A vulture in the wilderness

And so it begins! Quick now, while Nightmarish Evil Ogre is spell-bound, read the first of the horrible horror stories!

It was a dark and stormy night and the lights were flickering – well they were, somewhere, but not here and not this night. The sun was sinking slowly through a cloud formation that resembled an orange meringue imploding messily, and the ruined towers of Notre Dame glowed as with a reflection of the flames that had engulfed them just over a year ago. The cobblestones were still blackened and messy, there was an air of desolation. Yes, a dark and stormy night would have suited both the place and my mood.

Pierre was a typical Frenchman, I concluded to myself! He knew he was handsome, and the world knew he was rich and successful; I knew he was a bastard – lucky me! When your papa owned one of the biggest banks in Paris, and when you had finished top of your class at the Sorbonne and at Harvard Business School, Moab was your washpot; and girls, even pretty ones, were to be used like tissues – and discarded in the same manner; a plain Jane like me was fortunate to have such a man. I suddenly felt the chill; the sun had gone below the horizon; the Isle de France suddenly felt cold; there was an absence of company. Where the hell was Pierre?

“Meet me at Notre Dame”, he had said, “that little café on the right of the square, opposite the bridge. Be there for seven. Oh, and wear that green wrap-around dress I like.” It was the sort of thing he did, and the lasciviousness with which he said it reminded me that the tie allowed him to disrobe me speedily.. He thought it was “charmante”, and so, for the first month or so of our tempestuous affair, had I. Like many women, I quite liked “masterful”, even if my feminist principles told me that I ought not to. But with Pierre there were many of those things I ought not to have done that I had done; the devices and desires of my own heart led me by the nose; until I began to realise that was his thing.

Was that an owl I heard? Surely there were no owls in Paris? And where was Pierre? “Oui, maître”, I had said to him, hoping the sarcasm dripping from my lips would convey my growing irritation with his grand seigneurial manner.

“Are you Emily?” The waitress was a pretty girl in her late teens I would have said, probably of Algerian ancestry to judge by her skin tone. I admitted to the offence of being Emily. “M. Pierre said to meet him in the cathedral, he gave me this for you.” “This” was a police pass which said that I was permitted to enter the precincts of the ruins. Smiling, I gave her a generous tip and set off across the square. “Damn it!” I thought to myself, there I was again, just doing what he told me. No wonder he didn’t get the sarcasm. I suddenly realised that, in more than one sense, I was very far from home.

The guards at the gate smiled when they saw the pass. Their leer made me feel uneasy. Why did he want me to meet him here? Yes, there was no doubt about it, a dark and stormy night would have been a better backstop, but heck, I thought, he was worth it, and no doubt whatever he had in mind would, as he liked to put it “stretch my boundaries.”

The shiver that had gone through me when the sun dropped below the Seine intensified and doubled in intensity as I walked into the charred ruins. There was that owl, clear for the first time. Where the devil was the man? Then I wished I had not thought of the devil. The shadows cast by the lights of the building work took on the shape of demons; stop it, Emily, I thought.

I picked my way carefully. The lights gave just enough illumination to find my way, but my heels echoed in the darkling gloom. My irritation with Pierre still, just, outdistanced my growing unease, but it was a closer run thing than I was comfortable with. If I’d had the sense I was born with, I thought, I’d have turned on those heels and walked right on out. But if he was setting me a “dare” I was not going to back out and leave him with the last laugh.

I realised I was getting hungry. Life with Pierre was a roller-coaster. He never stopped, and that meant I never stopped. When was the last time I had talked with my friends, or my mother and sister? Time seemed to have been eaten up in frenetic activity. Suddenly I felt weary. The air had changed. How could it suddenly feel stuffy when most of the roof had gone?

It was then that I noticed it. There was a dripping sound. It was steady, like a leaking faucet, but softer. Then there was the smell. I could not quite identify it, though it seemed to me that it was familiar – but not as it usually was. I pulled my wrap closer around me. I could see the Cross and the high altar ahead. I crossed myself. “Lord, have mercy”, I thought. Those things I had done, and those I had left undone suddenly felt heavy on me; the weight of them was intolerable. It was sulphur, that smell. The owl hooted. I crossed myself again.

“Ma chérie”, came a familiar voice. It was him. He laughed. “It is so sweet the way you cross yourself, even at this moment.” I looked at him. Tall, handsome, and confident; that smile was a smirk. “I thought it would be the acme of wickedness to take you here, chérie, and that dress makes it easier for me! Untie it and come to me.”

For the third time, the owl hooted. I looked, and behind him, laid on a pyre of wood was a goat, dead, its blood dripping slowly on the floor. I saw the pentangles on the floor. He threw a light onto the pyre and pulled the cloak back. Paralysed, all I could think of was to say “Hail Mary, full of grace”, and he laughed, and in the flames, I saw him – a leper, white as snow – his bones seemed to show through his skin which was translucent. “Now, here and give yourself to me!” Out of the shadows, I saw three ghostly figures step forward. Automatically, doing what he said, as usual, I reached for the belt to loosen it, but found my hand in my pocket instead. I shivered, and not just with the cold. I felt myself pulled toward Pierre and the three figures.

Had I always had that Rosary in the pocket of my dress? I clutched it like a lifebelt. As I felt him drawing me into the circle formed by the pentangles, I pulled my Rosary out and clutched the Cross” “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” the words came unbidden, though I had not said them for the last forty nights. The air crackled; the three ghostly figures seemed to flicker.

His eyes seemed to burn into me and suddenly, as on a screen, I saw laid out before me how life could be – luxurious and sumptuous: the mansions; the dresses; the exotic locations; the pleasures of the flesh; I knew, somehow, that if I would but do this one thing for him, all these things, and more, would be my portion in life.

“Ma chérie, give yourself to us now, you know you want to !” I felt utterly alone in the wilds of this place and of my heart. I could feel the unmistakable signs that my body was willing – except that my hand clutched the Rosary tight. “Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us!” The familiar words sprang forth as my mind and lips struggled with the flesh – and there she was.

There was a light which pierced the darkest recesses of the night, and suddenly I felt warm and no longer alone; my hands ceased to fumble with the tie. Pierre’s face, illuminated in the white light was set in a scowl which turned to fear; his ghostly companions faded. In the ruins and the hour of my terror, I saw her.

That was long ago now, but on this All Hallows’ Eve I set it down in writing as a warning. Pierre? I never saw him again. I remember following Our Lady out of her Cathedral and then hailing a taxi back to my apartment, and then nothing until, on the next Sunday I went to Mass at the Anglican Church of St Michael and when we reached the general confession I know only one thing, I had never meant it more. But it is late now, and the Mass of All Souls’ day is imminent, and my curate waits.

 

About JessicaHoff
Church of England. Survivor. Grateful. Rabid feminist lefty, according to some, wishy-washy liberal according to me.

16 Responses to A vulture in the wilderness

  1. Neo says:

    WTH, how did this get there and why doesn’t my delete button work? Something weird here, for all that it is neat to again see my dearest friend’s name on a new post here, and a good one! 🤔xx

    Liked by 3 people

  2. audremyers says:

    Great! I enjoyed this story on so many levels! Well done! ‘Atmosphere’, challenge, uncertainty, chills, surprise ending – it’s all here!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. 39 Pontiac Dream says:

    Nice, Jessica. Emily is certainly an intriguing character, beautifully reflected in the architecture and gloom of your story. I do enjoy a story that is precariously pivoted on that one main character. Hats off. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great story. I want to date Emily, especially in that green dress! ; D

    Like

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