Chapter 17: All Is Calm All Is Bright
All Is Calm All Is Bright
They drew up at the church, the SUV skidding on the glossy surface of the road.
“What now?” Owen asked zipping his jacket all the way to the neck; he gave the car a longing glance.
Jack looked between the team members, he had nothing to go on. He rested his arms on top of the car. “Owen, Ianto you take the graveyard.”
Gwen’s phone rang, Jack looked piqued. “If it’s Rhys…”
She held up a hand as she fumbled it from her jean pocket. She removed her headset so she could listen to the other party turning her back on Jack’s annoyance.
She snapped the phone shut and glared at Jack. “That was the local plod seems George Lewis’s great-granddaughter is still in the village.”
“Okay then,” Jack added without an apology, “address?” he rapped on the SUV’s roof.
Gwen opened the passenger door shouldering past Owen. “81, Laurel Avenue…”
“The new estate just on the edge of town.” They all turned to Ianto.
“Do you know everything?” Owen asked with a scowl.
“I try and familiarise myself with the local area…”
“How long?” Jack was already pulling the seatbelt around him.
Ianto’s eyes looked away in thought. “This time of night, about seven minutes.” He exchanged a glance with the captain; Jack smiled.
Owen slid into the back seat. Jack looked over his shoulder. “Not you Owen. I want you and Ianto to stay here.” He turned the ignition.
“Why do I get to stay with the zombie magnet, in the cold?” Owen switched on his torch positioning the light under his chin as he spoke.
“Because Gwen gave you the church records and we need to start on repositioning those stones.”
Gwen looked smug in the passenger seat as she turned up the heating giving Owen a small wave as they drove off.
Owen looked at Ianto who was digging around in his coat pocket. “Hip flask?” he asked, hopefully.
“Fuck me”, Owen muttered with a roll of his eyes.
“Not even if it was the end of the world.” Ianto mumbled and moved off to the iron gate, it whined against its hinges as he opened it, the crisp air making him shudder despite his heavy coat.
Owen too gave an involuntary shiver but it wasn’t from the cold he felt like they were being watched. He scanned the rows of seasoned tombstones and weathered angels but could see nothing except the green glow of the yew.
Ianto stopped beside him. “Is it…” he paused, his breath pale against the darkness “…glowing?”
Owen nodded. “Yep.” He swallowed, an ominous feeling tweaking at his nerves.
Ianto gripped the manuscript tighter and for a moment Owen thought he was going to hold it up in front of them as protection. He had seen it done, with bibles and crucifixes, in countless Hammer films; okay films he’d laughed at, at the time, through an alcoholic haze, but as a student he never imagined he would actually be living some cliché horror film.
Again, he looked around him.
Night time, check.
No creepy music, that had to be good.
Green, glowy, satanic tree, check.
Okay, that had to be bad.
Large breasted vixen (usually a vampire) with Eastern European accent, nope.
Large breasted virgin, usually English, in flimsy, see-through negligee, in need of rescuing.
He shot a sideways glance at Ianto. Nope.
“And Captain Kronos has legged it with the girls,” he mumbled under his breath.
“What?” Ianto looked at him tucking the artefact back into his coat.
Owen coughed. “The first is by the porch.”
He waved his torch in the general direction the light illuminating the lichen covered face of a mournful angel her hollow eyes seemed to stare back at him. Owen tried not to blink.
They followed the gravel path each footfall taking them further from the gate.
“Where?” Ianto shone his torch over the graves, the beam creeping from one forgotten and nameless marker to another, the frost glistening with the attentive light. “I can’t make it out.” He turned to Owen.
“It’s there somewhere,” Owen offered helpfully keeping his torch steady over the Victorian monuments.
Ianto stepped off the path and began to walk methodically through the crisscross of tilted stones and time-worn crosses.
Stay on the road, keep clear of the moors. Beware of the moon, lads.
The warning echoed around Owen’s head.
“Perhaps we should stay on the path,” Owen whispered.
“Just a thought,” he offered as the full moon broke through a bank of cloud.
Full moon, check.
Owen added his light to the search, his attention, every so often, glancing across to the yew: the feeling still there.
Ianto stopped by a shaded bench his dark attire camouflaging him in the hang of bushes and deciduous trees. All Owen could see was the circle of light haunting the section where he stood. “Ianto?” He suddenly felt alone.
“Here, I found it.” Owen jogged to join him the loose change in his pocket jingling against the silence.
Ianto tapped the top of the stone in triumph.
“Now what?” Owen asked, “we’ll need a bloody forklift to raise the thing.”
“Let’s just locate the rest of the stones tonight before we think about moving them.”
He crouched down and dusted off the inscription shining his torch over the symbols. “They’re still legible,” he said in surprise.
The wind suddenly stirred raking a few dry leaves over the flat surfaces of embedded tombstones bringing the graveyard to life. Owen looked over his shoulder the torch casting its light into the night. He thought he saw movement. He glanced back to Ianto, the young man was stood stock-still.
He didn’t register Owen’s concern he just kept his focus on the shape of chiselled rock.
This time the young man turned delving into the depths of his coat to retrieve the manuscript, a white light burned the night from the crystal fixed on the cover. He looked at Owen.
“Shit.” The doctor exclaimed.
Ianto ran his fingertips over the burnished gem, again he looked at Owen and the doctor sensed what he was about to do. “Not a good idea, mate, remember, ‘book bad’.”
Ianto didn’t seem to be listening.
Owen dropped his torch the light spinning away from him as he made a grab for the manuscript but he was too late the pages had already fluttered open on their own. A light blanched Ianto’s face throwing the gossamer shadows of the symbols across his forehead.
Owen couldn’t move he was drawn to the flood of both light and script that cut the darkness like the glint of a fine sword. A face appeared in the shaft of light as lucent, as jellyfish, it floated in the beam drifting to surface of Ianto’s skin until it masked his features. An old man stared through his eyes as his hand reached for the stone and he began to speak, his lips ghosting the alien’s, the repeated words spoken in unison.
The phrase floated gracefully in ink around them like dark and broken butterflies carried on a summer breeze of light. Owen didn’t recognise their sound but he understood their meaning. Life… Death… Rebirth.
The ancient stone drew breath inhaling the resonance of sounds conjured against an unearthly night, the cracks and scrapes of its torn façade fading as it absorbed each declaration. It glowed with life from death’s pale shadow it was reborn, remade, the deep groove of symbols bore witness to its transformation shining like a polished shield.
The book closed and Ianto slumped onto the frozen earth. “Shit.” Owen uttered again bending down to help him to his feet, one hand scrambling for the torch.
Ianto blinked against the doctor’s examining light shrugging off the gentle probing. “Fine,” he nodded wiping the frost from the back of his coat.
Owen regarded him suspiciously tapping his headset. “Jack?”
A rush of static flooded his ear.
“Maybe we’re too close to…” Ianto gestured to the stone swallowing against the dryness of his throat.
Owen grabbed him by the shoulder of his coat and pulled him away from the newly formed monument toward the gate. Ianto stumbled at being seized looking to where the manuscript had fallen. The doctor saw his dilemma. “Well I’m not picking it up,” he remarked still holding onto a handful of wool.
“We can’t leave it here.” Ianto freed himself and grabbed it placing the book back under his coat.
Owen watched him stand and then motioned for them to move to the gate. Ianto began to follow and then stopped, something was burrowing towards them leaving a mound of earth in its wake. He could just about make it out, under the gloating moon, the snake of a tunnel cracking the earth at pace.
They both started to run toward the gate until it suddenly slammed shut the noise echoing off the stonework of the church. “Fuck,” Owen exclaimed as he skidded to a halt sending a wave of gravel spilling forward.
Another furrow formed in front of them, this one much large than the other.
“The stone!” Ianto cried.
“What?” Owen’s focus was on the sizeable gully gaining on them; Ianto pulled him back.
“The stones were intended to stop the roots from breaking free…”
They both moved back jumping over the splay of hard earth as the other root ripped free of the frozen subterranean depths. It clipped Owen sending him sprawling on the gravel. He rolled away, the small stones making indentations on his bare skin. The root flicked its end up like the draw of a whip and then lashed down toward the fallen man.
Owen looked up waiting for the collide of wood and bones, waiting for it to pummel his body. The seconds stretching like the weight of the root above him but nothing happened. Something soft fell on his face and into his mouth, wood, wood shavings. He spat it out the air around him popping like the fifth of November as the alien countered the Aspen Ianto had thrown. Sparks cracked the darkness, the root hindered and seemingly dazed by the flare of wooden flakes.
Ianto squeezed Owen’s shoulder reminding him they were still in danger, he jumped up hearing the split of solid ground as the other root sped at them. They backed away, the last of the Aspen blistering the night as the suspended root collapsed back onto the ground, its sinuous coil withered and charred in sooty patches.
“You got any more?” Owen asked eyeing the other root.
Ianto swallowed. “Only two stakes, I gave Jack the pellets.”
He tapped the weapon in his pocket. “The wrong size.”
“We’re so screwed.”
They made it to the stone. “What now?” Owen asked his breath hitching in ragged bursts.
Ianto shrugged; the doctor shook his head drawing out his weapon.
“I don’t think…”
“I ain’t going down without a fight.” He gripped the gun with both hands.
Ianto nodded and pulled out his own firearm handing Owen one of the Aspen stakes. He took it, his aim never wavering from the push of the soil. Ianto straightened and stood beside him.
The root burst from the ground spraying the men with clumps of hard earth they turned away shielding themselves from the fall of debris.
Its bulk hung in the air swaying menacingly in front of them. A skull grinned from where it was entwined on the twist of a substantial secondary shoot, its empty eyes ever watchful. Owen fired several shots making the root shy away but the bullets bounced off the unnatural glow shielding it thick skin. A woman’s laughter echoed from the shadows.
The root drifted nearer swaying like the measured tempo of a metronome against the night air, the movement causing the skull to swing like a felon on a gibbet.
“Give me the book!” The command came from the confines of the tree, the voice creaked with age.
“Why don’t you come and get it, Teresa?” Owen taunted.
Ianto turned his head slightly and cocked an eyebrow. “Teresa?”
“Green.” Owen replied with a smirk.
“Do not challenge me human, you have no idea what I am capable of.” This time the voice was low and dangerous.
“That’s it, Owen, piss off the already irate foliage.” The root reared in front of them ripping more of its mass free from the earth.
“Is it my fault she can’t take a joke?”
“After centuries of being trapped in a tree?” Ianto held the doctor’s gaze.
“So, she’s a bit wooden.”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “You done, because I’m seriously considering just handing this over and leaving you with the root?” He tapped the inside pocket of his coat.
“The book, now!” Agroná cut through their banter.
Over by the yew a thin gash of light severed the darkness. The tear expanded outward like someone had taken the edges and was ripping it open, forcing the night to shrivel as its brilliance soaked through the darkness. “Give it to me.”
Owen spared a glance at the younger man. “You ready?” he asked softly.
Ianto’s grip tightened around his gun. “Yup.”
The doctor smiled and brought his aim closer. “As I said before, come and get it, bitch,” he yelled, bending his finger around the trigger.
Agroná’s howl of rage turned into a hoarse screech of a crow causing both men’s hackles to rise. The root seemed to flex its vast weight before pitching towards them, the skull hanging onto its sizable coil with its teeth.
Both men fired but as before the bullets eluded their target. They both fell to the ground, in opposite directions, as the root began its forceful lunge, its strike whistling into the night. A blinding light spilled from the stone blocking its intent and blazing through the wood. It tried to recoil but its weight quickly burned and turned to ash, holding its shape for just a second, before it scattered to the frozen earth. The skull losing its jaw as it broke on the hard soil.
Agroná screamed again, this time in pain, this time it sounded almost human. The rip of light imploded, the darkness racing to plug the gap until the slither of time was gone.
Once more it was cold and still in the graveyard.
Both men sat up, slightly bewildered, the smell of burning hanging in the air. Ianto wiped his mouth smearing his face in ash. “Your people skills need work,” he remarked.
Owen shrugged. “She ain’t people,” he offered spitting the taste of burning from his mouth.
He rested his arms on his knees looking at the rip in the knee of his jeans. “Bugger, I paid a hundred and fifty quid for these.”
Ianto cocked an eyebrow. “Really?” He stood up trying to dust the ash from his coat but instead rubbing it into the material.
Owen pushed himself to his feet watching the flakes fall from his hair as he combed his fingers through it. “No hard feelings, mate but I’m asking Jack to pair me with someone else next time.”
“What, too much excitement for you, I thought you enjoyed this sort of…” he paused “…rush.”
The gate swung open, both men jumped at the violent scrape of metal.
Owen looked at Ianto. “Now that’s tempting.”
“You want to make a run for it?” Ianto checked the chamber of his weapon.
Owen picked up his discarded torch and swung the light over to the entrance, gun still in his hand. He bit his lip. “Yes, but let me go first, you should stay here with the manuscript until I say…”
“Who died and….” Ianto stopped as Owen skimmed the light over the gravestones raising his eyebrows.
The younger man nodded. “Okay.” He switched on his own torch and shone it over the churchyard.
Owen stepped onto the bench and followed the grainy beam of light as he scanned the pathway to the gate.
He looked over his shoulder. “Looks okay this end.”
Ianto nodded noticing the yew had lost its chartreuse tinge. “All clear this way.” His light swung on the frozen ground searching for movement under its frosty covering.
Owen leapt down and started pacing across to the gravel path, the circle of his light undulating like a pendulum against the darkness. Ianto could hear the kick of Owen’s shoes against shale as the doctor’s form retreated into the gloom. He kept his own vigil against the submerged threat flooding as much of the ground with the disk of his light while watching the other man’s progress.
Owen stopped by the closed wooden door of the porch. He turned back to Ianto, measuring the distance he had achieved and wondering if he should call the younger man across to join him. He saw Ianto’s light jerk suddenly away from his position and the beam narrow so it could reach further into the darkness toward the gate. The scrape of iron slammed through every inch of his body.
The doctor turned round and aimed his weapon. Four ragged figures stood at the gate.
Copyright RMC 2017