The May Queen

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The recent Beltane festivals around the country reveal a desire in some to restore a real or imagined pagan past. Something we can all put our own significance and spin on. So this is my version of a pagan gathering in a quiet English town. I hope you all had a happy Beltane and the goddess smiles upon you during the coming summer.

Submitted: May 05, 2019

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Submitted: May 05, 2019

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The May Queen.

 

He was without doubt the most handsome man in the town. He kept his hair long and the shiny tresses poured down his back in chestnut waves. His eyes were dark brown and expressive. His smile was like sunshine and he had a quiet demeanour. All who met him were charmed by his manners and helpful nature. The old women who remembered him as a child had always referred to him as a little ray of sunshine. He had spent his whole life being admired and by some women positively adored, but it had never gone to his head and he had as yet to take a wife. He was rarely seen in the company of a woman at all, which had led to speculation about whether he preferred men. However no evidence of any lovers had been unearthed by the local gossip factory and this only added to the mystery in this small town that loved nothing more than putting its neighbours under the microscope. He turned heads as he walked along the High Street to his job as manager of the local feed merchants. It was a busy place at the heart of a large farming community and he worked hard. He had the respect of his colleagues. He was known as a good local sportsman too, with the soccer team in the winter and all rounder for the local cricket club in the summer. The old women whispered that surely he must marry soon. Such a prize could not go on being a bachelor forever. One day Adam must find his Eve.

Trudy woke up to the sound of the ever insistent alarm clock. It was six o'clock again and another full day beckoned. Her partner snored on. His jobless state had gone on for almost a year now and compounded by his idleness in the house was starting eat away at her. He was messy, but seemed blinkered to the fact. She tidied up before work, the dishes in the dish washer, the laundry in the machine and the kitchen clean. Somehow in the nine hours she was absent from the small cottage they shared he managed to make it look as though a tornado had swept through it. Increasingly now by the time she returned home, he was already in the local pub spending money he hadn't really got. As the house was hers she really was coming close to telling him to go. She was after all a professional woman, the local solicitor, and a drunken, idle partner was not the kind of dead weight she wanted to be carrying through life.

However as she looked out of the window she could see a beautiful early spring day and in the field behind her house some of the locals were already hard at work making preparations for the coming May Day festival. It also included the Beltane tradition of burning the Wicker Man. He was now a good twenty feet high and at the furthest reach away from her house. She had gone to purchase tickets to the festival the week before from the feed merchants, but Adam had insisted she have them for nothing. He was a leading light in the organisation of the event and said as she would have the inconvenience of the noise right against her property it was only right she should have a free pass. She thought this a very kind gesture, especially as she was a relative newcomer to the town. It was her first summer there but she had been welcomed from day one and the business had got off to a good start. He suggested that perhaps she should enter for the May Queen competition. Trudy laughed the idea off , but something in his expression had seemed very serious.

Shrugging this off she returned home to tell Simon the news about the free tickets. He mumbled about it all being claptrap and just an excuse to get pissed on rough cider. She pointed out it would probably suit him very well as an evening out then, seeing as his recent grip on sobriety had been tenuous at times. This was met by a brooding silence and door slamming as he headed once again to the local pub.

Two weeks later it was May the first and the day of the Beltane festival. The activity started early that morning and as she drew back her curtains she saw Adam out in the field. He looked up and waved at her as though he had almost been expecting her to open the curtains at that very moment. The dazzling smile made her smile back. She had been so absorbed in her own affairs since moving there she hadn't taken the time to really notice him. Now she had, a little shiver ran down her spine. There was something very deep and mysterious about him, underneath the perfect male beauty. She turned away and called out to Simon. It was nine o'clock. Time to get up and have something to eat before they headed to the field next door. She followed the previous nights trail of mess that he had left after she went to bed. Beer cans and dirty plates were around the lounge and his clothes dumped on the bathroom floor instead of in the laundry basket. She could have been annoyed, but today she let it wash over her. She wanted to be in a positive frame of mind so that she could join the locals and many visitors and have a nice day.

Simon finally appeared in the kitchen looking rough and frankly not smelling too good either.

“Simon, you have got time for a shower you know.” she said.

“I don't want one. I want some coffee and then we can go and look at this ….thing over the field.” he replied and waved his hand dismissively.

“Don't spoil the day with one of your moods. We can get to know some of the local people. You may even find something in the way of a job opportunity if you network with people. Shut up in here or the pub all the time you aren't making the right contacts.”

“Are you gonna nag all day?” he snapped.

Trudy felt her temper rise and all attempts to rein it in were fruitless.

“I'm keeping you at the moment! All the mortgage, all the bills, every scrap of food you eat is down to me! You live like a pig in here and do nothing to help. You're lucky I don't nag, as you put it, 24/7. Now today , you can show me a little respect by getting washed, putting some clean clothes on and coming out without the attitude. Or you can pack your bags and piss off! The choice is yours Simon, frankly I don't care either way.”

Simon was not used to the normally reserved Trudy letting her anger get the better of her. He was in danger of losing his meal ticket and decided for today he should apologise and shape up.

Even once he was smartened up she remained cool towards him. In the field he sat beside her as they watched the local school children dance around the maypole and sing songs to the crowd. Various events entertained the crowd throughout the day. The dog display teams, the sheep racing and the birds of prey that a local sanctuary had brought in. Adam was involved in that particular display. The sight of him holding a magnificent golden eagle on his arm left every woman in the crowd open mouthed. His long hair was plaited at the sides and he wore skin tight jeans with long boots over the top. His blue shirt was open nearly half way down showing his chest. The mighty bird spread its wings and flew off, circled the field and came down to land on Trudy. She was shocked, but felt that to panic would scare the bird. It hopped from the floor next to her on to the straw bale she was sitting on and contemplated her with its gaze. Just for a moment they made eye contact and it once again spread the huge wings and flew back to Adam. It landed on the leather gauntlet he wore on his left arm and he laughed and pointed at her.

“He likes you!” he mouthed and carried on with the display team.

Simon had been frozen with fear when the bird landed by them. Its menacing beady eyes and seven foot wing span were not something he had wanted a close encounter with. Yet Trudy had remained cool throughout. Once there was a time when she would have turned to him for protection, but that time seemed to have passed. The day wore on and true to form Simon had started drinking. The local cider and beer was more palatable than he thought and after five or six pints he was feeling quite light headed. Trudy had a pint of cider, but in her usual way she was making one drink last for hours. Perhaps, he thought, if she drank more she wouldn't notice his consumption. As the sun began to sink it came to the time to gather around the Wicker Man and choose the May Queen. The old vicar, Reverend Hughes, took to a podium beside the effigy and announced that the Beltane festivities would commence. A procession of drummers, painted in wode and wearing very little came from the woods four of them carrying a sedan chair. This was apparently the throne for the May Queen to be crowned in. Trudy noticed that the vicar was almost running to get away from the crowd and headed towards the church as fast as his elderly legs would go. It was left to the pub landlord to get up and make the rest of the announcements.

“Happy Beltane to you all!” he yelled “The May Queen this year is none other than our local legal advisor Trudy West!”

Despite her protestations that she had never even entered a competition a group of women came and carried her away. She called out to Simon, but he was finding it hilarious and was frankly too drunk to be of much use anyway. After some ten minutes during which the drummers performed to the crowd the women reappeared with Trudy, now dressed in white and covered in garlands of flowers. She looked beautiful as they helped her into the sedan chair and put a further garland around her head. She was lifted up and paraded around the assembled crowd, who knelt before her. They were silent, and Simon now decided this was all starting to get a little intense and just a little weird. The chair was set down again in front of the towering effigy and flames began to spring up from its feet. The drummers started to play again and the women pulled the robes from Trudy leaving her naked, light up by the flames and holding her hands up towards the sky. Her eyes were glazed over and Simon was suddenly sober. He made a run towards her only to be grabbed by a group of the local men and held back. Adam reappeared, this time as naked as Trudy was and took her by the hand. She went willingly into the woods with him and Simon yelled her name as she disappeared into the darkness. Simon squirmed and tried to lash out, but he was held down and short ropes were tied to his hands and feet. Once on the floor, the women who had brought Trudy out to the crowd turned their attention to him. They cut off his clothes with knives and with the ropes on his limbs carried him towards the now ferocious fire. The heat was overwhelming but didn't seem to bother them at all.

“Sisters!” one of them called “We have here a man with no respect for his woman. A man who is all take and no give. Our sister Trudy is a Queen among us, as tonight she lies with the King of the Forest. A man who will always treat her with love and respect and give her what she desires. What shall we do this miserable drunk who dares to call himself her lover?”

A cry came up from the assembled women of “Cleanse him!” over and over again. The four strongest of the women took hold of the ropes and started to swing him backwards and forwards and finally he felt himself hurtling through the air into the massive wall of flames that now consumed the Wicker Man. He remembered screaming and then nothing.

Simon woke up freezing cold. He coughed as the last smoke rising from the embers of the fire caught the back of his throat. He felt a boot kick him and looked up to see Adam standing over him. The early morning mist was making Simons skin damp and he was covered in goose pimples. Adam threw a blanket at him and told him to get up.

“What happened here? Where is Trudy?” he asked.

“Now you worry about her!” Adam snorted “You didn't worry about her last night when you were off your face on cider did you?”

The images came back to his baffled mind of the fire, and Adam taking Trudy into the trees. He was about to start yelling when Adam put his hand up.

“Simon, Simon......last night, whatever you think you saw....it was all true. But you have had the added benefit of being cleansed in the fire. It has given you a kind of rebirth and another chance. Now if you decide to start behaving like a man instead of a leech you will never have to go through that again. The choice is yours. If you don't change you will be cast into the fire next Beltane and you will burn. We respect the women in our community. Our mothers and our sisters care for us and we are the privileged ones. But in return we work hard for them. Your woman is worthy of your respect and deserves to be looked after. And now she is going to have a child, you need to earn some money. Come and see me at the depot at three this afternoon. We will see what skills you have and how they can be put to use. Remember, she is the Queen this year. The eagle chose her and we must all respect his choice. Now go home, get clean and be the man she deserves.”

“But you slept with her! Why should I do anything you say?” Simon retorted weakly.

“Because every person in this town is watching you Simon. Put a foot wrong and I will know.”

Adam walked away into the morning mist, and more than that seemed to become part of it and disappear. Simon made his way back to the cottage and let himself in using the key under the flower pot by the back door. It was still very early. He went to the downstairs shower room and looked at his face , black and sooty, but miraculously not burned. The hot shower washed the black dirt from his body and warmed him through. He found some clothes, having no idea where his from the previous night had gone. The washing machine light flashed, so he took the clothes out and hung them in the garden. He emptied the dishwasher and swept the kitchen floor that was covered in wilted flowers. By this time it was almost six o'clock and he knew Trudy's alarm would be going off. He made coffee and put this on a tray with her cereal and took it upstairs. She was in their bed, sleeping, but with a faint smile still on her lips. As she woke, she was surprised to see him already up and dressed. She told him she had the strangest dream. He told her not to worry, it was all going to be fine. He had a job interview and he was going to change as from today. It was all going to be so much better.

That afternoon walking along the High Street to his interview it was just before three and the local infants school was letting the children go for the day. Was it his imagination, or were there quite a lot of children with deep brown eyes and chestnut hair? He let the thought pass. He had bigger worries to attend to.

 

THE END


© Copyright 2020 Petula Mitchell . All rights reserved.

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