The morning after the night before and the paranormal brothers find a visit to another point on the pentagram rather more than mere observation.
This is the sixth part in a short story series that began as just that. A few unrelated short stories. Last week left the brothers Carmichael pondering a pentagram over one too many beers in the Oak. We moved back in time to find Elisabeth losing herself in a growing madness resulting from the revenant of bricked up child in her cellar and a Marsh hiding a secret that has begun to stir. Now we return to the present and out protagonists battling hangovers.
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“And so Jo,” began Allan, his brother and partner in paranormal investigations, “what does the internet declare upon matters pertaining to these Shadow People?”
It was the morning after the night before in the Royal Oak. A night of euphoria and, what seemed like a good idea at the time, too much drinking. Something everyone knew would be a bad idea some twelve hours later. Thus it was that breakfast remained untouched, with the aroma of fresh ground coffee wafting across the ground floor of yet more rented accommodation convenient to the cause. Amidst the debris of papers, almanacs and maps Joseph Carmichael was frowning at the screen of his laptop, trying to think out a headache that was threatening to ruin his day.
“It seems they are somewhat elusive characters and yet it seems sightings are on the increase.”
From behind the darkness of closed eyes Allan gave this momentary consideration.
“Bit of an oxymoron that Jo. How can they be both elusive and on the increase?”
Joseph dimmed his screens brightness controls slightly, to avoid the glare increasing an already thinning squint. He wondered if vampires had similar issues in bright conditions, and reasoned nocturnal showings would be better all round. That, or a soft drinks only health drive. Certainly if such an arcane beast were to consume his blood then get challenged by road officials, it would surely lead to a trip into the local constabulary headquarters, and a seriously bad head awaiting spontaneous combustion on exposure to anything bright. On second thoughts, he considered simply making the car prior to drink driving would actually be secondary to the unexpected conflagration illicited by simply venturing beyond the front door and into the accursed daylight.
“Easily explained. It is a peripheral vision thing. It seems they have a tendency to leap through the nearest solid object to avoid detection. Either that or blend into the deeper shadows. There are a few types it seems, along with various images suggestive of some poetic license if you can cast those jaundiced orbs in this direction.”
“Most amusing Jo.”
Allan leaned over the coffee table as his brother rotated the laptop. His eyes dropped to one description and image that shunted the ill effects of the night before.
“Christ, that’s the fellow that did the chap on the Ghost Walk.”
“You sure? I thought you said it was an unknown something.”
Allan spun the screen back and moved next to his brother pointing to the section that had caught his attention.
“It was, until now, just a load of shadows, but that was before I knew about these boys.”
Joseph stared at the text deep in thought.
Perhaps the most frightening of Shadow People are those with red glowing eyes causing the observer to experience feelings of paralysis and extreme terror. They are said to be the embodiment of pure evil.
The accompanying artists impression showed a black hooded etherial figure, whose crimson eyes stared from the screen. Jo cast his mind back to the running ghost. He could see it now. The fear and reckless dash along the road. The stumble, getting back up unsteadily and then the spectral blade erupting through his chest. Concentrating hard, Joseph tried to see into the swirling mists under the Hunter’s Moon and then he saw them. Two red eyes looking directly at him. He gasped – paralyisis and extreme terror – and ripped himself back into the room with Allan.
“It saw us Al, the damn thing was looking right at me.”
Hangovers suddenly felt less onerous.
“Is that significant do you think? I mean it’s not like it happened now. That myth is hundreds of years old. Surely a past event can’t witness future observers…..can it?”
Joseph was nibbling nervously on some toast.
“Pencil in another visit to the public house. There is a certain witch with a pentagram upon forearm I feel might know more on this matter.”
Allan opened the leather diary noting the entries; wailing monk, abandoned chapel and Hamilton House. Centre of The Marshes was also indicated under possibilities and that jogged him back to the ordnance survey map still in his jacket pocket hanging on a hook near the front door.
“Done. Although we should investigate the two unexplored points on the pentagram first and obtain a new map for the landlord as per agreement for defacing his long standing artefact.”
Two days later the brothers stood on the southern rim of Compton Cemetery and Crematorium overlooking the ruined chapel, that lay just outside the grounds. An abandoned building and relic from a bygone era left to decay on unkempt Council property. It was not without reputation. Joseph’s research placed it as far back as the eleventh century and provenance put it under Knight’s Templar control, before the untimely closure of their Order in somewhat mutinous fabrications and injustice.
“Its not very big for a Templar site is it?” Allan ventured, as he watched the sun begin to dip over the horizon.
“That bit is the only part of original chapel left. The main buildings fell into disuse in the 1400’s and were either robbed for stone or collapsed over the years. The grounds and outbuildings extended a fair bit beyond the hedge boundary and, according to assorted ancient maps, lies buried under the fields beyond.”
Joseph was also considering the decreasing light levels as night began to draw over the cemetery behind them. Grave yards and a derelict chapel…at night…why would you?
“Simply oozes history doesn’t it.”
Allan breathed in the first draught of darkness. The chapel was in eerie silhouette with the moon beyond clothed with translucent clouds that softened the glow. A haunted eye in the sky seeing all and saying nothing. It made the chapel look bigger throwing the ground in front of him into lunar shadow. The roof he knew was gone, two walls held firm and two others were jagged and part felled as the last of the load bearing trusses caved in, bringing everything above in on itself.
He knew the rumours. The haunted dead rising to relive betrayal and treachery. Much of it he knew was embellishment and hearsay. Weren’t all paranormal activities though? The intrigue had come from old paper archives depicting late night tortured screams echoing through the cemetery and all seeming to originate from the very chapel in front of them. None were reliable or authenticated. The ruins in front suggested otherwise.
“It surely does Al, it surely does.”
Joseph felt it too. Not just history but a stopping of time. The night was silent, or had recently become silent. Odd, he thought, the road noise is gone and the wind has fled.
“No time like the present then, shall we begin?”
His brother thought that curious; no time like the present…you mean the past Allan…I really feel you mean the past.
Both brothers ran a kit check. Head cameras on. Allan on visible and Joseph on infrared. Experience suggested this was rather pointless, but it was oddly comforting to know the physical world tended not to agree with the mind. Or maybe technology was simply lagging behind evolutionary perceptions and incapable of picking up the unexplained. Coats were zippered to avoid snagging and pockets filled with paraphernalia of no formal inventory. More a collection of oddments that, over time, became permanent.
Allan placed a hand on the rusting railings and vaulted over the fence to land amidst nettles and weeds that had avoided the weedkiller sprayed against the outer edge. Slightly to his right, rusty hinges creaked as his brother simply pushed an aged gate open accompanied by significant eye rolling.
“My way was quieter,” ventured Allan.
“Obviously I wished to announce our arrival and not spook the spooks,” Joseph replied with a hint of not sure about that.
Allan froze as the exchange tapered off. He was looking at the gate crasher, but movement in his left peripheral vision made his throat dry up and bring back thoughts of hangover research on the elusive Shadow Men. With a sub audible whisper he raised enquiry.
“Did you see that?”
Jo was looking ahead toward the ruin.
“If you are referring to the startled pigeon that just fled from your left side visual frame then yes, however, it seems some shadowy demon has just caught the corner of my own optics.”
“The pigeons mate.”
They reconvened on the disused path leading from gate to chapel entrance and drew deep settling breaths. Unlit torches in hand, they used moonlight and night adapted eyes to guide them toward the stone archway that, in a previous life, would have been host to large oaken doors. Inside it was dark along the elevation closest to the moon. Stretching from this were fingered shadows tracing the rippled stonework above. Apart from a slight wind blowing through a gap in the far wall and tunnelling towards them nothing physical seemed at odds with the world.
“Somethings not right,” said Allan.
Joseph took another slow look round the open aired interior. No sinister shadows or misty tendrils hiding unseen phantasms. Nor were there any noises, wails or chains. No insects or spider webs. He switched on his torch; no bird droppings or vegetation either. Glancing up he spied an overhanging elderberry tree, except it was leaning away from the building. Almost as if it were trying not to touch the stonework. He glanced down the side elevation. Excommunicated stones covered in moss. Anything not attached to the relic held nature. Anything part of it did not. Returning to the threshold he once again shone the beam of his torch inside.
“Not the word I would use, but befitting perhaps.”
“What word would you use then?”
There was an eerie silence in front, while the sounds of the night continued some distance behind. It was like there was an invisible wall surrounding the ruin beyond which, nothing dared enter. Allan was waiting for the mist to form. It always did. Oozing from some arcane rupture in reality. A cloud drifted in front of the moon obliterating the silvery light and plunging the inside into darkness.
“Bleak maybe, or dead. What about out of time, or just empty?”
“I don’t think it is empty Al.”
Neither do I Jo, neither do I. “What now then?”
“We go in.”
With that, Joseph stepped inside and promptly disappeared.
Allan felt the hairs on his neck stiffen while trying to slow his breathing rate and remain calm.
“Jo, where are you?”
There was no answer. He tried again but louder; this time accompanied by wild passes of torchlight that tickled the masonry within.
Relief purged the growing panic that had threatened to take hold of Allan and send him crashing down the same hole that swallowed his brother. Centuries old stone had decided it was time to review its position of being a ceiling to a long forgotten sub chamber. It appeared Joseph was the straw that broke the camels back, causing the ancient floor to give way.
“It appears a staircase has conveniently broken my fall and rendered copious injury unnecessary.”
There was a pause as thoughts collected before Joseph continued. There was an edge to his voice.
“Al you really need to see this.”
Allan stepped across the threshold and felt the air grow very still and focussed. The outside world ceased to exist, although the moon was allowed in. Watching when the first foundation stones were laid in an era time erased long ago. In front of him, some ten paces in, was the point at which Joseph and gravity combined to drop the floor to a lower level. He knelt down and discovered the collapse was more than it seemed. It was square in section and timber lined; or had been timber lined until the worm had turned it to dust. A remarkably well preserved iron ladder dropped vertically onto the top of a steep stone staircase that descended downwards, leading to where his brother had fallen.
Curious, he thought, why brick up a staircase?
Allan suspected the frame originally held an oak trap door supported by the timbers and, judging by the floor between it and the main doors, there was evidence a wall, or some other structure, once separated the two, making it invisible from the entrance. How long has this been forgotten and out of time?
He lowered himself carefully down the ladder, testing each ancient rung before committing his weight. It held true, delivering him to the top of the stairs.
“You down there Jo?”
“Yeah, but you really are not going to believe this.”
Allan stood for a few seconds taking it all in. The stone was claustrophobic and the stairwell cold and dry as bone. Sound was hollow and centuries of dust lay scattered where Joseph had fallen through. The cracked stones lying crumpled at the foot of the ladder. Following his torch beam Allan began to descend.
It seemed an age inching down the worn stairs but probably less than ten minutes in reality. At the bottom they opened out into a rectangular vault no more than seven feet high. Joseph was still on the threshold looking in.
In front of them stood four bearded apparitions. Each wore chain armour with white mantles and surcoats, both of which carried deep red crosses. They were two abreast to either side of an alter, bearing two large candlesticks with a large gold crucifix centred between them. Steel helmets rested in front of each warrior. On each wall two sconces held torches that burned, as did the candles, with a spectral white light belonging to centuries past. They lit the room with a soft out of time glow, flickering and sending shadows creeping in all directions.
Opposite the two onlookers, and to each side, in the middle of the walls were oaken arched doorways leading off into unseen vaults and crypts. Catacombs and chambers rich in both the honourable dead and treasures of an Order long since broken. Above the furthest door was an inscription carved into the stone and taken from the treatise of Bernard of Clairvaux entitled “De Laude Novae Militiae.”
The knight who protects his soul with the armour of faith, as he covers his body with a coat of mail, is truly without fear and above reproach. Doubly armed he fears neither men nor demons.
“Brothers, we are now sealed within. The entrance obscured until the purge is done. The Knights Templar, as an Order, is dead. The Masters are taken and our comrades tortured into blasphemous confession. It is likely this will be our tomb.”
Silence greeted the words.
“Cells like ours exist across all the land. How many will survive I know not. We have been betrayed. We either capitulate and lose all honour or die in their dungeons.”
The knight opposite interjected.
“Or we die here defending the dead and the relics our crusades returned to this place.”
A third spoke up.
“I would rather die here with honour than be broken by the heathens pretending to God that have turned their souls to another cause.”
The first held up a gauntleted hand.
“Stay your thoughts Brother. There is more at play here than is apparent.”
The knight stood for several minutes before continuing. Three with heads bowed before the cross.
“Does any know what lies within the boundaries of this hamlet?”
There was no response save for the crackling of ghostly flames. Each knight lifted his head and nodded.
The second spoke for all.
“A creature of the Devil’s ward. If it is awake then much would be explained.”
The fourth spoke for the first time.
“If Brother Thomas speaks true then all is lost. It is not the Order that is bewitched, but those that now fear it and have tossed us to the hangman’s noose and fires. Those that have grown fatted on our spoils and are in debt to our financial institutes.”
He slammed his fist onto the table.
“It is unjust and spawn of the false Gods. We are the monks of war, the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici, the Knights Templar.”
There was anger in his voice.
The first’s hand raised once more inciting calm and decorum.
“You speak for all Brother Neuham. The King of France is deep in debt with our brethren, most of our warriors of Christ are fighting elsewhere and they chose Friday 13th October to rise in secrecy with cowardice and treachery.”
Brother Thomas sighed deeply.
“Would that our armies were not abroad then this King would have felt the wrath of Gods army.”
The third placed both gauntleted hands upon the altar.
“I fear not Brother Thomas, Pope Clement himself authorised the purge. Both Teutons and Hospitallers are with them. With the Inquisition drawing false confession out of old men and sergeants, all is lost. We are sworn to fight in the name of Christ and not against our own Church.”
The first moved to the head of the altar looking towards Joseph and Allan but giving no signs their presence was recognised.
He stood tall at just over six feet and addressed those in front.
“Brother’s Thomas, Neuham and LeBlanc, hear me well. Matters at large are beyond our capacity to change at this time. If the Order is dying then we must retain our honour and fight the waking daemon and trust that others will condemn those that have been beguiled with greed and power and seek retribution for our sacrifices.”
All three stood.
“We hear thee Master Robert.”
“Then prepare thine armours and fetch the scrolls. Our tunnels lead to the crypt and by life or death we will not leave this battle with anything less than victory.”
Each spectre raised their fisted right arms high and in unison cried out,
“Victory or death.”
Three exited through the left hand door. The Master remained at the head of the altar staring at the steps where the brothers Carmichael stood in another time looking back. The room was half filled with ethereal smoke from the torches. Venting in the brickwork drew it away to be lost in the tunnels or discharged well away from the chapel unseen in the woods that, in Allan and Joseph’s world, were fields.
“Do you think he knows we’re here?” enquired Allan.
Joseph put his hand against the wall rising with the stairs. It was comforting to know that it felt cold and hard; unforgivable and very real.
“I don’t think so. In his time this stairwell would lie behind another door like those.” He gesticulated toward the doors before them and then back to the sides of the entrance where they stood. Rusted relics of iron door hangers still lay fixed in the masonry.
The Master looked suddenly tired. The magnitude of events weighing heavily. He knew this was a place they would not leave. Whatever Daemon he referred to was also down here at the end of one tunnel or another. They all did. And this was to be the place they would rot in; never to see the sun or sweet air of the night again. The reverie was displaced as a blood curdling scream echoed from the corridor the knights had passed into. The master straightened and drew his long sword. Something smashed against the oak door to the left and the scream ceased. They could now hear a half conscious groan as blood seeped under the wood. The Master looked toward the stairs as he set off toward the end of his days.
“Errr….yes?” offered Allan.
Fools, the Master grimaced beneath his beard. Time was shorter than he supposed and the beast was out. He issued his last command with some vehemence.
“Run for your lives or die. Do not look back.”
Allan and Joseph were already back tracking. The order sent them running and scrambling up the stairs. As they emerged from the broken hatch that Allan had fallen through some hours before the screaming started again. The sound of death that wasn’t easy. It seemed to echo off the ruin walls and reach out as the brothers fled the scene. Panting they arrived on the Compton Road and continued until they burst through the doors of the Oak with the clock striking 11.00 p.m..
Derrick was about to point out time had been called but one look at the brothers and a nudge from Jennifer persuaded him there was a tale to be told.
“You boys look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he said, whilst beginning the first pulls of two pints of the Bishops.
If you made it here, then thank you for taking the time to read. Like I said before, these add back story to other books; and yes, I know they need tweaking, but if they become a manuscript then that is where the transformation from short story anthology will turn into the real deal.
Shares or comments are welcome and if you want more then please say so lest I distract…something I am very good at doing !!
© G Jefferies and Fictionisfood, 2016. All rights reserved.