Late last night, the author or several short stories I've posted on this blog left a comment for my previous post, The Visitor. I have of course been trying to find out who Charlotte Hamm is since I read "The Monster on Browning Street" and noticed its similarities to Pale Forest, but had up until now lacked any real success.
Now she seems to have found me.
Here is what she posted:
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.”
“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?
I'd appreciate you help too, though, believers. The more quickly we figure this out, the sooner we can either move forward with the information we glean from it or discard it without wasting too much time.
Until next time...