There are many things that I have observed since I was put in my cathedral to begin my career as an organ. Some are more beautiful than I care to describe. Others are the complete opposite to that. But I have never experienced anything so terrible, so evil or so strange as what I am about to relate, and I hope I will never do so again.
It was Christmas Eve. Since my field of vision extends to outside the windows of the cathedral, I could see that the sky outside was dark as fear, and that snow smothered the ground. The wind howled and shook the bare trees in anger. Or was it anger? Was it trying to warn them of something? It seemed to make the very walls of the cathedral groan in protest. Christmas Eve or not, the scene was far from festive. If the angels were due to come that night to enchant the world with their wondrous music, they never arrived. Instead, there was yet another blizzard which gave the world yet another coat of frozen fur.
The cathedral clock struck the hour. But which hour? Time appeared to have stopped on that night. Perhaps the old bells rang only out of habit, for that supreme being we will always be ruled by stood as still as a dead man’s heart. Or so it seemed to me. Even the gargoyles, who were ordinarily haughty and rather unpleasant, were silent. Perhaps they felt that, for once, they were failing in their task to repel evil spirits. The very scent of loneliness and the taste of silence filled the still, empty air of the cathedral.
A child entered the cathedral. He was no more than twelve years of age, and yet something in his eyes gave him the appearance of one much older than his years. Despite the biting cold, he was only dressed in rags. He sat on a pew and shivered. He looked up at the florid ceiling above him, then closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears that I could see were fighting to break their barriers. He was frozen, friendless and completely alone in the world. He had no permanent home or shelter; no money; nothing. And now he had come to this cathedral for shelter. But he had long lost faith. In fact, he thought, he wondered if he had ever truly believed at all. Of course, he would never tell anyone this. It was a heresy; a crime not to believe in the scriptures. But Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had been discovered a few years before he was born. Naturally, no one had told him that. He had picked it up, like most other things, from listening to the conversations of the rich on the streets. And yet this boy, as uneducated as he may seem to the reader, was in fact highly intelligent. He knew much more than most boys of his age, but let on nothing to the world around him. How do I know all this? I have a sixth sense: I can tell many things about people that are not necessarily visible to the eye, and can feel the feelings of others in a very literal sense.
Soon, the boy felt himself floating… drifting… then, he crossed that thin border, that equator between waking and sleeping. At first, all there was was silence for miles around, white and beautiful nothingness to the boy; the sort of nothingness people ordinarily experience so rarely because they do not listen to their surroundings; the sort of nothingness the ignorant might call “deadly”, but is in fact one of the most valuable things anyone can possess. But this boy DID listen to his surroundings. After a moment, the scene changed. The boy was sitting on a rock above the sea. Shapes began to emerge from the high waves that lashed at the rock, and they floated in and out of focus. They were strange, but the boy could only see their shadows, and even they were indistinct…. They moved quickly, some passing very close to his face in a rush of air. One thing was clear: they were not solid. And yet they appeared to be somehow alive. They filled the air with a quiet, yet somehow uncanny whispering. The tongue they spoke in was not English, or any other language known to man, for that matter. The boy could tell that much, even though the words lay just beyond his field of hearing. Slowly, the sounds became louder and louder, until all the boy could hear was a huge, incomprehensible cell of noise in which he was imprisoned. Then, above the noise came a voice. Quiet and yet clear, calling his name. The boy had had this vision night after night for as long as he was able to remember.
Then, the voice began to sing. It was a song like no other human ears have ever heard before. The voice was female, clearly that of a young girl. But no ordinary young girl could sing such magic. The music was haunting, but the most beautiful the boy had ever heard. By now, the shapes had vanished back into the depths of the sea’s great mouth, leaving only the song to be heard. Its words were, again, in that language of the shapes, although now, the boy could hear them. Although he could not understand them, they were beautiful words, and he could tell that. “Azio ria, azio ria. Azio ria za. Aniyo zia, anio zia, nianazia.” Those were only a few of the words of the song. The boy had to reach the source of the sound. His eyes searched desperately.
Then he saw it. Every time the boy had had this vision in the past, he had searched in vain for the singer. But now, he saw her. He was sitting on a rock opposite him but he could not reach her. The waves were too high, and water too deep, the current too strong, the fish too dangerous. But he would have risked almost anything to be with that person, nay, that other worldly spirit that sat just out of his reach. Indeed, the rocks were so close, not much would have been needed for him to reach out and touch her. If she had not been a spirit and if the sea did not separate them with a narrow strip, yet far too wide in the eyes of the boy. The spirit that was singing in front of him was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen. Her hair was long and black, her eyes the colour of emeralds, her clothes were a cloak of gold and yet she was as light, as free, as graceful as air. But then, the boy realised: he could not join her. For she was a spirit and he a human. They could not mix. In despair he threw himself from the rock and landed beneath the folds of the sea’s embrace…
“What are you doing here?” The boy jumped and woke instantly from his trance. A man was standing over him. He was obviously a vicar, for he was wearing black robes. But, for some reason, the boy instantly did not like him. “Well?”
“I was looking for shelter from the cold and I was so tired I went to sleep.”
“Went to sleep?”
“What’s your name?”
“Gabriel? Gabriel what?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, “you don’t know”?”
“My parents died years ago. I never knew my surname. I was too young to be told.”
“You are attending divine service, of course.”
“Well, I would rather do that than go back out there again.”
“I would rather attend divine service than go back outside.”
“What do you mean? You will, of course, be worshipping with us.”
“No.” Gabriel gasped. He could not believe he had revealed his lack of belief. “I- I mean yes, of course. Of course I will. What could I have been thinking of? Oh, sir, please forgive me!”
Gabriel stared at him. “But it’s freezing out there!”
“Get OUT of my cathedral this instant!”
Gabriel took a deep breath. “It’s not your cathedral. It’s everyone’s, or people wouldn’t come here. And besides, I don’t understand. I thought Christians were supposed to follow the will of God. And I thought that that was to be kind and loving. But you’re sending me out to freeze to death!”
“You are possessed by Satan!”
“I am not! Satan does not even exist! And why should it be considered evil to have my own opinions? I don’t understand.”
The man looked at him thoughtfully. Then, very slowly, he nodded. “Very well,” he said, icily. “You will not go out tonight. And you will not join us for divine service.” Gabriel thought he saw the ghost of a smile cross the vicar’s face, and then instantly disappear again. But it was a smile void of laughter; void of humour. “Instead, you will follow me.”
“Follow you? Why? Where to?”
“FOLLOW ME!” the man repeated, louder this time. In spite of himself, Gabriel found himself standing and following the vicar, as if drawn by some invisible rope or chain tied around his middle. Indeed, he fought as hard as he could, but felt such a strain on his stomach that he felt he must obey.
If I was not able to see all parts of the cathedral, my tale would stop here. But I have the good fortune to have that power, so from hence I shall go on.