Short Story Series 2 : Down by the River – Part 1
I don’t know how many times I crossed the Paketka River walking to school in my youth. There was a sandstone bridge far above the raging waters descending from some natural falls not far away. I enjoyed looking at the marvelous church that stood off to the side and set back toward the river bend. It was made of the same red sandstone only with larger blocks, not a single one of which could be carried by one man alone. It was quite majestic. Daily my head would turn toward the manmade monolith as my stride continued forward. Only occasionally did my toe stumble a bit from the distraction. And even when the winds voiced themselves loudly through the willow trees on the grounds, you could still hear the river’s rapids distinctly. I always imagined they were having a conversation.
The church was not very old, 18th or 19th century, and all the years I grew up there, I never knew it to have a mass or service of any kind. I figured it was a cloistered abbey of some sort. There were always one or two monks around the grounds or in the church, but their order was never clear. The doors were never open and I don’t think visiting was allowed, although a tall person could peak at the nave through the windows which were stained glass in appearance. Oddly, every pane was amber in color. They depicted no imagery or symbolism whatsoever. There were pews visible inside and cast iron chandeliers, but no ornamentation to speak of.
This much was from my childhood perspective.
As time passed, I returned to the village to live with my family and my son traced the very steps I did when I was his age. In the heart of fall, shortly after the school year began, my son asked me to walk with him to school just for the company and I was astonished at how the appearance of everything had not changed – it was just as I remembered. The trees seemed the same, the gardens, and even the sound of the river. It was beautiful. As an adult now, I was curious and a bit less shy. So, I thought that an investigation into the history of the church was long overdue.
After leaving my son at his school, I strolled into town to eat at the local diner which served food all day, every day, since my grandparents first moved to the village. The food was quite excellent and the staff fairly talkative because not many visitors come that way. I strolled in and, finding only a few customers, had my choice in seating. I chose a booth preferring that to a table.
“Coffee, Blake” the waitress asked as she gently placed a menu before me?
“Yes, thank you, Carla. I don’t need the menu though. I’d like three eggs over-easy, toast, and hash browns, please.”
Carla, who was a sophomore at a nearby college, smiled and walked away back to the kitchen to where her father was cooking. Her parents owned the place. When she came back with the coffee pot, I decided to ask her what she knew about the church.
“Carla, do you know the history of the church by the bridge?”
“Not really. Why?
“Well, I grew up here and remember it well, looking just like it does today. But, I never saw services there in my youth or any people visiting. So, I’m wondering if it’s a monastery or cloister of some kind and I’m curious as to who has maintained it so pristinely all these years?”
“All I know is a little about the magic stones down by the river. The church is a mystery to me. But, my mom knows a lot more, I think.”
“What’s this about magic stones,” I asked?
“Well, there is a local legend that the hand-hewn stones the church was made from were cut from a quarry near the river’s edge, about a half mile from the church. Although that old quarry is mostly overgrown now, every once in a while you may find small red sandstone bits along the riverbank.”
“And what is so magical about them?”
“Honestly, I have no experience with this – I’ve never found one – but…. plenty of people have, and they claim that a person can put all of his negative thoughts into the stone and throw it in the river. The river feeds on the negative thoughts and the person, feeling instantly better, finds inner peace, at least for a while. It’s said to be a respite from life’s harshest trials.”
“Can you tell me more,” I asked?
“Let me get my mom. She made me promise to never look too much into the church – that there was some danger there. I’ve always listened to her and have been quite happy to just admire it from the bridge like everyone else. Mom will probably tell you more than you want to know.”
To be continued…
© 2018 Michael Armenia