Jan was standing inside St James’ Chapel.
She was certain of that – even though her eyes had not yet grown accustomed to the gloom – and what little she could see was not as she remembered. There was stained glass in the windows, for a start, and the light that entered through it shone on painted walls.
Jan moved silently to the side to take a closer look. A pattern or a picture covered every inch of every surface. Shafts and arches that had been elaborately decorated in the most brilliant of hues framed simple portraits of saints and angels, painted straight on to the stone. The quality of the painting was not particularly good, Jan noticed, but the colours were so strong and their combinations so vibrant that she felt herself bedazzled. When illuminated by the pools of pure light that filtered through the windows, and viewed through the hazy film of candle smoke that pervaded the old chapel, the whole placed seemed ethereal. Jan had a sense of otherworldliness.
The vision shimmered. The candles guttered. Jan felt a gentle breeze upon her cheek.
She turned. The north door stood ajar. Had someone left – or entered? She did not move. She dared not move in case someone should hear her. But no, the church was empty. The only sound was total silence; the only sight was the open door. It seemed to fill her field of vision. It certainly monopolised her thoughts. What lay beyond it, waiting for her? Who was on the other side?
The compulsion to pass through it overwhelmed her. Jan moved forward like a moth toward a flame. The slice of daylight opened wider, wider, and then engulfed her.
Once again, her eyes had to become accustomed to the light – this time to its brilliance. Then, out of the blinding whiteness, her surroundings began to materialise as though emerging from a dazzling mist. First the edges and then the surfaces came into focus and resolved themselves into a graveyard, a low stone wall and a distant row of cottages.
It was not quite the scene Jan was anticipating, but part of her was not surprised. The 19th-century parish church was missing, and the cottages might better be described as thatched sheds with thin walls daubed with mud. But the horizon, looking north, was every bit as flat and featureless as she had expected. Below it, all was marshland. Above it, all was sky.
There was a wind blowing in from the sea – Jan could taste the salt and the smell of rotting fish. The wind also carried seagulls, and the sound of them. Their guttural squealing scratched the silence like thin white fingernails being scraped across the storm-grey sky.
Then, above the seagulls’ screeching, Jan heard a sudden, heavy slam. She turned. The door had closed behind her. Once again, she did not feel surprise. She just stood and took in all the detail of old St James’ Chapel – except that it was not old. It looked as if it were newly built. Every wall was true, every line was straight, every curve was carved precisely. It was immaculate.
What was that?
Jan span round. Someone was calling out to her. Or had it been a seagull’s cry? Had her ears deceived her? No – there it was again. It was coming from somewhere along the track that lead down to the sea.
She found herself outside the graveyard, staring hard toward the coast. There was no one to be seen. The lane was empty. On one side lay the marshes. On the other, the land rose slightly to form modest hills that gave some shape to the horizon. But the hills were bare. There was nowhere for anyone to hide. Yet, still, Jan could make out her name amongst the seagulls’ cries.
She moved forward down the road. There was a small hill to her right, little bigger than a mound, upon which stood a windmill of sun-bleached wood and weathered canvas. She continued onward, unconcerned that it had not been there the last time she had looked. But she was not looking – not in the active sense. She was simply the passive observer of a succession of surreal images.
It’s a dream. I’m only dreaming.
But it was a dream from which Jan did not wish to be awakened, not just yet. It was a dream so intriguing that she wanted, more than anything, to see it through to the end. She went on watching.
The field beyond the windmill, which had previously been empty, now contained a monastery. It took shape before her inner eye and looked exactly as she had known … as she had known it would. How had she known? Had she been there before? She had a sudden sense of déjà vu – she knew what she would see next.
Yes! There, on the horizon, stood the city walls of Wickwich.
There it is again.
It was not a seagull’s cry. It was someone screaming – screaming out to her.
There – just there, along the road, hurtling toward her.
She could not see it, but she could feel it.
It was a ball of naked energy.
And that energy was fear.
Wake up! Wake up! I must wake up.
The impact was enormous. Like a tidal wave of terror it crashed over her, scouring out her emotions with its violent undertow of dread. She struggled desperately to hold on to those thoughts that were her own; to save herself from drowning in the maelstrom.
I must wake up! I must wake up!
But she could not. She had no control over anything – her senses, thoughts or feelings. She could not even shut her eyes. She tried, but there are no eyes to shut inside a dream. She could only stand and stare. And feel. She felt another force upon the road. This time it was loathing.
It was hatred.
It was evil.
St James’ Chapel. A sudden thought came into her head. If she could reach the chapel of St James’ …