Knight for the Covenant of Everlasting, a short story by E. J. Ruek

Knight for the Covenant of Everlasting

David’s First Mission

by E. J. Ruek

Covenant

First published by The Deepening, ISSN 1559-7733
in Volume 1, Issue 2, released February 2006

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a very special story for me because it was written about a very special lady, who is, unfortunately, now deceased, but who will always live on in my memories.

Sipping coffee, the cafe’s complementary paper beside his plate, David calculated. What they paid would get him on his feet again, even if he only worked it for a couple of months. His eye traveled down the columns looking for other options, but kept straying back to that particular ad.

$1000/delivery, 1 delivery/wk guaranteed. Need working car, driver’s license, clean record. Apply in person, 3227 Kingsley Avenue.

A car, a driver’s license and a clean record — he had those. So did just about everybody else. He folded the paper and shoved it back where he’d gotten it on the corner of the counter, then drained his cup, stood and left enough cash beside his plate for the bill plus a small tip for the waitress.

Outside, the fog had burned off. The day was bright, a paradox of sunshine and ice-cold breeze. He dug his keys out, his eye easily spotting his rusty Subaru in the cluttered parking lot. The sound of coins dropping, rolling, one with a particular ringing sound, stopped him dead in his tracks. “Dammit.” Quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, and his gold-piece scattered, many rolling away beneath nearby vehicles.

Stooping down, David picked up most, but had to squat to reach under several cars to get the rest. His lucky coin, an heirloom from his grandfather, was missing, though. His eye searched carefully, methodically, until he spied a glint of gilt. The old coin had rolled back behind him, coming to rest beneath the front tire of a Lexus parked right beside the cafe’s entrance. He stepped over to the curb, bent down and snapped it up, straightening as he shoved it back down, deep inside his jeans’ front pocket.

His eye caught, then. Right in front of him was a paper box. “What the hell,” he muttered, and, fishing out two quarters, careful that the gold piece didn’t come out again, he bought himself a copy. It wouldn’t hurt to try.

At the next gas station he passed, he bought a map of the city. Locating Kingsley, he drove out to the advertised address. David expected to find a business. What he found was a church.

Letting the engine die, he sat and stared. It was an old church, and big, reminiscent of a time when ornamentation and stained glass were standard architecture. The building was a rich, dark red, its brick stained by years and weather. Moss grew down the gutters — stone gutters. Big trees fronted the building inside a tall wrought iron, ivy-covered fence that surrounded the entire structure and its grounds. There was a cemetery to one side that seemed to stretch as far as he could see, the whole of it well-kept with old headstones, some big and ornately carved. Many were noticeably tipped by time or, perhaps, by the roots of the huge trees that lined the cobbled paths and hemmed the boundary. David was immediately uncomfortable. Churches and he didn’t get along very well.

Turning the key in the ignition, the car coughed over just short of stalling. He was just sliding it in gear when a shadow crossed his vision and, simultaneously, there came a tapping on his window. He jerked his head in time to see the knuckles of a hand knock once more, the arm and body behind that hand encased in black. Then a face leaned down to smile in at him.

It was a kindly face. The knuckles rapped insistently again, and David rolled the window down. “Yes?”

“You came in answer to my classified?” The voice was deep, resonant, with a touch of the gravel of age.

Reluctantly, David nodded. “A mistake,” he said.

“Oh, surely not,” the man said. “There are no mistakes.”

Flushing with embarrassment, David shook his head. “I’m not a church-going—”

“You don’t need to be,” the man said quickly. Warm brown eyes looked steadily into his, the lines around them crinkling merrily. “You only need a car, a license, and a clean record. That’s all. Do come in.”

His car door opened, the priest or pastor, or whatever he was, sweeping a welcoming hand outward, beckoning. “It really is best that you aren’t a parishioner,” he said. “It makes you much less vulnerable.”

David turned off the engine, pulling the key as he reset the brake. Slowly, he got out.

“Come,” the man said, and, meekly, David followed, at once shy and wary, yet feeling strangely compelled.

Inside the church, the man led him through to a largish office, offering him his choice of chairs, one red, one green, both leather upholstered. Both chairs sat angled before a presidential-sized desk. The man sat, immediately at home behind the desk, then again urged David to likewise sit. David took the green chair.

“Your name?” the man asked, picking up an expensive-looking pen.

“David. David Knight,” he answered, not meaning to.

“All right, David. Here is your first assignment,” the man said. “It’s on Willow Street, the Widow Farley’s house. 7845 is the address, and you’ll find the key inside the pot to the right of the doorway. It’s beneath the frog.”

“Ah….”

“Here is the necessary paperwork should someone challenge your right to enter.”

The man handed across a folded piece of parchment, and David found his hand accepting it without realizing that he’d even reached.

“…And here is the church phone number and my cell in case you need them.”

Again, David’s hand accepted.

“My name is Lawrence Colter, and this envelope—”

The man held up an embossed, white linen envelope, his long fingers deftly opening the gold-lined flap to slide in a swath of bills. David saw the number one hundred on the corner of the foremost.

“…Holds your first stipend, which you may collect when you return with Mrs. Farley.”

Colter slipped the envelope in between a book and the green marble bookend that kept it straight, the white paper stark in contrast. Its gilt embossing of a crest and the name, Church of the Covenant of Everlasting, burned itself into David’s memory.

David was suddenly aware he was sitting up and forward; he became suddenly cognizant, as if waking to a splash of ice-cold water to his face. “Return with…” he said, his own voice sounding strangely like an echo in his ears. A chill ran down his back — mice feet.

“Yes.” The man smiled. “Return with the Widow Farley,” he said. “That is your job.”

Lawrence Colter rose and extended his hand. “Good luck,” he said as David’s own hand reached and shook the other as if to seal agreement. Colter’s other hand held out what looked to be a small, black leather book wrapped with silver chain. “And you’ll need this,” he said.

Obediently, David took it.

Small Black Book

7845 Willow Street was located on The Heights, on a quiet, curving, well-paved avenue that was lined with elms, not willows. David parked on the street in front of the old Victorian, his mind confused, his eyes staring at the black, leather book beside him on the passenger seat, its silver chain glinting in the sunlight that angled through the windshield. A small talisman hung off it that he hadn’t seen when he’d laid the book there. It was a peace sign from the 60’s.

David didn’t remember driving, though he did remember leaving the church, Lawrence Colter standing in the doorway, framed by the glow of the church interior. The man’s confidence in him had been palpable. That confidence was still a comfortable warmth inside his chest, yet David felt a stranger to himself, to his car, to the moment. He sat as if lost, wondering how and why he came to be working for a man he didn’t know who ran an institution the likes of which he’d never trusted.

A car drove past, startling David from his reverie. Guiltily, he looked around, then, sucking up his nerve, he mentally shook himself and turned the key. The car purred to life, the engine turning over smoothly, instantly, no cough or threat of stalling. Putting it in gear, he nudged the gas and turned in the drive, steering slowly up the smooth, black curve of asphalt between well-kept beds of sleeping roses and azaleas. When he reached the house itself, he parked by an empty fountain, then cautiously got out. He left the keys in the ignition, something completely against his habits. He took the book…and the parchment, stuffing this last into his jacket pocket.

Up the font porch steps, he tapped on the door and waited for someone to answer. When no one came, he stepped back, his eye taking in the curtained windows, the scatter of debris upon the porch, the silence. No one lived here. Lawrence Colter had given him the wrong address.

He was halfway turned, his foot descending to the topmost step, when, from the corner of his eye, he caught movement. The curtains shifted.

He looked — his head darting, eyes riveted to the swaying drift of sheers. “Hello?” he called. “I’m here to collect Mrs. Farley?”

No one answered.

He waited, but no one came.

Frowning, David stepped up to the door and knocked again. “Hello? I’m here to see Mrs. Farley. Mr. Colter sent me from The Covenant of Everlasting? The church?”

A breeze stirred un-raked leaves down on the lawn, swirling them around in a miniature whirlwind. The trees soughed. More mice feet crawled down David’s back. His eye caught sight of a solitary clay flowerpot, painted white, sitting three feet to the right of the door. In it, a laughing frog propped up a dried geranium. His feet stepped toward, his hand reaching out, lifting the frog, grasping the key that lay beneath. He put the key inside the lock and turned it. The door creaked.

Ceramic Frog

The whole house lay draped in drop cloths yellowed by the sun and dust. The windows were filmed as if they had not been washed in several years. There were cobwebs strung in the doorway leading from the entry hall to the living room. There were more hanging from the mantle of the fireplace and from the archway leading to the dining room. In the kitchen, the sink was dry, and, thirsty, when David tried the water, there was none — not even hissing air. The light switch didn’t work.

Back in the entry hall, he took one glance up the stairway and was about to quit the place when he heard a creaking. It came from the balcony above. Looking, David felt more than saw a movement flick across, like the shadow of an unseen bird momentarily blotting out a bit of sunlight. “Hello? Mrs. Farley?” Tentatively, he placed his foot upon the first stair.

“What do you want?!”

David spun around, his hand, swinging out as if to strike, almost letting fly the book he held, its silver chain and talisman rattling.

David felt his throat constrict. His breath stopped. A woman stood there — beautiful — her blue eyes steely, penetrating.

“What do you want?” she repeated.

“I…I’m looking for Mrs. Farley,” David stammered, his voice catching, dry and dusty, in his chest.

“She’s not here,” the woman said. “She died.”

“Who are you?” David asked.

“None of your business.” Then, relenting, “I’m her daughter. I’m now the legal owner of this house. How did you get the key?”

David felt his face go hot. “I was told that Mrs. Farley would be here,” he said.

“By whom?”

“The priest, Lawrence Colter.”

The woman actually laughed. “Oh, him,” she said.

Again, a flitting shadow brushed by, just overhead, and David glanced to catch it. From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the faintest glimpse of someone tall and thin standing on the upper balcony. He turned to look. It was just a shadow, formed by sunlight streaming through some upper story window that he couldn’t see.

“You need to go,” the woman said. “And tell Lawrence Colter to leave us be.”

Audibly, David heard a whimper behind him. Moments later, he felt a breeze, cool and soft, and, with it, came the faintest smell of lavender. Then he felt what he could swear was someone’s hand slip lightly around his arm just above the elbow. He felt his hair stand up — on his head, on his neck, on his forearms and his back, even on his legs.

Whether it was his imagination or just a fluke of fear, David didn’t care to know. He just knew he wanted gone. He stepped down the stairs, then toward the door, his hand holding the black book as shield as he sidled past the daughter, the soft touch on his arm gently holding on, trailing with him, pace by pace.

The daughter watched him go, her eyes hard but hollow, her body twisting as if to follow, though she never moved till he was out the door and down the steps. He heard her pull the door shut, keys jiggling as she turned the lock.

Driven by an urge he didn’t understand, but didn’t question, David opened up the passenger-side door, then held it ajar. He felt the hand slip clear from its hold upon his elbow. He saw the upholstery sink. Handing in the book, he saw it placed on end beside whatever sat there. Gently, he closed the door and walked around, getting in the driver’s side just as the daughter reached the bottom of the steps. Scared, he looked not right nor left, just straight ahead, his eyes unseeing as he slid into the driver’s seat to turn the key in the ignition. He was overjoyed when the engine roared to life.

David’s eyes caught one last image as he drove away — the daughter standing in the drive, her stony face turned to watch him go. Simultaneously, in his peripheral vision, he saw the faintest silhouette of something vague — a thin glow of vapor, tall and willowy, that faded into something just a bit more tangible where the shadow from the dashboard blocked the sunlight.

The talisman upon the chain dinged once as he turned the curve, and, between imagination’s ears, he heard a woman’s voice say, “Thank you.”

Peace Sign