Gray Shrouds

[Picture: Decorative initial letter ``G'' from 16th Century]

They were hanging motionless over our heads, upside down, and shrouded in dark gray wrappings. Our torches revealed row upon row of figures, each moving ever so slightly as the things inside respired, or twitched, or rolled over in their sleep. At least we had been assured that they were sleeping.

Our guide motioned for us to remain quiet with a finger to his pursed lips. Then with a wave of his hand he moved forward, stepping carefully between the pews that littered the vast cathedral.

I squeezed my torch tightly and focused on the floor. I didn't want to look up at those things again. The way the shrouds moved was unsettling. The creatures inside were man-sized, but I doubted that they looked anything like men. We made our way forward towards the alter, and behind that the door to safety. It was only a hundred feet away now. If we could just make it through that door, a small wooden slab with a little plaque on it reading “Sacristy, we would be safe.

Behind me I heard a thump and the sound of wood scraping on stone, followed by a hissed curse. Our guide whipped around, his light illuminating the young man with red hair who was bringing up the rear. He was leaning on the pew he had bumped into with a pained and terrified look on his face.

I held my breath. I'm sure everyone else was doing the same. There was dead silence. Then, over my head, I sensed movement. I didn't look.

“Shit,” the guide said, breaking the silence. “Just run!”

I was running before his command could echo back to us from the back of the building. Under the pounding of feet and the labored breathing, I could hear the soft slithering sound of shrouds slipping away, and the low rattling of the creatures stirring. The door was right there in front of me. The guide was pushing it open. Behind me I heard a shout, then a scream. I didn't look.

I was the second one through the door. I heard more screams. The last of our group pushed through the entry into the cool dark place, but we were one short. The guide was shouting now, and I heard his rifle shot. I finally looked.

He was tousling with something that looked like a large naked rat standing on two legs. It had pale skin, and red eyes that were too large. There were too many sharp little teeth squeezed into a wide mouth that opened on an unhinged jaw. The guide screamed as another of the creatures dropped onto him from above.

Somebody slammed the door shut. Somewhere during the mad dash to the sacristy everyone had lost their torches. Everyone except me. In the light of the flickering flame I saw terrified faces surrounding me. Without the guide we were lost.


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