Friday, 7 November 2008

A dread autumn (part 5)

The world looked grey from the church roof. Grey and cold and getting colder.
A bird’s eye view gives little more than an overview of the world. From here, nothing is certain, all you can see is stark contrasting colours and the earth seems garish, twisted and impossible to fathom.
A rook was perched there upon the pointed spire of St Alfonso’s. ‘Twas a crow looked down upon Lord Winstanley and Father Seddon that cold November day when they were taken.
The green children spoke then as they pulled and clawed at Winstanley’s coat. “We ready ourselves for winter’s depths. Come, join us in sleep. Soon we will hunger and we will quake.”
Leanlo clawed at Winstanley’s face, drawing blood and saying: “Provide our sustenance. You know we will hunger all winter long.”
And poor Winstanley climbed down there, climbed into that hole of his own accord. The crow saw this, took it all in; the priest and Lord Winstanley, at the bottom of a deep grave with three green children for company. The rook flapped its wings and pecked at its feathers as lice would often get in there and cause such an itch. It watched the people in the grave with an impassive eye and cawed for company.
Soon there were five crows atop the church, and they peered down to see the grave where two poor men were howling as green children clawed at them.
Soon the green ones began taking clods of earth and scraping them in upon themselves. Green grass and brown soil, sullen sods of earth, hurled down upon the grave and the poor howling creatures below were soon buried beneath.
Leanlo stood atop the grave and filled the last of it and patted it smooth before glancing at the dying world about her. With a last gasp of autumnal air, she dug her way down through the centre of the loose soil, replacing it as she went, journeying down, down into the black grave, there to join her brothers in hibernation.
And soon the crows would fly. Fly on, far from that place.
And soon the ground would freeze. And soon a new priest would be found and the church would be opened anew. And soon the people of the parish would visit once more, to hear mass, and to break bread with Christ.
And all the while, the green witches slept beneath their feet, awaiting the end of the frosts, the end of winter’s death kiss. They longed to stir and rise again.
O come spring. Come summer, soon.

The end

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A dread autumn (part 4)

But the children did not return for Lord Winstanley. He had perhaps lain there in depressed retreat for a half hour before he realised he may have been spared.
It would be unfair to criticise Winstanley for not immediately running home once the hermit had passed away, or else following after the priest to try and save him. Such unworldly horrors as the green witches are not often seen by ordinary men, and Winstanley himself had not even seen battle in his lifetime, though war it was that gave him his fortune through his ancestry.
At first he sat up and peered about him. The forest seemed quite silent, above the running of the nearby river, until the Lord was able to make out a low moan somewhere on the other side of the river.
The fear, that had hurled him prostrate next to the dead body of the hermit for so long, swirled and changed into a great anger and Winstanley leapt to his feet and ran along the river’s edge to spy for a fair crossing place.
A worn and sturdy log seemed to have been placed, some time ago, across the two banks and Winstanley made swift use of it, running in the direction of the sound until he heard a growling, agonizing howl.
He came upon the priest, broken and sobbing, his body thrown down upon the stump of a felled tree. All around this place the trees were bowed and sagging and three scorch marks haunted the ground where the green witches had stood.
Winstanley turned the priest’s face towards him and was sickened by the horrifying scowl his face was contorted into. He lifted Father Seddon, a small man of balding middle-age, onto his feet and then, half-kneeling down, took the priest’s weight upon his shoulders and began to carry him. He would head for sanctuary; he would head for the parish church of St Alfonso’s.
Usually but a twenty minute walk across country, today Winstanley did well to make it in under two hours, such were the burdens of the day. As he stumbled up the moorland slope and beheld the sight of the church, Winstanley thanked God for the first time in a long time.
But the skies were brooding and dark and perhaps God was getting ready to shut his eyes upon the little church beneath him, for as they neared the gateway to the parish graveyard the hitherto silent priest began to speak.
Though his eyes remained closed he spoke steadily and rhythmically, chanting three names over and over again: “Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent; Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent; Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent.”
Winstanley recognised one of these names; that of Leanlo, the green girl who had spoken in his mind. He shuddered and halted beneath the arched entrance. A gravel path offered a straight line, 40 feet before him, on into the safety of the church building. He scanned his eyes about him and could not see the green ones, though he knew in his heart they must be near. All that could be done was to walk forward, without looking back, on through the great wooden doors of the old church.
For a man carrying a dead weight, his pace was swift and sure, but Winstanley’s eyes were caught upon an awful and insane sight just to the left of the path. There before him lay an open grave, deep and fresh, with earth strewn about it. And down at the bottom looking up at him with piercing, smiling eyes were three green faces.
And soon they were climbing up, out of their hole. And soon, they were upon him.

(to be concluded)

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A dread autumn (part 3)

The hermit stepped with care and precision along the woodland route down into the valley. Lord Winstanley and Father Seddon followed cautiously.
Choosing a path that followed the river, the hermit turned onto a tree-lined corridor in the wood, walked until the troupe were equidistant from each end of the path and then halted.
“They will not surprise us here,” said the hermit with more than a little glee and confidence.
“This is madness,” cried Winstanley. “Why, they may approach us any route they see fit and drag us into the forest.”
“No,” said the hermit softly. “They will stick to the lanes, for there people go. We will see them approaching, one way or another.”
“Well enough, but have you weapon to face them? The priest has a crucifix and I but a pocket knife. How shall we defeat these fiends, then?” enquired Winstanley.
“My Lord, you are free to leave if the fear is too great. The priest and I will stand alone, with faith in ourselves and in the greater powers that built this world.”
Winstanley gritted his teeth at the hermit’s chide, but his resolve stiffened and his hand moved to grip the hilt of his hunting blade.
“They are upon us,” said the priest and the hermit nodded gravely as the three kindred of the soil appeared ahead, moving effortlessly along the dirt path. As they neared, Winstanley noticed the dead leaves being blown and brushed from the creatures’ path by unseen forces. Every sinew strained in him not to flee this ghastly scene or else take his knife and rush headlong into battle and likely doom.
It seemed to him the creatures flickered and oozed, as if lichens and fungus grew and then died upon their bodies; living out entire existences within seconds over their childlike torsos. And as they came to the place where the three men stood to face them, the trees bowed and bent as if to flee the unholy and most powerful presence of those green beings.
Winstanley heard them speaking as they passed through the avenue of trees. At first he thought they spoke to each other, but soon he heard them calling his name, asking him to step forward and lay himself down before them, though their almost formless faces did not seem to have mouths to speak.
Leanlo touched his mind then, speaking deeply to him and her arm reached out, beckoning him forth. Winstanley closed his eyes and began to step forward. The chill in the air was gone and his mind felt only the lush green of summer as the girl invited him to roll upon green grasses forever.
As he stepped forward he was aware of a temperature clinging to his bones, a coldness more deathly than a winter’s frost on a flower’s stalk. And just as soon as it had gripped him it left and he came to with the hermit’s dirty and wrinkled hand holding him by the shoulder. He saw that both he and the priest had taken two large and unwarranted steps forward, almost into the reach of the green ones, but the hermit had saved them, for now.
From the look of intense concentration on the hermit’s face, it seemed he was attempting some complex equation, or else arguing within his own head against some unshakable principle of the universe. But Winstanley was taken with the possibility the hermit was locked in unspoken conversation with the green witches, or perhaps some unseen battle of minds and wills was taking place high above the auburn trees and the greying fields around about them.
If the hermit was locked in combat then, perhaps he could have bested them had not Father Seddon ultimately screamed and then fled the terrifying scene, into the forest. His concentration broken, the hermit shouted to the priest in vain before collapsing upon the ground, the green ones departing the scene in seconds to give chase to the priest. Winstanley wheeled around in confusion as things unknown to his mind weighed so heavily upon him that he too collapsed beside the spent and broken body of the hermit.
And as he watched the hermit’s breath shallow and his eyes twitch and then close forever, Winstanley knew all was now surely lost. He lay there on the hard ground and looked up at the forest canopy, spinning up above him, and awaited the return of those fearsome children to feast upon his vitality. As he lay there, in sorrowful defeat, he realised that, while many of the trees were skeletal and bare, some of the trees remained defiant, some of the trees remained green. He held that thought with him as he lay there in painful defeat, just waiting for the chill to kiss his bones once more.

(to be continued)

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A dread autumn (part two)

The hermitage was dark and moist. It smelled of moss and mould, but the dim light of candle would not prick the shadows enough to throw clear light on the walls and floor of the hut, in order that Lord Winstanley might see what was growing there.
Winstanley had given this stone dwelling over to the hermit, following a dying practice of landowners allowing a wise man to stay for free upon his land.
Lord Winstanley used his squatting tenant as a sign to others that he was both rich enough to give this property away and benevolent enough to suffer the old fool gladly, this hermit. He certainly wasn’t glad to suffer his ravings now. The hermit bounced about the room, excited by the arcane words he spouted. His wild eyes glinted towards Winstanley, who caught a reek of his bastard breath and had to cough so that he wouldn’t wretch.
“Fr Seddon,” enquired Stanley, “would you kindly ask this man to aid us sensibly and with some decorum and more judgement than his childish persona suggests he is capable.”
Stopping his manic jig and standing stock still, the hermit spoke but looked away from Winstanley, his back to him. “You may address me directly, sir, for I am no fool, though I see and hear of things so phenomenal you too would lose yourself on occasion and find it a simple thing to become lost on the way back to a salient mind.”
Though the hermit addressed the stone wall beyond, Winstanley was transfixed and stared intently at the back of the hermit’s head, feeling his words through the slightest of neck movements; a tilt of the head this way or that became mesmerising.
“The priest has come to me with more than the devil on his mind, for if it were Satan at work then his God would show him the way.”
“But, these green ones. They vex him. They are of a magik older even than Lucifer, for they have crawled straight out of the belly of the Earth herself and woe to him who sends them back to their mother now.
At this, the priest spoke up: “But if it were possible, to cast these creatures back to the sluices of hell they grew up from, then you could tell us how. You could guide us?”
The hermit didn’t speak for a long while and Winstanley was almost moved to speak when he became aware of a sudden warmth, becoming a strong heat within the dank cabin, but no flame was lit there.
“It is done,” said the hermit, presently. “I have spoken to them, to Leanlo and her brothers and they are coming to meet us.”
“What!” exclaimed Winstanley, “the green ones come here now? And when shall they arrive, and what shall they do?”
“They arrive soon, they are almost here,” said the hermit turning with a delicious smile to face his landlord now. “And they come to dine upon you, my lord, if they should be allowed to.”
With that Winstanley grew pale and looked at the hermit’s sandaled feet. “Though, I dare say,” continued the hermit, “they should not be allowed such liberties, wouldn’t you agree Lord Winstanley?”
“Come now,” the hermit said, taking an agape Winstanley by the hand. “They are at hand and we must go out and meet our guests where the grass still grows.”
The hermit then led Winstanley from the hut and the priest had little option but to follow on, slowly and most fearfully, close behind.

(to be continued)

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Monday, 3 November 2008

A dread autumn

And as the old priest and Lord Winstanley climbed Tarren’s Moor, the dread of the season was upon them.
Autumn was reaching past its soft light and golden hues, scratching at winter’s throat, trying to drag the cold in upon the harvest. The leaves were not yet dead in the gutter when talk of the green ones were upon the lanes.
The green witches were abroad in the valley and even close to the town. That was what the people were saying. Children had spoken all summer long about the menace of the three who would come to play when the adults were not watching.
Seventeen children had gone missing between June and September and the magistrates in London had demanded to know what was occurring in the countryside.
“Still,” said Lord Winstanley, “Children are one thing, but for them to approach grown men, good men with thick arms and sharp minds, and leave them howling in ditches, that is not the work of man or of a gracious God.”
The priest nodded. “They howl for their souls, sir. These green daemons are advocates of the dark and they seek to prise free everything a man holds dear; his eternal soul, even. They must be ended. This is why we must see the hermit.”
At the crest of the hill they saw him, his white beard and tangle of hair a crescendo in the whipping breeze. The old man was transfixed in contemplation, a rock perhaps in his hand and he staring most intensely at it.
As the two men climbed nearer, they blanched to see it was a sun-bleached skull held tightly in the hermit’s hands.
The wild man looked up then with glee, saying: “The green witches! They will take what they may to keep them through winter. They will grow strong this year.”
Dropping the skull, he leapt up, turned and danced his way into the desolate cottage. Lord Winstanley and the priest slowly followed, scowling at the shattered remains of bone that scattered their path across the threshold.

…to be continued…

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.