Elaine Barnes looked at the outline of her shadow on the rocks ahead of her. She laughed. “Looks like I’m ridin’ an ‘orse!”. She retied the scarf around her waist and then looked at the steep path ahead of her. Just over the hill was the Church of the Holy Queen, Tombminster’s only – and long closed – church.
“I’m a sixty-year-old light’ouse keeper. Why should they need to send me to an abandoned church in a ghost town out in the middle of nowhere…?”
Her moans and groans were interrupted by a younger woman who’d already raced to the top of the hill. “Elaine, you should see it! It’s wonderful!” Janice Wilkinson could hardly contain her excitement. “Here, let me help you up! It’s much more level at the top, and there are steps down to the churchyard. And what a grand churchyard it is too!”
Elaine wanted to stay where she was, but knew she had to go with the surveyor. Reluctantly, she grabbed hold of Janice’s outstretched hand, and grumbled all the way to the top of the hill.
“’Eck, that were steep.” She had to moan.
“Nonsense, Elaine – you run up those steps in the lighthouse everyday without so much as a bead of sweat!” Janice beamed. “And, I present to you…. the church!” She flung open both arms in front of her in a grand gesture to reveal both the church and the deserted town beyond.
“What does the letter say again?” Elaine rummaged in her back and passed a brown envelope over to the thirty-three year old.
“Dear Ms Barnes. We have been appointed by our client to advise you to attend Tombminster’s Holy Queen Church. Today. Yes, Elaine, it is today – I had to double check then – imagine if we’d come on the wrong day? The reason for your visit will become clear upon arrival at the crypt.”
“The crypt!” Elaine shouted loudly. “I never read anythin’ about a crypt!”
Janice laughed. “I’m making it up, you daft beggar! We just have to go in and meet these clients, whoever they are, about some legal documents linked to the lighthouse.”
Elaine shook her head, and followed Janice down the steps, through the churchyard gates, along the path across the cemetery and through the large arched wooden doors – one of which was closed to. Inside the dark church, a candle-lit notice greeted them on a dusty and old rotten table. “To the crypt” it read. Janice eyed Elaine with a grimace, and then set off in the direction of the arrow.
“Oi! You come back!” Elaine shouted after Janice, “Don’t you go leavin’ me all alone now… not ‘ere – there’s ghosts and all sorts in ‘ere!” She swiftly ran after Janice, tying her scarf around her waist again as she did so.
The crypt was cold, but oddly well lit. Laid out on a square stone slab in the centre of the stone room were three more envelopes. Elaine looked at Janice. “You go in. I was expectin’ to see a dead body or somethin’ in there.” Janice lifted one of the envelopes when a shuffling of footsteps from the far side of the crypt startled both women.
“Not just yet!” A man said firmly, his voice echoing off the stone walls. “Hello. I’m Finlay Ross, of Ross, Ross, Rose and Ross. I’m dealing with the estate of Godfrey Barnes who owned this land up until 1899, when the deeds were stolen. He left clear instructions in his will that if the deeds should ever be recovered, they are to be passed on to his descendants. You, Elaine Barnes are one such descendant.”
“Godfrey… I’m sure he were me grandfather… but we’ve never met…” Elaine pondered this thought momentarily, and then realised that she could be the owner of all the land that surrounded her. Janice recognised the look on her friend’s face. “Don’t jump to conclusions…” she whispered.
Finlay Ross read aloud the will of the late Godfrey. He also read the details of the painstakingly long job it was to track Elaine down to the lighthouse where she lived, and the legal documents that said she was one of the legal heirs.
“One of the heirs?” Elaine brought herself back into the crypt – her mind had run away with plans she had for the future.
“Yes,” Godfrey answered. “We’ve found two others, and have invited all of you here today, to be here by 5pm. Those of you who arrive will receive a fair share of the deeds each… a third if you all turn up, all of it if only one of you arrives. Now, we must wait.”
Elaine removed the scarf from around her waist, smoothed it out onto the top of the slab, and sat herself down upon it.
“Oh, ‘eck!” she said. “I may get to meet family…”
This story has been written in response to this post by CMStewart, which itself has been written in response to my theme for March, The Next Level. I’ve deliberately left the ending open, as there may well be a next level to this tale. I’m throwing the ending open… any takers? Fancy taking things to the next level? A mini challenge within a challenge! If you’d like to end this tale, either use the comments below, or post the ending on your blog and link back to here. Just for fun, by the way – I still don’t have two ha’pennies to rub together you know!