Sarah Timpson was a pretty girl of fifteen. Her friends called her Raven on account of her luxuriant black hair and melancholy dress sense. Heavy eyeliner, dark lipstick and gothic clothes were Raven’s weapons of choice in a war against fickle fashion. Yet, her appearance wasn’t the only thing that marked Raven out from other girls her age. Her parents had died in a car accident two years earlier, and as a result, she had an unhealthy fixation with death. Living now with her paternal grandparents in the Highgate area of London, she regularly sneaked into the restricted part of the famous local cemetery to sketch the majestic monuments or write poetry.
So it was that she came to be reclining against one of the cemetery’s many crumbling Celtic crosses one balmy evening in June, watching the sun set and chewing the end of her pen as she pondered the contents of her latest poem. Surrounded by trees, far from any of the main paths, she could almost have believed she was alone in the world. This would have unsettled some people, but not her. In Highgate Cemetery she could forget the harsh realities of life.
Removing her pen from her mouth, she scribbled down a few lines of verse, and then paused, allowing her eyes to wander over the nearby gravestones. It didn’t matter how often she came to the cemetery; its grandeur struck her every time. Her eyes widened in interest as they alighted on a dancing cherub fixed to the peaked roof of a nearby mausoleum. The statue, which appeared to be looking directly at her, was so realistic she could hardly believe it wasn’t a living child.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s rude to stare?” she asked with a wry smile. The statue looked back at her impassively, locked forever in its carved imitation of enjoyment. “Fine, ignore me,” Raven said softly. “Everybody else does.”
She shifted around, trying to get comfortable and went back to her poem, only to tut in irritation. For some reason, the words she was looking for seemed to elude her. They would come eventually, though. Writer’s block never lasted long for Raven, and was usually superseded by a period of extreme creativity.
As she continued to rack her brains for inspiration, a strange light-headed feeling began to creep over her. She shook her head to try and rid herself of the feeling, but to no avail.
Slumping over to the side, her gaze happened to fall once more on the stone cherub above the mausoleum. It seemed to leer at her with a new malevolence. She tried to tell herself it was just her imagination, but whatever was happening to her was making it increasingly difficult to concentrate. She could feel her head growing heavier and heavier, even as her sense of the world around her began to slip away. A moment later, her eyes slid shut and she lost consciousness.
* * *
At least, she presumed she had lost consciousness, though the dream she fell into seemed uncannily real. She was still in the confines of Highgate Cemetery, but in a completely different part – the sunken catacombs of the Circle of Lebanon. Night had fallen and the crypt doors were shrouded in darkness.
Feeling uneasy, Raven wanted suddenly to leave the cemetery. It came as something of a shock, therefore, when she found herself heading away from the nearest exit. She was given no time to ponder her body’s failure to respond to her commands, though, as at that moment, a stone came flying at her from out of nowhere, striking her squarely on the forehead. Her legs buckled under her and she collapsed to the floor. She pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, and was just struggling to her feet when she saw three male figures in dark clothing step out of the shadows a little way ahead. She forced her eyes to focus on the three as they stood looking at her. Although their faces were barely visible, she could somehow see the malice in their eyes.
Laughing and whispering to each other in a way that chilled Raven to the bone, the men walked slowly forwards. Raven let out an involuntary yelp and backed away from them. Then, she turned and fled, aware from the pounding of footsteps on the gravel behind her that they were in hot pursuit. Her breathing grew heavier and she felt her heart thumping in her chest like a drum.
Hearing them gaining on her, Raven shot a glance over her shoulder. She was still well out of their reach, but for how long? Frantically seeking some means of escape, she headed off down a narrow turning to her left. She considered whether her best chance might be to hide in one of the crypts, but quickly dismissed this idea. Her pursuers were so close they would easily spot any such ploy.
Raven didn’t want to think about what would happen to her if she was caught, but was unable to shut out the terrible possibilities. Judging by the look on the men’s faces, she would be lucky if she made it through the night alive. She was interrupted in these grim thoughts by a boot slamming into her back. Her feet slid out from under her and she found herself tumbling forwards with her arms and legs flailing madly. Hitting the ground with a thud, she felt the air rushing out of her lungs. She tried to ignore the sensation and scramble to her feet, but was prevented from doing so by a booted foot pressing down on the middle of her back, pinning her to the floor. She struggled desperately, but couldn’t wiggle free.
The men stood over her, chuckling to themselves. There were a thousand obscenities she wanted to say to them, but she found that words were beyond her and all she could manage were inarticulate howls.
The man with the foot on her back pushed down painfully. She thrashed about, trying to shake him off, but it was no use. A second man crouched down beside her. “Aren’t you just the cutest little thing,” he whispered coldly, speaking the words directly into her ear, so she could feel his hot breath. The others sniggered.
Raven craned her neck round, to get a look at the one who had spoken. With his scruffy blond hair and smooth face, he looked about her own age. She was on the verge of appealing to whatever passed for his conscience, when he curled his lips into a cruel sneer and spat in her face. The hatred in his eyes was tangible. Raven wondered what she could possibly have done to warrant such animosity. Did these men hate the entire female sex or was it something personal? Either way, there was no point pleading for mercy, as it was plain she wouldn’t get it.
She lay on the ground in abject terror, waiting to see what her attackers would do next. Her breath came in short sharp bursts and she was trembling uncontrollably. Suddenly, she felt a searing pain in her left leg. The third man, who until that moment had been watching his companions from a distance, had stepped forward and was burning her with a lit cigarette. He held it against her thigh, seeming to take great delight in the smell of singed flesh. She felt the tears streaming down her cheeks.
At last, the cigarette was removed. Raven was about to utter a sigh of relief, when she found herself being lifted bodily into the air. She flung herself desperately from side to side, but the hands that held her were like iron and she couldn’t escape. Never in her life had she felt so powerless.
She was just asking herself what her attackers planned to do next, when they sent her flying through the air towards a nearby wall. She raised her arms in an attempt to shield her head, bracing herself for the impending impact. When it came, it was infinitely harder than expected. She slid to the floor in a paroxysm of agony and awareness slipped away.
* * *
Coming around covered in sweat, Raven sat bolt upright and shook her head groggily. The things she had just witnessed had been so vivid it was hard to believe they hadn’t really happened; so hard, in fact, that she began to wonder if it was possible she had been having some kind of psychic vision. Could it be there was a terrible crime taking place elsewhere in the cemetery at that very moment? The idea made her blood run cold and her immediate instinct was to run home as fast as she could. Then, she remembered the fear she had felt at the hands of her three attackers. There was no way she was going to abandon somebody in that kind of distress.
Before Raven knew what she was doing, she had pulled out her phone and was ringing her friend Liam. Liam’s house overlooked the cemetery, so she knew it wouldn’t take him long to reach her. It might have made more sense for her to call the police, but she knew how unlikely it was that her vision would be believed and she didn’t have time to stand around trying to convince people. She bit her lip as the phone rang. Finally, she heard Liam’s voice on the other end. “Hello,” he said.
Raven could have cried out in relief. “Liam, thank God,” she said with heartfelt sincerity. “Get over to Highgate Cemetery as fast as you can. I’ll meet you at the North Gate.”
“But…” Liam began.
“There’s no time for questions,” Raven told him. “Just do it.”
“Okay,” Liam said simply, hanging up the phone.
Raven made her way quickly through the tangled undergrowth towards the North Gate, steering clear of the Circle of Lebanon. Reaching the grassy clearing in front of the gate, she concealed herself in a nearby bush to wait for her friend.
Before long, she saw him climbing awkwardly over the wrought iron railings, being careful to avoid the barbed wire at the top. As he dropped to the ground, he looked to either side of him, whispering her name. Darting out of her hiding place, she ran to meet him.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked in a worried voice.
“Thanks for coming so quickly,” said Raven, her voice trembling. “I’m afraid I don’t have much time to explain why I called you – a life may depend on us acting quickly. I was sitting writing a poem…
“It’s kind of late for you to be up here on your own,” Liam interrupted.
“Are you going to listen to me?” Raven demanded.
Liam apologized and she continued, “As I was saying, I was sitting here minding my own business, when I started to feel faint. Next thing I knew I had passing out and seemed to see myself being attacked somewhere else in the cemetery.”
“And you were so freaked out by what you’d dreamt that when you woke up, you phoned me, so I could come and get you,” said Liam.
“No, that’s not it, and it wasn’t a dream,” Raven insisted. “It was something else.”
“What?” Liam asked.
“A vision, a premonition – I don’t know,” Raven floundered.
“So you think you were seeing through someone else’s eyes,” Liam said, “and this attack may still be going on?”
Raven nodded. “Hence the need to hurry,” she said. “Come on!”
She started across the plaza in the direction of the Circle of Lebanon. To her surprise, Liam did not follow her. “I don’t know, Raven,” he objected. “It sounds kind of far-fetched.”
“That’s because you didn’t see it!” Raven exclaimed, seizing him by the arm. “It was as real as this conversation. Anyway, we’re talking about somebody’s life. If there’s even a chance I’m right, I think it’s worth investigating.”
Liam didn’t look convinced, but allowed her to lead him up the path. They moved quickly and made as much noise as possible in the hope that the sound of their approach would scare the felons into flight.
The Egyptian Avenue, which leads to the Circle of Lebanon, loomed into view ahead of them and they raced through into the sunken catacombs. “It’s this way,” Raven said in a definite tone, leading her friend off to the right. They hurried past the silent crypts, scanning the shadows for any sign of the three men or their victim.
An owl hooted somewhere and Raven convulsively clutched Liam’s arm. They passed the place where her vision had begun and spotted a dark shape sprawled against one of the walls a little way ahead. At this distance, they couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked about the right size to be a handbag. Drawing nearer, they saw something that made them stop in their tracks. On the wall above it there was a long smear of fresh blood. Raven turned her head away in disgust. “I think we should get out of here,” Liam said. Raven shook her head. She wasn’t about to turn back now. Pulling him along behind her, she edged forwards.
When they were finally close enough to investigate, Raven couldn’t decide whether to breathe a sigh of relief or burst into tears. The thing on the ground was a dead cat. Apparently the vision she’d had was a projection of the things this poor animal had gone through and not the experiences of a person as she had assumed. She should have been thankful for this, but she wasn’t. Having shared in its fear and pain, she couldn’t help pitying it just as much as she would a fellow human being. She looked down at it with tears in her eyes. Its tabby fur was streaked with blood and the look on its face was one of sheer terror. She couldn’t understand how anyone could bring themselves to harm such a defenceless creature. Turning her back on it, she was about to start retracing her steps, when she heard a faint meow somewhere in the distance.
“What was that?” Liam asked, looking nervously around.
“It sounded like a cat,” Raven replied. “I’ll bet our three killers have found another victim and are torturing it to death even as we speak. Maybe this time we can stop them in their tracks. Come on.” Beckoning for Liam to follow her, she headed off along the path in the direction the meow had come from.
Liam laid a hand on her arm and twisted her around to face him. “Would you stop and think for a minute,” he pleaded. “Even if you’re right, confronting three guys whose idea of a good time is hanging around cemeteries killing cats sounds like a seriously bad idea.”
Pulling away from him, Raven pointed at the dead cat. “Look at it, Liam!” she exclaimed. “Look at what they did to it. If you think I’m going to skulk off home while it happens again, you’ve got another thing coming.” As if on cue, a second plaintive meow sounded in the distance.
Narrowing her eyes at Liam in a look of reproach, Raven swung sharply around and continued along the footpath. Liam followed, but it was obvious from his muttered complaints that he was less than happy about it.
After a while, they reached a junction. Raven was just asking herself whether she should take the right fork out of the Circle of Lebanon or continue ahead, when a meow to the right provided the answer. With a satisfied nod, she headed towards it.
The path deteriorated rapidly as they left the circle behind, but Raven refused to slow down. If reaching her destination in time meant stubbing her toe or being stung by a nettle, then so be it.
Several further meows guided the pair onwards past an assortment of broken statues and ivy-covered headstones, until they came to a mausoleum in the style of an ancient Greek temple. Here, a particularly loud repetition of the sound told them to leave the path. Without hesitation, Raven plunged through the long grass. It was then that she spotted a light. “It’s them,” she whispered.
As they drew nearer, it became apparent the light was coming from inside a dense copse. Hardly daring to breath, they crept to the edge of the tree line and peered through. The men they had come to find were sitting around a fire, sharing a can of beer and ogling the pages of a smutty magazine. A number of neglected gravestones rose out of the ground around them, together with a statue of the Archangel Michael, standing proudly on a squat pedestal in an intricately carved suit of armour. The statue appeared to be missing a sword, but was otherwise in a reasonable state of repair.
Raven stared at the three men in front of her, seeing again their earlier cruelty in the theatre of her mind. Then, she clenched her fists and strode towards them. She was vaguely aware of Liam asking her what she was doing in a hissing undertone, but she didn’t reply. She couldn’t tell him what she was doing, because she didn’t know. This time, he didn’t follow her.
Momentarily startled by Raven’s sudden emergence from the tangle of branches, the three men leapt to their feet to confront her. “Where the hell did you come from?” demanded one of them – a gaunt individual with close-cropped hair.
“I came from over there,” replied Raven, pointing over her shoulder with her thumb.
The man scratched his chin, apparently not entirely sure what to make of her. “Is that supposed to be funny?” he asked.
Raven eyed him coldly. “Of course it’s supposed to be funny,” she told him, “though I’m guessing from your lack of laughter that you and I have a different sense of humour. It’s the way of the world, I guess. Some of us like wordplay, others are more partial to tormenting small animals.”
The man gave a nod of understanding. “So that’s what this is about,” he said. “You saw us goofing around with that cat.” Raven glared at him, unable to believe the callousness of his tone.
“What’s the matter little girl? Is the nasty man upsetting you,” said one of the others, taking a sip of beer. This one was tall with ginger hair and freckles. “Serves you right for spying on us. The world hates a snoop.”
“The world hates murderers more,” Raven retorted.
The ginger-haired man took another swig of beer. “If I were you, I’d be more concerned about myself than some dead cat,” he remarked.
“Damn right,” said the first one. “You’re all alone in the middle of a deserted cemetery. Who knows what we might do to you?”
“She’s not alone,” said Liam, finally plucking up the courage to join his friend. He folded his arms and made a valiant attempt to look threatening.
“Uh-oh guys, it’s the big bad boyfriend,” said the ginger-haired man sarcastically. “I guess we should make a run for it.” He pretended to tremble in fear, and then laughed maliciously. “On second thoughts, let’s make him watch while we screw seven shades of shit out of his bitch.” Finishing the last of the beer, he tossed the empty can at Liam, who dodged awkwardly to the side, narrowly avoiding being hit.
Liam opened his mouth to speak, his face contorted with anger, but Raven beat him to it. “We don’t want any trouble,” she said, holding up her hands. “We just want the cat.”
“Don’t want any trouble?” repeated the third man – the fresh-faced youth who she’d considered appealing to for mercy in her vision. “You should have thought of that before.”
“Besides,” the gaunt man cut in, “as we’ve already established, the cat’s dead.”
“Cat number one’s dead,” Raven agreed. “I’m talking about cat number two.”
The men looked confused. “I hate to break this to you,” said the gaunt one, “but there is no cat number two.”
Raven gulped. Something in the man’s voice told her he was speaking the truth, which meant this whole confrontation was pointless. “But we heard it meowing…” she protested weakly.
“I don’t care what you heard,” the gaunt man grunted. “There is no cat number two.”
Raven licked her lips nervously, wondering what it was she and Liam had actually heard. She’d assumed it was a living cat, but was it possible it was the ghost of the dead one? Either way, it had led them into a proverbial hornet’s nest. Suddenly appreciating the danger of her situation, she took hold of Liam’s hand and backed away.
“Leaving so soon?” asked the ginger-haired man.
“I’m afraid so,” replied Raven, amazed at how calm she sounded. “I’ve just realized it’s past my bedtime.” Continuing to edge away from the three men, she felt her back press up against something cold and hard. She turned around and found herself looking at the statue of the Archangel Michael.
Suddenly, an icy wind began to blast towards her. It was no ordinary wind, though. In its blustering she seemed to hear a cacophony of whispered voices, like the restless souls of the cemetery speaking to her from beyond the grave. Much of what was said was muffled and indistinct, but one word came across time and again – “Revenge!”
“What’s going on?” asked Liam as the three cat killers were swept off their feet and came sliding across the ground towards them.
“Damned if I know,” said Raven, “but I suggest we move.” She darted to the side, pulling Liam along with her, just in time to avoid the whirling men.
The wind died away and the fallen men clambered to their feet in front of the statue of the Archangel Michael, looking confused. Raven watched them for a moment and then glanced at the sky. It seemed to be getting darker.
As she turned her attention back to the scene in front of her, something unbelievable happened. Flexing its stone muscles, the statue of the Archangel Michael stepped down from its pedestal. A fiery sword had appeared in its upraised hand and its eyes were pulsating with preternatural energy.
Raven supposed she should have been afraid, but she wasn’t, somehow sensing that the statue meant her no harm. Liam didn’t appear to be scared either, though his jaw was hanging open in disbelief. The cat killers, on the other hand, were cowering before the statue like terrified animals caught in the headlights of an approaching car. Even when it became apparent the statue was preparing to attack them, they didn’t move. It was as if they had fallen into some kind of trance.
Raven watched in horror as the statue’s blazing sword came arcing downwards. Whilst she despised the men for what they’d done, killing them was wrong. It wouldn’t bring their feline victim back to life. It would simply cause pain and anguish to their families.
The ginger-haired man was the first to feel the blade’s sting. As it touched him, his body burst into flames. The heat was so intense that Raven found herself being driven back from it, even as the sword continued on its downward trajectory, tearing through the man’s head and torso like a knife through butter and splitting him in two.
Jerking convulsively, the two halves of his body fell away from each other and thudded to the floor in a sea of flames. His skin had already burnt away entirely and the gristle beneath was bubbling ferociously, sending clouds of acrid smoke billowing up into the air. Soon, all that remained were two burnt-out slabs of putridness, which had lost so much of their shape and consistency they were barely recognizable as human remains. Then, there was only ash.
The flames died away and the statue turned its attention to the man with the youthful face. Raven could see the terror in his eyes, but he still didn’t move; not even when the statue’s terrible sword pierced his heart and he erupted into flames. Raven shuddered. The fire was insatiable, devouring flesh and bone with breathtaking speed, leaving nothing behind but a pile of cinders.
As soon as the fire went out, the statue lifted its sword to strike out at the remaining man, but this time Raven was ready. Placing herself directly in front of it, she grabbed hold of its arm with both hands. For a moment, it seemed uncertain what to do, then it slapped her across the face with the back of its free hand, sending her flying through the air into a nearby headstone.
By the time she’d picked herself up, the man she’d been trying to save had shared the fate of his companions. She cried out in frustration, but the statue seemed not to hear. Rising to its feet, it resumed its former position in the centre of the pedestal, its flaming sword vanishing.
Looking at it then, it would have been easy to dismiss its violent attack as a product of her own imagination, had it not been for the residual ash. Those pathetic remains confirmed that this was no mere statue. It was a bona fide angel of vengeance. Not to mention a vicious killer, and she was its unwitting accomplice, having brought its victims within its reach. No doubt the emotive vision and the sound of the second cat had been a deliberate tactic to lead her to do this. Such things must surely be in an angel’s power, or if not an angel’s, then the master it served. And what of that master? What of God Almighty? She had never really believed in Him before, but she believed in Him now; believed in Him and hated Him. This travesty of justice was His doing, just as the death of her parents had been His doing.
Banging her fists against the statue’s chest, she turned her eyes to heaven and cried out at the top of her voice, “If you’re listening, God, know this – I despise you. You’re supposed to be loving and forgiving, when really you’re cruel and unkind. I only wish you were here right now, so I could spit in your face.”
Feeling Liam touch her on the shoulder, Raven turned to face him, so she didn’t see the statue’s flaming sword reappear. Nor did she see it come sweeping down towards her.
Whatever its true origins might have been, the statue believed it was a genuine angel, and it would not tolerate blasphemy.
About the Author
C.J. Carter-Stephenson was born in 1977 in the county of Essex in the United Kingdom. He is currently flirting with careers in both acting and writing, while engaging in more mundane jobs to stay afloat on the turbulent sea of life. He has recently had a children’s science fiction novel and a collection of vampire stories published by Bonito Books. Full details of the former (a Children’s Literary Classics award winning title) can be found at the following dedicated website:
Details of the latter are available on his personal website, http://www.carter-stephenson.co.uk/.
Other publication credits include stories in the following magazines: AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Dark Horizons (the former journal of the British Fantasy Society), Murky Depths, The Willows, Hadrosaur Tales and Legend: Worlds of Possibility.