CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
The Chapel of Light
The motel room is clean, as far as Matthew can tell. That, along with a flat screen TV, is the extent of anything that could be called amenities. It doesn’t even have one of those single-serve coffee makers.
A box of half-eaten greasy pizza lies open on one of the room’s two twin beds, a coke sits open on the nightstand between them, perspiration collecting at its base. A window-mounted air conditioner buzzes noisily as it tries to beat back the humid August evening.
The cable is out, and the TV is picking up all of one and a half stations. The one station is showing a baseball game, the half station is showing a war movie when it can actually hold a picture. He keeps the baseball game on just to have something on in the background. He wishes he had something to read.
He lies back on the bed not supporting a pizza and stares at the ceiling, remembering how much he hated having nothing to do when he was a kid and feeling more than a little like a kid again. He sighs and tries not to think about how much he hates baseball. At least it isn’t golf—if the only thing to watch were golf he’s pretty sure he’d try to scale that bridge and get back to the manor house just on the off-chance that Sheriff Dobbs might shoot him.
The thought provokes a brief smile, but also leads to him revisiting all the things Henry, Buck, and the Sheriff had said about that place. Revisiting again, more accurately—re-revisiting. Endlessly revisiting. It’s the only thing to do besides watch bad baseball and eat bad pizza.
They all appeared to deal with the manor house differently. Henry dismissed the rumors around it as a result of something there that triggered hallucinations—but he’d been curious about what Matthew had seen. Buck had seemed only superficially interested in what he’d seen; to him, it was just where teenagers went to party and be daring. Sheriff Dobbs claimed to have no interest at all in anything Matthew might have seen, and in fact appeared to have a strong interest in Matthew having seen nothing at all.
“You have no idea how much time I spend as sheriff trying to deal with people who believe Old Man Simon is back from the grave.”
The motel room suddenly feels crowded, with that name taking up all available space. Old Man Simo__n. A ghost story, Dobbs called it—something that riled up some of the locals. Matthew wonders if the Sheriff really stands apart from that set as he claims, or if he might actually be one of them. Of the three men, Matthew has a feeling Sheriff Dobbs would be the least likely to outright dismiss Matthew if he’d told him what he saw that night.
Assuming he saw something. He frowns, sitting up and reaching for the coke to try and wash the bad taste out of his mouth. He had seen something, hadn’t he? How do you hallucinate someone like Alice? He tabled that thought, since on reflection Alice had drifted a little to close to women he had actually dreamed (only it wasn’t the same, Alice had substance) and focused instead on the fact, the irrefutable fact, that Alice had mentioned Simon first.
Matthew’s frown dips into a scowl. She hadn’t hadn’t she? Yes, she’d wanted him to actually meet Simon. That’s what they would have been doing tonight…
He suppresses a more than passing urge to find a way to get back to the Manor that evening. He sighs, letting the urge swell and recede. He could see it now: Matthew, limping on his cane, showing up in the dead of night at an abandoned and rotting ruin, alone in the middle of nowhere. Or worse, arriving to find those vagrants who’d attacked him had returned.
They didn’t look like vagrants.
He stops that thought before he spends too much time thinking about what they did look like and turns his attention back to the problem of Simon.
He can’t have hallucinated hearing Simon’s name. He specifically heard Alice tell him about Simon before anyone else had ever mentioned his name. That seems to be an argument against him hallucinating—he wouldn’t be precognitively hallucinating, would he? Inventing something based on something he’ll hear later? That makes no sense.
The problem is Matthew has witnessed first hand how suggestible some people can be after they’ve hallucinated, especially if the trip was pretty intense. Tell just the right person they did something when they were especially high and you can watch them construct the memory from nothing and drop it right into their fantasy as if it had always been there.
Matthew never believed he was that suggestible, but nobody really thinks they are. Maybe he is. Maybe, if the entire thing is a hallucination, the original version didn’t mention Simon at all… and it wasn’t until Dobbs said the name that his brain grabbed it and retconned it right then and there.
But it was real. It was!
The problem is that if it’s real, there are two manors: the one he saw at night, the beautiful architecture and beautiful grounds and staggeringly beautiful people, and the graveyard of dust and rotted wood. They can’t both be true, one way at night and the other during the day.
“It’s dangerous in the day. There are terrible things in the day. Sleep till nightfall.”
That’s what she’d told him. That tracked, didn’t it? There had been legitimately terrible things in the day. He shudders and lets his mind back away from that image again.
He growls, climbs out of bed, and limps over to the sink. His ankle throbs, not quite painful but definitely tender, and he keeps his weight on his other leg as he splashes some water on his face. He limps back to bed and throws himself on it, grabbing the remote and turning the TV off in disgust. He lies there in silence for a while, staring at the ceiling, trying not to think, so (of course) thinking about everything all at once.
The seasons were different. That was the problem. The manor by day had been hot exactly the way he’d expect it to be in August. But the manor by night had felt more like late October. Cold. Crisp. Autumn.
He sighs in disgust, pushing the whole thing aside and trying to think about something else. He wants to paint; he focuses on that. He vaguely remembers an arts and crafts store near Sally’s Diner—maybe in the morning he’ll go there and buy at least a sketch pad and a good pen. Not much sense in doing it now—the store’s probably closed. Everything, it seems, closes earlier than it should in Daylight.
City boy, ain’tcha? Well… yeah. I am.
He stares at the ceiling until he falls asleep. Just before he closes his eyes, his last conscious thought is that he hadn’t thought about Richmond once that entire day.
* * *
Matthew opens his eyes. The lamp on his nightstand is still on, but the windows are dark. The clock on the nightstand reads 11:37. He sighs, fumbles with the lamp until he manages to turn it off, and settles back into bed, trying to go back to sleep.
Moments later he sits up and fumbles the lamp back on again. He’s restless, he can’t sleep, he’s bored out of his mind, and it’s making him crazy. He’s stuck in this town and he remembers something amazing, and he’s mostly sure it didn’t happen, but there’s just enough doubt for him to hope it did.
He feels out of place, just like he had when he’d stood on the manor grounds and watched the beautiful people at the party… but this time, there was no sense of wonder and longing. He just feels miserable. He hopes the deputy finds his car in the morning—he wants to leave Daylight as fast and as soon as possible, ankle be damned.
Time passes. The rattle of the air conditioner grates at his nerves. He tries to block the sound, to relax and go back to sleep, but the longer he tries the louder the rattle gets. He grits his teeth in frustration, turns over on his side, and is just about to wrap his pillow around his head when he hears the singing.
At first he thinks it’s someone in one of the other rooms playing the radio too loud. But the walls are thin and the noise is too faint—a radio would be louder. The sound swells a moment, and as it does Matthew hears many voices, like a choir, then it fades to something barely audible.
It’s coming from somewhere outside.
Matthew sits up, grabs his cane, and limps to his one window, pushing the curtain aside. It looks out into the motel’s mostly empty parking lot. He goes over to the door and opens it.
A rush of cold, crisp air pours into the room. He shivers; he sees his own breath as he exhales.
The voices are louder, more distinct. Matthew pulls on his boots, ignoring his ankles protests as he forces it on, grabs his jacket and stumps outside.
It’s dark. There is no moon, but stars shine brilliantly, and once again the sky is filled with blue and purple hues. The singers are close now: he thinks he hears them from the direction of Bridge Road. Pulse quickening, he pulls on his jacket and heads off in that direction.
Bridge Road is only two blocks away. He walks as fast as he can manage, the tip of his cane echoing each time it hits the sidewalk. His view of the street is blocked by a row of buildings, but the singing is very clear now: he doesn’t understand the words, but the melody pulls him forward. He breaks into a jog, ignoring the pain in this ankle as he turns down a short alley. As the alley opens into Bridge Road he finally sees the singers.
The singers walk two abreast, all dressed in gray, finely-spun hooded cloaks that seem to reflect the starlight, shimmering beneath the sky. Each singer holds a candle, each flame flickers and dances as the singers file past him, illuminating their hooded faces. Matthew recognizes some of those faces—men and women he’d seen at the party. He even catches a fleeting glimpse of Alexander.
He doesn’t recognize the song, or the language they’re singing in, but the tune is indescribably beautiful. There are four distinct melodies, each taken up by a different part of the line, and when they combine it the song is a conversation. One melody calls out, a second responds, a third calls out, the fourth responds, then all join together in a single refrain that weaves together all four melodies into something… glorious.
The song tugs at a memory, an old memory. He knows he’s never heard the song until tonight but it feels familiar. As the song continues, and the singers continue past him, the melody pulls him along behind them, promising… something. The potential of something, something that isn’t here yet, but is just around the corner. That feeling, at least, he recognizes: it was what he felt as a young boy, the first time he picked up one of his uncle’s paintbrushes and began to paint. That is the feeling pouring out of every verse and every chorus now.
It’s difficult to keep up. They move at a steady pace, keeping in perfect time with their song, while Matthew finds his ankle has rebelled against his recent jog and sends pain lancing up his leg with every step. The singers make their way up Bridge Road, and Matthew manages to keep them in view though he lags ever farther behind. They go deeper into the center of Daylight; he follows. Daylight, he notices, has changed: the storefronts and buildings are gone, and in their place are old, elegant houses, all dark and silent. The street lights are no longer electric, but flickering oil lampposts. The road crunches beneath Matthew’s boots, and he realizes they’re no longer on modern asphalt, but walking on cobble and loose stone.
The procession moves on, always singing, past old houses, hedges, and trees. Bridge Road slopes upward, first gradually then more noticeably, and finally as Matthew crests the top of the hill he sees a church.
It’s not the largest church he’s ever seen, but it’s an astonishing sight. It’s made entirely of white marble, with a single spire that stretches into the night sky. The doors are open, and light pours out of the door, and through the windows, and the light and marble together make the church glow in the darkness beneath the starry sky.
The first of the singers reach the church and pass through the doors, one hand reaching up to pull back the hood as they enter. The rest of the procession follows in kind, each removing their own hood in turn. Matthew struggles to catch up, but by the time he reaches the path leading to the church the last of the singers has already passed through the door.
The church has a single room—the chapel only—but it’s large enough to hold the entire procession with room to spare. Most of the room is filled with church pews, save for a single lectern made of dark wood standing at the far end, facing the doors. As Matthew finally reaches the doors he sees the singers settling in the pews, still singing, each holding up their candles before them. The entire chapel is filled with candles: candles on the walls, candles hung from chandeliers, candles set in rows behind the lectern. Above the candles are tapestries, all different, but all depicting the same scene: a woman holding a small child, gazing into the child’s face, the small child gazing past the woman, up into the sky.
A man stands at the lectern. He’s a much older man than the singers, though he isn’t bent from age like the musicians at the party. He is perhaps in his late fifties or early sixties, face mostly unlined but his shoulder-length hair thoroughly gray. He wears a robe of pure white that glows in the candlelight in much the same way as the church glows in the starlight.
Matthew stops at the doorway, uncertain. He wants to go in and sit down at one of the pews—one of the few times in his life when he has actually wanted to sit through a church service—but he doesn’t feel like he has the right. He feels unclean, unworthy of entering. So he watches from the door as the robed man stands before his congregation, all still singing, and smiles at them. It’s a kind smile, full of affection, but it also carries an air of authority. The old man sweeps his gaze across the room, taking in his congregation. His gaze stops, just for a moment, on Matthew standing in the doorway. Matthew stares back, heart pounding, wondering if he would be sent away. After a moment’s hesitation, the old man turns his attention back to his congregation.
Matthew still feels unworthy, now he also feels relieved: it appears he will be allowed to watch.
The old man moves to the front of the lectern and raises his hands to the sky. The congregation stands, still singing, and the front row leave their pews to form a single line in front of the lectern. The figure at the front of the line knees, and the old man reaches down and gently places his hand on the penitent, tracing a pattern in the air with his other hand. The air tingles; the hair on the back of Matthew’s neck rises.
The first in line rises and returns to the pew, the second steps forward in kneels in turn. The benediction—that’s what it looks like as far as Matthew is concerned—is performed for each singer in line, then when they’re done a new line forms, and the process repeats, each singer kneeling before the old man, the old man repeating his ritual with each in turn.
Every time the old man traces the pattern over a singer, Matthew feels the air grow thicker and thicker around him. Something is growing in the chapel, spilling out the doorway, expanding into the town. The feeling of potential he’d already heard in the song increases, crossing a line from recognizing a possibility to anticipating it.
The world is waiting, Matthew thinks. It’s waiting for something to be born.
The last of the singers returns to her pew. The singing continues, only louder, and the reverberation of their voices combine to form almost a fifth melody. The man in white returns to the lectern, and as he faces his congregation he raises both arms to the sky, his sleeves falling back to reveal smooth, pale arms. At this gesture the singing grows louder still, and when it seems to Matthew the entire world is filled with the sound, with absolutely no room for anything else, the man in white throws his head back and sings a single, clear note.
That note, like the last piece of a previously indecipherable puzzle, brings everything together. It bridges the gap between each melody in the song. It is no longer four melodies skillfully woven together, no longer four distinct sounds that mesh but remain separate: with that single note, all becomes one. It is obviously a single song, sung by a group with one mind, one purpose, all the strands now plainly different pieces of the same structure, foundation and wall and floor and ceiling. It’s a song of purpose, and it’s a purpose that doesn’t include Matthew in any way. He wants to join in, to sing along with the congregation, but he can’t. It’s not just that he knows he _shouldn’t—_the song actively excludes him from it.
He steps back from the doorway, turns to face the crisp night air, and takes a few shaky steps away from the chapel. His eyes sting, tears stream down his face, and he can’t really explain why he’s crying. It’s not that the singing is beautiful—it is beautiful, but art doesn’t move him in that way. It’s the singers, not the song: the singers are happy. They are joyful.
He hasn’t felt that way in a long time. He’s not convinced he’s ever felt that way. Happy, yes, but not that.
The single note ends and the singers return to their four separate songs. The light within the chapel dims, then the singers begin to emerge. Still singing, though quieter and more solemnly, they exit the chapel and head back the way they came. Matthew watches them pass in silence.
As the last of the singers pass him, he’s startled by a flash of brilliant green eyes. It’s Alice—she doesn’t appear to notice him, or at least doesn’t acknowledge him as she passes. For his part, he’s so lost in the lingering traces of joy that the full implication of those eyes doesn’t register until the procession has already begun their trek back down Bridge Road. He grips his cane and follows.
Again he finds himself struggling to catch up. The faster he tries to walk, the more his ankle throbs, and the farther away they seem to be. He struggles down the stony pavement and focuses on not falling father behind. This is easier to manage: if he simply follows without trying to catch up, he’s able to keep pace. If he tries to go faster, to catch up, he falls further behind.
He follows them in darkness, surrounded by silence save for their singing. The singing, he realizes, is growing fainter, and once again he tries to ignore the pain in his ankle and catch up. The fainter the singing is, the more oppressive the rest of the world’s silence becomes. All he hears is the thump of his cane and the shuffling of his footsteps. There is no wind, no sound of insects, no sound of animals of any kind. He feels like he’s the only man on earth, desperately following ghosts who are relentlessly fading away.
Soon he recognizes a bend in the road: it’s the spot where he’d lost consciousness that morning. Around a clump of trees in the distance is the bridge. When he finally gets past the trees he finally sees the bridge—or, he sees a bridge. This is not the rusting structure of steel and concrete from the night before. This is a thin, elegant latticework of wood, painted white, barely wide enough to allow two people to cross at a time. It looks, Matthew realizes, exactly like the bridges that connected the gazebo to the rest of the Manor grounds, only much longer.
The procession is still crossing the bridge. He still has time. But as he nears, the last of the singers steps on to the bridge, they shut a tall wooden gate behind them. When Matthew finally reaches the gate, he can’t open it. He can’t even shake it. It might as well be solid stone.
He calls out, unable to think of anything else, but he feels the sound end at the gate. That barrier is doing more than block his way—it is separating, almost severing, his side from theirs. His words don’t reach them because they fall into a rift that has formed and is growing larger moment by moment.
He’ll need to do more to cross that rift. He’ll need a bridge of his own. He doesn’t know what it will take, exactly, but he closes his eyes, puts all his determination and will into his voice, and tries again:
He doesn’t shout, but even so the effect is startling. His voice rings with authority, the sound everywhere all at once, commanding the fundament of the earth itself. He sways, nearly losing his balance from the effort of it—but when he opens his eyes he sees that the entire procession of singers has halted and turned to face him. The singing has stopped.
One of the figures steps forward, pulling back its hood. Alice stares at him, first in confusion, then in amazement and surprise. Recognition flickers in her eyes, and she smiles in delight—delight that falters when she realizes he stands on the other side of the gate.
She stares at him, confused for a moment, then an expression of understanding and regret settles in. For a moment they stare at each other in silence. He tries to say something, even just to call her name, but he can’t focus beyond keeping his balance. They stare at each other, then—reluctantly—she raises her hood and turns away.
The singers take up their song once more; to Matthew, it sounds like a lament for the dead. Matthew stands helplessly as he watches them resume their procession across the bridge, watches the gate on the far side close behind them, watches them all disappear into the darkness.
When he turns back to town, the autumn chill is gone. It is summer again, the air is hot and humid, and the steady glow of electric street lights shine in the horizon. He coughs. His arms and legs feel strangely heavy. Clutching at his cane for support, he slowly, limps back to Daylight.