Are You Sleeping, Brother Jacques?
The Monk pulled the sheets over his head and clenched his eyes shut. The voice had not left him, despite his many prayers. A Bible lay at the side table beside him, next to it, his rosary, and above his head, one of the many crucifixions that hung on the wall. It seemed like he added a new one with each passing night, but they never helped, never stopped the voice from whispering to him throughout the night, never stopped the darkness from creeping forwards towards the edge of the bed. It had been nearly a year since the chapel had first been plagued by the dark shadow. At first appearing at the start of every month, it had been coming more often, every month, every week, every night.
They had hoped to pray the presence away. After the second month, the Brothers had gathered in the chapel to pray as night settled within the monastery. Brothers Paul and Roman had grown ill shortly thereafter, next Brothers Matthew, Andrew, and William. Their numbers had dwindled slowly until only one remained to light the candles at the altar in the chapel, to pray each night over those hallowed grounds, to bury the bodies of the dead.
From the darkness, a shape took form, cruel claws extended from sheaths and glinting teeth reflected what little moonlight streamed through the window into the Monk’s room. It crept forward with the shadows on the floor, up to the edge of the bed, long nails scraping against the bed frame as the voice whispered, “Brother Jacques, Brother Jacques”. The Brother pushed clenched fists against his ears, breath growing faster and faster as the voice continued. “Are you sleeping yet Brother? Are you sleeping?” The voice was gravelly and deep, grating harshly against the silence in the room.
The Brother had felt the presence earlier, in the chapel. He heard the voice, and trembled in fear as he felt that cold shadow leaching into the room, sucking away at his soul until he too had grown pale and cold in the dim light before the altar of the Lord. He was weaker now, his hands shaking as he had raised them, clasped, towards the hanging crucifix in the chapel. Now he lay, unable to move, barely able to breathe, as the shadow crept up the wall beside him.
He knew that daylight would bring some relief, the warmth of the blessed sun streaming down to bring light to his soul, at least until sunset, until the dark crept back in. At the rooster’s crow before daybreak he would find the strength to flee that room and race to the bell tower, to ring the ancient bell, expel the dark presence that now made its home within the cold stone walls of the monastery. “Oh yes, ring the bells for matins. Go on, ring the bells for matins.” The voice behind him now echoed from all around him, mocking him as he openly wept. “The daylight cannot protect you now Brother, I have only grown stronger.”
The shadow now covered him completely and he felt its icy presence pressing down upon him like a heavy quilt that he couldn’t escape from. He wanted to cry out but his mouth hung open silent as he lay paralyzed. He lay there in fear praying for the silence to return. The presence that pressed down on him began to laugh. It was a bitter, evil laugh, and it robbed him of all thought except fear. In his weakness it grew, expanded, seeming to flood the entire monastery, the bedrooms, the kitchen, the chapel, the old bell tower. It laughed and laughed as it rang the bell in that ancient tower, mocking the Monk’s prayer, creaking and pulling at the old house bells until they rang frantically.
The laughing voice and the taunting of the bells was nearly driving the Monk mad, and he finally found his own voice and cried out hysterically as the voice of the shadow echoed in his mind, “Ding, dang, dong! Ding, dang, dong!”