Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Easter (05/30/05)
TITLE: Through the Back Door
By Kyle Chezum
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He kept his flashlight low, his hand covering the beam. The church grounds were deserted at that hour, but the street beyond the fence was not. More than one set of headlights had gone by over there in the past few minutes. It would do no good if someone saw him.
So he kept the light hidden, and waited. Rain dripped from the eave above him to patter along the pavement in the shadow of the church building. It was a forlorn, wandering sound, a quiet chaos, and Matt could feel it raging around him. He had been there a long time.
The place was empty. Across the lot, a dead tree raked at the wind beneath the sputtering glow of a single streetlight. The church itself was dark, austere and grim in the shadows. Empty, like him.
Ryan showed up a few minutes later. He came from the street, through a rent in the fence, Stacie following close behind. They stole past the light and into the darkness near the church. Ryan had the bolt cutters and another flashlight, which was shut off.
Stacie slumped against the wall and wiped her face on her sleeve, brushing away rainwater and tears. “Please Ryan, let’s just forget it. This isn’t going to work.”
Ryan leaned on the doorframe, catching his breath. “We ran into a cop at the edge of the city. Stacie’s a bit shook up.” He grinned. “Just what I’d expect from a city girl.”
Stacie pouted. “I wouldn’t expect a bum like you to care.”
Matt gestured toward the church. “How much do you think is in there?”
Ryan shrugged. “It was Easter yesterday, and everyone goes to church on Easter.”
Wind tore across the yard. Matt uncovered his light. “Let’s get this door open, then.”
The padlock snapped instantly between Ryan’s bolt cutters. He swiped it aside, then turned on his flashlight and kicked the door inward. Cobwebs swayed along the ceiling in the hallway beyond.
Matt peered into the darkness. “Looks like no one comes this way any more.”
Ryan brushed past him and disappeared inside. Matt turned to Stacie. “You coming, or do you want to wait out here?”
She sniffled. “I’m coming.”
A door at the end of the hallway led into the sanctuary. Rows of empty pews sat with a kind of stern regularity, an abandoned order. Ryan moved toward the pulpit at the front of the room, his flashlight cutting huge swaths in the silent darkness. “It’s got to be up here somewhere.”
Stacie seemed confused. “What?”
“The offering money. This church rakes in big bucks every Easter.”
Matt left them and strode to the line of windows that arrayed the far wall. In the distance, the city skyline was nothing more than a scatter of stars groping upward into that furious barrier that was the storm. It was just another kind of chaos, like the aimless rain outside the church—
There was a car in the parking lot.
Matt ducked, hiding his flashlight. Someone must have arrived while they were in the back hallway. “Ryan,” he whispered, “there’s someone—”
The ceiling lights came on with a blinding, condemning brilliance. Matt shielded his eyes, heard Stacie scream. A gunshot echoed from somewhere behind him, once, then twice. Matt glanced over his shoulder. Ryan stood on the stage, staring toward the front door, gun in hand. Matt turned just in time to see an elderly man fall to the floor beneath the light switch.
Ryan was swearing, stammering, his face pale. “I—I thought it was the cops—”
Matt moved forward, toward the man who lay bleeding on the cold linoleum. He was dressed in casual clothes, as though he had just been heading to a friend’s house. His eyes were wide open, startled, but somehow peaceful and willing. There was nothing of anger on his face. Even dead, everything was in order and as it should be.
Stacie was trembling, her face wet. “We killed him.”
Ryan tried to shrug but couldn’t feign the indifference. “It was a mistake—he was innocent—”
Matt knelt in the spreading blood, his head in his hands. “Ryan, we are in serious trouble.”
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