The Abbey Doorway
There are some abbey ruins up in Durham. The building is nearly a thousand years old, but it’s just sitting out there in the countryside like it’s nothing. I was in the area visiting family and decided to pop in on it for a look on the way home. It was a warm autumn morning and the sun was gleaming down onto the remaining walls in a manner that was positively picturesque. I pushed through the access gate and took a moment to read the small information board. It showed an image of how the abbey had originally looked and described its history and age. Directly ahead of me was an empty doorway that, according to the board, led into the nave. I walked through. The stone floor of the abbey was long gone, and it was now carpeted with dirt and grass. I walked down towards the presbytery, gazing up at the bare holes in the wall that were once windows, their wood, glass and metal vanished over time. As I reached the transepts, I stopped at a rectangular stone structure sitting in the middle of the floor. It looked like a sarcophagus and I recalled that the board had indeed mentioned a tomb located in the centre of the church. The lid was missing and it was empty inside. I wondered whom it had belonged to. I took my time wandering around the ruins, trying to picture how it would have looked when it had first been built and before the theft of so much of its stonework. There were the remains of dormitories and kitchens to the north, with worn staircases climbing to floors that no longer existed and a huge fireplace with the stone still blackened from flames. I traced my fingers along the walls, imagining the people who had lived here and what their lives would have entailed. I felt good. The sun was shining down onto me and I was the only person here. I sighed happily. After strolling around for a while, and taking a few photos, I decided I’d seen all that I could, and I began to make my way back towards my car. As I passed the information board near the gate I glanced back at the abbey, my eyes briefly resting on the doorway that led into the nave. I froze. Although I was aware that something was wrong, it took me a few moments to realise what it was. There had been nothing but an empty archway when I had first entered the abbey but now the space was filled with a heavy wooden door. I walked back over to it, eyes wide. How had I missed it? Had it been open when I first entered? But the thing was huge. There was no way I wouldn’t have seen it. Besides, there was only stone left in the abbey – all of the timber was either stolen long ago or had rotted away. And this door looked old. Very old. Not a replacement then. I reached out towards a rusted metal door ring and, giving it a twist, pushed the door open. And recoiled. On the other side there should have been the same sunlight that shone down on me from this side of the door. My eyes should have been met with rubble, dirt and grass. Instead there was darkness, broken only by flickering candles and dim torch light. Unbroken walls climbed up in front of me and the floor was paved with grey flagstones. I was stunned, unable to believe what I was seeing as I stepped forward through the doorway as if in a dream. Above me a sturdy ceiling was blocking the sun, casting darkness upon an ancient church that was very much intact. I stared around, my mouth hanging open, waiting for any of this to make sense. I shifted my gaze down towards the presbytery, past the stone tomb that was now sealed and whole. I blinked without understanding at wooden pews, decorated altars, and hanging golden censers. I began to walk down towards the altar wondering when this illusion would break, when I would inevitably wake from this dream. I stared up at the window frames, saw that they were filled with shining stained glass and also realised, for the first time, that it was dark on the other side of them. Wherever I was, it was night-time. I reached the altar, which was now covered by a red cloth woven with gold. The threads delicately picked out an inscription in Latin. Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus in lacum Factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuuos liber Corpus edimus I didn’t know what it meant, though I thought that “corpus” might mean body. I turned away from the altar and a gleam of light caught my eye. I looked over and, resting on a wooden lectern a few feet away, was a silver book. From where I stood it looked as though the cover was made of metal but I couldn’t be sure. It was beautiful, decorated in strange intricate symbols. I moved towards it, my heart pounding, my hand outstretched to touch it… Then I heard a noise behind me. It was a quiet sound but it echoed strangely around the church. Something like a crunch or the scrape of stone on stone. I looked around but I couldn’t see anything. I was about to turn back towards the fascinating book when I heard the sound again. And this time I saw the accompanying movement. The seal of the tomb had shifted. From where I stood I could see that it had only moved a matter of inches but already a thin crack of the blackness within was revealed. Silence followed, punctuated only by my rapid breaths as I stared at the sarcophagus and realised that it lay between me and the door. I walked slowly forward, my eyes locked onto the gap until I stopped suddenly, only a few paces away from the tomb. Unnaturally long fingers were curling out from the darkness, their cracked brown nails scraping over the stone. My heart skipped as fear stabbed into my chest. I moved slowly around the tomb, wanting only to be out of here, back to the door, and terrified that the owner of the hand would hear me and know that I was here… Then the tomb lid moved violently sideways and, in the flickering torch light of the church, I saw the thing within the grave. I saw its eyes, its mouth, and saw that it had a face that no living thing could have, even as it began to rise up. I had no breath to scream but instead I darted forward as fast as I could past the sarcophagus. As I passed I felt something scratch down my back and I stumbled, terrified. But worse was to come. As I ran towards the door, I saw that it was starting to close. Blind panic drove me forward, fuelled by the awful noise rising behind me and the sight of my only escape disappearing before me. With just a sliver of light now visible on the other side, I flung my hand out to arrest the door’s closure, the skin on my back crawling as I was forced to stand momentarily still as I yanked it open. And then I was stumbling out into bright daylight, falling onto grass illuminated by the autumn sun. I twisted around to look behind me, to see if anything had followed me out, but the door was gone. In its place was only an empty archway, leading through to a sunlit nave, carpeted with dirt and grass. I let out a shuddering breath that became a strangled gasp as I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. A woman stood near the gate, holding an excited dog on a lead and looking at me with astonishment. ‘Are you alright?’ She asked, warily. I stared at her then nodded dumbly. I climbed to my feet, brushing mud from my clothes. Then, trying to stop my shaking, I moved past her to the gate. As I reached it, with my hand pressing against the wood, I hesitated. ‘Hey,’ I called. The woman had only walked a few paces away and she turned to look at me, a question on her face. ‘If you see a door,’ I said quickly. ‘Don’t go through it.’ Then I ran to my car, and I drove away as quickly as I could, never to return to this cursed place.