He ran through the night without direction. His feet fell hard and fast against the mirror of wet pavement. Drops of cold rain ran down his cheeks but he paid no attention. If he stopped running they would kill him. He was fifteen years old and had no wish to die.
The end of the block was obscured in darkness and mist. Anything could be lying in wait for him there but the unknown was a better choice than surrendering to the monsters who chased him.
A cathedral-a fortress of stone and iron-loomed. All of the windows were dark. Any priest with common sense would have the doors tightly locked at this hour, in this neighborhood.
There was no way he'd be able to keep up this pace long enough to get away. They'd find a car. They'd track him down.
Was that a man, standing on the steps of the church?
The boy faltered. If they had already gotten in front of him, there was nowhere left to run.
The man's gaze fell on him. He seemed suddenly surprised and then he called out. "Come inside. You'll be safe here."
Not so far away the drone of an engine being pushed hard could be heard. The boy ran up the wide steps and through the ornate wooden door being held open for him. Headlights appeared around the corner and the door slammed shut. Both of them stood there for a moment, silent, breathing hard, waiting in total darkness for the danger to pass.
And it did.
A shuffle of footsteps indicated that the man had moved and there was a sudden light from the left. "This room has no windows. We can sit in here for a while."
The boy hesitated.
"It's OK. I promise you're safe here."
The room that they were in was a perfect rectangle. Wooden shelves covered the walls and expensive-looking books filled every inch of space. There was a large conference table in the middle of the room with high-backed chairs all around it.
"Are you thirsty?"
The boy nodded. He was only just now catching his breath. How far had he run? Twelve blocks? Twenty? Gratefully, he accepted the can of soda that had been taken from a small refrigerator in the corner and sat down near one end of the table. "Are you a priest?"
"No. Just a sinner, saved by grace." The man sat down as well. "Do you want to talk about what happened?"
The boy shook his head. He drank deeply and tried to suppress the resulting burp.
"I wasn't expecting to be in this neighborhood tonight. I see, now, why God put me here. I lived here when I was a teenager, too."
"It was probably different then," the boy mumbled.
The man chuckled a little, but there seemed to be a sadness in his eyes, even as he laughed. "No. Not really. Have you lived here a long time?"
"No. We just came here. My mom took off with some guy. Dad said there'd be work in the city."
"Let me guess. He wasn't talking about the factory."
The boy shook his head and, without warning, burst into tears. He had tried to hold them back but they would not be denied. Grief and horror ripped at his heart. He buried his face in his arms and sobbed like he hadn't done since he could remember. A high-pitched keening wail tore from his throat. His entire body convulsed with the dread of what he'd seen.
It was a long time before he even realized that the man had put his arm around him and he was crying against a stranger's chest. He pulled away and attempted several deep breaths in an effort to get control of his emotions again.