These are the opening two sections of a novel I wrote for the 2012 NaNoWriMo and have been trying to edit ever since. In order to give me some much needed oomph to do so, I will hopefully be posting a section or two every few days, leading eventually to the whole novel being published here. That’s the intention, anyway…
Monday 4th November 1985: 08.00 – 08.35
There was an almost-a-circle of chairs at the front of the church. Perfectly round on one side, but slightly flattened on the other; as if the person who’d set them out had converted to a more egg-based religion halfway through. The Church of the Seventh-day Omelettists, perhaps.
Joseph Makumbo counted ten. And five old ladies, one to every two chairs, as if saying, ‘We might be here together, but we are definitely not here together.’
He could see them clearly as he tiptoed up the central aisle. Faces dry as toast, each decked out in virtually identical old-ladyly hats and old-ladyly overcoats, buttoned up tight against the wintry chill of a 15th-century stone church building.
What was worse, they could clearly see him. As they turned a combined glare in his direction, his heart plummeted into his feet, out through his shoes, down through the floor, and nestled on a sarcophagus in the vaults. Suddenly, he wished Father Rawlings hadn’t suggested he plunge into the unknown world of the Monday morning prayer meeting.
‘You’ll be the perfect replacement for old Mr Jenkins,’ the vicar had said. ‘Since he was taken, the ladies have been missing the gentlemanly touch. And being young, you’ll bring a fresh perspective.’
The vicar had looked at him rather oddly when he’d asked where Mr Jenkins had been taken. He still wasn’t sure why.
To distract himself from the ladies’ glare, he gazed around at the sheer bigness of St Marmaduke’s. The church hadn’t ceased to astonish him since he’d first walked into it five months before. Vast pillars soared into a high arched roof, which stretched into the distance on all sides. Huge stained-glass windows filtered the light into mosaics of colour across the floor and furniture. Ornately carved pews stood to attention in rows like the faithful queuing for communion on a Sunday morning.
Not at all like the place he’d come from. Nothing there but an eight-by-ten wooden shack, with a hundred congregants standing on each other’s toes for the privilege of hearing the word of the Lord being declaimed.
But then – it was no use pining for Norwich, he didn’t live there any more.
From his vantage point carved into the pulpit, from which position he’d fallen asleep to many a sermon over the centuries, the effigy of St Andrew watched the young man’s halting progress up the middle of the church. ‘Psst! James!’ he hissed to his neighbour. ‘There’s another one.’
He heard St James stir from his contemplation of what, Andrew felt, he disturbingly referred to as a ‘very cute gargoyle’ engraved into the end of a pew. ‘Another what?’
‘Lamb to the slaughter.’
‘Really?’ James’s voice was suddenly alive with interest. ‘What’s this one like?’
‘Male, young, and darker than we used to be before those Renaissance painters got hold of us.’
‘Hmm. Not likely to survive this lot, then.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. They’ve only killed one in the last few months. And he was a wrinkly; too frail to defend himself.’
He heard James snort. ‘I’ll lay you six to four he doesn’t get to the end of the meeting.’
He thought about this for a couple of seconds. ‘Hang on,’ he said. ‘I’m a carving. Where would I keep my winnings?’
His fellow icon sniggered. ‘Got you again.’
Andrew stayed silent, fuming. He’d have liked to tell James to go stick his head in the font, but since they were both at the front of the church and the font was at the back, James would only come out with some crack about having to call the eagle off the lectern to give them a lift. And the eagle had refused to do that once before, claiming two lumps of stone climbing all over him would ruin the polish the cleaning woman gave him every week.
‘Anyway,’ James broke the silence, ‘why can’t we shift positions for a bit? It’s unfair you get to see all the good stuff while I’m stuck staring at pew-ends.’
Andrew was just about to explain that: one, somebody would be bound to notice if they did; and, two, as they were both integral to the structure of the pulpit it was impossible for them to move anyway; when a small but acerbic voice came from the middle of the left aisle. ‘Oh, so not good enough for your eyes now, aren’t I?’
‘Oh, Lord,’ James groaned, ‘that’s done it. I was getting on so well there, too.’