Chanter's Hide

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NINETEEN

The term – emotional turmoil – is widely used. Mostly, by people who have never experienced it, and probably never will. I looked at Peter, knowing he was right, my chest, a huge box of fervent fireworks. When your wife and unborn child are behind a door, metres away, in the company of a Satanist, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Nevertheless, I pointed to the dining room door and began to creep towards it. The kitchen was behind the dining room, so we would be able to listen to what was being said, without being in full view should either Drake or his whore decide to leave the kitchen.

Silver-grey patches stretched across the floor and I was glad it was a clear night. We stood just inside the door of the dining room and listened. For once, I was glad the vicar liked the sound of his own voice. The walls in the rectory were substantial, to say the least, and had Drake been softly spoken, we would have had difficulty making out his words. As it was, he might as well have had a megaphone.

“Nearly time ladies,” he said. “Soon you and your little ones will aid me in opening the great doorway.”

“What time is Porter coming for us?” It was Shona’s voice.

“He’s got to make a few trips to get everyone over there first. Then he’ll come up here for the guests of honour.”

“We could always go through the tunnel.”

“And deny our friends the great entrance. No, we do this with all the pizzazz, it deserves. This is what we’ve worked for. Tonight, our lord will take his rightful place.” Drake laughed. “I know you’re eager, my sweet but try and exercise a little more patience. We’ve waited so long for this; another hour isn’t going to make much difference.”

My fingernails were digging into the palms of my hands and I could feel the blood starting to trickle from the cuts. I put my arms around the other two.

“Does he mean who I think he means?” I whispered.

Peter nodded.

“The devil?”

He nodded again.

“We have to find the last piece, and quickly,” I said. “We have to be back on that island when he makes his grand entrance. Peter?”

“I don’t think it’s down here,” he said.

“Well, you’d better follow me then.” I said, heading towards the staircase. “And watch out for snakes.”

“Not again.” Efram’s fear was almost tangible.

“And I’m afraid it’s just down to us this time,” I said, not wanting to remind him of the part his wife’s ashes had played but needing him to be fully focused. I was expecting him to emulate Indiana Jones but the only sound he made was a choked sort of groan.

Peter moved past me and limped up the stairs with a strange sort of grace. “I think I’d better go first. He reached the landing and moved along it like a sniffer dog, intent on pleasing his master. I followed him feeling inadequate. If this was a film, Efram and I were supporting actors, Peter, the leading man.

“Oh my God, we’re close,” he said softly.

I was about to congratulate him when I heard the chime of the doorbell. Drake hurried down the hall.

“Showtime folks,” he said cheerily.

We froze.

He opened the front door. “’Evening George, everybody over there?”

“There and waiting,” George replied.

“Good. Shona, are you ready?”

“I was born ready,” she said seductively, slipping her arm through his.

“You’re gorgeous,” Drake said. “Isn’t she, George?”

“Yes, gorgeous,” he agreed.

Drake laughed. “Is that a gun in your pocket, George?”

“I.....I’m sorry,” George spluttered.

“Don’t worry, old chap. Tonight, all of the women will be exquisite and all of the men, rampant. Tonight, George, history will be made. Our Lord, imprisoned for so long, will finally be free. We will all be rewarded and know true satisfaction. Now, come on, the Great One has waited long enough.” He paused, then. “Ah, ladies, are you ready to take your rightful places?”

I heard Jan and Hannah mumble something that sounded like reluctant assent.

“In that case – George, lead the way.”

We waited until we heard the door shut.

“Jesus Christ, he’s taken them,” I said hoarsely, the panic, a slab of concrete in my chest. “We don’t have a lot of time.”

“I think he must have set his burglar alarm,” Efram said shakily.

From one of the bedrooms, a cobra, the size of a python, slid out to face us, its hood extended. Its head moved back and forth, ready to strike.

“Don’t move, Peter,” I said.

“Why not?” There was no fear in his voice. He put his hand into his trouser pocket, pulled out the ankh and held it in front of the snake. It emitted a low hum. The tarnished, coppery appearance flashed briefly before becoming a solid, burnished gold. The cobra drew back its head, fangs exposed, hissing.

Peter pushed the ankh into its face. “Our fight is not with you, little one,” he said. “Unless you make it so.”

The snake turned and slithered away.

Efram let out the breath he had been holding. “That was awesome, son.”

Peter put his hands over his eyes, his breathing steady. Efram and I waited, until he said. “It’s in there.” He pointed to, what appeared to be a closet.

“It looks like a cupboard,” said Efram, echoing my thoughts. “There can’t be much in there, surely.”

“It’s not a cupboard,” Peter said.

I was about to ask how he knew, then decided not to waste any more time. At this moment Drake was taking my wife down to the beach, where a boat was waiting to take her to Smugglers’ Rock, and her death. Time was something we didn’t have a great deal of. I reached to open the door.

Peter laid his hand on my arm. “I’ll do it, Ben.”

I didn’t argue. I stepped to one side.

“Be careful, son,” Efram said.

Peter grasped the handle and pulled open the door. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the space beyond the door wasn’t it.

Efram gasped. “What the hell?”

The room was long and narrow. The only illumination was at the far end, where a dim, orange bulb hung above something that glittered. From this distance, it was impossible to tell what it was. Had that been the extent of it, all would have been hunky-dory. It wasn’t.

The floor was a carpet of spiders. It was as if the entire arachnid population of Dorset was here. There were reddish, brown monstrosities with bodies the size of a heavyweight’s fist, right down to the kind found lurking in the bathtub. They skittered over our feet. Efram nearly had a heart attack.

“Oh my God,” he said, trying not to squeal like a girl. “There are millions of the dirty little buggers. Look at the size of that one!”

I didn’t need to follow his gaze, the thing he was pointing to couldn’t be missed. It had slithered to the floor from a hole in the wall, its body pulsating. It was as big as a football and it was looking at us. On its arrival, the rest of the spiders ceased there scurrying as if waiting for instructions.

“I think he may be the big cheese,” I said, trying to make light of a situation that couldn’t have been much heavier. “Am I right in thinking that we have to get through this lot and reach that thing under the bulb?” I asked Peter.

He shook his head. “No, I have to do that. You two need to wait here.”

Even though Efram was terrified, he said. “We can’t let you go in there on your own, son.”

“You have no choice Dad. If you go in there, they’ll be all over you in seconds and I won’t be able to protect you. Some are venomous, the rest – well they’ll crawl up your nose and into your mouth and block your airways. You’ll be dead in minutes. I can’t let that happen. You have to trust me.” He looked into Efram’s eyes. “Do you trust me, Dad?”

Efram swallowed, his expression a mixture of terror and pride. “I trust you, Peter. Please be careful. If I lost you, my life wouldn’t be worth living anyway.”

Peter hugged his father. “Have faith, Dad, have faith. Without it, we’re all lost.”

I know that Peter was Efram’s son but, I’m sure I was just as concerned. Peter took a deep breath and stepped into the narrow room. He held the ankh out before him, its glow flickering slightly. He’s just told his Dad to have faith, I thought, but it seems as if his own might be wavering a little. The smaller of the spiders scurried away from him and I saw the glow become steadier. I wanted to shout out, to urge him on, but I didn’t want to break his concentration. I put my arm around Efram’s shoulders. We were both holding our breath. I let mine out.

“You have a very special son,” I said to him.

“Do you think I don’t know that? All I’ve ever wanted was to keep him safe and now, it’s the other way round. I should be doing that – not him.”

“I think he’s been chosen by someone of a higher rank,” I said, pointing upward. “Just do as he says – have faith.”

“That is easier said than done.”

Peter was moving forward slowly and, although some of the spiders crept up over his shoes onto his legs, they fell back quickly and scuttled away. He was getting ever nearer to the bloated thing. It moved up and down slowly as if the long, hairy legs were spring loaded. It showed no sign of fear. I felt Efram shiver. “Please God, protect my son,” he said softly.

Peter was about three metres away from the monstrosity now and I could see him falter. If he loses it now, I thought, we’re all dead. I thought of Jan and Hannah being rowed over to that God forsaken rock. I forced myself to see what would happen to them and their unborn babies. I envisaged Drake standing over their pale, naked bodies with some sacramental dagger raised above his head, chanting as his followers indulged in all forms of debauchery. The picture was in my mind, in high definition and full colour. I saw Drake laughing as Shona pranced around him, her breasts swinging, caressing herself. I looked back to Peter. He was frozen to the spot. The huge spider was slithering towards him. It appeared to be grinning. “Jesus Christ, we’re lost,” I said, tears rolling down my cheeks. “Peter, “I shouted. “Keep the faith.”

He turned and looked back. His face was a mask of terror.

“I...I... can’t,” he said.

In my mind’s eye, I saw Drake howling with glee, triumphant, as he brought the dagger down. I charged across the room, waving my arms above my head.

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