The Numinous Storm

THE NUMINOUS STORM

A supernatural tale
by
David Calvert
&
adapted, and co-authored, from a short story by Vince Postaro.

Chapter One

The Package.
Prologue.
My name is Peter J Blattch and I have been involved in journalism for some thirty years or more. One of the first lessons I learnt as an investigative journalist is, being there on the front lines as a story unfolds in order to get an accurate account of the events. Ever since then I have travelled extensively throughout the world and have been at the forefront of civil unrests, marched with protesters against totalitarian regimes and, most recently, went undercover to expose governmental and corporate corruption; an assignment which unexpectedly segued me into chronicling drug trafficking and the seedy underbelly of the sex trade. These assignments were instrumental in the furthering of my career.
But fortunes change, and the capricious Fates who had woven the tapestry of my life now had other things in mind for me. In the course of my work I had made many powerful enemies, men who would stop at nothing to silence me. They almost succeeded. It would take months before I recuperated sufficiently from the gunshot wounds I had sustained during the drive-by shooting that left me fighting for my life. Though many suspected the hit was sanctioned by one of the Mexican drug cartels I had exposed earlier in the year, the subsequent investigation into them led nowhere. It did, however, have a serious knock-on effect to my career; insofar as no-one would hire me for fear of being caught up in further reprisals. I had in effect become persona non-grata. My days as a feature writer and undercover investigative reporter had, to all intents and purposes, come to an end and I found myself covering fringe stories normally doled out to rookie reporters. But what the hell! At least they paid the bills.
I was not embittered by the events that overtook me. I went into this business knowing full well the dangers involved. Nor was I resentful towards those colleagues who had given me a wide berth – most of whom had families to consider. I was already contemplating early retirement at around this period. Now, I reasoned, was as good a time as any to bow out gracefully. But a string of events was about to unfold that would rekindle my journalistic instincts, and my retirement plans were put on an indefinite hold.
About six weeks ago, I received a package through the post that anyone else would have ignored or thrown out with the garbage. Getting ‘snail mail’ is rare, and when I do it’s usually from the fringe elements of society who claim to have dated Bigfoot, seen alien bases on the Moon, and the like. A UK nursing home listed on the return address caught my attention. On opening the package, I discovered a hand-written letter and a voluminous journal; attached to which was a first-class, round-trip ticket to Britain and two thousand US dollars in cash. This was uncommon to say the least. Intrigued, I began reading the attached letter.
In the latter part of my waning career I had met and interviewed more than my share of crazies, weirdos, and conspiracy theorists, but what I read in the letter and journal went beyond the pale. If this was a hoax it was a very expensive one on behalf of the perpetrator. Was it the ramblings of an unsound mind? Possibly. What the letter and journal divulged was inconceivable to say the least, but my journalistic instinct and curiosity got the better of me and so I determined to look further into it to see how far this particular rabbit hole went.
They were written by one Lucian Dragomir. The introductory letter was merely a precis of what I would find in his journal, in which he recounted the history of his battle against malevolent forces whose activities went largely undetected and unopposed. He has entrusted me to share this knowledge with the world and has assured me that were I to accept his offer irrefutable evidence awaited me in the UK to remove any doubts I had regarding the veracity of his tale.
According to what he had written, Lucian was born into a large family of humble origins on a small farm in Romania shortly after the hostilities of the Great War had come to an end. Life was challenging for the poverty-stricken Dragomir family during the post-war years, but they confronted each test with an unwavering fealty borne of a close-knit family. Despite their impoverishment, he grew up to be a happy child. With the passing of the seasons, however, he had his first confrontation with death. A harsh and prolonged winter held the country in an icy grip. Enfeebled by a long illness, his mother finally succumbed to her infirmity and passed away. Her passing was to have a profound effect on the carefree Lucian whom, in his naivety, had believed she would always be there for him. As the years passed the harsh realities of life struck yet again with the untimely death of his childhood sweetheart, Ileana Ardelean.
Romania is home to many myths and legends concerning all manners of assorted horrors that are said to hide in the shadows. Almost from the time they could walk Lucian and Ileana had been versed in their country’s traditions and folklore, and as children heeded the warnings never to go into the forest unaccompanied by an adult. But things took an unexpected turn on reaching adolescence when their long-term friendship changed course and they became lovers. Following a brief courtship, they were betrothed to one another and the date for their wedding was set well in advance of the expected happy event.
For Ileana and Lucian that date seemed an eternity away and, as is the case in many love affairs, they were feeling an overpowering and ever-present need to consummate their relationship. That opportunity was to present itself at an annual folk dance festival being held in the village that year. Motivated by powerful hormonal changes, Lucian snuck from the celebrations into the forest and waited for Ileana. It was an ill-fated assignation from the outset and one which would alter the course of Lucian’s life forever. For Ileana, they would be the last horrifying moments of her life.
Here, in Lucian’s own words, is an extract taken from his journal of that fateful night.
Resting beneath the beech tree where we had carved our names, I closed my eyes and listened to the sprightly tones of the fiddle and backing accompaniment rising up from the village. Time seemed to slow as I waited patiently beneath a full moon for Ileana to appear at our designated rendezvous spot in the forest. She was late, and I began to wonder if she had been waylaid by someone at the festival and was waiting for an opportune moment to slip away unnoticed.
There are many different scents in the forest; most of which I was accustomed to on a daily basis. That night, however, I smelt a strong musty odour drifting on the night breeze. I knew instantly what it was. Born with an eidetic memory, I recalled with crystal clarity an incident that had taken place when I was no more than five years old. The event involved the shooting of a wolf that had attacked and killed one of my father’s sheep. Having shot the animal, he dragged its carcass back to the farm to show to family and friends. Its pelt bore the same pungent smell; like that of a wet dog. Shortly thereafter a hunting party was quickly set up by neighbouring farmers who had suffered similar attacks on their livestock. Over the next four days the entire wolf pack was hunted down and killed. 
Though I knew wolf attacks on humans were rare, I wasn’t about to take the risk of Ileana accidentally coming upon them. Fearing for her safety, I hurriedly began retracing my steps to the village in the hope of meeting her along the way. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard a commotion in the undergrowth and a familiar voice scream my name.
 Plunging wildly through the underbrush, I entered a small clearing and came across her. The look on her face was one of unbridled terror. Seizing me by the arms she screamed for me to run. Before I could respond I heard a deep-throated growl coming from the treeline. Just beyond the clearing I could make out a dark, ill-defined silhouette and a pair of bright yellow eyes that made my skin crawl. Momentarily paralysed with fear, I watched as it rose up on its hind legs. Only when it stepped out into the open did I fully comprehend why Ileana was so terrified – I was gazing into the bestial eyes of a werewolf.  
Instinctively, I looked around for a weapon. Less than ten yards from where I stood lay a fallen branch. Releasing my grip on Ileana, I made a frantic dash for it. With phenomenal speed the creature bounded across the clearing, hurtling headlong into Ileana and dragging her deeper into the forest. Caring little for my own safety, and with club in hand, I pursued the beast. 
To my dying day, I will never forget the scene I came across on reaching the bridal path: slumped against a felled tree lay Ileana’s body, her life’s blood oozing from multiple savage wounds. Of the beast, there was no sign. Cradling her in my arms I tried desperately to staunch the flow of blood, but her injuries were far too many. For one brief moment, she regained consciousness, her hand reaching to my cheek and stroking it feebly. She smiled and mouthed an ‘I love you’ before succumbing to her wounds. With bitter tears, I held her one last time to my breast.
Then I caught the odor of the foul beast again. It was skulking nearby, watching, waiting in the darkness. Off to my left I heard a menacing throaty growl. An adrenalin fuelled rage began swelling in my breast. Laying Ileana gently to the ground, I stood and turned to face the hirsute abomination.
It crouched low and snarled, exposing its blood-soaked teeth. Caring little whether I lived or died, I raised the makeshift club and waited. Those few brief seconds before its attack felt like an eternity to me. The eyes which had regarded me unwaveringly suddenly narrowed. The moment was at hand. Screaming like a banshee, I rushed forward determined to give a good account of myself. What next happened came so suddenly that my brain was barely able to register it. 
A shot rang out and the creature crashed to the ground. Spinning on my heels in the direction it had come from I saw a figure emerge from behind a tree. This was my first encounter with Francisc Servruasa – and it wasn’t to be my last. Without uttering a word, he strode forward with a woodman’s axe in hand and severed the creature’s head from its body in one powerful blow. Stuffing it into a hessian sack hanging from his waistband, he walked over to Ileana and knelt by her side. Finding no signs of life, he rose to his feet and crossed himself. 
‘During the Great War I was witness to many acts of bravery’, he said, turning to me and wiping the gore from his axe, ‘but rarely have I seen such courage from one so young. This girl obviously meant a great deal to you; enough for you to put yourself in harm’s way.’
Holding back the tears that threatened to engulf me, I spoke briefly of our love and betrothal.
‘You showed great courage boy. If we had more like you among our ranks, we could rid the world of these godforsaken monsters’, he said.
At the time his words were of little consolation to me. I wished that I too had died that night; as did Ileana’s parents who, in their grief, blamed me for her untimely death. Had they not heard the gunshot that drew them into the forest and seen with their own eyes the decapitated corpse revert to its human form, I would have undoubtedly found myself at the end of a rope before sunrise.

Chapter Two

The Darkening.
Reading further into Lucian’s journal, I came upon a further seminal moment in his life. In the aftermath of Ileana’s tragic death, he became increasingly morose. Consumed by an overwhelming sense of guilt he hid himself away from the reproachful expressions of the villagers. In his darkest moments, he had begun to consider taking his own life and would have done so had not Francisc intervened.
It was the day of Ileana’s funeral and many of her family and friends were in attendance. Given the circumstances of her passing, Lucian was not. Embittered by her death, and his involvement in it, her family had warned against his presence. Forced to watch from his hiding place in the forest, he wept pitifully as they lowered her into the sodden earth. Unaware that he too was being watched, he withdrew the hunting knife from its sheath. What next transpired was recorded in his journal. It was a moment that was to irrevocably change the course of his life.
 The taking of one’s own life is no easy thing; but as I sat by the tree on that wet August afternoon I could see only one way out of the dark melancholy that tormented me. I longed to be free of the unbearable sense of guilt that weighed heavily on my mind. Soon, it would all be over and I would be re-united with my beloved Ileana. Pulling up my sleeve I held the keen blade of my hunting knife over my wrist. It was then I heard the gruff voice of Francisc Servruasa call out to me.
‘You’re doing it all wrong, boy! If you’re really determined to go through with it’, he said, snatching the blade from my hand and laying it against the side of my neck, ‘then I suggest you cut here, at the carotid artery. You’ll bleed out much faster that way.’ Handing over the knife, he stood back and waited.
 Was he really going to stand by and watch me kill myself?
 ‘You know, I had you pegged all wrong’, he told me, squatting low on his hunkers, ‘I thought you had guts. I guess I’m not as good at reading folk as I thought.’ With that, he stood up and began walking away.
I called out to him, ‘Then what the hell am I supposed to do?’
‘Drop the self-pity’, he called back, ‘and maybe – just maybe- we could discuss a proposition I have in mind!’
Over the ensuing days, Lucian was to learn much about Francisc and his alleged affiliation with a mysterious and ancient brotherhood known as the Blade Divină, ‘The Divine Blade’. Despite my best research efforts, I have yet to uncover any organization bearing that name. Then again, it’s hardly surprising given the ultra-secretive nature of their work in fighting a centuries-old, covert war against supernatural forces seeking to bring about the enslavement of mankind.
I began to wonder what had motivated Francisc Servruasa to reveal the secret to Lucian. Was it pity, or perhaps the courage he had shown during the encounter with the lycanthrope? Had he seen in the boy the makings of a formidable warrior whom he could recruit to the cause? As I was to learn later, it was a combination of all the above.
Inevitably, the day came when Lucian had to make a decision, and Francisc repeated his warning of the dangers and threats he would encounter should he choose to follow in his footsteps – adding to it the caveat that his encounter with the werewolf would not have gone unnoticed by the Intunecatii, who might well seek retribution for his involvement in the death of one of their own.
That afternoon Lucian stood by Ileana’s graveside. He had made his decision to leave and never return to the village for fear of possible reprisals against himself and those he loved. The following day he and Francisc boarded a train for Budapest, where Lucian would be schooled and trained in a variety of martial disciplines over the next two years. It was during this journey that Francisc revealed more about the Dark Ones and the brotherhood of the Divine Blade.
The Dark Ones, he told Lucian, were known by many diverse cultures throughout antiquity, each bearing a different appellation according to the cultural background from which they sprang. In essence however they were one and the same; an evil cabal plotting the downfall and subjugation of God’s creations. Werewolves, vampires, daemons – call them what you will – had existed from time immemorial. They were more than mere myths and legends. They were the harbingers, the foreshadowers of things yet to come. And come they did. Among them were the blood-sucking lilitu, precursors to the modern vampire, who spread out across the world from their homeland in Mesopotamia. Many humans who fell prey to them would themselves become blood-suckers and so the contagion was passed on, ad infinitum, until their numbers swelled to epidemic proportions. Francisc himself laid claim to dispatching five of their ilk in the aftermath of the battle of Turtucaia during The Great War, when he came upon them feeding from the corpses of fallen soldiers. But not all vampiri were hapless victims, he told Lucian. There were those who willingly chose their fate; depraved individuals who were eager to forego their humanity in favour of the false promises of immortality and power; both of which would ultimately prove to be transitory.
According to Lucian’s account, the Divine Blade is composed of ordinary men and women; (‘Sisters of the Brotherhood’). Though highly skilled warriors, they are not endowed with supernatural abilities that can be called upon when confronting an immortal. So how then, you may ask, could they possibly hope to kill one? The answer, according to Francisc, lies in the unique weaponry they use. In order to fully understand how this ‘unique weaponry’ came into being you need first to be familiarised with the ancient origins of the Divine Blade, which hark back to the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
In 326 A.D., during Constantine’s reign, the Roman Empire was converted to Christianity and Constantine tasked a cohort of legionnaires to set out for Palestine with his mother Empress Helena in the search and gathering of Christian holy relics. Having accomplished their two-year assignment, the cohort was then entrusted with the task of safeguarding them. Among their many acquisitions was the Crown of Thorns, the Nails of the Cross, and the Holy Lance of Longinus. Whether by design or pure happenstance, these relics were found to possess divine mystical qualities that would prove lethal to the Dark Ones. The circumstances behind this discovery however remain unknown; lost forever in the pages of history.
Many years later, during the fall of the Roman Empire, encounters with the Intunecatii began to increase dramatically and Pope Leo the Great, knowing of the mystical powers contained within the relics, authorised their guardians to form a secret Order to deal with the threat. And so it was that the first Divine Blade brotherhood came into being, their weapons forged and embedded with fragments of the divine artefacts from the Roman reliquary in which they had been originally stored. In an attempt to hide their depletion Leo decreed they be replaced with forgeries.
For more than a thousand years the Divine Blade fought the Intunecatii, who’s influences had by now expanded into 15th century Europe. It was during this period that a schism occurred between the Holy Church and the brotherhood. Following the death of Pope Gregory XII, a two-year interregnum took place in which no valid pope was elected. From what Francisc had told Lucian of this secret history, the Dark Ones had either taken advantage of this or were instrumental in bringing it about. A Papal draft document, purportedly written by Gregory just before his death, was allegedly unearthed from amongst his private papers in which he declared the brotherhood to be ‘heretical’ and a ‘threat to the Holy See’. Whether his successor acted upon this is not recorded. What is certain, however, is that shortly thereafter the brotherhood was persecuted for their supposed crimes and were forced to go into hiding following the disbandment of the Order. Undaunted by this turn of events they fled to the four corners of the Earth, taking with them their celestial arsenal.
Since then, successive generations of the brotherhood had honed their martial skills and taught them to others who would follow in their stead. Lucian was but the latest in a long line of warriors who would take up the cause against an assortment of merciless adversaries.

Chapter Three

The Making of a Warrior.

 

Following a brief stopover in the city of Pest, on the banks of the Danube, Francisc and Lucian moved on to Badacsony, an isolated mountain in the Transdanubian Hills. Hidden deep within its dense forest lay Francisc’s home base and the training camp where Lucian would begin his arduous two-year schooling in the multi-disciplined arts of warfare. Despite being the youngest in a group of seven new recruits, Lucian quickly surpassed his peers in trials of combat, fortitude and intelligence; qualities that Francisc admired and respected in one so young. One can only guess at the sense of pride he must have felt on presenting his protégé with the divine weapon he had proven himself more than capable of wielding, namely: a gladius, This Roman short sword would prove instrumental in many future encounters with the Intunecatii. 
Several weeks were to pass following the return of the recruits to their respective homes, leaving Francisc and Lucian behind. Occasionally, Francisc would travel into the nearest town to stock up when food supplies were running low. During the course of one of these shopping expeditions he learnt of the disappearances of four children from the region. On reading the newspaper’s front page article he was left in no doubt that the four missing children mentioned therein was the work of a Dark One – all having been taken in the dead of night or shortly after sunset. This was somewhat at odds with the normal modus operandi of the modern vampire who would choose his or her victims from the outcasts of society: people who would not be missed by anyone. He noted also that all of the children were of Jewish extraction.
Lucian best sums up what was to take place in the wake of these terrible events.
Francisc threw down the newspaper in front of me and asked what I thought of the front-page article. On reading it I looked up and spoke only one word: ‘vampir?’.
Francisc nodded, saying, ‘The evidence seems point in that direction. Given that all of the missing kids are Jewish suggests to me that we could be dealing with an anti-Semitic vampir. It could be coincidental, but I doubt it. Either way, we’d best make preparations.’
The following day, we set out for the market town of Bicske, in the district of Vál, where the disappearances had taken place. Not wishing to draw unwanted attention on ourselves we kept a low profile whilst visiting the sites from where the children were taken. All of them were within a five-mile radius of each other. Falling within that radius was a 15th-century temple ruin containing several tombs. Given that such places were often associated with vámpíri we decided to check it out.
As we entered the temple grounds an hour before sunset my heart began to race wildly. This was my first assignment and I didn’t want to screw it up. My mouth was dry, and there was a slight trembling of my hands which hadn’t gone unnoticed by Francisc.
‘Nervous?’ he asked.
‘Is it that obvious?’
‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll get accustomed to it after a while’, he said, ‘Just remember your training and you’ll be fine.’
Taking a generous swig from my canteen to counter the dryness of my mouth, we walked on towards the ramshackle temple. It didn’t take long to realise that the condition of the crumbling structure offered little in the way of hiding places for a vampir, and so we moved on to the surrounding tombs. With considerable effort, we pried open the heavy stone lids and peered inside, only to discover desiccated human remains. Time was running out, and the sun was sinking lower in the sky.
Francis cursed beneath his breath, ‘Dam it! It has to be here somewhere. We haven’t the time to search every tomb like this.’
‘Maybe we don’t need to,’ I told him, pointing over to the western corner of the graveyard. There, hidden beneath a grove of trees and obscured by the glare of the setting sun, I’d caught sight of a family mausoleum. With renewed hope, we set off toward it.
Having a photographic memory is both a blessing and a curse. There are some things that are better off forgotten. What we encountered on breaking into the mausoleum was one of them.
Once inside its murky confines, Francisc lit his kerosene lamp and I closed the heavy oak door to prevent its light giving away our presence to any passer-by. What we discovered there was three stone sarcophagi. Bizarrely, the central sarcophagus had been wedged up between the rear wall and the plinth it had once rested upon. The other two had also been disturbed; their lids slightly ajar. Scattered around them were the fragments of bone and the crumbling shrouds of their previous occupants. A closer inspection of the two sarcophagi revealed several specks of congealed blood on the lids. Opening them, we came across the mutilated corpses of three of the children: a girl and two boys. The wounds on their necks and their eviscerated bodies left us in little doubt we were dealing with a vampir. But where was the fourth child – the second girl who had gone missing? A faint, distressed murmur coming from the upright sarcophagus gave us the answer.
I instinctively ran toward the faint cries, but Francisc grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me back. ‘Don’t be a bloody fool, lad,’ he whispered harshly, ‘You’re letting your emotions get in the way of your training. It might not be what you think it is.’
He was right of course. In my emotionally charged state I had forgotten that many vampiri had the ability to mimic the distress calls of their victims to draw other prey to them.
‘Take the gladius from the kit bag and ready yourself’, he ordered.
I faced the sarcophagus with sword in hand, ready to strike at the heart of anything that wasn’t human.
I had never seen a man so possessed with immense strength as I did that night. Locking the heel of the axe head against the edge of the sarcophagus lid, Francisc began tugging at it. It started to give. Inch by inch it slid across the floor. When it was approximately one-third of the way open, a tiny hand reached out. I looked to Francisc. ‘Get her the hell out of there!’ he cried. Dropping the gladius, I began tugging frantically at her arm. Slowly, her pathetic body slipped free from its confines. In doing so, I caught the briefest glimpse of another figure within the sarcophagus and alerted Francisc of its presence.
‘Take the girl outside and return as quickly as you can’, he commanded.
Wrapping her in my greatcoat, I carried her out. As I returned to the mausoleum I heard what appeared to be the muffled sounds of a conversation taking place. On entering I was greeted by the sight of Francisc gazing at the gaunt, sallow-faced, figure he had exposed. I made my way toward him and picked up the gladius from the floor. In the lantern light, I could now see the coal-black, soulless eyes of the vile creature.
Francisc stepped back. I raised the gladius in readiness to stab the vampir through the heart. Before I could do so it spoke to him in language I recognised as Latin but didn’t fully understand at the time.
Egone moreretur in manu proximi?”
Francisc lowered his head and replied, “Es, Deus, miserere animae tuae Caius.”
A simple nod from Francisc was all it took, and I drove the blade deep into the foul monster’s heart. It fell dead to the floor, its body putrefying and turning to dust before our eyes.
As the tension drained from me I asked, ‘You knew him?’
‘Yes, lad’, he said, rifling through the pile of empty clothing, ‘We’ve crossed swords on a few occasions. His name’s Caius. It’s believed he was one of the original legionnaires who were tasked to guard over the relics. Legend has it he made a deal with a powerful vampir in order to save his own skin. In return, he was charged to steal a particular relic for him. He failed in that regard, and fled the country.’
‘What relic?’
‘We don’t have time for this right now, Lucian’, he said somewhat brusquely, ‘Go check on the girl. If she’s infected, you know what has to be done. I’ll look through this clothing to see what I can find.’
Out of a sense of propriety I limited my examination to the areas of the child’s body I could see, to determine whether she’d been bitten or not. It appeared she hadn’t. But appearances could be deceptive and so I chose another means to see if she tested positive for signs of vampiric infection. I prayed to God she didn’t, and that I’d be spared the ghastly necessity of having to dismember her frail body to prevent her from rising as one of the undead. I called out to Francisc to bring his kerosene lamp. Hauling her up against the wall, I leant her forward as he held the lamp in front of her. To my great relief, she was casting a shadow against the wall; something true vampiri couldn’t do.
‘Stay with her’, he said, walking back to the mausoleum. ‘I want to show you something I uncovered in there.’
Moments later he returned, carrying a large portmanteau that had been hidden behind the standing sarcophagus. Among the assorted items, we came across a German passport and business suit. Attached to the jacket’s lapel was a swastika symbol, which prompted me to ask what a Dark One was doing working for the Nazi party.
‘Caius was a notorious anti-Semite. We know from intelligence reports we’ve received from our German brothers that he was an agent provocateur for the Ministry of Propaganda’, he said. ‘Maybe his assignment here was to stir up dissent against the Jewish population. Hell, he could well have been working toward that goal with the Hungarian government’s blessing.’
Somewhat naively I asked if the Nazis knew what he was.
‘I doubt it, lad. There are rumours that Hitler has a fascination with the occult. It’s believed by some that he has a secret programme devoted to the acquirement of holy relics. My gut instinct tells me that Caius’ main purpose was to keep a watchful eye out, in the hope of getting his hands on whatever was acquired.’
The child’s sudden whimpering brought an end to our discussion. Though still in shock, she was coherent enough to tell us her name was Aliz and that she lived a mere four miles east of our location. Packing up our gear, we began the hike to her village. We had no idea at the time why she kept referring to Caius as the “black bubble man”; his features being demonstrably European. Why she used the term “bubble” was also beyond us, as was her story of being somewhere else when he was feeding from the other children.
We watched from a safe distance as she entered her home into the welcoming arms of her tearful parents before we scurried off into the darkness, little knowing at the time that this child would have a profound influence on events that had yet to come about.
Following their encounter with Caius, Lucian became aware of some disturbing changes in Francisc’s demeanour. Back at the base camp he noticed his friend had become less communicative and increasingly withdrawn. Something was troubling him. When asked what, he would evade the subject. When pressed further for answers concerning the history between himself and Caius he became angry. Storming out of the cabin, he told Lucian to mind his own damned business.
After their quarrel, Lucian decided to give Francisc some time-out in the hope he would resolve whatever issues he had going on inside his head regarding Caius. Clearly, there was a history between them – a history that Lucian suspected was more than adversarial.
Over the ensuing days his mentor appeared to distance himself even further. For hours at a stretch he would disappear into the forest without explanation or a by your leave. The tension escalated. Finally, Lucian snapped and confronted Francisc on his return from one of his jaunts – an incident he faithfully recorded in his journal:
Grabbing him by the arm, I spun him round to face me. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’
‘Nothing’, he snapped, wrenching loose from my grip.
‘Then why are you avoiding me? What have I done to piss you off?’
‘Nothing!’ he growled, making his way to the cabin.
‘Don’t fucking walk away from me when I’m talking to you!’ I hollered.
 He spun on his heels to face me. ‘Don’t push your luck, boy’.
‘What is it between Caius and you anyhow?’
For the briefest of moments, it looked as though he was about to unburden his secret on me. It wasn’t to be.
Miklos Tamas’ arrival into the camp at that very moment couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time.
This is the first mention of Miklos Tamas in Lucian’s journal. In it, he describes him as being a middle-aged, officious man with a proclivity towards grand entrances. His arrival into the camp on a white stallion and a small entourage of men in tow that morning must certainly have lived up to Lucian’s expectations.
As a Regional Director of the Divine Blade, Miklos was responsible for assigning the brothers and sisters into their respective branches; they being the ‘Sword’, the ‘Fox’, and the ‘Shield’. Each division served a different function. Kill missions were carried out by the Sword division. The Fox division was the eyes and ears of the Divine Blade; the intelligence gatherers. Last, but not least, came the logistical division; the Shield. Their responsibilities included the detailed organisation and implementation of complex operations.
Lucian had fully expected, given his martial skills, to be assigned to the Sword unit. It came as a great shock to him, therefore, to hear he had been assigned to the Fox unit on Francisc’s recommendation.
Under the pretext of having to go out and cut timber for the base camp’s wood burners, Lucian left the group to their discussions and went out into the forest. He was as angry as hell and needed to vent his anger on something, rather than someone.
With the departure of Miklos and his men Lucian wasted no time in confronting Francisc.
‘Bullshit!’ I told him, after hearing his lame explanation as to why he had put me forward as a candidate for the Fox division. ‘You know as well as I do my skills would be better served in the Sword unit’.
‘You think two encounters make you a seasoned warrior, boy? Think again! Besides, your eidetic memory would make you a perfect candidate for intelligence gathering. That’s why I put your name forward’.
I’d listened long enough to his hogwash and double-talk. ‘Why don’t you just tell the truth? The reason you’re getting rid of me is because I’ve been asking too many uncomfortable questions about you and Caius, isn’t it?’
‘Whatever history we had is none of your bloody business, and you’d best keep your nose out of it! Discovering the truth of it would open a Pandora’s box that could bring about the downfall of the Divine Blade.’
 
 

Chapter Four

The Necromancer
On the day of their departure for Tihanyi, Lucian prepared the horses for their journey. It was a trek he wasn’t looking forward to, given the recent volatile events between himself and Francisc. He was, therefore, taken aback when his mentor unexpectedly approached him and apologised for his sour behaviour.
Lucian tactfully accepted his apology, but could not rid himself of the warning Francisc had given about the possible downfall of the Divine Blade and how it was connected to his relationship with Caius should he delve deeper into it.
On the penultimate day of their journey’s end they arrived in the village of Lovas. Wearied from their journey and sleeping under canvas, they sought to spend their last night in the comfort of a warm tavern. During their stop-over they learnt of a series of grave desecrations that had taken place in and around the locale. In each case the recently interred had been exhumed and spirited away in the dead of night. The more they listened in on the accounts of the locals, the less certain both Francisc and Lucian were that the defilements were the work of body-snatchers. There was an element to the tales that suggested otherwise. Before leaving for Tihanyi the following day, they visited the nearest graveyard where the most recent interment and exhumation had occurred. Though barely visible, due to the inclement weather of the previous evening, they discovered the partially washed-out symbols of a necromantic ritual.
It was late afternoon when Francisc and Lucian arrived at their journey’s end; an isolated lodge set deep within a dense forest on the outskirts of the town. There, they were greeted by the rotund Miklos Tamas and several agents of the Fox division. Following brief introductions, they entered the lodge to discuss Lucian’s training and responsibilities. After finalising their business, Francisc took the opportunity to inform them of the events in Lovas.
Lucian faithfully recorded the event in his diary.
Miklos rose to his feet on hearing Francisc’s account. Looking to his brethren, he told them grimly, ‘Things are far worse than we feared, brothers. We must expand our mission further afield and nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand.’
 ‘You know about this?’ Francisc asked.
 ‘We do, brother. Our intelligence network brought it to my attention a week ago. Several villages are involved; Lovas being the latest. Four of the brothers present here today have been investigating them, but with little success. They too have come to the same conclusion as you – that it is the work of a necromancer.’ 
The unprecedented scale of the operation bewildered Francisc. The ‘weavers’, as they were known by the brotherhood, were humans who rarely moved beyond the boundaries of their respective locations. Theirs was a solitary life dedicated to the resurrection of the deceased in their spiritual or bodily forms for the purpose of divination. More frighteningly, they could resurrect an individual to use as blindly obedient assassin.
Francisc was the only one present with experience of Necromancers. That, in combination with his tracking skills, made him the perfect candidate to head the mission. Lucian, too, was to be enlisted in the undertaking as an observer and information gatherer. Four of the warrior class were called upon to aid them. It was to be a time-consuming and arduous mission for the team.
Given the dozens of graveyards yet to be explored within the district, Francisc and his five-man team had almost given up hope of finding their prey when they stumbled upon a smallholder’s house. Beneath its un-plastered, basalt gable stood a funeral cortège. Realising they had nothing to lose, the group held back and shadowed the procession to the deceased’s last resting place. With the departure of the mourners, the team settled into their night vigil.
Shortly after 2 a.m. they were alerted to faint, indistinguishable sounds coming from the far end of the cemetery. The moon was now completely obscured behind a thick blanket of cloud that stretched from horizon to horizon; maddeningly hiding from view whatever was approaching. Then, all went deathly quiet.
Concealed behind the dry-stone wall bordering the cemetery, and with flashlight in hand, Francisc and his men prepared themselves. What they saw illuminated in the torchlight as they crested the wall both horrified and staggered them. Caught in its glare, and dressed in necromantic regalia, stood the priest who had officiated at the funeral. He was not alone. With him stood the resurrected corpses of men in varying states of decomposition. Each was carrying a makeshift weapon.
The following is Lucian’s account of what took place on that momentous night.
‘The priest is mine!’ Lucian shouted as we leapt into the fray.
The priest, too, gave an order. Other than for Francisc, we were all to be slaughtered. 
As did the ancient Norse warriors of old, we crashed headlong into the undead with the ferocity of Berserkers. We slashed, hacked, bayoneted and bludgeoned them for all our worth, but with little effect. They seemed impervious to our weapons.
One of the brothers was the first to fall in the melee, his skull cleaved in two with a trench shovel. We were fighting a losing battle. How in God’s name could we even hope to kill a creature that was already dead? No sooner had the thought left my mind when a cry went up from another brother. ‘Go for their heads. It’s their weak spot!’
Side stepping a deadly blow from my adversary, I swung the gladius around and struck him on the nape of his neck, severing his head from his body. Another foe fell to the ground moments later, a crossbow bolt sticking from his temple. With renewed hope, we targeted their weak point and ultimately won the fight we’d thought was lost. 
In the heat of battle, it is easy to lose sight of a comrade-at-arms and we hadn’t noticed that Francisc was no longer among us. We called out to him, but without answer. Picking the flashlight he had dropped during the skirmish, I scanned the cemetery. There was no sign of him. Several yards from my position a brother called out to me. I ran to his side, half expecting to see my friend lying dead at his feet. What he showed me was a trail of salt leading off into the darkness toward the cemetery’s memorial chapel.
Once again, my unwavering memory came to the fore. Salt was often used to protect the necromancer during summoning rituals. I also recalled that hanging from the priest’s belt was a black pouch. Could this have been the source from where the trail had originated? Had the pouch been damaged in his struggle with Francisc?
We followed the trail to its terminal point; at the end of which was an empty and expansive circle of salt. My companions looked at one another in confusion. Only I was aware of its significance, and what possibly lay within it. I ordered them to surround the circle and ready their weapons. This they did without question, as I withdrew my water canteen from my belt and poured its contents onto the circle, breaking its continuity and thereby revealing what lay within.
Kneeling on the ground, with a ritual dagger held to his throat, was Francisc. Towering over him was the necromantic priest. ‘One wrong move, and I’ll slit his throat!’ he warned.
An unexpected peal of thunder rolled across the night sky.
Looking to the heavens, the necromancer threatened, ‘The Dark Ones have waited for a thousand years for this moment. If you know what’s good for you you’ll leave here now, while you still can.’
‘Kill the fucker, Lucian, and have done with it’, Francisc growled.
‘Shut your mouth, before I shut it for you’, the priest hissed in his ear.
Raising his ritual athame dagger to the heavens, he called upon the Dark Ones. ‘To your purpose I have bent my will, and brought before you that which you seek. Fulfill the bargain we have struck and render unto me my just reward!’ The clouds churned, and scintillating light crackled earthward.
In that instant, our crossbowman let fly with a bolt, striking the necromancer through the eye and penetrating his brain. ‘There’s your fucking reward priest’ he said.
As I ran forward to help Francisc to his feet, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree and blew it apart in a super-heated outburst of steam. A secondary streamer arced from it and hit Francisc squarely in the chest, throwing him into the air. He landed several feet away, his tunic smoldering from the intense heat.
Not knowing whether he was alive or dead, we grabbed him by the heels and dragged him unceremoniously out of the storm and into the shelter of the memorial chapel. There, we looked for signs of life. There was no discernible pulse, or constriction of his pupils when I shone the flashlight into his eyes. His skin was cold and clammy, and had a bluish tinge to it. All the indicators pointed to the unassailable fact that Francisc was dead.
As we waited out the storm’s passing in a state of despondency, we took stock of our situation. We had been lured into an elaborate trap, designed solely for the purpose of capturing Francisc. But for what reason? What could the Dark One’s have possibly wanted from him? Cleary, they had expected to take him alive. Killing the priest who had conjured and, more importantly, controlled the storm was a costly mistake. Unfocused, the lightning bolts struck arbitrarily, accidentally killing my friend and mentor. 
Our mission wasn’t over. We had yet to gather intelligence on the necromantic priest and dispose of the resurrected bodies outside. We had already passed the priest’s clergy house on the way to the cemetery. If there was any intelligence to be gathered on him, then that was the most likely place to find it. Retrieving a bunch of keys from his body, myself and Andor Balogh, who was to become my Fox division mentor, set out in search of it.
We found nothing of relevance on the upper floors, and so we descended into the bowels of an expansive basement. There we came upon a black altar, atop of which lay the tools of the necromancer’s dreadful art. Between two tapered, purple candles lay a book of spells, rituals, and invocations. Stuffing it into a kit bag, I pried upon the doors to see what lay within the altar. Sitting beneath a human skull lay the necromancer’s diary. What we learnt on reading it merely confirmed what we already suspected; the whole scenario had been an elaborate trap to ensnare Francisc. Whatever the Dark Ones were after was still a mystery to us. There was one cryptic entry in the diary, however, that caught our attention and hinted that the Dark Ones were in search of an ancient artefact of ‘major significance.’
It was an hour before sunrise when we entered the memorial chapel to discover Francisc’s body had vanished. On disposing of the other bodies, the brothers who had stayed behind returned to the memorial chapel. To their great consternation all that remained was the horse blanket they had wrapped Francisc in. They had come to the conclusion that the Dark Ones must have spirited him away. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it seemed the most likely explanation.

 Chapter Five

A Serendipitous Encounter.
In the wake of Francisc’s death, Lucian had immersed himself in Fox division operations; his missions providing brief distractions from the sombre thoughts of his former mentor and friend. Almost a year had passed since their last fateful mission together, and during that period Hungary had signed the Tripartite Pact that allied their country with Germany, Italy and Japan, thereby ensuring their participation in World War II and allowing German troops to transit the country on their way to Romania. It was during this same momentous time that Lucian and Andor were assigned to a case in Belgrade, Serbia, where two brutal killings had been reported. In each case the victims had been ripped apart and partially consumed. Furthermore, the assailant had seemingly evaded capture by paranormal means.
This latest mission brought with it further complications: the strife-torn country was now under German military occupation and one of the victims was a high-ranking SS officer, the other an inveterate alcoholic. However, at the time, the district military commander had very limited German garrison troops and police detachments to maintain order. Naturally, he concentrated his efforts and resources on the murder of the SS officer, thereby giving Lucian and Andor a relatively free hand to investigate the other.
During their inquiries one name, Jovan Begović, cropped up repeatedly. By all accounts Begović, was an arrogant, and brutish antisocial character who visited the city on rare occasions from his home on the outskirts of the city. It was, therefore, somewhat unusual for him to have been seen by independent witnesses, over several consecutive nights, prowling the streets of Belgrade; particularly on the evening of the inebriate’s homicide in which the killer was said to have evaded capture by leaping thirty feet onto a rooftop. These, and other elements of the story, Lucian recognised and became the foundation stones on which he built his theory that Begović was a pricolici – a werewolf/vampir hybrid.
Andor wasn’t so sure. There was one irregularity in Lucian’s theory, that did not match the normal modus operandi of a pricolici, it being that they never left behind their kill to be discovered. Recalling that Begović was noted for his arrogance, Lucian put forward the idea that it was perhaps his overblown sense of invulnerability and superiority that had made him reckless. There was only one way to discover the truth of the matter; they would have to stake out his home.
Furnished with a map from one of the eyewitnesses, Lucian and Andor set out for Begović’s cabin situated in the northern section of the outlying forest. Several hundred yards from the cabin stood a rocky crag that overlooked the area. It was an ideal vantage point from which to monitor Begović’s comings and goings. Having set up a rudimentary camp, Andor and Lucian settled into their vigil. A few hours passed, in which they saw neither hide-or-hair of their quarry.
Nightfall was setting in, and still there was no sign of Begović. Feeling an overpowering urge to relieve himself, Andor sloped off further uphill. From his elevated position, he noticed what appeared to be a large pile of animal bones stacked behind the cabin. In close proximity to them was a well. He related these findings to Lucian on his return.
Lucian records this, and the subsequent events that took place, in his journal.
We set off down the ridge under a blood-red crescent moon, and entered the clearing at the rear of the cabin. There were no lights visible at the windows. To all intents and purposes, the place was unoccupied. Despite this, we approached the boneyard with great caution. Much to our relief, none of the bones were human. Nevertheless, knowing that pricolici also had a liking for cattle flesh kept us on our toes.
As we were about to make our way to the front of the cabin, Andor noticed something that made him stop in his tracks. He knelt down and began feeling the ground. Looking up he said, grimly, ‘Wolf tracks. And they’re bipedal.’ 
My blood ran cold, and my heart began to race. What I knew of these terrifying creatures was learnt from manuscripts during my training days. I had yet to come across one in real life. Composing myself, I asked, ‘What now?’
‘We gather as much evidence as we can, and get the hell out of here before it returns’, he told me.
His words shocked me. ‘We’re not going to take it on?’
‘It’s not within our remit’, he said, ‘Our mission is to gather intelligence.’ Rising to his feet, he made for the cabin’s front entrance.
I was about to question his judgement when a faint sound from within alerted us of a presence. We stood on either side of the door, weapons drawn. Andor cautiously lifted the latch and gently pushed the door open, his Radom semi-automatic pistol in hand. What we saw bathed in the faint glow of a wood burning stove was far from what we had expected. Dominating the centre of the room was a large wooden table and four chairs. Sitting at one of them was a grey-haired female. 
‘Is that you, Jovan? I wasn’t expecting you to be up so early’, she called out feebly, ‘You must be hungry.’
Andor and I looked at each other in mute surprise. The last thing we had expected to come across was a frail and blind old woman. 
She rose gingerly to her feet and asked, “Can I get you something to eat, dear?’
 What next took place caught us completely off guard.
‘No, Majka. I already have what I want right hear’, a voice snarled from behind.
 We turned. Standing in the doorway we saw the naked form of Jovan Begović in mid transformation, his shredding flesh falling to the floor to reveal the monster within. Andor raised his semi-automatic, but was too late in taking the shot. With incredible speed the pricolici side-stepped into the night. Mere seconds later we followed him, only to discover he had vanished completely. 
Regardless of his phenomenal speed, there was no way in hell he could have crossed the expansive tract of open land into the safety of the forest in such a short time. Andor motioned to the roof. Backing away from the cabin, we looked up. There was nothing there. He then motioned to split up and go around the building to check out the other side.
 As I rounded the side gable, Begović blindsided me. Leaping from the roof, he crashed down onto me, knocking me to the ground. Instinctively, I lashed out wildly with the gladius. Dodging the sweeping blow, he knocked it from my grasp and tore flesh from my arm in the process. In his all-consuming blood lust, however, he had forgotten one thing – Andor.
 As Begović crouched over me, ears drawn back against his head and spittle dripping from his jaws, he let out an agonizing scream. Looking down, I saw the gladius’ blade tear through his chest. He struggled desperately to dislodge it, but to no avail. Seconds later, he exploded in a cloud of ash. Wiping it from my eyes and tunic, I looked up and there stood my companion with sword in hand.
 Hauling myself from the ground, and dusting off the remaining ash from my clothes, I began thanking him for his timely intervention. On looking up, I found myself staring down the muzzle of his semi-automatic. ‘Tell me you weren’t bitten’, he said. I understood his caution and rolled up my tunic sleeve, revealing the claw marks. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief and lowered the pistol. Though my injuries were relatively superficial, he insisted on having them dressed to prevent possible infection. To that end, we returned to the cabin to bathe and dress the wound.
 Much to our disquiet, the cabin’s interior was not as we had left it. The stove was cold, the old woman had vanished, and the place was overlaid with a fine layer of dust and cobwebs. Apart from our own footprints, the evidence pointed to it not having being occupied for some time. Unquestionably, we had fallen prey to a glamour, a vampirical illusion cast by the pricolici to distract us.
 Andor dressed my arm with strips of bed sheeting and made a rudimentary sling. Thereafter, we searched the place from top to bottom but found nothing in the way of useful intelligence. It was time to return to our camp on the outcrop.
 Andor, who was by nature fastidious, decided to check out the well before returning to the camp. It was the only place we hadn’t looked for evidence. I held out little prospect of finding anything there. I was wrong. What we uncovered was both grim and informative. Caught up on the water bucket was a mouldering arm. Attached to its wrist was an attaché case bearing the Nazi insignia. Inside were official documents addressed to one Adalbrecht Neumann, the SS officer who had been slaughtered several days earlier and who was, we presumed, the owner of the limb. The contents of one document in particular immediately caught our attention. On reading it, we returned post-haste to division headquarters with unforeseen, vital intelligence.
A week later, in Budapest, a secret gathering of the Balkan states’ Regional Directors took place. There, Andor and Lucian presented their case to their speechless superiors. The documents they had uncovered presented a serious threat to them, and the continuation of their fight against the Intunecatii.
Among the recovered papers was a list of names and addresses of active members and associates of the Divine Blade within the Balkans. They were to be arrested and interrogated, their ‘assets of interest’ seized and transported to Berlin. A description of these assets followed, leaving little doubt that the communiqué was referring to the holy relics and divine weaponry.
A heated debate ensued, in which an idea was proposed that either the brotherhood and/or the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by an agent or agents of the Dark Ones. Lucian dismissed the former theory. Had it been one of their own passing on information to the Nazis, he would surely have given them the names and locations of the Divine Blade’s elite, who had far greater knowledge regarding the deployment and activities of their men. By cutting the head from the serpent they would have ensured a speedy and successful outcome. As it was, they were struggling to achieve that goal. The latter theory that the upper echelons of the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by elements of the Intunecatii seemed the more likely of the two.
A respectful silence settled in over the gathering as Lucian reminded them that a similar incident, recorded in the historical records of the Divine Blade, had occurred after the death of Pope Gregory XII. The events that followed his passing had resulted in the persecution of the founding members of the brotherhood. But for their actions the Divine Blade would have faded into antiquity, and the world would have succumbed to the intrigues of the Dark Ones. This latest debacle, insofar as Lucian was concerned, was merely a revamped continuation of their original concept to bring about the downfall of the Divine Blade.
Not everyone present accepted his hypothesis. Nevertheless, by the end of their deliberations they had agreed upon on several issues. First and foremost, the relics had to be moved to a safe haven in a neutral country. Secondly; all operations were to be put on temporary hold and anyone on the Nazi hit list was to go into hiding. Thirdly; all branches of the divine Blade throughout Europe were to be alerted to the latest threat.
By a majority vote, the USA was chosen as the safest haven for their apportioned divine relics. Their deposition and protection fell upon a small contingency chosen from the brotherhood to watch over them as they waited out the war. Andor, being the senior brother, was elected to lead the mission and Lucian to act as his second-in-command. Two weeks later they set sail for America with forged documents in hand and sufficient funds to see them through a prolonged period.
As the war raged throughout Europe, Lucian and his companions had found gainful employment as longshoremen in Baltimore Harbour, Maryland. Here, they would occasionally hear stories from merchant seamen entering the docks to offload their freight. What they heard was unsettling. But worse was to follow when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing an end to America’s neutrality policy.
A period of great social, political and economic upheaval followed in the wake of these events, during which Lucian and the brothers weathered the storm as best they could. It was shortly after the war’s cessation that Lucian received a message from Miklos Tamas informing him of the murder of his family, a year earlier, by a faction of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party for aiding and abetting Jews in their escape from persecution and death.
Returning to his war-torn homeland was not an option for Lucian, as it was now under allied Soviet occupation and would remain so for the next thirteen years. He continued his missions in the US, disregarding Andor’s advice that he should take a leave of absence from his duties.
Over the ensuing decades, the American brotherhood’s numbers began to swell dramatically; as did encounters with the Dark Ones. A period of expansion was initiated by Andor and Lucian; who worked tirelessly to establish a network throughout the States in response to the Intunecatii threat.

Chapter Six

The ‘Shadow Man’
In the Fall of 1970, Lucian wrote of his growing optimism for the American brotherhood. In the same entry, he also mentioned a new and conceivable danger to it. This threat he dubbed as the ‘shadow man’; a fleeting figure he had witnessed observing them during several missions. At first, he shook off his sightings as battle stress anxieties. Then others of the brotherhood’s rank and file also began catching glimpses of the enigmatic stalker.
To quell the endless conjectures regarding the shadow man’s identity and motives Andor ordered Lucian to put together a team to hunt down and capture or eliminate the will-o’-the-wisp entity, using any resources at their disposal to do so. Having noted the shadow man was frequently seen during missions, Lucian came up with a plan to surveil Andor’s men at a discreet distance throughout their missions. Should his quarry take the bait and put in an appearance they would approach from the rear, effectively ensnaring him in a pincer movement action.
Near the town of Sykesville, Carroll County, Maryland, sightings of a Bakaak – a skeletal-like creature with translucent skin and glowing red eyes – had been reported. Andor saw this as a golden opportunity to put their plan into operation, and possibly kill two birds with one stone. On researching the area, he came across an abandoned southern colonial building, situated atop a hill and overlooking rolling pastures, trees, and a fenced meadow. Strategically, it was an excellent vantage point for his team. The question now was whether or not the shadow man would put in an appearance?
An hour after Andor’s arrival at the deserted house, Lucian radioed in his arrival at the lookout point in the forest, a quarter-mile east of the site. Unpacking their equipment from the Jeeps, he and his nine-man team settled into their vigil. From their position, they had an unrestricted view of the house and its surroundings. Nothing could get in or out without their knowing it.
Two days and nights passed without incident. Then, on the third night, a cry went out from a lookout on the third floor of the house. He had seen something that he described as ‘kinda scrawny and human-like’ moving around on the edge of the forest. Limited though his description was, Andor was in no doubt that he had seen the Bakaak and radioed in the sighting to Lucian.
As Andor’s men made their way down the meadow to the forest, Lucian’s team were vectoring in on the last known location of the Bakaak via a circuitous route that they hoped would place the creature between the two converging groups.
Lucian and his team crept forward through the pitch-black forest interior, their night vision goggles enabling them to navigate the treacherous terrain. Over the creaking boughs and branches of the windswept canopy a shrill cry went out, bringing them to an abrupt standstill. Lucian scanned the area He could see nothing in their immediate vicinity to account for the blood-curdling scream. Suddenly, his two-way radio crackled into life. It was Andor, warning him that the Bakaak had taken one of his team and was advancing rapidly on Lucian’s position through the tree canopy. Instinctively, Lucian ordered his men to take up defensive positions.
Lucian takes up their encounter with the creature in his journal.
Of all the beasts I had encountered the Bakaak was, to date, the most hideous and bizarre. Twenty-yards ahead of us, it had latched onto a tree trunk by one of a pair of elongated arms, terminating in an oversized, clawed hand. From the other hung the limp body of Brother Castillo. There was no way of telling if he was alive or dead. To open fire on the creature now could have serious consequences for our comrade. If he wasn’t already dead, the fall from the tree would certainly kill him. Having signaled for the team to hold fire, we watched to see what it would do next.
On sniffing the air, it began a slow descent to the forest floor, its cicadan-like legs taking the strain. Through its translucent flesh. we could make out the creature’s skeletal frame, internal organs, and sinews. As it drew to within five-feet of the ground, we targeted its barreled chest and opened fire, penetrating the fine membrane of flesh and blowing apart the organs within. Dropping its prey, it crashed to the ground.
In the short time it took us to arrive at the site the creature had almost regenerated itself, and had set about tearing open Castillo’s abdomen to eat his liver, as is the wont of all Bakaak. Another round of bullets ripped into its body. I was the last to empty my magazine into it. In doing so, one of the rounds passed clean through it and struck Brother Castillo. The creature fell to one side, temporarily disabled. Two of my team immediately dragged Castillo from the scene and began tending to his wounds. Andor and his men arrived moments later. They quickly doused the Bakaak in petrol and set fire to it adding kindling to maintain the inferno – a similar method to that chronicled in the ancient writings as the only way to destroy the unholy creature.
Come sunrise, only I and Andor remained at the scene. The others had returned to the colonial house hours earlier. By now, only ash and pulverized bone remained of the Bakaak. This, we took to the river at the foot of the meadow and scattered the remains into the fast-flowing waters. On doing so, we caught sight of a lone figure donned in a hooded poncho standing beneath the shade of a Chestnut Oak. It was the ‘shadow man’. I called out angrily to him. Annoyingly, he turned and walked away into the forest without uttering a single word.
As we made our way back to the house, a call came over the radio informing us Brother Morgan Castillo had died as a result of his wounds. Despite the assurances of the medics that he would most probably have died of the injuries inflicted on him by the Bakaak, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my action had helped to seal his fate. Plagued by an unbending sense of guilt, failing health, and never having discovered the identity of the shadow man over the years, I made the painful decision to sever all links with the brotherhood and go into hiding.

Chapter Seven

The End Game.
Little is written in Lucian’s journal over the proceeding four decades, other than he now resided in a care home in the UK, his waning health and advanced years having taken their toll on his frail body. Now in his nineties, he recalled vividly the far-flung and incredible exploits of his youth, and the friends he had known and lost. He had never married and, as I was to discover, lead a reclusive life on the border of a small village on the Cornish coastline.
Sadly, Lucian died the day before I arrived in the UK. What awaited me on reaching the care home, however, was a revealing letter he had written a week prior to his passing. This, he had entrusted to his primary care nurse with explicit instructions to hand it to me on my arrival. Here, in its entirety, is the letter he had written to me.
Dear Mr. Blattch,
It is with deep regret that I could not be here to greet you in person, as I have long been an admirer of your work. I know you to be a man of honor and courage and a seeker of truth and justice. It was because of these qualities that I sent you the package containing my journal.
You are probably wondering how I could possibly have known that our paths would not meet, and that I would die before your arrival. The simple answer is, I was told by someone. That ‘someone’ visited me recently, accompanied by a man who introduced himself as Matheus Pereira, a Brazilian brother of the Divine Blade. He went on to introduce his female companion as Aliz Elek, the child Francisc and I had rescued from the vampire, Caius.
To say I was taken aback would be an understatement; not least because the woman standing before me was no more than thirty-years-old. The Aliz we had rescued would now be in her mid-eighties. But greater revelations were yet to come during our reunion, in which I learnt of her involvement and, more crucially, her role within the Divine Blade. She is no ordinary sister, to the brotherhood, Mr. Blattch, as you are about to learn. She is an intelligent and psychically gifted individual; and it was through one of these gifts they had managed to locate me.
I believe that it is through her abilities, and others like her, that the Divine Blade will weather the tide of the Intunecatii’s latest onslaught against the brotherhood, whose numbers are decreasing alarmingly throughout the globe. Under Aliz’s aegis, and in response to this threat, the Divine Blade have created a sub-branch of the Fox division, which they call ‘the Numinous’. This sub-branch is made up of others like Aliz. Imagine it, Mr. Blattch; an entire unit of psychically gifted spies!
Aliz outlined her own particular gifts to me. The first was her ability to read auric fields. These invisible energy fields, she told me, surround all living things. They are structured and can be deciphered by a trained auric reader. From an examination of their color, density, and bioplasmic composition they can deduce many things, including the true nature of an individual; be they good or evil.
It began to dawn on me how powerful an ability like this is. For centuries, the Divine Blade have feared the penetration of the brotherhood by agents of the Dark Ones. Having the ability to vet individuals in this manner would effectively subvert the danger of infiltration.
The second gift she possesses is her seemingly innate ability to project her spirit to anywhere she chooses. I believe the term for this is known as astral projection. This, she admitted, was how she had managed to locate me.
As you may recall from my journal, Mr. Blattch, on the night Francisc and I rescued Aliz from the vampire, Caius, she referred to him as ‘the black bubble man’ and of being ‘somewhere else’ when Caius was feeding from the other children. It would seem that what she was describing was the negative energy field surrounding Caius’ body. Her remark of being ‘somewhere else’ was undoubtedly her ingenuous way of telling us her spirit had vacated her body, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to escape the horrors of her confinement.
The question uppermost in my mind at the time was why they were telling me, a man not long for this world, of these things? That’s when she told me of an even greater power in their possession; an artefact so incredibly powerful it could bestow immortality on those who drank from it; a gift, she told me, she had accepted from a most unlikely source. I understood now the reason behind her youthful appearance. She offered this endowment of eternal life to me – a gift I refused. I have lived my life in the belief I would one day be reunited with my beloved Ileana, and no inducement could ever keep me from that goal.
You are no doubt wondering, as did I, what this incredible artefact is, and from where it came. It is the Holy Grail, Mr. Blattch, the vessel from which Christ’s disciples drank at the last supper and into which His blood flowed at His crucifixion.  Moreover, it has been held in secret by a brother of the Divine Blade. That brother’s identity, and more besides, will be revealed to you on the day of my funeral.
May God go with you.
Lucian Dragomir.
In keeping with the funerary rites of the Divine Blade, Lucian’s body was cremated and his ashes were to be taken back to his homeland. I later learnt that this custom of immolation in the brotherhood was a preventative measure against being resurrected by the Dark Ones.
I had expected many to be in attendance at Lucian’s funeral, and wasn’t disappointed by the turn out. They were from all walks of life; many owing their continuing existence to Lucian’s bravery and fortitude in the fight against the Dark Ones. Their eulogies were, at times, heart-rending affairs. Now, more than ever, I knew his incredible story had to be told to a far wider audience, and to reveal to an unsuspecting world the threat posed by the Intunecatii.
I had almost given up hope of making contact with Aliz Elek and the mysterious brother Lucian had alluded to in his final letter, when I was approached by the soft-spoken Aliz. Then came the unexpected bombshell; the man accompanying her introduced himself as none other than Francisc Servruasa.
As a journalist, I had developed an instinct to read the subtle signs given off by people who were handing me a line. It wasn’t the case here. This man believed and meant every word he said. As further proof of his identity, he produced a worn photograph from his coat pocket and passed it to me. It showed what he professed to be himself and Lucian posing outside the training ground in Hungary on the day he received the gladius. Aliz assured me that these were indeed the heroes she remembered rescuing her from the vampire, Caius.
As our talk progressed into the afternoon I learnt of the secrets that Francisc had so assiduously hidden from Lucian and the brotherhood; they being that he was an immortal, and that Caius was his sibling brother. If Lucian had uncovered these truths, questions would have inevitably arisen as to how Francisc had become an immortal, and why he hadn’t shared this with the brotherhood. Sensing that I, too, was intrigued by his motives for remaining silent on these matters, he opened up.
His life as an eternal, he told me, was something of a curse. Due to his unchanging and ageless nature, he was forced to live a relatively solitary and nomadic life. Long-term relationships were out of the question for that very same reason. For nearly two-thousand years he had lived as a wanderer, rarely allowing himself the luxury of developing meaningful relationships with the people he had encountered on his journeys. The one constant which gave meaning to his life was the brotherhood and his unending conviction to bring about the downfall of the Dark Ones.
I asked him why he had kept his secret from the Divine Blade. In response, he paraphrased the words of John Emerich Acton, “Power corrupts”, Mr. Blattch, he said, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He was right of course, and he feared the consequences of an immortalized brother being corrupted by his god-like status.
‘Then why did you chose to take on the mantle of an eternal, Francisc?’ I enquired. He responded by saying that it had been forced upon him by circumstance. This circumstance, he told me, began when he caught Caius in the act of stealing an artefact from the reliquary which he had been tasked to guard. During the confrontation, Francisc learnt that his younger sibling had been approached by a Dark One who had offered him immortality in exchange for one of the relics. In the ensuing argument, Caius stabbed him and fled, leaving him lying in a pool of blood. Near to the point of death, and wishing to avenge himself and restore his family honor, Francisc poured water from his waterskin pouch into the Grail and drank from it, thereby sealing his destiny.
I quizzed him about what he knew of the enigmatic ‘shadow man’. He smiled knowingly and looked me in the eyes. ‘Everything.’ he said, matter-of-factly, ‘You see, I’m the shadow man.’ Pre-empting my next question, he confessed a paternal feeling towards Lucian. He saw in him the kind of son he could never have. But, like any father, he wanted to see the kind of man he would become. On several occasions, he knew he had been spotted. Knowing that it was only a matter of time before he would be caught out, he stood beneath the Chestnut Oak in Maryland, and made the painful decision to walk away from Lucian for the very last time.
If my career has taught me anything, it’s always check your facts and never take anything for granted. With that in mind, I asked Aliz if she would give me an impromptu demonstration of her auric reading abilities. She happily obliged me. After staring at me for a moment, she held her hand close to my chest and told me, ‘There’s something lodged near your heart that shouldn’t be there.’ She was right; it was a Glock 9mm round from the drive-by shooting that almost cost me my life. The surgeon had thought it far too risky to try and remove it. There was no way she could have known this without access to my private medical records.
Inevitably, the matter of the physical evidence Lucian had promised came to the fore. To gain access to it, involved a twenty-minute journey up the coastline to Lucian’s home. On our arrival, I was shown a hermetically sealed container inside of which was a late 4th-century manuscript purportedly covering the history of the Divine Blade. These were eventually sent off to the University of Westminster’s Research Lab for multispectral analysis. They proved to be the genuine article.
Further disclosures came during my brief stay at Lucian’s home. During a conversation between myself and Aliz, Francisc slipped out of the room. Moments later, he returned. In his hand, he held a Roman short sword; the very weapon Lucian had used to slay Caius. Inserted into its ivory pommel was a dowel of dark wood, a relic that Francisc assured me was taken from the cross of Christ and which gave the blade its power of indestructibility. To demonstrate its capabilities, he took me into the garden where lay a section of steel railway track that Francisc had procured for the demonstration. With a single blow, he cleaved it in two. Remarkably, the shortsword’s blade was completely unscathed by it.
By now I knew Francisc was the guardian of the Grail, but no amount of inducements could dissuade him from keeping its location a secret. I asked for photographic evidence of it. He turned down my request on the grounds that the no-one but himself knew what the Grail actually looked like, and it was this uncertainty that afforded it some protection against those who coveted it.
Despite all I had seen and read, doubts still lingered. Was I being drawn into an elaborate hoax? If so, to what purpose? I had tried to maintain an open-mindedness throughout, but now my sense of objectivity was being put to the test. The truths and principles I held regarding the nature of reality were being inexorably eroded. Like a drowning man, I clung to the straw I thought would keep me afloat in a sea of infinitely disturbing possibilities.
It is often said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Thus far, I had not been presented with any truly unequivocal evidence to quell the doubts in my mind. In a dramatic and spine-tingling act, however, Francisc ultimately provided that which I sought.
As he, Aliz and I walked along the lofty promontory on the morning of my departure, Francisc sensed my unease and asked what was troubling me. On telling him, he paused for a moment and walked to the edge of the cliff. Looking out to sea, he turned and smiled before leaping from the headland to the rocks seventy-feet below. My stomach churned as I peered over the edge and saw his shattered body lying at the foot of the cliff face. ‘Don’t worry’, Aliz said, ‘He’ll be back soon.’ With that, she took me by the arm and lead me back to the cottage in a state of shock. Ten minutes later, Francisc entered the cottage, his body completely unscathed. Apologizing for his dramatic display, he went to change out of his wet clothes.
To my readers, I submit this warning: There are things in this world beyond our limited comprehension. They are the stuff of legend; the arcane personifications of our fears and the terrors that haunt our dreams. We disavow or ignore them at our own peril. I have committed myself to taking up the clarion call of the Divine Blade, who stand as a stronghold against the gathering storm that threatens to overwhelm us all. Who among you, I ask, will do the same?

A revised version of this tale can be found on Amazon Books.

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© David Calvert & Vince Postaro 2016

The Uninvited: An up-and-coming novel.

  A Brief synopsis.

The Uninvited cover
The book is an occult thriller set in modern times and deals with the possession of a young man (Henry) by a demon that is seeking to mate with his wife (Lisa) in order to procreate a hybrid demon. To make matters worse for the young couple, the demon is being helped by an infamous biblical demon of renown.
At first they are unaware of their situation, since the demon inhabiting Henry makes no overt display of its possession. However, a set of photographs, taken when the couple were on honeymoon and photos taken much later show a recurrent strange anomaly on them. Henry becomes curios and analyses them, soon realising that what he is seeing is an objectively real phenomenon.
 Lisa takes them to  psychic, Ludmilla Gorodetsky, to see what she makes of them. She, in turn, passes the images on to her “gifted” niece, Anya who is part of a covert, Catholic,  sect of Russian occultist priests. They quickly come to realise  they’re dealing with a “Watcher” demon, a progenitor of the antediluvian “Nephilim”.
The couple are parted to prevent Lisa becoming pregnant to the demon who is using Henry’s body to achieve its goal. Henry is packed off to the Ural Mountains to a monastery where the demon can be exorcised, but the Catholic rite of exorcism is unsuccessful and the chief exorcist, Father Vereshchagin, soon realises that in order to expel the demon he must perform a dangerous occult banishing ritual. In the interim, two demonic murders ensue.

 5/6/12:

Due to editorial changes in the novel, the original demon antagonist has now taken on a secondary role in the story and has been replaced by the former secondary demon. I have, therefore, altered the ebook cover to reflect the change. The sigil emblazoned on Baphomet’s forehead is now that of the former secondary demon character.

Author’s Note.

This novel is still a work in progress, but Kindle have shown an interest in it, and I hope to complete it by the end of this year. My first e-book, “Strange Dominions” is currently being formatted for publication by Kindle and should be on sale in the next two weeks or so. It is a compilation of the short stories to be found on my blog site.
I will update this category to keep my readers abreast of any developments. Thank you.

Update: 20/4/12. 

Following a phone call from a Kindle representative, I’m pleased to announce that my first book of short stories, “Strange Dominions”, is being published within the next 24 hrs.

Update: 21/4/12.

Strange Dominions is now available at Amazon Kindle stores.

Update 24/4/12

strange dominionsI read my first customer review of the book today and it was very encouraging. He called it a real page turner and that he couldn’t put it down. He paricularly liked the unexpecte twists in the tales.

He gave me a five star rating for the book and finished with the comment that he wanted to read more of my work.

Update 1/5/12

When the book was first published in April its author ranking was over 76,000. Five days ago it was ranked as being 46, 080, a jump of over 3o, 000 places toward the top best seller 100. Encouraging!

Update: 5/5/12/

Strange Dominions has now jumped to 8,075th position on the bestsellers list. The 100 bestsellers target is now in sight.

Update: 22/5/12/

In a recent popularity poll, Strange Domionions was place in the #3 spot in the paranormal fiction genre.

Update: 12/6/12

Having recently purchased a kindle, I decided to check on my book Strange Dominions and was shocked by a glaring error in the short story Dissolution.  I checked the original mauscript from which the copy was made before sending it to Amazon Kindle to discover the mistake wasn’t mine. Somehow the publisher has managed to swap around two paragraphs and has put them in the wrong places, creating confusion for the reader. I can only apologise to my readers for this, and hope that it does not put them off reading the other stories, which appear to be in order.

Please note that at the bottom of each blog page there is a “Comments” box and a “Like” button, should you feel inclined to use them. Thank you.

The Fetch

THE FETCH

 David Calvert

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Eve Landru peered out of her window into the gathering dusk. The same shadowy figure she had seen the night before was there again, skulking behind the hedgerow that overhung the cemetery railings. Visibly shaken, she snapped shut the curtains as he pulled down the brim of his fedora and slipped deeper into the shadows.

Double-checking that every door and window was firmly secured, she took up her studies again, but the disquieting thoughts of her Peeping Tom persisted. After only a few minutes at her laptop she gave up on her thesis and pulled down the lid. It seemed pointless to continue when her mind was clearly elsewhere. Shoving the laptop to one side, she leant forward and picked up the silver framed photo of her late parents. A solitary tear traced its way down her cheek as she stroked the glass.

Even the prospect of a good night’s rest was slim. Over the last several weeks she had been plagued by nightmares and she feared what new terrors awaited her. Only now could the twenty-year-old fully appreciate how isolated she had become. Her diffident nature and the recent death of her parents had left her friendless and alone. There was no one to whom she could turn for help.

The sudden blare of a passing car’s horn shook her from her thoughts.

‘What a mess.’ she thought as she took in the piles of discarded books scattered about her. “What was it you used to say, mom; ‘a place for everything and everything in its place?’”

Returning the photo to its rightful spot on the coffee table, she began the onerous task of tidying up after herself. Within minutes her chore was done and, reluctantly, she made her way to bed.

The next morning she awoke bathed in sweat and with the odour of urine in her nostrils. Even an early shower could not wash away her sense of debasement as she sobbed, pulling the sodden sheets from her bed. There seemed neither rhyme nor reason for the nameless horror that pursued her through the labyrinths of her dreams. Even the recent appearance of her stalker could not account for her nightly terrors. They had begun long before she had even become aware of him.

Shortly before 8:30 am. she heard a gentle rapping at her door. Un-securing the safety latch, she opened up. Outside stood a tall, brindled haired, man carrying a briefcase. He looked to be in his early thirties.

He smiled warmly. “Miss Eve Landru?” he enquired.

Eve regarded him with suspicion. “Yes. Can I help you?”

The stranger looked with pity on the careworn, young woman framed in the doorway. “The thing is, Eve, I think that I may be able to help you.” he said, releasing the catches on his briefcase.

“I’m sorry, but whatever it is you’re selling I’m not interested. Now if you don’t mind I …”

“Oh, but I’m not selling anything, Miss Landru,” he cut in, “merely conducting enquiries into this man’s whereabouts.” He pulled a worn photograph from the briefcase and handed it to Eve. “I think you may have come across him recently.” he added.

“Yes!” she said, “I remember him!” She looked again at the photograph. “It’s hard to forget those creepy eyes. He was here a few weeks ago selling religious tracts or something.”

Handing it back to him she added, “He was very pushy and wouldn’t leave until I’d bought something from him. He had a curious name, too…”

“Wormwood? Eli Wormwood?” he interrupted.

“Yes, that was it! You’d think I would’ve remembered a name like that, wouldn’t you Mr …?”

“Forgive me,” he said, my name’s Kahn, Emile Kahn.”

Eve noted the lack of a formal title preceding the name. “Oh, so you aren’t from the police then?” .

“No, I’m not.” He shuffled uneasily on his feet. “But it is true to say that I’ve been keeping my eye on you for some time now.”

Eve’s heart almost burst from her chest. “Oh, God! You’re the creep whose been following me around!”

A preemptive foot in the door jamb stopped her from slamming the door in his face. He grimaced in pain, dropping his briefcase “Please wait! You’ve got to understand, you’re in great danger!”

“Get the hell off my doorstep before I phone the law!” she warned, slamming the door agonizingly hard against his foot again.

Emile threw up his arms in submission. “Okay! Okay! I’m leaving, but that wont stop the nightmares!”

She ceased her frantic assault. Maintaining a firm grip on the door she asked, “My nightmares? How do you know about…?”

“Because you’re not the first this has happened to.” he cut in, “There were others just like you. I tried to help them too. They went through the same things you’re going through, and things are going to get much worse.”

“‘Others’? What ‘others’?”

Emile felt the pressure on his foot ease a little. He was beginning to make some headway. He bent down and picked up several newspaper cuttings that had spilled from his briefcase and passed them through the crack of the doorway. He heard the shuffling of the papers as Eve studied them.

“My God! All these women are dead!”

“Yes,  they are, and they’re all Wormwood’s victims. Look at the dates on the cuttings, Eve, they go back more than fifty years.”

He heard the rustling of papers again, then, “I don’t understand what this has to do with me though.”

“Look at their pictures. Don’t you see the uncanny resemblance between them and you?”

There was a long silence in which Emile pressed home his advantage. “Look, Eve, If I’d wanted to cause you any harm do you think I would choose to confront you in broad daylight and on your own doorstep? It doesn’t make sense. Surely that must tell you something of my intentions.”

“I … I guess so.” she said, uncertainly.

“Please let me help you, Eve!” he begged, “I’m the only one who can!”

Whether through lack of sleep, or an overriding need for human companionship, Eve stepped aside and ushered him into her home. Imprudent though her action was she still had the foresight to leave the door ajar. One wrong move and she’d be out of there in a shot.

As she showed Emile into the living room, he noticed the pile of books stacked neatly on the table.

She led him to a large and comfortable armchair. Strategically placing herself nearest to the open door, she took her place on the sofa.

“I see you have a fondness for Shakespeare.” he said, attempting to put his host at ease. Here at least he had found some common ground in which to engage her.

“I’m writing a thesis on him for English Lit at the university.”

“I’m a Wheatley fan myself.” Emile admitted. “He isn’t as high-brow as the Bard, but he knows his subject matter.”

“Wheatley?”

“He wrote occult fiction, mainly.”

“Oh, I see. So you prefer horror then?” Eve was beginning to feel uneasy as to where the conversation was heading.

“Actually,” responded Emile, “my interest goes beyond mere works of literary fiction and that, in part, is why I’m here.”

The tension in the room had become almost palpable. Eve was now sitting on the edge of her seat, her heart racing, her gaze darting to the passageway and the open front door.

“Please, Mr. Kahn, just cut to the chase and tell me what you’re leading up to. Why does this Wormwood want me dead, and what have my nightmares to do with anything?”

“Wasn’t it the Bard who wrote, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy?’”

Eve became conscious of her fingers biting deeply into the arm of the sofa, her knuckles blanched white with the pressure. She made a concerted effort to relax.

“Well let me tell you;” he continued, “there are more things in this universe than you could ever possibly imagine. You need to consider the unthinkable, and all I ask is that you keep an open mind to what I’m about to tell you. Can you do that?”

Eve hesitated. “I think so; yes”

Emile sat forward, causing her to draw back.

He held his hands up and settled into the armchair again.

“When Eli Wormwood was still a young man,” he began, “he was the youngest ever to hold a professorship in anthropological studies. He was the best in his field and considered by many to be an intellectual genius. His studies into the magical beliefs and practices of diverse cultures were unequalled, but at some point his pursuit became more than just a hunt for knowledge. He began to practice what he had learned, synthesising these seemingly disparate magical beliefs into a complete whole. Invading your dreams is child’s play to him and he is without remorse or pity.”

In a tremulous voice Eve asked. “But why choose me?”

“The victims of serial killers often share similar characteristics or traits.” he explained, “These women share the same physical characteristics as you. He’s singled you out simply because you look like the others.”

She began re-examining the cuttings in greater detail. “And the dreams, what part do they play in all of this?”

“Don’t most predators seek out the weakest of their prey?”

She nodded her agreement, separating one of the cuttings from the pile.

“Your nightmares have weakened you and have made you vulnerable to all kinds of physiological and psychological disorders”, Emile continued, “thereby making you an easy prey.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, finally looking up. “but your analogy is flawed, Mr. Kahn. The predator isn’t always responsible for its prey’s weakness, but simply takes advantage of it. Your telling me that Wormwood is responsible for my nightmares, that he’s manipulating them, and that’s impossible.”

“Not if he shares a sympathetic link with you.”

“Sympathetic link?”

“A telepathic connection, if you like. He uses a form of ESP, known as psychometry, to establish this link with his victims. Simply by holding something belonging to you he can gain insights into who you are; stuff he couldn’t possibly know by any other means.”

“You mean like the few coins I gave him?”

“It’s unlikely. The coins would have been handled by literally thousands of people before they fell into your hands.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “He’d need something more personal than that to establish the kind of link he has with you; like a ring or some other cherished possession.”

“Other than the money I gave him there’s nothing he has belonging …”

She froze in mid sentence and looked at the framed photo of her parents, her eyes focussing on the rosary her mother was holding.

Emile sat forward. “What is it? What have you remembered?”

“My rosary!” Eve rose up from the sofa. “He has my rosary. I thought I’d lost it. It hung on the coat rack next to the door. Several days after his visit I noticed it was gone, but I thought I’d mislaid it. He must have taken it when I went to get my purse!”

“And it took you several days before you noticed it was missing?”

“I’m a lapsed catholic, Mr. Kahn, and have no use for it anymore.”

Emile knew why she had forsaken her faith and that it had to do with the sudden deaths of her parents, but for the moment he would keep his own counsel and let Eve broach the subject.

“So you’ve given up on your faith. I’m sorry to here that.” he said.

“I told you, Mr. Kahn, I’ve given up on all that nonsense.” she replied, turning her attention to the coal fire and poking it briskly, “There are no gods or angels, fallen or otherwise, we’re simply the by-product of a series of blindly random and indifferent events. It was chance, and chance alone that took my parents from me!”

The heat of her passionate outburst was beginning to burn brighter than the fire she was tending, and it was getting hotter by the minute. It was time to add more fuel.

“I’m truly sorry for your loss, Eve.” he said, awaiting the outburst he knew would undoubtedly follow.

With tear filled eyes she spun round and confronted him, stabbing the poker in his direction. “Spare me your platitudes. It’s people like you I feel sorry for, with your antiquated notions of good and evil and the need to invoke some all-seeing, all-knowing deity to bring meaning into their lives! And another thing:” she continued, “It might well be true that Wormwood murdered those poor women, but it wasn’t with the help of some supernatural intermediary. Maybe one of his equally deranged disciples did his dirty work for him when he got too old to do it himself!”

Emile kept his composure throughout her tirade and in a calm and measured voice replied, “He has no disciples.  And higher beings, or whatever you want to call them, are not the delusions of madmen. They’re as real as you or I. My beliefs aren’t based on faith alone. I’ve seen what he can do and have witnessed first-hand the power he wields.”

“Shall I tell you what I find really odd about all this, Mr Kahn: the fact that you haven’t managed to save any of those women, not one. That’s some track record!”

She threw down the poker into the scuttle and stood, arms crossed in defiance.

Emile felt the sting of her words. Now it was his turn. Rising smartly from the chair he pointed out, “Don’t you think it odd, given the nature, the time span and the brutality of his crimes, that there’s not one shred of forensic evidence to be had?”

“Oh, but there is Mr. Kahn, and it points to the fact that at least one of his so-called ‘victims’ didn’t die by his hand.” She picked up the cutting she had chosen earlier and read it aloud. “’The mutilated body of Miss Marie Anne Mendenhall, daughter of Samuel J. Mendenhall, was discovered on common ground near her home during the early hours of July 16. It is believed that the 28-year-old spinster had been exercising her pet Labrador when she was set upon by a pack of wild dogs, known to frequent the area of the near-by slum district of Malton. The one-year-old pup was later discovered by police officers, unharmed, at the front door of his mistresses home …’”

Waving the editorial in front of him she declared, “So she wasn’t murdered like the others and there’s no mention of sleeping problems either. How do you account for that?”

“If she wasn’t having sleeping problems, then what on earth was she doing walking her dog in the early hours?” he countered, “And what about the pup? Surely it would have been an easier target for a pack of hungry wild dogs. As for the victim, she would have borne all the hallmarks consistent with a dog attack. Presented with that kind of evidence, why would the local constabulary think otherwise?”

Eve threw up her arms in exasperation. “Exactly my point! Even the thickest plod knows a dog bite when he sees it! They were obviously canine!”

Emile’s frustration, too, had him animated.

“I’m not saying they weren’t. I’m merely saying they weren’t inflicted by dogs!”

“Then what?”

“Some prefer to call them ‘objectified thought forms’; others, ‘elementals‘. In black magic they’re known as ‘fetches’; constructs of the magician’s thoughts given concrete form.”

Eve shook her head in disbelief.

“Whatever form it’s given,” he continued, undaunted by her scepticism, “it is this construct which becomes the vehicle for the magician’s consciousness and awareness. What it experiences he also experiences. However, the fetch is an autonomous creature and will struggle to free itself. Maintaining control over it is difficult – as is its destruction.”

“So he’s inside this thing, making it do what he wants and…”

“Not physically.” Emile interrupted, “It’s his etheric double, his spirit if you like, which inhabits it, but it remains connected to his physical form via an umbilical ‘silver cord’ that is capable of infinite extension. His physical body could be thousands of miles from the scene of the crime and that’s why there’s no evidence of him ever being there.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s just too utterly fantastic to believe.” she responded, taking up her seat again on the edge of the sofa. “Do you know how it sounds?”

“About the same as it did to all the others, and they suffered because of it.”

As he took to his seat, Eve saw the look of dejection on his face.

“Hang on! You said ‘all the others’ just then! Just how old are you, exactly?”

“No I didn’t say all!”

“I distinctly heard you say it.” Eve challenged.

Before Emile could respond, an icy breath of wind swept across the living room, billowing the curtains and sweeping the newspaper cuttings from the table.

Emile and Eve instinctively looked at one another. Each could see the others breath in the now icy atmosphere.

“My God! What is it? What’s happening?” Eve exclaimed, vigorously rubbing her arms.

Emile shot up from his chair and cried out, his gaze darting from one end of the room to the other. “Not this time, old man!” he cried out, “This time I’ll have my revenge!”

The neatly stacked books flew from the coffee table onto the floor and Eve screamed in terror as the front door slammed shut. The last thing she saw before passing out was the fluttering curtains.

When she came-to she was lying on the sofa. Emile was dabbing her brow with a damp cloth, a look of genuine concern etched on his face. She looked nervously around the room.

“It’s okay he’s gone.”

“You mean that was…?”

Emile nodded. “Not exactly in the flesh, but yes.”

She began to weep. “I’m sorry! Forgive me for not believing you!”

“There’s no need. I would probably have done the same in your shoes. At least you now know the truth.”

******

Eli Wormwood’s angular frame shuddered. He felt nauseous, drained. In former times he had taken for granted the consummate ease with which he had bilocated his etheric double. Now, his powers were in obvious decline, as evidenced by his latest sojourn. Even so, the discovery of the whereabouts of his erstwhile confederate had more than made up for his shortcomings. He saw no reason to delay his plans for Eve Landru. His dissolute hunger for her continued, unabated. His earlier lewd encounters were merely vicarious pleasures designed to titillate him during the long and involved ritual of creating the fetch – the living, tangible entity that would act as a repository for his consciousness and awareness. Through it he would experience fully the sensual delights of her abasement and ultimate death. But first he needed to rest. Bitter experience had taught him that the creation of such a creature was not to be gone into lightly.

******

On coming-to, Eve began to consider her options. One by one they fell by the wayside. Involving the police was certainly out of the question. She knew how her story would sit with them. It was just too incredible for the analytical minds to comprehend. Even if  they accepted her account, what could they possibly do to protect her from a man who could seemingly be in two places at once. Inevitably, she reached the same conclusion as Emile; that only the death of Eli Wormwood could bring about her salvation.

Since neither of them knew when he would next appear, it was decided that Emile would remain with her until the ordeal was over. He had yet to specify how he intended to carry out his intentions and Eve, having been made aware of his failure in rescuing her predecessors, was less than optimistic of the outcome. Only later did it occur to her that she knew very little about her would-be saviour, beyond the fact that he was not the law. His personal life remained shrouded in mystery. She wondered if he, too, was a victim of Eli Wormwood.

The following morning Emile noticed a subtle change in his charge’s demeanour. There was a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

“Sleep well?” he probed.

“As well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

By mid-afternoon Emile became unusually withdrawn and seemed hardly aware of her presence. Though unsettled by these latest turn of events, she did all she could to distract him from his sombre thoughts, until it suddenly occurred to her why his behaviour was so constrained.

“You’re expecting him to come again very soon, aren’t you?”

The look on Emile’s face said it all.

“There are more things you need to know, and preparations to be made if we’re to have any kind of chance.” he said.

Within the space of an hour Eve  had been fully briefed about the creature and what to expect. Regardless of what form it took their main objective was not to destroy it, merely distract it long enough for Emile to wrench free a talisman from its neck. It was this amulet, he told her, that helped Wormwood maintain control over the creature. Without it the fetch was relatively benign and had a mind of its own.

“And Wormwood?” Eve asked.

“The moment he loses control he’ll be forced to return to his own body. In order to escape its own destruction the fetch must return with him before the banishment ritual is performed to destroy the pentagram and, God willing, him too,”

With the coming of nightfall Eve’s apprehensions grew. What if something went wrong? What if Emile wasn’t strong enough to overpower the fetch? Maybe it would be upon her before she could even cry out for help. What then?

The hours passed inexorably, and with their passing came a deep and insidious sleep.

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It was 1.20 a.m. when Eve was awoken by the sound of footsteps in her bedroom, and the sensation of her blankets being pulled from her. She lay trembling in the dark, a nauseating stench filling her nostrils. She sensed a nearby presence and tried to rise, but a great pressure bore down on her chest holding her fast to the bed.Her heart pounded wildly as she struggled for breath. Weird, wraithlike, ribbons of light appeared out of nowhere and began snaking around the room. Her ordeal had begun!

Then she saw it – a nebulous mist looming over her head morphing constantly from one formless shape to another. She sensed the malign presence leering at her from within. It drew closer, its rank breath against her face. She wanted to call out, but couldn’t. Unseen hands traced the outline of her hips and moved slowly across her abdomen. It was touching her, intimately! Fear at last found its voice. She screamed, breaking the spell. The nightmare was over.

But where was Emile?

It felt like an eternity before the bedroom door finally burst open, the light from the landing silhouetting the burly frame of her protector.

“Where were you? Why did you leave me alone?” she cried, hysterically.

“I heard a noise downstairs and went to investigate.”

He scanned the room. “What is it? There’s no one here.” he said, moving to her bedside.

“But he was! He was here!” Her resolve gave way to tears and she began trembling anew. “I’m frightened, Emile.” she confessed, “I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever felt so scared.”

He sat by her. “`Fear is for the living my dear,’” he said, paraphrasing Holy Scripture. “Only the dead are conscious of nothing at all.`”

She looked at him, stupefied. “What do you mean? I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you?” he grinned, cupping one of her breasts.

“Oh God, it’s you!” she whimpered.

He seized her by the throat to stifle her cries.

Clawing hysterically at his hands, she struggled desperately for one last breath as his mocking words of the dead and their unconscious state echoed through the blackness threatening to engulf her.

But Wormwood’s lust had yet to be sated before death could finally claim her.In the throes of his craving he straddled her, letting go of her throat.

She gasped, charging her lungs with life-giving air as he tore at her nightdress, exposing her nubile body to his lecherous gaze.

Emile lurched abruptly through the doorway, his face awash with blood. He cursed himself for having been caught off guard. His negligence had almost cost him his life. Hell-bent on protecting Eve from such a fate he blazed, “Let her go!”

The fetch’s head snapped round, its malevolent eyes now firmly fixed on Emile, the tone of its voice sardonic.

“Ah, if it isn’t the firstling. Right on cue, my friend. A definite improvement on your past record, wouldn’t you say? “Tell me,” he goaded, “how many does this one make, hmm?”

“Too many, old man, but not one more,” he said. “It stops right here!”

Wormwood’s anger surfaced and he let go his grip on Eve. “Imbecile!” he shouted, “Do you really think that by saving this slut you can salve your stricken conscience?”

Emile saw his opening and sprang forward, his reflexes dulled by the cleaving pain in his head. All too easily his protagonist stepped aside, and he came crashing down onto the bed.

It was then Eve saw the vicious wound in his scalp and reached out to him.

A terrible sound erupted within the room, half man, half beast, and Emile turned to see the creature in mid-change.

It’s clothes shredded as its dimensions altered and hair began sprouting from every pore in its body, exposing the talisman that hung around its thick, muscular neck. Within seconds the transformation was complete and before them stood the lycanthrope in all its horrifying glory, its muzzle pulled back exposing the razor-sharp teeth.

Eve screamed hysterically. This was her worse nightmare come true. Wormwood had chosen well the form that would instill the maximum terror from his victim.

Before he could react, Emile was dragged unceremoniously from the bed, agonising pain crucifying his body as he was slammed against the wall.

With sadistic delight Wormwood stamped his heel deep into Emile’s stomach. “How does it feel, firstling?” he snarled.

Racked by convulsions, and with his accursed epithet ringing in his ears, Emile held back a little while longer, but he hadn’t anticipated Eve’s next action.Screeching like a banshee she threw herself onto the creature’s back, locking her arms about its neck and her legs firmly around its waist.

Wormwood howled with rage at the probing hand at his chest. He spun like a dervish  to dislodge the hellcat before she could wrestle the talisman from him.

But Eve was having none of it and clung on to him for dear life.

It was all the time Emile needed.

Eve could hang on no longer. Her strength deserted her and the furious creature flung her across the bed. As he slowly approached her, his eyes fixed and menacing, she backed away and drew the bed sheet about herself. “No! Please don’t!”

Over its shoulder she suddenly caught sight of Emile – or what had once been Emile, but was now something equally as horrific as the fetch – approaching them.

“Old man!” he growled, bearing his teeth, his powerful hirsute body poised for action, “It’s time to end this.”

The fearsome pair leapt at one another. Colliding in mid-air, they fell to the floor snarling their fury.

Emile was the first to draw blood. As they circled each other he suddenly lashed out with his lethal jaws, tearing the flesh from his adversary’s shoulder.

Eli’s response was swift. He lashed out with his clawed hand, lacerating his combatants face and spattering blood and flesh across the vanity mirror.

Eve watched the battle royal in muted terror. Her fate was sealed if Emile should lose and, given his recent metamorphosis, even if he won.

By now Wormwood had gained the upper hand and had Emile pinned to the floor by his shoulders, exposing his throat to his snapping jaws. They were mere inches away when Emile caught sight of the talisman hanging close to his own jaws.

Allowing Wormwood to draw closer still, he clasped the talisman between his fangs and shook his snout violently back and forth wrenching it from his assailant’s neck. It flew across the room, shattering the vanity mirror before falling onto the table.

With a terrifying howl the creature was flung back by some unseen force and bounced off the far wall, collapsing in a bleeding heap onto the floor. It lay motionless as Emile reverted to his human form, he too naked and bloodied.

Eve leapt from her bed and pulled a clean sheet from the linen cupboard and draped it round him.

The pair watched closely as the lycanthrope began shuddering intensely.

“He’s starting to lose his hold over it. It won’t be long now.” Emile said, breathlessly.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than a grey outpouring of ectoplasm began issuing from the lycanthropes jaws. It hovered momentarily above its now inert body before exiting through the solid wall of the bedroom.

“Is that it? Why is the fetch still here?”

“Give it time. It’ll soon be over.” Emile assured an anxious Eve, “It’ll take Wormwood several minutes to deconstruct the protective pentacle.”

As Emile sat by the stricken fetch’s side, Eve went off in search of something to dress his wounds. She returned to a haunting and incredible transformation: the creature had taken human form, a perfect likeness of Emile. They could have been twins. Free of the evil that had previously governed it, it lay propped against the bed its eyes filled with uncertainty and fear.

Emile backed away. At his prompting the fetch then faded out of existence.

Eve gazed mutely at the spot it had once occupied, her heart filled with conflicting emotions. Her distraction was short-lived, however. “Do you hear that?” she asked, pricking up her ears.

The noise sounded uncannily like a spinning coin. As its resonance grew the cause soon became apparent. Amidst the detritus of overturned ornaments and broken perfume bottles on her dressing table they saw the amulet. It was shuddering, moving of its own volition.

All of a sudden, Emile was dragging her to the floor. She was about to protest when an ear jarring report sent lethal shards of exploding metal from the talisman zipping across the room, peppering the walls.

In the deathly quiet aftermath, Emile looked to his companion. “It’s finished,” he said, almost disbelievingly. “Wormwood’s dead! You’re safe.”

She hugged Emile through clouds of tears, but he shied away.

“There’s something you need to know about me, Eve.” he said, “Eli Wormwood was my father, my creator.”

“I sort of figured that out the moment you changed,” she said, smiling. “He called you ‘firstling’ because you were the first of his creations, weren’t you? The things he would have done to me, he made you do to someone else. That’s what he meant by you being ‘conscience-stricken‘.” she said.

Emile nodded. “Back then he was inexperienced. He made a tiny error when he deconstructed the banishment circle. I should have died, but because of his mistake I managed to escape. I vowed then never to rest until I had put an end to him, because of the terrible thing he made me do.”

“And you have,” she said cupping his hands, “You have!”

“Yes, but the irony of it is I’ve killed the man who gave meaning and purpose to my life. Without him there’s nothing.”

“Then I’ll give you a purpose.” She began bandaging his wounds. “That poor creature we sent back is your brother, your twin, and the nearest thing to family you’ve got. Find him and bring him home. He’s going to need all the love and help we can give him.”

Emile looked up from the floor. “You said ‘we.‘”

She looked into his eyes. “We’re all orphans now and it seems to me that there is a common bond between us, just like any other family.”

ENDS

© David Calvert 2012

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Ascension

Ascension

David Calvert

ascension 1

 

The bracing cold barely fazed the revellers as they made their way to the town centre. Unseen, a solitary figure walked among them as they hurried towards their meeting point in the town square, a distant choir of angelic voices beckoning them on. Sensing their excitement and common purpose, the unsettled phantom followed. How often she had witnessed the scene: the enactment of their hopes and dreams for the year to come, a dream she was no longer a part of. A welcoming touch, a word of kindness, the hopes of a better tomorrow, all the things that gave purpose and meaning to life, were now denied her. Stripped of memory or hope her unhappy  soul wandered through the crowd.

In the early days of her passing she had wished for a sign, anything that might trigger her memory as to how she had become trapped in a world between worlds. There had been no heavenly light at the end of a tunnel, nor loved ones to welcome her into the Kingdom. She knew only the lonely and cold embrace of purgatory.

Stripped of name and countenance – for ghosts she soon learned cast no reflection – she lived her life vicariously, choosing at random any group or individual who offered some kind of temporary solace from her sombre thoughts. She had witnessed the joys and loves of countless families and individuals. Inevitably, such experiences were bittersweet and served only to bring home to her how utterly alone she was. Of her many hauntings one family in particular stuck out: the young Lawrence couple and their only child, James. It was her meeting with James that made the encounter all the more memorable. She could still vividly recall her meeting with the seven-year-old on that snowy Christmas Day morning so long ago.

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Again, it was a single random act of curiosity that had drawn her to the Lawrence household. On entering she was immediately struck at how different it was to the others in the street. Clearly, this was the home of a less affluent family. In the corner of the room stood a Spartan Christmas tree, its drooping branches lacking little in the way of decoration, other than homemade baubles and wraps of tinsel. She stooped to read the labels on the four lovingly wrapped presents at the base of the tree. They were all addressed with the same name: ‘James’. Saddened by the scarcity of gifts, she rose to her feet and made to leave when the sound of movement in the darkness caught her attention.

As she stood by the window a small hand, holding a brightly lit torch, appeared from behind a slowly opening door. Then a head appeared, followed quickly by the body of a small child clad in pyjamas and dressing gown. This, she surmised, was the recipient of the gifts that lay beneath the tree. He crept stealthily into the room on slippered feet and closed the door behind him.

She smiled as he hurriedly tiptoed to the tree, his face beaming with anticipation. Scanning the presents with his torch he began jumping up and down with glee.

“Yes! Yes!”  he whispered, excitedly punching the air with his fists.

His childish outburst over, he sat cross-legged in front of the wilting branches and picked up the largest of his presents and began feeling it, his eager little fingers exploring it in minute detail to ascertain what lay beneath. The others were explored in the same manner. Then began the inventory.

“Fire truck.” he said, placing the largest present in front of him.

The next gift went to his left as he announced, “ Cowboy outfit.” .

“This one’s easy.” he declared of the third gift, laying it on his right, “Eagle Annual.”

Picking up the last of his presents and shaking it he said, “Hmm. Don’t know ’bout this one, but I bet it’s good anyway.” Placing it between his legs, he picked up the largest present again and fondled it. This, his unseen visitor guessed, was his favourite.

She laughed inwardly as she watched him play with the unopened gift, mimicking the sounds of its engine and siren as he pushed it along the carpet. Then suddenly he stopped, his head turning slowly to face the window.

“Hello.” he said, timidly.

This had never happened before, and was so unexpected that she just stared at him in astonishment. 

“Are you one of Santa’s helpers?” he asked, “Only, you don’t look like one.”

She looked down at her faded jeans and worn out shoes and jumper, and laughed. “No, I guess I don’t.”

“I think you must be, cos I can see right through you.”

“Can you? Then I guess I must be.”

“You look awfully tall and sad for an elf.

 “Do I?”

 “Maybe it’s cos your ears haven’t grown properly.”

 “Yes, your probably right.” she said, smiling at his naivety.

“Bet you know what this is.” he said, holding up the smallest gift that had baffled him earlier.

 “I’m sorry James, I don’t.”

 “But you must know. You’re one of Santa’s helpers.”

She had to think quickly on her feet now. “Yes, I am, but I don’t wrap the presents. I just help deliver them.”

“Oh! Okay then.” With that he momentarily resumed his play before looking up again asking, “What’s your name?”

Caught completely off guard she struggled to come up with a name befitting an elf, but couldn’t.

“I’m afraid I don’t have a name.”

“That’s silly. Everybody has a name.”

After a brief moment’s silence she replied, “Elves have to earn their name by helping Santa.”

“Oh! Well if I was Santa I’d call you … Little Ears.”

 She chuckled. “Well when I see him, I’ll tell him what you said.”

“Are you hungry? I am.” he said, getting to his feet and pulling a Christmas stocking from the mantle piece, tipping its contents onto the floor. “There’s oranges, tangerines, nuts, and some chocolate. Chocolate’s my favouritest. Do you like chocolate?” He held out a small bar to her.

“No thank you. I’m not hungry.”

As he unwrapped the bar she asked, “Aren’t you going to open your presents?”

“Oh, no. I have to wait for mom and dad to get up first. They like to watch me open them.”

“Yes, I suppose they do.” she said.

Do elves get presents?

 “No, they don’t.”

 “What makes them happy then?”

“Watching others open theirs I guess.” she smiled.

Popping two squares of chocolate into his mouth he began studying her intently.

Feeling a little uncomfortable under the intensity of his gaze she asked, “What is it, James? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I was just thinking about how you feel”

“I feel fine.”

James laughed. “I meant how you would feel if I touched you, silly elf.”

“Oh, I see. Well there’s only one way to find out.” Squatting low, she held out her hand.

He approached her cautiously, reached out  and touched her fingertips.

“You feel like a snowman!”  he said, withdrawing his hand,  “But that’s probably cos you live in the North Pole”

“Now try holding my hand properly this time, James.” she encouraged.

The plucky youngster did as he was asked, only on this occasion his hand passed clean through hers, as she knew it would.

James laughed out loud. “Wow! That was fun. I felt tingly all over.“

“Well now you know how an elf feels.” she laughed.

In truth, she too had felt something: it was the soul of an innocent. In her wanderings she had encountered many souls and each one was different, but there was something about James’ that was quite unique. 

“Mom and dad will pee themselves when I tell them I’ve be talking to an elf with little ears. They probably won’t believe me. But when they see you …!

“No, James! You mustn’t tell anyone about me.” she cut in, “It must be our little secret. Besides, most grown ups can’t see us and there aren’t many children who can see us either. Only the very special ones can.” 

“Hope I’m one of the special ones.“

“Me too.” she said, adding,  “I’ll make you a promise; that as long as you can see me I’ll come visit as often as I can. How does that sound?”

James was overjoyed at the prospect of having such a special friend and for the next five years their friendship flourished, until one day fate intervened.

After one of her more prolonged absences from James, when she continued her seemingly never-ending search for her former life, ‘Little Ears’ eventually returned to the Lawrence’s. Six weeks had passed and the scene that welcomed her was far from what she had expected. The house was now little more than a burned out shell.

Her desperate search for the Lawrences was proving fruitless. Being trapped in her spirit body made it impossible to follow normal lines of enquiry. Despite this she continued to visit the house during its renovation in the hope of learning anything that might give her a clue as to the family’s whereabouts.  The bombshell was dropped late one afternoon when she overheard a conversation between two workmen at the house.

“It’s a cryin’ shame, Bob.” she heard one say to the other, “An entire family wiped out overnight. I heard they had a little kid, too.”

“Yeah, so they tell me. Don’t know that much about it to be honest.”

“Me neither, but that’s what I heard anyways.”

Devastated by the loss of her only companion,  Little Ears vowed never again to befriend another living soul and left, never to return.

ascension2 

Many changes were to take place over the next ten years, one of them being the current New Year’s Eve firework display being held in the city centre. It offered Little Ears a brief distraction from her forlorn circumstances, and to feel like she was alive again, a part of the living mass of humanity she had been ripped from so long ago.

The bronze statue of the cavalier on horseback gradually came into view as they crossed the bridge leading onto the square. By now a large crowd had congregated at its base. Only two minutes remained of the old year. Here and there people were looking at their watches in anticipation.

The choral music from the tannoy finally began to fade out as the time approached. The New Year was now only seconds away as the voice from the speakers, in unison with the crowd, counted down the remaining ten seconds. A spontaneous outpour  of ‘Happy New Year’ erupted from the eager crowd as the heavens exploded in a pyrotechnic display of colours and patterns.

Sitting atop the statue, Little Ears watched the celebrations unfold. From her vantage point she could see the distant horizon and the brightly lit towns and villages that lay between, each illuminated under a canopy of exploding colour. Beneath her the partygoers were in full swing, dancing, singing and carefree.

Though she was no elf, Little Ears could be just as mischievous. One of her favoured party tricks was to put in an appearance in photographs. In the south corner of the square she noticed a small group of friends had congregated to have their picture taken. They had recruited the help of a bystander to take the photo and he was in the process of framing the shot when she put in her début, just as the flash fired. In the blink of an eye, she appeared at the photographer’s side to see her handiwork appear on the digital screen. It was just as she had expected. To the left of the group was a strange, amorphous light.

The young man scratched his beard and looked up. “I’m sorry but it hasn’t come out very well.” he said, apologetically. Deleting the image, he took another snap. This time there was no troublesome artefact. Thanking him, the group moved on.

For no apparent reason the tall stranger began to chuckle to himself. “And when did you learn to do that trick?” he suddenly asked.

Little Ears looked around, convinced he was talking to someone else, but there was no one close at hand to hear him.

He turned and looked directly at her. “Yes, I’m talking to you.” he announced.

Little Ears was flabbergasted and a little embarrassed at having been caught out in her childish prank.

“Cat got your tongue, Little Ears?”

“How do you know my name?” she stammered.

“Because I gave it to you, silly little elf. I know a lot of water has passed under the bridge since we last saw one  another, but I didn’t think I’d changed that much.”

The penny finally dropped.

“James! Is it really you?”

“They call me Jamie these days – but yes, it’s me.“

The urge to hug him was almost overpowering. “You’ve grown so much!”

“That’s what happens to us mortals on this side of the veil.” he joked.

“I thought you’d died in the fire.”

“I would have if mom and dad hadn’t sent me to stay with my gran on the day it happened.”

“I kept visiting from time to time, but when I heard that you’d all died I stopped. There are so many things I have to ask you that I don’t know where to begin.”

“And there are a lot of things that I have to tell you, but this isn’t the right place.” he said, having become aware of the attention he was drawing to himself, “I think we need to find somewhere a little more private.”

As they walked toward the city park, they talked of the night they first met, and of the years of their friendship. Learning that he had become a fire fighter didn’t come as much of a surprise to Little Ears, given his history. What did surprise her, however, was when he told her he had learned at the age of ten that she was no elf, but a spirit.

“But why didn’t you tell me you knew?”

“Well I wasn’t sure whether you knew, and I didn’t want to shock you.” he replied.

“Do you still have that old fire engine you used to play with?”

“Oh, that’s long gone.” he told her, “I have a real one to play with nowadays.”

They both laughed as they entered through the park gates.

“Do you know the greatest gift I got on the night we met?” he asked.

“Wasn’t it the fire engine?”

“No. It was the gift you gave me when we touched.”

Little Ears was puzzled.

“It’s because of that gift that I can help you, move on, Ellen.”

She stopped dead In her tracks. “What did you call me?”

Jamie pulled up. “Your real name is Ellen Carter. You were born on December the ninth, nineteen seventy and died under tragic circumstances in November of nineteen ninety, after running away from home two years earlier.”

“AlI this happened because I was a runaway?“

 “No. There’s more to it than that. You were running from something you couldn’t face up to or deal with. You had a serious drug addiction.”

“I was a drug addict?”

“I know you might find that hard to take, given that you no longer suffer from withdrawal symptoms, but once you left your physical body that was to be expected. Running away from home only worsened the situation. Without guidance and help you drifted into crime and other unpleasantness in order to feed your addiction. What I’m telling you I learned from surviving family members and newspaper reports.”

“You’ve spoken to my parents? Where do they live? How are they?”

“I’m afraid both your parents passed over several years ago. The majority of what I’ve learned is from your brother and sisters. Your mother died less than a year after your death and your father three years later.”

Little Ears looked him squarely in the eyes. “Was that because of me?” she asked.

Jamie tried to evade the question. “Does that really matter now?”

“Yes it does!”

“In the case of your father, not so much.” he said.

“And my mother?”

“Well, according to your siblings she died of a broken heart, but …”

“Please, just don’t try to sugar coat it, James!” she cut in, angrily. “If I did such terrible things then I don’t deserve to move on.”

“And I’m supposed to tell your parents this, am I?”

“You’ve spoken to them?” Little Ears seemed genuinely surprised by the news.

“What – you think you’re the only spirit I can communicate with? Of course I’ve talked with them. They’re waiting for you as we speak!”

James took a calming breath before continuing. “Look, the only reason you’re still here is because you’re punishing yourself for what you did. The trauma of your death and the heartache you brought upon your family were just too painful for you and so you wiped them from your memory. But there’s a small part of you that still seeks forgiveness and peace.”

Seeing her demeanour was calmer, Jamie motioned her to follow, leading her deeper into the park.

 “Tell me how many spirits you see in the park,” he instructed.

“There aren’t any. Just me.”

“If you could see with my eyes you’d know how wrong you are. There are actually quite a few.”

“Then why can’t I see them?”

“For the same reason they don’t see you or any of the others for that matter. It’s part of the torment they believe they must endure for their earthly sins. The truth is they’re no more in purgatory than I am. What they’re experiencing is a kind of mental projection created by their own minds.”

“But you’re real, this city’s real, what’s happening is real, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is,  but you and others like you are stuck between two worlds; this one and the next level of existence. There are several realms a spirit must visit before it can enter into heaven. Each one serves as a cleansing process for the soul. Those who have led a relatively blameless life can sometimes skip those realms that have nothing to teach them.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Because of the gift you gave me. It eventually enabled me to speak with my spirit guide, and it is through him that I learned these things. I’ve helped many lost souls pass over into the light all because of you. He’s also the one who told me where I could find you.”

“Is that why you’re here now; to help me cross over?”

“Yes. I think you’ve suffered enough Little Ears. But first you have to witness the things you’ve been running from all these years. Don’t be afraid of what you see. They’ll seem very real to you, but they’re only the distant memories of long ago.”

As they resumed their walk, Jamie announced, “We’re almost there.”

Little Ears could feel a panic welling up inside her. “Where are you taking me?”

“To the place of your death.” he replied.

They walked in silence until they reached a grove, a cinder track branching off into the group of trees. Jamie came to a halt. “We’re here.” he said, pointing to a small brick building at the end of the track.

“A public toilet? I died in a toilet?” Little Ears gasped.

Jamie nodded, adding, “You won’t be disturbed by anyone. They were closed down a couple of years back?”

After a brief pause she moved toward the derelict building but quickly came to a halt when she realised Jamie wasn’t following.

“Aren’t you coming with me?”

“I can’t.” he said, The place is locked up. Only you can enter.”

“But I don’t think I can do this on my own.”

He smiled at her reassuringly. “You have to be brave, Little Ears. All you’ll see is a reflection in the ether of your passing – the unveiling of a long suppressed memory and nothing more.”

After a few brief moments she turned her back on him and walked into the grove, passing through the dank cold walls and into the interior.

ascension2

On entering, she felt the cold penetrating damp and began to shiver. Being in spirit form meant that she would normally have been impervious to the physical effects of the natural world. Yet, there was no denying the evidence of her own eyes and senses. She was shivering uncontrollably and goose bumps had appeared on her bare arms.

A large, rectangular skylight, let in the orange glow from the cinder trail lights outside, affording little illumination. Ahead of her lay four cubicles. Their doors were open. They were empty. As she approached she caught the unpleasant smell of stale urine. She walked tentatively toward the first cubicle, and in so doing stepped on a broken tile that cracked beneath her foot. It had given way to the weight of her now seemingly denser body.

Fear began to reassert itself, and she reminded herself that this was merely an illusion projected by the resurgence of fragmented memories onto her surroundings. When she looked down again the tile had vanished.

From out of nowhere came the unexpected sound of sobbing.  She gave an involuntary shudder, and her skin crawled, as though a thousand insects were scurrying across her body.   She stood, frozen to the spot, unable to coax her trembling limbs into action. The pitiable weeping was now more than she could bear.

Please stop!” she cried out, holding her hands to her ears. But there was no respite from the sounds and visions inside her head. She was beginning to remember.

A sharp stinging pain made her wince, and the plaintive crying ceased abruptly. Something warm was trickling down the inside of her arm. Without looking, she knew what is was. Then came the tinkle of glass on tile as a bloodied syringe rolled from the furthest cubicle.

One moment she had been standing in a dilapidated toilet, staring down at the instrument of her death. The next, she was in the back of a brightly lit ambulance as it hurtled through the city streets, looking on as the medics struggled to save her.

This was the first time in years she had seen her full countenance, and it appalled her. What she saw had little in common with an eighteen-year-old. Emaciation and years of self-abuse had finally taken their toll.

“My God! What have I done to myself?” she murmured. “How could I let myself sink so far?”

Suddenly, the monitor she was attached to began to beep loudly.

“Christ” We’re losing her!”  the attending medic called out to his partner.

In the blinking of an eye, Little Ears found herself hurtling through a dark tunnel toward the sound of childish laughter. She  exited into broad daylight,  recognising instantly the group of teenagers congregating around an ice-cream van outside the school gates, the place where it all began.

She also recognised the cocky eighteen-year-old ice-cream vendor, with the shock of curly red  hair that ran to his shoulders.  His liking for young girls was well-known to those who had fallen for his obvious charms. They were drawn to him like moths to a flame. Capitalising on his notoriety, in ways his employers were unaware of,  he supplemented his meagre wage by selling small wraps of cannabis to his more than willing customers. Like many of her peers, Little Ears was about to be seduced into his web of deceit.

As the group drifted back into the school yard only one female remained. Little Ears watched as they chatted for a while before he eventually served her. Though she could not recall the exact details of the conversation, she knew that before leaving he’d made a date to meet her at the local carnie that weekend, a rendezvous that would alter her life in ways she could never have imagined: she would become a woman and smoke her first ‘spliff’ at the age of fifteen. 

She wondered if she had known back then of her addictive nature whether she would have taken him up on his offer but she hadn’t and there was no way of turning back the clock.

She moved forward through time on an emotional rollercoaster of sadness and regret, witnessing her first run in with the law, the anguish of her parents, the rows and upsets she caused within the family, the lies and deceit, and  her increasing need to find a better ‘buzz’, and the debasing lengths she went to in order to attain it.

Though remorseful of her acts, she no longer hated herself, and understood for the first time that she had been the victim of the greed of others and her own adolescent immaturity. Weakened by her dependency she could not overcome it as she grew into adulthood. Now  she  had to return to the place of her death to witness her ultimate act of selfishness.

In the half-light of the toilet, blinking the tears from her eyes, she stared at the empty syringe lying at her feet, then into the cramped cubicle where her inert body lay wedged between the toilet bowl and wall. Round her left arm was a tourniquet. Directly beneath it a rivulet of blood tricked down from the collapsed vein where the needle had been inserted, and  suddenly she remembered the terrible choice she had made.

Sinking to her knees, she wept, “I’m sorry for everything I did, for all the hurt and pain I caused to everyone and myself.”

Looking up through the skylight she begged, “I just want to go home now.”

A sudden burst of radiant light cut through the darkness, warming her face. It was intensely bright yet did not hurt her eyes. An overwhelming feeling of love reached out to her from within, calling her, bidding  her to follow. Then slowly she began to rise.

Jamie looked on at the delicate, golden lit form as it ascended into the heavens, to be lost amid the pyrotechnic display. As he made his way  along the cinder track  a familiar voice whispered out to him, “Thank you, James. I hope your New Year will be as happy as I feel right now.”

 He stopped and smiled. Pulling up his collar against the cold he whispered, “Happy New Year, Little Ears.”

 © David Calvert 2011

 Dedication

I am honoured to dedicate this story to my dear friend Ellen (‘Zen’) Connolly whom I have known only for a few brief months. She has faced adversity and hardships throughout her life and yet has maintained a positive attitude throughout. Her infectious  sense of humour remains relatively undented and lifts the spirits of others less fortunate. I consider myself lucky to have encountered  such a giving and friendly soul.

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… Dark Streets …

‘Yet In Thy Dark Streets Shineth’

A Christmas tale

by

David Calvert

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Young Danny Braithwaite had but one thought on his mind as he sprang from his bed and dashed to the window. ‘This time.’ he thought, excitedly drawing back the curtain. A harsh white light invaded the bedroom, chasing the sleep from his eyes, and he let out a jubilant “Whoop!”  at the magical transformation that had taken place overnight. He had waited almost an entire year and, at last, the snows had arrived.

“C’mon young’n!” he urged, shaking his brother violently from his slumber. “It’s been snowin’. Let’s get ready and go out to play.”

Alan, two years his junior, pulled the covers over his head and grumpily told him to ‘Nick off ‘, adding that it was far too cold to get out of bed. Then, suddenly, the import of the message struck home.  “Snowin’!” he shrieked, sitting bolt upright.

“Yeah! Look – it’s as deep as anything”.

Alan scrambled to the window, blankets in tow. “Cor! Look at that. It must have snowed all night to get that deep.”

“What’s going on in there?” a familiar voice called from the adjacent bedroom.

The celebrations came to an abrupt halt. “Er, nothin’ mam.” Danny sniggered, “Where just gettin’ ready to go out.”

“Not until you’ve had your breakfast, you’re  not. And besides,” she continued, “it started snowing last night, so I want you both properly dressed.”

“Yer know what that means, young’n.” sighed Danny, “Before we get out of here, she’ll have us done up like Eskimos.”

That morning the conversation at the breakfast table was animated. Alan was helping himself to his third spoonful of strawberry jam, which he dolloped into his porridge and swirled around until a glutinous pink mass stared up at him from the bowl. Danny was in the throes of a protracted argument with his sister Carol, the eldest of the trio, over whose Christmas presents would occupy the sofa the following morning. In the midst of their dispute an innocent question brought everything to a shuddering halt.

“Mam – what’s the ‘Big C?”

Every eye was now trained on the youngster, as he noisily sucked the dregs of porridge from his tablespoon.

Mary’s face blanched as she slowly lowered the coffee cup from her lips. “What do you mean, love? Why do you ask?”

“‘Cos Ricky Pinder said he heard his mam and dad talkin’ about me dad, and they said he had the ‘Big C,”

“Did they now!” she snapped, her face turning an angry shade of red. “Well you just take no notice of anything they have to say, sweetheart.” Sipping the last dregs from her cup, she rose to collect the breakfast dishes from the table. It was then she noticed that her daughter had become very quiet and seemed preoccupied with her thoughts.

Carol was fourteen and was fully aware of the situation concerning her much missed father. When he had first been admitted to hospital she and her brothers had been allowed regular visits but, as his condition worsened, only the adults were permitted to see him – a decision which she had found unbearably cruel given that he would not be with them for very much longer. Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes as she pondered a life without him.

“Alright kids.” Mary chirped, “Seeing as how it’s Christmas Eve, why don’t you each write a note to Santa telling him what you want.”  She knew, of course, that Danny and Carol were almost past the age of innocent belief, but this was a family tradition and besides, there was still the youngster to consider.

As she had hoped, Carol’s sombre thoughts were soon distracted as they each took up pen and paper and began writing in earnest.

The task completed, they folded their sheets and ceremoniously burned them on the  fire, the premise being that the smoke from the ashes would somehow be carried to the North Pole where they were reliably informed Father Christmas would, in some undisclosed manner, read them and fulfill their wishes.

Danny was first to be ready and waited impatiently as his mother dressed the youngster. True to his earlier statement, she had ensured that each of them was suitably attired for the wintry climate. They had no sooner left her sight when off came the balaclavas and scarves, and an energetic snowball fight ensued. As it  progressed so did the number of their group until, at length, it seemed as though an entire army of children were fighting a pitched battle at the end of the street. Eventually, the group filtered down to a mere handful and it was suggested that better fun could be had on the neighbouring pit-heap.

The ‘heapy’, as the boys were wont to call it, stood almost fifty feet in height and had a broad, evened top that stretched off into the distance towards the pit-head, creating a plateau-like effect which the boys put good use to as their personal playground. In their time it had served a multitude of purposes. Today, however, it would be employed as a gigantic slide form which they would propel themselves on remnants of conveyor belting, hurtling at breathtaking speeds down the icy covered slopes.

With boundless energy and screams of delight they descended the south-facing slope, amid flurries of freezing snow, to the farmer’s field below. After an hour or two their youthful exuberance eventually gave way to the cold and hunger and so it was decided they would all go home for dinner, but return later to continue their adventure.

After a hearty turkey dinner, followed by freshly baked apple pie and custard, Mary informed the children that she would be visiting their father later that afternoon, and that they would be staying at uncle Tom’s and aunt V’s until she returned to collect them.

For Danny, in particular, the idea of spending Christmas Eve with his aunt and uncle was an appealing one. They were a childless couple who lavished attention on the children whenever the opportunity arose.

True to form, Tom greeted them with a cheery smile and proceeded to pull from behind their ears of each of them, much to their amazement and glee, a fifty pence piece which he deposited into their eagerly waiting hands.

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On entering the living room they gasped in admiration. Dominating one corner was a brightly lit Christmas tree, bedecked with all manner of ornamentation, and surmounted by a glistening star of silver. From the four corners of the ceiling to its centre were draped richly coloured streamers of green and red. An advent calendar, its tiny windows peeled back, hung from the centre of the fire breast, flanked on either side with a wreath of holly. The entire room had been lovingly decorated in a multitude of effects to delight and stimulate the senses. Only when the house lights were dimmed and the multi-coloured tree lights switched on was their true effect fully appreciated by the children.

Within half-an-hour of Mary’s departure Alan suddenly announced; “I’m hungry!”

“You’re always hungry.” his sister declared.

Veronica looked up. “I think that should do it.” she said, applying the final strokes of the brush to the niece’s fine auburn hair. “There’s some cherry pie due out the oven. Would anyone like some?”

A chorus of  ‘Yes please’ went out from the children, followed by a grunt from their uncle who was otherwise occupied showing off his latest feat of legerdemain to an appreciative audience of two.

“There’s no such thing as real magic!” Carol declared, defiantly. “Nobody can do real magic.”

Danny was becoming increasingly tired of his sister’s ill-tempered moods and was about to say as much when Tom intervened.

“Oh, and what makes you say that?” he quizzed.

“Because there just isn’t.” came the terse reply. “If people could do real magic, then wishes would come true; but they don’t. They don’t come true, no matter how hard you try.”

She was now almost at the point of tears when her aunt entered laden with the food and drink.

“You know,” Tom said, between mouthfuls of freshly baked cherry pie, “wishes can come true; can’t they love.”  He turned to Veronica and smiled a knowing smile. She, in turn, smiled, the corners of her mouth accentuating her dimpled cheeks.

“Alright then.” she relented, “If you must.”

It was then he announced, “We’re going to have a baby!”

Veronica coughed loudly.

“Well – that is -” he corrected himself, “aunt V’s going to have a baby. Soon you’ll have a new cousin to play with. So you see,” he said, turning to his niece, “some wishes do come true.”

Carol wanted to believe with all her heart that somehow things could be made different simply by wishing it; that by some magical process the love she had for her father was strong enough to overcome the illness that kept them apart. In Danny and Alan too a longing for their father began to stir, engendering cherished memories of Christmas’ past.

Tom rose from his chair and moved to the window. He gazed out at the snow-capped roofs and the streets beyond. He, too, missed his brother and sniffed back a single tear which threatened his composure.

Quite unexpectedly, the phone rang. V was the first to answer it, and after listening for a few seconds she called out to Tom. “You’d better take this.” she said, her hand shaking as she handed him the receiver. “It’s Mary.” she whispered.

With an awful sense of dread he put the receiver to his ear and turned his back to the children. The first sound he heard was that of his sister-in-law’s weeping. Then came the words. “It’s Jim; he’s …”

“Oh God! Not tonight of all nights.” he interrupted, slumping into the nearest chair.

By now the children were aware that something was wrong and Carol began to whimper.

“No, no! You don’t understand. Jim’s in remission. He’s getting better.”

“But I thought there was …”

“No hope?” she cut in. “We all did, but that’s not the queerest thing, Tom. Jim told me he’d had a curious dream this afternoon. He said he’d dreamt that three tiny fireballs had entered through his closed cubicle window, and that as he watched each of them turned into a sheet of paper that fluttered onto his bed. He recognised the handwritings on them as belonging to the children. It was the very same letters they had written to Santa this morning, Tom; I’m sure of it.”

“But what makes you so sure?”

“Because of what they’d written. Ask them what they put in their letters, Tom, and I’ll bet it was ‘Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is my daddy back.’

Tom did as requested and was stunned at their replies.

Later that night, as a fresh fall of snow gently descended over a peaceful village, Carol, Danny, Alan, and their aunt and uncle huddled contentedly around the tree, each knowing that something truly magical had taken place. It turned out to be a Christmas that neither of them would forget in the years to come.

© David Calvert 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

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THE PITYING HEART

THE PITYING HEART 

David Calvert

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Jenny Bowcombe stared at the oaken figure of Edmund D’Lyle in the chancel of Saint Olave’s church, the site from where her beloved Lucy had disappeared. There was no longer any doubt in her mind that it was the remarkable resemblance between Edmund’s effigy and Lucy’s late father that had attracted her daughter to the chancel. As she looked on she, too, felt a strange affinity towards the centuries old memorial. How often she had wished it could speak, that it might resolve the endless uncertainty of Lucy’s whereabouts.

           It had taken the better part of two years for Jenny to come to terms with the death of her husband, Richard, and in her darkest moments had taken comfort in the love of their daughter. Now she too was  gone and Jenny would have ended the unremitting loneliness and heartbreak were it not for her uncompromising belief that she still lived and would someday be reunited with her.

          Richard’s sudden passing had brought an unwelcoming change in the eight-year-old’s demeanour. Withdrawn and ill-tempered, she had begun to weave a web of secrecy about herself. What worried Jenny most of all, however, were her increasingly prolonged absences from home. She had shown great leniency towards her daughter until the day she strolled into the house, two hours late from school. This time she was not going to be fobbed off with any lame excuses. She had spent the latter hour in a state of near panic. Now she demanded to know the truth.

         “I’ve been going to the chapel.” Lucy wept. “I go there when I want to talk to daddy.”

          Jenny was lost for words. Ever the pragmatist, she believed in the here and now rather than the hereafter. Finding comfort and solace in outmoded beliefs was not her style, but if it was Lucy’s way of coming to terms with the loss of her father then she would not stand in her way.

           Life continued apace in the tiny hamlet of Arken. The now fifteen-year-old Lucy was a regular worshipper at St. Olave’s and was often seen by rector Phillips staring into the ageless face of Edmund D’Lyle. Her intense fascination with the relic mystified him, though he never once broached her on the subject.

            It was on the eve of her sixteenth birthday when the storm hit the island. With merciless ferocity it raged across it, uprooting trees and flooding vast tracts of farmland in its wake. Even in the naturally formed inlet, which had provided a safe haven for countless generations of seafarers, the destruction was total as the roiling turbulence crashed in on the moored vessels, rendering them into useless flotsam. Not even hallowed ground was safe on such a night.

stormy

             From the rectory window the ageing rector Phillips witnessed the single lightning bolt strike the chapel, iridescent lights lighting up the stained glass windows from within. Braving the elements, he set out to scrutinize the damage.

             On first inspection it seemed that nothing untoward had happened, but as he approached Edmund’s effigy he noticed the fragmented shards of the knight’s steel misericord lying on the floor. They were hot to the touch. Though there was no evidence suggesting a possible entry point, the lightning bolt had apparently struck the weapon and shattered it. What he found even more perplexing was that the fine chrysoberyl jewel that had adorned its hilt was missing. It was only in the aftermath of the storm that he discovered the tangled wreckage of Lucy’s bicycle lying beneath a wind felled oak in the churchyard. Reassuring himself that she was not among the twisted foliage and broken boughs he dashed back into the chapel, fully expecting to find her poor inert body lying somewhere among the pews, but she was nowhere to be seen. Lucy had vanished without trace.

           Jenny’s memories were bittersweet. Richard’s securement as Arken’s only GP had been particularly memorable, because it was the very same day she broke the news to him of her pregnancy. Lucy became the source of his pride and joy; they were inseparable. That he harboured an ambition that she might one day follow in his footsteps were readily apparent in his choice of gifts for her. Prized among them was a gold charm bracelet from which hung a single lamp, a lasting reminder that she was his ‘lady of the lamp’.

          “Can I help you?”

          Jenny flinched and turned to see the darkly dressed figure of a clergyman standing in the aisle.

           “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.” he said.

            In her eyes he saw the hauntingly familiar look of unresolved grief. He sat next to her and proffered a friendly hand, greeting her with a pleasant, almost boyish, smile. “The name’s Tremayne. The Reverend Anthony Lucas Tremayne, to be exact. I’m rector Phillips’ replacement,” he said, his face broadening into a cheerful grin.

            She took hold of his outstretched hand. “Mine’s Jenny.” 

             “I couldn’t help noticing your fascination with Arken’s local hero” he said. “He’s quite an interesting character, don’t you think?”

              “Is he? I’m afraid I’ll have to take your word for that. History isn’t exactly my strong point.”

               “Oh, indeed he was. Did you know that for centuries he was said to be the founder of this church?”

                “No, no, I didn’t.  But as I said before…”

                “Of course: ‘history isn’t your strong point’” he recalled.

                “The truth is that he was actually a crusader who fought in Alexandria and Syria. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious head wound in the latter campaign and was shipped back to England, and then on to Arken. The poor chap became quite deranged at the end and died.”

                  Jenny’s thoughts wandered from Edmund to a more recent and intimately tragic history.

                  Mistaking her abstraction as a sign of disinterest the young cleric apologised for having disturbed her and made to leave, but was forestalled by her insistence that he carry on.

                  “I’d love to.” he replied, glancing at his wristwatch. “Unfortunately, I have to keep a prior appointment. Perhaps we could meet at the rectory tomorrow to continue our chat.” he suggested. “Lord knows, I’ve had little chance to get acquainted with my flock.”

                  The airy interior of the rectory came as a welcoming respite from the excesses of the midday sun and Jenny could not help but feel a little envious of the Reverend at having such a shaded sanctuary. Unlike his predecessor, the young cleric insisted that the formalities of his office be set aside, preferring simply to be known as Lucas. Jenny was happy to oblige him; she found the use of such titles pretentious at best. That he was also more enlightened than his predecessor was evidenced by the numerous scientific journals, which adorned the bookshelves.

                  “I got the impression from you yesterday” she began, “that there was more to the story of Edmund D’Lyle.”

                   “Yes there is.” He relaxed into his armchair and took a sip from his iced tea. “During my researches into the last crusades I came across a document bearing his name. It was written by Philip De Mezieres, Chancellor to Peter the First of Cyprus. He and the King were responsible for the organisation of the 1365 crusade. They came to London to secure the help of several English knights, one of them being Edmund. As you know, he eventually returned to England and died. That he lived as long as he did was entirely due to his companion. She apparently travelled everywhere with him.”

                   The painful memories of her past began to reassert themselves again. Jenny knew only too well the wretchedness of losing loved ones. In the midst of her thoughts a single word – ‘misericord’ – brought her back to the present.

           “I was just saying as how it is something of a mystery to me.” Lucas said, in response to her question.

             “Oh! Why is that?”

             “Well, according to my records the effigy is supposed to be holding a misericord in its hand. True misericords were used to put an end to the suffering of battlefield victims. Their name is derived from the Latin for ‘pitying heart’. However, these were a special honour bestowed upon the knights by the King for their efforts in the crusades. Edmund’s is missing – jewel and all.”

         “Didn’t Rector Philips fill you in on what happened before you took over his duties?”

          “No. His departure to the mainland was rather sudden.”

          “Then you know absolutely nothing of what happened here?”

           “I’m afraid not.”

           Jenny had, wherever and whenever possible, avoided protracted conversations concerning Lucy, but to tell the story of the missing misericord without once mentioning her involvement was akin to omitting the ‘great fish’ from the biblical story of Jonah. She took a calming breath before giving her account.

            A look of surprise crossed the cleric’s face at the mention of her daughter’s name, occasioning Jenny to enquire if something was wrong.

            He looked at her with uncertainty. Smiling nervously, he replied, “There isn’t, unless your surname happens to be Bowcombe.”

            Her confirmation had a curious effect on him. He seemed reluctant to pursue the matter any further, inciting Jenny to ask again if anything was wrong.

            The mention of Lucy’s name had set off a disturbing train of thought. “It’s nothing.” he said, ultimately. “Mere coincidence.”

             “Coincidence?”

             “Yes. You see Edmund’s companion’s name was Lucy Bowcombe, too.” he said.

              Jenny sensed there was more to it than that. Something other than sheer coincidence had generated his nervous response, and she intended to get to the bottom of it.

            Failing to allay her suspicions, Lucas finally gave way.

           “You’re right;” he said, “I haven’t told you everything about the historical Lucy, and with good reason. I’m not sure I believe it myself. Perhaps if we apply the principle of Occam’s razor things will become clearer.”

           “Occam‘s razor? Never heard of it” Jenny admitted.

           “Briefly stated it’s this: if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the chances are it is a duck. In other words, there’s no requirement to form a more complex assumption or theory.”

            Jenny was becoming agitated. “And the point is?”

            “I’m coming to that. But first I need to check everything you’ve told me about your daughter is correct. You said she disappeared when she was fifteen, and that the jewel vanished at the same time – yes?”

            “Yes.” she sighed.

            “And you’re quite sure that all this took place on August the 10th ?”

            “Of course I am! I’m hardly likely to be mistaken about it, now am I?” she snapped. “If there is a point to this, Lucas, I wish you’d make it.”

            He braced himself. “As a consequence of my investigations into Edmund”, he began, “I came across the story of Lucy Bowcombe. Apparently, after a terrible storm, she was discovered in the chancel by a local farmer. She was in a highly agitated state, and could remember nothing of her past, other than her name. Contemporary reports said that she was between fourteen to sixteen-years-old, and spoke in a curious tongue. The date was August 10 , 1362.”

            It was abundantly clear now what Lucas was leading up to, and Jenny balked at the absurdity of it.

            “But you said this girl spoke in a foreign language.” she argued.

             “No, I didn’t. I said that she was reported to have spoken in a ‘curious tongue’, which doesn’t necessarily mean she was foreign. Modern idioms and syntax are wholly different to what they were centuries ago. Back then they spoke Middle English, a substantial part of their vocabulary being French and stemming from the Norman Conquests. Edmund himself was of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy, so Lucy’s speech would seem like a foreign language to him.”

             Jenny fell silent. Circumstantial though the evidence was, she found it strangely compelling.

              “And there’s one other thing:” Lucas resumed, “clasped in her hand was a chrysoberyl gemstone.”

              “Have you any idea how absurd that sounds? You’re telling me my daughter was whisked back some seven centuries in time Why? How?”

              “The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it I can only guess at. You said yourself that Lucy had never really gotten over the death of her father, and was often seen talking to the effigy as though it were he. She probably wished passionately for it to be true. Suppose that as she was in this frame of mind the lightning struck, triggering a quantum rift in time.”

              “You may be accustomed to believing in miracles,” Jenny asserted, “but I’m certainly not. It’s absolutely ridiculous!”

             “Is it?” countered Lucas. “There are some quantum physicists who would disagree. If their hypotheses of the existence of elementary particles that can travel faster than the speed of light are true, then time travel is possible.”

            “You’re concluding a hell of a lot from a mere premise. We’re not talking about sub-atomic particles here, but a living, breathing, human being.”

            “But isn’t that part of what we are; nothing more than a package of atoms strung together?” Lucas responded.

            Later that evening Jenny pondered on Lucas’ words and the documented cases he had cited in support of his argument of people claiming to have undergone temporal sojourns. Like theirs, her life had changed dramatically. Everything she had cherished was gone. Perhaps there was now a need to believe in the fantastic; to seek hope in the embryonic science of quantum physics, just as Lucy had sought hope in religion.

             The following morning she awoke from a troubled sleep. Her disquieting dream imagery had evaporated with the onset of wakefulness and was no longer retrievable. One thought persisted, however: ‘Lightning never strikes the same place twice.’ She knew this was a common fallacy, and later cursed herself for not having immediately understood her post-dream message. Unpredictably, she found herself entertaining a quite improbable notion.

            For five years Lucas bore witness to the comings and goings of his friend, Jenny Bowcombe. Of all the islanders he alone knew of the obsession that drew her to the chapel on storm filled days and nights. Then, on one particular August night, all hell broke loose.

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            A ferocious storm front struck the island, growing in intensity as it tore across the landscape. Only one person would venture out on such a night, and Lucas had taken up his station behind the large bay window that overlooked the chapel to watch the lonely, bedraggled, figure trudge its way through the storm and into the chancel. Past experience had taught him that it would be some time before Jenny would leave and would probably ride out the worst of the storm there. Closing the drapes, he settled down to work on the rest of his forthcoming sermon.

            Time passed and the storm grew worse. Rattling window panes and flickering house lights began to disrupt Lucas’ train of thought. He looked up from his study as an ominous peal of thunder rumbled across the night sky. The chancel was no place to be on such a night he told himself.

           As his predecessor had done before, he stepped out into the tempest and was instantly taken aback by its sheer ferocity. A cyclonic wind buffeted him mercilessly, propelling him into the rivers of mud being washed from the neighbouring hills. He pushed on through the blinding rain, his face puffed and swollen, driven by an unbending sense of guilt, which hung like a millstone about his neck. How he wished now he had kept silent all those years ago.

stormy-night-at-the-graveyard-j-d-owen

            On entering the churchyard he suddenly pitched forward, his lungs burning with sheer exhaustion. The air rasped sharply from his chest. He drew in his next breath as if it were his last. Coughing and spluttering uncontrollably, he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes.

             The transformation was stunning. As a former merchant seaman Lucas had seen St. Elmo’s fire only once in his life. It had been a brief encounter, its scattering of energy streamers confining themselves solely to the masthead. But that had occurred in a temperate climate, and one more favourable to the phenomenon. What he was witnessing now was impossible. He watched in awe the profuse streamers as they radiated out from the chancel in a state of constant flux, arcing from one structure to another. Most alarming of all was the luminescent energy field that had encompassed the churchyard. Beyond this miraculous dome the storm raged, unabated. Within it, all was eerily calm.

          Jenny Bowcombe stood before the temporal vortex, which had opened at a point just above the effigy. Its dimensions were expanding and would soon be large enough to enter. Despite the irrefutable evidence gleaned from her most recent research, doubts began to weaken her resolve. What if she were catapulted to a time centuries before the history of Edmund D’Lyle or a future world that was totally alien to anything she had ever known? The possibilities were as infinite as time itself. She pulled Lucy’s photo from her rucksack. Filling her mind with her daughter’s image, she told herself that it was now or never and edged nearer to the portal.

           “No, Jenny!” Lucas barreled down the aisle toward her, the opening shimmering briefly, as if disturbed by his unheeded appeal.

          She stepped forward and was swallowed up in the blinking of an eye.

          In that instant a powerful shock wave burst from the portal, hurling him pell-mell into the pews and rupturing the luminescent energy barrier. Darkness engulfed him.

           On coming-to, he saw Arken’s Fire Chief, Pete Layton, standing over him.

           “You’re one hell of a lucky guy.” he said. “If you hadn’t been lying between the pews when the main roof supports collapsed you’d be a gonner for sure. As it is you‘ve suffered only a few minor burns and abrasions.”

            Lucas made a feeble effort to rise from the sofa. “Where am I? How did I . . .?” He slumped back, weak and nauseous from the effects of smoke inhalation.

            “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, the Chief continued, “but the chapel didn’t fair as well. It’s sustained quite a bit of damage. Its walls are still structurally sound, though the roofs almost gone. A bit of elbow grease and a lick of varnish should soon remedy the scorched pews. Which reminds me! Is this yours?”

            Lucas stared at the seared rucksack Chief Layton was holding. “Er, yes, it is.”

           “You don’t seem too sure about that.”

           “Yes, it’s mine.”

           With the departure of the paramedics and fire crew, Lucas delved into the rucksack. Amid the many reams of hand-written documents, and a treatise on fourteenth century England, he came across what looked like a copied portion of text. It was badly scorched and nigh impossible to read. Fortunately, he was able to read the catalogue number, which showed it came from the research facility at Fendlesham Library, on the mainland. Its coding further revealed that Lucy’s search into Edmund D’Lyle was way in advance of his own. He recognised, too, the words of an ancient poet she had paraphrased in the final entry of her diary: ‘Time may bring to light whatever is hidden and it will conceal and cover up what once shone with the greatest splendour’.

           Within a short space of time, Lucas would come to comprehend the true meaning behind those words.

           “Sorry to bother you, Reverend,” said Chief Layton the next day, his face suitably grimy from his ongoing investigation at the fire scene. “but one of my men has discovered something at the chapel that I think you should see.”

            A look of mild suspicion behind his bespectacled eyes made Lucas more than a little apprehensive.

            “Take a look inside.” The Chief pointed to the chapel’s memorial plinth from which a sizeable portion had been broken. “Personally, I haven’t the faintest idea about ancient burial rites,” he said, “but I thought you might.”

            Lucas scanned the murky interior. The most salient feature that struck him, as it must have Chief Layton, was that three distinctly separate bodies had been interred there. Then he caught sight of something in the mouldering winding sheets that caused his heart to skip a beat. It was a gold bracelet. Although he could not make out a hallmark he knew that the single charm that hung from it would date it conclusively to modern times.

           “What do you make of it, Reverend? A little unusual to have three bodies in the same grave don’t you think?”

           “It’s certainly unusual, but not unheard of.” Lucas declared. “I believe that what we’re looking at is the fourteenth century equivalent of a family plot.”

           “Mystery solved then.”

           “Mystery solved.” Lucas said, somewhat shocked by the ease with which his story was accepted; an outcome which would have been far different had Pete Layton paid greater attention to his local history lessons at school regarding the D’Lyle genealogy. Edmund had been the last of his line and could, therefore, not have shared his plot with any descendant.

             Lucas’ major concern now was the bracelet. It was a modern artefact and if it should be uncovered and examined during restoration work on the tomb questions would be asked, questions for which there were no plausible answers. It’s removal, therefore, was vitally important.

             Fortune smiled again on the young cleric, and when the Chief was called away by one of his men Lucas saw his opportunity and took it.

             “Well that’s about it. I’m finished here.” said Pete Layton on his return, adding, “If you’ll take my advice, you need to have that plinth sealed up right away. I’m sure I noticed something of value in there. The last thing you need is to have some would-be grave robber come along and take it.”

             Lucas flushed. “ No, that wouldn’t do at all. I’ll see to it right away.”

             In the privacy of the rectory he examined more closely the bracelet he had hastily stuffed into his pocket. It was just as Jenny had described. Unquestionably, one of the tomb’s occupants was her daughter. Could the third body, he wondered, be Jenny‘s?

             He later recalled the scorched document and speculated on what it may have contained. The fact that Jenny had copied it showed that it held some significance for her. He resolved to find out what it could possibly be and made arrangements to visit the mainland’s library the very next day.

            Among the dusty tomes of Fendlesham Library he studied the antique parchments spread out before him. All but the latter had been penned by Edmund D’Lyle and bore the unmistakable ramblings of an unsound mind. Even so, there were rare moments of lucidity in which he wrote of his filial devotion to Lucy, the girl he had liberated from the cruel servitude of the farmer who had found her in the chancel. Because he had no rightful successor, Edmund knew that on his death his fortune would fall to the Crown. He therefore made adequate provisions for his youthful ward. She would at least be spared the harsh deprivations of impoverishment.

             The last parchment, from which Jenny had made her copy, was written predominantly by Edmund. The latter portion of text, however, was not. Lucas thought at first that the Latin text, with its glaring grammatical errors and structure, had been written by an ill-educated scribe. He was soon to discover how wrong he had been. In them he saw the unmistakable hand of Jenny Bowcombe reach out to him across the centuries, as she must have hoped they would: ‘Time will bring to light. . .’ they began.

ferry 1

            The ferry’s claxon pierced the noon air, heralding its imminent departure for Arken. Lucas gazed out across the horizon, secure in his conviction that the incredible events he had borne witness to were no mere arbitrary acts of nature. From the outset they had exhibited a purposeful intelligence, and a design borne of a compassionate heart. 

© David Calvert 2011

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