A Dance at the Crofter’s Head (Part 2)
Robin blinks and opens his eyes wide. The boy from the bar, the one with the stupid wispy moustache, is shaking him.
“They fucked people up.” He clicks his fingers close to Robin’s face. “You with me, mate?”
The pub interior comes into focus. The idea that Robin might be sat in a lush green field seems preposterous now, a fantastical dream.
The male folksingers are there, playing softly now, still no singing, smiling knowingly at Robin and the bartender. The woman in white is gone.
Robin looks for Alice and finds her still sat in the chair at the same table, her head lolling to the side, a strand of dribble escaping the corner of her mouth. The others, the young people are the same; collapsed over chairs and tables, eyes open but comatose, lost in a dream.
“Something’s happened to them,” the kid says, “like they’ve been drugged.”
“You called an ambulance?” Robin asks.
“They're on the way.”
Robin kneels before Alice; placing is hands on her cheeks. “Love? Love? Can you hear me, Alice?”
Nothing. Her eyes stare into an imagined distance. Robin knows she is watching another world now, another time.
He approaches the stage. “What did you do to them?” Robin says to the folksingers.
He goes to grab the big one by the neck, but his hand grasps only air, passing through the folksinger.
Robin falls forwards, landing painfully on his elbows. The kid pulls him away and helps Robin up. “What are they?” He says gawping at the stage.
Did they do anything, say anything while I was…out of it?
“Just sat there, playing,” the kid says. tapping his finger with his ear, “Don’t know if they said anything. Can’t lip read unless people are close.”
Robin nods, finally understanding.
“What should we do?” the boy asks.
“Nothing. Let’s wait for the amb…”
There is a noise, rude and stark inside the room. It comes from a table towards the back. A wetness. The opening of a ripe fruit? Then a bang, a heavy thudding as something drops to the wood panel floor. Both Robin and the boy look at each other, then in the direction of the disturbance. The boy is quicker than Robin, pacing towards it.
He screams. The sound is more terrible than anything Robin could imagine, a mind breaking. Sanity breached. Over and over, he screams.
Robin walks unsteadily towards him. The boy is pointing at a table at the back of the room, the source of his terror still unclear. Robin stops, frozen, when he sees.
There is a body, he cannot tell if it is male or female, sat at a table, slightly slouched in the seat. One hand clutched around a half-empty pint glass. The other hangs loosely down by his side. Rivulets of thick black-red blood run down his arm, deleting tattoos, dripping from his fingers to the floor.
The head is gone.
The neck has been opened, spewing red.
Robin’s mouth is slack, his mind bends away from lucidity, threatening to snap. He thinks of the beast and the huge scythe and knows, somehow, he is here, bringing blood to the soil. Soil to the blood.
String notes plucked to a sinister pattern can still be heard in the background, answered from time to time, pollyannaish, by the piper.
The boy continues screaming, his shrieks focussing Robin, reminding him to move, to act. He rushes over and grabs the boy’s arms, holding them down by his sides, hugging him. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” he says.
But it comes again, the sickening crack and bang, so much worse now because Robin understands the butchery it heralds.
The boy must have seen it because, somehow, his screaming grows, mania collapsing him physically and mentally.
Robin takes his weight and guides him down, stricken howls dying to a whimper.
Robin turns. There are two headless bodies now, both sat at the same table. Perhaps they were friends, meeting up after a time apart, maybe they were a couple. The latest victim is flopped to the side, loose green blouse turned darkest red. The abomination of her detached head rocks back and forth in the groove between floorboards, blonde hair matting in a pool of blood.
Robin’s eyes flit from side to side, but he receives the scene only as raw information. He is present and miles away, seeing himself sway from side to side in the middle of the pub, surrounded by dreaming patrons and two unimaginable horrors. Somehow, momentarily, his rational mind intervenes, breaking the fugue with a question.
What is happening?
The boy whimpers at his feet. Robin ignores him. The question demands an answer.
The thing made of barley and corn, he is working through them, one by one.
Answering the question brings him closer. He sees what shock and trauma sought to hide from his senses.
The beast is in the room.
Robin can see its outline faint against the wood panel of the pub. He is spectral, moving among the sleeping dancers, selecting the next one for his scythe’s kiss.
If he ran, he would be safe. He could be away from the music and the blood and the beast. And so Robin is moving towards the door, driven by a cold hard fear gripping his chest, breaking any remnants of shock .He backs away, keeping his eyes on the ghostlike monster who seems to be searching among the people. As its massive bulk moves, it knocks a table and topples one of the tall wax candles, extinguishing it.
Robin runs, crashing through the exit door, leaving the Crofter’s Head to old John Barleycorn and his anthem played for a silent audience. The beast, a translucent mix of green and browns, crawling stems writhing over his body, raises his weapon high and brings it down at ferocious speed, taking more blood, more vengeance.
It is Robin’s turn to take the stage. He approaches the folksingers from behind. They continue to play as the beast gathers his terrible harvest ahead of them. He has entered by the back door, via the beer garden, the one he’d taken Alice to on their first date 30 years before.
Robin is moving quickly, hurriedly removing the cap from the bulky red canister retrieved from the boot of the car. He sloshes pungent chemical all over the stage, petrol fumes almost over-powering his senses, eventually holding it upside down, making sure every drop has been poured. When Robin rounds the stage and grabs a candle from the table, the folksinger see him and understand his intention.
The guitarist’s eyes flick to one side and Robin turns. The beast is rushing towards him, his scythe readied to thresh. Robin throws the candle and shifts away from the cascading blade all in one movement. The blast of heat singing Robin’s skin, but also swallowing the beast and the singers.
His only concern now is Alice. He must get her out, get her away from this horror.
He hooks his arms under her and begins to drag her away, but the blaze on the stage seems to awaken her. She tries to take her own weight. Others are moving now too, the fire undoing the hypnotism.
There is shouting, screaming all around, the fire spreading with incredible speed. Robin and Alice are speeding towards the door, some of the young people ahead of them, some quickly following behind. As they crash through the door, Robin takes one last stolen glance back into the Crofter’s Head.
Beyond the pandemonium of the evacuation, at the back where the stage once was, he can see three figures moving among the flames, engulfed in the conflagration. Beyond them in the red and yellow and orange of the flames, a landscape opens out, impossible inside the confines of the building.