crossed a continent, an ocean and an island and now that I stood
at last within the unthinkably ancient ring of stones reared
by my forgotten forebears, all I heard in the well of my own
soul was the echo of the well-cover when I drew it back. I hitched
up my pack, struck my crude walking stick against the wet grass
and headed for the little local museum.
Stepping inside, I found I could proceed no further. The Avebury
museum was manned by an elderly gentleman in a dark blue suit.
His white hair neatly slicked back, his face arranged in an
expression of professional hospitality, he was attempting to
elucidate the exhibits for an American couple. Since my fellow
Americans blocked the way, I could no nothing but pull off my
mist-dampened slouch cap and wait.
Looming over the English curator, the elderly American demanded
through loose lips, “What’s so special about this
“Well,” smiled the curator, “Avebury is the
largest stone circle in the world…”
“Saw it. Is this the whole town?”
“The modern town of Avebury sits entirely within the ring
“What’s the museum for?” The American angrily
shook England’s October chill from his Hawaiian shirt.
His voice dripped with contempt that the country’s temperature
did not fit his tourist’s uniform.
The curator replied patiently, “We house a small collection
of artifacts discovered…”
Out thrust the American’s finger. “What’s
“I’m glad you noticed that display. This…”
“It’s a rock. We have rocks at home. We don’t
build museums for ‘em. Do you have anything good?”
Before the curator could indicate his prize display, the tourist
declared, “I’ve seen it.” The Ugly American
turned his back and shoved past me out the door, his wife remora-like
at his side.
The curator turned his eyes on me, propped up his smile and
nodded in greeting. I admired his resilience -- something I
had long lost.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” he asked,
glancing over my army surplus ski-jacket, weathered jeans and
I took off my glasses and polished the mist from them. Not trusting
contact lenses on a rough trip, I wore an old-fashioned pair
of sturdy black frames. I had stopped shaving the day I quit
my job and it suddenly occurred to me that I had not seen another
bearded man since I had arrived on the island -- as if I needed
an appearance guaranteed to distance me further from those around
me. But I was not thinking of appearances when I withdrew my
savings, tossed a few things in an old army backpack and flew
away over the great Californian desert, across the wide states
and over the rough Atlantic, reversing the course of my westward-driven
Embarrassed at seeing myself through the curator’s eyes,
I was about to demur, but considering the brush-off the man
had just received, I changed my mind, saying, “Actually,
yes. I’m particularly interested in the excavation of
the West Kennet Long Barrow.”
The curator’s smile became genuine and he swiftly ushered
me to a series of photographs of neatly stacked finger bones
and skulls within the Long Barrow. The more questions I asked,
the happier my white haired acquaintance became.
Consequently, it took me three hours to complete my examination
of the small room’s treasures. We had long since introduced
ourselves. Eventually the curator apologized for keeping me
so long. I assured him that it was I who had taken his time
and that I was delighted and grateful for the information. I
pulled out a small wad of bills to poke into the museum’s
The curator caught the tiny hesitation as I swiftly calculated
how much I could afford to put in. He asked, “You’ve
been to a number of archaeological sites?”
I had scarcely talked to anyone in weeks and was in no mood
for confidences, but my countryman had been coarse and this
man kind. I affirmed, “I have many more to see before
“You’re not exactly an archaeologist, are you?”
asked the curator, subtly eyeing my travel-worn clothing. “But
you’re hardly a doss, either. You seem well read on my
“I’m not trying to discover something for science.
Just for myself. I want to walk the hills my ancestors walked.”
My journal pressed uncomfortably against my chest. I adjusted
it, and the man glimpsed the small, black-covered volume. Perhaps
he thought it was a Bible, as he asked, “Are you a spiritual
“I prefer not to define myself,” I said uncomfortably.
“Yes, but are you? Are you on some sort of pilgrimage?”
Awkwardly, I pieced together what answer I could, though it
is not easy to explain to a stranger that you feel derailed,
that your locomotive is on the grade spinning iron wheels in
gravel, that a lifelong dedication and a quarter century of
work seemed like maybe they had some weight in your hand and
then vanished without a trace. But I let him know I felt a need
to stand where my ancestors left their bones.
The curator absorbed this with a crisp, unmoved, English smile.
“You were in the Sanctuary, earlier, weren’t you?”
he asked, referring to an ancient structure once connected by
a stone causeway to the Avebury ring.
I was a little surprised. “Yes, I meditated there awhile.”
“People will do that occasionally. Not much goes on here
without we know about it pretty quickly.” He eyed me.
“Are you staying in the area?”
I replied carefully, “I want to spend several days here.
There’s a lot to see.”
“It was pretty early when you were in the Sanctuary.”
“Yes, I have a limited amount of time -- and money --
and a long way to go.” There seemed no point in not admitting
the financial pressure he had clearly deduced.
“Are you staying under a bush somewhere?” he asked
Though amused, his smile was friendly. “You don’t
have a car and you were at the Sanctuary before the first bus
into town. You must have slept nearby last night, but you’re
not staying with anyone.”
“I’m…I’m trying to find…”
He interrupted smoothly, “You know, the nights here do
“I’ve managed so far.”
“There’s a bit of weather coming in, and if you
are sleeping under a hedge somewhere, it could be unpleasant.
We do have a hotel, of course, but if that is out of the question,
you are welcome to sleep in…. Well, I am just a bit hesitant,
He took a deeper breath, knit his brows a trifle and peered
into my eyes, asking, “You aren’t bothered by dead
people, are you?”
“I…can’t say I ever have been,” I replied,
“but I’m not really sure what you’re asking.”
“You would be welcome to stay in the church,” he
told me, “if the weather gets bad. It’s only that
it is an old church, you understand?”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“There are people interred inside, you know. That wouldn’t
“Not at all. It’s just that a church is…well…”
“It’s there to help people. Not just people of the
same faith. It’s warm and dry and never locked. No one
will be there on a weekday evening. The rector comes in at six
in the morning. If he should find you there, just tell him I
said it would be all right. We can’t have any old doss
sleeping in there, you understand, but you will be welcome.”
Seeing that I did not know what to say, he added, “It’s
there if you need it.”
Then he shook my hand and went out to tend to other business,
as did I.
I searched the spectacular stone circle, perhaps secretly expecting
to find my lost self around every corner. The contrast was striking.
In the middle of my life I found an end, while my unwritten
forebears had banded together in such numbers and with such
inspiration that they had raised this vast ring of standing
stones. Each monolith was huge, more massive than the trilithons
of Stonehenge. The ditch surrounding the ring, even half filled
by millennia of erosion, was still deep and steep. What had
moved the ancients to mark out this vast ritual space, so large
that not only the chieftains who had attended the ceremonies
at the more famous Stonehenge, but an entire people could meet
for a mass communal ritual, a sharing of the same experience,
the same emotions, on a grand scale?
Walking along what remains of the megalith-lined causeway connecting
the vast stone ring to the Long Barrow, I sought some echo of
the spiritual bond that had, so long ago, inspired men and women
armed only with antler picks and reindeer shoulder blades for
spades to heap up an artificial hill called Silbury, raising
it from the flat ground like the monumental green breast of
their beloved earth mother. There it stood, a thousand generations
later, and what had I built? A castle of sand.
The causeway ended at West Kennet Long Barrow, a sort of turfed
over tunnel that once served as a burial chamber. Several tall,
flattish boulders once sealed the mouth of this structure, but
the National Trust had set these stones back a pace or two from
the entrance so I could actually duck into the dry-stoned interior
as the incoming storm began to break. Struck by the din of rain
sheeting down, I looked up at the low ceiling and found that
the Trust had installed thick glass-brick skylights in the stone
roof to light my way.
I crouched my way down the long passage. I knew that the ancients
exposed their dead to scavenger birds in lonely places set aside
for the purpose, as other forebears of mine in the Americas
were still doing a century or so ago. Unlike the Native Americans,
however, once the bones of the ancient Britons had been picked
clean, they were collected and their skulls and index fingers
were stored here in the Long Barrow, to keep the spirits of
the dead close.
I thought of Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones and bidding
them live again. Perhaps in a place of ancient wholeness I,
too, might find renewal. My emptiness being curable by no rational
means, perhaps the irrational could help me.
I burned the rest of the day’s dim light photographing
the ancient complex, as best I could in the worsening weather.
By nightfall the storm was harsh. Well wetted from my day’s
excursions, I could not face sleeping again tucked under a hedge
in a water-resistant sleeping bag wrapped in a tarp.
The Avebury church seemed larger in the dark. The big, point-arched
door was unlocked as promised, and passing in, I found sanctuary
indeed, after the cold whipping walk back up the causeway and
into the great circle. Feeling my way through near complete
darkness to the rear of the pews, I found an empty place on
the stone floor, laid out my sleeping bag and prepared for bed.
Stone is not a good mattress, and a wild British storm is no
calming lullaby, but long walks and a yawning cavern in the
soul make it possible to still the mind until consciousness
sinks beneath the waves, and eventually I floated into other
I woke with a jolt. Someone was there with me. Or sort of a
I sensed an awareness without form or substance. I could no
more describe this feeling to one who has never had it than
I could describe sound to one born deaf, but whatever sense
it was that had seized my attention, I felt that presence as
clearly as I felt the stone beneath my body. There was nothing
to see, no sound really, though I was vaguely aware that the
storm still swept and pattered at the church walls. I had been
trained to believe that such things did not occur. Yet there
the presence was, as focused on me as I was on it.
It wanted me out of there.
Its antipathy was inexplicable, tremendous -- and growing in
intensity. It wanted me out. Out into the night. Out into the
storm. Out and as far away as possible.
I had little idea what to do. There was no question of convincing
myself that it was not there, or of getting back to sleep. A
roaring man would have been easier to ignore, and less upsetting.
Perhaps, whether or not I could make sense of it, I could treat
the presence like a person. Talking seemed unnatural in that
dead quiet, yet I might, in a sense, press my own feelings back
against that alien presence pushing at me.
I concentrated, projected my reasoning: “Yes, you make
me feel awful. Yes, you fill me with dread. But I’m not
going out in that storm. Look, if you are some discarnate person
interred here, you must have been here since the Middle Ages
-- no one’s been buried in a chapel floor since then.
I’m here for one night. I’ll be gone with the dawn,
never to return.”
The hostility swirled about me, worse than before, incredibly
“I mean no disrespect,” I insisted, “but I
need shelter. And I was offered it. Look, I don’t know
if I can ever afford to come back to this country, but I do
know I can’t afford to get sick. I’m not going out
in the storm.”
The more reasonable I became, the more the disembodied outrage
swelled. I felt besieged by a spiritual storm as buffeting as
the weather outside.
“Stop…pressuring me. Stop with the vibes, already.
I won’t go out tonight, storm or no. I don’t like
being pushed, psychically or otherwise. Leave me alone. Let
me sleep. It’s been a long, hard trip, damn it, and stone
floors are uncomfortable enough without you getting in my head.
Get out, yourself! Get out of my space, get back in your crypt.”
The pressure became almost physical. I found myself leaning
against it. This was too much.
A friend and teacher had given me an ancient symbol of wholeness,
cast in polished pewter. She had taught me its history and symbolism
and how to meditate upon it in times of trouble to still the
mind while holding unwanted influences at bay -- usually meaning
one’s own bad memories, destructive thoughts, or pressure
from actual living people. I had never expected to use this
meditative discipline to protect myself from the hostile awareness
of someone who had died six hundred years before. But it was
time to muster whatever defense I could. Though I carried little
with me on this quest, I had brought this little symbol across
the sea. I groped in the dark for the pocket of my backpack,
within easy reach.
The symbol was not there.
I had put my glasses in the same pocket and the symbol had been
there then -- it must be near at hand. I patted my palm about
the floor and bedding, blindly searching, finding nothing but
stone and cloth. I could accept the existence of a ghostly presence
sooner than this disappearance of a familiar object. I refused
to admit to any trepidation, but fear began to seep into the
fringes of my consciousness.
My hand found the edge of the rolled jacket that served as my
pillow, slid underneath to feel about. Nothing. Where could
it be? I had to have it -- it was my only defense.
The more I concentrated on finding the symbol, the less I concentrated
on pushing back the hostile presence and the more my fear began
I picked up the coat and shook it, expecting to hear the pewter
expelled from some fold to clink against the stone floor. Nothing.
Instead, the pressure of the unseen entity swelled to such unimaginable
power that I actually felt as if great hands reached underneath
the edge of the sleeping bag and started to lift me up and push
My heart pounded, adrenalin shot through my system, my limbs
flung themselves out to the sides, trying to hold on to the
I awoke, disconcerted.
I had felt so awake already. No dream in my life had ever felt
so conscious as this -- none had allowed me to think so clearly
-- and none had ever so completely reflected my waking experience.
Because there I was in the pitch-black church, now wide awake,
and there was the same presence I had felt in my dream, still
wanting me out, out and away, gone for good. The same pressure
was there, but no longer overwhelming, no longer physical. While
I had been unknowingly asleep, the force had grown stronger
the less I focused on holding it at bay. Now that I exercised
the full power of my conscious mind, the pressure exerted by
the hostile entity was greatly weakened.
I groped for my pack, found the pocket and pulled the symbol
from its resting place. I ran my thumb across the smooth metal,
feeling its shape, picturing the symbol in my mind. Doing so
held the hostile presence at bay. There was no escape from its
relentless pressure, and it prevented me from sleeping, but
it could do no more.
I lay for hours in the utter dark, cramped on the hard stone,
picturing the symbol and pushing the entity to the edge of my
awareness. At last, I felt the change when night invisibly but
palpably shifts toward day. With the change in the air, the
presence faded and at last I could drift into exhausted sleep.
When light filtered in from the high windows, I woke. Quickly
packing my few belongings, I saw on the floor not three feet
from me, a human outline, a flat effigy inset in the stone.
So many feet had shuffled over it that the brass had been worn
smooth. All that remained was the featureless metal silhouette
of a knight.
I caught the bus and traveled onward, filling my empty eyes
with new sights of old things. But in my dreams each night,
I dreaded the return of the hostile entity, and when, sometimes,
it did return, I felt terrible waves of raw fear -- a horror
of…I knew not what.
Dread wore on me. I had to understand this experience and to
bring it to some resolution.
There was a woman I had loved and lost. Not that Nichole had
ever loved me (except, I believe, as a friend). What I had lost
when she left the States was the joyful agony of seeing her
face by candlelight over the occasional dinner while hearing
her stories of her vibrant Italian kin. As her replies to my
letters grew less frequent, I realized that even that last insubstantial
literary contact was fading into absolute absence. On my long
bus ride north to Eryri, I reached out one last time, wrote
to her of Avebury and posted the letter at the next stop.
I passed through Wales and stopped for a night at my brother-in-law’s
house below Hadrian’s Wall, intending to go on from there
into Scotland for another week before returning to London for
the flight home. Brother-in-law John had taken his family to
visit relatives in Texas but had left me a key and, to my surprise,
a letter forwarded from my parents’ address in California.
The name on the return address struck a pang through me. I tore
open the envelope. Nichole, perhaps because my tale was so odd,
had replied. She gave me a London contact number for one Reverend
Owen, she wrote, I want you to talk to this man. He deals with
things that you and I were taught to believe cannot be, but
are, anyway. Nature is so inconsiderate that way. Sam is a good
guy. He was trained by the Berkeley Psychic Institute. Don’t
worry, they aren’t like those telephone ‘psychics’
with bad accents you see on late night commercials.
I trust Sam because he helped me. When my plane was flying in
to London, I had a sense of coming home, even though I have
never been here before, and a sense of misease at the same time.
As soon as I set foot on English soil, I felt an awful pain
in my back. I thought for a moment I had been hit by something,
but I hadn’t.
It wouldn’t go away, and it was hard even to walk. It
went on for days, until Sam came to London to visit Bob and
me and I told him about it. Sam told me that in a past life
I had been an outdoorsy English squire. I was crippled in a
fall from a horse and could never deal with the fact that I
had been thrown after priding myself on my skill as a sportsman.
Returning to England a lifetime or two later brought it all
back, in the form of physical symptoms. Sam had me concentrate
on accepting that kind of blow to my pride, and I felt the pain
lifting. After a few minutes I was fine and have had no problem
It’s too bad you can’t come see some shows with
us, but our schedules just wouldn’t mesh…
Rev. Stock met me at dusk outside the empty church in the great
circle of Avebury. I am not sure what I expected, but it was
not this man. Stock was blond, bland of face and build. His
eyes never seemed to focus on anything around him, because he
was always focused on things just past the surface, things I
could not see.
We introduced ourselves and he cracked crude jokes and laughed
at them, establishing his credentials as a normal guy in all
things but his specialty.
“Shall we go in?” he asked.
I nodded, opened the wide church doors and led the way into
the deep gloom. We made our way carefully to the spot where
I had lain. The brass silhouette of the knight was barely visible
as the last light receded behind heavy November clouds. Sam
did not produce a flashlight. That made sense, I supposed, as
there was nothing really to see.
Sam spoke calmly of relaxing. We sat on the stone floor and
let the darkness deepen, keeping our minds clear. I do not know
how long we sat there, Sam exercising his psychic disciplines,
whatever they may have been, and me drifting into semi-dreams,
then starting back to normal consciousness, trying to empty
my mind, and drifting again.
Then the presence was there, pressing at me, trying to drive
me away with wave after wave of palpable hostility.
Sam spoke quietly to it, asking, “Why are you here?”
The Reverend sat very still, drawing in some response.
“That’s not it,” he said. “Look deeper.”
I winced, as a wave of horror hit me, suffused me. Terror shook
me, body and soul. Images flashed through my mind: a village
in a grassy hollow, remote, isolated from the larger world,
steeped in ancient ritual. A knight in dully gleaming armor
restrained his restive war-horse, looking down on the village.
Lances bobbed and weaved on either side of him and distant glints
of steel flashed here and there on the hills beyond the village
-- the settlement was surrounded.
The nameless knight watched a man in long robes, his care-lined
face stretched thin with sorrow and fear, trudge out from the
village to stand before an incredibly broad, stocky knight on
an irritable charger. I could not make out the actual words,
but I understood that this stocky commander’s troops had
been sent by some distant religious authority to enforce conformity
to their sect.
The long faced man tried to explain that the villagers’
creed joined them in spirit with the land on which they dwelt,
and which they regarded as a living thing -- joined them with
the life-giving waters that flowed through the land, with the
animals dwelling on it, with the birds of the sky, the fish
in the rivers, the trees, the crops. All was conjoined. The
long faced man explained that these people could no more betray
their way of life than they could condemn a beloved spouse to
destruction alone at the hands of her enemies.
The whole village had met in council. They understood what the
invading church meant to do to any who resisted, but the village
had decided as one that it would be better to die as one with
the land, than to eke out a spiritless survival as serfs to
those who betrayed the trust of ages.
The stocky commander was unconcerned. He let the old man walk
all the way back to the village. The stocky man calmly drank
a stoup of wine, then tossed the flagon to his page and sent
him behind the lines. The commander flung up his metal sheathed
All hell was loosed.
The knights rode down any they found in the streets. They spitted
men and women, while the foot soldiers tore down doors and slaughtered
The nameless knight whose trampled silhouette still lay on the
floor of the Avebury chapel, killed busily with the other men,
and as their own unopposed violence drove them to frenzy, as
if searching for an act so awful it would force the doomed villagers
to fight back, the nameless knight let slip all bounds.
A small child ran through the streets, heart pounding, breath
catching, running blind. Steel clattered behind him, torchlight
flamed, a huge, steam-breathed horse cut off his path. Terror
jangling every nerve, the boy darted through an open door into
an abandoned home. Coals and dying flames in the hearth cast
wavering light on an empty bed. The boy dived under it, huddled
against the wattled wall, looking back the way he had come.
From under the bed he saw a knight dismount outside the doorway,
the whipping torchlight unable to reach the face within the
open visor. The boy saw the great, metal-cased feet tread heavily
through the doorway, across the room, straight to the bed. The
straw and wood covering was heaved up and away across the room,
leaving the child curling, exposed, in the corner.
The jointed metal gauntlet reached down from the towering figure,
seized a thin arm, yanked the child up and flung him to the
floor. One iron boot came down on a small shoulder, pinning
him. The great gauntlet flexed its metal joints, reached to
the knight’s belt and drew a dagger. The knight knelt,
faceless in the wavering light, aiming the dagger-point at the
My limbs quivered and jerked as wave after wave of horror crashed
through me -- a tidal wave of terror and dismay so sweeping
that I was screaming without inhibition.
Shockingly bright after-image colors flared in my eyes and the
village was gone. I was back in the church with Sam. I was not
cut open, not a child, not screaming, only shivering a little
in the dark. Sam was talking calmly with the presence, the nameless
“It was one thing,” Sam was saying, “to get
caught up in the collective madness. It was something else to
live with it. Isn’t that right?”
There was a pause while Sam listened and I gasped, willing my
hammering heart to slow.
Unseen in the dark, Sam addressed the knight again, “Your
leaders told you that you were absolved from any crime you committed
against unbelievers. But you knew better. That night haunted
you all your life. Especially the face of the screaming boy.
Then you died. And you knew where damned souls go. You didn’t
dare pass on, did you? You stayed here, stuck in the floor of
the Avebury church, hiding from judgment behind other people’s
A wave of hostile energy buffeted me, an image appeared in my
mind’s eye of a death’s head of dull gray metal
like a helmet, on a vast armored figure hooded and cloaked.
“Get out of my head,” I muttered angrily.
Sam told the knight, “Stop that. We’re not interested
in any death imagery you can throw at us. I’ve had worse,
“I won’t give in,” I told the presence. “I
didn’t give in then. I’m not a child anymore and
no violence, no oppression, no cruelty has ever made me conform.
I won’t get out. You see that child’s face in me?
As long as you and I are in this world, you’ll see it
still. Face me -- I can face you.”
Sam spoke to me this time. “He’s stuck. Time isn’t
the same for him, but still, he’s been here too long.
He’s a weak character or he never would have done those
things. He can’t go on unless you give him the power to
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“If you forgive him, his hold on this plane will weaken,
and scared or not, he’ll eventually lose his grip and
move on to face the consequences of what he’s done.”
“Forgive him,” I repeated, incredulous.
“Or you can not forgive him,” said Sam dispassionately,
“and he’ll stay stuck here as the centuries go by.”
I took a breath.
“You pitiful monster,” I said, “six hundred
years is long enough to be stuck in a church floor. You wasted
one life being weak and vicious. The only way you’ll ever
redeem yourself is to live again. It’s not up to me to
even this score -- it’s up to you. I forgive you. Go on
to your next life. And do better.”
The dread eased. There were no more ugly images, no pressure
to leave. The sense of a presence dwindled. He was not yet gone,
but his hold had been weakened. He receded to absorb what had
After a moment, Sam said, “He’s still afraid to
go on. He knows he hasn’t paid all his dues yet. You’re
the only person on this plane he can contact, and the only connection
he has with you is terror, so it may be pretty unpleasant. But
you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that sooner or later,
he’ll slip away. We might as well go, too.”
We groped our way to the doors and slipped out into the night.
Sam shook my hand.
“That’s really all I can do for you,” he said.
I thanked him.
He gave me his card, adding, “Sometimes I give classes.
Look me up sometime when you get back to California. Or forget
the whole thing, if you’d rather.”
“Thanks again. Give my love to Nichole.”
Sam hesitated just an instant, just enough that I knew he was
aware of my doomed love and that he would not be passing on
any expressions of affection when he spoke to Nicole. I nodded
and he walked to his hotel room while I hiked out to my hedge.
My time, health and traveling money gave out at once. To get
to the airport I had to borrow a few pounds that good old John
had left at his house for me. Back in the States, the last of
my American money bought me a bus ticket to my parents’
house on the western coast. I could sleep on their library daybed
until I found another job. They welcomed me back, not sure what
to make of the gaunt, exhausted relic of their son.
The day after my arrival, the phone rang. It was Ambrose Douglas,
an actor with whom I had once worked. He told me, “I’m
working at the Robert Semple Theater and I told them you’d
be perfect for this part. It’s not much money, but it’s
a good role and a good company.”
“It’s a start,” I said.
So if that time comes to you -- if you hear the road call your
name because you feel that if only you can drive far enough,
there's somewhere you will arrive -- I can tell you: so you
will. When you're lost at sea, remember: if there's no way to
keep your foundations solid rock, there's no sea either without