The sound of my footsteps scattered across the time-hardened floor despite my efforts to walk quietly. As I passed each pew, I touched its worn corner as if checking on a slumbering friend. The niche of votive candles I had already passed left me warm and fragrant. The presence of the empty church was not hostile to me as I walked between the left wall and the attending pews so I walked with slow deliberate steps to better soak in the soft atmosphere.

“So, how does it feel to be the Prodigal Child?”

I turned around to challenge the interloper and was surprised to see a face I did not recognize. I could not tell if this was the person I expected wearing a different face, or someone else entirely different.

“I’m not a prodigal anything. I’m sorry, I’m a little turned around in here. Do I know you?”

He smiled and in a flash I recognized him as [someone I know from Tumblr]. “I dunno. Do you?” As he reached up to move a lock of hair, his hand covered his face. He paused just long enough to give the appearance of someone else entirely.

“I’d call you a bastard, but we’re in church and I should be fucking polite.” He sighed at my reply and shook his head while I capped my victory. “Now, behave.” I meant to point my hand at him but the long dark-gray overcoat bundled in my arms impeded me.

I stared at the cloth. “This…”

My companion looked at the overcoat blankly. “You had it in your arms when I came in. I assume that’s yours.”

I ran my hands over the light cotton. “Fifteen years ago.” I looked back at him  with suspicion and looked. Visually my companion became transparent as the bottom of a deep, still well. His presence evoked other memories and associations that confirmed him to be a representative of the person he resembled.

“Something wrong?” At his question, I shook my head. “If I’m intruding…”

“You’re not. If you weren’t supposed to be here, you wouldn’t. Having said that… behave yourself!”

He was beside the niche of candles when he stopped approaching me. He winked as he promised he would behave, then turned towards the candles. Placing some money in a box next to unplaced candles, he took a small candle, muttered a prayer over it, then placed it in a holder and lit it.

“There, now I have to be on my best behavior. Wouldn’t want to upset an angel, right?”

A memory of fear tried to inflame itself in my spine. I closed my eyes and wavered as a deeper, fiercer flame raced up my spine to devour the fear and leave bone hard resolve in its wake. I opened my eyes and saw my companion was now standing before me with a hand stretched out as if to guide me to a seat.

“You okay? You just… shifted.”

I gripped the overcoat tighter. “Yea.” I realized what I was gripping. “No.” I held out the overcoat examined it. It was true to the clothing I lost about fifteen years ago. “This doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Not physically. But you’re not here physically. So…”

He had a point. I was very much lucid. However, I also understood that the only thing I had any control over in this dream was my actions. “So.”

I collected the overcoat back in my arms and looked around the church. The rafters of the high ceiling were exposed. Stained glass windows lined the left and right sides of the church from just above the door frame to the rafter joints. When I wasn’t looking at the pews, there were enough to seat thousands of people. When I did look at the pews, there were a dozen pews on either side of the main aisle that could seat a dozen people comfortably.

The nave of the church was separated from the antechamber by a wood paneled wall with large glass windows. There was only one set of doors from the antechamber to the outside. Those doors did not have windows.

Across the nave, on the right side of the church, was a niche for adoration of the Madonna. A plain statue of her was adorned with innumerable rosaries and countless bouquets of flowers were placed at her feet. I was curious why I entered the dream next to the candles and not next to her statue.

Statues of angels and paintings of saints were placed on the walls between windows. On the walls over the ends of the wood railing dividing the nave from the sanctuary, two great angelic statues stood in silent guard. The angel on the right carried a large banner in their left hand and an unsheathed sword with their right hand. The angel on the left carried a large banner in their right hand, and a large shield at the ready with their left hand. When I looked away form the banners, they appeared to radiate light in all colors and seemed to be moving randomly. When I looked at them, they were as immobile as the statues carrying them and had once been painted white but time had yellowed them slightly.

I could not see past the railing.

The sanctuary was present, and I had the awareness that all the structures I had expected to see in the sanctuary were present, but I could not see a single one of them because a great and mighty presence had filled the sanctuary and I was perceiving that presence as light.

“What do you see, Keri?” My companion was standing behind me and to my left. I turned to talk to him (turning towards the wall) and noted we were now standing beside three sets of confessional booths. I could see the booths, the pews, and all the items within the nave of the church just fine.

“I’m… I’m not sure.”

“Not sure, or don’t want to admit?”

I lifted a finger as a silent reminder for him to behave. He smiled a silent “gotcha” and bowed slightly.

“It’s a good thing none of this is real.” I turned my attention back to the overcoat. “The implications of just this coat are quite unsettling and hard to reconcile with the way my life has turned out.”

My companion reached and touched the coat. In the quiet church, even the sound of his hand pricking against the cotton was loud. Everything about that interaction felt and sounded real and physical. “You could get another coat like it, I’m sure.”

“I’m not!”

“Worried about your budget?”

“It’s not about the fabric! It’s what this coat is a symbol of! And it’s been fifteen years! Do you know what happened in fifteen years? I fucking walked away from all this! I abandoned… I left… …” I sat down at the end of the pew next to me. “I’m not… I can’t…”

I turned away from him and faced forward. I sardonically noted that I was now facing the very thing I walked away from. The presence shimmered over the altar causing the air in the sanctuary to move in tight spirals. Rather than dwell on what I was seeing, I passively observed the currents that the unaided human eye should not be seeing.

I heard my companion sit down in the pew behind me. I reached up with my right hand and wiped my face to keep unwanted tears away. When I lowered my right hand, another hand met it and gripped it tightly. I looked down to see a left-handed black gauntlet holding my right hand carefully.

Quietly, I nodded and accepted [1]Wit’s presence. Without speech or further gesture, the angel calmed and consoled me just by being beside me. Yes, in the intervening fifteen years, I had walked away from Christianity and its churches, from doctrine, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.

But in the intervening fifteen years, I had also recovered what self-proclaimed Christians had broken, stolen, and locked away from me. It is a bit of a personal joke that I have more faith in the Christian god as an apostate than I ever had as a rank-and-file believer.

Behind the railing, the presence collected itself into a slowly turning pillar of light over the altar itself that intensified in brilliance. As long as I did not look at the pillar, I could see the chairs behind the altar, the lectern, the chalice on a side table, and the cross hanging on the far wall of the sanctuary.

I tried to put both of my hands in my lap, but Wit continued to hold my right hand and the overcoat had completely covered my left hand. I stood to disentangle myself from both. My companion stood behind me to assist.

He took the overcoat off my arm and it immediately disappeared. We both stared at his suddenly empty hands in surprise. Wit released my right hand and my companion and I looked around the pews to see if the piece of clothing had merely dropped.

Another set of footsteps echoed gently in the quiet church. A priest, dressed in a long white cassock with a many-knotted red cord tied around the waist came walking up the middle aisle of the nave. My companion and I watched silently as he came up to my pew and stopped. He looked at the presence turning over the altar and smiled before dipping in respect. I watched the light of the presence reflect off the priest’s face.

“Excuse me, Keri. This is yours.” The priest came down the pew and held out a folded dark-gray cloth. My companion and I looked at each other with the same unspoken comment clearly written on our faces.

As the priest approached me, I noted that Wit had disappeared. The priest’s face was youthful but his voice was very aged. I did not accept the offered cloth.

“I left that behind, Sir. Both the cloth and what it represents.”

The priest spoke in a deliberate meter. “Time has removed the cloth itself, but as with all the other gifts you have been given, this one cannot be removed from you. Only forgotten about.”

I whispered a denial of what the cloth represented and again stated that my apostasy removed that grace from me.

“What I have placed, no one can remove. This is yours. You left it behind many years ago along with many pieces of yourself. You have been collecting your pieces. This is one of them.”

“What you…?” I moved my sight from the cloth that I still refused to take to the face of the priest. The reflection from the presence behind me at the altar was so intense on the priest’s face that it was completely washed out with light and illuminating the folded overcoat still held towards me.

“Keri! I can’t see!” My companion was holding his hand in front of his face trying to shield himself from the increasing brilliance behind me at the altar. The light became so intense that he was forced to seat himself on the pew or be thrown to the floor.

“I don’t know what to do with it, Sir. The church I was in at the time would have deemed the vision where I received it as a demonic falsehood and my claim as blasphemy. I only know of [the original character] what that same church taught me at the time, and it is not even one hundredth of the lore I should know regarding this.”

The priest continued to hold out the overcoat. “Regardless of your understanding of it, it is still yours. Take it back. Take it all back.”

I suddenly felt a presence behind me, shielding me from the still increasing pressure from the brilliance spinning fiercely over the altar. A pair of large black wings came out to sweep around me on both sides and drape over several pews in succession. Wit’s gauntlet hands hovered over my shoulders in a gesture that I perceived as comforting.

A lot has changed in fifteen years. The only way to find out much I have changed is to find the limits of that change.

Silently I took the overcoat from the priest.

“Fifteen years ago, you mistook the symbol for what it represented. Perhaps you will find a physical overcoat to bolster your subconscious. Perhaps you will not. But either way, [what the overcoat represents] is yours. It is up to you to learn what to do with it.” The voice of the priest had slowly changed from the deliberate pacing of a lifetime of practice to the grinding and snapping of a flame. I was still able to understand him just the same.

However, I could no longer look at the priest’s face as the brilliance that was reflecting off of it was now stronger than my will to see. My companion was still humbled in the pew and kept his face covered to avoid even glancing at the presence over the altar. I understood Wit’s stance was both to comfort me and to prevent me from looking back at the altar as well.

I held the folded overcoat close to my chest and bowed my head. “I accept.”

Wit suddenly grasped my shoulders, seizing me completely and holding me in place. Before I could panic at the perceived betrayal, the priest spoke in tones and harmonies that no human voice could create unassisted. I recognized the pattern of a spoken blessing but also noted that a command would have the same structure.

My head was bowed, but not so much that I couldn’t see what he was doing. After he spoke, he reached to his now flaming face and pulled away a lick of flame. He touched that flame to my forehead where it quickly burrowed through my skin and seized the bone at the crown of my skull.

I opened my mouth to gasp, and a second fire came from the priest’s inflamed face and chased that breath down into my lungs. As it expanded into my chest, the sensations overcame me and I fainted.

One day, I will find out why I am so severely and brutally compelled to post certain things for the public eye. Today is not that day. At least I am able to keep some secrets to myself and redact where desired/necessary.

[1] The public pseudonym of the Black Armored Angel.