Ironically, my dog feels safe in situations where others don’t: running through deserted woods, following strange smells in the darkness, scrambling down cliff-faces when we take him away in the summer. Through bright, just light early mornings he hares into bushes and bracken, dives into small streams, chases endless squirrels and sticks and golf balls. He’s not afraid at home, alone; the fire is interesting rather than brutal.
But when we take him into the old church, this changes. It’s empty: stained-glass windows catch the occasional glares of car headlights as he pauses at the threshold and is pulled inside. There’s nobody there: or at least, nobody he can see. Yet he doesn’t like it: he likes people, and noise, and fuss. The lights rise dimly on silent pews, heavy with age, creaking with the weight of generations of Sunday mornings.
He pauses, sniffs the air, pads off to the quietest corners, raking the ground for sand, mud that isn’t there. A single candle is burning beside the vestry, and he looks at this for several moments before moving off once more. Eventually he lies down on the cold stone slabs before the altar, his eyes orange and alert and unblinking.
Downstairs, the air is thick. In the daytime, children play on the stone steps and the worn-down letters of names which have long passed into obscurity. There is one large room, which leads into four antechambers: these are filled with broken toys and robes and silver in gilt boxes. Everything seems heavier, weighted with a gravity that is more than the sum of bricks and mortar. Outside, rain is lapping at the panes; the doors are fastened shut.
It is more silent below than above, and yet not so: there’s a hum in the air, an unidentifiable charge that thrums and bounces off the worn piano. It comes from the boiler room, large and breezy, eternally dark: of this he is sure, and moves to investigate.
The door is ajar, and with his head bowed he nudges it, ever so slightly: it creaks open. Dust motes hang in the air, the large, cylindrical contraption in the middle stands erect and unmoving. It’s chalky in here. He hesitates, and then, still unsure, backs out slightly, jumping in a series of starts: his feet planted firmly on lino.
He turns back, once more, into the room. Shapes begin to materialise before him: long, vaguely translucent forms which ebb and flow and rise and shrink. He knows he must be breathing in those closest to him, then breathing them out. In the harsh electric light they have a shine to them. With a shock he realises he is the warmest part of the room. He sits down on a piece of carpet, cut to fit the huddling masses of grey beneath him: then he waits.