Read Bedtime Story Online

Authors: Robert J. Wiersema

Bedtime Story (42 page)

I skipped ahead, through a tedious description of the other guests and an endless account of dinner—clearly the writer was being paid by the word.

The room in which we typically took our meetings had been completely transformed. There were no chairs, no dais, and candles flickered on every available surface. The carpet had been rolled, and on the floor was painted a large circle, within which was the same inverted star as dangled from every necklace.

“A pentagram,” I muttered. Did this amateur occultist honestly not know what a pentagram was?

I followed the group’s example, taking my place in a circle around the symbol painted on the floor. Once we were in position, everyone, as if on a prearranged signal, raised their hoods, obscuring their expressions and identities for the whole of the ritual.

A door at the back of the room opened, and two people entered, both of them dressed in matching red robes, their hoods already concealing their faces. I assumed that this was the master and his lady, Lazarus and Cora Took. The foremost of the pair carried a large black book. The second carried a large knife, which was set on the floor next to the golden bowl at one point of the star.

As they entered the circle, a chant began in a language with which I was unfamiliar. As a result, I cannot reproduce it here for you. Nor would I: such words are best left in the darkness where they belong.

As the chanting continued, one of the men in the circle, I believe it was the same man who had greeted me at the door, whom Cora Took had referred to as Pilbream

That shocked me out of my reverie, and I reached for my notebook. I had been lulled by the Edwardian clichés of the hooded circle, the same clichés that had become a staple of B-movies, but the mention of Pilbream at the ritual, almost fifteen years before the notice from the hospital …

I made a quick note.

picked up the knife, while one of the red-robed figures picked up the bowl. As they started to move around the inside of the circle, the members of the chanting group extended their left hands.

I watched in horror as Pilbream took each hand and, without a moment’s hesitation, slashed the palm with the ritual blade. Not a one gave voice to his suffering, and the red-robed figure caught the falling blood in the golden bowl.

The chanting grew louder as they worked their way around the circle, growing ever closer to me. When it came my turn, I extended my hand and, without a sound, watched as he cut into the flesh of my palm. The pain was excruciating, but I didn’t cry out for fear I would be removed, and I watched with a rising feeling of sickness as my blood spilled into the bowl, mixing with that of the others in the circle.

Once the bloodletting was finished, the red-robed figure set the bowl at the centre of the star. Then both of the figures in red stood side by side as Pilbream cut their hands. They let them dangle over the bowl, their blood dripping into the crimson murk.

“Blood,” Pilbream called out.

“Power,” the group responded in one voice.

“Blood.”

“Purification.”

“Blood.”

“Sacrifice.”

At that word, another acolyte led a young, black goat into the middle of the circle. The kid was bleating plaintively as it looked around. Its cries were cut short as Pilbream pulled back its head, exposing its warm throat, and slashed across it with the ritual blade.

The kid screamed in an almost human voice as its life gushed into the golden bowl. The acolyte held the goat aloft as it bled, its legs twitching and kicking, ensuring that not a drop was wasted, then laid the corpse of the pathetic animal outside the circle.

The acolyte then lifted the bowl high, making it the focus of the group’s attention.

“Blood,” Pilbream called out again.

“Power.” The cry of the group came even louder this time.

“Blood.”

“Purification.”

“Blood.”

“Sacrifice.”

This time, however, Pilbream spoke the word again as he drew a silver chalice from within the folds of his robe.

“Blood,” he called out.

“Communion.”

As the word still hung in the air, he dipped the chalice into the bowl of blood and, raising it to his lips, drank heavily of the sickening draught.

“So in the beginning and so too at the end,” he said, his lips glistening red.

The group repeated the words.

“The blood is one. The sacrifice pure. Feel his power.”

And with that, he and the acolyte began a second round of the circle. They stopped at each person, who knelt as Pilbream filled the chalice and held their mouths wide as he offered them this unholy communion.

I confess, I could stay no longer. As gorge rose in my throat, I broke from the circle and ran from the flat, disposing of my borrowed robes on some nameless Mayfair street. I was utterly sickened by what I had seen, by what I had been a part of, and no amount of prayer seemed to cure me of the fear that, someday, I shall feel Pilbream’s hands at my head, and his blade at my throat.

I set the scrapbook on the desk, still open to the article.

What was I to make of that? On the one hand, it was so loaded with clichés part of me doubted that the author had ever actually been part of such a ritual. It would have been easy to crib the details from other sources and sell it as an exclusive.

But there was the matter of Pilbream. I already knew that Took had paid for the man’s medical care, and now here he was, fifteen years earlier, not only an intimate of the Tooks but, seemingly, a member of their inner circle. For that reason alone I was inclined to give the piece more credence than I would have otherwise.

Either way, there was nothing in the account that seemed to help me. Time to push on.

The next page contained a rebuttal of the article in the form of a letter from Lazarus Took. In it, he denied ever holding such a ritual, and “certainly I have never had one of my guests run incoherently into the Mayfair night.” He described his ritual practice as “drawing on the best aspects of many of the world’s faiths, elements which can be used to the betterment of the human soul.”

I didn’t know which was less credible: the newspaper exposé, or Took’s denial.

Apparently the account of the ritual had been greeted with considerable interest. The next several pages contained clippings of articles with titles like “Lazarus Took: Visionary or Villain?” and “Go Home, Took,” an account of the townspeople rallying against the new residents of Raven’s Moor with “the new information we have gleaned from shocking accounts of what truly happens behind Lazarus Took’s closed doors.”

And then silence.

The next several pages were dotted with small announcements, mostly for the publication of Took’s first novel. I found no mention of the Order over the course of the Second World War.

Nothing.

Until the fall of 1946.

The next two days passed in a blur of trees, and hoof beats muted by the surrounding forests. Every so often the captain would call them to
a stop, wheeling his horse around to the magus to study the map, while everyone else waited, still in the saddle, knowing that the captain’s “Hai!” could come at any moment, and the ride would resume immediately.

David ached everywhere. He could barely breathe with the constant rocking of the horse. He was having a hard time focusing, and his head had begun to hurt.

My ass hurts
, was all that he confessed to, though.

You’re doing fine
, Matt said.
It can’t be that much longer
.

David hoped that Matt was right—he wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to take it. The riding was wearing him down, but even worse was the cold. He’d assumed at first that it was just the lingering chill of the river and the time he had spent in the cave. But the cold had settled deep into his bones, and nothing seemed to shake it.

You just need to get some sleep
.

Matt was probably right. David had lost track of how long it had been since he last slept. The night before he went into the cave? A little maybe. But not much since then. And nothing since the attack on the Berok. No matter how exhausted he had been, he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes in his bedroll at night. Not with the captain right there. Not having seen what the man was capable of.

He’s there to protect you
, Matt tried to reassure him.

David couldn’t put his misgivings into words, couldn’t express the sick sense of dread that now came over him when the captain was around.

But then, he didn’t really need to.

It’s not him you have to worry about
, Matt said, and David caught sight of the magus riding ahead of him, his cloak buffeted by the wind of his passing.
It’s him and his book
.

Yes, the captain, despite his severity, had never been anything but honest with him.

The magus had been keeping secrets.

The first mention of Took and his followers in 1946 came in a small article titled “Police to Investigate”:

Constable John Barth announced this morning that Norfolk police would undertake a thorough investigation into last weekend’s incident at the manor belonging to Lazarus Took which left a member of the household staff grievously injured. While Lazarus Took, who has some renown as a public speaker and was the subject of considerable negative press after moving into Raven’s Moor, continues to claim that “it was a tragic accident,” members of the community remain unconvinced.

“There are strange things going on at that house,” says Mrs. Edwina Trifle. “Dark things.”

While Constable Barth would not comment on persistent rumours that the house is the headquarters for a group of satanic worshippers, he did say that “we are definitely interested in getting to the truth of the matter.”

Lazarus Took, his wife and staff returned to the manor, a long-time family home

The article was cut off at that point.

Picking up a freshly sharpened pencil, I wrote in my notebook:
Accident – 1946 – Pilbream?

The next article seemed to bear out my suspicions.

DARK FORCES AT PLAY

A local man who seems to have fallen under the thrall of a noted “dark magician” may be paying the cost of dabbling with forbidden forces.

Reginald Pilbream, who is part of the household staff of Took manor, was admitted to the care of local physician Dr. Philip Carnaby early last Sunday morning following an incident at the manor which left him in a death-like state.

“There is no movement on the part of the patient, and there seems to be no conscious thought,” says Dr. Carnaby of Mr. Pilbream’s current state. “His eyes are open, but he seems to have some limited awareness of the world around him. An empty shell where there once was a man.”

The doctor could have been describing David.

   Mr. Pilbream’s employer, Lazarus Took, has suggested that “a horrible accident” caused Mr. Pilbream’s current condition, but Dr. Carnaby disagrees.

“If an accident caused this condition, there would be some sign of injury,” says the doctor. “And there isn’t. There are no wounds, abrasions or broken bones. This isn’t a concussion or a head injury; this is something else.”

There has been much speculation in the last several days, but little is known about the circumstances leading to Mr. Pilbream’s condition. A few facts, however, are known. Among them: this past weekend, Took manor (which is referred to as Raven’s Moor in various letters and advertisements) hosted one of its well-known gatherings, with more than a dozen guests arriving by car late Friday afternoon. These gatherings have been a concern in the local community since Mr. Took moved here in 1935. Neighbours report hearing strange sounds and raised voices at all hours of the night, and one neighbour, Mrs. Edwina Trifle, reports to have seen strange behaviour in the manor’s garden during one of those weekend gatherings. “They came out of the back of the house, all of them in robes, and they made a circle in the middle of the lawn. They was all singing and holding hands and looking up at the moon. It was full that night, that’s why I was able to see them so clearly. Not that I wanted to, when they took off them robes, all of them stark naked in the garden like that.”

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