“Norseman on the Threshold” by Guest Author Glenn James

Author Glenn James

Guest Author Glenn James

An attempted burglary at the ancient Worcester Cathedral results in two very curious and disturbing discoveries: One of the intruders is found in a fathomless coma before the great East Doors, and a curious and disturbing book is discovered close to the tomb of the notorious Plantagenet Monarch, wicked King John…. Unfortunately this is just the start of a series of shocking and unprecedented haunting’s, whose cause go back a very long way indeed…..

Part Two: Books and Bindings

By Glenn James © Copyright Glenn James 2011

When Tracey Trancey was found in an unconscious state, below the great East doors of Worcester Cathedral early in the morning by a shocked Verger, he made an uncannily intuitive leap in the dark that something must be amiss.  He had just found the scattered crowbars, torch, and levers down by King John’s Tomb, and quickly putting two and two together he made a quick search of the perimeter of the building.  He didn’t expect to find the perpetrator lying in such a mangled state right under the great East window, and was on his mobile to the old bill before he thought to check her pulse.  When he rather shamefacedly thought to do so, he found she was dead to the world, and anxiously informing the constabulary about the situation he half ran, half walked back to the Verger’s Office, where his news bulletin caused considerable consternation and much dropping of digestives into hot tea.

The rather sinister little book, with it’s deeply embossed skin covering, was not immediately noticed amongst the scattered tools, and went unregarded for some time. It bided it’s time quietly.

An ambulance was summoned, and the police arrived at more or less the same time. Tracey was just  starting to show signs of coming around, when a police officer walked in who knew her face rather well.  As the world swum back into focus, Old Sergeant Amesbury stood looking down at her over his great round stomach, with a wry smile on his face.

“Well, well, well, hello there!  A little early for church aren’t we today, Tracey? I never knew you were a believer.” he said cheerfully as she woke up.   When she saw him old Len Amesbury had the shock of his life, as a girl whose previous often included the words on her charge sheet “Resisted Arrest with Violence” launched herself into his arms with a great sobbing cry, and clung to him like a frightened child.

Nothing they could do would persuade her to let go, and being a compassionate man, old Len bore this with great fortitude and gentleness.  He went with her all the way to the hospital, where she promptly went straight into a sleep of such fathomless depths that nothing could wake her up. Old Len found himself drinking endless cups of tea by her bed with a paperback, on the off chance she could assist him with his enquiries when she woke up, which suited a man of his compassionate skills much more than chasing drug dealers through Perry Wood.

With Tracey being in such a state, no-one was aware that anyone had been with her, and the disappearance of her father wasn’t noticed for quite some time.  The great black tomb of king John was silent and still, and despite a few small marks on the surface which caused much horrified puffing and blowing, no-one thought to try and open it, which is perhaps just as well, as it’s hard to say what might have emerged…..

As the tools were cleared up the little book came to light, and immediately caused a panic.  It was obviously of great antiquity, and the odd and heavy black gothic script within was mixed liberally with what looked like Norse runes, and were quite unfathomable to the layman.  It was rushed to the Cathedral Library, from whose formidable collection it was assumed to have been pilfered…  But the Librarian had never set eyes on it before, and was furthermore reluctant to set his hands on it, either, as the binding had a rather horribly familiar feeling…..

The Librarian had perhaps more of an insight into what it might be made from than a mere morbid student of ecclesiastical history. Mr. Pearman was proud of his job.  He came from an extremely old Worcestershire family, many of whom had held distinguished positions at the Cathedral across the generations, and there were stories one tried ones best not to speak about in public or to curious tourists concerning the buildings past.

If he was right in his surmise, then he had something quite sensationally grotesque before him, and his instinct was to keep it very quiet indeed.  The little book was not much bigger than a thick paperback, and it lay gingerly on a tray from the tearooms on a quiet side table.  No-one had wanted to touch it, as everyone said that the feeling of the binding was extremely disagreeable, and contact with it gave them the shivers.  They had been obliged to pick it up with cake tongs, and then tearoom girls had rushed these off to be boiled in a saucepan asap.  Mr. Pearman certainly avoided touching it, and with the little book before him, his eye wandered across the room reluctantly towards a certain display case which, much to his distress, visitors always made a beeline for whenever they came to call.

He walked reluctantly over, his body unwilling to follow his minds line of enquiry, and peered a bit owlishly through the glass.

There was a piece of very ancient skin, until now the sole relic of a dark and scarlet episode of cathedral history.

It was all that remained of an enterprising visitor from the north, a member of the crew of a Viking ship, which had called at Worcester Cathedral in the days long before the neighbourhood Watch. This was not the first time that enterprising merchant adventurers in Dragon ships had come calling, and the Cathedral and its population has suffered badly for the Viking’s greed for gold, as they plighted lustily up and down the River Severn, plundering where ever they went.  Other settlements and Houses of God had their horrific experiences, but something seemed to snap in the minds of the Monks of Worcester, and they resolved to put a stop to it.

And they did not mess about with any half hearted measures or appeals to the Pope, but took matters firmly into their own strong hands.  Following the last raid, a Viking had either been left behind accidentally, or did not made it back onto his boat fast enough, but either way he had been caught by the peaceful men of God.

Having secured their man, these children of the Holy See living in a dark age had decided to send a message to his colleagues which they couldn’t possibly ignore. And delicately, with all the righteous indignance of the raped and disenfranchised, they flayed him alive, and nailed his skin to the East doors of the cathedral, as a warning that here was a church which could give as good as it got.

Worcester Cathedral at Night

Strange to relate, this bloody message of “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”, seemed to have the desired effect, and being a local man, Mr. Pearman could not help but be grudgingly proud of his ancestors.  Worcester Cathedral was no longer troubled by Viking raids…. Hauntings, on the other hand, were a different matter.

Pearman had a very squeamish streak, and did not even let himself think about what people were supposed to have seen, or the torture in its face as it walked screaming in the early hours.  It was bad enough looking at this curling piece of flesh which had been found under the hinges of the East Door when it was being restored, and the analysis which proved it to have been the skin of a Norseman from well over a thousand years ago hardly helped matters in the least. It’s much more comforting to think these tales are fables.  You don’t want to find a matchbox containing extracted bloody fingernails.

The skin before him had an unpleasantly familiar look when considering the little book, and Pearman knew only too well that people were want to bind books used for evil purposes in an evil way.

There are books considered so evil that, by Royal decree, they can only be examined in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Pearman didn’t not consider himself qualified to meddle in these matters.  So being a good civil servant, he passed the buck higher up the ladder, and called the Very Reverend Godbehere, and asked him to come down.

That took a huge weight off his mind, and with an air of relief the Librarian picked up the tray, and made absent-mindedly to walk across the room past the offending display case.

But he had not even taken two steps when there was a sudden and deeply unpleasant reverberation through the room, a singing on the edge of hearing which worked its way unpleasantly into the bones. Pearman stopped and looked around him wearily, and holding the tray very tightly.  It continued, setting his teeth on edge, and very carefully he took a step back. When he did, the sound died away, and Pearman felt very uncomfortable indeed.  He tried taking a step forward again, and when he did the same thing happened.  It was only too obvious that it was being caused by this suspicious book, and it being taken closer to the Vikings skin.

He was bold enough to take an extra step forward, and when he did, a faint green light began to emanate from the skin in its display case, and the sound took on the feeling of something scratching at his ears, trying to get into his head.

There was almost a voice there, something hidden in the scratching sensation, with an edge of desperation. It rose and fell in a guttural incoherent tone, but there was a hint of Norse about the voice, and that frightened Pearman very badly.

He threw the tray across the room away from the display case, and ran to the far corner.

“PEARMAN!”

The sound stopped as suddenly as if someone had clapped their hands suddenly over his ears, and Walter Pearman found himself looking in slight confusion at the Very Reverend Godbehere.

He was a sharp older man with an unforgiving eye and a talent for remembering the fact that he had been crossed, and Pearman did not relish having had to call him down.

“Pearman, what do you think you’re doing!”

“I’m sorry, your eminence…”

“I saw exactly what you did just then! What do you think you’re about, throwing priceless treasures around the room like confetti?” Godbehere marched across the library, and knelt to examine the book.  He showed no such reservations about touching it, and picked it up and began flicking through it in a way which made Pearman wince, considering the sheer reverberation of evil intent it radiated.  Anyone might have thought he was in W H Smiths looking at the latest Twilight for all the fear he was showing.

Pearman tried to collect himself, “I apologise, Sir. I, I, I really don’t think this is something we can handle in a day to day way.  It’s like I said to you on the phone, I believe this book is connected to the Viking.  I think they used his skin to bind the book.”

Godbehere stared at him sharply and unsympathetically, “And you think they might have used to book to bind him, in return, eh?  Is that what you’re hinting at?” he smiled nastily, “Couldn’t they just use a normal Witch-Bottle like everyone else?  I believe you get money returned on the empties.”

Pearman did not want to hazard an opinion, and shrugged non-commitally. “It’s possible, Sir.  Pagan beliefs were still holding strong in a lot of places in those days.  And books were rare and powerful.”

“What Hieratical nonsense.” Snapped Godbehere, “History would be so much purer if only people didn’t clutter it up with all this superstitious mumbo jumbo.”  Godbehere was a senior ecclesiastical member of the church in the region, and as a good Christian, Pearman did not feel constrained to comment on mumbo jumbo, or superstition, as a running theme in a church founded by someone resurrected from the dead.  It was nearly Easter, after all..

Godbehere was frowning mightily at the dense text of medieval gothic and Norse runes, “Its no good, I can’t make head nor tail of this”  The admission sounded as though forced from him reluctantly, and he was quick to add a rider,  “My Latin is somewhat rusty, and I’ve never been interested in Runes.  Pity it isn’t written in Greek, I’m your man for Hellenic studies.  But that notwithstanding, I believe we have something rather priceless here, Pearman, whatever nonsensical tales it might be tied up with, and just before I came down I telephoned old Enoc Harbinger.”  Pearman gave him a look of complete surprise, as the two men were known to be as fond of each other as ferrets and weasels, and Godbehere caught the look on his face.  He laughed, and waved a wry hand, “I know what you’re thinking! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want that old nosey parker prying into our affairs, but he is at least discrete, and he will probably  be able to translate the contents of this stray little tome for us.”

Harbinger was an authority on ciphers of some international distinction, and could speak more languages than a Babel Fish.  A famous son of the Kings School he still lived on in Worcestershire after his retirement, and Pearman was impressed to say the least, and tried not to wince obviously again as Godbehere flicked back and forth through the book.  He alighted on something near the front, and his face changed to a look of genuine surprise. He took a sharp intake of breath, and hissed through his teeth, “Well now, there’s a thing….”

Pearman couldn’t help himself, and cautiously moved over to have a look, “Something curious?”

“More than curious, my friend, positively dangerous”.

Pearman looked over his shoulder, at some rather crabbed writing, written by hand in ink, “An annotation?”

“Well, it doesn’t say “This book belongs too…  Can you make out that name there?”

“Just about,” Pearman was squinting, “Dee, isn’t it?”

“Does it ring any bells in that antiquarian mind of yours?”

Pearman laughed, “Well, only the Wizard of Mortlake of course, but apart from that….”  Godbehere just gave him a look, and Pearman virtually jumped, “What, not John Dee!  You’ve got to be joking…”

Godbehere raised an eyebrow, “Why not?  He had strong Worcester connections, he was Rector of Kempsey, and don’t forget, Edward Kelly was a Worcester Man, christened at St. Swithins.”

Pearman really backed away now in genuine alarm.  The book had seemed sinister before, but now it looked like an object of genuinely dangerous occult power.   If it bore the name of Dr. John Dee of Mortlake, the man who had inspired Faust, the Merlin of the court of Elizabeth Ist, there was no telling what use it had been put too.  Dee raised the dead, according to legend, along with his collaborator Edward Kelly, and conducted the Angelic conversations, séances with fantastically powerful supernatural beings where he tried to discover the language God used to create the universe. The record of these sessions were a genuine language in themselves, and if a man who had been involved in all that had had access to this book and had written in it, then they were dealing with a whole new kettle of fish.  Pearman licked his lips, which were suddenly very dry, “Do you think we ought to inform the See of Canterbury?”

Godbehere smiled, “Lets just see what Harbinger has to say, he should be here soon. The tourists are going to flock in when they hear about this. What a pity it isn’t a more attractive book, I really don’t like this design.  The embossing is rather clumsy, don’t you think?”

“It’s not embossing, and I really wouldn’t judge it by its cover. I have a nasty feeling what you’re looking at is a tattoo…”

Godbehere looked at him sharply, as if suddenly understanding, “You don’t mean…”

Pearman shrugged, “Well, some of the more psychotic Nazi’s used skin from Prisoners with beautiful tattoos for lampshades, and idea wasn’t exactly new then….”

“Good God!” Godbehere looked at the book in his hands with rising disgust, “The sooner we get this safely on display in a sealed case the better….” and he quickly walked over to the area where the Vikings skin was on show, and before Pearman could stop him, dropped the book lightly onto the glass surface.

There was an instant reaction. There was a scraping sound behind the walls, which drove both men back somewhat towards the centre of the room.  A deep grinding, pounding noise came up through the floor, and both of them covered their hands with their ears.  A vibration came up through their legs  like an earthquake, as the stones beneath them shifted….

The lights flared on and off, and swayed on their cables as if on a ship, Books and objects fell from their shelves, the room shaking and dancing as the two men fought to shut out the unexpected onslaught on their senses. A wind arose from nowhere and threw loose papers around the room.  A shape was forming near to the cabinet, a form of faintly phosphorescent green light which was beginning to take on a human outline, and the same incoherent voice clawed at their ears. Pearman acted quickly, and grabbing a glass paperweight from his desk, he threw it across the room as hard as he could with all the skill of a lifelong cricketer.  It struck the display case with a crash and knocked the book clean off the surface. There was a shrieking whine, the light vanished, and the room fell silent as if nothing had happened.  Papers gently drifted to the floor as if someone had closed a window.

The two of them stood there together, breathing rather heavily, and Pearman took a shaking swallow of very cold tea.  Godbehere was wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, and walked carefully over to the display case, where he noticed a huge crack in the Victorian glass.  “That’s coming out of your wages…” he muttered, peering over the top to see where the book had gone.

Pearman was just about to join him, when a voice behind him said, “I think it’s wedged against the back leg.  I can just see it near the skirting board.”

Old Professor Harbinger was standing behind him, and he smiled. “I’d be very careful with that thing, if I were you, and I’d try to keep it away from the Vikings skin!”

(END OF PART TWO)