Simon Parke  
Click here for Abbot Peter Click here for Simon's blog Click here for Simon's books Click here for Simon's consultancy Click here for Simon's retreats
 
      Cover of The Journey Home   Simon Parke with his latest book, The Indecent Death of a Madam   Cover of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover
 

Mice with wings

CHAPTER 19

In the last episode, David took the money on the door, the tea urn fused and Inky came up trumps with his bike races, saving Rex from Lord Jo. But then Lord Jo needed saving! – collapsing in absolute agony. While Mr Johnson whisked him towards hospital, an investigation started into the disappearing cheese.

In any other year, the Winter Fayre would have been remembered for the events surrounding Lord Jo. His dramatic collapse to the floor while speaking with Rex; his groaning, writhing body being assessed by Dr Hafiz, and the hasty and desperate arrangements for his transport to hospital, with the ladies’ coach becoming an ambulance – well, it all made the 30 pence entrance fee look something of a bargain!

Everyone declared it a tragedy, of course, but to be honest, sometimes there’s nothing quite as good as a tragedy on a dull winter’s day, when you haven’t won anything on the tombola. (Ironically, Rex the vicar won a bottle of champagne, when everyone knew he was teetotal. Parish life!)

Yet in years to come, it wasn’t Lord Jo who was first remembered when the Fayre was discussed over a pint or sweet sherry in the Dog and Whistle. They didn’t say: ‘Do you remember the time Lord Jo collapsed at the Fayre?’

No, they said something much more alarming: ‘It was like a judgment on us all!’ they said. ‘Like one of those Old Testament plagues, it was! I was right scared, and no mistake!’

Yes, when Rex advertised ‘Much, much more!’ on the sign for the Winter Fayre, he had spoken more truth than he knew.

*

You will remember that Dr Hafiz was engaged in a little amateur sleuthery, focused round the mysterious plate of cheese cubes – a plate that seemed to have arrived in the porch shortly before Lord Jo’s arrival, and disappear shortly after. Who had put it there? Who had removed it? Clearly it was someone who knew Lord Jo absolutely loved cheese.

This was a situation which cried out for a series of fully equipped interview rooms, each with one of those recording machines, and a quick-witted cop posing the questions. But did such facilities and personnel exist in Misty Longings? I don’t think so! Scotland Yard it wasn’t!

And where were the local police when needed? Well, it was true they were nowhere near the scene of the crime, having left the building some time ago.

‘Typical!’ said a number of the ladies. ‘Form filling bureaucracy is killing detection!’

For once, however, they weren’t actually filling in useless forms, but actively pursuing ongoing enquiries. Unable to find Mrs Post at the Fayre, they were now down at Cromwell’s, knocking firmly on the front door.

‘Mrs Post? Mrs Post??’

There was no reply.

‘Mrs Post! Mrs Post!!??’

There was still no reply.

‘Mrs Post??? It’s the police!!! Open up!!

Again, there was no reply, because Mrs Post, sensing bother, was hiding in the church toilet.

‘I really do not need the police this afternoon,’ she said, as she sat there. This was fair enough in a way, but there was a large and desperate queue forming outside.

*

And then it happened, and quite without warning. Somewhere above them all, there was a great crash in the tower, a whoosh, and suddenly, the church was darkness, madness and terror. Some screamed and some were too frightened – who could blame them? Up above was the most enormous swarm of bats ever seen in Misty Longings – or probably the world.

‘Bats!’ cried Inky, ‘1100 species worldwide! But only 0.5 per cent carry rabies!’

This made people scream all the more.

‘They’re a symbol of evil!’ cried one of the ladies from Deep Longings.

‘They’re a symbol of the night!’ cried another.

‘What have we done?’ cried a third.

It was like the Old Testament plague of locusts; like at the crucifixion, when a great darkness came over the whole world. For now, a great darkness came over the whole church. Inky tried to use his Trivial Pursuit knowledge to calm people: ‘Only three species of bat suck blood!’ he said, but just then, the first one got caught in someone’s hair, and Inky’s voice was drowned out by the communal hysteria.

‘It’s in my hair!’ said one.

‘It’s scratching at my neck!’ said another.

‘They’re mice with wings!’ said a third.

‘Careful how you treat them!’ cried Inky. ‘In the UK, all bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Acts. Even disturbing a bat or its roost can lead to a heavy fine!’

The church was empty within a minute, and most ran all the way home. The coach-less ladies made for the Dog and Whistle, and started on the gin.

Only Rex remained in the building, with a weeping Dr Hafiz. Three bats had got trapped in his hair – and so he had taken his hair off.

‘Yes, it was a Persian rug,’ he said. ‘A small vanity.’

‘You look very well without it,’ said Rex, for whom it was not a pressing concern at present.

‘Do you think it can be saved?’ he said, handing the hair to Rex.

‘I’m afraid it’s pretty far gone,’ said Rex, with some distaste at the furry object in his hands. ‘The bats were obviously in an extreme state of panic. It is full of poo and all sorts.’

Just then, Mrs Post came out of the toilet. She couldn’t believe the sight before her eyes. Where was everybody? Why was everything such a mess? And what on earth did Dr Hafiz look like?

‘What on earth do you look like, Dr Hafiz! You’re, well – bald!’

*

David said that if that was all, he’d probably go home now, and Rex thought that was probably best. ‘No point in standing on the door when there’s no one coming in.’

‘Good Fayre, though, Vicar. Generally speaking.’

‘A good Fayre, David, except for a possible death and a plague of bats.’

‘Every event has its unique character.’

‘And this one was uniquely terrible.’

‘Shall I go too then, Mr Priest?’ asked Inky. ‘I don’t think the children will be back here for a very long time – if ever. They were scared witless!’

‘Yes, you go home, Inky. And by the way, when I said it was uniquely terrible, I wasn’t referring to you particularly. You did – well, you did very well.’

But as Rex went back into the church, and stood alone amid the debris, he knew he hadn’t done at all well; hadn’t done well at all.

‘And then Judas went and hanged himself,’ was the only verse that came to mind.

More of The Village

 

 
 

Picture postcard of The Village

More of The Village