With the launch tomorrow of my horror novel, 7 Days in Hell, I thought I’d introduce you to one of the characters from the book. Father Felix McBride, parish priest of Knockpatrick parish.
This story takes place some years before the book, when Father McBride was a lowly curate in another parish.
Father Felix followed the sound of the tinkling bells and muted giggling into the sacristy. The small room felt unseasonably cold, despite being Halloween night, and smelt strongly of boiled cabbage. He looked behind the vestments, but no one hid at the back of the tiny closet. His breath fogged about him, and he felt eyes watching him, as he searched the rest of the cupboards, but he found, as he suspected, that he was alone.
He returned to closing the church for the night, said a final prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and left through the sacristy, checking that the doors were locked securely one final time. The bells followed him outside, ringing at first to his right, and then behind him. He tried to imagine what kind of bells could make such a sound. They were certainly not church bells, too light in tone for a handbell, too clear for sleigh bells. The bell on a cat’s collar perhaps? No, more like the jingle on a jester’s cap.
Youngsters playing dress up for trick or treat, no doubt, trying to scare the new curate. Father Felix chuckled. No harm in that, if that was the extent of their pranks. He stuck his hands into his pockets and walked down the hill to his house, followed by the echoes of bells and laughter. He inhaled deeply, and immediately regretted it, blaming the noxious odour on the rotting seaweed that piled on the beach behind his house.
A large silver Audi sat behind Father Felix’s Renault Megane parked in the driveway of the curate’s house. Father Gus’ car. Father Felix wondered what urgent matter had brought the parish priest to see him rather than contact him on the phone.
As he hurried to the front door, he almost collided with Father Gus getting into his car.
“Father Gus, is anything the matter?”
The parish priest’s face was cloaked in shadow. “Just leaving some notes for you about the new parish directives.”
“Thank you. Do you want to discuss them with me now?”
“No, it can wait. Have a pleasant evening. Goodbye.”
He pulled the door shut and started the car. Father Felix had to jump back to avoid being run over by the reversing vehicle. The wash of the Audi’s headlights over the house revealed something odd stuck to the centre of the front door. Father Felix carefully unlocked the door and turned on the lights. A branch covered in sharp, curved thorns had been taped beside the lock. Tied to the stick with string were six jester bells.
If he hadn’t seen it as the parish priest drove away, he could easily have cut himself as he went into his house. Father Felix got a cloth and carefully removed the branch from the door. Because it disturbed him, he decided to burn it in the back garden and bless the ashes with holy water. After that was done, he went inside and heated up a bowl of cream of tomato soup for his dinner. As he warmed some rolls in the oven to accompany the soup, he realised he hadn’t found the pages Father Gus had left for him. He made a mental note to contact the parish priest in the morning and ask him to email them to him.
Father Felix spent the rest of the evening quietly. He started reading the life of St. Malachy, which had arrived in the mail that morning, and then began his preparations for bed, which included two hours of nightly prayers. No trick or treaters called to his door, but around nine o’clock the firework display in the village cast coloured lights on his window.
He wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep when he was jolted to complete wakefulness. He sat up with the assurance that his life was in danger, every sense alert. The room was dark, but he could feel a presence standing at the end of the bed, glaring at him with malignant intent. The smell of faeces mixed with old blood assaulted his nostrils. Every instinct screamed at him to run. HIs muscles tightened with the urge to flee or fight. He wanted to turn on his light to see the enemy he faced.
The soft sound of bells was followed by an ugly, gurgling giggle as someone moved around the end of his bed.
The priest reached out for his lamp, but his fingers fell on the rosary beads resting on his bedside table. He clutched the battle beads, a feeling of strength soothing his troubled mind. He blessed himself and started praying the joyful mysteries. By the time he had finished the last of the glorious mysteries, he knew that he was alone. The sweet smell of roses lightly fragranced his room. Father Felix returned the rosary to his locker, lay down once more and slept soundly the rest of the night.
Father Gus was startled awake by someone shaking him. He came slowly to consciousness, shaking off the remnants of a delicious dream. Anger flooded him. Who had dared wake him in the middle of the night?
He rolled onto his side and switched on his light. The smell of rotten eggs made the atmosphere of the room unpleasant. A blurred figure stood beside his bed. Father Gus put on his glasses and the shape resolved into a tall creature, with disproportionately long arms and legs. He was dressed in a colourful harlequin suit of red and black, and on his head was a jesters cap. His face was most disconcerting, as on first glance it appeared human, but the more you looked at it, the more you were drawn into its depths of despair.
The parish priest didn’t seem perturbed by his visitor.
“Is it done?”
The jester’s voice whispered from different parts of the room. “No.”
“What? Why not? He must be stopped. He’s bringing too many people to God. He’s changing this parish. People are starting to think about others than themselves. If this trend continues, there will be dark times ahead.”
“He is protected.”
“You’re a prince of hell! Who can stand against you? I order you to return to the curate’s house and end him.”
Father Gus rubbed his forehead. He must have messed up some part of the ritual. Maybe the curate hadn’t cut himself on the wand, as was necessary. He’d have to try again another time.
“Very well, you’re dismissed.”
The sound of bells and giggling echoed around the room.
“You’ve failed and now I’m dismissing you.”
“Once summoned, I will not return without a soul.”
The jester reached towards the parish priest and opened his mouth. Father Gus screamed.