Beyond Darkness ( Episode 14 ) A high price to pay.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful
Episode 14 in the Beyond Darkness series of paranormal noir detective stories.
A special thanks to my old friend Fran Molloy for the use of his photograph for the cover image.

Submitted: April 21, 2019

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Submitted: April 21, 2019

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The smell of musty paper was overwhelming in the small poorly lit space; everywhere a person would care to look wooden shelves were bowed under the weight of heavy tomes. Looking about him he could not even hazard a guess, how anyone could actually find a title they might be looking for. The tinkling of the little brass bell hung above the door, had so far failed miserably to alert the owner of a possible customer. Kirby had serious doubts as to whether the owner would even remember what a customer was, however he trusted Sarah and she had recommended he visit the owner of this so called book shop.

Apparently the person who owned this establishment was the foremost knowledge on books of a certain genre; she had come across this place through her dealings with that hunch back Philip Mares. The very thought of that creepy man send a cold shiver down Kirby’s spine, still there was no denying that Mares had extensive knowledge regarding esoteric and occult literature. This particular book shop had not appeared in the file dealing with Steven Blum’s missing book. But then again Sarah had reliable informed him that this particular establishment, had its own select and secretive clientele.

Kirby moved around the cluttered space browsing what was on offer; by and large it was a waste of time. The vast majority of titles were in languages that were alien to him; he stopped and traced his fingers over the ornate cover of one of the bigger tomes. The feel of the covering made him pull his hand away as if it had been burned, the material covering the old book felt like dead human skin. The sound of a high pitched chuckle somewhere behind him made him turn abruptly, Kirby could only imagine his expression at the sight of the woman standing there chuckling.

If ever there was a caricature of a witch, then the chuckling woman fitted the bill exactly. Had it not been for her affliction she would be extremely tall for a woman, but whatever was wrong with her spine had left her stooped over at the waste. She wore a scarf gypsy style on her head, from under which tufts of flame red hair poked out. Her nose was long thin and hooked at the end, her skin was like old parchment, but her eyes were sparkling with intelligence and a certain cunning that belied the rest of her appearance. In her right hand she held an elaborately carved blackthorn walking stick; it seemed that the stick was all that prevented her from falling over.

Kirby was so taken aback by her appearance that he now found himself standing staring open mouthed at the old woman. This appeared to cause the woman to cackle even louder; Kirby could feel the heat in his face as he began to blush. As abruptly as her curious laughter had begun it suddenly stopped, her expression became sullen as she stared at him with those piercing eyes. “Welcome Mr Kirby, I have been expecting you”. This caused even more confusion in him, and the woman cackled loudly again. “Relax Mr Kirby; I did not see your arrival in my crystal ball. Your lady friend Ms Joyce has been in contact to let me know of your visit.”

The old woman moved with an awkward gait as she led him through a set of beaded curtains to a backroom, the room was enormous in comparison to the shop outside. Here everything seemed to be well organized in stark contrast to the shop, the bookshelves here were without dust and the volumes that lined them were wrapped in white tissue paper. Kirby immediately got the impression this room was where she did her real business from, a small round table covered with a dark red velvet cloth with a lamp in the center stood in the middle of the room, a chair on either side of it.

 It was to the table she gestured and Kirby took one of the chairs, the woman turned off the main lighting before joining him. The room was windowless and now the only light source was the small table lamp, sitting opposite the woman at the table with the low wattage lamp between them, Kirby was put in mind of a fairground fortune teller’s tent. But the look on the woman’s face told him she was not taking their meeting frivolously; those dark eyes of hers appeared to looking straight into his soul. The woman broke the silence to introduce herself, her name was Cissy Bird and she referred to herself as a procurer and seller of rare books.

 Kirby filled the woman in on the reason of his visit and produced the Polaroid of the missing book. Cissy’s talon like fingers brushed his hand as she took the photograph; a strange tingling sensation immediately spread from the area of her touch and ran up his arm. Kirby realized now that there was much more to Cissy Bird than her appearance gave away, perhaps her witch like appearance was not the only unusual thing about the book seller. The old woman held the photograph directly beneath the lamp shade, and studied it for what seemed a very long time.

Eventually she made a strange noise at the back of her throat and passed the photograph back to him, when their eyes met he noticed hers were filled with anger. “Why did you come here to lie to me Mr Kirby, did you really believe that I am just a foolish old woman. That book is missing alright and has been for the past five hundred odd years, are you trying to make a fool of me.” The old woman’s words were spat out and filled with anger, Kirby was left speechless. He now had no choice but to tell her the full story including the name of the person seeking the return of the book.

Cissy Bird sat in silence long after Kirby had finished speaking, he could tell by her expression she was deciding whether to believe him or not. Then without a word she rose from the chair, and moved with her awkward gait into the shadows at the far end of the room. Moments later she returned carrying a book and magnifying glass, Kirby watched in silence as she leafed through the pages examining photographs. Until she finally found what she was looking for, then she slid the book across to him and handed him the magnifying glass.

“Do you recognize anyone in that photograph Mr Kirby” Her talon like index finger tapped on the page, it was a photograph of a group of smiling army officers. They were dressed in black uniforms with the deaths head emblems on the lapels, when Kirby looked at it through the magnifying glass he immediately recognized the man in the center of the back row. All be it a younger version of the man, there was no mistaking the smiling face of Steven Blum. When he told her this she did not seem surprised, in fact she nodded as if she already knew.

“That book is a very rare and powerful Grimoire; the last recorded whereabouts of this book was in a monastery in northern Italy. The monastery was looted during World War 2 and the book was supposedly taken or destroyed by SS troops, the man in the picture you know as Steven Blum was an SS officer during that campaign and he is an extremely accomplished practician of black magic. His actual name is Stephan Bohm and let me assure you Mr Kirby he is an extremely dangerous man, he will kill to recover that book and he will also kill anyone that knows of his interest in that book.”

Kirby began to understand now the reason behind Sims reluctance to have any more to do with Steven Blum, and he also knew the reason behind the mysterious deaths of the book dealers on his list. Anyone with any knowledge of that book, and Steven Blum would end up dead, even if the book was returned to Blum. The only thing keeping both Sarah and himself alive now, was the fact that Blum was hoping they would help him locate the book. However if or when they did, they would become dispensable also. Steven Blum had somehow known that they would end up taking over where Sims had left off.

Cissy Bird walked him to the door of her shop but stopped inside the building, Kirby stood on the pavement outside while the old woman stared at him. Eventually she spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “The man you are dealing with is very dangerous on more levels than you will ever understand, as is that accursed book he seeks. I will reach out to people that may have an idea about the whereabouts of this book, but be warned Mr Kirby the world will be a much safer place when both the German and that book are removed from circulation.”

Cissy was about to shut the door when on instinct Kirby told her to be careful, he felt that coming here he had put her in danger. The old woman cackled softly to herself, before answering. “Mr Kirby I have been around long enough to learn how to protect myself in these situations, however I am afraid I cannot say the same for you and Ms Joyce. Until you rid yourself of the German, you will never be safe again.” Kirby stood stunned at her parting words as she closed the door behind her.

Kirby entered the office to the sound of the ringing phone, he found himself standing in the doorway staring at the black Bakelite phone and wishing it to stop ringing. However the person on the other end was persistent, and in the end he forced himself to pick up the receiver. The sound of the person breathing on the other end of the phone was strangely disturbing, and he knew instinctively even before the man spoke who it was. “Did the old witch have any information regarding the whereabouts of my book?” The accented voice whispered.

It was obvious to Kirby now that Sims feeling of being followed, and spied on were not entirely paranoia on his behalf. Blum should not have known about Kirby’s trip to see Cissy Bird, yet he had just left her and here was Blum inquiring about their meeting. His first instinct was to play dumb, but deep down he knew this would be a dangerous path to take with the German. Instead Kirby opted to tell him out the truth, that the old woman had promised to make some enquiries on his behalf.

The silence on the phone after Kirby spoke seemed to drag on forever, he felt as if he was being examined under a microscope. Being on the phone to this man was a strange experience; it was as if the German could see his every expression. “I do hope for everyone’s sake that the old woman is being truthful, I am beginning to grow tired of all of this. I want that book back, and since you are now the operator of the business that took the contract to retrieve it. I am holding you responsible to fulfil that contract.” There was absolutely no doubting the implied threat in those words, and the line went dead before Kirby could reply.

The next few days were spent with Kirby trying to track down the remaining two names on Sims list, but it was as if they had just up and vanished off of the face of the earth. Not that Kirby could blame them; he had learned that the rest of the people on that list were all deceased since. To a person they had all met their demise through some type of accident or other, natural causes was conspicuously absent from the death certificates of these people. Kirby found himself getting more and more jumpy by the day, he had a constant feeling of being watched and followed.

Sarah had left for Safe Harbor the day he went to see Cissy Bird, as there was a number of properties still outstanding on her books that needed dealing with. Kirby was glad she was away from here and this case; he had a feeling things were going to end badly with Blum. A heavy sense of foreboding was beginning to weigh him down; Kirby knew that this whole thing would end in bloodshed. All he hoped for now was that Sarah would not be one of the casualties of this thing, as for himself he did not really care.

The voice on the phone appeared nothing like the person that it belonged to, it sounded youthful and vibrant, a million miles away from what Cissy Bird looked like. Kirby was totally thrown by this, a fact that Cissy found humorous and she cackled long and loudly. Kirby found himself having to suppress his own laughter as he waited for her to finish, eventually she stopped and drew a deep breath. What she had to tell him suddenly made him sit up and pay attention, Kirby grabbed a pen ad scribbled down the address he was to meet her at.

Kirby pulled up beside the vintage Bentley saloon, the interior of the big car was in darkness and it was hard to tell if it was occupied. Outside the street was deserted and the falling rain made the yellow street lights look blurry, he looked at his watch it was still only twenty after eight in the evening, yet the street outside was deathly quiet. Cissy had told him to be at this address by eight thirty, so he settled back to await her arrival. Looking around him now Kirby noticed for the first time that he was parked outside a church, the lights were still on inside the building.

Bang on eight thirty an enormous man climbed out of the driver’s door of the 1928 Bentley, Kirby watched as he opened an umbrella before opening the rear door for his passenger. Cissy Bird climbed awkwardly out of the rear of the car, it annoyed Kirby that she had let him wait here without revealing herself until now. The big man escorted Cissy over to Kirby’s car, all the while holding the umbrella over her. Cissy beckoned with her finger for him to get out and follow her, Kirby reluctantly followed her up the steps of the church.

As they reached the door the lights inside the building began to be extinguished, the place was in darkness when they entered save for an oasis of light by the altar. The man in the clerical garb looked around startled by the sound of their approach, for a moment the frightened expression on the priests face made Kirby think he was going to flee. But to his credit the old man stood his ground in the face of the three unusual intruders. “We are closing for the night, go away and return at nine A.M. that is when we open again.”

The man had a brogue so thick you could cut it with a knife, yet his voice trembled with fear. The religious uniform he wore could not hide the fact, that he was feeble frightened old man. “Take it easy father we are here to relieve you of a burden, we mean you no harm. However, that which you have been hiding for so long. Can only bring harm to you in the long run.” Cissy’s words were cajoling and no louder than a whisper, yet they had a strange effect on the old priest. It suddenly looked as if whatever fight he had left in him disappeared, and he slowly crumbled until he was sitting on the steps of the altar.

“You have come for that accursed book; I have always known it was only a matter of time before someone came here to look for it. Even the people who stole it could not wait to be rid of it in the end; I found it in the porch one morning with a note telling me it was pure evil. I must make sure it is hidden away for all time, the note said. Yet I curse the day I ever set eyes on it, everything in the parish has gone to hell since that book showed up.” The old priest put his head in his hands and lapsed into silence, he stayed like that for a long while before Cissy persuaded him to take them to the book.

The old priest’s hands shook so badly he could not put the key in the lock, in the end Kirby took the key from him and opened the safe. When the light shone into the safe and illuminated the book, the old priest blessed himself and shuffled backwards. Kirby reached for the book only to have his wrist caught in a vice like grip, Cissy’s giant companion pulled Kirby’s hand back. Then Cissy took what looked like a piece of sack cloth from her purse, the sack cloth was covered in hand painted symbols and she wrapped it around the book. Only then would she remove it from the safe.

She explained later that to touch the book with your bare hands was to invite corruption into your very soul. Kirby drove to the office and Cissy and her driver followed in the Bentley, when they got there she followed him upstairs while her driver waited in the car with the book. Cissy accepted the glass of whiskey from Kirby; she raised it to her nose and inhaled the fragrance. Yet she left it back on the desk untouched, Kirby waited for her to speak because in truth, now that they had the book he was clueless what to do next. As if reading his mind, Cissy cackled softly and once again sniffed the whiskey. “Now we wait Mr Kirby, he will soon know we have it.”

Kirby was on his second glass of whiskey when the phone rang, he looked at Cissy and she had her eyes closed as if dosing. The old woman opened her eyes and stared at the phone, and then she nodded silently for Kirby to pick up. The conversion was one sided and brief, and it left Kirby stone cold. “I am glad you kept your side of the bargain Mr Kirby, now bring me my book and we will finish the transaction. Bring it to the light house in Safe Harbour without delay, your friend Ms Joyce is really anxious to see you”. Kirby held the receiver in his hand long after the line went dead.

 Cissy Bird sat in the passenger’s seat beside him, the cloth wrapped book in her lap. She had insisted that she go with him, even though both her driver and Kirby pleaded with her to remain here. The journey was made in silence, even though Kirby had to admit that he gained a certain strength from the old woman accompanying him. Kirby was not sure how this was going to pan out, but he knew for certain that either he or the German would die this night. He only hoped that Sarah or the old woman would not perish also, beside him the old woman crooned away to herself as they approached Safe Harbour.

The lighthouse was in total darkness as they approached, the moment they had entered Safe Harbor a storm had blown if from the Atlantic to meet them. Intermittent flashes of lightning silhouette the lighthouse against the raging sea in the background, for the first time Kirby realized just how isolated Sarah was out here on the small peninsula. The place looked deserted when they pulled into the courtyard; he began to wonder whether the German had led them on a wild goose chase. But then again this would have made no sense, especially as his main priority was the return of that book.

The front door seemed to open of its own violation as they approached; Kirby took a sideways glance at the old woman. Whether it was the strange illumination of the lightning that was almost continuous now, or the fact that he was nervous and his eyes were playing tricks on him. But something about the old woman looked different, she seemed much less stooped and her movements were far more fluid. Before he could think any more about this, Cissy moved ahead of him and through the open door without hesitation.

Kirby followed her inside just in time for a major lightning event to illuminate the room as if it were day light; Sarah sat staring straight ahead of her in the wing backed armchair. Something about her posture and expression did no look right, the sound of someone clicking their fingers echoed in the silent room and the standing lamps came on. Steven Blum sat in the chair directly opposite Sarah, a creepy smile played about his thin lips but his eyes stared at the book in Cissy’s hand. There was an intense hunger in those eyes, and once again Kirby was reminded of the fact that all this would not end well.

Cissy’s eyes darted between the silent Sarah and Blum; there was an intense look in those eyes that Kirby immediately recognized as red hot anger. “What have you done to her Stephan, if you have harmed her, it will cost you dearly?” Kirby watched the interaction between them, as he felt for the handle of the switch blade in his coat pocket. Blum laughed softly to himself and Kirby felt the woman by his side tense, Cissy moved forward her blackthorn stick in one hand and the book outstretched in the other. Kirby watched her and was shocked at what he saw, this woman bore little or no resemblance to the stooped old woman he has first met.

What happened next, Kirby would never really call to mind even in the days following the event, Blum gestured with his hand and the shadows in the periphery of the room came to life, shapeless things descended on them. A maelstrom of wind ripped through the room and knocked Kirby clear of his feet, dark spectral figures swamped him until he felt he would suffocate. He was losing conscious now and he felt himself being drawn into a terrifying darkness, the likes of which he would never had imagined in his most tormented times. The sound of Cissy’s raised voice was all that saved him; her voice was stronger than he could believe and the words were in a strange language.

Kirby felt the oppressive shadow entities hesitate as Cissy’s words reached a crescendo that drowned out the noise of the swirling wind, gathering every ounce of resolve he could muster he gained his feet. The sight that met his eyes shocked him to the very core; both Blum and Cissy were engaged in battle in the center of the room. He knew it was them but both of them had metamorphosed into creatures not of this world, Blum had taken on a shape vaguely representing a human sized praying mantis. While the old woman was gone to be replaced by a tall figure reminiscent of an angel from a child’s bible, he blackthorn stick was now a flaming sword.

The mantis Blum snapped at Cissy’s throat with those lethal jaws, Kirby thought this was surely her end. While all the while the wind carried shadow creatures around and around the combatants, the shadow creatures wailed now with an ear piercing voice. The high pitched wails burrowed into his head until he felt his head would split; Kirby fell to his knees clamping his hands over his ears. Cissy’s flaming sword arched through the air in a blur of speed, striking the Blum creature in the throat. Kirby watched in horror as the things head severed and arched through the air only to land just feet from where he knelt.

 An eerie silence descended immediately and Kirby stared in shock at Blum’s head on the floor before him, those vacant eyes stared back accusingly at him. A shuffling sound made him look up, and the old stooped woman came into view. Her awkward gait was a far cry from the creature he had watched slay Blum only moments before. “Go to Sarah she needs you, it will be a while before she is herself again.” As she finished speaking the huge figure of her driver entered the room, he picked up the severed head and the body of Blum as if they were feathers. Cissy followed him outside still carrying the book, moments later the sound of the old Bentley disappeared into the night.

The next couple of weeks saw Kirby spend most of his time in a bedside vigil, Sarah had not spoken a single word since that night in the lighthouse. Cissy Bird had managed to get a place in an exclusive rest home for Sarah, the doctor that attended her could not say for certain what was causing the catatonic state that had a grip on Sarah. All he could tell Kirby was that Sarah had experienced a massive traumatic experience; her mind had basically shut down as a coping mechanism. It would be all a waiting game now, in the end Kirby decided that he needed to go back to work. Whether Sarah would ever return to normal now, was totally beyond his control.

 


© Copyright 2019 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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