The Fires Of Home.
The light on the hilltop draws them. They move, in their swaying, ungainly way, up the incline and towards the beacon, drawn by its uncustomary light.
The priest presses his back up against the rough wood, the rude cloth of his raiment digging into his flesh, as he holds his rosary tight enough in his fist to draw blood. He has gone unnoticed, as was his plan. Soon though, he knows the smell or the illumination of the burning steeple will awaken the villagers, or attract the attention of those few still not asleep at this time of night. But, for the moment, he is the only figure abroad in the walled community. And he waits.
A crash from the church tower thunders down the stairways and echoes amongst the pews. A beam has collapsed, sending blazing parcels down into the clock room. The bare circles of the clock faces light up like two great blank eyes staring out over the land around them. Surely now someone will wake. He must move on.
There is a clamour from the far side of the church as concerned voices call out for help. He hears his name hollered and is heartened by their concern. But they are stumbling around in the dark, their own prohibition of night time light working against them. There is nothing they can achieve without more light and this, he knows, they will not allow.
He keeps to the darkness as he makes his way to the gate. Around him, weird shadows from the blaze skitter and tremble across the dirt and up walls. It is enough to light his way and it makes him almost invisible, another black silhouette among many.
The gate looms up before the priest, a solid construction of oak and iron, sweat and God-fearing toil. But the mechanism that bars it is of clever and modern design, easy enough for one man to operate, and soon the barrier opens to the night. The plague community opens its doors and the priest is content. He has redeemed himself in the eyes of his Maker. The plaintive moans of the disinterred reach his ears. They shamble through the wild grass, break their way through bushes. He can lay them now to rest according to scripture. Now, he is sure, the dreams will stop.
The priest heaves his weight into the gate and widens its maw. The fire in the church tower does little to illuminate the surrounding countryside, but he knows they are there, drawn close by its light. They have always been there, abandoned for so long.
A villager behind him screams out in horror as the open gateway becomes visible. Soon, more voices chorus with fear. But they have nothing to fear. The Lord’s will be done. The lost may return this night, drawn back by the light of the church. The priest prepares to welcome the village’s lost souls back into the bosom of the community.
Outside, in the utter dark, the dead come home.