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Old bones

October 31, 2013

He stood, a forlorn figure in the isle of the church. With weary eyes he gazed at the stained glass, marvelling at the beauty of the vivid colours that were illuminated by the soft glow of the snow. He sighed, sniffed the air – the familiar aroma of age, of books, of damp greeted his nostrils and he felt at home. It was a bleak, yet savagely beautiful winter’s evening. Evensong had finished an hour ago and father Morris O’keith was about to close his church for the night and go home and settle himself in front of the television. He knew that when he was gone the church’s old stone would release the shadows and memories. The organ loft would once again become a playground for the mice, and the bell tower would be alive with the flapping ,warm bodies of bats. He sighed, gazed for a moment into the font and for the first time in years realised that he was a mere echo of the enthusiastic young priest he once was. Gone was the relentless positivity, the unshakeable faith, the passion to spread the word and do good. Now, he reflected, the delicate thread of his faith was unravelling and the tapestry of his life was becoming an untidy, tattered thing of broken dreams and failure. Still, he had his church, his congregation, and deep down he was happy. For Morris knew that he still did good, that the people he met needed him, needed something to cling on to, a lifeboat of faith in an ocean of doubt. He considered himself lucky, for his church was at the edge of the city, and it attracted a wide variety of parishioners. From those who had no home, to those who had a portfolio of property. From those who sinned, to those who wished they could sin. Just last week a young man called Chris had come in and asked for support. Apparently he had misused a rare gift and was seeking some kind of forgiveness or salvation. Morris had listened to the boy’s rushed confession, but hadn’t believed a word of it, for he knew that gods or demy-gods didn’t walk the earth, because there was, after all, only one true God,.

The candles extinguished, the rare and subtle light cast by the windows was strangely mesmerising and beautiful. Morris walked down the aisle towards the heavy wooden doors. He stopped, the doors grated open and a slim, lithe woman walked in, shed her coat, totally ignored Morris and sat on a front row pew.
“Sorry, I’m just about to close-up for the night. Do you have anywhere to go?”
“Beautiful night,” she whispered, dark hair damp with melting snow.
“I could give you the details of a hostel if you…”
“Nice windows,” she observed.
“I am sorry, I have to….”
“Father O’Keith,” she said, “Let’s have a cup of tea.”
“I…”
“Please?” she said, head on one side like a begging puppy.
“all right, but then you must go.” He disappeared into the vestry.

“Ta,” she said, accepting the steaming mug. Morris sat next to her. “How old is this place?” she asked, blowing on the steaming brew.
“Norman.”
“I see. Bastards.”
“Biscuit?”
“No thanks.” There was something about her accent he could not place. And, when he glanced at her shapeless clothes he realised she wore a simple, long black jumper over a pair of jeans. She was striking though, her eyes green and large, her hair glossy and thick, her face pretty.” I want you to listen to me priest,” she said earnestly. She put down her mug and turned to face him. Inexplicably he felt nervous, then he noticed the small silver pentacle that hung about her neck, and he felt sorry for her. Another hippy,another lost soul. another new-age nut.
“Call me Morris,” he smiled, offering her his hand. He would listen to her, indulge her for a while, his favourite TV programmes didn’t start until nine anyway. She took his hand in a confident firm grip and returned his smile.
“I,” she cleared her throat. “I know what you’re thinking. You think that I’m just another new-age idiot. Another candle burning moron who calls themselves a witch. But Morris, I’m not. I’m the real thing.”
“Oh?”
“I am serious, not just a dabbler. I believe, I know things, I have a long memory.”
“Of course,” he said, his tone that of an indulgent uncle.
“I know lots of things.”
“Ok, so what can I do for you.” She fixed him with her green eyes.
“Just listen and try to understand and believe.”
“I’ll try.”
“Firstly, tell me about planning permission.”
“What?” Morris was genuinely taken aback. Nobody knew about his application. Due to its sensitive nature he and the parish council had chosen to keep it under wraps until it was granted. “What about it?” he asked, suspiciously.
“Why do you want it?”
“I.. we want to extend the modern part of the church and make it accessible.”
“Why?”
“Well, so that everyone can use the facilities, the hall. At the moment it’s too small.”
“Tell me about the land to the east of the church? The land you wish to use?” he swallowed, feeling an uncharacteristic chill.
“Umm, well, there’s nothing to tell really.” She smiled at him.
“Right,” he raised a hand.
“There are some old graves there.”
“Now we’re getting there,” she sipped her tea and grimaced. “How old are these graves?”
“Way over the legal limit for disinterment.”
“How old?” she pressed.
“Late fifth century. Listen my dear, I assure you it’s all above board, the remains will be taken and reburied, I promise you there’s nothing…” he searched for the word. “Nothing strange going on.”
“Cool,” she said brightly and sprung to her feet. “You won’t mind having your soul savaged and cast into oblivion then. Good night.” She walked towards the doors.
“Wait hold on,” Morris followed her.” What do you mean?”
“Doesn’t matter, you won’t believe me anyway.” Something about what she had said made him feel sick, made him feel shaky and vulnerable.
“Please, tell me.” He pleaded earnestly.
“Don’t you have to watch traffic cops or something equally as banal.” Morris smiled and shook his head.
“I can sky plus it,” he smiled conspiratorially.
“Morris,” she said, a hand on his forearm. “You must try to believe me. I swear I will tell you no lies.”
“Swear on what?”
“Not the bloody bible,” she smiled. “On this,” she touched her silver pendant. “And on my soul and gods.” He was about to scoff but thought better of it.

They sat in the church, one candle burning, the shadows heavy, the snow pattering gently, the windows glowing. They sat in the old church, each stone a memory, a testament to the past. They sat with mugs and a packet of biscuits and the strange woman began to tell her tale.

“Tell me Morris, I can call you Morris can’t eye?” she began. Morris nodded. “What did your faith do to Britain?” For a moment he looked amused, a wry smile beginning to creep across his face. He sighed, resigned himself and answered.
“Well young lady in many ways it civilised it, dragged people into modernity, away from the dark.”
“So, it drove away the old ways and raped people of their traditions and rites?”
“Not at all. The Christian faith…” he broke off. “Listen, I am more than happy to debate with you, but it’s getting late and…”
“You have a bottle of whisky waiting for you?” she said playfully. Morris blushed. “I promise you Morris, despite the preamble you will be interested in what I have to say. So, for one night put away your little shield of paranoia and dogma and level with me. Ok honey?” he nodded sheepishly.

“Back in the day,” she continued, “Around the fifth century when Celtic Christianity kicked off, and later when Augustus stuck his ore in, do you think everyone thought it a good idea?” Morris shrugged. “I mean, for thousands of years my ancestors had worshipped their gods, performed their rituals, the druids did their thing and everything was fine, and then, bang!”
“Hold on, the Romans were hardly angels!” Morris said, biting into a jammy dodger.
“No, quite right, but we saw them off. True, they sacked our shrines and our pagan religion was forced to retreat to secret places, but we would have recovered if it wasn’t for the cult of Christianity.”
“What do you want?”
“I just want you to listen for the moment,” she said candidly. “My name’s Viv by the way,” she offered him a slim hand. He grasped it and couldn’t help but smile. “Can I call you Moz?”
“No.”
“Listen Moz, your god upset a lot of people. Your god has a lot to answer for.”
“All in the past Viv,” Morris yawned.
“You may think so, but many lives were lost, many traditions died or were hijacked shamelessly by you lot. Countless wars, battles, laws. Confusion and doubt. Our gods disappeared, our ancient ways were perverted and our rituals denied, all because you think a virgin had a son, who turned out to be a carpenter who ended up being nailed to a cross, how ridiculus!” she laughed.
“Our god is forgiving, it doesn’t demand sacrifice, it isn’t beastly.”
“Doesn’t demand sacrifice!” Viv scoffed, “Your bloody celibate, not even allowed to visit Mr palm and his wives, how messed up is that! how unnatural is it to deny the flesh. Don’t you ever fancy a shag?” Morris got up, his face grave.
“I think it is time for you to leave now. It’s been entertaining, but…”
“Ok, sorry Moz, just kidding. Hear me out, please?”
“Why should I?”
“Because it will save your life.”
“Come off it.”
“Seriously.”
“Oh very well,” Morris sighed. “I’m listening.” He sat down heavily, the moon casting a sombre glow through the stained glass.

“As I said,” Viv sighed, pulling a mars bar from her jeans pocket and unwrapping it. “Your lot pissed off a lot of people. And, that sort of resentment doesn’t die.”
“Fine. But we can’t apologise about it like the slave trade or holocaust,” Morris said, eyes rolling. He had heard this kind of thing before, this kind of empty rhetoric. He politely listened to it, but equally politely dismissed it as nonsense. In his world view Christianity, and specifically Catholicism had had some bad PR. Some deserved, some undeserved. Parts of his religion’s history he knew were shocking, but he believed the good always outweighed the bad. In his view, he wasn’t a bad man, he didn’t do inappropriate things to choir boys, and he didn’t abuse his position of trust, he simply ministered, and that was what he was paid to do.
“I know mate,” she touched his knee briefly, feeling sorry for his limiting beliefs and mundane thoughts. She was sure, like many people he was brain washed, and probably a very decent man. This latter belief was why she was here after all, to save him. “And I’m not asking you too.”
“So, who are you? Why are you here? It’s cold, late and you should be elsewhere.” He felt annoyed and patronised.
“An oath,” she said simply.
“What?”
“In the year 496 a shrine to the goddess Modron was sacked and burned along with its worshippers. Then, a grove was destroyed along with its druids. The Christians were cleansing the land, purifying it because they believed their Jesus would return in four years. Apparently they were induced to a religious ecstasy and flagellated themselves before they did it. After the shrine and the grove they scrawled images of fish on standing stones, defacing them. In one day they killed over sixty women and children, and over a dozen druids and priestesses.”
“ And how do you know about this?” Morris asked suspiciously.
“Because the story has been passed down through generations of my family. I am a descendant of one of the murdered priestesses.”
“Of course you are!” Morris laughed, draining his mug.
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Go on,” he looked at his watch, “Tell me about this oath, you may as well.”
“Two oaths were sworn after the horror; two factions formed, one factions swore to avenge the deaths, swearing that no Christian would disturb the deads’ resting place. The others swore two protect the descendants of the Christians because the dead will rest, be reborn, and if necessary exact their own revenge.”
“So your family believed the latter?”
“That’s why I’m here. It’s December 19th, nearly mid-winter, and I’ve come to protect and warn you.”
“You must realise that I can’t believe this. That the dead only rise on the judgment day, that they are in heaven with their god. That this oath is nonsense because no story can survive for so long without Chinese whispers and corruption. In fact, I commend you for your imagination.”
“Father O’Keith,” Viv looked unblinkingly at him, green eyes shining. “When is the work due to commence on the modernisation?” Morris paused.
“Tomorrow. Look, I don’t know how you know about that, someone must have told you…”
“Nobody told me,” she was serious, her expression a set mask. “But I do know what is under the foundations. You Christians always build your places of worship on Pagan shrines. Wasn’t the Vatican built on a temple to Mythras?”
“I have no idea. Sorry, but you really must go now Viv, it’s been delightful but…”
“So, are you going to continue with the development?”
“Course. Tell your friends that they are welcome to come and talk things through.”
“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,” Viv said, expression stern.
“How can I? You come here and talk about ancient oaths, that some kind of revenge will be exacted if I build on ground my church owns!”
“Right, fine,” Viv smiled, getting to her feet and pulling on her coat. “I tried. Just be careful. And, if you get in trouble you can find me at the Oak Apple pub.”
“Look I…”
“And I hope for your sake the oath takers you deal with are descendants not ancestors.”
“Now you’re being ridiculous.”
“Good night priest.” She gazed into his face, her green eyes implacable.
“God bless.” Morris muttered. Viv walked out of the church into the night, the moonlight bathing her, the snow bright and unblemished. He went to the heavy doors and noted with a vague sense of unease that he could not see her footprints in the snow. Sighing and shaking his head he locked up his church, and with a mounting sense of unease stepped into the churchyard.

* * *

Faith, the unconditional belief and trust in the intangible and unproovable. Faith, something that I once had, something that gave me strength and courage, the ability to embrace god, to spread his word and do good in a world of tattered dreams and atheism. My bishop found my story very difficult to believe, and in truth, I can’t blame him. He listened to me, asked questions, and with a grudging sigh accepted my decision to leave the church. And leave I did – discarding my dog collar, my rights and responsibilities, leaving behind the one thing that I had achieved, the one thing that made me proud. For me becoming a priest was the most important and moving experience of my life. I felt nothing but euphoria and gladness for I knew I had fulfilled my calling, my destiny. But that faith, that single-minded, unshakable belief began to falter when on a snowy night that young woman walked into my church.

It is summer now, the leaves green, the flowers bright. I work in a homeless shelter by night and I teach theology by day. Nobody knows about my former life, nobody knows what happened three years ago, to the world I am just Morris, a man with an Irish name and English accent. A man who can no longer believe in the teachings of a book.

We commenced the work, and in spring the remains were reburied to make way for the new foundations. I said old words, sprinkling holy water on ancient bones. It was done with respect and reverence and I barely gave it a second thought. That was until Easter Sunday when I received a call from a familiar voice.
“Hello?”
“Moz, it’s Viv. How are things?”
“Fine.” I couldn’t help but smile.
“We’ve noticed that you’ve moved the bones and started the building work?” her tone was light and conversational.
“You and your friends are very observant.”
“That was silly of you. All this nonsense because of a church hall. Have you ever asked yourself why planning permission was granted so quickly?”
“Umm, no,” in hindsight it was a good point. These things usually took months, but planning for the hall took barely weeks, along with the plan for reburial and consecration.
“Well, I’m no doubt wasting my breath, and you think me a conspiracy theorist, but…”
“Hold on. How did you get my number?”
“From the verger, he drinks at my local.”
“Listen Viv, just say it, you will anyway.”
“Because some of the descendants of the lost work in planning. They actively encouraged the desecration so it would give them the excuse to fulfil their oath.”
“Come on, surely you must see that that theory is nonsense!”
“Ok, close your mind, your call. But, as I said last year, I hope for your sake that the living hold you to account, not the dead.” With that, she put the phone down. I didn’t see or hear from her until October, and that meeting was memorable. I was in the bell tower, it was a grey, damp, cold evening and I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hi Morris,” I turned to see Viv standing in the grey light, her hair a little longer than I remember it, her eyes still that startling shade of green.
“Come for round two?” I asked, smiling at her.
“Listen. It’s October 31st, if something is going to happen it will happen tonight. You must let go of your dogmatic, limiting beliefs and embrace the truth.”
“I really admire your persistence,” I said, my tone light. “But…”
“I’ll stay with you if you like, help you. I’m sworn to protect you.” I remember feeling a chill as the grey evening sky became dark and the wind whistled through the high tower. I also remember that I felt anxious and on edge, unable to totally dismiss her words. I think she drew on something that lay dormant deep inside me. I can admit that now, I’m older and wiser, but the Morris O’Keith of three years ago was a little different. He was still bound up in his smug sense of superiority, in the belief that every other belief system was just playing at similitude, and only the Catholics were doing it for real. How wrong I was, how foolish and naive to dismiss anything she had told me.

“Halloween,” I said, walking towards the spiral staircase of the bell tower. “Superstition.”
“If you say so. Look, just let me explain to you, let me tell you why tonight is…”
“Nothing is going to happen to me Viv. The bones have been reburied, everyone is happy.”
“Do you believe that?”
“Well, yes, frankly I do.” Frankly I didn’t. In fact, the day of the ceremony felt strange and somehow devoid of meaning. I had said the right words, done the right thing, but still I had felt empty, as if the air had sucked away all the meaning, all the significance and sanctity of the ritual. And when the bones were covered by earth I found a sense of sadness I had never felt before.

“Look Moz,” we left the tower and walked the damp grey path towards the church door. “This isn’t some game, I’m not some nutter who stalks blokes in cassocks, it’s real, be prepared.”
“Tea?”
“No, I’m going to the pub. Coming?” for a moment the offer was tempting, but I shook my head, making a grave mistake. “Come on, I’ll buy you a pint of whatever priests drink. You’ll be safe there, you can meet my friends, they’re good people.”
“I’m sure they are,” I smiled, liking her despite myself. “But, I’m boring and middle-aged and am going to watch a film.”
“The Thorn Birds?” she asked mischievously.
“No, The passion of Christ.”
“Jesus, that’s heavy. Do you want to refuel your batteries? Remind yourself of why you hang around in cold stone buildings and spend time either on your knees or pretending you’re a cannibal?”
“What?”
“Transubstantiation,”
“Oh. No, I just feel like watching it.”
“I’ll watch it with you,” Viv said enthusiastically.
“No you won’t, that would be wrong.”
“Piss off, I’m not one of your flock.”
“I know but.”
“Don’t worry. Look, if you change your mind you know where we are.”
“Thanks. Bye.”
“Oh, here’s my mobile number,” she scribbled a number on a receipt. “Call me if anything inexplicable happens. Promise?”
“Promise. Now go.” And so she went, walking into the darkness, a fog from the river shrouding her and swallowing her.

I wish I could say that was it, that I went home and watched the film with a glass of sherry. Or that I changed my mind and went to the pub. But I didn’t – I ate dinner, closed my curtains and said my prayers. I went to bed with a book and listened to the radio, oblivious to the gathering threat. I woke at midnight, the figures on my digital alarm bright in the darkness. I yawned, stretched and started, my heart racing. I heard a thudding, hammering noise coming from outside, followed by a muted crash. I sat up straight, my breathing quick and shallow before I moved the curtains aside. The church, a squat dark silhouette against the night glowed gently, as from the windows the light of candles radiated into the gloom. For what seemed ages I sat immobile, trying to decide what to do. Then, I realised that this was the time for me to act – so, with fear and resignation, adrenalin and a sense of duty, I dressed and walked towards St. Nicholas.

“Hello father,” the good natured voice of David, the church warden greeted me. He stood on the altar, the ornate carved crucifix shattered at his feet.
“Was there a break-in?” I asked, my voice small. The church was bright with candles and I noticed two more figures strolling casually towards me.
“No, nothing like that.” David said. Frank and Matthew, grounds man and sextant flanked David. “We,” David glanced at the two men. “Know people. We made sure the planning application went through and that the work went ahead. In short I made sure we had a reason to act, to avenge our ancestors.” The wind blew, the leaves scattered and I felt afraid.
“Come on gentlemen, this is a joke of course?” I said, almost imploringly. The three men stared, stony faced at me, the candlelight making their shadows flicker on the stone flags of the floor.
“The bones are restless father,” Matthew began, “They are restless, the souls walk this night, they search for you because of what your ancestors did.”
“You can’t punish a man for the sins of his ancestors,” I whispered.
“Jesus was crucified for the sin of his father, for the failings of a vile world.” Frank said. The heavy doors swung open bringing a blast of cold air. The candles guttered and two people entered the church.

“Hello father O’Keith,” the verger said cheerfully, coat collar high, hat tight over grey hair and cold ears. “I tried to stop them, but, you know…” he trailed off.
“Moz,” Viv breathed. “I did try to warn you.” She touched the pentacle at her throat. Despite the season she wore no coat. In that moment I felt relieved to see Alan Saxon and Viv. For, despite myself I felt certain that things were going to happen that would challenge my credulity and sanity.
“What are you going to do?” I asked the three men. A strange smile slid across David’s face.
“Each of us has taken an oath, an oath that swept through generations. Each one of us had family slaughtered.”
“That was so long ago,” I said calmly. “Time has moved on. Come on gentlemen, you are my friends, each one of you.” I tried my most winning smile, but it was lost, drowned by my trepidation and bewilderment.
“Payment is due, the dead are restless tonight. Cast aside your trinkets, your jewellery, your pale mementos of faith, they won’t help you. The dead are too old, too strong, too angry.”
“That’s it,” I said, trying to sound confident. “Out, all of you,” the three men stood motionless and smiled at me. Behind me, Viv and Alan laughed inexplicably.
“Come on Dave,” Viv said, “Forget this, why don’t you and your mates bugger off and leave Morris alone. What his ancestors may have done isn’t his fault.”
“Quite right,” Alan added, “The persecution of Pagans is a nasty business, but not worth holding a grudge over.”
“Anyway,” Viv said, stepping forward. “What about the witch trials, I could get really pissed off about that if I wanted to.”
“No,” Frank shook his head. “You didn’t take an oath, your people weren’t massacred.”
“But people like me were burned!”
“You’re a traitor,” David snapped. “You protect this Christian place, this priest, you swore an oath to try to stop us. Why?”
“Because we will have our time.”
“Well,” I said, feeling offended. I was about to launch into one of my ill-judged diatribes when the wind blew so hard it rattled the windows.
“They’re coming father,” David whispered.

I’ve never been a confident airline passenger, I tend to get nervous and agitated, especially during takeoff and landing. That night I experienced the sensation of landing; I felt a drop in pressure, my ears hurt and my head ached. Every sound seemed distant and unreal, and I felt sick. I shivered, the air misting with our breaths, all goodness and warmth seemingly sucked from the church. Instinctively I made the sign of the cross and watched in horrified fascination as the floor, thick, dark smoke rose. Odourless and totally black, the smoke drifted, blocking out the candlelight. Then, inexplicably it gathered itself into a tall column and remained motionless on the spot, despite the breeze from the doors. I watched as the smoke seemed to thin and resemble a long, narrow shadow that seemed to be three dimensional. Before my very eyes the shadow divided itself into separate entities that began to take shape into the unmistakable forms of figures. I felt as though my heart would explode as they stood before me, featureless and totally black, living shadows – some unmistakably hooded and robed, others apparently naked or clad in shapeless garments with head-dresses or masks with strange protruding horns, antlers or ears.

“Call your god priest,” David demanded, stepping away from the advancing shadows. I took a faltering step backwards and then knelt. Never had I felt such terror – I still wake up at night, sweat dripping off me, phantom shadows crowding in around my bed.

I called my god, I prayed as never before, I clutched the silver cross that hung around my neck and used every ounce of wisdom, of love I could muster. But still they came, silently, making me rise and stagger with Alan and Viv out of the doors and into the night.

I knelt on the grass, the dark night chilly, the grave stones like silent grey sentinels seemed to leer at me from the shadows. Then I felt a slim warm hand clutch my hand and squeeze gently and that seemed to give me strength.
“Show yourselves spirits,” Alan called into the pressing circles of shadows that ringed us. “Show yourselves and state your purpose.” The air seemed to be sucked from my lungs and a tall, slim shadow broke the circle and took a step towards me. Before my eyes the darkness that was his spirit began to glow with a pale light and transform itself into a tall, strongly built man. On his head he wore a headdress of antlers, and in his hand he carried a long staff.
“We,” he whispered, a sound like wind through trees, like distant thunder, like death. “Peace.” The word peace seemed to echo inside my very soul and it was taken up by the shadows and chanted in a vague, gut wrenching whisper.
“Be gone,” I said, holding my cross, willing it to help me somehow. David laughed.
“You cannot command them,” he scoffed.

That night I am sure, god, whoever he may have been, deserted me. I had never felt so alone, so vulnerable. My head span and my mind was a blurred incoherent jumble of confused ideas and malformed thoughts.
“I am sorry,” I whimpered pathetically. “Sorry for everything. I will bury your remains elsewhere.” No response, the shadows drew closer, herding us, I realised, towards the grave that housed their mortal remains.

“They want your soul Morris,” David observed. “They want to punish your very soul.”
“They want peace,” Alan said calmly. “They want their other world.”
“For all the blood that soaked into the land,” the shadows said in chilling unison. “For all the darkness and deception.” I couldn’t understand their language at the time, Viv had to translate it later, but I could interpret the meaning, the implicit threat and menace. “For your triple deity that commands such obedience.” They continued. Instinctively I knew that if they touched me, I was lost. But we were running out of room, the grave was open and deep, and I was moving inextricably closer to it.

“Morris,” Viv said casually. “Your god, if he exists at all, simply isn’t listening. Do you mind if we call our god and finish this?” I nodded enthusiastically, though deep down I knew it would be futile – how wrong I was, how arrogant and smug. Even then, even in the face of avenging spirits I was still unable to credit her; to admit that maybe, just maybe my beliefs needed to be revaluated.

What happened next is inexplicable and strange. What happened next shook the very foundation of my being and caused me to redefine who I was, and who I was going to be. Slowly, without haste or embarrassment Viv took the pentacle from around her neck and placed it on the ground. Then, equally as unhurried she removed her clothes and stood, palms to the sky, face upturned. She said words I did not understand, words that seemed to make the air crackle with something I can only call magic. There was a subtle change in temperature, the dark clouds that up to then had filled the sky, began to dissolve, and a moon, full and bright illuminated her upturned face and the small silver pentacle that lay in front of her. David protested, swore and cursed, but Alan began to chant, his voice soaring into the night. And then it seemed as though a powerful spotlight had been switched on, as everything was bathed in a bright white glow. Where Viv had stood, a woman now stood, incredibly beautiful and clad in shimmering moonlight. She gazed at me for a moment, her eyes kind and non-judgmental. Then, she turned to the spirits and beckoned them to her with an inclination of her head. They moved, grudgingly at first and then quickly. The woman, or goddess Modron, as I was to later discover blew them a kiss. In front of my very eyes they changed. From black, pitiless shadows they were transformed into glittering, shimmering beings. They stood, ancient, long-dead druid, witch, priestess and warrior, fine in their regalery, calm in their gaze.
“Rest,” the goddess whispered. “It is done. Cross the golden road – your land has changed.” The spirits bowed and then melted away, leaving dancing, silver sparkles to shimmer in the air, and then disappear with the wind.

When the clouds returned Viv stood next to me, hastily donning her clothes.
“If you had listened to me in the first place, all that needn’t have happened,” she admonished good naturedly. I just shook my head and tried desperately to process what had just happened.

So, you see? that’s how I went from priest to teacher, from Catholic to… well, I don’t really know what I am. But it’s good to talk though, good to get things off my chest. I don’t expect you to believe me, or even understand, I just wanted to talk to somebody in confidence – I didn’t want to see a priest, so I thought you would do. Is that ok? I know you won’t answer me, but I can feel that you might just understand. I sacked the three men who broke the crucifix in the church, and I thanked Alan, vowing never to mention what happened on that night. As for Viv, well, she spoke to me the next day over a pint in her local. But, after that she simply disappeared, I haven’t seen or heard from her in three years. I’ve asked after her . tried to find her, but nobody has ever heard of her, and Alan point blank refuses to acknowledge she even existed. I think about her often, I miss her because she was special. But, she’s an enigma, a mystery, it’s almost as if she never existed at all. Magic? I don’t know. But what I do know for certain is what I experienced was real. But Viv…. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to who or what she is.

Anyway, thanks for listening, I appreciate it. Of course if anyone saw me they’d think I’m mad, sitting here, talking to a tree. But I’m not… I promise.

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