The Cheesy Religion
(A short story by Steven R. Harrel)
Tom cautiously crossed a derelict bridge, one leading into the small ghost town; a bridge which at one time reasonably conveyed horses and wagons across a flowing river. Sadly now, only a tiny creek remained. On the far side Tom saw a rotted out sign-post with an old bronze colored sign, hanging askew. The sign read, “Welcome to Shire”.
Without question, the first building Tom explored was once the town’s school house. Decayed books, chalk writing tablets and a few antique children’s desks littered the floor. An old chalkboard still hung precariously from one anchored corner and touched the floor with another. Dust covered the few fragments of glass which remained in the damaged windows; dust and grime marking the passage of weather and time. An old-fashioned stool also sat off to one side, in what remained of a corner in the Schoolhouse; Tom assumed it was where students once donned those funny coned dunce caps, a punishment designed to elicit shame. It only took Tom a few moments to scan and assess the dilapidated structure before bounding to the next derelict building. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for but look he must.
After nearly an hour of rummaging through shops, homes and run-down stables, Tom found himself standing at the center of what was formerly the old town’s square. He pulled out the new old watch and rubbed it briskly hoping something might spark to life. Nothing happened. He held the watch tightly to his chest and concentrated on Nancy and their kids. Still… nothing happened.
“God!” Tom prayed, “God, help me. Help me to know what to look for.” Tom stifled a few tears.
Tom turned slowly and examined each abandoned building in an attempt to see the old structures for what they might have previously meant to the people of Shire. He wondered what he could be missing… what was he doing wrong… was there something he was supposed to do… or was there nothing to be done?
Suddenly Tom realized he’d missed that tall structure behind a row of buildings. “What is that,” he thought?
“Ah, it’s a Church! Of course, he hadn’t checked out their church,” he thought! “How strange.” Back in the day the Church was the nerve center for life in these small towns; it was the core of their very existence.
The Church was the largest structure in this old Ghost-Town of Shire.
Tom half walked and half ran through the town until he reached the double doors at the front of the sanctuary. He took the steps, three in all, in a single bound and then stopped in the Church’s foyer, eyes adjusting to the shadows within. As the chapel hall came into focus Tom noticed a wood-burning stove situated in the middle of the old sanctuary. Tom thought it odd for a stove of any kind to take center stage in a Church; “That’s an enigma for sure,” he thought?
Tom walked the perimeter of the inner sanctuary before approaching the stove. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt a little put-off by its placement.
Though a few smaller pots and pans littered the floor near its base, the stove itself sported a singularly large and deep set metal pot right in the middle of the stove, resting on a single central burner. Tom walked pass the pots and pans, and made directly for the potbellied stove with its conspicuous and copious pot.
He glanced into the pot and found it empty. He then opened the belly of the stove to see what he might see in there; nothing, nothing at all.
Without thinking, Tom reached into his pocket and brushed against the ancient timepiece. Offhandedly, he remembered something he’d seen on the watch’s face and pulled the old relic from his pocked. Sure enough, the carvings on the watch face sported that the same archaic Potbellied stove sitting right here in the middle of this old sanctuary. Even the huge pot was immortalized within its carvings.
Abruptly, a calmness fell over the place as Tom noticed the stove was now well-lit and stoked; the cauldron-like pot also sat over the stove’s ample fire with the container rocking gently to the rhythm of something bubbling within. Tom could hear its’ gurgling even before he glanced over the pot’s rim and saw a cheese-like substance boiling within.
“What in the world,” Tom exclaimed! Like a kid, he stuck his finger into the middle of the cheesy vat; as if somehow he couldn’t contain himself.
The cheese like substance didn’t feel particularly hot or sticky. Tom raised a finger’s worth of the substance to his nose and inhaled. Surprisingly, it didn’t smell like cheese either; in fact, it had zero noticeable odors.
Lastly, Tom touched the cheesy substance to his tongue, tasting just a small sample; again, he was surprised it had no taste to speak of.
Perplexed, Tom grabbed one of the smaller pans laying on the floor and started to scoop out some of the cheesy substance; that was when Tom noticed something very odd: the cheesy substance had a face at its center with eyes that seemed to be staring directly at him… and then the face smiled.
Tom started to step back but couldn’t stop himself from looking once more at the oddly smiling face in the weirdly staring cheese.
Without warning the entire contents of the pot surged up and over the rim of the pan and on to Tom’s hands and wrists, then it flowed up his arms and neck and directly into his mouth and ears, nostrils and eyes!
Gagging, choking, spewing Tom rolled over the filthy floor with no hope of surviving the onslaught he was enduring. When at last, Tom thought he was destine to drown in the viscous mix, the pot finally emptied into Tom leaving him gasping and sucking for the air he so badly needed.
Tom was up and on feet in a moment, scrambling for the Church door. He staggered well beyond the Church entrance while still trying to fully catch his breath. There he stood attempting to gather himself and failing. Within moments, Tom felt his strength fading and slipped unconscious to the ground.
When he awoke, Tom wasn’t sure where he was or how long he’d been unconscious. All he knew was that he was waking up to the blinding light of sunrise.
(End Part 7)
One part remains and then the Epilogue.
Steven R. Harrel: hope you’ve enjoyed the series thus far!