Thursday, February 21, 2013

Help from Unexpected Places


Thanks to many of you and your efforts, we've completed the story that Charlotte Hamm started here with her post!  The rest was found by solving puzzles on the site she linked,  They were fairly tricky, but you made short work of them.  After the last puzzle, there was an email address that replied with the actual end of the story and a link to Hamm's Facebook where she promised to help me. I am grateful to each and over one of you that assisted in getting this done; it would have taken me far longer on my own.

Here is the completed story, in case you hadn't gotten a chance to read it.  I have preserved the way it was broken up by adding asterisks in between sections.

 The Room Beneath St. Matthew
“It’s down here,” Jimmy gulped.  His eyes had a sort of madness in them and his voice was shrill, even for a teenager. “Well of course it is—where else would it be?”  Father Irby was clearly annoyed.  Jimmy Donovan was a silly boy who told silly stories, and this latest interruption had deprived the priest of Shirley Connor’s hospitality, including her famous shepherd’s pie.  More than his stomach had been left to grumble. “Sorry, that was stupid,” Jimmy responded without looking back.  He seemed only partially aware of the cranky, older man trailing behind him as he weaved his way through the various crates and stacks of books in St. Matthew’s cellar.  He stopped at the far wall. “Well?” Father Irby scowled. Jimmy took a deep breath to steady himself.  “Ok, so I’ve been down here cleaning the last few days because my parents volunteered me last week in mass.” Irby smiled plaintively.  “Your parents do like having you around St. Matthew, yes.” “Well, I’d just about finished the front part here when I heard something strange.” “What exactly?” “Kind of a whistling noise from somewhere over here, near this bookcase.  It sounded like wind coming through the hall somehow.” “And?” Irby was finding it difficult to mask his impatience with the teenager. “But that’s just it, Father Irby!  There aren’t any windows down here.  Where was the wind coming from?” Irby frowned.  “This church is over one-hundred years old, Mr. Donovan.  I’m sure it’s acquired more than a few drafts.” Jimmy nodded, but the adrenalin refused to retreat from his eyes.  “That’s what I thought at first, too.  But then I followed the sound over to here.”  He stopped to tap on one of the lower shelves.  The returning sound was somewhat hollow.  “I think this one’s fake, but I didn’t want to take it down without you knowing.  I wouldn’t want to make you mad at me.” The old priest grinned at the boy’s naivety.  “I can’t say I understand why you thought this was important, but I’ll play along.  Come on.”   Taking ahold of the hollow plank, Irby and Jimmy began to pull.  At first they did so gently, out of respect for the case’s age, but when it refused to budge, they were inclined to apply a bit more force.  Eventually the tired, old nails gave way, causing both of its assailants to stumble backwards. Steadying his legs, Irby was at a loss for words.  There, where the wood used to be, was a row of dials set in what appeared to be gold!  They were made right into the shelf’s frame.  “What on earth...” Jimmy was already inspecting them.  “Well I didn’t think we’d find this.  What do guess they are?” “I haven’t the slightest idea,” Irby admitted.  “They do appear quite old, though.”  He ran his fingers over the cold, metallic surface of the dials.  Though there was no doubt they’d been here for untold years, the letter embossed on each glimmered in the dim cellar light.  Irby rotated one, producing another letter.  There seemed to be six options for each of the five dials.  Perhaps they were meant to spell something.   Jimmy appeared to be mulling the situation as well.  “Do you think they’re some kind of lock?” The idea had crossed Father Irby’s mind, too.  If there was some sort of door hidden by bookcase, that could explain the whistling sound Jimmy had heard.  But what was behind the case and how could it be opened?
Neither Jimmy nor Father Irby knew exactly how the answer had come to them, but both had thought of the riddle and its solution without being prompted.  Jimmy had spoken it first, but Irby turned the dials almost in lockstep.  This strange fact aside, their curiosity was far too great to turn back now.  With a click, the door had opened, and they had pushed through into the shadows of centuries past. Jimmy turned on a flashlight he’d been using while clearing the cellar out.  Now illuminated, the hallway where they stood looked radically different than St. Matthew.  The corridor was made of stone, but it seemed far more ancient than even the old, Catholic church, and the floor was covered in the dust of many centuries.   Jagged edges of mismatching stone adorned the walls, grabbing at their sleeves as they made their way down a hallway and around a tight corner.  Here the way was once more barred, this time by a door in plain sight.  It was large, sturdy, and studded with metal but lacked any semblance of a handle or key hole. Irby pushed it with his shoulder.  “Locked,” he groaned.  “Though that’s really not surprising.” “Where do you think we are?” Jimmy asked, finally forcing them both to confront the insanity of what was actually happening. “Well, we’re definitely in some portion of St. Matthew, but I’m as surprised as you to find out any of this exists.  I’ve been here for thirty-five years, and no one has so much as mentioned a hidden passageway.” “I bet we’re the first people to come down here in maybe a hundred years!” Jimmy mused, his eyes growing to the size of half-dollars at the thought. Father Irby sneered.  “I doubt that.  Someone has to know… right?”   That the question had been rhetorical meant little to Jimmy.  “No way.  People around here can’t keep a secret.  If anyone knew, everyone would have.” “That’s a fair point,” Irby conceded.  “But either way, it looks as if we’ll not be going any further tonight.  That door isn’t going to budge.” “Do you think there might be some other way to open it?” “Such as?” Jimmy shrugged.  “I dunno.  It just seems like there should be.  The dials opened the other, right?  There has to be some trick to this one, too.” Though the teenager’s know-it-all attitude annoyed him, Irby found he couldn’t help but agree.  This was all very strange, and perhaps it was simply the desire to see what was on the other side of the door, but it did seem there had to be a way.  Turning back now without even trying would be foolish. “Maybe,” Jimmy began with the look on his face people get when they’re about to say something crazy, “there’s some sort of phrase we have to speak.” Irby gave him an odd look.  The locking mechanism on the shelf had been cryptic but also manifest.  “What, you mean like ‘open sesame’?” he chided.   Jimmy’s faced turned red, though it was hard to tell in the dark.  “It seems crazy, sure, but it just feels… right.” Did it?  Irby wasn’t certain, but suddenly, despite all rational thought, the idea made sense.  To admit his realization was difficult though—he had an obligation to be the mature, leader in all of this.  Perhaps he’d let the teenager attempt to solve the riddle first before stepping in to help.
“Do you actually know the language you were just speaking?” Irby had a look of immense confusion on his face.  “No…” Jimmy stammered.  He was shocked at how quickly the words had come to him as well, but their meaning wasn’t important.  Only the effect mattered now; the door had responded to his chant with one, long, violent shake before producing the telltale sound of a lock triggering within.Irby cautiously opened it before gasping at the sight before him.  They were now standing in the middle of a large, circular room, its walls covered in what appeared to be human skulls!  It was somewhat sickening.Jimmy, who had literally jumped, could barely speak.  “What is this?”“I believe I’ve seen similar things, Jimmy,” the priest pondered, “when I was in Paris.”  Irby was referring to the catacombs, and already his mind was filled with incredible ideas.  If this was the same type of place, there might be all sorts of ancient, religious relics here in St. Matthew!  But why would something of this nature exist here in Massachusetts?Pricking his courage, Jimmy forced himself into the macabre room.  “I’m beginning to wish I’d never found that fake shelf, Father Irby.  This is all too weird.”“What?” Irby felt an enmity towards the teenager’s ignorance.  “How can you say something so stupid?  We’re here on what could be the precipice of a great discovery and you’re scared!”“I wouldn’t say I’m scared…”“Oh, you wouldn’t, eh?” Irby interrupted.  “Then how exactly would you describe your sudden timidity?  Shameful!”Jimmy shrank back, clearly wounded by the priest’s hostility.  “I just meant this seems dangerous, that’s all.  We don’t really know what’s down here.”Irby blinked once or twice, composing himself.  He wasn’t really sure why Jimmy’s completely understandable reaction had set him off, but now he felt somewhat embarrassed.  “No, you’re right.  I don’t know what came over me.  I guess I’m just excited about the truly remarkable discovery you’ve made.  I apologize for snapping like that.”“It’s OK,” Jimmy said with a feeble smile.“Now let’s see if there’s any reason for being down here.  If not, we’ll leave right away.  I promise.”But any hope Jimmy may have had of a hasty exit was soon shattered, as a quick investigation of their surroundings produced two items of great interest.  The first, a wall covered in strange symbols, seemed like a lost cause as there was no way of interpreting them.  Thus it was quickly abandoned for an even more amazing sight: an ancient, stone chest resting upon a small platform!  It looked as if it must weigh hundreds of pounds.  The tantalizing promise of what it might contain was almost too much for Irby to bear.  “How do we open it…” he repeated to himself more than once as he stared lustily at its seemingly impenetrable facade.“Father Irby?”  There was a sense of urgency in the teenager’s voice.  “Are you all right?”The same anger flashed in Irby’s face, but he was able to stifle it this time despite the meddlesome boy’s best efforts to infuriate him.  “Yes, I’m fine, Jimmy.  I’m simply trying to discover a way in which I might open this chest.  Now, if you don’t have any suggestions, perhaps you should stand back.”Jimmy nodded but didn’t budge, prompting a derisive look from the priest.  After a moment, the teenager seemed to gather his courage to speak.  “Maybe it has something to do with the marks on the back of the chest.”Irby stopped to glare at Jimmy before walking around to where the teenager had been standing across from him.  Sure enough, there were ten symbols emblazoned in the stone.  Though he didn’t recognize them, their purpose seemed evident.  Pressing one, it sunk into the chest slightly, as if on a spring, before returning to its previous position. Now he just needed the correct sequence.
The order having been solved, as all the other puzzles had, the chest’s lock flipped up without any effort.  The lid, however, wasn’t so cooperative.  It took all of their combined strength to lift it enough for the stone to finally slide backwards and off the platform.  It struck the floor with a violent crash, rattling the room and causing small rocks to plink down on both intruders. With an almost eerie quickness, Father Irby descended on the now vulnerable container.  Its contents were mostly old scrolls and odd looking coins, which generally would have been of great interest to the priest.  For now, however, he seemed wholly disinterested as he feverishly tossed them to and fro. “What are you doing?” Jimmy asked.  He was clearly becoming worried for the older man. Without looking back, Irby, disdain dripping from his every word replied, “Not that you would understand, but there’s something here in this chest that needs to be found.  I can feel it.” Jimmy began pacing the room.  He could tell Irby was acting strangely but he was unsure how to rebuke someone he held in such esteem.  Honestly, he wanted little more than to run from that place, but he didn’t dare leave the older man alone in this state.  “Do you want help?” he finally asked, though it wasn’t what he had resolved to say in his mind. Irby scoffed but said nothing; he wasn’t about to let Jimmy steal his moment of glory.  The priest couldn’t believe the teenager thought he could trick him with such an obvious gesture.  It was downright insulting. Undeterred, Jimmy crept in a little closer to where Irby’s pudgy arms could be seen flailing in and out of the chest.  By now the priest was leaned over, obscuring his face.  Jimmy was just able to make out a steady stream of muttering coming from within.  It made him intensely uneasy. Just then, Irby burst from the remains of what he hadn’t yet strewn upon the floor.  He had a wicked grin on his face and in his had he held a strange, golden object.  It looked a little like a large magnifying glass with a pentagram where the lens should have been.  Though obviously valuable, the very sight of it made Jimmy feel sick. The priest had no such reservations.  Cackling, he began waving it around the room in triumph, producing odd, disorganized tones.  Jeering, he even shook it right in the teenager’s face as he danced about. Jimmy, now actually frightened by the spectacle in front of him, pleaded with the priest.  “Father Irby, please!  You’ve got what you wanted—let’s just go!” “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” the priest suddenly stopped his gyrations to announce. “Yes, I really would!” It was an honest answer, though he doubted very much that Irby would listen. “Oh, we will!” the priest unexpectedly agreed.  “But first, this temple has something to tell us!  We mustn’t go before we hear; that would be rude!” Jimmy wanted to protest, to insist they leave right away, but he couldn’t.  Deep inside he knew Father Irby was right.  He’d been fighting it, but there truly was something they we supposed to learn from all of this.  And now they had the ability to do so. The teenager walked carefully over to where Irby was standing by the strange symbols. He appeared to be trying to use the relic from the chest to interpret them but hasn’t having any luck.  Jimmy knew why.  “You aren’t using that the right way.” Irby spun his head around to face the interruption with inhuman quickness, startling Jimmy.  His eyes looked almost hollow and he spoke in what could best be described as a hiss.  “I don’t understand!  This is supposed to be my moment, yet I have to listen to this insipid usurper!”  He seemed to be looking right through Jimmy as he spoke.  “But… if he could help, then...  Yes, it might be worth a try.”  His eyes, their huge pupils pulsing, finally made contacted with Jimmy’s own.  “Show me what you know!  Quickly!” Instinctively, the teenager reached for the relic.  Though he did not do so without a great deal of reluctance, Irby eventually conceded.  Remembering the sounds it had produced when the priest shook it, the teenager held it beside the first symbol extruding from the wall.  Drawing it back, he struck the golden block, eliciting a tone that seemed more complete than what the relic had been able to make on its own.  Deep inside, the note spoke to him and he understood. Now he needed to see what the rest of the symbols had to say.
Darkness more profound than anything he had ever experienced came over Father Irby at the conclusion of the last note.  It seemed to bubble up from the recesses of the worst of his fears and hatreds, consuming him.  He knew what it wanted, and though he desired to please the evil now pervading his mind, there was a part, however small, that resisted. Through the haze of malevolence, Irby saw Jimmy still standing by the last of the symbols.  He seemed oblivious to what they had truly meant.  Theirs was the gift of insight—wisdom beyond all worldly comprehension.  That was the secret of the temple below St. Matthew, buried for what it offered and the cost of its education.  For this knowledge would not be imparted without sacrifice.  Irby knew this.  The notes described their bargain, the terms of which were almost too horrendous for the priest’s mind to bear. To fulfill his end would be so simple.  The boy, oblivious to the higher power at work, would not see it coming.  Already Irby felt the strength of the temple flowing through him; one strike would surely be enough.  And then the ritual could begin and he would be granted everything he’d ever desired. But that one, nagging part of him would not relent.  This wasn’t right, it told him.  Nothing was worth this atrocity. So it went, this internal struggle for the soul of Father William Irby.  Though it lasted but a few seconds in actuality, the battle was an eternity’s worth.  The sides were obvious: the promise of omniscience verses the righteousness by which he had tried to live his life.  To accept the promise of the temple seemed the obvious and easy choice, but the sacrifice was more than just the teenager’s life.  Irby would be forced to give up his very humanity. In the end, the shadow was cast down and Irby resisted the greatest temptation he would ever face.  He’d not shed innocent blood, nor would he play the role of a modern day Eve by accepting the devil’s counsel.  The corruption beaten, it left him there on the floor, weakened, but clear of mind and conscience.
Seizing on an opportunity, the attack came swiftly.  The blow was singular but fatal.  There had been no attempt to block the assault, and now the lifeless body lay broken upon the temple floor. Jimmy Donovan stood over his would be adversary, a smile on his face.  The old man had truly gotten just as he had deserved.  It was almost infuriating to think Irby had truly believed the temple had chosen him as its acolyte.  Hadn’t it been Jimmy who’d solved every riddle, uncovered every secret?  But he mustn’t be too angry at the priest.  After all, this arrogance had been his undoing in the end. Jimmy, unlike Father Irby, had made peace with the sacrifice, and he had eagerly agreed to carry out the temple’s request.  He had seen the doubt in Irby’s eyes as he wrestled with the same decision.  And it was then he knew he’d won.  The power here demanded absolute submission—Irby’s wavering had cost him his chance and sealed the teenager’s victory.  The priest’s final act of pride was believing he could simply refuse and then walk away.  Jimmy had known better. As he began the ritual, one that would bind him to powers from realms beyond our own, Jimmy was overcome by the feeling of destiny.  He had not mistakenly discovered this temple while cleaning; the temple, and the forces within it, had found him. And now his eyes truly would be open to what the temple had to show him.
Charlotte mentioned in her Facebook post to us that we'd be faced with similar decisions as the characters in the story if we kept probing into Pale Forest.  I'm willing to do so regardless, so I hope you are too.  With her help, maybe we can begin to finally make some real progress.

Until next time...