“Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” – Sample Chapter

Dr. Hall blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision. He became aware of his own body – he was sitting on the cold stone floor, his back against a pillar, one leg crooked painfully beneath the other.A white circle dabbed with black bobs swam in front of him, then began to resolve into a face …
But not a human face. Surely the face of a statue, a grotesque sculpture – a death mask …
And then the face opened its mouth and spoke. Dr. Hall could not help himself; he screamed in sheer terror.
“Forgive the rudeness of my entrance, sir,” continued the soft voice,“and permit me to introduce myself.”
The Dean lowered his shaking fingers, daring to look at the four nightmarish figures standing over him. Surely they were not human; they were specters from the delirious visions of Archbishop Blake, fallen angels from Milton’s Paradise Lost come to gloat over human frailty.
The figure who had spoken stood in front of him in a long riding coat of olive green. His face was pale and slender, but thick black goggles covered his eyes, and his shaven scalp was crowned with an extraordinary affair of wire tendrils in place of hair, that were beaded with tiny round pellets of metal. Hall could see the livid red scars around the skullcap over his head, and realized with a sick feeling that the device was bolted onto the man’s skull.
Equally astonishing was that one of the attackers with him was a woman. She wore a drab workmaid’s dress and bonnet, and stared at Hall with undisguised hatred. Her features, Hall noticed in his confusion, could almost be attractive – if not for the pockmarks scarring the left side of her face, the relics of an old, nameless disease.
Just behind this woman stood a freakish individual whose entire head was enclosed within a wooden box, three glass lenses jutting out of the front. A huge, billowing cloak concealed the rest of his body, except for two painfully thin legs and the sharp metal tip of some kind of walking stick.
But the most uncommonly dreadful figure of all stood in front of the chapel’s Apprentice Pillar. It towered above its three comrades, almost seven feet tall, encased in a leather and plate metal suit that recalled the armor of the ancient knights. Its head was a bulbous, reddish iron globe with a grill in its centre – and behind the metal bars, Hall could make out a pair of human eyes, glitter- ing with unmistakable suffering and rage.
Hall tried to speak, but only croaking noises came from his throat.
“He’s thinking of Paradise Lost.” Although it was the young woman who spoke, the voice was of someone much older – the scratchy, creaking voice of an old crone.
“That’s a good one!” said the wire-headed man.“That poem is one of my favorites. But actually, sir, we are not angels, we are not devils …”
He leant down and grabbed the Dean’s chin.
“But we are not exactly men and women. Not any more.” He pulled the Dean to his feet. Hall coughed, almost doubling up in pain. When he lifted his hand to his mouth, it came away dabbed with fresh, bright blood.
“What are you?” he managed to utter.
The creature gazed at Hall with his twin black lenses, and a thin smile flickered across his lips.“I am one despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” he sighed.When he spoke, the thin strands of metal shook with the slight movements of his head.
Hall immediately recognized the quotation: Isaiah 53:3.“You are soiling the good word of the Scriptures,” he said, with effort. The thing grimaced and shrugged. “Well, let me put it in other words. I am not simply a man of sorrows. I have renounced my former name and titled myself the Squire of Sorrows, your Grace. I am so well acquainted with the pain of the world, not simply suffering it …” he looked down at Hall and leered,“but also giving it.”
“What are you doing here? Why this violence?”
The Squire waved an arm to indicate the chapel around them. “We have been sent, your Grace, to take that which has been buried here for centuries. For now, you see, the time has come for that treasure to see the cold light of day.The bold cold light of day.”
“Never!” Hall cried.“I’ll never tell you where it is.”
The Squire began to laugh. “Tell us? My dear sir, you won’t have to.We know where it is.”
The metal giant suddenly clanked forward and reached out with its brutish arm. Hall flinched away, but the gauntlet caught him painfully by the shoulder and pulled him forward. Hall yelped in pain, but could not help being dragged across the nave, the three other demons following him, as they entered the place he and Sutherland had tried to protect.
“Rosslyn Chapel is not exactly a chapel,” the Squire said, indicating the profusion of carvings on the walls and pillars sur- rounding them. “It is more like a book – no, an entire library – carved out in stone. Words, ideas, pictures …” he pointed upwards,to the roof. “And music.”
Hall didn’t have to follow the Squire’s gesture. He had hoped that they had come for something else, for gold, for silver, even out of misguided religious bigotry. But no; they knew of the secret, and they had come to collect it.
The woman reached down and roughly grasped Hall’s chin, jerking his face upwards. He was forced to look at the roof of the Lady Chapel, and the dominant feature that outsiders had puzzled over for centuries – the hundreds of small stone cubes carved into the ceiling, emerging from musical instruments played by angels running along the top of the pillars. On each of the exposed faces, the cubes carried tiny, delicate patterns.
“Now, sir, the average person might wonder, how could those odd little things have any relationship to a secret key? Or how could they be used to hide something important? The answer is, as I said, this is not architecture. This is music. Music, frozen in time and space, and made solid in stone. A lock that can be charmed open by the right notes. Have you heard of the Music of the Spheres?”
Hall refused to answer, and the giant shook him until his teeth clacked together.“Yes!” he spat.“Of course I have!”
“I think Cicero put it best, when he wrote the fable Somnium Scipionis,” the Squire continued. He put out his arms in a gesture encompassing the whole of the chapel.“Cicero wrote that every planet, every star, every moon in the sky sings as it moves on its circular path through the heavens, filling the void with the most perfectly beautiful music. We mere humans, our ears are filled with the sound, but we cannot hear it.We have been deafened by the roar of this petty world, the shouting, the laughing, the rumble of carriages.”
The Dean moaned.
“What we have forgotten, you see, is the human body is also part of this music.The body is a musical instrument – and it can be played, by someone who knows the tune. Music mundana becomes music humana.”
The Squire opened the collar of his coat, and Hall could now see a thick leather band around the man’s throat – with a short metal tube positioned at the front.The man’s hands reached up to gently touch two levers on either side of the tube.
“Music humana, your grace. Otherwise known as sympathetic resonant frequencies. Allow me to play for you.”
The Squire turned to look up at the roof of the Lady Chapel, and with his fingers on his throat, he opened his mouth and be- gan to sing – just one long, single, extended note.
The sound made Hall feel even more nauseous. His teeth were on edge, and his ears burned as the sound penetrated his head like an iron spike.The glass of the stained glass windows vibrated in complaint.
As Hall fought to keep his eyes open, he saw the wire tendrils on the Squire’s head, beginning to rise, until they extended out in perfectly straight lines, surrounding his singing face like a glittering sunburst.
When Hall thought he could bear the sound no more, a dreadful, deep crack echoed through the whole building, breaking through the Squire’s unearthly song.The floor of the Lady Chapel had split in two.The tiles retreated, sliding back into the walls, and from the charcoal-black hollow beneath, the sound of grinding clockwork gears rattled and clanged, as a dark wooden chest, roughly the size of a man’s head and ornately carved with archaic symbols, rose slowly into view on a brass platform.
“No!” cried Hall, his eyes almost bulging out of his skull, as the Squire closed his mouth and brought the dreadful sound to an end. He struggled in the grip of the iron titan behind him, but it was no use; the creature was as immovable as the stone angels that populated the walls. “No, for God’s sake, you don’t know what you’re dealing with!”

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About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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