The Obedience of Brother Odhran (V)

Brother Silas died as silently as he had lived. I often wonder whether he would have screamed, if he could. I think not. He was a mystery, Brother Silas, and the manner of his death the greatest mystery of them all.

I came running to the bell-tower knowing, sensing, evil. Indeed, the whole monastery came running since Silas, clinging to the bell-rope, had been ringing out the secret chime, to signify great danger. Over and over it sounded – how, I wondered, had he even known this signal? It is taught to every incoming novice but Silas – no one had thought it worthwhile to teach a deaf man a bell-pattern he could not hear. Unless… It occurred to me, now, that Silas had been able to hear all along.

Too late. The pattern broke, suddenly, though the ringing continued for some time. The haphazard, chaotic clanging of a bell when a dying man clings to the rope. He gave his own life to warn us. But of what?

I was first to the tower, despite my advanced age, though as I ran up the circular stairway my legs were trembling and I feared my heart might burst. Since a child I have known when evil was afoot; have always been able to sense the proximity of the Evil One and his henchmen. I, Father Cuthbert – the one you would least suspect, that kindly and somewhat ineffectual old cleric. It is not something I mention, and for a very good reason: I am ashamed of it. For how should possession of such a gift reflect upon the possessor? But when I heard that bell, I knew. And I ran towards it.

Brother Silas’ mauled and bloodstained corpse lay on the floor, his right hand clutching the bell-rope even in death. Odhran stood over him, drooling, or at least the shell of Odhran did. What looked out from his eyes, when he turned his blood-soaked face towards me, was something new, and the voice that spewed forth from his mouth was both familiar and unfamiliar. Something that was not Odhran – that was far bigger than Odhran – now lived behind those eyes. And yet…

The Odhran-creature circled, and I too. In mere seconds it had me cut off from escape by the door. When it moved in for the kill I knew that my only hope – and a fragile one  – was that something of Odhran remained. I therefore addressed myself to whatever might remain of the lad.

“Odhram, my child” I said. “I am Cuthbert. You know me.” A growl burst from its throat and it moved closer. And now, faced with the goriest of deaths, I began to know something – not with my head but with some other of me. And what I knew was that the knowing I had always had, the knowing of the presence of evil, was in the nature of a third eye, an invisible eye set over the other two. There was not time to meditate on the finer points this. Odhram moved closer still. I saw the emptiness in his expression – and the fire that consumed him.

I looked with my third eye. Death was coming at me but suddenly I was calm, focussing all my concentration into that place. And I saw – I saw the monster flicker, and for a second, Odhram underneath. At last I saw – what a fight the boy was putting up. Even now, knowing it was futile, he was attempting to wrest back control.

Suppressing all revulsion I reached out and took his hand – the left, the devil’s hand. “Ohdram,” I said. “Do you remember – I bandaged this hand? Do you recall the paste of healing herbs I smeared under the lint, to ease the pain? I have cared for you, Odhram, in my inadequate way. Have mercy on me now, I pray you, and on your brother monks.”

“I know you hear me, child. Remember what you told me once, about the shapes of the white spaces between the black letters? You are now possessed by whatever evil being lived in the manuscript, but it needs you for its survival. Black letters could not exist without white spaces, you told me once: they are of equal weight. He cannot exist without you. He is the letters, you are the spaces and together you are the manuscript.

Silence, and then Odhram was gone. Pushing past me he jumped onto one of the window ledges and threw himself out, into the air. I was not nearly agile enough to stop him but – and I have pondered this long since – would I have tried even if I could? For the thing Odhram did in those last few seconds was right.

As he fell from the bell-tower in a flap of robes and limbs, he made shape – a stark black shape against the white of the sky.



(Jubilate Deo)

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