A place of Shadows by Patrick G Moloney.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Instalment fifteen of the Jack Burke crime mysteries.

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017

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The man could scarcely believe the changes since he had been here last; he tried to remember how long it had been since he last had set foot inside the gates of this place. So much had happened in his life in a short period of time, it made the memories of what had gone before seem hazy. It was almost as if everything prior to his first meeting with the collector were the memories of someone else’s life. Looking back was like watching a stranger going through his daily routine and thinking the whole thing was vaguely familiar. Standing there just inside the main gates, the sea of headstones appeared to stretch to infinite, every way he looked new granite grave markers had sprung up. Jack leaned on the cane and tried to get his bearings, and then he spotted it. The great oak tree stood by the boundary wall midway down the sea of head stones, the grave he was looking for lay in the shade of that ancient tree. By the time he reached the place the ache in his back was radiating down his leg, standing at the foot of the grave he searched his mind for the emotions he had once felt. All that Jack could resurrect was a deep routed sadness, not for his parents lying beneath his feet. But for the loss of the man he had once been, a man who could have felt emotions of loss standing here.

The grave stone was partially covered by moss and a broken vase that had once held flowers lay forlornly on the ground, there was an overwhelming air of abandonment about the graveside. Now that he was here he regretted the impulse that had brought him, it was not the first time his journey had brought him past the cemetery. Why he had chosen to stop this time baffled him, deep down he had always thought of them as being somewhere else. In a little place deep in the recesses of his mind, his parents walked hand in hand on a beach on the west coast of county Clare. They were far from these shores and far from the cloying earth of this place, he tried to summon up words or maybe prayers but none came. It had been threatening to rain all day, now the dark skies above him fulfilled their promise. At first large drops of rain fell intermittently, but by the time he decided to leave the heavens opened. Torrential rain driven by a strengthening wind made his progress to the car an ordeal; at this rate he would be soaked to the skin before he got there. The old chapel on the cemetery grounds was much nearer than the car, Jack turned to the left and hurried as fast as he could towards the old building, he only hoped that it was not locked.

The heavy spring on the back of the huge oak door caused him to struggle in order to push it open; the same spring slammed the door when he got inside. The sound of the door slamming was like thunder inside the old building, it echoed from the stone walls and vaulted ceiling. Jack cringed at the sound half expecting someone to admonish him for being responsible for the racket. But he was alone in the old building save for the alabaster figures of saints, it was still day time but the grey light coming through the stained glass windows barley illuminated the gloom. Once the sound of the door had gone the church was silent as the grave, when he walked further down the aisle the sound of his cane echoed in the empty building. The church seats had been removed at some stage, save for one wooden bench which stood forlornly against the white stone wall. Above the bench a marble plaque had been erected in memory of the wife of one of the church Deans, the woman had passed to her eternal rest some hundred years ago. For some unknown reason Jack found himself wondering about her life, had she known happiness and love. At the bottom of the plaque a quote from ‘Song of Solomon’ had been inscribed, he found himself reading it over and over again. “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away” it proclaimed. Later as Jack left her voice echoed in his mind, “The shadows are gathering Jack, they are not fleeing”.

The phone on his desk was ringing before he even got the door unlocked, whoever was on the other end seemed determined to be answered. He had planned on driving back to Bell Harbour tonight and he was tempted to let it ring out, a sense of relief came over him when it stopped ringing before he reached it. But it was a short lived relief; he had no sooner sat down when it started again. Jack hung up and swivelled his chair to look out the window, it had become covered in grime again now that Mabel was not in the office. The phone call he had just taken was puzzling; it was the first time he had ever heard the collector sounding anxious. Now that he looked at it the collector sounded more than anxious, he wanted Jack to get to his office as soon as possible. Jack pulled on his coat and headed out; if something was bothering the collector that badly, then it must be serious. The door was locked and Jack had to ring the doorbell, out of pure habit he scanned the street while he waited. The sound of the bolt been drawn back brought his attention back to the door, an involuntary gasp escaped his lips and he felt his cheeks burning. For long moments he stood there like a deer caught in the headlights. The girl with the emerald green eyes laughed softly and stood one side to let him enter, the smell of her perfume was hypnotic as he squeezed past her. Jack waited for her to lock the door, and then he followed her to the office his eyes never leaving her swaying hips.

The collector was distracted by some newspaper clippings on the desk in front of him; he waved his hand in a gesture for them to take a seat. Emerald eyes sat down and crossed her legs, Jack found his gaze being drawn to her shapely thighs. He did not realise he was staring at her legs until the collector cleared his throat, when he looked up both of them were looking at him. The collector had a distracted look on his face, the woman looked surly but her green eyes sparkled with amusement. She was obviously well aware of her effect on the male of the species, for the second time in a short while Jack felt himself blush. “When you two are finished flirting can we get down to business” the collector did not sound annoyed but troubled. The newspaper clippings were from the Times and another well know city rag, they were part of an article entitled forgotten places. A freelance reporter was doing an expose on abandoned towns and villages dotted around the country. Jack studied one of the clippings while the woman looked at the other; it was a series of photographs of an abandoned mining town called Copper Springs. Nothing jumped out at Jack no matter how hard he stared at the pictures; apparently the woman was fairing no better as she returned the clipping to the collector with a slight shrug of her shoulders. Admitting defeat Jack shook his head and handed the clipping back over the desk.

If their inability to find anything of interest in the pictures bothered the collector, he made no remark about it. The man simply sat back and made a steeple with his hands and sat in silence for a moment or two, then he told them the reason he had summoned here. “Copper Springs was a small community of independent miners and their families; they eked out a living by tunnelling into the mountain with hand tools and extracting copper. Until one morning in the spring of 1875 the whole community just up and left, leaving their meagre belongings and any livestock they had behind them. A feasible explanation for this sudden migration was never found, although people settled on the fact that the copper had run out. Others had a theory that the community’s only water supply had become contaminated. However the indigenous people of the area had their own theory on it, they believe the miners uncovered something evil beneath the earth. To this day none of them will set foot anywhere near Copper Springs or that mountain”. The collector paused in his narrative and reached into the drawer of his desk, he took two eight by ten photographs from the bundle of four and handed them one each. They were enlarged prints of a picture from the paper clippings; it depicted an entrance to a mind shaft that had been blocked up with a stone wall above the wall a copper disc engraved with symbols had been mounted on the stone face. Jack was not familiar with the symbols but he had a feeling he was about to learn about them, he vaguely wondered if the green eyed girl was more knowledgeable about this then he was.

The collector handed them each another photo, it was of a thin hawkish faced man with a pencil moustache. The man wore a tuxedo suit and a fez on his head, a thin scar ran from the right hand corner of his mouth in the direction of his ear, it gave the impression that the man was snarling. The collector again began speaking, “The symbols on that copper plaque are designed to stop something from getting out of that mine, something evil. The picture you are holding is of a man by the name of Ahmet Akcam, he like myself is a collector. However he does not seek things out for the same reason I do. Mr Akcam will collect anything associated to the dark-side and sell them to the highest bidder; he is a practitioner of the dark rites himself and the more important pieces he keeps for his own use. Akcam flew in last night and I am reliable informed he will travel to Copper Springs. Your job will be to prevent him from taking anything from the mine shaft; whatever lies deep inside that mountain holds great interest for him. Interest enough to cause him to travel here from Turkey. Jack this man never travels without at least four bodyguards, with this in mind I have asked Anna to accompany you”. This was the first time he had heard her name it suited her he thought. “Anna is a former member of the Russian armed forces, she is highly trained in weaponry and unarmed combat. This will take both of your combined skills; even then it is a high risk job I am asking you to take on. Akcam will use everything at his disposal to remove anyone that stands in his way, including his knowledge of the occult”.

The collector fell silent again and his gaze moved between Jack and Anna, it was as if he was trying to gauge their reaction. “It goes without saying that the final decision lies with you, should either of you or both decide the risk is too great then I will understand. There will be no hard feelings and I will look elsewhere for people to carry out this task”. Before Jack had time to answer, the woman spoke with a heavy Russian accent. “When do you want us to leave?” The following morning Jack found himself in the passenger seat of the white 1949 Chevrolet, as they drove in a North West direction out of the city. He felt as giddy as a high school kid on his first date, he trawled his mind for something to make small talk about but nothing came. In the end he settled on staring out the side window at the changing countryside as she drove, four hours later Jack found himself constantly shifting position in the seat. Sitting in the car for this length of time was playing havoc with his back, the pain was now radiating down his leg. Whether she sensed his discomfort or she just needed a break he couldn’t say, but she pulled into a diner outside a small town. Jack paced up and down the carpark trying to ease the aching in his back, after a while he did not have to lean on the cane as much. Emerald eyes had gone inside to get a table; she was reading the menu when he joined her. Jack watched in disbelief at the amount of food she managed to get through, she cleaned the plate and then ordered apple pie and ice-cream. She caught Jack watching her and laughed softly, “A growing girl needs her food” she said.

Anna threw the keys to Jack as she went to the rest room, when she got back in the car she asked him for a cigarette. They both smoked in silence as he drove; soon after it got dark he heard her breathing change. He looked across at her and she was fast asleep, an hour or so later he was struggling to keep his own eyes open. Jack lay on the bed thinking about the woman who lay in the room next to him, he wondered how she had come to work for the collector. His mind flashed back to the instant when she had killed the gunmen in Frank Jessops house, she had put a bullet in their heads without blinking. How do you reconcile such beauty with such a cold blooded act, still if she had not turned up that night he would have died. Now he found himself with the very real prospect he might once again have to depend on her to save his life. Without realising it his mind took another track, he found himself thinking about an isolated convent a great distance from here. Jack wondered if Mabel was making any improvement, he suddenly thought of the words that had entered his mind in Jessops house. Jeff Whites voice in his head telling him that they still had a part of her mind, the thought of this made his sick to his very soul. He would never rest properly until he had managed to get to the bottom of what had happened in White Peak. That and put every last person involved in the ground. Jack drifted off to sleep, in that final moment between sleeping and being awake he heard her. Mabel’s soft voice sounded deep in his mind. “You can trust the Russian Jack, she has honour”.

It looked nothing like the image he had in his head, for some reason he had thought it would look like a ghost town from one of the old western movies, Even though he had seen the photos from the paper clippings, he had not really focused on the houses in the background. Jack could have been standing at the bottom of the hill in a village on the western coast of Ireland; small stone cottages lined a street of sorts. Patches of cobble stone survived here and there on the narrow street, but most of them had been washed down hill leaving muddy ground. They moved upwards stopping now and again to look inside some of the abandoned cottages, most of the dwellings consisted of two rooms. The sleeping area in some had hooks on opposite walls, from descriptions his mother had given him of living conditions in Ireland of the last century. Jack knew that a type of curtain would have been stung across these hooks; it divided the parents sleeping area from the children’s. Oil lanterns and other important items were left behind, things that these people would not easily replace. Anna had strapped an ankle knife on her right leg, and a semi-automatic pistol nestled in the waist band of her skirt at the small of her back. Jack watched Anna as they moved uphill; she moved like a panther her eyes alert taking in their surroundings. On a small Plato at the top of the village a small stone church stood, it was built from the same stone as the cottages. It was surrounded by a forlorn little graveyard; the headstones were large flat chunks of unpolished slate.

Beyond the little church a narrow path led upwards into the mountain, this is where the mine shafts would be found. Anna had progressively moved further ahead as Jack was beginning to struggle with the steep climb, he rounded a curve in the path and she was there. Anna crouched behind a large rock; with one hand she gestured for him to stop in the other she held a gun. She had been carrying a back pack since they left the car, now she had removed it and stashed it behind the rock. Jack joined her and she pointed ahead, the copper plaque indicated that this was the place they were looking for. Someone had beaten them to the place; a section of the stone wall had been removed. The question now was who had breached the wall and if it was Akcam was he still inside? A biting wind had started to blow and it made eerie sounds as it entered the mine shafts dotted around the mountain side. They moved stealthily in the direction of the mine shaft, an uneasy feeling settled over Jack as they drew near. Inside the entrance they paused to listen for any activity, they were met only by silence it was as if the very wind refused to enter here. The air inside the shaft had a stagnant quality to it like that of a long sealed tomb, they moved slowly deeper into the bowels of the mountain their torchlight’s trained on the ground. Anna had taken the lead and when she stopped suddenly Jack bumped into her, they had come to a wider area where three separate smaller shafts diverged into the darkness. They would have to be careful now, if they took the wrong path there was a good chance they would miss their quarry. Without any real logical reason Jack decided that the shaft to their left was the way to go, she looked at him with those piercing eyes for a moment before shrugging her shoulders then nodding her head.

At first the shaft was so narrow that his shoulders rubbed on the stone walls, it twisted and turned like a snake. Jake stumbled on a loose stone on the ground and put his hand on the wall to steady himself, the stone felt strange and it vibrated. It was almost like putting your hand against the old wooden electricity poles that held a transformer, the atmosphere in the claustrophobic tunnel had changed too. For some unknown reason he reached out and touched her shoulder whispering to her to be careful, he knew by her reaction that she had felt the change also. The floor of the tunnel suddenly began to slope steeply ahead of them, the further down the slope they went the more uneasy he felt. A gut wrenching scream echoed through the confined space from somewhere ahead of them, Anna dropped to her knees and trained her gun into the darkness. Minutes passed and no more sound came, eventually they had no choice to move on. One moment they were moving slowly down a steep incline in a narrow passage, and then suddenly they were on level ground in large natural antechamber. It was hot in here like as if someone had turned on a blast furnace, Jack turned his light towards the walls. His sudden gasp drew her attention and she looked in the direction of his torch beam, they had found the source of the scream. The body of the man protrude from the solid stone wall, at least half of it did, and the rest looked like the stone had swallowed it. Everywhere they looked images of dark shadow demons were etched in great detail in the stone, monstrous creatures with red burning eyes. Jack reached out to touch one, but Anna slapped down his hand. “Don’t touch them Jack they are evil” she whispered.

Several openings led in different directions from this chamber, they both looked at each other in confusion until a muffled sound echoed briefly from one of the passage ways. As they made their way ever deeper the darkness seemed to become less, it was as if you were watching the sky lighten as the dawn approached. They rounded a corner and the source of the light was made evident, they found themselves standing on a ledge. It was as if it were an observation deck, fifteen feet below them a circler chamber was lit by a large number of lanterns. The man with the Fez stood supervising two other men as they attempted to remove a gigantic stone slab, the slab acted as a lid to what looked like a hand carved block of stone in the shape of a sarcophagus. Neither of them saw the third man until the shot rang out, razor sharp slivers of stone erupted from the wall beside them. Jack covered his face with his arm just as he heard Anna yelp, he looked to see her with blood streaming down her face. She blindly pointed her gun in the direction of the shooter and pulled the trigger a number of times, the blood flowed into her eyes impairing her vision. Her shots were just accurate enough to cause the shooter to look for cover, When he surfaced again Jack squeezed off a shot and his head exploded like an over ripe Mellon. While the exchange of gun fire was taking place, the men had succeeded in moving the heavy stone lid. It was then that they saw why the settlers had abandoned this place, the shadow demons that were etched on every wall began to come to life.

Akcam reached inside the sarcophagus and removed a stone tablet; by this stage the chamber was alive with moving shadows. Strange high pitched sounds like screeching ravens intermittently bounced from every surface. Gunfire echoed around the chamber competing with the eerie sounds, but it was not aimed at them. Akcam made his way towards stone steps leading upwards to another passageway, behind him his body guards emptied their magazines and reloaded as fast as they could. But it was a futile exercise as the shadowy figures engulfed them, their screams were pitiful as the sounds of flesh being rendered from their bodies added to the cacophony of sound. Anna pulled at his jacket and tried to get him to follow her, but he was rooted to the spot as he watched the horror below him unfold. The shadows caught up with the Turkish man before he reached the top of the steps, He raised his hands and began to recite strange words, the shadows faltered just for a moment then they took him. Jack caught up with her at the first chamber they had passed through; the dark images on the walls here were also beginning to become animated. Anna staggered from the mine shaft into the daylight, by the time he joined her she was returning with the back pack. Jack watched in disbelief as she went back inside the mine when he tried to follow she waved him back. They were at the bottom of the hill before the explosions began; a quick series of explosions shook the ground beneath them. He looked back as the side of the mountain came down sealing the chamber of shadows, but Anna continued to the car without a backwards glance. It was obvious the girl with the emerald green eyes was confident she had completed the task she had been sent here to do. Somewhere in the back of his mind Mabel’s voice whispered softly, “I told you that she could be trusted Jack”.

 

 

 

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