The Altar of the Dead

It isn’t rare that people enter the church with memories of the dead

When I walk in, the smell of coffins and holy water envelopes me in a fantasy of satisfaction, and I take a step towards the altar. I could feel the corner of my lips beginning to curve when I set sight on the wooden coffin in front of me, but I tried to suppress the building joy inside. People gather to take their places beside each other, and I walk to the first seat next to Martha.

It was hard to concentrate on the priest’s sermon with the blinding church lights, and the smell of candied rot penetrated into golden cups next to the coffin, and the whole place was drenched in a hazy gloom of burned incense. There were worshippers, grieving, as they looked into the eyes of the dead, who was in a golden frame with a happy-go-lucky smile, an optimistic grin across her face, and the words “Sarah” written beneath the pale white flowers that wrapped around her picture. The idea that the deceased was actually dead was an impossibility, because how could a happy child, the third one this week, have fallen into the eyes of the serial killer?

I cross my fingers as the priest delivers his sermon, his expression miserable and his eyes glued to the casket. In other circumstances, the church would have been a sight for sore eyes with its massive painting behind the golden crucifix, and if you looked into it harder, you’d notice that there wasn’t a single scratch on its triangular form. The burgundy bricks and the carpet, which matched the solitary, dense walls and stained-glass windows, had grown so old over the years that they needed severe repair. I could hear the quiet sobs of Martha beside me, her handkerchief wet with tears, while Sam held her in a tight embrace.

I put on my melancholy expression and moved a pitiful palm on Martha’s shoulder, who is now shuddering with desolation. While engaging in the sermon that fills the hall with darkness and death, I gently press and comfort her. The sleeve of my black sweater begins to touch the sensitive opening under my skin, but I’m oblivious to its pain, knowing that it was all worth it.

A figure walks up to the altar and brushes his palm against the cold wood of the coffin, his cheeks swollen with tears, and a single white rose is enveloped in his hand. He places his hand on the casket and doesn’t move, while the rest of the grieving people begin to take their turns. Martha and Sam follow them too, motioning me to join them, but I nod my head. The hall, which was once filled with grieving sobs and echoes, has now turned into whispers and warnings, and regret for the dead. With time moving, each person walks up to the pine box, says their prayers, and heads towards the oak church doors. I stay in my place while the rest say their goodbyes, and when everyone leaves, I raise myself to pay my respects when I notice him, in the same position, the white rose still clasped around his right palm, now crushed into pieces of falling pale petals.

“Felix,” I say, as I stand next to him, my hands diving deep into my pockets and clutching them tight.

Felix stays intact; not a single movement is shown, except for his chest, which rises and falls as he continues to stare. He crushes the white rose further, and now the flower has turned into nothing but a blank stem with emptiness within.

“I will find the person who did this,” Felix whispers, loud enough for me to hear, and he releases his palm from the casket. “I will find the one who did this, and make him pay.”

Unexpectedly, I laugh. I break into a notorious grin as he turns to look at me, eyes wide with disbelief. I run my left hand deeper into my pocket to retrieve the sharp object that I had a plan for and look at him, dead in the eye.

“You won’t, Felix.” I smirk in satisfaction, “Because you’re next.”

Penned by: Rtr. Sheikha Hanna (Editorial Member 2021-22)

Edited, translated, and published by: RACSLIIT Editorial Team 2021-22

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