A Change of Plans

January 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic with 0 and 0

Photo by Linus Sandvide on Unsplash

Malcolm Treadwell stood on the steps outside Saint Dominic’s Church—or rather, what had been Saint Dominic’s—hands in his pockets, rehearsing the words he needed to say. The massive but rotting oak doors weren’t keeping anyone out, least of all the squatters who now occupied the vacant building. But as of Tuesday afternoon, Malcolm owned the property, a landmark structure on the promontory overlooking Keepers Bay.

“Showtime,” he said aloud, nodding at the three security men who waited at the bottom of the steps. With Malcolm in the lead, the four slipped between the doors into the former sanctuary. He had been warned what to expect, but the interior still startled him. 

The grandeur of the soaring roof no longer held anyone spellbound. Sections had fallen away, leaving gaps open to the sky. At eye level, many of the pews in the nave had been removed, and floorboards buckled in places. If stained glass had decorated the tall, arched windows, it must have been taken out with the pews, leaving behind dimness from the plywood hammered into place to keep out the weather. The air reeked of campfire smoke overlaid with roasted meat, sweat, and something less welcome. God had left the space to the pigeons and bats—and the squatters, whose make-shift community filled the areas not directly beneath the collapsed roof.

No one had taken up residence in the apse, and Malcolm was glad for that. Not because of any feelings about its sacredness, but because he could stand at the pulpit—assuming it didn’t crumble under his modest weight—and address the throng. Striding purposefully toward the front of the church, he smiled at the few squatters who noticed him. 

Malcolm bounded with a short leap into the altar area, and climbed the three steps to the pulpit. The wooden platform held him with only a few groans, sturdy enough that he could turn his attention to the people scattered below. 

“Hello, folks,” he called. His words echoed against the far walls where his security men stood, giving him confidence. “I am Mr. Treadwell, the new owner of this property.” He paused, but no one responded. In fact, aside from several people who stopped what they were doing to listen, the rest of the quasi-residents ignored him. 

“We have plans for this old church,” he continued. “It’s to be converted into condos.” Malcolm was proud of the blueprints he’d approved, if not ecstatic about the sizable sum the conversion would cost him. He was especially pleased at the name he had come up with: The Abbey at Dominic’s.

“The work on the structure will begin one month from today.” Again, he paused, waiting for someone, anyone to comment. “That means—” 

He was interrupted by several shouts. “We aren’t leaving.” “You’ll have to drag us out.” “This is ours, not yours.”

Malcolm held up a hand for silence, and then plunged ahead, despite continued grumbling. “Ah, no, you see, this property really is mine now. But I can understand that this news is upsetting.” You are squatters, he wanted to say. You have no rights; you are trespassers. 

The Realtor had laid out the history of the land, warning that Malcolm might need to bring in law enforcement to evict them. “They’ve set down roots, as odd as that sounds. I’ve heard children have been born there, and even grown up in the time the building has sat idle.”

But Malcolm was a bit of a hotspur at thirty-three. His vision for the old church would prevail, he vowed. In the pulpit, he took a deep breath. He’d always considered himself an unflappable sort, cool as a cucumber, was the saying. That was him. 

A man roughly Malcolm’s age hopped into the apse and waited at the base of the pulpit. “Four against fifty; I know which side I’m betting on.” Except for their ages, Malcolm and the man appeared to have nothing in common. Worn, baggy jeans and a flannel shirt, a buzz cut, a broad, clean-shaven face, versus Malcolm in his tan khakis and button-down shirt, trimmed beard, and wavy hair. 

Malcolm looked down at the man and then at the far wall, checking that his men were still in place. “You’re the leader here?”

“Maybe.” The man folded his arms. “I’d come down here if I were you. Talk face to face instead of lording it over us all like some rich bastard.” The man chuckled. “But I guess that’s what you are.”

With slow steps, Malcolm descended to the apse and faced the man, who he now realized stood a head taller than himself. He extended his hand. “I’m Malcolm Treadwell.”

“Joshua,” the man said, and surprised Malcolm by accepting the handshake.

“Was that a threat?” Malcolm said, eyeing Joshua now that they were on the same footing. “Before; what you said.”

“You can’t always get your way,” Joshua said. But his words held no malice. 

“I call that lose-lose. Your community keeps living in squalor, and I have nothing to rehab.”

Joshua smiled. “We have our principles.” 

Malcolm liked Joshua even though his gut advised caution. He didn’t know why exactly, but he trusted him. “So, what do we do? I’ve already spent a lot of money on this rat hole.”

“My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves,” Joshua quoted without hesitation.

“From Matthew, is it not?” Malcolm said. “Don’t ask me for the chapter and verse, but well said, in any case. This was once a house of prayer, but that was long ago.”

“Did your real estate agent tell you about the crypt?” Joshua pointed down at the floor of the apse. “Below us lie the remains of five priests, one of them Old Dominic himself.”

Malcolm mentally flipped through the historical details the Realtor had shared. He didn’t recall any mention of subterranean burial plots. A small graveyard lay adjacent to the church, but Malcolm fully intended to preserve that, even make a short exercise loop around it for those who lived in the condos.

“Dominic was Spanish, I believe,” Malcolm said. “I hardly think the saint would be entombed here, so far from his homeland.”

With a shrug, Joshua turned away. “Believe what you want to believe. But the fact that priests are buried here makes this place sacred even if it’s no longer used as a church.”

“Show me,” Malcolm demanded. His trust in Joshua had evaporated. The money changer accusation hadn’t worked to make him alter his plans, so the next tactic was to scare him with thoughts of vengeful spirits. That wouldn’t work either.

He followed Joshua through a narrow door alongside the apse and down a steep flight of steps. By the glow of Joshua’s flashlight and Malcolm’s slim phone, they entered a cramped passageway that smelled of moldering earth and that lay deeply silent.

“They’re here?” Malcolm asked. In this tiny space, the bones of those who had brought spiritual comfort to their flock?

“Yes, they’re all here,” Joshua said. “I’m going to switch off the light. You do the same.”

Malcolm’s men could provide no assistance if this were a trap. His hands became damp with the thought. “I think I’ve seen enough.”

Joshua turned to Malcolm. “If I wanted to hurt you, we would have stopped you upside before you’d gone fifty yards.” His flashlight blinked off.

Malcolm fumbled with his phone, almost dropping it, and also shut off its beam. 

The sudden blackness made the space in which they stood shrink until Malcolm felt smothered. The wheezing sound he heard was himself. And just like that he was six years old, locked in his aunt’s closet, punishment for breaking her prized, blown-glass owl on purpose when she wouldn’t let him watch Heroes. It had been just as dark and stifling, at least to his childhood self. 

You can’t always get your way, she’d yelled through closet door as he howled in rage.

“She hated me,” Malcolm said. “Because she had to babysit me while my mother worked.”

That was well before he’d raised himself up, far beyond his aunt’s meager station. Until he was finally a rich bastard lording it over them all.

Joshua flicked his flashlight on again. “Sometimes I see a faint glimmer in here, and I think it’s Old Dom himself. Doesn’t look like he’s going to show today. We can go back upside.”

As the two men climbed the steps to the main church floor, Malcolm revised the blueprints in his head. He stopped Joshua when they emerged from the doorway. 

“The condos,” he said. “I’ve been thinking. Let’s talk about making sure everyone here has a unit, if they want one. We’ll figure out a way to deal with the rent.”

And deep in the crypt a glimmer of light—maybe Old Dominic and maybe not—flickered and fluttered in the earthy darkness. 

Author Bio
Author Bio
Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
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Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
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