The cold hit me the second I walked through the doorway. Outside, beneath the summer sun and dressed in the mandatory black attire of funerals, I had been sweltering. Inside, however, it felt like midwinter. I was taken aback as well by the silence. Every minute I had ever spent inside that church prior had been filled with relentless whispers. No longer.
It took my eyes a moment to adapt to the darkness. The decades old chandeliers suspended high up from the eaves offered little illumination for a church of this size, and the stained-glass windows were in dire need of a cleaning. Straight ahead of me was the baptismal font, the place where almost twenty years ago the whispers first began. Above my head, I remembered, were the organ pipes and the choir stalls. A staircase to my left would lead up there, while behind the door to my right was the ladder access to the steeple.
I walked forwards, slowly, passing the font. The air grow colder as I moved further from the entrance. Either side of the aisle, row upon row of wooden pews lay empty, stacks of hymn books and prayer sheets at the ends, ready for granddad’s funeral. And at the end, in front of the altar, was the coffin. It was a closed casket affair – “Like hell am I having people’s last memory of me being a God damn corpse!” I recalled him shouting, when my nan had inquired as to which he’d prefer – and a collage of photos of him throughout his life sat on top.
As slowly as I approached, and as softly as I tried to tread, the sound of my shoes on the stone floor echoed around the church. I stopped just shy of the coffin. A cross-shaped array of tea light candles adorned the lid.
“Hey, granddad,” I said, somewhat awkwardly. I paused, perhaps waiting for a response I knew would obviously not be forthcoming. “I guess you were never one for small talk.” I attempted to smile. I don’t know if I succeeded. “It’s pretty shit without you.” I felt a sudden draught, giving the air even more of a chill, and causing the candle flames to flicker. “Sorry…” I apologised for my profanity. It may have been coincidence, but I figured it best to play safe.
I gave a brief rundown of the past week, anything that had happened since he passed and would have enjoyed had he been around. I updated him on the cricket, regaled the more humourous incidents and let him know we all missed him. And I told him about the whispers, from when I was a child and what had happened that day.
“I’m confused, granddad. I don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t believe in this shi-…err, stuff, but I can’t be imagining it.” I placed both hands on the coffin lid and closed my eyes. “If, somehow, you can hear me, I need your help.”
“You seek answers, Jack?” A voice boomed from behind me. Startled, I span round, eyes again needing to adjust having turned away from the candles. I could make out a silhouette against the light coming from the still open doorway.
“Who-… who’s there?” I asked, unable to mask my surprise or, very mild, terror.
“I do not believe we have met before, Jack.” It was a man’s voice, softer now and friendly sounding. I thought I detected a slight accent, but I couldn’t be sure where from.
“We might not have, no,” I replied, trying to sound calmer, my heart rate returning to normal. The silhouette came closer, gradually morphing into a tall, scruffy-bearded priest.
“I am Father Michael,” he smiled, offering his hand. I shook it.
“I’m Jack.” He nodded. “Yeah, you knew that though.”
“Your parents have mentioned you once or twice, especially with regards to, well…” He gestured to the coffin. “You were extremely close?”
“I’m not great with people.” I lowered my eyes to the floor. “He was the only person I ever felt I could talk to.”
“Patrick [granddad] was a very easy man to talk to, I must agree,” Father Michael mused. “We had many a discussion about faith, religion, God and the like. A very intelligent fellow, even if our views did not always match up.”
“He taught me a lot,” I nodded in agreement.
“And I too. He also spoke of you, claiming you to be perhaps his equal in terms of wit and intellect.”
“He did?” I was a little surprised by that. Granddad was many things, but modest of himself and complimentary of others in respect to his intelligence he most certainly was not. I shifted a little uncomfortably. I was perhaps somewhat unnerved by how much this priest already knew about me, considering I hadn’t been aware of his existence for even a full minute.
“Indeed he did. And, if you don’t mind me saying…” He paused, eyeing me up for a moment. “Having overheard what you spoke to him of just now…” I panicked. He’s going to think I’m making up stories like everyone else. He leaned in close and said in a hushed voice, “I can definitely see why they chose you.”