curls almost obscuring her face. But though they couldn’t see her lips move, everyone around them could her her voice—cold as the crackling ice of a winter lake. “Go. Away.” She enunciated every word with razor sharp precision. “Now.”

Siobhan didn’t know what he saw in Morgan’s eyes, but she knew what he heard in her voice—the most commanding command that they had ever been given. Even though it wasn’t to her, Siobhan felt like moving away at rapid speed—and Franks felt it too, as he turned in a huff and began bustling his way away. Morgan watched him go before turning back and giving Walter a bright smile, and Siobhan turned to follow—but not before she noticed Reverend Naomi Morrison staring at Morgan intently, eyes following her all the way back to the drink table.