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The Carrot of Doom Presents...
It was a Cold Night

Experienced by Theresa Clark

It was a cold night, only the feeble light from the full moon lent a little illumination through the ancient branches of the yew tree. Over 1500 years old, they had dropped earth wards, resting on the frozen soil, then rising up, the newer shoots fighting vainly against gravity.

The frost glistened in the moonlight, a faint mist hung darkly in the shadows, the night felt menacing, as if the mist were about to launch itself on an unsuspicious victim. There was an eerie silence broken only by the occasional rustle of frosted fallen leaves as a cold rodent snuffled about, searching for titbits, anxious to supplement his winter larder.

A passing solitary cloud glided across the sky, temporarily obscuring the moon. As the dim light faded even more, there came the faint sounds of a deer skin drum being beaten slowly, as slow as a sleeping mans heart, rhythmically, without a missed or varied beat.

From the West came a procession of dark figures, the lead figure carrying a single flaming torch which cast scampering shadows as it swung to and fro as he walked in time with the drum beat. Behind the Torchbearer came, in pairs, hooded figures who followed silently, heads cast down towards the ground. As if following some unseen signal the entire parade turned into the clearing and continued until they reached a pair of Oak trees, which stood, sentinel like, at the entrance to the Sacred land.

They stopped still and the leader extinguished the torch, laying it on the ground. Holding up both arms as if in supplication, he turned firstly to one Oak, and then the other, muttering indistinguishable words under his breath.  As he dropped his arms again the moon reappeared from the cover of the cloud that had just thrown the world into an inky blackness. A small gasp could be heard from the group, as a moonbeam seemed to shine down and light a path into the glade between the old trees.  Singly the procession continued to pass silently along this silver pathway and disappeared briefly from sight. As if they glided above the icy frozen sod they traipsed silently, not a brittle twig snapped under their feet as they followed each behind the other in a circle.

Abruptly they stopped at the final heavy beat of the drum. Almost invisible they stood, only the occasional faint mist of exhaled breath caught in the moonlight to betray their presence. Suddenly a small wailing cry pierced the night air, the unhappy cry of a small child cloaked in the protective arms of its mother. In the gloom the leader took the small body, and after raising it up towards the inky sky he removed the blankets to reveal the naked body of a female child. In the chill air the cry became silent as the sub-zero temperature robbed the tiny lungs of all oxygen, temporarily paralysing them.

A low chant began from the rest of the group as they began to follow each other around in the circle.  Starting from the edge they gradually wound their way towards the centre only to turn back on themselves as they gradually increased their pace until after a few minutes the whole glade seemed to have become a maelstrom of writhing weaving dark robed figures, louder and louder they chanted the same monotonous sound repeating it numerous times. A sight of organised chaos as they bent towards the earth and then flung their arms up again to the sky running, charging, writhing in ecstasy and finally rushing to the centre of their circle they threw their arms up heaven wards with a final deafening 'HO'

Silence fell immediately the ringing of that syllable ceased.  The quietness was total and magnificent in its completeness. Again the unseen signal which shepherded the group together again to parade out of the circle and through the Oaken gates, the beat of the drum hypnotising and ethereal as it faded away, leaving no trace of the visitors.

Suddenly I heard the flapping of large wings and felt the air brush past my face as the stately figure of a Tawny Owl swooped close by me, reaching down with razor sharp talons it picked up the struggling body of a mouse and carried it away over the trees,  As it disappeared, I could have sworn its squeak turned briefly into the death cries of a sacrificed child.