“The one thing that I never thought I’d find in church…” Scarlett paused, frowned, and deleted the text. She’d been trying to figure out how to start the newest post for her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, for the better part of an hour. Each time she thought she had the first sentence, she ended up deleting it.
“So sleepy,” her brain muttered to her. “Let’s go to bed.”
“No, I need to get this out of my head,” she argued with herself.
“There’s plenty of time for that later. I’m no good to you now, anyway.”
“I really want to write this now, while the experience is still fresh,” she thought as she sat back in her chair, took a sip of green tea, and sighed.
“Well, good luck with that,” her brain said in a huff, “I’m out of here.”
“Fine, I’ll do this without your help,” she declared to her now absent mind.
Earlier that day, her best friend, Jeff, had picked her up so that the two of them could go investigate the Church in the Woods, just south of Cleveland. Scarlett had gotten wind of the possible existence of a holy relic less than fifteen minutes from downtown, and she instantly knew it would make a great story for her blog. After the trouble she’d ran into on her last investigation, she appreciated the company.
“I thought you hated churches,” said Jeff as they turned off I-480 and sat on the exit ramp, waiting for the light.
“I don’t hate churches. I’ve been in plenty of them.”
“Well, it’s not like I burst into flames when I step inside one,” she said as she reached down to change the radio station, “I mean – I’ve been to weddings and stuff. I just don’t…” She stopped, and looked out the window of the car. “I can’t…believe…in church,” she sighed, “Not since Sam disappeared.”
Scarlett’s younger sister, Samantha, had disappeared while walking home during her freshman year of high school. No trace of her had ever been found – her missing person case had never officially been closed. Trying to find her, and then later, when her family had finally given up hope, trying to find out what had happened to her, was one of the reasons that Scarlett had been drawn to the paranormal in the first place. She’d visited quite a few psychics and mediums over the past twelve years.
“Oh, ok,” Jeff was quiet for a moment. “I understand.”
“Sure. Sometimes things like that make you stop believing. Sometimes they make you start.”
“Well, when Maggie was stillborn, I didn’t go to church for a whole year.”
“I didn’t know that.” Scarlett turned to look at her best friend. “Why didn’t I know that?”
“I didn’t really make a big deal about it. I just didn’t go.”
“Mary was the opposite. She couldn’t wait to go.”
“I remember she was always talking about how she couldn’t wait to get to church on Sunday – that’s why I thought you went, too.”
“Nah. I stayed home and played video games.”
Scarlett squinted at him. “Oh, so that’s how you got so good at Halo. No wonder you keep kicking my ass now.”
“I could kick your ass before then, too,” he said with a smile. “Anyway, if you ever do decide to start believing again, and I’m not saying you should, of course. But if you did, you’re always welcome to come with Mary and me and the kids.”
Scarlett smiled in return, “Thanks man, but even if I did go back to church, I’m not Catholic.”
“Oh, I know. It’s just an open offer, that’s all.”
The Woods Church was nestled in a deep wooded lot in the middle of a sea of tidy, post-war, baby-boomer, planned-community houses. Constructed as a large A-frame building, the roof touched the ground on both sides. It was a striking building, and with snow covering the lot, the whole scene had an mystical air. Scarlett briefly contemplated taking time to sketch it, but decided not to keep Jeff waiting around in the cold winter air.
Scarlett knocked on the front doors and, after a moment, a man in his fifties poked his head out. “You must be Scarlett, I presume?”
“Hi, Pastor Tim? Thanks for agreeing to meet us,” she said as she extended her hand.
“Oh, it’s no trouble. I’m a big fan of your blog,” he said excitedly as he shook her hand. “Please, come in,” he continued as he ushered them into the vestibule.
“Wait, really?” asked Jeff.
“Hey,” Scarlett pouted. “People read my blog.”
“Yes, really,” the pastor chuckled, “I’m kind of a paranormal buff, myself.”
“Cool. Well,” Scarlett closed the door behind them and then pulled a sketchbook and pen out of her bag, “I’ve got a few questions to start with.”
“Sure! Go right ahead.”
“Well, I read that the church was built in the early sixties.”
“That’s right. Nineteen sixty one. She just turned fifty this year.” He sighed, “It’s a crying shame.”
“A shame?” asked Scarlett.
“They’re closing her down. We’re holding our last service at the end of March.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Jeff, “A lot of the Catholic churches are closing too. Mine was shut down last year.”
“Yes, there’s quite a lot of that going around right now.” Tim nodded. “There aren’t as many church-goers in Cleveland these days.”
“Do you think they’re losing their faith?” Jeff asked. Scarlett squinted at him.
“Faith? Maybe,” he paused to think, “More likely that the same thing’s happening to us that’s happening to all of Cleveland. The economy stinks, and everyone young is moving away. So, our congregations are growing older and shrinking.”
Jeff nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, too,” said Scarlett as she made note of the conversation, “I’m glad I was able to get in and see you before it closed.”
“Well, you’re giving it a new life, in perhaps a different form, by writing about it. So, what’s next?”
“So, I also read that it was built by the owner of a lumber yard who had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land.”
“That’s also true,” he smiled, “Pete Wysocki was inspired by his trip to finance the construction. He did the design himself, too – he was an amateur architect of sorts. He passed away a few years after it was built.” He stopped to allow Scarlett to write notes, “Well, keep going, though I’m pretty I know what you’re going to ask next.”
Scarlett took a deep breath, “I read that he built the church to house a holy relic that he brought back from the Holy Land.”
Pastor Tim chuckled again, “Well, that’s the story as I understand it. From what I’ve learned talking to the previous pastor, and from some of the folks who knew him, he did claim to have brought ‘something important’ back with him that he hid here. The trouble is he never told anyone what it was.”
“Nope. He kept mentioning it in his journal, which I’ve got in my office, if you want to take a look at it, but he never really described it and he never recorded where he put it. That’s assuming he actually put anything anywhere at all, of course, and he wasn’t just pulling everyone’s leg.”
Scarlett frowned. “I imagine that people have looked for it?”
“Oh, absolutely! Heck, I spent the better part of my first year here turning over every pew to see if I could find something. Other than dust bunnies and about five bucks in loose change, I didn’t find a thing.”
“Hmm. Ok,” she jotted in her notebook, and then continued, “Well, the other thing I heard was that the church was built according to the golden ratio?”
“Ah, now that is definitely true, yes – it’s an unconventional design for a church to begin with, what with the A-frame construction, but the interior is especially different. Wysocki wasn’t a typical architect, so he didn’t feel compelled to design it like a typical church. You’ll see once you look inside.”
A phone chirped, and Scarlett went to pull hers out of her bag. Tim, however, pulled his iPhone out of his pocket, frowned, and then said, “Sorry, I’ve got to take this, so feel free to look around. Just don’t put holes in anything without asking first, ok?”
“Sure thing,” Scarlett agreed.
After Tim wandered off, Jeff turned to Scarlett. “Golden ratio? What’s with you and all the weird math, lately?”
Scarlett shrugged, “Dunno. It does feel like there’s some overarching theme, though, doesn’t there?” She poked her head into the nave, “Oh, weird – come look at this.”
Jeff walked in beside her, “Huh. That is weird. Everything’s off center.”
Instead of the traditional layout of a center aisle running the length of the nave, the pews were configured in a semi-circular arrangement that faced the back, right hand corner. “It looks more like a theater than a church,” said Scarlett.
The raised chancel had a set of stairs on the far left. At the far end of the building, a sanctuary framed by a set of soaring picture windows housed a large wooden cross, which was suspended from the ceiling. Midway between the sanctuary and the front of the chancel stood a wooden altar, and in front of that, at the very front of the chancel, the pulpit.
“Why did they put the sanctuary two-thirds of the way to the right, though?” asked Jeff
“It’s not quite two thirds,” Scarlett said as she began to sketch the layout of the interior. The vestibule and nave formed a perfect square, she realized, and the chancel and sanctuary together made a rectangle just deep enough to form the golden ratio.
“Look,” she pointed to her sketchbook, “The ratio of the length of the whole church to the length of the front part is the same as the ratio of the length of the front part to the length of the back part. The whole thing forms a golden rectangle.”
“You can do this all in your head?” Jeff asked.
“Well, and on paper.”
“I’m an artist, it’s what I do.” Scarlett shrugged, then marked down the position of the cross, altar, and pulpit. “Hmmm.”
“I think the reason that everything’s off center is that it’s all on the border of smaller golden rectangles. See, if I split this back rectangle into the correct parts, then the cross is right at that border of the two smaller pieces.”
Jeff nodded, “Looks right.”
“And if we continue to subdivide,” she said as she scribbled furiously. “And then we draw a spiral that connects the corners of each square, then the spiral reaches its limit,” Scarlett looked up and pointed to the altar, “right there.”
“No kidding,” Scarlett smiled.
“It’s like he designed a path that leads straight toward it.”
Scarlett and Jeff spent the better part of an hour looking at the altar, around the altar, under the altar, and on top of the altar. Pastor Tim rejoined them, listened patiently to Scarlett’s explanation of the golden spiral, helped them move the altar, helped them move it back, and then left to take another phone call.
Scarlett was getting frustrated. “Well, this sucks. I was really hoping we were on to something.”
“Maybe it isn’t where the spiral terminates,” said Jeff, “Maybe…”
“You’re familiar with labyrinths, right?”
“The minotaur kind or the cathedral kind?”
“The cathedral kind.”
“Yeah, I’ve read about them.”
“Well, Mary walks with one of her friends at Trinity Cathedral, downtown, every other Tuesday night after work. She says it’s meditative and reflective.”
“So, what if that’s what’s going on here? What if the process of getting to the center of the spiral is the important part?”
“You mean walking the spiral like walking a labyrinth?”
Scarlett looked at her sketchbook. “Well, that means that you’d have to start,” she turned around and walked back into the vestibule, to the front-right corner of the building, “here.” She looked down. At her feet was a small golden cross inlaid into the tiled floor.
She envisioned the spiral in her mind – a glowing twisting line that wound from the corner of the church through the doors and into the nave. “That’s pretty convenient,” she thought as she began to follow the path.
The spiral followed the curve of the rear pew, and she walked its length slowly. As she exited the pew, she saw another golden cross inlaid into the first step leading up to the chancel and sanctuary. “No shit.” She couldn’t help but smile to herself. As she walked slowly across the hardwood floor of the chancel, she kept the golden filament in her mind, feeling a little like Theseus, following his ball of twine.
The large, wooden cross loomed above her, and she saw another small, golden cross set into the floor directly below it. As she took her next step, she heard the echo of another set of feet behind her. She looked around, but saw that Jeff was still standing in the entrance to the nave, watching her. Tim, the pastor, had joined him.
She took another step, and clearly heard the sound of two feet echoing. With each step along the spiral, her sense that a presence was behind her increased. Out of nowhere, she caught the scent of honeysuckle floating through the air, and she breathed deeply.
“That’s weird,” she thought. From her past experiences, she knew that out-of-place odors often accompanied spectral activity.
The next golden cross was exactly where she expected it to be, below a stained glass skylight where the spiral touched the right wall of the church. Suddenly, she felt a hand grasp hers. It was a feminine hand, soft, with manicured nails. It was a touch she recognized.
Her eyes began to water, though she kept the golden spiral in her mind. At the front of the chancel was the pulpit, and at its base was another golden cross. She forced herself to keep walking toward it, though it was only a few paces away.
The hand squeezed hers tightly, and she realized that it was her sister that was walking next to her. Her sister who had disappeared a dozen years ago on her way home from school, who had never had the opportunity to graduate, who had never learned how to drive, who had never held a job. Her sister who used honeysuckle-scented shampoo. “Sam,” she gasped.
Scarlett made another turn on the spiral, and then saw the altar, with a golden, glowing cross sitting atop it. She felt the hand tug on hers, urging her to kneel before it, like they had done together growing up, together every day, together every Sunday.
She fought the urge to cry, fought the urge to give in to the years of grief, the years of frustration, the years of wondering if her sister would ever be found. She squeezed the hand in hers as tightly as she could, and then heard a whisper in her ear. She listened, smiled, and nodded.
“Scarlett?” asked Jeff.
“Huh?” she shook her head as her vision cleared.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” she said quietly as she stood up. She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve. “I’m ok. I think I’m ready to go.”
“Did you find anything?” asked Tim, who had walked up behind Jeff.
Scarlett smiled. “I guess you’ll just have to read the blog to find out.”
“Hey, now. Shouldn’t I get an advanced peek, at least?”
“I’ll email you the article before it gets posted.”
“Ok, then. Well, I don’t want to rush you out, but I do have to close up for the time being. I’ve got to go visit one of my congregants in the hospital.”
Scarlett nodded and walked with Jeff to the car.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” he asked, once they were buckled in.
“I saw Sam,” she whispered, “she was there.”
“Wait, your sister?”
“Yeah. She was walking along behind me.”
Scarlett stared out the window of the car as they pulled out of the lot. “I’m not exactly sure what to think about it yet.”
“Did she say anything?”
She nodded, “Yes.” Scarlett was quiet for a long moment, and then she sighed. “She said, ‘I’m at peace.'”
Jeff reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Is there anything I can do?”
Scarlett sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Yeah, what time do you guys leave for church in the morning?”
Scarlett set down her tea, put her hands on the keyboard, and started to write again. “I went to the Woods Church to look for a holy relic,” she typed, “but what I found was arguably more important. It was, in fact, the last thing I expected to find – my faith.”