As the minister approaches the heavy wooden entrance of All Saints, he thinks of Dorothy’s house slamming down in Oz, so out of place, crushing a wicked witch. Entrusted with the cura animarum, the cure of souls, this thought comforts him as his freshly-scraped fingers fumble gingerly with an ancient key to the arched doorway. He must be more careful to keep all non-religious stigmata to a minimum, concealed as the vined parish until healed. No wounds, no questions.
Before he enters the musty narthex of the cruciform building, Andrew peeks once more over his shoulder. His neck is stiff. The young minister feels old. His whole body turns awkwardly in either direction to see who—or what—is lurking behind his back. Nothing. No one. Just some very loud birds.
St. Francis of Assisi used to preach to the birds. Preaching is for the birds, he thinks, humans never listen.
Stepping out of the light, Andrew closes the door but leaves it unlocked. The front vestibule, often cool and dim, is warm and radiant under a kaleidoscope of colors emanating from the circular stained-glass window just above the arch. Seven individual panes, each representing consecutive days of Creation, artfully combine to form the globe of the earth. Today is Monday. On the second day of the week the atmosphere was created. The tint of that specific panel glows green—like—like his night vision goggles.
Twenty-one percent oxygen is needed in the atmosphere to survive; anything below eighteen percent, people start to die.
Mrs. Thompson is dying. She can barely breathe. She used to sit in the same spot every Sunday. Andrew passes her empty pew. Soon, only the shy little girl will remain, motherless, pulling away from her gray-eyed stepfather, peeling out from underneath his heavy arm, inching along the scarlet pew toward the opposite aisle.
(Excerpt from the short story, “Cure of Souls”)