Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Temple Fields




The dusk was settling over the Temple Fields. Along the hedgerows owls silently flew in the dimpsy light, hunting for rodents in the long grass. The set sun was a vague glow of memory on the western horizon, while above, their reign of the heavens approaching, the stars’ light grew in intensity.

In the centre of a field, its spill of light shielded by the walls of the collapsed burial mound and a stand of twisted trees, the vague glow of the lantern could be vaguely discerned in the gathering gloom. By the dim radiance of the lantern, around which large dark moths fluttered, the man dug as quickly as he could. By his side his metal detector, with its headphones lay. The signal had been extremely strong, almost deafening. In his mind he pictured a treasure trove of coins, perhaps even a crown of a long forgotten king of these lands?

He had suspected this was going to be a promising site. He had studied, in detail, the ordinance survey maps of this area and had perused the local libraries for archived descriptions of these ancient mounds, with the fallen ring of stones. The site was now mainly buried and overgrown by a grove of small, twisted oaks. To his surprise these tumuli appeared to have been untouched; not even the collapsed henge had been robbed for building materials. He had known that the name, Temple Fields, must signify something. He had searched online and found the owner of these fields, a farmer called Seth Magus. Further delving revealed that his family had farmed this area since the Enclosure Act of 1777 at least. Strangely much of the nearby lands had been grabbed by the main landowner in this locality, as had been the result of the infamous act across most of the country.

A month ago he had visited the ex-directory Mr Magus at his home at Druid Farm, in order to gain permission to investigate the Temple Fields. He had left the tarmacked road and taken his car up a potholed track, its centre overgrown with weeds and grasses. He had prayed that the undergrowth didn’t conceal a hidden rock to rob his car of its sump. At the end of the track was a five bar gate secured with a heavy padlocked chain, between large blue stones.

Druid Farm looked dark and foreboding. The barns looked medieval and seemed to lean drunkenly against each other. The farmyard was full of old machinery; some of it would have looked more at home in a museum. Behind the barns he could see smoke rising from an old chimney of brick and stone. The chimney itself stood over an old roof of ancient shingled slates that seemed to merge into one another. The ridge rose and fell, as if it had partly collapsed in places, making the roof look like it had grown instead of being built.

He had attempted to climb over the secured gate but three huge lurcher dogs had bounded over the farmyard growling fiercely. They had barked at him, their lips drawn tight revealing sharp teeth, as drool and foam poured from their mouths. They had snapped at his hands on the gate, causing him to hastily beat a retreat to his car and drive as fast as he dared back to the road. With no permission granted he had driven back a week later, parking out of sight and walking over the fields to the site as the dusk began to fall.

And here he was, digging this site as quickly as possible with his trenching tool. There was a clang of metal against stone as his spade struck a stone. In the distance he heard a single bark from the direction of the farm. He froze momentarily, remembering the savagery of the dogs that had  shocked and frightened him.  He set to his digging like a man possessed, scraping the earth from what appeared to be a large capping stone. He found the edge and followed it down. He reached in his pocket for his small torch and shone it down. He saw a gap between the capping stone and a large piece of slate that acted as a door. In the dark distance more barking could be heard but he wasn't going to be denied now.  He dug down around the large piece of slate noticing a collection of deep scratches on the slate. He recognised them as ogham symbols, but he didn't have the time to trace them, and he daren't use the flash of his camera. The slate was loose and could be moved. Sweating now with effort and excitement, he pulled  it back with a low grinding noise and crawled into the  space, his small torch in his hand.

He gasped in astonishment; it was much deeper than  he would have guessed it would be. It was a sizeable room with an altar of sorts in the centre. Around in each corner that were crystal flecked stones supporting the roof with human faces carved in them. At the foot of the altar stone another stone stood, with a niche cut into it at head height. Inside the niche the light of his torch caught the glitter of gold. He almost shouted with delight and triumph. He quickly dropped down to the floor and took off his haversack he had slung on his back. His hands sought the gold and with an effort brought it out of the niche. It was a mask of a man's face, exquisitely wrought of precious metals and enamels, showing fine details of facial hair and cheekbones. He quickly put it in his haversack. As he did so he felt a dull tremor under his feet, causing dust to fall from the roof of the chamber. Through the barrier of stone and earth he could hear muffled barking. The dogs! He had to go!

He turned to go and his torch alighted on the altar stone. On the stone was a body of a man. He shivered as he saw it, a cold dread clutching his heart. A large knife protruded from the corpse's chest, held by its handle by the deceased man's skeletal hands. His imagination drew terrible pictures as he envisaged the sacrificial ritual that had been done here.



But something didn't seem right about the body, and then it struck him. It should be thousands of years old and yet the clothes looked out of time. The body wore a frock coat and an ancient yellowed shirt; the clothes of a well to do gentleman from the C18th!The shoes were still on the man's feet, the buckles now rusty and discoloured. The skull's jaws were wide open as if in the midst of a silent scream.

The knife caught his eye. He put his torch in his mouth and prized the hands off the handle of the blade and pulled the knife from the dead one's chest. Again he heard barking in the distance. He'd tarried too long! With his prizes he crawled back out of the chamber and into the night.

Out in the open air he could hear the baying and growling of hounds getting closer. His presence was known! He slung his haversack over his back, grabbed his spade and metal detector and raced across the fields towards the road. All the time he could hear the snarling and barking getting ever closer. Reaching a gate he  vaulted it and got to his car. He scrambled for his car key fob. The indicators flashed and the interior light came on, revealing his position. All too close, he heard shouting and curses being hurled his way. He opened the back door and threw in his detector, spade and haversack. He jumped into the driver's seat, panting in fear and exertion. It took two attempts until the engine fired into life. As he took off down the road he saw the fierce lurchers in the rear view mirror; they were now in the road bounding towards him. He sped away, recklessly hurling his car around the  bends in the country roads. He only slowed as he neared town and began laughing as he approached his driveway. He climbed out of the car, breathing deeply, trying to slow his heart rate down. He suddenly started, he could almost hear the baying of dogs on the periphery of his hearing. It was his imagination and the adrenaline, he was miles away from Druid Farm and its fearsome denizens.

Leaving his detector in the car he grabbed his loot and hurried inside his house. He leaned against the door, letting out a long breath. He'd done it! He went into his kitchen and grabbed a beer, ripping the ring pull off and drinking deeply. He belched in satisfaction and, kicking off his shoes, went into his lounge with the haversack. Now to look at  his treasure. With a gasp he marvelled at the mask of gold and inlaid enamel, the workmanship was incredibly detailed. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He would search online tomorrow to see if anything similar had ever been found. He knew collectors that would pay a small fortune for such an artefact, but he would need to be careful, this would be classed as stolen treasure trove. He set it on the table in front of him, counting the monies he'd get for it in his mind. He then reached in his haversack and brought out the knife. The steel was cold and pitted with rust and blood from god-alone-knew how many sacrifices. He shivered again as he looked at it. Then he remembered the body in the tomb. Why was it C18th? Why did it look like the man had plunged the blade into his own heart? These were questions for tomorrow. His eyes grew heavy as, still clutching the knife, he fell into a troubled sleep.







His dreams were strange, full of dogs prowling around his house, scratching at the doors and windows, their eyes red and full of the fires of revenge, and all the time the mask seemed to murmur curses at him, accusingly. You stole from me. You stole from me. The dogs gathered outside and howled mournfully. He awoke with the echo of their howl in his mind...


***


His room looked unfamiliar as he blinked his eyes in the grey light of early morning. It shone from a gap in one of the side walls. He wasn't on his sofa, he was on a cold flat stone. He tried to pull himself upright but he couldn't move. His eyes flashed this way and that, looking around the room. He recognised the crystal flecked stones at each corner of the altar, the carved faces looking down at him. He felt his hands and arms move of their own accord. They clasped the knife raising it up above his chest. He then saw the mask set back in its niche looking down at him angrily, the cold lustre was cruel, the inset enamels shone evilly. Outside he heard the howling of dogs all around, and a grinding of stones as unseen hands  replaced the slate in the wall, plunging him into darkness. He screamed as he sensed his arms thrust the wicked blade down into his chest...


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