When she regained her composure, Cathy found herself propped against a huge boulder, her legs pulled up and her arms wrapped around it with her head resting on her knees. She had no idea how long it had been since she saw the frightening illusion flash before her eyes. She looked around hesitatingly. All eyes were trained on her peculiarly. Sanjose, sitting next to her became aware that she was out of the trance. He took a deep breath and moved closer and gently put his arms around her. She could feel the concern in his voice as he asked her, ‘You ok Cathy?’
Cathy shook her head in affirmative. The crowd heaved a sigh of relief. Even Sanjose couldn’t help but smile.
‘Jesus, you gave us a fright. What’s happening to you darling? I think you need rest.’
‘I’ll be fine… obrigado.’ She said forcing a smile on her face.
‘I think this place is evil.’
‘No!’ She quickly blurted aloud.
The others looked at her perplexed. Sanjose started to say something and then stopped. He gave her a queer look. Over his shoulder she saw the guide walk towards them. As he neared her, his shrilly voice rang out.
‘If she is alright, let’s move on.’ He turned his back on them without waiting for a answer. ‘Ok guys we are moving.’ He yelled out aloud. ‘We still have a few more places to visit before the night sets in.’
Sanjose turned to Cathy. ‘Think you can manage?
She simply nodded. She didn’t want to spoil their fun. She called out to the guide. ‘Hey mister, do we visit the inside of the church?’
The guide looked at her hard. ‘Not after what we witnessed outside. No way!’
Sanjose intervened quickly. ‘Ok ok no problem. So what’s next on the itinerary?’
The guide replied with disdain. ‘We visit the palace of Viceroy Fonseca. The place where evil took it’s roots and calamity befell this village.’ He looked at Cathy with a sly smile and turned to face the young crowd. ‘The place where Rosalin first met Fr. Kane and the very place where the family had their last supper together.’ He started to walk away. ‘Come on, follow me. The palace is just a short distant away.
Cathy stiffened again. She badly wanted to visit the church again and explore the interiors. She knew the church held the key to the mysterious illusions she had been seeing and the dreams that had been haunting her all over the years. She dreaded the idea to visit the palace so soon.
The trek uphill on the other side of the small mountain was much lighter. Unknown to the visitors, the guide had his reasons to avoid visiting the inside of the church. It was rumored that the ghost of Fr. Kane still stalked the interiors of the church. And this has resulted in the church being completely neglected from the interiors though the church was of historical importance to the people of goa.
The dusty patch ended in front of a huge crumbling palace surrounded by high walls that kept the intruders at bay. A wide wrought iron gate now dark brown with rust and half open beckoned them. The small group marched towards the gate. Cathy raised her hand to push the gate a little to see if it would move but over the years, the gate had cemented its position and wouldn’t budge. But as her hand touched the wrought iron gate, a shiver seemed to pass through her body. She quickly pulled back her hand and wrapped her arms around her waist to ease herself.
The palace had faced the wrath of some rough weathers over the years. The small group observed its aged facade as they walked through a half broken entrance of the old fortified palace and in the empty and barren courtyard. In the courtyard, on either sides of the path that led to the entrance of the palace, there were two big gardens facing the palace. In the middle of both the gardens, there were old fountains made of the finest marbles of those times but now in complete ruins. The gardens were untended and covered by wild grass and shrubs.
The group looked across at the majestic palace as they slowly walked up the path and entered the main building. They looked around in awe taking in the magnificent construction work, the beautiful arches, the carved pillars and the huge hall with rich carvings that was done ages ago.
‘Man, this is a magnificent palace for sure. It still hasn’t lost its old glory. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life here.’
‘Yeah with some ghosts of the past for company.’ Bono remarked.
The small crowd burst into laughter as the last boy walked in the hall followed by Sanjose and Cathy, his arms around her shoulder. As she took a step inside the hall, Cathy gave a quick shudder, her breathing got heavier. She abruptly closed her eyes as sounds of a female laughter echoed in her ears yet unheard by others. Sanjose pulled her closer impulsively. The sound seemed to diminish and she slowly opened her eyes to find the group staring at her oddly. Embarrassed, she kept her head down.
‘Cathy, are you ok?’ Sanjose asked her gently.
She gravely looked up at him. ‘I…I think I want to go back.’ She told him haltingly.
Someone from the crowd broke in.
‘Hey come on Cathy, you are spoiling all the fun. What’s wrong with you baby?’
‘What’s wrong with me? How do I answer to that question when I don’t know myself what’s wrong with me? Why am I living through this horrifying dream? Cathy thought to herself. She slowly turned around to look at him.
‘You stay. I’ll go back to the hotel alone.’
‘Cathy! You crazy? You seem to be behaving awkwardly ever since we landed here in Goa. Our mistake that we listened to you and followed you all the way to this godforsaken place. Only if we were to know that you’ll be a spoilsport!’ Bono exclaimed wildly, waving his hands in the air in resentment.
‘He’s right Cathy. You have brought all of us over here and now you are the one to spoil the show.’ Sanjose joined in.
Cathy looked at him pleadingly. She felt bitter for being a spoilsport. She looked around at the others.
‘I am sorry. I just don’t feel too well. I think I want to go back.’
The guide was adamant now.
‘Miss, the hotel is quite far and it’s not easy to get transport here to go back to the city. And we can’t let you take the bus.’
‘Hey Cathy baby, the dude’s right. We’ll all be stranded in this spooky place and the sunset’s just a couple of hours away.’ Bono quipped in as he read the city guide from his pocket.
‘Hey cut it Bono…’ Sanjose yelled at him. He turned to Cathy with a sympathetic look. ‘Cathy, what’s wrong? Tell me. You have been behaving weirdly ever since we arrived here.’
Cathy looked at him tearfully, unsure what to tell him.
Bono slowly looked around the hallway with a pensive look. Others too follow suit in apprehension as they saw the make believe look of concern on his face.
‘You bet Sanjose, this place is giving me the creeps too. It looks like Rosalin’s spirit has got hold of Cathy. Woohh Cathyyyy… Woooaaaahhhhh.’
‘Will you fuckin’ shut up Bono? Cathy lets…’
Words got stuck in his mouth as Sanjose looked back at Cathy. Her face had turned white in fear. The sound of laughter seemed to ring in her ears again. She quickly covered her ears with her hands to ward off the sound, her eyes tightly shut. Sanjose pulled her close and held her in a tight embrace in reassurance. The sound of laughter seem to diminish and she slowly opened her eyes. And then she heard another laughter, a soft, mellow laughter of a man. She quickly pushed Sanjose away and looked around in fright.
A white light flashed in front of her eyes and once again, she found herself witnessing an illusion of the long gone era. She saw herself in a strange place and among a strange crowd. It took time for her to realize where she was. She was back in time when the palace was at its majestic best at the time of Viceroy Fonseca. She could see the other side of the hall in the palace richly decorated for a festive occasion.
Towards one end, around a big dining table, she saw 12 men and women seated as they enjoyed the supper. She had no trouble recognizing them from her dreams. As they ate, they were watching Rosalin, the girl she had witnessed earlier being burnt at the stake. She was playing a musical instrument something that looked like a harp, on a raised dais just a few steps away.
Rosalin looked beautiful. What surprised Cathy was that she was looking at herself. Rosalin was an exact copy of her. Rosalin must have been about 17 just the right age as Cathy, elegantly dressed in a white flowing silk wedding gown that clung to her well shaped body. Her hair was neatly tied in a bun and she wore the minimum of jewelry that did justice to her natural tanned beauty. Servants walked in and out of the room carrying food and other items serving the guests. Soft music was floating in the air.
One of the men at the table appeared to be in a cassock, the dress priests wore. Cathy tried hard but couldn’t see his face. His face was hidden behind the others who were seated ahead of him and obstructing the view. Next to him was Antonio, a man in his late 20s, a handsome and debonair looking man, dressed in official uniform of the court. Antonio’s eyes were trained lovingly on Rosalin as he watched her play. His body thrust prohibited Cathy from having a look at the priest’s face as Antonio kept blocking the view unconsciously as he conversed with others, eyes glued on Rosalin. Pascal, Rosalin’s father was seated next to an empty chair. He was a short fat man with a huge belly and a huge handle bar moustache.
At the end of the encore, the small crowd applauded eagerly. Rosalin stood up elegantly and giving a soft bow, walked down with slowly determined steps to the table gracefully, her hips swaying like gentle breeze.
Cathy could see Marcos, a man in his 30s, with broad shoulders and a face that portrayed hardness about him, say something to Antonio who smiled back at him and got up as Rosalin neared. He pulled out her chair. She in turn smiled and nodded her head slightly at him and sat down. Antonio followed suit. He then lovingly turned to her. ‘Vos sois belos, my rapariga… (‘You were beautiful, my girl…’) …that was beautiful music I should say.’
Rosalin smiled at him appreciatively. ‘Thank you dear.’
Cathy then heard another voice. She felt a lump in her throat as she realized that the voice belonged to the priest as people at the table turned to look at the man in the cassock seated among them. But try as hard as she could, Cathy still had found to it difficult to see his face as she heard him say, ‘Your excellency, if I may be permitted to say, Senora Rosalin here is truly gifted and beyond comparison and you, your excellency is a man beyond words and rightfully deserving this lovely and talented young woman.’
‘Why, thank you Padre.’ Antonio replied with a smile, his chest swelling with pride. ‘But I’d say you deserve a better praise than I, Fr. Kane. For you have devoted your entire life for service to God and to our fellow human beings from such a tender young age.’
The priest, Fr. Kane seemed to shake his head sideways. ‘Your excellency, my life is God’s gift to me. He has given me this life and he has the command over it, to do as he pleases.’
‘You are being humble Padre.’ Marcos interrupted with a faint trace of snicker in his voice.
Cathy knew that the ensuing seconds would be the turning point in Rosalin’s life as Rosalin deliberately cleared her throat as she looked at Fr. Kane directly, her eyes not leaving his face, still behind the veil of others and hidden from Cathy.
‘Your excellency.’ She said with a mellow voice. ‘Marcos is right. Fr Kane too is an enigmatic figure. He is as charming and as beautiful as the morning sunrise. And as pure as the dew drops on the dark and cold winter night. If only he would have chosen another profession, he would have made some poor rapariga…’ Rosalin trailed off just as her father clamped his hand on hers harshly.
‘Shut up Rosa!’ Pascal intervened with masked anger. He quickly turned towards Viceroy Fonseca and Antonio and hastily bowed in forgiveness.
‘I am sorry your excellency…’ He then turned back to Rosa and in a hushed anger tone yelled at her, ‘Rosa, think twice before you say anything stupid. Fr Kane here is a man of God!’
With her eyes still lingering on Fr. Kane’s face, her soft voice filtered across gingerly. ‘Yes Pai, that’s what I meant… that he is a man…’
Fr. Kane broke into a soft chuckle. ‘It’s okay, Pascal Costa. I am sure she didn’t mean what she said.’ Even Antonio seemed relieved though Cathy felt he must have not heard the last line that Rosalin said. He smiled and raised his hand to calm Pascal down. ‘Hey peace be upon you homem. A rapariga bonita e joking… (The beautiful girl is joking). Turning around to look at Rosalin, he gently asked her, totally smitten by her, ‘Aren’t you my dear?’
Before she could answer in, Marcos broke. ‘You bet Antonio, Lady Rosalin has a way with words. Surely a woman of many hidden talents.’ Rosalin looked at him with a sly smile.
At his words, Antonio broke into a loud laughter. ‘You bet Marcos. That’s what I had told her during our initial meetings. That she is an enigma yet to be solved.’ Antonio continued with his laughter. Rosalin looked at him and soon joined him with a soft chuckle and soon everyone followed the couple and as heads fell behind in laughter, Cathy’s eyes fell on Fr. Kane and she saw his face clearly for the first time. A face that had always been a blur in her dreams. A face she had so desperately wanted to see and hear. Fr. Kane was a handsome and debonair looking man with striking features and with a certain softness around him. His eyes were bluish and oozed of serenity. She saw him staring back at Rosalin devoid of any expression on his face. And then she heard the soft whisper of his voice that echoed in her ears like a thunderstorm.
‘I tell you solemnly, one of us shall betray God’
Words that that echoed in her ears all these years. Her face bored a tormented look as the voice filtered across to her ears distinctively. She realized that Rosalin must have heard him for she abruptly cut short her laughter and stared at Fr. Kane gravely with just a wee bit of a smile lingering on her face while the others continue with their laughter. But suddenly they too stopped as the deep meaning behind his words sank in. Some of them were unsure if they had heard it right. They stared at Fr. Kane and than at each other in apprehension and bewilderment, trying to decipher if they had heard it right and the significance of it. Cathy closely monitored Fr. Kane’s face as he stared solemnly back at nothing in particular, but looking directly in Cathy’s direction or so she thought.
And suddenly the illusion flashed out of her sight as abruptly as it had come. There was a shocked expression on her face as she kept staring at the other part of the hall where she had just seen the vision where she had seen Fr. Kane stare back at her. Her breathing had become heavier as Fr. Kane’s last words rang in her ears again and again. Her body seemed to tremble again as she shuddered in fear at what she had seen and heard.
‘Cathy… Cathy… you okay?… Cathy!
Cathy slowly toppled on the ground unconscious.
* * *
She got up with a jerk, her body covered in sweat. She looked around pensively and found herself in her hotel room. She had no idea how she landed herself back in her room. The last she remembered was the palace episode up to where she had entered the hall. She looked across the bed. Sanjose was sleeping at the edge of her bed.
She stared at him for a moment feeling sorry for the pain she was making him endure for her sake. She closed her eyes for a brief second and then opened it again with sheer determination. She then looked around the room.
Taking a deep breath, she got up, careful so as not to disturb Sanjose. She gave him a slight peck on his cheek, pulled a flashlight out of her bag and walked out with determined steps.
The moonlight cast an eerie glow on the old ruined church as she entered it, shining a flashlight in the dark interiors. Somehow tonight, she felt no fear as she took a firm step inside. The flashlight didn’t offer her much light but she wasn’t paying attention to it as she hurriedly looked around. She was unsure of what she was looking for in the dimming light. Her eyes then trailed the path of the light down the aisle. She stared with glazed eyes down at the ruined alter now lit dully in the dimming yellow glow of the flashlight.
And then the scene changed in front of her again as she saw another illusion of the past. She saw a crowd of smiling people as they stood in the pew as Antonio and Rosalin in bridal costume, walked down the aisle towards the alter where Fr. Kane waited patiently. As they walked towards him, he stared at them somberly. Rosalin watched him with a sly smile with every step she took towards him.
A rat scampered across the floor, over her feet and jolted her out of the illusion. She reverted her eyes away from the altar, searching again. She closed her eyes for a split second, trying to remember something.
As she recalled, she quickly opened her eyes and looked around. She rushed to one side of the church and frantically started to look behind a thick foliage. The flashlight was fading fast but her anxiety had increased as she struggled to pull aside the creepers.
There hidden behind the thick foliage, she could make out what she was looking for. It was a confession booth. With difficulty and after much struggle, she managed to pull the thick creepers aside to find a half-burnt wooden door of the confession booth. The door easily creaked open at her push and what she saw inside made her shriek aloud again and again just as the battery in the flashlight conked out completely plunging everything into darkness.
* * *