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!”.