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The Light of the Solstice: A Fantastical Short

Gaslamp / Folk surreal fantasy; Summer Solstice Challenge

By Ian ReadPublished 21 days ago 6 min read
Top Story - June 2024
The Light of the Solstice: A Fantastical Short
Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

"It all seems a touch heathen, if you ask me," said Father Andrews as he surveyed the antiquarian's preparations with interest.

As they talked, a traction engine drawing a wagon full of townsfolk entered the clearing behind them, all chattering about this and that and how fun the event would be for the children. Wisps of grey smoke from the engine's flue rode the gentle breeze wafting between the men in the summer heat. The vicar doffed his bowler hat and mopped the sweat on his brow with a handkerchief. The antiquarian turned his attention to the various herbs and minerals he had spread before him on a cured cow hide. He adjusted the ceremonial raiment he wore over his shirt and vest in place of his usual greatcoat.

"Pagan," the antiquarian corrected, "But I wouldn't worry your head over it, Father. But we've all got a touch of 'pagan' in us, don't you agree? What, with gods in three's and knotted crosses and all that? Even old Margaret with her herbs and teas has got a wee bit of pagan in her. It's everywhere you see, that's if you look hard enough, of course."

By now, small children were running and laughing around the centuries old oak that stood guard in the center of the meadow. Their parents walked behind, dressed in their finest daywear. Some wore their suits and overcoats, others wore their own threadbare counterparts that they had managed to sew or scrounge on their own. Some men had already begun tapping barrels for beer and cider and setting a hog on a spit over a roaring fire. A group of women stood with their parasols beneath the shade of an ash while they gossiped. Little by little the atmosphere was building.

The vicar sighed discontentedly. "Blasphemin' aside, John, Mag's herb garden ain't for anything strange nor occult! They're just for flavoring stews and preparing folk remedies is all."

"As her ancestors have done for centuries even before God spoke unto Moses, I would reckon," John added, turning towards the amassing crowd.

The cool indifference with which John said the word 'God' gave Father Andrews pause.

"I see no difference in this. Look around, Father, see how happy your flock are! Treat this as it is, a history lesson and a summer solstice the town will never forget."

There was something in the way the man spoke that caused the vicar fright, a tone that was confident and eager in the face of resurrecting such so-called traditions. He watched as John looked to the sky as he slid his gold pocket watch out of his vest. John flipped it open with his thumb before looking down and carefully reading the time. He smiled.

Father Andrews furrowed his brow as he spoke with an artificially calm voice that frayed at its ends. "I don't care whatever lesson you think you are teaching them. This stinks of something sinister, I can't in good conscience let you continue. I don't know how you convinced the mayor to let you pull this off, but it ain't right, John! It ain't Christian!"

John shooed the priest away like some errant fly as he stepped forward, his arms raised. "Good people, we near the appointed hour! Midsummer is nigh upon us! Gather the wood, light the bonfires, fill your bellies and sing the songs! Let us give the longest day of the year the send off it deserves!"

The rapturous applause of the crowd drowned out the now frantic admonishments of the vicar, who seemed to be growing quite red. The smell of meat dripping with fat filled the air as drinks of all manner were handed to merrymakers young and old. A new bonfire had been built a short distance from the oak, its timbers quickly set alight and catching flame seemingly from goodwill and merriment itself. A pair of old women threw sweet-smelling herbs into the blaze that made the whole meadow smell of comfort and bliss. Men and women of stations high and low mingled and danced as all social obligations and decorum were forgotten for just a day. John smiled and took in a deep lungful of clean meadow air electrified by the spirit of man at its highest. John turned to kneel at his prepared materials as he donned a ceremonial hood. Suddenly, the vicar clung at his raiment.

"Please, John, it is not too late! Stop it!" He cried.

"Why," he asked the vicar with a crooked grin, "when we have just begun?"

John knelt, ignoring the Father as he took two fistfulls of moist earth and sprinkled them over his gems, bones, and herbs. The then took the rib of a bull and the jaw of a roe deer and covered them in long dried herbs: rosemary and lavender, sage and parsley. He wrapped the bundle together with twine and took a gilded bronze sickle into his hand. The object now glowed with an otherworldly radiance that even sent the vicar back a few paces. Unimpeded and unbothered, John walked towards the new bonfire.

John seemed unaffected by the heat as he approached it. He threw the bundle of herbs and bones onto the fire as he spoke. The vicar tried his damnedest to listen, but the antiquarian spoke in a language he did not know. No one in the town, or even the whole of Britain would have known it as it had been dead a thousand and twenty years prior. Nevertheless, no one but the vicar noticed as the entire population was swept away by the rapture of the festival. John held the sickle close to the fire as he chanted, sweat gathering on his brow and an untamable grin gathering on his lips.

"John! What in Go-" yelled the vicar before a comely young girl grabbed his hand and spun him away in a jig.

"Come, Father, dance with me!" She said, not even giving him time to decline.

John walked around the bonfire, drinking in the power as he chanted. Moment by moment he seemed to grow younger and more radiant. From somewhere far off in the crowd the vicar was still yelling. John, seemingly a decade or two younger than he was minutes ago, crouched down and set the sickle on the ground. Roots came up from the earth and swallowed the object whole as the great oak tree in the center of the meadow rumbled and cracked.

John smiled and wept a single tear. "It has been too long."

One by one, the denizens of the town ceased their merriment and turned inward to watch the spectacle unfold. The tree cracked and groaned as a gateway large enough to fit two horses abreast opened within it. Green light and mist radiated from it. When John stood up, his clothes had seemingly changed to long white flowing robes trimmed in gold. When he took off his hood, two elk antlers sprouted effortlessly from his head. The laughter and merriment died, but the atmosphere did not change as the crowd regarded the eldritch scene with awe.

Two shaggy heads poked through the mist within the tree. Their thick and heavy paws sauntered through, revealing that the heads belonged to two green hounds the size of draft horses. Gouts of flame burst from their jowls as they panted. The vicar, who had managed to push his way to the front, nearly fainted from fright. The dogs quickly circled to the sides of John, sniffed him, and then laid at his sides facing the trees.

Then, a woman dressed in a robe similar to John's walked through the portal followed by a retinue of various men and women, all of extremely youthful and fair in body but martial in demeanor. The retinue flanked either side of the tree as the woman approached John warily. She stood an arm's length away from him for a moment as he smiled knowingly. After a long stare into his eyes, she bowed her head and knelt.

"My lord, it is a pleasure to see you again," she said sorrowfully.

John placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Rise, and rejoin our kin. Our reunion has just begun."

John helped the woman to her feet with a chivalrous grin. They held each other's hand for a moment as they looked into each other's eyes.

The vicar, seemingly gathering courage, looked pale as he muttered the words, "John..."

One of the hounds sat up and growled at the vicar, but was stopped when John made a halting signal to the beast. The hound lowered its head and laid back down.

"The John you knew never existed, Father. He was one of the many guises I donned over the centuries in preparation for this moment."

"This moment for what?" asked Father Andrews fearfully.

John smiled devilishly, opening his arms welcomingly. "The moment I planned to change this town."


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About the Creator

Ian Read

I am an archaeologist and amateur story-teller. I publish a variety of content, but usually I write short and serial fantasy and sci-fi.

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From New Hampshire

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Comments (11)

  • Gina C.9 days ago

    Oh, this plot is so intriguing! Really loved the idea of John growing younger and more radiant. Awesome entry! 🤗❤️

  • Chelas Montanye16 days ago

    Amazing and brilliantly written!

  • D.K. Shepard20 days ago

    This is a very well written fantastical piece! The vicar’s suspicion of John was a great anchor as the otherworldly events unfolded

  • Sharp Aim20 days ago

    congrats on TS 👏

  • Babs Iverson20 days ago

    Fantastic fantasy fable!!! Loving it!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Wow this was intense and intriguing! That portal was something out worldly for sure ✨😳 Congrats for top story! Well deserved 🥳

  • Congrats on TS

  • Matthew Fromm21 days ago

    ayyyy congrats on top story friend

  • shanmuga priya21 days ago

    My heartfelt congratulations for this remarkable feat ..🎉🎉

  • K.H. Obergfoll21 days ago

    oooooh. LOVE this!!! Great work, wonderful story...can't wait for more !!

Ian ReadWritten by Ian Read

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