I had literally fallen asleep where I’d stopped that night—curled up uncomfortably on a splintering oak pew facing the altar, with my jacket awkwardly spread over myself to keep warm. Between arrival and slumber, I had spent an hour walking around my new home—an old, crumbling sandstone church—surveying its decaying charms by flickering candlelight. I doubted that this church had been used in many a year. It looked like it had simply been abandoned—isolated as it was way out in a vast empty field. There was a long dirt road leading to it from the main highway, surrounded on either side by tall, swaying gum trees. Four well-worn steps led up to the traditionally gothic-styled double doors, which, without much resistance, opened creakily and with a shudder of falling dust at my touch.
I walked slowly up the lengthy aisle, my footsteps muted by the moth-eaten red carpet that still covered the floor. Looking to my left and right, I could pick out the Stations of the Cross depicted on each of the windows. Jesus is condemned to die. Jesus is given His cross. Jesus falls the first time. So, it had been a Catholic church. It had obviously been deconsecrated, though, because I felt basically fine. It’s a myth that vampires can’t enter a church. Crucifixes can make me feel uncomfortable—I get a burning sensation in my chest, kind of like heartburn—but churches themselves? No. They’re only buildings after all. It’s the symbol of Christ itself I guess. Looking at the windows, I felt a flash of heat, but the absence of any large wooden crucifixes allowed me to continue my way peaceably up the aisle.
Layla, my canine companion, had raced ahead of me and was now sniffing enthusiastically around the imposing white marble altar. Knowing her, she had probably picked up the long-past scent of wine. What a nose! If she’d been human, she could have been a wine critic. Having found nothing to sate her eager olfactory senses, she padded back towards me. I gave her an affectionate scratch behind the ears and we walked on together. At the pulpit, a bible had been abandoned. It looked as though rats had been nibbling at its pages. Layla gave a bark and lifted her head towards the ceiling. I followed her gaze. A enormous, beautifully ornate light fitting, crafted out of bronze shaped into exquisitely complex curlicues, swayed gently in the breeze. “Wonderful.” I breathed.
Just before we reached the chancel and then the altar, a doorway led off to the vestry. Going through it, I found a box of old coffee cups left by parishioners of long ago, another cardboard box stacked high with dog-eared Good News bibles and a hot water urn. Then I noticed a winding staircase. Layla darted up it first, taking the stairs two at a time. I made my way more carefully and was delighted to find, once I’d mounted the twenty-odd narrow steps, a maze of little rooms to which I could retreat which were even more decrepit than what I’d seen downstairs. There were a couple of chairs and tables scattered about, old blankets and books left lying open. Yes, I thought, as I turned to make my way back down to the church itself, it needed a lot of work but this would do nicely.