Chanter's Hide

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TWENTY

“Please God, help us,” I yelled, trampling myriad bodies underfoot. I reached Peter, yanked the ankh from his hand and landed with a thud in front of the grinning arachnid. I shoved it into those glaring, red eyes, never letting the picture of Jan leave my mind. It glowed like a piece of molten metal, taken from a blacksmith’s fire. The spider let out a high-pitched wail and withered before me. I was on a roll. I pushed on.

“Watch out, Ben,” I heard Efram shout.

I turned in time to see the biggest snake I’d ever set eyes on. It’s hooded head, swaying from left to right, ready to strike.

The forked tongue of the king cobra flicked in and out. Its eyes were fixed on mine and I wondered if Drake could see through those black orbs. I was temporarily mesmerised. By the number of coils and the fact that we were face to face, I estimated its length to be in the region of fifteen metres.

“Ben!” I heard Peter say shakily. “Do something.”

I held the ankh out before me, knowing deep down it wouldn’t be enough. I refocused my mind on the horror Jan was about to face. I needed to see what I would be putting her through if I failed. The picture was back in my mind, and I held it there. I looked past the snake to the plinth beyond. A gold chain rested on a black, silk cloth - the third part of our puzzle. ‘Hey big man, I could do with a bit of a hand here,’ I said, returning my eyes to the cobra. I couldn’t understand why it hadn’t attacked. I looked deep into those snake eyes and said.

“God is on my side, you son of a bitch. Come on, show me what you’ve got. Are you frightened, because if you’re not, you should be?”

The head swayed to and fro. I may have detected a little hesitation, but it was probably wishful thinking. I brought the image of Jan to the forefront of my mind until it appeared to merge with the black and yellow of the cobra.

“Ben. It’s going to attack,” Efram called from the doorway.

I saw the slight movement as the head went back.

“For Christ’s sake, “I said. “We’re on the same side. Please – help – me.”

Everything happened in a flash, although I saw it all as if in slow motion. The snake’s head reared and as it darted forward, the gold chain flew through the fetid air, spinning like a chainsaw’s blade. Just before the fangs could penetrate my throat, the chain sliced the head from the cobra and wrapped itself gently around my neck. The ankh leapt from my hand and joined the chain. At that moment, I knew God existed. Within seconds, the spiders and snakes that had occupied the narrow room had scurried and darted into holes in the walls and we were alone.

The ankh throbbed against my chest, the chain warm and comforting around my neck. The fear I’d felt for Drake had disappeared. I was now a servant of the big man. For the first time in my life, I knew there was a God and that when he was really needed, he would be there for us.

“That was magnificent,” said Peter. “I’m sorry I let you down, Ben.”

I put a hand on his shoulder. “You didn’t let anyone down, Peter. In fact, you showed me the way. This was always supposed to be down to me – not you. I am so grateful for all you’ve done.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Efram said. “I take it all back. You kicked that thing’s ass.”

“I was only the tool,” I said to him. “The big chap did all the heavy lifting. Now let’s go and destroy the rest of the evil in this place. God really is on our side now.”

“You betcha,” said Peter.

“Lead the way,” Efram said.

Within seconds we were in the cellar opening the door to the passage to Smugglers’ Rock.

“Wait, I’ll be a minute, “I said.

I darted back up the cellar steps, dashed into the kitchen and picked up the box of supersize matches laying by the gas hob. Seconds later I was in the dining room, splashing Drake’s expensive cognac over the furniture and curtains. I lit two of the matches and threw one at the bottom of the curtains and the other on the brandy-soaked tablecloth. I picked up a bottle of malt whiskey and hurried back to the cellar. I splashed the liquor around the room and lit another three matches.

“Okay, lets’ go,” I said.

“You obviously intend to send everything back to hell,” said Efram, with a satisfied smile.

I nodded. “If a job’s worth doing.”

Peter looked at me and I could see disappointment mixed with relief in his eyes.

“I still feel guilty - and stupid - for caving in, back there, “he said.

“I put my arm around him. “You did much more than should have been expected of you, Peter. This is my fight and always has been. I think that, maybe Ted chose me for this, to finish what he, so courageously, started. Now, with God’s help, we’ll witness the end of Drake’s hold over this beautiful village.”

“Hear, hear to that,” said Efram.

“He knows we’re coming,” I said. “I can feel it. He won’t make it easy for us, so be prepared.”

“What, you mean more spiders and snakes?” Efram said, with a shudder.

“At least. Now let’s go.”

We plunged down the passageway, the smoke had already started to seep from Chanter House. I had never felt so alive. It was as if God himself were running along by my side. I glanced at Peter. It was incredible. He had discarded the walking stick and was keeping pace with only a trace of a limp. The difference between when I’d spotted him, on the beach, from up on the hill, hobbling along on sticks, his leg in a calliper to now, almost one hundred per cent fit was amazing.

“Oh, I do not believe this,” I heard Efram say, his disgust evident.

Up ahead the tunnel floor was covered with every insect imaginable, and the stench was appalling. Cockroaches crawled over huge beetles, flies, the size of queen bees hovered in the air, whilst Efram’s favourite – the spider was extremely well represented.

“Stand behind me,” I said, “and hold onto my waist. Time to do the hokey cokey. All together – put your left leg in.”

Peter grabbed hold of my waist and Efram brought up the rear. I grasped the ankh, feeling the chain tighten slightly around the back of my neck and stomped into the pile of this disgusting carpet. Every step I took was like Moses parting the Red Sea. Insects were suspended in mid-air, their legs trying to gain purchase on thin air.

“A walk in the park,” Peter whispered in my ear.

“Don’t count your chickens,” I said to him. “This is just a little too easy. I’m thinking that Drake is still making his way to that filthy pit he uses as his ‘temple’. Once he’s there, with Jan and Hannah, he’ll be able to focus. This is just the prelude.”

“You don’t know that.”

I turned and looked him in the eye. “You know when you were getting your feelings, before, about the chain and the rest of it?”

He nodded.

“Well, these are no longer feelings. I know what we’re going to be up against. And, believe me, it won’t be a walk in the park. Drake isn’t a spider you can crush under your boot.”

“I’m guessing if God exists, the devil does too?” Efram said. By his expression, I knew he was hoping I was going to tell him not to be so stupid. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that.

“Drake’s drawing his power from somewhere, “I said. “Obviously, not from God, so, what do you think?”

“It’s the age-old fight between good and evil,” Peter said enthusiastically.

“Yeah, but good doesn’t always win,” said Efram. “Have you taken a look at what’s going on in this world of ours, lately?”

“Dad – will you stop being so negative.” It was an order, rather than a question.

“He’s right, Peter. We can’t go into this thinking God’s on our side and that’s an end to it. If we don’t play our parts with conviction and true belief, we’re lost. Drake is on the verge of bringing Lucifer back from the abyss. He has worked years for this moment. He’s not about to roll over and submit.”

“Plus, he’s an old hand at all of this,” said Efram. “Don’t forget that.”

Although, I wanted us all to be prepared, Efram’s continual ‘bigging up’ of the opposition was becoming a little tiresome and unhelpful.

“Which will give us an advantage,” I said. “He sees me as a weak and irritating fly in his glorious ointment. He does not consider me a threat.”

Peter nodded. “Never underestimate your opponent,” he said.

“Exactly.”

Efram didn’t look convinced. “If you say so.”

“I think his focus might have improved, “I said.

The insects were scurrying away. Our old pals, the snakes were back, and they’d brought their mates, the lizards along. They looked like kimono dragons on steroids.

“Jesus – is that an alligator?” Efram almost screamed.

It must have been about eight metres in length. It nudged the dragons aside with its long snout.

“You were saying, Peter?” I said, making eye contact with the beast. There was no fear in those dead eyes.

No-one moved. Drake’s beast and I stared into each other’s eyes, searching for weakness. I was no longer afraid.

“That thing is huge,” Efram said.

“Be still,” I said. “Both of you.”

“Show yourself,” I said to the alligator.

Those emotionless orbs stared back. The tail flicked suddenly to the side.

“Jesus.” I felt Efram jump behind me.

I moved a step closer. “Show me,” I said firmly.

The tail swished back the other way.

“I don’t have time for this, Drake.” I closed my eyes and breathed in, letting God take me. I looked down and saw Efram and Peter shaking with fear, the alligator’s jaws opening and snapping back together. “I’m coming for you, “I said, only no words came from my mouth.

Drake left his servant and rose to meet me.

“You cannot win, the dark lord is almost amongst us.”

“If you’re so confident, why are you here, wasting time that could be spent finalising your lord’s return?”

He smiled. “I am enjoying the game, Ben. I have to say I’m impressed with your bravado. I didn’t think you had any fight in you.”

I smiled back. “There is one difference between us. My Lord is with me already, whilst yours waits for a release that will never come. Your reign is about to come to an end.”

The flicker was faint and fleeting, but it was there. Drake’s conviction suffered a momentary lapse.

“Much as I’d like to continue this ludicrous conversation, my lord calls. Your wife and child are waiting to sacrifice themselves for his resurrection. It’s a shame you’ll miss the show. My friend below will be more than a match for you, I’m sure.”

I watched his essence slide back to the floor of the cavern and disappear. It was time. Efram was shouting behind me. “Stay back, stay back.”

“I thought I told you to be still,” I said.

“You were just standing there. It moved forward.”

“And now it will go back to where it came from,” I said. I strode forward, both hands clasping the ankh, drawing the power that was all around me.

“Do you wish to confront the true Lord, “I asked the dead eyes. “Because he wishes to confront you.”

I took my hands from the ankh, they were golden. I reached down and watched as the alligator’s jaws snapped ineffectively. I placed my hands over the eyes and let the power flow. In my mind, I heard the screaming as Drake’s manifestation twisted and flapped like fly caught in a spider’s web.

“We’re coming,” I said. “Any evil that wishes to stand before us, take heed. God is in this place.”

All the vicar’s creations shrivelled and fell beneath our feet, as we made our way towards Smugglers’ Rock.

“I never really believed in God,” Efram said apologetically.

“Nor did I,” I said.

“I never doubted his existence,” said Peter. “We are about to save Jan and Hannah and set Chanter’s Hide free, with God’s help.” He waved a hand around the carnage. “It is now obvious that Simon Drake and his miserable devil are no match for God’s almighty power.”

“Whoa, don’t get ahead of yourself, Peter. This was only easy because Drake’s attentions were occupied elsewhere. He is hours – no – minutes away from achieving his goal. The longer this goes on, the more powerful he becomes, and the closer the dark lord’s resurrection. We may have won this paltry battle but, the war is still to come. When we get to the island........”

“All hell breaks loose,” said Efram.

“I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

“But we will win, won’t we?” Peter looked deflated.

I put my arm around his shoulders. “With God’s help and our bravery – yes, I believe we will. But I only know one thing for sure – if Drake harms my wife and our baby – I will kill him, with or without God’s help. That’s a promise.”

“Don’t forget,” Peter said. “We are the three musketeers”

Efram grimaced. “Oh please, son, don’t start that again.”

“Let’s just keep our wits about us,” I said, “we’re not too far away now, and remember, we’re in this together. We all have our parts to play.”

“I think it’s getting a bit lighter,” Efram said, without any enthusiasm.

He was right. We were nearing the end of the tunnel and the moonlight was beginning to cast vague shadows. I could hear the chanting. The Hiders were out in force, obeying their master’s orders. I wondered if there was any way back for them, assuming we were successful. If we managed to keep Lucifer where he belonged and destroyed Drake, what would happen? Would they turn on us or would the spell be broken? Would the village become the idyllic hideaway that Jan and I had first thought it to be? These were questions that only time could answer. Since meeting the vicar and finding out his true intentions, my only desire was to get out of Dorset all together. I couldn’t override those thoughts at that moment. Until this was over, one way or the other, it was pointless giving the matter any head space. I had to stay focused on the job in hand.

“Here we are, folks,” I said, as the path started to rise. “It’ll soon be show time.”

Efram took in a deep breath and let it out nervously. “Let’s do it,” he said, unable to hide the tremor in his delivery.

“One for all and..........”

“Please, Peter – stop. We are not in some Alexander Dumas novel, this is real life, and I, for one, am terrified.”

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