If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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“What just happened?” I asked, dazed, although I already knew the answer.
“We time-skipped,” said Athena. “Welcome to January 29, 2030.”
For some reason that date was familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why. It was one of those dates – one of those numbers – that seemed real familiar, but I couldn’t recall why.
Before I could place it in my mind, Daniel whistled. “This is the day before the big quake.”
Athena nodded. “Yes,” she said.
“And we’re here…” I said. “In the Cathedral…” I trailed off, thinking of all the footage I’d seen as a kid, all the terrible images of people trapped, their bodies crushed by huge chunks of stone.
I remembered my uncle telling me, as a kid, how my parents had been here, too – both of them – the day of the quake, and before. Odd, but until now I’d never really thought about it.
I’d never asked many questions about my family. I’d never asked why they would have been here. I just didn’t know much about them. Their lives were over, and thinking about what might have been hurt too much.
But they’d been here. Not long before I was born. Nine months before I was born, I thought.
Woah, I thought. Mum and Dad must have been pretty much getting it on right around earthquake day. Which was almost now, when I was, at this point in my life. The thought made me feel odd. And the time-travelling was screwing with my brain, and with my sense of how reality works.
Being in St. Paul’s, here and now, made me shiver. The rest of the city had suffered with the big quake, but the Cathedral, full to bursting for the commemoration of the King’s funeral, had been a nightmare. The suffering had brought Dunedin – had brought New Zealand – to its knees. It had marked the beginning of the end, and a change in times for everyone.
It had been – would be – horrific.
“And we’re here, in the Cathedral…” I repeated.
“…Before it falls tomorrow,” said Athena, completing my sentence for me. “Yes.”
“Why are we here?” I said, shocked, and cold. “Why the hell have you brought us here? To add to the statistics? Or to stop it?”
“Neither,” said Athena. She turned to face us, lowered her pistol, but didn’t put it away.
For the first time since I’d met her, in that hospital, only days ago – or maybe it hadn’t happened yet – I saw all pretense, all pride, all arrogance wash from her face, replaced with a real, palpable earnestness. I couldn’t understand what she was about; what her motives might be. I was more confused than ever.
“Please understand: you need to trust me.“, she said, looking from me, to Daniel, and back again. “I know this must all be terribly confusing, and you’ve found yourselves right in the middle of something you can’t possibly comprehend. There are forces at work here that are way beyond anything you imagine.
“Good and evil, right and wrong – there’s a war happening here that is stretching across earth, across time, and we must win it, or everything that has ever happened – everything that humanity has ever achieved – will be thrown into darkness forever. Everything here that is happening isn’t just human – it’s beyond us, and far more important than a few lives. I know it’s unlikely, but you must trust me.”
Daniel and I stared at her in stunned silence for a few seconds, then Daniel cracked up laughing. “You’ve got to be joking!” He laughed hard and long, almost maniacally. “Not bloody likely! You’re crazy, lady!”
“No, I’m not. I’m not crazy and this is all the truth.” She looked around, taking stock of her surroundings. “Now…if we go through the Crypt and outside, along through the garden, we can enter the Cathedral again by the side entrance, and avoid being noticed. We need to see the Dean. She’ll be in her office. She might be able to help you understand where I cannot.”
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It was the weirdest feeling, walking down a set of stairs into the Crypt, knowing that both the Crypt and the stairs leading to it didn’t exist any longer in my own time. I couldn’t help but feeling that sometime soon, surely, someone must wake me up, and I’d find myself back in my own bed, surrounded by a pile of empty bottles and a pipe drained of Spike.
But I didn’t wake up, and I was here in a room that didn’t exist. Not that there was anything particularly impressive about the Crypt.
When you hear the term “Crypt”, you can’t help but think of catacombs and skeletons, and spooky tunnels piled with coffins. You imagine skulls sticking out of mud walls. And you imagine rats, and spiders, and maybe bat colonies hanging from a stalactite roof above.
There was none of this. This room was semicircular, and needed a new coat of paint. There were high, quarter-length windows skirting the tops of the walls on the right side of the room, and a set of double doors leading to the outside. The linoleum floor needed cleaning, and several of the fluoro lights didn’t work. A few flickered helplessly, desperate for a tune-up.
There was nothing scary, or even vaguely gothic, about the place.
Daniel and I followed Athena down into the Crypt. As we did so, we heard the muffled sound of feet on carpeted stairs behind us, coming from back in the kitchen, and the clatter of feet on the stone floor of the Cathedral above. Clearly, service had finished.
Looking up the stairwell of the Crypt behind me, I caught a glimpse of choristers, men and women both, wearing red dresses with those odd, voluminous white tablecloth garments over the top.
They were dressed exactly the same as I’d seem in my visions in the choir room, when I’d witnessed choristers from yet another age arguing about someone who’d been treated badly, and whether they, as a group, should leave the Cathedral or not, except there were women in this group of choristers, as well as men.
The group of choristers – half a dozen in all – swept down through the kitchen and off to our left, presumably through to the choir room. They didn’t say anything to one another, and even from our observation point in the Crypt I could tell that the vibe was tense: this was a group who were not friendly with one another.
None of them saw us, but as they passed through I caught a glimpse of the last man bringing up the rear of the group. His face shocked me, as though I’d been hit with a thousand volts of electricity, not because it was ugly, or different in any way from anyone else, but he stood out from the others as clearly as though he’d had a spotlight focused on him.
I knew that face.
I’d seen it before, in a tattered old photograph – the only one I had – which I still kept in my bedside drawer.
I stopped moving, and stared, but he was already gone with the rest of the choir group. I turned, desperate to follow, but Athena grabbed me, hissing: “You must NOT be seen!”
I threw her arm off my angrily, and moved to run back up the stairs, but she shoved me back against the stairwell handrail, and pushed the pistol into my chest. “You cannot interfere here! Not now! Come with me.” She waved the pistol towards the Crypt and, furiously, I had no choice but to descend away from the man I knew was my father.
I was fuming, and boiling over with so many emotions I can’t describe running through me. Yet the whole time, I couldn’t help but think of that tiny ceramic pistol the doc was carrying and whether, if we refused to obey her orders, she’d be bringing it out again, threatening us again. Unable to move from the confusion caused by my emotions, I followed orders angrily but helplessly.
I was still in shock over the position we’d found ourselves in, and seeing my Dad, and didn’t know how on earth we were going to get back to our own place and time, and out of this mess, which was not of our own making for once.
Athena shepherded us out of the double doors at the side of the Crypt to the Cathedral garden, then along the side of the Cathedral to the little wooden side door that I’d first entered only a couple of days ago – or in twenty one years time – and everything in my life had changed.
She peered around the door, checking to see if the way was clear, then pushed us inside with the pistol. The Cathedral was silent, no-one was around that we could see, and all sounds of movement had ceased.
“Inside, to the right, in the glass office,” she whispered, directing us. “The Dean is expecting us, if all is going according to plan, and we need to talk. She will be waiting in her office.”
Looking at Daniel, he shook his head, with a complete lack of comprehension about what to do next. Certainly we couldn’t make a run for it – we were in the wrong time, and any escape was not going to lead us back home.
I was pretty much ignorant of everything around me, my mind filled with a single image of my father’s face. I had no memories of him, and to suddenly see him here, alive, was beyond anything I’d expected to have to deal with.
He was so young – probably only a few years older than me, if that.
I’d never known he’d sung here at St. Paul’s. No-one had ever told me.
I wondered if my mother was here too. My memories of her were sketchy, and I was filled with a sudden ache to run, and keep on running, through these hallways until I found her. The thought that she might be here, alive, only metres from me was unbelievable.
I didn’t care about the earthquake anymore. I didn’t care about the epidemic, which would happen five years from now. It didn’t matter to me if she’d die in five years time. Five years is an eternity.
Five years is forever, when you’re with someone you love.
We walked around to the right, through a small glassed-in office room, which had another, smaller room leading off it. The Dean’s office.
Athena didn’t knock. She just walked straight in, and we followed. The Dean was in her office, and when she saw Athena, she rose from her chair behind her desk, walked around to the front of the desk to greet us, and actually gave a small, slight curtsy, like Athena was some kind of maxxed out royalty.
And, despite my thoughts being elsewhere, on my family and where they might be, and the possibility of my seeing them again, I began to wonder who on earth this Athena Papadopoulos person actually was.
The Dean was an older woman, plump, with short cropped hair, sharp blue eyes and a round face. For some reason I couldn’t place, she looked incredibly familiar. I knew I’d seen her, met her, before somewhere. But it was impossible.
I couldn’t have met her before. Here we were, in 2030 – and I wasn’t even born yet – not until October, and right now it was January.
So how could I know the woman in front of me?
Still, I had a very eerie sense of deja vu that I couldn’t shake.
Athena sat down in a large, comfortable-looking armchair next to the desk, and the Dean, Daniel and I took some pretty rickety wooden student chairs lined up in a row beneath the window. I was getting a very strong impression here that Athena outranked this Dean person, just a bit.
“It’s good to see you, Martie,” said Athena, stretch her legs out. “You know why we’re here, of course.”
The Dean nodded. “You managed to get away without John suspecting anything?” Daniel and I turned and stared at each other, our jaws dropping. Neither of us said anything.
“Yes,” replied Athena. “Although it was a close call. Of course, fortunately, thanks to the time-skipping, I had all the time I needed to get these two away.” The women laughed gently together. It was clear that the Dean knew all about time travel.
Then Athena’s face turned serious. “You’re prepared for tomorrow, I presume?”
The Dean sighed heavily. “No,” she replied. “And yes. And no. How can anyone truly be prepared for what we have to face? I have my faith, of course, but I’m not sure whether, right now, it is enough…” Her voice trailed off, and she bowed her head.
“It will be enough,” said Athena, a steely resolve evident in her voice. “It will be enough. You, of all people, must be strong. You know what lies ahead…”
I interrupted: “You know? You know – about the quake tomorrow, and what will happen here? You know?” Images filled my mind – images of all the footage I’d seen, of the bloodshed, and the suffering, and the pain.
The Dean nodded, in response to my shocked speech. “I just saw my father here! My father! I didn’t know he even sang! Can someone tell me what is going on? Is my mother here too? Do you know what’s happening?”
“The Dean knows everything,” said Athena Papadopoulos, her voice empty of feeling. “Yes, your parents are here. They both – in this time – sing in the Cathedral choir. It’s how they met one another. They will be here tomorrow, too, when the earthquake strikes. They will live through it, two of the fortunate ones.”
“But you’re doing nothing about it!” I said. “Why aren’t you closing the Cathedral, if you know what will happen? You can stop this!” Nothing of all this was making sense to me.
The Dean sat silent, looking down, apparently lost in her own thoughts. She seemed incredibly sad. Sure, I thought. Be sad. Be fricking miserable! But do something about it!
Athena looked at me, and her expression was inexplicably sad, but resolute. She said, quietly and slowly:
“Tomorrow, here at the Cathedral, the Dean will die. She will die, and she knows this. She will be crushed by fallen stone. Her legs and her hips will be trapped – smashed – by masonry. There will be nothing anyone can do for her. She will suffer horribly. She knows this, and is prepared.”
“But…” I went on, at a loss, stunned and horrified. “How can you stay here – here! – knowing what’s going to happen? You can stop it! You know what’s going to happen! Warn everyone – cancel the funeral commemoration, and have it somewhere else. Anywhere else.”
“You don’t understand,” said the Dean. “That can’t happen. St. Paul’s must fall. It is right at the center of a vortex. Energy has been gathering here, in word, and deed, and action, for the last two hundred years. It is a place of power, and the power has been building gradually, slowly at first, then spinning faster and faster…”
She looking at me, her blue eyes piercing me, and suddenly everything began to make sense – all that I’d seen, and everything that was happening now.
And it was numbing, terrifying.
“The images I saw…that man who killed himself,” I said slowly, starting to piece everything together. A shadow was starting to form in my mind, and a chill was beginning to take my body, as though someone had stepped over my grave.
“The death of Ryecroft, yes,” said Athena Papadopoulos quietly. “His suicide, right at the center of the old church, at the altar. A blood sacrifice that woke what should not have been woken, and began what should have remained sleeping.”
The Dean said nothing, and Athena went on:
“And that was not even the beginning. Before that, the whalers, who stole the livelihood of many, slaughtered the innocent and ancient guardians of the sea without mercy, and built this church in blood and sacrifice, and the starvation of families caused by one man’s greed.”
“The whaler,” said Daniel. “The whaler, who took the food supply of the Maori people who lived here before, and stole their lands, and made them his own.”
“Yes,” said Athena.
“And the other things I saw?” I asked. “How do you know about all this? How can you know what I saw?”
“I knew about Ryecroft,” said Athena. “Because that created a dark spot in the time fabric here that cannot be washed away. His suffering – his ghost, if you want to call it that, has affected everything that has happened in this place since. You are not alone in seeing Ryecroft’s death.”
I realised I was shivering. And I knew, looking at Athena Papadopoulos, that somehow she, too, had witnessed that strangely dressed man’s suicide, down on his knees, in the choir room. Our eyes met, and something in us connected, and I knew she was telling the truth.
“I saw…a group of choristers too. In another time. Men, and boys. Talking about someone who had been abused,” I said, shaking at the memory.
“Yes,” she said. “I know what you saw. An innocent man was accused of horrible deeds, because of his sexuality. The events of that time ripped the Cathedral community – and the community of Dunedin – apart. Neighbours became enemies, and the Vortex grew.”
“And another man, a tall skinny guy, yelling at women and abusing one of them,” I said. “It was horrible. Who was that?”
“Another tainting of the Cathedral. Another poisoning of sacred space,” said Athena. “Another abuse of power over others, and more pain and suffering… and hatred and lies. Every part of it a strike against what this place should be. Every part of it strengthening the darkness. All feeding the Vortex. All enabling it to grow.”
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READ ON: CHAPTER 16: Death and Taxes