Locking my arms tight about Luke’s shoulders, he splayed out his claw-like fingers, and digging them into the stone wall like a series of hooks and spikes, we raced up it. They cut into the brickwork as he began to hoist the pair of us up. He moved with the grace and fluidity of a spider as he scuttled up with me clinging to his back.
I looked over my shoulder and could see Potter staring up at me as I hung about Luke’s shoulders. It was then that I saw Potter bend his knees slightly and hurl himself up. He whooshed past us, grabbing the top of the wall with his nails, as he disappeared over and into the grounds of the monastery.
We reached the top of the wall, where Luke swung us over and scurried back towards the ground, his fingers working quickly and smoothly as they bore into the wall. At the bottom, he eased me off his back and I was glad to have my feet firmly on the ground.
The others were crouched by the wall, hidden in the shadows that stretched out before us. On this side, I could see the monastery in the distance. It was a tall building, like that of a cathedral and was constructed from grey-coloured stone. The monastery looked ancient, as if it had stood on the Cumbria hills since the beginning of time. Ivory crawled up its walls around pointed-shaped windows and grabbed for the roof. The bell tower loomed over us, a crack running down the side of it, making me fear that it might just topple over at any moment and crush us.
“What now?” Potter asked Murphy as we crouched beside him.
Reaching into his coat pocket, he produced five small wooden boxes and handed one to each of us. Opening mine I peered inside, to find what looked like nothing more than a box of gunge, not too dissimilar to snot.
“What’s this?” Potter asked, staring into his box, a look of revulsion on his face.
“Queets,” Murphy said. “You know, the stuff we coated the walls of Hallowed Manor in – to keep the vampires away.”
“I don’t ever remember it looking like this,” he grimaced.
“This is queets in its purest form,” Murphy explained.
“So what are we meant to do with it?” Luke asked. “Rub it into our skin to protect us?”
“Shaking his head with a mischievous smile, Murphy said, “No, you’ve got to swallow it.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Potter hissed, throwing the little wooden box aside. “There is no way I’m swallowing that!”
“It will protect you from any vampires that might be lurking in that monastery,” Murphy explained.
“How?” Isidor asked, turning his head away in disgust at the smell of the gloopey-looking queets.
“Once swallowed, it will be in your blood within seconds,” Murphy said. “Any vampire that takes a bite at you won’t be around for long. Just one drop of your blood with that stuff in it and the vampire will be ash before it knows what’s happened.”
“Where’d you get it?” I asked.
“An old friend,” he said, and I thought of the giant shadow handing something over to Murphy in the derelict farmhouse.
Then, as if to prove that it was safe for us to swallow, Murphy raised the little wooden box to his lips and tilted his head back. At once his face turned red, and his eyes started to water. Snapping his head forward, he began to cough and sputter. After several moments, he drew in a deep breath. Then, wiping the tears from his eyes, he looked at us and said, “Wow – that stuff has got a kick to it!”
Sighing deeply, Isidor said, “If it’s gonna help, then what the hell.” Then pinching the tip of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, he opened his mouth and poured in the contents of the box. Just like Murphy had moments before, Isidor started to cough, but not only did his eyes stream, so did his nose as thick, ropey lumps of snot rolled over his top lip.
“You weren’t joking about that stuff having a kick,” he gasped, looking at Murphy through a set of bloodshot eyes. Then cuffing the snot from his top lip, he looked at me and said, “What are you waiting for, Kiera?”
Taking a deep breath, I empted the contents of the small wooden box into my mouth. It was cold and slid over my tongue and down my throat like jelly. Then I felt it hit, the sensation of burning acid, working its way down through my chest and into the pit of my empty stomach. Retching, I lent forward, fearing that I might be sick. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I covered my mouth with the back of my hand. Slowly, the acid feeling started to subside and looking at Luke, I choked out, “Your turn.”
Closing his eyes, he chucked back the queets, and like the rest of us, his face flushed red and his eyes watered.
Snatching the box from where Potter had thrown it, Murphy held it out towards Potter and said, “Take it.”
“No thanks,” he said, looking straight at Murphy. “I’ll take my chances with the vampires.”
Knowing that he wouldn’t win, Murphy put the box back into his coat pocket and shrugged, “Your choice.” Then looking at the rest of us he said, “The effect of this stuff doesn’t last long, so we need to get in and out of the monastery as quickly as possible.” Then he was up and weaving his way towards the building.
Bent low, we followed in single file. The grounds were deathly quiet and had an eerie feel to them. I guessed that a monastery should be quiet and still, after all, it was meant to be a place of reflection and prayer. But there was something more – the whole place seemed to be void of any movement or life. We approached the building from the back as it loomed-up over us, and dived behind several large trashcans.
“What a wonderful smell you’ve found for us,” Isidor said, covering his hyper-sensitive nose with his hands.
“Shhh!” Murphy ordered, and his whole body appeared to stiffen.
We sat hidden for what seemed like forever, not one of us daring to move. We listened for any sound of life, but all I could hear was the noise of my own shallow breathing and heart racing in my chest.
“Follow me,” Murphy suddenly said, leading us from behind the trash cans. We ran across a small cobbled courtyard and through a door which led us into a kitchen. It was long and narrow, with cookers along one wall and cupboards along another. Moonlight cut through the tall windows on either side in milky shafts. I watched as Murphy peered about the room then, spotting something, he made his way to the far wall. Here, Murphy took five brown habits that hung from a series of hooks.
“Put these on,” he whispered, handing them to us. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Potter groaned as he took hold of the monks robe. “I can’t pretend to be a monk!” “You’re just going to have to try,” Murphy told him. “Why do we have to keep sneaking around all the time?” he complained. “You know I’d much prefer just to get stuck straight in.” “No!” Murphy said, pointing one of his fingers at Potter. “We try and get out of here without drawing attention to ourselves. Let’s just find the girl, that’s all we’ve come to do, Potter.”
“Whatever you say, you’re the Sarge, Sarge,” Potter said, throwing on the habit.
I pulled the robe over my head, and was immediately struck by its stale odor. I tightened it around my waist with a cord and pulled the hood up over my head. My friends did the same and as I spied at them from beneath my hood, I shivered. Although their faces were hidden in the darkness of their hoods, their eyes shone like pumpkins lit for Halloween.
Once we were all disguised, we followed Murphy across the kitchen to a door that I guessed would lead us into the heart of the monastery. Gripping hold of the handle, he slowly opened the door. It wailed on its hinges and my heart beat faster.
“Remember, in and out! We find Kayla, with as little fuss as possible – no heroics! We can’t afford to be discovered,” Murphy warned us, as we made our way into the awaiting darkness.
We made our way through a series of stone corridors, our robes whispering about us. The monastery seemed deserted and devoid of all life. Every so often, moonlight spilled in through the giant stained-glass windows set into the grey stone walls of the corridors we crept through.
Without knowing exactly where we were heading, it didn’t take long to feel disorientated amongst the labyrinth passageways and spiralling stairwells.
From outside I could hear the wind blowing hard and rain lashing against the windows. Glancing up from beneath my hood, I glanced out and the night looked bleak – just like the monastery that we skulked through. Ahead, two monks appeared in the corridor and came towards us. With my heart thumping in my chest, I lowered my head and prayed that they wouldn’t suspect us of being intruders. As they came closer, I just kept saying over and over in my head, “Please walk by! Please just walk by!”
As if my prayers had been answered, they shuffled past us in the narrow corridor, their robes brushing against mine. Fearing that it would only be a matter of time before one of the monks did suspect us, I whispered, “Does anyone have the faintest idea which way we should be heading? We could be wandering around in circles for all we know.”
Then on our left we passed a door. It was wooden and a series of black iron hinges seemed to be holding the wooden planks together. The door was nondescript and gave me no idea as to what might be hidden on the other side of it.
“Let’s see what’s in here,” Potter said, taking hold of the door handle.
“No! Wait!” Murphy growled. But it was too late. Potter had pushed the door open and stepped inside. Within moments, he had reappeared in the passageway and was beckoning us forward.
“Come on,” he whispered and we followed him into a room.
Luke closed the door behind us and we removed our hoods.
The room was in semi-darkness, and was lit by several small candles. The air was pungent with the smell of burning wax. Just like any monastery, I guessed, there were statues of the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary placed randomly about the place. And although I had been into many churches in my life, I could clearly remember the sense of peace and tranquility that I had felt in them. But this place, despite its beautiful statues, made me feel uncomfortable and uneasy.