Astounding Outpost

Pulp stories, B Movies, Classic Radio Dramas, and More

The Barrow-wright

Posted by on December 6th, 2017  •  0 Comments  • 

The Barrow-wright

ByClint Wastling
It reminds me of one of those wartime films with search lights arcing across the night sky. There must be four security guards up on the ridge, each idly searching the undergrowth for me. They’ll give up long before reaching the rig. I’ve seen it happen before, they’d rather wait until dawn and send out a helicopter than walk miles in a fruitless search. Besides I’m not a criminal yet, only a suspect.
I push myself into a disused badger sett and wait. This gives my eyes plenty of time to acclimatise and seek out familiar shapes in the landscape. With the full moon to aid me I have no difficulty in picking out a circular mound. I notice that frost glistens on the blackened heather stems around me. It reminds me of the silver I’m searching for in the darkness. More frequently I find verdigrised copper, only once did a piece of gold sit in the palm of my hand. That was a real eye opener, a £1000 bonus courtesy of the long dead.
There are miles of forestry tracks and they all seem to end at the Rigg. A friend said it was the convergence of ley lines on a place of power but you don’t want to believe that sort of thing, it can drive you mad alone on the moors. The torch lights are disappearing between the trees and Thompson’s Rigg is alone under the stars and moon. Here I feel at one with the world, as though I’ve always belonged here. I pull my coat around me in an attempt to drop my teeth chattering. Whatever the security guards are doing, I’m going to have to move or when they decide to investigate they’ll find a frozen body.
I forge a path through the heather. Twigs shatter beneath my boots. The full moon has an almost sapphire glow and the stars definitely twinkle. Even through its perishing, I can still see the magic of the place, the haunting beauty of the nightscape with which I’ve become so familiar since losing my job. Shit happens. Fortunately I met this German collector who’ll pay cash for any artefacts I find. He wants something special this month. A present possibly? Whatever it is he’s paid me in advance. That came in handy to buy Jenny something. Usually there’s just enough for essentials like food and bills but he gave me £100 and I feel lucky.
I pace around the site I’ve chosen. It’s definitely circular and to my mind there’s a slight ditch around one side. I get out the metal detector. There’s a response and I start digging. Alone under a myriad stars I believe the past and present are one. Time might have ceased to exist and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a chariot or Landrover speed across the flatland.
Out here you could believe time had been suspended except for the passage of moon and stars. My spade cuts the peat. A partridge screeches in flight. I wait until my heart rate calms. I lift a shovel full of soil. When you dig peat on a frosty night, an earthy smell is released as though phantoms from the soil are escaping. The odour sticks behind my nose and doesn’t go away until I have a coffee on the way home.
I begin hacking into the contorted stems of heather and push off the loose peat underneath. Soon the side of the barrow is revealed and I begin to dig downwards. The soil becomes clay then a spark shoots from the edge of my spade in in imitation of the shooting star racing across the firmament. I stop and catch my breath and cross my fingers this is the capstone.
My fingers go stiff over the spade handle. Between shovelling dirt, I look up. The glistening firmament reminds me of Jenny’s philosophy that time curves like the night sky. We’ve had several late night talks discussing the idea. If time curves around us all then surely reincarnation is fact? I stop to rest. The only thing between me and success is the capstone sparkling under the setting moon.
I wait for a moment to get my breath back then with all my strength, using the spade as a lever, I shift the stone. It scrapes like a scream. I dive for cover expecting the night to be filled with torch beams but the sky is empty. The security guards have not returned.
My heart pounds and I hear blood hiss in my ears. Excitement and fear mix equally as the tomb sucks in air as if returning to life.
I peer into the depths, seeing nothing until my eyes acclimatise and darkness reveals its remains. The wheel, the bones of fingers holding the reins, I take a deep breath and enter the tomb. There’s a ring, a torc of gold, I can barely contain my excitement. I am the first person to see this majestic loot in three thousand years. I hardly dare breathe in case the wood becomes dust or the bones disintegrate. I reach and touch the gold. It is cold and heavy. It easily slips off the neck and my life warms it. I turn on the torch and its light scatters on dust and reveals more bones. Each was once a person. I stare into the empty eye sockets of the chieftain. I feel the chill of death permeate my bones. It is time to leave. I heave myself up then thinking I’ve seen something, look back. I imagine the line of bodies behind the chariot are chained to it and all are headless. Skulls dangle from a golden belt adorning the warrior.
I stand outside in the freezing night. I push the capstone back and conceal some of my handiwork, making a careful note of the position so I can return and take the golden belt. The torc is cold and heavy, it wants to go back. The further I get from the tomb the more of a burden it becomes. After half a mile a wave of tiredness rushes on me. I stop and look around. The stars twinkle and begin to dance. It’s as if I’m sliding down a passage of time dragging the night sky with me. I draw in enough cold air to make me cough and bring me to my senses.
A roar permeates the moor. I sense movement and the sound explodes into the grating of metal against stone. Panic seizes me. I run. I run uphill panting bent double with stitch. I hear horses galloping. I hear metal wheel rims on the earth. I turn. The chieftain is pursuing me, whipping his horses to greater speed, the heads of his foes rattling from his belt. I run and almost gain the car before the spectre is upon me. His cape flaps wildly. My breath steams in the air between us. I notice his does the same. The car body is cold. I take out the key and smile. I will outrun the ghost in my vehicle. My hand touches the handle when I hear a whipping sound. I somersault. I pulse out a warm liquid. I watch my decapitated body stand as a fountain of blood sprays the white paintwork of my car. I see all this. I feel lifted by my hair and roughly fastened next to the decaying trophies of the warlord’s belt.
The cold wind, the encroaching night and my dimming sight see only the slender band of gold as it is taken from my crumbling body and replaced round the neck of its rightful owner. What is left of me is dragged behind the chariot. Whatever fate awaits me I am powerless out here on the moor under the vast firmament of the eternal sky.
The End
Clint Wastling

« »

Comments are closed.