“Obey the laws and commandments of God, brothers and sisters, or surely perish in the burning fire!”
The pastor, founder of the church, scanned the faces of his flock.
They gazed back, wide-
The church stood on the road to the island’s only town, a simple, strong structure, of shoebox design, painted white in the West Indian style. No stained glass, no bell-
“I will not shrink from my holy duty as God’s humble messenger, to keep the island of St Saviour’s free from sin, of which carnal sin is the most mortal.” The preacher’s voice rolled around the church, warm and unctuous, but its softness merely reinforced his ardour, and failed to conceal a hint of menace. “Do not commit adultery, do not fornicate, do not have knowledge of your fellow man, or of your stepchildren, lest the Lord visit us with fire and brimstone from the heavens, and destroy our homes, and kill our virgin daughters, and our old men, and our baby childer in their cribs!”
A number of deacons assisted the preacher, robed in white. The more senior acolytes held long shepherds’ crooks.
The pastor’s robe alone was red, blood-
The congregation sat hushed and expectant, the women in traditional costumes with tartan-
A massive painted and bejewelled crucifix, complete with corpus and skull and crossbones, three metres high, dominated the east wall behind the altar.
“Women of St Saviour’s, you too must be free from sin! Be obedient, humble, quiet and chaste in spirit. Remember Lot’s wife.”
A murmur of delicious, terrified anticipation flew around the congregation.
The pastor paused for a moment. He continued in a whisper, which nevertheless carried to the back of the church, reinforced by the powerful PA system. “Is it not written, in Genesis, Chapter 18? The Angels of the Lord descended, and commanded Lot and his family to flee the sin and debauchery of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, lest they be consumed in the fire and torment. But what did Lot’s wife, Edith, do? Did she proceed with all haste, never once looking back? No, my beloved flock. She looked back! She disobeyed the Angels. And her punishment was to be turned … oh, the horror, the horror! …where she stood, into a pillar of salt.”
A puff of breeze came from nowhere, and eddied around the church. The candle flames bent over like palm trees in a storm, and flickered. A few went out. Another murmur circulated among the pews.
“A pillar of salt. A statue, unfeeling, unknowing, lifeless and above all soulless! So wives, obey your husbands. Husbands and wives, obey your Lord. And give thanks and praise that, unlike in Sodom and Gomorrah, there are more than ten good souls on this island that we call home. But wait. I sense the presence of God with us.”
The preacher’s robe began to sway, as if his knees were knocking together rapidly. His eyes turned upwards, leaving only the whites visible.
The congregation sat still and tense.
The pastor spoke in tongues, gibberish spouting from his lips. “Agghe hweeg, frrooooggh, shalashalashala. Hallelujah! Speak, Lord! Let me know Thy will! I humble myself in Thy divine presence.” He began to shake and tremble. He turned around, and around again, and pirouetted like a ballet dancer, his feet unseen beneath the cloth. His robes billowed out. The deacons and other acolytes took a step backwards.
The strange breeze returned, an unnatural chill wind from nowhere. The candles guttered, and several blew out.
The pastor stopped spinning, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and let out a mighty cry of anguish, amplified to such a volume that something rattled outside in the vestry.
“Ahhhooei! Verily we are all sinners, to be deeply chastised and judged on the fearful last day! But you tell us a great miscreant hides in our midst, Lord? Tonight, in our congregation? The worst sin? One who disobeys her husband? Worse? I shudder and quake to my boots. Tell me, Lord.”
He held his hands high in supplication, and froze in position.
Silence reigned for thirty seconds. The pastor turned to the congregation, and continued, in a low, menacing tone. “There is indeed a sinner amongst us tonight. A mortal sinner. One of our men folk has, this day, in the sight of the Lord, had knowledge of a girl child. A child in his care and keeping, of less than fourteen years.”
Several women gasped.
“Let the evildoer step forward and repent, lest our temple be rent and fire rained on us as in the ancient days. Quickly, show yourself, man, advance, fall to your knees, and beg repentance!”
Not a member of the congregation spoke or came forward, though some of the women looked sidelong at the men around them, fear mixed with disbelief in their expressions.
“What, will no one confess? We are all doomed. I tremble. I feel a mighty wind taking form in the heavens.”
More of the candles blew out. Gigantic shadows hovered on the walls, a second, unearthly congregation.
Abruptly, the pastor froze again. Then his body jerked around like a puppet’s, and he screamed, “No! Do not forsake us, Lord!”
Mist or fog rose from behind the altar. The preacher fell to his knees, and began to sob. “I did my humble best, but the sinner would not confess! Do not punish us. Do not send … him!”
The cold was palpable now. The fog billowed upwards. The altar appeared to float in a grey cloud.
The remaining candles flickered madly, and yet more died. Maybe only a quarter of the original light illuminated the spectral scene. The altar candles all went out together.
The pastor collapsed forward on to the tiled floor. The congregation sank to their knees in their pews. The officials dropped their crooks, which clattered to the ground almost in unison, and fell down too.
The tendrils of icy fog now pervaded the entire east end of the church, and reached up and wound themselves around the feet of Jesus on the Cross.
Then a rumbling came from below, like thunder heard from afar.
A dark, shifting shape arose from the fog behind the altar. The outline grew, and took form as a figure, much taller than a man, cowled in coarse, black, sackcloth-
And it had no face.
You could see straight through where the features should have been, to the heavy jewel-
The figure spread its arms wide. They were unnaturally long, and covered in thick, bushy hair.
The apparition raised its head. Two eyes glowed out from under the cowl, as red as the rubies on the crucifix, prompting a gasp of terror from the flock.
The pastor, prone on the floor, whimpered, “He comes. He comes.”
Kate Robinson hurried up the footpath towards the restaurant. She checked her new watch. 6.34pm, and already quite dark. Sunset was early this time of year in the Caribbean.
Three of them had flown together from London Gatwick, but Piers, the film director, and Alex, the client, had both lost their luggage at Barbados. “This will take hours to sort out,” Piers had said. “No point in all of us missing the connection. You go on to the island, Kate, and hold the fort. We’ll follow on the late flight.”
Nutmeg shells carpeted the path. They crunched under her deck shoes. The warm, aromatic scent of the spice suffused the balmy evening air.
Piers would be a pain until reunited with his designer clothing. He was so vain! Plus, he had stashed the all-
Without them, it wouldn’t be much of a commercial.
Her flight over from Barbados had been fun. The nine-
Kate clutched her leather portfolio case under her arm. This was her first assignment on location, and she was determined to make a good impression. She knew she could do the job. She prided herself on being organised, in fact people often called her attention to detail “obsessive.” Sometimes they used an even ruder word.
But little things did matter on films.
The restaurant overlooked the marina, which seemed rather underused right now. Three of the four pontoons, with no boats on them, resembled brown fingers pointing into the darkened bay.
Six yachts lay tied up on the single pontoon in use.
She spotted the huge catamaran that was to be their floating home and film set for the next week. Forty-
Strange that they still used Imperial measurements out here.
Metric is so much more efficient!
Elroy, down on the pontoon, heaved at a thick rope. He wound the end around a double bollard on the edge of the dock. In addition to the lines at each end of the catamaran, Kate noted two long ones arranged in a criss-
The dining area of the restaurant consisted of a tin roof on wooden columns, with a tiled floor. Caribbean and casual. The table for their party was set with eight places, only four occupied. Piers had planned this first evening as a bonding session, where everyone involved with filming the commercial could get to know each other and loosen up before boarding their floating home.
With the director and client missing, the evening looked likely to be a fiasco.
The restaurant must have had a hundred and twenty covers. But only one other table was occupied, by a young black couple leaning close together. They held hands, obviously in love.
“Toots! There you are!” Colin the cameraman called out. Four empty beer bottles stood in front of him in a neat row. Lot of shaggy and greasy blond hair, and decidedly overweight for someone still in his twenties (that would be the beer, she thought). And developing a definite double chin. Typical of his breed, efficient enough, and cheery, albeit with a tendency to over familiarity. They’d used him twice before, once on a Tripes dog food commercial, and once for a GlaxoSmithKline corporate video about eliminating lymphatic filariasis in Egypt with the aid of albendazole, which Kate alone had seemed to find interesting (but it was her field.)
“Hi everyone,” Kate said, remembering to smile. She raised her free hand, palm flat and fingers upwards, and moved it around in greeting.
“This is Kate,” explained Colin. “She’s our Production Assistant for the shoot and here to keep us all organised. Nothing escapes her beady eye. And she’s in charge of the bills and expenses, so it literally pays to be nice to her. And she’s our qualified First Aider, in case you touch a light by mistake. And she plays the flute, and takes her instrument everywhere with her. She’ll give us a little recital one evening, I’m sure. A girl of many talents. What did you do with the others, Toots?”
“Alex and Piers are still in Barbados. Their suitcases went to Antigua, and I counted a queue of twenty-
“See what I mean?” Colin said, looking around the table. “Pull up a pew, Toots. Meet your shipmates. This is Modeste, our cook. Theo is our crewman and will help Elroy sail the boat. And Jasmine is the talent. She flew up from Trinidad today.”
“Hi everyone.” Kate slid into a vacant seat, put her case on her lap and glanced from person to person.
Modeste the cook was chubby, and so dark in colouring that her face seemed to absorb light, leaving only her eyes visible. She was aged maybe thirty-
“Welcome, Miss Kate,” Theo said. He reached out to shake her hand and smiled, revealing two gaps in his top teeth. He didn’t seem embarrassed. He was a Rastafarian, well built but not tall, wearing a Bob Marley T-
The fourth member of the party, Jasmine, did not meet Kate’s eye at all, despite sitting right opposite her. She yawned histrionically, and produced a gold-
Suit yourself, Kate thought.
A waitress approached—a slight local girl, no more than fourteen or fifteen, with hair braided in cornrows, ultra skinny jeans and a white T-
“I’ll have a Four Seasons with extra garlic, anchovies and no artichokes,” Colin said.
“Veggie roti, thank you kindly,” Modeste said.
“Same for me,” Theo said.
Kate picked up the laminated plastic menu sheet and scanned it. “You go next,” she said to Jasmine, who was still intently examining the screen of her phone.
“Marinara pizza but with no anchovy, pepperoni, extra garlic, extra olives, no capers. Got that?” Jasmine finally looked up.
“Yes, Ma’am,” the waitress said. She seemed a little flustered, but wrote at length on her order pad.
“I’ll have a Marguerita pizza straight,” Kate said.
Jasmine was going to be a problem. How could anyone be so rude? She was only a model, not even a proper actress. Just because she looked like a Disney princess, she evidently thought it acceptable to act like one. Well, Jasmine was here to do a job, like the rest of them, and Kate resolved to keep her under a tight rein.
Kate’s ankles started to itch in the heat and humidity. September was apparently the hottest month in the Caribbean, and the rainiest. And the month marked the height of the hurricane season. Not the best time of year to be filming, but only then could they hire the giant catamaran at reasonable cost. Equally important, they would have all the locations to themselves.
Kate had checked the weather daily for the past week, and bookmarked four meteorological sites on her laptop. Conditions seemed benign for now.
They all ordered drinks and the waitress cleared the empties.
Elroy entered the restaurant and joined them at the table. “We’ve just ordered,” Colin said.
Elroy flashed his gold teeth. “No problem, mon, I eat two chicken leg at the airport waiting for Miss Kate. I don’ need no more food.”
Kate bent down to scratch her ankles, which were starting to burn.
“Sand flies gettin’ you?” Jasmine laughed, an unpleasant sharp bark that belied her beautiful appearance. “They always prefer white meat. Pale and tender.”
“Here, Kate, use some OFF.” Colin pushed the plastic bottle of spray repellent across the table. “Stuff keeps the buggers at bay.”
Kate seethed inside. She wasn’t going to let this madam get the better of her. She needed to make it clear, straight away. She glared at Jasmine. “I’m sorry, Jasmine, I don’t find that funny.”
The others stopped talking.
Jasmine sat up straight and wiggled her big breasts, presumably trying to impersonate Kate. “I don’t find that funny,” she squeaked in a silly voice nothing like Kate’s, at least as far as Kate was concerned. “Why not? You making’ an issue about bein’ white?”
Theo the Rasta laughed nervously.
Kate stuck to her guns. “Grow up, Jasmine.”
The model continued, “We’re black. You’re white. Don’ see nuttin’ wrong with that, do you?”
“I’ve got plenty of black friends in London. I just don’t like being referred to as ‘white meat.’”
“You have a problem with a little joke ting like that? Gods. Our people have suffered three hundred years of shit from your kind, and counting.” Jasmine turned to the other West Indians for support.
Theo, Elroy and Modeste the cook all avoided her glance.
Kate smiled and said, “Respect works two ways. You need to show respect if you want to receive it.”
“Don’ you lecture me, Miss Starchy Face.”
Modeste shook her head and muttered something.
“Excuse me—” Kate began.
Colin weighed in. “Whoa, girls! You two have to work together. You’re sharing a cabin, so play nicely, ladies. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot here. Piers and Alex won’t be impressed. Both of you cool it.”
Jasmine glared at Kate, picked up her phone from the table and jabbed the touchscreen. “I not sharing with her. She can sleep on deck and give the mosquitoes a square meal.”
Kate opened her mouth but Colin raised his hands and Theo growled something.
Luckily, the drinks came at that moment and provided a welcome distraction. They all held out their glasses to chink them with everyone else’s. Kate offered her glass to Jasmine, but the other woman ignored the peace offering, while chinking her own glass pointedly with the others.
Right, thought Kate. You want a war, you’ve got it.
But Kate’s own big balloon of red wine slipped down, and Colin promptly called for a refill for her, which was equally welcome, and she soon felt a lot mellower. Everyone chatted away about the forthcoming filming. Then Jasmine’s phone rang with a snatch of Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World. (How apt, Kate thought.) The model got up and wandered around the restaurant, talking to her boyfriend from the sound of it. At the same time, the waitress appeared with the pizzas and set them down.
Jasmine finished her call and returned to the table. She examined her plate, and lifted up the edge of the pizza with a long fingernail. “Excuse me, but I didn’t order this,” she called after the departing waitress.
“A big problem. I ordered Marinara with extra garlic and olives and no pepperoni.”
“Take this away and bring me what I order.”
“But, Madam—” The waitress pulled her pad from the pocket of her apron. “I write it down good, pepperoni, no anchovy—” She held up the order, which confirmed her words in neat capitals.
“No,” Jasmine said. “You muddle up.”
Kate wasn’t having it. The wine had gone to her head a little. She wouldn’t permit this prima donna behaviour. The poor waitress! She was only a schoolgirl and had done nothing wrong. “Jasmine, you did order pepperoni. Plus extra garlic, extra olives, but no capers or anchovies.”
“I did not. I never eat pepperoni. Dead pig.”
“You did so. I can tell you what everyone else ordered too, if you want. Now I believe you owe our waitress an apology. Also, pepperoni is beef and pork, not just pork.”
The rest of the party cast their eyes down in obvious embarrassment. Colin piped up, “The young lady would like to change her order.”
Jasmine shook her head. “I not changing my mind. I just want what I order.”
A tall, stately white woman with closely cropped blonde hair, wearing a silky kimono decorated with a Chinese dragon motif, appeared from the direction of the kitchen and glided over to their table. “Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the Turtle Bay Resort. I hope there is no problem?” Presumably the manageress.
“Your girl give me the wrong pizza, then she argue with me,” Jasmine said.
The woman glared at the waitress. “Take the pizza away and bring Miss Jasmine what she ordered.”
“But—” Kate began.
“Yes, Mistress,” the waitress said. She edged around the table, picked up Jasmine’s pizza and headed back to the kitchen, head bowed. As she passed, she glanced towards Kate and mouthed “Thank you.” Her eyes were moist, and she seemed ready to dissolve into tears. No one else noticed.
“I am most terribly sorry,” the manageress went on. “We give these girls, mostly orphans, every training and encouragement. Unfortunately, they do make mistakes. God did not make them perfect, by any means. However, a disrespectful attitude is inexcusable. I will counsel Alisha. In the meantime, I do apologise, Miss Jasmine. You are an honoured guest, along with your party.”
They started on their food in silence.
Kate’s head began to spin from tiredness and jet lag. She glanced across at Colin. He appeared whacked too. He had flown in from East Midlands. Jasmine’s journey from Trinidad had been short and easy, and Elroy, Modeste and Theo had arrived on the yacht from its charter base in St Lucia.
The waitress returned with a new pizza for Jasmine, who merely grunted.
Kate’s mobile rang. She checked the screen. Piers. “Yes, Boss?”
“Problems here in Barbados. LIAT cancelled the flight from Antigua that would have had our luggage aboard, and SVG also cancelled tonight’s island connection. We’re going to stay overnight, wait for the cases and come over tomorrow. I need you to go sailing first thing in the morning, before we arrive, and do some shots. Here’s what I want. Got a piece of paper?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll remember. Fire away.”
Kate was going to be in charge of filming! Piers trusted her to get some scenes in the can before he even arrived. Her spirits revived.
His instructions were clear and precise. Settle everyone down on the boat tonight (keeping Colin away from too much beer), make an early start tomorrow, go to sea, find some dolphins to film for “B-
“OK, Boss. We’re on the case.” Kate pressed the button to finish the call and briefed the others, trying not to be too bossy, but they had to be told. Then, as soon as everyone had finished eating, and before Colin could order any more drinks, she said, “We’ve had a long day, and it’s an early start, so I suggest you all head down to the boat and get yourselves sorted out. I’ll pay the bill here and follow you in a minute.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Lois Lane,” Jasmine said, with a toss of her glossy black mane. “I might go up to the Cannon Point Hotel and lime awhile. I know them all there. Anyone care to join me?”
Elroy said, “I need to brief y’all on the yacht and show you how everything works, including you, Miss Jasmine. We better do as Miss Kate suggest.”
Jasmine gave a sulky pout, but didn’t protest.
Elroy doesn’t like her either, and will help me keep her in check, thought Kate. She pushed her chair back and went to pay, her portfolio tucked under her arm.
No one tended the bar or cash register. After a moment, Kate opened one of the swing doors leading to the kitchen and poked her head inside. “Hello—anyone in? We’re off to the boat now for the night. May I have our bill please?”
The sign on the door read NO ENTRY. STAFF ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.
Ignoring the sign, Kate stepped into the kitchen. She released the door, which swung back and forth on its double hinges a few times, then settled in the closed position.
The lights shone blindingly bright after the subdued ambience of the restaurant. Kate blinked.
“Hello!” she called, more loudly. If they’d all gone home, she would have to come up and pay the bill the next morning. That would be a nuisance. They needed to make an early getaway from the dock, as Colin had said the light would be best at sea between 8.00am and 9.00am, and Elroy had added that they might need to spend an hour cruising around before they found a dolphin pack.
Kate felt beads of perspiration forming on her upper lip. A stainless steel fridge cut in, the clunk and whir of its compressor making her jump.
She caught sight of her reflection in a mirror above a hand-
She walked past a stainless steel preparation bench on which lay three knives, one serrated, a ladle, a cardboard pizza box with the Turtle Bay Resort logo, and a plastic-
Four saucepans stood on the gas range opposite. It didn’t look as if the kitchen had been cleaned at the end of service. That meant someone was still here, surely? They wouldn’t leave pans with food remains standing around all night. That would be so unhygienic. Scraps would attract flies, cockroaches … even rats.
She crept forward, feeling like a burglar, tiptoeing now for some reason.
“Anyone here?” Her voice came out in a whisper.
Then she heard another voice. From outside the back door of the kitchen, which stood ajar, forming a frame to the blackness.
A tiny female voice.