A Witch's Calling: Anaïs Blue Book Four
The Old Church
It was very unchurch-like. No pews, no organ, no pillars supporting the roof. It was a single room, a huge, grand, cavernous space. Empty, except for a wooden-walled area in the centre. This appeared to be an afterthought and stood like a small forested island in a sea of rock. The floor was covered in stone tablets. Not regular stone tiles, but huge slabs of it. All different sizes. Well worn. The floor undulated like waves gently rising and falling on a calm lake. Evidently, thousands of feet had trampled upon it over the years and moulded its shape.
Anaïs walked across the space and looked up at the windows high in the wall. That was another curious thing. The windows were several storeys above her. They ran around the circumference of the room just under the eaves, letting in light but not prying eyes from outside. They did not function as normal windows. Even if it were possible to find a ladder long enough, the frosted glass would prevent anyone seeing out.
The vaulted ceiling had the same construction as the inside of an ancient ship. She tilted her head and, as the windows rotated, she had the impression she was looking at an upended Roman galleon. She envisioned slaves sweating, pounding the oars under the lash of a whip.
The soft light filtering through the windows barely reached her. It failed to fully illuminate the stone beneath her feet. This made crossing the floor precarious. She felt her way across it, tapping her foot in front of her. Gaining confidence, she moved faster across the open space. Then she tripped on the edge of a slab and crashed to her knees. She yelped with pain from the impact.
She rolled over and sat up. Grimacing, she vigorously rubbed the pain from her knees. Now that she was so near to the floor, she could make out more detail. She looked closely at the slabs around her. Some were completely smooth. Some were pockmarked. The etchings in them had worn down to almost nothing. Others clearly had writing on them. Whoever had been responsible for the chiselling had made fastidious work of it. Even the centuries of wear had not made an impression on some of them. She stood and studied the one under her feet. She spread her feet apart and crouched to get a better look. It had a date deeply etched into it—1732.
Then she realised what she was looking at. The slabs of stone were not building blocks. They were tombstones. She peered across the church. It was a graveyard. Only one with horizontal headstones. It was as if they had all been blown flat by a strong wind. She had walked across graves—hundreds of them.
She rubbed her knees again. The pain had now almost completely gone. She stood full-length and arched her back. She took out her promptuary and opened it.
‘Reveal,’ she commanded.
The pages lit up, flickered and transformed into something akin to a television screen. The image it displayed was not in full colour, more shades of blue and white—an X-ray. Anaïs could see beneath the floor. Holding the book at arm’s length she panned it before her as she rotated her body on the spot. The image zoomed in and out. It blurred and then came into focus. It showed her deep under the earth.
A shiver ran down her spine.
She saw bones. Thousands of them. Gleaming white bones. Stacked and layered across one another.
Something caught her eye. She stopped panning. She detected movement. At first it was imperceptible. Then it spread. The bones began to move. In no time, the movement beneath the stones became one seething mass. Tibias and fibulas intertwined. They snaked their way towards each other and began to form entire limbs. Arms slotted into ribcages and reached out for skulls. Skeleton torsos which were relatively intact began to crawl between the loose bones of other more disjointed bodies. They searched for the rest of their skeletal remains. Once connected, entire skeletons began to writhe and roll from side to side, almost as if they were turning over in their sleep.
She let the promptuary drop and panned its camera eye to her feet. Beneath her a fully assembled skeleton with its back to her flipped over. She watched with horror as skin began to regenerate. The empty sockets in its skull suddenly filled. Two eyes emerged. Black spheres narrowed down and white cornea appeared. Two pupils stared straight up at her. Eyelids blinked. The corpse drew back a half-formed arm, and then swept it above its head. It slammed a closed fist on the tombstone beneath her feet. She felt the blow course through the soles of her feet, sending a ripple up her legs. She choked on her breath and slammed the promptuary shut.
The entire floor began to rumble. Hundreds of bony fists pounded the tombstones. The cacophony grew louder. Anaïs dropped the promptuary into her beret. She pulled it over her skull and clapped her hands over her ears.
Her eyes darted frantically around the room. Searching for a way out, she screamed her caretaker’s name in earnest and fled to the nearest exit.
Behind her the sharp rapping of bone on rock grew steadily louder. Beneath the flagstones a flood surged towards the surface. A torrent of death began to rise.