Tor: a craggy hill
Simon just couldn’t stop laughing. He’d gone with his girlfriend and best mate up Seely Tor, hanging on the coat tails of a long procession organised by the Sandmarsh Pagans, on route to the bonfire on the plateau. It was only for a laugh at first, but the sneaky bottle of vodka Pete had lifted from his dad’s bar had done for him. Who has a bar in their garage? Anyone who did deserved to have the piss taken – or a bottle or three.
By the time they were halfway up the handrailed track, leading upwards from the Flammark Road, they were all very much the worst for wear, for some reason Simon much more than the other two. His longish blond hair got into his eyes and though the moonlight was strong, and the path ahead clearly illuminated, he kept stumbling and lagged behind. Each fall made him laugh all the more until, holding his sides, he leant against the rocky hill, unable to take another step.
“Aw, come on, Si!” said Jen. “We’re gonna miss it all.”
“Go on without me. I’ll catch yerrup. It’s a load of bloody rubbish anyway,” Simon slurred back.
Pete grabbed Jenny’s arm and started pulling her up the slope. “Leave him to it. There’s only one way up or down. He’ll find us when he’s sobered up a bit.”
Jenny looked doubtfully at him as she regarded Simon’s prone, giggling body. “I dunno. We shouldn’t leave him, not in this state.”
“Bugger off, both of you,” drawled Simon. “I’ll be or’right when I get my breath back. Wouldn’t like you to miss anything. Huh, not that there’s much to miss about a few stupid dressed-up goths dancing ’round an old cross.”
“Why did you suggest it in the first place then?” Jenny shrugged, turned to Pete. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to be on his own. I’d better stay here with him.”
“No you bloody won’t,” said Pete, pulling her away harder. “I want to see what they get up to. We’ve heard all sorts of things about these bloody pagans, haven’t we Si? No way I’m going up there on my tod.”
Jenny gave him a friendly slap on his shoulder. “Get away with you.” Then, as if realising there’d been a sudden shift in their circumstances, she said loudly, “Eh, I hope you don’t expect me to get involved in anything like that. I’m a good girl, I am!”
Then both giggled.
Simon tried to stand up but couldn’t. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “It’s no good. I’ve lost my legs. You go ahead. I’ve told you, I’ll be fine.”
Pete finally succeeded in pulling Jenny away, and soon the sound of their footsteps and chatter diminished to nothing. Simon was left on his own, nearing midnight with nothing for company but the canopy of the Tor’s huge craggy promontory overhead and, right in front of him, a large, shining, full blue moon.
Not long after, faint sounds of chanting began, following the beat of the bodhrán that had already paced the pilgrims’ journey up the hill. The steady rhythm soothed him, and the dim choric voices of the assembled people above lulled him. The moon drew ever closer, widening and encompassing, blotting out all his other senses until he could hear nothing but the steady beating of his heart. He wondered if he was floating. He stared at the blue-grey planet, coming ever nearer, drowning him in its aura. Was the moon a planet? He hadn’t a clue but whatever the case, one thing he knew for certain: tonight they belonged with each other. Tonight they were the same.
Without warning the scene changed. No longer were his eyes filled with moon. Instead he was looking down, onto a crowd of dancing people.
Hang on, that didn’t make any sense. They were supposed to be above him. On the hill. He was below them, on the path. Wasn’t he? And yet there they were, a company of about fifty souls, illuminated by the flames of the Samhain bonfire as they encircled it and danced, the Tor’s huge Celtic Cross standing sentinel next to them a few yards away.
The scene was nothing like he expected. Not that he really knew what that was. Maybe he thought – hoped – they’d all strip off and have some kind of orgy round the bonfire like in those old Hammer Horror films his gran liked. But this was nothing like that. Just people swaying to a drum holding hands, a few lifting their arms, palms to the skies, some kneeling. The only sign of anything that looked like the remotest bit of action came from next to the stone Celtic cross. For under it sat Jenny, his girl, and Pete, his best bloody friend, arms around each other snogging as if their lives depended.
Simon narrowed his eyes to refine his focus, shook his head, looked again. He had not been mistaken. But how could this be?
His question did not only relate to the scene below, but to the fact that he was seeing it all. Again, how? He was supposed to be lying prostrate on the stony path up Seely Tor. Instead … well, where exactly was he?
He looked away from the ceremony and turned around. The world didn’t spin. His nausea had gone, true, but not the floating sensation. That remained. What the hell was happening to him?
Void. That was the word that came to mind. An irridescent, shimmering grey nothingness which permeated his consciousness. He breathed in: a kind of clean, almost menthal mist entered him, pushing away the effects of the vodka and clearing his mind. He looked at his feet and could see or feel no platform beneath them. Was he floating? Was he dreaming?
Was he dead?
He very much doubted it. All his faculties were back where they should be and he clearly remembered the moment the two of them left him: alone on the hillside with nothing but that huge freakin’ moon for company.
No. It couldn’t be. He coudn’t have …
He turned once more to view the scene below; heard the rhythm of the beat, saw the swaying movement of the bodies matching it, watched the growing intensity between the couple now behind the cross, away from the dancing throng, their secret love-making the only orgy in sight.
What seemed hours later, Simon felt his shoulders being roughly shaken and he shrank back from the onslaught of legs and laughter that were making their way back down the hill.
“You were supposed to follow us. You must have fallen asleep.”
“Huh,” said Pete, “Passed-out, more like.”
Simon clambered to his feet, stretched as if newly awakened. He turned to Jenny.
“How long have you two been at it? Behind my back?”
“You’re dreaming man!” said Pete, too loud. “What’s got into you?”
Jenny tried to avoid looking Simon in the eye but he didn’t budge until she finally managed it. “How did you know?” she asked.
Simon looked up at the moon, an enigmatic smile playing on his face as he turned away from them and walked down the path.