Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | April 1, 2008

Spring

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. March 23, 2008.

Church of the Redeemer

One voice travels far in an empty cathedral. Natalia’s shout echoed from archways, slipped through pews, and brushed past glass windows.

There was no doubt about it, she was alone.

She glanced up at the single lamp dangling from the vaulted ceiling. Click. The light illuminated, and the sound drifted around the vast space like the cry of a trapped cricket.

It was a risk to turn the light on, but Natalia couldn’t help it. She was thirteen years old today, and she could light lamps with a touch of thought. Did it matter that the deacon would hang her for witchcraft if he knew? Today, not at all.

Today, Natalia was full of the bursting-out life of spring. She felt the stretching of every new blade of grass, the unfolding of flower petals, creeping of worms and fluttering of butterflies. And all these tiny living things felt her, too. They called to her in voices like raindrops, voices like birdsong, voices like the wind.

It had been a caterpillar that told her to come to the cathedral. It called to her from the poplar tree in the city square, and she came, stopped, and listened while it spoke in the creaking of tree branches.

There is a life, a small one, trapped! It told her, and with a twist of its body, Natalia found a memory in her own mind, a memory of coming to the Cathedral on a warm spring day, a memory of opening the doors into the holiest sanctuary.

She knew she had never done such a thing, but it was obvious now that she would.

She bought an apple from her friend, the old woman named Yolanda who sat and sat all day long telling fortunes to those who cared to listen, ate half, and left the rest for the caterpillar to share with his brothers and sisters.

Natalia had waited three days for a time when the cathedral might be deserted. Usually, services ran four times a day, and all the other times altar boys and choir girls rushed around preparing and cleaning things. But today was the festival for the coming of spring, a festival older than the poplar tree in the city square, and all the priests were out monitoring the level of blasphemy.

Any normal thirteen year old would be out there in the streets, hurling dye-filled eggs at the boys, trying on new scarves with the girls, and trying to guess the grown-ups behind the masks in the corner plays. And this year the celebration was on Natalia’s birthday! It never had been before: the festival had to be held on the first full moon of spring. Her friends were probably looking for her, now. She had to be quick.

The single shout as she entered the cathedral had been a warning. Any lingering priests would surely come and chase her out of the sanctuary. But none came. Natalia ran up the aisle beneath the light of the single lamp. Her footfalls made a sound like bricks falling into place in a new wall.

Finally, she reached the door behind the altar. It was no higher than her waist, and locked with a tiny golden chain. Natalia hesitated for only a second before the click, and the chain fell away. She didn’t know how to put the lock back together now that it had been broken, but there was no other way to fulfill her duty to the voice of spring.

She reached into the dark space with her palm up.

“Come out! I won’t hurt you,” she whispered.

Nothing came.

So she pushed her shoulders in and wiggled her fingers gently. They brushed against something smooth and cool. Was this the creature she was supposed to set free?

If it was a creature, it was like no creature she’d ever touched before.  It was all thin stalks and flat, cool surfaces.

Gently, gently Natalia pulled the thing towards the door.  As it came towards the light, she saw that it wasn’t a creature at all.  It was a flower.

And it had teeth.

They were long, skinny teeth in rows along the red mouth of the flower, but Natalia knew what they were for.  She kept her hands near the stem and leaves, then picked up the thing by the ceramic pot at the base.

There was a crash at the back of the cathedral.  And the sound of bricks falling into place.  Footsteps.

There was no way out but the tiny door.  Natalia squeezed herself in the dark, damp space with the strange, red flower clutched between her knees.  Hopefully whoever was coming wouldn’t notice the broken chain.

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