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by Sandra Crook

“Prepare to meet thy fate,” a voice boomed, echoing around the walls of the ruined monastery, causing cracks to appear and shards of rock to skitter to the ground. Immediately, the old bells in the half derelict tower clanged into life, a dull sonorous dirge.

The young couple jumped up, clutching at each other, pale and wide-eyed as they fumbled to adjust their clothing.

“What was that for Christ’s sake?” gasped Pete.

“I don’t know, but I’m getting the hell out of here,” said Susie, piling cups and plates into the picnic basket and snatching up the rug on which they’d been lying.

“It’s a joke, right?” he said, staring around at the crumbling walls and lichen covered stones.

“Did it sound like a joke? Come on, I’m not hanging around here, I said we shouldn’t have picked this place to….”

Lightning flashed, and a clap of thunder rent the air, before she could complete the sentence. They began to run and as they did so, the bells began to ring faster, louder, deeper.

As they stumbled across the rocks and slabs of stone that littered the site, the young trees rooted amongst the ruins began to tremble, their branches dipping and bowing beneath some unearthly pressure. The ground began to shake, causing them to stumble as they ran. 

“Faster,” yelled Pete, snatching the picnic basket out of Sue’s arms as he struggled to make himself heard over the sound of the bells. 

“I can’t go any faster,” she said, holding her side, “don’t leave me.”

He grabbed her hand, jerking her across the uneven terrain. The ground dipped slightly down towards a stream, and wading through this, they scrambled over a fence and into a pasture where the ground was smoother. 

They ran on, trampling the corn beneath their feet, for several minutes. Eventually when they realised that the wind seemed to have abated slightly, and the ground, though rumbling still, was not shaking so severely, they paused for breath. 

“Are we safe?” Sue gasped, trying to catch her breath. 

Pete looked around. “Whatever it was, it seems to have been centred around those ruins. See, it’s calmer here.”

It was indeed. The bells had ceased to peel and now the birds, which had ceased singing, began to twitter cautiously.

“I’m never going back there,” said Sue, “that place must be haunted.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Pete said, “there’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Then maybe it was God,” said Sue, “punishing us for what we were doing.”

Pete rolled his eyes heavenwards. Women and their guilt trips!

“God? Hah! There’s nothing wrong with what we were doing. And there’s no such thing as God either.”

“I can’t believe I heard you say that,” said Sue, snatching her hand out of his.

There was a rustling sound behind them, and spinning round they watched in horror as some unseen force cut a wide, burning swathe through the cornfields, heading directly for them.

“I heard it too,” thundered a voice from the sky. “Believe this. You’re toast now, boy.” 

And a bell rang, just once.