Village of Fire  

by Eline




with curtains and books.

She found herself standing now in a little dark room whose pretty windows – colourful pictures of people when seen from the outside of the church – were covered inside with black curtains. In front of Emily was an archway almost two storeys tall, with another, this time huge, black curtain hanging down. She took a few quiet steps towards it then stopped – a noise from outside. She quickly ran back to the door and peered outside; the village was waking up, and she did not want to be found to be in here – much better to have her mother and the others think she had gone out to play in the fields of the old farms. She carefully pushed the door shut – making sure she had the key in her pocket – and went back to the curtain. It was made of some thick heavy fabric she had not seen before, and it had been stitched together from many smaller pieces. Some of the pieces were various shades of blue, she noticed now, although in the dark of the room it all seemed black from a distance. Most of it was already black, and all of it felt dirty – pulling her fingers away she saw that there was some black dirt left on them. She took hold of one edge of the curtain and pulled it tentatively to one side, just an inch; she looked through into a room which was very dark but seemed to be very large. All she could see, from this angle, were a few columns, illuminated by the flickering light of a candle. She could not hear anybody or anything in the room, so she opened the curtain a little wider – it was very heavy so it was not an easy thing to do – and slipped through the gap.


This room was huge – Emily supposed that it filled up the entire church from side to side, from end to end and from floor to ceiling. More black curtains hung at the walls where the windows should have been. Columns stood in two rows, stretching from the near end of the room to the far end, and going right up into the shadowy invisible ceiling. Lining the wall to Emily's right was a great long stack of wooden benches and bits of broken wood which had probably previously been more benches. All of this was illuminated – just – by a few candles on a table in the very centre of the room. Also on the table were several other things, but she could not tell what they were. Nobody else seemed to be here so she walked with quick but quiet confidence to the table.


A number of books lay in disarray on the table, and on the stool that stood beside it which Emily had not seen from afar. A few blank sheets of startlingly white and smooth paper were also here, and a peculiar-looking pencil too. A plate with a few crumbs on it sat on top of one of the books, and the six candles stood in a bowl in the centre of the table. Emily picked up a book and looked at it. It had a black cover with some words written in gold letters; Emily could not read so she did not know what it said. She opened it up and flicked through the pages and pages of tiny letters. Many of the pages had been written on with blue ink, but there were no pictures or diagrams to help her understand any of it. She placed it carefully back in the same position it had been before. All of the other books had similar covers – no helpful pictures, just words. She did not bother looking in any of the others. Just then, she heard a noise coming from the end of the room, the far end from the big curtain. She glanced up and could see now on the wall a statue of a man with his arms stretched out sideways and his head hanging down as if he was looking at the small platform with some sort of table on it beneath him. On either side of the small platform were two plain doors. Emily had not been able to see any of this before because of the poor lighting, but now she could, and she saw that one of the doors was opening. She ducked down and peered round the side of the table at the door.


An old man in dark clothes stepped through the doorway saying things to himself quietly. He walked up to the table, took the books from the stool and placed them on the floor. Just then, he noticed Emily's dirty face watching him at close quarters from the other side of his table. He raised his eyebrows in mild alarm but then pursed his lips and nodded as if he had realised something. He sighed deeply and sat on the stool. He gestured for Emily to stand, which she did. She did not recognise him, and she knew everyone in the village by name; an outsider! She smiled at the idea but then remembered that she was probably in trouble, so she folded her hands in front of her and avoided the old man's eyes by looking down at his feet. He was wearing dirty brown boots.

“So,” he said, “You must be Emily?”


Emily said nothing and did not move. She shut her eyes tight and did not hear the man standing up again, but she opened her eyes again when she felt him grabbing her shoulders. She saw a glimmer in his eyes as she looked up at him, but then it faded away into shock and horror. The old man pushed her away, into the table, and ran back to the door he had come through. Emily did not notice the books falling around her until one of them landed on her head and knocked her out cold.





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