By William Davie
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write vignettes on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The theme for the Fifteenth Challenge was to start with "It was a dark and stormy night"
It was a dark and stormy night, and a bell, a book and a candle sat upon the dispatch box.
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable James Collier, Lord Archbishop of York didn’t spend much time in the lower house. Nor did he usually spend time in full regalia, except at services. But tonight, was different. Perched on the edge of the Speaker’s chair, he thought back to a few weeks before and his meeting with Nigel Flynn the Speaker of the House.
Flynn was at his desk when Collier was shown in. Standing up, the two men exchanged pleasantries before the Speaker urged him to take a seat.
“It’s lovely to see you Archbishop. It’s been a while I think.”
“The last garden party I believe. And please call me James.”
Flynn nodded, “James. Now I’ve been led to believe that with the See of Canterbury vacant, you are the highest-ranking member of the Church of England. Is that correct?”
Collier nodded, “Indeed. Did you have something you wanted to ask me?”
Flynn rubbed his face. “More than that. We need your help. You see.” He paused and rubbed his face again, and for the first time Collier noticed how grey and tired he was looking. The Speaker swallowed several times before he spoke again. “You’ve been a priest for a while. I’m sure you’ve seen some strange things.”
Collier thought back to some of the things he’d experienced while working as a Missionary in Africa. “I’ve seen some things Horatio would have some issues with. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Good. Because…. well there’s no easy way to say this…..Parliament is haunted.”
Then it all came tumbling out. The noises, and the reports of figures emerging out of the walls during late night sittings. All of this had been easy to ignore, or put down to tiredness. “But it’s getting worse now.” Flynn confirmed, “All those pieces of masonry, falling, that we’ve put down to wear and tear. It isn’t. And there have been other things. Things we’ve kept out of the press.”
Collier thought back to the story he’d heard about the Mace flying across the chamber. Well that explained that.
Eventually Flynn stopped talking for a few moments and mopped his brow. When he looked up again, his eyes were filled with fear. “James. Can you help us. We don’t know what else to do.”
Of course, Collier had said yes, which had led to his current situation. Parliament was in recess, so he had the place largely to himself for the tonight.
Standing up, Collier grasped his crozier in both hands, bowed his head and began to pray. A few moments later Big Ben began tolling weigh above his head, calling out the midnight hour. Then, a cold breeze began to blow through the Chamber, causing the hairs to raise on the back of Colliers hands. The Archbishop raised his head and opened his eyes, “Whoever is there, show yourself.” A beat followed where nothing happened. Taking a deep breath, he spoke again, “In the name of he who rules over this world and the next, SHOW YOURSELF.”
The wind picked up strength, rattling the light fittings, and causing the candle on the despatch box to flicker. Then a handful of figures, dressed in the garb of the 1600’s faded into sight. A man with an impressively pointed beard and moustache, who Collier took to be the leader, stepped forward. “Who has called us to this place?”
Planting his crozier firmly in front of him, Collier took a deep breath, “I am James Douglas Collier, Lord Archbishop of York, and Member of the Privy Council. I speak on behalf of Parliament and on behalf of the Crown. Who are you?”
“We are members of the Long Parliament.”
“But the Long Parliament was dissolved in 1648.”
“IT WAS NEVER DISSOLVED” the figure cried, his words echoing around the chamber.
Collier looked the figure right in the eye – which disconcertingly meant looking through his head and at the wall behind him – “What do you mean.”
The story that emerged went like this. The figures – they refused to give their names – had been members and strong supporters of the Long Parliament. Such strong supporters in fact that they had refused to recognise its dissolution as valid. And when they had died, they had found their souls trapped within the building, unable to move on. “Not until the Long Parliament is truly dissolved.”
Collier slumped down onto a bench, “But why have you started appearing now? It seems you’ve been more…. lively recently. Do you want to tell us something?”
“It is this new reform bill,” the lead Spirit said, “You must beware.”
Collier knew exactly which bill they were talking about. The Prime Minister Marcia Benson had been elected on a platform of mass devolution and replacing FPTP. However while she had the support of the general public, it seemed she did not have the same level of support within her party. The bill had already been defeated in both the Commons and the Lords twice, but Benson seemed determined to bring it back for a third go. “What about the bill?” he asked.
The lead spectre looked at him sadly, “If this bill does not pass or fall soon, if this Prime Minister of yours keeps bringing it back time and time again, then many of your own MPs will be condemned to the life we live now. Their souls will be trapped in this place, unable to move on to the life beyond. You must stop it. You must prevent it.”
“And what about you? What can I do for you?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. We will only be free when the true parliament is dissolved.” Then the figures began to fade away, “Remember what we have said,” their leader says, “Remember our fate.”
The next morning, following a restless night sleep on the government benches, Collier rang the Speaker, “Nigel. I have a solution. When can we meet?”
Two weeks later, Collier was back in Parliament, but this time he was standing in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Benson’s bill had gone back into committee with a promise from various opposition figures to reconsider it, if she took some of their critique on board, and a veiled threat from the Speaker regarding the consequences if she didn’t agree.
Collier was here for a different reason though. A door opened and the Lord President of the Council, holding what seemed to be a vellum parchment walked in. Seeing the Archbishop, he nodded, “James.”
“Michael. Thank you for doing this.”
“I have to admit it’s a strange favour.”
“I think you can indulge a strange old cleric from time to time.”
“Indeed.” Michael unfurled the parchment and took a deep breath, “By the power vested in me, as Lord President of the Council, and acting as a representative of the Crown, in the name of the Monarchy of, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I hereby declare the Long Parliament, formally dissolved. God save the Queen.”
A chill gust of wind seemed to blow through the chapel, stirring up the dust and flapping the piece of piece of parchment. “That’s a bit odd. I wonder what caused that?”
Collier smiled, “Must have been the ventilation.” Then smiling to himself, he walked out of the chapel and into the sunlight of the new day.