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A Witch in the Wardrobe

An Evangelical Thriller

By L. D. Wenzel


All characters in this novel are fictitious. While historical persons
are referred to (e.g. C. S. Lewis), they at no time participate in the story. All interactions with ficticious
characters are also ficticious.

/“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven
suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”        

Matthew 11:12

Chapter 1

Belfast, Northern Ireland    --    September 2004

A lone bulb provided dim light in a cramped and dingy attic.

Hey, watch out,” said Shannon kneeling beside her brother, who had just pried up a floorboard with a crowbar. “Take it easy. You could have smashed my finger.”

Do you want me to help Grandfather install this new insulation or not?” asked Robert.

Of course, just be careful.” Shannon Dillon lifted the board up further. “Robert, look!  Between the planks, I see something.”

“Hey, it’s wrapped in paper.”

Shannon gasped. “And tied up with string… Oh my God. Grandfather, come quick! We’ve found a secret package.”

What?” The elderly Ethan Dillon threw his insulation to the floor and hurried over to his grandkids.

Shannon rolled up her sleeve and reached down beneath the deck with her arm. She carefully lifted up the packet. “How did this get here, and by whom?”

Holy Moly!” said Robert. “Unbelievable.”

Shannon brushed off the surface soot with her hand. "Look Grandfather, there’s a name stenciled on the cover. It says C. S….”

Give that to me!” The old man startled Shannon by snatching the parcel from her hands.

Kyle Dillon, Ethan’s father, built this house with hand-hewn rafters in 1910 while serving as the gardener at Little Lea, the childhood home of C. S. Lewis. The Lewis family gave Kyle this property with thanks for his many years of faithful service.

Father Lewis had bought the vacant plot in 1895. Sir Robert McDonnell, a pious Protestant who developed the area, had given all the new streets biblical names like Carmel, Jerusalem, and Magdala, to name a few. Hence this area of Belfast became known as the Holyland.

We shall call our dwelling place Zion Harbor,” Kyle told his wife upon completion. The couple built their cottage-like house on the half-acre plot just off Zion Street near Queens University. There they lived until Ethan took over after his father died in 1964.

Shannon loved Zion Harbor for the peace that she found there. A cedar hedge surrounded the huge yard, hiding it from outside view, a wonderland with a cherry orchard and a large garden with a potato patch. There she would help each year with the planting and harvest. 

As a child, she spent many days freely romping through the tall grass and bushes with her brother Robert. Zion Harbor was a sacred place of refuge during the Troubles with all its sectarian violence. At age 26, Shannon was a true Daughter of Zion; someday, God willing, she would make this paradise her home.

Zion Harbor was an anomaly in the Holyland, where most streets with rundown had rows of townhouses.  The Holylands were once a working-class Catholic neighborhood. Today rowdy students from Queens University had taken over. This was an overcrowded area to avoid. Zion Harbor was an oasis of bliss amid Belfast city squalor. On the kitchen wall hung an embroidered verse from Psalm 132: Zion is my rest forever: here will I dwell...

Robert, get my spotlight,” said Ethan while hastening to undo the twine. Inside a manila envelope were handwritten pages, parched and brittle. Robert stood by with the beam from his lantern. Ethan wrinkled his brow as he tried to read the contents. “The ink is faded and hard to read.”

Here, let me try.” Shannon returned to the stenciling on the cover and wiped away more grime with a cloth. “Look, here in gold-plated letters; it says C. S. Lewis.”

Enough!” said Ethan and quickly closed the folder. “I need my glasses, so let’s go downstairs where the light’s better.”

What is it, Grandfather?” asked Robert in a loud whisper. Ethan had startled them both by frantically ripping the parcel out of Shannon’s hands.

Years ago, I found another batch of C.S. Lewis letters in this very attic,” he said. “This was before you were born. It created quite a commotion at the time.”

Shannon smiled. “Yes, we’ve heard that story many times. Let’s take a closer look.”

As Ethan brushed more dust off the packet, Shannon saw something new. Beneath the C. S. Lewis stencil was a faint embossed design, an emblem of a large rose surrounded by a wreath and pointed arrows. On a scroll beneath were words she could not understand.

What’s that?” said Shannon. “I’ve seen this before.”

No you haven’t!” the old man snapped and turned the parcel away so she could not see. “Let’s take a break and go down to the kitchen.” His face looked spooked. Beads of cold sweat appeared on his brow. He grabbed the stair rail and stumbled.

Be careful, Granddad,” said Robert, grabbing his arm. "You almost fell.”

I’m okay, my lad. Just help me down the steep stairway. We need to hurry.”

What’s the matter, Grandfather?” said Shannon. “You’re shaking all over. Should I get your heart pills?”

Ethan gasped and pressed the folder against his chest. “No, I’ll be alright. Someone hold my arm.”

Robert led his grandfather down the stairs to the kitchen.

Children, we shouldn’t be reading this,” he said. “This is forbidden material.”

Ethan Dillon was a simple man. Wrinkles had donned his aged face, and several scars covered his hands after many years at the Belfast shipyards. He had been a widower for ten years and, at 83, had lived at Zion Harbor since his father died.

Not an educated man, his only connection to the literary world of C.S. Lewis were distant memories of his father’s service as Lewis’s gardener. His father liked to talk about his many cordial contacts with a young boy named Jack. But as far as Ethan knew, Kyle was just one of several domestic workers at the Lewis estate and was unaware of any personal relationships. One Lewis biographer had suggested that Kyle might be the “crusty gardener” mentioned by Lewis in his book The Four Loves. Nothing more could be said.

In 1975, a decade after Lewis’s and Kyles' death, Ethan Dillon discovered a shoe box hidden in his attic. Inside were twenty personal letters, exchanges between C.S. Lewis and his old friend, Owen Barfield, adding content to their literary debate, the so-called Great War. It was anyone’s guess as to how they got there.

My father must have hidden them there,” Ethan would say. But why? Kyle had lost all contact with C.S. Lewis when the child’s father sent him to a boarding school in 1908. “The answer lies buried in his grave.”

Ethan did not want to distress his grandchildren with his gloomy mood. “Let’s break for something to eat. You two can set the table while I make an important phone call.”

Ethan went straight to his study with the document and shut the door. Robert decked the kitchen table with cheese, bread, and hot coffee while Shannon eavesdropped by the closed door.

What’s going on, Grandfather?” asked Shannon when Ethan returned to sit at the table. “Why all the secrecy? You look scared.” Shannon, eight years older than Robert, was reflective, always asking questions.

Robert was excited. “Wow, did you call the BBC, Grandfather? Maybe we’ll be on TV!”

Ethan waved off the barrage of questions with his hand. The grandchildren had to wait for the old man to sip his coffee and munch on his meal. “You two weren’t born when I found that box of C.S. Lewis’s letters. But you’ve heard of them.”

Grandfather, you’ve told us that story at least a hundred times,” said Robert, laughing. “Did you telephone the Belfast Telegraph? Maybe we uncovered some kind of conspiracy. We could be celebrities!”

No, I called Queens University. A group called the Oxford Scholars has an office there. It was they who took the first batch of letters years back. I wanted them to come again tonight, but no one was available until early tomorrow morning. So that’s it.”

Aw, how boring,” replied Robert, slouching his burly shoulders. Unlike his sister, he was not the serious type. For him, this was potential fame and adventure.

And,” added Ethan sheepishly, “we’ve got strict orders not to tell anyone else.”

What? Why all the secrecy? What’s there to conceal?” asked Shannon again.

Sounds like some TV conspiracy,” said Robert.

Nonsense, my lad. I’m not sure, but this Queens’ fellow got very anxious upon hearing about the folder’s emblem.”

What emblem?” asked Robert, still upset about not getting on the nightly news. “I didn’t see anything.”

Well, I did,” said Shannon, turning to her grandfather, her voice shrill. “And I saw that you were trying to hide it from me. I’m sure I’ve seen it before.”

Ethan stuttered. “No way, Shannon. Don’t worry. Why don’t we finish insulating the attic? With extra effort, we can finish before bedtime. What do you say?”

Shannon saw her grandfather’s discomfort and did not want to press him. The two were complete opposites. Though the Dillon family were sincere Catholics, they had divided sympathies regarding the partisan conflicts in the land. Like his father, Ethan was more cordial to the Protestant majority in light of his father’s employment at the Lewis estate. Ethan’s ties to the Lewis name became closer after the 1975 attic discovery.

On the other hand, Shannon and her father, Ryan, were more radical. They sympathized with the Catholic separatists and had ties with the Irish Republican Army. Ryan had even fought in the Belfast Riots of 1969 and kept fighting up to the Good Friday Peace Accord in 1998 when he renounced all violence.

Thus, Shannon was too young to be directly involved in the Troubles. Still, she was among the few girls ever to have received IRA militia training in Derry and was a true partisan. Robert was still a child then. Today he was more neutral, if not apathetic, to the whole conflict. His passion was rugby.

They all agreed to drop the subject and finish insulating the attic. Once again, the three climbed the steep stairway up to the loft. Ethan tried to be upbeat by chatting with Robert about rugby league statistics.

Shannon, however, kept to her thoughts. She recalled an old, tattered book she found in her grandfather’s library when she was little. Its title was Rosicrucian Wizards, and inside, an eerie drawing had startled her. It was the same emblem she saw on the newly discovered documents. Shannon would have long forgotten the picture had it not been for the harsh reaction after showing it to her grandfather. She still remembered what he had told her...

Give me that,” Ethan snarled and ripped the book from the girl’s hands. “Have you been snooping in my wardrobe and through my private things? Shame on you!”

No, Grandfather,” cried Shannon. “I found the book in your library. You always let me look there.”

Shannon, my dear, forgive me. But this book should not be there for a young child to see. I’m sorry. It is an Occult book. Such things are dangerous and come from the Devil. Promise me to forget what you have just seen...”

Shannon loved her grandfather; he was the kindest man she ever knew. They had spent hours together tending the gardens at Zion Harbor. Yet, he had never seemed so frightened, nor his eyes so filled with horror. Just why she did not know, but the entire affair was spooky.

Thank God, we’re finished,” Ethan said a few hours later after installing and refastening the floorboards. “Let’s clean up, and I’ll rustle up another bite to eat before you leave for home. Your father must be wondering where you are.”

He knows that we will be home late,” said Robert.

It was night, and the fried sausages Ethan had prepared were delicious.

Grandfather…” Shannon was interrupted by a pair of headlights that flashed through the window across the kitchen wall.

Someone must have made a wrong turn,” said Robert.

The car lights went out, and the doors were slammed. They heard footsteps on the outside porch and voices. Then came a loud knock at the kitchen door.

Chapter 2

Who could it be at this hour?” said Ethan.

Maybe someone got lost and needs directions,” said Robert.

Ethan stood up and walked to the door.

Be careful, Grandfather,” said Shannon.

He loosened the latch, opened it slightly, and switched on the porch light. Two men in shabby dark suits stood on the porch.

Is there anything I can do for you, gentlemen?”

Yes, sir, Mr. Dillon. We’re from the Oxford Group at Queens University. We got your call and have come to pick up the package you found in your attic. May we please come in?”

Ethan looked suspicious. “Are you sure? The Oxford Group told me that….”

Don’t let them in, Grandfather!” said Shannon, slamming the door in their faces.

Please, Mr. Dillon,” said the older visitor, banging on the door. “We apologize for the change of plans and understand your concern. Please let us come in.”

Ethan reopened the door and reluctantly invited them in. But Shannon knew the likes of literary men. In 1993, she met an aspiring American student, Simon Magister, who tried in vain to find more hidden manuscripts. 

As a fourteen-year-old, she had helped the Oxford student ransack Grandfather’s attic. But these men were not like Simon or even her school teachers. They had familiar Belfast accents and looked like Mormon missionaries.

We weren’t expecting you before tomorrow morning,” said Ethan.

They laughed nervously. “Yes, we are researchers from the Scholar’s Group at Oxford, attending a C.S. Lewis symposium at Queen’s University. We were resting at our hotel when the folks at Queens asked us to pick up your amazing discovery. We are so excited.”

How do we know you’re not lying?” said Shannon. She looked every bit a defiant Irish girl with her reddish-brown hair that flowed to her shoulders in no particular fashion.

I suggest you stay out of this, girl,” said the older one with a scowl. “What’s with all the punkish clothes and the tattoos? And that ring on the side of your nose? How disgusting! Are you some kind of farm animal?”

Mr. Dillon,” said the younger intruder giving a nasty look to his older partner. “I apologize for my partner's crude comments. I promise the documents will be safe and secure at Queens within an hour. It’s only a few blocks from here. Call them tomorrow; you’ll see.” He looked at his watch. “We must catch a plane back to London tonight, Mr. Dillon, and we don’t want to miss our flight. So now, please, without further ado, give us the documents.”

That’s bullshit,” said Shannon. “Don’t do it, Grandfather. They’re not from Queens; they’re factory trash. I can tell by their accents.” Shannon then pointed to the punkish emblem on her black t-shirt. “And if you don’t like how I look, screw you.”

Ethan rubbed his hands across his face in deliberation. “Settle down, Shannon. Don’t make things worse.” Then he turned to the intruders and said, “Do you have any identification?”

 “Please, sir, C.S. Lewis’s legacy is in danger. We are the ones who can protect his memory, and there’s no time to lose. Do it for your father, Kyle Dillon.”

Something didn’t look right. “Gentlemen, before I give you anything, let me try calling the college.”

The visitors hemmed and hawed. “I’m sorry,” said Ethan. “Without identification and nothing more to say, please go.”

You tell ’em, Granddad,” said Shannon as Ethan opened wide the kitchen door.

One nodded to the other and said, “Let’s go.” The two men left, slamming the door. Light beams again flashed across the wall as the vehicle drove away.y

Thank God they’re gone,” said a worried Ethan as he locked the door. “My dears, this document is in danger and can’t stay here. Robert, get your car keys. We’ll drive the parcel somewhere else for safekeeping and deliver it to Queens College in the morning. Shannon, turn off all the lights and lock the front door. Come, children, make haste.”

Shannon was about to leave the kitchen when she heard a rumbling outside on the porch. Suddenly, a heavy boot bashed in the locked door, and three hooded men rushed in, armed with automatic pistols. Two men tackled Robert and wrestled his hefty body to the floor. One grabbed the young man’s hair and jerked up his head, pressing a pistol barrel against his temple. Shannon shrieked.

Shut up,” said the young-looking guy.

Then a third masked man barged into the kitchen, rather short and dressed in a seedy-looking suit. He shouted with an American accent. “Ethan, this is your last chance.” He pointed the barrel of his pistol at the old man. “Get the document right now, or your grandson is dead, and we can kill the skinny girl with the tattoos, too, if you want.”

The American wasn’t there the first time and was undoubtedly the leader. Shannon raised her hands high and gingerly stepped back against the wall.

Do what they say, Grandfather,” said Shannon. “They mean it. Don’t let them kill Robert. Get the folder right now.” Her petite frame made her seem less threatening and enabled her to inch her way sideways toward the hallway door.

You had better listen to your little emo-queen,” said the older intruder, pointing his gun at Shannon.

Ethan was shaking. “It’s stashed under a pile of papers in the top desk drawer… in my study.”

You guys stay here while I go with the old man,” said the American as he jammed the pistol against the back of Ethan’s head. “And no foolishness or I’ll shoot.” His eyes glistened with hate through the narrow openings of his mask.

Ethan and the American left the kitchen. Shannon stared at poor Robert’s agony with a gun pressed against his head. The third guarded the door.

Just lie still, and you won’t die,” the gunman told Robert in a soft, frightened voice. “As soon as we get the documents, we’re out of here.”

Shannon recognized his Belfast accent as one who had been there the first time. His shirt was drenched with sweat, and his hand was shaking. She could see that he had never killed a man before and did not want Robert to be his first. Any mistakes he made could be her chance to act.

Oh no, thought Shannon. Grandfather keeps a loaded pistol in the desk drawer where the documents lay. Please, God, don’t let him do anything foolish.

Shannon had undergone IRA paramilitary training and was up-to-date on the latest weaponry. She was a trained killer but had never seen action because the Peace Agreement was in effect by the time she came of age. She imagined herself ably mowing down these thugs with an AK-47 assault rifle. But this was fantasy. In reality, she was powerless and soon might die.

Ethan and the masked American reentered the kitchen. “We’ve got what we came for, boys,” he said while waving the documents. The American gave them to the gunman by the door. “Take this out to the car!” Then, to the others, he said, “Tie up the old man and the boy with tape. Do the same with the girl. And then we’re out of here. Don’t hurt them.”

Shannon sighed. Thank God we’re not going to die. Her back was now against the hallway door.

The document bearer had to pass by the grandfather on his way out the door. He had carelessly turned his back to Ethan, who drew his pistol and shot him in the shoulder. The man cried out, dropped the document, and fell to the floor.

Oh no!” shouted Shannon as the American reacted quickly and sprayed the room with rapid fire. A bullet pierced Ethan’s head, splattering blood and brain matter against the wall.

Damn!” cried the American. “This has gone to hell. Now we’ll have to kill the two kids. Go ahead and shoot the boy.”

The young Belfast man standing over Robert pointed his pistol at Robert’s temple. He was not much older than Robert and might even have played against him in a rugby match. His hand was shaking so much that he could not pull the trigger.

Shoot him, you coward,” ordered the American, “in the head. Now!”

But the young man remained frozen.

You idiot! Must I do everything?” The American walked over to the boy, pointed his pistol at the back of Robert’s head, and fired. With a single bullet, Robert was dead.

Shannon shrieked in terror and leaned against the hallway door. Her elbow pressed the latch down. The door swung open in the face of the American’s gun, and Shannon fell backward. She fled down the hallway to the cellar door and scrambled down the stairs without turning on the light.

Find that little emo-bitch and kill her!” cried the American.

The flustered gunman followed her through the open door leading to the cellar. Below it was pitch dark as he crept down the rickety stairs with his pistol drawn, desperately looking for a light switch.

Shannon and Robert used to play hide-and-seek as youngsters here, so she knew her way around in the dark. By the time the gunman turned on a dim light, Shannon had climbed into an empty potato bin, a dusty hideout with a hatch leading outside to the garden.

More footsteps were coming down the stairs. “Where is she?” the American shouted. “That skinny runt got away! She’s hiding down here somewhere.”

Through the slots of the potato bin, Shannon watched as shooters crouched around, looking behind grandmother’s old washing machine. Indeed, the man from Belfast must have known about empty potato bins, yet he walked by without inspection.

The smell of musty potatoes evoked childhood memories as Shannon prepared her next move. The American approached the bin.

Hey, bring your flashlight. The Goth child must be in here.” He peered deep into the potato bin. His eyes met hers. The American grinned, “You’re about to die, tootsie!”

Shannon reached up and wrapped her fingers around the trap door latch. Both hands pressed against its rusty hinges as she slammed her shoulder against the swinging escape hatch. She leaped through the opening and rolled onto the grass outside.

The American climbed into the bin and shot wildly into the night, but Shannon had safely made it to the orchard. She had escaped, unlike her brother and grandfather, who lay dead on the kitchen floor.

 It was quiet for a while, and then, from her hiding place in the dark, Shannon watched as two silhouettes carried an inert body of a man out of the kitchen. He appeared alive as they helped him climb into their van and drive off. Standing alone in the shadows was a man she knew to be American. In one hand, he held a package, the document discovered in her grandfather’s attic. If only she had a rifle, a quick trigger pull would have shot him dead.

Suddenly, there came a loud whirring noise. Dust swirled as a black helicopter descended. What’s this? Shannon often saw British military copters hovering above her neighborhood, scaring Catholic children. But this war machine was black. What’s going on? Upon landing in the tall grass by the cedar hedge, someone jumped out and helped the American climb on board. Then, very quickly, it took off and disappeared into the night.

Though trained in the military arts, Shannon had never killed before. With peace in Northern Ireland, she had no mortal enemy — until this night. Zion Harbor had gone from her paradise to a hellhole. 

Something inside her snapped as vengeance entered her being. Those green eyes peering through the slots in the potato bin had been etched in her mind. Shannon crossed herself and said a prayer for the dead. She then made a pact with herself before God to avenge the deaths of her kin. She’d track the American down and kill him.

Author's note:

Chapters 1-2 had kind of  prologue function setting the stage for the real story: The adventures of Shannon and her new partner Simon. Enjoy 

Go on to read Sample 2: Simon Meets Shannon  (Chapters 3-5)