I stared at my hand regularly during the drive, making sure I didn’t go into fireball mode again and hurt my poor steering wheel. Every few minutes I would pick up the phone to call my mom and tell her all about my day. What would I say? “Hi mom, I know you don’t even like fairy tales, but you should see what my hand can do.” I imagined a million different ways to at least let her know something. I always called her. She was my best friend. I had no answers for any of the questions I knew she would ask. She didn’t believe stories the news told her, I knew she would never believe any part of my story. I didn’t have the words to explain how the Scions made me feel when they were close. I didn’t know when or if I was coming home. Right now I didn’t even know if I would make it through the next day. I would have to figure all of this out when she called me but for now I put the phone back down.
I managed to make it to Atlanta. The bigger city would let me get some help for my back and rib without drawing too much attention. I was following the blue hospital direction signs but at the last moment, I saw a huge church with lights all around it. I didn’t really want to answer a million questions about how I had four razor blade cuts down my back, a broken rib, and fingernails that looked like I punched a wall wrong.
I have never been inside a church, but on TV they always seemed to welcome the injured. I didn’t think to ask myself why a church was lit up on the outside on a Friday night. When I got closer I realized it wasn’t just a church. It was a shelter as well. There were signs directing me to the soup kitchen entrance. I wasn’t hungry after all that beef jerky, but they were less likely to ask questions. I know I wouldn’t be the first one to show up looking like crap and bleeding, maybe the first one to drive up in such a sharp little car, but they probably had medical tape and gauze.
I parked my car around the corner so it wouldn’t draw attention. I wish I had thought about the walk before parking so far away. I could have been an extra in a zombie show the way I was moving and I was pretty sure the blood stain wasn’t coming out of the seat cover. When I got around to the entrance there was a young looking priest standing by the door. Two men with stringy hair with backpacks went by and greeted the priest by his name.
Father Michaels looked like a nice enough man, though he looked young to be a priest. A little on the skinny side, light brown hair, light brown eyes, and a completely bland look to him.
Of course, all of my knowledge about churches and priests were from mystery shows. Maybe they were allowed to be younger and more rail thin in real life. I nodded to the priest as I got close, though I was still hobbling. He rushed over to me, and for a moment I thought he was going to pick me up to carry me inside. I was spared from the macho chivalry when I put out my hand so he could just help me get my weight off my bad side. When we made it inside, I don’t know what I expected. Huge gold crosses with shiny diamonds in them, a choir of young boys singing hymns, maybe a row of people with little cups of wine and wafers. I was beginning to doubt my perfect TV upbringing on the subject of religion.
The room was filled with old fashioned card tables, small folding chairs, and a smell strong enough to make me feel sick again. The combined body odor of the men, women, and even the children was bad enough. Seeing how dirty and malnourished some of them were just made it that much worse. For just a second I forgot about my rib and back until I put my weight down on that side again. The other thing that I noticed, every person was staring at me. Some with pity in their eyes, others with a more sinister look. All of them, except for one young boy. He glanced up and then right back down at his food. His dark hair hanging in clumps to cover his eyes. I felt like I was the star attraction at an old carnival. People continued to stare as the priest helped me to another room just past the soup kitchen. He sat me down on a hard plastic chair and drew a curtain at the doorway.
The room wasn’t large but it was full of dressers and an old red oak cabinet my mom would have killed for. It looked several hundred years old and every drawer and shelf looked well cared for. I noticed a plain wooden cross hanging from one wall but no other markings or pictures in the room. It was one of those crosses with the figure of Jesus hanging from it wearing a crown of thorns. It looked handmade but intricate. “What’s your name child?” Father Michaels asked. I am sure he meant it in the best way possible. He wasn’t going to win any points by addressing me as child though. “My name is Cheryl.” I answered in a bit of a wheeze, “Do you have any medical supplies? I need to wrap this rib and get some gauze on the cuts.” He looked at me with a shocked expression. I didn’t say anything that warranted a look like that. Surely he had seen people beat up before. The streets of Atlanta weren’t known for being friendly. “I will be right back Cheryl; we will get you fixed up and on your way as quick as we can.” He turned and left the room in a hurry.
I was raised agnostic so I really had no clue if I had done something offensive. Religion was something my mom never talked about. I didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of me in a church. I didn’t cuss at him or anything. I was still working through it in my head, when another man who was much closer to the old tired looking priests I grew up watching on TV entered. He didn’t really look directly at me but more around the contours of my body. I could see sparse hair on the dome of his otherwise bald head. His hands had a slight tremble in them, and were covered in age spots. One of his green eye’s was almost milky white from a cataract. The other seemed sharp and clear though. His gaze traced my outline. I vaguely wondered if glasses would help him focus.
When he spoke, his voice was strong and booming. He could have been addressing an entire audience instead of just me. “You are Cheryl?” he asked. He phrased it really odd. Though it was a question, it came across as a statement. “Yeah that is what my parents named me. Is that important?” “It is but only partially.” I obviously didn’t speak church. I had no idea what that even meant as an answer. He walked slowly over. “Let me see your wounds and I will get you healed up and back on the highway.”
No one saw me drive up, I was careful about that. How did he know I was on the highway? How did he know I was still traveling? The word that really stuck was “healed” whenever I heard a priest use that word it was usually someone begging for money on the Sunday morning TV. “Whoa there, I just need some gauze for my back and some tape for my ribs. I don’t have any money I can give you for your healing.” I know it came across as crass, the only way I can explain it was the pain. I expected him to get angry, or defensive. I didn’t expect him to laugh. It was a deep warm laugh of a much younger man. “No spr.. Cheryl, we would never ask you for money.” There was something about the way he said “you” that sounded emphasized. The next thing I wondered was what he was going to call me instead of my name. He was old maybe he got confused. “I am sorry to have to ask this, but I need to cut your shirt off to see how bad it is. If it is a broken rib as you say, getting your shirt off any other way would be dreadfully painful.
My first reaction was to think of all the headlines about priests not acting so holy with the choir boys, but I didn’t get that feeling from him. The rational side of me knew he was right. My mind was put at ease when he held up a sheet for me to cover myself with. The cuts on my back had gone through my bra, so the moment my shirt was off I could line up for a medieval painter.
His hands didn’t shake once the entire time he cut away my shirt from the side with the safety scissors. He cut in a quick and precise manner. When he was looking at the cuts on my back he asked “How many of them were there?” He must have thought a gang of men had done this. “Four.” I answered honestly. If you can’t tell the truth, at least be honest. “This may be warm for a minute but it shouldn’t burn.” he said and rubbed something down my back across each cut. He had me look away as he did the same on my rib which seemed odd since it wasn’t cut in any way. Then he reached up and ran it over my head where the chair leg cut me. I forgot about that one. I noticed when he brought his hand back down; there was no cotton ball or anything else in it. I thought about mentioning it, except whatever he had done had made my back much better, even my rib was feeling a little better.
He applied strips of tape to my ribs and then helped me put on a button down shirt from the cabinet. I didn’t know how to react. Did he keep women’s shirts in every size just hanging around? “I know you are in a hurry Cheryl. It was very good to finally meet you. In the matter of expedience, I have had Father Michaels put some supplies in your car for you. I got up and shook his hand, I wasn’t sure if that was what I was supposed to do but it felt right. “Thank you for whatever you did, I feel better, though my rib will probably be sore for a long time.” “No, thank you. I hope to see you remain healthy and succeed in everything.” The weird factor jumped up a few notches with that. How had he known where my car was, how had Father Michaels been able to put supplies in my locked car, and “succeed in everything?” That would have sent the Scoobies scrambling.
When I came back through the soup kitchen everyone kept their heads down to their plates except the small boy who had barely noticed me on the way in. He watched every step I took with a bit of a smile. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I noticed on each alternating step that the tenderness lightened and my stride loosened closer to a normal walk. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t step foot in another church if they were all this spooky even if they could make broken ribs a minor inconvenience.
My cell phone would be good for another month if I didn’t pay the bill. Then it would be turned off, I loved my phone, but I was in pure survival mode. I had no idea at the time how many Scions were out there. If I could get far enough away that they wouldn’t be able to find me, maybe I could figure out how to make a new life. I didn’t know how to change my identity like you see in the movies. The only thing I knew was to keep my eyes open at all times.
– The book goes on sale Tuesday the twenty-first of July 2015. Reserve your copy now to see how Sprite handles her new life.
The Last Sprite