The path leading up to the church was over-grown and shaded, and it was already dark, despite the late afternoon sun. The paving stones were cracked and riddled with weeds, and the gravestones that loomed up from the long grass looked like monsters ready to attack.
Even though she could hear the traffic racing past two streets away, Marie still paused at the entrance to the church grounds.
“Come on, Marie.” Danny jogged back and punched her shoulder. “This is nothing. If you want scary you should try coming back here in the dark.”
Marie rolled her eyes. “And what would be the point of that? You can’t look at stained glass windows in the dark.”
“Then come on. We’ll miss the best light if you keep dawdling out here.”
Marie looked up at the arch over the gate one last time and drew a deep breath. Then she strolled in, trying to act as carefree as Danny.
The battered sign to the place was half hidden in weeds and tilted drunkenly to one-side. The Church of Painted Light was just about visible in the dimming day light, and Marie grunted. “Huh.”
“What’s up?” Danny called over his shoulder.
“I didn’t think that was the official name of the place. I thought it was just a name the urbex crowd had given it.”
“Huh. Does it matter either way?”
“Don’t you care about the places you’re exploring?”
“I'm not all that big into the scene, if I’m honest. I mostly just want to find all the scary places and see if they live up to the hype. And this one… well, it’s got a lot of hype to live up to.” Danny was at the door already, and he rammed his shoulder against it without breaking his stride. After a moment’s resistance the wood started to creak open, and Marie ran to catch up with him.
“Yeah, starting to see that.”
“What, do you think we should’ve knocked?” Laughing at his own joke Danny slipped inside the church, and with a final check behind them Marie followed him.
The inside was covered in dust and dirt. The air was thick with the reek of mould and stale air, and Marie coughed and pulled her scarf up over her mouth. This was only her fourth time exploring, and she hadn’t gotten used to the conditions yet.
Danny led the way down the back of the pews, until he came to the top of the aisle. “Not bad. Should be better when the sun’s a bit lower.”
Fighting back her nerves Marie joined him. Behind the altar the church was domed, and around the walls of the domed area ran a length of stained glass. To Marie it looked more as though it belong in some fancy modern restaurant, the sort of high-rise place that offered views of the city. Through the coloured glass it was impossible to make out anything more than the faint outlines of the trees in the graveyard, and the patterns on the glass were nothing more than blobs of colour for now.
“Is enough light going to come through it?” she asked. “It looks like it’s too shaded.”
“We’ll find out soon enough. Come on, let’s make ourselves at home while we wait.” Danny dropped down onto one of the pews, completely ignoring the grime on it. A small cloud of dust and moss rose around him, and Marie dug her fingers into her legs to stop herself flinching. She didn’t know Danny all that well, and didn’t want to see what he’d do if he worked out she really was scared.
No, Marie thought sharply to herself. Not scared. Just cautious. We are breaking and entering after all.
With her mind full of whether opening an unlocked door counted, Marie checked behind them. The back of her neck felt cold. “Are you sure this place doesn’t have a caretaker?”
“Positive. Scout and Richie came here the other week, they would’ve said.”
“If they came then why are we here?”
“Cos they could only come in the morning. We’re here to take pictures of the windows in the sunset.”
Marie was starting to realise that she hadn’t been told a lot about this outing before she’d agreed to come along. “Why is that such a big deal? Windows like that, plenty of people have got to have taken photos of them before.”
“Nope. No one has. That’s the thing.” Danny finally spun round on the pew, making the old wood creak under him. He leant over the back of it and pulled a face at Marie. “It’s haunted. No one has taken a picture of it and returned to tell the tale.”
Marie couldn’t hold back the shiver this time, and it took a lot of effort to not slap Danny’s face when he smirked at her discomfort. “That’s nonsense. Has anyone asked the locals? I’m sure they’ve got plenty of pictures of this place. Pop out just before dinner, take some snaps, then come home before your tea’s cold.”
“Never been done. There are no traces anywhere online of what those windows look like with the light behind them.”
“Well that doesn’t surprise me. It’s like the town that time forgot out there. So, what do we get for doing this?”
“Fame, notoriety, endless respect and major bragging points.”
“What? None of that good enough for you, Marie?”
“No, it’s not that. I was just… why is there a candle back there?”
Now it was Danny’s turn to look uncomfortable. He leapt to his feet and stared at the back of the church, where Marie was pointing. Sure enough, tucked on a ledge, was a lit tea-light. “Someone must’ve been here before we got here. Pretty brave to leave a burning candle. I’d be worried it would set the whole place alight.”
Danny watched as Marie walked towards the candle, and his hands and mouth kept opening and shutting. This place was supposed to be deserted. Good for a laugh, nothing more.
“Hold on,” Marie said as she got closer. “There’s more glass back here. More stained glass, like the window.”
“Really?” More pictures would mean more fame. Against his every instinct Danny started following Marie.
“Yeah. The candle’s illuminating them, look. Here, back here, then we can see them properly.”
The end of the church is blocked off by a thin screen, with the candle balanced on a small ledge on the front of it. From behind the screen the light flickered through the glass, making the images dance.
“Wow,” Danny breathed.
“Careful. Someone might think you’re impressed.”
“Ha ha. Can you make out what any of these images are?”
“It looks like a story. See how each bit is blocked off, like a comic book? Start at the left, see what that one is.”
“There’s… a comet, landing in front of some guy. Is that a bit of the Bible?”
“I don't think so? Though I guess if someone saw a comet fall they’d think it was a sign or something. Okay, what’s next?”
“It looks like the guy is grinding up the rock? I don’t know, these are really hard to make out. Go and shine your phone torch through the other side will you?”
“What? Why can’t you?”
“Cos I’m reading the pictures.”
“Wow. Thanks, Danny.” Huffing, Marie went back to the other side and pulled her phone out. She was fine using her torch. It was the fact that her back was to the door now that worried her. “There. Is that any better?”
“Much better. Just keep it still. Okay, so the man grinds up the rock and then… a box?”
“He puts it in a box?”
“No, the next picture is just the man looking at a box. Oh wait, there’s some fire in there as well, before the box.”
“Damn it, Danny. You are terrible at this.”
“Oh shut up. I can do this, just give me – bloody hell!”
Danny leapt back from the screen, and Marie fumbled her phone as she jumped as well. It hit the floor with a loud crack, which made both of them jump again. Danny was back round the screen before Marie had even gotten her breath back.
“What was that all about!?” she hissed. In the low light it was hard to make out any details on Danny’s face, but Marie could feel the panic coming off him.
“I… I saw… never mind. Here, I’ll hold the light. You go and have a look.”
“You’ll have to use your phone, idiot. You just broke mine.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Danny dug his own phone out and used it to help Marie pick up hers, but she held off the cursing. From what she knew of him, Danny wasn’t the sort to apologise, and the fact he’d just done it freaked her out as much as the outcry.
“It’s fine, I have insurance,” Marie said as she shoved the shattered phone back into her pocket. It wasn’t fine, and she hated the idea of being out here without her phone, but there was no helping it. “Okay.” She took a deep breath to calm herself. “Let’s take a look.” Back round the other side of the screen she could see even less of Danny, but at least at the phone light made it obvious where he was.
“Start at the left?” Danny moved the phone over, so Marie followed.
“Might as well. Okay, so we have the meteor, then he grinds the rock up. Then…”
“Wait, no. The fire. He melts the meteor down and uses it make glass. That must be what gives the window its colouring, the dust of the meteor.”
“So these are space windows?”
“That – sure. Space windows.”
“That’s cool. What about that last one?”
There was something in Danny’s voice, a slight edge. Like when you ask someone if they can pass the salt, when you’ve just unthreaded the screw so the salt grinder will fall apart the next time it’s picked up. Braced for surprises, Marie went round to have a look.
“There’s the guy again, in front of the window. And… wait, there’s something coming out of the window. Is that? Oh, come on. Tentacles? That’s hardly religious. Urg, okay, these are a prank then.”
“Positive. Ever seen a church with tentacles before? Come on, its almost time for the main windows to be visible.”
The light came through the other end of the church, but the windows were just a blaze of colour. The tale went that the images were only visible when the sun was at the right angle, but after the fake images at the other end, Marie had given up hope.
“You know,” she said as they walked down the aisle side by side, “this place is a lot less freaky now that someone’s overdone the props with that thing. A little too try hard, don’t you think?”
“I guess.” Danny doesn’t sound at all convinced.
“What was the scream about anyway?”
“It wasn’t a scream.”
“It totally was. A girly scream at that. Tell me what prompted it, and I won’t write it on the forums.”
“Okay, okay! It was just the candle playing up, that’s up.”
“Playing up how?”
Danny took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. “It looked like the man in the stained glass moved.”
“It was just the light moving. It startled me, that’s all. Drop it, okay?”
“Okay, okay.” Marie was going to remember that though. Always good to have dirt on someone like Danny. “So, isn’t the sun supposed to light up all these or–”
At that moment, the sun dipped low enough to come straight in the end of the church. The curved stained glass window lit up like a bonfire. It was awash with colour, every colour under the sun, so much so that it looked more like a photo than glass. The detailing on the leadwork was incredibly detailed as well, and for a moment the pair of them stood and took in the beauty of the whole piece.
Then they started to see the details in the picture.
“What the…” Danny mumbled.
“That’s not right,” Marie whispered. “Who would stain glass that?”
The scene was a collection of people, all in different poses and in different outfits. There had to be about thirty individuals, and they were all spread around a large blob shape in the centre. Tentacles reached out across the whole window, twisting around some of the figures, choking a few of them. Many of the people had injuries, some exceedingly gory.
Marie pulled her scarf up higher. “Oh, that’s grim. Take the pictures and let’s go. This was not worth losing my phone over.”
“Right.” Danny pulled his phone back out and stepped closer to start snapping away. Marie stayed where she was, but she couldn’t pull her eyes away. Everywhere she looked there was a fresh horror, and with the smell of the church as well it was making her sick. Seriously, who would worship in front of something like this?
“Hey, Marie?” Danny’s voice sends a shiver down her spine. It’s so low and timid. She doesn’t want to know what he’s found.
“Yes?” she asked nonetheless.
“This one here. He’s holding a phone.”
Marie started laughing, trying to make a joke. “Seriously?”
“No, seriously Marie. It’s an actual phone. And this one has a Rolling Stones t-shirt on. When was this window made?”
“Hey, Danny?” Marie’s voice was as soft as his.
“You know how the other one moved? Because of the light and all?”
“Yeah. This one did that as well, right?”
“Yup. It was just the light. I mean, it’s glass. There’s no way that tentacle moved, right.”
“Right. Just the light. Moving. At an angle that we both saw.”
“And are still seeing.”
“If I start running, will you judge me?”
“No. I’ll be right behind you.”
They don’t make it past the second row of pews before the tentacles burst out of the glass. By the fourth row the tentacles have reached them. Danny just gets his hand to the fifth pew, but he doesn’t get a good enough grip to stop it dragging him back. The tentacles haul their prey into the glass, just as the light shifts and the window is nothing but colour again.
By the time the light is at the right angle again, there are another two figures trapped in the stained glass.