The Contagious Night

It was a bright Monday morning

when Dawn Iverson awoke with a start.

The beaming sun promised a warm spring day

but Dawn didn’t see the gold nor the green.

She saw only what her dreaming eyes had seen

moments before.

…She’d been in her usual Sunday place

in the pew she’d occupied weekly

in her family church for nigh forty years’ span.

A long time, she’d often thought.

And who doesn’t, from time to time,

visit his real-life haunts in his night wanderings,

haunts known from earliest childhood?

But something was wrong.

The parson was up front, in his seat behind the pulpit–

the pianist, Dawn’s own mother, at the ivories,

and her lifelong friend, Jasmine,

at the lead of the worship in music.

She could see nothing out of place–

all was surely well.

But no–it wasn’t–what, where–was it?

She began to glance, furtively at first,

but then more widely, openly–

Dawn was turned almost all the way

’round in her seat

when she spotted it–

something above the door,

over the lintel of the

old-enough so bland so as-usual

sanctuary door.

But what was over it she’d never seen before–

or, she realized, never noticed.

It was a skin, an animal pelt–

she didn’t know from what.

Deer heads, and brass-anchored horns

of the Texas variety,

even a set of springbok spirals were

mounted on farmhouse walls in the neighborhood–

this was unique.

As she looked again,

she knew somehow, the animal didn’t matter.

Painted straight onto the fur

was lettering, were words–

words in a language and script her great-grandmother

all the great-grandmothers knew–

the language of their people

when they lived in the land

of their blood, of their roots–

where the tongue was born

before they came over the sea.

Dawn knew none of it.

But the lettering was faint now,

since, somehow, the pelt hadn’t been properly–


Much of the coat was patchy, ugly–

the hairs were all falling out.

And around the edges,

a strange dark speckling

green-grey, blue-black, like the spots on

sparrows’ eggs or

dingy shower curtains.

And upon recognition she could

smell it.

Mildewed, worn

the pelt was aging, spoilt.

And still it hung there, like a trophy.

A memorial of victory and

a promise of hope.

Dawn left off looking at it, tried to focus at the front

but deep inside, there was a creeping feeling

of disgust.

And she woke up feeling just this way.


The kids were off at school, she’d had a half-day at work–

over coffee at her mother’s, she couldn’t help it–

the dream came tripping, flowing out

like a river over pebbles.

With her mother gazing at her, tense,

she regretted she’d brought it up,

til warm-smiling Sadie softened

and said, ‘I had the same dream.’

…from the piano she could look ’round

the room, and look she did,

until her eyes alighted on a cause of unease–

the skin above the door…

Mother and daughter mused, wondered.

Not three hours later Sadie’s husband was home,

distracted after a night

on call

and all day on the road,

catching emergencies,

chopper-lifted with a four-year-old

to the big city hospital,

where tiny victims of trauma were best seen to.

A tough job!  Sadie’d made cottage pie,

and toffee cream torte for dessert,

to mellow the memories of the day.

And yet, drifting off to sleep side by side,

she heard Douglas sigh, once, twice, thrice–

‘What is it?’ then a long pause–

and he begins, ‘I had a dream last night,

while sleeping at the station.

We were all in church…’


Thursday finds Douglas with his ecclesi’al colleagues,

round a dark-stained pine table

with the agenda before them.

The tired parson, too much on his plate,

clears his throat and calls the meeting to order.

Four elders, four deacons, the preacher makes nine.

They move through their business, not always smooth,

but at the end the floor is open.

Douglas feels a pressing in his chest,

and fidgets in his seat.

A big man, staid, normally calm–

but now finds several pairs of eyes

fixed on him

as his chair squeaks and his clothes rustle.

‘Are you all right, Doug?’ asks

deacon Sinclair.  He nods in hesitation,

gives a lame smile–parson says,

‘Are you–sure? You look as if–

as if you want to say something.’

‘I don’t,’ comes a quick reply,

‘but someone does.’

The men look at each other, puzzling;

in the long silence, half a minute,

Banny Foley wants to laugh, but nobody

else does, so he quells himself.

He looks at the parson, whose

patient gaze invites Doug to speak

when it suits.


‘So, Sadie wanted me to say this…’


Nine men in a consistory room;

none said a word after ‘That’s it’

for some time.

The parson’s eyes flashed, one face to another.

He’d never seen anything like it.

Eight glances looked fearful,

some hands were pulled

off the table

so no one–too late–would see tremors.

As they allowed the

unacknowledged ‘wait’,

they realized, first the parson, then Doug,

Sinclair, Ross, Alex, Colm, Harry, and McKnight,

and Banny Foley last of all–

‘We’ve all had this dream.’


‘What’s it mean?!  What do we do?  Did God send it to us?

Who else had it?  Should we make calls?  What’s it mean?!

What do we do?!’

The parson was puzzled–

what had the pelt to do with anything?

He was from Outside–

his name was Jenkins.

He left the meeting deep in thought,

and once in his office, deep in prayer.

‘What, O Lord, do you want us to know?’

One of the ladies–Beryl Sutherland by name–

had made a scrapbook for the church’s centennial.

It had been thumbed by someone,

but he hadn’t put it away.

It sat on the parson’s fax machine.

An impulse pressed him to his feet,

and moments later an answer was before him

on the open page.

A black-and-white photo from

the church’s founding

a big man, one of the principal donors–

Byron Ferguson, was hanging something

on the wall of the narthex.

(There were yet a lot of Fergusons.)

It was blurry–Jenkins couldn’t tell what it was.

But a companion piece from that day,

taken within the sanctuary, showed something else–

a crude little cross over the door.

Both these things, he thought,

are long, long gone–

why is that the stuff of dreams?

There were pictures of later times,

events–church gatherings, meals, activities,

catechism competitions, costume parties

commemorating the old country,

a programme from when the church hosted

a denominational congress.

His eyes narrowed when he saw a page

devoted to family trees…

He shut the scrapbook, and another answer.

He’d never noticed it–a queer subtitle:

A Proud Tradition.


It took the next three days for the

news to get out,

and come Sunday morning,

the door was darkened

by the Erskines, the Macloeds,

MacPhersons and Hartleys–

families who’d not been in

on the same Sunday

in years.

They were known to have ‘belonged’


but never together.

It had simply been–the way things were.


But Everyone was in that morning.

Parson Jenkins looked like he

hadn’t slept.

He wasn’t the only one.

But though the air was tense,

faces were hopeful–

today was the day.

Today was the day to empty the hand,

let things go,

take hold of something else.

The singing was solemn at the start–

today they would pray.

Some of the folk kept glancing back

at the place above the door.

There was nothing there, and yet–

they knew it was there.

‘God help us,’ Jenkins began,

‘help us be rid of it.

We can’t see it, but it’s there–

we must take it down,

and throw it away.’

And in perfect agreement,

the congregation took down the pelt

and burned it like rubbish in a

communal bonfire in their hearts.

And it was gone.

There was singing, and a sermon,

and then an unveiling–

Banny Foley the joiner had carved

a new little cross.

It was hung above a single line

of lovely stenciled manuscript,

painted atop the lintel–

Dawn had gone to Beryl’s house, made an enquiry.

In the old language

was written simply,

‘Christ Jesus our hope’.


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