Massiel Alberto is a writer from the Dominican Republic. For as long as she can remember, she has an affinity for the written word, not just fiction, but expressing her opinion through essays and reviews. From an early age, she started writing short stories and she finds she can express herself better through her writing, rather than with the spoken word.
She is a nature lover a cat lover, a skywatcher and loves metal music. She spends most of her time drinking coffee and inventing stories in her mind.
You can find her on Instagram as @withlovemasi and her personal blog in www.withlovemasi.wordpress.com
The forgotten children.
When I was a 9 years old kid, in my town, which was a small corner on earth where everybody knew each other and knew every tiny secret, the children started to disappear without a trace. Every week we heard of a new kidnapped kid in the neighborhood. The parents were so scared, they stopped sending their children to school. We weren’t allowed to look through the windows or talk to anybody that wasn’t part of the family.
People began to distrust each other. Everyone knew their neighbors but the situation became so despairing, that they didn’t know who to trust anymore. The responsible for the horrible crimes could’ve been anyone among us.
In the center of our town was the church. A big antique building with such old façade it could had been taken by one of those gothic structures with intrinsic rooms and hidden torture chambers from Spanish inquisition. On Sundays, everybody in town went to the church to accomplish their good Christians deeds or rituals as I like to call it. It should have been an occasion of joy and relaxation, but it turned to be a time of suspicious looks and hypocrite greetings.
I despised Sunday mornings because I did not like to go to the church. At that young age, I was full of questions concerning the faith of my parents and I was puzzled for the strange events taking place in such a religious town. I thought about all the many “sacrifices” they do to please God, but maybe god just doesn’t pay attention to their actions. Maybe he just got tired of us. Anyway, praying and repeating the same things day after day wasn’t helping too much. The mass passed from being an occasion of reflection, to be a space of worries and anxieties.
One of those Sundays, I was distracted looking to the high roof while the priest was talking. Then I changed my attention to him. I looked at him while he was reading a passage from the bible. A chill ran through my spine while I was looking at him. Some sort of discomfort. I don’t know how to explain, but I could say there was something scary on his gestures. I focused my attention on the background. There was a big image of Christ in the cross. His face depicting unimaginable suffering. Behind it, was a curtain and for a moment I remembered Alice in wonderland’s small door behind it. In a place like that, there should have been many corners to explore. Although, I thought it was quite boring to spend time exploring a church.
After the mass ended, the priest was at the gates greeting people as they got out. Everyone was in a rush grabbing their kids by their hands and running towards the door to leave as soon as possible. The wrongdoer, after all, could’ve been among us.
My mother grabbed me by my hand so strong I felt she almost broke it. With a quick head node, my parents greeted the priest and we went straight to the house. I hated what was happening so much. Not because I could be the next kid, but because I couldn’t be free anymore. I couldn’t play on the treehouse my dad and I built together, or spend the afternoons playing with my friends, or even go to school. We lost the custom of eating outside after church and eating ice cream near to the lake. My parents became angrier and silent with each other. I was alienated in my own house. I didn’t even dare to speak to them. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid under those conditions.
Later that Sunday, I remember I was reading by the window when my dad arrived from the groceries store saying a new kid was kidnapped. It was a girl of 5 years old living at four houses from ours. He said her mother was so desperate, knocking on every door in the neighborhood, asking if the little girl has been seen and crying. It was a matter of time until she reached our door. My mother sent me to my room and locked the door from outside. I was scared thinking about that girl. Before everything started to happen, I’ve seen her riding her bike through the neighborhood. She was a happy child, always smiling. Her beautiful blue eyes observing everything around her with curiosity. When I knew she was gone, a feeling of uneasiness stroked me. Something strong inside my chest. A kind of pressure. I think her disappearance was what it took to see the reality of the events happening in the town. Before, I was naïve, a stupid kid who felt imprisoned by his parents, not wanting to see the truth. For the first time, I was scared. Scared of the kidnappings, scared for the little girl. Scared because I could be the next. It was a matter of time.
The next days I didn’t want to leave my room. I grew more silent. My parents thought I was preoccupied for everything that was happening. They assured me nothing bad would happen to me, that they would take care of me with their own lives. But, was that promise reassuring? Could they really avoid me from suffering a terrible fate? Wasn’t that the same promise other parents have made to their worried children? I put myself in the shoes of those kids, as afraid as I was. I realized the emptiness and lack of meaning of those words. It made me feel even more afraid because after all, my parents couldn’t prevent anything bad from happening to me.
The feeling of pressure inside my chest grew so strong that it was almost difficult to breathe. I felt as if the air was gone, my heart beating so fast I felt it on my mouth. I grew scared of the simplest things as taking a shower because the same feeling of pressure would come while I was in the bathroom. It was an agony, but at the moment I wasn’t aware I was having panic attacks, and I never told my parents how I felt. For them, I was just worried and they would do anything on their hands to protect me, as they had promised.
When Sundays arrived, I invented an excuse to not go to the church. Of course, my parents wouldn’t let me alone at home. Those were the days when I felt at the edge of collapsing. I was scared of the priest, of the congregation, of the big Christ on the background. I suffered in silence, feeling a storm of symptoms inside my body, always imagining the worst of scenarios. That day, the priest said we should move on and leave behind the painful past. But how can that comfort the families of the victims?
Sometimes, I had nightmares in which the priest was preaching his nonsense and suddenly he turned into a big infernal monster with horns and big teeth. A door opened behind the curtains on the church and the remains of the kidnapped children came out in avalanche filling the entire terrain. I’d woke up sweaty and scared, everything hurting inside my body.
Two months passed by without another disappearance. Nobody seemed to remember the mourning parents longing for their lost children. Even the police were forgetting all the events. And the Sundays at the church weren’t as depressive as before. The people wanted to forget as the priest said once, leaving every trace of painful events behind. I couldn’t conceive why we should forget and give up looking for them. I wonder if my parents would accept that advice if I had been one of the victims. After all, they believed in God, who was “speaking” through the priest, who was a “man of God”. It was god’s advice.
People resumed their normal activities as if everything that happened was part of a distant past forgotten by time. In the blink of an eye, the months turned into years. I turned 13 and the weight of puberty was around the corner. I was taciturn and became more rebel. I questioned every rule my parents set for me but I couldn’t get free of the responsibility of going to the church every Sunday.
One day, when the mass was over, my curiosity impelled me to walk around the church while everybody was greeting or saying farewell. The priest was outside at the door. Everyone was distracted, so it gave me time to wander freely. I went to the podium, checked the Christ and the curtain. The curtain that always gave me curiosity. I hesitated a little bit. Looked around to see if somebody was looking to me and hid behind it very quickly. I heard the murmurs of casual conversations from the families who still were there. I turned around and my surprise was big when I discovered there was a small white door behind the curtains as I imagined once. I walked slowly to reach it, but when I was about to grab the doorknob the priest appeared at the other side.
“What are you doing there, son?”, his words sounding calmed but with a hint of surprise in his tone. I couldn’t articulate the words to answer his question. I just stood there, crouched in front of the small door.
My parents couldn’t see me behind the curtain, so I was hoping he wouldn’t pronounce my name aloud. I didn’t want them to know that I was lurking in the church. What explanation would I give them anyway?
“Kids shouldn’t be here, now, go to your parents and stay out of trouble”, he continued with an affable tone but for me, it sounded like an implicit warning like “If you don’t want any trouble, stay out of my sight”.
My parents were waiting for me outside. The priest escorted me to the exit and told them I asked him some doctrinal questions concerning heaven and hell. He praised me in front of them saying I was a smart kid and they should exploit that intelligence.
My parents felt proud, said farewell and we started our way home. I managed to look behind, and the man was still looking at us, following every step with his eyes. I couldn’t understand why he lied. I thought he would scold me and tell my parents I was an insolent kid that should be disciplined. Instead of that, he lied. To protect me? I doubt it. He had an ulterior motive to do so and I needed to find out, but I had to be careful. Now that he found me, he would be watching me closely in case it occurred to me to sniff around again.
I connected the small door with all the disappearances that took place in the past years. A strong feeling that some kind of clue was behind it stroked me and hunt me for some time. There were days that I just thought about it. I wanted to know what was inside it, and why had the priest lied about what I was doing.
I was so curious to know the contents of that door, that I had a dream with it. I dreamed I was in front of the door one more time. The church was dark, although it wasn’t nighttime. There were no pictures or images, just an empty space with a curtain at the end. When I reached for the doorknob and opened the door, all I could see was pitch darkness inside it. I crouched inside a few inches, but a horrible stench shot me, preventing me to go forward. I heard a buzz and thought of flies. But then a tiny voice, almost imperceptible spoke in my ears: “It was him”.
I awoke at three in the morning at the sound of thunder. My heart pounding so fast as if it was about to get out of my chest. The windows were opened and I hurried to close them. I sat down on my bed trying to process the dream. “It was him”, the voice said. Who? I couldn’t go back to sleep. Maybe the priest was hiding something inside that small door. I needed to find out. I couldn’t forget all the kidnappings in the blink of an eye, without any explanation like other people in town had done.
There wasn’t a day I wouldn’t think about those children. What had become of them? Those weren’t just mere incidents in the past of a small town. There was someone behind it. someone had done terrible things to innocent children. I couldn’t forget it. I could’ve been one of them.
The next Sunday, I was decided to check the small door when the ceremony finished. I should be careful and wait for everyone to leave. I had a surprise when I knew our former priest was replaced. Everyone was puzzled to see another man standing in the podium in front of them. He announced there was a terrible accident during Friday night. In the morning of Saturday, the priest was found terribly injured on his bed. He was transported to a hospital in the city and they were waiting for his recovery. Everybody was stunned to hear that. After all, in such small-town news like that travel as fast as the light. But nobody seemed to know about Friday night.
When the mass ended, I was still decided to see what was behind the small door. I waited until nobody was around. My parents went to meet the new priest and ask for the health of the former. I pulled the curtain, but the small door was sealed.
A million questions reverberating in my mind at the same time. I felt the pressure in my chest, but I managed to stay quiet. I went outside carefully, trying to not get undesirable attention like last time. When I reached my parents, they were looking for me. The way home was silent, as always. None of us mentioned the “accident” of the priest.
All I could think was the sealed small door, the vanishing of the kids, the sudden replacement of the priest. None of it made sense. Everything was like a part of the script of a horror movie.
The former priest died a few days later after we learned he was in the hospital. The kidnappings that took place during his years of service were forgotten. I always thought “convenient” his accident and then the sealing of the small door. Maybe he was responsible, maybe he kept his victims inside a chamber under the church. I always had a strange feeling when he was speaking. But I never told my parents about my suspicions, after all, nobody would distrust a “man of God”.