Robert tried not to stare at the other men sitting
around the ornate and beautifully laid table. Each man, to a different
degree, looked better than he had last night. Chuse Dodorol looked by far
the most revived. Although
still pale beneath his naturally olive skin, his color was much better and
he looked years younger. The
other two men also looked as if they were filled with a vibrant energy.
Robert glanced at his own reflection in one of the
mirrors that were placed around the room. He looked younger and fitter and
he felt better than he had in years. He lifted an eyebrow in annoyance at
himself, he should have remembered to keep away from any prepared food or
drink. He had downed most of
that earlier cup of coffee and now he couldn’t be sure that he didn’t
consume any drugs that were put into the food last night. At least he had remembered
to keep away from prepared food at lunch. In front of him on the table sat
the remains of a raw, and hopefully untainted lunchtime salad.
Oosthuizen, the South African, grinned as he drank
from his third glass of wine, “I see that you haven’t broken with the
old fashioned ideas about health and diet, sir.”
Robert put down a carrot stick, “I’m afraid I
rather overdid it last night, and I never permit myself to indulge in some
vice one day without making sure I am disciplined the next.” He
smiled thinly, “I pride myself on having a certain amount of
self-control. I find that it balances my life, even if I do happen to
delve too far into the outer limits of the norm, on occasion.”
Chuse nodded. “I agree with our new comrade. I am
now dedicating myself to continued health.” He lifted his glass in a
“But why refuse yourself pleasures,” Dieter asked
loudly, “if health and long life can be yours while you enjoy living? Is
that not why we are here?” he spluttered. “This island paradise offers
that to all of us.”
Chuse drank deeply, then set his wine down. “I
think I will join The Path,” he said, “become a full member of the
sect. I have enough money to last me, and before I came here I was too
weak to go on for much longer.” Lifting his arms wide over his head he
spoke in deep resonant tones. “I will dedicate myself to the gods of the
island, just like Beltane says he does.” He grinned, dropped his arms
and shrugged. “It looks like The Path has the right idea. What god can
be more worthy than one who blesses his people with youth and health?”
“Good luck to you then, sir!” The South African
laughed, then finished off his glass of wine and turned to face Robert.
“You have come to the island at the right time. Tomorrow night is the
festival of Samhain, as my little flower Allegra told me last night as we
were playing together. She explained to me that there will be a big
celebration and pagan rites, and we are all invited to partake of the
“Pagan festival of Samhain?” Robert said gruffly,
“Halloween? Are we to dress up in costume? I despise that sort of
“No,” Peter Oosthuizen laughed. “This is not
what you know of Halloween where children dress as ghosts and bother you
for treats. This is a festival where nature and life is celebrated by
paying ones dues to the dead and the gods of The Path. Or so I was
“Pagan rites and rituals?” Dieter said
lasciviously, “More naked dancing around the fire?” He lowered his
voice and leaned forward, closer to the rest of his dining companions.
“I’ve heard that in their sacred grove, you know, that place that
guests are forbidden to enter on the far side of the island? That is where
all the faithful participate in orgies!”
Robert scoffed. “Poppycock. Pagans do not act that
way. That’s a stereotype and untrue.”
Dieter smirked. “It is what they here in The Path
do! The young man I was...” he stopped himself,” …ah, talking to the
other night, swore to me that the when the men and women dance around the
fire during their religious devotions, the gods and spirits of the island
desire them to show their love to each other.” His smile was oily but
his voice was light and innocent as he sat back, “I think that is a
marvelous way to worship your god, and what altar is better for veneration
than the body of a beautiful woman?”
Robert let his eyes pass over the faces of the other
men. All their features were
set in identical masks resembling drooling, brutish creatures.
Seeing them, feelings of repulsion at his own lack of control sank into Robert’s heart. This was the kind of creature he had emulated last night when
he indulged in his own base desires.
He could scarcely hide his feelings of disgust.
“I think I’d like to speak to some of the members
of The Path,” Robert said, “to learn more about this unique religion.
I wonder if Applewood, that sweet girl I met last night, might give me a
pointer or two?” He smiled broadly, hoping to keep the conversation
going about the group and other guests.
Chuse shook his head, “Sorry no, that’s not
possible. Have you not been told one of the few rules here on the
“Rules?” Robert asked, “No one told me of any
“It is one of the rules for the people of The Path
to follow,” Chuse said. “Applewood and Gwynne were with me last night.
Because we might become too attached to one member of The Path, once any
of them spend the night with a guest, it is forbidden for them to see any
of the visitors again, during their stay. Those members of the sect go off
to work on another
part of the island.”
Robert looked out
of the window at the people walking
by, “So I won’t see any of the ladies I met last night again?” He
thought it a bit sad that he wouldn't have the pleasure of the company
of the women again. But on second thoughts, perhaps it was for the best.
“There are many others here to get acquainted
with!” Dieter grinned, “Many others with many different qualities.”
He winked at Robert.
Suddenly, outside the window, Robert caught sight of
a familiar face as a young woman ran happily across the grounds.
“Isn’t that Kerri?” He pointed, “Is it all
right to see her again because she is Beltane’s paramour?”
Oosthuizen smiled. “No, you left early last night
and missed it!” The three men laughed smarmily.
“Kerri proudly told us that, as part of the
preparation to be the priestess for the festival tomorrow, she has been
celibate for almost a year!”
“No!” Robert retorted in amazement.
“Yes,” Chuse shook his head sadly. With the sound
of abject desire in his voice, he said, “That luscious, ripe young
woman, who would be sweet and juicy to devour, has been denying
herself any physical contact to be able to act as the Priestess for the
“She must be truly devoted to her religion to have
kept herself in check, especially in this place, “Robert said. “And
Beltane? Has he also has been celibate?”
“I can’t imagine that!” Dieter exclaimed.
Oosthuizen shook his head and his mouth pulled up
into an evil grin. “I happen to know that he doesn’t live like a monk
here. The night I arrived, he and I…”
Just then the door to the dining room swung open
forcefully, banging back into the wall behind it.
The four diners turned to look at the intruder.
Mickey slouched insolently into the room before
stopping to stare at the men assembled around the table.
His hair was disheveled and Robert’s jacket was thrown over his
shoulder. He was wearing his usual blue jeans and he had pulled on a heavy
knit sweater that had seen better days.
Robert felt a combination of ire at his slovenly
appearance, and happiness that he was finally going to be able to speak to
Dieter smirked and looked back and forth between
Robert and Mickey. “Your little friend is here,” he said in a teasing
tone of voice.
Mickey glowered at the German until Robert rose from
his chair and stood between them. He looked at his jacket and then into
Mickey’s eyes. Mickey then
took the coat off his shoulder and held it out to him.
Slowly turning his back, Robert looked over his
shoulder and barked, “Look alive man, I haven’t all day! Help me get
my jacket on and then we’ll get to our walk. And no slow pace lad,
you’ll have to scramble to keep up with me today.”
He caught a glimpse of fury before Mickey was able to
cover it with a bored look. Robert then smiled at the men sitting around
the table. Nodding his head curtly as a goodbye, he led Mickey out of the
room, through the hallways of the castle and out of the front door.
They walked at a fast pace in total silence for the
next ten minutes, making their way to a peaceful and deserted stretch of
cliffside overlooking the ocean. Although there couldn’t be any
surveillance that far from the castle, they knew that the covering noise
of the waves smashing against the rocks below would insure that their
conversation remained private.
Elated by his renewed capacity for physical exertion,
Robert stopped and, barely winded, exclaimed, “What have you been
doing? I’ve been looking all over for you! Have you found anything
Mickey exploded in anger and frustration. “What the
hell do you mean you were looking for me? I’ve worked my ass off,
searching this place from stem to stern, to try to find out what happened
to Kohler, and all I’ve seen you do is wallow in luxury.”
Hearing the resentful tone, Robert felt an icy cold
rage grip him. As the words
of disdain seeped into his mind, he found himself measuring their distance
from the cliff edge and calculating the amount of force required for a
shove that would send Mick tumbling down the precipice.
Still gripped in a fury, Mick continued to shout.
“I’m doing my job and you’re living like a goddamn Pasha, harem and
“I was working on the investigation, doing
everything required that would gain me admittance into Beltane’s inner
circle,” Robert said with the utmost control, “Everything that would
afford me the way to find out what happened to another member of the inner
circle, Walter Kohler. I did what I had to do in order…”
Mick interrupted violently. “You did what you had
to do in order to get a couple of broads to clean your pipe out but good,
you old lech.”
Furious beyond words, Robert was just about to launch
a blow hard enough to tip the younger man over the edge, when Mickey
suddenly spun away from him, punched at the air and shouted. “Goddamn
it! I’m doing it again!”
Mickey paced excitedly. “I don’t know what’s
happening to me,” he groaned, as he ran his hand through his own hair,
pulling it in anger. “I keep getting these feeling of rage and jealousy
towards you, and I’m having trouble controlling it. I’m sorry Robert,
I didn’t mean to say that. Something strange is happening to me, Goddamn
it, and I don’t know why.”
Mickey had a look of such agonized sorrow on his face
that Robert became conscious once again that he was acting strangely
himself. He took a step away from Mickey and breathed in deeply to dispel
the last of his anger.
“I’ve noticed the same thing happening to me,
Mickey. I can’t explain it, but I’ve been experiencing pleasure
treating you badly and seeing your discomfort.” He decided to make a
full confession. “I’m also acting like one of those degenerates at the
castle. I’m at a loss as to why. I’m never normally the one to forget
my objectives on a job.”
He moved forward and stood by Mickey’s side, as
they both looked away from each other and over the ocean below them. He
wanted to show that all was well between them once more, but he still
couldn’t bring himself to touch his friend. The recent urge to push him
to his death weighed painfully on Robert’s conscience. ”I suspect that
some sort of drug, either in the food or drink, is responsible for our
acting so out of the norm, and for my feelings of apparent physical
revitalization.” He quickly glanced at Mickey, “Steroids perhaps?”
Mickey was silent for a moment. “I don’t think
so.” Shamefaced, he slowly began to grin.
“I began to really hate your guts the minute we went over the
land bridge to the island. I was just trying on the emotions of the
insolent servant, you know, getting into the part as we got on board the
launch. But by the time I was unloading the bags out of the limo, I
already had a bad hard-on for your rich man role.”
Raising his eyebrows, Robert uttered an amazed “Is
looked around them, “We’d better get moving. Looks funny if we
stand here and talk.” Mickey started to stride out across the grass, and
Robert followed. “I’ve been trying to find something, anything, out
about this place. There are no offices, no records no nothing.”
Robert noted again that he was able to keep up with
Mickey without the slightest shortness of breath. “None of the guests
use their real names, and no one vacations here twice with the same
company of men.” Robert said, “Oh,
and it seems that there are no repeat performances of an intimate nature
between guests and the faithful. Perhaps you can find out where these
believers stay after their association with any visitor? Try and get some
information from one of them, maybe someone who was an intimate of
Mickey tried to walk closer to the periphery of the
cliff , but Robert hung back and kept to the thick grass. In order to be
heard, Mickey stuck with him, “Did anyone
say where they go to keep away from the guests? Because I’ve been
looking around the island and I can’t find any other houses, just some
small sheds and one room shacks.” Mickey continued to stride quickly,
“Real nice shacks, but none of them are built to be lived in. No running
water and just simple stone fireplaces for heating.”
Robert was taking pleasure in his strong leg muscles
and clear lungs. He was quite enjoying the brisk walk, and was only now
beginning to push for air. “There is a section of this place that is out
of bounds for the guests.”
“Where’s that?” Mickey’s breathing was as
smooth as ever.
“On the other side of the island, it’s used
during their rituals and is supposedly sacred to them.”
Robert began to feel his heart rate increasing.
“Right,” Mickey said, “I remember. It’s the
only place on the island with a hill.
I saw it from the top of the castle. That must be the barrow
Control mentioned in the reports, right? One of them told me that’s the place where
all the festivities are going to take place during the religious ceremony
tomorrow.” He gestured by
throwing his hands up questioningly. “Maybe there’s an underground
living space, a bunker? That could be where all their records are kept,
under guard. Bye the way, have you noticed all the muscle Beltane’s
Robert began to tire; he hadn’t pushed himself to
exercise this much in years. “Muscle? Oh guards. No,” he puffed,
slowing down his pace. “I’m afraid I’ve been preoccupied with
enjoying the better things of life.”
He finally had to stop to catch his breath. He
breathed deeply, ”I’m going to have to watch myself. I don’t like
that we are both having difficulty keeping our minds focused.” He
noticed Mickey eyeing him closely. “What? Why are you staring at me?”
Mickey frowned, “You’re definitely healthier. You
were able to keep up with me, even though I kept us walking at a good
clip, and you were able to talk too.
I’m taking a good look at you here in the sunlight, you’re
looking good McCall,” he said brusquely while his eyes scanned the
island. “It’s not just in our minds. Something very queer is happening
Robert grimaced at the phrase. “By the by, Mick,”
He felt comfortable enough now to then put his hand on his friend’s
shoulder, “Some of the guests seem to have gotten hold of a strange idea
about our relationship.”
Mickey laughed ruefully. “If it has to do with that
‘your little friend is here’ remark from the dining room, I’d
suggest that you remove your hand from my shoulder, or everyone is going
to believe it.”
Robert put his hands inside his jacket pocket and
jogged a few steps in place and shook out the muscles in his legs. “We
might be able to use that as a cover. I don’t like that there wasn’t
any communication between us last night or today, especially with this
intermittent madness that we are both succumbing to.” He thought for a
second, “I’ll check my bathroom for bugs and disable them. If we need
to speak at any time, one of us will suggest a Jacuzzi together and we can
use the bathroom to talk.”
Mickey winced and seemed to remember something else.
“I’m sorry I walked in on you last night, McCall, it was a lousy thing
Robert tried to fight a smile. “I’m just happy
that it wasn’t a few moments later. Now that would have been
“Moments later?” Mickey grinned and nodded, “So
your antennae were working. You
knew I was there? But hey, I thought what I saw was embarrassing
Robert became serious. “It got worse once I became
aware of your presence. That’s when I first decided to act like a
Mickey also stopped smiling. “That’s not like
you. Showing off bad behavior isn’t how you do things. You’re too
close to the vest to advertise any weaknesses.”
Robert suddenly felt the chill of the breeze. “I
know. There won’t be any visitors in my room tonight, I can swear to
that. Check in with me if you find anything out. If either one of us
starts to lose our mind, we’re getting out of here. Control can test us
for drugs, or whatever the hell it is that Beltane is using.”
“But we haven’t found anything out yet,” Mickey
groused, “I won’t turn tail before we do.”
Robert shook his head. “If we’re being drugged
and can’t control the symptoms, we won’t be able to do any good. It
will be best to rethink the investigation.” He set his jaw tightly and
then forced himself to relax. “Never be afraid to question your method
of investigation, Mickey. You need to be flexible. It’s all about
results, not about ego.”
Mickey was silent for a moment. “Right, I know. But
I do intend to find something out.”
“Just keep in mind that there is an unknown factor
here.” Robert again felt the urge to exercise, and started to jog in
place. “Something strange is afoot on this island.”
Mickey nodded. “I’ve been telling myself that
ever since we got here.”
“I have also,” Robert started to walk towards the
castle and Mickey joined him, “Let’s just hope that now that we are
armed with the knowledge that there is a problem, we can both control the
way we are reacting.”
Leaving McCall back at the entrance of the castle to
continue his inquiries amongst the other honored guests, Mickey walked
briskly away. He looked at
the position of the sun. There were still a couple of hours of daylight
left, enough for him to take a look at the area that McCall had said was
out of bounds. He
grinned to himself, calling it forbidden was guaranteed to make him even
Taking another careful look around he decided that no
one was paying him any special attention so he headed around the outside
of the castle. After spending
some time walking aimlessly over the grounds, acting as if he was only
interested in exercise, he headed for the off-limits area of the island.
The closer he came to the twenty foot high structure,
the more it seemed to him that the mound of earth was man made.
He remembered from the briefing notes that prehistoric man had
settled on these islands thousands of years ago and that they used to
build earthworks like this for burial. It was supposed to have rooms
inside it, chambers where they laid out the dead bodies.
It would make sense for Beltane to keep records and
stuff like that in this out of the way place.
It would also be easy to guard.
At last! This
was more like it, Mickey thought, a simple breaking and entering job.
Walking at an angle to the hill, he tried to make it
look as though he was going that way almost by accident, as if he was
really heading for the cliff top half a mile further on.
If he kept going in this direction, Mickey estimated that he would
pass within twenty feet of the base. He would be close enough to see if
there was an entrance and how it was guarded.
From the corner of his eye Mickey saw a flash of blue
fabric behind him. He hid a smile when he
turned suddenly and the woman hurrying towards him gave a little shriek of
surprise. Blonde, petite and
beautiful, she gulped air and stuttered, “You frightened me.
I didn’t think you knew I was behind you.”
deliberately made his answer brief and stared at the very young woman
lasciviously, hoping it would unnerve her. He could guess that her job was
to divert any visitors away from the place.
It seemed to him that Beltane picked his people for their looks
rather than their IQ and this girl looked as if her best attributes were
everywhere but her brain. He figured that if he made her feel
uncomfortable enough she might give something away, so he brought his
leering up a notch in intensity.
“My name’s Astra.”
Appearing flustered by his crude appraisal, she started to fidget,
shifting from one foot to the other. “It’s a beautiful day,
“I guess.” He licked his lips and kept his eyes
on her chest, “ Maybe a little cold for me.”
“Oh I love the autumn here.
Winter isn’t so nice, it’s too cold then...” She must have
been told to keep him busy because she chattered on about the weather for
a couple more minutes.
Mickey tuned her out.
He wondered if she would notice or even stop talking if he picked
her up and tossed her off the nearby cliff. Eventually she realized that
he wasn’t saying anything, just staring at her and her voice faded to
He looked at her,
letting a little of the real desire he felt for her wash over him.
Hell, he would have had to have been dead and buried not to be
attracted to her. Mickey wondered how far she had been told to go to stop
anyone from snooping.
As far as necessary he would bet.
Testing his theory, he stepped up close to her and
put his hands on either side of her face, pulling her into a kiss. He felt
her stiffen just for a fraction of a second, before she relaxed against
him, wordlessly offering herself for his pleasure.
“Oh my,” she pouted as their lips finally parted,
“I was beginning to think that you didn’t like me much. And that would have been sad.”
She put her arms around his neck, “Nature, in all her wisdom,
made sure that all living things have that spark of desire. That’s how life continues on this earth.”
“Right,” Mickey answered, thinking that she had a
learned answer to everything, even lust.
She nodded, pulling him even tighter to her body.
“Yes, it’s true. And it’s a natural and joyous thing, not at all a sin like
some other religions teach. We
see it as a transgression against nature to reject her loving gift to us.
If you accept nature then you look at all of life as natural.”
She nuzzled his neck, “Would you like to thank nature for this
wonderful gift with me?”
He was tempted to take up on her offer, but he controlled himself. “Sorry, Astra I have to get back to the castle. I’ve got to go see my boss now and he gets angry if I keep him waiting.”
She smiled at him and nodded. “Okay, maybe after
you see him. Your meeting
might not take long so I’ll walk with you back to the castle.
You really shouldn’t be on this part of the island anyway.
It’s a sacred place only for the faithful. ”
Astra took his arm and they headed back to
the castle. She seemed happy that she had successfully diverted him away
from the forbidden zone and she continued to spout path doctrine to him as
Mickey continued not to listen to her talk, but he
felt angry with Beltane and any organization that would use people like
pawns. He realized that he had been tempted to use the girl as a balm for
his own sexual urge just because she offered it to him. He hoped that his
smarmy feelings were symptoms of the island’s madness and that he really
wasn’t the type of man who would treat women like so many used tissues.
Shit, he thought as Astra chatted happily away, he
was even beginning to hate the smile they all wore, it’s was as though
none of them had a mind of their own.
He felt eyes watching them as they walked towards the
castle and shivered.
Keeping to the story that he had to see McCall,
Mickey promised Astra that they would get together as soon as he could get
free. Finally, he managed to
get away from her and back to his room.
When he got there, he could see through the open
connecting door that McCall wasn’t around.
Hoping that Astra was off somewhere else now, he collected his
jacket and, determined to gather some intelligence today, he headed back
This time he tried a more subtle approach and, using
what little cover there was to keep out of sight, he made his way back to
There weren’t any guards on duty outside and he got
close enough to see that the gates were covered with gold leaf, but before
he could touch them, they opened and Kerri came out. She shut them firmly behind her.
Startled that he was so near, Kerri blanched and
tried to regain her composure, “So,
Mick, we meet again.” She looked around the area and when she didn’t
see anyone with him she asked, “What
are you doing? You’re not
Mickey found himself reacting to her at once. It was
as though she exuded some kind of attractant, like the pheromones he had
heard about that insects used to attract mates.
He couldn’t recall when a woman had ever got to him so easily.
He felt a physical pain that he knew would end if he could spend
some time in her company.
Suddenly, he realized with a start that she had asked
him a question. “I’m just
taking a walk and looking around.” He said, making sure his voice was
She smiled at him, “Well this place is out of
bounds until tomorrow as we are preparing for our Samhain festival.”
She must have seen his puzzled look because she explained,
“It’s a very special time for us, like Halloween and New Year rolled
He was having trouble keeping his mind on business;
she was so near to him. Moving closer, he thought he could smell her
perfume. “Do we all get to go inside tomorrow then?” His voice sounded
strange to his ears, thicker than he expected.
“No, only the inner circle of The Path are allowed
inside the barrow. The real
celebration takes place up on top of the hill.
We have a bonfire and dancing and everyone has a wonderful time.”
“Really? A wonderful time?” he mused, as a myriad
of sensual ideas flashed through his mind. Anxious for her to stay with
him, Mickey asked, “I think I would like to know more about The Path.”
He smiled his most winning smile. “Maybe you can tell me about it.”
Kerri’s eyes seemed to darken as a faint blush
covered her cheeks and neck. “If you ask me what you want to know, I’d
be happy to try to explain what I can.” She was smiling a shy smile now.
“Can you tell me what happens at your
celebration?” Mickey asked
“The festival marks the time when the living and
the other world are at their closest.” She gestured at the hill.
“Spirits are able to pass between the two for one night. We have a large
bonfire that we dance around and we
chant to our gods. Then the bonfire is doused ceremonially. Beltane goes
inside the barrow, talks to the gods and makes special offerings to honor
them. He chants to them, asking them to reward us for our devotion.”
Mickey thought quickly, he wanted to know more about
the offerings. “It sounds
interesting. I was in the Far
East a long time ago and they think a lot of chanting.
I always thought it was a crock, but then, when I was in solitary
once, I tried it. I’m sure
something happened that day, I know I felt different for a time.
It was like I had some sort of insight into the way things are. You
Kerri looked a little surprised, “You’ve had
success with chanting? That’s
really interesting. We have those cabins,” she pointed off to her left,
“to use for quiet times, so that we can chant our thanks to the
island’s gods and hope to improve our standing in The Path.”
“Could you show me how you chant? How to do it
Kerri looked around and, following her gaze, Mickey
was surprised to see that the sky was a rapidly darkening tapestry of
blues and violets. The sun must have begun to set some time ago.
At first it looked as though she was going to refuse, but as her
eyes met Mickey’s, a buzz of electricity passed between them.
Kerri touched his arm, and said quietly,
“I can, but only for a short time, I have duties this evening.”
“Okay,” Mickey murmured back. Her touch on his
arm sent waves of longing through him.
“Just show me some pointers to get me started. That would
Kerri pointed to the nearest of the wooden huts where
the door lay partly open. “We can go there, it looks like someone has
just left.” A
swirl of smoke, barely visible in the gathering dark, came from the
Apart from the glow from a log fire that had
obviously been lit earlier during the day, it was dark inside the hut.
While Kerri went around lighting a few candles, Mickey stacked some more logs on the fire. The wood was nicely dry
and caught quickly. Combined
with the candlelight the room soon felt warm, comforting and womb-like.
With practiced ease, Kerri sat down in the middle of
a nest of cushions and gestured for Mickey to sit next to her.
He did as she requested, setting down close beside her so that
their bodies touched.
Slowly, she got him to relax by teaching him the
ancient Gaelic words that members of The Path chanted. Her voice was so
softly hypnotic that in no time, Mickey felt himself drifting.
She moved away slightly and he sensed her throwing something on the
fire. All at once the room
was filled with the smell of incense and he seemed to be floating
The strangest thing
happened then, even behind his closed
lids, he had the feeling that he could see everything in the room.
Only distantly aware of their voices repeating the words, he felt
his senses move outside the flimsy wooden hut until he came to the barrow.
Now he could see that it was a place of power, clearly visible to his enlightened senses; its malevolent intensity
glowing dull red in the dark sky. He
could almost taste the evil emanating from the earth and, at the same
time, his head was filled with whispered commands from the things that
Entirely divorced from any earthly sensation, he
concentrated on the voices. They
were offering him power, more wealth than he could imagine, and beautiful
women all at his beck and call. It was subtle, but before long he began to
yearn for those things, he began to feel the desire for them grow until he
felt that he would burst from the need.
Slowly the voices drew him onwards. Whenever he tried to flee they
became stronger and more persuasive, always offering him greater and
Against his will, his consciousness was drawn deeper into the barrow. He finally came to a huge cavern with a vaulted ceiling. Kerri, her flame colored hair loose around her shoulders, stood naked at the center. God, how he wanted her!
voices had changed now, they were softer but more sensual and insistent. They told him of the rewards for the faithful:
perpetual youth, health and vitality and the woman he desired above all
others, she too would be his if he gave them his soul.
Calling on long forgotten childhood prayers, Mickey
struggled against the hypnotic visions.
For a split second he was free and he realized that the ground surrounding
Kerri wasn’t red from the reflection of the fire that burned so
brightly; the floor was red with blood.
At intervals around the room there were stone slabs and each of
them was stained red with the blood of Beltane’s offerings to the gods.
Although the room was dim, Mickey could make out that the sacrifices had
Refusing to give into the voices, he heard different
cries swirling underneath the promises raining down on him, sounds of
souls in torment and Mickey knew that these were the cries of the ones
that Beltane had sacrificed to his gods in return for power.
Facing a stark terror, Mickey tried to resist as
Kerri beckoned him closer, knowing
instinctively that if he were to go to her he would be lost for all
eternity. He would be nothing
more than a slave to the lust for blood and revenge of the inhabitants of
this dreadful, evil place.
The whispers grew louder and more insistent, “Take
the woman, and use her as you will. Agree
to make the sacrifices to us and we will give you power and riches.”
Unable to resist, he reached for Kerri and she moved
into his arms easily. Her touch burned like fire and when he kissed her it
was as a bolt of lightning had struck him.
The jolt of power overwhelmed him and as he sank even further under
the spell he could feel her body pressed against his.
Mickey found himself slipping deeper into the
trance-like state. He was preternaturally aware of his body, and that power was flowing into him from Kerri.
Somewhere in the back of his mind a voice called to
him to refuse. It sounded a little like McCall or like his brother.
The voice kept insisting that he listen to it. It told him that he
was sinking into the bloody mire underfoot, and yelled at him to tear
himself away and say no to the demons.
Mickey tried not to hear the other voice. He longed
for the gifts that the demons promised him. After all, he thought,
haven’t I done without all these years? Don’t I deserve the good life
for a change?”
The feeling that he had to join with Kerri to close
the circle of power was unbearable. Wrapping
his arms around her, aware of the forces flowing through them, he pushed
her down into the mud of the dark chamber floor, which became, once again,
the clean, small cabin that Kerri had led him to. He felt the soft
cushions give under their weight as he lifted her skirt, stroking his
hands up over her thighs. He had to have her!
He moved his body over the writhing woman, intending to take her at
Then he realized that Kerri was crying and trying
to pull away from him, “I can’t do this!
I have to remain untouched for the ceremony. Please, please, the
gods decree that the priestess conserve her vitality for them. Don’t,
Aroused to fevered intensity, her refusal was like a
bucket of iced water being thrown over him.
Anger replaced desire and he snarled, “What’s the matter?
I’m not good enough for you?
I bet if I was one of those rich bastards you’d put
streamed down her face as she struggled out from
under him, “You don’t understand!
I cannot betray Lord Beltane’s trust. I am promised to the gods
and I am only for their use.” She ran to the door and looked back for a
moment, “ I’m sorry!”
Through a haze of lust and confusion, Mickey heard
the door slam and knew he should get out of there.
He had to get to McCall. Whatever was on this island was evil
through and through and they didn’t have the right weapons to combat it.
He rolled over and tried to climb to his feet.
It was as though he was moving through the bloody mud in the
underground chamber! Every
action took a tremendous amount of effort.
He had just made it to his feet when he heard the door fly open
again and before he could turn to see who was there, a gang of men jumped
on top of him and he was forced backwards onto the floor.
Screaming in rage he tried to fight, but there were
too many of them. Holding him
down and pushing on pressure points they forced his mouth open. He felt
himself gagging as something was poured down his throat.
He swallowed once, twice and abruptly the fight went out of him.
Two of the guards grabbed him and pulled him to his
feet. They half carried him
outside and he was vaguely aware that they were dragging him to the very place he had been trying to get
into all afternoon. But
now, knowing the true horror that waited there, it was the last place he
ever wanted to be.
They passed through a long, dimly lit tunnel, which
opened out into the underground chamber of his nightmare. The guards dropped him on his knees and when he managed to
lift his head, he saw Beltane, illuminated by a ghostly light, standing in
front of him. Turning his
head slightly, through distorted vision, he saw Kerri on her knees next to
She was crying, he could see the tears on her cheeks
and Beltane had his hand wrapped in her hair and he seemed to be shouting
at her but Mickey couldn’t hear anything.
The pounding of his heart sounded so loud in his ears that it
drowned everything else. He
tried to speak, but nothing would come from his throat.
Slowly the drug took effect, his vision narrowed, and finally,
everything went black.
When the insistent thudding against his ribs
wouldn’t go away, Mickey lifted his head and, feeling dizzy, he opened
his eyes. As soon as he did, a bright light was shone in his face and he
had to close his eyes against the glare.
“Come on, wake up.”
His tormentor shook him hard, which only succeeded in making him
Finally, in a effort to stop the violent movement,
which was very quickly going to make him sick, he lifted his arm to show
that he was at least partially awake. It was then that he became aware of
the manacles around his wrists; when he moved his hands slightly, he heard
a metallic rattle. Beltane’s
people had chained him last night when they moved him out of the main
chamber. He remembered that
another unconscious man had been brought in as he was taken out. It had
looked like the South American drug dealer, but he couldn’t be sure. The knock out potion they had fed him was still muddling
When he pushed himself into an upright position
against the wall, the guard stopped nudging him with his boot. This suited
Mickey just fine as his ribs still ached from where several of them had
Through his lashes he saw the guard move away, back
to the entrance to the small, dimly lit chamber.
He kept his head lowered, wanting
to appear weaker than he really felt. As he hoped, they left him alone
while he tried to investigate his situation.
His cell had no windows and only one doorway, which
was guarded by his friend with the boots. Moving slowly, he found that the
restraints around his wrists were fastened to the wall by a long length of
He was relieved to see his watch still attached to
his wrist and he looked at the time. 8:00!
And from the way the inside of his mouth felt it wasn’t 8:00 in
the evening. He must have
been unconscious the whole night.
Allowing his head to drop down onto his chest again,
he tried to remember if he had anything that could be used as a weapon in
his clothes. He had his hands, but for their skill to be put to any use he
needed to get free.
His best course of action, as much as he hated being
this close to the evil in The Path, was either to sit it out and watch for
a chance to escape or wait for McCall to make a move.
He knew that his friend must be anxious by now that he hadn’t met
with him since yesterday afternoon.
His face felt itchy and he rubbed it slowly against
his shoulder feeling the grit and dust from the floor scrape against his
cheek. Another man appeared
in the doorway and stood with the guard so Mickey made sure that he was
slumped against the wall, looking woozy.
They were both around six feet tall, wearing plain dark clothing
and the same stupid look of contentment that all members of this hooky
The second one spoke, “How’s our friend doing?”
“He looks as if he’s still out of it."
Mickey could hear a trace of concern in the man’s voice, “Lord
Beltane told me he has a special plan for that one, and he isn’t going
to be happy if we’ve given him to much of that stuff.”
The second guard came over and pointed a light at
him, tilting Mickey’s head
to look into his face. Mickey
kept his eyes half shut and lifted his arms weakly to try to shield his
The guard let his head drop and walked back to his
comrade. “He’ll be okay,
it’s a few hours yet. After
the ceremony, he won’t remember anything. The visitors to the island
They moved outside and their conversation was too
muffled to be understood. Either way he had a bad feeling. The only plus,
as far as Mickey could see, was that he was beginning to feel very good.
At first he put it down to his drugged sleep wearing off
but then he remembered how well Robert had appeared after a night
with the island women. Was
there something in that? There
had been that surging feeling of power and vitality when he was with
Kerri. He remembered the
electricity in her touch. Was
that some part of the secret of the youth that all the members of The Path
seemed to enjoy?
Robert felt himself float smoothly up, rising to
consciousness from a deep dreamless ocean. He was so contented that he
tried to remain in that place between dreaming and wakefulness but along
with the awareness of the soft bed and the total relaxation of his body,
came a sharp thought.
Where is Mickey?
Robert’s eyes flew open as his thoughts began to
spiral inside his head. He pushed himself into a sitting position on the
bed; he was fully dressed and had been lying sideways on the mattress. The
memory of the night before became crystal clear to him. He glanced at the
clock – 10:00 am! What the devil!
He got out of bed and immediately went to Mickey’s
bedroom, hoping against hope that his colleague was there. He flung the
door opened and his heart fell as he looked at the empty room.
As he searched
Mickey’s room, he hoped for some clue
as to what had gone on during the hours that he had spent out cold. Robert
saw his reflection look back at him in the mirror opposite Mickey’s bed.
He was surprised to see how healthy and well rested he appeared. If he had
not been aware that he had fought with all his strength and lost the
battle with an overpowering urge to sleep during the small hours of the
night, he wouldn’t have suspected that he had been drugged. There were
none of the usual side effects. He surmised that Beltane must have
administered a drug to him sometime during dinner.
Robert sat down to go over everything he could
remember and try and decide on his next step.
He had expected Mickey to touch base with him at
least once during the evening, but the last time he saw him was late the
previous afternoon. Mickey had been walking towards the castle with a
beautiful blonde hanging onto his arm. Preoccupied with the lovely young
thing, Mickey obviously hadn’t seen Robert staring at him from within a
group of islanders who were being entertained by some of The Path’s
followers rehearsing their Samhain dance.
Robert had waited for a few minutes before heading
towards the castle. He wanted to give Mickey time to do – whatever –
with the girl before he went knocking on the smaller bedroom door.
Unfortunately before he could get to the castle, Beltane himself had
waylaid him, first talking about the next day’s festivities and then
giving Robert a lecture on the most important holidays of his religion.
And that’s when it finally hit him. Beltane told
him that the last High Holy Day that had warranted such celebration had
taken place six months earlier. Robert made the connection. That was when
Wally Kohler had disappeared.
Escaping from Beltane at last, Robert made his way
back to his suite of rooms. He had wanted to discuss this last bit of
information with Mickey, to see if his partner agreed on the same scenario
for Wally’s having gone missing. But Mickey was nowhere to be found. In
fact, Robert couldn’t find any evidence that he or the girl had been in
any of the rooms. That meant that there was the good possibility that Mick
had gone to the woman’s bed elsewhere in the castle.
Robert cursed to himself. It had been in front of
their noses from the beginning but they had been so mired with their cover
personalities and those problems that they hadn't seen the obvious.
Robert knew that he could still be wrong,
that Wally Kohler’s disappearance or death wasn’t directly
connected to the celebration, but his instincts told him he wasn’t. It
meant that there might be danger lying in wait for someone during the
ceremonies tomorrow. The only consolation as far as Robert could see, in
regards to Mickey’s absence, was that any danger would not
involve a servant but one of the honored guests.
Damn it! he thought yet again, Mickey should have
made some sort of contact with me! Although it was possible, when he was
off duty, that his
colleague would become so attached to a young woman that he’d spend
some hours in her company, it still wasn’t like him to forget that he
had a partner who needed to know what was happening in the investigation.
Under normal circumstances, Mickey being in trouble
was the only reason his whereabouts would be unknown. But these were not
normal circumstances, strange things were happening on this island. Mickey
might never forget his duties, but Mick, the insolent, crude, ex-con
personality that took Mickey over, would easily forget everything if he
had a willing female to dally with.
Contributing to his anxiety about the whole
situation, along with Mickey’s absence, Robert was worried about
Beltane’s sanity. He had been almost out of his mind when Kerri hadn’t
shown up at dinner the previous evening. Pronouncements of dire happenings
were shouted at the members of the Sect and Beltane had demanded that they
find the girl and deliver her to him at once.
Beltane had not even tried to cover his agitation as
he rambled on about the lack of respect being shown to the gods. He became
even less and less coherent when he spoke about the disregard that he, as
the Holy Leader, was being shown by some of the islanders.
He started to rant at the diners about the
difficulties of being the Chosen of the gods of the island, telling them
that he had lived most of his life as a regular person, never dreaming
that his fate had already been writ down for the ages as the gods’ most
beloved of men. His path was to be present as a visitor on the island when
the gods revealed themselves to him, only him amongst all the men on
earth! Throughout the centuries they had waited for him to visit the
island and when he had, the doors of Heaven and Hell had opened and
revealed themselves to him. Only him, he repeated over and over.
Beltane had nearly wept with frustration, as he
assured them all that the next day’s celebration would take place, no
matter how unworthy The Path members were showing themselves to be. By the
time one of his men had burst into the room and whispered into Beltane’s
ear, causing him to leave in a fury, Robert had believed that Beltane was
capable of deadly actions towards anyone who might disagree with him.
The other guests were firmly on Beltane’s side.
Chuse had even voiced some annoyance of his own at Kerri when he smugly
told the rest of the guests that he had been asked by Lord Beltane to take
a part in the celebration the next day. The other men became lecherously
interested in his role as part of the ritual, and Chuse swore that he
hadn’t been told what he was supposed to do. But, he laughed, Beltane
had assured him that he was well up to the honored task! There had been
gorilla-like grunts of approval and toasts of congratulations from the
not to imbibe anything that could
have possible been laced with any kind of drug, although he had swallowed
a quick toast to Chuse just before he had left the dining room.
He slammed his fist on the wall as he realized that
the slow-acting sleeping preparation must have been administered then.
Beltane would have known that none of them could refuse any toast with the
exquisite champagne and he had downed it without thinking. It was just
that he wanted to get away as quickly as possible to check on Mickey’s
whereabouts, hoping that he had arrived in the rooms after his own evening
meal in the communal cafeteria.
Robert had made a fast foray towards the sacred grove
himself, right after checking the room. That whole forbidden section of
the island was awash with busy Pagans, running back and forth in
excitement, preparing for the celebration the next day. He saw that he
wouldn’t be able to get near the place undetected and had gone back to
the castle just as frustrated as when he left.
That’s when he felt the first effects of the
sleeping potion. He had become exhausted as soon as he arrived back at his
room, and the following hours had been filled with trying to stay awake.
And now, the more he thought about the situation, the
more he saw that the only option left to him as Rupert, was to ask that
Beltane’s people look for his missing servant. If Mick had been
discovered snooping and was in trouble, then Rupert would offer to take
him in hand and pay off Beltane for any trouble the ex-con had gotten
himself into. It was the only way he could see to keep their cover story
He made a showing of abject annoyance for the
surveillance camera, mumbled a few curses at Mick and made for the door.
Just as he was about to open it, there was a knock on the other side.
Robert opened it to see one of the remarkably beautiful young women of The
Path standing there.
She smiled brightly at Robert, gave a little curtsey
and tried to suppress a giggle. “Good morning Lord, I see that you’re
finally awake! You and the other Lords must have made very, very merry
last night. You have all slept late today!” she said.
“Have they?” Robert said. This was a good sign.
Beltane might have ordered all the guests drugged, and if that was the
case, he hadn't been singled out for special handling.
He kept his voice hard and his face annoyed, just the
way the angry Rupert would be expected to act.
“Yes, what is it? I was about to warn Beltane that it seems like
my servant has been up to his old tricks, wandering around and being where
he has no right to be. Looking for trouble, no doubt."
She giggled again and
said, her voice filled with a teasing note, “Oh but I have a message for you, from Mick.”
Robert frowned at her. Could she be trusted, was she
really speaking for Mickey? “Well?” he grumbled. “What has that
good-for-nothing to say for himself?”
She beamed at him. “Today is our Samhain
celebration and Mick has been helping a few of us,” she giggled again,
“to fulfill the rite of regeneration.”
“He’s doing what?” he barked, but held his hand
up to stop her from explaining. ”No, I don’t care to know what that
animal has been doing all night. Where is he now? He has duties to fulfill
to me before he serves anyone else. I am his employer.”
She fluttered her lashes at him and spoke sweetly.
“Because of his actions with some of us last night, Lord Beltane has
seen fit to bestow an honor upon Mick. He’s with some of the ladies now
and will participate in the celebration later on,” She clasped her hands
to her bosom, “Lord Beltane begs your indulgence. He says that he will
make all monetary reparations for the use of your servant.”
Robert gave a theatrical sigh. “If Lord Beltane
requests Mick’s participation in his festival I can’t very well refuse
him. But I would like to see Mick now and give him a piece of my mind for
being delinquent of his duties to me.”
The girl fell into peals of laughter. “But that
isn’t possible Lord, Mick is very busy right now!” Her voice lowered
seductively, “You do understand? He has tasks to do this morning,
helping us prepare for the ceremony.” As she spoke she repeatedly ran
her fingers over the plunging neckline of her dress, capturing Robert’s
attention and drawing his gaze to her rather formidable cleavage.
“Well, humph,” Robert sputtered, trying to show
embarrassment when she caught him staring. “I do understand, dammit. I
suppose I’ll see him later. Just
tell him to make sure he can still bloody well walk when he gets back
She pouted and put her hand on his arm,
“I’ll let Mick know that he should try and see you as soon as
possible.” Her mouth curved into a wicked grin. “I can see that you
missed him last night."
Giggling lightly, she began to turn away, but stopped
suddenly. “Oh I’m so silly! I nearly forgot to tell you. The dinning
room is closed because of the Samhain preparations. Someone will bring
your brunch and later one of us will bring you the traditional clothing to
wear during the ceremony. She’ll help you to dress and will explain some
of what you’ll be seeing at the sacred grove. Then she will act as your
escort for the ceremonies.”
She leaned far forward to whisper in his ear and
permit his eyes to wander further down the front of her dress, “Do rest
up Lord, the celebration starts at dusk and will be very exciting. It will
continue until dawn – or as long as you can last!” She covered her
mouth and giggled as she scampered away.
Deflated, Robert watched her sprightly form run down
the hallway. He understood that he had just been told to remain in his
room. It would attract too much attention if he wandered around looking
for Mickey now.
He immediately decided
to start planning an escape from the island.
Come hell or high water, or in this case high tide,
he and Mickey were getting off of this barmy, bloody island tonight.
Mickey sat on the floor of that dim cell for hours.
He had attempted everything he knew to get out of the manacles, but
nothing had worked.
Some time later Beltane himself came into the room.
Two more guards and several women accompanied him, all of them wearing
robes with deep hoods pulled over their heads.
Both men were carrying lighted torches and they quickly slotted
them into holders fixed to the walls. Amongst the hooded women Mickey
thought he saw Kerri, but she looked kind of different, smaller and frail,
and she seemed to be keeping herself in the shadows, as far from him as
From the way he paced up and down the small chamber
mumbling to himself, Mickey could see how edgy Beltane was. Well, he thought, the guy had to be operating without a full
Suddenly, he pounced on Mickey, grabbing his shirt
and lifting him to his feet. Determined not to make it easy for him,
Mickey stayed limp so that Beltane had to support his entire weight.
Beltane held him effortlessly. The
thought that his strength came from the diabolical voices that had tempted
Mickey the previous day rather than madness was something that Mickey didn’t want to think about.
Muttering, “This will teach someone like you to
cross me!” Beltane dropped Mickey and in a move of amazing speed, he
reached out for Kerri, winding his hand in her robe and dragging her over
to where Mickey was slumped.
He thrust her onto her knees and pulled off her hood
so that Mickey could see her clearly.
Her face was lined and wrinkled and when she held her hands up in
front of her face, the flesh on them was loose and sagging and covered
with brown age spots.
at her now.” Beltane’s
voice was quiet and vicious, “This is how she is without the power of my
gods. She’s an old woman,
old enough to be your mother. Look at her! You took her vitality from her
when she surrendered to your base desire.
She was meant for me as part of the offering to my gods and you
took that from me! For her
transgression she will be harshly punished,” he shook Kerri roughly,
“and her youth will not be restored to her until she fulfills many acts
of contrition, many demanding acts of contrition!” He snarled at Mickey.
“For your sin against me and the gods of the barrow you will pay!
The ritual offering is usually one of the honored guests, but you
will be taking his place at this Samhain celebration!”
The people wearing the robes all gasped in surprise
and looked at each other in fear. A few muttered “No!”
Fear raced through Mickey but he controlled his
outward reaction, continuing to look at Beltane blankly, as though he
didn’t understand what he meant.
With a look of horror and fear on her face, Kerri
turned to look at Beltane. “No Lord!” She gasped, “He isn’t the
one the gods want!”
Beltane stepped towards her and raised his hand as if
to strike her. “I am the Chosen one and I am the one to say who the
sacrifice will be!
one of the other priestesses meekly
interrupted, “Is it not a transgression of the will of the gods if you
do not fulfill their desire?”
one of the other priestesses meekly
interrupted, “Is it not a transgression of the will of the gods if you
do not fulfill their desire?”
Beltane drew himself up straight. “I am the law
here. I am as a god myself, indeed I am the master of the demons of this
island. From now on, they will do my bidding and give of their gifts as I
decree.” His eyes were
shinning with more than the reflected light of the torches.
Mickey thought, he’s crazy as a loon!
Ignoring the looks of anxiety that the women threw at
each other, and with a last look over his shoulder at Mickey as he strode
out of the chamber, Beltane ordered, “Begin the preparations.” Kerri
looked at Mickey, wrung her hands in fear and ran out after Beltane.
Mickey watched through hooded eyes as the men lifted
the long, heavy chain from the hook that held it to the wall.
Then the women surrounded him while he lay on the dirt floor and
started to remove his clothing. They cut the cloth rather than bothering with buttons or
the zipper. Gently,
removed the last shreds of his clothes from his filthy body.
He had no thought of trying to escape, he was
surrounded by guards and still tethered to heavy chains. He would have to
go along with them – for now.
They led him into another chamber. This one had a large brazier of coals burning in one corner
to warm the room and a deep tiled depression in the floor, filled with
water. The priestesses
surrounded him and herded him into the bath where they helped him stand.
The water was warm and the women’s bare hands
touched him gently, almost reverently, soothing every inch of him. He
fought against reacting to their ministrations as any man would; that
might tell the guards that he was capable of some resistance.
As the constantly moving hands washed him, the sound
of their quiet chanting surrounded him and thrust him further into a
feeling of calm. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back as the women
washed his neck and chest. As the women moved closer to him and lifted
their arms to massage wonderful smelling soap into his hair, he began to
feel cut off from time. And then, as they poured bucket after bucket
of warmed sparkling water over his head, letting the pure liquid sluice
away the last bit of dirt from his body, he felt reborn. He knew that something otherworldly had him in
its thrall but, though it terrified him, he couldn’t help but enjoy
what was happening to him.
Anxious to keep his mind off the delicious sensations
of hands moving over his body, checking that every inch of him was
cleansed, Mickey thought of McCall. Beltane
must have come up with some story to stop Rupert tearing the castle apart
looking for his disobedient servant.
Far too soon, they spread a fine white cloth on the
floor and made him step out of the bath.
Mickey felt weak and almost asleep, but he knew that he had a core
of energy burning in him that he could call on in a moment.
The women dried him with thick, soft white towels.
Now that he was out of the bath, each woman seemed careful not to touch
him with her bare hands. One of the women poured scented water over the
chains that were locked around his wrists and the others made a special
effort to wipe his wrists clean.
As he stood there, the women combed out his freshly
washed hair and sang to him. The
song made him think of sunlight and deep grass and he felt very strange,
yet pleased, when they settled a circle of mistletoe on his head.
Soon, they helped him sit on the pristine white cloth
and then, still singing that strange and haunting song, they walked out of the chamber. Mickey deliberately allowed
his chin to fall onto his chest, and he relaxed even more, letting his
muscles go slack, conserving his strength.
He must have drifted for a while, waking when one of
the women came back to him. She
had changed her clothes and now she was wearing a robe of white.
“You must come with me now.” Her voice was
soothing, magical, with a hint of the song behind the tones. “It’s almost time to begin.”
Looking past her, Mickey could see that there was a
path of white cloth on the floor leading out of the room. Realizing that she still wouldn’t touch him and therefore
couldn’t help him to his feet, Mickey took as long as possible to stand.
He figured that if he could fake weakness now they might
underestimate him later.
“Follow me.” She turned swiftly and for an instant Mickey caught the glimpse of a bare thigh as her gown swirled open.
Moving carefully, Mickey tottered slowly after the
woman. He was led back to the main chamber, where he saw Beltane and the
other women ahead of him in the middle of the room, all dressed in similar
white robes. They were
standing in a loose circle around a large metal hook that was suspended in
mid air. The women kept glancing at Beltane and at each other, fear and
worry etched in their faces.
As Mickey moved along the path of white cloth, he
lifted his head and looked up. He could see that the hook was suspended on
a rope that came from a hole in the ceiling.
Mickey guessed that up there was outside, on top of the barrow.
Beltane saw him and smiled, “Ah! Our guest of honor.”
At that, the women around Beltane all cringed. One of
them started to say something but an angry glance from Beltane silenced
whatever comment she had been about to make.
Taking hold of Mickey’s chain, Beltane secured it
to the hook on the end of the rope. Guessing
he was going to be lifted by his wrists,
Mickey moved his hands and clasped the length of chain that was
closest to him. He didn’t want to be left dangling by his wrists and he
knew that if he was able to hold on he would have more
control and be able to use his arm muscles to help himself out.
The one thing he didn’t want, was to be left feeble
and hanging open to be butchered like an animal.
Someone shouted, “Pull!” and the rope moved,
dragging the extra length of chain upward.
Soon Mickey’s arms were drawn up higher and higher and he was
beginning to feel his feet leave the ground.
That’s when a voice shouted out, “Stop!”
They left him half dangling, with only the tips of
his toes on the ground, while Beltane and the women filed out of the
Mickey could hear the sound of music and singing
coming from the hole above him and he guessed that the people of The Path
were beginning to celebrate their festival.
Realizing that he was going to join the celebration by being lifted up and out through the hole, he just hoped to hell that McCall was up there and waiting when he made his grand appearance.