Requiem by Jen Hughes

Christopher Matthews was a dedicated teacher who touched the lives of many children throughout his thirty-five years teaching music. Thoughts are with his family and friends at a small funeral service there on this wet Easter Sunday afternoon, and all the students at St Cecilia’s Academy who have lost a teacher. There are large candles placed around the church which give the illusion of warmth but it is a cold and hollow place. The air smells strongly of mixed perfumes. The last time I was here, it was my last day at school before I was sent away. Too many bad memories, yet my psychiatrist said I should go. If you face pain, she will give you an ointment to stop your wounds from festering. The service starts, conducted by the same priest with the same dreary voice from before. Even the altar boys look similar to the ones before.

My eyes wander about the room. Everyone here knows me- angry misfit Magda, manipulative-liar Magda, mad Magda who was sent away to her aunts in Manchester because nobody could handle her anymore. They don’t see that I am a different young woman. They won’t want to hear about my wedding band, Dawkin’s Creek or how we’ve released our first album of original songs together or about my green belt in judo. Sometimes I feel like I’m made out of stone, but maybe they already knew that. All they’ll ever see is that girl, that lost cause, how disappointed my father was when I quit clarinet and started to make allegations… That’s why they all avoid eye contact. That’s why I know for a fact not one of them will dare to come and speak to me, out of respect to the ‘beloved’ Mr Matthews.

We stand for a hymn, one of many I’ve managed to forget. I mime it. I can’t believe it’s really happening- my old teacher in a wooden box. That smell of B.O and vintage aftershave will never be back, those awful jokes he made at my expense, his big hands.

We sit down, and the wife walks up to the pulpit to say a few words. She maintains that same Mother-Mary grace she always had, in her demure black dress and veil. Or tries to. I can see the look in her eyes, as if I were someone else’s festering used condom. She, and the rest of the congregation still refuse to believe that Mr Matthews would do such things to a teenage girl when they were left alone. I feel sick to the pit of my stomach as she reminds the parish how well he upheld Christian values within the community; how romantic a husband he was, flowers given to her every day; how good a teacher he was to his students; how good a father to his daughters. She never knew him the way I knew him. Why did I come here? Weeping echoes throughout the stone-floored church.

But then, there was knocking.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

A wooden sound. Mrs Matthews continues her speech.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Silence.

Even the ambient noise seems to cut out.

“Who is that at the door?” her angry voice booms “Tell them to show some respect for the dead!”

She sits back in her seat, and the priest introduces another hymn. The room is full of indignant faces- who would dare to chap during a funeral? But unease floods their faces as the knocking continued, and becomes banging and muffled screaming. Please God, let this be over soon. There was nobody knocking on that oversized wooden door.

The noise is coming from the coffin.

A miracle of God! The priest exclaimed. He’s alive! Oh like Christ himself, Mr Matthews has risen from the dead, God bless us all. A ton weight sank my stomach to my feet. This has to be a mistake. I cannot see him again alive! On his signal, an altar boy runs for a crowbar. Everyone’s eyes are fixed to the box in the middle of the room. I can’t stop the tears flooding down my face, or the fast, heavy way I’m panting. Please dear god no! The congregation pray ecstatically for the returned Mr Matthews as the boys heave the crowbar to the lid of the coffin. Seconds later, it is open. An arm lashes out, the hand clutching the nearest boy by the throat and pulling him towards the coffin. The boy shrieks and is silenced by the blood from his neck flooding out. Screams and cries echo throughout the church as he falls to the floor. Mr Matthews clambers out of the coffin and crouches towards the body. He rips off the boy’s arms and feasts on the flesh. The people shriek and run to the door. The door is stuck. So I run to find another exit. The boys blood rivulets down in between the pews.

Despite the apocalyptic chaos around her, Mrs Matthews approaches her husband: “Darling?”

He turns around, his dull eyes stare at her. “It’s me, Agnes? Do you remember me?”

A hint of recognition crosses his eyes. He drops the arm and hobbles to get a closer look. He knows his wife. He holds her face tenderly in his hands, letting her tears of joy drop onto his hands. But then he yanks her hair and bites a chunk out of her shoulder before she can even scream for help. He relishes it noisily. He is back, but now he cannot hide the monster he really is.

I hide behind a distant pillar and I can feel my whole body shake violently as he eats his wife alive. I could vomit. All hell will break loose if he gets out. I know I must kill him, but how? The altar has some blunt objects. Big candles, a statue of Jesus, a long metal crucifix on the floor nearby. I can hear his daughter sobbing behind another pillar above the screaming and hands hammering at the door.

I feel the need to hold her, and tell her everything is okay, just like before. But I don’t have the time just now. He’ll never be content with just two victims, he never was. He’ll eat the flesh of this whole parish. He’s staring at his daughter like a piece of meat. She’ll die so that he may live.

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, GEMMA!” I scream at her. But all she can do is shake and cry.

Mr Matthews’ head pivots, his eyes like a dead fish’s boring into my skull, staggers towards me. Towering over me like he did when I was young. When he could grab me anywhere, how hard he wanted and I didn’t know better to say no. When he could make me do whatever he wanted because God would be angry if I disobeyed him- even in school. When he could force himself inside me, and no matter how loudly I sobbed afterwards nobody said a thing. And when I tried to tell my priest, when I cried on the church floor, I was denounced by everyone as a liar. When I broke down, I was sent away from my family to some distant aunt’s house far away. Because who would they rather believe, the reverent and good Mr Matthews or that misfit daughter?

He chases me across the room. Grab the metal crucifix. I scream as I run at him. He has that same glint. Spear it through his chest. But he just looks down, and then laughs at me. Of course, he has no beating heart to stab. It is stuck. I let go, then he tries to grab me but misses. I take a small statue of Jesus with both hands and I strike him again across the face. He doubles over. I scramble up and I smack his head. Again and again. He screams berserkly.  He didn’t think he’d ever see me fight back, did he? Smack. Again. I can see the shock in his eyes, how like stone I’ve had to become. Smack. Again. The blood explodes the harder I hit. Smack. Again and again. Now he cannot scream. I hit again and again until it’s just the church floor I’m hitting now.

Exhale. His body is lying on the church floor. The church has gone deathly quiet again. I look at my sister, a sobbing heap of black shawls and I give her my hand to get up. She wraps her arms around me and cries on my shoulder. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to work it out some day. But not right now. She tries to regain some composure and then we walk through the aisle in blood-stained shoes. I came here today to see my father dead and buried. Now, my wounds just might have a chance to heal. I suggest to the priest before I leave that he should remain dead and burned, his and my mother’s ashes scattered on the grounds. He whole-heartedly agrees, “Absolutely”. The last thing they want right now is media attention. I don’t want to be here when the police arrive. They probably won’t believe me, anyway.

*

BIO: JEN HUGHES is a writer from Ayrshire, Scotland. She has been writing stories from as early as age 7 but hasn’t started putting her work out there until a few years ago.  She has a bad habit of having an unrealistic number of creative projects going at any given time, due to her overactive imagination and work ethic inherited from her mother and grandfather. As well as writing, she also works as a classroom assistant and as a relief worker with a local respite service for children with complex additional support needs. She is a regular contributor at Seakay’s Guide to Storytelling.

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