carolyn

Posted on March 20, 2013

1


This story was based on an unsolved murder case. I took a few odd details from the story, but did not really feel comfortable about borrowing too much from the case. That was somebody’s friend, somebody’s daughter. For the same reason, I think we can skip the Wikipedia article it was harvested from.

Saved

“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

Paul of Tarsus, 1 Thessalonians 5

 

The windowless room was dimly lit by a shaded lamp on the desk and the flames of a candelabra set on the cabinet by the door. Did they fear their secrets would burn if held beneath brighter light? Frederik wondered. His master’s white cap took on a dusky glow, and – mounted inescapably on the wall above his head – the face of the crucified Christ shifted in agony in the inconstant light.

The hard wooden chair offered no comfort and forced Frederik to sit very straight as he faced his master and the room’s third occupant. He remained uncomfortable about this aspect of his work, but accepted its necessity with the unbending loyalty that had carried him to lofty heights within ancient walls. That he had made the solemn vows to serve long before he knew their true extent did not render the oaths any less binding.

The third man had no name; they never did. He would have been born and raised for his role of absolute obedience and expendability. He wore the maroon robes of his order, for the colour of the rivers of innocent blood that were saved by silver and shadow in the night.

Somewhere, high above this buried room, a bell rang once for the first hour of the day, the time when these meetings had always been called down the centuries. Frederik coughed nervously and was ignored.

His master leaned forward. Through the circular spectacles that perched on his hooked nose, his eyes glinted in the faint light. Demonically, thought Frederik, and then silent reproached himself for the blasphemy.

“Is it done?” asked Frederik, recognising the sign to begin. He spoke as his master’s voice in these matters and he felt the terrible pressure of having to know what to say and when.

“The abomination has been destroyed,” said the third man in a voice that echoed hollowly even in this small space. Frederik flinched inwardly at the disparity between the awful words and the emotionless of their delivery.

“You left no trace of our involvement?” he said in his master’s voice.

“They will search for a killer, but none shall be found, father,” the man said, addressing their master as if he had himself spoken.

“And the mark?”

She was marked with the name of The Prophet. They shall think it the name of a secret lover or a vagrant. None will know its meaning.”

Their master nodded.

“You may go,” said Frederik, redundantly. The shadow was already sliding to his feet. He bowed low and left to return to the silent halls of his order.

Frederik began to gather himself to return to his own, more luxurious quarters in less haunted halls of the holy city. He turned to his master to bow a farewell, but was halted by the lifting of a be-ringed hand.

“You are troubled, my son.” Frederik flinched at the sound of the gentle voice in the darkened room. He supposed that the audience was over, and words no longer forbidden, but his master had never before broken the silence until they were safely above ground again.

He hesitated. Dissent was rarely countenanced in the walls of the city.

“Speak freely, Frederik, and without fear. These black nights can crush strong men. We must be ready to support each other if we wish to see ourselves through to the dawn.”

The words still caught in his throat. With effort, he forced them out.

“Is this really necessary? What if she wasn’t the one? What if the faithful found out what we were doing? It would mean the end of us.”

His master looked at him with eyes that held sympathy and steel. “The portents all pointed to the Baltimore girl as one of them. She had to be destroyed.” That word again. Not ‘killed’. ‘Erased’.

“As for the faithful, it for us to lead, and for them to follow. They eat what we put on the table, and ask not whence came the meat that fills their bellies.”

Frederik swallowed. “But… Why do we do it? If she is the promised one, shouldn’t we be guiding her? Protecting her?”

The old man smiled, as if talking to a child who did not understand the simple facts of life. “It is our role to guide. The right person, at the right time. There have been many, many potentials, but all have been wrong, as well you know. An American whore will never lead us to a worthy paradise. Come to me,” he gestured.

The servant moved around the desk and knelt before his white-clad master, his heart beating fit to shake the small room in its foundations.

The father placed an aged hand on his head. “You are a good son, Frederik. It is fitting that you should question, as long as you never forget to obey. We need men like you to protect the flock.” He removed his hand and rose unsteadily to his feet. “Come now. The night is long and terribly dark, but dawn always follows. It is God’s benediction, his sign that ours is the most righteous path. A hard path, but a noble one.”

The pair rose back to the world above, the master leaning on his young servant.

 

The night dragged on, casting chaos across the Earth. How long had it lasted, thought Frederik as he descended into the catacombs. Seventeen days? Eighteen? It was a mad question – how could a night be measured in days? But still, the darkness persisted. It was as though the blackness of these depths had been released into the world above.

Frederik had returned to the underworld from time-to-time over the decades, not frequently, but certainly more times than he would have wished. His first master had passed on long ago, and he had served the others faithfully. The current father cowered in his rooms uselessly, a mockery of the faith and glory of God. Frederik no longer shrank from the acknowledgement of his master’s shortcomings.

And still the darkness persisted. Not an eclipse. No scientific explanation could account for the vanishing of the light, nor how the world could even spin on without it. The creatures that crawled on the land and flew on the wind had been driven into a frenzy by the endless night. The nations of man fared little better, proclaiming the end while the days resolutely lengthened. Many turned their eyes to the holy city, but it foundered, a reflection of the chaos outside of its walls, millennia of preparation fallen to dust in their hands.

In this painfully late hour of the night, he sought out the horrible basements again. Not for the dark room where blessed ears had listened to tales of death, but for musty stores where unthinkable foretellings had been hidden from the eyes of the faithful. With these words had they sought out a hundred children of prophecy and extinguished them before they could break the world. What sign had they missed? Was this an interminable end they had failed to predict?

Frederik had made a lifetime out of servitude. He was doing his best to hold things together as the steps twisted away beneath his feet.

He did not immediately notice the smell as he gained the landing. That scent carried on the air everywhere the terrified populace sought to replace the gap left by the absentee sun, and so did not immediately seem as out of place as it should have done. It was only when he registered the comforting flicker that he realised what was happening – the records were burning. He dashed around the corner and saw, through the unbarred arch of the doorway, the fire.

The high ceiling was steadily filling with black smoke lit from below by the flames that ran in rows along the shelves. The smell of burning knowledge was heart-breaking. As he looked about – observing the already hopeless extent of the fire – he spied a figure at the far end of the room, the silhouette distorted by heat, smoke and the flickering of flames. He called out in warning, suspicion at the unexpected presence in this secret place awakening in him even as he spoke. He looked around for a weapon, not knowing what to do but sure that he could not simply leave this intruder to burn before his eyes. Let those who wear maroon destroy – he was meant only to serve.

“You there,” he shouted above the crackling of the scrolls as they were consumed. “Move towards my voice. We need to get out of here.”

He took a step into the room. Perhaps it was the smoke or the heat – neither of which seemed suitably choking – that made his head spin, nausea twisting sharply in his stomach. He staggered slightly, feeling suddenly very old and infirm. Had he ever been young enough for this?

He regained his footing in what must have only been a moment or two. When he looked up again, the figure was far closer. There was still something strange about its outline – due to the flickering of the fires, probably. Frederik could not make out its true size or shape. It was one moment the size of a child, next a tall and towering creature like a fallen angel, then grown man, woman. He squinted, and suddenly it was very close and still indistinct.

Frederik felt an unfamiliar sensation steal over him, blotting out for the most part the immediate fear of the fire. He had served a lifetime and been privy to many weird and terrible secrets in the name of his masters. Still, he had never before this moment felt that he was in the presence of something truly supernatural. Divine, even, like a cool wind blowing from heaven. Up close, the figure’s shifting outline seemed real rather than illusion, as of something beyond flesh attempt to assume a physical shape. He tried to shake off the sense of wonder, reminding himself that the devil can shine very brightly indeed. Could his immortal soul be in as much danger as his old body?

The fires behind shifted playfully, like wings or the robes of his master, cast in scarlet. About the figure’s head, a burning halo coalesced. Frederik felt his fear change, his reptile brain yearning for the final, consuming warmth that was suddenly blocked from him by a primal and far greater terror; the shadows of the catacomb made flesh.

“Who are you?” he stammered, not expecting an answer. It was very cold now.

“I died here,” came the voice – a woman’s voice, clear, soft and cold, the words coming slowly as if the mouth that formed them had forgotten its purpose over years of silence. “Buried beneath stone. A death signed in ink and fear.

The memory of a particular night rattled free in his brain, so similar to many another. A moment of guilt and weakness, lost in duty and the deep night.

She moved closer to him, blocking out the fire and the world about him.

“I was reborn here,” she said, with neither sorrow nor joy. “Cut off from the particular. Pushed into the light.”

Frederik felt that he was falling down, dropping away. The sense of the world around him was gone. Where were the reliable stones beneath his feet?

“Why?” she asked quietly, and in the darkness he saw her face – the face from the newspaper, garlanded in question marks – a young face grown older, but still not so very old.

His tongue betrayed him, lashing out against his fear as he sunk into the pit.

“Who ever heard of a female messiah? Where is the Lord we were promised, returned? Why would God send a thousand Jezebels to claim his righteous throne?”

She smiled at his words.

“Who ever heard of a saviour who could not save herself? A million dead daughters could not hold the door closed. Why are you hiding in the darkness? Step into the light. I have come to take you home.”

There was a grinding of stone, like the heart of the world breaking. Dust fell down around them as the earth opened up above their heads. The holy city was rent asunder, opening its black bowels to the sky. The Saviour looked up, and the sun came out. Where it shone, the shadows burned.

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