I walked three blocks to the main street, and just as I turned onto it, there was a tremendous clap of thunder and a glaring flash of lightning, leaving me both blind and deaf, and my body buzzing from the near miss. I stopped, since I couldn’t see a thing, but gradually the buzzing in my bones faded, and my hearing and sight returned. When I could see again, I was shocked into total stillness. The storm was gone, and though I could hear the wind blowing wildly, I felt only occasional gusts. I was in complete darkness. I strained to see something, anything, around me.
There should be buildings on my right, and the road on my left, with street lights lining the road. They were all gone! When I looked up, I could see a slightly lighter darkness that I thought must be a cloudy sky. I became aware of a more solid darkness, about six feet away on each side, that, on closer inspection, proved to be parallel walls of trees. That much movement told me that I was on a dirt road. It was still just as cold, and I was shivering in my damp coat. The wind I could hear was blowing through the tops of the trees, which were, fortunately, blocking off all but the strongest gusts. I felt a thrill of apprehension run down my spine. Where was the city? Where was I? What had happened to me? Would I ever get back home?
I soon decided that just standing there would be no help, so I started to make my way forward. It wasn’t long before I was cursing the lack of light, as it seemed that every tree beside the path had at least one root sticking out for me to trip over, and where there were no roots, there were large stones. As usual, I was carrying a large, soft-sided, leather brief case, with the strap over my head and resting on my right shoulder. This bag contained a wide assortment of things, like my notebook computer, pen, pencil, small note pad, and a small first aid kit. As I had been shopping before the lecture, I also had a fresh supply of my prescriptions, batteries of several sizes, and even an Astronomy Magazine. I had almost fallen several times, and stubbed my poor toes so often that I was limping, when I remembered the flashlight in my bag. Feeling like a complete dunce, I got it out, wondering if it would work in this strange place. I pushed the switch, and was rewarded by a thin pencil of light. Thanking whatever guardian spirit was helping me, I set out again, saving my poor toes and making better time.
It was eerie, plodding along the dark road, following my narrow beam of light. I could hear rustlings in the undergrowth to each side, as small night-hunters sought food, and tried to avoid becoming someone else’s dinner. The wind still blew through the treetops, shaking and bending them, sometimes with the muffled roar of a distant train, sometimes rising to a banshee like shriek. I wanted to run -- anywhere -- away from there -- to find shelter from the cold, the darkness, and the frightening noises! I knew, though, that if I started running, I could very easily trip and fall, breaking an arm, or worse, a leg. I certainly did not want to lie all night, alone, helpless and injured, in this strange and terrifying place. I had no way of knowing if I would ever be found, and if I was, would I would be helped, or robbed and left to die? I was shaking so much the beam from my flashlight was quivering, as much from fear as from the cold. Still, I kept myself sternly to walking at a steady, marching pace.
After I had been walking for about half an hour, I noticed a flickering light off to the left. Not wanting to risk stumbling again, I watched it out of the corner of my eye, and realized that the light was not really flickering, as I had first thought, but was being alternately blocked and revealed as I passed by the trees. In about twenty minutes I came to a narrow lane that went left, toward the light. I paused, but it was the only sign of civilization I could see, and I surely needed help. Perhaps it was a house where I could find shelter, or at least a fire that someone would share with me. Shivering and clenching my jaws to keep my teeth from chattering, I started walking along the lane. I thought the light was a lamp, or perhaps a candle, shining through a window. However, I was mistaken.
I was walking uphill, and as I rounded a bend in the path, I saw the silhouette of a castle on a hill to the right of the road. I turned off on a narrow lane that led up toward the castle, and as I neared it, I could see that it was mostly in ruins. There did seem to be some parts that were still reasonably whole, however, so I decided to investigate. It was the only building of any kind in sight, and therefore the only place where I might find shelter from the coming storm. The flickering light I had seen was coming from the intact area; an eery, wan, ghostly glow.
I reached the castle and made my way through the ruined section. Then I came to the area that was still partially roofed, with walls that seemed solid. I investigated, and came to a section that was wholly roofed and had solid walls, although there was no glass in the window frames. As I continued along a hall, I passed a doorway to my left. There was an incredible aura of evil emanating from the room beyond, and it was from here that the ghostly glow emanated. I hurried on by, and found another room, solid and safe from the weather, with a good sturdy door to shut and bar.
I decided to go out and find something to make a bed with, and some wood for a fire. Each time I hurried past the doorless room, the evil aura seemed stronger, reaching out toward me, but the glow stayed dim. I wondered if I should just look for some other shelter, but I felt an odd compulsion that said I had to stay. I found some pine boughs and cut enough for a bed, and made another bundle of the dead branches that were lying around, for the fire. Soon I had all I could carry, and went back in. I made several trips, until I was satisfied I’d have enough to keep the fire going all night. The evil aura was stronger than ever, stretching out, but unable to break whatever bond it was that held it tied to that room.
I settled down in my safe room, with the door shut and barred. I prepared my bed, lit a small fire on the stone floor, and after I had eaten, I settled down to sleep. I was very tired, and it felt good to lie down, but sleep would not come. The compulsion was growing stronger by the minute, and soon I gave up, and stood. With only the small fire, most of the room was dark, so I got out my flashlight again and set out to really examine my surroundings. Off in one corner, I saw that one of the stones in the floor was softly glowing. As I neared it, the feeling grew that this was why I was here. I needed to lift that stone, and remove what was hidden under it. Outside the storm was coming closer. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, and the wind was rising.
Ignoring the sounds of the storm, I took out a strong letter opener I had, for some reason, put in the brief case and pried at the stone. After some time, I was able to lift one corner, but could not raise it high enough to get my fingers under it. I went to my pile of firewood and found a sturdy stick. When I raised the corner of the stone, I slid the stick in, and pried with it. Eventually, I had it high enough to get the fingers of both hands under, and, gathering all my strength, gave it a heave. It dropped back with a crash, revealing a hollow under it. Shining the light in I saw something wrapped in a rotting velvet cloth.
I moved the light around to examine the entire area, and seeing nothing dangerous, I worked the bundle out, and unwrapped it. There sat a beautifully carved gold box, five inches deep, eight inches wide and ten inches long. When I had worked out the secret of the box and opened it, I found, nestled in a bed of velvet, a gold Celtic cross, inlaid with precious gems. It was beautiful, and when I lifted it out of the box, I could feel the holiness. It had been blessed and nothing had ever defiled it. It emanated a power for good, and it tugged me toward the door. This was the source of the compulsion I had felt.
I rose, carrying the cross in front of me, and went to the door. I unbarred it, and went down the passage to the room of evil. I could feel that evilness reaching, stretching, trying to break the invisible barrier that had it pent up. I knew it wanted to reach and overpower me. I stood just beyond its reach, held up the cross, and repeated the Lord’s Prayer, followed by the twenty-third psalm. There was a moment of stasis, and then something snapped. The barrier sprang back into the room, taking the evil with it. Then the feeling of evil started to fade, and a faint shriek echoed away to nothingness, and was gone. I went into the room, shining my flashlight around. What I found horrified me.
Rusted shackles hung from the walls with bare, crumbling bones caught in them, and heaped beneath. Instruments of torture were laid out on tables, and other torture devices sat in the middle of the room On one wall was a large fireplace, with rusty rods laying on the grate, among the long dead remains of a fire. I stood, numb with shock, and shaking. Then I heard, oh so faintly, whispers - ‘thank you, thank you! Now we can go to our reward. You have freed us, the souls of those who died here.’ “You are welcome,” I whispered softly. And with a heart full of joy, I went back to the room where I had prepared my bed, replaced the cross in the box and sealed it, and slept soundly for the rest of the night.
When I woke in the morning, I wrapped the golden casket in the remains of its velvet cloth and put it into my brief case, placing it carefully under the food. I ate and packed the leftovers. Going to the door, I unbarred it and went out. When I passed the room where the evil had been, there was no trace of it left. I stepped into the room, just to be sure, but it was just an empty room, with dead leaves, rusty bits of metal and piles of rotted wood littering the floor.
Outside, I found that the sun was shining in a clear sky, and the air was brisk. It would be a good day for walking. I knew that my next task was to return the cross to the shrine from which it had been stolen, by the leader of the gang of cutthroats who had used the castle for such evil. I set out, happy in the knowledge that I had been able to free those poor souls to go on to a better place.