Read Long After Midnight Online

Authors: Ray Bradbury

Long After Midnight (10 page)

spun about.

church lay empty. The candle flames leaned now this way, now that in their
shrines. There was only the ancient smell of wax and incense burning, stuffs
left over from all the marketplaces of time and history; other suns, and other

the midst of glancing at the crucifix above the main altar, he froze.

was a sound of a single drop of water falling in the night.

he turned to look at the baptistery in the back of the church.

were no candles there, yet—

pale light shone from that small recess where stood the baptismal font.

Kelly?" he called, softly.

slowly up the aisle, he grew very cold, and stopped because—

drop of water had fallen, hit, dissolved away.

was like a faucet dripping somewhere. But there were no faucets. Only the
baptismal font itself, into which, drop by drop, a slow liquid was falling,
with three heartbeats between each sound.

some secret level, Father
heart told itself
something and raced, then slowed and almost stopped. He broke into a wild
perspiration. He found himself unable to move, but move he must, one foot after
the other, until he reached the arched doorway of the baptistery.

was indeed a pale light within the darkness of the small place.

not a light. A shape. A figure.

figure stood behind and beyond the baptismal font. The sound of falling water
had stopped.

tongue locked in his mouth, his eyes flexed wide in a kind of madness, Father
felt himself struck blind. Then vision returned, and
he dared cry out:


single word, which echoed back from all around the church, which made candle
flames flutter in reverberation, which stirred the dust of incense, which
frightened his own heart with its swift return in saying: Who!

only light within the baptistery came from the pale garments of the figure that
stood there facing him. And this light was enough to show him an incredible

watched, the figure moved. It put a pale
hand out upon the baptistery air.

hand hung there as if not wanting to, a separate thing from the Ghost beyond,
as if it were seized and pulled forward, resisting, by Father
dreadful and fascinated stare to reveal what lay in
the center of its open white palm.

was fixed a jagged hole, a cincture from which, slowly, one by one, blood was
dripping, falling away down and slowly down, into the baptismal font.

drops of blood struck the holy water, colored it, and dissolved in slow

hand remained for a stunned moment there before the Priest’s now-blind,
now-seeing eyes.

if struck a terrible blow, the Priest collapsed to his knees with an
cry, half of despair, half of revelation, one
hand over his eyes, the other fending off the vision.

no, no, no, no, no, no, it

was as if some dreadful physician of dentistry had come upon him without narcotic
and with one seizure entire-extracted his soul, bloodied raw, out of his body.
He felt himself prized, his life yanked forth, and the roots, O God, were ...

no, no, no!"


the lacings of his fingers he looked again.

the Man was there.

the dreadful bleeding palm quivered dripping upon the baptistery air.


palm pulled back, vanished. The Ghost stood waiting.

the face of the Spirit was good and familiar. Those strange beautiful deep and
incisive eyes were as he knew they always must be. There was the gentleness of
the mouth, and the paleness framed by the flowing locks of hair and beard. The
Man was robed in the simplicity of garments worn upon the shores and in the
wilderness near

Priest, by a great effort of will, prevented his tears from spilling over,
stopped up his agony of surprise, doubt, shock, these clumsy
which rioted within and threatened to break forth.
He trembled.

then saw that the Figure, the Spirit, the Man, the Ghost, Whatever, was
trembling, too.

thought the Priest, He can't be! Afraid? Afraid of ...

now the Spirit shook itself with an immense agony not unlike his own, like a
mirror image of his own concussion, gaped wide its mouth, shut up its own eyes,
and mourned:

please, let me go."

this the young Priest opened his eyes wider and gasped. He thought: But you're
free. No one keeps you here!

in that instant: "Yes!" cried the Vision. "You keep me! Please!
Avert your gaze! The more you look the more I become
I am
what I

thought the Priest, I did not speak! My lips did not move! How does this Ghost
know my mind?

know all you think," said the Vision, trembling, pale, pulling back in
baptistery gloom. "Every sentence, every word. I did not mean to come. I
ventured into town. Suddenly I was many things to many people. I ran. They
followed. I escaped here. The door was open. I entered. And then and then—oh,
and then was trapped."

thought the Priest

mourned the Ghost. "By you."

now, groaning under an even more terrible weight of revelation, the Priest
grasped the edge of the font and pulled himself, swaying, to his feet. At last
he dared force the question out:

are not . . . what you seem?"

am not," said the other. "Forgive me."

thought the Priest, shall go mad.

not," said the Ghost, "or I shall go down to madness with you."

can't give you up, oh, dear God, now that you're here, after all these years,
all my dreams, don't you see, it's asking too
Two thousand years, a whole race of people have waited for
your return! And I, I am the one who meets you, sees you—"

meet only your own dream. You see only your own need. Behind all this—"
the figure touched its own robes and breast, "I am another thing."

must I
the Priest burst
out, looking now at the heavens, now at the Ghost which shuddered at his cry.

your gaze. In that moment I will be out the door and gone."

like that?"

said the

Priest drew a series of breaths, shivering.

if this moment could last for just an hour."

you kill me?"


you keep me, force me into this shape some little while longer, my death will
be on your hands."

Priest bit his knuckles, and felt a convulsion of sorrow rack his bones.

are a Martian, then?"

more. No less."

I have done this to you with my thoughts?"

did not mean. When you came downstairs, your old dream seized and made me over.
My palms still bleed from the wounds you gave out of your secret mind."

Priest shook his head, dazed.

a moment more ... wait..."

gazed steadily, hungrily, at the darkness where the Ghost stood out of the
light. That face was beautiful. And, oh, those hands were loving and beyond all

Priest nodded, a sadness in him now as if he had within the hour come back from
the true
. And the hour was gone. And the coals
strewn dying on the sand near

I let you go-"

must, oh you must!"

I let you go, will you promise—"


you promise to come back?"

back?" cried the figure in the darkness.

a year, that's all I ask, come back once a year, here to this place, this font,
at the same time of night—"


Oh, I must know this moment again. You don't know how important it is! Promise,
or I won't let you go!"

it! Swear it!"

promise," said the pale Ghost in the dark. "I swear."

you, oh thanks."

what day a year from now must I return?"

tears had begun to roll down the young Priest's face now. He could hardly
remember what he wanted to say and when he said it he could hardly hear:

oh, God, yes, Easter, a year from now!"

don't weep," said the figure. "I will come. Easter, you say? I know
your calendar. Yes. Now—" The pale wounded hand moved in the air, softly
pleading. "May I go?"

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