My favorite Halloween (so far) was the one I spent in England.
I was researching a novel, and my research took me all over the United Kingdom, including to Northern Ireland. My itinerary had me doing half car, half BritRail pass along this circuit, and once I’d crossed back over from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead in Wales, I was driving to get to Stonehenge for Halloween.
The maps weren’t always precise, and I quickly learned ‘A’ or ‘M’ plus one number was a major highway, ‘A’ with two numbers after it was a pretty good-sized street, ‘A’ with three number was a local road, and ‘A’ with four numbers, or ‘B’ with four numbers was, essentially, a one-way cow path with an occasional widening of the road for turning around.
After getting lost once or twice, I approached Stonehenge near dusk, when the tourist facility was closing for the day. Seeing the site is almost anti-climactic; you expect it to be lost in the middle of some vast plain, but in fact Stonehenge is in a field that splits the A303 into the A303 to the left and A344 to the right. At the time, the only security barrier was a three-wire fence just off the road, presumably to keep cars from driving up and stealing the sarsen stones.
I pulled the car over near where I saw people leaving and asked where the entrance was. A security guard came over and told me the grounds were closing for the day. I was not amused. I’d been driving like hell all day, but come up short. I could have returned the next day, but come on: Stonehenge on Halloween. Seeing my disappointment, he glanced around, lowered his voice and said, “Why don’t you come back later on?”
My eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Sure,” he continued, more confident now. “Come back after it gets dark, just stand over there and call my name.” (He told me his name, which I withhold for obvious reasons. Call him ‘Mal’)
“No problem,” I said, shaking his hand. “I’ll come by later.”
I went and checked into my bed-and-breakfast, then had dinner at a pub in Amesbury, and at around nine o’clock I got back in my car and drove to Stonehenge. I almost got lost, because by that time a nice, thick fog had rolled in. In a weird way it made things a little lighter. Fog is never as black as a moonless night in the country. On the other hand, it really shrinks your world. The right side of my brain thought this was the coolest thing ever, but the left side realized I was in a foreign country, driving to meet a total stranger in a foggy place reputed for human sacrifice.
In deference to my left brain, I decided night vision was better than headlights pointing in only one direction. I turned off the headlights, and after a few moments I got out and started towards the fence.
Down the road, I saw a light approaching and heard some giggles. I really didn’t believe it was anything to worry about, but just in case, I stood ready to do…whatever Donovan Graham (my protagonist) would do when faced with murderous cultists at a site of supernatural energy.
“Where are the big rocks at?”
A group of five teenagers came walking towards me like zombies, in make-up and with a Chinese lantern at the end of a long stick. I was a little surprised; at that time, England didn’t really get into the commercialization of Halloween the way America does.
I pointed back the way they’d come. “That way. You already passed them.”
They turned with drunken humor and headed off. I returned to the side of the road. “Mal!”
From across the field of mist, a lone circle of light bounced towards me. “Tom?”
The light drew closer—it was a flashlight in Mal’s hand. “Come on, then. Just hop the fence.”
The idea of doing this makes me laugh to this day. I did, and he took me on a private tour of the site. The highlight was when he brought me through the outer circle of sarsen stones, inside the bluestones, and to the heart of the circle, inside the horseshoe of sarsen trilithons.
“That’s where I take a nap when I get tired,” he indicated towards a sheltered hollow.
I was hardly listening. Inside the circle, I felt an energy unlike any I’d ever felt. It wasn’t invasive; in fact, what made it so noticeable was its utter passivity. I felt a total calm that I hadn’t felt even just outside the stone circle. Despite the suspicions of some scholars, I got no sense of violence or bloodshed, not even by the ‘Slaughter Stone’, named because when rainwater pools on it, it sometimes looks red like blood (or, red like infused with rusted iron ore).
When Stonehenge is open, visitors aren’t allowed within twenty or so yards of the stones. Apparently, when people could go where I stood, too many wanted ‘just a little souvenir’ and would chip off a piece of sarsen or bluestone. I didn’t want to be one of them, but I wanted something, so I scraped off a couple of branches of lichen growing on one of the trilithons. It now sits on my shelf with my Loch Ness water, my water bottle from climbing the Snake Path to Masada, and various stones I’ve acquired on my travels.
Mal said nothing when I did this, and he escorted me back across the field to the road when I’d seen everything. I thanked him, slipped him a few pounds, and returned to my B&B, driving slowly to fully enjoy my situation.
Strange postscript: the next morning, I read in the local paper that at around 3 AM, someone else had jumped the fence and knocked Mal unconscious. He eventually called for help and was taken to a hospital, but I wonder to this day—was it those kids with the lantern? If so, I may have dodged a sacrificial knife by misleading them…
Happy Halloween, everyone!
THOMAS MORRISSEY is the creator of Donovan Graham, whose first adventure, FAUSTUS RESURRECTUS, was published in April 2012 by Night Shade Books. His work has also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and in the award-winning anthology BROOKLYN NOIR. He is currently residing in Hackensack, New Jersey, working on the next Donovan Graham thriller.
TODAY’S GIVEWAY: Thomas Morrissey is offering one paperback copy of Faustus Resurrectus. To enter post a comment in the section below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and put HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.
A review of Faustus Resurrectus: http://violininavoid.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/review-of-faustus-resurrectus-by-thomas-morrissey/
Read an excerpt from Faustus Resurrectus:
AFTER THE CEREMONY
The sharpest tool we had was a bottle opener.
The big man blinked, uncomprehending.
How did this happen?
The full moon added to the light of the bonfire, illuminating bodies scattered where they tried to escape. None was in one piece.
The big man took one aimless step then another, refusing to absorb the meaning of his surroundings.
We were supposed to be giving thanks…
Business at the commune had been killer these past few months: personal care items were up, the microbrew had gained some popularity and, best of all, the summer’s crop of White Widow had topped out at twenty-three and a half percent THC. It was while he and Greta were smoking some of the fruits of that first harvest, lying naked in bed on a beautiful summer morning, that she’d come up with the idea.
Mother Gaia has shown us such bounty. We should offer our energy to Her, to give thanks and praise to Her glory.
Best energy I know, he’d replied, is sex.
When they’d set up that morning for the orgy, the sweet summer grass had tickled their ankles. Oak trees spread green-leafed shade over them, and even the moss coating the stone hollow where they’d set up the bonfire had been bright chartreuse. Greta had said the vitality was a good sign.
Someone expressed reservations about messing with weird religions.
This isn’t ‘weird’, Greta had said. We’re all about positive energy.
Now the green was gone, withered, freezer burned to death on the first of August. The foliage had shrunk to husks, trees twisted and gnarled. He tried to understand how this could be.
What happened to him?
He couldn’t stop shaking.
‘I’m gonna come back for you. Mister Fizz made me bigger and stronger than you.’
Beneath the bloody horror he saw Greta’s face. “Baby…” he whispered, extending a trembling hand.
Her head rolled to the side, exposing the jagged edge that nearly severed it from her body…
The next thing he knew he was fumbling through the pockets of the jeans he’d stripped off hours—years—ago. Drying blood made his grip sticky, but he managed to untangle his cell phone.
“9-1-1 Operator. What is the emergency?”
“You have to come! They’re all dead!”
“Calm down, sir. Who is dead? Where are you?”
“Blue Moon Bay. In a field, about a half mile northwest from the commune. The Churner’s Commune. You have to come now!”
The thing had burst from the heart of the black bonfire, an icy white lance that blinded him when it struck. His stomach had gone numb; he didn’t remember, didn’t want to remember, anything beyond that.
“The Churner’s Commune?”
“Hurry! I think…I think I killed them all.”