Evensong

by Anne Eliason

Eve first met George on a Tuesday evening in Groveston’s cemetery.  She hadn’t intended to be walking through the churchyard that night, but the lovely strains of the Evensong service coming from the chapel had drawn her there.  George leaned casually against a headstone, as though such a thing were completely natural instead of a little creepy.  Even in the deep shadows, the energy emanating from him delighted and intrigued Eve.  She could tell right away that he was going to change her world forever.  She would love him for the rest of her life (which, alas, would not be all that long).

She thought he’d felt the same connection.  Maybe he had.  But he proclaimed himself to be in the priesthood, working his way to the top, whatever that meant.  He flirted wickedly, and she had a hard time wrapping her head around his goals, since his behavior seemed to lead in an entirely different direction.

“Would you help me clean up Groveston?” he’d asked after they had talked for a while.  His smile was like a honey trap; she realized that he could have asked her to cut off her own head with a butter knife, and she would have eagerly obliged him.

She presumed he meant that they would clean up Groveston in a moral sense rather than a physical one.  She was a newcomer here, but she hadn’t noticed any garbage on the streets, and the people didn’t give off any offensive odors.  She wondered, though, just how morally corrupt this little town could be.  Everyone had seemed so nice, even pious.

On Wednesday, George met her again in the cemetery.  He liked to be where it was peaceful, he claimed.  Eve would have preferred a well-lit restaurant, but apparently it wouldn’t be good for them to be seen alone together.

“Were you named Eve after our mother?  She who was tempted by Satan?” he whispered with a smile.

Eve rolled her eyes.  He was teasing her, of course.  And it wasn’t as if this were the first time anyone had cracked that particular joke.

“Yes, just like you were probably named for Saint George, he who slew the dragon.”  She giggled, but she saw something flash across his face.  He wasn’t amused; in fact, he seemed angry.  It was gone, though, before she could really identify what it was.  If she hadn’t been staring at him, she might have missed it all together.

But then he laughed too.  “Exactly.  Let me know if you see any around.  Dragons, I mean.  I can’t become a Saint if I don’t find a dragon to slay.”  Captivated by his gorgeous smile and the almost tangible pulse of energy between them, Eve wondered what it would be like to push him down into the grass and kiss him until they were both breathless.

Eve knew that such behavior wouldn’t be appropriate, so she filed the thought away in her brain to dream about later.  In the meantime, she listened carefully as he gave her a list of ways that she could help in their now-mutual mission to “clean up” Groveston.

He wanted her to buy some herbs from several different locations.  That wouldn’t be hard, though she couldn’t guess how herbs could help Groveston’s moral crisis.  Next, he asked her to sneak into the little white cottage on Cedar Lane and take the silver candlesticks off the sideboard in the kitchen.  “They were stolen, you see, and we need to return them to their rightful owner.”  She nodded in agreement.  For now, she was to take them back to her hotel room.

On Thursday he met her at what was becoming their usual spot, under a stone angel who wept black tears of rotted moss.  Today his hair was even more golden, his eyes even more brilliant, and his voice even more thrilling.  She began to wonder whether George weren’t more likely to inspire moral corruption than to cure it.  She doubted that she would be able to keep herself from reaching out and embracing him.  She wondered whether he was struggling in like manner.   He must be; surely he’d felt the same lightning bolt of attraction that she had felt.

Thursday’s list of assignments was far more bizarre, but she stopped worrying about it.  She trusted George, and she trusted that whatever he asked her to do was for the best.  Her tasks included gathering evidence of adultery–a gruesome job, the details of which she quickly put out of her mind.  Then she polished a statue of a cow that sat in the middle of town until it glistened in the sunlight.  After that, she went to the mayor’s office and offered him an infusion concocted from the herbs she’d gathered the day before. George had said that the mayor, though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, was very sick.  The tea would make him better in just a few hours. Eve happened to notice that he drank the tea at exactly 3:21.

“George!  George!” she screamed as she entered the cemetery on Friday morning.  “The mayor!  Did you hear?  He died last night!”  Eve was shaking.  She had liked the mayor; he had been kind to her, and she’d enjoyed listening to his stories during their time together the previous afternoon.  After all of her efforts, after all of George’s efforts to help him feel better, someone had come along and murdered him.  Why would someone do that?  He had been a good man!

“Eve,” George said, his voice tender and loving.  “Hush.  It’s all right.  I’m so sorry.”  He opened his arms and without thinking about it, she flung herself into his embrace.

From there, everything was a blur.  He held her close, his face inches away from hers, his warm breath on her neck sending chills all over her body.  She wasn’t sure who started it, but soon they were kissing.  His lips were glorious, both gentle and insistent.  It felt like heaven, even though, somewhere in the back of her consciousness, she realized that this version of heaven would almost certainly send her to hell.

“George.  Stop!”  She managed to find some unknown well of strength within her in order to break out of this blissful moment.  She couldn’t do this to him.  He had so many fine goals and dreams, and she wouldn’t let him throw it all away for her despite her overwhelming need for him.

He smiled, astonishingly unshaken, and said, “Go home for now.  Get some rest.  Then come to my room tonight so we can…” he paused.  “Talk.”

Eve’s pulse was racing.  She would not go to his room.  Absolutely not!  But before he walked away, he handed her a slip of paper with instructions on how to get inside the church after hours and how to find his room.  She stared at it, unable to believe this sudden turn of events.  No, she told herself again.  She couldn’t go to his room.  In fact, she should pack her bags and leave right away!

As she walked back to the Drake Hotel, people all around her were discussing the mayor’s death.  Definitely poison: a combination of plants found right here in Groveston, whose toxins require exactly seven hours to finish off their victim.

“What was the time of death?” she asked a group of women outside the bakery.

“Approximately 10:30.”

Eve was horrified as she realized that whoever had murdered the mayor had poisoned him immediately after she’d left his office yesterday.  She thought back through the people that she’d seen on the street at that time.  Which one of them had done it?  Would she be able to recognize him?

Maybe, she realized.  Maybe she could help the police find this murderer.  Maybe she could still clean up Groveston.

She went back to her hotel room and lay down on the bed.  What a crazy day it had been!  From the shock of the mayor’s death to her delicious encounter with George.  She closed her eyes and relived every moment they’d shared, every word, every tingle.

She fell asleep, and when she awoke, she had a plan.  George could leave the priesthood.  They could run away together.  With their combined effort, there was no limit to the good they could do in the world.

She’d slept for hours; it was already night.  She felt the paper still in her pocket with the instructions to her room.  In record time, she cut through the cemetery and went in through the church’s side door.  Darkness filled the interior.  Only the moonlight streaming faintly through the high, leaded glass windows kept her from running into the table and chairs in the corridor.

George’s note had specified the fourth door on the left.  True to his word, he’d left it unlocked.  She silently opened the door and let herself in.  The room was completely dark.  She couldn’t see anything at all, but she could hear George’s steady breathing.  She was surprised that he’d fallen asleep; hadn’t he invited her?  He had probably decided that she wouldn’t show up.  After all, she hadn’t even thought she’d come.

With her arms outstretched, she followed the sound of his breathing and slowly made her way to the bed.  She slipped off her shoes and lifted the edge of the blanket just enough to slide in beside him.  Hesitating for only a moment, she put her arms around him and pressed her lips to his neck.

Instantly he sat up and fumbled for a lamp.  As light flooded the room, Eve gasped.  It wasn’t George.  It was someone else, an old man.  The senior priest!  He stared at her with eyes so wide she thought they might pop right out of their sockets.
Eve leapt away from him and ran with all her might back to the Drake Hotel.  By the time she reached her room, her feet were bleeding.  She realized that she had left her shoes next to the poor priest’s bed.  The physical pain she felt was nothing compared to the agony that consumed her soul.  How would she rectify this terrible mistake?  She couldn’t tell the truth–that she’d been there to meet George, but that she must have gotten confused and entered the wrong room.

She lay down and closed her eyes, but she couldn’t sleep.  She turned on the lights and began packing her bags.  It was definitely time to leave Groveston, and the sooner the better.  She would meet George in the cemetery in the morning and convince him to come with her.  This was the only way.

She never made it to the cemetery on Saturday morning.  She wasn’t even five steps beyond the hotel before people started shouting.  “There she is!  She’s the one who stole from the Worthingtons.  She’s the one who murdered the mayor!  We saw her worshipping idols!  Look at the sores on her feet–surely a result of evil rituals!  And just last night, she tried to seduce the senior priest!  She carries sexual tokens with her!”

Sexual tokens?  Ugh, she realized.  They were referring to the “evidence” that George had asked her to collect.

“No!  No, it’s not true!  None of this is true!”  She yelled, but no one heard her.  Oh, where was George?  He would be able to explain all of this.  She was innocent.  Her only intentions had been to clean up the town and save it from moral decay.

Panic filled her throat as the authorities slapped handcuffs on her wrists.  She screamed and thrashed around, like an animal in a snare.  “She’s crazy,” some said.  “Possessed!” others exclaimed.  “She’d seemed like such a nice girl,” the old women clucked.

She spent Saturday afternoon in the town’s tiny jail.  She not only had the cell to herself, but it seemed that the entire building was empty.  Eve took that as yet another sign of corruption.  The wicked were walking in the streets while she was stuck behind bars.

George would be at Evensong.  The haunting music enthralled him, and Eve herself had come to love it through their association.  She found that if she concentrated, she could just barely hear it from her cell.  The music kept her company as she awaited news of her fate.

George arrived at the prison sometime during the night.  It was 2:00 a.m., he said.  Eve was still awake and, strangely, thought she still heard Evensong.

“I’ve brought you some tea to calm your nerves.”

She recognized the tea–it was exactly what he’d given her to take to the mayor.  It smelled delicious and she smiled, grateful for his thoughtfulness.

“George, my love.  We have to find a way to get out here.  We can go far away.  We’ll start over.  Together!”

He reached his hand through the bars and caressed her arm.  “Eve, I can never thank you for the service you’ve provided me.  You’ve done more for me, more for Groveston than you’ll ever realize.  But this is my home.  I can’t leave now.”

As he walked away, the strains of Evensong grew louder and louder until the tears spilled out her eyes.

In the morning, the town officials came to her cell.  “It’s Sunday,” one explained.  “We’d like you to attend services with us.  Then we’ll decide what to do with you.”

Eve agreed readily, knowing that if they could see her at church, they would realize what a kind, well-intentioned person she really was.  George would certainly be there.  She would have another chance to convince him that they belonged together.

The church looked different in the morning light.  It was larger, she thought.  Fancier.  Cleaner.  Less like a church, more like a cathedral.  “St. George’s,” read the sign out front.  Really?  St. George’s?  How had she never noticed that before?

The men walked her inside.  She was greeted by the senior priest.  “Yes, this is the young woman,” he confirmed to the men.  Eve felt her face flush red hot when she thought of how she’d kissed his neck the other night.

“So, George has found his dragon,” the senior priest whispered to Eve, so quietly that she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.

“To prove your purity,” the men said, “you’ll kneel before the shrine.”

It sounded absurdly archaic, but Eve knew her innocence and if this was what it took to demonstrate it, she would do it.  She knelt at the altar of Saint George just as the bells struck 9:00.  A searing pain shot through her gut and she doubled over.  Fighting desperately to verify her righteousness, she straightened herself and looked up at the statue.

“George!” she cried out.

There he was.  Depicted in cold, white marble.  Despite the strange clothing and the weathered, medieval style, it was definitely George.  Her George.

His foot rested on top of a struggling animal…a dragon.

As understanding dawned, pain shot through her again and sent her sprawling in front of the shrine.  She twitched in agony, gasping for air, unable to make a sound.

Finally her body stilled, just as the bell rang for the services to begin, and Groveston’s faithful filled the ancient building.

Anne Eliason resides in Highlands Ranch, CO with her husband and their four children.  She blogs at twas-brillig.com.  “Evensong” is her first published story.