Cleanse the Land

Joe Haward



Dev burst through the church door and slammed it shut behind him. The commotion echoed off the ancient stone floor and walls, each sound settling into the darkness. He pushed his ear to the door and waited, trying to slow his breathing down. The old oak and steel sat cold against his cheek. Silence pressed in all around him, and after a few minutes he stepped backwards, satisfied that he had lost his pursuers.

                Tonight was the first time he had been chased. There was no doubt that people were getting bolder in their racism since Brexit, muttered slurs under their breath becoming shouts of hatred from across the street. But Dev had never feared for his safety. Until tonight. The three men had hurled abuse at him and then set off after him, drunk with beer and desire for blood. Dev had lost them down a side alley, jumping the church fence and ducking down behind a gravestone. Off in the distance he’d heard them swearing, foaming mouths wet with violent expectation. A final sprint into the church, and Dev finally collapsed into a pew.

                The smell of buried time lifted Dev’s head. The church hummed with history, the scent and sight a monument of lives offered in service across the centuries. The stone floor had been worn smooth in places, capturing the footsteps of those now rotting in the grave. Dev looked up at the large cross that hung over the altar. Jesus looked out from his crucifix, sterilized and palpable for the few that scattered the pews each Sunday. The stained glass window behind was stark in its blackness, the night’s darkness oozing into every pane, choking every vestige of color from it. A small lamp shone in the back corner of the church behind the altar, bringing only a little light, but it was enough for Dev to see how the darkness of the window seemed to almost ripple.

Confused, Dev stood up and walked towards the altar.

As he approached he noticed that every part of the window shone with an inky caliginosity. The glass bulged ever so slightly, like oil about to spill out from its container.

“What the hell?” Dev whispered, a white cloud of air escaping his cold lips.

He stepped up to the altar, placing his hands on the white cloth that covered it. The window throbbed, pulsing with greater fervency and expectation. Cold sweat traced its way down Dev’s back, yet fear gave way to curiosity, and he leaned forwards, trying to peer through the limited light at the strange phenomena before him.

a suitable sacrifice

Dev spun around. The voice had glanced past both ears, the faint touch of breath raising the hair on his neck. But he was alone, the church still empty.

an odious creature

Dev whipped his head back to the altar. No one there.

driven into the wilderness

That voice behind him each time, a low insidious growl, the faintest stir of breath upon his face, the smell of sulphur burning his nose.

given to cleanse the land

Dev was breathing hard, gripping the cloth upon the altar. He closed his eyes, willing his sanity to push past the madness and find refuge within reality.

After a few moments nothing else stirred, and he opened his eyes, looking up again at the window. The glass no longer threatened to escape its boundaries, and everything was still.

As he turned to leave something suddenly gripped his wrist. Looking down he saw what looked like a black tentacle, thicker than his own arm. Its hold was vice-like, squeezing with a force that made him cry out. Stumbling backwards he pulled his arm, using his other hand to try and release the tentacle’s grip. Another thicker black rope attached itself around his opposite leg, snaking its way up and over the altar, feeding back into the stained-glass window. He grunted with pain as he felt his ankle give way, the muffled sound of bones cracking beneath the pressure these otherworldly limbs were exerting upon his body.

Falling over, Dev looked up and saw black lines spreading out from the window in every direction, stretching out like spiders’ legs, black vines searching for food. Each tentacle dripped with an obsidian liquid, thick and viscous like syrup.

Dev yanked backwards again, but the grip only tightened, pain shooting up and exploding in his arm.

The church was now covered in tentacles, hundreds of them growing across the walls and up to the ceiling, whilst others spread out over the floor, every growth accompanied by wet sounds of sucking.

“Help!” Dev’s cry reverberated off the walls, swallowing his panic as they had the songs of worship throughout the years.

A tentacle shot out from the window and wrapped itself around his mouth, swiftly silencing him and simultaneously pulling him to his feet.

a delicious sacrifice

The low growl purred from behind in Dev’s ears, hot breath gliding across his cheek.

In the blink of an eye he was pulled over the altar head first, his nose cracking against a golden candlestick as he went past.

The window consumed him within its inky blackness, a muffled cry lost within the abyss.

The church fell still, a noise that resembled a sigh escaping the window before it returned to normality. A single candlestick lay on its side upon the altar, whilst a lone drop of blood stained the white cloth that would later be dismissed as nothing more than spilt wine.






Rev. Joe Haward is an author, poet, and heretic. Adopted from an Indian family, he and his identical twin brother grew up transracial. As a freelance journalist his work challenges political, societal, and religious corruption, with articles regularly featured in the national news site, Byline Times. His fiction and poetry has featured, and is upcoming, in a variety of places, in print and online, including Outcast Press, Cinnabar Moth Publishing, No Sell Out Productions, and A Thin Slice of Anxiety. His debut novel, Burning the Folded Page (Cinnabar Moth Publishing) will be released in 2023. You can find him on Twitter @RevJoeHaward.