by Ed Glasby
Mike Salisbury sat in the passenger seat
of the mud-spattered Landrover, a clipboard balanced on his lap. On the dashboard rested a flask and a cup of steaming coffee.
He was looking out of the open window at the heavy drizzle as it came down in grey sheets on the expanse of bleak bog, his
two associates in their blue waterproofs, barely visible through the rain, some quarter of a mile away. He was about to return
to the form he was in the process of completing, when he heard their agitated shouts. Quickly, he zipped up his waterproof,
pulled the hood up, then climbed out of the vehicle. “What is it?” he shouted, squelching through the ankle-deep
mud, excitement fuelling his every step.
“We’ve got another!” one
of the men called back.
“Two?” responded Salisbury,
trudging ever nearer.
Shaking off the cold and the wet, Salisbury
saw his two friends, their faces smeared with mud. Rob Matthews stood in a waist-deep, waterlogged trench, his visible upper
half reminding Salisbury of the first bog body they had pulled from the dank earth. Jamie Shaw stood to one side, resting
on a spade, a cigarette hanging from his lips.
“Put that bloody fag away!”
shouted Salisbury. “You’ll bugger up the carbon dating.”
Disgruntled, Shaw did as he was told.
Salisbury knelt at the edge of the excavation,
his eyes drawn to the discoloured, bag-shaped protuberance. Delicately, he reached down, touching the spongy, long-dead flesh.
“Jamie. Go back and fetch the tarp,
would you?” said Salisbury, not taking his eyes off the soggy remains. “We’re also going to need some plastic
bags so that we can get some samples. We need to confirm that he’s from the same context. Looks like it.”
“It’ll be interesting to see
if he’s got the same stomach contents as Lindow,” commented Matthews, watching as the dispatched Shaw vanished
into the rain. “Griddle cake. That’s what they found.”
“It goes without saying that I don’t
want news of this leaking to the papers until the autopsy’s been done. Not yet anyway.” Salisbury remembered a
case some years back when some nutter had gone to the police, claiming that one of the bog bodies that had been found was
in actuality his wife. It was not until forensics discovered that the body was over two and a half thousand years old that
the police had questioned their culprit’s sanity. Just another wacko in a world full of them. With a dismissive shake
of his head, he crouched down, removed a trowel from his belt and began to clear clods of earth from around the body. Digging
into the side of the trench, he began to expose more and more of the preserved corpse. With the help of his colleague, he
supported the gruesome find. Then, like mud-covered midwives, they carefully extricated it from the dank earth in which it
had been encased for centuries.
“Bloody Hell!” exclaimed Matthews.
“He’s almost complete.”
“Well you’re right about one
thing. He is a he,” laughed Salisbury, noting the naturally pickled genitals. “Come on, let’s get ‘Charlie
Boy’ on the surface. This rain’ll keep him moist enough till we get him under sheeting.”
Gingerly, both men lifted the dirty, damp
remains out of the trench. Resting the body on the ground, they then began a cursory examination. One arm hung limply, terminating
in a fingerless lump, whilst the other was missing completely, undoubtedly sheared off by some passing peat-cutter. The cadaver’s
face resembled little more than a pulped mass, within which the crooked line of a split mouth and one puffy, closed eye were
stilll visible. The torso itself was well preserved - traces of ribs and a clavicle poking out from under the wet, taut skin.
One leg extended down to just above right knee. The other was missing.
“No traces of facial hair,”
said Matthews, disappointedly.
“Nope,” agreed Salisbury. “Nor
is there any evidence of clothing. But there’s little doubt how he met his end. Look at that throat! Cut from ear to
ear! A right Sweeny Todd special.”
“Like the others.”
“Yep. That’s been done with
a sharp blade. Just look at it. The force behind that…It must’ve severed his carotid in one slice.”
“Looks a bit ragged to me.”
The rain was becoming heavier, blanketing
the two archaeologists with its miserable deluge. Matthews hauled himself to his feet. Despite his hood, the rain was streaming
down his grubby face, steaming his glasses and effectively blinding him.
“Can you see Shaw? He should be back
by now,” asked Salisbury.
“No. No sign of him,” answered
Matthews, clearing his glasses.
An irregularity in the wall of the pit attracted
Salisbury’s attention. Curious, he walked to one end of the trench, drawing the trowel from his belt. He knelt down,
his trained eyes scanning the damp, black earth. Delicately, he probed his trowel into the surface before dislodging a clod
of the solifluction deposits.
With a squelch, the lump of earth slid free,
revealing a dark-brown, putty-like face.
“Shit!” exclaimed Salisbury,
falling back and landing on his arse.
“What?” shouted Matthews.
“There’s another! Christ!
This is unreal. Three in the same bloody trench!”
Matthews looked down. With bleary vision,
he saw the ghastly face half emerging from the layers of wet earth. Stepping over the body they had already dug out, he crouched
down in the trench alongside Salisbury and together both men freed this third find. Again this one showed signs of excessive
violence. All the limbs were gone, the remains consisting of most of the head, and half an upper torso.
Ten minutes passed as they studied the bog
“For Christ’s sake where’s
Shaw?” asked Salisbury impatiently, both men now standing in the soaking rain over two unique archaeological finds.
“We need to get the tarp so that we can get these two inside.”
“He’s probably having a fag,”
answered Matthews, a touch of concern in his voice. “Want me to go back and see if he’s all right?”
“Give him another ten minutes.”
Ten minutes came and went, both men trying
to make conversation but the thrill of their discovery had now been replaced by concern over their missing associate. A quarter
of an hour passed and Salisbury was becoming increasingly angry, believing that Shaw was sitting in the Landrover, sipping
coffee and reading the newspaper they had picked up that morning from the nearest village post office, some fifteen miles
away. Matthews, on the other hand, was becoming worried, trying his best to keep in check his surreal thoughts of the two
slimy things stirring to life and creeping slowly closer....
“I’ll go get him,” said
Salisbury, his words startling Matthews.
“No, it’s all right. I’ll
go,” replied Matthews, not wanting to be left alone with the muddy remains.
“Okay.” Becoming increasingly
pissed off, Salisbury sat on his haunches in the heavy drizzle. Thoroughly soaked, he silently cursed those of his associates
who opted to work in sunnier climes. For a moment, he even began to feel the tug of a normal office job, a usual pull that
came to him whenever his work brought him out to such godforsaken locations. He pushed back his sleeve and checked his watch.
Then he heard Matthews call out Shaw’s name. Twice, three times came the shout.
There was no reply.
“Shit!” Salisbury muttered under
“I can’t find Shaw. He’s
not here,” shouted Matthews, making his way back through the gathering mist.
Salisbury waited for a few minutes until
he saw the form of Matthews emerging from the wet greyness. As Matthews approached, Salisbury could see the worry on the other’s
“He’s not there,” said
Matthews, shaking his head and upturning his palms. “He’s nowhere to be seen.”
“Fucking great! Now what do
we do?” said Salisbury, hands on hips.
“He can’t have gone far.”
“Is the gear still in there, the tarp
“Yeh, that’s all in there all
right. So it’s as if he....”
“What? Just disappeared?” interrupted
Salisbury, sarcastically. “We’ll need to get the sodding rescue teams out now.”
“But where could he have gone?”
asked Matthews. “It’s not as though there’s any pubs or anything around here.”
“Mine shafts?” suggested Salisbury,
a tinge of worry now in his voice.
“Not according to the OS.”
“Then where the fuck has he gone?”
“Do you think he’s headed to
the village?” asked Matthews, desperately seeking a logical explanation.
“It’s miles away and what for?
And why walk it?”
“He doesn’t drive...Besides,
I’ve got the keys.”
“Yes, but why would he go?”
argued Salisbury. “And why’d he not tell us?”
“I don’t know...well, what now?
You’re the one in charge.”
“See if you can get the Landrover
up here,” said Salisbury. “We’ll get these two inside, then we’ll scout about a bit, see if we can
find him. If we can’t, we’ll have to get the police on the phone.”
“That’ll be a laugh,”
said Matthews, preparing to head back the way he had just come. “It’ll be dark before they arrive.”
Troubled and pissed off, Salisbury sat on
the edge of the trench and watched as Matthews was once again enveloped in the mist. Inside, he could feel the nascent trembling
of apprehension spread through his body, even as a sickly knot began to swell in his stomach. A rational, pragmatic academic,
he was not prone to bouts of imagination, preferring to understand the world around him in terms of scientific laws and empirical
observation. But dark thoughts began to surface within his disciplined brain. Images of obscene burrowing things and bloated,
ugly, misshapen abnormalities coalesced within his mind. Wildly cavorting eldritch shadows and gathered, torch-carrying masses,
danced amidst these distorted monstrosities.
Salisbury shook his head, physically breaking
the mental imagery created by recent events. He looked at his watch: 14:48. Matthews was taking his time. He waited in the
damp chill another five minutes, then with a curse and a shake of his head, he picked up a shovel and set off in the direction
of the Landrover.
Less than five minutes later, he stood,
perplexed and alone, by the parked vehicle. There were no signs of either of his associates; no bloody handprint on the door,
no note tucked under the wiper blades, no nothing. He spent a futile few minutes calling out their names and walking around
the immediate area.
“What the fuck’s going on?”
He opened the door and climbed inside the Landrover, anger now giving way to concern. After checking the interior for any
signs as to his friends’ whereabouts, he reached into the glove compartment for his mobile phone. Then, from his shirt
pocket he took out his notebook, finding the number of the Kenny-Cuhalla police station. After a little trouble due to interference
and operator confusion, he was eventually connected.
“Sergeant Tom Kinsella, Kenny-Cuhalla
Police. How can I help?”
“Hello, my name’s Salisbury,
Mike Salisbury. I work for Irish Heritage.”
“And what’s your problem Mr
“Well, it’s all rather confusing,
you see, two of my associates seem to have, well…vanished.”
“Vanished? Into thin air, like?”
“Yes. I’m working out on....”
The line crackled and then died. Salisbury shook the phone, then tested the battery. It seemed okay. Frantically, he tried
the number again. Nothing.
The line was as dead as the thing in the
back of the Landrover and the two recently unearthed beings lying less than five minutes walk away.
“Shit.” Drumming the steering
wheel with his fingers, he stared out of the window, visibility now down to less than fifty meters. The rain thundered off
the Landrover as distant thunder rumbled, adding to Salisbury’s growing sense of unease. He reached into the back and
fetched the portable radio. Switching it on, his heart sank when all he got was static and interference. From every channel
there was nothing. Ten minutes passed and the sounds of thunder grew louder. The rest of the world could have disappeared,
he thought, fiddling with the controls and getting nothing but white noise.
Knowing that it was better to stay inside
the vehicle than venture out, Salisbury decided to go through some of his paperwork in an effort to drag his mind out of the
current predicament. However, he soon found it hard to concentrate and after another twenty minutes his agitation reached
breaking point. Cursing the fact that he did not have a spare set of keys, he thumped his fist down on the dashboard.
Outside the sky was darkening to an unhealthy
indigo. Salisbury reached under his seat for the powerful flashlight. Switching it on, he was relieved to find that it
worked. Nervously, he shone the beam of light into the back. Dancing shadows appeared and vanished as he focused the light
on to the upper torso which now lay enveloped in transparent plastic sheeting. A cold sensation tickled his flesh as the sight
of the remains reminded him of some hideous horror he had seen in a freak show in a travelling fair when he was a kid. The
deformed dwarf had delighted others but had sickened Salisbury and given him nightmares for weeks after.
Another uneasy half hour passed.
Salisbury began to feel sick, his stomach
churning, his nerves on edge. He gazed out into the murky, wild night, thoughts of dark possibilities invading his mind. Desperately,
he tried to fight off such feelings, repeatedly failing to convince himself that this was just a big hoax. In a few minutes
his friends would turn up, laughing at his expense. But as the minutes agonizingly crept past and the brooding darkness gathered
outside, the more the gut-wrenching fear grew.
Christ, he thought, people don’t just
disappear. Well maybe little kids or teenage girls but not grown men. Not when they’re so close. Where the hell are...?
Suddenly there was a heavy thud from behind.
Scared shitless, Salisbury’s eyes
darted everywhere at once. Flashing the torch wildly, he noticed that a mattock had slipped from its support and now lay on
the floor. Apart from that, nothing looked out of place.
His nerves now afire, Salisbury frantically
grabbed the phone, punching in numerous numbers; his home (where he knew his wife and kids would be waiting his return), his
neighbour, the police again. Nothing. Wincing, he gingerly reached over his seat for the handle of a spade, half-expecting
the now reeking corpse to leap at him or start thrashing like something from a horror film under its sheet. Why, oh why, did
they make that sheeting transparent?
No, of course it didn’t. What kind
of madness is that? thought Salisbury, pulling the spade closer.
What horrors had befallen
Shaw and Matthews...?
With spade clutched tightly, he opened the
door and stepped outside. Then, using the torch, he began to signal to anyone (or thing) that was out there. Christ, he thought,
right now I’d settle for some crotchety, shotgun-toting farmer. “Shaw! Matthews!” he hollered
into the stormy darkness, the deep rumbling of thunder and the persistent rain his only answer.
Again, Salisbury called out their names,
his voice pleading. He shone the beam at his watch: 18:36. He then climbed back into the passenger seat and closed the door.
A tangle of incredible possibilities crashed like dark waves against his corroding rationality. In all his life he had never
been faced with anything so bizarre and unfathomable. Sure, he had succumbed to intense worry on the several occasions his
kids had returned home later than expected but this was something else entirely. These were two colleagues, grown, sensible
men. Men he played football with on Saturday mornings, men he drank with, men who were respected in their own fields; and
now they were gone. It just wasn’t possible, let alone credible.
Salisbury toyed with the idea of hiking
it back to the village. He looked again at his watch, then at the conditions outside. He then decided it would be best to
stay with the vehicle. Come first light he would set off. After checking that all the doors were locked, he tilted his seat
back and tried to go to sleep, resigned now to the fact that there was little else he could do. The torch, still on, rested
on the driver’s seat. The evening crept on as he tried and failed to rest. No matter what position he got in, sleep
would just not come as though his in-built survival instincts were purposefully keeping him awake. He found himself unnaturally
warm, despite the fact that it must have been only a degree or two above zero.
Now free from its waterlogged context, the
damp carcass in the back began to deteriorate with a stench like rotting compost. Salisbury cursed, both at the smell and
at the fact that unless he acted, the find would be badly damaged by morning. Reluctantly, he clambered into the back, the
torch in one hand, then he peeled back the covering, examining the bog body.
Whilst some of his colleagues may have looked
upon the remains with a feeling of sympathy, expressing their empathy towards it, to Salisbury, it was just plain ugly. To
his eyes, there was nothing personal about it, on the contrary, to him, it was death; a preserved testimony of man’s
religion-induced inhumanity for what he was looking at had undoubtedly been a sacrifiicial homicide. Around its disheveled,
stab-wounded neck was a short length of knotted sinew. One eye-socket had been splintered and parts of the cranium jutted
from the back of its head. Its only arm resembled a large, puffy, dark sausage. The remainder was mostly skeletal or missing
entirely. Uneasy, he reached for the small spray-gun lying nearby. He then started to squirt the distilled water over the
remains, moistening the skin.
It was while he was wetting the face that
the corpse’s right eye opened.
Paralytic, his heart in his mouth, Salisbury
dropped the spray gun. With its one good eye, the dead face looked back at him.
Fifteen, silent, horror-filled seconds passed.
Salisbury regained some of his composure
although he was now sure he had shat himself. Still the eye looked at him. With a deep breath, he reached out, tentatively
running his fingers out towards the watery face. He closed his eyes as his fingertips made contact with the spongy skin. Opening
one eye, he then pulled his hand back. It was trembling like the proverbial leaf.
It’s just the relaxing of the stretched
skin, he tried to tell himself. Horrible as his situation was, he actually smiled. A grim smile. He was about to continue
his watering when his vision was drawn to something so incongruous, he was certain that he’d truly flipped. He looked
again, focusing the beam directly on the damp face.
On its cheek, resting in a furrow of watery
skin was a small slice of transparent film. A contact lens.
“Fuck me!” muttered the
stunned archaeologist, continuing to stare at the muddy face.
A sudden wet thud against the rear windows
caused his heart to leap. Spinning the torch round, Salisbury saw a ghastly, squidgy face smeared across the back window,
trailing a line of black earth. Half a bloody earthworm squirmed within it.
It was his screaming that woke him from
his nightmare. Startled and with sweat leaking from his brow, he frantically looked around. He was sat in the passenger seat,
the rain pattering off the windscreen. The torch was resting on the driver’s seat as he had left it before nodding off.
“Christ almighty!” he
mumbled, streaking sweat across his face. Breathing sharply, he checked his watch: 21:13. He drew his hand down his face,
leaning over to examine his reflection in the mirror. The visage that glared back at him was barely recognizable. Christ,
he thought, is that me? A boom of thunder, directly overhead, forced a muffled scream from his lips.
Restless, Salisbury looked around, rummaging
through the untidy glove compartment for anything of use. He pulled out a half-eaten Mars bar, a bag stuffed with elastic
bands, two biros, numerous crumpled tissues, a few spare batteries, a wrench and two empty crisp bags. He patted the wrench
against his palm, taking comfort in its cold solidity. He glanced at his watch: 21:19. Christ, it was going to be a long night.
Alone in the torchlight, Salisbury began
to experience a new wave of fear. On several occasions he sat up, convinced that he had seen shadowy figures moving just outside.
Icy fingers crept up his spine each time he thought he saw something. He would then spend moments holding his breath and peering
into the darkness. There’s nothing there, he tried to tell himself. But deep down, he knew he was wrong. After one such
experience, he lowered the window, straining his eyes into the impenetrable gloom. He shone the torch in an arc, outlining
the smoky fog in its ghostly radiance. His eyes saw nothing but his mind told him that something was out there, hidden
in the fog. He was about to roll down the glass when he heard the sound of dogs baying. His heart leapt.
Dogs? Where there’s dogs, there’s
people. After all this isn’t some backward place where wild dogs roam the moors by night, hunting down hapless folk.
Hell no, he thought, that was bloody Sherlock Holmes. Dogs meant farmers. And farmers meant farmhouses with phones and people.
Salisbury stepped out of the four-wheeled
vehicle and walked forward a few feet, torch in hand. The barking grew louder. Christ, there must have been a bloody pack
of them. Unnerved by the haunting cacophony, he stood his ground, unsure whether to call out. Then the howling stopped. For
half a minute he stood, straining his senses to the limit. Only the constant heavy drizzle pattering on the vehicle roof could
be heard. For a second he wondered whether he had dreamt the sounds.
He was about to return to the Landrover
when a dark blur leapt at him from behind, cracking him over the head with something long and hard. Salisbury crumpled to
the ground, stunned and bleeding. Before he could properly defend himself the heavy weapon crashed down on his skull and then
there was only darkness…
He awoke some time later.
Naked and strung-up, he watched through
tear-streaked eyes as the mob of savages before him screamed and danced. They were a wild lot, all straggled hair and filthy,
clad in crude clothing. A woman, her face smeared in grime, her breasts bared and dirty, pawed at him before leaping back
into the throng. Accompanied by a guttural shout, he was raised higher, the rope cutting into his neck. In and out of consciousness
he lapsed but each time death came for him, he would open his eyes almost at the command of the mad shouts.
How long he had been hanging from the limb
of the large bog oak, he couldn’t tell. With eyes closed, he heard the mob of crazies as they babbled in a dialect and
language that hadn’t been spoken for some three thousand years. His feet and hands were bound with sinew, his voice
cut silent by the biting rope.
Stubbornly, Salisbury held on to life. Unknown
to him, he had now been hanging for several hours, Shaw and Matthews dangling ten feet or so to his left. A commotion off
to one side made him open his eyes.
Darkness swallowed him again.
Ten minutes later, Salisbury stirred once
more. Torch bearing figures moved around, large shaggy dogs at their feet. Curious infants, their faces muddy and painted,
approached and reached up to touch his mud-encrusted boots. He tried to let it be known that he was innocent of whatever crime
these people believed he had committed, but all that escaped his crushed larynx was a pitiful groan. He spasmed, alarming
one of the children. The child ran, screaming into the denser crowd.
The three men were left hanging for most
of the night. Then, at a time when the dark clouds shifted and the bright full moon lit up the bog in its haunting glow, the
bear-hide clad shaman ordered for the bodies to be lowered. Each was held in a crouching position, hands behind back, head
down. Salisbury, still alive, felt a final burst of agony as a dirty hand pulled his head back by the hair. Then, using an
iron-bladed knife, the shaman brutally cut each man’s throat, collecting much of the spilt blood in a silver-gilt bowl.
He then dipped two fingers into the container and daubed the thick, dark red fluid across his face before pouring the remainder
into a hollow in the earth.
The three corpses were then dumped in the
bog, sinking to its brackish depths.
Deep below, the gargantuan, chthonic deity
that had already awakened and was on its way to the surface, sensed the offering. The life-giving sacrificial blood seeped
through the ground, attracted to the elemental’s greed. The entity tasted. Three for the three taken.
It would suffice. It drew back once more even as on the surface, the tribe of ghostly murderers slowly vanished into the mists.
Copyright Ed Glasby 2007