What might happen if you could book an appointment with a doctor who could help you with your deepest spiritual wounds, not just a headache? Adrian Plass explores in his new novel ‘The Shadow Doctor’. We’re delighted to have Adrian joining us at Spring Harvest this year, and he’s kindly given us an extract from his book to share.
At two o’clock in the morning the man stepped out of his cottage, locking the door carefully behind him. A couple of strides away from the house, he stopped, pushed his gloved hands into his pockets and leaned the top part of his body back to stare up at the clear night sky. Clusters of tiny, exploding pinpoints filled the heavens. Endless stands of trees closely guarding the little dwelling remained watchful and dark, apparently unimpressed by starlight.
Shivering a little, the man set on briskly down the little sloping garden, across the patchy lawn, past the abandoned chicken run and the vegetable patch towards a gap in the trees where a narrow path gave access to the hidden heart of the forest. No hesitation. He knew every inch of the way.
No fear of being lost.
That was not his fear.
Fifteen minutes later he stopped at a place where the path had no choice but to take a wide loop around a massive, toad-shaped chunk of limestone. Patting the face of the rock once with the palm of his hand, he turned away from the outside edge of the loop, ducking and weaving his way expertly through a confusion of more or less horizontal branches before emerging onto something that was more of an animal trail than a path. After a little careful negotiation he entered a clearing that was roughly circular in shape.
Standing in the centre of the small open space, the man wrapped his arms around his chest and lifted his eyes to stare at the natural planetarium above his head.
A minute passed. Something stirred and built in him. His whole body began to tremble. The shout of agony, when it came, crashed into the soullessly resistant trunks of the surrounding trees, ricocheting back towards the solitary figure.
‘I’m frightened! It’s too much – I don’t think I can do it any more!’
There was no response to his desperate cry. Many sounds, but none that were directed at him. The man knew the voices of the forest well. The whispering, groaning language of the trees. Small creatures screaming in their own little worlds of agony or ecstasy. He knew the muffled thump of an owl’s flight, the serrated edges of its wings allowing almost silent movement as it hunted small animals and birds on the forest floor. He recognised the loud, ventriloquial churr of the nightjar, to him the most mystically intriguing inhabitant of this crepuscular world. He was familiar with all of these voices. He was not afraid of them, and he was not afraid of the darkness.
That was not his fear.
So keenly attuned was he to the common noises of the night that the sound of a twig cracking on the edge of the clearing caused him to whip his head round in surprise. No conjecture. No need to guess the weight required to produce that particular noise. But it was an interference. It was a shock.
Only one person could have followed him into the forest