Below is an excerpt from my Christmas ghost story Angel’s Mass from the volume Herrenvolk and Other Stories. It is 1345 and the story is of young Brother Edmund of Tintern Abbey (south Wales) woken in the early hours of Christmas Eve by a ghostly voice calling him to the newly built church. What is the nature of the ghost? And what does it want with Brother Edmund? Find out in Herrenvolk and Other Stories, available exclusively on Amazon Kindle.
Brother Edmund woke with a start. Despite the intense cold, his habit was soaked through with sweat. All around him, his fellow monks were curled up on their simple beds to keep warm. Some snored lightly while others muttered incoherently. Not one was loud enough to have disturbed his sleep however, yet something had.
The straw beneath his body shifted and rustled as Edmund swung himself into a sitting position. He recoiled in shock as his bare feet touched the icy stone floor. He muttered a brief apology to the sleeping monks and drew his legs back onto the bed.
So what had woken him?
He had been dreaming of the monastery, of being alone within its precincts and far from feeling scared, it comforted him. In his dream he was walking through every room and passage of the great abbey of Tintern and did not see another soul. He’d finally reached the church before a voice had called to him. It was a wispy ethereal voice carrying softly on the wind singing his name. Despite the church being vast and closed, the voice carried through the stone and he marched toward it.
It was at that point that Brother Edmund had woken suddenly and for a fleeting second believed that he had heard the voice for real. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he investigated, and realising that the notion of an intruder in the church was preposterous Brother Edmund put on his shoes and got off of the bed.
Taking care not to disturb his fellow monks, he crept to the nearest window, leaned out and ignoring the biting cold, directed his gaze toward the mechanical clock high up on the wall. From his vantage point, it seemed to read a few minutes before midnight; Christmas Eve was nearly here. He sighed deeply; in two and a half hours their long day would begin.
Edmund’s breath formed a thick cloud as he stood in the window admiring the peace and beauty of the landscape. The land was still; dense winter clouds were taking a pause from the constant distribution of snow. A crisp blanket spread across the complex; virginal, untouched with all hint of yesterday’s human activity gone in just a few hours.
Moonlight cast across the cloister garth from the north and lit up the near side of the church. He could pick out individual features in the colossal stone building, a structure that stood as a testament to the financial success of Tintern Abbey and the spiritual supremacy of the Cistercian order. At any other time of year he would have been able to hear the river Wye but currently, it was frozen.
The voice jolted the monk from his daydream. Feeling a spiritual chill as well as a physical one, he pulled his white habit tightly around him and crossed himself. He had most definitely heard a voice that time. Certain that the voice was no longer in his dream and equally certain that the church was its origin he withdrew from the window, slowly crossed the dorm and exited via the night stairs.
Stony silence and bitter cold greeted Edmund as he entered the church. Though he closed the door with utmost caution, the soft click reverberated around the hallowed building. Edmund took a tentative step forward onto the intricate tiling. ‘Is anybody there?’ he called gently. His voice echoed but no reply came back. He shuffled forward, slowly and carefully as his pulse continued to pound. His eyes darted left and right along the north aisle and ahead to the break between the choir and presbytery to the southern-most point of the inner precinct. He advanced along the north transept and tentatively peaked into the choir.
‘Hello?’ He called and turned to face the High Altar. Edmund stopped dead in his tracks and his heart skipped a beat. At the intersection where the nave met the transepts was a large bundle of rags.
Edmund advanced slowly, feeling annoyed at whomever had left them there. As he closed on the pile, it swiftly dawned on him that it wasn’t a bundle of rags at all, but a clothed human being. There was an intruder in their sacred space.