Adventure Fiction

If temptation is the work of the devil, then why are the houses of God so full of it? It’s been five years since my baptism, and I’ve been thrown out of more cathedrals than I’ve been into confessionals. They have all these closed velvet curtains and little rope barriers between silver posts. They even have doors marked “Private”. How are you supposed to resist that? It’s like putting a big red button up with a sign that says: “Do not press”.

My investigations started locally, with St. Peter’s – very apt since he’s the keeper of the keys, right? The least the custodians could have done was to secure the appropriate locks, but apparently, they are too trusting of their visitors. Slipping through a narrow, arched door from the nave (this one read “no public access”), I was amused to discover the storeroom for the gift shop. I must have known that stuff was held somewhere on site, but there is something unexpectedly irreverent about shelves and shelves of cardboard boxes of supposedly sacred items. I had never considered that such important symbols as the crucifix and the miraculous medal must be mass produced for the tourist market. But there they were – delivered by the van load and stashed in the dark until stock got low, like an ecclesiastical supermarket.

It was on my third trip out of town that I was first apprehended in my explorations. Sister Margaret, the Parish Sister at St Michael's, opened the door to the vestry to discover me thumbing my way through the splendid priests’ outfits. Was ‘outfit’ an appropriate word to use for the sacred costumes they wear to preach in? Was ‘costume’ an appropriate word? Apparently not. Sister Margaret was a stern, but kindly woman and took a few minutes to talk me through the alb and amice, the stole, cincture and chasuble. She pointed out the grand mitre - a ceremonial hat reserved only for bishops, before she asked me, politely but firmly, to return to the public areas of the cathedral, and stay in them. I’m fairly sure she followed me about for the next thirty minutes, and very sure she’s the reason I didn’t return to St Michael’s for a more in-depth examination of the building.

Since then, I’ve been removed from offices, corridors, tunnels, staff toilets, stairwells, crypts and cloisters more times than I can remember. And, though I have never sustained any injuries, it has not always been so dignified as when Sister Margaret started my education with an overview of the vestments. The three volunteers at St Jude’s who found me in the treasury room (not the public one – where’s the fun in that?) not only manhandled me out onto the street, but threatened to call the police if I ever came back. I can only assume I was added to some kind of Catholic blacklist after that particular excursion, because, in the years that have followed, I have felt watched whenever I set foot in a church or cathedral.

That didn’t stop me from making my inspections of the fascinating back rooms of God’s houses. I just had to be more discrete. I didn’t go so far as to wear a mask or make up, but I did dye my hair blonde and throw on a pair of sunglasses when I attended St John’s.

A brief trip down a cordoned off stairwell and through a couple of arched wooden doors (the second one was difficult to unbolt) led me to a magnificent library. I flicked a light switch to reveal a tired prayer book resting on an ancient oak table near the door. Along each of the four stone walls stood wooden bookshelves, carved with angel wings and crosses on the ends of each bay and olive branches across the tops. The stonework above curved into an exquisite, vaulted ceiling, from which hung a series of ornate chandeliers – electric now, but I could imagine the room being candle lit a long time ago. The books housed here were leather-bound and had no spine labels like a modern library. Instead, small paper shelf markers in little brass frames sat underneath them and gave away their contents. Some of the titles were Latin. Actually, a lot of them were, and there was a great deal of gold leaf in view. An excited smile broke across my lips and my fingers tingled with the desire to lift a few volumes from their resting places, open the ancient covers, flick through illuminated texts and -

Footsteps and a loud cough in the adjoining room, and I ran to hide. The only place I could conceal myself was under the old table. I skittered across to it and ducked underneath just as the door swung open, and in walked a man in full vestments and carrying a mitre. A bishop, no less! I steadied my breathing and watched in silence as he crossed the stone floor towards my hiding place. He hovered a moment at the table, then paced to the far corner of the room. He was no longer carrying his mitre. In his hand now was the old prayer book. He pressed his foot quite deliberately against the bottom of the shelving on the far wall. There was an audible clunk and the shelves swung open towards him. The bishop stepped through the gap and pulled the shelves shut behind himself.

I made my way out of the vaulted library as quickly as I could, dashing back up the stairs and rejoining the other, less adventurous, tourists in the chapel of St Mary.

A week later I returned, better equipped and ready to investigate further.

I slipped down the stairwell a few minutes before mass was due to start – everyone would be too busy to notice me, and I shouldn’t be disturbed for a while. The first door was easy to open again and the second still stiff but manageable. Once inside the library, I opened my backpack and removed my Maglite and camera. Without the light from the chandeliers the room was filled with eerie shadows, creeping like the finger bone relics of dead saints across the flag stone floor. I scurried to the corner where the bishop had clunked open the shelves and I copied his movements. The same bay of shelving opened before me onto a dark passageway at the end of which a fire was burning.

Taking a final look back into the library, I stepped forward and shone my torch against the passageway walls. More shelves. More books. A secret library within a secret library!

I cast the light around. The books at this end of the corridor were much more modern than those at the other; they were still leather bound but less dusty and more uniform in size. I picked a recent one off the shelf and let the cover fall open in my hands. It was some sort of ledger. Handwritten entries detailed names, addresses and dates, and in the final column strange words were written, some were crossed out, others were not. The dates were recent. The last one being the same date I had first discovered the secret library, just one week ago. The entry for that date read:

Stella Banbury – 23 Monkswood Lane – 1st May 2023 – Hebethel

I took a photograph of the page.

I returned the book to the shelf and ran the beam from my Maglite down the corridor. The smoke from the fire was sulphurous and starting to sting my eyes, but curiosity was stronger than discomfort. I crept towards the flames, pausing to listen and observe after each careful step. I took several photos on the way. After a minute or so the corridor opened out onto a huge fireplace with carved stone seats on either side. Images of the devil decorated the back rests, ugly fanged faces with horns and flaming bodies standing on cloven hooves. I dared not sit down.

“Why would a bishop have a fireplace dedicated to Lucifer?” I wondered, out loud, snapping photo after photo.

“Laura Marsh? I’ve been expecting you.” The voice was deep and silky, seductive.

I spun round looking for someone behind me, but the voice was coming from the flames.

“Is this a trick?”

“No trick. Though I am famous for those.” The fire burned brighter, and the flames licked higher. They wavered into each other and interlocked like a hellish collage of reds and yellows, until a face appeared within them. The lips were curled into a cruel smile and the eyes glowed white hot. Above the hairline were two sharp horns. “Won’t you let me show you one?”

“You can’t seriously be the devil?”

“Tell me, Laura, what would you do in return for eternal life? Would you contribute to my library? It’s rather beautiful, yes?”

There were footsteps in the corridor behind me and I turned to face them, torch shaking in my hand. I could tell from the outline of the clothing that it was the bishop on his way towards me. I wasn’t sure what was worse, being tempted by the devil himself or having a bishop discover me in that situation. As he reached a few steps away from me, I rummaged in my backpack and pulled out my rosary beads. Maybe it was time to pray.

“Ah, you must be Laura, and I see you’ve met my friend already,” said the bishop, gesturing towards the fire. He held out his hand below mine and I obediently dropped my rosary into it. “Interesting thing about these"- He held it up before his face - "the mass produced ones are never blessed before purchase. Not even in cathedral gift shops. I can’t imagine a girl with your lack of reverence for all things holy has ever bothered to put hers before a priest.”

“You know who I am?”

“We’ve been watching you quite closely, hoping you would make your way down here.” The bishop rolled the rosary in his palm and flung it into the fire where it hissed and spat. "We thought it would take more persuasion, but we didn’t really have to do much at all. You’re quite the explorer.”

“What do you want?” I asked.

The bishop put his hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. “I want to retire. Eternal life is wonderful for a few hundred years, truly wonderful. I have seen so many things. But at some point, I got tired. And heaven, though it sounds like a paradise, when you really think about it, its all about serving God, being a slave to his whims. Honestly the work must never end. Just when you think you’re ready for a nice long rest, there’s praying and worship and being holy to get in the way of it.”

“You’re not serious?”

“I’m absolutely serious. And I’ve found the way out.” The bishop gestured again towards the demonic face in the fireplace. “This way I can either be a ruler in Hell, or I can choose complete oblivion. Nothingness. I simply cease to exist. The latter is sounding more and more attractive each day. But first I must find my replacement.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” My breath felt short.

“Laura, Laura. I am asking you to take my place.”

“I’m not a bishop.”

“You don’t have to be. A cleaner or a librarian, a scholar or a restoration expert, any number of people, could just as easily slip down here unnoticed once a week. And you would be well paid for your supposed work. Of course, the real work is much more interesting. Let me explain.” The bishop took a seat next to the fire and indicated for me to do the same.

My legs were a little wobbly, so I sat down on the stone seat and became intensely aware that my skin was being warmed by something quite evil.

The deal sounded simple. In exchange for delivering demons to take possession of human hosts, I would be granted eternal life (or at least, life for as long as I should want it).

But the devil was, as ever, in the details.

"Lucifer will bring the soul of a demon through the fire into our secret inner library once a week. You will collect the prayer book from the table in the outer library and check the current ledger for the name and address of the next victim." The bishop stumbled over the word 'victim' but it sounded correct to me. Correct and distasteful. I realised I was holding my breath and let out a sharp puff of air before inhaling more sulphur.

The bishop glanced at the face in the fire. "Then you'll open the prayer book to reveal the hollowed-out page block and place it in front of the fire to receive the demon. Their essence resembles a twisting red flame but don't worry, it isn’t hot to the touch. Once concealed in the book you will carry the demon back through the library, up the stairs, across the chapel and out of the west doors. Keep it shut in the book until you locate the host, releasing it nearby when that person is sleeping, drunk, or otherwise vulnerable."

This sounded awful. Awful and fanciful. Surely no one was actually doing this?

The bishop went on. "Then watch the host for a few hours and see whether the demon is starting to take control, and record the outcome in the current ledger. If the demon doesn’t succeed, you cross his name out, return him to the fire, and he tries again the following week."

I sat in stunned silence, staring at the bishop. I had almost forgotten that Lucifer himself was in the room.

“You have a week to think it over.” The flames grew higher as the silky voice filled my ears. “Only one week. If you decide not to join our cause you will go back to living your normal life, but I would appreciate it if you refrained from future ventures into my realm.”

I drove home electrified by fear and adrenaline, stoked by intrigue and curiosity. Eternal life? Was it real? Were demons even real? Had I really spoken with the devil? I was going to have to go back just to see if I had imagined the whole thing or not – and if I hadn’t, well, I had a big decision to make.

I got home, pulled the curtains closed and checked the images in my camera. Evidently the demon Hebethel had failed on several occasions recently. His name was crossed out next to five different entries in the ledger. He must be getting desperate.

Stephen Hackles – 1a Peregrine Street – 3rd April 2023 – Hebethel

Petra Singleton – 18 Bendigo Court – 10th April 2023 – Hebethel

Mark Castlemain – 12 Beaufort Close – 17th April 2023 – Hebethel

Cassie Drunbridge – 8 Pearlview Drive – 24th April 2023 – Hebethel

Stella Banbury – 23 Monkswood Lane – 1st May 2023 – Hebethel

I stewed on it for two days. There were six days left until the next possession attempt on May 8th, and the day after that, the devil expected me back in the library to announce my choice. I wondered if Hebethel was as nervous as I was. I wondered how many chances he would get, and what the punishment would be for repeated failure. I wondered what would happen to me if I refused a deal with the devil.

Or indeed, if I took one.

Last night, the evening of May 8th 2023, I stayed home at Trueman Avenue, rolling my options around in my head. I hadn’t visited a church or cathedral all week. Perhaps that was for the best. Maybe if I took the deal it would occupy me enough to stop me from trespassing into other strange situations. It could prevent me from getting into all kinds of other predicaments that are better avoided.

What is better avoided than a deal with the devil? Not much.

I opened a bottle of vodka and a bottle of coke. I can’t remember which one I used as the mixer, but they were both empty when I scraped myself out of bed this morning and slumped into the bottom of the shower. The water and steam didn’t help, and my trembling hands were not much use with the soap. Two strong coffees made me almost pass for human, and buttered toast enabled me to stand up without puking.

Driving wasn’t an option, so I caught a train. Its rhythm on the tracks jarred my stomach and the driver’s voice over the speakers pounded in my skull.

I arrived at St Johns with my head in pieces, but my mind made up: I’d take the deal. I’d definitely take the deal. I had no idea how I came to the conclusion, but I knew, I just knew. I stumbled across the nave into the chapel, sneaked clumsily down the stairs, pushed open the doors, collected the prayer book, crossed the library and jammed my foot against the bottom shelf.

The bay opened with a clunk and I stepped inside. I couldn’t help but wonder if Hebethel had finally met success, so I plucked the most recent ledger from the wall and flipped the pages. And then I knew. I knew how the decision had come to me so easily this morning. The unlucky demon had a new line in the book, only this time, his name was not crossed out:

Laura Marsh – 5 Trueman Avenue – 8th May 2023 – Hebethel 

May 18, 2024 17:27

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Alexis Araneta
14:12 May 19, 2024

A very creative take on the prompt. Your smooth flow and the tone of the piece kept me hanging on. Great use of description too !


14:23 May 19, 2024

Thank you!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jon Casper
09:26 May 25, 2024

A gripping, suspenseful tale, and spot-on with the prompt. You've done a great job depicting Laura's descent, both literal and figurative. Lots of spectacular descriptions throughout, with entertaining dialogue. Another excellent piece!


09:39 May 25, 2024

Thank you Jon ☺️ I'm quite pleased with it now.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
02:55 May 19, 2024

Wow, Katharine, this is really stretching your imagination!


08:43 May 19, 2024

Thanks Mary, I think? It's a first draft so I'll probably work on it in the week. I think the beginning and ending are good but I'm not sure about the middle. I'll see where a few edits take me


Mary Bendickson
13:08 May 19, 2024

Thought it was great!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Darvico Ulmeli
08:36 May 31, 2024

This was nice story to read. Enjoyed, hook me till the end.


Show 0 replies
19:51 May 30, 2024

A really good piece, enjoyed it a lot. Good pace, interesting until then last word. Good work!


19:57 May 30, 2024

Thank you Laura 🙂


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Brandon Cox
17:54 May 28, 2024

Fantastic story with solid writing throughout! I really enjoyed it


18:12 May 28, 2024

Thank you Brandon that's very kind


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
David Sweet
22:26 May 25, 2024

Katherine, I really like the progression of this story. It's curious that she is drawn to cathedrals and is somewhat of a cleptomaniac, although she really doesn't steal anything of consequence. Perhaps if we could see her have a more serious progression of crimes. She doesn't really seem like a bad person on the verge of demon possession, or it seems that way to me. Of course, I'm not Catholic either, so I'm not sure how serious the mounting offenses could be perceived. One minor grammatical note (double check me, an old English teacher):...


23:12 May 25, 2024

Hi David! Thank you so much for this - I LOVE picky! Please be picky :) Thank you for pointing out the error - if the contest wasn't already closed I would correct it. I'm interested as to why you think she has stolen anything - she does go exploring in places that are out of bounds but to my memory (I am happy to be corrected) I didn't write in anything about her stealing things? As for the demon possession - the bishop says they've been watching her for while - maybe they have more influence that she realises up to the point she finds ...


David Sweet
00:00 May 26, 2024

I love the story. I was just wondering if the stakes would increase as the story progressed to show her becoming ever more and subtlety suseptible to possession. I wasn't quite sure that she was stealing things (just exploring), but I was suggesting it to show her vulnerabilities and weaknesses. I'm very impressed with the story. I find that I have to edit myself to death and have two or three people check me before submitting. That's why I don't have many storied. It's also hard to develop characters under 3,000 words, but you have done an ...


06:38 May 26, 2024

Thank you David for your detailed reply. If you're looking for feedback too, I'll try to take a look at one of your stories today if I can, but I'm not very well at the moment so I'm not promising anything. Do take care. K


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.