Cedric Dudley woke up just after 7am. He looked at his alarm clock that was supposed to go off at 7am. Why hadn’t it? Today was the day, he was going to start the retrieval, cataloguing and archiving of the items in the new-found medieval library in Kensington. The owner of a 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.
Cedric wiped the sleep out of his eyes, looked outside and saw it was a dark and dreary day. ‘Odd,’ he thought, as yesterday had been extremely sunny. After a quick shower he got dressed and gathered his paperwork. He just missed the tube to Notting Hill Gate and had to wait for the next train. While being squashed in the underground carriage he wondered how extensive the library was. He knew it was three levels deep, but that was all he knew. After the owner had contacted Cedric about the find, Cedric 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.
The terraced house was in the middle of a nice, tree-lined street. 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 walked up to the front door. As he rang the heavy doorbell he slipped on the wet slate step and hit his knee cap. Pain was searing through his leg. The door opened.
“Ah, it’s you,” 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. “Why are you kneeling?” she asked confused. Cedric grunted and got up.
“Slipped,” he mumbled.
The woman let Cedric in and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Good morning,” she chirped.
“Good morning, Sheryl,” Cedric replied courteous. “Good to see you’re already here.”
Sheryl Rowan was Cedric’s assistant and in charge of getting everything that he wanted organised.
“The whole team’s already here,” Sheryl said as she led him down the hall into what appeared to be the dining room. There were nine persons sitting around a large table, sipping coffee or another hot drink. Most of them Cedric knew; Tony, the photographer; Angela, Jeremy, John, Pamela, Ruaridh and Thomas, the archivist students; and of course Mark, the handyman and driver. There was one young fellow that he didn’t know. They all acknowledged Cedric with cheerful words. Cedric just grunted, still chilled from the rain and trying not to give away that he had a painful knee. He put down his bag and took off his coat. The unknown young man jumped up and took it from him to put away.
“This is our youngest acquisition, his name is Josh,” Sheryl laughed. “He is very eager to work with you.”
“I’m very honoured to work with you, sir, thank you so much for hiring me!” Josh said eagerly.
Cedric had had, of course, nothing to do with Josh’s hiring. That was all Sheryl’s doing. He gave Josh another look and, had he been given a choice, he probably wouldn’t have hired Josh. He didn’t like having young spaniels running circles around him. Cedric gave Josh a curt nod.
“And this is Cornelia Abbey, the lady whose apartment this is,” Sheryl mentioned as she indicated a tiny, old, wrinkly lady doing some dishes in the open kitchen.” Cedric limped over to the old woman and shook her wet 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 and pulled him close.
“I wished you would refrain from your enterprise, dear sir, 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 walked away to address his staff. Before he spoke he massaged his blood-deprived hand. ‘Why did she say that?’ he thought. This was putting another damper on the day. He quickly regained his composure.
“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!”
Josh let out a whoop and Cedric rolled his eyes as he asked Sheryl to take him to the basement room.
Sheryl switched on the light. In the middle of the room stood a metal beam construction. It had a winch that was attached with ropes to one of the large flagstone of the basement floor.
“Open it up,” Cedric commanded.
Immediately Mark started operating the winch, lifting the heavy entrance stone slowly from the floor. Other staff members were standing ready with ladders and archiving equipment, eager to get to work. As soon as the first ladder was in place Cedric moved to get down.
“Shouldn’t we wait, sir?” Josh asked.
Cedric stopped and looked at him. “What on earth for?”
“Well, for the bad spirits to leave? Like they should have done with the Egyptian tombs?” Josh replied nervously.
Cedric glanced at Sheryl, as if to ask ‘where did you get this one from?’ and chuckled. The others laughed with him and Ruaridh patted Josh patronisingly on the shoulder. As Cedric stepped down the ladder he caught a glimpse of the gnarly woman standing in the basement door opening. Her eyes were black as coal. Cedric quickly lowered his eyes, to see where he was going of course.
Once down, Cedric stood in awe looking around as the others were climbing down with their equipment. Every wall was covered in bookshelves. Regularly the bookshelves were turned on a ninety degree angle from each other, creating a maze, and tripling the total surface of shelve space, if not more. This was an archivist’s heaven. 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. He snapped the book shut and put it back.
“Ok, Tony, 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 layers were opened up and people were busy on all three levels. Tony and Angela were photographing and the others were writing down 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 filed down to get back to work. To their surprise they caught the old lady lowering the flagstone.
“Woman, what are you doing, get away from there!” Cedric shouted in anger. The winch was very slow and this meant a delay. Cedric was not a very patient person. Sheryl only had to look once at Cedric’s red face and quickly guided the little woman out of the basement room.
“Death and despair will come upon you!” her tiny voice shrilled as the old woman was guided up the stairs. Everybody shrugged their shoulders nervously as Mark set the winch in motion to lift the stone again.
To their surprise they found a deep, heavy layer of fog, in the lower cellar. “Where the hell did this come from?” Cedric said, immediately followed by an acid worry regarding the preservation of the documents. Without hesitation he ordered everybody to immediately 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.
Still out of sorts by the bad omens that seemed to fill the day, Cedric was annoyed he couldn’t completely focus on the task. Suddenly something was drawing his attention. He turned around and he saw it. A ghostly apparition in the image of an older man came floating towards him. Cedric’s neck hairs rose from the eerie sight. What made him look twice was the fact that the eyes of the ghost were glowing a bloody, piercing red. Cedric couldn’t take his eyes off them, but subconsciously moved out of the way of the path the ghost had taken. It drifted past him towards the ladder and disappeared. Cedric blinked, not sure if what he had seen was real. When he glanced at Tony and saw the look on his face, he realised that it had been real.
He wanted to speak, but before he could, he felt the presence of another entity. Instead of an almost uncontrollable curiosity, which happened when the ghost had passed him, this unseen entity filled him with an instant mortal fear. His heart started beating like a madman for no apparent reason whatsoever and his skin turned cold and clammy. Shivers ran over his body. His self-preservation kicked in and he had this extreme urge to get out of the cellar.
“Everybody, get out!” he yelled, barely in control of his voice. Everyone on the floor looked at him. “Get out I tell you! Now!” and he started pushing people towards the ladder. Everybody looked perplexed, but did what Cedric had ordered them. After all, he was the boss. When everybody was back on the basement floor Cedric scrambled up the ladder last.
“Close the entrance!” he yelled to Mark.
“We can’t, Josh is still down there,” Mark replied, confusement written on his face. Fog was now coming up from the cellar entrance. Angela verified Mark’s answer. “Josh is not here, Mr. Dudley. He’s still downstairs.”
Cedric looked from Angela back to Mark.
“Just close the fucking entrance!” Cedric yelled again.
Everybody was in shock now. They had never heard Cedric use profanities. ‘Why did he want to lock Josh in?’ they were wondering. Obeying his old boss’s wishes, Mark started carefully lowering the flagstone.
Sheryl had come down to find out what the commotion was about. She moved to Cedric and put a hand on his arm. Cedric was acting very odd this morning and she was worried about him. He normally was a pleasure to work with.
“Are you okay?” she asked carefully.
“Faster!” Cedric yelled to Mark, as he shook Sheryl’s hand off him. Mark tried to make the winch go faster. They were now standing knee deep in the thick fog. Everybody all of a sudden got a chill running down their spine and as Cedric registered this he made a split-second decision. He 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 copied the fear in their eyes as they heard Josh, who was still in the cellars below, scream.
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…
In the doorway the ominous shadow of the gnarly, old lady stood.
“I warned you…” she said.
Copyrighted by Jacky Dahlhaus