The alarm went off at 7am. It was an annoying, repeating sound that just itched the inside of your ears. Cedric Dudley had owned the alarm since his seventeenth birthday. His parents had bought it for him to make sure he would hear it as he was a very deep sleeper and he needed a good alarm to wake him up. Even though the alarm was thirty years old now, it still functioned as good as its first day.
Cedric reached out and hit the button to stop the noise. He missed and hit the alarm on an angle. It fell to the floor and died. ‘Shit,’ he thought, turned over and then realised that this was the day. He threw the covers off and sat on the edge of his bed. Today he was going to start the retrieval, cataloguing and archiving of the items in the new-found medieval library in Kensington. They had called it the ‘Holland Park Library’ as it was located so close to the park. The owner of the property had wanted to extend the house’s floor space by going underground and had managed to get permission to extend the basement downwards. This was a big trend in London nowadays, with no new land available. People had to build up or down, to get more space, and as building up was like hitting a brick wall in conservation areas, down was the way to go. No doubt there had been enough money passed under tables to get the necessary handshakes, which probably hadn’t been a problem with the house prices in the area having seven figures and owners not shy of spending some. The owner of the house in questions was renting out all four floors of the property and was very likely making a very nice profit. He would be able to afford the extra cost.
Cedric wiped the sleep out of his eyes and looked outside. It was a dark and dreary day. He got up and walked to the bathroom where he emptied his bladder. ‘I wonder what your reason is for getting up today, but it can’t be as good as mine!’ he thought, directed at Jason Winterly, his rival archivist. Jason had vied aggressively to get the lead of the project. He had even tried to bribe Cedric to decline the position when they offered it to him. But there was nothing that would persuade Cedric not to take on this project; it was every archivist’s dream. Beside the fact that there was absolutely nothing that would deter him to tick off this arrogant man from the US of A.
‘American prick’, he thought as he flushed the toilet. After a shower he got dressed and gathered his paperwork. He took the tube to Notting Hill Gate and got himself some breakfast on the way. While being squashed in the underground carriage he wondered how deep the library was. He knew it was three levels, but that was all he knew. He hadn’t seen the cellars yet. After the owner had declared his find and Cedric had been appointed in charge he had ordered the cellar closed. He preferred to keep the atmospheric conditions as pristine as possible until they had all the equipment ready to preserve everything. It had all been kept hush-hush for now as they didn’t know what revelations lay in store for them. For all they knew they could find the answer to human existence, that’s why it was all so very exciting!
The terraced house was in the middle of a nice, tree-lined street. The whole street was immaculate and could win the ‘neatest street of the year’ award. Of course it didn’t look much at the moment with the dark sky and rain dripping from the fifty-shades-of-grey-coloured leaves, but still. ‘I could live here,’ Cedric thought as he rang the doorbell.
“Ah, there you are,” said the woman who opened the door. She was in her forties, a bit younger than Cedric, and dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt. She stuck her hand out and gave Cedric a peck on the cheek. “Come inside, you’re drenched!”
“Good morning, Sheryl,” Cedric said, “good to see you are already here.” Sheryl Rowan was his assistant and in charge of getting everything that Cedric wanted organised.
“We’re all here and ready to go, you just give us the word,” Sheryl replied as she led him down the hall to what appeared to be the dining room. There were about eight to ten persons sitting around a large table, sipping coffee or another hot drink. They all acknowledged Cedric, hoping to get a good note in his book and an upgraded job offer. Cedric just grunted, still chilled from the rain, put down his bag and took off his coat, which Sheryl took from him to put away.
“This is Cornelia McIntire, the lady whose apartment this is,” Sheryl mentioned as she passed an older lady sitting on a chair to the side of the room.” Cedric walked over to the old woman and shook her hand.
“Much obliged for providing us with the space needed for this enterprise,” he said solemnly. The gnarly lady studied him with a deep frown before answering.
“I wished you would refrain from your enterprise, nothing good will come of it,” she whispered as she kept a hold of Cedric’s hand. For an old lady she had remarkable strength. Cedric thought it was a strange comment and was lost for words. He decided just to smile at her. When she finally let go of his hand he turned around to his staff. Before he spoke he moved his stubby hand through his white, wet hair and then put both hands on his hips. ‘Why did she say that?’ he thought again. This was putting a damper on his excitement. He quickly regained his composure and made an attempt to smile.
“Ok, everybody, this is it. We’re going to make history today. We may find rows and rows of terrible poems, but we also may find proof that God exists, who knows. Whatever it will be, it’ll be a great find and we have to make sure we save it for posterity. Now let’s get to it!”
One of the staff members let out a whoop and Cedric rolled his eyes as he turned to Sheryl.
“Show me,” was all he said.
Sheryl led the way, down the stairs to the basement of the house and to the backroom. She switched on the light as she walked into the room. The room had two small windows at the top of the back wall, but they had been taped off to stop any daylight from entering. In the middle of the room stood a metal beam construction, with a winch that was attached with ropes to one of the large flagstone of the basement floor.
“Open it up,” Cedric commanded.
Immediately one of the young men started operating the winch, lifting the heavy entrance stone to the old cellar. Other staff members were standing ready with ladders and archiving equipment, eager to get down there. As soon as the first ladder was in place Cedric went down first. Once down, he stood in awe looking at the walls of the space, as the others were climbing down with their equipment. The room was about two-thirds in size of the total floor space of the house and every wall was covered in bookshelves. Regularly the bookshelves were turned on a ninety degree angle from the ones against the walls, enlarging the total surface of shelve space. Cedric had seen photos that the owner of the house had taken when he first got down here, but to see it for himself made his bottom jaw drop. He quickly put on his white gloves and took one of the books from a shelf. It was hand-written in ink. He could distinguish capital letters followed by cursive, rounded writing. This was definitely Middle Ages material. He felt a rush of adrenaline flush through his body.
“Ok, you with the camera, go through the library systematically. And don’t skip a thing!”
Cedric ordered people about to set the cataloguing and retrieving of the cellar’s content in motion. The second and third layer were opened and people were busy on all three levels, photographing, writing book titles and placing documents in sealed bags and in plastic boxes. Cedric was in seventh heaven with it all.
After a well-deserved lunch in the dining room upstairs they all went back to work again. To their surprise they found a heavy layer of fog, up to chest height, in the lower cellar. ‘Where the hell did this come from?’ Cedric thought, immediately followed by an acid worry regarding the preservation of the documents. Without hesitation he ordered everybody to skip photography and logging and to start packing everything into the plastic bags and crates and bring it up. He stood in the middle of the cellar, chest high in fog, supervising and hoping that he had acted fast enough to minimalize the damage done by the dampness.
Then he saw it. A ghostly apparition moved towards him. It was the image of an older man, with long hair floating about him. Cedric didn’t believe in ghosts, or any other mythical creatures, and was flabbergasted. Surely this was a trick being played on him. ‘Winterly,’ was the name that immediately sprung to his mind. What made him look twice was the fact that this ghost was not your normal ghost. Although most of the image was white, the eyes of the ghost were glowing red. Cedric couldn’t take his eyes off them. He knew instinctively that the ghost was the writer of the library. The ghost had no message, nor did it change its expression. It just drifted past him towards the exit and disappeared.
Right after the ghost disappeared, Cedric felt the presence of another entity. Instead of an almost uncontrollable curiosity, which happened when the ghost passed him, this entity filled him with an instant mortal fear. His neck hairs were raised and he had this extreme urgent feeling to get out of the cellar. His heart started beating like a madman for no apparent reason whatsoever and his skin turned cold and clammy. Shivers ran over his body.
“Get out, everybody!” he yelled, barely in control of his voice. Everybody on the floor looked at him. “Get out I tell you, now!” and he started pushing persons towards the ladder. They looked perplexed but did what Cedric had ordered them. After all, he was the boss. When everybody was on the basement floor Cedric scrambled up the ladder last.
“Close the entrance!” he yelled to one of the young men.
“We can’t, Josh is still down there,” a young man replied, anxiety written on his face. Fog was now coming up from the cellar entrance.
“Just close the fucking entrance!” Cedric yelled again. Everybody was in shock now. They had never seen Cedric so upset. The young man started carefully lowering the flagstone.
Sheryl moved to Cedric and put a hand on his arm. Cedric still hadn’t given any reason for his odd behaviour.
“Are you okay?” she asked carefully.
“Faster!” Cedric yelled to the young man, as he shook Sheryl’s hand off him. The young man tried to make the winch go faster. Cedric got his pocketknife out and frantically cut through the rope holding up the flagstone. With a thud the stone slammed down and closed the entrance to the cellars below.
All the staff members were shaken. They were staring at Cedric in the dark, damp space. Cedric’s eyes were full of fear as they heard the scream from Josh, who was still in the cellars below.
It was not a scream of anger for being left and locked up.
It was the scream from somebody being scared within an inch of their life, and beyond…
Copyrighted by Jacky Dahlhaus