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Drag Shergi Mystery 06 - Excerpt

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By chanthar
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Now I don’t usually visit religious institutions, but sometimes their mystery gets even to me. In the larger cities there could be a few, but in the smaller towns there was usually just one building, if any. As for the town I lived in, it didn’t really have one, so most of the faithful went on to the neighboring city. It was called Cheney Town. The name was deceptive, as it was more a city than a town now, but it hadn’t changed much from when the place had been formed as a small town centuries ago.

Right now was a time that usually brought out the faithful, as it was the end of the year. With winter firmly settled over the landscape, the mounds of snow piled up to make it hard to walk. The city maintenance workers tried so hard to keep the sidewalks clean, but there was only so much they could do. It was easier to clean the streets, as cars drove around with shovels anchored to the front.

To get there I rode on the bus. It was a couple hours to get from my town to the center of the city. Since the structure of the building was on the southern edge of the center of the city away from the more popular museum and shopping centers, it was a little less crowded on the streets. A little less, but it was nothing like how it would be on a normal day rather than in the holiday week.

While I stepped off the bus in the early morning, I found myself in a bit of a daze. The years were passing quickly. I was thirty years old now. I hadn’t been sure where I’d be at this age, but I certainly hadn’t expected to be in this situation. My career as a police officer had ended nearly a decade ago. It wasn’t entirely my fault or theirs. I just saw things in a different way; that led to arguments and my inability to follow the rules meant for only one side of the situation.

As with many retired officers, I became a private detective. Rather than fasten myself to a certain group, I decided to be entirely freelance. As such I lived very modestly, since the pay there didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. In truth, seasonal jobs provided me with the money for necessities. Now don’t get me wrong, the detective jobs I did sometimes got me money or other perks, but with the cost of daily necessities, the modest amount didn’t last as long as I’d hoped. Right now I didn’t have a case, so I decided to take some time for myself.

I pushed out of the daze to look up from the sidewalk along the lines of the building. Even with my six foot three inch height, I had to bend a bit backwards to see the rooftop. The structure of it was full of lines and angles. The height went up about seven stories then the eighth story was made from the attic where the bells rested under the roof. The only roundness came in the center of the building; it was enough of a circle that it stretched over about three stories. There were a few other windows around the sides that were for single rooms rather than the main sanctuary. The windows there were rectangular with domed tops.

Around me there were many people. As I stood still, I was like a log in the middle of a waterfall. The people went by me; some went quickly, some went slowly. Either way, the draw into the building was undeniable. Soon, the outside was empty, since everyone was inside. Well, everyone except me. I didn’t want to go in and hear the sermon. The speeches weren’t very long, but certainly long enough that I couldn’t spend all of my time outside in the chilly winter weather.

Reluctantly, I stepped through the outer doors into the building. There was a small outer sanctum that kept the inner sanctum safe from extreme changes in temperature. The echo of the sermon could be heard, but it was not loud enough to disturb other chats. Strewn around were several benches for people to sit on while they waited. It was to one of those that I wandered. As I gazed around, I noticed a few parents around who had taken their fussy children out of the service so they wouldn’t be a disruption.

When one of the women stared at me, I gave a small smile and bobbed my head. She just stared, so I continued my movement. I walked to one of the benches then sat there; I draped my arms over my knees while I rested. While I waited, there was much action, though it was only the parents attending to their babes. Once they’d calmed, the group returned into the inner sanctuary. I continued to wait outside. Once the sermon ended, the action returned to the outer room. The flood of people washed by me once again, as the parishioners hurried to return to their usual lives.

I stood from my seat. Since my height was on the taller side, I could easily see over the tops of most people’s heads. There were a rare few, though, who were even taller than I was. I couldn’t help but smile as I noticed them. With a soft shake of my head, I wandered through the open doors of the inner sanctum.

There were several rows of pews. Tradition made it so there was always a central aisle that the contraptions could be paraded down to the altar at the front. I really didn’t care for the church’s display of wealth. Over on the left hand side was a box which served for a confessional. The head priest would sit in there and listen to people’s problems. There was a strict code of silence in that box. What went in never came out so to speak. At the moment there were several people lined up to speak.

I hung back while I waited. My eyes turned so I could look at those in the pews. A few were bent over. With a soft sigh I wandered to one where I sat. I leaned forwards and wrapped my arms over the back of the pew in front of me. With my head dropped into the hollow I waited until more people left. I knew there would be three services, one in the morning and two in the evening. I had time to wait.

I didn’t count the minutes, but it felt like some time. There was the sound of the church bell as it sounded a half hour past what I’d last thought it was. I lifted my head so I could glance around the sanctuary once more. It was fairly vacant. As the last person went into the confessional, I stood and hurried to go over to the booth. I folded my arms across my chest as I waited outside.

Even for those who didn’t believe, it was nice to talk to someone who wouldn’t judge you. You could just unload everything that had your mind burdened. I wanted to have a friend like that, but somehow I just couldn’t make the connection with others that I needed. I knew a big part of that was the second sight I had. With the end of the year coming up, I wanted to clear my mind before the winter holiday blues took hold.

When the last person exited the confession booth, I could smell the putrid scent of incense. It wasn’t an odor that I enjoyed, but I fought back the gagging noise as I entered the booth. Thankfully the piece of furniture was rather large to accommodate any shape or size so I could sit normally as I closed the door.

“Welcome, my child.”

It was a traditional greeting. Each of the priests was referred to as either ‘father’ or ‘mother’. Even though I tried to hide a laugh at the thought, I couldn’t help a bit of it coming into my voice, “I am here for your guidance.”

“Have you anything to confess?”

I spoke to reply, “No, I have always tried to live without causing harm to those around me. However, I do find myself drawn into the circles of those who do, whether they do it on purpose or by accident. Sometimes I can do something to help them out of it, but too many times I can only stand by and watch.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“I suppose. The thing is, I see dead people. It’s more like their ghosts really. There are other spirits as well. I’ve always been able to do it, ever since I was little. When I was a youth, they passed it off as imagination. When I became an adult, it brought more strain. I lost my job. Now I’m trying for something close to what I had, but it’s no way to live.”

“Have you tried to find a job that uses those talents?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I try to use them. No matter how I try to ignore them, somehow things work out so it always requires me to use them. Still though, it isn’t how I want to live.”

“Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?”

“No, I could never follow someone I don’t know. I want to meet them; I want to hear their hopes, fears, and dreams. I want to know it from their own mouth. I want to see their eyes as they speak. I can’t follow by proxy; I have to know the absolute truth, otherwise I refuse to believe.”

“I see.”

“Besides, what does that have to do with my problem?”

The priest chuckled. “My son, what do you think we do here?”

I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know. With a faint shrug I found the words to say weakly, “I don’t know.”

The chuckle continued. Though I couldn’t see the figure behind the screen that separated out two sides, I could see a vague shadow. The speech passed easily through the weave. Outside of the confession booth no one could hear us though. He leaned in closer to speak, “Would you like me to show you?”

I was rather taken aback by the invitation. I didn’t know whether to accept or to decline. Either way, it was a new experience. I thought perhaps I should find out more about this little corner of the world. I was still hesitant though, so I spoke, “I- I don’t know.”

From inside I could hear the priest shift in his seat. There was a little door in the screen that he pulled aside. It was just big enough for a pair of eyes to stare out of. The two of us stared at each other for a while. Then he shut the little door. “I’ll meet you outside of the box.” Then the door on the side of the confession booth opened.

I blinked then opened the door on my side of the confession booth. I stepped out. While my hand closed the door behind me, my eyes cast about in search of the priest I had been speaking to.

There was a man standing half a foot shorter than me. While my eyes lowered to look into his, I noticed his were a truer blue as opposed to my light blue. Our hair was more different; his was black and quite short while mine was pale towards white silver and shaggier. Along with that, his skin was tan while mine was pale. We almost appeared to be opposites. Even the clothes showed it. He was in the usual garb for his sect: a long tunic in pale silver, arm wraps in black with blue ribbons, and leg wraps in the same as the arm coverings. Unlike the other priests, he had a rosary with pale blue beads draped around his neck. He didn’t look elderly; rather, he looked like he was just two years younger than me.

I blinked at him. I couldn’t help but stare; I probably looked like a fool. I looked him over then quickly glanced around before I returned my eyes to him.

He chuckled again. “Yes, I am the one you spoke to. Now, may I have your name? I am Father Saeed.”

“My name is Drag Shergi.”

His eyes widened slightly. “Are you really?”

I blinked then nodded faintly. My hands rested on my waist while my weight shifted from one foot to the other. There was something about the way he reacted that made me nervous. “Yes I am, why?”

“Oh, no reason really. I’ve just heard your name before,” he replied with a smile.

Somehow I couldn’t believe him. Maybe it was just my nature to not believe. I heard it from his lips and watched his eyes as he spoke, but it just didn’t click properly. He was hiding something. It made me a bit anxious, but I fought it back.

“Anyway,” said the priest to continue on, “I want to show you a little bit of what we do.”

“Lead the way then,” I said. My hands slid from my waist to tuck in my pockets. I had noticed the pose I was in was a little aggressive for speaking to a priest.

“Come with me,” repeated Father Saeed. He turned and led me away from the confession booth. He walked through the aisles directly to the back of the sanctuary.

We walked through the inner doors to the outer hall. I knew we weren’t going out. There were other doors set in the walls, though they were so humble in decoration that they were easy to overlook. Still, the two of us walked straight to them. As I followed the priest, no one tried to stop me. We stepped through the portal into the next part.

There was another hallway, though this was narrow so only two or three could walk abreast. I hurried on to walk at his side as we traveled. While I glanced around I could only see more doors that led to individual rooms. The first couple had labels of the higher ranking priests while others had no label. We passed the doors. From what I could tell, we were going to the very back of the church. We turned a corner and traveled towards the place I guessed was behind the altar.

“I don’t want to have the others hear us talk,” the priest said while he walked down the hallway. Once we came to a door to a room that I figured was right behind the altar. It was further out so that the room was along the outside wall of the church building. He opened the door then gestured inside.

I bobbed my head slightly while I stepped through the portal. It was just tall enough so that I didn’t hit my head – thank goodness for tall ceilings. I glanced around the inside. As my eyes moved, I caught sight of a gesture towards one of the seats. I walked over to the chair then sat.

Around the room were a few personal things, but all-in-all it seemed more like a study or office than somewhere someone would live. I knew the priests lived in the building, but it didn’t seem like they had a setup like I did at home. My office apartment had business in the front room while my habitation was in the back room. This place here had offices downstairs. The living quarters were probably upstairs. This room, though, had a nice desk over on the right hand side with two bookshelves on either side from the comfortable chair. On the left hand side of the room was a single bookcase. On either side of it was a couch then two chairs. The far wall was set with two large stained glass windows. Between those two windows was a simple vase filled with seasonal flowers.

My eyes cast around then returned to look at Father Saeed. Though the chair I’d sat in was closer to the door, somehow with the size of the desk it didn’t seem like I was far from the priest at all. I rested my hands so they sat on the top of either knee. My back was straight up against the polished wood back of the chair. I could feel this chair was much comfier than the pews.

“So, Drag,” started Father Saeed. “You have a gift that is causing you trouble. Likewise, many here have something similar. Whether their gift is stronger or weaker I can’t say offhand. But, I can say that we too aren’t entirely normal.”

I blinked at him. Had he misunderstood me? Or, perhaps it was a recruitment talk. My hands shifted from my knees to go up my thighs as I rested my forearms there. I let my spine release some so I could slump over slightly. With this more casual pose in my body, I coughed and spoke, “I wouldn’t say trouble is the word.”

“Yes,” he spoke with a chuckle then shake of his head. The longer bangs brushed across his forehead. “But this sect was generated as a lighter side to the Thanatos clan.”

“The grave watchers?”

“Yes,” he replied with a slight sigh. “That clan was supposed to watch over the graves to both make sure that the dead truly are so and make sure that the spirits don’t try to cause trouble for the living. So it was in the very beginning. They got into trouble, though. I don’t know all the details, so I won’t say more.”

“Haven’t they all gone into the neighboring country of Tsubasa though?”

“More or less,” he said. The tone of his voice was hesitant. “While their bases are usually in the caves underground, there some wander to the other countries. After all, in the very beginning, their territory included most of the top half of this country we have. Their work makes it so they don’t entirely have a country to call their own, though. Borders aren’t recognized. Where the spirits go, they do. But, we’re getting off topic a bit. The Thanatos deal with the dead while we deal with the living.”

My nose wrinkled up slightly as I listened. It sounded like a story one told to a youth to keep them out of trouble. But, as I’d seen stranger things, I couldn’t take the situation lightly. My body returned to the more formal stance though my finger folded one over the other as my hands hung between my knees.

“Now,” said the priest while he leaned over the desk. His hands rested so his fingers could lace together as well. His shoulders shifted inwards slightly. He kept his gaze up though to watch my reactions to his speech. “We are the Shrivers. When someone has a problem or something they’ve done wrong and want to speak to us, they come to chat. We listen and help them the best we can.”

“Isn’t that what any ordinary priest would do though?”

He nodded at my question. “Yes, but as I said the ones here have some peculiar gifts. We priests hear confessions then offer forgiveness. Sometimes it is no more than words. Sometimes it relieves their minds. Sometimes it relieves their bodies.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s natural, as it’s something better understood seen than heard.” While Father Saeed spoke I could hear that he was trying to be gentle as he explained. There was something deeper and sadder in his eyes.

I tilted my head slightly to the side. My eyebrow lifted as I stared into his eyes. “Now, are you sure there isn’t something else you’d like to tell me?”

His eyes lowered. With that, I knew there was something more. The deep breath taken in then let out before he spoke told me more. Finally, he lifted his eyes so he could look at me as he spoke, “There is something. Unfortunately it isn’t the longest life. As we take on other’s problems it takes a toll on our bodies. I’m going to make a selection on my successor soon. There have been odd things happening, though. I’m afraid the other priests might be fighting within themselves for the position. You never really know what it takes until you get into it. Now, the priests might be in it for just the honor of the appointment; I don’t know. But, I’m worried someone might end up with more than bumps and bruises or missing their robes.”

“So, are you asking me for help?”

He lowered his eyes again. This time when the deep breath went in then out it was followed by a sigh. He put his hand up and rubbed the heel of his hand over his forehead. “I can’t go to anyone around here. If I speak to the higher-up priests, it will all be hush-hush. I need someone here to stir things up.”

“I may be a private detective, but I don’t know what I could do to help you.”

“Please, could you just wander around here?” He looked up at me while his hand returned to clasp the other. “Could I hire you as a bodyguard? The church won’t pay, but I’ve managed to save up a little on my own.”

“I don’t know about it.”

He dropped his head. With another sigh, he put his hand up on the back of his neck. He rubbed his fingers along his neck. Then, with another sigh, he lifted his head so he could watch me. “I see. Could you at least think it over?”

With a slight nod I gave him a faint smile as I spoke, “I’ll think about it, but I can’t promise anything.”

“Ah, well thank you anyway,” said the priest. He stood then wandered around the desk to approach me. While I stood, he held his hand out to clasp mine. Once I held it, he placed his other hand on top of mine. “If you have any worries or troubles, we’ll be here. Though the people may change, this building and the intent within won’t.” He stared at me as he spoke. Then his eyes lowered as he pulled his hand away while he murmured, “Or so I hope.”

To be polite, I ignored the mention. Instead of speaking, I bobbed my head. With a smile and slight gesture, I stepped to the door. I saw that Father Saeed followed me. While I walked out of the room I glanced around. It was there that I turned to go down the hallway to return to the front of the outer sanctum.

With each soft step, the priest followed me. I listened to the sound as my steps sounded. He wore soft soles and I wore hard boots. The two of us walked over to the door that led to the outer sanctuary. It was then that it happened.

There was a door to the side which I hadn’t paid attention to. Now I did, since it seemed to hold behind it the staircase. From high up the stairs a figure descended. It didn’t come in the usual way; rather, the form rolled in circles from one step to another as the body tumbled to the landing.

A dazed priest lay there. It was one of the younger ones; I could tell because of the difference in the wrappings over his arms and legs. Instead of it being black with blue over it, it was white with brown over it.

“Khoury!” The priest yelled out in surprise as the last of the fall caught his attention. He ran over then leaned over his body. “Khoury, are you all right?”

This priest appeared to be about twenty-one years old. With his limbs at awkward angles, he rolled his head slightly so his narrow blue eyes could look up at the other man. “Father Saeed? Ah, I think so. I just tripped.” The man’s pale skin was paler around his face. The blonde hair was swept to the side; a few longer strands fell down on either side past his jaw line.

“Don’t move,” I said quickly. I stepped over to him then got down on one knee. My hand went out to touch different points as I questioned him. “Does anything hurt? Can you feel me pinching you?”

“Owww,” replied the priest with a flinch. “The only thing that hurts is your fingers. That’s my foot. Hey! That’s my leg... left thigh... chest... arm...” While Khoury spoke his gaze was directed to Father Saeed, so I knew he wasn’t using his eyes to fake being okay. “Hey! Don’t touch my neck.”

“Sorry, I just wanted to make sure you could really feel anything. Unless you think calling a doctor to make absolutely sure he’s all right is the best thing, I think he can just get up.”

“Well thank you. But, are you a doctor? You act a bit like one.”

I shook my head with a faint chuckle. “No, I’m not a doctor, but I know a bit.” I stood then held my hand out to him. “I’ll help you up.”

“Well thanks for that,” replied Khoury.

While he put his hand up I clasped it. I watched him while he lifted up his other arm. Father Saeed went to grab his other arm. Between the two of us we managed to help the younger priest stand up on his own. He was closer to my height than the other priest was, at five feet eleven inches tall.

Khoury groaned faintly. “Man, I am so sore.”

“Are you absolutely sure you’re not hurt more?”

With a faint laugh, Khoury shook his head. “I’ll be fine.”

“You should have one of the other priests watch him. If he hit his head it could be very bad.” I added in.

“No, I’ll be fine,” he insisted.

Father Saeed stared at him closely. Then he shook his head. “I would rather err on the side of caution. Let me call Camillus, please.”

He wrinkled up his nose, but he agreed with a slight nod. Khoury folded his arms across his chest while he walked out of the stairwell into the outer portion of the interior of the church. At one of the benches he descended to it. He couldn’t stay that way for long, though, as his bottom was bruised.

“I will be right back. Please, may I bother you to stay with him?” Father Saeed said while he looked up at me.

With a slight shrug, I folded my arms across my chest. “My bus isn’t for a while. I could stay here I guess.”

He nodded, though when he looked at me I could still see the faint hint of disappointment in his eyes. Father Saeed hurried away to find the other priest.

While we waited, Khoury turned his eyes up to stare at me. His appearance was somewhat of that of someone who wouldn’t trust right away, like me. He watched me for a bit then lowered his head. One arm curled up so he could rub his opposite shoulder. “So, what has Father Saeed roped you into?”

“Nothing, though he wanted me to do some poking around. That tumble seems to prove his worry that someone’s trying to hurt you priests.”

Khoury let a short scoff pass his lips. He shook his head. The rub of his hand continued over his shoulder then it moved down his arm. “Nothing’s going on around here. What happened now was just an accident. He’s making too much of things.”

I shrugged faintly. “Maybe, maybe not... that’s what he wanted me to discover by poking around.”

“That’s stupid. He’s just looking for a distraction from the decision he has to make. By the end of the year, he has to pick a successor. That one will be trained personally over the next two years. Then he’ll leave his position. He won’t retire exactly; he’ll just be taken out for a fresher face.”

“So how long does this last?”

“We’re trained for about five years to become a priest. The second level takes ten years to master, with the so-called retirement as the third stage.”

“I can’t say I understand. You’re all so young. Well, you’re younger than me and I feel pretty young myself...”

“Eh, the training is done with the younger set,” Khoury said with a faint shrug. He dropped his hand from his arm and rubbed it along his thigh. “When we’re confirmed in the second stage, we have an official place in the church. The church is where we stay or branch out from. When we enter the third stage, we can either start up our own church or work in the background. It’s not an end; it’s more of a beginning.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“More than before.”

He looked me up and down. Then with another shrug, he sighed. “Anyway, I think he’s afraid of moving on. That’s just what I think, but I could be wrong.”

I didn’t know, so I just shrugged. I’d only met them a dozen minutes or so ago. Perhaps Father Saeed was right, though; a fresh face would bring out some of the underlying issues into the light.
The Shriver of Cheney Town
Drag Shergi Mystery 06
Published under Lulu.com

Mysterious happenings at a church..
Published:
© 2009 - 2020 chanthar
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