Taylor & Graham
Det-Sergeant Brenna Taylor and her boss, Det-Chief Inspector Geoffrey Graham, are called out with the rest of the CID team to investigate a dead body found on the moor, dismembered in the fashion of a Muslim sacrificial killing.
Darkness had claimed the valley and was now reaching out in lengthening, murky fingers to the hilltops. Barely visible above the farthest hill, a sickle-shaped moon rode low in the ashen sky, trapped in the leafy branches of willows growing in clumps around the perimeter of the stone circle. It was a remnant from Druid times, many believed. And even now many avoided the area after sunset, acknowledging in private what they scoffed at in public ⎯ that the Old Magic still lingered in the stones, the spirits still inhabited the trees. Especially when night embraced the circle. In another hour the darkness would be complete, having swallowed any distinguishing mark on the moor or in the village lying snug against the winding road beyond the purple expanse. Dark but for the dots of fire that were even now pricking the gloom.
I glanced at the sky to judge if I could afford to linger a bit longer, search out another owl or whippoorwill. But I did not want to be trapped on the moors at night. I had passed the Seven Sisters stone circle earlier in the day while traipsing across the heathery land in search of birds, filling my soul with the peace of the outdoors. Even in the reassuring light of morning the circle had exuded a sense that bothered me, the feel that something evil or other-worldly lived there, among the grasses and pines and rocks. I had no wish to be caught there in the dark.
That malevolent sense, evidently, did not bother the group standing in front of a small fire. I glanced their way as I passed silently in the thickening dusk. Apparently they were there to celebrate the Night and to continue the custom. After all, it was the time of year to set fires. Large, barn-consuming sized fires on hilltops, or small, discreet blazes on the moors, nestled in hollows or at the base of ancient standing stones. These they kindled where dozens ⎯ hundreds ⎯ had been birthed before, the charred stumps of wood and sooted stone faces the only remains of the myriad celebrations. For fires were the custom on May Day evening ⎯ the beginning of summer, a time to drive cattle and sheep onto new grass for grazing, a time to seek luck and blessing.
But they were not here as herdsmen or come to lay rowan or whitethorn branches as a home blessing. Something ⎯ my cop’s sixth sense? ⎯ whispered that. Someone poked the fire and the flames shot heavenward. One silhouetted figure reached toward another equally indistinguishable shape and somewhere in the obscurity a laugh erupted. I hurried past them, glad of the somber shadows sitting on the land, overcome with the unexplainable need to remain hidden.
Later, in my room at the bed-and-breakfast, I sat on the window seat, my forehead resting against the cool windowpane, and gazed out at the murky landscape. Stanton Moor, the Seven Sisters, the village road had all ceded into Nothingness under the blackness of night. The bonfire had dwindled to a speck; the rest of the village lay quiet, dark and sleeping. I listened for a time to an owl calling from the shadows near the pine, took off my robe, and slid into bed, the man’s strange laugh still echoing in my mind.
copyright 2009 Jo A. Hiestand