Part 1-The Cathedral
Ernford had gotten considerably worse since the last time Elias McCarthy had set foot there. He wasn’t sure how that could even be possible. Perhaps he’d just been away for so long that he had forgotten what it looked like. Looking around him now, he couldn’t quite believe that he’d spent seventeen years of his life there. Was this really the place he’d called home?
Ernford had once been a large city with bright flashing neon lights, filled with skyscrapers and the wonders of man-made constructions. Cars, bikes and trolleys had filled the streets in the past, and families, friends, and people in a hurry had walked the sidewalks for years. Of course, that was all before the war; the war that tore the world to pieces. The Ernford Elias, and several generations before him had grown up in had been reduced to rubble. Most of the people who lived there would have preferred not to, but simply didn’t know where else to go, or if it was any better outside of their own crumbling city. Metal skeletons of what were once buildings stood at ominous slants, as if ready to collapse, though they had remained in their distorted form for years. Only a few structures had miraculously remained intact, and were scattered about, though most were located towards the northwest corner of the city. Any other building or construction had been put together by Ernford’s present residents and were less stable than the portions of destroyed buildings that still stood.
15 years away, and Elias had found himself back in the place he had been so happy to leave. He’d received a letter from a fellow Jesuit that had been sent to work with the relief group in charge of the area. The team had finally gotten control of the city, and he’d known that it had been Elias’s home. ‘I thought you might want to know. We haven’t run into any McCarthy’s yet, but in case you’d like to come, you’d be most welcome.’ The moment he’d finished reading the full letter, he’d requested a few days off to visit, which he’d been granted with few questions.
There hadn’t been much of an issue with getting into Ernford, like he had expected there to be. Upon giving information that he was a missionary from Baleston, as well as a few other required details they had requested, he was let in. It surprised him at first, but then he thought about it a little more. Ernford was now under so called, ‘government control.’ The main danger in the city had been the factions. Ever since the takeover, though, they’d been destroyed. Having once been part of one of the factions, it saddened him to think of what might have happened to his past friends, the people whom he had fought for, and in return, had fought for him. They’d been his family when his own had disowned him. He hoped that wherever they were, they were alright.
Elias had come with a few things in mind though, a few specific places he had to see, ghosts he needed to face. The first was the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Rock. It was a massive building, one of the few with walls that were still standing erect and whole. The exterior walls were the same dull gray as the constantly fogged sky, and buried by the surrounding rubble, it was easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it.
To Elias though, it stood out. Seeing it ahead of him brought a sort of relief after walking through the dismal wreckage. As he entered the clearing before it, a chill breeze swept through, causing his cassock he wore to billow lightly behind him. Subconsciously, he reached for his hat, although the wind was not strong enough to knock it off. Still, he almost felt as if some unknown force was telling him to turn away; leave the city before the memories grew too painful.
“Oh don’t be like that.” Elias murmured out loud as he reached the large, steel doors of the cathedral. “This is only the beginning.”
As he said so, he pushed the heavy unlocked door open and stepped inside. Instantly, the wind stopped and an eerie silence fell over him. From behind, the door slammed shut, sending a reverberating echo through the building. Elias couldn’t help but feel as if with that sound, the building was replying to his comment, sealing him firmly in his decision to go forward.
Taking a deep breath, Elias began moving forward. He was standing in a small hallway that led to the main part of the cathedral. The inner doors that led to the sanctuary, were missing, allowing full view of that which lay inside. As Elias walked through the gap, slowly removing his hat, his footsteps resonated off the walls with a lonely, hollow sound.
The interior of St. Peter’s was astounding. Its domed ceiling rested high above, held up by massive marble columns that bordered the walls. The ceiling was decorated with elaborate depictions of Sacred Scripture, the Heavens and the Saints. Although the colors were faded, and bits and pieces of the paintings were missing, it was still an amazing sight to behold. After all, it had been the thing that had rendered Elias speechless all those years ago. It was a little hard to make out now, being so high, and with all the candles that used to light it, missing. Elias shivered, feeling as though there was a void left behind by the absent flames, sucking any last remnants of warmth from the building.
As he continued to walk, Elias’ fingers brushed the remaining wooden pews. The rest had been removed, split apart and used by the people of Ernford for various things over the years. Elias was surprised there were still a few left. As he lifted his hand, a trail through the settled dust had been left behind, and now covered his finger tips.
To every side of Elias, on all four walls, there were the remains of scriptural symbols and figures carved into the stone, also covered in dust. Elias’ eyes narrowed in distaste when he noted several crude markings in paint that had since been added. A little above the midpoint of the wall, bordering the left and right were large stained glass windows. Several had been broken, and the holes left had been boarded up with wooden planks, or covered with cloth tarps, a reminder of a past when someone cared; but the ones that remained fed the imagination and helped the onlooker to picture what the cathedral might have looked like before the war. Often times, when Elias was younger, he would have closed his eyes and tried to picture the beautifully decorated architecture, with trails of warm colored light spilling in through the stained glass, illuminating every perfected detail of the inner cathedral.
Letting his eyes wander to the front of the building, Elias’ attention switched to the altar and tabernacle, which sat centered at the top of a brief set of stairs. Though the marble of the altar had lost its gleam, it still called attention towards it, standing with an impressive and important nature. The structure faced the pews, and had highly detailed imagery and symbols carved into it, much like the walls that had often sparked a wonder in Elias, of how long it had taken the artist to complete them with such flawlessness. The ceiling above was curved in a smaller dome connected to the one over the rest of the sanctuary, and all around the sides of the altar, the walls were decorated with paintings like those on the ceiling and within a few small alcoves where statues had once been. High above the alter on the far wall were two circular stained glass windows that had withstood time with incredible durability, still in one piece, lacking any cracks, and Elias was sure that if the clouds ever parted from the world, the sun would have shone through them and illuminated them in full color. Right below them was an empty space, where a great, bronze crucifix had once hung. The area directly behind the altar was strangely empty as well. It was as Elias had always known it, but having seen active cathedrals and knowing what should have been there, it struck him as odd. Before the war, there would have been a large tabernacle, constructed of precious metals and decorated more elaborately than anything else in the building. That, of course, had been taken out and melted down during the course of the war. It had been replaced later with a smaller, temporary imitation that Elias had known, but that was also gone, as well as the red candle that had always stood sentinel outside the tabernacle, its flame lit day and night to signify Divine Presence; but there was no longer any such tabernacle or any such flame. The cathedral had been robbed of its soul.
Elias backed up a few paces and stopped, leaning against one of the marble columns for support. Swallowing the lump in his throat with difficulty, he tried to force down the frantic questions that had been swirling up in his mind. He’d been told beforehand that the cathedral had been abandoned, but that was all anyone knew. No one had heard anything from the priest that had been assigned to keep the cathedral running. Father Nathan Scotts had been the man who had turned Elias’ life around. Fr. Scotts and his assistant, Greeves, or Mr. Greeves as he had been to Elias, had gone missing. Anything could have happened in the years that Elias had been gone, but as there had been no word back from Scotts to anyone, Elias could only assume the worst.
He lingered a few more moments in the lonely church, staring up at the intricate symbols on the roof that had ultimately began the greatest change he’d ever experienced in life. If there was any place on Earth that he could consider his material home, it would have been the Cathedral of St. Peter the Rock. But there was still one more place he had to go before he could allow himself to set foot out of Ernford; a place that should have been his earthly home, but had never quite met the standards of his youth.
Sighing, he began the long walk down the middle of the cathedral, listening once again to the forlorn footsteps as they riveted in his ears. He paused however, and turned back to face the altar and the glass windows. His gaze fixated, as if staring right past them into something no one else could see with a desperate, pleading expression, begging for the courage he’d need to continue. Then, fixing his hat on his head, he turned again, opened the massive doors, and stepped, for what he knew would be the last time, out of his sanctuary.