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Down in the Beast

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I am young again.

This is how my dream always begins, with me standing at the church picnic so many years ago. Not my own pleasantly bland Presbyterian church in the suburbs of Charleston, but that austere Lutheran church out in the plains of West Texas where my father's family has lived for well over two centuries. The dusty church surrounded on all sides by the blue skies and faded grass already turning shades of ochre brown under the relentless assault of the summer sun. The large chapel filled with rough wooden pews that I peacefully slept in for most of the services before being awoken by my uncle to "hear the Word of God" from the preacher.

I too am fading under the same sun. My six year old self is too young to understand why we have to stand out here after an unfamiliar church service by an unfamiliar preacher. Angrier than the ones back home and consumed with the fury of a man who tries to combat evil in the world, but acknowledges that he can barely contain his own base instincts. Except now he stands by the grill cooking burgers in a faded Panama hat and Aggies polo shirt, smiling at some unheard joke. There is still a faint glimmer of madness in his eyes that comes through each time a bit of animal fat drips down onto the fire.

All this I witness while slowly drifting towards the chapel itself, past the rusting playground and the fading cemetery of bleak, gray headstones proclaiming who was a Father, Mother, Brother, Killer. This is the dream as it happens, my slow walk to the chapel door and how effortlessly it opens for me despite my small size. Inside all is dark and still. The light coming from the dirt smeared stained glass window is enough to illuminate everything except the altar which remains shrouded from my sight. Except I have to see it, I'm compelled to walk forward by whatever fuels this dream. This is urging to behold what should be a simple Protestant altar of wood and wire instructs me to take the final few steps forward.

There it is. Rising out of the dim shadows I fully see my destination. Not that simple platform rose a few inches above the floor or plain wooden podium, but the figure of Christ in passion on the cross raised behind it. The details of his face carved upon my memory as my six year old self beheld the throes of pain etched on his face and contemplated the words carved above him.

Be sure your sin will find you out.

Light floods into the chapel as the door opens behind me to reveal the silhouette of a man. No, just a shadow, an indistinct shape growing more sinister as it approaches. He begins to whisper something. The whisper grows to a roar. The roar of bells from the tower above.

I awake. The sounds of tolling church bells is now in the distance, but a muted whisper still echoes through from the realm of nightmare:

You'll find me down in the Beast. We'll be waiting.

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