Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Larceny at Lammas

John Barleycorn is an important character at Lammas and harvest time. The stories attached to John Barleycorn are many and varied but all contain some common elements. John Barleycorn is the spirit, or the god of the corn and each year he must die by being cut down. He then suffers horrible indignities; being bound, thrashed, ground, mashed, burnt and boiled to make bread, beer or brandywine. The next year, when the sun starts to warm the soil, he springs up and the cycle starts again. The grain harvest was life and death to people in olden times and there were regional rites and customs to pay homage to the spirit of the corn. Occasionally, a sacrifice would be required and this might be an animal, or possibly an unwary stranger would come by just at the right time. It would not do to sacrifice a villager, as that would mean losing a worker.

This is a story I wrote a while ago, inspired by the John Barleycorn legend.

Larceny at Lammas

In the Field
As if we haven't had enough trouble with those bloody corn circles, this lot really takes the cake!” Inspector Walton put his hand in his trouser pocket and ruminatively rearranged his family jewels. “I do wish he wouldn't do that” thought Sergeant Thames, trying not to look too closely at either his superior or the grisly sight before him.

The two policemen were standing in a recently cut corn field. Right in the centre of the field was a circular area of uncut stalks about six feet in diameter. In the centre of the stalks was what could be described as a “rustic throne” made of rough, undressed branches, some still bearing leaves. Sitting on the throne was a man, or the remains of a man. He had been tied to the throne, tightly bound from head to foot, and his throat had been cut.

Looks like the buggers had themselves a barbie”, said Walton stirring around at the edge of a pile of dirt and ashes with the toe of his boot and unearthing a couple of empty beer bottles. “And what's that there Sergeant?” Looks like the remains of corn stalks Sir, tied together, and a bit of red ribbon”.Bag it up for forensics then Sergeant”.This is an odd one Sir” remarked Sergeant Thames “what do you reckon?”

First things first” said Walton, changing hands. “Get the medical examiner up here pronto, call in SOCO and get on to the duty sergeant, we'll need all hands on deck for a fingertip search. I'll speak to the Super, he'll want us to try to keep the press from nosing around in this for as long as we can. Then I suppose we'd better round up all the usual satanists, pagans and lunatics and see what they have to say for themselves.”
Righto Sir. Just about everyone in town is likely to be at that harvest festival thing on the seafront. Yesterday the weather was pretty dull but it's a glorious day today, they'll be making the most of it”.I believe you're right Sergeant, let's find out as much as we can about what we have here before we start broadcasting it about”.

Who called it in Sir?” "A couple of hikers. Got lost doing the South Downs Way. We've got them down at the station now giving statements. They'll be put up in a hotel for the night and we'll keep an eye on them until we know a bit more about what's been going on here. It's a nasty business. Tell SOCO to go through the victims pockets ASAP. The sooner we know who he was the better. And tell them no sirens Sergeant, it's nice and lonely and quiet out here, pretty with all those poppies, let's try to keep it that way”

Back at the station

Right Sergeant, the preliminary report's in from the morgue. Cause of death was the wound to the throat, cut the neck almost right through, massive loss of blood. The pathologist says it's quite clear that the victim had drunk a massive amount of alcohol and she suspects he'd either taken or been given some illegal substances as well, tox screen later. Nothing in the pockets, no identification on the body at all. Odd description of the murder weapon. She says it was a big, curved blade. Honed to a thin razor sharp edge but otherwise quite thick and there are traces of what looks like rust around the wound. Possibly an old farming implement or something of that sort. Swung with considerable power to do that kind of damage. More than one cut, possibly more than one weapon but of a similar type. Anything from the SOCOs or the fingertip search?”.
Yes Sir, the search team found a partly burnt wallet. There's a driving licence with a picture that matches the victim. The address is gone, but the name on the licence is John Barleycorn. I did a quick internet search on the name Sir. There's something very funny about it all”. 

The telephone rings.

Walton” said the Inspector, picking up the phone “What! Are you sure? No sign at all? We'll be right over”. The receiver went down with a bang. “Something funny indeed Sergeant. That was the morgue. The body's disappeared. Not a trace. No-one in or out, the staff were all there!”.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

It can be hard work foraging to feed the family!

Needle felted on a wire armature with wired cloth hands.

He rests on an old tree stump. He carries a nice fresh radish and in his back pack he has a beetroot and a carrot. His spade is made from a wooden dowel with a stiffened felt blade.
With careful positioning he can stand, leaning on his spade but foraging is hard work so he prefers to sit.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Short Story for May Day

A Tale of Beltane.

After the picnic lunch, George said “Mabel, I've put your deckchair up over here in the sun, why don't you put your feet up and have a rest, I'll keep the children amused”.

Mabel was glad to take a break. The four grandchildren had been staying since Friday night and although she loved having them around, they did tend to wear her out! Today was the first of May, conveniently falling on a Sunday this year, so their parents would be picking them up tomorrow afternoon. Peace and quiet would reign once more and the house would have an empty echo for a while.

She settled down in her deckchair and looked around. The weather forecasters had been as good as their word and it was a beautiful day. They had taken a chance and bought the children out in the fresh air to burn off some surplus energy. They had made their way to the little circle of standing stones just outside the boundry of Huggems Farm. Not many tourists came this way, instead heading for the circle's much bigger sister just outside the old village, and the superstitious locals tended to keep well away.

Sitting there in the sunshine Mabel was reminded of her grandmother. The old lady was full of stories about the little standing stones; how folk once thought that fairies took healthy babies away and left dead or sickly changelings; how people from the village had mysteriously disappeared, sometimes just as mysteriously reappearing years later with no memory of where they had been. Granny said that it was possible to time travel through the stones, but only if you had “the way”. “The way” was inherited and could be traced back through generations. Granny believed that she had “the way” and so might her children and her grandchildren. Travel through the stones was made easier if you wore or carried pure gemstones and your journey would be completely random unless you concentrated hard on a time and a place or a person. Even then, nothing was guaranteed. Granny said that the stones were strongest on the ancient feast days and she warned the children to keep away especially at Beltane and Samhain.

She was a daft old woman, thought Mabel fondly, closing her eyes for “just a moment or two”.

When Mabel woke up, she was surprised to find herself sitting on the grass. The picnic things had been cleared away and there was no sign of George or the children. “George must have tidied up and taken the children off for a walk” she thought. It was perfectly quiet except for the calls of the birds and a slight stirring of the grass and leaves in the breeze. A haze of bluebells floated just above the ground beneath the beech trees in the copse.
How lovely it is here” she looked around with real pleasure. There were daisies and speedwells in the grass and the buds of may blossom and blackthorn like handfuls of pearl beads among the still almost leafless branches.

Now the sound of distant voices broke the silence. “If there's a May Day Fair in the Village, that's where George and the children will be” she thought. Looking around she realised that she could not see the church steeple, or the roof of the village hall. “I can't hear any traffic either!” Mabel was beginning to feel just a little bit uneasy. She looked up into the cloudless blue sky. Although the airport was not far away, there were no planes overhead. She decided to walk down to the beginning of the lane, where the car was parked. It was not there. Surely George wouldn't have moved it. She quickened her pace, but where she had expected to see the car there was just a thick tangle of scrub and the beginnings of a bramble thicket.

She cried out for George and the children but there was no answer. Then she recalled thinking about her grandmother's stories before she fell asleep and she began to panic. She turned and ran back to the stone circle. Nothing had changed. It was still quiet and empty. There was no sign of the recent picnic. She cried out again for George, but again there was no reply. Mabel decided she had no option but to go through the circle. With clenched fists and tightly closed eyes she tried to remember what her grandmother had said. She was wearing her diamond ring and the garnet and emerald brooch. Would that be enough? What was the date? First of May, twenty ten. “Think Mabel, think hard, concentrate, George!” and she threw herself into the stones. She heard a humming, whining noise and felt herself shaking. It was horrible and made her feel quite ill. Then suddenly she was back in her deckchair.

Mabel, wake up” George was shaking her gently. “I think it's about time we got going. It can get quite cool around teatime. I've packed everything up and started the car. I wasn't going to wake you yet. You looked so relaxed and peaceful, but the children said that suddenly you became quite agitated. They were worried. Are you OK?”

Oh yes George, I'm fine. I must have been dreaming”.