Carla selected her stone—of the more than thirty that made up the circle, some were as high as two metres, others squat and low, allowing a person to sit in the natural hollow on top. Fanned out in a flattened circle around her, some nestled together in groups, some standing solemnly apart. Beyond them, the glory of the high fells formed a breath-taking three-hundred-and-sixty-degree panorama. The early sun brightened the flanks of the east-facing slopes. The sky was the blue of a duck’s egg with the merest hint of wispy white clouds. The wind whispered with the distant bleating of sheep. A perfect morning.
Hands resting loosely in her lap, Carla shut her eyes and breathed in the peace and calm. She came up here through all the misery of the divorce, and she often felt it had saved her sanity. Sitting quietly in the stone circle raised her spirits. With half an hour of yogic breathing and some silent contemplation, she left revived for another week.
Of course, some days, other people were up here, usually walkers bristling with backpacks, binoculars, and sticks, en route for one of the high fells. They were generally no bother, taking photos and moving briskly on. And occasionally, groups of tourists came up from their coaches parked on the road below, but most were respectful, clearly affected by the indefinably spiritual feeling inside the circle. Who could fail to be struck by the beauty and majesty of the three-thousand-year-old site and its extraordinary stillness?
Two couples in their twenties were toiling up the grassy hillside. Carla hoped they would pass through quickly.
The women were dressed in revealing shorts and flip flops and one of the men had a plastic carrier bag.
Not walkers then.
When they reached the circle and without so much as a glance at the view, the couples installed themselves on the grass in the centre of the circle, and Carla heard the pop and fizz of a can being opened.
She shut her eyes, trying to ignore the wave of irritation that swamped her, but a sudden shout made her open them again.
One of the women, the one with long blond hair, had brought out her smartphone.
“Have you seen this on YouTube? It’s amazing.” And the phone was passed around to a chorus of snorts and sniggers. Another hiss and a can landed behind them in the grass.
The second woman, plump and wearing a low-cut sleeveless T-shirt, sang tunelessly. She hauled herself to her feet and performed into an invisible mic, twisting and shaking her bottom.
“Go for it, Kelly.” The man with the bald head and tattooed arms reached up and pawed at her leg.
“Fuck off, Col.” She cackled amiably.
Carla did equal ratio breathing to calm herself, but their noise and disrespect punctured her serenity. She should just get up and go but was reluctant to draw attention to herself. She was trapped.
The sky darkened, a black veil had been drawn across the sun. Shadows raced across the fells like dark panthers, and the wind rose to a roar. Unperturbed, the four people inside the circle laughed and chatted. Dizzy, Carla shut her eyes again to clear her head, but when she reopened them, she stared at the scene in terrified disbelief.
A dark oppressive dome of clouds made it hard to see across the circle, but Carla just made out some figures standing at the far side who had not been there moments before. White robes with dark cloaks shrouded their bodies.
One man, taller than the others, pointed a long staff to the east. Four people in coarse shifts, their hands bound in front, were being forced along. The eyes of the first woman were wide with fear as her long blond hair streamed behind her in the wind.
One of the male prisoners tried to run but was dragged back by his captor. As he struggled, the man’s tunic fell back to reveal tattoos snaking up his arm.
The air reverberated with low rhythmic drumming, punctuated now and then by the rising moan of a horn. The sounds filled the stone circle, drifting towards the brooding fells.
There was a dull rumble of thunder and a jagged fork of lightning abruptly illuminated the blade of the knife, held high by the man with the staff.
She squeezed her eyes tight in helpless horror.
Gwenda Major lives in the Lake District in the north of the UK. Her passions are for genealogy, gardening and graveyards.
Gwenda’s stories have featured in numerous print and digital publications. Most recently her short stories have been published in Dodging the Rain, Toasted Cheese, Retreat West, Brilliant Flash Fiction and Bandit Fiction.
Gwenda has also written four novels and three novellas. In December 2016 her novella Offcomerswon first prize in the Open Novella Competition run by the National Association of Writers’Groups. Other novels have been either shortlisted or longlisted in national UK competitions.
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