Sunday, December 16

advent 2007

It was the same dream every night. Had been going on for weeks now, and it seemed more vivid each time. The flames erupted through the roof of the church and it collapsed, ancient timbers crashing into the sanctuary as the windows shattered and the brass chandeliers fell into twisted piles of superheated metal onto the ruined pews. It was an inferno. Hell personified.

Peter never saw the aftermath – the smoldering ruin of columns and walls, like a New World Parthenon, smoke curling aimlessly into the sky. That was in his imagination, but not in his dream. But it was still horrific. All of that history and all of that memory incinerated, the flames swallowing it all up like the Devil himself had paid them a visit. He heard no screams, saw no charred flesh. He did not think anyone had died. But he didn’t know for sure, did he?

Peter was not sure of the reason for this abomination. He had seen Dr. Finley on Sunday and had opened his mouth to tell him about it but thought better of it. And so he was left there with his mouth gaping open, Dr. Finley smiling and shaking his hand while Peter stood there in silence.

I’m such a doofus, he thought to himself. Dr. Finley probably thinks I’m just some weird SCAD kid. And, truth be told, okay, he was some weird SCAD kid.

Peter had dyed his hair orange a while back and he just left it that way, even though he was really tired of it. He had taken out all of the piercings – especially the ones in his nose and eyelids – but he still had the Led Zep tattoo on his back, the one he had done while he was in high school. It was copied from the cover art for the Houses of the Holy album, and was in full color. The tattoo artist – whose name was “Rope,” for reasons that Peter could never quite figure out – had taken one look at his artwork when he finished and said, “Glorious, man.” And then Rope had smoked a hand-rolled cigarette, the haze an acrid blue-gray halo about his head.
Peter remembered seeing the dark ink stains under Rope’s fingernails and having the first idea that perhaps the tattoo wasn’t such a good idea.

That had been five years ago. Peter had gone to church every Sunday when he was growing up in Monticello, but something in him had rebelled in high school. It broke his mother’s heart when he told her he didn’t want to go to Monticello Baptist anymore. The tattoos, body piercings, and orange hair did not help their relationship. And when he went to SCAD as an Architectural History major, his mother was certain she had lost him. But she was wrong.

He had initially fallen in love with First Baptist because of the architecture. He admitted that to himself. The church had caught his eye during a stroll through downtown Savannah one fine spring day. He climbed the steps, wandered inside and sat down. The gold pipes of the organ caught the sun streaming through the windows that day. The shutters were open and he could see the law offices across the street. Pigeons chortled along the eaves and the wind gently tousled the trees outside and it was peaceful.

And Peter realized that he missed church. It had left a little hole in his heart that needed filling, a hunger. It had been the architecture that lured him through the door, and childhood memory made him come back on Sunday. But, ultimately, the people kept him inside.

The First Baptist congregation accepted him as he was, week after week, not bearing judgment or asking him to change. But Peter was changing. He could feel it, as surely and inexorably as the ocean erodes the shoreline. The angst in him dissipated. He couldn’t even remember what it had all been about anymore. He was enraptured by the polyphonic perfection of the choir and the majesty of the huge organ. Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, he found himself more and more at peace.

Which is why the violence of his recurring nightmare surprised him so. Peter sat up in bed. The clock was blinking 12:00 in crimson and it was still dark out. He could see the lights of the Savannah River Bridge over the rooftops. “Power must have gone out,” he said to himself.

He still could not remember any people in his dream. Well, not specifically, anyway. Not people he knew. But there was that one guy. The guy in the narthex, his hair disheveled, a scar below his eye, dressed in fatigues or something. Carrying a duffel bag.

And there were two older people, standing down in front. A man and a woman, both silent, just staring at the white-hot flames as they roared skyward. But that wasn’t the strange part.

The strange part was that Peter could see right through them.
(to be continued)

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