Bishop Archibald Forrest Dentonn had been a queer sort of fellow, stout of features yet stretched of frame. His snub of a nose was tightly pinched between button eyes, and the fullness of his cheeks belied a man who had sworn away all Earthly comforts to a degree that he was scarcely heavy enough to not have been blown away by a stiff gale. Evidentially, were it not for the acoustics offered by a chapel’s very design, any parish-goer very may have well not heard a single ounce of sermon he spewed. It has been recorded that, after having completed his second pilgrimage across the Aucklæden Desert mid-1804, his poorly clothed feet found their way to Hendricksburg, where he established the shockingly elaborate abbey that has all but been forgotten by the world. And yet, not by time.
Indeed, my research had dug up many such details like this; but not so much the exact nature of what sort of horror evidentially awaited me within. Oh contraire: instead I had been forced to venture out into the quaintly named “Midnight Quarter” of our magnificent city where the only peoples more common than the destitute were the deranged and the despondent, sometimes embodied all at once in one sad shell of a man. Ramshackle dens of misery surrounded this long and low holy house, but not a single window or door opened towards it, almost for fear of what the abbey had become.
And for certain had I not seen it for myself in the bleeding light of dusk I’d have very readily dismissed such notions that a dilapidated husk of a building could be so alive. It’s chiseled stone walls were mired in melancholy and the boarded up windows seemed to cry shards of shattered stained glass, where pools of greens, blues and yellows were kicked about the perimeter with such abandon that only the foolish would dare the snow-sodden cobblestone without a firm leather sole. Moulds clung to the gothic carvings and creases of the stone pillars that framed the blackened wooden door, which seemed a yawning portal into some miserable realm that had not been touched by man’s hands for an eternity.
The pure snow seemed appalled by the very touch of the steeple at the far end; its bare and rotting wooden shingles turned a grave green by time, with only splinters of a noxious malachite paint remaining. At its apex, the weather vane that once followed to the life-giving winds had been warped and pocked by corrosion. The only thing remaining was the twisted remains of the rooster’s head, gaping in horror towards all hell below.
I was perhaps a fair twenty paces away, clenching the key in numb fingers trying to decide how curious I truly was. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed that the engravings above the door read not “In the One we Love”, but rather “Beware Dentonn’s Abbey, Mr. Whyte”. Where this hesitation came from I could not say. It wasn’t fear that I felt: rather repulsion. The very idea of placing my hand on those rusted cast knockers filled me with a queasiness that I had not felt since a bad bout of malady in my youth.
‘Hear now, Azimyth, you old ponce. What do you gain from gawking here at this door,’ I demanded of myself. The letter had been addressed to a sort of ghost tamer, and if twenty long years of research and experimentation had taught me anything, it was that any ghost could be abolished with a firm mind and a strong nerve. I had these things over a decade ago when I banished the university’s spectre and sent them ‘cooing’ into the evening light, surely this could be no different. ‘Azimyth, you’ve spent years teaching Professor Attenborough’s students that a magnet can explain very nearly any claim of spook. To turn away from this would be hypocrisy on your end!’
There were many verbal slings I could tolerate: a hypocrite was not to be one of them. I crossed the small clear before the abbey and slid the key into the lock on the left hand door; a silent pox upon the late left-handed Bishop for this inconvenience. The key seemed to be relieved to once again meet its married mechanisms, and the lock clicked open with a gentle twist. The door, however, was much more ornery. He resisted my entrance with a determination and shrieking that caused mine own blood to boil.
A firm mind, a strong nerve. And putting a bit of back into it was not of terrible idea either. The door gave way into the uncanny world beyond. Surely the winter winds outside were warmer than this dank grave I found myself broaching. The icy breath from within tried to disperse my will, and it was followed with the putrid smell of decay and all other ungodly sensations to reinforce this desire. Firm mind, strong nerve.
Aisde from a door to my immediate left, there was very little else by way of areas to explore in this abysmal chapel. The light was poor; save for the dusty fingers of dusk that tried to pry its way through the blackening wood, there very nearly seemed to be a cloud of shadows huddling in the centre of the abbey. Pews stood in neat rows, lovingly coated with moss and desiccated weeds, and the walls had lost all the plaster due to the tantrums of time that had passed in this unusual realm.
I struck the match and teased at the wick in my lamp until it took, closing the glass shutters so that the wind would not extinguish my ability to navigate safely. I felt cold in this building; peculiarly so. I was somewhat familiar with the physics behind energy transfer, so that provided me a form of comfort to offset the chatter in my jaw. The sounds I was producing were less so, however. Each step seemed to echo a thousand times, each clack of my jaw a million more. And yet, the sounds of the city around me had been swallowed whole. There was no world beyond these walls. Just me.
Or so I had surmised. A sudden crackle near the alter of the abbey caught my attention. My jaw slammed closed and I swung the lamp in its direction, now cursing my decision to not put off this expedition until the morrow and full daylight. The alter was void of anything, except the partially decayed corpse of some vermin that was very nearly beyond my identification. Fixation griped me; I closed in on it. It was slightly bloated, its glossy eyes bulging from its skull, and patches of fur seemed to simply be missing. It was staring right at me as well, and it felt, for all intents and purposes, that it was watching my every molecule move.
Stopping myself, I had to calm my nerves. My heart was… racing. My skin crawling. And that primeval beast in the bowels of every man’s brain screaming to get out of this place. This abbey was wrong, everything about this place was wrong; but for reasons that seemed beyond my comprehension. A firm mind and strong will was it? One of these were beginning to fail me, I couldn’t be certain which, though.
A skitter. I looked back at the rat, or at least where it should have been. It was no longer there; the plump corpse had vanished. My eyes glanced around feverishly trying to find the cursed thing. There! Upon the ground near the closest right pew. It was still facing towards the door, but it was getting closer to the light outside. The dying light outside. I looked over my shoulder at the alter, now barren of anything. The grey stone mired in regrets and longing. Longing. Longing. Longing.
A skitter again. The rat, no doubt, was making for the exit once again. How could something so dead move so much? I felt hesitant, but I searched for it again. T’was not on the floor, nor the pews. Window sills? Nay, it wasn’t there either. I wildly looked behind me at the alter again; not there.
A hissing sound crept down my spine from the farthest reaches of the abbey. That door that had such defied me cackled as it slid closed of its own volition. The key was still in the lock; and I was horrified to see the image of that opulent rat, in mine mind, grinning maliciously at me as I found myself in the same fate. My feet hastily carried me towards the portal to sanity, and with every step it seemed the skittereing intensified. Ten feet, twenty feet, one hundred, one thousand. The hissing grew to a creaking, then a crescendo into an unholy wailing as the door continued its march to my damnation.
As soon as my hand touched its soft wood, all sound abated, leaving me in a painful silence that ensnared my wits in a bondage of torment. I waited for whatever thing would dare happen next; the hairs upon every ounce of my skin standing alarmed and my eyes widened but seeing nothing.
That’s when I felt it. A hot wash upon my neck. It was warm and damp, and yet it ripped a sheet from my soul every time it slapped my back. There was no sound, there was no smell; but this feeling could not have happened without something very real and visceral behind me. I swallowed hard: a firm mind and strong will. I was a man of reason and science. I would affirm or deny this dread by staring into that which stood behind me.
With the wild flailing of a hopeless man, I turned and threw my back into the door to force it open. What would vex me for nights to follow was the utter absence of that which stood behind me. Absence for all earthly and incorporeal explanations that I could rationalize. Save for one thing that stared at me from the gloom.
A solitary rat, watching me with a malicious grin and its bulging eyeballs from beyond the shadows, slowly fading into the oblivion as the last gasps of the sun retired behind the towering buildings of Hendricksburg surrounding. I stood once again beyond the threshold of this unholy realm staring back into that abyss from which I was plunged.
Beware Dentonn’s Abbey, Mr. Whyte. What spectre had I just brushed with I can’t but wonder even now, within the safety of my study. I had not been wary and I feel that my very soul, whatever such a thing is, is all the more frayed for setting foot into that strange place.