Kate made herself a breakfast of sorts from the contents of a nearly empty packet of cereal found in the back of a cupboard. The box, once again, graced the kitchen table. Its reflection in the black granite made it look twice its actual size. Her plan was to drive to the church before anyone else was around and leave it on the doorstep where Reverend Pilling would find it. She had written a short note explaining what it was and asking the vicar if he would be so kind as to inter it somewhere in the church grounds. She was not going to sign it and she wasn’t going to say where it had come from in the first place.
At 7.00am she left the house and set off towards Bolton Percy. It was still dark and the roads were icy again, but she hoped that even travelling slowly she would reach the church before the vicar. As she drove past the spot where the car had left the road, she thought about Michael and wondered how he was doing. There’d been no contact from the police so she assumed he’d made a full recovery. The fence was still broken and two long ruts furrowed the field. Even the tree hadn’t escaped without injury. A pale scar marked the trunk where the car’s bumper had stripped away the bark.
A lot of strange things had happened since she’d found the box. Perhaps Brian was right and its powdery occupant had been making its presence felt. Well, it would be back where it belonged soon, laid once more to its eternal rest and Kate’s life could return to normal.
Except she’d had a nagging feeling since she got in the car that taking it back was the wrong thing to do. Why, she couldn’t say, but she felt a strange attachment to the box and its morbid contents. It was almost as if they belonged to her in some way and the more she thought about it the more she felt she’d been meant to find it, been guided to it even. Surely the builders would have noticed that such a large stone was loose when they erected the scaffolding? How had it come loose in the first place? And how had it managed to fall so far away from the wall? It hadn’t hit anything else or rolled down the church aisle, it had landed on that one particular flagstone on the one day that Kate had been alone in the church.
She continued to ponder the circumstances as she drove and it was with some surprise that she found she’d arrived at the church. Taking a quick look around, she parked by the wall and got out of the car. The shopping bag, with the box inside, bumped against her leg as she marched up the path, round the back of the church and up to the vestry door. Her intention was to leave it on the doorstep, but as she took it out of the bag she couldn’t help but lift the lid one last time. Her note to the vicar lay on top of the linen bag of ashes, but she saw straight away that something was wrong.
Where was the leather-bound book?
She lifted the ashes, knowing full well the book was not hiding underneath, and checked inside the bag too. She was starting to panic, looking around on the floor in case it had dropped out when she opened the box?
Impossible, she thought and began to retrace her steps to the front of the church and down the path to her car, all the while checking the ground for signs of the book.
She yanked open the car door and searched the seats and foot-wells, all to no avail. There was no doubt in her mind that the book had been in the box when she’d placed the note inside. She remembered putting everything back before she’d left the house and had not removed anything since. She felt sick; how could she lose something so precious.
Precious? Even taking into account the possible age and monetary value of the box it would hardly be called precious. It would have had a certain sentimental value, if it had actually been hers, but it wasn’t, so that didn’t make sense either. Nevertheless, tears were starting to well up again.
Oh this is ridiculous, she thought, blinking them away and climbing into the car, slamming the door shut beside her. I must have left it at home.
Once again she headed out of the village and back along the narrow lane. She ran up the driveway and rushed to the kitchen. There was no sign of the book there and she hurried upstairs to her bedroom.
There it was, lying on her bedside table as though it had always been there. Kate knew she hadn’t left it there, but that didn’t matter now, she was overwhelmed with relief at finding it safe and sound. She picked it up; the leather was smooth under her fingers and on impulse she opened it at the first page. The two words were still there, cryptic and silent. A puzzle waiting to be solved.
If she had to take a guess she would say the most probable three letter word would be “The”, but it would be more difficult to translate the longer one. Unsure what to do next, she turned the page.
The writing was small and neat and faded brown with age. The symbols were consistent with those on the flyleaf, indecipherable and in some places, so faded with time as to be illegible. The author had written in ink with a quill pen, taking such meticulous care that each one was exactly the same size as its neighbours and each line of text was arrow straight. Being familiar with the kind of Latin old documents tended to be written in, Kate was positive this was not Latin. Some of the symbols looked like familiar letters, but had subtle differences in the way they were formed. No language she could think of looked like this.
She did a quick flick through the rest of the book. Every so often, between several blocks of text, was a blank page. On the next would be a single line. A heading maybe, before the main body of writing would start again. Could it be a journal of some kind, written by the person with whom it had shared the box?
Whatever it was, it would have to wait, she’d run out of time and had to leave for work. She would try to decipher it later. She slipped the journal into her bag, deciding that from now on it would go everywhere with her.
* * *
She approached the busy main road, slowed to a stop and waited for the lights to change. The radio crackled and music suddenly blared from the speakers. She hadn’t touched the dial or pressed any of the buttons on the dash and Kate stared at it, amazed to be listening to the same song that had woken her the previous morning.
She listened to the words of the song, drifting off into a world of her own and missed the changing of the traffic lights. The driver behind sounded his horn and flashed his lights. She pulled herself together, switched off the radio and set off again, making a mental note to get the electrics checked. By the time she had parked the car and walked up the hill she had forgotten all about it.
Every day she saw the same familiar faces making their way to work. The few who noticed her said good morning or nodded, but most were huddled over against the cold, their faces obscured in the depths of hooded coats. There was someone new among them today. Her attention was drawn to a young man perusing the display in the little green bookshop. Something about him seemed familiar. He was tall, fair haired and dressed all in black. Just an ordinary man, except Kate was sure she knew him from somewhere. At this distance she couldn’t see his face and she spent a moment trying to place him, until, as she drew closer, he pulled a pair of earphones from the inside pocket of his leather jacket, turned away from the window and walked away. His actions jogged her memory and she realised with a shock that it was the man from the café. Odd that she should see him today when she’d never noticed him here before.
As she drew level with the bookshop, she glanced inside to see what he’d been so interested in. Stretched across the window was a banner that read ‘Have A Cool Yule!’. It was decked out with a multitude of twinkling fairy lights and figures of Santa, dressed in green rather than red. Pixies dusted with glitter were strategically placed throughout the display of New Age books on subjects such as crystal healing and angel encounters. There were even a few on witchcraft. She was reminded of the words on the lid of the box.
Let no man trespass where angels fear to tread.
Why would he be looking at this kind of thing? He didn’t look like your typical New Age believer.
She followed him along the road; he had increased the distance between them, but looked back over his shoulder, in her direction, two or three times and she wondered if he recognised her too. A little further on she spotted him again, passing under the arch into High Petergate, but he turned left at the Minster, into Precentor’s Court and disappeared from view. As he was no longer going in her direction she continued on, turning to look back to see if she could still see him, but she had lost track of him and put the meeting down to chance.
* * *
The door to the office was unlocked when she got there, which meant Brian had already arrived. He swivelled his chair in her direction as she came in and hung up her coat, completing the turn through three hundred and sixty degrees as she crossed the office to the sink and table which acted as a makeshift kitchen. They couldn’t have got much work done after she’d gone home the day before because the office now looked as though the box of Christmas decorations had exploded.
She made herself coffee, offering one to Brian, who having just filled his mug, declined.
“So how are you this morning?” he said to her back.
If he was fishing for tales of poltergeist activity, he was going to be disappointed.
“Fine.” she said, replacing the kettle on its stand.
She stirred her coffee and looked down from the window into Stonegate’s narrow street. Two men were taking advantage of the early morning quiet to finish fixing up the Christmas lights stretched across the alleyway, in time for Thursday night’s switch on. They had better hurry, or it would soon fill up with milling tourists and they’d have trouble manoeuvering their equipment through the crowds.
“You look a bit peaky, didn’t you sleep well?”
She would have slept well, if it hadn’t been for the dream, and then there’d been the palaver with returning the box. It was no wonder she looked pale, her nerves were all over the place. Maybe she should tell Brian about the dream, and for that matter about the book. Getting it off her chest might make it seem less fantastical.
She glanced to her right and almost dropped her coffee mug. Someone was sitting on the window ledge of the pub on the opposite side of the lane. It looked like the man from the café again, but it couldn’t be him. She leaned against the glass for a better view. Blonde hair, black jacket and jeans. It was.
Was he following her?
“Are you all right?” Brian said, from close behind her.
He startled her and the coffee sloshed over the edge of the mug. She jumped back to avoid getting it down her front and bumped into Brian. When she looked up the man had gone. He must have ducked down the snickelway into Hornby’s Passage, but why? It didn’t go anywhere, emerging as it did a little further down Stonegate. Perhaps he was simply another tourist, wandering round the town, seeing the sights.
“I think you should stay away from hot drinks, Kate,” Brian said, handing her a tea towel. He took the mug from her hand and plonked it down on her desk.
“I thought I saw…” she shook her head.
“The ashes’ ghost?” Brian finished.
“I did have a bit of a weird dream,” she said.
Brian waited, but she was reluctant to start.
“All right but you better not laugh.”
He scooted his chair across to her desk, propped his elbows on the edge and leaned forward, all ears.
“It was all a bit confused, but I seemed to be back in the middle ages. Not observing events, but actually inside the body of a young girl. I was reliving her memories. It was weird because I was still in Bolton Percy.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw the church. As it was then and now, at the same time. They were burning me – I mean her, at the stake. I woke up screaming it was so real.”
Her throat felt parched just from recalling the dream and she gulped a mouthful of coffee, gripping the mug to stop her hands from shaking.
“Sounds like a past life memory to me,” Brian said.
“What? You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’ve heard stuff like this before. My friend Selena, her real name’s Hannah Ross, but she thinks Selena Moon makes her sound more ethereal…anyway, she runs hypnosis sessions on this kind of thing.”
Kate stared at Brian.
“I didn’t know you were in to all that?”
He sat up taller and tried to look suave.
“You’d find out all sorts of things about me if you took the time to get to know me better.”
He winked. She ignored him and he slumped forward again.
“No, really, she’s running a group session tonight, you should come along and meet her.”
Kate wasn’t sure. She pictured a woman in brightly coloured, flowing skirts, sitting cross-legged on an overstuffed cushion, chanting obscure words and wreathed in clouds of incense smoke.
“It’s not a love-in,” Brian said, seeing the look on her face. “She’s a qualified hypnotherapist and healer.”
“The bookshop by the Minster.”
“The little green one?” Kate said.
Kate couldn’t believe it. Not long ago she’d been staring through its window at the display of angel books because the man from the café had been there. Now she was being invited to meet its owner to have her dreams interpreted. Could this be another coincidence?
“All right. I’ll come,” she said, before she could change her mind again.
“Right. I’ll pick you up after work about seven,” said a delighted Brian.
He pushed off from the edge of her desk and sailed back to his own, chair wheels squeaking.
The door opened and in came James and Nathan, late again. Kate put her head down for work. The fewer people that knew about all this the better.
* * *
At the end of the day she confirmed the time with Brian and left for home. All the way to her car she kept turning around to see if anyone was following her, stopping in her tracks every time she saw someone with blonde hair or a black jacket, but she didn’t see the man from the café again.
She popped a microwave meal in the oven then showered and changed in readiness for Brian’s arrival. What did people wear to a group regression? She decided casual was best, and settled for a pair of comfortable black linen trousers and a red jersey cowl-neck top and black wool cardigan.
Brian nodded his approval when he picked her up in the Jeep.
“I’ve told Selena you’re coming but nothing about your dream,” said Brian. “She’s looking forward to meeting you.”
Kate shivered; it was cold but she was nervous too and she was beginning to wish she hadn’t agreed to this.
When they reached the bookshop two or three other people were already going inside. A woman with shoulder length, curly blonde hair stood at the door welcoming people. She wore a thick chunky knit cardigan over a white T-shirt and blue jeans, not the flowing, diaphanous, hippy clothes Kate had been expecting. She looked rather normal. Kate was pleasantly surprised and a little disappointed at the same time. They shook hands as Brian introduced them. Selena held on a little longer than most people would, but she gave Kate a warm smile and ushered them inside and up the stairs to her own private flat above the bookshop.
The space had been set out with bean bags and comfortable chairs arranged in a circle. A neatly folded fleece or cotton blanket had been placed on each seat, though the flat was warm. The early birds had already made themselves comfortable; some wrapped the blankets around their shoulders, others spread them over their knees.
“Deep meditative states can lower your core temperature quite dramatically,” Selena explained.
The lights had been dimmed to a cosy level and tea light candles, in rainbow coloured glass holders, were dotted around on every available surface. More of the same fairy lights Kate had seen in the bookshop window were spiralled around wooden beams and draped around framed pictures of fairies, angels and scenes from Arthurian legend.
It must look like Christmas all the time up here, Kate thought.
The walls were lined with oak bookshelves and not one had space for another book, however thin. The flat was open plan, but Selena had screened off the more private areas with layers of chiffon and organza curtains. Rows of glasses were lined up on the kitchen table, like a regiment of transparent soldiers, with jugs of orange juice and water standing sentry at either end. For those who wanted something more warming, there was decaffeinated coffee, a selection of herbal teas and a large pan of home-made soup simmering on the stove.
Selena had also provided an assortment of biscuits. The regulars who weren’t sitting down helped themselves to what was on offer, the conversation humming back and forth between them.
In addition to the candles, Kate noticed that several large crystals had been placed to good effect, so that the light caught their facets and sparkled invitingly. The foliate faces of green men and plaster cherubs hung on the walls and elfin faces peered out from every corner.
Brian brought Kate a coffee and then Selena called the meeting to order. She asked everyone to sit down and Kate found herself sinking into a soft armchair within the circle, Brian to her left and a woman to her right who looked to be in her thirties. She was dressed as if she’d come straight from the office, in a smart skirt and blouse.
There were more women than men around the circle, but they all appeared very normal. She turned to look at Selena, who was addressing the group.
“Good evening everyone,” she said with a smile.
The group responded in a collective murmur.
“We have a couple of new faces joining us tonight, Kate and Louisa. Please make them feel welcome.”
All eyes turned to Kate and the woman next to her, everyone smiled, a few said hello. Kate hated being the centre of attention, but she smiled and nodded in return.
“OK, let’s get started, shall we?” said Selena, taking a seat on a hard backed chair in the middle of the circle. “First we need to let go of all our daily cares and worries and open ourselves up to the higher realms. Before we can explore our previous lives we need to ask our guides and angels to protect us from harm and allow them to remove any blocks that prevent us from seeing the truth.”
Kate found Brian out of the corner of her eye. He leaned towards her and whispered.
“Give it a chance.”
Selena continued in slow, soothing tones, instructing everyone to close their eyes and relax their bodies, starting with their toes and working their way up. When she was satisfied everyone had chilled out sufficiently, she allowed them to open their eyes again.
“OK, I sense the angels standing behind you all, encircling us in their love. They inform me we can begin the session.”
Kate couldn’t see any angels. She had stopped believing in them about the same time she’d found out the Tooth Fairy didn’t exist, but a shiver ran down her spine when she thought about the phrase on the lid of the box. Would this be considered trespassing on something they feared?
Selena walked to the side of the room and came back carrying a large oblong object covered with a scarf. She removed the scarf, to reveal a large mirror set in an ornate wooden frame, painted gold and leant it against the chair she had been sitting in. One by one she instructed each person to sit before it and stare at their own reflection. Brian was asked to turn out the main lights, leaving the candles as the only source of light.
As they watched the mirror, Selena talked.
“Let your gaze relax, altar your perceptions and allow the faces of your former lives to emerge.”
There were oohs and aahs as one by one each person in turn had a face from their past revealed to them. Some described what they could see, as their own familiar faces morphed into those of the opposite sex, or developed distinct foreign features and altered skin tones. Some of the onlookers said they too could see other faces staring back at them, one or two were disappointed when they received no images other than their own and one of these was Louisa. Selena assured her that it might take her several attempts to let go of her preconceived notions and that next time would be different and not to give up hope. Then, it was Kate’s turn.
She hadn’t seen any of the things the others had claimed and was highly sceptical of the whole performance. She expected the same as Louisa, but did as she was asked and took her turn in front of the mirror.
At first all she could see, in the warm glow of the candles, was her own face looking back at her. The faces of the others in the circle behind her were less clear and became fuzzy as she concentrated.
“Relax your eyes,” prompted Selena, kneeling next to her. “Squint a little if it helps.”
Kate let her eyes drift over the features of her face. It began to blur and her eyelids drooped at the sound of Selena’s monotone voice beside her. The image shifted and she snapped back to alertness.
“Keep trying,” crooned Selena.
She began the process again. This time the blurring occurred much quicker. In the mirror, the image changed. Her eyes slowly turned from brown to a dark blue then her hair began to lighten from rich chestnut through several shades of lighter brown to a dark blonde. It curled gently about her face instead of hanging smooth and straight in her usual style. At first Kate thought it was a trick of the light, but several voices behind her gasped and were hushed into silence by Selena.
The transformation continued. It was no longer Kate that stared out of the glass, but a young girl of around fourteen. She was pale and undernourished. Kate’s heart rate increased, beside her Selena had grasped hold of her hand and then someone screamed. She lost concentration, her head turned and as soon as she moved her eyes the image reverted back to her own familiar reflection.
The scream had come from Louisa. Some of the others were clutching their neighbours’ hands, looking beyond Kate, not at the mirror, but at something else in the room.
Selena took charge and brought the group back to order. Brian was asked to turn the lights up again and everyone blinked in its sudden harshness.
“I think that’s enough for this session,” Selena said, wafting the scarf back over the mirror. “Please make sure you take all your things and remember we’re here again next week at the same time. Good night everyone.”
The tremor in her voice made it clear she was as spooked as the others. She waited for the stragglers to leave, then gathered Kate and Brian round the table.
“Drink this,” she said, pouring another coffee for Kate. “You need to ground yourself too.”
She held out the plate of biscuits. Kate took one with a trembling hand and nibbled at it.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The girl you saw in the mirror was the face you wore in a previous life.”
“I’ve never seen anyone come through so clearly before,” Brian said.
“Me either,” Selena agreed. “Certainly not for a beginner.”
“And the screaming? What was all that about, because it looked to me like they’d all seen something else?” Kate said.
Selena paused. She seemed reluctant to answer.
“I saw a figure in black,” said Brian. “I can’t speak for anyone else.”
Kate turned to Selena, she was, after all, supposed to be the expert here.
“There was a figure,” she said, staring at the spot where the apparition had appeared. “I think it may have been your guardian angel.”
* * *
On the journey back home, Kate quizzed Brian on what he’d seen. He hadn’t seen much in the mirror because his position in the circle meant it was angled away from him, but when Louisa had screamed and the others had all looked up, he’d followed their gaze and seen a dark figure. He couldn’t make out any features, but he described it as being a little taller than 6 feet, man shaped, possibly dressed in black. Kate swallowed at that and fixed her gaze on the road ahead.
“Has anything like that happened before?” she asked.
“Not while I’ve been there. Mostly we sit around, chill out and talk about stuff. Even Selena was spooked,” he said. “I’ve never seen her like that before.”
“Why do you go?” Kate asked him, as he walked her to her door.
“It might surprise you, but I’m interested in that kind of thing.”
When she raised an eyebrow he elaborated.
“You know, the occult.”
She was surprised. Brian always came across as one of the most down to earth, grounded people she knew. He followed her inside as she unlocked the door.
“Don’t worry, I’m no Satan worshipper,” he said, laughing. “But I have dropped the odd love potion in your coffee.”
He gave an odd, maniacal laugh that she guessed was supposed to scare her. She raised her eyebrows at him.
“Just kidding,” he grinned. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”
Brian could be funny at times. He made her laugh now. It felt good and went a long way to dispel the dark cloud that had settled over her after the session at Selena’s. When Brian took a step towards her she wasn’t sure what he was going to do until he brought his head down and pressed his lips against hers. She recoiled, shoving him away, feeling the hard muscles of his shoulders beneath her hands. The realization that he was much stronger than her made her panic.
“Brian, what are you doing?”
He couldn’t make eye contact, looking anywhere but at her.
“I’m sorry. I thought… I’m sorry. I’d better go.”
Kate sighed as she locked the door behind him. Poor Brian, he was never going to learn.