HHFC#4: The sequestered situation of this church seems to have made it a favored haunt of troubled spirits. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Escaping the Pyre
Jason Morgan was not a god fearing man. After all, it was hard to see the divine in a world where what he was was considered an abomination, something meant to be destroyed. However, that did not mean that he wasn't above using religion to his own benefit, so that was how he came to be the reclusive priest of Port Charles Abbey.
It was a secluded church, its location deeply hidden within the farthest wooded reaches of a dark and isolated moor. But that privacy served him well. He did not need nor did he want wayward travelers or local parishioners frequenting his doorstep, for their presence in his life simply would have complicated a matter that he had finally managed to simply. Life at Port Charles Abbey was easy for Jason. He maintained the grounds and took meticulous care of the old, stone house of worship, he read voraciously from the church's library, using his spare time in the evenings to translate the Latin works into his native tongue of English, but, other than meeting out his basic means of survival, that was it.
He didn't offer counsel or give out communion. He didn't listen to confessions, write sermons, or travel to give last rites to the dying, and, luckily for him, those few and far between who were close enough to the abbey to warrant his attention were far too busy with their own lives, with the daily grind of survival in a less than kind world, to worry about religion.
So, Jason lived on, year after year in seclusion. Until the heretics eased up, until judgmental townsfolk with their pitchforks of vengeance and their fear stemmed anger forgot about their obsession with the unknown, he would continue to hide his true form, protecting himself with the forged cloak of the lord. It wasn't perfect, and he was certainly not proud of his cowardly submission, but, if there was one thing that the blonde knew from his years of life as a werewolf, it was how to survive.
She was running for her life.
Just yesterday, her life, if not pleasant, had at least seemed safe, and, then, without warning and certainly without provocation, Elizabeth Webber had woken up that morning to the angry shouts of her neighbors as they demanded her family surrender her to their ire. Like countless others before her, they had, without a proper trial or an opportunity for the young woman to defend herself, declared her a witch, an evil sorceress sent to do the devil's bidding, and she was sentenced to death atop a burning pyre.
However, the young artist had refused to give into their demands, refused to back down, and so, with the help of her beloved grandmother, she had escaped from the only home she had known since birth, taking to the woods in the hopes that she would be able to hide out until the fervor calling for her life died down. Audrey had promised to fight for her granddaughter, to proclaim her innocence to all and anyone who would listen, but the aging woman's task would not be an easy or a simple one, for she would have to go about her mission in way so as not to cast doubt and suspicion upon herself. Elizabeth had begged her to be careful, to not risk her own life, for she would rather die a painful death herself than see anything happen to the matriarch of her family.
So, here she was, lost, cold, and miserable, wandering around a dense and frightening forest in the vain hope that she would find some source of shelter. Far from all the comforts of home – her bed, warm food, and, most importantly, her feeble art supplies, the very thing that had gotten her into such a predicament in the first place, young Elizabeth was finally able to evaluate her present situation.
Although scared beyond words, a rarity in and of itself for her, she also found her present situation exhilarating. While she had felt constantly stifled in their small, English town, she now found herself wondering if this was the chance she had always been too afraid to take on her own. With a desire to truly pursue her art, Elizabeth had always dreamed of leaving home to travel the world in the effort of finding a new home, a place that would welcome her and her art with open arms, for she had never fit in with the puritanical ideals of the village she was born in.
While she believed that women should have a voice, everyone else thought that women should rarely be seen and certainly never heard. She hated wearing dresses, thought it ridiculous that she wasn't allowed to work and support herself, and found it completely absurd that one could only paint what was religious and pure. Why was she the only one to see the beauty in nature, in a human flaw?
As she continued to walk, her thoughts cultivating an inner warmth that could only be achieved through moral injustice, the pretty young brunette almost passed directly by the little church hidden away amongst the forest's greenery. Dense and overgrown trees blocked one's visage of the stone chapel, while vines and wild flowers grew up and along the mortared walls. It was a beautiful sight, almost painfully so in all its imperfections, and it made Elizabeth ardently wish for a chance to render it forever in oils.
Alas, though, her paints had been abandoned in her rush to flee, and she feared it would be weeks, perhaps even months before she ever held a paint brush again. Sighing, she started walking, once again, determined to make progress that evening even if she didn't know where she was going, but then she spotted a faint, illumination coming from the back of the church, the faint illumination that could only be caused by several burning candles.
Approaching the back of the stone building, she paused at the door, intent upon knocking but suddenly nervous and apprehensive about what she would find on the other side. Although she could not sense who or what awaited her, she knew that, whatever it was, it was going to change her life, for good or bad, and she found the knowledge exhilarating. After sixteen years of nothing, of a dreary life day in and day out, Elizabeth wanted a change.
However, before she could even knock, the wooden barrier was thrust open rudely and her path barred by the angry countenance of a large, half naked, muscular man. "What," the stranger bellowed, demanding she speak her peace of leave with just that one rude word.
But she couldn't talk, not yet. Despite the fact that the artist had grown up with an older brother, never before in her life had she seen what a man looked like without his clothes on, and this man, the one standing before her, certainly did not disappoint her sometimes accused overactive imagination.
His skin, a deep, golden tan, was glistening with perspiration, the kind only achieved after some form of strenuous activity, and he was breathing heavily from a former exertion. His shirt and shoes were missing, leaving him in a pair of tattered brown breeches that looked as if they were about to burst at the very seams. By the time the young woman reached the man's face, she already felt dizzy, and what she found there simply compounded the strange sensations she felt fluttering around her nervous and jumbled stomach. Long and disheveled blonde hair partially hid his ruggedly handsome face, but enough was exposed for Elizabeth to notice his icy blue eyes and full, pink lips. Licking her own, she simply stood there, staring at him until the man spoke again.
"Are you a mute?"
"What," she squeaked out, surprised by his question. After all, she, Elizabeth Webber, had certainly never heard that before. Firing back at his accusation, she finally answered, "of course not, and for you to imply that, sir, before we were even properly introduced is quite rude. And, speaking of rude, so is your refusal to invite me into your home… err… church. Perhaps I would expect this from some bachelor farmer who lived on his own in the middle of nowhere, but you, sir, are a man of god, so, therefore, your hospitality should be exemplary. What kind of priest are you anyway," she continued to ramble, squinting her eyes in his direction as if the narrowing of her sapphire orbs would better help her determine the answer to her question. Cocking her hips and leveling her petite yet graceful hands upon them, she stated, "I've certainly never seen a man of the cloth dressed like that before. If my Grandmother Audrey could see you now, why she would…"
"Would you be quiet," the stranger demanded, his harsh, whispered tone immediately quelling the brunette's constant stream of dialogue. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what," she questioned, lowering her own voice to the point where it was almost imperceptible. However, the man seemed to have no problem hearing her.
"People moving through the woods," he answered, his spine stiffening with the realization. If Elizabeth didn't know better, she would have said he appeared to be readying himself for some kind of battle, but she was just too distracted by her own fear that the townspeople had already caught up with her. "A lot of them."
Before she could flee, an unbreakable grip took possession of her arm, yanking her entire body into the back entrance of the church. "What did you do," the priest demanded, shaking her slightly. "Were you sent here to distract me?"
"No, of course not," she defended, for some reason hurt by his suspicion towards her. "You don't understand…" But her words trailed off as she watched the man before her pace backwards and forwards, his form literally vibrating with unleashed fury and anticipation.
His body seemed to waver, to become a blur, like a painting that simply wouldn't take shape the way her mind had envisioned it, and, instantly, Elizabeth knew that the stranger was not what he had, at first, seemed to be. "What are you," she murmured, both enthralled and terrified by whatever it was she had accidentally stumbled into.
"Like you don't already know," the man, or, at least, she still thought he was some kind of man, spit back at her. "I'm a werewolf," he responded, causing her bright blue eyes to bulge in shock and surprise. "A shape shifter, a demon."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, everyone, except my grandmother, thinks that I'm a witch. That's why I'm here. I had to run away."
Before the last word was even out of her mouth, he whirled around to face her, already appearing noticeably calmer. "So, then, you weren't sent here to distract me?"
"I already told you that I…"
"So, that means that those townspeople coming towards here are after you and not me."
"That's what I would guess," Elizabeth commented, shrugging her shoulders to show her uncertainty. "Really, Mr…"
"It's Jason," the man informed her offhandedly, but his use of his first name, despite the direness of their situation, startled her. Never before had she been allowed to refer to someone of the opposite sex by their given name. "And you?"
"Elizabeth Imogene Webber," she responded naturally, quickly, without thought.
And the stranger laughed. "This isn't confession, kid," he teased her. "Anyway," and, just like that, the humor disappeared, "this is what we're going to do. As far as anyone in this area knows, I'm just a reclusive priest, a holy, untouchable, saintly man of the church. When those people get here, I'm going to inform them that you are under my protection, and that should be enough to save your life."
"And afterwards," she asked, wanting to know more, hoping that he had a plan that would stretch further down the line for her. "What am I supposed to do after I leave here? They're still going to find me, and, once I'm free of your protection, nothing will stop them from burning me alive."
"Leave here," the werewolf questioned, his white, elongated teeth shining with the light of the candles as he grimaced. "Who said you were going to leave?"
The brunette gulped, suddenly not so reassured by the stranger's presence in her life.
"Now that you know what I am, Elizabeth Imogene Webber," Jason informed her, "I'll never let you go."