Disclaimers: None needed. They’re mine. There is some bad language. There is a mention of sex between women but nothing too graphic. The one word of warning. This is not a romance. It’s not like my usual stuff.
Comments, complaints, etc – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dedication. To Deb – who gave me Lisa
Frankie, I’m at the garden gate
By Insane Englishwoman
She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. Desperately she tried to call for help but her voice was barely a whisper. Terrified she lay rigid in the bed, staring through the doorway at the hooded figure climbing the stairs, its tread measured and slow. It reached the landing and turned towards the door.
“Urgh” Frankie sat upright suddenly, gasping.
The blonde lying beside her stirred. “Hey, wassa matter”.
“Nothing. It’s okay, just a damned stupid nightmare.”
“Hmm. Well I know some wonderful ways of driving nightmares away.” She grinned in a manner that could only be described as lecherous and gently pulled Frankie towards her.
“Oh yeah.” Frankie groaned as her bed-mate bit down on a nipple. “Just like that, babe.” She wished she could remember the woman’s name. Ah Hell, what did it matter, she wasn’t going to see her again anyway. Frankie rolled them both over and applied herself to the task at hand, driving the nightmare and its terror back where it belonged.
“You go grab a table and I’ll get the coffees in. You want a cake, Lisa?” Frankie raised an eyebrow in question. “No, wait, let me guess.” She rested the fingers of her left hand on her forehead an intoned dramatically, “Madame Zelda sees all, knows all, a large cappuccino and an almond croissant, right?”
“Fuck off.” Her best friend replied and grinned. Frankie returned the grin and headed for the counter.
“So” Lisa began when they’d settled down with their drinks. “How are you Frankie? It seems ages since I last saw you. You’re looking a bit tired. Burning the candle at both ends and in the middle again are you?”
“Huh?” Frankie forced her gaze away from Lisa’s hands. She’d been watching her friend add more sugar to the inoffensive little cup of coffee than any human would have believed possible. It still surprised her that Lisa hadn’t keeled over from a diabetic meltdown years before. She shook her head. “Sorry Lisa, I was miles away. What was that?”
“You were, weren’t you. I asked if you were okay but I think that was my answer. What’s wrong Frank? “
“Ah, nothing really, nothing much. Not sleeping too well, getting a lot of nightmares is all. Nothing to worry about.”
“Nightmares? Well dreams are usually the subconscious working things out. What sort of nightmares?”
“Hey! You going all therapist on me Lisa? You know I hate that stuff.”
“Yes Francesca, I know you ‘hate that stuff’ in spite of it being my profession.” Lisa laid emphasis on the word profession. That and the use of her full name let Frankie know she’d hurt her friend’s feelings. She didn’t get a chance to apologise as Lisa continued. “Firstly I wouldn’t ‘go all therapist’ on you because it would be unethical. Secondly, I’m just concerned. You’ve been my best friend since high school, I’m allowed to care about you, you know. Even though you hate people caring. You are the most barriered, hard to know, infuriating, closed person I’ve ever met. I’ve known you for twenty years and in some ways I still don’t know you at all. But I care.”
“I’m sorry Lisa. Truly I am. I know I don’t let anybody in but trust me when I tell you that you know more about me than any other person on this earth. I’ll try, it’s hard to drop the defences you know, but I’ll try. Let me grab another coffee and I’ll talk.”
“You drink far too much coffee. I haven’t even started mine and yours is gone. Here let me get it.”
“Black Americano, extra shots, can you make it a giant one please?”
Frankie struggled to get her thoughts in order, watching as Lisa returned with a coffee big enough to require both hands lifting it.
“I’m not sure where to start with this. I get these nightmares. Have done for... God... I don’t know how many years. I looked into it once and decided they weren’t really nightmares. Do you know anything about sleep disorders or sleep paralysis?”
Lisa shook her head. “No, not my area of expertise.”
“Well, there’s a part of the brain that kicks in when you fall asleep that paralyses you. It’s for your own safety to stop you acting out your dreams and hurting yourself. People who sleep-walk or talk in their sleep have a misfire in that function, it doesn’t paralyse them fully. Then there’s my kind of disorder. The paralysis does work, but at times when it shouldn’t. It paralyses the subject when they aren’t fully asleep. When they’re hovering on that border between not-quite-awake and not-quite-asleep. Normally you’d be active then and not paralysed.”
Lisa nodded to show that she understood, whilst privately thinking she understood a lot more than Frankie believed. She found it interesting that Frankie had switched to describing ‘the subject’ and ‘they’ as soon as the discussion became personal. She stopped herself. No analysis, it wasn’t proper. She concentrated on what Frankie was saying.
“Right. So the subject is not-quite-asleep but they are paralysed. And then, even though they aren’t asleep, they dream. The dreams are terrifying but they’re unable to move, they can’t cry out or shout for help, they fight it but they’re helpless. They just have to lie there and live it.” She paused and lifted her cup with slightly trembling hands and drained half of it before continuing. “I personally believe that all these stories of alien abductions are the result of this disorder. In mediaeval times people spoke of ‘the hag’ sitting on your chest, or told stories of incubi or succubae but modern folk don’t believe in that. Just in alien abduction.”
“Is that what happens to you? Alien abduction?”
“Christ, no! You know I don’t believe in flying saucers. No, what happens is... what I get...” Frankie seemed to be having trouble making it personal.
Lisa rested her hand on Frankie’s arm and said gently. “If it helps to say ‘they’ rather than ‘we or “!” then keep doing that.”
“Did I? I did, didn’t I? No, it feels important to talk of ‘me’ and not ‘they’. I have no earthly idea why, but it does. I’m in bed, flat on my back; it only happens if I sleep on my back. And until this past weekend it only ever happened when I’m alone. But this Friday I wasn’t alone and it still happened.
“Okay, so I’m there, not sleeping, but I can’t move and if I try to speak or call for help all that I can manage is a whisper. I’m terrified. I look through the doorway and I can see a figure moving up the stairs. He’s walking very slowly but with a steady, regular pace. He’s a monk, or at least dressed as one, not a friar though, definitely a monastical order. He has his cowl, his hood that is, up so you can’t see his face at all. His arms are folded so his hands are inside his sleeves, you can’t see those either. He doesn’t speak. He reaches the landing and turns towards the bedroom.
“And that’s when I get my body back usually. I wind up bolting upright. Once he got as far as the door. He’s never come into the room though. I sometimes wonder what would happen if he reached the bed. I don’t like to think about that too much. The thing is, I always sleep with my door closed. And even if it wasn’t closed I’ve deliberately sited the bed so that you can’t see the stairs or the landing at all if you’re lying down.” Frankie stopped speaking and drained her bucket of coffee without pause.
Neither woman spoke for a moment or two, then Lisa said, “It sounds absolutely terrifying to me and I’m not the one going through it. But perhaps it’s the perception; you said it was a measured tread. What kind of pace,”
“Slow and steady, like an old fashioned beat bobby, or one of the guards outside Buckingham Palace, you know - nowhere special to go and all the time in the world to get there.”
“That’s interesting; both of those images are benign. They’re protective. Perhaps it isn’t a threat to you. Have you tried asking it what it wants?”
Frankie took a deep breath before answering. “No, never occurred to me. But I suppose I could ask, if I weren’t so scared about the answer. Hell, to me it sounds like that old kid’s game. You know the one where you use the name of whoever you’re playing it on and you start ‘Frankie I’m at the garden gate’, in a normal voice. And you go right through the house, up the stairs until ‘Frankie I’m at the bedroom door’ in a whisper. Which makes the person lean right in close. Then you leap forward, grab them and shout ‘Frankie I’ve got you!’ and make them scream.” She stared into her empty cup, her hands shaking slightly.
Lisa gave her a moment or two to collect herself and then asked, “How often does it happen and how long has it been going on?”
“About 12 years or so, I’m not sure exactly but I don’t remember it happening when we shared the flat before you got married. At first it was about every month to six weeks, these days it’s every single time I sleep alone. “
“So it started after you moved in to your house? Maybe it’s the ghost of a monk who died there?”
“A, I don’t believe in ghosts and B, it’s a semi built in the 1980s, Lisa. Now I know the Thatcher years were scary but even she couldn’t arrange for me to be haunted.”
“Oh very funny, you know what I meant, perhaps the land your house is on used to belong to a monastery that was dissolved by Henry VIII or something. After all, your road is called Abbey Close and it runs off Chancel Street, there must be a reason for those names.”
“Well, maybe it’s worth doing some investigating. I could check the historical records at the county library I suppose. Thanks for not laughing at me, by the way.”
“Frankie, I’m your oldest friend, I wouldn’t dream of laughing at you. Besides I can see how rattled you are and that’s unusual enough to be treated seriously no matter what you said.”
Once more she couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. She lay rigid in the bed, watching through the doorway as the familiar hooded figure climbed the stairs, its tread as always measured and slow. It reached the landing and turned towards the door. Her mind formed the question “What do you want?”
The answer slithered around her in sibilant tones. “You.” The figure stopped at the doorway. “You are our path back.”
Frankie sat up looking towards the closed door in a panic. She was safe. It was gone. She contemplated waking the redhead beside her, whose name she thought was Rita, but she decided not to. She needed to see Lisa and she needed to do some research. Path from where? And why?
Frankie slumped back in the chair and stared at the piles on the desk. Gloomily she wondered if it was possible to die from an overdose of paper dust. There were so many books, newspapers and pamphlets stacked there that it was no longer possible to see the computer monitor behind them. She was tired, fed up and frustrated. Not to mention still slightly jumpy. There was a lingering sense of menace from the dreams which she was no longer able to bury.
‘Where the hell is Lisa? She’s supposed to be helping with this.’ She barely finished the thought when the library’s door opened and Lisa entered.
“Sorry I’m late, car wouldn’t start. How far have you got?” Lisa dumped her coat and bag into one of the chairs and dropped into the last remaining at that desk.
“This far.” Frankie indicated the collection in front of them. “And yet absolutely nowhere. I started with the computer and records of Henry VIII’s dissolutions. When I found nothing I worked back to 1400 and forward to 1800. Then I got just about every other record and worked through those. There is no record of any monastery, church, abbey, cathedral or even a hermit’s cell anywhere even close to the estate.
“I think it’s just the way they label housing estates round here. They name them on a theme. The next estate over has all its streets named for Gilbert & Sullivan characters but I bet they never had an opera there. Or the one on the western side of the city, that’s named after famous astronauts and I know for certain I’ve never seen them launch a rocket.”
Lisa eyed the mountain of documents and reluctantly offered, “Would you like me to double-check them all for you? Not that I think you’ve missed anything but sometimes a fresh pair of eyes...”
Frankie shook her head. “No, I wouldn’t do that too you, I’m not that mad at you for being late.”
The soft voice coming from behind her made Frankie jump to her feet with a gasp, startled. It was the librarian. He looked nothing like any librarian Frankie had expected to see, being neither small nor bespectacled. In fact Frankie considered he would fit the description ‘linebacker’ quite easily. Not that she had any idea what exactly a linebacker was or did since it belonged to some quaint American thing rather than a sensible sport. But the man stood two metres tall and must have weighed 150 kilos; it seemed as if ‘linebacker’ fitted well and it was considerably more polite than her usual choice of ‘built like a brick carsey’. His voice broke that image; it was delicate and soft in tone.
“Erf! Sorry, my nerves are a bit shot, please go on.”
The man smiled slightly. “I believe I may be able to help. I’m sorry to have eavesdropped but it did seem to me that you might have been discussing the street names of the Carillon Estate and its canonical overtones.”
Sorting through what he’d said Frankie decided that was correct and nodded.
“Well, there was indeed a small religious community, dedicated to Saint Thaddeus, on that site but you won’t find any records of it. It was pre-Conquest you see and had already been destroyed by the end of 1000AD.” Encouraged by their rapt expressions he continued. “It had once been a thriving community but the bigger centre near what would become the cathedral drew prospective recruits away and by the end of the tenth century there were only about twenty monks left.
“I don’t know if you’re aware but there were a lot of misapprehension about the year 1000AD much like the more recent, similarly incorrect thoughts about the year 2000. That it was the beginning of a new millennium, I mean. It was a much more superstitious time, people believed Armageddon was imminent; there were sightings of Satan walking abroad. The handful of monks remaining there turned from their teachings and began worshipping the devil.
“Eventually things settled, the church authorities investigated, the monks were charged with witchcraft. Their punishment was death. The building was burned to the ground – with all the monks inside. All records were ordered destroyed and indeed most were. One contemporary document remained, it has since been lost but it was copied by the sexton of the Cathedral approximately two-hundred-and-fifty years after the event. I was given the privilege or viewing that copy many years ago when I researched local church history for my doctoral thesis.”
There was a moment of quiet. Then Frankie spoke. “Are there... I mean, have there been reports of sightings... of ghosts?”
“No, never. But there is an interesting legend. I’m not sure of the source, it was included with the parchment I viewed but was not a part of that record. The story is that the monks were indeed emissaries of the devil and that they could be returned to this world if a virgin whore sacrificed a healer of souls to save herself. It would bring Satan into the world and begin the last battle. I don’t know the origin of this but quite obviously it is nothing but a fanciful tale to scare the populace into proper religious obedience. Nevertheless it is interesting, anthropologically speaking.”
Frankie sat unmoving leaving it to Lisa to thank the man for his time, pack away the books and steer them both in the direction of coffee.
As Frankie started her second cup Lisa could tell by the cocky grin and almost arrogant tilt of her head that she had wrestled her armour back into place. She sighed.
“Well, you heard the man. Nothing to worry about. No ghost sightings, It’s just my over active imagination, a waking bad dream, just like I always said. I must have heard the story somewhere years ago and forgotten all about it. My subconscious remembers it, that’s all.”
Lisa paused for a moment trying to decide how to approach this. Damn it. Head on was the best way with Frankie.
“Frankie, can I ask you something personal?”
“Sure, Lise, you’ve known me long enough to know that nothing embarrasses me. Go ahead.”
“Have you ever been with a man?”
“What? Bloody hell woman; where did that come from? No I haven’t. I discovered at twelve I was into girls and I’ve never looked back. After all, if you know you love the finest champagne you don’t need to try a glass of supermarket plonk just to check, now do you?”
Lisa chose to gloss over the slur on her heterosexuality. “Okay. And how many women have you slept with? Two hundred? Three hundred?” Frankie held her arm out, hand palm up and made the well known gesture for ‘higher’. “Five hundred?” Frankie gestured again.
“Oh Lord. I’m not keeping this up. It’s a lot right?” Frankie nodded. “Well, you do realise that not having sex with a man classifies you by mediaeval standards as a virgin? I don’t care what you’ve done and with which toys.” She halted any protest before it could begin. “And also by the same standards simply having sex with a woman, let alone the number of partners you’ve had, would label you as a whore? Frankie, you could be the virgin whore they spoke of.”
“What? Lise, don’t tell me you’re about to give credence to that superstitious bollocks. You a trained counsellor and all. Aren’t you supposed to agree it’s all in the mind?”
“Frank, if you’d ever shown me any reason to believe you were given to flights of fancy I would be dismissing this. But you’re not the type. And you also aren’t the sort to admit to or even to show fear, yet you’re obviously afraid. “
Frankie opened her mouth to deny that but shut it again with a snap, She’d always been honest with Lisa, now was not the time to change that. “Yeah.” She confirmed. “These damned dreams have got me running scared. I don’t know how to stop them and I’m almost afraid to go to sleep now. “
“You know what? I need to come and sleep with you.”
Frankie inhaled her coffee and spent several minutes coughing and spluttering before she could respond. “Hang on a mo...”
Lisa cuffed her gently round the back of the head. “Not like that you nut. What part of I’m straight and married slipped your mind. Sleep. I need to sit beside you in bed and sleep while you sleep; or better yet be awake while you sleep. Then I can see if something really happens, if there is a physical presence. And if there is perhaps I can help protect you”
Frankie considered all the reasons why this was not a good idea before replying. “Thanks. I won’t pretend to be anything but grateful. I need to get some shut-eye. Perhaps with you there I can. But won’t your husband object?”
“He’s at a medical conference in Scarborough this weekend. I don’t care how bracing Scarborough is supposed to be there is nothing in the world that could persuade me to spend a long weekend there at this time of year. So how about Friday night”
“Are you as uncomfortable about this as me?” Frankie stood at the foot of the bed and watched as Lisa, wearing a fetching pair of flannel pyjamas settled herself into the pillows. “Perhaps it’s because I’m going to bed dressed.” She indicated the t-shirt and boxers she was wearing. “I usually sleep raw but it didn’t seem proper.”
“I’m fine, perfectly comfortable. You wear whatever you want...or not, I don’t mind.”
“Lise, you have realised something haven’t you girl? If I’m the virgin whore you’re the healer of souls. After all, what better way is there to describe what you do for people?”
Lisa glanced up in shock. “No, I didn’t realise. I hadn’t thought about it. Oh my God!”
“Are you okay? Do you want to change your mind? If you’d rather go I can cope.”
“I’m not abandoning you Frankie. Whatever happens I know you won’t hurt me. What are we going to do if it is true and they do come for us? Have you thought about it?”
“I’ve thought but I don’t rightly know yet Lise. I figured I’d find out what they want, see what alternatives there are and then work out a way to stop them. Have you noticed we’ve started treating this as real? We aren’t talking about dreams or superstitions anymore.”
“I noticed, I think that being here in this room has changed the way I feel. There’s an air of ...I don’t know... foreboding. Why has no-one ever commented?”
“Lise, the women I usually bring here aren’t paying much attention to the surroundings. We tend to be kind of focused.” Frankie grinned as Lisa blushed.
He was there, at the door, Frankie couldn’t move. With difficulty she looked sideways towards Lisa. Lisa wasn’t moving either but was clearly awake, an expression of horror on her face. ‘No!’ thought Frankie. ‘It’s real. Oh God! It’s real’
The robed figure slid silently into the room. When it reached the bed it unfolded its left arm from its position inside its sleeves, extended it and gestured. Frankie was relieved to see the hand was flesh and not, as she had feared, bone. The request echoed inside her head. “Follow!” Appalled, she felt her body move to stand. She had no control over her movements. Neither, it seemed, did Lisa, who had risen to stand beside her. Helpless they followed the monk out of the room and to the head of the stairs. The stairs no longer ended in the hallway.
They descended for what seemed like years. The air around them grew colder with each step. Eventually they emerged into a cavernous room, lit by a dozen or so flickering candles. The only furnishing was a stone altar in the very centre. ‘The crypt.’ thought Frankie, managing to be both still terrified and yet no longer even mildly surprised by the events
The monk pointed and Lisa walked to the altar and lay down upon it; spreading her arms and legs out. Chains appeared from nowhere and fastened her firmly to it. The monk beckoned Frankie; she obeyed. She stopped at the head of the altar and reached for the knife which hung in the air in front of her. Her mind screamed for her to stop, break free, to do something. Against her will her arm rose, knife poised to strike. She could almost feel the monk’s excitement.
‘Goddammittohell! I won’t do this. I won’t! There has to be a way to break this.’ She thought, as she desperately resisted the desire to plunge the knife into Lisa’s heart. With a grunt of effort she swept her arm sideways and flung the dagger sideways. As it skittered across the stone floor she could sense hatred flowing from the monk.
His voice echoed in her mind once more. “It matters not. All that our master needs is that you do nothing. In three days and nights the healer will die and we will return.”
There was a sickening sense of movement and Frankie found herself on her hands and knees at the bottom of her stairs. The cavern and the path to it were no longer there. She was alone and it was daylight.
Frankie didn’t bother to shower; she threw on her clothes from the previous day and ran to the library. It was closed. She was close to hysteria before she noticed the time on the clock inside. It wasn’t due to open for another forty minutes. She was looking for something to break down the glass door when the sound of a throat being gently cleared caught her attention.
“Good morning.” It was the librarian.
“No it isn’t a good morning. It’s a bloody terrible morning. They’ve got Lisa. It’s true, it’s all true. I’m the virgin whore; she’s the healer of souls. It’s all bloody true. You have to let me in. I need to find how to get her back.” She grabbed hold of him and slammed him against the wall. “You have to, you have to help. I need to get in.”
He made a gurgling noise and she realised that she was pinning him against the library wall with her forearm, which was across his throat, cutting off both his breathing and his ability to speak.
“Oh God! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, I’m beside myself. Please, you have to help me.”
“Don’t panic, I’m here early because I want to help, I hoped you would return. I’ve brought all the documents I could find.” He held up a thick manila folder. “I photocopied everything connected to the legend that was in the archive when I studied it. It’s too soon to open the library. Please come and have a coffee. I’m sure if we work through these we can find a way to rescue your friend.”
They were on their third coffee before either of them found anything useful. The librarian, whose name she had learned was Jude, which in other circumstances would have made her break into song, held up the photocopy of what looked like a small roll of vellum. “You are the key. According to this the virgin whore can bring about the return by either killing the healer or simply doing nothing and allowing her to die.”
Frankie interrupted, angry and frustrated. “I know that.”
He continued in a tone of mild rebuke, “Yes, but did you also know you’re the key to stopping it. According to this there’s something you can do to stop it and destroy them. Unfortunately it doesn’t say what.”
“Well that’s no bloody use, is it? Dammit! Time’s wasting. Hey Jude...” Realising what she’d said she dissolved into giggles, which to her horror turned into tears. “Fuck! I do not cry in front of people!” Taking a deep breath she apologised. “Sorry. You look as if you think I’ve totally lost my mind. You’re probably right. After all, here I am on a nice sunny Saturday not only believing in ghosts but trying, with a perfect stranger, to find a bit of old paper. A bit that will tell me how to open the gates of hell, defeat a bunch of demon monks, rescue my friend and I’m deciding all this over a cup of Costa coffee? Sounds pretty crazy to me.”
He grinned in response. “Well, when you put it that way...”
They spent another ten minutes reading before Frankie spoke again. “Hey, what’s this? I can’t read it.”
Jude took it and studied it intently. The minutes ticked by. Frankie began to fidget all too aware of the passing of time. Almost half an hour later she was as close to murder as she’d ever been when Jude said carefully. “It’s Hebrew but written in Gothic script, most unusual. It says...hang on; the vowels are missing, they often are in Hebrew. It doesn’t make sense. I think it says ‘Selene will awake at the points of the days. The eight that stand as nine shall be something by the whore and the unrighteous will bleed to the fangs of the serpent. The portal will close evermore’. I don’t know who Selene is, that’s not a Hebrew name And whatever you need to do you can only have the one attempt, it must be done right first time”
Frankie held up a hand. “I know who Selene is, and you call yourself a librarian! She’s the Greek goddess of the moon. But wait. I’m trying to remember something. The eight that stand as...Shit! I need to know what that missing word is, please work on it, I’ve an idea.”
“Ah, quite, I’m not really that familiar with the pagan deities. As for the word, I’m afraid without the vowel I really can only guess.”
“Okay, tell me this, with the right vowel could it be slid or slide?”
“Well... yes it could.”
“I know what I need to do. I know when I need to do it. Now I just need to know how to get that godforsaken gate open.”
I remember a raised square at the head of the altar, it had eight flagstones on it there was a place for a ninth but it was missing, or so I thought. There was a pattern etched on the stones, I didn’t think anything of it at the time but it sounds to me as if it’s one great big sliding tile puzzle. I love those things; I’ve never met one I couldn’t do in seconds.”
Two hours later Frankie held up another copy marked as being of an original record inscribed on vellum. “Can’t read this one either though I can recognise Hebrew script.”
Jude took it from here. “Ah, yes. Well this one is Latin but written in Hebrew script, that must have been quite a feat of scholarship, the two languages are so totally different.”
“Yeah, well, marvellous as it might be, do you think you can do the academic appreciation stuff later? We’ve Armageddon to halt you know.” It was a feeble attempt at humour but her nerves were at screaming point and it was either try to joke to relieve them or beat him to death with biscotti.
“Oh, yes, of course, terribly sorry. Hmm, if I’m reading this correctly... According to this only the almoner of the community can open the portal from within and only the almoner or the whore can open it from the outside. If you’re truly the virgin whore then what you need to do to open the gate is to say the Lord’s Prayer, but it must be as this Selene person awakens and it must be said in Latin.” He looked at her. “Do you understand any Latin?”
“No problem, raised Catholic, got it off by heart. I never thought I’d have reason to be grateful for that. So that’s it. I know everything I need to do and now and how to do it. I just need to wait until moonrise tonight. Thanks for your help. I’m sorry I’ve made you miss work and about the choking thing and everything”
“Not a problem. Good luck.”
Frankie propped the bathroom door open firmly, she couldn’t take the risk it might close. Looking at the window she let loose a string of profanity in three languages. It was fixed, it could not be opened and it was made of frosted glass. “Shit, shit, shit! I can’t see through that damned useless piece of...” She looked around frantically. “Ah, perfect!” Seizing the steel wastepaper bin from beneath the sink she hurled it energetically at the window.
The resulting crash exceeded her expectations. Shattered glass flew in all directions. Carefully she removed the few loose pieces which remained in the frame, only then did she notice her neighbour who was standing in the street below, staring at the bin as it bounced past.
“Oops.” Frankie murmured. “Oh well, she hates me anyway.” Raising her voice she shouted to the woman, “Sorry for the scare Mrs B. I was carrying the bin and I tripped and accidentally threw it at the window. I’ll get it fixed tomorrow.” The woman glared at her, Frankie was positive she could hear the disdainful sniff even at this distance. She grinned to herself, nothing like annoying the ‘phobes. The grin faded as she thought of the things she was about to do.
It was almost midnight, Frankie stood at the top of the stairs staring through the gap where her bathroom window used to be, waiting for the moon to rise. As she heard the town clock begin the strike signally midnight the moon began to appear above the horizon. Frankie began the chant, she hadn’t heard it in years but still every word was etched deeply in her mind.
“Pater noster, qui es in caelis....” The hallway vanished, stairs stretching into the blackness. Frankie descended slowly, a slow pace keeping time with the words of the prayer. Her final step took her into the crypt as she uttered, “sed libera nos a malo. Amen.” Her next words were not as sacred. “Oh fuck!”
The crypt was much as she had left it a day earlier. Lisa chained to the altar, flickering candles providing light. The difference was that six robed figures stood silently on each side of the altar. They were evenly spaced and motionless as if waiting for something. Frankie didn’t have to wonder for very long what exactly that was. Another figure entered and moved to stand at the foot of the raised platform. ‘Thirteen of them, of course there would be!’ Without knowing how she knew Frankie was certain he was their original visitor and he was the almoner. He unfolded his arms and swept his hood down.
‘He looks ordinary.’ Frankie thought indignantly. ‘It’s not right that he looks ordinary. He should at least look evil. It’s not fair.’ Then the monk smiled triumphantly. It was as though a naked skull had grinned. She could feel him slithering around just outside her thoughts. Feel his glee that she had returned. His confidenence that she could now be made to kill the healer. Frankie shuddered and began reciting the prayer in her head. His voice stopped. Encouraged she tried to move forward. It was like walking in treacle.
The almoner picked up the ornate dagger from the plinth and held it above his head with both hands. He began his own chant. Frankie felt it running across her skin, slimy and obscene. She struggled forward, battling both her fear and his control; speaking the prayer aloud. She was close enough to see the terror in Lisa’s eyes but couldn’t spare the time or the effort it required to reassure her. With a grunt she dropped to her knees beside the raised flagstones, resting both hands on them. They were warm to her touch and the lines etched into them began to glow. Was that her fear she felt, or his? She didn’t know.
She studied the pieces, now she knew what it was it was so damned easy. She pushed at the first piece; it required very little effort to move. Left, across, up, down, over and there it was, a picture of a snake, curled back on itself, jaws open, its back arched over the lower empty space. The flagstones grew hotter and a thin mist emanated from them. Frankie was now certain it was his fear and not hers. She laughed in exultation as the mist became thick smoke, became a snake twice her height and as thick as her waist.
It undulated across the cavern encircling each of the monks in turn. As it touched each one a stream of blood flowed from them into its mouth; the monk in question became bone, then dust, his empty robe falling to the floor. The almoner turned to run but too late. His scream echoed from the walls as the snake wrapped around his body. As his empty garment fell the chains dropped from Lisa’s wrists and ankles, she rolled from the altar coming to land beside Frankie who rose to meet the approaching snake.
It coiled around her legs; it felt almost like a caress. Frankie felt no fear; there was no need to fear anything. The snake meant no harm to either Frankie herself or to Lisa. All Frankie could sense from her was concern and a desire to protect. The snake hissed softly to her and undulated away. Slowly it dissolved into mist and the mist returned to the stones which resumed their former disorder.
The ground began to shake and the crypt started to break up. ‘It’s like a cheesy horror film.’ Frankie thought. She caught hold of Lisa’s hand. “Come on girl. Let’s get the hell out of here, sharpish!” They ran towards the stairs. They were barely two or three steps up when with a deep rumble the cavern caved in behind them. A whirlwind of heat and dust and they were tumbling. Then nothing, it was totally quiet. They were sitting on the floor in Frankie’s hallway, in broad daylight.
Lisa threw herself into Frankie’s arms, sobbing. “You came back for me, you didn’t leave me. I thought I was going to die. You came.”
Frankie rocked her gently. “Of course I didn’t leave you. You’re my best friend. Where the hell am I going to find somebody else who’ll put up with my moods and coffee addiction at this stage of my life? Hey, hey, it’s okay, don’t cry. Everything’s alright. Come on, let’s get sorted. You need to get home to your hubby and I need to go and find that library bloke and tell him how we got on. But first – I need a coffee.”
Monday morning found Frankie back at the library bright and early, this time calm and cheerful. She strolled up to the enquiry desk whistling softly, ignoring the looks of outrage directed her way. She was chipper so she was going to whistle, if they didn’t like it tough!
“Hi, I need to chat to one of the other librarians, please.” She informed the woman who was seated behind the desk and hunched over a computer terminal. The librarian raised her head and glared at Frankie, resting her arms protectively across the screen, giving Frankie the impression that she was guarding her precious desk from all comers, as a lioness defends its cubs. “A chap, ‘bout so high. Really big chap, name of Jude.” She smiled winningly at the librarian who glowered at her in return.
“We only have one gentleman here and that is he.” The librarian said frostily pointed to a small balding man placing books on a nearby rack.
‘How very grammatical.’ Thought Frankie glancing at the man who fitted every single stereotype associated with the word ‘librarian’ that Frankie could imagine. Right down to the paisley patterned sleeveless pullover. “No, that’s not him; he was much taller and really hefty. It was all muscle though. Can’t mistake him, he was built like a brick outhouse.” Frankie grinned inwardly at the look of disgust which flittered across the woman’s face at her choice of words.
“I have informed you that Mr Cresswell is the only male member of staff. Please don’t waste my time, there are others requiring assistance. “
Frankie looked around expecting to see hordes of desperate lenders beating a path to the enquiry desk. There was no-one else in sight. She persevered, “His name is Jude, he told me all about the little chapel thing that was destroyed here before the Norman Conquest, the one dedicated to Saint....” Her voice drifted off. She mentally shook herself. “Never mind.” Deep in thought she left the library. Once outside she looked skywards and remarked. “Jude. Saint Jude. Patron saint of lost causes. Also known as Saint Thaddeus. Oh God!” She was suddenly very cold.
Frankie sat upright in bed, alone and very conscious of the new cotton feel of her pyjamas. She hadn’t owned a pair of these since she was thirteen. She wrapped her arms around her upraised knees. Her gaze flicked restlessly from the closed bedroom door, carefully locked with a bright new hasp and padlock, to her, equally new, child’s night-light which was plugged into the wall socket beside the bed. She withdrew a torch from beneath her pillow and switched it on to check the batteries. Not that there was any danger she would run out. Beside her on the night-table stood a wholesaler’s box containing fifty twin-packs of the same brand and type. She looked towards the night-light once more and wondered if she would ever again be able to sleep without a light.