And then silence. I stood before the church, for the first time in my life, without the whispered voices. And for the first time ever I missed them. I had so many questions now that I had finally been able to understand what they were saying.
The storm is almost here. What kind of storm?
It has grown stronger in my absence. For almost a decade I had been away from this place.
They called me Listener. Said I left people deaf to their voices. Had I been chosen? Why was I the one to hear the whispers?
They will guide me but it’s up to me to stop it. Who are they? Angels? Demons? Or am I actually insane?
They must be real. I was just a child when they warned me of Father Francis. Or at least I now assumed him to have been the wolf feasting on lambs. I could not have imagined that, not at the age I was back then. But since my decision to stay away from church, I had become something of a cynic and an atheist. To believe now in such beings was a very big ask.
“Jack?” My mother was calling my name. “Are you okay?” she asked, her concern obvious. I’d had a very close relationship with my granddad, her father, to the extent of having little else of a social life. He too had grown cynical of religion and, though he remained a Christian, he had stopped attending mass and questioned many aspects of faith. With him now gone, a lot of my family were worried how I might cope.
“Yeah,” I replied with a sigh. “Just things on my mind.” I stood staring blankly at the doorway in front of me.
“I understand. It should be empty inside if you want some time with granddad.” I didn’t need to look at her to know she was struggling. Her own relationship with him had been fractured at best for as long as I could remember, but had been resolving a lot in the past few months. I think she was hurting more because the chance was now gone for them to truly make up than it was because he was dead. And while I did want a few minutes alone with granddad, I couldn’t leave her alone. Or perhaps I was just using her as an excuse not to enter the church, given the torment I now remembered it causing me.
“I’ll wait for dad and Jess to get here. It’s not like granddad’s going anywhere, is it.” I raised a half smile and glanced at my mother.
“I guess not,” she smiled back.
Mom and dad had arranged for the coffin to be in the church early, before everybody else arrived. Granddad’s orders. He was never one to make a fuss, and the idea of being carried through a church in front of everybody did not appeal to him. This way people could have a minute or two to say hello, or goodbye, as they entered the church, rather than be the centre of attention. Dad had then gone to collect Jess, my older sister, from the train station. Nana was keeping herself busy in the church hall, getting it ready for what promised to be something of a feast afterwards.
I stood outside the church with mom for around fifteen minutes. She was mostly on and off the phone, giving people directions or receiving condolences. I tried to get the whispers to come back. I wanted answers. No, I needed answers. Who or what were they? What kind of storm is coming and how could I stop it? Why choose me to be their Listener? Why could they only speak to me close to the church? And why, when I stayed away from them for ten years, did they not find someone else?
I was relieved when Dad and Jess finally arrived. Jess gave mom a big hug, and me a look that simply said ‘I don’t know what to say.’ I gave her a look and a shrug that I hoped said ‘yeah, this is bullshit.’ We’d never talked much, often relying on looks and gestures to communicate. Despite not being as close as most siblings, we had a strange bond that didn’t require words for us to hold a conversation. Dad and I exchanged the nod; you know the one men always use instead of any actual greeting. Mom looked at me and motioned towards the church entrance with her head.
I was hesitant to enter. A place I had always loathed, the source of my childhood terror. And now the temporary resting place of the only person I had ever really been able speak to. Wait, I thought, what if… If the whispers had always been real, if they were in fact some kind of divine messengers, what else could be real or possible? Could I yet still ask granddad for advice? No harm in trying, I told myself.
I took a deep breath, and crossed the threshold.