Bloomtown — Lily Blue and the church by night

Andrew peeked at his wristwatch when the church bell struck midnight and shook his head. The boom of the bell echoed across the city while cars, music and noise roared impassive, signaling the undying life of a metropolis that never rests.
Andrew had brought and placed his sister in an empty coffin in the church at his mother’s insistence, who wept beside him on the bench. He caressed her shoulder while staring at the coffin.
“It is not natural that she is kept here, like this” said the priest waiting on another bench. “She should be in a morgue, prepared for burial.”
The mother clutched her handkerchief and wept louder when hearing the words.
“Father, please” Andrew said. “We’ll take her away soon. It just gives my mother some last comfort, knowing her here.”
“Why” his mother murmured. “Why did he take her so young?”
“The Lord’s ways are many and unknown to us” the priest replied. Andrew said nothing.
“But why” she said, “why take her from me so soon. I don’t have much, why not take me instead?”
“We don’t know the hour” said the priest. “All we can do is trust in His wisdom and accept it.” They stood in the silence punctuated by the mother’s lament.

Moments of the night passed before the priest turned to look toward the entrance and saw a man sitting on a far bench. He wore a dark hood so the priest thought him a servant of the church. He was silent and seemed to stare at the altar.
“Can I help you, my son” asked the priest.
“Not really” the hooded man replied. “I’m just hiding from the rain. You people carry on without minding me.” Andrew turned to see him. “Hey bud” said the man. “How’s it going?”
“Can’t you see we’re grieving here?”
“I got that from the crying and the father’s platitudes. When I entered I expected some respite, but no, everywhere I go I deal with mourning, sadness and death. Maybe I should start visiting a beach, for once.”
“I’m sorry I ruined your evening” said Andrew, “but my sister left us without warning and as you can see, my mother cannot bear it.”
“Don’t worry, bud, I’m not holding it against or your mom. Your sister pushing daisies wasn’t your choice. It was the Lord’s choice, woo” the man said, wiggling his fingers upward. He stood and stepped along the bench hallway. “Can I approach the dearly departed?”
“We’d prefer you mind your business.”
“Already am, pal. I just want to see the girl. Won’t do any harm, swear and all that.” He moved closer to the altar so the others glimpsed his attire: a black hood above ripped jeans and a dark-blue jacket, sidelined by vertical red strips. “Pretty little thing” he said while looking at the girl in the coffin. “What’s her name?”
“Lily” said Andrew.
The hooded man traced the blue braid in her hair. “Lily Blue. And her problem?”
“Her problem?”
“Yeah” the man replied, “why did she die? Apart from the Lord wanting her and stuff.”
“She suffered from a congenital heart condition” said Andrew. “We found her tonight. She died in her sleep.”
“Dude, you have no idea how lucky that is” the man replied. “I’ve seen people go out dismembered, pulled the plug from in decrepit hospitals, or just bleeding to death after an accident. I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve bawled a bit watching some. Hearing the screams of one going out and knowing there’s nothing you can do it about, now that’s trauma” he continued, gesturing nervously. “Fortunately for Lily Blue, there may be hope yet. She’s young and healthy. And dead, but we’ll see about that.”
“Are you one of them?” asked the priest.
The man frowned at him then turned suddenly to a sly smile: “Father, you make it sound like we’re some dangerous cult. And yeah, technically I’m one of them. But I don’t want to be lumped with some group or another, so I tell people I’m not. But I am.”
“Can you help my Lily?” her mother asked while sobbing.
“Nope” said the man. “She’s fine. She’s done with problems. Just look at her face. When you see someone so tranquil you consider that they’re the best they’ve ever been. Sometimes I’m jealous. When you’re alive you don’t have this expression that says ”I’m done, I’m at peace, I’m not dealing with all your bullshit.“ Her mother returned to crying.
“Ok, sorry for that. I can do something for you tonight, but I’ll need you to take the cheerleading outside. Some air will do you good. Please?” he gestured to Andrew to take his mother outside.
“Father, will you watch her a bit?” Andrew asked and the priest nodded in agreement. Andrew and his mother stood from the bench and slowly made their way out of the church.
“That’s better” said the hooded man, glancing at Lily. “Just me and my Lily Blue, ready to defy the gods.”
“By whose authority do you this?” asked the priest.
The man puffed his chest: “Why, father, by the power invested in me. Like, literally. When you find out one day that you can sometimes bring people and animals back from the dead, that gives you authority over some things, right? Don’t answer that” he said, gesturing with his hands.
“You don’t know if this power doesn’t come from the adversary of the loving god” said the priest.
“I’m not particularly concerned with your gods and adversaries, father” the man replied. “Life has taught me they’re not concerned with us, either. I use what I have, just like you. You can’t do what I do, so you use what you have: nice words, incantations, rituals. Some of which are really old and were meant to please ancient entities. Do you think your loving god likes that?”
“The Lord is aware of our intentions. He knows we are imperfect creatures that stumble on their way to wisdom. He loves and helps those who spread compassion.”
“Father, that’s exactly what I’ll do tonight” the man said sternly. “I’m gonna bring some joy to a mother that most likely had an uneventful life. Not that that’s always a bad thing.”
“But what of the girl?” said the priest. “Can you guarantee her health. Her life?”
“Well, her little teenage heart was broken. Seriously broken. The type you don’t recover from. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Lily Blue tonight and I’ll try to make her smile and dance again. Unless she’s a bore and will grow up a nagging bitch. But who cares, that’s not my problem. Now, I’ll need some quiet time with the sweet girl.”
The man cleared strips of hair from Lily’s face, then traced her cheek and her neck. “Lily, why did you have to go” he said, mockingly. “Oh, the Lord called me. He said he’s throwing a punk party but now I’m just stuck in a coffin. In pajamas, no less” he continued, bobbing his head. “I bet you’re a star at parties” he murmured. “Maybe someday we’ll join one together.”
He placed his right hand on her chest and started breathing slowly, at first looking at her closed eyelids and gradually closing his own. “Come back, Lily Blue” he whispered. “ Come back.” His eyes flickered with white, sometimes returning to hues of hazel. After several moments, he gasped and retrieved his hand. “Jesus, I’ll need some rest after this.”
“What if she wakes up and her problem gets worse” said the priest. “What if her heart is in no condition to sustain any more life?”
“Well, father, this is a risk I’m willing to take. I’m not responsible for her life. If she becomes plain and dull or makes the world better, that’s her problem.”
“Exactly. You risk nothing by cutting her from death. You’ll be long gone before she has the chance to know if she is truly alive.”
“I’m giving her a new chance, ok?” the man said louder. “If this means her heart’s better or that she has enough time to get a new one, that’s fine by me. And I’m pretty sure it’s fine with her mother, who gets another chance to watch this kid become an empowered, fulfilled woman. Or not, I don’t care.”
“The Lord frowns on these practices, son. You don’t know what you do to her or where this power comes from.”
“Father, if all marked or whatever you call us are the adversary’s spawn, there’s precisely nothing we can do about it. We use what we have. Deal with it.” He paused and murmured: “I always wanted to say that.”
“Are you registered with any council that sanctions your actions?” asked the priest.
“I thought about it, in the beginning. I was afraid of so much power so I thought it needs to be controlled. But have you seen the paperwork? I’m not putting up with bureaucracy.” The church’s door opened and Andrew and his mother stepped inside. “Ten more minutes, please. Then she’s yours or your grief back” shouted the hooded man.
“Father?” Andrew asked to the priest, who nodded and they returned outside.
The man looked to Lily again, caressed her cheek and focused on his breathing and her eyes.
He felt a rush of warmth on her cheeks. “Now we’re cooking, baby” he said. His eyes became white as he closed them, pressing his hand on her neck and cheek: “I picture my Lily Blue smiling at the world. I see her clearly as she lives and loves. She’s strong and she spreads that to others in need. Thus I see my Lily Blue.” White flared in his eyes and he jerked back. “Jesus H Christ” he said. “I’m officially high.”

“I would appreciate it if you would not take the name of the Savior in vain” said the priest.
“Don’t worry, he was a cool guy. He was into this type of thing you know. Resurrecting people, I mean, not getting high.”
The priest sighed: “The Savior was ordained by the Lord himself and used his power by that sanction.”
“The Lord this, the Lord that” the man mocked. “The Lord wills it, the Lord commands it and so on. Father, your Savior was one of us, whether you like it or not. He helped some people and bam, they put him on a cross and drove nails through his hands. How’s that for being sanctioned?”
“He died so we can all rise from this world to eternal life.”
“Well, he died in pains so you can live forever blabbing platitudes. I wonder what he thinks about it. Wait, He wasn’t around for the last 2000 years so at least I can guess.”
He turned to Lily, touched her cheek, her lips, then placed his hand on her chest. “Lily, baby, third time’s the charm or I’m sad.” He closed his eyes, breathed slowly and touched her chest.
“Come back, Lily Blue
The world is sad and waits for you
So by the power of your smile
You’ll make it better for a while.“

He repeated the verse three times while his eyes flickered when he heard faint breathing from Lily and saw her lips move. “I’m here, Lily Blue. Take my hand and come back.” Lily started breathing and slowly moved her own hand to his, trying to grasp it.
“Yup, it’s ok. You’re allowed to come back” the man said. Lily grabbed his hand, gasped and blinked. Through haze she saw the man’s expressionless face peering into her eyes. She shivered and let go of his hand, her face puzzled. “It’s ok. You’re good now. Your mother’s waiting outside. It’s time to rise, Lily Blue.”
“Lily Blue?” Lily asked.
“Yup, my little pretty flower that wakes up with the night” the man said.

“Who are you?”
“A random stranger that happened upon you. You had a little frail heart and I tried to make it better.”
“Am I in heaven?”
“You’d wish, sweetheart. You’re still in the purgatory of life. In a church, no less. Look: candles, mosaic windows, huge cross. Enjoying it, yet?” he continued and helped her stand. She looked at the priest.
“How do you feel, child?” he asked.
“What happened?”
“You were at home and your condition got worse. Your brother and mother brought you for the last respite, but -” he turned to the man next to Lily “what’s your name?” The man waved his hand in dismissal and the priest continued: “He stumbled in here and now you breathe again. Do you feel any pain?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t know what I feel, I’m kinda scared. Can I see my mom?”
“Sure can, sweetheart” said the man next to her. “They’re waiting outside. Run along now. ” He paused and whispered: “In your cute pajamas.”
“I feel I need to thank you but I don’t know how” Lily said.
“One way: you don’t make a mockery of your second chance. You grow up nicely and help others in need.” the man said. “Oh, and your nickname from now on is Lily Blue. This is mandatory.”
“I can do that” she said, smiling. “The second part, at least.”
“Bless you, you’re learning already. Ok, you’re free. Go” the man said and helped her down from the coffin. Lily glanced at the priest and ran between the rows of benches in her pajamas.
“I can’t offer you much. We run by donations and get by how we can, but whatever we have is yours” the priest said to the man.
“Well, you score for not using public money, father. I’ll need some food, water and rest. And whatever money you can spare. After that I won’t pester you anymore. And yes, I’ll miss you and stuff.”
“There’s bunks and food in the back, through that door and at the end of the corridor” the priest said, pointing to a side door. “What should I tell the family? They’ll want to thank you.”
“Tell them I left quickly on the back of a dragon.” The priest frowned and the man continued: “Just tell them that I left. I’ll eat and take a bunk for a few hours.” The priest nodded in agreement.

Lily’s brother and mother returned inside and thanked the priest. He replied that he was only a servant of the loving god and not the one to deserve thanks. When Lily and her family left, he looked around the church for anything needing tending and saw several candles that had burned out.
He got new ones from a desk, placed them in holders and gestured with his hand above them, lighting the wicks one by one. Then he turned to the altar, made the sign of the cross on his chest and joined the hooded man during his meal.

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