Snow crunched beneath my boots, alerting him to my arrival. His cane ceased its monotonous tapping and he lifted his head toward me. A smile creased one side of his mouth and from within the folds of his crumpling face, I saw he had eyes the same colour as mine. He straightened a little, as much as age and arthritis might allow, and he pulled from his pocket a large ring of keys, carefully selecting the one he required. With the key clamped firmly in his fist, he guided it into the lock on the door, leaning his cane against the stone wall, and using both hands to turn. The door gave a little cough as the lock disengaged. The man pulled back the key and then taking his cane once again, he stabbed at the door.
The door creaked in protest at the intrusion as it yawned its way open. The man mumbled to me in his native tongue and waved me forward through the opening, his hand pausing, palm upward, in a gesture that would cinch our deal. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the dollars I knew would be needed. He accepted them, his eyes twinkling gratitude.
I stepped inside, my boots echoing against the stone floor. Birds fluttered from the rafters, seeking refuge elsewhere beneath the vaulted roof. I looked around at the ruins, at the colourless walls that bled into the faded mosaic floor. I wondered how long it had taken to bleach the life from the place. Opposite where I stood, two towering windows beckoned the light from outside and filled the church with a starkness that emphasised the bitter cold. Before me the congregation once sat, the pews long since rotted and the devout now nothing but dust returned to the earth.
I walked toward the windows, into the frozen light that bathed the only remaining feature. Steps led up to a stone tablet supported each end by ash coloured blocks. The tablet was covered in dust and splattered with bird shit. It was here that the old priest had touted his word to the throngs. I fumbled through my pack, feeling for the small votive candle and matches I had packed for the journey. I pulled them from my bag and I climbed the three steps to the pulpit and I set down the candle. I lay down my bag, and with both hands, I worked a match from the box, my fingers nearly numb from the cold.
I closed my eyes before striking the match and I conjured his image. I opened my eyes and I stabbed the match head hard against the flint of the box, catching the fleeting sensation of warmth against my fingers and face as the match flared. With trembling hands, I held the flame to the wick and waited for the blue orange glow to begin. The flame grew, dancing in anticipation at the task it had been called to perform.
I blew out the match knelt before the tablet, and then closed my eyes and bowed my head and prayed to the Saints and the Gods and to any other deity that might consider what I was about to attempt. I let the words of the mantra form in my mind and then slowly spill from my lips, gathering speed and volume and power enough to let me go. I felt the first sign as a tremor in my legs and then the familiar sensation of tumbling backward began.
When I opened my eyes, the walls were no longer the colour of bleached bone. The warm ochre hue had returned and the church pews stood in lines before me, empty but fully restored. I stood and brushed the dust from my robes and blew gently to extinguish the flame of my candle. I grabbed the candle and dropped it into my pocket, noticing that the matches had once again refused to cross to a time where they were yet to be invented. I would need to find something to light my way back. I ran down the steps and through the church and stopped just by the door.
"He is waiting but don't be long," said an old man with a cane.
"I won't...I promise, I wont," I said.
I pushed through the doors, into a sunlit field that was brimming with early spring flowers. In the distance, I could hear a bell tolling and I feared I might miss him. I hitched up my robe, and from the church, through the field, toward the place I knew he'd be waiting, I ran. I had so much to tell him.