The padlocked gate stood before us. Loops of coiled chain that slithered through the images that had been forged and bent in to shape against the iron gate. The padlocked chains coiling and constricting against the image of an angel on the left and a demon on the right. The two figures at arms and their hands against the other’s throat as they slowly wrought the life from the other.
“That’s weird.” Taylor said, studying the ornately decorated iron gate that prevented us from entering the cemetery beyond and the chapel that was hidden in the distance. I turned my face briefly from the iron gate and peered across my shoulder towards the CCTV camera we had left behind and noticed that the red light remained unblinking and our actions here unobserved by Sister Dixon’s blinking eye.
A sharp screeching squawk that disturbed the silence overhead and I lifted my face towards the sky and spied my old friend the crow upon the wing. His hooked beak turned to me briefly and his eye that was dark and unfathomable as he blinked and continued his flight across the threshold of the cemetery and on towards the other side. I watched as the black birds swooped down and settled upon the other side, all black feathers and malignance, upon the top of a leaning gravestone. The chapel’s bell-tower rearing up behind the black bird. A figure of Jesus hanging lifeless upon his crucifix before the chapel and peering down towards the weeds.
The pad-locked gate that remained standing before the two of us and preventing us from entering the world of the dead beyond.
And a memory of my friends from the sleepover all those weeks before. And how excited the four of us had been to be leaving Downland’s village behind. And old Rocky panting at our heels as we scaled the hills and all the way up towards Combe gibbet. The memory of Adam hanging from the end of the gibbet and Rocky yapping down below. The crows that circled overhead.
And death that had sought me out that day. And death that had sought me out now.
And I didn’t want it. I didn’t want this life of death. I wanted to be at home with Mummy. Eddie long forgotten and rotting in a ditch somewhere. So that all that remained in this world was my Mummy and me. And that was all that I would ever need. And we would leave this village and the darkness that resided here. We would leave it all behind. We would travel and see the world. And our lives would be filled with light and happiness. Away from the darkness and the death that had settled upon these lands. Its cruel embrace that would never let go.
Because this patch of earth in old England was cursed, I thought. This village and the hills and the valleys and the downland’s and the ancient wood that spread like some malignant cancer across the lands. The trees that had smothered the earth and pierced the soil with toxic tendrils so that the skin would corrupt and die beneath its cruel embrace until all that was left behind was death and decay.
And this was no Harry Potter tale I thought. Of wizards and spells and children and Griffandor and broomsticks and quidditch. And Americans lapping old England up as though they couldn’t get enough. No. The England I knew was dark and cruel. Something ancient and evil that resided here.
My gaze that lifted once more towards the figures that had been cast in iron upon the cemetery gate. An angel to the left and a demon to the right. The angel with her arm lifted out before her to shield herself from the blow. The demon rearing down towards the angel with his trident fork. The demon’s iron face that was monstrous so that its mouth appeared to open out across the whole of its face and pointed iron spikes where the teeth should be. A throbbing beat of hornet’s wings within my ear somewhere and the sense that I was being eaten from the inside out. And the thought that if I were to fall and pierce myself upon the spikes of the demon’s trident then my skin would pop, and a million maggots would wriggle and scurry out of me.
The piercing shriek of the crow where he studied me on the other side of the cemetery gate. The birds face that was turned to me and his beak that was hooked like a butcher’s knife and ready to pull meat from bone. The bird’s eye that studied me and a grey film of skin that blinked against it now and then. And I wondered to myself if that bird didn’t see me standing here at all but something in my place. Something broken and buckled with legs that were knotted with thick vines of muscle. My skin that shimmered with grey scales. And where my feet should be would be cloven hooves. I wondered if that’s what the crow was seeing when he blinked at me.
“Do you think Barry’s in there?” A voice asked, and I turned to my side and fixed my gaze upon Taylor and half considered I might be dreaming? At any moment my Mummy would wake me from my nightmare and join me in my bed so that the two of us would embrace and hold the darkness back.
“Who?” I asked, blinking at Taylor and wondering for the life of me, how I had found myself here? Because I was pretty sure that the last time I remembered talking to Taylor was back in the classroom and Sister Dixon bleating on about Sigmund Freud. Taylor’s face seemed to screw up a little so that folds of skin rippled against her forehead. The vision returned to my mind of Taylor’s face all ruined and the skin hanging down and the flesh pulled back and the bone revealed beneath.
Taylor’s green eyes that remained fixed upon mine as she studied me for longer than I cared for. A warmth that began to leach out from the centre of my tummy and slowly seep through my veins.
“Barry of course. That’s why we’re here isn’t it? Hello!” Taylor said, leaning forwards so that she brought her hand towards my head and balled her fingers over into a little fist and knocked three times against the side of my skull.
“Is anybody home!” she called, leaning towards my ear and calling out towards the darkness that resided there.
And she shouldn’t have done that, I thought. She really shouldn’t.
Kill the bitch.
The goblin called out within my ears. Screamed. The anger and the rage that was heard against his voice and the bones that rattled within my body. The sense that at any moment my bones would fracture, and my skin would split wide open. That something foul would be revealed beneath the flesh. The sound of hornet’s wings that agitated against the air. The taste of spoilt milk against my tongue. And Taylor standing before me still and a weird smile that had hooked against the sides of her mouth.
Kill the bitch. Do it. Get it over with. I’m tired of this place.
I shook my head and the Goblin’s words away.
“Yes, sorry.” I replied, backing a little away from Taylor so that the iron gate pressed against the side of my body and made me jump a little in fright. I turned from Taylor, which was just as well I reckoned cause if I looked at her a second longer then there was no knowing what the goblin might have done. I brought my hands to the iron gate and the padlock and the rusted metal that was cool against my touch. My gaze that lifted above the gate and past the crow where he continued to roost upon the gravestone and flap his wings. And all the way towards the chapel and its tower. The thought that Barry remained laying within there somewhere. The thought that some secret would be revealed.
“We need to get in there and see.” I said. My words frosting against the air which had cooled suddenly.
A sharp sound of rattling metal from the side of me as Taylor kicked at the gate and the chains that were padlocked and securing it closed.
“It’s locked.” Taylor said, rattling the steel chains and nodding her head towards the heavy pad lock that prevented us from entering. “There’s no way we can get in there.” She said lifting her face to the top of the gate and the razor wire that ran across the top and the pointed iron spikes that were sharp and cruel.
I turned to her and smiled.
The sound of laughter that rattled within my head as I lowered my hand to my pockets so that my hand closed against the set of keys that had remained hidden there throughout. The keys jangling like Santa’s sleigh as I removed them from my pocket and held my hand out before me as though I were Aladdin’s Genie and offering the greatest of treasures.
“Not for long.” I said, and my voice not quite mine I thought as I leaned in towards the gate and the padlock that fastened it firm and the chains that prevented us from entering. The keys that were jangling against my hands.
“Where did you get those from?” She asked.
“I nabbed them from the guard last night.” I said, lowering the keys towards the chains that fastened the cemetery gate closed. “When they brought me back to the dorm.” I explained as I leaned towards the heavy pad lock that prevented anyone from entering the grounds of the old chapel. I inserted the key towards the lock and turned my wrist. The sharp rattle as the mechanism within the padlock unclasped and the padlock flicked open.
Taylor leaning in towards me with an expression upon her face as though she had sneaked downstairs early on Christmas morning and discovered Santa beneath the Christmas tree. The sound of the metal chains rattling away from the gate as the pad lock released the metal chains tight embrace.
I turned to Taylor and noticed that her face was bright with excitement, which made me feel a little sad for her.
“You mustn’t tell a soul.” I said
Taylor looked all serious and nodded her head and blinked.
“I won’t.” She said. “I promise.”
And she wouldn’t tell a soul, I thought.
I was pretty sure of that.