Simon Parke  
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Dead gorgeous!

CHAPTER 36

In our last episode, Alky made an unpleasant discovery, and Lord Jo got a call for help. Meanwhile, a king and a farmer exchanged strained and haunted pleasantries, until the Kid called time; Billy went missing below stairs, and Rex discovered that when it comes to who likes who, you never can tell – even with a funeral pressing!

Billy was happy enough to be alone. He’d tried to be good and stay with Jane, but not that hard. She was old, and he was young, and that was that. Yet things took an unfortunate turn when suddenly, he found himself in a space of quite dazzling light.

‘What on earth is this?’ he thought in some terror, and with his survival at risk, let out an enormous scream, and started rushing hither and thither in a state of demented fury:

‘Aggghhhh!!!’ he screamed.

Both Cromwell and Charles were most taken aback at the arrival of this maniac. First, a lippy child, and now a wailing lunatic, fit only for manacles and an asylum.

‘That’s Billy,’ said the Kid. ‘Not the most popular member of the village.’

‘One cannot be surprised,’ said Charles.

‘That is some rage,’ said Cromwell.

‘Yes, he doesn’t hide his anger,’ said the Kid. ‘It does unsettle some.’

‘I’m not unsettled in the least,’ said Charles. ‘Not in the least. But I would have him stop, for decency’s sake.’

‘No one can stop him,’ said the Kid.

‘Has no one taught the boy manners?’ asked Cromwell. ‘He would have learned manners in my army.’

‘He has had poor teachers, I think,’ said the Kid.

‘Stop him!’ shouted Charles with some venom. ‘Stop that noise!’

‘Oh – the king is intolerant again!’ vented Cromwell, also breaking with his calm.

‘Is this what my kingship is worth? Is this my end?’ screamed Charles. ‘Entrapment in a mad house?’

The king started running about, holding his ears.

‘What have you got to complain about?’ said Cromwell, chasing after him. ‘Nothing! I did my best, I served God – and ended up reviled!’

‘You?’ sneered Charles. ‘Reviled? You have a statue outside the parliament buildings – what do I have for my devotion and decency?!’

‘I have a statue – but no reputation!’

‘And I have a portrait – but no reputation!’

The two were now bawling at each other in the face.

‘You don’t know what it’s been like!’

‘You don’t know what it’s been like!’

‘I hated everything you were!’

‘I hated everything you were!’

‘I tell you,’ said Cromwell, ‘Were I to become angry, I would pull the whole world down with me!’

‘And I, the whole universe and the galaxies beyond!’ roared Charles, with a voice he never knew he had.

‘Agghh!’ screamed Cromwell and ‘agghh!’ screamed Charles and ‘agghh!’ screamed Billy, so that it was hard to tell where one ‘agghh!’ ended and the other ‘agghh!’ began.

Only then it got worse, as Billy violently turned on the Kid.

*

As the ambulance crew were picking up the body of Alky and deciding on a small diversion, Mrs Post made an important decision: ‘I should be sorting out my father myself – rather than leaving it to others. Professional care is all very well; but in the end, isn’t this all down to me?’

She duly rang Rex, who answered promptly; and in a rather flustered state, if Mrs Post wasn’t very much mistaken.

‘I want you to give that Mr Gloom the heave-ho,’ said Mrs Post.

‘I already have,’ said Rex.

‘Good.’

‘Too expensive.’

‘That’s terrible,’ said Mrs Post.

‘Lord Jo and Mrs Pump were going to help.’

‘I want you to give them the heave-ho as well.’

‘I already have,’ said Rex.

‘Good.’

‘Couldn’t work together.’

‘That’s terrible,’ said Mrs Post again.

‘But who’s going to do it, Mrs Post? Who will move the body now? Bodies don’t arrive at church by themselves – or not dead ones, at least.’

‘We will!’

‘We will what?’

‘Will move the body ourselves!’ said Mrs Post triumphantly. ‘And I’ll give Patricia a ring. She’s always wonderful in circumstances like these.’

And while she was ringing Patricia, as I say, the ambulance crew did make a small diversion, greatly helped by Mr Johnson’s local knowledge. Mr Johnson did a relief shift with the ambulance crews three times a month; and what a relief it was – to his bank account!

‘Hospital isn’t the right place,’ he said, as they drove through the uncertain haze of a village at twilight. And his two smelly colleagues agreed. They liked Mr Johnson driving because he was used to these country lanes, which had no street lighting or cat’s eyes.

‘It’s like the Middle Ages out there!’ said the fat one, sweating in the cold.

‘Spooky lukey!’ said the thin one with greasy hair, as he peered out into the near dark.

‘That’s Old Wood’, said Mr Johnson. ‘You don’t want to get lost in there.’

Fat and Thin pressed their faces to the windows, captivated by the horror.

‘So we’ve agreed – it’s definitely not the hospital,’ said Mr Johnson, as they reached the bottom of the High Street.

‘It would look a bit odd,’ said the thin one.

‘Then where?’ said the fat one, hoping any solution did not involve any exercise.

‘I know just the place,’ said Mr Johnson.

‘You do?’

‘Well, it’s obvious if you think about it!’

And when the other two did – it was.

‘Oh yeah!’ they both exclaimed, like they’d just split the atom.

*

‘What on earth is that noise? Such virulence!’ asked Jane.

The vexed cacophony of wail and howl grew louder.

‘There is a dispute in the belly of this village,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘Cherished grudge and unspoken wrath. I’ve heard its cry before.’

‘It’s a terrible clamour, and that’s a fact!’ said Inky.

‘It sounds like Billy!’ said Cadbury.

‘An army of Billy’s more like,’ said David.

‘Come on, then!’ said Inky. ‘There’s no time to waste!’

Dr Hafiz reached for Inky’s arm, and held it back.

‘Perhaps on this occasion you will follow me,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘Haste is not always the fastest route to truth.’

And so they followed Dr Hafiz, one after the other, through the dark, like Egyptian tomb breakers in the Valley of the Kings; but really, order didn’t matter when they turned the corner, for such was the storm of noise and light, that all were dazzled, blinded and stunned.

‘Help me!’ screamed the Kid, as Billy’s grip tightened round her neck.

Amid the madness of the cave, David saw the Kid pinned down by Billy.

‘Billy!’ shouted Jane.

Billy looked round briefly, but then returned to savage work; his violence only heightened by their arrival. David and Cadbury moved quickly across the cavern.

‘Billy!’ said Cadbury, but Billy couldn’t hear.

David dealt a lunging blow to Billy in the core of his back, causing his arms to buckle. The Kid rolled away free, and Billy rolled back into the arms of Cadbury, silent at last.

‘Don’t hurt him,’ said the Kid.

‘I won’t hurt him,’ said Cadbury.

‘Are you OK?’ asked Dr Hafiz, as he reached the Kid. ‘Let me look at you.’

‘And who are they?’ asked Jane, looking across the cave. ‘They look like the ghosts of Cromwell and Charles, brawling!’

‘And roaring,’ said Inky. ‘Haunted histories! Wow! The rancorous phantoms of Misty Longings!’

Yet even as he spoke, the howls began to quieten, and the ghosts seemed to tire. There stood the plain clothed son of a bankrupt father; and there stood the neat, clean and stubborn little king.

‘They’re crying,’ said Jane.

‘Or are they laughing?’ said Dr Hafiz.

It was hard to tell, as the two grew closer together; and hard to tell where one now started and the other ended.

‘I think they’re talking,’ said Cadbury, as she stroked Billy’s hair.

‘They’re crying,’ said Jane.

‘Why does it have to be sad?’ asked Inky.

‘Crying isn’t just sad, Inky.’

‘I think it is. I never want to cry. Ever.’

And then the two ghosts turned towards the assembled company.

‘We shall leave now,’ said Charles.

‘Leave together,’ said Cromwell.

The group stood transfixed.

‘Leave Misty Longings to its present,’ said Charles. ‘We have perhaps over-stayed our welcome.’

‘A beautiful village, Misty Longings’ said Cromwell. ‘But it’s yours, not ours.’

Each of those listening pictured their lovely village again. The cobbled streets, the abbey ruins, thatched roofs and old station! The village well, the hanging mist, and patchwork quilt of wood and field! The cowslip, rose, apple blossom and church! It was some home!

‘We both came for the gold,’ said the king, pointing at the carriage.

They’d hardly noticed the carriage in the noise and chaos.

‘We came for the gold, and somehow never got away,’ said the farmer, who found he could fight.

‘Was there real gold in there?’ asked Cadbury.

‘Oh, very real gold!’ said Cromwell.

‘Well, we both need a new house, so could we have some?’ said Inky.

‘You must now look after each other well,’ said Charles. ‘Can you do that? Like a family close and warm. I had one once.’

‘We do not always look after each other well,’ said Cromwell, shaking his head. ‘Too various for tolerance; we stop talking; stop listening.’

The two men then glanced at each other, bowed deeply to all, and began slowly to fade from view.

‘Goodbye Mr Cromwell,’ said Inky.

‘And goodbye, your Majesty,’ said David, who had always been a monarchist.

And as the two figures lessened, farmer and king, so did the ghostly carriage, with all its ghostly gold.

‘It’s definitely laughter now,’ said Inky, as they listened.

‘I’m not sure,’ said David.

‘I still think its crying,’ said Jane.

‘I think it’s both,’ said the Kid.

‘But you can’t be happy and sad!’ said Inky. ‘That’s ridiculous!’

And his ridiculous words echoed in the hollow silent light.

‘It’s over,’ said the Kid, as she surveyed the scene. ‘It is finished.’

*

It was an odd car journey up the High Street in Patricia’s small run-about. ‘Everything all right in the back there?’ asked Rex, who just wanted Patricia to concentrate on the driving.

‘Fine!’ said Mrs Post, as she kept hold of her dead father, who kept popping out of his wrapping.

‘He was better looking in life, no doubt,’ said Rex pastorally.

‘Always a handsome man, in his way,’ said Mrs Post. ‘Though perhaps the moustache was a mistake.’

Lord Jo had kindly left the wrapping, even though he had stormed off in a temper.

‘And if the police stop us?’ asked Patricia.

‘Fat chance,’ said Mrs Post. ‘There isn’t a copper within a hundred miles!’

‘But if they do,’ persisted Patricia. She didn’t want any ‘police incidents’, and she was the one driving, after all.

‘It’s bizarre,’ said Rex, ‘But not illegal.’

‘You’d better answer any questions,’ said Patricia. ‘I don’t think I could sound so matter of fact about it.’

‘It’s quite simple,’ said Rex. ‘We’re just on our way to the church, where the body will rest overnight, before the service tomorrow.’

Mr Post’s head again popped out of the wrapping, just as the tremors started.

‘What’s happening?’ said Patricia, as the car was jerked up, and then down. ‘I wish Lord Jo was here!’

‘Earth movements beneath us!’ said Rex. ‘And earth movements of a serious nature. A portent perhaps!’

The car jerked again, as this time Mr Post leapt from his wrapping, and sprawled forward and sideways. He now lay stretched across the back seat, with a leg and rotting foot resting on Rex’s shoulder. No one was greatly concerned, however. They had other things on their mind – like life and death!

‘It’s like the ground beneath us falling in!’ said Mrs Post. ‘Is it a judgement?’

For those trapped below, that is certainly how it felt.

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