I’ve spent – and continue to spend – a far larger portion of my life hanging around in cemeteries than probably anyone aside from an actual grave digger. As such, I’ve had more than my fair share of odd encounters whilst wandering amongst the tombstones.
One of these graveside misadventures happened when I was a teenager in the mid-2000s. By then, I was already spending as much time as I could in the Avalon Cemetery; its size and beauty the equal of any of our city’s parks, but with the benefit of being frequented by far fewer visitors. But as much as I loved it there, it wasn’t a perfect sanctuary. Other teenagers sometimes sought out its privacy for their own, often less than innocent reasons, and on several occasions, I was verbally harassed by other girls or cat-called by boys. I was very timid and sensitive when I was younger, so I never stood up for myself. I always retreated, and each time my intimate familiarity with the grounds let me plot the best escape routes and seek the best hiding spots, avoiding my tormentors until they eventually grew bored and abandoned their quarry.
It was enough to make me investigate the possibility of any other cemeteries in town I just didn’t know about yet, and if they might offer more seclusion. My search led me to Saint Aria’s old church, the first Catholic Church in Sombermorey that the local parish had used until the growing population had required that they build a cathedral. The church was eventually abandoned altogether, left to deteriorate on the outskirts of town, along with its attached graveyard.
The prospect of an abandoned cemetery where I could loiter about undisturbed was enticing enough for me to check it out. I couldn’t drive yet so I took the bus as close as I could and travelled the rest of the distance on foot. That alone made it a hassle, since my parent’s house on Hemlock Court was right beside Avalon Cemetery – I had grown up with that beautiful graveyard right outside my bedroom window. When I got to Saint Aria’s churchyard, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. It was at most one percent the size of Avalon, its dull and crumbling grey headstones haphazardly packed together, and where the plant life wasn’t overgrown it was dead. I knew immediately that there was no way it could ever replace Avalon for me, but while I was there, I figured I might as well investigate a little bit. A spent a few minutes meandering around the derelict graves, and when nothing particular caught my attention, I decided I might as well peek inside the church.
I’ve been a Wiccan for a little over a year now, and before that I was an apathetic agnostic, but I have always appreciated the aesthetic of Christian churches. The imposing steeples, gorgeous stained-glass windows, and warmly coloured oratories make for a rather distinct and iconic visual experience. Staring at the outside, the church was far humbler than the grand Saint Aria’s Cathedral, and obviously in a pretty pathetic state of disrepair with shattered windows and shingles sliding off the roof. However, since it didn’t look like it was about to collapse just yet, I walked around to the front doors to see if they would open. The hinges were a bit sticky, but I pulled the left door open easily enough.
The inside of the church was dark and dusty, and I had to wait a moment for my eyes to adjust before I could see anything at all. As my eyes slowly acclimatized to the darkness, I began to make out a looming figure standing by the pulpit. My normal anxiety kicked into overdrive, and all of the most horrible reasons why someone might be lurking alone inside an abandoned church rapidly raced through my mind. I started to back up slowly, hoping that they hadn’t seen me and that I might be able to make a quiet exit.
Without warning, the figure began ranting gibberish at the top of their lungs, passionately flailing their arms about like they were giving a zealous sermon. I screamed and ran out of the church, and I didn’t stop running until I made it back to the bus stop, where I was still sobbing uncontrollably when the bus arrived.
That was about fifteen years ago now. I've grown a lot since then as a person, and in particular, my practice of Witchcraft has not only greatly bolstered my confidence but also cultivated an interest in the numerous paranormal occurrences in and around my hometown. During my deep dives into local legends and lore, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one to have had a close encounter with a mysterious figure in that church. He’s known as the Mad Monk of Saint Aria’s, since other people’s experiences with him were pretty similar to my own; a solitary individual preaching in tongues to dark and empty pews. Only a few people claimed to have ever confronted the Monk, alleging that he summoned strange supernatural forces to fend them off when he did so. The local Police Department has officially investigated the church a few times, but have never found anyone or any signs of habitation. They attributed the legend to encounters with multiple sufferers of mental illness and drug addiction seeking solace in the old church over the decades.
That was certainly a possibility, but my personal experience at the church left me wondering if there might be more to it. I decided to go and take another look at the place with my recently honed clairvoyance and knowledge of the occult, hopeful that they might unveil something everyone else had missed. My girlfriend Genevieve is a more experienced Witch than I am, so I of course considered inviting her along, but I decided my first trip should be a solo one. I’d go scout it out, and if there was something of interest I’d bring her back, and if not then there’d be no point in wasting her time with it. I may be weird, but I’m not ‘take my girlfriend on a date to an abandoned church for no reason’ weird.
I went on the first nice night in April. I chose to go at night because the Veil is a little weaker then and my clairvoyance is a bit stronger, plus I figured there was less of a chance of drawing attention to myself at night.
I parked my shiny, cherry-red Corolla in front of the derelict church, appearing all the more ominous in the fading twilight and beneath a cloud-shrouded moon. This was accompanied by the general sense of unease that most women would feel when alone on a dark street, though for me that was at least alleviated by my ability to sense the presence of people nearby. I paused to take a scan of the area, viewing the astral realm with my naked consciousness, sending out pings through earthly entanglements and letting the information bounce back to me. Blessedly, nothing was out of place except for the church. It was a black box to my clairvoyance, which by itself was extremely tantalizing. I'd read about psychic dead zones in my occult studies, but this was the first one I'd encountered personally. Maybe I should have played it safe and gone back for Genevieve then, but I was so excited that I grabbed my staff from the back of my car and hurried straight to the church’s lofty front doors.
Just like the first time, I slowly pulled the left door open and peeked inside. This time my eyes were already adjusted to the light level, and I saw the entire church lit by pillars of silver moonlight, gleaming columns of dust slowly churning within them. A bronze crucifix glistened ever so slightly, but everything else was dull and grubby from generations of neglect. Wood and concrete debris and dead leaves littered the floor, most of the paint had flaked off the walls, and graffiti marred virtually every surface. That last one struck me as odd since the outside of the church was immaculate – pun intended. Why would people only vandalize the inside? I stepped across the threshold to get a better view, and the instant I did, my clairvoyance went entirely dark. I could no longer sense anything with my mind alone, being left with only my physical senses.
That was scary, but not unexpected. I knew it wasn’t me, it was the church, and I’d be fine as soon as I went outside again. The price of exploring a psychic dead zone was that I’d be restricted to doing so by non-psychic means, which was logical enough. I flicked on the LED on the top of my staff and lit up the church like I was Gandalf in Moria. It was a surprisingly bright little doodad, or at least it seemed so in the darkness of the old church. I heard rats and roaches and possibly larger creatures scurry to their hidey holes while I was momentarily blinded by the light.
When my eyes adjusted once again, I held my staff at arm’s length and went to inspect the graffiti on the wall. It wasn’t what I had been expecting at all. It was all dark red, like blood, and for all I knew it was blood. Nothing was in English either, but rather all jagged sigils and pictograms that I didn’t recognize. Even though I couldn’t read them, they made me uneasy. They just looked angry and aggressive, and they gave off a vibe like they were meant to communicate a degree of hatred and malevolence that no human language had words for, like the mind they had come from was deranged beyond any clinical definition of madness.
The feeling of dread only grew stronger as I swept my light across the room and saw that I was completely surrounded by the strange runes. As I moved the light, the symbols appeared to dance and pulsate in the shadows, and my ears picked up a faint, omnipresent sound that just might have been fraught whispers.
I should have called it quits then. I should have ran back to my car and sped away as fast as I could, but my curiosity got the better of me. That church, which had once been dedicated to the God of Abraham, had been transformed into a temple for a very different god. I had to know more.
I backed away from the walls and into the center aisle, making sure I had a clear path to escape in case I needed it. I now turned my attention to the pulpit, where I had seen the dark figure preaching all those years ago. I carefully approached the front of the church, my staff clutched tightly in my hands, ready to fend off any attacker. As I and my light moved forward, the shadows spun in an unnatural counter-clockwise motion, lengthening and shortening over and over again at a nauseating speed, with each footstep echoing for far longer than the small church should have allowed. This was extremely disorienting, and I started to feel my head grow light and my legs falter beneath me. I lurched forward a few more steps, until finally dropping to my knees by the altar, as if I were accepting communion.
I forced myself to look up, and above me I saw a void that had not been there before. It was a chasm in reality with no clear boundary, its borders blurring and distorting at the edges of my vision. Within the indescribable spatial dimensions of the void I beheld a leviathan, a vast Titan languishing in its alien abyss. It vaguely resembled a sperm cell, with a long tale and oblong head, except completely covered in bristly, blood-red hairs. Six long, spindly tentacles radiated out from around its head, and in the center was a single, cyclopean eye. It was sickly yellow, bloodshot, and had a narrow, vertical pupil running down its center.
A deep, bellowing reverberation that was not quite a sound crossed the border between our two worlds, and I knew that I was in this monster’s gaze. It saw me, it wanted me, and I couldn’t summon the strength to move. I tried to speak, to scream, something, but I could barely muster a whimper. I saw its tentacles stretching down towards me, and I focused my mind as best as I could on the Mother Goddess, my Goddess, in the hopes that the beast could hear my thoughts. If this thing was a god of some kind, then it would at least be hesitant to harm the follower of a fellow deity.
Unfortunately, I felt no hesitation from the nightmarish creature, its tentacles still quivering down towards me, eager to have me in its grasp and do as it pleased.
“Hey! El Nulo!” a man’s voice shouted from behind me. I tried to turn my head but found myself unable to move my gaze from the creeping abomination drawing towards me. “Remember our deal! This is a Catholic Church, and we play by Catholic rules! There are no Catholic Priestesses, Muchacho. You leave her be! If you’re in the mood to make a sermon, you take me!”
The gaunt tentacles twitched slightly, pausing in their descent at the sound of his voice. The pupil of the eye puckered slightly as it narrowed its gaze, flicking back and forth between myself and whoever stood behind me. Finally settling on the man, it released another bellow and shot its tentacles through the void.
Suddenly freed from its influence, I spun around to see an aging Latin man, his hair and beard both long and unkempt and his clothing ragged and frayed. I couldn't see the void or the tentacles anymore, but the man was now ranting in tongues and waving his arms about, exactly as I remembered from all those years ago. I wanted to scream and run away again, of course I did, but this time I also wanted to understand what was happening. So, with my staff clutched once more in my hands as the only protection I had, I pulled up my neck gaiter, took a seat well out of spitting distance of him, and listened to the surreal sermon.
The words he wailed, they weren’t just foreign to me, they were… wrong. They didn’t sound like any noise a human should be able to make. More than that, I was struck with the impression that the thoughts they were intended to convey were not ones any human mind could think. It was obvious that the man was not in control of himself, but was being used as a puppet by the One-Eyed Titan. It was speaking at me, but not to me, thank goodness. I was merely an audience for it.
It was horrible, listening to such an unintelligible cacophony whilst cowering under the gaze of an equally horrid abomination. I wanted to help the man, I did, but I knew there was nothing I could do against such raw, alien power. Thankfully the sermon lasted barely a quarter of an hour before the man began gurgling and then leaned against the pulpit for support, seemingly once more in control of his faculties. He looked up, surprised to see I was still there.
“No one’s, ever, sat through one of my sermons before,” he gasped, catching his breath. “I must be improving.”
“What the hell is that thing?” I asked fretfully. He examined me more closely for a moment as he considered his response.
“You’re a Witch, right?” he presumed. I started to open my mouth to ask why he would think that, but then remembered I was wearing a hooded cloak, long dress, pentagram amulet, triple moon belt buckle, and I was holding a glowing staff.
“Ah, yeah. I guess I’m not exactly subtle about it,” I chuckled. “I’m Samantha, by the way.”
“Miguel,” he nodded as he slumped down at the other end of the pew, a few yards down from me. “Well Samantha, those old gods you worship, they’re actually young gods. Or at least, their avatars are. They’re tulpas, thoughtforms, created and sustained by mostly human thought, which is why they’re so comfortingly human. The god I was preaching for is much, much older. It was first given form by the most primitive consciousness from the first single-celled organisms. It’s been slowly shaped and sustained by the most basic of thoughts from all the innumerable microbes that have existed over the past four billion years. It’s thousands of times older than our oldest gods, and an embodiment of the most primal of biological drives; to feed, to grow, to multiply, to survive. It has, more recently, been gradually tainted by more complex thought – mostly visual, which is what the eye represents - but it's still very, very primitive."
“But… it can speak. It was speaking through you,” I interjected.
“Not… exactly. It’s more like I was speaking for it, that its thoughts were being translated into something I can understand and communicate. It just doesn’t work very well.”
“And these glyphs, painted on the wall, it made those too?” I asked.
“Through me, yes,” he nodded.
“But, why? Why does a god of single-celled lifeforms speak through you? What does it have to gain?” I asked.
“It thinks like a microbe, like a germ. It infects people, and I’m … infected,” he half smirked, half sighed. “Like many infections, I’m not sure exactly how or when it first happened, but I do know I was was searching for God. The Supreme God, the Real God, the first and eldest of all divine beings, beyond time and space, beyond mortal comprehension; the reason for everything. Instead, I found it; El Nulo.”
“That means ‘The Nothing’, right?” I asked.
“I prefer to translate it as ‘The Naught’, but yes,” he nodded. “I call it that because, well, that's what it feels like; more like an absence than a presence, more like darkness than light; just a god-shaped hole in reality that sought to fill the god-shaped hole within myself. When I first cast my mind's eye upon it, it looked back at me, then it hollowed me out and played with me like a marionette. I was never the same after that, though I did live, and that’s probably more than I had any right to hope for. It’s not always in control of me, not directly, but I can always feel it trying to pry its way into my mind, trying to get me to say or do what it wants, which is spreading the infection to others. I often can't tell where it ends and I begin. But, I’ve learned to live with it, to manage it. I’ve chosen the life of a monk, its monk, to deny it any chance to spread. I’ve trained it with Catholic rituals so that now it mostly only takes direct control of me when I’m in here. With rare exceptions, it preaches only to empty pews, so for now the infection is contained. I can’t get complacent though. Like any tamed beast, it could break training at any time. So, for now, I keep it at bay, study it, and hope that one day I might be able to vanquish it, and that no one else ever needs to go through what I have.”
“And… you’ve been living like this for decades?” I asked in horror. He gave a nod of grim acceptance. “Is there anything I can do to –”
“If you want to help, you should leave, and think about that thing as little as possible,” he counselled. “Fill the god-shaped hole within you with your ever-pregnant Earth Mother and horny Satyr, and hope they are enough to keep El Nulo from getting in.”
I nodded in understanding, but still didn’t feel right about just abandoning him alone in his fight against this eldritch beast. I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of Genevieve’s business cards.
“My girlfriend owns the Spiritual Wellness Center on Albion Avenue; Eve’s Eden of Esoterica,” I said as I set the card down on the pew. “We’re both relatively well-learned and experienced with the occult, so, if you decide that you do need some help, either with The Naught or more mundane issues, don’t hesitate to stop by.”
He nodded, but didn’t move to take the card. With a lingering glance, I rose from my seat and ran out of the forsaken church, screaming with relief as my clairvoyance returned to me, and I felt connected to the spirit world once again.
I haven’t seen or heard from Miguel since that night. I've done my best to follow his advice, to avoid thinking about The Naught, lest it seizes the chance to take my Goddess's place in my heart. I have faith that my mindfulness and spiritual practices will keep me safe from it, and that Miguel will remain steadfast in his monastic duties to keep it confined to Saint Aria’s. However, I still felt the need to write down the experience, just to get it outside of myself, and maybe out of a duty to warn others not to seek this being out in any form, to deny it the opportunity to infect anyone else. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the desire to share this knowledge isn’t my own, but I’ve decided that’s a risk I need to take.
Or at least, I think it was me.
Written by The Vesper's Bell