ENTRY SEVEN-The Undercroft
ENTRY SEVEN – October 30, 1986
Both Miranda and I found the heat of the Punjab unbearable. Whenever possible, we took refuge under the ceiling fans. The coolest hours for work were between four and ten a.m. This necessitated that Miranda and I retire at about eight in the evening.
Our sleeping arrangement was a little unorthodox: we slept under an open umbrella. This, our handyman Yusef warned, would bring ghosts, evil spirits and bad luck.I explained to the superstitious Punjabi that I was a priest; God would protect me from any ill effects.
Why on earth are a clergyman and his bride slumbering under an umbrella, one may ask? This unusual arrangement was dictated by the fact that the Vicarage ceiling was crumbling down around us bit by bit. Every morning during our first week, we had awakened with eyes encrusted, our pillows covered with dust and pieces of plaster.
Now, our opened umbrella was secured to the headboard of our bed, with a mosquito net draped over it. If we remembered not to put the ceiling fan on ‘high’, everything stayed in place. Although it looked odd, we were actually quite comfortable.
We had been settled into the Vicarage for several weeks. Miranda would crawl into bed at eight p.m. and be asleep promptly by 8:05. Whether it was the second or third of the month, I can’t recall, but I do remember that at exactly 8:07 p.m. there was a knock at the door.
I was greeted by a tall, dignified man who introduced himself as Enoch, the ‘other’ church catechist. His complexion was slightly darker than most Punjabi folk and his accent was thick. “I have come to pay Padre Sahib a visit,” he said in a friendly fashion, wobbling his head to and fro.
I didn’t know how to tactfully explain that it was past my bedtime and that everyone in the Vicarage retired at eight o’clock. However, the building was very large, and I felt we would not disturb Miranda or Tim if we went into the front living room.
Warming to this older gentleman, I listened, captivated, as he shared a wealth of information about the history of the Cathedral. We had some tea and chatted until about ten. It had been a wonderful visit. As he left, he quietly suggested that now that he was back in Lahore, we would be able to see more of each other.
A few days later Enoch paid me a second visit. This time we conversed until the wee hours of the morning. He shared with me a most unorthodox chronicle of the Cathedral as well as what he termed ‘the mystery’ of the bell tower. I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. “You don’t believe in ghosts, Enoch?”
He replied, “From my perspective the supernatural seems quite natural. The metaphysical world is more real than the physical.”
I suspected Enoch might be embellishing. Notwithstanding that it was the middle of the night, I insisted we investigate ‘ the mystery’.
After equipping ourselves with flashlights, we left the Vicarage, crossed the Cathedral grounds and entered the bell tower. (Oddly the temperature had dropped and it was actually cool!) I had the feeling that my new friend was merely teasing me. Eventually he led me toward the tower undercroft. To get at the hidden door was difficult, and opening it took some doing, but at last we made a successful entry.
The ladder down into the dark hole was not sturdy, and it was awkward to maneuver with a flashlight in one hand. As I was climbing down, I felt something brush against my arm. I froze. Crawling near my elbow was an enormous, hairy spider. After a couple of moments of eye contact, I panicked, breaking one of the wooden rungs of the ladder. First my flashlight fell onto the soft, dirt floor. I followed.
“Are you hurt, Padre Sahib?” asked Enoch.
“No, but where is the gigantic spider?”
“He ran away.”
“Spider was greatly frightened. Padre Sahib is much bigger than he.”
I was still filled with horror. “Are there any snakes down here?”
“No,” Enoch replied, “You scream very, very loud and frighten everything – even me.”
I slowly picked up my still glowing flashlight. Then my eyes fell upon the old, blue chest. Enoch had spoken the truth.
A Second Shocking Discovery
Miranda stared at me in disbelief. “You mean I slept through everything? The bell tower . . . ?”
She was cut off by Yusef, the Cathedral’s ‘handyman’, arriving with his accustomed, “Good morning!”
“Enoch says you have the keys to the bell tower,” said Miranda abruptly. “Bring them here at once!”
Yusef’s smile left his face and he exited immediately, without saying a word.
“Miranda,” I said, “that was incredibly rude.” However, I had no time to pursue the matter further, because my first funeral was to take place that day and I was totally unprepared. The deceased was a prominent person and the Bishop was delivering the eulogy.
I left and made my way to the cemetery to familiarize myself with the locale. During this preparation, I stumbled upon a second shocking discovery!
I met Miranda back at the Vicarage. She had been unsuccessful in obtaining the keys. In addition, she had been spoken to very sternly by one of the senior staff at the Cathedral for frightening Yusef. Miranda filled me in on the facts: the young handyman believed the bell tower was haunted by spirits and hated to go there.
I shook my head. “That’s not what frightened him.”
“It was your mention of Enoch.”
Enoch Sadar Nathaniel
Returning quickly to the cemetery, I dragged Miranda with me. After half an hour we finally found the tombstone again. The simple inscription read:
Enoch Sadar Nathaniel
Born, August 29 1896
Died, August 30 1963
Catechist of Lahore Cathedral,
1940-1963, and faithful servant of Christ
The hairs on my neck stood on end; my heart pumped with excitement. Miranda was simply frightened. She gaped at the inscription, and declared that she wanted to leave Lahore.
We went over the events of the past few days again and again, confirming that Enoch had indeed died in 1963.
I suggested that my wife give things a little time and not do anything rash.
Miranda then shared with me that she felt like she was in a horror movie where the wife was acting reasonably, wanting to get away from the danger while it was still possible. The husband, on the other hand, was becoming possessed by some unknown force and was refusing to leave. She then announced that she was returning home with or without the Rev. G. Bryan Porter!
I couldn’t believe my bride of few short months was threatening to leave me, nor the reason for her departure. I spoke to her calmly, “You’re being foolish. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“That’s what they always say!”
We continued to argue at length. “Please be sensible,” I finally cautioned her in a matter-of-fact tone.
Calming down, she eventually became less manic and agreed that we could stay until Christmas.
However, she told me plainly, if at that time she did not feel ‘okay’ about things, she would leave – with or without me.
Lahore had three excellent English language libraries. One was at the British Consulate while the other was at the American Center. The third, at Lawrence Gardens, had an older collection. At these libraries I pondered what I’d experienced over the past while.
For us human beings, our reality consists of our four-dimensional world – height, width, depth and time. What happens when we lose one of these dimensions from our reality? What if we lose depth, for instance? Most people would reply that we’d then have a cinematic effect, as in a movie. When we view a motion picture, what we are watching has height, width and time, but no depth. One dimension of our reality is missing.
What happens if we remove the fourth dimension? Here we have a photograph. A photo has height and width, but no time or depth. Lose one more dimension and we have a line. Lose another and we are left with a point. We have position but no longer have magnitude. People know these four dimensions well.
For us they make up reality: the space-time continuum.
As we travel along the space-time continuum, our scientific method works and the rules of logic apply. Everything flows nicely. Many people in our society actually view this continuum as though it were the entire universe. It is not.
What rattles our complacency is that from time to time we step outside of our four-dimensional world. One-third of our life is spent outside what we call reality. For the eight hours that we sleep every day, the rules of logic and time do not exist.
The Ancient philosopher Chuang Tzu, around 300 B.C. stated: “Last night I dreamed I was a butterfly. I do not know whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”
However, sleep is only a minor mystery. The real problem for us arises on that day when we go to sleep and do not wake up. On that day, we permanently step outside the space-time continuum. We die. Yet death is not the end of our travels, but our true beginning.
Far more difficult to deal with is the third way we are separated from ‘reality’: when we experience a psychotic episode. Logic would dictate that delusions and hallucinations are the early stages of some serious mental disorder. Nothing is more terrifying than losing touch with the ‘real’ world.
It was my belief then, and is now, as I put pen to paper (or finger to key), that Enoch was nothing more than a strange dream. A dream inspired by the stories of the Bell Tower, and by old photos of Enoch that I had seen at St.Hilda’s Guest House a few days earlier. It was simply my imagination. Thankfully Enoch never reappeared. Yet it was a very very odd dream!
The Crypt of the Bell Tower
Miranda and I knew what we had to do. Gaining entrance to the bell tower would not be easy. I spent some time trying to allay Yusef’s fears. My authority as a clergyman helped. Yet it was the Punjabi weakness for being the subject of a photograph that ultimately secured our entry.
Miranda and I got together with Yusef on the pretext of taking slides of the beautiful city of Lahore. Most Punjabis love having their pictures taken, so I suggested we get a shot of Yusef at work, and he was overjoyed. Casually, I mentioned that I would like to have a photograph of the Cathedral grounds from the top of the bell tower, as it was the highest point and the view would be magnificent.
Yusef’s hand trembled slightly as he struggled to open the door to the tower. He led us to the top, where the view of the city was truly glorious.
I took a few ‘cards’ (as Yusef referred to them). When I suggested that it was now time to photograph the ‘lower regions’ of the tower, Yusef shot me a glance of pure horror, came up with some excuse and left in a quick but dignified manner.
Finally, I took Miranda to the undercroft. To get to the hidden door was difficult, and to open it took some doing, but eventually we made a successful entry. Miranda’s hands were shaking so much that she could hardly hold the flashlight. The ladder was not sturdy. As we descended, I noticed that there were no broken rungs, only a large spider observing us, cautiously.
There were no footprints in the soft earth, and dust still covered the nameplate on the chest, or, more accurately, the blue leather portmanteau. As I wiped my hand across the brass plate, I could just make out the name of the owner. In large block letters it read: HAROLD NIGEL FOX. I had a strong feeling of daja vu as I opened the trunk for the first time, the key, surprisingly in the lock, as if waiting for us.
The contents had laid undisturbed for many years.
The Bell Tower