V. Blue Apple Day – January 17th 2022 – Part 3 of 3.

Tales from the Zone, by Richard Stanley. Episode 5 Blue Apple Day, part 3 of 3.

This is part 3 of 3. We suggest you first read Part 1 and Part 2

“There’s nothing to it,” insisted brother Pyke as we started up the steps towards the village. Vehicles were no longer allowed to park in the hamlet without a permit, forcing us to climb the remaining distance on foot, a detail that peeved Pyke no end. “Its a busted flush. The limp dick of Rennes-le-Chateau has been firing blanks for years.” 

“Rennes seen better days,” I admitted. “But it was the weirdest place on Earth once and will be again. It’ll get it’s mojo back soon enough.”

“Hardly,” hissed Pyke. “It never had a mojo to begin with.”

“Oh ye of little faith. Come back in a thousand years and see for yourself.”

L’échelle de Jacob. Ça y est“, JC, followed breathlessly behind us. “Paradis et les enfers.”

“More like les enfers,” insisted Pyke, slowing a little as he took in the crowd gathered outside the church. A stressed out security officer in a dayglo bib was stationed in the doorway, checking masks and bags, making certain no more than a tightly controlled handful were allowed to enter the chapel at any one time. Pyke groaned, on the verge of turning back as he recognised a stocky man in black combat fatigues addressing the onlookers waiting on the parvis, a captive audience if ever there was one. Local conspiracy theorist Jan-Michel Poes was a known quantity to the Guardians who held him in disdain. Poes clearly knew how to work a crowd though and was getting decent laughs. I recognised Medicine Lady Lu reclining in a patch of sunlight beside a second drum toting shamaness, both clearly enjoying the show. She turned and I caught the lightning of her smile.

“Paradis will do for me,”  I muttered, edging my way closer to Lu and leaving Pyke to his rancour.

“You’re right on time.” Lu’s smile broadened. “I’ve already been in the chapel. We’ve been praying all morning.”

I nodded. “It was a perfect sunrise. And now you’re here – a perfect day. I’m so glad you made it.”

For a moment, I felt almost happy, standing beside the young Occitan medicine woman in the January sunlight. Jean-Michel Poes was saying something about the reptilian overlords and the interdimensional portals they used to gain access to our world but I wasn’t really listening. Of course, I knew all about the doorways but I didn’t think it was as simple as Jean-Michel made it sound. Behind me, brother Pyke continued to scoff  loudly but I did my best to ignore him, not wanting the spoil the fun. Seeing the pale faces of those few survivors who had turned out for the anniversary made me nostalgic for my vanished companions of the past, for Elizabeth, Celia, Marcel, Uranie and all the others who had left us and for a moment I imagined they too were standing beside us, somewhere just out of sight. The moment seemed abstracted from time, the mid-morning sun gleaming in the windows of the Villa Bethany. what was once one of the most evocative haunted houses in the world now stripped of its mysteries and recycled into a 21st century tourist attraction, complete with mismatched waxwork effigies of Saunière and Marie. 

The Domain before cleanup
The Domaine before it was cleaned up, exorcised and opened to tourism. The image below shows the original panes of stained glass, now long lost and the original statue of Saint Michael, now stolen – photographs by Richard S.
Original stained glass
Photographs by Richard S.

Marie Dernarnaud lived on in the villa without servants or family after Saunière’s demise, feared and ostracised by the villagers, trusting no-one, the garden growing wild, the greenhouses turning into a jungle as one year faded into the next and the second world war came and went. Set aside from the great events that convulsed Europe, life continued much as it always did in Rennes until the collapse of the government in 1945, and the decision to reissue the Franc note in order to catch out those who had profited under the Vichy regime. Unable or unwilling to explain the source of her cash flow, Marie found herself impoverished overnight and there are stories, doubtless apocryphal, of the ageing spinster raking bundles of useless bank notes together and burning them as if they were leaves in her back garden. 

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Looking ruin in the face, Marie confided in a recently widowed businessman from Paris, Noel Corbu, that if he bought the Villa Bethany and promised to look after her until the end of her days, she would tell him “a secret that will make you both rich and immensely powerful“. Noel wasn’t a total sucker, he did his homework first before signing on the dotted line. But in the end, the mystery drew him in to its malignant embrace as surely as a black hole draws in light. Any expectations on Noel’s behalf that the treasure might be within his grasp were cruelly dispelled on Blue Apple Day, 1953, the anniversary of Saunière’s death, when Marie suffered identical symptoms, a sudden, violent stroke that left her paralysed and incapable of speech. It is hard to imagine what her final days must have been like as Noel tried in vain to wrest the secret from her, but at least she died in her mother’s bed surrounded by those who cared for her well-being, even if it was for the wrong reasons. Marie Denarnaud-Barthelemy, to give her full family name as it appears on the headstone, passed on January 29th without uttering so much as a single coherent syllable.

Some think frustration alone drove Noel to drink or perhaps drove him, well, a little funny. Others believe he was always a somewhat strange to begin with. Like attracts like and the house had found him after all, not the other way round. Not knowing where to dig or even what he was digging for, he sank arbitrary shafts and started on the network of tunnels that still honeycomb the plateau to this day, re-opened and reworked by every successive generation to have followed in his hapless steps. Of course he never found a dime but one more piece of the jigsaw did come to light on his shift. In March 1956, the skeletal remains of three men were found buried in the Villa’s flowerbed. All three were aged between thirty and forty and had apparently suffered multiple gunshot wounds. An inquest was opened but no conclusions were handed down. The bodies were never identified and regardless of whether it was local score settling or, as some suggested, a showdown with a trio of hired assassins, it does tend to indicate not only Marie and  Saunière’s skill in defending themselves, but the lengths they were prepared to go to in order to guard their secret. Many believe that it was Noel’s drinking that lead to the car accident that claimed his life on May 20th 1965 but there are those who continue to insist his vehicle was deliberately forced off the road. After that the trail appeared to go cold but the real mystery was only beginning.

Taking off my hat, I joined the queue of pilgrims filing into the church and once again found myself on the black and white tiles of Saunière’s gaudy, occult sanctuary, back at the foot of the great narrative tree from whence the story might go anywhere. 

“C’est un temple!” insisted Jean-Michel Poes, his voice drifting in from the parvis where he continued to regale his followers. “A magic temple and now is the time! The time we have waited for so long. The time foretold…”

The ‘temples’s daemon guardian stood beside me, socially distanced inside a plexi-glass coffin ever since the attack on the church in 2019. He looked a little sad but it was good to see him nonetheless, the silent watcher on the threshold that had borne mute witness to all the madness of the years gone by. I have never understood what it is about our local mystery that seems to unleash such foulness and rage in the human heart but given the plethora of death threats and vile calumnies that have been launched against me in the last twelve months, I realise it is no laughing matter.

The daemon Asmodeus guards the house of God as the annual light show weaves its weird spell
Midday in the Church of Marie Madeleine
Inside the Church of Marie Madeleine
Inside the Church of Marie Madeleine – January 17th 2022 – photos by Suzie Woo Satya and Richard S.
Inside the Church of Marie Madeleine
Inside the Church of Marie Madeleine

As if in a dream, i took in the other figures in the chapel, mostly white garbed Magdalinians and other local occultists and eccentrics. Several seemed to recognise me as I went among them and greeted me as if they too were in a dream. The light from behind them effaced their features and I could see only the way they turned their heads, looking past each other at the patterns cast upon the stone and when they spoke it was as if I had heard their whispered words before. Glancing back, I saw JC had followed me into the sanctuary and was gazing about himself in bewilderment trying in vain to figure out what everyone else was looking at – for where there was light there was shadow and where there was a sound there was an echo and who could tell where one began and another ended?

I took a deep breath, watching the January sun stream silently through the stained glass, sending a whorl of coloured lights, the mythical ‘blue apples’, on their circuitous journey across the chapel walls, moving from one station of the cross to the next before finally focussing on a bas-relief of Christ set into the pulpit. It didn’t look like much, nor did the moment feel particularly different from anything else but I was grateful to be there nonetheless. I closed my eyes, giving thanks for having made it through another year and tried to pray for all of us, most of all for my critics, enemies and would-be future murderers.

“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

I turned to see lady Lu standing behind me in her imitation buckskin jacket, having checked her drum at the door. It was good to see her and I smiled. 

“Yeah. Uh. I try to come every year. So long as the church is open and I’m in the ‘hood.” 

The globe began to glow in Christ’s hands, the nimbus of light surrounding the plaster messiah taking on the spectral outline of an ankh.

Lu shook her head. “I meant in another life.”

 “I don’t know.” I shrugged, looking down at myself and the clothes I wore, realising for all of it I was still little more than a child playing on the outermost doorstep of the mystery. “All that matters is we’re here now…”

Par Signe tu le Vaincras
Par ce Signe tu le Vaincras – by this Sign you will Conquer 
Noon Blue Apples
Noon Blue Apples

Text & photos by Richard S.

note from the editor:

Thank you for reading the Richard Stanley blog, Tales from the Zone, a journal that will give outsiders some small insight into our day to day lives in the valleys of French Occitania. Please NOTE these entries are meant to be experienced in order. If you only just found this blog, you can begin reading from the start: Halloween. You can also find Richard Stanley on Twitter, and Facebook. However, Tales from the Zone are only published here.

If you want to support Tales from the Zone by Richard Stanley, you can do say via PayPal donations.

1 thought on “V. Blue Apple Day – January 17th 2022 – Part 3 of 3.”

  1. “Curiouser and curiouser”, said Alice. What is your personal take, Richard? Is there actually a Sauniere treasure secreted on the grounds someplace, of Villa Bethany? If not in the tunnels, perhaps in or deep under the floor of the church? Or, as Harry Vanderspeigle, the alien in Resident Alien played by Alan Tudyk says: “That is some bullshit!”

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