The heath appeared to go on forever. Winds coursed through its barren contours, making a hollow sound. Although ending in distant hills, wild blackberry bushes and clumps of trees, the landscape was otherwise remarkably flat. Only an imposing oval earth mound broke up the undistinguished contours. At the mound’s top was a ring of blue flecked stones, each five foot high, shining darkly when the sun directly struck their polished surfaces.
A flock of crows flew up into the sky as Celia and John crossed the road. Their croaking calls broke the morning calm. John had been fascinated by Bluestone Mound since he was a small boy, when, even back then, it had drawn him with mesmeric energy.
“I hav’n’t been here for five years now.” John said as they walked through the mixture of shrub and bramble. “I’d forgotten how strange it all was.”
Climbing over the style, they stood together hand in hand studying the scene.
‘The home of my ancestors.’ Celia said with a smile.
‘Or mine.’ John responded. He looked down at her, wondering joyfully about their last few days together, their hotel room, visiting their home town like eager tourists, strolling by the sea and watching it break onto the scarred, pebble covered beach. Marriage, he decided, was good.
‘You may be right.’
They went through the old wooden gate and ventured into the fields, avoiding the plants where possible. Hand in hand they strolled towards the mound. When they reached it, Celia took out a blanket from her bag and laid it on the grass. He opened his rucksack and took out wine and glasses. A breeze flowed over them adding to the calm of the scene.
He filled the glasses.
‘When I was very young….’ He began.
‘Ah, the old ‘when I was very young’.’ She teased. ‘I know exactly what’s coming.’
He ignored her.
‘I would come here alone. I’d sit on this mound for hours looking out at the land. Sometimes I would sit in the circle feeling the stone’s power.’
‘Until night?’ She grinned. She knew the story by heart.
He laughed. ‘Sometimes.’
He downed his wine in two gulps. He was no connoisseur, rejecting such a pompous idea. He drank several bottles of red wine a week, cheap acidy supermarket brands.
‘I’d study the stones. I’d think of the ancient Britons who probably built this. I did a bit of research a few years ago. Some archaeologists reckon they predate Stonehenge.’ He tapped the grass beside him. ‘I’d wonder what the builders were like. How they lived. What they looked like.’
‘Probably like you and me, just dirtier and smellier.’ Celia said. Her laugh spread across the empty landscape.
He laughed too.
He continued: ‘Why did they drag the stones here from Cheshire?’
She looked them over. They were rough and blue veined. Their edges sharp.
‘Do you think they sacrificed people here?’ She asked him.
His eyes suddenly acquired a wild look, which, scrutinising the stones, she did not notice. In her reverie, she imagined screaming wretches being dragged here and swiftly killed to appease some vengeful dark deity.
‘The ancient Britons, your ancestors as you imagine, were a peaceful people.’ He added quickly. ‘They turned the land into what it is now. They cut down the forests, planting corn. ‘
‘Peaceful, like me?’ She asked quietly laying a small hand on his chest.
He kissed her forehead.
The odd feelings descended upon him again. They always did at some point whenever he visited the mound. Luckily he was able to shake them off. At such times he felt disorientated. When he moved away from the stones, these feelings declined or disappeared.
‘Let’s move towards the edge. We can watch the sunset from there.’ He said quietly to her.
She nodded and they stood up and moved to where the hill fell away towards bushes and silver birch. He put his arm around her as the sun moved slowly behind the trees, the clouds suffused by red and black patterns.
Celia escaped his hold and stood up. She twirled letting the dying sun fall on every part of her.
‘The ancient world must have been a paradise of sorts, before we arrived with our cars, planes and wars.’ She insisted. ‘We spoiled everything.’ She moved slowly back towards the stones, flinging her arms high and wide. ‘We spoiled everything.’
He noted the abrupt change in her voice. She began to visibly shake in the half-light. Dropping her glass, she laid one hand upon the nearest stone. She began to convulse. A force appeared to be moving through her. He jumped up but she waved him away.
‘Yes,’ she began. Her voice was cracked and strained. ‘These stones were once for religious purposes.’
She pulled her hand away again.
‘This entire area was.’ She moaned.
Suddenly she sank to her knees.
‘You ok, Celia?’ He asked. ‘You haven’t drunk that much!’ He laughed nervously.
‘No. But just for a brief moment, I thought I understood clearly why this mound was here. I saw the landscape differently. I somehow understood it. For a few seconds, I was part of the terrible things that went on here.’ She sat down beside him again. ‘Oh, give me another glass. I need it!’
John poured her another drink, which she downed quickly. After, she took his hand.
‘It was such a strange feeling.’
‘As if you are being taken over?’
She stared out towards the horizon again. She did not want him to see the agonised look in her eyes.
‘Can we go?’ She asked. ‘Now!’
‘If you want to.’
He knew exactly how she felt. He had experienced the same so many times in the past, when alien and sickening ideas had overwhelmed his senses. Celia was the first to admit to sharing that experience.
He picked up his rucksack and they walked towards the gate.
‘I had such weird thoughts. I don’t like this place.’ She continued.
He glanced behind him. He saw a shadow descend, enveloping the stones. Smaller shadows poured out of it and flitted over the entire human construction. For a moment the breeze became a protesting wind.
‘We won’t come here again.’ He said quietly.
John returned alone only a few days later. He sat on the hill’s rounded apex contemplating the falling sun, its rays streaking outward as it succumbed. From that day, he returned at least once a week.
Celia didn’t speak about her experience again. In fact, she put it down to the wine and the onset of night. At the end of the month she returned to university and soon became absorbed in her course. Sometimes, when under stress, she revisited the mound, tossing and turning, the sheets in the morning wet with perspiration. Later, she would once again put the experience to the back of her mind.
John and Celia saw less of each other during the months before her university broke up. In the final week she gathered her clothes together, slung everything into a suitcase, and got the first train back to John. Waiting at home in the flat for her, when she arrived John had dinner ready. When she walked in she was faced with rows of candles exuding rich perfume and champagne and glasses on the dining table. The powerful smell of chicken cacciatore came from the kitchen.
They ate and went up to the bedroom.
John took time off from his teaching job and they went to the beach for a few days. It was surprisingly good weather. Together they explored the coves and cliffs the area was most famous for. They made love whenever they could, in their hotel or outside during the night. With reluctance they returned home.
A few days later, John went out one night to the hill. Celia was concerned by his disappearance and failure to return until the early hours. When he did it again after three days she became deeply upset and confronted him.
Shocked by her anger, John sat at the kitchen table staring at the floor. He shook his head repeatedly.
‘I was at the mound.’
‘What?’ She responded. ‘Why? Why were you there?’
‘I don’t know, Celia. I seem to be constantly drawn there. I don’t understand why. I can’t explain why.’
She sat down beside him, gently taking his hand.
‘Stop going, John. There’s something very strange there.’ She laid her hand on his shoulder. ‘Tell me, what draws you?’
He continued to shake his head.
‘I do not know.’
‘Whatever is there John, it’s sinister. Promise me you’ll stop going. Promise me you will not go near the mound unless I’m with you.’
‘I promise.’ He replied, smiling at last.
This time she squeezed his hand.
He knew that he would go there again, but he felt that he should reassure her. He loathed seeing her upset. The stones’ grasp on him was firm and unrelenting. He could not understand nor stop its attraction.
For an entire month, he did not go there. By the time Celia was due to return to the university he felt its power tugging at him once again. Like a reoccurring, powerful addiction it constantly filled his day to day thoughts. A week before her leaving date, his resistance broke. On that day, Celia went into Dorchester for dinner with her parents. He knew she would probably stay overnight at their huge Tudor style detached five bedroom home enjoying the plush fruits of their labour.
At first he decided on an early night, with no thought of going out let alone into the countryside. As he sat, drink in hand, watching a particularly excruciating reality show, eyes glazing over with boredom, involuntarily he rose and put on his jacket. He walked out of his front door with a blank stare, started his car and headed north. Within half an hour he was at Bluestone Mound.
Climbing up, he once again sat close to the stones. He hugged his knees as the sun descended, leaving an orange glow over the distant tree tops. He barely moved. As evening came, the stones seemed to vibrate. He laid his head down upon his knees and began daydreaming. He stayed that way until darkness enveloped him.
The scene changed. The night thickened. He was suddenly in a different time, the landscape significantly altered. By the sun’s position in the pristine blue sky, it was afternoon. Although the circle was still there, in the very middle was a black block of well-worked stone. Around Bluestone Mound were ever widening circles of fresh wooden stakes. At each compass point was a head, stuck firmly and securely on. The eyes of each disembodied head were pulled open with what he later discovered was animal sinew. The skin had been preserved, probably tanned. He stood up shaking with fear.
In the distance a line of hooded, masked individuals headed his way. Each was carrying an animal head aloft. John rushed down the other side of the mound, hiding in the bushes. From there he moved through the undergrowth to see events better. He noticed the half-naked tattooed men and women behind the hooded figures, their hands tied together, heads hanging disconsolately down. Warriors carrying bronze tipped spears marched alongside. The procession halted before the closest circle of wooden stakes. The hooded figures chanted briefly then began climbing up the hill. Once at the top they each selected a stone to stand behind and immediately began to chant again.
It was a beautiful, horrific sound. The circumstances added to its sinister quality. The high voices grew into a tortuous crescendo and, as the priests placed their hands on the rocks, became a guttural wail. The high priest, identified by stag horns tied to his head, screamed, arms outstretched, pointing to the prisoners. Two of the half-naked, brawny armed guards grabbed three and lead them to the top of the mound. They were placed in the middle of the stone circle. They made no attempt to flee. More incantations were sung and then the leader produced a long flint knife long discoloured by blood. The prisoners showed no emotion.
The incantations continued for a further half-an-hour. The sky clouded over and a wind built up. Suddenly, the high priest brought the knife down on the first prisoner’s neck. He fell forward with blood spurting from the wound. Such was the force of the blood that it sprayed across the entire circle. The other hooded figures began hacking off the dead man’s head and limbs. Each they tossed outside the circle. The leader struck the second man with the same result.
This process was continued until the stones and top of the mound were covered in blood and dismembered human parts. John threw up into the bushes. Before him, the menacing figures responded to his gagging sounds, becoming silent and still. Suddenly, they all turned and looked in his direction.
John became absolutely still.
The high priest gestured and the warriors at the base of the mound began moving away and searching through the undergrowth. They probed the bushes with their spears. John tried to slip away.
A warrior noticed the shadow thrown by John’s crouching form and called out. He and the other warriors rushed towards him. John, seeing his danger, leapt up to run. They were quicker and fitter than him and his years of fast food and watching TV told against him. Soon, he’d been thrown to the ground with an array of bronze spearheads digging into his back. They dragged him to his feet, pointing in curiosity at the pale colour of his skin, the softness and shine of his hair, and the strange unworldly smell that poured from both his flesh and clothes. They tugged and pushed him until he was back at the mound. Once there, they hauled him up and threw him into the carnage. He was immediately eye ball to eye ball with a severed head. He clutched at his stomach as his recently half-digested food began to rise again.
The High Priest bent over him and began pulling at his clothes. The priests uttered groaning sounds in unison and the warriors stripped him, throwing his ripped clothing away from the mound. He now stood there between the stones naked, his feet in the blood and remains of several sacrificed men. The High Priest stretched out a hand and grasped his shrunken genitals. The hood fell away to reveal a woman’s features. John looked around and realised all the priestly figures were female.
The priestess fingered his genitals until his penis, even in such a terrifying situation, became enlarged. As it projected outward before him and directly at her, she reached for her knife.
He awoke on the mound in the stone circle naked. He was shivering. The night had turned cold. He went in search of his clothes, found them, dressed and hurriedly left the field.
Celia called him up the following morning. At ten he was still at home, still suffering from shock and sneezing violently from the effects of a newly acquired cold. The tension in his voice bothered her. She told him she’d come over immediately. He thankfully agreed.
Within the hour she was at his flat preparing a broth and slipping lemsip powder into a mug of hot water. She fed him half the broth then gave him the lemsip. She slept there that day even though she was due back at the university. The next morning his cold had got worse. She stayed all that day to nurse him.
Going in and out of delirium, he sporadically spoke of human sacrifice and murderous priestesses. She found it all disturbing, but forgot it quickly enough.
Stimulated by his meandering fever-driven stories, she vowed that on the next warm night that would go back to Bluestone Mound. Obviously it was there that John had had his nightmare. Also, she too was drawn back to the mound. Her own dreams were filled with images of the standing stones and of shapeless shadows that flitted amongst them.
Once he was well again she insisted that they go back to the fields. Terrified as he now was, he agreed. The pull of the stones was just too great.
It was a sunny Saturday and the neighbours were outside in their gardens tending flowers or sunbathing. Celia prepared John Welsh rarebit, a breakfast he favoured. She poured milk into a glass. Both were waiting for him when he arrived, fully-dressed, in the kitchen. Together, afterwards, they made sandwiches for later in the day.
It was afternoon before they left, taking the car out of town and towards the open fields. With thrilling trepidation they climbed into the field. A light breeze glided through their clothes.
‘Perhaps here we can conceive a child.’ Celia remarked mischievously.
John turned to her and smiled.
‘Sounds good to me.’
She clasped his hand tightly, smiling back.
They climbed up to the top of Bluestone Mound. Standing before the stones she said softly:
‘I understand.’ He replied.
They spread a sheet and sat outside of the stone circle. They stared silently at the reddening horizon for an hour saying little. Eventually, he pulled her to him. In the failing light they began to kiss. His hand moved to her breasts, caressing them before undoing her blouse. In a moment, both were naked. She stood up, guiding him into the circle. Once there they lay down again.
A darkening mist descended upon her. Her face went rigid; her eyes became staring and blank. His hand was on her vagina and he did not notice her sudden transformation. In her mind, she saw herself amongst the robed and hooded figures who sacrificed on the mound. She saw her arm raise and fall as she stabbed each victim through the neck. She wanted to scream.
Beside her, John screamed instead. She threw his severed penis out of the circle and began screaming too.