The following is an unedited chapter to the book I’ve just started. THE UNFLESHED is nearly finished and should be out as soon as it is edited. In the meantime, I’ve been exercising my writing muscles and begun a new one. Hope you enjoy and as always, comments welcome!
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© 2016 Lisa Vasquez
793 A.D. Northumberland, England
The morning bells of the monastery rang out penetrating the dense fog rolling in from the water that surrounded their coast. Alkuin was coming up the pathway from chores when something struck him as odd.
“There are no gulls.” He said to himself, aloud.
Raising his eyes toward the grey sky, he stared deeply into the overcast that snuffed out the sun. Behind the soft cadence of the church bell in the background, there was a drumming noise and he realized it was the sound of his heart.
The monk turned in a slow, careful manner to face the sea. Even though he was grown now, the haunting stories of his grandmother lingered on him whenever he watched the eerie fog roll in as it did now. He braced himself, expecting some manner of monster to emerge before chiding himself each time it pulled back leaving nothing except the icy waves and dancing gulls. But today – there were no gulls to speak of. The drumming of Alkuin’s heart grew louder and danger filled the air he breathed, expanding his lungs with its imminent warning.
He stared harder into the fog until his site caught what his senses were warning him of. A creeping head pushed through the clouds with eyes of fire. Towering above the water, flared nostrils billowed more smoke around it, carrying the stench of death. It did not pick up speed because there was no reason to. Like Alkuin, everything before it froze and trembled in its wake.
The monk dropped all that he was carrying, the fresh vegetables from the garden now lying in the dirt, and shut his eyes tight.
“Run, Alkin!” He tried to convince himself, “Run!”
As if his feet were suddenly free from invisible bonds, Alkuin ran as fast as he could to the safety of the monastery, shouting to everyone as he did so.
“Warship!” he cried, “Warship! Hurry!”
The other monks spun from their task and looked to the origin of the warning. The low tide was at hand and the ship was making its way straight toward them.
“Quickly! Into the shelters! Hide!” They all shouted.
The normal serenity of the monastery turned to chaos as clergy ran, shutting gates and corralling livestock. Many of the monks rolled whatever valuables they had into blankets, tossing them into their hiding places which were normally piles of hay or straw.
Alkuin ran directly to the chapel and was met with Father Aidan.
“What is it?” He asked.
The look of panic on Alkuin’s features made the other monk uneasy and the two rushed inside closing the doors behind them. The large wooden board was eased into the brackets across the entrance, and Aidan slid the reinforced iron rod across as well.
Once Alkuin was assured the lock was engaged he turned to the other man to explain, “There is a warship approaching. It sits barely a stone’s throw off the shore.”
Aidan’s eyes widened and he turned toward the altar. On the outside it looked normal. A chalice flanked by two large candles, and behind it a large crucifix. Aidan and Alkuin were the only two that knew what hid underneath.
“What do we do?” Aidan asked.
“We wait. It is a last resort, you know that!”
“People could die Alkuin!” The younger monk cried out.
“Hold your tongue Aidan,” Alkuin snapped, “We all took the vow.”
Aidan turned his eyes down conceding in silence.
“Now go through the back and bring the brotherhood inside. Those that tarry seal their own fate.”
“Yes, Father.” Aidan bowed and ran to his task.
When the younger monk had gone, Alkuin looked down at his hands which were trembling with the surge of adrenaline. The secret contained inside the chapel was worth dying for, and he was prepared to see that mission through. Curling his fingers into his palms, he made fists with both hands driving in his conviction to the cause. He pulled in a deep breath and lifted his chin to inhale the air. Alkuin then closed his eyes to focus on separating the incoming smells.
The fragrant incense was pushed back allowing the salty ocean breeze to filter through. Northmen, his thoughts said, and he released the breath from his lungs. The Alkuin’s lungs expanded again, filling with the air. At least twenty distinct smells gave away the number of passengers that he could readily identify. Concentrate, he thought to himself then growled and pushed himself harder.
Once more Alkuin took in a deep breath, forcing the air through his flared nostrils until his chest expanded and ached. The smell of burning bodies was acrid and thick, almost choking him.
Women! It was distinct. He could smell the bodies and the fear rolling off the women they were holding on board. Rage boiled deep inside his chest and his jaw trembled as he tried to keep control of it.
Another low, rasping growl welled up from deep within his belly pushing its way into his throat. Alkuin hunched over and grabbed at his hair trying to keep himself from the transformation.
“No.” He snarled, “Not…now.”
His eyes were burning and his skin was crawling as he forced himself to breathe and slow his heart rate. He willed himself to focus on the crucifix behind the altar and prayed for the strength to keep the monster inside but he could feel its claws tearing behind his ribcage. His eyes were tearing and he his entire body shook with the inner war going on but after a few minutes, the monk was able to gain control again. The effort exerted brought him down to a knee just before the rush of the brothers came in through the secret door in the back. They stood around him now in silence in what they was ardent prayer for their safety. They were half right.
Alkuin stood up and turned to face them, “Brothers, we have gone many years without the interruption of another human but our own clergy. We have discussed what would be our action if we were in the face of invasion. Our own complacency has led us to the belief that we would never have to practice those actions.”
He paused and let their sin sink in before continuing, “Today we shall reap what we have sown. It is in God’s hands now.”
The brothers turned to one another and there was a rush of whispers. Alkuin broke it up as he went on.
“We are under invasion and it is time for us to do what it necessary to save ourselves! Brothers, please. Listen to me, now, for there is not much time.”
The men hushed and faced him once again in silence.
“There will be blood. There will be sights you have never seen before in our peaceful life but do not falter, and do not hesitate to save yourself or your brother by any means necessary against the Evil that comes today.”
“Now, let us pray.” Alkuin turned and kneeled again before the altar and made the sign of the cross.
The others followed his lead and went down to their knees to offer their prayers for safety and guidance, others to eradicate the fear from their hearts. The shouts from outside began to subside as the ship grew closer and the other monks found places to hide. Alkuin could hear the oars push the water and the sound of the ship slicing through the waves on approach. The danger threatened to elevate his heartrate again but he controlled his breathing. Unleashing the rage meant he would unleash the monster within. It had been many years since it was free, he had no idea if he’d be able to reign it in once more.
Please dear Lord, offer your strength to me. Allow me to use this …thing…inside of me for your will. Even if it condemns me to Hell for eternity, I seek to do thy bidding while here on earth. Place your hand upon the head of my inner demon and command it, as you are creator of all things. I pray you allow me to be your humble servant and protector of these people who love you and serve you all their days with all their actions, and all their words.
The sound of the boat on land stopped Alkuin’s prayers and he could feel his breath rasping and he realized he was panting now. In his hand, his rosary was embedded into his palm and a slow trickle of blood was creeping down the wooden beads to the floor. The movement below the floorboards caused him to stand up in slow motion. Any sudden move and he could agitate it more.
“Brothers, stand up. Get into position. It is time.”
The friars all stood up slowly and turned. Each one with their back to the others’. None of them brandished any weapons but their bare hands. Alkuin stood in the center of the other men and lowered his head. He needed to concentrate if he was to keep his rage under control. If the invaders got past the other men, then he would have no other recourse but to fight. In a circle of plain brown robes, they stood there in silence for nearly an hour. Waiting.