Chapter 3 ~ The Corpse Bride
The night was faintly balmy with a premature explosion of summer scents, warmth and weather and the gravelled path crunched loudly beneath trainer clad feet. The ancient shapes of roof tops were silhouetted against the deep, royal blue sky and the crescent moon, bright and high, reflected off the anachronistic, white washed, wattle and dub of the old fashioned plaster. It was a tidy, well keep village, exuding character and charm but unusual like a series of postcards forming a three dimensional montage of history. And yes, there was almost something tangible in the air, like a heaviness on the ear drum, that resonated with myth and mystery and the excitement that comes from curiosity and exploration, especially when the situation is rife with inconsistencies and fear inducing vibrations.
They ran past the school house and manse, round the muted grass and cheery trees to the church that stood out on a background of stars and vast heavens. The mossed and barely readable tombstones captured the little light available in the glittering crystals through the marble. The cemetery felt timeless and serene, thus unnatural to the living whose lives hurtle pass at blindly speeds, rife with contention and moments of unequivocal joy. Rose, indoctrinated by horror movies and supernatural tales of television quacks felt her heart thump in anticipation and readiness as they passed through the stoned walls of the graveyard and the strange whir of the screwdriver forced heavy, old locks to tumble and click.
Inside was as still as the grave, an undisturbed relic of a former age, dust of dying stars and long dead skin floating in the eddying draft and stream of pale moonlight. Wooden pews, stone floors, an eagled lecturn with a weighty tomb open at Corinthians 13, majestic but simple pulpit and wall hangings of long burnt out candles in cast iron décor, all these greeted the pair with stereotypical familiarity. There was a smell also, like mown lawns, varnished pine and cold, stuffy and damp, encompassing walls. The natural associations formed, learnt from popular culture and media – envisaging vaults, crypts, midnight body snatching and unsolvable cases of apparitions and deathly harbingers.
Like a claxon, deafening in the respectful silence of years, the metal bell tolled once more, echoing with the acoustics of the old building.
“This way,” Rose motioned, hurrying to the entrance and spotting an old, skelfed step ladder on one side and a spiral staircase on the other with a worn “no entry” sign and red roped barrier.
No trespassing and safety warnings, be damned with the Doctor on the scene, as he knocked the placard to the floor in his haste. One can’t be concerned with propriety and privacy when dark deeds are suspected.
Several rickety floor boards were missing as they reached the top of the tower, not intended for public inspection. The cramped space was mildewed with woodworm and age and coated in dust and probably occupied by various things Rose decided not to dwell on. She felt a little dizzy and apprehensive, gazing down at the ghost town below from a stoned slit of a window. The air felt electric and alive, almost sentient. She knew it was probably her imagination, stirred by suggestive imagery, but that didn’t stop the goosebumps or irrational dread that seemed to soak her soul.
The bell was still undulating with scarcely heard vibrations after a hefty strike. At first she thought they were alone. It was dark and insubstantial but gradually her heightened senses alerted her to a presence behind her and there on the floor was a young woman.
She was beautiful, soft blonde curls obscuring the fine features of a porcelain face, her eyes closed as if she were dreaming and a feminine, winsome expression to her slightly parted lips. The maiden was gowned in a delicate laced, white frock which dipped at her waist and cascaded out over her gentle curves and smooth, unblemished legs. She wore satin pumps and a white rose with thin, silken petals in her hair and just a touch of pink rouge on her cheeks.
At first glance she looked as if she had merely lain down to rest in some meadow in the hot, noontide sun, so peaceful and serene was she but on closer inspection something felt jaded and wrong, tugging at the entrails within. Her pallor was one of untimely death, a crusty tear of dried blood dying her light hair and she was so still, too still.
“Doctor, are you seeing…?”
“Yes,” he replied soberly, crunching to examine the corpse bride hair but as he went to touch her, she faded away, incorporeal, like an image on a pond disturbed by a stone or landing duck. Rose let out a sorrowful gasp. Strangely she realised that she felt no fear only an empty despair. Her eyesight growing stronger, she saw it then, the bloody evidence of the crime, the darkened stain on the sturdy, old bell, the perfect circles of fresh blood spattered on the gnarled floor and the sense of rage and fear that stifled the air and clamped a cold hand around her heart.
They walked slowly back towards the TARDIS, the Doctor seemingly distracted and deep in thought. Another life torn mercilessly from the world that he didn’t even have a chance to save. He was so expressive in this incarnation but Rose hated to see that culpable and harrowing look crease his brow. He was a voice to the mute even in death but no man can hold mastery over the wide universe, stop every atrocity and she knew that every death mask he witnessed was a taunting leer crooning, “You were too late” and reminding him how helpless he really was. No matter how many he rescued there would always be more praying for salvation and going unheard through the fabric of time.
She looped her arm through his and he covered her chilled hand unconsciously.
“Was that really a ghost?” she asked hoping to rein him back to the present and the comfort of an understanding peer in the chaos of their lives.
“Wellll…” he drawled. “Depends what you mean by ghost? Can the “soul” live on after the body as passed? Certainly quantum physists believe that emotions and feelings can generate energy and that opens the possibility that residual energy signatures can be picked up by sensitive minds if a life was taken in violence and turmoil. Though the rational beings of this era comment on that infrasound that is often associated with old, spooky buildings and that the iris can be affected as the brain tries to make sense of the muddle, causing people to see blurred images or out of focus beings as a side effect.” He explained with less of his usual fervour.
“But you saw her too, right?” Rose prompted.
“Yes, but I’m not immune to irrational thought, in fact that phenomenon seems to be increasing exponentially to my exposure to…well you!”
She frowned, unsure whether to take that as a compliment or insult.
“But still Doctor, ghosts? Proper ghosts, with wedding dresses and bloody heads, I mean wow!”
“I know!” he brightened smiling at her like the universe had finally ceased to exist and left only them and their closeness to one another.
With the morning the Doctor’s melancholy seemed to have lifted. Rose was unsure if she would ever get used to his mercurial mood swings but as he babbled on about their investigation and plans she couldn’t help but be infected by his enthusiasm and thought clearly that this is where he belonged, the heart of the unreal, the shadow on the staircase, the light in the fog and hand to hold in a storm.
As usual others weren’t as impressed by his probing mind as he cornered a school teacher in the accommodation’s canteen over breakfast and rudely refused to be subtle.
“’ello I’m the Doctor, can we join you? Good!” He sidled onto one of the long, practical benches with a tray of scrambled eggs and toast. Rose blushed politely as she joined him for the unsuspected interrogation.
“So, your students say that you’re a bit of an expert on this place, Mr. Web isn’t it?”
The history teacher flushed and grinned meekly at the compliment.
“Bit spooky really. Like a mausoleum, a great big mausoleum with pony and trap rides and a little shop in the tourist centre!” he beamed as if this was the best news since sliced bread and where did that bizarre expression come from anyway, he could think of far more impressive things than sliced bread.
“Well yes, I did manage to get published for my work on local history in the scholar’s almanac.”
“So, what secrets didn’t you share with the populace? What skeletons are in the proverbial closet, eh? Ever seen something out of the corner of your eye that you just couldn’t explain? Ever feel afraid when there was nothing around to scare you? Ever see something that felt wrong as if out of its time?” he gushed conspiratorially.
“You’re not from Paranormal Ulster are you?” the man cringed.
“I’m not from paranormal anything but still though, doesn’t it intrigue you? So many reported accounts of visitations; they can’t all be delusional or lying?”
“Yes they can!” he seemed to anger. “But it’s not these imaginative fools I worry about, normally there is no malice or falsehood in their tales, just misunderstandings. But I am a lot more afraid of the living than the dead. Opportunists that feed off people’s insecurities, like that missing boy. Snatched right from the terrace we’re staying in and now the media are excusing the demented and cruel actions of a criminal with stories of superstition and scare mongering,” he spat distastefully.
“Missing boy?” Rose looked worried and hazarded a glance at the pensive Doctor.
“Yeah, Peter Middleton. Eight years old. Went missing on a Boy Scout trip just two days ago. There been no hide or hair of him since. His poor parents, there’s nothing worst that not knowing and of course the boys are using it as gossip fodder to terrify the younger groups,” he sighed, deflating at the ludicrous impropriety of human nature.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Web,” the Doctor rose and shuffled out of the pew, minus his scrambled eggs and dislodging Rose in the process, signalling that the conversation was over.
“But wait, I didn’t get your name?” he shouted as the Doctor hurtled towards the door.
“Van Helsing, Erin Brockovich, the boy who cried wolf and no one believed. I am the truth in a journal of lies and I am the Doctor and the man who believes the story of a scared, little boy and I’m on call!”