Arthur

Page 1

Chapter One

The dream is always the same.

I'm standing at the base of a cross. High above, jagged bolts of lightning crisscross the starless night sky. Rain angles down like slashing silver daggers. The crowd behind me is cheering, roaring, surging. A living animal. An enraged animal.

Lightning flashes again, and I see that there are actually three crosses rising straight out of the earth. They stand side by side along the crest of a steep hill.

Three crosses. And three broken figures hanging upon them.

In my dream, I'm standing before the middle cross, looking up into the rain, up toward what had once been a man. I can see that his hands have been hammered to either side of the cross, the rusted nail jutting from his bloodied palms. His shoulders sag in such a way as to suggest his arms have been torn from his shoulder sockets. A third nail protrudes from his feet, which have been hammered together on the lower center beam. He's wearing a crown of thorns, which had been thrust cruelly low on his face. Blood from his many wounds, lash marks that reach from behind his back and legs, pours down along the center beam, pooling briefly at the base of the cross.

Behind me, the crowd is chanting.

I do not understand their language, but I know what they want. They want these three men to die. In particular, the center man.

Rain drives hard into my face. Lightning pierces the churning sky. There's something happening here. Something supernatural.

Something slams into my shoulder. It feels like a punch, but it's not. A fist-sized rock settles near the base of the cross. I'm about to turn around to see who threw the rock when another hits me. And another.

The last rock hits me in the kidney and I stumble forward, gasping, and fall forward against the cross, which I hold onto for dear life. Why it's so important that I hold onto the cross, I do not know. But I refuse to let go.

And while I hold it, wrapping my arms tight around the wooden base, I realize a pair of bloody feet are now just inches from my face. The head of a rusted nail projects from them. I watch with fascination and horror as the toes curl in obvious pain. Blood seeps from around the protruding spike.

I'm still being pelted with rocks. Some ricochet off me harmlessly. Others hit me with greater force. I'm certain that it's only a matter of time before one of them kills me.

But it's the man on the cross who takes the brunt of the rock throwing, and that's when I realize the crowd isn't throwing rocks at me. Indeed, they're throwing rocks at him. As if he hasn't suffered enough pain, now he must helplessly endure projectile after projectile, many of which hit home, plunking solidly into his chest and thighs.

He winces with each impact.

As rocks continue to hail down around me, I look up into the falling rain. I want to see the face of the man on the cross. Perhaps there's something I can do for him. Perhaps there's some way I can help him or ease his pain. But his face, I see, is hidden in the late evening shadows.

More rocks, more shouting from behind. I can feel palpable waves of hate emanating from the crowd. Their anger and fear is a living thing.

Lightning suddenly explodes across the heavens, illuminating everything, including the man.

The broken man; the badly beaten man.

I think at one time he had been handsome, but that's nearly impossible to tell now. His jaw is clearly broken, and the bones in his face appear pulverized. Blood drips from his many open wounds, most obviously from wounds caused by the vicious-looking crown of thorns. His body hangs grotesquely upon the cross. But perhaps most shocking of all is that he's returning my gaze.

I gasp and step back. I realize then that he'd been watching me this entire time.

He holds my gaze, and then smiles. As he does so, more blood bubbles out from his broken mouth. How much blood can a body hold? A single drop of it falls free from his swollen lips, and I watch in fascination as it twists and turns in the driving wind.

Falling toward me.

Now I see I'm holding an ancient silver chalice in one hand and a glowing sword in the other. With the chalice, I catch the falling drop of blood, and with the sword, I turn and face the angry crowd. And as they charge, I hold my ground.

And that's usually when I wake up.

Weeping...

Chapter Two

Glastonbury, UK

Present Day

It was coming on evening when my taxi arrived at the Number Three Hotel in Glastonbury, England, legendary location of King Arthur's Camelot. At least, that's what my travel guide told me, the signs along the way told me, and even my taxi driver told me. Hell, I was practically expecting a knight or two on horseback to escort us.

But no knight appeared and soon the cab pulled up in front of an ivy-covered doorway that led to an ivy-covered courtyard. Beyond was a large Georgian townhouse that doubled as a bed and breakfast.

The driver hopped out and ran around to the trunk and removed my bags, which he energetically stacked on the curb. I gave him a tip. Perhaps too big, because he suddenly smiled brightly, tipped his hat and I could practically hear him thinking, "Stupid American," and quickly drove away, perhaps before I realized how many pounds I had given him.

Pounds or money was the least of my problems these days. Now, my sanity was another story entirely.

I briefly watched the vehicle's tires bounce and wobble over the cobblestone road, and, with an undeniable feeling of impending doom, turned and looked up at the massive edifice that was the bed and breakfast.

The impending doom part might be an exaggeration. Okay, it probably was an exaggeration. But say that to my damn dreams. Dreams that have been plaguing me for the past three months or so.

Dreams that seem to be centered here, in Glastonbury.

Dreams that seem to be centered around a goblet. A chalice.

A grail.

The Holy Grail, in fact.

You're crazy, you do realize that?

Crazy or not, the dreams had nearly become nightmares. Interestingly, it was only when I began making actual plans to come here to Glastonbury that my nightmares finally ceased.

Relieved, I was about to cancel the trip when the nightmares returned two-fold, stronger than ever. Rocking my world and my life. Consuming me completely with their haunting images.

I thought of this now as I stood there under gloomy skies as a light rain began to fall.

I'm here, I thought. So now what?

Yes, here I was in England, on what was officially a research trip for my next novel. After all, I had to justify the trip: to myself, to others, and to the tax man.

Unofficially, it was something else. Unofficially, I was here to put an end to my dreams. Something wanted me here badly enough to invade my nights and haunt my days.

No, not just something.

As the rain picked up, pelting my upturned face, I thought of the Holy Grail. The silver goblet filled with Christ's blood. I was holding it in my dreams.

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