“You know the old myth about how the weird people leave their spawn in cradles in exchange for the human babies they steal.”

–H.P. Lovecraft

Pickman's Model

For three long days David enjoyed the company of Alice. At first, it had seemed odd to wake up on the couch. And then he would remember that he had given his bed to the woman that had met him in the library. He would smile at the thought of her laying within his sheets clad only in her necklace, and then rise to make something for her to eat.

But Monday morning he merely lay upon the couch. From the sounds in the kitchen, the furtive whistling of the tea kettle and the soft embrace of the refrigerator door closing, he knew that she had risen already and was preparing him something with which to eat before they commenced their daily activities. He smiled to himself, half lost in the dream of those days, his back not in the least bit sore from having spent three nights sleeping upon the couch. And he remembered.

Each morning, he found her in bed, but each time she was already awake. Her eyes were thankful when he brought her tea. She smiled lightly with her lips, and would slide up from the warm quilts. Around her neck he saw she had already donned her necklace that ended in that alluring tulip that also seemed to be a bell. But she bore no other clothes, despite the chill of the air. It never appeared to bother her in fact.

They would talk then, he sitting on the edge of the bed, and she sipping from her tea. Dawn had not yet arrived at that point, so naturally their speech turned to matters of the dark, wonderings if there was anything out in the night that men only centuries before might have trembled in fear from. Alice was always intrigued by such things, and to David she seemed to yearn to meet them. And as they spoke, David too looked out those windows longingly, thirsting to meet the spectres that he had always thought man’s fancy.

When the sun would begin to rise, the sky would turn leaden grey. Clouds hung heavily over the land, silent and ponderous. Though light began to suffuse the town, the air was stifled. But, there was still light.

And at that point, Alice would rise from bed and slip into her green dress. It was the only clothing that she had apart from the woolen coat that hung by the foyer. On the second morning David had offered some of his wife’s clothing, as he judged they would fit her as well, but she demurred. It did not seem that her dress needed cleaning anyway. It was always fine and well cared for, never did a wrinkle stay within its mellifluous folds. In fact, David realized as he lay there on the couch pondering, her dress had seemed more exquisite each day.

His momentary confusion faded as he thought on the rest of their day. She would talk, and he would listen, letting the dulcet tones of her voice ring in his ears. The music that he listened to in his mind to help focus his thoughts faded into silence whenever she spoke. And he let her words surround his mind, shaping his thoughts to meet their melodious exegesis.

At some point he knew, he had taken care of Noah. The boy did not seem to notice Alice’s presence any more than he noticed other visitors. She was just there, and the five year old accepted it as plain fact. Most of the time, David put the contraption of wire and wooden baubles before the boy so that he might remain occupied while he enjoyed the pleasure of Alice’s discourse on all things of folklore. He really did not want to have to tend to the child after all, not when he could be with her.

And most of the time it was of folklore that they spoke. After they had risen, they would sequester themselves in the living room, sitting close on the couch with various books laid before them on the coffee table, esoteric tomes that David had procured over the years, studying the ghosts and goblins that had come in the night to frighten the people of past centuries.

They were David’s books though, and she would ask him such penetrating questions that he was left scraping at the deepest wells of his knowledge to satisfy her curiosity. It was so stimulating though to answer her and to listen to her thoughts and musings. Those old tales were true for her, that much he could tell. And as her words wound through his mind, filling it with the clear ringing of her cadences, he knew that in some way, they were true for him as well.

And there was so much more. So many intricacies and strange things that seemed to occur that his mind had difficulty cataloguing them all. Like what had happened when the church bells rang for Sunday Mass yesterday. Or when Alice had held Noah in her arms, and the little boy had reached up to touch the bell at her neck. Though the church bell was only two blocks away, he could barely hear it, but he certainly felt it. While the bell at Alice’s neck seemed to reverberate more clearly and harmonically. He felt commanded, in the moment that Noah had rung the bell, to look straight at the woman, even as the very air shimmered and distorted before him, leaving him for a single disoriented moment looking at something completely other.

But the morning, just as he was waking, was not the time he could even hope to attempt to understand all of it. David could only accept them as aspects of the wonder that came with Alice in his home.

He felt sure that they would spend the rest of the year discussing such things, delving deeper into the mysteries at the edge of man’s perception. But he knew that things would be different that day. Alice was already up and in the kitchen. David smiled as he caught the fresh whiff of tea on the air. The sound of a spoon clinking along the sides of a cup rang briefly. Shifting upon the couch, David sat up and looked back at the kitchen.

Alice was there, already dressed, carrying a cup of steaming tea towards him. She smiled. In her other hand was a small piece of paper. “Good morning,” she said. It was still dark outside, but a quick glance at the grandmother clock that sat upon his mantle told him that the sun would soon rise.

“Good morning, Alice,” he replied, feeling a warmth suffuse him. He took the cup in his hands and held it before his face, letting the vapours drift into his nose. “Ah, this smells good. Thank you.”

“You are welcome. And there is something I need for you to do today, my love,” Alice dangled the sheet of paper over his lap. “I need you to find everything on this list and bring it back here by this evening.”

David gripped the tea cup in one hand and then took the list from her. At first glance there was nothing elaborate. He knew where he could find everything on the list, even the one item that struck him as querulously odd.

“Acid?” David asked, looking up at her in befuddlement. There was a calm assuredness in her gaze though that made him feel a child for even asking.

She smiled slowly, her lips pressed close together. Her face was tight, controlled, but at the same time, completely at ease. “Of course, my David. We will need that tonight. I need you to find some. Can you do that?”

David nodded slowly. He could find the acid at the university. At one point in time he’d needed access to some chemical while he was doing an analysis on a bit of bone he’d dug up as part of a demonstration for one of his classes. They had given him a key, and then forgot to ask for it back. It had hung unused on his key chain ever since. The bone sat on his mantle.

“Yes, I can find it for you, Alice.” He sipped at the tea, it was not so hot that it burned his tongue. And then the phone rang, as it always did first thing in the morning. His hand shook in surprise, and some of the tea fell into his lap. He grimaced and set the tea cup down on the coffee table, and dried his pajama top as best he could.

Alice answered the phone, holding the receiver firmly in one hand. “Yes? Oh no, I’m sorry, but he cannot answer you right now. Can you call back tomorrow? Good. Bye.” And then she hung up, smiling once more to him. “I will make things ready here for when you get back.”

It took David only a few minutes to dress and finish his tea. He then took another few minutes to rouse Noah and dress the child. Noah seemed eager to move that day, but as always, his motions were clumsy and had to be slow. Within ten minutes, the two of them left the house, Alice’s list secure in his pocket.

It was about nine, and the sky was beginning to lighten infinitesimally from black to dark grey. David could not quite say why he took the boy with him apart from sheer habit. Alice could certainly watch over him while he was gone, but habit was habit. He would take the boy to the rectory and let his older brother Samuel watch over him.

Though the rectory was only two blocks away, it was still bone cold outside, and so David buckled Noah into the child seat in the back of his car. The contraption of wire went into the passenger seat as always, and then David climbed behind the wheel. It took a moment for the engine to turn over, but a few seconds later he was pulling back out of his driveway and turning on the radio. It was the finale to Khatchaturian’s Second Symphony he noted with a strange sense of amusement. It had already reached the massive carillons that brought the symphony to its momentous climax when they pulled into the rectory’s driveway. Strangely, he thought the carillons were rather subdued.

He did not think much on it though. The day was lighter already, but only another shade of grey. The ground was full of frozen grass, but no snow had yet to fall. It would come soon though, of that he felt certain.

Samuel must have been in the main hall, because before David had even managed to get Noah unbuckled from the seat, his older brother the priest was standing in the doorway a look of unmeasured relief crossing his features. “David! It’s good to see you! Do come in for a moment and sit down.”

“I cannot stay long, Samuel,” David replied tersely after setting Noah’s feet on the macadam. “I have some errands to run. I’ll pick Noah up when I’ve finished.”

Samuel came to his side, bent down and smiled at Noah. “Are you happy to see your uncle, Noah?” The boy’s lips twitched into a smile. He may have been retarded, but he still recognized family.

After giving the boy a quick hug, Samuel straightened and looked David in the eyes. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you since last Thursday. What’s going on?”

David blinked, genuinely surprised. “You have?”

“Yes, I’ve called you each morning these last four days. In fact, I called not twenty minutes ago.”

David bristled and shook his head. “Don’t take that tone with me.”

His older brother grimaced and then nodded, his lips fading into a simple line. “Very well. Will you at least come out to the graveyard for a few minutes before you head off? You haven’t visited Mom and Dad yet this year.”

A tremble clutched his heart, the first true feelings of pain he’d had in the last three days. The cold bit into his exposed flesh, and he blew out a heavy sigh that misted into the air. “Yes, you are right. My chores can wait a few minutes longer.” He bent down and hoisted Noah onto his shoulder. The boy opened his mouth in wonder. “Let’s go.”

The church was right across the street from the rectory, and the graveyard lay beyond the church. Once a year, David would make a pilgrimage to that cemetery to where his parents lay interred. It was strange that he had forgotten it until now, but he smiled at the reason for his forgetfulness. Alice was waiting for him. She would understand the need for this. The spirits of the dead had to lie in peace after all. How many folktales told of spirits ill-regarded by their sons and daughters coming back to teach them a lesson?

Samuel waited until they were across the street and in the shadow of the church steeple before speaking again. “There was a woman who has been answering your phone these last few days. I admit it caught me off guard. I take it you’ve met someone?”

David was looking up at the stone steeple. The giant brass bell was visible half-way up the steeple in small cupola. But when Samuel mentioned the woman staying with him, a smile creased his lips. “Yes, Alice. I met her last Thursday while I was at the library. She wanted to learn more of folklore.”

“Truly?” Samuel asked, his voice guarded. “And does she come over every day now?”

David could not help but laugh. “Come over? No, she stays with me. She says she has to go home soon, but for now she’s sleeping in my bed.” His laugh turned crooked. “I am sleeping on the couch, dear brother, never fear for that.”

Samuel let out a mildly guilty chuckle. “Of course not.”

“But she is happy to stay as long as there is more to learn. And she knows so much already, Samuel. She has a keen eye for folklore, and a mind that is as sharp as a knife! I have listened to her ask questions that have made me think of folklore and of all ancient myth in new ways, ways I had never considered. It’s really quite exciting.”

David felt his breath coming quickly now as his body tensed from the thrill of her tones still reverberating in his skull. “I think I am in love with her.”

The priest said nothing for several long seconds as they passed beyond the church and entered the graveyard. It was held in a large field with oak and ash trees framing it. Grey marble headstones rose up from the Earth in a profusion, some large and some small. Some were ornately designed, while others were merely plain headstones or crosses. They matched the hue of the sky, like bits of the heavens snatched from above and anchored to the earth below.

Samuel began to say something, but as they stepped into the graveyard, his mouth closed. It was almost instinct for all men to remain quiet in the abode of the dead. David knew that in his mind, Samuel would be reciting prayers, but right then, his eyes could only look for the familiar headstones of their parents. Set amidst some of the largest headstones were two fairly modest crosses. David turned towards them as soon as he could.

When he stood before them, staring blankly at the names etched into stone, he knelt and set Noah down upon the ground. The boy’s legs folded under him and he sat on the grass unawares. The names swam before David’s eyes, twisting and turning around.

“It’s been twelve years now,” Samuel said softly.

“To the day,” David added. “Twelve years since I killed them.”

Samuel sucked in his breath. “You didn’t kill them, David. It was an accident.”

David grit his teeth. He could feel the soft soothing voice of Alice in the back of his mind, gently assuring him. “And what if some part of me wanted there to be an accident? Wanted them both to die?”

“Well, you know that is not true,” Samuel replied his voice aching. “You loved them, I know, I have seen it in all that you do.”

“But I knew there was something wrong. I knew deep down there was something wrong.”

“What? What was wrong, David?”

David could no longer see the names at all. Even the crosses were beginning to waver before him, indistinct and hazy. He turned and scowled to the priest. “Everything. I don’t know yet.”

“It was an accident, little brother. These things happen. I cannot explain it any better than that. Do not blame yourself for something that was out of your hands.”

A sour smile played across his lips. “I was driving, Samuel. I was driving. You cannot take that away from me.”

“No. I suppose not.” Samuel looked back at the graves for several long seconds. “Do you wish to visit Alice’s grave?”

“Alice’s grave?”

Samuel did not look up. “Your wife.”

David felt strangely surprised. She had died about five years ago too after all. But when he thought of her, he thought not of the Alice he married six years ago, but of the Alice that was waiting for him back home. He did have chores to attend to still. “No. No, I do not. I should really get going.”

“I have to deliver daily mass at 4 so do remember to come for Noah by then.”

David nodded, and then another thought struck him. “Do you think you could forgo using the bell today? This close to it, feeling it ring really upsets Alice.”

“Feeling it?” Samuel blinked at that. “Upsets her? The bell?”

David nodded, even as he began to walk around his brother and back out of the graveyard. He left Noah sitting on the frozen grass. “Yes. We can’t really hear it where we are. And it makes her physically ill so much that she turns green.” And with that, he continued on his way. He had to do his chores. Hopefully his brother would be kind enough to do as he was asked.

I was shocked at the abruptness of my younger brother’s departure from the graveyard. It had become clear to me in those few minutes I spent with him how drastically he had deteriorated over the course of the preceding four days. There were subtle clues in his behaviour that unsettled me, things that only a brother could see. I admit that I pushed him slightly, testing him to understand my own fears; fears that I had at that point been unable to name.

But now I at least was certain that the source of my fears was indeed the woman Alice who had moved in with him. I wish I had done more than call David every morning. I should have made more attempts to visit him. But I assured myself that it was not as serious as I thought, and rationalized my reticence with duty. I had to prepare for the last Sunday in Advent, I told myself. My brother would understand. I could just try again on the next day.

I am ashamed that it took him coming to drop Noah off for me to realize the gravity of the situation that he faced. Yet, I still did not quite understand the nature of the threat he faced, and I had no notion what might be done to save him. I only knew that there was something dreadfully wrong with Alice, and that she had come to him looking vaguely like his dead wife and bearing the same name. It was clear she had some design on him, though for the life of me I could not fathom what or why.

I resolved to pay closer attention to this problem. When David returned to pick up his boy, I would definitely question him further. After daily mass that afternoon I could even take it upon myself to visit again. I resolved then not to let that woman keep me from spending time with my brother. I am, as you know, not normally a forceful man. But David and Noah were the only family that I had left, and I was not about to let this woman who put such a fear in my heart take them away.

At the time though, I was left to look after Noah. A pleasant task of course. The boy could not speak, nor could he move very well, which given the cluttered state of the rectory – I have never been very good at putting things away I fear – was ideal. Perhaps, I thought, I could speak of my fears to the boy. He would not understand, but he would listen at least.

I carried Noah back to the rectory after giving David a few minutes to get in his car and leave. In his haste to attend to the chores that Alice had given him, David had forgotten to leave Noah’s toy. I was sure I could find something of my own to occupy the boy.

I wish I had asked David what chores she had sent him on, but at the time I felt I could still do that when he returned.

Though I am blessed with a small parish, especially during the holidays, there was still a great deal of church business that I had to attend. So, I brought Noah into my study and set him on the floor. I took out a clipboard and turned my chair about so that I could see the whole room while I worked. But Noah just sat and stared aimlessly for quite a while, so I am afraid that as the minutes drew into hours I quite lost track of the boy.

It was only when the rumblings of my own stomach made me think of lunch that I looked about to discover where Noah had got off to. I was relieved to see him in the room with me, but he had made his way over to a cabinet and had pulled out one of the liturgical handbells that I use from time to time. He was running his fingers along the inside and looking at me with wide eyes.

I complimented him on finding my bell, and got up to ask him to put it back when he gave it a firm shake. It rang warmly with a rich sonorous peal, and for the life of me, I cannot help but say that I felt a compulsion just then to look at the bell more closely. I took the bell from his hands, he gave it up to me easily, and then set it on the shelf behind him. The brass thrum stopped when the bell touched the wood, but I still felt as if a soft hum were echoing in my ears.

I asked Noah if he would like me to tell him more about the bells after we’d had our lunch. In the child’s own way, he let me know that he liked the idea. Or at least, the sound of my words pleased him, because a smile crept along his lips. It was a small thing, but clear nevertheless. I made sandwiches, and helped him eat, and then after washing away the breadcrumbs that had fallen on his shirt, I took the bell in my hands and began to tell him about it and the history of bells.

I do realize that you who might be reading this at Bishop Levi’s behest are well aware of the history of liturgical bell use. But I feel it is important that I convey at least in part what I told the boy. Though I do not believe he was capable of understanding everything I said, or even most of what I said, nevertheless I felt that at some level, communication between us occurred.

Bells have served many functions throughout history. In China, the art of bell making goes back to at least fifteen hundred BC. In Europe, the art is much more recent, and began to flourish in the aftermath of the crusades when trade was established with the, at the time, more advanced Moslem kingdoms. They possessed superior metalworking skills, and the Europeans learned from them, and more bells began to be cast, amongst other things.

Bells were used to keep time. In many cities, there was a man who would, on each hour, strike a large bell so that everyone would be able to know the hour. With the advent of mechanics during the Renaissance, many of these bell ringers were replaced with automatons, metal sculptures that did the ringing for them. They were often designed to look like knights or other noble characters. Some of them are still in use today in cities in Europe.

In the church, bells have long served a purpose. During the Eucharist, we ring the bells at the precise moment of transubstantiation when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. My parish church is old, and still possess a steeple with a working bell, and this practice is maintained. It is a source of pride in fact for the members of our parish to have liturgical bells still in use.

Of course, the construction of bells has grown more advanced over the centuries. Most especially in this last. Bells are musical instruments, but each bell that was forged was in some sense unique. Pardon me, but I also spent a small portion of my time discussing what I know of music theory. Each note sounded in music has what is known as the fundamental tone – the note that has been played – and a series of overtones – notes that we hear faintly in addition to the fundamental.

Every note played on a piano or violin resonates across a metal string. The overtones operate very symmetrically, with the frequency of each overtone an integer multiple of the frequency of the fundamental. It operates differently with bells. The overtones sounded by a bell are determined by the shape of the bell, and also, by the material used in its forging. When the overtones created by the bell are at frequencies that are not integer multiples of the fundamental frequency, then the overall tone of the bell is hazy and indistinct, a sort of throbbing ring that cannot be determined exactly.

In the nineteenth century, techniques were devised that allowed bells to be cast with overtones that apart from the second overtone, were all integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. This gave the bells the faint sound of a minor third triad. Bells such as these were used in some of the first massive carillons that adorn many of the finest cathedrals and music halls. Later in the twentieth century, this errant overtone was devised out, so that the sound of a bell perfectly mimicked the quality of a plucked string. The bell that Noah had selected was itself tuned to D above middle C.

It was as I was talking about the musical qualities of bells that I came to ponder something that David had told me. The odd request not to use the bell because it upset Alice had bothered me greatly. What about the sound of that bell might be upsetting her? It certainly was not the noise it created because David said that neither of them could hear it anymore. That in itself struck me as strange since the church bell could be heard all across town except during the busy seasons of school.

Noah rang the bell once more at that point. I felt a need to stare once more at it, and then up into Noah’s face. His eyes were generally vacant, but I thought I caught something within them. Some plea perhaps? I still am not sure. I fear it may be just a bit of my own imagination at work, my desire and hope that the boy may not be as brain damaged as the doctor’s had said. Though he was not my son, he was still my family and I wished that he would be able to comprehend the finer things in life.

I took the bell from the boy’s hands and walked back to my desk, trying to ponder those questions. Alice had worn a strange black bell about her neck that did not seem to make any sound at all. Perhaps there was some meaning there as well?

I am afraid I had no more time for contemplation just then. David had returned from his errands and was knocking hard upon the door. I put the bell in the bottom drawer of my desk, and then went to the front door. David looked impatient, asking only after Noah. I admit I deliberately left Noah in my study that I might draw David into the rectory so that I could question him further, but he would have none of it.

Disappointed, I felt I had no choice but to carry Noah to the front door. Moments later, David was putting Noah in the car, and I had only been able to ask one question of my younger brother, a question he ignored.

It was already growing late in the day, and I had but an hour left to prepare for daily mass. I resolved to attend to the matter of my brother immediately after mass, but I was thwarted in that too. One of my parishioners needed to speak with me on a matter weighing heavily on their soul. I was delayed an hour as they wound their way through a complicated weave of confession and need for solace. I will confess myself that I was horribly distracted during the entire affair, but must give thanks now for it.

God does work in mysterious ways. For if I had not been in the church that late, I do not think I would have been able to help my brother at all with what happened that night.

The radio was playing the last movement of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony. David was delighted as he pulled into his driveway when he heard the final relentless drive of the march reach its tumultuous conclusion. The symphony was notable for its use of the chimes, allowing those tubular bells to resonate long after the rest of the orchestra was silenced. It was meant to symbolize the dying echo of the calamity the Symphony was written to commemorate.

But then, as the orchestra finished its final ululation, there was nothing. David grimaced as the silence wore on, but no sound came forth. Disgusted, he turned the car off and then helped Noah out of the child seat. There were more important matters to worry over than a mere technical glitch.

He laughed to himself as he opened the front door. The air beyond was warm and rich with an exotic fragrance. He did not see Alice inside, but he knew she was there. “Alice! I am home. I have everything you asked for as well.” His excitement was too great to even wait a moment to hear a reply.

After setting Noah down on the floor, David ran back to the car and popped the trunk eagerly. The shopping had taken longer than he had expected but he had everything on her list, even the acid too. The latter was in its bottle still, and he grasped that in one hand while the two bags he hoisted up with his other.

Alice was standing in the door when he closed the trunk. He waved the bottle of acid in the air and she smiled. She turned and stepped back inside without a word. David hurried after her, depositing the bags on the coffee table in his rush to put his arms around her.

“Did you miss me?” he asked as he hugged her close.

Alice nodded and then set one finger on his lips even as he was leaning forward to kiss her. “Not yet, my sweet. Not until we are properly wed. Then we can do that and far more, day after day.”

Wed? That sounded like a perfect idea. He could no longer imagine his life without this woman. In fact, it was beginning to grow difficult to even remember his life before this woman had stepped into it only a few days ago. All else seemed like a dream that he had finally arisen from; a nightmare of misery and dreariness.

David grinned eagerly to her but broke his embrace nonetheless. “I have everything you asked for. It’s all in the bags. Now please, talk to me some more.”

Alice slid past him, gently patting the boy on the top of the head. She peered into the two bags and then drew out a small candlestick. She turned into over in her hands and then set it back within the bag. “Yes, this will work.”

She then sniffed the air and grimaced distastefully. Her head turned slowly until she was looking down at the boy. Noah was staring at the wall as he sat legs splayed on the floor. “Noah is dirty. Look at those pants, there is dirt all over them. Where did you go?”

Even as Alice bent down and forced Noah to stand, David felt some creeping bit of shame come over him. “I went to drop the boy off at the rectory and Samuel asked me to go visit Mom and Dad’s grave.”

Alice had managed to get the boy’s shoes off and was working on his pants. “You went to the church?”

“No, just to the cemetery.”

There was a long moment of silence while Alice worked the boy’s pants off. She did not seem to be satisfied with this and began to lift his shirt over his head as well. “You left Noah with the priest? Why did you do that?”

David blinked, certain now that he made some sort of mistake. “I always do that. I am sorry, Alice. I should have asked you if you wanted to watch him.”

“Did you go into the rectory?”

“No. I hurried back here as soon as I could.”

“But you still went into the graveyard?”

David nodded, watching as his son was stripped of all his clothes. “Well, it seemed the right thing to do. I had to show respect to the dead.”

Alice looked back to him and offered a strained smile. “Of course, my love. You did. Could you put Noah’s clothes in the laundry?” She tossed the boy’s underwear onto the top of the pile and widened her grin.

David’s face replied in kind. He bent down and picked up the pile, turning towards the laundry room back behind the kitchen. “And wash your hands before you come back!” her voice called after him. The way her words just settled around his ears and lingered, he knew at once that it was a very good idea.

In fact, he felt a mild distaste for Noah’s clothes by the time he tossed them into the hamper. His skin definitely itched he thought. There was a small sink in the laundry room, and he quickly rinsed his hands off, scrubbing them hard, as if something foul had coated them in slime. But eventually David knew that they were clean. He dried off his hands and stepped back in the living room.

Alice had sat down in the antique chair he’d inherited. One of those fashioned from stout oak and stained around the turn of the nineteenth century. He could not for a moment help but notice how it made this wondrous woman look like a queen atop her throne. David had often used it for reading, and Samuel had long favoured it when he had come calling. And there had been another, one who had sat in that chair resting a hand upon a swollen belly.

Alice cradled Noah in her lap. The boy lifted one hand and brushed his finger tips across the bell at Alice’s neck. A soft throbbing sounded, and David felt his mind lifted, filled with an amorphous pleasure at its tone. And also, he felt a compulsion to study the woman, to fix her every detail in his mind. Before he could do that, the air before him broke, and he saw something else.

Where Alice sat was a marvellous being, a woman with green flesh, large solid eyes, wearing a lightly verdant dress that appeared now more a wedding gown. Her face had no nose, but she seemed to bear a crown, horns or feelers of some kind ringing around her temple. Her hands had grown into long vegetative claws, and they held the boy tightly against her exposed belly. That bell, seemed to glow violet as it thrummed between her emerald breasts.

And then, silence fell once more, and the vision passed.

David trembled, and then fell to his knees. “Alice!” he cried, his voice hoarse as if he’d been screaming for a very long time.

She smiled to him, and patted the boy on his head. “Yes, my David. There is much still to tell you. But first you must do one more thing for me, and then I will answer all of your questions, as you have answered all of mine. Then, we can be together as we were meant to, my love. For all the rest of our lives.”

David crawled forward, still trembling so much. He put his chin against her knee, staring into her eyes. The spectacles rested at her nose, but she stared past them, as if they had always only been an affectation. “Tell me, my love. What must I do?”

Alice laid one finger upon the bell at her neck. “Your brother will be giving his daily mass soon. While he is at the church, you must go into the rectory and steal all of the bells. All of them. Hide them somewhere that he will not find them for at least a day. Do not bring them back here. Take them far away if you can.”

His head bobbed up and down as he continued to prostrate himself at her legs. “I will do as you say. I hate them.”

She smiled and gently stroked one hand over his hair. “I know you do. And then, once his mass is over, you will go into the church. You will take the bottle of acid and pour it over the bolts of the steeple bell.”

“The bell will fall. It could kill somebody.”

Alice nodded. “There will be nobody in the church then, my love. And it will take a few minutes before the acid eats through the metal. You can be well away from there before it falls. When you are done, come back here and I will tell you the glorious future that awaits us all.”

David nodded to her, his hands still trembling. He would do as she asked. He had so many questions of his own. So many. And she would answer them. All he had to do was get rid of all those insufferable church bells.

He rose to his feet and took the bottle of acid. David returned to her side and bent forward, pressing his lips to her forehead. He then bent lower and kissed his son as well. “I will return when I am done.”

Alice lifted one hand and caught at the edge of his shirt. “My love, just one more thing.”


“When you are done, be sure to remove all of your clothing before coming inside again.”

David nodded slowly, and then turned around and walked towards the door. The bottle of acid was clutched tightly in his hands. They were not trembling anymore.

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