If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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The Bishop stared at me, the stood up.
“Right,” he said. “That’s it. You two young men need rest, right now.” He pulled his woollen coat about him, and grabbed a candle from one of the wall sconces.
“But – ” began Daniel.
“No buts,” said the Bishop. “It’s clear to me that the pair of you need rest, you need sleep. We can talk about all this in the morning, but right now, if you don’t sleep, your friend here -” he indicated me, “-is going to collapse.”
“But – ” Daniel tried again.
“I don’t doubt that what you need to say is important,” said the Bishop. “But it will wait.” His voice held a note of finality, and reluctantly, annoyed, we stood up, me stumbling over one of the legs of my chair as I did so.
“See,” he said. “Sleep! Follow me.”
He led us out of the small glassed-in room, and up the corridor, up a small flight of steps that led to the choir room. For a moment I thought we were going in, but he walked past it, taking the next door to the left.
We found ourselves in an antiquated kitchen area, with sinks, cupboards, and a large open space directly to our right. He walked across to the far wall, opened some cabinets, and took out two dusty sleeping bags and some pillows. “We’re used to having guests,” he said, in response to my query. He threw the pillows to the both of us, and rolled the sleeping bags out on the old linoleum floor.
“There are bathrooms back through the corridor,” he said, pointing back down the corridor we’d come through. “On the right hand side. And the tap on the far left here, in the brown sink section, still works. There are cups in the cupboard. The heat ring over here,” he pointed, “works well, and there’s a kettle and some tea-making stuff over here.”
I could hear the wind rattling through an old wooden door on my far right. “What’s through there?” I asked. A cold wind was blowing underneath the door, and through the gaps on each side.
“It used to lead through to the Crypt. Now it’s a doorway to nowhere. Above that door used to be the chancel, where the choir used to sing. That whole half of the Cathedral was built after the rest of it, in the middle of the twentieth century, to complete an unfinished building. But it was never built as well as the rest of the Cathedral.
“It’s all demolished now – the back end suffered massive damage in the first quake, and was pretty much knocked apart, as you probably know. With no money to fix it all, we just closed that part of the Cathedral off, built a concrete wall behind the altar upstairs, and just managed as best we could. Once again we were left with an unfinished, half-Cathedral, but this time around, with no money to ever fix the damage. I don’t know, maybe the place is cursed.
“Of course, the whole Cathedral is scheduled for demolition now, but I don’t know that it will ever happen. Demolition takes money and effort, and care that no-one has. So the Cathedral stands here, a relic in an age of relics, looking over the Octagon, with no-one to care about except a few human relics like me. But don’t worry, the chance of your being here in another major quake, and there being more damage is pretty slim.”
We settled into our sleeping bags on the cold, hard floor. Despite the discomfort, I was asleep within seconds, the last image of the evening the sound of the Bishop’s footsteps pacing away into the distance.
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My night was filled with visions, in which I wasn’t sure whether I was awake or if I slept. There was the wind echoing through the empty building, whistling around the corridors and through gaps in doorways and window frames.
Behind the wind, almost like an echo behind the silence and the darkness that penetrated this huge stone building, I could hear the speech of two men, strangely inflected with accent I wasn’t familiar with – British of some sort, perhaps.
I couldn’t tell; I didn’t know.
Was it my imagination, or was it real? I didn’t know, as I peered into the velvety darkness that wrapped around me, listening intently for a sound that might confirm whether what I heard was a dream or reality.
I listened, stretching my senses into the darkness. Nothing. Then, like the shadow of a whisper, I heard the voices of two men, echoing as if from a huge distance:
“Man, are you all right?” The first voice sounded afraid, shocked.
“I am Ryecroft, give me a drink.” The second voice was familiar in the stone cold hopelessness of its tone. I knew that voice; last I had heard it, its owner had been kneeling in front of me, pistol in hand.
“What? What? What is this devilry?” said the first voice. “Help! Help! Oh God, oh God, the blood…man, lie down. Stay still. Don’t move. I’ll get help. Oh God. Oh, my dear Lord. Here…Take this, hold it against yourself, man.”
“Nothing can help me.” The second voice was despair itself; emptiness, a voice entombed in shadow.
“Oh my dear God, no. Christ!”
“Don’t tell anybody,” breathed the second voice. And with the tolling of church bells as he spoke, the voices faded, the church bells tolling on and on, a death knell in my soul.
““Don’t tell anybody…” Those three words echoed around in my mind, over and over, chilling my soul.
I gasped, shocked, and sat bolt upright, the unfocused shadow world, swirling about me, suddenly become clear and sharply-defined and comprehensible. My brain clicked into sense, like being doused with cold water.
I had been dreaming.
I prised my eyelids open; they were dry with dust and thirst. I was sweating, hot beads of moisture covered my body, and I was panting with fear.
I’d been dreaming.
I must have been dreaming.
Daniel snored beside me, drooling slightly onto his thin pillow, bunched up against his cheek as he lay on the cold stone floor. We were still in the Cathedral, and the first rays of morning light were beginning to creep through the cracks in the doorway that led to nowhere.
I crawled out of my sleeping bag. My mouth felt like a sewer but, strangely, my aches had all but disappeared, despite a night on a hard stone floor. I’d clearly needed the sleep, and stood up, stretching.
Apart from Daniel sleeping next to me, I couldn’t see anybody around. The place appeared deserted. I grabbed an old, cracked mug from a cupboard, and poured myself a drink of water from the tap, the pipes shuddering and banging the moment I turned the water on.
Of course, what I really needed was food – that pot noodle at Tina’s seemed a long time ago. But I couldn’t see any food here, and I figured my chances of finding any were remote.
Thinking of the pot noodle and food made me think of Tina and Kayly too, and I wondered what had happened after we’d left them. I hoped that whoever it was hadn’t given the girls a hard time. Tina and Kayly knew how to look after themselves, and weren’t exactly pushovers, but still, I worried.
Still thinking about my friends, I strolled out of the kitchen and through to the corridor.
Then I saw it. The door to the choir room.
It was shut, maybe locked. Before I knew what I was doing, I turned the old, brass doorknob, long ago greened by lack of polishing and care. It creaked as I twisted it then, pushing firmly against the wood, the door screeched open.
The room wasn’t empty. In one of the old wooden pews, decorated with dozens of scratched names, the graffiti of Cathedral choristers long since gone from here, and gone from all memory, sat the Bishop.
He was not alone. I’d caught him in conversation, in a meeting with someone. Just one person. The two of them had evidently been peering over a pile of documents that sat scattered across an ancient wooden table, the top of which appeared to have been carved from a slice of an old tree.
Two cups of tea or coffee sat cold as paperweights on the documents, and a pile of old books – local histories and what seemed to be maps of the local area of Dunedin, were shoved roughly to one side.
And I caught my breath when I saw who the second person in the room was.
It was a woman. She was sitting opposite the Bishop, in a mirror image pew to his own. The pew on which she sat was worn through in some places from use, while the wood itself rotted in others. But this wasn’t what made me freeze. What froze me was the woman herself.
Her face was pale, cold and beautiful, her shiny black hair, neatly tied in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her lovely mouth pursed into a thin, focused line. Every feature, every curve of that face was already etched into my brain, but seeing her there, not three metres from me, shocked me with a palpable fear like electricity shunting through my whole body.
Her eyes flashed bright green as she looked up to regard me sharply.
It was the doc.
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