Knight lives in Reno, Nevada. Several of his ghost stories are
scheduled to appear in upcoming issues of All Hallows, and he has
a ghost story in the recent anthology Midnight Never Comes. In
addition, his fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Yawning
Vortex, Nocturne, and many mainstream publications.
is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments,
please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All materials copyright 1996-1998 by their respective
creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be
posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
To Wake The Dead
by Jesse F. Knight
The cool, gray interior of the church fell across his face like a web. Silence drifted in the muted sunlight. Outside, John knew, the May sun blanketed the green countryside with its warmth, coaxing the call of the cuckoo and the sob of the nightingale across the languid landscape. Rapeseed shocked otherwise dun-colored hillsides with its vibrant mustard yellow. A white swan floated in the shade of a willow so unstirring ... so still that its reflection looked more real than it.
But within -- ah, within the church was another world -- a world of distant and chill stillness.
John wandered about the church, gazing at the windows of stained glass, pictures of disciples he could only faintly recall, in maroon and white robes. He studied dates and names chiseled in walls and beneath his feet on the huge blocks of stone that
made up the floor.
John knew little about architecture and less about history. What had Liz called the church -- Saxon? Norman? Or had the guidebook in his pocket told him that?
"The foundation of the present church dates from the early thirteenth century or earlier and is most certainly Saxon. The chancel was built around 1374. The east chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1477,and the nave was completed in 1
504. The pillars to the rear of the church are of particular interest. The one on the right ...." John slipped the guidebook into his pocket.
In the aquamarine stillness he strolled about the ancient church, letting his fingertips drift over the pews -- the wood worn smooth with a thousand-thousand backs, sitting and rising through centuries of Sundays. The floor was so smooth many of the
chiseled inscriptions were only faint memories in stone.
Liz's voice, sounding right behind him, caused him to jump. Muttering, "Don't creep up on me like that," he turned around, but Liz was not there.
"There you are," she called, poking her head around one of the massive pillars half way down the aisle.
He hurried towards his wife, kissing her lightly.
Ash-blonde, with eyes the color of the slate-gray church, she stood on tip-toe returning his kiss mechanically. Her lips, he noticed, looked almost violet in the light from the stained glass windows.
"What did the vicar say?" he asked.
"He was most helpful," she replied as they walked towards the door. "He is pleased to open the church records for me. He suggested tomorrow morning, and I saw no reason I shouldn't plunge into it right away. You can keep yourself busy for a couple
of days, can't you?"
"Sure. I have Wilson's Studies in Wafer Fabrication Technology to read, plus about forty journals."
"There, you see," she said.
"What I can't quite see is your fascination with your ancestors," said John.
Liz laughed, her voice skipping lightly, indicating that they had held this discussion several times before. "Mark it up to the same fascination you have with your electronic gadgets and megabytes and leaping into cyberspace."
"But what I am doing will change the face of the future."
"And how do you know that something I discover won't change the future?"
"You've got me there," John admitted, opening the large, studded, wooden door for his wife.
The two of them, stepping outside, were bathed in golden light, splashing into their eyes. John blinked several times until his eyes had adjusted to the powdery but powerful light.
The church was on a small hill. Stretching before them to the horizon were hills of hops dotted with cottages, whites waves of apples orchards and pink cherry trees and hedge rows of hawthorne.
For a moment John drank in the sight, so different and so peaceful
from the bustling metropolis in which they lived. Through the years, they had tramped through the humidity of South Carolina, through the dust of Texas and the heat of Virginia, searching for gravestones and land titles, wills and wedding records, baptisms and ships' logs in courthouses, churches and historical societies. Finally they had made the leap, genealogically, across the Atlantic, and Liz was searching for ancestors in this
obscure little Kent village. He had to admit he was more than a little bored with it all.
Liz's voice, echoing from far away, cut through his idle reflections.
"Didn't you say you thought The Fox & Hound down the road looked like a wonderful place to have dinner?" she asked, and John looked up again. The scene, pink with cherry blossoms and green with vibrant life, reappeared before his eyes. He shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts.
"Sounds great!" he said, enthusiastically, brushing his thoughts aside and taking his wife's slim arm affectionately.
Organ music greeted them the next morning when they returned to the
church-music that seemed oddly familiar to John. The full ripe chords swelled and spilled over the pews and lapped against the austere walls of the gray stone structure. Liz whispered to him that she would go to look for the vicar while John waited. He listened to the unseen organist practicing. The musician started and stopped abruptly, trying and re-trying certain difficult passages, playing a section until he had it nestled in his fingers. He began a Bach passacaglia, and John slid onto a pew, listening to the inner voices emerge and float in the somber light and then sink to mingle with the other notes, sometimes to reappear but sometimes to disappear altogether. John let the warm sounds engulf him until he felt he was submerged in music.
Finally the organist stopped playing. For a long time the sounds of the organ permeated the cool, damp interior of the church, continuing to drift on bright golden motes of dust, down precise angles of light.
"My darling!" John heard.
He looked around and saw the vicar, with Liz beside him. The vicar was giving the organist some instructions. "Next Sunday, let us begin with the hymn ...." and the vicar's voice was startlingly close to John's ear.
The words "my darling" were absurd in that context, and John dismissed them out of hand.
Liz came back to her husband. "I'll be working for several hours at least. Why don't you pick me up at one o'clock, say?" She stopped and looked curiously at her husband a moment. "John? Is something the matter, John?"
He shook his head. "It's just the acoustics in here. They're very strange."
"You know old churches," she said. "They built them to impress the nobles and awe the peasants, a high pulpit, hidden organs and vaulted ceilings."
"Sure," he said doubtfully, "that must be it. Vaulted ceilings and organ notes that sound like words."
"One o'clock, then?" she said.
"One, it is."
John was a few minutes early. Since the afternoon sun felt hot and
prickly on the back of his neck, he decided to step into the cool pool of the church's interior to wait for his wife. The coolness gently lapped against his eyelids as he leaned against a pillar, his eyes closed, allowing the quiet to penetrate his flesh.
"My darling," a voice whispered.
"Richard, my love," she murmured.
Soft sounds mingled in the still, cool air. John was more than a little uncomfortable, listening to their murmurs and sighs. He cleared his throat and coughed to let them know they were not alone. He looked around, but he could not see them.
The realization pressed uncomfortably against his consciousness: he could not see anybody.
He looked down the aisles, down the corridors with the vaulted ceilings, and all the time the soft, murmuring sounds continued, mingling.
Yet the church was empty.
Who or what could it be? he wondered. A practical joke that some kids were playing?
"What are we to do?" asked the young woman, plaintively. "My father will never permit us to marry."
The voices had an echoey, ethereal quality about them, as if heard in a chamber filled with cobwebs.
"I will petition the Queen," Richard declared.
What on earth could he be talking about? wondered John. Nobody petitioned the Queen anymore about marriages.... Did they?
"Little good that will do," the girl declared. "Queen Elizabeth is consumed with thoughts of Spain's Philip and the rival Mary."
Elizabeth? Queen Elizabeth he knew but Spain's Philip? There was only one other Elizabeth that made sense: Elizabeth the First. Philip was the King of Spain then and even Mary -- Mary Mary Queen of Scots -- fit.
"Then we must elope."
"We have no choice," he went on.
"But how? You know my father has me watched constantly. It is difficult enough to see you only a few moments here while my companion diligently studies the stained glass for me."
"I will think of a way."
"I think that will be it for today."
John jumped as Liz's voice knifed through his hearing, through his consciousness.
"Did you hear that?"
Liz arched any eyebrow. "Hear what, darling?"
Liz shook her head. "I heard no voices," she said, adding playfully," just the sound of your snoring."
John shook his head, as if to clear it of the cobwebs of sound ... voices. "It must be the acoustics," he muttered.
But later on that night, after Liz had fallen asleep, John sat on the
sill of an opened window. A breeze, hinting at balminess, ruffled a moon-lit willow, making if a visual sigh in silver as if turned first away then towards him. There was music in the sound.
He turned over in his mind the events of that afternoon, the
disembodied voices floating in the gray interior of the church like thin
gray ghosts. What could it have been? No rational explanation made any sense -- voices from other parts of the church or perhaps from a heating duct or an open window; perhaps it was just the wind. All such explanations were silly. No windows were open, no children about. There were no heating ducts. He had heard voices, and that was all there was to it. Yet, admitting that still begged the question of what -- not even who, but what -- the voices were. If there were no rational, objective explanations, then that left only him, hearing things that weren't there.
Liz murmured, speaking drowsily, when he crawled into bed.
"What?" he asked.
She did not reply, asleep.
See, he could even find voices in a sigh. He was becoming unnerved, and for no reason. He had heard disembodied voices in the creaks and groans and sighs of an ancient building.
Yet when he awoke the next morning, his uncertainty was like a dull, nagging toothache in the back of his mind.
As soon as Liz disappeared into the musty inner sanctum where she researched the past, John diligently investigated the church, looking for some rational explanation for the voices. He peered behind the altar and under the pews and behind the pulpit
While he was prepared for a voice, still he jumped, startled, when he heard one. What he heard as an entirely new voice.
"What I would give to bed that tasty morsel!"
The voice was deep and gravelly, and there was something sinister about it that made John shiver. It was a voice that was accustomed to getting its own way. John looked up at the pewter-colored ceiling as if he could see the voices fluttering there
like ghostly pennants.
"You said that about Lucy and blonde Mary and Lady Beatrice."
The other sighed. "True enough, Bertram, but is it my fault that I am
easily bored, or is it the world's for having so little new and such few
diversions to amuse me. Life for a man of my refined sensibilities easily palls. Ahh, but this one is different. I can feel it in my loins. She could entertain me. Look at her, Bertram. Look at her hair as fine as silky sunlight, her eyes of velvet gray, and those innocent lips and that soft, rounded, luscious body, untouched. Look at the way she moves as if made for love. I must have her, I tell you."
"Then have her you shall, Sir Roland," and Bertram laughed a strange, strangled kind of laugh that had no mirth in it, only malice. "And I will help you spirit the lovely Elizabeth away."
The echoey, soft voices drifted into silence.
"Why so glum, young Richard."
"It is love, Bertram."
"Love! Since when should love make you unhappy.... unless she denies you, of course. In which case, you should look elsewhere."
"Her father will not allow us to meet, and Elizabeth ...."
"You are in love with the young fair-haired Elizabeth?"
"Does that surprise you?"
"Not at all. In fact, my young cousin, perhaps I can help you," Bertram mused.
Once more the voices drifted into silence, but just as quickly two others materialized. These, too, John recognized.
"Good news, my dear Elizabeth ... no, don't look up. Continue as if you were praying. Just listen."
"But God would be offended."
"God can read your heart, never fear. He knows you are goodness personified. Listen: Bertram, my cousin, knows of our plight. He has agreed to help us. He says he will devise a plan that will allow us to elope."
It was Richard's voice. As quickly as it came into existence, it echoed into silence. Then the two evil voices returned:
"The young fool thinks we will help him."
"You have a plan, Bertram?"
"I do, Sir Roland."
The two deep voices died away, and it was Richard speaking again.
"And Bertram says he will bring horses and a friend to the rear gate and wait for us there. They will ride with us as an escort."
"What of Father?" the young girl asked.
"He wishes to go to Canterbury for the Fair. At the last moment you must feign illness and stay behind. Rather than be disappointed, your unsuspecting father will go to Canterbury by himself with his retinue for display. The castle will be virtually deserted, and your father will be gone all week long. By the time he returns we will have been gone several days and the trail will be cold."
"He will be very angry," Elizabeth said, a trace of pleasurable excitement mounting in her voice.
"But he will forgive his only child eventually, I will wager to say. And if he doesn't we still have each other, Elizabeth, my beloved," Richard replied.
"Yes, it will work," she said exultantly but softly.
Her young and innocent voice faded away to be replaced by:
"And when we are deep in the forest we will cut down the young fool
and kidnap your dainty little morsel. I have an isolated cottage where we can take her and you can spend long days and nights teaching her the secrets of love, and when you are finished....
"Since they flee in secret none will be the wiser when this adventure is finished. If they blame anyone at all for the disappearance of Lady Elizabeth, it will be the poor dead fool Sir Richard."
The two deep voices laughed.
He jumped. It was Liz at his shoulder. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Just relaxing." Why did he not want to tell her? Because he didn't think she would believe him? Perhaps he didn't think anyone would believe him. Hell, he was right there, and he didn't half believe himself!
John stretched, yawning, to cover his confusion. "Is it lunch time already?"
"Close enough," Liz replied. "I'll stop work for awhile. Shall we have that picnic Mrs. Powell packed for us?"
"Sounds great," John exclaimed.
And for a short time John's mind was not preoccupied with the eerie, echoey voices.
Liz chattered on about her researches. "I should be finished this afternoon," she said. "Right now, I am trying to uncover evidence of the marriage ceremony of Elizabeth and Richard Wessex. When that is done-"
John sat up. "Who did you say?"
"Why, Lady Elizabeth Drake and Sir Richard Wessex. I'm named for her -- Liz for Elizabeth. Every generation has an Elizabeth. What made you ask about her? You've never expressed an interest before."
"If I were to tell you, you wouldn't believe me."
Could the voices of centuries past, he wondered, be nestled in the
eves of a church like doves? Could the laughter of a thousand weddings and the shrieks of a thousand funerals be floating, even now, just below the vaulted ceiling? Could the whispers of clandestine meetings be captured and kept like discolored photographs in old, torn photo albums? Could there be the ghosts of the words we hear as well as the visions we see?
When Liz went back to her research, John was left to mull over this new piece of information and the unearthly voices.
Richard and Elizabeth were about to step into a trap set by the
treacherous Bertram and Sir Roland -- or had already, for that matter. What would happen if they did? If Richard and Elizabeth never married, would that mean that Liz -- his suddenly dear, dear Liz -- would cease to exist? On the other hand, for that matter, he couldn't even be sure the voices he heard were his wife's ancestors. There were plenty of Elizabeths and Richards in England. But the coincidence seemed too great.
Let's assume, John decided, that Elizabeth and Richard are Liz's ancestors. No harm can come if they are not. But if they are ....
John had a sudden premonition that if Richard and Elizabeth did not
marry then Liz would fade into non-existence. Fear, like an icy hand, clutched his chest. His wife -- his beloved wife -- would cease to exist. Love gripped him and shook him by the throat until he couldn't breathe.
"All is in readiness," whispered a deep menacing voice.
Richard said, "All is ready, my beloved. Tonight, when your father is deep in his cups in Canterbury, when your maid is asleep, you and I will steal away, and ...."
If he could heard their voices from hundreds of years ago, could they hear his?
"Don't go!" shouted John.
"What was that?" asked Elizabeth, startled.
"Do not go! Danger! It is a horrible trap!"
"Did you hear something, Richard?"
"No," he stammered. "You know what these churches are like, hoary with ghosts and age."
"I'm frightened," Elizabeth said suddenly.
John cupped his hands around his mouth, shouting, "Do not go! It is a trap! Do not go! Do not go!" without stop.
Could they hear him? Would they listen to him? How could he tell?
"It will be all right, my beloved. In just a few moments we will be on our way," Richard tried to reassure her.
"Are you so sure, so very sure?"
"Don't go! Stay! It is a trap!"
Did they hear him? Maybe Liz could tell him. Or perhaps that was why
she couldn't, because time was fluid. Because right now the records, the written words in ink of hundreds of years ago were trembling on the verge of nothingness. Would they become solid again?
"Don't go ! Don't go! Death awaits you! Don't go!" he shouted.
Was there some evidence he could latch onto that would tell him what had happened? He was frantic. Where would it be?
Suddenly, emerging from the study, bewildered, Liz was in front of him.
John pushed past her. Flinging open the huge front door of the
church, John ran out into the churchyard. Outside, the May heat poured and tumbled over him, disorienting him momentarily. Frantically, he raced from gravestone to gravestone. Tears of frustration blurred his vision. Some of the gravestones were mottled with years of lichen. Others had been obliterated by weather and now tilted precariously. A few he could make out. He darted from one to the next, trying to read the inscriptions.
"John! What is it? You're shouting loud enough to wake the dead!" exclaimed Liz behind him.
John glanced at his wife. Was it possible? Did she shimmer in the slanting rays of the afternoon sun? Was she glimmering? Fading? He was suddenly overwhelmed by his desperate love for her. It was so fragile, though; he was afraid to reach out to her.
Unable to speak, John continued to search the graveyard. Finally, in a far corner, under an immense oak, he found what he was looking for. Panting, he knelt in the wavering shadows, in front of the stone.
Leaning to the right, the headstone was ancient, blue with age. The chiseling, what was left of it, was faint. The precision it once had long ago had been softened by years of rain and snow. But he could make the words out, faintly. They read:
Sir Richard Wessex Lady Elizabeth Drake Wessex
Faithful Husband Devoted Wife of 53 Years
John slumped in front of the gravestone.
They had escaped. Here was the proof.
He felt, rather than saw, Liz's presence behind him. She tentatively touched his shoulder. He took her hand. It was warm. He kissed it, fervently. "My darling."
"Hey, what's going on?" Liz exclaimed.
"It will require a long explanation," John said. "And now is not the time for it. Later on tonight I'll tell you." He returned his gaze to the tombstone.
Glancing at it, "You found it," she exclaimed softly.
"Found what?" he asked, looking at her.
"My ancestors' gravesite."
"I did ... I did, didn't I?" said John, suddenly pleased with himself.
"There's a legend about them," said Liz.
"What is it?" asked John.
"They were planning to elope, so the story goes. Lady Elizabeth was
warned of treachery and danger somehow. She said that she heard voices,
that ghosts talked to her, warned her. But she didn't say it too loudly,
mind you. In those days that kind of talk often led to accusations of
witchcraft or sainthood -- neither role which she relished. In any case,
Sir Richard was watchful, keeping a sword handy under his cloak. They were waylaid, although no one quite knows how. But Richard, prepared, was able to fight them off. But as a result, they could not elope.
"However, Elizabeth's father was duly impressed by Richard's valiant efforts to protect his daughter, and he relented and allowed the young couple to marry eventually.
"As you can see from the gravestone, they had a long and happy and fruitful union, eleven children if my records are correct."
"Of which one is your great-great-great--"
"More greats than you want to list," she concluded for him.
"A wonderful story," John said. Once more he touched his lips to her palm, as if he didn't quite believe she was indeed real.
"I love you," he said; I love you, he whispered in his mind, half to the voices in the church, half to himself.
"Hey, I'm not going anywhere," laughed Liz.
"I know," he said. "I know."
And he wasn't sure, but he thought he could heard the distant sounds of church bells.