Micheal Jones loved his wife. Loved his job. Loved the village he lived in. Loved his life. He often could not believe how lucky he was to find Mary. Or maybe she found him? After the death of his parents he had just lived in the big old house in Salford, commuting into Manchester everyday to his job as a manager in Asda. A boring life and boring existence. He only had a handful of friends, but no one close. He had always been a bit on an introvert, and was happy staying at home watching movies rather than going to the pub. Then, Elizabeth came into his life like a ray of sunshine and everything changed for the better.
She shopped every Wednesday at his store and she always said hello. They chatted and laughed at how they always seemed to be in the same place at the same time ( although, it was really his boss John who decided that) One day he was on his break and saw her in the cafe and chanced an offer to buy her a coffee. To his amazement she had accepted. 3 months later he was driving with her to her village to meet her Parents , Tom and Mary and the rest of the family for Christmas ( she had 3 sisters and 2 brothers). Within a year, she moved into the big house with him. Then, he asked her to Marry him and to his shock she said yes. Then, her Father offered him a job running the small Sports Store he owned in the village, on a great wage and gave them a house to live in. They got married,he sold the big house and said good bye to his old life and moved to Billsbridge for good.
The village was a fantastic place to live . He made new friends and even drank in the local pub. Everybody knew him ( his father in law was on the local council, governor, best village committee and many more serving the community) and he loved it, becoming part of the community helping with all the village events including the fantastic Hobbs Field Festival they held every year near the summer solstice. All day parades with people in costume, old fairground games like coconut shies, culminating in the Crowning of the King and Queen of the field. This year was going to be better than most. He and Elizabeth where having a baby and had been chosen as the festival king and queen. He couldn’t believe his luck. He was in heaven.
The village was only a small place and not many tourists visited. It was tucked away off a b road that most people by passed on the way to the lake district, or stumbled upon by wrong sat nav directions ( which lost its signal as soon as they hit the village). A friendly local would always be able to point them in the right direction, something Micheal had done himself many a time. The festival was a fairly private affair as they closed the main road off for the day of the festival. A couple of the local police man where always on hand to pint lost travellers the diversion. Micheal loved the fact that it was just the people he knew and he had lost touch with his few old friends and never felt the need to invite them.
He did wish his Mum and Dad could see how happy and well he had done for himself. That was his only regret. These thoughts came to him as he put on the traditional green suit of a soon to be crowned king. It fitted perfect, he thought, as he looked in the bedroom mirror. There was a knock at the door. “Micheal?” said Elizabeth. “Come in , you daft thing “ he said opening the door. His beautiful wife stood in the doorway, resplendent in her flowing green dress, with embroidered flowers. The small bump of the baby making her look a little off balance. He smiled at her. “ My Queen, you look wonderful” he said, beaming and still not believing his luck. She smiled back, gently rubbing her tummy. “ and so do you my handsome King” she outstretched her hand, which took and pulled her towards him, embracing her, then leaning down to kiss the bump. “ You OK in there? Been a busy day!” Elizabeth laughed. “ Ha ha you daft bugger!, c’mon, the tractor is here and ready to take us the the field.”
Villagers didn’t seem to know when the festival had started, it was just something that had passed on from generation to generation. A tradition that everyone loved with all there hearts, it seemed. The festivities had been on all day. Pubs had been busy as normal, the weather had been glorious. Micheal and Elizabeth had been to the Local Pub, Hobbs Head, for the traditional King and Queen meal and then headed the children’s parade, animal parade and finally the fancy dress parade, which Micheal had always found the most fascinating. Some dressed as celebrities, some dressed as light hearted digs at local dignitaries ( always one of Tom, Elizabeth’s Father!) but the main ones where the thirteen field spirits, that apparently harked back to before medieval times. These chaps dressed with weird paper-mache gargoyles or green painted faces with costumes made of straw and leather. They span around as the two drummers beat at various rhythms. The villagers lining the streets shouted and cheered as they came by , sometimes throwing beer at them or water at them. Now Micheal and Elizabeth headed the Parade to the rock at Hobbs Field, to be crowned and the big party to begin. The tent had been set up ( which neither Micheal or Elizabeth had been allowed to enter yet!!) and Micheal could see the chairs had been placed on the rock in the middle of the field. The rock had been there forever, no doubt dropped by some glacier millions of years ago, Micheal often thought. At some point someone ( no one knew who)had roughly carved steps into the side, to make it easier for the king and queen to climb on to it.
As Micheal and his wife entered the field, heading towards the rock, he felt a feeling of such complete and utter happiness. He looked at his wife and there soon to be born child, he looked around at his family and friends. As the sun began to set , he felt so overcome he could feel his chest heave and his eyes begin to well up. His life had never felt so perfect and he still could not believe his luck after so many years of loneliness. Everything was perfect.
Micheal approached the rock, with his wife’s arm in his. They turned around to face the field full of people. People cheered and raised there pints as the sun began to set behind them and the sparkling lights ,that had been set around the field, flickered into life. Tom stood next to the couple, with his pint in hand . “ Let the king and queen ascend the rock to behold the people and the field!” He shouted and raised his glass and everybody cheered. Micheal looked at his wife and she smiled back at him, hand resting on her pregnat bump. He climbed the first steps up, people aplauding as he did, then held out a hand to his wife to let her follow. They reached the top, Micheal looked across the crowd of people, smiling. He noticed the that the entrance into the filed seemd to have been coverd with high branches and logs obscuring the steel gate. Bloody hell, he thought , I hope they have another way out for this lot later. The amount of flowing beer could cause some problems unless we are sleeping in the field!!! He chuckled to himself as he sat down on his chair to the roar of the crowd.
“ Now fetch the mead of the field so the king can drink of it , and we can all be well!!” shouted his father in law. From out of the tent, one of the 13 spirits ( a large one , with a giant head and bulbous eyes) carried a tray with a large metal tankard, which Micheal presumed had the( no doubt ) very strong, thick beer. Not what he would normally drink, but it was a special occasion.
The spirit handed the tankard to Tom, who walked up the stairs and handed it to Micheal with 2 hands. “ Down in one lad” he winked with a smile on his face “ it’ll taste better that way.” Micheal smiled back, taking the tankard and raising it to the crowd. They cheered and threw hands in the air. He looked back at his wife who was beaming at him. He started to tilt the drink back. It tasted bitter, thick and like soil. But he did not care. A tear fell from his eye. Never so happy.
He managed to swallow the bad taste ale in one take , stood from his seat, raised the tankard and shouted. The crowd had gone very quiet, eyes towards the ground. He noticed the 13 spirits now lined up in front of the crowd, looking at him. He turned to his father in law, who was also looking at the ground. The silence was deafening. He turned to his wife, his head feeling light from the mead. She was smiling at him. The edges of his vision started to blur. His stomach felt hot and everything stared to move around him. She looked wonderful. He noticed she had something in her hand. A staff? A rock?A knife? “Thank you Micheal, “ she said “ thank you for everything” as she brought down the object on his head.
Micheal woke feeling groggy, confused and sick. A copperish taste filled his watering mouth. Had he had a terrible nightmare. He could not see anything , something was covering his eyes? He tried to move but his arms and legs seemed to be tied down. He felt cold, a draught running over his body. Was he naked?? He felt as if he was lying on top of a rocky beach, small pebbles digging in his back. What the hell was going on? Had he been kidnapped??? Had he fallen ad was in hospital?? He tried shout but his mouth seemed numb , something swelled in his mouth. Something missing? His tongue!?? Where the hell was his tongue??? No, that cant be right he thought. He could here a faint singing . Like a choir , but low, deep and mournful. WHAT WAS GOING ON his brain screamed , body twisting and jerking to move , but each time painful.
He stiffened as he heard movement around him. Low humming voices filled the air. He felt hands on his body and he started to move, pushed along like a hospital trolley, bumping along. He tried to cry out, but his mouth had stopped working. A muffled noise emerging from the back of his throat. Cold fresh air hit his sweating body and he shivered . OHGOOHGODOHGOD. His brain could not fathom what was going on. He seemed to move for an eternity, in a circle?? In a corridor? Was he in a coma?? Oh God Help!! Someone Help!!
Suddenly he stopped. More hands on his body, he felt himself being lifted up , (on a stretcher??) and then lowered to the ground. The pain of his back cooled as he felt something cold and damp underneath him. The cut smell of grass and overturned soil filled his nostrils. They think I’m dead, he thought , they are burying me. No, I’m alive !!!I’M ALIVE he trued to shout to no avail.
He felt something then his eyes filled with on orange light, as whatever had been covering them was removed. His brain rattled with confusion, he saw his father in law, his work colleagues, Father Doyle, Jim Smith, Landlord of the Hobbs Inn, Pete the local bobby and all the other faces he knew so well from the village looking down on him. Plus John, his old boss?? They all seem to hold wooden spikes. He felt some hands on the side of his head and he looked up. My wife, my beautiful wife, he thought.
“Thank you Micheal, she said, to Your sacrifice for the village will not go forgotten. I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you, but you have to remember that I did love you for what you are going to do. But my true heart belongs to the village, and the lord of the field, as it has done for generations. I don’t expect you to understand, but we need the lost and lonely, who no one will miss, to fill there hearts with love and joy so that they can become one with the field and keep the gods happy and the crops bountiful. We send out the spirits, like John, and Every 10 years they find someone to fulfil the need. Your heart was so full, I cannot thank you enough. Be sure our child will continue the traditions. Thank you so much, your sacrifice will be wonderful. ALL HAIL THE KING OF THE FIELD!” The crowd roared its approval.
Micheal’s mind could not comprehend what was happening. It must be a nightmare, he’ll wake up soon. He must wake up soon. He tried to cry out to wake himself, but nothing happened. He looked frantically around himself, unable to move due to the straps binding him. His arms and legs had started to feel numb. His mouth seemed to be stuck together , his throat full of a bitter tasting fluid. His own blood? He was sure he could feel something scratching at his back, the cold dampness causing shivers as he sweated profusely. The sweat stung his eyes, mingling with his terrified tears as fear gripped him at the total uncomprehending horror he felt rising in his stomach.
He stated to feel sick and the bile started to rise . He could now taste the mead he had originally drunk and he wretched up whatever it was, chocking and coughing with pain as his throat seared with pain. The thick liquid filled his nose, burnt his eyes and splattered his heaving chest.
“HE IS READY!” cried out Mary.
The scratching on his back seemed to intensify. Gentle at first then more painful, like little pins prodding at his skin, causing him to wince at the ever increasing discomfort his whole body was feeling.
Micheal watched as the crowd parted either side of him to reveal the 13 spirits holding a rope,that was tied to something at Micheal feet. Behind them there seemed to be a large mound of soil , with flame lanterns either side, and a shallow hole, about the size of a man. Behind this, an old gnarled tree with dead branches, twisted and bent. He had never seen this tree before, though Micheal, rather pointlessly. His mind seemed to snap. He tried to scream , but his voice had been torn away. His eyes bulged as he realised everyone was pointing the wooden spears towards him.
Let the Parade BEGIN!! shouted his father in law.
On the command , the spirits started to drag Micheal towards the tree. As he passed the crowd ,each person stabbed him with the spikes, short ,quick and with a twist. Blood pored from each wound. Micheal howled silently in pain, veins bulging on his neck and forehead. Each twist of the spike puncturing his soft , torn flesh becoming more painful than the last. His back felt like a thousand tiny razor-blades criss- crossing his damaged skin. Blood soaked the grass he was slowly being dragged across, thick life fluids oozing from the many open , gaping woods “ Hail the king, we are thankful” Micheal heard the people mutter as they plunged the spike into his tattered body. He could feel muscle rip, bones crack as the punctured and twisted, digging into his broken body.
Eventually the 13 spirits dragged Micheal past the crowd and the pain, mercifully stopped for a moment . Micheal was fading in and out of consciousness, as the loss of blood began to take its toll. He could not cry out, or move. Weakness enveloped his body. He felt himself dragged over something rough and sharp, voices shouted, but his ears were full of blood from the stabs to his face. He felt the soft loam under his body. This mus t be the hole , he thought, welcoming the end of his tortures. He turned his head to be faced with several , soil encrusted skulls, all with small wooden branches stuck in there eyes . His mind was to far gone to care now., though. He realised his fate and just wanted it to be over.
His wife stood over him. He could see the tree behind her. It looked almost alive. Like an fragile old mans unsteady movements. She knelt down with what seemed like two wooden sharpened sticks , like rough pencils in her hands. She whispered in his “ Thank you for everything now, and in the future” she said.
In a moment of clarity Micheal tried to scream again as he realised what he had just seen.
Mary pushed the sticks into Micheal’s eyes. His head jerked as she did, eyes popping like like a egg yolk, clear fluids mixed with black blood.
All Hail the Field!!! she stood up and shouted.
Micheal was in to much agonising pain to feel the thick branches moving under him. They slowly wrapped around his body in a jerky, stiff motion. Thick soil encrusted tentacles slowly reached and twisted around his neck. His body began to shudder and spasm as the sharp ends of the branches dug into the open wounds in his body, burrowing under his skin, entering his mouth, and eye sockets, wrapping and and squeezing at organs, tearing a popping them in an explosions of entrails and thick, dark blood. His body cracked and snapped as the ancient darkness of the land dragged him into the soil.
ALL HAIL THE FIELD! The crowd chanted as Micheal’s body was pulled slowly into the dark, moist earth.
The ancient tree moved slowly and gently, even though there was no breeze, The branches looked younger.