Morgenstern – Burnt Bluffs

Burnt Bluffs

“Alright lads last call.”   It was only midnight but Virgil Connelly considered that an early closing for his pub in Hinderwell Hallows.

“Are you calling me a lad Virgil?”  The pretty brunette sat in front of him smiling and flirting with her eyes.

“I didn’t say it was last call for you Raina love.”  He winked an ice blue eye at her and turned to prepare the last drinks of the evening.

Raina laughed lightly and returned her attention to her cousin Luke, not taking the bartender’s flirtations too seriously.  Virgil and Raina had known each other since they were children, flirting since their teen years and had recently started a relationship after many years of friendship.

“Back from the dead and still playing games.”  Luke chided as he drank his beer.

Raina downed her whiskey and chased it with a sip of beer not bothering to reply to her cousin’s remark.  She hadn’t technically come back from the dead because she hadn’t physically been dead; protective custody was damn near the same thing and necessary following a botched case on which she had been lead detective.  Raina had been making amends to her friends and family for letting them suffer through her supposed death with Luke and Virgil being two of those people.  Father Daniel Ferrgaro was another who came to mind as he walked through the pub doors with his protégé, Father Grey.

“Top of the evening to ya Fathers’.  You’re just in time for last call.”  Virgil put on his best Irish accent; he hadn’t been back to Ireland in 7 years but could still pull it out when he wanted to.

Daniel and Grey sat at the bar next to Raina.  She smiled politely at the young priest but let her gaze linger and hold while looking into Daniel’s eyes.  Aside from the priests, Raina and Luke Caine, there were 4 regulars – Robert, Henry, Will and Karl – in the pub to close out the night along with the only waitress currently employed by Virgil, Lucy.  She didn’t really need to be there this late on most weekdays but Virgil knew she needed the money to support her son and unemployed husband.  Everyone knew her situation and did their best to tip what they could to help out without it looking like charity.

Lucy absently wiped a table that had been vacant, while jealously staring at Raina.  Even after faking her death and coming back a year later after causing hurt to her friends and family, she was still the centre of attention and the glitter in everyman’s eye, even a priest.  Lucy didn’t think it was fair that Raina should have everything including a wealthy family, good education and beauty while she had to struggle just to put food on the table every night.

Raina felt Lucy’s resentful eyes on her and turned to acknowledge the contempt with a smile and a nod, knowing how the waitress felt and not caring.  Lucy’s life was hard but Raina hadn’t exactly had it as easy as everyone believed.  Her job cost her, her life when she had to fake her death and disappear and while money hadn’t ever been a concern, the pressure to be perfect, to live up to her family’s high standards of professionalism and to be in the line of fire caused her a just as much stress.  But the past was the past.  She had been back in the Hallows for 2 months and her former life was over.

Since returning Raina had been involved in an intimate relationship with both Virgil and Father Daniel; Raina never claimed to be a saint and both men had willingly gone into her arms.  Father Daniel returned to her embrace after 10 years and Virgil had finally been welcomed to her bed after many years of friendship and his longing to be with her.  Daniel knew about Raina and Virgil and deep down, Virgil knew about her affair with the priest but neither cared or would acknowledge it.  Virgil had wanted her for years and hoped that one day Raina would come to him and accept his love.  He wasn’t going to turn from her because of an indiscretion with an old lover who could never been anything more.

Raina had come back from the dead and moved into the Caine family home overlooking the village with no intention of returning to London, which Virgil took as a sign that they were meant to be together.  Virgil had heard all the rumours about Raina and Daniel’s liaison before the priest took his vows 1o years earlier.  He wanted to ask her about it and why Daniel rejected her and chose God but he didn’t want to press his luck and possibly ruin what they had now.  Whatever was between Raina and Daniel then and now, Virgil knew about but chose to remain ignorant in favour of his love.

The clock struck 12:45 am and Virgil looked toward Raina and Daniel who were speaking in hushed tones.  Curious and maybe a little jealous, he leaned between them to interrupt the conversion.

“Can I get you anything else love?”  Virgil planted a chaste but possessive kiss on her cheek.

“I’m fi-”

Raina’s words cut off as a loud bang, like a car hitting the building, reverberated throughout the pub and shook the foundation, knocking glasses to the stone floor.  Everyone looked around inspecting the ceiling and the walls, shock on their faces as the formerly quiet night erupted around them with several smaller bangs and impacts.  The patrons turned toward the bar, focusing on Virgil and the priests for answers.  Virgil was about say something about going to look outside when the lights went out leaving only the half-burned candles on the bar and tables as light.  Virgil grabbed one of the candles and bent under the bar groping for a flashlight and missing a knowing glance between Raina and Daniel that would have caused him to question them about what was happening.  Instinct moved Luke from his seat to the door where he slammed the lock and threw the dead bolt to seal them in.  He was a military man and fortifying the stronghold was the first course of action to take.

“What are you doing Luke, we need to get out of here.”  Lucy had stumbled forward having to feel her way around in the darkness and catching her hip on a table before starting to scramble with the locks.

“Leave it Lucy; we don’t know what is happening out there.”  Virgil called out as he headed to the office/storage room behind the bar, asking Raina to come with him to get more flashlights.

They went into the back room and Luke followed, heading straight to the desk phone to try to call emergency but with no luck.  Both him and Raina pulled out their mobiles and got no signal; Virgil opened a metal cabinet on the back wall and pulled out a couple more flashlights and candles.  Tossing his useless phone on the desk, Luke went to the window and pulled back the heavy drapes with the expectation of seeing stars and moonlight.  The room lit up with fiery flashes and an ember glow emitted from what appeared to be a burning boulder 5 feet from the window and on the lip of the cliff that bordered this part of the village.  Virgil swore as he tried to get one of the flashlights to work, then swore even louder in surprise, dropping the useless torch and looking outside.  Raina and Virgil moved beside him and just stood looking in awe at what was happening.  Fire rained from the sky as flaming stones pelted the ground around the pub and hit the ocean beyond the village.

“Get the priests.”

Virgil absently directed Luke but it wasn’t necessary as Lucy ran into the office in a panic to leave with Daniel and Grey rushing after her to try and calm her down.  They stopped their fussing as the glow from the window came into view.  Lucy silenced then started to cry seeing the horrific scene on the other side of the glass.

“What is it Father?”  Grey clutched his rosary as he pushed forward to the window.

“I don’t know.”  Daniel paused then said what was on his mind.  “Maybe it’s the apocalypse.”

Virgil whispered that it wasn’t possible and tried to protest but his words were overshadowed as voices rang out from the barroom calling at Lucy who raced back to the door, more frantic in her efforts to get out and get home to her son.  Luke, Virgil and Grey tried to stop her and talk sense into her before she could open the door to the sulfurous night.  Daniel kissed Raina’s hand and drew the drapes before heading back to sit at the bar with a bottle of whiskey and waited.

“Lucy you can’t go out there, it’s dangerous.”  Virgil slammed against the door just as she got the final lock off.

Will stumbled from his chair and told Virgil to let her out and he would walk her home.  Virgil looked at him wondering if he knew what was happening outside or if he was too drunk to have noticed.  He tried to tell Will but the old bugger waved him off and chivalrously offered his arm to the distressed waitress.  One of the other regulars, Robert, got up and offered his arm on the other side.

“Let them go if they still wish to after you open the doors.”  Daniel walked to the trio and blessed them, a silent good luck charm.

Raina stood at the bar pouring a couple of shots for her and Luke, watching the scene unfold.  Luke took the glass, his shaky hand splashing liquor on himself and the bar.  She poured 3 more drinks before he put down his glass, adding one more for Grey as he sat down clearly in shock.  The young priest pounded the shot wincing as the whiskey burned his throat and warmed his stomach.  Daniel stood beside Raina and took the shot she had left for him.  If it was the end of the world, why not go out with a solid buzz.  The last 2 regulars, Henry and Karl, remained at their table not certain what was happening but knowing that is was not good.

“We should do something, get help.”  Grey sputtered as he took another shot.

“The phone is dead and there is no mobile service.”  Luke explained.  “I don’t know what to do.  Maybe we should all go to the police station.”

“Maybe.  Perhaps a couple of us should stay here and open the way to the catacombs.  Just in case you aren’t successful.  You know, prepare if we need to take shelter.”  Raina poured more drinks and waited for the action plan to start.

She didn’t have to wait long as the flow of booze, the situation and the remaining company worked to Luke’s strong sense of authoritative obligation.  Virgil looked around the group and volunteered himself to go with Luke but Raina quickly stopped him and pointed out that he would need to stay if they were going to open the catacombs and find a way out of the pub through them.  The catacombs that Raina talked about ran under the pub, which at one time had been the village schoolhouse, and came out under the church and the Caine mansion, the former town hall. The storage room in Virgil’s office housed an entrance to tunnels but the area was crowded with boxes covering the stairway leading into the bowels of earth.

“Luke, Grey and Karl should go.”  Daniel volunteered the three men to check out the situation and seek help.  “The rest of us can gather supplies in case we need to settle in and maybe find another way to get help from here.”

Karl got up, not really sure what the fuss was but willing to play his part in whatever theatrics were taking place.  Daniel turned to Father Grey, who was a new shade of white, and told him to have faith and lend the support of God to the men.  Virgil passed a flashlight to each of them then headed back to the office, leaving the 4 men at the door, now slightly ajar, waiting with Lucy, Will and Robert.  Having finally seen the catastrophe outside, Robert pulled Lucy back fearing the rain of fire.  Daniel patted him on the back reassuringly and whispered words of confidence and strength in his ear.  Robert tightened his grip on Lucy’s arm and they moved forward following as Luke and Grey opened the doors and exited the safety of the building.

The pub was empty now except for Virgil, Raina, Daniel and Henry.  Daniel bolted the door again and headed back to the bar where Raina and Henry sat having more drinks.  Henry looked shaken by the shock of what was happening, the unreal scene slowly processing through his alcohol addled mind.  They could hear Virgil banging around in the office and moving debris out of the way of the door leading below.  Henry started to relax as the whiskey penetrated his body and eased his alertness.  He smiled drunkenly at Raina as she moved behind the bar, grabbed something that she slipped into Daniel’s hand and moved back to the stools beside Henry; Daniel remained standing silently behind the man.  Henry poured two more shots and toasted with Raina to the end of the world.  He put down the glass and Daniel quickly wrapped one hand around his chin, exposing Henry’s throat then smoothly pulled the small paring knife Raina slipped him, from left to right.  Henry’s eyes stood open in shock as he died and his body fell away from the bar knocking over stools on the way to the floor.

Virgil emerged from the office alarmed by the crashing in the barroom and concerned that the destruction was no longer limited to outside.  He stood behind the bar, not immediately seeing Henry’s body and looking to the others for an explanation.  Daniel put the knife down, the wetness on the blade not discernible as blood in the dim candlelight.  Virgil moved forward and went on his tip toes to look over and saw Henry crumpled on the floor over a toppled bar stool.  Shocked at the sight of the dead man, he quickly came out from behind the bar to examine him and figure out what had happened to one of his favourite regulars.  Raina and Daniel stood in front of the body stopping Virgil from getting any closer to the truth.

“What’s happening?”  He backed away from them feeling an uncomfortable sense of fear and alarm.

“The end Virgil.”  Daniel put his hand on the bartender’s shoulder and gently started moving him toward the office, Raina following.  “The true Lord demanded a sacrifice and we obliged.”

“What are you talking about?”  Virgil pulled away from Daniel and grabbed Raina by the shoulders, asking his panicked questions and trying to get away from the priest who remained behind him like an unmoving sentinel.

Virgil bumped into Daniel and noticed for the first time how imposing he was with his broad shoulders and muscular build.  He couldn’t see the blood on Daniel’s dark shirt but could feel the wetness from the priest’s hand as he gripped Virgil’s shoulder again, the blood soaking through to lick his skin.

“Virgil we aren’t going to hurt you.  We need you.”  Daniel moved him with more force to the office and sat him down, then stood by window while Raina perched on the edge of the desk smiling.

Virgil observed how calm she appeared causing his fear to rise.  As another flaming stone hit the ground near the window he nearly jumped out of his chair from the shock of the noise and vibration.  He looked at Daniel wiping blood from his hands with what had been a white bar towel and groaned seeing the splash of red now marring it.  Raina stared at Virgil marveling in his eyes, as always, drowning in their crystal ice blue hue, such a beautiful contrast to his olive complexion.  Raina wondered why she had waited so long to open herself to this man, knowing he had always wanted her but pushing him away for fear of becoming domesticated in his thrall.  Living a normal life, maybe having a family and settling down; the thought had scared but tempted her as a way to escape the pressures and pain that her life had always been.

“Raina.” Daniel tossed the bloody towel in front of Virgil and called her from the reverie back to the task at hand.

“This is the end of it all Virgil, the end to this world that we have known and suffered in.”  There was a shred of sadness as Raina made the declaration.  “And the beginning of a new world.  One that isn’t filled with greed, hate, war mongering and fear of those who are of different races or religions.  A new Lord will rise to earth who will live among his people, not rule over them and turn a blind eye to man’s atrocities and intolerance.”

Vigil looked stunned at this insane talk about sacrifices and new Gods.  He knew Raina didn’t believe in God or biblical teachings and what she was saying now was preposterous regardless of her religious beliefs.  It had only been an hour since the storm of fire began and his lover seemed to have transformed into someone completely alien to him.  He wanted to blame it on Daniel but even if he had converted her, this talk was not Catholic rhetoric.  Virgil looked at Raina and she could see it in his face, the question of why she would say these ridiculous things.  She tried to explain.

Her death was real.  A year ago she had entered an abandoned warehouse with her partner searching for a missing girl and when they found her, they also found 4 men holding her captive.  They attacked and she fell from a 10 storey ledge onto construction debris and was impaled by a piece of rebar.  She died slowly as her partner couldn’t reach her but she was not lost.

“I know how this will sound but as I slipped into oblivion, a bright light appeared and a man took from the warehouse.  I woke up in a strange place, something that looked like a monastery and the man told me that I was in purgatory.”

“Stop it Raina.  These things aren’t possible, purgatory isn’t real.”  Virgil’s shock over all that was happening was quickly being replaced by anger.  “And you, how can you just stand and listen this, you’re a man of God.” He pointed an accusatory finger at Daniel.

“I know what you’re saying Virgil and I reacted much the same way when Raina came to me 4 months ago.  But she showed me the truth and showed me the way.”  Daniel knelt beside him.  “ She told me what my part in all of this would be.”

“What is your part?”

“Daniel is the new Lord and we, you and I are going to be his hands of God, so to speak.”

“Bullshit. I won’t have any part of this nonsense.  You’re both crazy.”

Daniel swiveled Virgil’s chair and violently tore down the drapes to put the fire storm into full view.

“Is that nonsense, is that something fabricated from the mind of a crazy person.”  Daniel’s whole demeanor seemed to change as he took command of the situation.  “You will understand everything soon enough Virgil.  You will see the world as we do and you will see what needs to be done.”  Daniel turned him back Raina.

Raina stood up and held out her hand to Virgil with a look of understanding about what he was going through but also a smile to assure him that they were all on the same side.  Daniel walked past them holding one of the flashlights and stood in the doorway leading to the catacombs.  Virgil remained seated frightened by the events that had taken place and by Raina and Virgil.  A stone impacted the wall of the office and the window shattered covering him and Raina in a dusting of glass.

“Where are we going?”  He asked as he took his love’s hand, Raina squeezing it reassuringly.

“To the church.  What you need to know and what you need to see are awaiting us there.”

Daniel descended the steps and Virgil and Raina followed behind their new Lord and savior – Morgenstern.

© 2013, Denise Pasutti

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