You can read the first part of Where the Moon is God via the link below:
I hope you enjoy reading!
Theodore considered himself to be a generally very calm and collected individual. He was reverent and deeply religious, a monk who worshipped God as truly and faithfully as any man could. His mind was free of wicked thoughts, his body of sinful deeds. He had escaped from the evils of the world many years ago, delivered himself to a better place – a purer place – and forgiven those who had done him wrong.
It was rare for him, with all his composure, to be haunted by nightmares. Bad dreams were the only dreams he tended to have, when he had them, and they disturbed him deeply. There was no word he could think of to describe what simply terrifying things his unconscious mind was able to invent.
He lived in a large monastery in the country, isolated enough for the monks there to enjoy the world around them without getting too involved in its affairs. If nature could not calm his thunderous heart, then there was nothing that could. Nature, it seemed, was all out of ideas this time.
He settled himself down quietly in the middle of a small room in the monastery. It was a part of the building largely reserved for meditation. Theodore was cross-legged on the floor, his eyes closed and his bottom lip quivering with effort, but his hopes of reaching the tranquillity that meditation usually granted him proved fruitless. It had been many months, perhaps even a year, since Theodore had woken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat; the previous night had been a cruel reminder that he would never wholly defeat his demons.
It had been unlike any other night he could remember. He had tossed and turned in his tiny bed for hours, too hot one minute and shivering with cold the next. Once he had gotten to sleep, he had seen images of demons and inhuman monsters flashing through his mind. They had been hungry creatures, searching for their prey – searching for Theodore. He had thrown himself violently from side to side, as though kicking at the thin bedcovers might get them off his scent and end the dream. In the early hours of the morning, he had woken with a throbbing headache, after three mere hours of rest.
He had climbed out of his bed and walked over to the tiny window, bent his neck to see out of it, and looked up at the sky. The full moon had stared back at him and he had put the nightmare down to a superstitious mind that should have known better. After a few minutes walking back and forth in his room waiting for his pulse to return to normal, he had climbed back into his bed and attempted to return to sleep, but it had eluded him. Eventually, there had been movement from outside of his room, and giving upon sleep he prepared himself for the day, with a head that was still throbbing.
Seated on the floor of the cool room, the sun shining down upon him from a high window, he could tell him foolish he had been to be frightening of made-up monsters. It was never easy to see that in the darkness, when all kinds of people could imagine all kinds of things with little persuasion. Demons were real, of course, but then it was not the demons that caused him to cower like a child. Wild dogs could have been a danger, if he slept out in the open, but what he had dreamt of had been able to turn from a man into a wolf and back again, apparently at will.
Most enlightened scholars had rejected the concept of werewolves. Theodore had read a lot on the topic – certainly more than he was supposed to have read – but he had never seen any plausible argument to suggest that they were, or had ever been, real. There were strange creatures out there, far away in eastern countries, but England was not brimming with monsters. There was no reason for him to be afraid.
As much as demons could taunt him by inventing these nightmares, he would be able to overcome them. He had his faith. He had painstakingly trained himself over many years not to want or lust for anything, and so demons posed no threat to him. All that Theodore had to do was chuckle to himself until he remembered that werewolves were not real; anyone else in the monastery would have told him the same.
He would not talk to just anyone, of course. If he wanted to share what he had seen behind his closed eyes, then he would choose to speak with someone who was not going to judge him. There were few in the monastery who he felt would react in the right way: he did not want sage advice or some foul-tasting drink that was supposed to prevent him from having further nightmares. He wanted someone who would listen and nod, and then tell him he was an idiot once he had finished speaking.
First, however, he needed to calm his mind. Theodore knew that he was too distracted to concentrate. The fear that had gripped him when he had first woken had faded away slowly, until it had become little more than a silly memory. Something remaining behind, something he was unable to name. Something that puzzled him.
He could only vaguely remember the last time that a nightmare had woken him and shook him to his core. The rarity of bad dreams only served to make them feel more intense. He remembered how cold he had been when he had shot out of bed, exactly like this time, shaking as though from a fever, freezing despite the heat of the night. Questions had filled his mind that time, too.
How was his unconscious mind able to generate so many grizzly images, when he had done everything within his power to live a life of charity and simplicity? He had never seen a man beaten, stabbed, or ripped to pieces, so how was he able to imagine those tortures so vividly? He had an idea of them from descriptions and the odd image in texts, and although he could appreciate both he knew that there was a clear distinction between those and real life.
Apparently, his lack of witnessing anything gruesome could not stop his brain from filling in the gaps of his knowledge: the guts that he had seen spilling out onto the ground had seemed all too real, not just some sketch on a sheet of parchment by a skilled hand but something that was there, right in front of his eyes. He had dreamt of people taking their last breaths, choked gasps still echoing around in his ears.
Theodore shook his head as though this might dislodge the thoughts from his brain, breathing slowly and deeply to clear his mind. It was unsuccessful.
With such vivid images still swirling around in his head, meditation proved useless. For the first time in a long while, he abandoned his morning routine, resigning himself to some breakfast so that he could try again on a full stomach. This was not the way that he was supposed to do things, but he was shaken up, and that was a good enough excuse to adapt his behaviour.
The bread and the water that he had every morning were bland and tasteless. They did nothing to improve his mood. A silent prayer at the table helped to appease him slightly, and his worries faded somewhat as he felt the comforting feeling of the holy watching over him. Not long after he had finished his prayer, he was joined on the wooden bench by another monk.
The newcomer placed his bowl down on the table with a clunk and looked at Theodore with a grin that was far too cheery.
‘Good morning, Theo!’ the new arrival said, the grin turning into an even wider beam that split his face in two. It was a look that Theodore had seen opposite him every morning for many long years, something that would always manage to cheer him up, as though the other man’s happiness was somehow infectious. It did not seem to work on that morning. It was not a good morning, and no amount of saying that it was a good morning was going to make it one. Theodore mustered up the happiest voice he could.
‘Good morning, Thomas.’ He sighed, then ran a hand over his eyes, trying to shake the strange feeling that he was still in the dream. ‘You sound as though you might burst into song at any moment.’ Theodore paused, cocking his head to one side as he studied Thomas. ‘Please refrain.’
‘The sun is bright. It’s a beautiful day!’ Thomas ignored Theodore’s comment and continued to smile. He picked up his bread, tore some off, and examined it playfully before putting it in his mouth. Theodore watched, unable to hide his amusement.
‘Do we thank the Lord for this glorious sunshine?’ he asked Thomas, holding a piece of bread up himself and moving it between his fingers; it was a little too hard and a little too dry. They both knew the question was not serious.
‘Theo, we are Englishmen,’ Thomas replied. ‘When we get sunshine, we definitely thank the Lord.’
They chuckled quietly, mindful that some of the other monks had made vows of silence and that their whimsical conversation would not be encouraging to those devoted men. The pair shared a meaningful glance before returning to their meals, a look that said they were both glad to be in the other’s company. Theodore wondered whether anything had bothered Thomas in the night but did not ask. Thomas would want Theodore to discuss his own dream in fair exchange.
It was not long before Thomas spoke again. He had always enjoyed talking a little too much and Theodore had drawn attention to this more than once, but this was hardly enough to stop the man. Thomas pushed his half-empty bowl into the middle of the table, rested his elbows on the table, and leant on his hands, looking across at Theodore. Theodore put down his water, waiting for whatever the other wanted to say.
‘Have you heard the news from Lincoln?’
Theodore simultaneously grinned and sighed in exasperation. He shook his head slowly, chuckling to himself. Thomas seemed to know every scrap of information brought to the monastery before any other man, and his wide, excited eyes could not hide the fact that he considered this information to be something special.
‘You should stop your gossiping, brother Thomas,’ Theodore warned with a waggle of his finger. ‘It is not so good for the soul.’ He knew that the other monk was not going to finish speaking until he had shared everything he knew with Theodore, but then Thomas knew that Theodore wanted to hear it. Theodore liked to think that this was because Thomas knew how to tell a good story, but not even a monk could tire of good gossip.
‘Nonsense! I am not gossiping! It is news!’
‘Very well,’ Theodore said, still laughing quietly. The playful glance that Thomas shot him encouraged him to give in, a sly look that the other man had been able to pull off since well before they had arrived at the monastery. ‘Come, come then, brother Thomas, and tell me what news comes from Lincoln today.’
Thomas shuffled about in his seat as though the wait between announcing that he had news and Theodore asking to hear it had been too much for him, then moved his elbows off the table, his eyes fixed on Theodore’s. There was a moment of hesitation, a stillness that hung between them during which there was nothing else in the universe but them, before Thomas spoke. It was a pleasant moment: they had known one another before they had become monks and had always treated one another as brothers, although they were not related either by blood or marriage. Each man could read the other purely at a glance. Thomas was excited but also uncomfortable about what he had to say.
‘There were some horrible animal attacks inside the city walls last night,’ he finally said, unable to pass his voice off as casual. ‘I heard the news from my brother. He says he’s been keeping an eye on them.’
‘This news has come quick,’ Theodore commented.
‘You know Henry. He sent a messenger out here before the sun had even come up – he must have suspected something was going to happen and sent his messenger as soon as it did. He likes to keep me informed about goings-on in the city.’
Theodore nodded; Thomas’ brother often fuelled his gossip. ‘Wait – what do you mean? Is he looking out for attacks?’ he asked. He was shocked at the topic: animal attacks were rare in cities, especially in those with a wall. ‘Have there been others?’
‘Henry says there were some killings last month, too,’ Thomas explained. He picked up another piece of bread from his bowl and chewed on it for a few moments before continuing. Theodore had given up on his own bread. ‘He says the bodies were all of sinners – well, you know the sort of people who wander around cities at night – and they seem to have been attacked by some wild beast, something with huge claws and gigantic teeth. He thinks it’s probably a wild dog. Three were killed last night: one woman of the night, one gambler, one adulterer.’ Thomas counted them off on his fingers, the slender digits unfurling slowly. ‘Three also last month, and three the month before that.’ He reached nine and held his hands in front of Theodore’s face, as though this reiterated some point Theodore was missing. ‘He doesn’t think it will stop.’
‘It sounds as though he might be right.’
‘Yes. The constable got involved last month.’
‘They don’t appear to have done much.’
‘According to Henry, they killed a lot of dogs in the city, not that it’s done any good. There were a few suspects, too.’
‘People?’ Theodore raised his eyebrows, watching Thomas carefully. ‘Human suspects?’
‘Yes, well … Henry says all nine victims were morally corrupt.’ Thomas frowned. ‘It sounds strange … he did say they look like animal attacks, but you wouldn’t think an animal would be able to get past the wall or the guards month after month. Animals would go after anyone, maybe the guards themselves, not nine sinners … it sounds as though the constable will be baffled. Henry is baffled. He thinks our opinions on the matter might be useful.’
Theodore stared across the table at Thomas, his face blank, as he thought to himself. He watched the other man finish his bread and water and saw Thomas eyeing what was left in Theodore’s bowl.
‘Take it,’ he said, not wishing to be distracted from his thoughts. Thomas thanked him and snatched the bowl away, scooping up the last piece of bread and finishing it off. ‘Let me think for a while.’
‘Of course, brother,’ Thomas replied. He too fell into a thoughtful silence. Theodore watched the other man for a while, wondering what advice he would be able to offer that might help or comfort Thomas’ brother. Murders were not the forte of a monk.
This was not the first time Henry had asked for their advice, but it had only ever been matters of religion before. He had been a great support to them when they had been young, when they had played together despite the insistence of both sets of parents that they were from separate worlds and should stay that way. When the time had come, he had helped them to set off on the long path to become monks, and so they tried to assist him whenever he requested it.
If the truth was to be told, Thomas had always had an interest in things that should not have concerned him, which was how he had become friends with Theodore – a poor child with almost no education at the time – in the first place. This might have been another example of Thomas trying to get involved in something he should not, but that kind of thinking would not help Henry. It would be wrong to ignore these deaths based on Thomas’ over interest.
Theodore emerged from his thoughts to notice that Thomas had not come to a useful conclusion either. He tried to go back into his own mind, but found distracting questions floating to the front of his mind and slammed his fist down onto the wooden table in frustration.
Thomas jumped. The other monks, seated at the surrounding tables, jumped. The whole room stared at Theodore, who muttered a feeble apology about needing to meditate more and waited for the rest of the room to go back to their breakfasts before he spoke to Thomas.
‘Does Henry really think we can come to any kind of conclusion about what could have done this?’ he asked. ‘Man, woman, demon, wild dog … I doubt we can give your brother anything more than he already has. We will be no more helpful than the constable. Yes, there are wild dogs in the forests around this monastery and yes, they could get to the city and back in a night with ease. As far as I know, they live in packs, and they do not go beyond the treeline, otherwise we ourselves would be unsafe.’
‘Someone would surely spot a wild pack,’ Thomas agreed. ‘I think Henry just wants any help he can get.’
‘That, I understand. I’m not saying that I’m not convinced it isn’t an animal. I’m just saying … I … don’t know what I’m saying. Even if it is an animal, there seems to be no way to find it unless it is caught in the act. There are so many, but … no, no, I don’t believe it was an animal.’
‘Neither do I,’ said Thomas. ‘Which begs the question: what is it? You think a person can tear people apart, cut deeper than bone, and that they would eat …’ he stalled, one hand over his mouth, as though trying not to be sick. ‘Because I don’t think a human would.’
Theodore scratched his chin thoughtfully and noticed that he needed to shave. ‘I don’t think so, either. Do you know what I could do? I could message my friend Matthew, the monk from St. Albans. He likes to document strange things that happen, so he might have come across something like this before. You remember him, don’t you?’
‘Yeah, I remember him. Good man. Likes to talk.’
‘It might take some time for him to reply, and he might not have anything to say, but …’
‘But it’s worth a shot,’ Thomas finished for Theodore. ‘I’ll tell Henry you’ll write to Matthew, but we should also think of some suggestions of our own. He’s evidently very concerned about his parishioners being targeted like this.’
‘Wait – his parishioners were targeted?’ Theodore asked. This was beginning to sound less like a wild dog and more like the work of someone or something evil and sinister that was targeting specific people.
‘Yes … all nine of them were his.’ Thomas picked at a few crumbs that remained in the bottom of his bowl and scowled. ‘Do you think this food is getting worse? Anyway, the constable had guards stationed around the area last night, like they knew it was going to be there. No idea whether they saw anything, though. Apparently, there have only been a handful of sightings of this thing. Henry say’s he’s spoken to people who have seen it but not got much from them. Stories of vague shapes and monsters lurking in the shadows. Well, you know how people make things up sometimes.’
He paused, still playing with the crumbs. Theodore waited for Thomas to continue. ‘That’s not even the weirdest thing about it,’ Thomas said eventually. ‘You see, all nine of them had confessed their sins to Henry shortly before they had died … within the month of their deaths, as far as Henry can remember. He wrote that none had been ready for forgiveness, and had not taken their penances seriously.’
Theodore could not hide his surprise. ‘How very strange. They are sinners,’ he pointed out, a shake of his head accompanying the final word, ‘and it is the cities that breed them. They’re everywhere in populated areas; whenever you look, wherever you turn, there they are. Maybe it’s a coincidence … but it would be an impressive coincidence indeed. Your brother does take a lot of confessions, and not all of those people are able to drag themselves out of the corruption of the city as easily as we did.’
Thomas nodded in agreement. He glanced around himself and kept his voice low to avoid being overheard. ‘I suppose there’s always the possibility that it’s someone close to Henry. My brother seems to be contemplating divine involvement, or even retribution. All things happen for a reason.’
‘I don’t want to think it could be someone Henry knows,’ Theodore replied, ‘and divine intervention, even in the case of the worst sinners, is extremely rare. Could all nine really have done enough to warrant it? God would have been willing to forgive them, when they were ready.’
Theodore was stumped. It was Thomas who brought up the final possibility.
‘It might be a demon,’ he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. ‘That sounds like the most realistic option to me. A demon is roaming the city, punishing souls that do not see the light.’
‘It could be a demon,’ Theodore agreed, his own voice only a breath. ‘It could be.’
He left the statement there and fell silence once more. Theodore did not like to put words in God’s mouth and always liked to ensure he had clear evidence before crying out his support for something. He had been that way ever since his father had first encouraged him to embrace Christianity fully and join the church, then only a boy. That was how he had first met Thomas, and their relationship had developed from there. Theodore wanted to know that there was no chance that these attacks were being caused by an animal before advising Henry to protect himself and his flock from something far more sinister.