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Sins of the Past

Sylvie took the last stride, stretching out her right leg so far that she almost missed the step. She stumbled into the church, looking around to see if anyone was there to witness her ungraceful entrance, then craned her neck to ensure nobody was behind her. The answer to both was no. She was alone, but at least she should be safe here. This was holy ground after all. The likes of…them couldn’t follow her here, could they?

She walked to the front on the church where a thin cloth was laid out, presumably for people to kneel on when they prayed. Sylvie hadn’t prayed in years. Maybe now was the time. Kneeling on the cloth, she clenched her hands together and looked up.

“Please, God, if you’re there…”

Footsteps sounded from behind her.

Don’t turn around, don’t turn around. It was all she could manage to stay where she knelt, as if turning around would make it real. It couldn’t be them. They didn’t have footsteps.

“Give me your purse and valuables, and hand over the collection while you’re at it.” The gruff voice was not what Sylvie expected. She almost breathed a sigh of relief, before it dawned on her, this was a robbery.

She fished inside her small handbag for her purse, but as she turned around to get a look at the man, he snatched the bag out of her hand and pushed her face down onto the ground.

“Don’t try to get a look at me for the police report. Do you think I’m stupid?”

“No, I don’t know you well enough to decide,” her words were muffled against the prickly thin carpet.

“What did you just say? Are you dissing me? Are you…”

“Hey, meathead,” another male voice said. “Just ask her to tell us where the collection is and we can get it and get the hell out of here.”

“I don’t know, this is not my church, I don’t usually…”

“You were just praying. Do you normally walk into random churches and pray?” the second man asked.

“No,” she replied, considering saying more, when her skin tingled in the way it did when they were close.

They can’t be here.

But the air shifted from clammy to chilly in seconds.

“Does this place have air conditioning?” the gruff man said. “I think it’s on steroids or something.” He forced a laugh at his own joke.

The gruff man screamed. By the time Sylvie got to her feet, she found herself looking up at his insides splattered across the mural of an angel.

The other man looked at her, then backed away. “I don’t know what freaky shit we walked into, but I got no beef with you or…whatever that thing was.”

He ran for the door, but was a few steps away from freedom when the two silhouetted figures appeared, blocking his way, then both large metal doors slammed shut. The sound seemed to loop around the church, rebounding on the walls, making Sylvie and her would be robber shudder.

The surviving robber turned and ran to the front of the church, where he tried to take refuge behind Sylvie.

“That won’t save me, nothing will,” she said.

“What are they?” His shrill voice wasn’t any easier to tolerate with the echo added by the acoustics of the building.

“They’re here for me, but that won’t stop them tearing you up, just like they did with their friend.” Her voice was calm, considering how the figures were slowly approaching them from either side of the church, gliding around the pews, as if they had all the time in the world.

“Stop,” a male voice croaked.

Sylvie and the robber turned to see a priest standing in the doorway to the side room. So, he had been there all along, Sylvie realised. The figures stopped, but the priest didn’t look like he posed a threat to them. His frail shoulders were hunched over a walking stick, and in his free hand he held a small uncapped bottle.

The spectres changed course, heading straight for him. He yelled at them in an unfamiliar language, throwing the contents of the bottle at him. Sylvie was sure they would tear him apart, as she had seen them do to so many people, many that she cared about. They were all gone now.

The things that had tormented her for so long, screeched, then disappeared.

“What was that?”

“Harmful spirits, my dear,” the priest said.

“I know that, but what did you say to them, and what was it you threw at them?”

“Latin, and holy water.”

“It can’t be that easy,” she replied. “They tormented me for years. I begged them to kill me but..”

Her mind flashed back to her twenty-ninth birthday.

Most people would be out celebrating with their friends and family, but the spirits that had attached themselves to Sylvie had already killed most of them.

There was only Lucy remaining, her twelve-year-old niece, left orphaned after both of Lucy’s parents were torn apart in the same way the first robber had been, all while Sylvie was pinned against the wall and forced to watch.

“Please kill me,” she begged, when they returned for Lucy.

“No, not yet. The girl first, then you.”

Sylvie was snapped out of her painful memories as the priest spoke to her.

She shook her head. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I asked if you had some place safe to go. The pray and holy water won’t hold them off for long.”

“No, I don’t… How did they even get in here? I thought I would be safe.”

“That’s a common myth, unfortunately.”

“What the hell is going on?” the robber asked, reminding them both of his presence.

“You, my boy, were trying to rob my church, and on this occasion, you bit off more than you can chew.” The priest cast a look of distaste in his direction.


The old man turned his attention back to Sylvie, holding out his hand. “Father Langley.”

She shook it, then said,“Sylvie Saunders.”

“Well, it’s good to meet you, Sylvie, although the circumstances aren’t good.”

“Those things murdered my family and friends.”

The priest made the sign of the cross before he said, “let’s send them back where they belong then.”

“You can do that?”

“Of course,” he said.

There was silence as Sylvie looked at him, trying to work out if he was for real.

“Hi, Mike, I mean, I’m Mike,” the robber said. “If you two don’t mind, I’ll be going now.”

The three of them looked at the metal doors, still shut. Mike dashed toward his potential exit, pulling at the doors, but they wouldn’t budge.

“A little help here…please.”

Sylvie looked at Father Langley, then at Mike. If the priest was right about anything, it was that they would be back soon. They never left for long, although she had to admit to herself, she had never thought to try Latin and holy water on them.

She ran to the doors and added her strength to Mike’s, tugging and straining to get them open. Even after she realised how pointless it was, she persisted for at least another minute.

“They shut us in.”

“They who?” Mike demanded.

“You wouldn’t understand.” She was almost grateful to not have to explain it when the building shook and the air turn cold again.

“Earthquake?” Mike asked, but his pallid complex gave away his terror. He turned to run, but got less than halfway to the exit when one spectre appeared more like a large shadow than a physical presence. Still, it had no trouble picking Mike up by his right leg and slamming him against the left wall.

“Where is she?” a scratchy voice whispered into Sylvie’s ear. She stayed still, unable to move, knowing it wouldn’t change anything if she could run.

“Put him down and take me,” she said, so quietly that she wondered if the thing had heard her. There was silence and she waited for an agonising death, almost keen to welcome it, and the ensuing nothingness that would take her away from this pain-fuelled life.

“We already told you, not yet. We will make you pay, like you did to us.”

Mike was slammed into the wall again. He screamed as the sound of bones crunching in his leg were magnified inside the church.

“You’re not making sense,” she shrieked, cringing at the sound of her own voice reflected back at her. “I never did anything to you.”

“Your great, great, however many times grandfather did, and so did you,” the voice hissed. Unlike when she spoke, the spectre’s voice didn’t resound in this building.


It didn’t answer, just reached out to her with its long shadowy fingers. Sylvie looked out of the corner of her eye, wanting to run as it reached for her head. When the fingers reached her skull, they seem to connect with her head, showing her a time long ago. The face she was seeing looked like family, but not quite. The man standing in a barn loosely resembled photographs she had seen of her father when he was in his late twenties. He looked up from his work to greet a woman.

Is that me? It can’t be.

The man pulled the woman, who Sylvie realised had to be an ancestor of hers, into a tight embrace as the pair pressed their mouths together.

“What is this?” a voice demanded. A woman stood in the doorway staring at him, then she burst into tears and ran out of the barn.

The dread built up inside Sylvie’s stomach, causing her to try to pull away from this enforced memory that wasn’t her own. Whatever the spirit was doing to her was too strong, so she had no choice but to stay and watch.

The man went after the other woman, only catching up with her halfway across a field. Sylvie wondered if it was part of the farm her own parents had raised her on, giving her chores to do, such as cleaning out the pigs, or grooming the horses, in the hope that she would take over and have a family of her own someday.

The man took out a knife he had been carrying on his person and held it against the woman’s throat.

“Please stay, or I swear I’ll…”

Somehow Sylvie, knew he hadn’t intended to do it, but his wife struggled, tripped and fell forward into the knife, covering the nearby crops in her blood.

“No, no, no,” he repeated, pressing his hands against the stream of blood as if there was any hope of being able to stop the inevitable.

A little boy no older than ten ran through the fields screaming for his mummy. He saw his father holding onto his wife with one hand and still clutching the knife with the other. The boy turned and fled.

Sylvie screamed as she saw herself running after the boy, recalling what happened next and knowing this was a past life she was watching. Now that she understood this, it seemed easier to resist the memory and return her mind to where she stood in the church as her present-day self.

“It was me in another life,” she said, sobbing as the spectres materialised into ghostly versions of the wife and son she had just seen. “I killed you,” she told the boy, then she turned to his mother and said, “I covered up for my lover when the authorities looked into your death. I told them you had been insane and got hold of a knife and cut your own throat. I said I witnessed it with my own eyes.” She fell to her knees, looking up at the ghosts, then at the priest. “Please, Father Langley, tell them to take me. My niece Lucy shouldn’t have to pay for this. That’s why I sent somewhere they could never find her. None of this was her fault.”

The mother and her son both faded, reaching out for Sylvie as the priest pulled her out of the way with more strength than she had given him credit for.

“What did you do that for?”

“I hold confessions on a Thursday. Today is Thursday, and that sounded like a confession to me. They shouldn’t bother you any more.

She got to her feet, looked around the church, and upward at the blood of the first robber on the ceiling, and Mike limping to the now open doors.

“Shouldn’t we stop him? He tried to rob you. We don’t know how many people he could have hurt or killed in previous robberies.”

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