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The Mad Monk of Mepkin

by Paul A. Barra

About the Author: Paul A. Barra novels include "The Secret of Maggie's Swamp," "A Death in the Hills," "Astoria Nights," “Death of a Sacristan," and “Westfarrow Island.” His short stories appear in national magazines and in the Mystery Writers of America anthology, “When a Stranger Comes to Town.” Visit him at


They trudged in from the early blackness, their cowls up and their eyes down. The corpus of a brother lay on the catafalque near the entrance, one of their number who died during the night. Flickering candlelight cast shadows on the dead man’s face. Since it was the time of the Great Silence, monks touched his foot as a sign of farewell as they entered, no one speaking aloud.

Brother Thomas stagger-stepped when he noticed blood dripping from the dead monk’s body. Brother Casimir steadied him by the elbow without commenting or raising his eyes. Thomas himself was barely awake and unsure of exactly what he had seen. He nodded to Casimir and wanted to seek corroboration from him, but they passed into their stalls without a word; the chanting began, and both joined in, but Thomas knew that a stilled heart could no longer pump blood.

His concentration on the singing and praying that opened each day at the monastery was diminished by what he had seen. He had to sound the alarm. There was a bleeding corpse in church.

Walking single-file over to the refectory for breakfast an hour later, he eased alongside the abbot under the shelter of the cloister in the cool predawn of March. The old man was easily recognizable dressed in his usual outside raiment: wool cap, wool coat and wool gloves. All black.

“Abbot,” he whispered.

Father Aelred looked at him with his eyebrows questioning.

“Urgent,” Thomas replied.

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