1:8 White Room

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To say the building was an eyesore, would be to make an understatement of biblical proportions. While most of Midway had moved into the modern age, with tall buildings made of steel and glass, the Mega Church of the Universe was the living, breathing embodiment of a 1980s telethon. The massive structure was built almost entirely of marble and adorned with various interpretations of cartoonish religious iconography. Its most prominent feature was a large cross that hung above its entrance and rose high enough in the sky to inspire the neighboring CEOs in their penthouses to faith.

By the time Chad pulled into the thirty-minute parking spot, the car was well on its last legs. It appeared that the hellhound had done far more than just shatter the back window. Chad hadn't stopped to find out exactly what it was, but the sound of metal on concrete as they had been driving told him it wasn't good.

"I thought I asked you not to wreck this car." The priest let out a long groan, running his hand across the dash. It was the first time he had spoken after their encounter on the freeway.

"Ask God for a new one." Chad stepped out of the car, feeling the need to run rising within him once more. The shaded downtown streets were noticeably cooler than the suburbs. The tall buildings blocked out the sun at its peak, leaving the streets to be dim and humid. Chad felt changed from the experience of witnessing Hell on earth, not devout mind you, but changed. It was as if he were seeing the world through a realistic lens for the first time in his life.

People passed, taking time to goggle at the car and its passengers. Chad tried to give them a 'shit happens' smile, but it was half-hearted at best. His current predicament had gone so far beyond 'shit happens'. Chad was preoccupied, scanning the skies for more demons and trying not to descend into an all-out panic. Every passing glance made him nervous, and the feeling only intensified as the black-clad priest in the wide-brimmed hat stumbled out of the car, looking like a rejected Exorcist stunt double. His palms were still shaking as he struggled to walk steadily from a mixture of fear and drink.

"These people are going to tell me to take you to a shelter."

"Shut up," snapped the priest. His breath wafted into the hot summer air, fermented, and putrid.

"Jesus, take a mint or we'll get directed to an AA meeting."

The priest ignored him and steadied himself on the edge of his car, examining the damage. From the front of the vehicle, things didn't look so bad. Chad decided to start moving before the priest was able to walk around the back.

Next to the parking spot was a small meter shaped like an old-fashioned donation tin. It read: Parking here is free, but the lord could always use a helping hand. Not wanting to anger the gods any more than he clearly already had, Chad dropped a few coins into the tin. The metallic bottom slid away, and the coins clanked down a long tube. A small drawing of a saint on thin paper popped out of a slot with: 'Praise be to parking!' Emblazoned in bold letters.

Chad had never donated to a church, and instantly felt like he had somehow been duped into it. A long flight of steps led up from street level and under the massive cross. Beneath it was an overhang lit by recessed lights, and beyond that, a set of stained glass doors. Stuck in the middle of the stairs was a tall gold statue of the church's founder with a dedication plaque beneath it.

Chad didn't recognize the man, but then again, he didn't pay attention to much about downtown Midway unless it was a happy hour special. He walked up to the sign and read it.

Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe, a building of faith and prayer for everyone. Spiritual enlightenment is just a few flights of stairs away, and if that's too much, there's an elevator at the 5th street entrance. Praise be, and welcome. There was an engraved signature below the message, a fine cursive reading: Chris Schaefer, Grand Priest.

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