Following the violent and foundation-shaking haunting’s of Worcester Cathedral by the restless spirit of a murdered Viking, three cautious investigators draw close to finally unravelling the reason for his tortured wanderings…..
Although it has had its moments in an illustrious and surprising history, Worcester Cathedral is not used to violent outbreaks of poltergeist activity. The wild outbreak caused, when two pieces of skin belonging to the tortured Viking who haunts the place were reunited, had a profound and disturbing effect, which changed the places supernatural profile forever.
Mr. Pearman the Librarian and the Very Reverend Godbehere were themselves badly shaken by an experience which left the building reeling. Every now and again the Gothic vaulting of the roof in the library shifted alarmingly, and fine showers of dust came down around them at random. The stones of the floor shifted like badly laid block pathing, and they had a nasty feeling that the whole room was structurally unsound. Godbehere said nothing, but the tone of his sharp looks implied that Pearman was going to be blamed for the damage, and the humble Librarian wondered how he could prove that his lofty superior had caused the whole thing, ignorantly tossing an evil book bound in the dead man’s skin onto the very display case where the rest of his mortal remains were on show. He was starting to break out in a cold sweat at the fear of losing his pension, when old Professor Harbinger, who walked in right at the end of the explosive haunting, wagged a finger at Godbehere, and said “Now then Christian, can you put this thing down a little more carefully this time? Nowhere near the rest of his skin, if you please, we aren’t ready to fling open the gates of hell just yet! It’s only ten to ten, and I haven’t even had a cup of tea. Do you think a coffee table might be a good resting place for it….”
Godbehere said nothing, but if looks could kill, old Harbinger would have been nailed to the Western Doors as gruesomely as the late Norseman had once been, such a long time ago.
They were just getting ready to leave the room when a large brick dropped like the proverbial stone out of the ceiling, and smashed the glass display case, which held the Viking’s skin, to smithereens. It could hardly have been a coincidence, and they all looked around rather nervously. It was then that everyone got really frightened, and throwing self consciousness to the winds, they all left as quickly as possible. They carefully put the Vikings skin on a tea tray, and hurrying through the building, stuck it on the bottom shelf of the freezer in the tearooms, next to some freshly baked sausage rolls, an action which caused hysterical squawks from the Manageress. During the day several people tried to order a piece of the skin, thinking it was freshly grilled bacon, until the poor woman, at her wits end with these unwittingly cannibalistic requests, dropped it into a biscuit tin, and excused herself for the day with a migraine.
Standing a little shakily under the great tower the three men stood looking at one another, the offending book tucked carefully under Godbehere’s arm. He seemed in fierce denial of its physical or supernatural implications, and concerned only with its monetary value. Enoch Harbinger gave him a knowing smile, and extended a hand. “Come on Christian, let me have that.”
Godbehere glared at him, “You are not taking this historical artefact out of this building. It belongs to the Cathedral.”
Harbinger raised his eyebrows, “If anyone, I rather think it belongs to that dead Norseman, don’t you? I think he has a prior claim, and we ought to treat it as part of his mortal remains, with some respect. Besides, it doesn’t belong to the Library here, and can’t be considered overdue.”
Godbehere shot Pearman a sharp look, and the Librarian, sensing an ally who might protect his pension, backed up the Professor like a shot. “I’m afraid he’s right, sir. This book isn’t part of our official library catalogue, either by donation, or original right of ownership. And you said yourself, the Professor can translate it for us.”
The Very Reverend Godbehere knew when he was beaten, and with a display of rather obvious self control, handed the book to Harbinger. “Do your worst. I want us all to rendezvous back here tonight at midnight. The organ recital will be well over by then, and we can discuss this in peace.”
Harbinger grinned, “Recital, eh? What are they playing?”
“Really? Pity. Wagner would have been much more appropriate…” and with a sad smile, Harbinger headed for the doors…..
It was an uneasy day for two of the three men. Pearman was sent home by Godbehere with the firm impression he was on Gardening Leave, and therefore spent his time tending his garden so furiously that his wife thought he was auditioning for “Ground force.” The Very Reverend Godbehere spent his day spreading the notion that subsidence had badly damaged the Cathedral Library. He organised a team to evacuate anything of value to the Bishops residence, informed the press, and set in motion a survey into the fabric of the rest of the building. Harbinger himself, however, had an unexpectedly easy day….
To a man of his ability with languages the little book was deceptively easy to translate, and when he realised what it was, he almost dropped it in surprise. The annotation by Dr. Dee at the start of the book threw a startling light on the affair, and it was all he could do not to go straight back to Godbehere’s office there and then. But this needed a certain degree of ceremony, and Harbinger tried to contain his excitement. He went for a long walk on Kempsey Common with his Springer Spaniel Bess, and then spent the afternoon actually sitting on the bench at the bottom of the Cathedral Gardens by the River wall, looking up at the East Doors and thinking. He often attracted little parties of children, whom he told blood curdling ghost stories, and so bided his time until the evening. As it was a special day, he had egg and chips for tea.
At the appointed time Godbehere arrived in something of a temper, to find that Harbinger had arranged for all the Chairs and pews to be cleared out of the main body of the Cathedral, and for the West Doors to be opened. Harbinger and Pearman were seated on two plastic chairs under the tower. When he got closer, he was outraged to see that Harbinger had drawn a chalk circle around the chairs.
“What do you think this is, a Hammer film set!” he snapped, bending to rub the chalk out, but Pearman caught his arm, and then his eye, and shook his head in a way that made Godbehere pause.
The old Professor had taken out the little book and was flicking through it. “It didn’t take me long to translate this, gentlemen. I realised what it was inside the first paragraph.” He smiled faintly. “You may have heard of Grimgores or books of sacrilegious magic being bound in human skin? Well, this is something wholly different. This is the first time I have heard of human skin being used to bind a Bible…. Your Viking was a Christian.”
Godbehere looked between the two men in some shock. Pearman stared at the floor and said nothing, but Harbinger met his gaze levelly. “Its a tenth century copy of the Old Testament, exceptionally rare. But it’s Doctor Dee’s annotation which really throws a light on the matter. The haunting of that Viking had become such a problem by the Reign of Glorianana that the Bishop of Worcester appealed to the Queen, and Dee and Kelly were sent to lay his spirit. That Undead Viking was flayed by the Monks of Worcester, for Sacrilege. Dee relates that he was found trying to ring the Sanctus Bell after the last raid, and when he was found to have a bible they killed him, as a pagan heretic making a mockery of their faith. Rather unfortunately his name was Loki, whom I’m sure you are aware was the Norse God of Mischief. Outsiders always get the rough end of the stick, don’t you think?”
Neither of the other men said anything, and Harbinger signed. “According to Dee, what tortures the Viking is not so much the manner of his death, as the fact that his skin was used to bind his bible. “He walks tormented by his testaments skien.” They tried to exorcise him for three days, but they could do nothing to quiet his spirit, as “He resteth not till his skien entire returneth to the Seven waters.” But they couldn’t find the rest of his skin, and then, after Dee’s visit, the book disappeared, too. But now we finally have them together….”
Godbehere gave Harbinger a decidedly frosty stare, and clicked his tongue. “So what does the great Faustus suggest we do about the situation?” “Nothing. Dee offered no solution, except drawing a chalk circle around oneself if the remnants of the Norseman’s skin are reunited, and anointing it at the four corners of the compass with salt. A standard occult defence against demonic attack, really.” Godbehere scoffed openly now, “Oh, come on! Next you’ll be dragging up all that gossip about King John being a werewolf!” “Oh, you’ve heard that, too, have you?” Pearman the librarian piped up, “I didn’t know that story was so widely known. There’s claw mark’s in the Northern Transept, and my granddad once saw this dirty great wolfish thing trying to climb out of the toilet windo-”
“Oh, shut up Pearman, no one asked you! The situation is ludicrous enough as it is, what with the subsidence damaging the library…Who’d have thought an earthquake would hit these parts….” Harbingers smile was wintry, “Not me, for one. Don’t you mean the Poltergeist activity, Christian?”
“Subsidence, Enoch, subsidence! Well, come on, Harbinger, let’s have it. Where do we go from here? A séance, is that what you’re calling for? Are you going to suggest we all join hands?”
Pearman gave him and uncomfortable look, and wiped his palms on his trouser legs protectively, “I’d really rather not, if its all the same to you. I was rather too enthusiastic with the fertiliser earlier on.”
The two other men moved away from him slightly, and Harbinger coughed. The old Professors voice took on a lecture hall tone, “Judging by the previous psychic disturbances, I think the thing to do is put the two pieces of skin close to one another, and retire pretty dam quick back into this chalk circle. Christian, would you care to give me a hand?” Old Harbinger offered Godbehere the little book, and much to his surprise, Godbehere backed off. Given his bullish nature, that came as quite a surprise, and Harbinger looked him hard in the eye. Godbehere didn’t flinch, and Harbinger sighed, “No? Oh well, suit yourself. Walter?”
Pearman actually took a step back, and shook his head. “No?” This surprised Harbinger, as he had a certain regard for Walter Pearman. “Really? Are you sure? Oh well. Honestly, I don’t know, if you want anything doing, you have to do it yourself…. Alright then, I’m not going to hang about gentleman, let’s get this over fast. I’ve already put the skin from the door on the floor where the book was found, and I’ll just drop it nearby, and scarper. Okay?”
A little shamefacedly, they watched old Harbinger, who was 76 at least, hobble arthritically down towards King John’s tomb, his stick clacking sharply on the floor. The old Professor gently dropped the book down about a foot away from the rest of its skin…. and then executed a surprisingly smart about turn, heading back towards them with an unusual turn of speed.
Surprisingly, there was no unusual activity as he approached the tomb, but once he put the book down, green phsopheresant light began to spread across both items very quickly. The light fittings high in the ceiling above began to swing alarmingly, and a low incoherent groaning rose through the air. The building shifted and ground horribly, and the disturbance seemed to be hot on the heels of old Harbinger. He had only covered half the distance to safety, but he was already flagging and breathless. Pearman couldn’t stand the guilt, and taking his courage in both hands, Walter ran out to him, and all but dragged the old man back into the chalk circle….
They barely made it before a half formed shape coalesced into the air above the skin and the book, something which seemed to drift in and out of focus, like a mirage. It was vaguely human in appearance, although phospheresant green, and it appeared to be hollow, like a garment worn by the invisible man. Pearman had his hands firmly over his ears and his eyes tightly shut, and Godbehere was staring hard at the floor, so only Harbinger actually watched what was happening. The shape looked like the hollow skin of a human being, retaining its physical shape but bereft of its contents. The face was one contorted scream, and the body was ragged and incomplete. There was a huge square section of skin missing across the figures back, and a sizeable section from the breastbone. Yet it did little but hover there, silently and unmoving, and apart from the sight of it Harbinger began to feel slightly relieved..
But then he had a very nasty surprise indeed, as one of the side panels of King Johns tomb fell open onto the floor, with a crash that thundered through the building. Harbinger just wasn’t expecting that, and he dropped his stick and took a step back in shock, bumping hard into Pearman, who nearly overbalanced out of the circle and grabbed the old man for dear life. And then over his shoulder, Harbinger he saw that something was trying to climb out of the tomb…..
To his disbelieving eyes, a tattered man in modern clothing emerged from the monument, and straightened up. None of the men present knew about Ronnie Trancey having been dragged into the Kings sarcophagus, but a couple of miles away, in a quiet hospital room, Ronnie’s daughter Tracey put the wind of heaven up old Sergeant Aimesbury by suddenly screaming blue murder in her sleep.
Ronnie moved now with the jerking gait of the truly possessed, and fumbling around on the floor, he picked up the book and the skin, with blunt incoherent fingers. And as Harbinger watched, he shuffled down through the choir and down the steps into the main body of the cathedral, clearly heading for the eastern door. Ronnie’s body stumbled past Harbinger and his colleagues with white eyes and a face livid with scratches, and just for a moment, he turned back to look at the Royal Tomb. Harbinger followed his gaze, and with a jolt of shock, the old man saw someone standing beside the monument, shrouded in shadow and wearing ancient robes. There was a distinct impression of long wild hair, and piercing green eyes like a fox in the darkness. It held a broken sword in its hand, and it did not look remotely human. The figure nodded at Ronnie, who nodded back in apparent understanding. This frightened old Harbinger badly, and he dragged Pearman around by the arm to look, but when he looked up again the figure had gone….
The possessed man approached. As Ronnie headed towards the doors the shape in the air kept pace with him steadily, and the masonry in the great roof shifted protestingly as they passed. Rivulets of dust drifted down, and several of the great stained glass windows cracked with a splintering retort. The scratching and the clawing voice grew unbearable as Ronnie passed them, and Harbinger and Pearman clutched at each other like men in a storm at sea…. But once the possessed man passed by, followed by his spectral partner, the sound and disturbance followed them like a wave.
And as Ronnie got down towards the Western doors, the hinges buckled and bent under the psychic onslaught, and the shape in the air twisted agonisingly, as they neared the area where the Viking had been nailed to the woodwork. Rivets shot out of the ancient dry wood, and the metalwork twisted and screamed agonisingly. And then, as Ronnie stepped outside with his grim burden, it felt as though a storm had passed. A feeling of unnatural calm came over the whole building, and Harbinger and Pearman, sensing the sudden calm, let go of one another in some embarrassment. Godbehere gave them both a wicked grin, and Pearman coughed. “Come on,” snapped Harbinger, “Lets see where he goes.”
They were no cowards, but they followed at a discrete interval, carefully keeping Ronnie and the shape beside him in clear view. They saw the two of them descend the steps down the centre of the Cathedral Gardens, where students snog and lounge at lunchtime, and the children like to play. The spirit of the Norseman lit the night eerily, his skin glowing in the darkness like ancient fungus deep in the heart of a forest.
“Look at my doors!” Godbehere was inconsolable, “That’ll cost a fortune to repair!” “Sssssssssshhh!!” both of them said at once, and they rushed him on.
The trees masking the river had recently been cropped, and there was a clear view of the inky black waters. Ronnie stopped and held his hand out over the wall towards the tide, and as he did so, the Norseman’s spirit faded from the air, disappearing completely. They were just looking around with an edge of panic, in case it reappeared closer to them, when Pearman said softly “Look!”
There was a growing glow towards the centre of the stream, as the figure of the Viking reappeared, apparently standing on a dead tree making its way down stream… But as the glow of his spectral body steadied and grew, they could see it was no tree he was standing on… It was the prow of a long-sunken Viking ship.
A huge carved dragon’s head and neck was rearing out of the water, battered and splintered by time, worn and blackened by centuries under water. It was peppered with barnacles and sea life and draped in seaweed. The three men could smell the ocean even where they were standing. The waterlogged carving looked more like stone after all these centuries, and only Odin knew from what fathomless gulf of the North Sea his wayward son had summoned it to hitch his final ride home. But after over a thousand years of waiting, the Viking had finally got back to his ship.
Ronnie Trancey tucked the flap of skin inside book, and with one long swing, flung it out towards the spirit in the centre of the river. The shape caught it triumphantly, and just for a split second they saw a tall young man with braided red hair and a forked beard, dressed in Wolf Skins, with an inkhorn in his belt, standing on the rotting hulk. Then there was a terrific blast of wind and light, as a bolt of lightning thundered over their heads, and smashed the Western doors of the Cathedral into splinters…..
All three of then lay on the grass with their hands over their heads for some time after that, and it grieved Godbehere mightily that when they did get up, Pearman ran to see if old Harbinger was alright first, rather than himself. It annoyed him even more to see that both of them then went straight to Ronnie Trancey. Godbehere walked calmly over, brushing grass of his coat, and inclined his chin at Trancey, rather than say anything. Enoch Harbinger had known him a long time and just smiled, “I’m pretty sure he’s just in a state of shock. Walter is calling an ambulance.” Pearman was deep in conversation, the light of his mobile phone bathing his face strangely in the darkness.
“Why don’t you ever call me Enoch, Christian?”
“Because I’d rather not. And with regard to what’s happened here tonight…”
“I’m sorry that fellow has been hurt…. But I’ll never breathe a word of what happened this evening. And if you do, I’ll call you a liar to your face.”
“I know, Christian. I expected that. Just subsidence, eh?”
Godbehere nodded curtly, “Just subsidence. And now keep an eye on our friend there; I’m going to open the main doors for the ambulance.”
Godbehere walked a little shakily up the steps through the West Doors, occasionally stamping on tiny bits of smouldering wood, and frowning furiously at the buckled remains of those beautiful wrought iron hinges. He was just standing quietly in the darkness, and getting his breath, when he heard a movement behind him. The Very Reverend Godbehere had a nasty crawling feeling between his shoulder blades, and he looked around… straight into the face of the Lycanthropic King John…
For a second the wolfish face frightened him badly and he actually gave a small scream… But then he put a hand to his forehead, and said distinctly “Oh, thank heavens, its just you!” And then his tone took on a deferential hint of respect, as Godbehere bowed his head. “It worked quite beautifully, your Royal Highness, he’s gone. You should have the place to yourself now. It will be much quieter at night from now on, without that screaming ghost wandering about…” And the figure before him, bathed in shadows, smiled with very sharp teeth…..
© Copyright Glenn James