Three days it had been, three long days since Detective Inspector George Staffordshire or ”Staffy” to the lads down at the station had hung up his coat and police badge for the weeks vacation he was being forced to take. 3 days they’d spent packing, shopping and ensuring Whiskey, the wife’s cat would be okay in the cattery. Chancer their six year old brown retriever was heading down to the rented cottage in the small village of Rushmore with them.
George had been scolded, directed and told how to drive by Maureen the whole way there. He understood, really he did. Maureen had been in a car accident a number of years ago and now panicked whenever she was in a car. It didn’t mean he didn’t want to throttle her, lovingly of course. Hen pecked and worn out George was more than ready for a pint or three in the first pub they found.
George got there eventually. After another hour of unpacking and several comments about the fact they were only going to be there for 3 days. They found The Poison Oak a proper old fashioned pub just down the road. George had gotten himself a pint of home brewed bitter and taken himself off to sit in the sunshine with Chancer, whilst Maureen chatted with the locals.
George was halfway through that first glorious pint when someone sat down opposite him. Chancer, ever the betrayer where a scratch behind the ear was concerned, greeted the stranger as though he was an old friend with a sniff and a wagging tail.
”Your wife’s telling half the village about you being wounded in the line of duty.” The man nodded to him and took a sip of the pint in his own hand. George grimaced.
”Thomas Travil or Tommy.” The man said holding out a hand that was definitely older than George’s, ”Ex-chief inspector, yep, my sister was the same. Still is actually, 67 and she’s still gushing about me like I’m still in the force. At least it’s the wife for you.” Tommy said with a smile.
”George Staffordshire.” George shook the man’s hand, his admission about the sister confirming the age difference between them.
”How long are you here for?” Tommy asked curiously before taking another swig of his beer and giving Chancer another pet. Traitor George thought looking down at the dog. It wasn’t that he was opposed to company it was just after the day he’d already had he wanted to be alone with his thoughts.
”Only three days but you’d think three weeks the amount of dog tins our cottage is currently storing.” George rolled his eyes and Tommy let out a laugh.
”Don’t let Mavis here you say that, she’s after donations.” he replied nodding to the pub. Tommy played with his glass for a minute as though he was wanting to say something but wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it.
”You’re about to ask me something about work aren’t you?” George kept his eyes trained on Tommy’s fingers as he asked the question before he looked up at him expectantly.
”I know, I know you’re on holiday,” George let out a small sigh and Tommy stopped him. ”Just, I know ok, if anyone knows I know. Believe it or not I’m on holiday too.” Tommy paused and looked around him as though someone might be watching before leaning in slightly to continue. ”I’m actually pretty relieved another coppers shown up, the locals get a bit funny.” Tommy made a disgruntled face.
Now George was interested, it wasn’t that he didn’t like the idea of a holiday but he really did enjoy his job. Well the paperwork was something he could definitely do without but the job itself he loved. The thrill of the chase, the intrigue of mystery and even better now he wasn’t actually on the clock.
”Go on.” George said leaning in, gripping his pint a little tighter and giving Chancer’s head a ruffle.
”I found something the other day and you’re not telling me it was wildlife that did it!” Tommy’s eyes darted from side to side again causing George’s brow to furrow.
”A body?” George asked quietly.
”Fifteen of em’ and they’re still there.” Tommy whispered, he paused for a moment and in that moment George’s eyes bulged, his pulse began to race. Fifteen dead bodies in one little village and no one had reported it, there were no mass task forces, no reporters. His eyes darted to the pub window where he could still see Maureen safe through it. Everything suddenly felt very close, the plants too near, like they were watching him. He pulled at his collar, although his mind was racing; the thrill of mystery already coursing through his system, his first priority was and always would be Maureen’s safety. No matter how intrigued he was.
”Fifteen dead cows, all together in one space.” Tommy shook his head in disbelief and the colour immediately returned to George’s face. If he’d known Tommy better he’d had clobbered the older gent around the head for scaring him. Unfortunately for George he didn’t know the bespectacled grey haired man before him, which was probably quite fortunate for Tommy.
”Rival farmer? Kids? Maybe some disease?” George suggested, easing back into the conversation and feeling his previous panic melt away.
”The weird thing isn’t that they’re dead George. The weird thing is that none of them seem to care.” Tommy said seriously prodding the table with his finger.
”It’s- ” George started but was cut off by Maureen approaching.
”I see you’re making friends.” Maureen smiled and took a seat next to her husband letting Chancer nuzzle at her leg a little and stroking him. ”Not going to introduce me?”
”Tommy this is Maureen, Maureen, Tommy.” George gestured between the two of them. ”Tommy used to be a copper.” George said and Maureen rolled her eyes at the pair of them.
”No wonder you’re talking then. Honestly George we come on holiday to get away from work!” She scolded him lightly.
”That’s my fault I’m afraid, I heard you talking about him and came out here to introduce myself.” Tommy admitted taking a swig of his pint.
”Well at least I know who to blame if he gets into trouble.” Maureen sighed but gave George’s arm a gentle squeeze shooting him a smile. After Maureen’s appearance the cows weren’t brought up again as they chatted well into the evening. They did however creep into George’s mind when he went to the shops a little later and when the creepy cottage opposite them was playing Brahms Concerto at three am full volume.
George turned over again, pillow over his head, Maureen asleep next to him and got up, whoever said the country side was quiet lied, big time. He’d have gotten more sleep in his office with the sirens blaring. George stood up and walked to the window glaring at the house opposite as though the occupant might see him and turn down the racket they were making. Maureen mumbled in her sleep and turned over just as George spotted something outside. He narrowed his eyes and then shook his head, lack of sleep was clearly doing things to him because there was no way people were moving around outside at this time. It was probably just the wind in the tree’s. George closed his eyes and went back to bed eventually drifting off.
The second day of the holiday was nice, relaxing. They didn’t do much, went for a walk, called in at the local and George didn’t hear hide nor hare from Tommy either. The mystery of the cows still played on his mind though something Maureen noticed, especially when she’d spent twenty minutes talking aliens and he hadn’t even noticed, he was too busy lost in thought.
Why, why would a farmer kill that many cows? Why would they leave them in a pile like that?
George was still pondering those questions at midnight when he heard a rapping at the window. He got up wearily rubbing his eyes and once again hearing opera blaring from the house over the road. He wasn’t so much shocked as he was annoyed to see Tommy outside the house.
”Sheep.” Tommy hissed when George opened the window and leaned out. ”It’s sheep now.” George’s brow furrowed, now he was more than curious, now he wanted to investigate. He raised a finger at Tommy telling him to wait and slipped over to the chair in the corner. George dressed quickly and pulled on his coat heading outside to meet Tommy.
George really had to question how he ended up here; crouched behind a wall, tired and grumpy on the second night of his holiday with a practical stranger.
”I’m telling you something’s off.” It was the fourth time Tommy had hissed the words at him and George was ready for giving him a kick.
”There’s nothing bloody here.” George said pushing himself up off his knees.
”Keep your voice down man!” Tommy said grabbing George’s coat and pulling him back down into the mud next to him. ”Shhh.” Tommy batted at George as he protested and before he could argue another word his attention was caught by someone approaching the sheep.
”See.” hissed Tommy as they waited with bated breath for a reappearance. The whole place seemed to have gone silent and they were all holding their breath, eyes wide and unblinking.
”What are you all doing out here!” Maureen suddenly emerged from the shadows as Tommy’s hand flew up to his chest and Maureen actually jumped herself.
”Oh bloody hell!” George grumbled shaking his head and standing up as something caught the attention of the others in the field behind him.
”George what on earth.” Maureen questioned him but George just grumbled again shaking his head and feeling foolish, this was something and nothing.
”It doesn’t matter because that’s it! I’m done! There’s nothing out here. I’m going home, if you want to play silly buggers out here.” George started to walk waving them off.
”George.” Maureen said quietly.
”No, you know what this idiot’s dragged us out here for?” George protested still walking away and Maureen called him again, hissing his name with urgency. There was a tug at his jacket that he ignored.
”No this has gone far e-bloody-nough!” George shouted as a sound that could described as metal being torn in two came from behind him and Maureen screamed a little too loudly.
”What are yo-” George cut himself of when he saw it. A woman no older than 35 who looked like she’d been made from the earth; skin more like wood, hair leaves and plants, feet planted solidly into the earth which seemed to carry her forward. Her eyes, as far as he could see, were dark and hollow and her arms were outstretched beckoning the plants forward. It took George a whole minute of wondering if he was dreaming or not before he realised he wasn’t. Her mouth opened like the gaping hole made by woodland animals in tree bark and a thick thorned branch, like some tongue from hell itself, came up out of it.
”We need to run.” George said but Tommy had started backing up, hands in the air and was muttering something about coming in peace.
”We didn’t see anything.” Maureen said almost tripping as she moved backwards.
The creature tilted it’s head at them and George had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well. ”Run you silly bastards!” Tommy shouted. George grabbed Maureen’s hand and they started to run away as the woman gave chase. George glanced back, his brow furrowing, was she? Had she gotten bigger. The earth seemed to be feeding her and a branch suddenly landed in front of them, they dodged it and continued to run until Maureen’s foot was caught on something and George was already too far away by the time he realised what had happened.
That sound of tearing metal echoed across the fields and into the night again. George realised then it was the call of whatever this creature was. George made to move forward but the thing picked Maureen up by the ankles and ignoring her cries and protests it swallowed her whole.
”George.” Tommy hissed at him. ”George.” Tommy said again urgently, dancing on the edge of the woods.
”No! NO!” George suddenly said defiantly causing the monster to stop in it’s tracks and watch him. ”I HAVE HAD ENOUGH! All Maureen wanted was a break, a little break, nothing too much to ask but all we’ve had ALL WE’VE BLOODY GOTTEN is one thing after another, if it wasn’t batshit mental Mary over the road playing opera at all hours it’s crack pot old police men telling me there’s aliens afoot. I am sick and bloody tired of this village. You, you think you can just come down here and eat my bloody wife?” George cried angrily shaking his fist.
”I know what you want George.” The high raspy voice of the creature said tilting her head at him as though she were about to seduce. ”You want a new woman, to be young again, a new chance at life.” She said. ”I can give you that George.”
”No, no I bloody don’t! I’m 54, I want my damn wife back, I want a shed and I want to be left alone!” He shouted. ”You bloody aliens think you’re going to come down here and change the earth but guess-” George was midway through speaking when suddenly there was a cry from the creature, piercing into the night, one that could only be pain and suddenly it exploded.
”Sorry love but you were taking too long.” Maureen said standing up from the ground where she’d been thrown. She smiled dusting herself off and held up a small pair of garden sheers. ”Well I didn’t know what you were doing out here.” She added answering his quizzical look.
George swallowed watching her, unsure if she should be afraid right now or just relieved, relief seemed to be the overwhelming emotion as he moved toward her and wrapped her in a tight embrace that almost cracked a rib.
”I think it’s time we were leaving don’t you?” Maureen said matter of factly looking down towards the sheep and the body bits. Tommy had gone, disappeared into the wild and despite searching for him for well over an hour they couldn’t find him. Within twenty minutes of getting back to the cottage they’d packed and bundled Chancer into the car. They left a note for Tommy not knowing if he’d ever see it then took off back home.
”Next year we’ll take a city break.” Maureen mused in the car watching the scenery go by in the car and catching something in the wing mirror. A lone Ivy leaf that appeared to be creeping towards them at the lights. Maureen blinked and shook her head, clearly she still needed a large brandy after everything that had happened.