The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry – Book One “The Snatch-Kiss Affair”

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Evening in Fekenham

Somewhere distant but ever so close, in a village just like yours a set of improbable events began to unfurl. There was something odd happening, something intangible and curious, a silken web of mischief perhaps or a sense of foreboding. Perhaps it was a combination of both but there was definitely something in the air.

The road twisted sideways then bent around Tollbunt Hill and bore on down towards the mole-blind village of Fekenham Swarberry, with its curtained windows and honey-glow glass. The night was warm and softly black, and the moon waxed splendid silver, whilst a single owl hooted a solitary sound of winged wisdom. The hedgerows wove a curious shape that flowed about the road as if they were the flesh to the road’s bone: a sinewy twist that ribboned the multi-coloured fields with a crow-black tributary.

Mrs. Humshaw stood outside her front gate wearing a frown and a rose- patterned frock, haloed by a host of flying gnats that buzzed about her head. Her husband Terrence, forty-four, ruddy of complexion, with a plump disposition and a shallow pocket, was late and had been, according to the local whisper of passing interest, “unavoidably detained on a matter of some urgency” at the local pub, The Frog and Radiator.

“Unavoidably detained my elbow,” thought the aggrieved matron. She had murder in her eyes, poison in her heart and a large rolling pin in her hands. Terrence was called variously Tel by his chums, Terry by his wife when she was happy with him and Terrence when she was not. Each and every night, having finished his day’s business at the local brewery, he went to his local for a swift pint. He followed the swift pint by three or four more pints before moving on to his favoured nightcap, a glass of Scotch. After the alcohol warmed his fuzzy senses, Terry knew it was time to be heading home for his evening meal and a possible night of passion. Well it had been three weeks for goodness sakes.

The night drew its arms in tight to keep out the chill, and the hedgerow shrank to a small whisper of rustling leaves as the footfalls of Terrence Humshaw ricocheted down the tumble-stone, cobblestone roadway. With lust in his loins for his full bodied wife, a belly a-swishing with warm ale and a bladder to match, he whistled a broken tune that scratched the night’s pale eye.

Unaware of his darling wife’s foul mood, he wobbled on toward his home. He looked like the rudderless wreck of some ancient Spanish Galleon. She looked like the stone sentinel at the gates of hell.

In faraway Fekit Woods the self-same owl fluted a low note before gliding down on silent wings to snatch a field mouse in its claws. For a thousand years Fekenham had lain beneath various waxing moons and a multitude of incandescent summers. Far back in its ancient history Druids had gathered around Metlok Tor, where they had performed ritual acts of worship often with a sacrifice to their hallowed gods. Without the faintest notion of what lay ahead for him, unaware that he bore a certain likeness to both the field mouse and the Druids’ sacrifice, the squiffy Terry shuffled and tripped along.

It was midnight at Rose Cottage, and things had a skewed perspective, but one thing was certain for Terry: passion was off the menu, replaced by a new dish of pain à la rolling pin.

Over at the local church, St. Whipplemore’s, seated at a desk in the vestry sat Fekenham’s wayward vicar, Elvis Linkthorpe. Before him lay a foolscap pad of lined paper covered in an illegible scribble that appeared to have all the elegance of a dying, epileptic spider, one that had been dipped in blue ink and then set to crawling a cracked and wobbly path over the page. Letters ran like jazz notes, up and down and across with no apparent order or constructive meaning. Like their author, they flew in a general direction but without a compass for guidance, just a set of random jottings that seemed like code to anyone else, but for the good vicar they had a coherence and depth that gave vent to a passionate plea.

While he wrote, a green plume of smoke hung above his head, smoke that came from the hand-made reefer that hung from his lip with a gravity-defying, limpet-like quality. Occasionally, he would take a deep drag upon the cigarette before picking up the glass tumbler that sat beside his left hand. A golden liquid filled a third of the glass, and Linkthorpe took a deep swig from it before putting it firmly back on the desk. He smacked his lips as if to make sure that the whisky hadn’t, as yet, removed sensation from his mouth. Satisfied that he wasn’t yet drunk, the besozzled vicar began to write again at a furious speed. Words were spun onto the page in a weave of mystic runes that caused him to smile as he scribbled.

Linkthorpe was a man of some fifty years of age who smoked marijuana like a sixties hippie, but then again   he was a sixties hippie so why  not? He drank whisky like an Irish navvy, and he fancied the knickers off Delores Dewhip, the local barmaid. He was, as he often told his flock, a man made of but flesh, and his flesh grew rigid and firm at the thought of the delectable Delores. Linkthorpe was about five feet nine, with long, wavy hair that threw itself from his head in a mild panic and disarray of elongated ringlets, a fallen cherub’s haircut.

He took another drag on his reefer then another swig from his whisky. He blinked once and then again before crashing head first onto his writing desk in a drunken, narcotic stupor. The morning, when it came calling, would find the vicar still there.

In the flat above the post office, Cybil Lovelock was composing poetry. Cybil     was a young woman of just thirty, with grey eyes and chestnut brown hair. The folks in the village all said how attractive she was, and most of the young men would have given their eye teeth to go courting with her.

For as long as she could remember, ever since she was a child, she had loved the art of writing verse.  She remembered one Yuletide when she was about twelve receiving a book of poetry by mistake in the post. The parcel had been marked for the attention of ‘Amy.’ There had been no surname. The address had been right, her home, and that of her Mum and Dad, but the name had said ‘Amy,’ so it obviously wasn’t meant for her. She didn’t know what to do with the parcel, but her Mum had said that if she didn’t know anyone called ‘Amy’ then all she could do was open the package to see what was inside.

She had spent the rest of the festivities reading the book. She read it from cover to cover and then read it again. Each selection gave her an electric thrill as she discovered not only the magic of words but the way the poets chose to shape them to their will. The book had formed her way of thinking, and when other children were getting into some rock group or other, Cybil was down at the library reading the selected works of Ted Hughes.

Poetry was like a drug to her, addictive. Not a day passed by that she didn’t read a verse or, if time allowed (and she made certain it did), wrote her own heart onto the page of another blank sheet of paper. She especially liked the nonsense rhymes of Spike Milligan and also the children’s poetry of Edmund Stickleback. They had such a sense of unbridled fun about them.

Tonight, though, she was in a more serious mode. Something seemed lost within her; something long forgotten and deep down inside, was trying to surface; she pondered what it could be, but her intellect was unable to provide any answers, nor would it allow her to work out any form of release so she turned to her intuition instead, she wrote:

I follow full moon

Over bridge and stone.

Water wets my brow,

Silver cast and callow,

My palms held aloft

Like tree branches.

Shadows fall around me

Dappled dark and cold.

A breath to harrow me,

A breath to slow me,

As river runs like life,

An inexorable ticking

Of water over pebbles

That recalls the day

In mirrored stream.

Moment’s freefall:

The curve of his waist,

The shape of his jaw,

A distant memory with

Hands held knuckle white

In desperation.

The hours sped quicksilver slick

As petals form a crescent moon

Spilt on green lawns.

An azalea weeps white tears.

She thought about the words before her. They puzzled her. She hadn’t so much composed them as allowed them to form through her. She had been the conduit that focused the emotional force that was the reason behind the verse. She had no idea what they meant, only that they left her feeling sad. She picked up her hairbrush and began to run it through her dense hair; as she did she looked at the photo frame on her cabinet that contained the photo of her Mum and Dad.

Not so far away, in an aging cottage, Verity Lambush, headmistress at Fekenham Senior School, sat facing her bedroom’s vanity mirror. Her hair was down, streaked with the early stages of grey that gave her a witch-like look. She held a brush in her hand, guiding it through her locks with a delicate, elegant swish of her wrist—a pale and thin wrist, veined with marbled lines of blue that threaded then disappeared up the length of her thin arm. As she brushed her hair she looked at herself, but without a hint of narcissism; rather with a degree of self-examination.

Verity, like Vicar Linkthorpe, was in her early fifties. She carried herself with a dignified grace that exuded a formidable energy and mighty discipline. Her pupils did not care to defy her, but then again few would. She had a tongue that was as sharp as her intellect, and she used both with an alarming alacrity. She had been Fekenham Senior’s headmistress for nigh on thirty years, and she had remained its head with her innate ability to run both teachers and pupils as a ship’s captain ran his crew and steered his vessel, with a fist of steel wrapped in a leather gauntlet.

When she finished brushing her hair, she took a large jar of moisturiser into which she dipped her fingers and then spread the cream across her face with tiny, circular movements. She maintained this strict regime each and every night, massaging the lotion into her flesh until every last remnant of the moisturiser had been absorbed into her latescent skin. She sat for a moment reviewing herself then turned her head to face a small photograph that sat on the side of her dressing table. It was a photo of a young child, a girl of about ten with small features and large liquid eyes. Beneath the picture, written in an elegant hand, was the date: 1987. The photo was framed by antique silver engraved with an ornate design. Verity picked up the frame and stared long at the picture of the girl. She tenderly placed her fingers against the glass then, with a sigh, returned the photograph to the dressing table. She rose from her seat and moved to the side of her bed where she drew back the duvet and slid beneath its comfort.

As Verity slipped into bed so Seamus Fliphook, as unsavoury a character you could wish not to meet, smiled as he recalled his conversation with his colleague at the local orphanage, Beside him on his bent and buckled side table was a slim folder labelled Amy Lambush. Inside was enough information to cause a great deal of embarrassment to a great many people. It was the sort of collateral that could also add a certain amount of pressure if correctly applied which in turn could lead to large sums of money exchanging hands. The thought made Seamus laugh aloud. It was an unpleasant sound uttered from an unpleasant orifice from the throat of a very unpleasant man.

Another man, slightly less undesirable, equally immoral, far more ruthless and far wealthier, almost obscenely so, was sitting at his desk in his home in Winchester. His children were abed and his wife was watching television in the living room. The man was reflecting on his day’s work. His meeting with Abel Laxbowel, Chairman of Muckleford District Council, had gone as well as he could have wished for.

As a multi-billionaire, one quite accustomed to getting his own way, and as the owner of a massive arms trading company, his recent diversification initiative was going swimmingly well. His plans to open Albion’s first Supermarket had been given the green light; his entry into politics had been greeted by the Tory party with warm and gushing enthusiasm, especially by the parties Chief Whip Regus Nasaltwist, and now his proposal to buy the old stately manor house and its grounds had been given the go-ahead. Things were looking rather good. He had plans for Fekenham, big plans but not necessarily ones the inhabitants would like.

Out in the Fekenham countryside an owl hooted and prepared to swoop down, with talons drawn, on a singularly stupid rabbit that had come out of its burrow to sniff the night air. As the owl steadied itself, a single shot rang out, and the rabbit fell dead, local poacher come game keeper, Ernie Stallworthy smiled to himself. Above, the dark phallic shape of an airship making its way to the continent crossed the silver disc of the moon. Fekenham moved from evening into deep night, and life went on as it always had, as it always does. There was change in the air, change and just a whiff of maliciousness too.

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