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Imagination is a great gift, a Divine power of the mind, and may be trained and educated to create and to receive only that which is true.
-- Frederick Bligh Bond, from The Gate of Remembrance
The shadows crept into Jack Montfort's small office, filling the corners with a comfortable dimness. He'd come to look forward to his time alone at the day's end -- he told himself he got more done without phones ringing and the occasional client calling in, but perhaps, he thought wryly, it was merely that he had little enough reason to go home.
Standing at his window, he gazed down at the pedestrians hurrying along either side of Magdalene Street, and wondered idly where they were all scurrying off to so urgently on a Wednesday evening. Across the street the Abbey gates had shut at five, and as he watched, the guard let the last few stragglers out from the grounds. The March day had been bright with a biting wind, and Jack imagined that anyone who'd been enticed by the sun into wandering around the Abbey's fishpond would be chilled to the bone. Now the remaining buttresses of the great church would be silhouetted against the clear rose of the eastern sky, a fitting reward for those who had braved the cold.
He'd counted himself lucky to get the two-room office suite with its first-floor view over the Market Square and the Abbey gate. It was a prime spot, and the restrictions involved in renovating a listed building hadn't daunted him. His years in London had given him experience enough in working round constraints, and he'd managed to update the rooms to his satisfaction without going over his budget. He'd hired a secretary to preside over his new reception area, and begun the slow task of building an architectural practice.
And if a small voice still occasionally whispered, Why bother? he did his best to ignore it and get on with things the best way he knew how, although he'd learned in the last few years that plans were ephemeral blueprints. Even as a child, he'd had his life mapped out: university with first-class honors, a successful career as an architect ... wife ... family. What he hadn't bargained for was life's refusal to cooperate. Now they were all gone -- his mum, his dad ... Emily. At forty, he was back in Glastonbury. It was a move he'd have found inconceivable twenty years earlier, but here he was, alone in his parents' old house on Ashwell Lane, besieged by memories.
Rolling up his shirtsleeves, he sat at his desk and positioned a blank sheet of paper in the pool of light cast by his Anglepoise lamp. Sitting round feeling sorry for himself wasn't going to do a bit of good, and he had a client expecting a bid tomorrow morning on a residential refurbishment. And besides, if he finished his work quickly, he could look forward to the possibility of dinner with Winnie.
The thought of the unexpected entry of Winifred Catesby into his life made him smile. Besieged by arranged dates as soon as his mother's well-meaning friends decided he'd endured a suitable period of mourning, he'd found the effort of making conversation with needy divorcees more depressing than time spent alone. He'd begged off so often that the do-gooders had declared him hopeless and finally left him alone.
Relieved of unwelcome obligations, he'd found himself driving the five miles to Wells for the solace of the Evensong service in the cathedral more and more frequently. The proximity of the cathedral choir was one of the things that had drawn him back to Glastonbury -- he'd sung at Wells as a student in the cathedral school, and the experience had given him a lifelong passion for church music.
And then one evening a month ago, as he found his usual place in the ornately carved stall in the cathedral choir, she had slipped in beside him -- a pleasantly ordinary-looking woman in her thirties, with light brown hair escaping from beneath a floppy velvet hat, and a slightly upturned nose. He had not noticed her particularly, just nodded in the vague way one did as she took her seat. The service began, and in that moment when the first high reach of the treble voices sent a shiver down his spine, she had met his eyes and smiled.
Afterwards, they had chatted easily, naturally, and as they walked out of the cathedral together, deep in discussion of the merits of various choirs, he'd impulsively invited her for a drink at the pub down the street. It wasn't until he'd helped her out of her coat that he'd seen the clerical collar.
Emily, always chiding him for his conservatism, would have been delighted by his consternation. And Emily, he felt sure, would have liked Winnie. He extended a finger to touch the photograph on his desktop and Emily gazed back at him, her dark eyes alight with humor and intelligence.
His throat tightened. Would the ache of his loss always lie so near the surface? Or would it one day fade to a gentle awareness, as familiar and unremarkable as a burr beneath the skin? But did he really want that? Would he be less himself without Emily's constant presence in his mind?
He grinned in spite of himself. Emily would tell him to stop being maudlin and get on with the task at hand. With a sigh, he looked down at his paper, then blinked in surprise.
He held a pen in his right hand, although he didn't remember picking it up. And the page, which had been blank a moment ago, was covered in an unfamiliar script. Frowning, he checked for another sheet beneath the paper. But there was only the one page, and as he examined it more closely, he saw that the small, precise script seemed to be in Latin. As he recalled enough of his schoolboy vocabulary to make a rough translation, his frown deepened.
Know ye what we ... Jack puzzled a moment before deciding on builded, then there was something he couldn't make out, then the script continued, ... in Glaston. Meaning Glastonbury? It was fair as, ... any earthly thing, and had I not loved it overmuch my spirit would not cling to dreams of all now vanished.
Ye love full well what we have loved. The time ... Here Jack was forced to resort to the dog-eared Latin dictionary in his bookcase, and after concluding that the phrase had something to do with sleeping or sleepers, went impatiently on ... to wake, for Glaston to rise against the darkness. We have ... something ... long for you ... it is in your hands....
After this sentence there was a trailing squiggle beginning with an E, which might have been a signature, perhaps "Edmund."
Was this some sort of a joke, invisible ink that appeared when exposed to the light? But his secretary didn't strike him as a prankster, and he'd taken the paper from a ream he'd just unwrapped himself. That left only the explanation that he had penned these words -- alien in both script and language. But that was absurd. How could he have done so, unaware?
The walls of Jack's office leaned in on him, and the silence, usually so soothing, seemed alive with tension. He felt breathless, as if all the air in the small room had been used up.
Who were "they," who had built in Glastonbury and who wrote in Latin? The monks of the Abbey, he supposed, a logical answer. And "he," who had "loved it overmuch," whose spirit "still clung to dreams long vanished"? The ghost of a monk? Worse by the minute.
What did "rise against the darkness" mean? And what had any of it to do with him? The whole thing was completely daft; he refused to consider it any further.
Crumpling the page, Jack swiveled his chair round, hand lifted to toss it in the bin, then stopped and returned the paper to his desk, smoothing the creases out with his palm.
Frederick Bligh Bond. The name sprang into his mind, dredged from the recesses of his childhood. The architect who, just before the First World War, had undertaken the first excavations at Glastonbury Abbey, then revealed that he had been directed by messages from the Abbey monks. Had Bond received communications like this? But Bond had been loony. Cracked!
Ripping the sheet of paper in half, Jack dropped the pieces in the bin, slipped into his jacket, and, sketch pad in hand, took the stairs down to the street two at a time.
He stepped out into Benedict Street, fumbling with unsteady fingers to lock his office door. Across the Market Square, the leaded windows of the George & Pilgrims beckoned. A drink, he thought with a shiver, was just what he needed. He'd work on his proposal, and the crowded bar of the old inn would surely make an antidote to whatever it was that had just happened to him.
Tugging his collar up against the wind, he sidestepped a group of adolescent skateboarders who found the smooth pavement round the Market Cross a perfect arena. A particularly fierce gust sent a sheet of paper spiraling past his cheek. He grabbed at it in instinctive self-defense, glancing absently at what he held in his fingers. Pink. A flyer, from the Avalon Society. Glastonbury Assembly Rooms, Saturday, 7:30 to 9:30. An introduction to crystal energy and its healing powers, showing how the chakras and crystals correspond. Make elixirs and learn how to energize your environment.
"Oh, bloody perfect," he muttered, crumpling the paper and tossing it back to the wind. That was the worst sort of nonsense, just the type of thing that drew the most extreme New Age followers to Glastonbury. Ley lines ... crop circles ... Druid magic on Glastonbury Tor, the ancient, conical hill that rose above the town like a beacon...
Although Jack, like generations of his family, had grown up in the Tor's shadow, he'd never given any credence to all the mystical rubbish associated with it -- nor to the myths that described Glastonbury as some sort of cosmic mother lode.
So why on earth had he just scribbled what seemed to be a garbled message from some long-dead monk? Was he losing his mind? A delayed reaction to grief, perhaps? He had read about post-traumatic stress syndrome -- could that explain what had happened to him? But somehow he sensed it was more than that. For an instant, he saw again the small, precise script, a thing of beauty in itself, and felt a tug of familiarity in the cadence of the language.
He resumed his walk to the pub, then a thought stopped him midstride. What if -- what if it were even remotely possible that he had made contact with the dead? Did that mean ... could it mean he was capable of instigating contact at will? Emily--
From the Hardcover edition.