Bell, Book & Candle

Bell

From the Journal of Augustus Perne, Dean of St Peter’s and Vicar of St Mary’s

“The sound of the church bell is the call. It wakes that which might otherwise sleep and calls forth the unholy to walk on hallowed ground.

From My window I see her pace each night, a grey shade in a nun’s habit. Though a true sister of Christ would never walk abroad once her bones were in the ground. No, this thing is but a simulacrum of a woman of God. The scholars gawp at her when they first arrive. Even now, should they have visitors, they will gather at the gate and point her out. I have complained of course, have said to both the Master and the Bishop that this thing should not be borne. But they laugh, and say I am a fool.

In truth, they are afraid. Of ghosts, and magic workers, of the mermaids in the Cam and the vampires of Trinity. That we should cleanse this city of its unnatural abominations, that we should fight…

It is not thought of by them.”

‘She passes through here each night, my Lord.’ The Porter was being as deferential as was possible without actually deferring.

The wrought iron gates at the back of St Peter’s looked onto the alley that led from the St Mary’s church down to the Cam. The Grey nun had walked here when he’d been at the college, it was a rite of passage for the freshers. The older scholars gathering them up on their first night and standing them by the gate to watch her walk slowly towards them.

Ghosts were two a penny in Cambridge, so the early introduction to one of their kind had been a kindness in it’s way. But James could still remember the fear, as every story he’d ever heard of ghosts who raged and drove men to madness whirled through his head. He’d not run. Other boys had, and when he’d finally seen the nun he’d been surprised to find she radiated only peace and calm.

‘It’s been a bad business, not what was wanted at all.’ The porter shook his head and stamped his feet, trying to work some warmth into his limbs. The October night wasn’t overly cold, but James could feel a growing chill creeping towards them. He wished his usual partner had agreed to accompany him, not this elderly porter who was more concerned with preserving the reputation of the college than with the rights or wrongs of their actions. Shivering a little in the cold air he began to rub together his hands to warm his fingers. As they regained a little feeling he looked up, and saw the nun.

Gone was the neat habit, and calm pace. She was now a rolling haze of hatred, indistinct and muddled as though she were a half erased drawing.

The porter crossed himself and James could hear him muttering the Lord’s Prayer under his breath as the apparition approached. The air grew colder, the bars of the gate taking on the sheen of frost and fear, such as he’d never felt before, grew in his heart.

Book

From the Journal of Augustus Perne, Dean of ST Peter’s and Vicar of St Mary’s

“They are not mentioned in the good book – though I have searched for the answers there. Ghosts, ghouls, apparitions. These are not within the grace of God.

And I hold to my faith I must say this being is not real, that this creature is not the spirit of some departed sister, but a beast who takes the form of such.

And I hold to my faith.

Tonight I will try her with holy writ. I am determined to make an end of this mockery of all that is divine. I will walk her path and I will test her as the bible says Jesus was tested, that she might prove herself.

And if she fails then will I do as God commands be done with all such demons.”

He clutched the papers in his pocket. Not a book, as such. He’d never been one for the church, though he attended. Duty and tradition rather than fervent faith saw him take his place in the pew each Sunday.
The spectre stopped before the gate, enveloping them in her fog of fury. The porters recitation of childhood prayers faltered and then stopped.

He didn’t need faith. Not in God. James dug his hand deeper into his pocket, fingers curling round letters, knotting themselves in the ribbon which held the small bundle together.

‘Go from this place.’ The words weren’t strong, they faltered a little, tripping from his tongue like a child learning to walk.

The nun didn’t move. Instead the cloud seemed to thicken. As though she were gathering herself together, as though the effort of thought required her to concentrate her force.

‘Please.’ Faith was the important thing, faith in yourself. James tried to ignore the doubts which began to crowd over him, the sly voices breaking his belief. This was not the first spectre he’d banished, this poor nun, not even the worst. ‘Please go.’

She laughed. The porter standing beside him gave a slight whimper, though the sound was more felt than heard. A nasty shiver of a noise that crept along your spine.

Candle

From the Journal of Augustus Perne, Dean of St Peter’s and Vicar of St Mary’s

“She is a proven abomination. The word of the Lord does not halt her progress. She does proceed as though you hold before her nothing more than a leaf.

I have tried to dispel her, to erase this thing which haunts these sacred grounds, but to no avail. My faith is not strong enough.

It is not strong enough.

All I have wrought is to empower her, to give her such a form as does reveal her perversity to others. I pray it is enough, I pray that I will be succeeded by one greater in faith.

I hear her tonight. Her steps upon the walk below my window. I pray.”

There was a splutter of light at the other end of the alley. Only a glimmer, but the nun turned towards it and James found himself free to grab the porters lantern.

He lit the lamp, the candle burning brightly in the dusk and the nun seethed towards him.

‘I banish you.’ Again his words faltered, but this time he saw the gleam of the other candle, small and insignificant at the end of the alley and he found his voice. ‘Begone from this place in peace and charity. Begone.’

The words were unimportant in truth, only the feeling behind them, the push away was important. The nun screamed a little, and surged towards them, but the candle held her enthralled. She could not come near it, but neither could she tear her gaze away from it. The flickering flame fascinated the cloud and James knew that once he extinguished it she would go with it.

‘Do it’ hissed the porter, recovering a little now he saw the way the nun was trapped. ‘Do it, man.’

James hesitated. He looked towards the end of the alley, the candle was still there, still held high. The nun had done nothing wrong, she’d broken no laws, injured no man. Until the last vicar had taken a dislike to her she’d been harmless.

He wished there was a way of remaking her as she had been. Of refashioning the furious anger into the calm grey habit of old.

‘Go.’ He said and snuffed the candle.

The nun faded as the flame went out. The air grew a little warmer as the cloud dissipated and at the end of the alley James could see the outline of a slender figure, candle still clutched in his left hand.

He walked towards the gate and stopped once he’d drawn level with them.

‘I thought you considered this murder.’ James said. He was trying not to smile, trying not to further clutch at the letters in his pocket, the ones in which Alex had made his displeasure plain.

Alex shrugged. ‘I’m not saying I don’t. But I wouldn’t want you to come to harm.’

Faith thought James was a funny thing. He’d none in gods or monsters and little in magic. But he’d faith in Alex and Alex had faith in him.