I had never felt comfortable in a church. Even as a young child I dreaded Sunday mornings and the weekly mass. But as the youngest in an otherwise devout Christian family, not yet ready to be left alone at home for two hours, I had no say in the matter. And so I would begrudgingly trudge behind my parents, dragging my heels up the steep hill to the imposing Norman church. Why did they have to drag me out of bed? Why could they not just let me sleep instead?
My dislike for mass was not a result of cynicism or atheism; I was too young and inexperienced to question the biblical teachings. Nor was it anything to do with the priest and what we, as I discovered years later, got up to with the more faithful of boys. It wasn’t even the way that it was always freezing inside the church, however warm it was outside, or how it had a dead, empty feel to it.
It was the whispers. I’d been hearing them ever since my christening. The moment that ice cold holy water had splashed over my forehead, the whispers began. Now each Sunday, as I ascended the canopied path up the hill and the steeple came into view, they would slowly creep into my head. One at first, softly stealing into my thoughts. Then another, and another. Growing louder, yet still only whispers. By the time I had crossed the threshold all I would hear was a cacophonous hiss, like a horde of snakes writhing within my skull.
Often I would not be able to make out any words, but sometimes one of the whispers would speak right to me. They would warn me, of a wolf among the flock, of a false shepherd, of an evil lurking, a storm approaching. They both intrigued me and terrified me, but mostly terrified me. I would ask them “why me?” but they never answered. I would beg them “leave me,” but they never left. I told my parents who accused me of making up stories. I even told the priest who looked at my gravely, then dismissed it as a wild imagination.
For years I endured those whispers, until my parents decided I was ready to stay home alone whilst everybody else went to mass. The first Sunday I didn’t go was one of the best days of my life. I simply basked in the silence for two hours, doing nothing. Each following Sunday I would enjoy the peace a little less, and use my time playing video games or doing homework, until I had all but forgotten about the whispers. I didn’t so much as even look at the church for nearly a decade. In fact the only thought I ever gave to it was when the priest was arrested and jailed for his activities with the altar boys.
But then my granddad passed away and I was asked to read the eulogy at his funeral. Of course it was held at the church my family had been attending for nigh on twenty five years. And as I walked up that old path and the church tower came into view, a whisper began. And, for the first time, I could understand every word.
“We warned you,” it hissed. “We warned you and you did not heed us.”
“The wolf,” came another. “Feasting on lambs.”
“The false shepherd, he never cared for his flock.”
“The evil consumed him.”
“And you!” Me? I was shocked “Yes, you, Listener.” Listener? What was happening?
“You abandoned your post, left your people deaf to our voices.”
“The storm is almost here, Listener.”
“It has grown stronger in your absence.”
I don’t understand, I thought.
“We will guide you, but it is up to you to stop it.”