City of Prayer began as an outlet. A non-threatening, pressureless narrative written just for the fun of it. In its unimportance, I have become enamored; so much so, that it may longer exist in secret.
I will be posting a new chapter twice a month. Happy Reading!
The stars sparkled overhead, twinkling like lightbulbs in a power surge, flickering from dim to bright. A spark flitted across the dark sky, connecting star to star like one of those beginner’s art books for kindergarteners.
Brynlee sighed, kicking at and missing the pebble that obstructed her path.
She hated prayer night.
Her tennis shoes scuffed the rough concrete sidewalk as she passed the driveway of her neighbor’s house, its faded paint brown on a good day, poopy on a bad day, the good days having gone extinct over a decade ago. She had offered to paint their house once, even going as far to buy all of the supplies, but they had turned her down. Slamming the feces hued door right on her generous free labor.
Apparently, a house that greatly resembled a pile of poo was more palatable than change. To her neighbors, and every other person in her unremarkable town.
Turning up the cobbled drive, she jogged up the steps to a dusty blue house, knocking three sharp raps upon its chipping door. She waited, shifting irritatedly between her Nike adorned feet, listening for movement on the other side of the door. Sighing, she pounded on the door again, three more times.
A head peaked out, long black hair straight and hanging like a dark chocolate wave. Shea’s lips were curved down into a frown.
“Geez, you trying to break down our door? I heard you the first time.”
“Then why did it take you so long?” Brynlee accused, frowning back at her.
“Don’t give me that look, I am not the one who is making us late.”
Brynlee bit back her retort. Shea wasn’t wrong. She knew that she was late, but it wasn’t her fault that prayer nights were so dull. The long agonizing hours did not promote one to promptness.
They cut through the front lawn, the damp grass soaking into her shoes, wetting her socks.
“So did you get your run in today?” Shea asked, shaking out her feet as if the water would leave as easily as it came.
“No,” Brynlee grimaced, trying to ignore the squelch of her squishing socks, “I accidentally fell asleep while studying, and 2.5 hours later, here I am.”
If only she could have a good night’s sleep for once, she wouldn’t end up needing those long naps.
“How about you,” Brynlee asked, ducking through the hole in the chain link fence, holding it open for Shea so she could slide through. She preferred to cut through the park instead of walking along the main roads, where there were less people who whistled out from their car windows, composing creative sonnets about her butt.
A surprisingly consistent occurrence.
Shea shrugged casually, her cut off tank top showcasing her strong shoulders and love of the gym.
“Just five miles today, it was hard after leg day.”
Brynlee rolled her eyes.
“Only five? Wow, be careful, at this rate you’ll be fat in no time.”
“It was a fast five miles…..” Shea grinned, winking.
The park was quiet, everyone else already in their homes or at their prayer stations. Brynlee knew that she should hurry, her mom would be furious with her when she arrived, but she could not seem to muster the gumption to rush headlong into her doom. She was only prolonging the inevitable, she knew that, and resignation was the only thing that kept her going at all.
That, and a fiery mama who knew exactly the right punishments to make it hurt. The curse of a close relationship with a parent. Friend, confidant, and executioner. No jury necessary according to her mother, not when the plaintiff owed the judge her very existence.
Brynlee sighed again, louder this time. Shea chuckled.
“Not looking forward to the prayer night, huh?”
“What makes you think that?” Brynlee grumbled sarcastically, kicking at another pebble and missing again. It seemed the whole night was against her.
“No reason,” Shea teased, “the new shoulder slump is a good look for you…very ogre-esk.”
“Thank you, I thought no one would notice.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes, Shea kicking pebbles, Brynlee missing them. All the while avoiding the stars.
“Don’t tell me you actually want to go,” Brynlee accused.
“Dude, you know I don’t!”
“But, you seem so……okay with it.”
“Well, there isn’t anything I can do about it, so there is no point in whining about it.”
“But whining makes you feel better,” Brynlee countered.
“Does it really?”
“Well, it makes other people feel worse….so, at least it levels the emotional field.”
It was Shea’s turn to roll her eyes.
“My mom would kill me if she heard me talking bad about it,” Shea whispered, shivering.
Brynlee shivered as well, nodding in sympathy. Thank the heavens her mom had not been elected as Head of the Prayer Council.
“Yeah, I understand…..my dad would kill me too,” Brynlee replied, looking at Shea somberly. The corner of Shea’s mouth twitched.
They burst out laughing.
“Can Uncle Ty even get mad?” Shea asked, wiping the tears stains from her cheeks.
“Oh, yes!” Brynlee exclaimed, nodding her head, “I have seen him mad plenty of times.”
“Ever at you?”
Brynlee thought, kicking and missing another stone.
“Only once,” she concluded softly, “but I deserved that one.”
Shea raised a questioning eyebrow, but did not pry when Brynlee quickly looked away. They passed by the playground, their silence filled by the creak of drifting swings, abandoned by all but the breeze. She pulled at the arms of her sweater, cuddling her hands into the soft fabric.
Shea lengthened her stride, urging them faster, forcing her into a stuttering jog. Shea was not more than an inch taller than her, but her body was all leg, whereas hers….well, she always seemed to have to hustle to keep up.
“Slow down, will you?” Brynlee snapped as they passed beneath the Graymond Park sign, its twisting metal trees rusted to the color of fall.
“You do understand that we’re late, don’t you?” Shea quipped, picking up her pace instead. “It would be nice not to be signed up for voluntary service for once.”
Brynlee sighed, but couldn’t argue. She and Shea had been “volunteered” for the late night prayer shifts for the past four weeks now, a privilege granted to them by Auntie Kara for their tardiness. It sucked, but not enough to motivate her to be on time. The petty rebellion was, well…petty, but somehow necessary; it was the principle of the matter.
She felt sweat prickle above her lip, cursing the oversized sweatshirt she was wearing. She eyed Shae’s cut off tank, fluttering well above her midriff, her athletic form displayed to the chilly air. Brynlee rolled her eyes, she sure wasn’t sweating.
The girls jogged across the abandoned street, into the dark neighborhood, all lights but the stars extinguished to aid in the comforts of sleep. They slipped through the grass, crisscrossing through yards, front and back, quietly as to not alert the slumbering inhabitants.
Within minutes, the church was in view, its red brick facade and chipping cream paint easy to overlook; its roof mounted cross however, was impossible to miss. Brynlee stared at the white beacon, gleaming among the stars as if spotlit from above and below. Everyone knew that it marked the epicenter of Harrisburg, reaching the highest and centermost point of the entire town.
It dwarfed the church, this gargantuan crucifix, and often she wondered if it had been constructed for some mega church somewhere, but the crosses had accidentally been switched during transit. Whatever happened, the cross belonged to Harrisburg, its pride and joy, its out of place eden.
“Does the cross ever look like it is blinking to you?” Shae asked, finally slowing to a walk as her eyes were drawn unwittingly upwards.
“Yeah,” Brynlee confirmed, watching as the cross seemed to pulse, dimming and brightening in an odd rhythm. “I asked my mom about it once, and she said it was due to the movement of shadows, and the angle at which the cross was mounted.”
Shea chewed her lip.
“I suppose that makes sense,” she murmured.
Brynlee was not sure she agreed, but she didn’t have any other explanation for it, so for the time, it suited her just fine. They approached the door trepidatiously, anxiety of their tardiness now overcome by the inevitability of their upcoming reprimand.
“You ready?” Shea asked, reaching for the doorknob.
Brynlee sighed deeply.
“Do I have a choice?”
The door opened easily, and they quietly slipped inside.