Extract: The Burning Girls by C J Tudor
Reverend Jack Brooks is looking for a fresh start. Chapel Croft appears the perfect place, but the village has a dark and dangerous history – and the ghosts of its past refuse to stay buried. Decades ago, two girls disappeared. And just months ago, the last vicar committed suicide – but not before leaving a message for Jack.
Jack must uncover the truth, or risk sacrificing the village to the evils that lie within. But the truth is hard to find, when everyone has something to hide. And as long-buried secrets of Jack’s own resurface, faith alone will not save them…
Read on for an extract from The Burning Girls by C J Tudor!
The Burning Girls
C J Tudor
What kind of man am I?
It was a question he had asked himself a lot lately.
I am a man of God. I am His servant. I do His will.
But was that enough?
He stared at the small whitewashed house. Thatched roof, bright purple clematis crawling up its walls, bathed in the fading glow of the late-summer sun. Birds chittered in the trees. Bees buzzed lazily amongst the bushes.
Here lies evil. Here in the most innocuous of settings.
He walked slowly up the short path. Fear gripped his belly. It felt like a physical pain, a cramping in his gut. He raised his hand to the door, but it opened before he could knock.
‘Oh, thank God. Thank the Lord you came.’
The mother sagged at the doorway. Lank brown hair stuck to her scalp. Her eyes were shot through with blood and her skin was grey and lined.
This is what it looks like when Satan enters your home.
He stepped inside. The house stank. Sour, unclean. How could it have come to this? He looked up the stairs. The darkness at the top seemed thick with malevolence. He rested his hand on the banister. His legs refused to move. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, breathing deeply.
I am a man of God.
He started to ascend. At the top, there were just three doors. A boy, slack-faced, in a stained T-shirt and shorts, peered around one. As the black-clothed figure approached, the boy pulled the door shut.
He pushed open the door next to it. The heat and smell hit him like a physical entity. He placed a hand over his mouth and tried not to gag.
The bed was stained with blood and bodily fluids. Restraints had been tied to each bedpost, but they hung loose. In the middle of the mattress a large leather case lay open. Sturdy straps held the contents in place: a heavy crucifix, a Bible, holy water, muslin cloths.
Two items were missing. They lay on the floor. A scalpel and a long serrated knife. Both slick with blood. More blood pooled, like a dark, ruby cloak, around the body.
He swallowed, his mouth as dry as the summer fields. ‘Dear Lord – what has taken place here?’
‘I told you. I told you that the devil –’
He spotted something on the bedside table. He walked over to it. A small black box. He stared at it for a moment and then turned to the mother hovering in the doorway. She wrung her hands and stared at him pleadingly.
‘What shall we do?’
We. Because this was upon him too.
He looked back at the bloody, mutilated body on the floor.
What kind of man am I?
‘Get cloths and bleach. Now.’
WELDON HERALD, THURSDAY,
24 MAY 1990
Police have appealed for help in the search for two missing Sussex teenagers: Merry Lane and Joy Harris. The pair, who are believed to have run away together, are both aged 15. Joy was last seen at a bus-stop in Henfield on the evening of 12 May. Merry disappeared from her home in Chapel Croft a week later on 19 May, after leaving a note.
Police are not treating their disappearance as suspicious but are concerned about the girls’ welfare and are appealing for them to get in touch with their families.
‘You won’t be in trouble. They’re worried. They just want to know you’re safe and you can always come home.’
Joy is described as slight, around 5 foot 5 inches tall, with long, light blonde hair and delicate features. She was last seen wearing a pink T-shirt, stone-washed jeans and Dunlop Green Flash trainers.
Merry is described as thin, 5 foot 7 inches tall, with short, dark hair, and was last seen wearing a baggy grey jumper, jeans and black plimsolls.
Anyone who sees them should report the sighting to Weldon Police on 01323 456723 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
‘It’s an unfortunate situation.’
Bishop John Durkin smiles, benevolently.
I’m pretty sure that Bishop John Durkin does everything benevolently, even taking a shit.
The youngest bishop to govern the North Notts diocese, he’s a skilled orator, author of several acclaimed theological papers and, if he hadn’t at least tried to walk on water, I’d be amazed.
He’s also a wanker.
I know it. His colleagues know it. His staff know it. Secretly, I think, even he knows it.
Unfortunately, no one is going to call him on it. Certainly not me. Not today. Not while he holds my job, my home and my future in his smooth, manicured hands.
‘Something like this can shake the faith of the community,’ he continues.
‘They’re not shaken. They’re angry and sad. But I won’t let this ruin everything we’ve achieved. I won’t leave people now when they need me the most.’
‘But do they? Attendance is down. Classes cancelled. I heard that the children’s groups may move to another church.’
‘Crime scene tape and police officers will do that. This is not a community that has any love for the police.’
‘I understand that –’
No, he doesn’t. The closest Durkin gets to the inner city is when his driver takes a wrong turn on the way to his private gym.
‘I’m confident it’s only temporary. I can rebuild their trust.’
I don’t add that I need to. I made a mistake and I need to make amends.
‘So now you can perform miracles?’ Before I can answer or argue, Durkin continues smoothly. ‘Look, Jack, I know you did what you thought was best, but you got too close.’
I sit back stiffly in my seat, fighting the urge to fold my arms like a sulky teenager. ‘I thought that was our job. To build close ties with the community.’
‘It is our job to uphold the reputation of the Church. These are testing times. Everywhere, churches are failing. Fewer and fewer people are attending. We have an uphill battle even without this negative publicity.’
And that is what Durkin really cares about. The newspapers. PR. The Church doesn’t get good press at the best of times and I’ve really screwed things up. By trying to save a little girl and, instead, condemning her.
‘So, what? You want me to resign?’
‘Not at all. It would be a shame for someone of your calibre to leave.’ He steeples his hands together. He really does that. ‘And it would look bad. An admission of guilt. We have to give careful consideration to what we do next.’
I’m sure. Especially considering my appointment here was his idea. I’m his prize show-dog. And I had been performing well, turning the once-derelict inner-city church back into a hub of the community.
‘So, what do you suggest?’
‘A transfer. Somewhere less high profile for a while. A small church in Sussex has suddenly found itself without a priest. Chapel Croft. While they nominate a replacement, they need an interim vicar.’
I stare at him, feeling the earth shift beneath my feet.
‘I’m sorry, but that’s not possible. My daughter is taking her GCSEs next year. I can’t just move her to the other end of the country.’
‘I’ve already agreed the transfer with Bishop Gordon at the Weldon diocese.’
‘You’ve what? How? Has the post been advertised? Surely there must be a more suitable local candidate –’
He waves a hand dismissively. ‘We were chatting. Your name came up. He mentioned the vacancy. Serendipity.’
And Durkin can pull more strings than frigging Geppetto.
‘Try and look on the bright side,’ he says. ‘It’s a beautiful part of the country. Fresh air, fields. A small, safe community. It could be good for you and Flo.’
‘I think I know what’s best for me and my daughter. The answer is no.’
‘Then let me be blunt, Jack.’ His eyes meet mine. ‘This is not a fucking request.’
There’s a reason why Durkin is the youngest bishop to govern the diocese and it has nothing to do with his benevolence.
I clench my fists in my lap. ‘Understood.’
‘Excellent. You start next week. Pack your wellies.’
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