Phantasma

By Kelsey Steffen All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

Chapter 1

It was the smell of coffee. That sharp smell, charged with earthy aromas and a strange sense of familiarity drawing her from slumber.

It was neither happy nor sad, but rather bewilderment that awoke beside her in this alleyway. Faint ice crystals covered her blue jeans, sweater, and skin to prove remnants from the night’s cool presence. Its frost melted away softly as minimal rays from the morning sun reached her from between the buildings, and she stood in wonder. The sunlight transformed her eyes into magnificent emeralds as she narrowed her gaze against the traffic shadows of people and vehicles.

Wintry breezes swept her raven hair across her neck while she passed against the grain of commuters, where she received no nods of acknowledgement or morning greetings. Any rejection she may have felt dissolved when she found the origins of that waking aroma. It was a typical Boston coffee shop brimming with locals seeking their fix of confidence for the day’s activities. Skipping the line to approach the counter, she found her prediction correct: The wonderful smell had come from the counters where the coffee makers were stationed—but her bypassing the line drew scathing remarks from the line’s current inhabitants. They demanded her retreat to the back of the line, and their harshness did not allow any hesitation in confusion. She timidly sat alone at a table, pressing her hands together between her knees in the likeness of a chastised child.

Surprise followed her disappointment when she heard several people conversing in a language other than the local default of English. This small group of Pashtun businessmen discussed nothing of particular importance (at least, not to her nascent mind), and they noticed her staring only to cease talking for the remainder of their stay in the line. She was thus left in the awkward position of wanting to explore this apparent aptitude for language, but the hours came and went only with English-speaking patrons to render her curiosity stifled. No memories where attached to these languages—for there were no memories at all. She nearly succumbed to a brief panic at this realization when a man strolled into the coffee shop at the workday’s end.

He was dressed in black and taller than most of the people filtering in and out, but his demeanor was contrarily soft and tranquil. They made eye contact upon his entering the coffee shop, and it was prolonged enough for her to note his lanky frame and wonderfully brown skin. There was a charming glimmer in his dark eyes as he smiled with a “How are you doing?” delivered in passing.

Her heartbeat quickened as she followed his movement to the counter, and the barista laughed at several comments in their exchange.

“I could never drink Americanos,” the barista laughed. “Too watery.”

“Well, water is kind of my thing,” the man replied. “Catholicism is all about water and blessing water and water converting to wine and…all that good stuff.”

She watched the man gather the cup and bid farewell to the staff. He gave her a head-nod of “good day” as he left her to the solitude of the table and this place.

“Are you from here?” one of the baristas, growing impatient with her non-patronage, called out. When she glanced without expression, he added, “Do you want to order something…? Or are you waiting for someone?”

Standing from the table, she merely shifted her glance from barista to barista before leaving the shop completely and leaving them flabbergasted.

She peered over the bodies exiting the buildings and adding to the crowds as the workday ended and the evening revelries began. The man in black was tall enough to discern among them, so she wove hastily through the people to within a short distance—until he turned left and ascended the stairs to his parish church. Staring up at the elaborate stained-glass windows and grand wooden doors, she almost felt: Unworthy. Unworthy to step within what had to be an equally majestic interior.

Was she worthy—? Because who was she?

Several people nudged past on their way to somewhere else, prompting her decision to ascend the steps. Running a hand over the knots of the wooden door revealed a smooth finish, and she closed her eyes as she opened it.

All expectations of grandeur were met with the high ceilings lined with stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes, pews of redwood, and marble statues. But when the door closed behind her with a loud boom, she ducked in fright.

“Evening Mass doesn’t start for another forty-minutes or so,” the man’s voice echoed throughout the church to envelope her in enough comfort to lift her head.

His footsteps resounded as he strode down the aisle to greet his patron, who readily appeared to be none other than the striking coffee shop woman.

“Oh,” he smiled. “You were just at Café Sloane, right?” He extended a hand.

She accepted it with a smile of her own, forming the word on her tongue to reply, “Yes…”

“Father Simão,” he shook her hand, but when she did not respond, he added, “It’s an odd name for around here, I know. My parents immigrated from Cabo Verde when I was a baby. Most people just call me Father Simon.”

Simão gave a nervous chuckle when she forwent the opportunity to introduce herself, so he motioned towards the pews. “I can show you around? I don’t think you’ve been to our parish before, have you?”

“…No.”

“Okay. Well…the church was built in 1898 and renovated in 1977…but all of the stained glass is original. Actually imported from France. I came here three years ago after seminary school to take over from Father William, which were big shoes to fill. He was an amazing inspiration to the community.”

She seemed to glide along the aisles encircling the pews, peering at scene after stained glass scene of the Stations of the Cross.

“Are you Catholic?” Simão asked.

She glanced at him. “No.”

He nodded slowly. “Are you…looking to convert or…just exploring churches in the city?”

She continued walking, pressing her fingers along the cool walling. “I am…here. Just…here.” She turned and saw him quirk a brow.

“Where do you live?”

Her gaze dropped to her feet. “I do not remember…”

Simão stepped closer in concern. “Were you hurt? Did someone hurt you…? And leave you at Café Sloane?” His assumption was warranted, for he had seen and even provided sanctuary for prostitutes seeking asylum during the winter months, but—again—she said “no.”

“What’s your name?”

That question reverberated across her subconscious: Name. What is your name? What are you called? What have they called you?

She stared with an expression twisted in rumination. Name. Name. Name.

What is your name?

Satan.

Shayṭān.

Iblis.

Demon.

Mara.

Apophis.

“Devil,” she spoke at last. She met Simão’s reticent glance. “I…am the devil.”

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