You will sit in your pew, from the time when your feet still dangle, dizzying above the marble floor. You will listen to the stories which aren’t just stories, but aren’t quite true, and you will wait for them all to make sense, like they do to your mother.
One day, not too far away, you will understand that they don’t make sense to anyone. Not in the strictest sense. Not in the way that numbers dance in your head to make the same answers every time. Not in the way that bones build, joint after joint, and then muscle and tissue and skin to make something alive and real.
Your mother will say it’s faith. You will want to look behind it.
At first, you will peer out from behind your fingers when words of blessing are called and repeated in weekly harmony. You will wait for a ray of light. A wink from some great other to let you know, “You got me, here I am.” Every other pair of eyes is screwed shut, but you will look, and look, and look.
When you have exhausted yourself looking, and the answers to your questions have grown too angry to ignore, you will stop for a while. And then, you will look elsewhere. There are answers to the universe, you have always been sure of it.
Everyone will have more stories for you, but they are not all far away stories, pressed between the pages of old books to wither and die. These stories are better, they follow you to the world you know from when they’re whispered around campfires and spread in the yard. The more you hear, the more it will seem that everyone has an answer but you. They’ve all seen something, heard something, been followed down the street that one night last May by something. But not you. The unknown does not know you.
But it’s OK. You will make your own introductions.
It will start with books. It’s the easiest way because computers won’t work that way yet when you’re still young and browsing through the library will look to mum like you’re just good and studious and bright. You are studying, you’ll tell yourself, just not what she wants. If she knew what you were looking for there would be priests involved. Because she has her answer but the world has not given you one yet.
There will be stories by the barrowful. You won’t be able to carry them all home if you tried, and at any rate, your library card only goes so far. You’ll borrow your brother’s, he never uses it anyway. It still won’t be enough, but it is a start.
Page by page, you’ll drink it in. Fiction, mostly- you’re young but not so young that you won’t understand that- but even then there are moments of truth. You’ll find yourself sifting them out of the prose like flecks of gold from a California riverbank. Your job will be in deciding what has a ring of truth to it; you’ll think you do it well.
By the time your teenage years come- and there is no escaping that universal truth- you’ll have an arsenal. You will know what makes a vampire; how to please the small folk; a possession from a haunting from a poltergeist; the works of several prominent occultists. Useful things, but not true things. Not yet. But you’ll know them, and you’ll remember them, so that when the time comes, you will spot what others cannot quite see.
You will always be ready to be called. The world will not tell you that it does not work that way. The world never says anything outright so much as drops broad hints along the way and hopes that you get it.
You won’t be called. Of course you won’t. Did you think this was a movie? Let’s get real. Far beyond the age when you should stop believing in fairy stories, the question will remain, rattling around in your mind like an old lyric.
There will be others like you. It will quicken your pulse and make you skip the streets, that feeling that you are not the only one.
They’ll talk about it casually, the world behind the world you always hoped was there. You’ll be easily convinced that they know things you don’t, but you’ll be 15 by then, and awkward as hell. Trust me, that’s not going to be something new.
I’m afraid it’s going to take you longer than you’ll want to admit before you realise that they are as lost as you are. There will be seances held in broken down houses. People will scream, and say they hear voices. The candles will blow out. You’ll feel nothing, and hear nothing, and be the one who doused the wicks yourself. There will be spells, too. Because I suppose there can never be angry experimenting teenagers without something like that. OK, you’ll say the words, light the sage, but you won’t ever really mean it. Your enemies will never go away. Your classmate will never like you back. And that’s not a bad attitude talking, that’s just the facts.
As though pulled through the years by an elastic band, you’ll land right back among the pews and your mother tells you once again that it’s faith. It doesn’t matter if the words don’t work and the world never changes, you’ve just got to believe. Once again, you’ll strain your eyes, looking for a peek at something beyond. But it will never, ever come.
Finally, you’ll leave. It’ll be abrupt, not your best exit ever. You’ll upset a planchet and howl “Hail Satan!” on the way out, like some last ditch gambit to spook the strange out of hiding. There will certainly be gasps, and you’ll probably lose some friends- but no unearthly roars. Nothing bad will happen to you, and as far as you know, nothing will catch fire as you leave. No one’s getting dragged to hell. Pity.
And there you are, with your feet planted firmly on the ground. You’ll finally be an adult, and the rest will be behind you. You’ll stop looking too deeply into the shadows, or listening to the strange sounds of the house at night. Years will pass; you will forget how.
Life and the universe will be conquered. They’ll stretch before you, dull and flat. But known. That’s what counts, right?
So, I’m sure it will come as some surprise to you, that night, long after everything you learned got filed to the back of your memory. Oh, it’ll still be in there somewhere. The knowledge about curses and ley lines and cold iron will still be there, buried somewhere behind changing tyres and finding the wi-fi. It won’t do you any good when you pick her up.
Standing by the side of the road, she’ll look lost and afraid. Will she be 5, or 25 or 50? I suppose you’ll just have to see for yourself. Either way, there she’ll be, and off you’ll go. Opening the door, being kind. It will be the first time in your life you’ve ever offered some poor soul on the side of the road a lift. You should feel proud.
But because you’ll have done your reading, and she’ll be so pale, and the night so dark, something will call out to you. The golden rules that you cobbled together over library books so long ago will screech in your head, “Stop!” But, too late.
Under the moonlight, her teeth will be knives. Her skin will be bogwater grey.
“I know this,” you’ll say to yourself. The first slices will be to your throat; it will be quick, if that helps.
You’ll strain your eyes to see the wink of something just beyond the world. It will wave at you, it was always there. And now, there’s more for you to see.