Often believed to be the sites of ancient religious ceremonies, standing stones can be found in numerous formations all around our wondrous world. Fans of the Kimi books know that the stones are merely twirly stations where balancers can jump from one point to another, or slip through dimensions to the otherworld of Heart.
Touching your fingertips to such a stone, erected by ancient hands, can have the imagination running away with itself. Especially on a misty morning where only the rabbits are watching, and maybe there’s a crow in a nearby tree. Is that a buzzing sound? A vibration from the stone itself? A connection to another time or another place? Or is it electricity humming through the pylons? Perhaps, if I close my eyes, I will feel a stronger connection; voices from the past, murmurs from the dead? And so, in the name of research for Kimi’s Secret, I visited the Devil’s Arrows and did just that.
Upon opening my eyes some thirty seconds later, there was a short story alive and kicking in my head, as if some ancient (evil?) fax machine had delivered it through my fingers. I smiled at that thought, told Wifey who was beginning to circle the stone widdershins. She paused her `ancient rite` and decided not to go any further.
Here’s the story…
The Devil’s Arrows
Rosie twists the wheel and we exit the A1 at the last possible second, tyres rattling over the chevrons.
“Steady on,” I say, grasping the dash. “We stopping for lunch?”
“No, sorry,” Rosie says. “It’s the stones, Tom. You must see them.”
My dear wife claims a bond with the earth, an innate understanding that most would never have – and certainly not a stiff old geography teacher like me; though I do know of these stones at Boroughbridge… The Devil’s Arrows.
As we curve off the overpass, Rosie stares ahead to where three enormous stones own the field. “Old Nick hurled them at some villager, once upon a time,” she says. “But he missed and they’ve been stuck in this field ever since. It’s easy to see how the myth came about isn‘t it. Look at them, Tom. Aren’t they magnificent?”
“Nice, yes. But I think it’s going to rain. Should we find some pub grub?”
“In a minute, Tom. In a minute.”
Rosie stops the car and gets out. I reluctantly join her at the fence.
“Came here as a kid,” she says. “Hours and hours. Playing.”
My stomach groans and I really want us to find some food, but I can see Rosie is affected. She has to soak it up. I know that and huddle close to her side. The stones bring a dark, ominous feel to this barren field. I could be affected myself. Maybe.
Rosie steps up onto the fence. “Perhaps it’s not -”
“A myth,” she says, and before I know it, she’s over the fence and marching toward the central stone with an intent that fair punches at my heart.
She doesn’t stop and I duly follow.
“Can you hear it?” she says, standing before the central stone.
“Hear what? My stomach rumbling?” I stop ten feet behind her.
“The vibration, Tom. Such amazing energy.”
“The only vibe I’m feeling is the desire to get the hell out of here and into a warm pub.” I shudder and flip my collar up.
“Twelve turns widdershins brings the devil,” she says, reaching for the stone.
“Counterclockwise, professor. Circle the stone twelve times widdershins and the devil does your bidding.”
“Like a waiter? Perhaps he can pull me a pint,” I laugh. Stupid really. Rosie glares at me hurt. “Look, I’m sorry -” She turns back to the enormous stone. Though enormous doesn’t cut it. This overbearing behemoth, this stern dark monster rises some twenty feet, its girth bigger than an old oak. Groove-like channels run from top to bottom giving a corrugated appearance. I recall reading about these `weathered` grooves, but to be honest they appear too uniform to be anything other than manmade.
“Feel it!” Rosie splays her fingers – each finds a groove. “Powerful!” she says, and begins to sidestep. She vanishes behind the stone, reappears seconds later, fingers still trailing the grooves. “One!”
My skin prickles. There’s a presence. Something. “Rosie – stop!”
Rosie doesn’t stop. She vanishes again – widdershins.
“Two!” as she reappears.
“Rosie, please. Let’s go grab some lunch ay?”
“Nice carvery and a John Smith’s?”
Rosie ignores me and keeps on circling the stone. Light fades to grey. Mist joins cloud. Cloud joins mist. I suddenly imagine the apocalypse horsemen and my heart is a-gallop. There’s a buzzing in the ground through my shoes. “Rosie, please -”
Seven? Lucky seven? A murder of crows swoop by. A lone magpie tumbles to the ground and chatters before lifting away into the mist.
“Ten!” Rosie reappears, fingers trembling over the grooves.
She doesn’t see me. “Rosie?” Nor does she hear me.
“This is wrong!”
No sound. No A1 traffic. Only my thudding heart. Or is it the horsemen I can hear? Rosie doesn’t reappear.
I try to move but suddenly there’s blood running down every groove in crimson rivers. The stone is red and pulsing. Cold sweat films my face.
Wind gusts, leaves swirl. Those hooves beating in the mist. Four horses. I know there are four.
“Rosie!” My feet dislodge from the mud and I fall to my knees. “Rosie!” The bloodstone pulses faster.
“Help me, Tom -” Rosie’s voice is faint. I stumble to my feet as thunderous hooves charge all around me, pounding, pressing blackness. I reach the stone, my hands connect like Rosie’s had. Warm blood flows over them, drenches my sleeves. I look up. “ROSIE!”
The ground rumbles as I move sideways. The horsemen are close.
“One!” I yell. “Clockwise!”
Hooves swing through the mist, brute hooves, scarred and thrashing. I keep going, hooves pounding all around me. “Two! Two, damn you!”
That’s when I hear the roar. Not the roar of a lion or a bear. This is a monster from hell. This is the bellow of every dead and tortured soul, every evil mind that ever walked this earth. I close my eyes and continue round and round the stone.
But the horses are upon me, sweating hides, saliva spraying, rotten breath and the swish of unseen clubs cracking bones and rupturing vessels. I’m weakening. Need my Rosie. I stumble onwards round and round and round. “Eleven!”
I’m on my knees now. The final lap.
“Twelve!” Rosie’s voice. A sound so beautiful.
“Twelve…” My voice a mere whisper. But there is no pain, only release to the soil, a sustenance, maybe. I feel drained, weak.
Wind stills. A crow caws. A horn blares on the A1.
“Tom. You all right?” Rosie steps into view and I’m back where I was stood. No blood on the stone. No horses. Just Rosie.
“That was fun,” she says, smiling. “Ready for that pub lunch?”
I shake my head, “Feeling a bit queasy.”
“But Tom, you were starving a minute ago.”
I turn and make for the fence.
“We’re getting out of here, Rosie. Right now!”
I’m in the car and slamming the door.
“Tom? Tom? What the devil’s got into you?”
When we got home, I wrote the story down and sent it off to Yorkshire Magazine’s ghost story competition (1000 word limit) where it bagged first prize. Do the Devil’s Arrows hold a vibe of their own, or am I just an old romantic?