Cornerstone

M K Roney

Wyld FLASH – February 5th 2021

I was twelve when they snuffed out the last of the sky. I wriggled and squirmed as the coarse rope bit into my flesh, but it would not give.

“You’re to be a guardian,” the priest told me, standing before the diminishing opening of the pillar that heralded the entrance of the cathedral. He spoke in soft tones, his eyes kind and his hands spread in pontification. “With your purity, you’ll be a ward against evil.”

The builders, two men I had seen at Sunday services, avoided my eyes as they continued to lay brick and mortar across the opening. I wept as the last of the sunset was sealed behind kiln-hardened clay and I was left only with darkness and the muffled sounds of humanity.

§

It was years before the first evil thing tried to cross the threshold. My body had stretched and withered, the light long drained from my marrow. Once, the sounds of a choir had sunk through the stone and I heard the wavering of voices, as if from deep underwater, but it had been a long while since there had been anything but silence.

When the evil thing approached, I felt it. Its feet sank deep into the soft dirt of the garden, its connection with the earth a niggling thrum. It moved slowly, approaching with tentative steps. I waited, unsure what the creature was or what it wanted. I wondered if perhaps I could speak to it, if it would be able to hear me and would respond in turn.

A hand, not unlike my own, laid palm-flat on the first flagstone leading up to the cathedral and I began to scream. All I could feel was pain and darkness and writhing. I cried out to the thing to go away, that it was hurting me, but still it crept closer, taking the stone steps by inches. When it reached the entryway, ran its fingertips across the gnarled ash of the door, I could take it no longer and I pushed back. I heard a shriek, high and grating as that of an animal. The hand withdrew, the feet retreated. It fled across the grass, jumping onto gravestones and the boughs of willow trees until finally, all was still and silent, the only sign it had been there a handprint burnt into the door and the final vestiges of pain that echoed through my bones for weeks after.

§

That evil thing was not the last that tried to impinge on holy ground. Dozens more came, some trying to rip their way through, others trying to coax me with songs of salvation and lasting sleep. Each time I pushed them away, wishing I could endure the pain long enough to accept their offers.

§

When thunderous clacks cracked stone and the walls shook with flying metal and licking flame, I saw the sky for the first time in an age. The opening was jagged, the brick torn like so much cloth, but there it was; the shimmering of stars, little droplets of light against the darkness. Men moved around me, shouting, screaming, but I looked heavenward.

“What is this?”

A man in silver kneeled before me, whispering. He reached into the pillar and lifted what little was left of me from the rubbled brick, crying over my bones.

“It is an old custom,” a robed man said, coming to stand beside him.

“It’s cruelty.”

“Their beliefs are not without merit. This place is known for its ability to repel demons. Perhaps we should leave the remains as they are.”

The armored man looked at me with pity. His eyes were soft, his hands gentle. Behind him, the sky was beginning to brighten, dawn coloring the horizon in hues I had forgotten, slowly turning the world to light.

“Do as you see fit,” he said quietly, laying me on the ground. “But give the child a blessing. Lay it to rest.”

He walked away as the robed man crouched before me, delicately placing me back into the cavern of the pillar, saying prayers I couldn’t understand. Slowly and with reverence, he began rebuilding the ruin.

I screamed and cried out, begging him to stop, begging him to leave me the sky. I tried to push him away as I had done with the evil things but he continued his work, undeterred, until the heavens were made stone and I was once again left in darkness.

Author bio: MK Roney is a writer, editor and photographer from Arizona. Her work appears in Anastamos, 34 Orchard, Black Coffee & Vinyl and other venues, and she recently won the 2020 Remastered Words contest. She lives in the woods with her lunatic of a dog Locke, and hopes to one day plant a garden without accidentally killing it.

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