Stones drive hard into the soles of her tightly laced boots and there is actually little else between the frail young woman and the cold dark earth as her ritual begins. She pushes hard at the heavy oak door which initially resists before scraping itself forward as she forces herself upon it. It is the only sound now in the silent cathedral, absorbed by its own weight. And the day slowly fades into nothing. Her breathing adjusts itself as she attempts to alleviate the panic as bitter gall rises in her throat and she knows that she must be quick. It is far too cold for October while it tips itself steadily towards All Hallows Eve – the very beginning of her end. But for now, she has intent set fast upon her as she heads directly for the crypt. And at that very moment of her stepping forward, she sees the row of candles aglow, aligned upon the altar, as an elderly man lights the last one before turning his face towards her- a face that she feels she should know. But, she is on a knife edge again. He shuffles towards her holding a crucifix aloft in one hand and for a moment she thinks he is going to strike her as the air swirls with tallow and sweat and fear. A shiver runs through them both at the exact same time as his shadow grows with menace together with the light of the lengthening candle flames. He reaches out as if to touch her and her body recoils; he is so close that she can catch at his fetid breath and is afraid of what might come next.
‘Is it the crypt you are wanting?’ he asks with such a sweet Irish brogue and a voice which belies his advancing years as he sweeps an arm in the direction he thinks she wants to go. But it is when he tips his face towards her that she catches at the glaucous film of his sightless eyes and wonders about the candles which are not for him- the Sunday service will start soon and the void will be filled with song. Time is sadly never on her side. He knows- he always knows- and she sighs. Her skirts scratch at the flagstones as she moves on unseen. His name is Jacob, she left her own name hanging somewhere in the past and it seems of little relevance to her now. What’s in a name, after all, she wonders. He reaches again for her sleeve and this time she feels his hand pass right through her and she senses the cold deep within and she is shaken.
‘Don’t be afeared I will not harm ye,’ he says. But how can she be sure? ‘Now you get about your business and be quick sharp.’ She moves more swiftly towards the crypt and the iron stairwell which she grips with a force and which will take her down to her quarry. She is glad to be away from him and the terrible strangeness of those sightless eyes which pierce her very fabric and fetch a great chill to her body. The steps are slippery with age and she is careful not to trip and attract the old man’s attention once again. Then she finds what she is searching for as her fingers begin to trace at marble and the frozen masque of a well famed woman. The delicate script is there at the base of the figure which she knows so well, but lingers over and continues to repeat the words aloud in her head- Lady Katherine and Child.
And it is then when the pent up emotions spill over and the tears course down her cheeks and she cares not if the old man hears her as she strikes again and again at the replica which is not her but that of an intruder. She screams into the void until her lungs are on fire and the space replies in echo.
‘No. Not Lady Katherine’s child. This is my child. He is mine, not hers. Mine. She runs then from the cathedral as Jacob feels a wind push past.
Later he turns his sightless eyes towards the pastor and says, ‘Mary was here again.’ And the pastor smiles benignly while replying, ‘You and your ghost stories Jacob. You should be ashamed of yourself.’ But he doesn’t wait to listen for Jacob’s reply.
‘Like she was?’ he asks.
I am UK born and bred of Anglo Indian origins holding a lifetime desire for word conjuring. An ex English/Drama teacher with an OU. BA. (Hons), specialising in Creative Writing. I have one self-published novel plus several online successes with both flash and short stories. At present I am Literary Editor for ‘Shorts’ magazine. I have taught writing groups until they all got so good that I made myself redundant. Enjoy politics, teach yoga, adore the theatre, literature and film. I have one husband, three children and am greedily collecting beautiful grandchildren whilst living in a most lovely Devon village where life is very good indeed.