Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
The Scarlet Monastery
By R. Peterson
Sheriff Walker and Tony Lemon climbed the intricate inlaid stone pathway and stairs that led to the mansion’s entrance. The once elaborate and pristine landscaping, once filled with exotic flora from all over the world, had withered and yellowed over the decades. A massive ironwood exterior-door, surrounded by carved beams and moss-covered stone, had no doorknob just a heavy cast-iron gargoyle knocker that looked ready to bite-off someone’s fingers.
The Sheriff motioned for Tony to use it, and when Tony hesitated, the Sheriff smiled and banged it loudly three times. The twenties-something lady who opened the door a minute later, was pretty and far from looking like the oldest woman in the world. Tony gaped at a glowing gold medallion with strange markings dangling between her ample cleavage.
“I’m Sheriff John Walker and this is Tony Lancer. We’d like to speak with Mrs. Descombey if that’s possible,” the Sheriff lightly thumped Tony’s head, “is she at home?”
“Of course,” The woman smiled. “Melania has been expecting you. My name is Alison Weatherbee; I’m her in-home caretaker and apprendista.”
Allison led them down a long hallway overflowing with framed portraits of cats. Many were exquisite oil-paintings. Tony recognized several famous artist’s signatures: Georges-Pierre Seurat and Pierre-Auguste Renoir from an art appreciation class taken his Sophomore year at Cloverdale High School, along with others. “These must have cost a fortune,” he gasped.
“Actually they were all gifts,” Allison said with a wink. “Melania has hundreds of friends from this century … and even more from the last.”
Melania Descombey’s thin frame was sunk deep in a French-wing armchair in one corner of a very-large library. She was gently stroking a mangy, half-starved cat that looked like it might have just crawled out of an alley after a garbage truck ran over its tail. The Sheriff seemed relaxed, but Tony was a bundle of nerves.
“I see you love cats,” Tony blurted. “Is this your only pet … or do you have more?”
Melania laughed and shook her head. “Lenard is not my pet … he’s my chauffeur.” She sat the cat down before she continued. “I pay him and the other servants every Friday and this one has a bad habit of squandering his money in saloons and bawdy houses. Every Sunday morning I have to send one of my other employees searching the town for him.”
“I don’t seem to recall issuing a driver’s license to a gray tabby with a bent tail,” the Sheriff snickered.
Melania smiled back and lifted a document from the table next to her and gave it to him. “You should,” she said. “You road-tested him and signed the motor-vehicle chauffer’s permit yourself.”
The photo on the license showed a graying man in his late sixties with a crooked smile and unkempt wooly hair. The name above the signature, read Lenard M. Walton.
“But enough about me and my family,” Melania continued. “We have some real troubles in our town don’t we Sheriff?”
“I thought the murder of the vagrant last year was a one- time horror,” the Sheriff said. “Now we have two brutal killings and a missing girl … and it’s only Tuesday.”
“You can’t run away from a fight,” Melania turned and spoke directly to Tony. “Some people in this World, and non-human things in other worlds, just won’t let you walk away.”
Tony could somehow tell by looking in the old-woman’s eyes that she knew everything about him without him saying a word. “It was just a game,” he stammered. “I’ll sell my computer, I’ll never play again … I just want this to stop!”
“Creepas is no longer in her cyber-word … she’s in ours,” Melania said. She stood and used a wooden cane with the top carved like a bear to shuffle toward a door sunk into the bookcases. “It’s a pity about what happened to your dog and to Mr. Lewis but at least that pixilated demon is in our world now and not in her own.” Melania removed a coat from the closet and Sheriff Walker helped her slide it over her boney shoulders. “ There she has the advantage… here in this fair town … we do.”
“But how can I fight an undead monster Rogue in real life?” Tony gasped.
“You’re a good player,” Melania said. “Level sixty I believe. You should be an equal match for our murderous non-living slasher.”
“But that’s a video game,” Tony stammered. “This is different!”
“William Shakespeare said … All the world’s a game and the people merely players,” Melania told Tony with a sly grin.
“I believe what the Bard said was … All the world’s a stage …” Tony corrected her.
“Don’t tell me what I heard,” Melania was indignant. “I was with Billy yesterday morning inside his house in Stratford-upon-Avon near London. He was playing Final Fantasy part-two on a Dell laptop and winning. You can’t expect him to huddle in some British library re-writing all those dusty plays forever can you?”
A gray-haired man, slightly hunched over, and with bloodshot eyes, entered the room. “Your car is warmed-up and ready for travel,” he informed Melania.
“Thank you Lenard,” Melania replied. She smiled and looked at the Sheriff and Tony. “It’s getting late … we must be on our way.”
“Would it be too much to ask what exactly what is our destination.” The Sheriff gently took her arm as she followed Lenard.
“It has to be the Scarlet Monastery,” Melania said. “Wasn’t that your destination when all of this started?”
“I guess so,” Tony stammered. “But I didn’t consider going into that place alone. It takes five players to do an instance.”
“Then we’ll stop and pick up two more on the way.” Melania stared at the setting sun. “It will be dark soon. We’ll have to enter the dungeon while we can still see.”
“Where exactly is this world’s version of the Scarlett Monastery,” the Sheriff asked.
“High on the side of Bear Mountain inside Motha Forest,” Melania told him. “It was called the Crimson Robe of Christ refuge when father Joseph Blanche and his monks lived there about one-hundred sixty years ago … but it’s close enough to mirror Tony’s game in our world.
Melania’s driver stood next to an idling 1949 Roadmaster in immaculate condition. Colored lights inside the trademark Buick Venti-ports were wired to flash on and off with the distributor and made the automobile resemble a World War II Spitfire. Both back doors were open. Sheriff Walker helped the old woman settle into the large rear-seat with the bear-cane across her lap while Tony walked around to the other side.
Lenard had a fit of coughing just before he slid behind the steering-wheel. He ground the transmission gears, and the antique car roared away. Tony wasn’t surprised to look out the side window and see a large fur-ball lying on the cobble-stone driveway where the slovenly chauffeur had stood.
Tony had two friends he played online with regularly. Most instances took a five-man team and they usually picked up the two others in-game. It took five minutes of ringing the bell to get David Wickham to answer the door. “I almost had a group put-together for Dire Maul,” he complained. “Everyone’s looking for a #&^%@& tank. Sometimes I think I’m the only warrior on this realm.”
“We’re going someplace a lot more unique ,”Tony said as he dragged his cursing friend out to the Roadmaster, “…and a lot more dangerous.”
Sheriff Walker recognized David when he climbed in the front seat next to Lenard. “Hey, aren’t you the punk we caught jamming wads of bubble-gum into the parking-meter coin slots?”
“#&^% … that was over a year ago,” David said. “I’ve #&^%@& grown-up since then.”
“Are all your adjectives swear-words?” the Sheriff shook his head.
“What’s a #&^%@&# adjective?” David looked bewildered.
The next stop was in front of a ramshackle trailer-house where an obese boy, with an army of pimples waging war on his face, was pushing a squealing girl on a tricycle across a weed-infested lawn. “Hey Tugg,” Tony yelled. “You want to do a real-life dungeon tonight.”
“I can’t,” Tugg gaped at the antique Buick shooting fire from the port holes and then smiled. “Mom and Jim are drinking-up mom’s welfare check down at the Four Bullets Bar. I promised them I’d watch Tina.”
“Tugg is our Hunter … a puller,” Tony said. “He gets the enemies to come to us one-at-a –time so we don’t get blitzed. I don’t think we can do this so-called dungeon without him.”
Melania was looking through a handful of very-old Tarot cards taken from a wooden recipe box with the word Ombré and other things carved on the front. “Bring the sister along,” she called as she held one of the cards up to the fading light. “She likes to play games doesn’t she?”
“I change the password on my computer at least twice a week,” Tugg said, “and she still gets in and plays all my characters.”
“How old are you, Tina?” Melania pulled the tiny girl onto her lap, when they all crowded into the old car.
“I’m five,” she said, “but my Druid can turn into a cat.”
“Is it a nice cat?” Melania asked her.
“No it kicks ass, and bites people!” Tina made her face into a scowl. “So watch out!”
Sheriff Walker and Melania both laughed. Tony, David and Tugg were busy doing up their seat belts as Lenard took the Buick up to ninety along a cliff-lined winding-road heading into the mountains. Lenard opened his window and his mouth and let out a prolonged yowl that reminded Tony of the dark furry shapes on their back fence at home, that his sleepy father sometimes threw shoes at on hot summer nights.
The Crimson Robe of Christ refuge looked like it had been carved into the solid granite of the mountainside. Long-dead but still standing Lodge-pole pine trees, stood like forgotten sentinels around a twisting path that led to the entrance. “I believe we’ll find weapons just inside the gate-keepers house,” Melania said. “The monks who lived and died in this place had to protect themselves from Indian attacks and roving bands of ex-confederate soldiers.” She pressed a button on the Buick’s dashboard and instructed Sheriff Walker to open the trunk.
The Sheriff lifted-out a very old wooden box containing what looked like stacks of white linen. “These are Mormon Priest garments meant to protect the faithful from harm,” she said as she hobbled around the car with her cane. “The Mormon’s Nauvoo Temple was burned on the night of October 8th. 1848. My mother was camped nearby in a wagon and was awakened by the smoke and the shouting. She saw a smoldering man carry this box from the flames and then collapse at her feet. She sensed the magic in the holy garments and kept them.” Melania looked at the gaping four males and smiled. “These will do for our instance armor!”
“I don’t know about any of you,” David said. “But no way am I wearing any #&^%@&# Mormon underwear.”
“Suit yourself,” Melania said as she and the others, even Tina, slipped on the white garments. “But you won’t survive long without them.”
“I don’t see how some #&^%@&# underwear is going to protect anyone,” David grumbled as he reluctantly slid a white top over his Siouxsie & The Banshees t-shirt.
“The Latter Day Saint women who crafted these garments had great faith,” Melania said. “Enough so to protect even a fowl-mouthed non-believer like you … should you somehow be found worthy.”
The group of six started along the path toward the entry gate and a rocked-in structure that must have, at one-time, been a guard-house. “The weapons we need should be inside this hut,” Melania said. “But be cautious. There might still be remnants of the Crimson Robe of Christ hanging around.”
“Not #&^%@&# likely,” David sneered. “No one ever gets to be over one-hundred sixty years old.”
“Watch your mouth!” Tony slammed his fist into David’s shoulder.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain of profanity,” Tugg was trying to break the tension by imitating the forceful voice from the Wizard of Oz. “David’s big-brother just got out of the Navy and David tries to imitate his delightful speech.”
“Joseph Blanche had a devoted following,” Melania said ignoring all three boys. “It’s possible that some of his monk’s descendants are still protecting his dominion.”
“What exactly happened to this place; why was it abandoned?” Sheriff Walker was sweeping the overgrown path with his flashlight.
“Joseph Blanche was assigned by the Catholic Church to convert the native Indians to Christianity,” Melania said. Her voice suddenly became a whisper as they ducked under a thorny Russian Olive branch growing over the path. She stopped to examine a bleeding scratch on her arm. “He oversaw the construction of this abbey and after it was completed, sent for his devout mother and sister to join him in his glorious service God.”
“Things go all-right until #&^%@&# women come on the scene,” David snickered.
Sheriff Walker looked at the boy and shook his head.
“Mrs. Blanche and her daughter never made it to the Monastery,” Melania continued. “Tugg, better cover your sister’s ears. After the boy obliged fighting with a struggling sister, Melania went on. “Their wagon-train was massacred by a hostile band of crow Indians under Chief Burns His Hand. The women were especially brutalized, the fortunate were skinned-alive and lashed to cactus plants … the others met a much more hideous fate.”
“It was a test of Joseph Blanche’s power to forgive,” Tony suggested.
“If it was … he failed,” Melania said. “Joseph Blanche used this domain as a place of retribution.” She shook her head in sadness. “He began by secretly torturing Indians, even innocent women and children. It became a refuge of evil. After a decade, he’d spread his calling to the judgment of whites, especially Mormons and others he deemed had lost God’s favor.”
“I’ll bet that made him popular with the early settlers back when Cloverdale was called South Fork.” Tugg said sarcastically as his bulging eyes scanned the darkness.
“Sadly, it did for many,” Melania said. “Fear makes people do horrible things. Joseph Blanche’s followers actually expanded, although many held absolutely no Christian ideals and some that might be called Satanic.”
They were nearing the stone guard-house. Melania put a finger to her lips and motioned for everyone to continue in silence. The closer they got, the more they noticed the building seemed to have been abandoned for years. A heavy-plank door stood half-open. Dry Kali tragus (Russian Thistle) and other trapped tumbleweeds, clogged the doorway.
“Wow! You #&^%@&# had me going for a minute,” David said as she kicked away the weeds and forced open the door. “See nobody home!”
The dark figure who leaped from the shadows was at least seven foot tall, wore a dark hooded robe and was brandishing what looked like a large sword. Sheriff Walker grabbed David and forced him to duck , just as a razor-sharp blade swept across his scalp leaving less than a quarter inch of hair on his head. Two other sets of fanatical eyes sprang upward in the dark guardhouse and raced toward them. The Sheriff rolled with David and began to draw his service revolver with a lightning speed that would have impressed even his famous lawman ancestor Thomas Lang, but the towering brute kicked it from his grasp with surprising ease. The Sheriff and David were pressed against the splintered door and couldn’t move. The man raised the saber high over his head and was about to cut Sheriff Walker and David in half when a fiery blast roared from behind. Two more shots followed in rapid succession dropping the two other guards who also fell against the door. All four men stared at the smoking gun in the old woman’s hand.
“My mother Jesska used to say there is magic in everything,” Melania said, “and I’m sure that includes a Colt Peacemaker.”
“What the hell are these things?” Tony took the Sheriff’s flashlight and shown it on their attackers. Rotted skin and dark stringy hair clung to one half of the bodies the other half was nothing but moss- crusted bone laced with plant roots as if the figures had lain half-covered by dirt for a century.
“These men obviously made a sacrosanct covenant to guard this entrance for eternity,” Melania told the group. “A promise of that type must be fulfilled … even after death.”
At the back of the room they found a large wooden chest complete with iron bands and a rusted lock that looked as if it might weigh ten pounds. “It may take some time to open this,” The Sheriff said as he tried to pry away the hasp with his belt buckle.
“Search the guard’s pockets for a key,” Melania told them as she extracted one of the Tarot cards from her recipe box, stepped into the doorway and held it up to the light from a rising moon. Beyond the entry gate, an ancient graveyard surrounded the Monastery. An aged and yellowed fortune card showed a traveler with all his belongings tied to a stick and about to walk off a cliff. “There may be more than one key.” Melania added.
Tony tried to turn over one of the bodies which broke in half spewing a vile yellow liquid that reeked like rotting cabbages and caused him to stumble into a corner and vomit. David picked up a squirming Tina and held her in his arms as if she was now suddenly his responsibility.
Tugg shrugged his shoulders, held his nose and thrust his hand into the slime. After some minutes of gagging he pulled two large skeleton keys and another object from the goo. “What’s this?” he asked Melania as he handed her what looked like a bird-in-flight carved from white ivory.
“This was placed here for me,” Melania said. She was already attaching the figure to her cane in place of the bear. “It looks as if I am to stay here and be your Spirit Healer. You five must enter into the instance without me.”
“Then when we die you can resurrect us,” David was almost laughing, “and I thought this was going to be #&^%@&# hard.”
Melania took another card from the recipe box and again held it up to the moonlight. It was the Three of Cups upside down. “I can bring you back to life twice,” Melania told them. “On the third time, death becomes irretrievable.”
“But we will win won’t we?” Tony stepped forward. “Whatever has taken Cynthia will be destroyed and she will be returned to our world …. right?”
“Outcomes are not meant to be discerned,” Melania told him. “To do so … binds us to their fate.”
“But I have to know that everything will work out,” Tony pleaded. “I can’t go on without knowing.”
“Very well but this is beyond my judgment,” Melania said. She extracted another card from the recipe box and was holding it up to the moonlight when Tina’s frantic scream made it slip from her fingers. Everyone looked in the direction the girl was pointing.
A hunched bony figure with long stringy dark hair was leaping over headstones and dragging a terrified girl across the dead grass. That’s Cynthia,” Tony gasped. He started to chase after them, but Sheriff Walker held him back. They watched as a stone door opened and Creepas and the girl disappeared down a dark stairway inside a moss-covered crypt. Seconds later the door closed with a low boom.
Tugg had the chest open and was extracting a sword, an axe, a long-bow with a quiver of arrows and what looked like a New Year’s Eve noisemaker.
“Four serious fighters and a distraction,” Tony said with jubilation. “This will be perfect.”
Melania took the Sheriff’s flashlight from David and was searching the floor of the room for her dropped card. Moments later, she let out a small shriek. A somehow pristine and un-yellowed Death card lay on the stone floor.
“Is this going to be a #&^%@&# wipeout,” David gaped.
“It’s difficult to predict,” Melania told them. “One thing is certain. One member of our party will never return to this world.”
To be continued ….