The adrenalin rush subsided and gave way to tears. She knew she should call the police, but tell them what? A guy she’d met in a bar had put some kind of spell on her, made her fall in love with him, took her out for a meal and then killed a man in front of her?
She felt queasy again and ran to the toilet, reaching it in time to throw up dinner. She sat back, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Had she really seen what she thought she’d seen? Could it have been her imagination? Given the stress she’d been under the last few days she might have imagined it all, including Ash. He had seemed so nice, so like-able, so love-able.
Perhaps she should wait:, if the following day’s news reported a murder, then she would call the police. She staggered back to the kitchen for a drink of water. Her eyes settled on the brown cover of the journal poking out of her bag, where she had dropped it on the kitchen table. She picked it up and drummed her fingers on the cover. She needed to do something to steady her nerves and whether she’d witnessed a murder or not, she wasn’t going to sleep tonight.
* * *
She kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the bed with the journal resting on her drawn-up knees. She was tense, edgy, but after flicking through the book and seeing the translated text again, her anxiety gave way to wonder and excitement.
“All right let’s start at the beginning,” she said aloud and turned back to what she expected would be the book’s title. Her face fell and the colour drained from it. The two words read…
She sat up, alarmed at the sight of her own name. All right, it was a different spelling, but the chances were phenomenal. After everything else that had happened she could hardly dismiss this as a coincidence. She had two choices: read on or put the book down and forget it. Curiosity got the better of her and she turned the page.
May 12th 1479
So it was a diary and the date placed it a little earlier than the rebuilding of the church. Whoever Catherine was, it certainly didn’t mean her and Kate relaxed a little before starting again.
May 12th 1479
Catherine is on her knees in the little church. She is not praying today, but is scrubbing the stone floors. She is but fourteen years old and is daydreaming, again, about how she will one day meet a handsome knight, who will fall in love with her and take her to his grand castle, where he will make her his lady.
I see the images from her imagination as clearly as if they were my own. We are linked, she and I. I smile as she smiles. She doesn’t know it, but I have been with her since she first drew breath in this life and I love her with a deep abiding and unconditional love. She is a new soul and I have been chosen to watch over her.
She pushes a stray hair from across her face and looks up from her tedious work to a small crudely carved image of one of my brethren. It is Michael, I think. I doubt he would be impressed with the object, too feminine he would say. Gabriel, on the other hand, gentle Gabriel, would find it pleasing.
Catherine speaks aloud. Her voice is a sweet sound to me.
“I wish I could see a real angel, it might restore Uncle’s faith in God and I think would be more wonderful even than a knight.”
The priest is not my concern, it is the secret he keeps and not his faith that vexes him so. A secret of which Catherine is unaware. However, hers is an innocent request and I know others have been granted such visions, so I clothe myself in the form of the man she imagines in her romantic ideas of earthly love and grant her wish. Others would have run away, hidden their faces or fallen to their knees in prayer. Not Catherine. She smiles shyly, thanks God for answering her prayers and asks…
“Which are you? Knight or angel?”
By way of answer I display my wings. They are wondrous to behold and fill the little church with their white evanescence, but her smile is even more brilliant.
She wants to fetch the man she calls Uncle, the priest, but I explain that only she can see me and, for her own safety, this must be our secret. She readily agrees. I know she hopes to persuade me differently later, but for now she is content to obey.
We become constant companions. I hide myself when she is not alone, even though the others can’t see me. It is easier for Catherine that way. Less chance she will give us away.
Time means nothing to me, but for Catherine, days become weeks. Spring turns to Summer and we spend as much time as her chores will allow walking the fields and woods that surround the village. Away from the houses we can talk uninterrupted.
* * *
Kate paused. Angel books in the bookshop window, the dictionary of angels in the library, the poster for the festival and now this. This couldn’t be a diary, angels weren’t real, this was someone’s fantasy story.
June 30th 1479
A young man rides into the village. A stranger. The villagers flock to him, fascinated by the novelty of his appearance. His skin is tanned a rich, dark olive and his voice is a mixture of many accents, one layered upon the other, as though he has travelled the world spending many years in each place. The style and quality of his clothes mark him out as a wealthy man, possibly a merchant or squire. He takes a room at the inn telling all within earshot that he is on a business errand for his master. Catherine says he smells of rotting flesh, but no one else seems aware of this. The adults around her don’t notice or don’t care and are too busy doing his every bidding as he showers them with coins from his bulging purse. He throws his money around as if it were as plentiful as animal dung, but it gives him no pleasure to see the people scurry after it. For all his rich trappings and his youth, the stranger appears weary of life and when he catches sight of his reflection in the polished surface of his goblet he sneers at it and quickly looks away, as though he cannot stand the sight of himself.
On Sunday, he attends the evening service in the chapel and later comes to the house to speak with Catherine’s Uncle. She lays on the floorboards of her little room, her ear pressed to the gaps trying to hear what is said below us. I beg her to come away. I don’t know why, but the man frightens me. There is an odd darkness about him. He carries a book and a gaudily jewelled box that give off an aura of evil.
He stays late into the night at Catherine’s Uncle’s table and she must wait on them. I watch from the shadows, afraid for her. His hands are always reaching out to touch her pale skin, but my Catherine is too quick for him, avoiding his contact time and again. When at last she can retire to bed I stay to listen to their conversation. It is banal at first, pointless chatter about local issues and the politics of the day, but eventually the stranger brings out the book and pushes it towards the priest.
“What’s this?” asks Thomas.
“I’ve been told to gift this to you. The book will give you everything you ever dreamed of.”
Thomas smiles indulgently at the man as though he is a child.
“I already have such a book,” he says, waving his hand towards the Bible that sits on the table by the window.
“With this one you can amass great wealth, become Archbishop.” The man barks a short, sharp laugh. “Hell, you could even raise a loved one from the dead.”
The smile fades and now there is fear in the eyes of Thomas Whittle. Has this stranger guessed his secret? He draws himself up and shakes his head.
“How can that be? You speak of something only God could accomplish. This must be some kind of joke.”
The man rises from the table and comes to stand behind the small frame of Thomas Whittle. He leans over him, his hand on Thomas’ shoulder, pressing him down, hard into the bench. The other hand reaches for the book and flips it open. He thrusts Thomas’ face toward it.
“See,” he croons. “The book has wonders for thee to perform.”
Thomas’ eyes scan the page before him and widen with fear and disgust. Before him is the offer of eternal life itself.
“That’s blasphemy,” says Thomas, wriggling under the vice-like grip. “Why are you offering this to me?”
“Come now, we know your faith has left you, Father. God doesn’t answer your prayers any more, Thomas, but the book can, and my master thinks you deserve some reward for the suffering you’ve had to endure. He wants you to know that your anger at God has not gone unnoticed.”
Thomas slumps, recognizing the truth in the words the man speaks. It has grown more and more difficult for him to minister to the villagers’ needs and in the night, when he has thought himself alone, he has gone to the church to rail at God until, his prayers unanswered, his faith is lost altogether.
“And what do I have to do in return?” he asks.
“Ah, you’re a clever man, Father.”
He lets go of Thomas’ shoulder and stands back.
“In return for immortality my master requires that you carry out small tasks from time to time, such as the one I have performed tonight in bringing you the book.”
“And who exactly is your master?”
“Again, a very astute question.”
The stranger returns to his seat, pulls his saddle pack onto the table and opens the flap.
“He is a great prince, but you will never see him unless you accept the offer.”
Thomas suspects he already knows who the stranger’s master might be, but he is already wavering.
“And what must I do to attain this illustrious reward?”
“You must capture an angel, the book will show you how.”
Thomas has taken the opportunity to steady himself with a mouthful of wine. It sprays across the room, the droplets sparkling as they catch the light from the candles. He snorts in derision at the man.
“Don’t be a fool, man. Angels don’t exist, any more than God does.”
“I think you’ll find you’re wrong on both counts, Thomas,” the man says, pulling the jewelled box from his pack.
He lifts the lid and takes out a murderous looking weapon. A dagger sharpened to a wicked point, the hilt as black as midnight, the blade covered with glittering symbols of power. I am astounded at what I see before me, for though its form has changed, I recognise the weapon. Who among us could ever forget it.
This is Lucifer’s sword, from the days of the war in Heaven. When Michael disarmed him, flicking it from his grasp with the fiery point of his own weapon, it fell, plummeting to Earth where it split the landmass and formed the continents. From there it sank, through the depths of the great ocean, lost forever, or so we thought.
Lucifer must have gone to great lengths to recover it and he had altered its appearance, a dagger being less conspicuous than a sword. As an ordinary weapon it was a lethal object, but it had a singular property that made it more fearsome to me – it could kill angels.
“Then I want nothing to do with this evil,” Thomas says with as much conviction as he can muster.
“Oh no, Thomas, you can’t back out now.”
In one swift movement the dark man closes the gap between himself and Thomas and cuts both his own palm and that of the whimpering priest. He presses their palms together in a blood pact. Thomas struggles, the bench falls back with a clatter as he tries to fight off his assailant. His hand caught tight in the dark man’s hand, their blood mingling and dripping to the floor.
The man laughs again, pushes Thomas away from him and leaves him cowering on the floor.
“The book will tell you all you need to know to accomplish this task.”
He towers over the shaking form of Father Whittle, then crouches so their faces almost touch.
“When you have your celestial prisoner, you must kill him with this. Perform the ritual and bind the angel’s soul to the dagger. My master will come to you when you have done all this”
He flourishes the dagger one last time, then lays it back in the box and closes the lid, picks up his saddle bags and purse and walks towards the door.
“Where am I supposed to find this angel?” Thomas whines.
“Ask your daughter.”
His laughter is chilling.
“Ha, you have the wrong man, I have no daughter,” Thomas says, but his brow is beaded with sweat and his skin is a sickly pallor.
The stranger merely smiles a knowing smile and Thomas clasps his hands together to stop them from trembling. In all, four people were aware of Thomas’s secret and three of them were dead. He has hidden the truth that he is Catherine’s father from everyone. Her mother, a nun from the convent at Nun Appleton, died in childbirth. Thomas took the babe to his brother, knowing that his barren wife would persuade him to adopt the child as his own, but she died five years later and her husband, a loyal Yorkist, was killed fighting against Lancaster, less than a year later, at the battle of Tewkesbury. Catherine’s only living relative is Thomas. The man she believes to be her uncle.
Before he leaves the house, the stranger glances in my direction and sniffs the air. He cannot possibly know I am there, but I draw back all the same. I follow him and watch him enter the inn. I am glad when in the dead of night he saddles his horse and leaves, riding out of town without looking back. The book and box are left with Thomas.
I say nothing of the encounter to Catherine and the following morning the book and box with its hateful contents are gone. I pray that Thomas has somehow destroyed them.
In the days that follow, Catherine and I are too happy in each other’s company to notice the change in Thomas. I should have seen how he locked himself away, spending long hours alone by candlelight, well into the night, neglecting his duties in the church, but all I know is love, I have eyes for no-one but Catherine.
As I look back I see I was arrogant. I thought I could protect her from anything, but in the end I could do nothing. I was so naive as to be stupid.
* * *
Wow, thought Kate.
Whoever had written this must have had a fantastic imagination and they’d done their history. Thomas Whittle was a real man. He hadn’t just been the rector of All Souls Church, he had built it, though she couldn’t remember anything about him having a daughter. The story fascinated her and she had to read more.
August 15th 1479
Thomas has sent Catherine to the miller today. They need more flour to bake bread. She tells me the day is hot, but I have no sense of these things. I tell her the names of the flowers and birds that we see and hear on our way through the countryside. So engrossed am I in our game that I don’t sense the trio of boys sneak up behind us until it is too late.
They run forward and surround her, one tugs at her hair and calls her simple. He wants to know why she is talking to herself. She knows she cannot tell them and refuses to answer. The oldest boy raises his hand to strike her, but his fist doesn’t make contact. Something stops him. Something he cannot see. He falls backwards as if pushed by an unseen force and the other boys laugh at him. When he gets up and runs away the look he gives Catherine as he flees is one of fear and hatred.
The following day, as we walk along the streams edge, I sense another. A woman from the town watches Catherine. I am not visible to her, but I alert Catherine to her presence and the woman pretends to busy herself with work, then leaves. I tell Catherine we must be more careful, but it is too late and the damage is done. Events are now set in motion that even I cannot prevent.
August 20th 1479
It has been another perfect day in Catherine’s company and we talk in quiet whispers as she drifts off to sleep. We have been there for some time when the door is pushed open so violently it shakes on its hinges. It is Thomas who enters the room.
“With whom do you converse, child?” he asks, his voice stern with anger.
“No one, Uncle,” Catherine replies, pulling the blanket up to her chin.
He strides forward, clutches at Catherine’s wrist and drags her from the bed. She yelps in pain as he shakes her, repeating the question. I stand there helpless, shocked, afraid for her.
“You have been seen Catherine, by the village folk, talking to a spirit. Goodwife Reve espied you at the well and the day before that, your demon struck her boy.”
I was horrified. We had been careless and now I understood what I had seen on the face of the fleeing boy. Now I could see it on the faces of all the villagers. Every time they had looked sideways at Catherine, every time they had crossed themselves as she passed them, every time they turned away from her or went inside when she was near. How could I have been so stupid?
Catherine is crying now.
“He’s not a demon Uncle. He’s an angel. I have seen him and you can too.”
What was she saying? I could not show myself to him. Thomas pauses, he seems to be considering something.
“Bring him forth,” he demands.
Catherine turns to me, but I shake my head.
“He says he cannot.”
“That is unfortunate,” he says. “You give me no option then.”
Suddenly, he has Catherine in his arms, his hand across her mouth. He marches her down the stairs and out into the night. I follow. He reaches the church and pushes open the door, strides down the aisle and takes Catherine down, under the church, through a small trapdoor. There is a small stone lined room here. He pushes her into it and slams the door, locking it with a great iron key and shouts through the door at her.
“When he is ready to show himself I will set you free.”
He leaves her, alone in the dark and damp. The walls ooze moisture. She shivers in her night dress and crouches against the wall, sobbing.
But she is not alone, for I am always with her. I will not leave her now. I try to comfort her, but it is useless.
Thomas does not return until nightfall the next day. Catherine has had neither food nor water, but I have kept her warm by surrounding her with my aura.
His questions are relentless. He wants every detail about me, my name, my appearance, what miracles I can perform. Catherine is defiant, she refuses to answer and he leaves once more. Night after night the scene is repeated. She is given meagre scraps to eat and a few sips of water. I can sustain her for a while, but her body will soon succumb to this harsh treatment.
After endless nights of this torture, Thomas cannot restrain himself any longer and backhands her. It is more than I can stand. If he wants to see me then he shall.
I appear before him, ablaze with blinding light and wings extended. He has planned this and is ready for me. He pulls the black book from beneath his robes and begins to chant some evil spell. My body feels heavy, I am drawn downwards, the light begins to fade. I don’t understand what is happening, but Catherine is cleverer than I. She rushes at Thomas, knocks the book from his hands and screams at me to depart.
I waste no time in argument as I realise Thomas’ intent and remember the words of the dark man.
Brave Catherine, faithful Catherine, lays beaten and bleeding on the stone floor when I return. I sit close to her. She knows I am there, but will not look at me for fear Thomas will sense my presence. His questions never let her rest.
“Conjure it,” he demands of her. “Bring forth the creature who will buy me immortality. It does your bidding, I know.”
“He has left me,” she lies. “He will not return again.”
Thomas storms out of the little cell, his plans in tatters, more angry than ever.
“I will never leave you Catherine,” I tell her, gathering her in my arms.
“I know,” she whispers, a tear slips down her face leaving a trail in the grime and blood. She loses consciousness, a brief respite, while I hold her.
* * *
There was a gentle knock at the door. Kate had been lost in the story, horrified at the turn of events and now, with a start, sat bolt upright. She held her breath and gripped the bed-covers.
“Kate, I need to talk to you. I won’t hurt you. Please let me in.”
She stifled a cry, it was his voice. The voice that made her melt. How had he found her? He couldn’t have followed her home.
“Kate, I know you’re there. Let me explain.”
As he spoke, Kate slipped off the bed and tiptoed out to the hall. She could see him silhouetted against the glass in the front door.
“How did you get here?” she blurted out. “How did you know where I live?”
“I always know where you are Kate, from the moment you are born. I could find you anywhere.”
His voice was calm, soothing, but if that wasn’t a threat…
“Kate, I know it looks bad, but I swear to you that I mean you no harm.”
“I saw you kill someone!” she yelled. “Do you think I’m going to let you in so you can kill me too?”
“Have you forgotten how I saved your life this week? Why would I want to kill you now?”
She thought about how she’d almost been run over and the near miss on the ice.
“So it was you in front of my car? Who the hell are you?”
There was a long silence. He seemed reluctant to answer.
“I wrote the journal.”
“That’s a lie!” Kate shouted, “You can’t have done! It’s five hundred bloody years old!”
She waited to see what he would say to that, but it had gone quiet and she could no longer see him through the glass. Maybe he’d given up and left. Kate crept towards the door. She screwed her eyes up, peering through the spy hole and listened for the sound of footsteps moving away from the house. It was silent.
“I know, but I can’t lie.”
Kate spun at the sound of his voice. He was standing in the hallway behind her, the journal in his hands.
Her world reeled, some invisible force hit her full on and she thought she was going to faint, but she was held in a bubble of warmth that took all her fear away. The man in black looked at the book in his hands, his face etched with sadness. His fingers stroked the cover. There were tears in his eyes as he smiled at Kate. She thought her heart would break.
“I’m the one responsible for this,” he said.
* * *
“I could have come in any time I wanted,” he said. “But I was hoping you’d answer the door.”
“Have you drugged me?” asked Kate.
They were now seated comfortably in the living room. Kate in a chair, Ash a short distance away on the settee.
“No, because I’m close to you I can calm you. It’s a bit like altering your state of consciousness. The way people do when they meditate. You know, a little like what you were up to at the bookshop.”
His words held a touch of reproach in them.
“Was it you they all saw?” she said. “And again with the tarot cards?”
“I had to do something to get you out of there. You shouldn’t be messing with that kind of thing. It’s dangerous.”
Kate’s head felt warm and fuzzy. She was so relaxed that she smiled at him.
“I know underneath this I’m practically hysterical with fear that you’re going to murder me, but for some reason I can’t seem to care at the moment.”
He laughed. It was the most wonderful sound Kate had ever heard.
“It’s OK, I’ll only do this until I explain who I am, then I’ll withdraw my aura.”
“Your aura?” she said, thinking of the girl from the journal, locked in the little cell.
“Did you kill the man in the alley?”
“No, he wasn’t a man.”
“It looked like a man to me.”
“So do I,” he said. “But I’m not.”
She was about to say something else but he cut her off.
“What you saw wasn’t human, they clothe themselves in human form, but they’re far from human. It was probably a spy, sent to find things out and report back to its master. By breaking the neck I sever the connection between its etheric body and what you see as a physical representation of a person. It sends them straight back to where they belong – Hell. I’m guessing it was looking for me.”
“Oh yes, and exactly who are you?”
“My name is Ashrafel,” he said. “I’m your guardian angel.”
It was Kate’s turn to laugh.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
In spite of what she’d read earlier she wasn’t crazy enough to believe it was true. He was clearly deluded and she would call his bluff.
“If you’re an angel,” she said, crossing her arms. “Where are your wings?”
She pushed out her chin and waited to see how he was going to answer that.
He stood and walked to the centre of the room. She tried not to laugh at him and waited to see what excuse he would have when nothing happened and he had to confess he was lying, but gradually she began to notice there was a change in the room. Everything seemed clearer somehow, like someone had turned the brightness up on a T.V. screen. She could see the floral pattern on the vase at the other side of the room in minute detail, the individual strands of wool in the carpet. The light seemed to gather where he stood, coalescing at the epicentre. He glowed with unearthly light. Then there was a rush of cool air, strong enough to push Kate back in the chair and blow her hair about her head. She had to close her eyes against the intense brightness. When she dared open them again the room was filled with wings. She was astonished, but couldn’t help reaching forward with one shaky hand to brush the feathers with her fingertips.
“They’re beautiful,” she whispered, awestruck.
There was something not quite right though. She looked up at him with a puzzled frown.
“I’m fallen,” he replied. “Exiled.”
There was no further explanation, but she believed him now. He was the angel that poor Catherine Whittle had loved and trusted and protected from her father, and if her dreams were true, he had got her burned at the stake.
He handed the book back to her. The wings had gone and he was just a man again, so sad, so beautiful, but she was still a little afraid of him.