Press play for some mood music
We all have shitty neighbors from time to time. They may play music too loud, leave their barking dogs outside or merely leave trashcans on the curb for far too long. It's all part of being a member of any given community. And we usually deal.
And sure, I have my own bad habits. Frequently, I'd leave my car parked on the street overnight, my newspapers would flood the unkempt lawn and my porch was sort of an eyesore.
That said, I often look the other way. It was hard, though, when the noises started roughly a month ago from the rectory next door.
Because the damn novel doesn't seem to formulate in my head during the waking hours, I often find myself backwards when it comes to sleep. And if it's one thing I know is that the mind can play tricks during the hush of night.
I'm going on record and telling you that I always thought Father Valka was different. He rarely said hello and when he did, it seemed forced. But in the pulpit, he was dynamic and engaging. He was a paradox.
When the noises started, I crept up to the window and peered out. Valka was carrying a bunch of stuff in a crate from an old station wagon the priests used. He walked into the rectory and slammed the door. And that was pretty much that.
A few days later, the clanking started. But it was a muffled kind of clatter. Still, in my attic, if you tried to hear it, you usually could. I shook my head and went back to the book that didn't want to end.
At Sunday mass, I noticed Valka was absent and thought it was odd since I was almost positive the clanks I heard during the witching hour the night before were certainly his.
By Wednesday of the next week, instead of ruckus there were now wails. They were agonizing. Like a dying cat. I opened the window and let in the crisp Autumn air. And those moans... Funny enough, the damn feline helped the writing.
It was the annual pilgrimage to Padre Pio in Pennsylvania where all the kooks go to pray to a statue and yellow school buses clogged the street. I was kind of happy the rectory would be empty for a few days because quite frankly, the noises were not only starting to get creepy but now I began to question most of them.
Typing. I went back to typing.
But it started again. Wails turned into a steady level of crying. Haunting. Enough was enough. I went into my backyard, hopped the fence and tiptoed around the perimeter. When I made it to the rectory backyard, the cries were evident. It was no cat. How did I know? Because cats don't speak.
"Jesus, please save me..." was all I kept hearing in a drone. That was it. I kicked in the screen door that led to the back hallway and crept down a dark, dank staircase to the cellar. The cries were louder now but I couldn't tell where they were coming from.
I picked up a large hammer on a workbench and crept around in the dark -- my hands as my guide. They led me to a makeshift room, padlocked.
She cried when I told her that I was there to help. My adrenaline kicked in and I began to hammer at the lock furiously. Eventually I was able to kick in the door enough to see a prisoner.
It was Sister Mary Marie. She was chained and tied up. The blindfold was so tight, it barely came off. Scribbled in blood on the wall was one message:
THIS IS HELL
She was young nun who arrived at the convent about a month ago, fresh faced and just way too good looking to be in a habit. Looking at her it dawned on me what the public still doesn't get about these men of the faith is that -- they're men. And men will be men.
All half dozen of the priests were questioned by detectives the next day and it was pretty easy to surmise that Valka was their man. He told them that he never intended to hurt Mary Marie but simply wanted to see who would come to her aid first -- God or Satan.
It's some months later and Mary Marie is bouncing back with the help of generous amounts of prayer and head shrinking. She teaches third grade at the Catholic School up the street where my daughter attends.
Me? I was back in the attic typing away, questioning the nature of our demons, their challenges and the people we become as a result. And Valka? Funny enough, Satan got the best of him in a damp jail cell in Marion County, Georgia. The guards found him strangled.
The weird part? Legend has it the videotape went black at the time of his death.