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Kai Woodward

The old hilltop abbey looms at the edge of town, the pink and peach blotted sky making the dark stone stick out no matter where you are come sundown. It’s rare for anyone outside of the clergy and ministry members to venture up that hill, the only figures coming or going being the brothers and sisters that reside within and even they are scarcely seen. My mum told me as a child that vengeful spirits await trespassers, particularly those who live in sin. There were reports of people going missing after visiting the hilltop abbey, so I never questioned her stories. None of my classmates did. Even as I got older, I kept my distance from the hill and its menacing aura. Something about it compelled me to stay away, repulsing me.
            But not anymore.
            I’ve been visiting the abbey’s conjoined graveyard for over a year now, responding to the pull I felt deep within me when I first moved back home after uni. I never told my mum about it, lest she give me a lecture that reminds me of why I left home in the first place. The rumours and stories about spectres stealing away anyone who set foot on the grounds are just that: rumours and stories. There are no ghosts up there, nor demonic entities hungering for sinful souls. The brothers and sisters of the abbey are nothing but welcoming, happy for the company of strangers and potential converts. There is one brother that always greets me at the iron-wrought fence of the graveyard, just next to the carefully carved statue of Asmodeus that watches over the dead.
            Mary’s different to the other ministry members. He’s forever complaining about the cold and how lonely he feels, so I bring him knitted jumpers that swamp his lithe body and scarfs that he says are too scratchy but wears them anyway. We drink hot chocolate from a flask, and he laces it with cream liqueur he keeps hidden in his chambers, sipping from whatever cheap mugs he manages to sneak from the kitchens. Sometimes we share kisses and giggle like teenagers, faces blotchy and blushing from the alcohol. He begs me to stay a little longer with every visit, sometimes he even asks me to sleep over and just return home the next morning instead. It gets harder to say no each time, the pull in my soul becoming a tug and then a yank the further I walk away from him and the abbey.
            Tonight, I’m going to grant him his wish. When I’m with him, I feel more alive and like myself more than I ever did growing up in this shithole of a town. The brothers and sisters don’t judge me here, and Mary is sweet to me. He doesn’t demand that I follow the idyllic plan that my parents have set out for me. He and the abbey are my freedom, my salvation.
            A little longer can’t hurt.