Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 39 [(Sunday Church (I)]

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 39

Sunday Church (I)

When the dawn knocked into the dining room window, Linda jumped from the couch screaming…it was the end of a dream which made her turn on the couch the whole night long.

It was very early and she really wanted to catch some more sleep as the whole night she had nightmares and at that very moment felt like she was exhausted from traumatic experiences. Strange, undefined creatures came into her dreams only to torment her by asking questions into a language she couldn’t understand, by lurking around her and trying to grab her feet, by releasing balls of fire from immensely opened mouths or by whispering into her ears into a clean English: “John will die soon”

“Nooo!” She was all sweaty! The pillow was wet and the T-shirt she slept into was soaked. She was now sitting on the edge of the couch holding her head between her palms. The dreadful dreams she had, were still haunting her! She started shivering, so she pulled the blanket and wrapped herself into it waiting for something to happen. Soon, she got a headache which made her get up and head for the kitchen. She felt like her head was about to explode. With a shaky hand she opened up a cabinet where they were keeping some basic medication. She could barely open the container…pulled two pills out, grabbed a glass of water and swallowed them. The temples were pulsing in a way which made her wonder if the heart somehow moved up there. Slowly, the medication did its job and Linda calmed down. “I think I am going to have a coffee”. She was looking for an escape route actually, for something to do, for something to take her mind away from the awful dreams she had. She was dead tired. Slowly, she placed the coffee grinder back on the counter and headed back to the couch. Flipped the pillow, added another blanket and in no time she was deeply sleeping. This time it was a good, healthy round of sleep.

When she woke up, the sun was up and its rays were flooding the dining room while few of them were resting on Linda’s face. She smiled and opened up her eyes. It felt so good this time…these three hours of sleep completely changed her mood. She now felt rested and ready to start up another day. However, the nightmares she had resurfaced and brought a cloud over her forehead. “What a crazy dream”! She put her slippers on and headed for the kitchen. She wanted to completely wipe out and forget the dreams, she wanted to start a new day on a high note.

Intempestively, Linda decided to skip coffee and head out for a run. It was cold, but she didn’t care anymore. Grim thoughts were bothering her and by getting out there into the cold and have that adrenaline rush through her veins, she was hoping to switch into a more positive state of mind. It was Sunday after all and tomorrow was supposed to be another day at school. She didn’t want to carry the grey thoughts from home into the class.

In no time she got ready and was out through the door. It was crisp outside! Linda zipped up her white jacket all the way and in few minutes she was at an above moderate pace already. The cold and the wind chill factor were making her increase the pace of the run. She was actually feeling the blood accelerating through her veins, while the heart was pounding the chest at a rate which would’ve concerned a novice. But Linda was at the top of her physical abilities and a run like this was already a routine endeavor. Eventually she reached the place where a week ago, she and her husband took that left turn hoping to see the herd of deer Linda was regularly seeing when driving to work. For some reason, she decided to make a right turn, thus going eastward. Shortly, she realized that this country road is a continuation of the one they took last week. The branches of the pine trees on each side of the road were loaded with the early day freeze making them hang over the road and thus turning them into a curtain of ice emroided with the green needles of the majestic resinous trees. The spectacle of light and colors was unique indeed! However, she didn’t care much about it, she just wanted to run and leave behind her something…this “something” was so abstract and in-comprehensive that made her lose track of time and distance.

All of a sudden, a little detail which didn’t quite blend with the surroundings caught her attention and made her come back to the reality. As she was now running uphill, she saw a sort of pole sticking up right in the middle of the road

As she was approaching, the “leg” was growing. Linda stopped to take a better look. But at the same time, she was trying to analyze and comprehend what that particular sign was about. She was now very slowly running uphill, while her eyes were pin pointing to the strange thing which was becoming bigger and bigger.

All of a sudden, she realized that whatever she was looking at, was placed on the downhill slope as she was running uphill. Her imagination was now enticed by lots of questions: “why a pole in the middle of the road?” or: “what does this stick represent?” She slowly increased the pace and eventually she realized that the “leg” was actually the upper vertical member of a cross as now she was clearly seeing the horizontal member. She stopped again. “There is a church built on the down slope of this road!” Her heart was now racing, making the blood flow at a high speed rate. She felt her temples pulsing in a way which would’ve made a cardiologist worry over her health. 

Once she reached the top of the hill, she again stopped…it was a strange but in the same time a relaxing, calming, almost a surreal type of feeling she was experiencing in that moment. The site of the white church put a smile on her face. In a spur of the moment she decided to pay the little church a visit. As she was approaching it, the smile on her face became larger and larger and a genuine joy (as for a good thing which was about to happen) replaced the smile. “Wait a minute! There is nobody into the parking lot. The church is probably closed. I can’t get in”. In spite of all these valid observations, her curiosity and natural impulse for carrying on ideas to the end, prevailed. She was now rapidly walking towards the white church, hoping that the door would be open. When she found herself standing in front of the massive wooden door, her heart started beating again at a high pace. She grabbed the handle and turned down. To her immense surprise and joy, the door was not locked. First few steps made inside the church, brought back memories…memories of herself and her dad – Reverend Wilson – opening the church early morning and preparing everything that was needed for the Mass. The smell of fresh basil and lit candles enticed her nostrils and made her rewind in her memory the times when her father fully put her in charge of all the preparations for the Mass. She was probably twelve years old and felt so proud and happy! It was a moment she never forgot, it was a moment when she understood how important her work was to a successful Sunday Mass and from that moment she fulfilled her duties with the highest level of diligence and accountability she was capable of.

Slowly she walked towards the Altar. The icon of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus was “looking” at her and the closer she got, the more she felt at ease, the more she felt at peace, the more she wanted to get even closer and touch the paint. She knew that there are certain boundaries regarding the access of women into the Altar, so she stopped in front of it and without even knowing it, she knelled while still keeping her eyes pin pointed at the image in front of her. She felt the need to pray…for some reason, she got stuck without being able to say a single word, in spite of all the time she spent learning the Liturgy, in spite of the fact that she knew by heart so many prays and ways to pray to God. Reverend Wilson wasted no energy in teaching her how to say thank you to the Almighty for the things he is giving us, but in the same time he taught her how to ask Him for help when in distress. And yes, Linda felt like she needed help as the phone call she had with her husband as well as the frightening dream she had, placed a high level of uneasiness into her mind.

-It seems like you need a bit of help with your prayers, Linda…

Linda felt how her spine was flooded with ice cold sweat; she stood up and turned around. A pair of blue eyes as sharp as two razor blades were looking at her with an infinite kindness, wisdom and understanding while the smile on the man’s face was multiplying tenfold the benignity and genuineness of the whole physiognomy. The majestic white beard was greatly contrasting with the tanned skin, but was beautifully blending with the two blue eyes. It felt again (same as last week when she saw him for the first time), that this man was indeed one of the Apostles painted on the walls. Her face was now flooded once again with joy and happiness, hope and anticipation of good things to happen.

-Mr. McCarthy! What a pleasant surprise!

-Peter is my name, Linda.

-Peter, I am so happy to see you again.

-Well, I am preparing the stage for the Mass, as you can see. I opened up early in the morning but I realized that I forgot to bring few things from home, so I went back. This is why you found the door of the church open.

-I actually wondered myself…how come the door is open?

-Now you got the answer to your question.

-I did and I appreciate it.

Few seconds of quietness and silence followed. Linda’s beautiful eyes were looking at Peter once again with all the admiration and the genuineness she used to look at the Apostles’ paintings when she was a child. Peter looked indeed like one of the personages from the walls who dropped by to help her out. The imposing white beard, the tanned face, the blue eyes were features which seemed to accompany a personage who had just come straight from the Gospel.

-It looks like you need some help with your praying…

Linda was mesmerized! Once again she looked deep into the old man’s eyes: “How does he know I was stuck? Can he read minds?” This very idea made her startle and a little bit of a fear encompassed her. This man with his imposing tall stature, with his piercing blue eyes, a tanned skin and a white beard like one of the saints on the wall, was capable of guessing her thoughts, of reading her mind! Involuntarily, she made a step backwards signaling that she was ready to get into defense. Then something which blew her mind away happened: the old man stretched his huge, rough, rugged hand towards her and with a voice which made Linda pull a soft yelling out of her chest said:

-Let’s pray together, Linda. You and I. Let’s ask Good Lord for forgiveness and guidance.

She was in a state of shock…she could bet that she heard the voice of her father coming out of Peter McCarthy’s mouth, that voice which was always gentle and warm, always encouraging and positive, always balanced and musical. She followed Peter’s lead and knelled again. Both of them were now facing the Altar and in few seconds Peter started saying a prayer which made Linda look at him scared and lost. It was the prayer Reverend Wilson and she were always saying before people were arriving for the Mass. It was the prayer in which both of them were asking God to watch over their family and bless them with all his kindness. She looked again into man’s eyes. A discreet sign of head nodding made her understand that she should follow his lead and keep the head down. It was not long before Linda took over the praying session as she remembered word for word all those prayers she used to say with her father. The deeper she was getting into praying, the firmer, the more musical, stable and assuring her voice was becoming. When she said her last “Amen!” tears were flooding her face…tears of joy and hope, not sorrow and pain. She turned her head to the right to thank Peter. Her heart stopped! He was gone…as enigmatically as he showed up, the same way he disappeared: elusively, barely making a noise or leaving a trace behind him.

This time she was scared…looked around her and didn’t see anybody. The entrance door to the church was now open (almost like someone deliberately left it like that) and the morning sun rays were invading the whole church with a spectacle of light and warmth. She managed to crack a smile, looked up to the ceiling and with tears into her voice whispered: “Thank you, dad!”

Linda didn’t want to ask herself questions like: “Who is Peter McCarthy? How does he know all those prayers only I and dad knew? Why and how did he show up exactly when I got stuck? Where did he disappear?” She got out of the church, closed the door and started running.


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