Chapter 10: Christ, Der Retter Ist Da!
Jack stood looking out the window holding the thick cloth of curtain between his index and middle finger. Below him, the wind tinkered with the dilapidated Christmas lights strung from concrete lampposts and skeletal trees. It swung on the twisted wire bloating and then shrinking the shadows of the loitering dusk and suppressing the festive charm with its brisk surge.
School children, with their mobiles and cigarettes, strutted in collective groups and false assumptions of adulthood, oblivious to the chill, their carefree shouts adding somehow to the bogus scene.
Even the weather was false. Rain fell from a sky that had promised snow, although it was more drizzle than rain, a wet blanket of fine mist quashing the spirit of the season, dampening all that glittered from the keenly lit windows of the high street.
His breath moistened the glass, smudging the scene like an out of focus lens, evoking distant memories. He smiled at their warmth.
Gwen sighed from the bed as she turned the pages of the journal. “Anything?” he asked.
She didn’t look up. Jack rolled his eyes letting the curtain drop from his fingers. He walked and sat down on the other bed. “Anything?” he asked again looking to the notes she had jotted down.
She tipped her head back against the pillows and closed her eyes for a moment considering the handwritten pages. “He has beautiful penmanship,” she offered with a small smile.
“Ok…” She took a sip of water from a bottle at her side. “…William wrote this in nineteen-seventy-two, a couple of years after his wife, Margaret, died and before you ask, it was natural causes.”
She looked down at the journal using her pen to mark the page. “Basically, it’s just snippets of their life together, where they met, the songs they like, their first date…”
“And the war?”
“Nothing yet and I’m over halfway through.” She sighed, turning the book over.
Jack leant forward clasping his hands in front of him. “When did they meet?”
She looked down at her notes. “September, Nineteen-seventeen, she was a Red Cross nurse stationed at… at…” she paused, trying to find the sentence, “…Lady Hadfield’s Hospital; they married in December that same year.”
“Nineteen Seventeen,” he pondered, “now that can’t be a coincidence.” Jack raised his voice slightly so Gwen could hear him.
She nodded. “His son, Edward, was born in November the following year…”
Gwen dipped her head. “It seems very hasty, they had known each other three months before they married, then, within a year, they had a baby.”
“War does that,” Jack reflected, “and the marriage lasted?”
“Fifty-two years,” Gwen said with a warm smile, “until Margaret’s death.”
“Did they live here all that time?”
“Yep.” She tapped the journal. “William wrote how Margaret fell in love with Addoedsbren, she was from Leeds originally.”
Jack squeezed his hands together. “Does it say if she’s buried in the church?”
Gwen frowned and quickly flicked through the pages until she reached the beginning. Her finger picked up a passage of text and followed its loops and swirls; her lips moving silently in sync with the writing. She looked up. “She was cremated, it says, ‘according to my wishes.'”
“What about the son, Edward, does it mention his death at all?”
Gwen shook her head. “Not so far.”
Jack stood and walked toward the door. “Keep at it Gwen, I’m sure the answer’s there somewhere.”
He pulled out his mobile and attached his headset. “I’m gonna give Tosh a ring, see where her and Ianto are at and if she can track down any further information on William Bach’s military career by using the hospital as a reference point. Then, I’m going to pay Mrs Bach a visit, see if she can tell us whether the other family members were buried or cremated, also what plans Aeddan had for himself.”
“You think it could be relevant?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve got a hunch,” he said, pressing speed dial.
Ianto walked into the vast archive, the door hissed as it shut behind him. The lights automatically illuminated the rows of classified files catalogued and amassed over time; this was Torchwood’s take on history.
His shoes clicked softly echoing down the corridor as above the old subway lights hummed under tempered glass. He didn’t have to scour the extensive range of artefacts, he didn’t even have to go through several of the secure boxes in his search, Ianto knew exactly where he would find it. The symbols were committed to memory; his memory.
He located the box and keyed the electronic combination lifting the lid when the release sounded. With care, he put on a pair of white cotton gloves before retrieving the preserved manuscript from its regulated container. He placed it down on a research table so he could remove the corresponding case notes that went with the fragile vellum. He quickly scanned them, one word leapt from the heavy typed pages; Addoedsbren. He frowned, annoyed that he hadn’t bothered to read the report before now and picked up on the connection but then, an illuminated manuscript was hardly considered hazardous or a top priority in the ever expanding Torchwood archive.
He walked across to the interface and tapped the keys feigning a search for the artefact.
“Ianto, it’s Tosh.”
He tapped his earpiece. “Go ahead.” His voice carried down the curve of the tunnels.
“How’s it going?”
“I’m just running a search now, I’ve narrowed the parameters, so, should be with you soon.” The lie permeated the brickwork.
“Great. Jack’s given me some further information with regards to William Bach, so I’ll crack on with that for now.”
“I’ll let you know when I’m on my way up.”
Leaving the interface, as it digitally tumbled through each set of reference numbers in its quest, he looked down at the book.
The moulded leather had a simple, raised design around the edge, identical to that on the stones and in the centre a modest impression of a cross; to the left and right of the cross were two symbols made up of vertical and diagonal lines. He let his fingers rest on the tanned hide, as if he could feel the secrets behind the tooled pattern, as if he could touch their history through the indentations. He smiled, for even though the designs were crude, by modern standards, there was a beauty in their workmanship.
Ianto slowly and with reverence opened the book.
The parchment page glimmered with life, like a stained glass window lit with sunlight the stretched skin was illuminated in brilliant colours, uncannily so given its age. Cinnabar, kermes, weld, Buckthorn and verdigris, smalt and woad, charcoal and shell gold, vividly mixed, filled the page to depict a disproportionate tree; a yew tree.
Ianto looked to the ripple of the bark, his focus drawn beyond the essences of colours to a deeper blend of their hue; a face stared back at him, a stark and hollow depiction that seemed to move within the confines of the painted wood.
Was it a trick of the light? He glanced overhead to check the source but there was no flicker from the bulb. He turned back to the image. An old harridan stared back, mouth open in a cruel smile of death. He stepped back as her head began to rotate, revealing a young woman behind the old, her silver hair coiling across the page like a nest of waking serpents but her eyes remained the same, callous and vengeful. Then, she too, turned into the parchment and the colours darkened into that of a crow. The bird unfurled the shadow of its wings and stretched out beyond the confined of the book screeching with a bloodlust; Ianto swiftly closed the manuscript.
He touched his ear. “Tosh, I’ve located the manuscript…” He picked up both the leather bound book and the related file tucking the latter under his arm.
“Good work,” Tosh exclaimed.
“Um, there’s something you should be aware of….” His words seemed to echo down the tunnels separating them both.
Jack lifted his face to the rain letting the icy shards splinter on his face. He looked back to the cosy glow of the terrace house knowing, for all its pretence, there was nothing inside but a detached emptiness.
Megan Bach had looked much older than her sixty-two years cosseted in a living room filled with too many echoes of her loss.
“It was expected,” she had said, not looking him in the eye but focusing instead on the flames from the open fire.
“With Dylis,” the Reverend Purst interjected as he held Megan’s hand in his dry grip.
“But there was no goodbye,” she whispered to the smouldering coal.
Jack knew it was all about the goodbye. To be able to confess your love for those about to die and to have them acknowledge the same. Without it there was just an endless void of uncertainty, of unresolved tensions committed to memory and haunting those long days and unending nights.
Death is not kind to the living. The clock stops, the mirrors are covered, the curtains are closed and only the past preoccupies the mind; the future is a desolate and lonely place.
“The curse,” Megan had uttered, “it came.” Her expression changed to that of comprehension.
The Reverend Purst pulled back his consoling touch; Jack doubted she had ever felt it. “Dylis believed but, he Aeddan scoffed…” Her eyes widened and, as if on cue, a lump of coal had toppled from the pile.
“Megan,” the cleric began, pushing his fingers through his oily hair and correcting his glasses.
She had turned her attention to Jack. “There are others,” she warned, “the dead will rise again and have revenge.”
Jack had moved forward on the uncomfortable settee balancing the cup and saucer he held. “Revenge for what?” he had asked knowing for the moment he had her full attention.
Megan shook her head and turned away, drawn once more to the comfort from the open fire.
The minister had shot Jack a sideways glance. “I think that’s enough, don’t you?” He stood tucking in his shirttail with one hand while snatching the cup away from Jack with the other.
Jack had been ready to protest but the small man had ushered him out the door, citing God over Torchwood, while hitching his trousers up to reveal soft white socks.
And so he stood in the pinched winter air looking back at the terraced house and the unlit string of festive lights hung from the porch.
“Jack?” The voice bellowed in his ear.
“Are you on your way back?”
He pulled up his collar and turned to the road. “Yep.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
He sighed. “William was cremated, so too was his son and it was Dylis’s express wish.”
“And Aeddan?” She enquired.
Jack smiled. “His widow wants the same for him but it appears our assertive local vicar has other ideas. How you doing?”
“I think I might have found something.” He heard the rustle of paper.
“Good, we could do with a break.”
“Would you stop off on your way back and get photos of the War Memorial, I need a list of the names on it.”
“The War Memorial!” Jack kicked himself. “Of course.”
Copyright RMC Dec 2017