The grey slate roof, its tiles uneven and often broken, had become tarnished. The drab copper-toned olive green lichens were less of a colour, more of a living rust that infected the ridge. Dripping over the slate like a dirty lace tablecloth that had shifted, so that some parts had more covering than others.
The gravestones in the surrounding churchyard were like so many jagged rotten teeth so that from above, the church in the centre of it all could be construed as a dark throat sucking in the light.
But who could view from it above?
The birds did not care; not the pigeons who had long since left the eves to roost in cosier places; not the crows, though their black feathers sometimes adorned corners of the bell tower where fights had broken out. Even the long eared bats, their dark wings flapping as twilight sent them out in search of insects on the night air, had finally departed the inner sanctum bared by broken windows.
No longer did Saint Paul sit at his table writing of his travels, setting his Gospel down for all the world to know in windows now in pieces. And the royal blue glass where Jesus turned water into wine was now pitted and faded; the hem of his robe had been smashed by children lobbing stones for practice over many generations.
Gabriel’s wing feathers had been mangled when a bolt of lightning struck through the window, bouncing into the Chancel and scoring a line on the marble floor. A freak earth tremor had heaved up flagstones by the entrance so that the door stood eternally ajar.
Leaves and debris cluttered the once tidy Nave leaving a carpet around the base of the pews. Mouse and rat droppings were thick in dark corners and in the rafters, squirrels had nested for many a long year. Nut shells, mouldering in the dankness, littered the stones beneath their nests, whitening with age.
God had long since left the building. Or so it was assumed by the locals, and who is to say they are wrong?
And so it was that there came a time when the very fabric of the building degenerated. The roof began to sag. Slates slipped into the graveyard below, or found holes in which to slip past the rafters to smash into so many pieces at the altar where the wooden cross had long since rotted as the weather crept inside.
It was a sad place, even sadder for the fact that none of the locals cared that it had been fallen into disrepute. After several generations more, with the roof completely caved in, the stones that formed the walls collapsed in on themselves. Earth blew over and dust came to rest on the rubble. And so the church became buried in the ground as it had been buried in the hearts of men.
“Dig deeper, Toony,” said Larel, ”we still have to find something.”
Toony looked at her. “I’d like to see you do better,” he stated.
“Time is short,” she replied. “You know we have to get this dig done in three rises.”
“If you keep stopping me, I’ll never get it done. Then you can complain as much as you like but there will be nothing to be done about it. So leave me alone. Get on with your own work, will you.”
Larel pouted but agreed in principal with what he said. She watched him as he went back to moving the earth around the sharp point that was sticking up proud of the surface. When he ignored her continued jibes, she turned and stepped away several paces to where her own machine stood idling. He could speed up his digger, she brooded as she set her own digger in motion. But she was not team leader, Batoon was and it was his choice to dig carefully where she, Larel, might barge on ahead and get the work done more quickly.
Toony (her shortening of his name annoyed him but he had long since stopped chiding her over it) drove his machine with ease around the chipped point until finally he found the soil softening. Whole chunks fell away from the stonework to be tossed in the air to the rear several paces. He knew his machine like it was a part of his own body and was able to just tease the switches to give him the utmost control. The slightest slip could reduce the stonework to rubble. As it was, the dirt slipped gradually away to reveal a wider base the deeper he went.
It wasn’t long before he was lost to Larel’s sight. Glancing over to his workings, she watched the stream of soil plume into the air. It landed in a neat pile which was building up conically to one side of the dig.
She debated whether or not she should leave what she was doing and go check on him, but on second thought, she decided not to test his wrath again but just keep digging where she was. She was coming to a corner stone in any case and would need to be more careful with her digger. Larel keyed her controls to slow her digger down and set the fine brushes in motion. Toony wasn’t the only one who was a competent archaeologist, she sulked.
Toony’s base had grown larger the further down he went. He had been careful to cut steps in the side of the excavation so that he could get back up to the top easily, should he need to call Larel for any reason. She was young and he understood that she would want to unearth something unusual, quickly. This was her first major dig and she was still in training. It would take much time to control her patience so that even the smallest find would bring joy and understanding. He liked her enthusiasm though. Few followed the calling these days and he was pleased to have her on the team even with her impatience.
In the next few days his work space had considerably widened so that it took him several minutes to excavate one round. He invited Larel to look at what he had so far. She studied the shape but could make nothing of it. ”What do you think it is?“ she asked.
“I am not sure, but it might be what they called a ‘church‘, or so my notes inform me.”
“What is a ‘church’?” She looked blankly at him.
He had investigated the bio-com set on their work before starting out.
“I am not too sure myself,” Toony replied, “but I think it was a meeting place of some kind.”
“For what purpose?”
God, she could be really irritating at times!
© Copyright Evelyn J. Steward. March, 2004.