Stained Glass

by Mob

The sweetened tang of ozone lingered over the churchyard—a high note atop scorched yew and ash. I shaded myself beneath the lychgate, staring up at the church, searching for the fallen angel I’d been called to fix.

“Mr. Verne, Thomas, I’m glad you came.” Vicar John framed himself in the entrance. “I cannot thank you enough.”

I crossed to the door and shook his hand. “Not at all, Reverend.”

He bobbed in his vestments: a dusty crow, the belfry’s ropes above half-furled like waiting snares. His hands tensed and he spoke of the storm; of its focussed nature, of the world cast in shades of blue and white. “Thank God for the lightning rod,” he said, “though it only survived the first of many blows. Thank God for Providence.” He had reached out and contacted me despite everything—“has it been almost a year already?”—and hoped I still had my tools.

I did.

My confession brought us mid-way down the nave. He hurried me onwards, as though nervous I might recant it.

The lacquered white pillars supporting the vaults seemed to glow in the afternoon light. The space had once been dignified. Quiet.

No longer.

Past the crossing, past the transept, the chancel faced a ruined altar. The apse was split apart. Where the prized window should have sat, its calmes had melted and flowed, leaving mounds of lead pierced with kaleidoscopic bones of coloured glass.

A breeze whispered through—cold, unfitting for late spring. Faint suggestions of runnels and script spiralled from the cracks like veins, dull glimmers in the metal. Had they always been there?

I blinked and they were gone, the Reverend’s voice peaking.

“Come and see,” he said. “I’d been hoping there might be something you could do. After all, your wife Natalie was enamoured of the piece—”

“Reverend!” I didn’t mean to snap.

He pursed his lips. “My apologies, it has not yet been a year.”—Another bob, gesturing to the remnants—“What is your considered opinion?”

“It cannot be fixed. Only rebuilt.”

“I’d worried as much,” he clucked. “Stay right here, I’ll fetch a copy of the design cartoon from the archives. Thank God that they were spared.”

“Yes, thank Him,” I said.

He hurried away, small against high ceilings. A smell grew as I approached, charred air and bitter catastrophe. They marked the fall of an angel of the oldest sort, seldom seen in the modern world. Its riot of colour, its many wings and many eyes, looked out over the village as surely as the church itself. Natalie had adored its peculiar beauty. I did not look at her headstone beyond the ragged hole. Not at her place of rest below the scorched yew and the ash. It wasn’t yet time for our promised meeting.

I swayed. The cold breeze seized at my chest, twisting the familiar to something unwelcoming and strange.

The Reverend bustled back, handing over a scroll. He sketched the window’s history—“12th Century, if not before”—lathered praise on its detailing, stressed again and again the importance of the light—“the effect it had on the light, the space, it was transcendent”—and at last rounded on me with a look of hesitant and nervous expectation.

“They say neither the design nor the original piece was considered truly complete. I’m unsure myself, but perhaps a craftsman such as yourself might understand?”

I thought of Natalie’s face bathed in all colours, of my early return to a church that had changed, of the weight of my promise.

“I will do my best,” I said.

The village streets ran between houses that leant at gentle angles beneath the centuries. Their jettied timber frames stacked high. Gables shadowed the alleys, breaking the sun into burnished slivers of gold. I drifted along the lanes, down the hill and up again across the bridge at the village margins. By the time I reached home, the soft corona of gaslights lit the High Street in the valley below.

I crossed to the red brick barn, entering a side door of sun-bleached wood. A thin sheet of dust preserved the drafting table in the moment I’d abandoned my craft. I took a cloth and wiped it clear, clipping the cartoon in place with reverence.

I sat in my workshop until morning came, staring with unseeing eyes, picturing those Sundays I would be dragged to that church on the hill so Natalie might meet her angel. I took down her portrait from the shelf, placing it on my desk where she could watch me work.

I watered the bone-white lilies she’d once grown, heading to bed before dawn.

The remains of a bottle whispered temptation from the pantry. I ignored it. In the third drawer down beside my still-too-large bed, the chemist’s lozenges promised sleep. The room tilted. I fell.


The desert stretches to infinity, its shimmering silver sands lit by a phosphorescent sky. Only above, as though those vast nebulae and shifting-hued stars do not dare to come down and meet the horizon. At its seam, blackness is complete, the endless flat of the sands meeting a band of dark so pure it tugs at my eyes.

Grains are soft beneath my feet—fine, liquid. Eddy-currents flow on an absent breeze. I take a step, preparing to give in. To let the horizon’s pull draw me in until I wander aimlessly into the void.

There is not a noise, as though the universe has lightly cleared its throat and demanded attention.

A drafting table sits on the sands and a figure sits before it. Their presence distorts infinity into defined space. I teeter on its liminal edge. I cannot bear the vastness of the desert, the distant, alien shine of its stars; yet the table is not mine. The invisible border unnerves me. It carries a strange attraction, daring me to trespass. I orbit.

Come and see.”

Words arrive without hearing. I approach the table. I stand at the Craftsman’s shoulder and look down on Their work.

The Craftsman wields Their pen with the cruel disregard of a scalpel. On the surface, atop a clipped-on cartoon, an angel struggles in a tangle of concept and form and beating wings, keening at its capture. It is larger than the pen. It is larger than the desk and the figure and maybe the space itself. The disjunction stabs at my mind. Their pen cuts—vivid existence reduced to technical detail, uncaring of size.

I twitch at every stroke. My skin crawls and I strain to tear my gaze away.

Perhaps, beneath Their nib, my surroundings are drawing in. Perhaps it presses at me until breath comes in laboured gasps and sweat drips. Perhaps, as the design builds to its conclusion, my soul shrinks; horrified by the Craftsman’s work.

Do you know where the word ‘awe’ comes from?” The question skips my ears in its eagerness to burrow into my skull. Its speaker does not wait for an answer. “From aue. From agi. From agh. The noise mortals make when they're afraid. Awe: terror and reverence before power.”

The pen is set down, and the inhuman masterpiece on the page screams at my vision until I cannot see.

I kneel on the sands. I blink and blink, yet the image burns deeper. Tears build but cannot fall. They fill my sockets, my gaze swimming in rhythm with the sands.

The Craftsman meets my eyes, and Their visage is tumbling colour. Overwhelming. An impossible truth forced on a blinded witness.

“Come and see,” the Craftsman says.


Awake. My vision foggy, something peeled from my cheek, damp with drool. It rustled as it fell. I shot upright to see the draft-tables of the barn: my workshop, a brushed copper outline. I groaned. Yesterday’s headache had renewed and my throat was parched from the sleep-walk, sparking a coughing fit that left me doubled over and scrabbling for the sink.

I drank as though stranded in a desert, drenching my face, droplets trickling from my hairline. The shadows of the dream slipped away—night-things beneath a swamp, their scope obscured.

I headed to the board, kneading the ache from my neck. My heart leapt.

There on the desk, hypergraphia ruled. Beneath Natalie’s concerned gaze from the portrait, notes overwrote themselves, one atop the next. Fresh sheaves of paper spread from the cartoon like diseased wings. Attachment points and structure, methods for mixing and applying tinctures, firing timings for panels. Wild-eyed from the headache, I lost myself in detail. The design showed diaphanous overlays, planes that seemed to pass through each other, the calmes etched with hidden channels and obscure markings. Complex. Sprawling. A lump rose in my chest—how much time had I lost?

My cheeks flushed. I would have to return to the Reverend and beg for a new copy.

I reached for the telephone, scouring the mess on my desk for the Diocese’s number. It rang before I could.

“’Scuse me, Mister, you good for delivery? Only it’s eight already, and the lads need you to open up the gate.” A workman’s voice passed through on a bad line, distorted and metallic.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Got a delivery scheduled for Mr. Verne, just on the edge of the village. Some sort of window frame. Made special.”

Had the Reverend arranged it ahead of time? I struggled to hold my tone. “Of course, I’ll let them in.”

“Cheers, Gent.”

The click rang between my ears as I went to open the gate and stood by as a team unloaded a vast frame, metres in height, bringing it into the workshop. One of them, a drawl slouched beneath a newsboy cap, handed me a delivery note—fer ya records guv’—before they left past the lily-bed, the deep thrum of their engine melding with the morning birdsong as they sped away, leaving me shocked and alone.

Free from glass, the frame warped space, my ceiling pushed higher to accommodate its presence. The outer calmes drew my gaze. Inscribed upon their inner edges were the twining channels of my design.

I tore the delivery note open. The pages rumpled. I skimmed through in search of the date. My heart sank.

Two days had passed since meeting the Reverend.

Numb legs carried me back to the kitchen where the walls could better spin around me. I binned the sleeping pills in self-reproach, my foot tapping out restless energy against the tiling until the remainder of the bottle whispered to me from the pantry.

I drank.


I return and the desk is gone.

I know this place. Know its ever-drifting sand and its breeze that is not there. Know its tumbling constellations and the hunger of its dark horizon. Yet is it the same? There are no landmarks, no footsteps left behind to mark my passing. Unease coils in my gut. Last here, I met a monster, an avatar of awe and searing light, and Their absence is no comfort.

Now there is only me and eternity.

I flounder, no longer boundaried. No more objects I can cling to. I am inconsequential against Creation. It is the vast and cruel ocean. It is the horror of the limitless depths of space.

I fall. I drown. Concept bleeds from my edges. I flow away from myself and I cannot stop.

Through my mad and rolling eyes, surroundings twist in a swirl of silver and black and phosphorescence. There is no safety here. No shelter. When my breath fails, when my prickling skin flays and my chest falls still, there will be no salvation. No saviour to spare me from my dissolution. I am become sand in sand, grains among grains, one of many.

I am outside myself.

Beneath the desert. Inside the stars.

Their transformations shift structure and colour through dimensions that could not fit within my head. Length becomes width. Width becomes depth. Depth becomes other. There is no “I,” but my residue experiences this place for what it truly is. It is the backdrop to reification. It is the shadow behind the light. It is the idea that lends reality form.

Come and see.


In the centre of my workshop, the angel hung between scaffold gantries, to better torture the room at large. The high arc of the barn ceiling increased in distance from the floor. Still, arid air filled the cavernous expanse. It swallowed noise with the stern disapproval of a library, lending devout quietness to intruders.

They came daily, bearing gifts of glass and tinctures from companies I’d never heard of, far-off workshops I had no memory of contacting. I let them in, watching with muzzy eyes and a drink in hand as they entered with devout silence, holding aloft a panel or some clouded jar of solution.

They wouldn’t speak—faces drawn and manners dulled. They stared at the incomplete frame and its glittering fragments with apprehension, eyes flicking to it even as they handed me the documents and fled. Those who noted the empty bottles amongst the papers and the tools, who saw the drink in my hands, glared at me as they would a leper. A defiler of some hallowed ground.

I could only sneer in return. No matter what they brought, the glass remained unfinished in a way that crushed any pride I had left. A nagging sense that despite its growth, something I couldn’t grasp was missing, never to be filled.

At first, I followed up. I called and penned letters, chasing down contacts.

The payment should be registered with the purchaser’s bank, have you contacted them instead?”

I’m afraid client information is privileged.”

Come and see,” one said, in metallic and distorted tones.

I was defeated. I’d take another drink and slope back to the frame where I could drown amongst my work. I drank until my nightmares faded and I could face the angel’s birth head on.

It was enrapturing. Bewitching.

I trimmed the sheets to size, working with materials I’d never seen, never imagined—so thin as to be invisible from the side, limpid and pure of hue, possessing incredible toughness. The kiln ran a wall of heat and stinging fumes in one corner as I painted and fired, teasing contours from the blanks and slipping them into the frame, following the twisting channels’ guide. Blindly following another’s plan, I was a craftsman without craft, never sure if each fresh item drew me any closer to the project’s end.

Some panels vanished without trace, their only testament a sheen in the air. Others mutated beneath solutions and flames and surrendered their vitrescence. Yet others curved, forming colloids that bent the light.

It spread to the room.

Where once rays obeyed their linear nature, now they morphed through uncanny angles, washing each corner with colour. They contorted vision until distance folded in surrender.

The morning its radiance reached the entrance, the nerve of the delivery men failed. They stood slack-jawed in the doorway, recoiling from the morass of light and shadow that spilled from my workspace. I teased their gifts from limp fingers, signed delivery notes they forgot to hand me.

Irritation grew. Caught between sullenness and sudden bursts of anger, I snapped them from vacancy, chasing them off.

I returned to the desk, to Natalie’s soft gaze from her frame. The memory haunted me—more now than ever, with the promise approaching. I stroked the frame, remembering our visit to the Imperial Gallery, to some talk that slipped us by in furtive glances and the depths of her ocean-blue eyes. We found a photographer, cast a frozen moment in nitrate. I tilted her portrait on the stand. Tried to recall that blue from a portrait of black and white. Tried to let her watch the birth of her angel.

It wasn’t the same. A slim sheet of gelatin silver insufficient to capture her—


I paced to the window, staring closer.

In its centre, the rondel that would form the angel’s heart was missing. A subtle play of light hung in the gap, so dense as to be mistaken for solid, and yet it was imperfect. Lacking. Its conception incomplete.

I sat the bottle down unfinished, striding back across the clutter. A flock of pages flapped, bindings slipping, spilling loose sheets to the floor. Halfway down the pile, I held aloft the sketch of the angel’s heart.

It was wrong.

I’d failed to truly see the angel, the genius of its design. Its incarnation was ill-content to remain within glass. Little wonder those ancient craftsmen lacked the materials. They offered depth up to something more; the shadow behind brightness. Their angel’s heart served a profound purpose.

It would give life to the light.


Beneath the sands. Inside the stars.

Something is calling and I must answer.

The path treads me as I tread it, passing further into the desert than its surface allows. It carries me onward, a sense of déjà vu growing until my mind hums.

My feet meet stone. I trip. Sprawl in supplication upon a dais. The sky is gone, replaced by endless sand, its hiss deafening. It forms great walls and pillars of delicate and gothic filigree. Its dignity weighs on my shoulders like a leaden cape.

The dais hangs airborne within an inverted cathedral.

The updraft ruffles my hair. I shuffle away from the edge. Between the floor and the distant walls, an endless drop gapes back at me. I drink in the church’s twisting arches, the creep of its decorations, its sinuous majesty. I flee. In the centre, I climb a platform of seven terraced sides and look out at the seven gates on the dais’ seven borders.

Engraved characters spider across great arches of blackened stone. Broad steps lead to their faces, as though to pass through the stained glass windows that fill the gap. My gaze brushes the one empty frame in panic. I know what it waits for. In the others, six angels convolute within their frames, frantic helices of colour and motion and beating wings. They struggle—spirits fused to glass, trapped. Their vision crawls across my skin. It builds until I shake before all the eyes I cannot see.

They vanish.

I sag to the stones. I cling to their cool surface. Kneeling. Knuckles whitened at my sides. Relief is short lived. There is not a sound. Recognition sparks, running white fire through my veins.

The Craftsman is here.

My mind shies away; it knows what comes next. My chin tilts upward against my will. I gaze at the distant ceiling.

A pupil of all colours nests in an iris of purest dark. I do not beg. I cannot plead. Pressure descends and I offer no resistance. Its power will not be denied. I weep, my tears not fit to exist before Their might. They evaporate from my cheeks as burnished radiance that winks like fireflies before the sun.

There is not a voice. It does not sound in my ears. Pain rips through my skull at its intrusion.

Come and see,” it says.


Glass shattered on the barn floor. I stalked to the sink, still cursing. I defiled the space with rage, hurling it at the window, at the walls, at my tools and desk and the heart of an angel that would not work. I bled into the sink, a Coriolis gyre of scarlet against white porcelain. I cleaned my hands with stinging soap and wrapped the cut in cream bandages fated to rust.

Another swig of the latest bottle didn’t sear my throat. It slid down, returning hacking coughs. A wake of half-remembered dreams spoiled my temples.

No more deliveries. No more calls. No more letters to the Diocese that garnered no response.

The unfinished heart sat on the main workbench and all the materials for its completion sat around it. Perhaps a lack of resolve or some dark intervention prevented my steps. Prevented those illusion-thin panels from sliding through each other as they once had. Prevented me from making Natalie’s memory whole.

Before the not-yet-angel, light was gravid with potential. It swam, bulbous and hazy and not-quite-formed in luminous clouds of colour. Extra-dimensional shapes teased my vision. They lacked true life.

I could feel its disapproval, its hunger for birth.

The vast space within the workshop gained a pantheonic veneer, cold and pure like the light of distant stars. Silence rang behind my outburst, then a whisper, crackling like a derelict radio.

It was a year. Exactly.

In the garden, I harvested the sleeping lilies, wincing as my cut pressed against the shears. Physical pain masked the rest and I let my tears water the leaves for their loss. I bound the flowers in brown twine.

I placed a candle of benzoin and myrrh in the pocket of my summer jacket along with her photograph and slipped it on, its cotton a leaden cape around my shoulders.

Bouquet in hand, I left my gate—across the bridge at the margins, down the hill and up again. I did not shelter beneath the lychgate. Did not look up at the steeple, stark against a summer sky that couldn’t warm my core.

In the corner, beneath a ravaged yew that still weathered on, I came at last to her rest. I lay flowers on a headstone not yet claimed by moss. I drew a match and lit the candle, its heavy incense a base to the subtle high of lilies.

Mrs. Natalie Verne & Infant John,
the granite said,
For What We Do Not See, We Wait.
Romans 8:25

I watched with a hand on the pocket that held her photograph. Watched the flicker of a small flame for hours. Watched it waste away until its sputter threw firefly sparks against the falling sun.

I bent down and brushed my lips against stone.

“I promised we would meet again,” I said, “that was my word to you, as a man.”

The swollen air charged with static and sweet ozone, unbloomed before twilight. Not yet shades of blue and white and desperate, reverent prayer.

My mood stilled. Arid and open and lonely.

I crossed the drive to the barn, entering a side door of bleached wood set into red brick. I sipped dry wine that tasted of weeping yew and ash.

Outside myself, fingers numbed by thick gloves, I followed the guide of fine inscription and channels and uncanny characters, sliding the final panels through angles beyond physical touch. They must be seen. Must drop form for pure ideal, seek the shadow behind light.

Standing before the stained glass, I held a vitreous heart that beat in place of my own.

The world paused, that pressure in the air giving way to the breathless expectation of a sadistic pen. A poised scalpel. A seventh angel. A Craftsman of all colours.

Lay in wait to welcome the beat of wings.


It is night.

On the edge of a village in a valley, atop an overlooking hill that sits in distant disregard of the lives below, lies a house and a barn of red brick and darkened timber. The gate to its drive is ajar. Its rooms and its halls are untenanted. On its lawn, before the wide-open barn doors, a dusty crow supplicates himself on the rippling lawn.

The Reverend’s vestments flutter on an absent wind. He stares toward that wide-open doorway.

Brightness pours forth—as tumbling concept and the impossible madness of all colours. Overwhelming. Inhuman. A frenetic storm of wings and eyes and roiling brilliance accompanies it. The form and the thought and the shadow and the light.

On the Reverend’s face, a beatific smile matches the twin tracks of tears on his cheeks. Insufficient to exist before eternity, they evaporate before they can reach the ground. I watch no longer.

I am outside myself.

Beneath the rolling lands. Inside the distant stars.

I turn from a scene of loss and love and others’ glory. I turn toward the waiting sands and at last I choose the total darkness of the horizon. I walk.

No more the light. No more the colour. No more the dreadful shape of ideals I cannot share.

Come and see.

Mob writes, codes, and boulders. Work currently found on Metastellar, Translunar Travelers Lounge, and Dark Void Magazine. Contact: Twitter @mob_writes.

About the story, Mob says, “As part of orchestras as a child, I played concerts in churches across Europe. Their windows inhabited my dreams, doing little until I heard the song “Stained Glass” by Danny Schmidt as an adult, and read C.S. Lewis’ description of “the Numinous”. From there, this story.”

“Stained Glass” by Mob. Copyright © 2023 by Mob.

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