The Small Hours: A Novella
The first four chapters of a Gothic anthology
1 — Cathedral
IN the year 750 A.D of the 8th century, morning rises on Gothic architecture’s finest monument, Cathedral of Our Lady Chartres, perched on a hill off the River Eure in Chartres, France. Her twin spires rise as salvation beacons on the horizon of lush countryside farmland.
A horseback phalanx of six infantrymen with shields and spears escort a white steed mounted by a man in his early thirties — Witch Hunter Andre de Lorde.
The phalanx comes to a halt at the rear of the cathedral. The infantrymen dismount. Two stand guard with swords drawn, while two more join shields and overlap their swords to protect Witch Hunter de Lorde. The final two infantrymen approached a weathered door to a subterranean crypt.
Inside, an early-thirties monk, Liutprand, works with a mortar and pestles of crushed powders, and blown glass bulbs. On his table sits a completed, primitive hourglass. Liutprand shocks back as the two infantrymen break down the door. They seize Liutprand. Witch Hunter de Lorde enters under the guard of his two-man phalanstery, while the other two infantrymen, with swords drawn, protect the door.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion to my work,” says Liutprand.
“These are a vile heresy, Liutprand.” Witch Hunter de Lorde inspects one of the glass bulbs and smashes it to the floor. “How dare you defile the church with your witchery.”
Inside the cathedral’s orphanage, a sixty-year-old nun, Modesta, attends to mix of twelve orphaned boys and girls between the ages of 8 to 10 years old. The children scream in shock as two of Witch Hunter de Lorde’s infantrymen break down the door and seize Modesta.
“Please, Master de Lorde. Not the children. I beg ye for mercy.”
“Modesta, you putrid woman.” Witch Hunter de Lorde rips away Modesta’s vestments. “How dare you defile such innocents.” He waves his hand. “Take her away,” he commands his infantrymen. As two infantrymen drag Modesta from the orphanage, the other two infantrymen round up the crying orphans.
“Burn in Hell. One more for the well,” chants a gallery of frenzied townspeople inside the Court of the Witchfinder General as Witchfinder General Paul Ratineau oversees the fate of Liutprand and Modesta.
A shout breaks through the gallery chants. “They blighted our grains and rout starvation upon us,” says a twenty-something shoe-Cobbler.
Witchfinder Ratineau slams his gavel. “I will have order in my court.” He points the gavel at the Cobbler. “Another outburst from the gallery, and they’ll all join the accused. Proceed, Witch Hunter de Lorde.”
“As you wish, Witchfinder Ratineau. It is proven,” continues de Lorde, “that Liutprand, once a trusted servant of the church is, in fact, an overseer of a druidical sect.” de Lorde picks up an hourglass. “Liutprand is a warlock and a practitioner of witchery, with claims that he is able to control time with this device of the devil.”
“It is not a contrivance of the devil. It’s a scientific instrument discovered on a pilgrimage for man’s betterment,” says Liutprand.
“Burn the bastard witches,” screams a twenty-something Eva Berkson from the gallery.
“Kill Satan’s agent,” shouts a twenty-something Derek Dundas.
“One for the well,” yells Derek’s brother, Alexandre from the gallery.
“Liutprand poisoned our soils to mire and soured our vineyards,” shouts a twenty-something Grocer and his Wife. “Throw them both in the well, Witchfinder.”
Witchfinder Ratineau strikes his gavel and points to Liutprand. “You will not blasphemy this court with your outbursts of heresy. And the gallery,” as he waves his gavel at them, “is on final notice.” The gallery settles down. “Liutprand, to embark on a church mission to seek out the devil and conduct apothecary on church grounds is a crime most heinous.” Ratineau motions to the court’s infantrymen. “This court finds you without virtue and beyond redemption. It hereby condemns you to the depths of the Puits des Saints-Forts. May the Lord have — .”
As the two infantrymen drag Liutprand away, he shouts, “Ratineau, as you have measured my virtue, so shall I measure the true sinners.”
The face of Witchfinder Ratineau morphs into a demonic snakehead. He bellows, “Remove that serpent from my sight.”
2 — Sacred Center
BENJAMIN Muratore, a late-twenties American, meditates in his aisle seat on the upper deck cabin of an Air France A380 Airbus as “Games People Play,” a 1967 song by Joe South, plays over his ear buds.
Charles Nonon, Benjamin’s sleeping seatmate, also in his late-twenties, shocks awake in his window seat and knocks open a water bottle from his armrest that soaks his trousers.
Benjamin rips out his ear buds. “Jesus, Charlie. What the hell?” He wipes at the water splashes on his own shirt.
The gallery townspeople from Charles’s dream fill the other seats in the cabin — stewards Derek and Alexandre Dundas attend to and serve the passengers.
“Sorry, Ben. Bad dream.”
“Dreaming about a girl you can’t handle?” Benjamin presses the service button.
“How long was I out?” says Charles.
“Long enough that she got revenge, obviously. And I got my jollies.”
“It wasn’t a woman, Ben. I dreamt about . . . witches.”
“Long flights screw with the mind, my friend,” says Benjamin as he scuffles Charles’s hair. “Fortunately, neither of my ‘heads’ have that problem.”
“Wait,” realizes Charles. “What did you do?”
On cue, Stewardess Eva Berkson — from the Gallery — saunters over. “So, what I can I get you . . . gentlemen.”
“He’s still a puppy, Eva. Could you please bring a towel,” says Benjamin.
“Anything else, sir?” smirks Eva.
“Everything is perfect, Eva. Friendliest skies I’ve ever flown,” says Benjamin.
Eva throws a sexy grin at Benjamin as she slinks off.
Benjamin turns to leer at Eva’s legs. “Now that’s what you should be dreaming about,”
“No. Tell me you didn’t,” questions Charles.
“Living all my fantasies at 20,000 feet.”
Inside the lavatory, Benjamin and Eva join the “Mile High Club.” Eva pants and moans; arches her back and neck as Benjamin penetrates her body. She lets loose a snake-like hiss as her teeth morph into fangs that sink into Benjamin’s neck. His body quivers in delight.
“The power of my fuck knows no altitude or airspeed.” Benjamin leans in and pulls away the shirt collar from his neck. “I present to the court.”
Charles looks. “Is that . . . teeth?”
“I love when they brand you.”
“You’re unbelievable, Ben. Haven’t even landed and the debauchery begins.”
“Says the man who’s number one with a bullet in the confessional booth of top ten sins.”
“True, true. Nicole ain’t no nun.”
“We all have boners, I mean ‘bones,’ ratting in the closet, Charlie.”
On cue, Eva returns with a towel and two fresh water bottles. She passes a towel and bottle to Charles at the window seat, and then flirts a bottle to Benjamin in the aisle seat. She leans in and whispers, “I’ll see you when we land, Ben.” Eva saunters off to Benjamin’s delight.
Charles shakes his head. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”
“While you get our luggage, Eva says she knows a place.”
“I think we better put the American Embassy on speed dial.”
“You worry too much, Saint Chuck. Sinners have much more fun.”
In the plane’s cockpit, Liutprand sits as the Captain and Andre de Lorde sits as his First Officer. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” says Liutprand into the intercom. “We are over the city of Chartres. If you look out to your right, you’ll see the renowned Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres.”
“Perfect,” says Benjamin. “Prepare to be amazed at the view, Chuck.”
As Charles gazed downward from his window seat, the aerial view of the cathedral’s roof exposes the heart and soul of the Lady’s design.
“The ground plan is a cross,” begins Benjamin. “The four wings point north, south, east, and west, with each wing representing the passage of time from the past to the future.”
Then Benjamin describes the West Front Facade and its Rose Transept Window. “The front facade is located on the west wing. The west is where the sun sets and represents the apocalypse, the end, and the last judgment.”
“The north wing,” says Benjamin as the North Wing and its Stained Glass Rose Window comes into view, “represents the past, with its stained glass images of the Virgin Mary, and the prophets of the Old Testament.”
Then the South Wing and its Stained Glass Rose Window comes into view. “The south wing represents the contemporary world. Jesus Christ is the center of the window. He’s surrounded the by representations of stories from the New Testament.”
“Amazing,” interjects Charles. “And what about the east wing?”
“That’s the home of the Sacred Center,” the interior of the East Wing, with its pulpit, choir area, and on the floor — the Sacred Center, comes into view, “and the convergence point of earth energy. The portal was maintained through all six cathedrals on the site.”
3 — Dolmen
THE light traffic of delivery trucks and cattle cars travel northwest bound on N154, a highway that cuts through open farmland of the Chartres, France, countryside.
“Geeze. Can you drive any slower, Camille? Tick-tock,” says a late-twenties Paula Maxa from the front passenger seat of Camille Choisy’s rental car.
“There’s plenty of French hotties to go around, Paula,” says the similarly-aged Camille.
Their friend and fellow traveler, Sybil Thorndike, stirs in her sleep in the back seat. Her dream slips her back into the 8th century.
“What of the crimes of his woman?” says Witchfinder General Paul Ratineau as he turns his attentions to the Modesta. “Is she not the nun who cares for orphans in the name of our church?”
“She is consort with Liutprand to expose our children to the craft of witchery,” says Witch Hunter Andre de Lorde.
“Then so shall she be condemned to the well with Liutprand.” Ratineau motions to two infantrymen at the ready.
“Do with me as ye must,” cries Modesta, “but the children have not sinned against this court. Please, spare them.”
“The children,” says Ratineau, “were helpless against your beguiled influences, thus seen innocent in the eyes of this court.” Then Ratineau betrays Modesta’s spiritual relief. “The children will remain the wards of this court until so excised of the demons you rout upon them, vile woman.”
“No. I beg ye, please.”
Outside of Chartres Cathedral, the townspeople wield torches and rocks as infantrymen, led by Witch Hunter de Lorde, drag Liutprand and Modesta to the base of a three-foot high stone wall that encircles the entrance to the depths of the “Well of the Strong Saints” — the Puits des Saints-Forts. Amid the chants and shouts of the townspeople, two infantrymen lift Liutprand, then Modesta, into the well. As the screams of the accused echo from the mouth of the well, the townspeople cheer with delight as they toss their rocks with violent force into the well.
Witch Hunter de Lorde cradles a Holy Bible as he leads two infantrymen that escort the twelve orphans down a dungeon corridor. He recites the book of Ephesians 6:10–12, in Latin:
Finally, my brethren,
Be strong in the Lord,
And in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armour of God,
That ye may be able to stand
Against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,
But against principalities,
Against the rulers of the darkness of this world,
Against spiritual wickedness in high places.
As de Lorde finishes the Ephesians blessing, one infantryman unlocks a door to a cell. Along with the second infantryman, they push the children inside. The door slams shut. The lock engages.
“It’s dark,” the orphans cry out. “I’m scared. Please don’t leave us. We can’t see.”
“Do not fear, children,” says de Lorde. “We shall lift the curse of your dark eyes.”
Sybil Thorndike shocks awake in the backseat, which causes Camille Choisy and Paula Maxa to shock back. The car swerves.
They skid to a stop on a grassy roadside.
“Holy crap, Sybil,” says Camille. “You scared the piss out of me.”
“Sorry, Cams. Bad dream.”
“Hot French guys give you the barrel, the gun, and the fish. And you’re having nightmares,” says Camille.
“Yeah, chill Sybs,” says Paula. “You’re off the hook. What spooked you?”
Sybil begins to recollect as she rubs off a headache. “People being thrown down a well. Children in a dungeon.”
“That settles it, Sybs,” says Paula. “We are finding you a French hottie in Chartres. You need a no-strings fling.”
The girls exit the car. Camille checks for damage.
“Is the car alright, Cami?” says Paula.
“We just skidded in the grass. Another few feet,” Camille points, “we would’ve hit that Dolmen.”
The collapsed remnants of a Dolmen — an ancient, megalithic tomb of two standing stones and a large, flat boulder — rests on the roadside.
Paula pulls her iPhone. “We have got to get a picture of that.”
“You mean that piles of rocks?” says Sybil.
Paula skips toward the Dolmen. “That ‘pile of rocks,’ as you put it, is a druid tomb built around the time of Stonehenge. Besides, we need to stretch our legs.” Paula turns her back against the Dolmen. “Squeeze in. Let’s get a picture.” Camille and Sybil squeeze on either side of Paula. Paula holds out her iPhone and snaps. Then she digs in her pocket and lights up a joint.
“What in the hell are you doing?” says Sybil.
“Getting stoned in a druid circle,” Paula tokes “or around anything druid, is the thing to do in Europe.”
“So, I avoid prison back home to be busted for drugs in France,” says Sybil.
Camille leans against the Dolmen and takes the joint from Paula. “We are in the middle of nowhere, Sybbies.” Camille takes a drag. “Relax.”
“Pot,” Sybil waves off the joint, “is your answer for everything.”
“I think a good fuck is a solution for everything,” says Paula.
Sybil rolls her eyes.
Camille leans back and takes a deep drag off the joint and closes her eyes.
She opens her eye and sees an ancient field of tombstones that surround the Dolmen. As several arms reach out of the Dolmen’s rock face and clutch Camille’s body —
Liutprand, in his monk habit, appears with Eva Berkson and a phalanx of rotted ghouls — made up of the townspeople from the gallery of the Witchfinder’s courtroom.
Camille shivers, speechless.
“Only you can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven, my dear Camille,” says Liutprand.
“Hmmmm.” Eva strokes Camille’s cheek. “You’re yummy. Can I have her, Liutprand?”
“I know you love your toys, Eva, my sweet.”
Camille shocks awake and brushes frantic at her arms and hair.
“See, I told you. Getting stoned at druid landmarks freaks you out,” says Paula.
“And I’m the one who needs to relax,” says Sybil.
“I guess you two,” Paula tokes, “won’t be getting laid this trip.”
“Of course,” says Camille. “Why should you sacrifice your pussy for one of us.”
“Yeah. Cami’s right, Paula,” adds Sybil. “As if you don’t get enough already.”
In the front passenger seat of the rental car, Paula views a GPS Map of Chartres on her iPhone. Camille’s back behind the wheel.
“How you doing back there, Sybs?” Camille looks into the rear view mirror at Sybil in the back seat.
“Will you two stop it, already.”
“Just keeping you awake so you don’t get thrown in the well, Sybs,” says Paula.
“That joke’s not getting old.”
“So,” Camille turns her attention to Paula, “how much further, captain?”
Through the windshield, a road sign appears for the A11/L’ Oceane Highway, an east-western crossroad that divides the countryside from the populated outskirts of Chartres.
“Once we cross the A11,” Paula gazes at her iPhone, “we hit the D7, then into Chartres.” Just then, a road sign for the D7154 Motorway appears. Cottage homes and quaint buildings dot the road sides.
“How far is that from Paris?” says Sybil.
“About 80 kilometers, southwest,” says Paula.
“In English, please,” asks Sybil.
“Fifty miles, you stupid American,” rolls Camille’s faux-French accent off the tongue.
Paula scrolls through the image library on her iPhone and views the photo of Camille leaning against the Dolmen. The iPhone morphs and sprouts rose thorns that impale her hand. She tosses the device to the car’s floorboards.
“What the hell, Paula?” says Camille.
“Yeah, chill out. Relax,” says Sybil.
Paula reaches to the floor board and taps the iPhone with her finger. She picks it up. “The damn phone shocked me.”
Witchfinder General Paul Ratineau — in the characteristic garb of a hack — drives a taxi cab that passes a hodgepodge of old architecture reflected through the cab windows. Charles sits in the back seat texting on his iPhone. Benjamin wears his set of ear buds; “Hush,” a 1967 song by Joe South, plays. As he gazes out the cab’s windows, he has a moment of wonder.
Rotted Ghouls — comprised of the gallery townspeople from the Witchfinder’s courtroom — shuffle along a sidewalk in front of a dilapidated storefront funeral parlor. An undertaker swings a mallet and drives nails into a pinewood coffin. The undertaker looks up at Benjamin in the passing cab and tips his stovepipe hat to reveal — Liutprand.
Eva springs up from the coffin as a prepared corpse. She turns her glare to Benjamin and paraphrases the poem The Hollow Men, III by T.S Eliot: “Welcome to the dead land. Here, the stone images are raised, here they receive. You pray with a dead man’s hand, Benjamin.”
Liutprand silences Eva with the plunge of a steak into her chest. “Eva, my dearest. You can only have one. Go back to sleep.”
Benjamin shocks out of his daydream of hearing Eva calling out his name; Joe South’s “Hush” comes to a stop as Benjamin rips out his ear buds. He stares into the review mirror, where Ratineau smiles back at him.
“Eva got the best of you, huh? Pretty soon,” mocks Charles in a Bela Lugosi-like voice, “you’ll only come out at night, Count Muratore.”
4 — Quintet of Saints
JOE South’s 1966 song, “Yo Yo,” plays over Benjamin’s ear buds as the taxi cab pulls into the cobblestone parking lot of the Hotellerie Saint Yves, located at 1 Rue Saint-Eman — built on the grounds of an ex-ancient monastery. The Cathedral Chartres stands 50 meters to the west.
“Your final resting place, gentlemen,” says Ratineau. “I mean, your hotel, sirs.”
“You get a couple extra Euros for that one, Paul, my man. Good one,” says Charles.
“Thank you, sir.” Ratineau tips his cap and accepts the tip. “I’ll get your bags ready for the valets.” Ratineau pops the trunk and unloads the luggage.
Charles pulls focus on his digital camera onto the profile of the cathedral and snaps a shot.
“I can’t wait to show you Fulbert’s Crypt, where the Puits des Saints-Forts sits,” says Benjamin.
“That’s the ‘Well of the Strong Saints.’ Where they disposed of early Christian martyrs?” says Charles.
Derek and Alexandre Dundas — in the garb of valets — collect the luggage and share a sly nod with Ratineau.
“Chuck, once you walk the labyrinth on the west wing under the Rose Window, and view the Sancta Camisa — ,” says Benjamin.
Derek and Alexandre take in the bags. Ratineau enters the taxi cab and drives off.
“That’s the Virgin Mary’s tunic, worn at Christ’s birth, right?” interjects Charles.
“Chuck, you absorbed more about French medieval history in a week than my students do in two semesters.”
Camille’s rental car pulls into the Saint-Yves’ cobblestone lot; the trunk pops. Valets Derek and Alexandre approach the car and open the ladies’ doors, assist their exit, and then remove their luggage.
At first, the female trio admires the spires-view of the Cathedral Chartres — until Paula leers at the valets-Dundas’ nametags and elbows Sybil. “Derek and Alex are yummy. That spells ‘L.A.I.D.’ Just in case you forgot what that is.”
“First it’s drugs,” Sybil’s eyes roll, “now it’s male prostitution. It never ends.”
“The Saint-Yves is beautiful, Paula,” exclaims Camille. “Having a travel agent for a best friend certainly pays off.”
“And what about me, the real estate agent,” says Sybil. “The one who found you that art gallery space.”
“Yes, Sybs,” says Camille. “Having you as a friend pays off as well.”
“Meanwhile, Sybbies and I are stuck with an art gallery owner for a best friend with zero benefits,” says Paula.
“So says the girl who ties men around her finger two and three at a time to get all the benefits she wants,” replies Camille.
“Hey,” Paula flips her hair, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Benjamin and Charles, as they exit the hotel, overhear the girl’s conversation. Always on the make, Benjamin says, “I think you ladies are all beautiful.”
“Can we assist you ladies on a tour of this historic hotel? Perhaps a city tour,” says Charles.
“Do you work here?” says Camille.
“No. We just got into today. This is Benjamin. I’m Charles.”
“You’re on vacation from the states?” says Paula.
“More of a working vacation,” says Benjamin.
“A ‘working vacation’? How so?” says Camille.
“I’m an architect and Ben is a history professor. We’re collaborating on a book about the Baroque and Rococo architecture of the 18th century.”
“I’m a big fan of the Beaux-Arts architectural style, reminiscent of the Andrew Mellon Building in Washington,” says Paula.
“Are you an architect . . . ?” Charles trails off. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“No, but she plays one when she travels,” says Sybil.
Paula gives Sybil a playful elbow. “I’m a travel agent, actually. It pays to know your product.”
“Well, I’m impressed, Paula,” says Charles.
“Camille owns an art gallery,” introduces Paula. “Sybil is in corporate real estate.”
“Well, once you girls are settled, you should join us on a tour of the Cathedral Chartres,” says Benjamin.
The girls glance at each other. Charles pats Benjamin’s shoulder. “Ben is the best history professor in the business and he knows his cathedrals. He even rivals your skills as a tour guide, Paula.” The guys look for approval. The girls smile at one another.
As the quintet strolls through the lobby doors, Derek and Alexandre carry the girl’s luggage — their faces morph to rotted ghouls, then return to human form.
You can read the full eBook — also available worldwide at all eRetailers for all eReaders/platforms — at Amazon ($0.99) and Smashwords (free). You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis at his Facebook Author’s Page.
This novelization is based on the copyrighted screenplay of the same name.