Fiction logo

The Solstice in Bad Gumption

What could possibly go wrong?

By Katarzyna PopielPublished 20 days ago Updated 4 days ago 6 min read
Top Story - July 2024
The Solstice in Bad Gumption
Photo by Nicholas Bullett on Unsplash

‘How do we go about it?’

The group of three men and one boy shifted from foot to foot around a bonfire spluttering sparks in the bone chilling drizzle, a few hefty stones sitting amid the flames. They were thinking about all the time it took to get it going in this weather. Someone sniffed, someone coughed. They all felt cold and uneasy standing at the edge of the fields sprawling in front of them in the dusk, with their backs to the dripping birches surrounding the cemetery.

‘Weel,’ Ancient Archie scratched his balding scalp. ‘Way Ah see it, we dae as the buik says.’

He turned and glared at young Barry, the miller’s son.

‘Got it wi ye, don’t ye, laddie?’

Young Barry nodded, his eyes almost round in the pale chubby face. He was torn between being afraid of the dark and proud of his role. He knew that being in charge of the book was important. His young eyes and five years of official education in the nearby town of Bad Mouthing earned him this task. But never before has he stayed outside so long past his bedtime, even in the summer. All the frightening tales his Nan liked to spin in the evenings came back to him during the long walk with the elders of his native village of Bad Gumption. Hunched in the relentless smirr, they strode past the cottages, through the cemetery where their ancestors have been laid to their final rest since time immemorial, and to the vast fields behind it.

‘Read it again, wee man!’, rumbled Chunky Calum, the butcher of Bad Gumption. His almost black beard trembled to the rhythm of his voice, sending raindrops off in random directions.

Young Barry gulped. Aware of all the village elders looking at him, he took the book out of his satchel and fumbled with uneven pages until he found the right passage. Raindrops strangely thudded against the soft leathery pages and slid off them without a trace.

‘Umm… The Midsummer Night ritual for thriving harvests, to be performed at the edge of the barren field… as described by the ancient… ancient druids of Phabaigh... for the time when the Queen of Winter refuses to release her grip…’

‘Skip the rubbish! The ingreidients, laddie, the ingreidients!’, Chunky Calum sniffed and spat impatiently through his uneven teeth.

Young Barry traced the rows of text with one chubby finger.

'Wood from the walls of your home,

Mossy stones found in the field,

A fallen bird’s lightest bone,

A ripe fruit evenly peeled,

Grain from the previous years’ crops,

Live chicken’s blood, forty drops…'

Graham the baker carefully took a small cloth bundle from behind his belt. He put it on the ground and unfolded, revealing its contents: a peeled apple, a handful of grain, and a tiny bone.

A rumble of thunder erupted somewhere in the distance. All the men shivered.

‘Move yer hurdies, will ye? Ma baws are freezing!’ Ancient Archie waved impatiently. ‘We hae the fire, the apple, the grain and the wee bane. Now chuck it aw tae the fire, dae we?’

‘Umm… seems so.’ Young Barry leaned forward to bring the book closer to the meagre light of the bonfire. ‘It says you first put all the wood into the fire and place the stones, then throw the bone, then the fruit, then the grain.’

Graham the baker closed his lumpy hand over the tiny bone and carefully dropped it on the hot stones, then did the same with the rest of the ingredients. The apple sizzled and began to turn brown.

Then he turned to Chunky Calum.

‘Pass the chicken now, mate.’

‘Me?’ The butcher looked surprised. ‘It's no me that was meant to bring the chicken! Archie was to do it.’

‘Are ye aff yer heid?’ Ancient Archie was taken aback. ‘Ah'm no gien up ma chicken fur ye! Only hae five o' them and ye hae loads!’

Chunky Calum drew himself up to his almost seven feet of height.

‘Aye, right? It’s the least you could do! Who landed us up in this mess? Who tellt us to give the witch a doin’?’

‘How wiz Ah tae ken the hag wiz a witch?’

‘You ken now, dontcha?’

‘It was ye who gied her a skelpin!’

‘But it was you who tellt us to chuck her intae the watter!’

‘You didn't need tae listen!’

The baker lunged forward and grabbed both men just as they jumped and, in Archie’s case, shuffled towards each other with their fists clenched.

‘Haud yer wheesht! Just to remind ye, the witch cursed us aw before she drooned. The whole village. We were lucky young Barry here took her pouch an found the book, right? And now it’s the solstice an we need to complete the ritual, right? Or would ye rather hae winter for another year, ye dafties?’

Both men had the sense to look contrite.

‘Yer right, mate,’ Chunky Calum nodded. Ancient Archie hung his head.

They shook hands.

‘But still, it’s no far aff midnight and we hae nae chicken.’

Graham turned to young Barry again.

‘Are ye sure we need that blood, laddie?’

‘Aye… Says here you douse the fire with blood drawn with a silver knife.’ The boy squinted and leaned closer to the light. ‘Looks like there’s also some handwriting on the margin but the letters are wee…’

The finest men of Bad Gumption looked helplessly into the fire. It was too late to go back to the village. By the time any of them could come back with one unlucky chicken, it would be long past midnight. The flames danced wildly heedless of the rain, changing colour to strangely greenish hue where the fire touched the offerings. Young Barry sat hunched over the book, moving his lips silently in an effort to read in the meagre light.

Graham stood up rapidly and took a step towards the bonfire. Silver glinted when he brought a small knife close to his forearm and cut the skin.

‘Blood is blood,’ he muttered, seeing the shocked faces of his companions. ‘Mine will douse the fire as well as anyone else’s.’

He extended his arm. Drops of blood fell into the fire. Wherever they met the green flames, the fire died with a hiss, spurting black billows of smoke. The three men counted under their breaths:

‘One, two, three…’

Young Barry was the only one who didn’t notice anything, even when his eyes started to water because of the smoke. He was too busy deciphering the handwriting on the book’s margins.

‘…thirty nine, forty!’

The black remnants of the bonfire reeked foul in the gloom of the Midsummer night. The baker stood proudly upright but looked rather pale while Archie bandaged his forearm with a piece of cloth torn off from Calum’s shirt. Nobody felt like talking.

It took them a moment to notice the silence around them. The rain stopped. The three men raised their heads and gaped at the clear sky they haven’t seen for months. The almost round moon hung high in the sky, pouring down its eerie light over the fields and painting the distant forest silver.

‘Got it!’

They all jumped. Young Barry stood up and beamed at them.

‘I know what's written in this note here! It says: ‘Remember: human blood must never touch the ingredients’. And “never” has even been underlined twice. The letters are tiny but I managed to read them! Must’ve been the witch who wrote this… What? What’s wrong?’

The men exchanged wary glances. Chunky Calum grinned nervously.

‘But the rain stopped, aye?’

The baker shrugged.

‘Blood is blood…,’ he spoke uncertainly. ‘We had winter for almost a year. What’s worse that could happen?’

The men chuckled and let themselves relax.

Their laughter drowned the faint rustling among the wet birches behind their backs. In the cemetery dappled with patches of moonlight peering through stooping trees, the earth around the graves seemed to be moving.

The dead began to stir.

.

(1337 words)

This is my very first attempt at making the characters sound Scottish so, all of you who know more about the language than I do, please feel free to tell me in what ways I have managed to botch it. I will be grateful, I promise!

Short StoryHumorFantasy

About the Creator

Katarzyna Popiel

A translator, a writer. Two languages to reconcile, two countries called home.

Enjoyed the story?
Support the Creator.

Subscribe for free to receive all their stories in your feed. You could also pledge your support or give them a one-off tip, letting them know you appreciate their work.

Subscribe For FreePledge Your Support

Reader insights

Good effort

You have potential. Keep practicing and don’t give up!

Top insights

  1. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

Add your insights

Comments (13)

  • Kendall Defoe 16 days ago

    Aye, I like this wee tale ye told us, lass! And I think we all need a sequel!

  • Please I want more! I'm intrigued and need to know what's happening next. If this was a novel I would binge read it for sure. Excellent!

  • Sian N. Clutton18 days ago

    This was bloody brilliant! It had me giggling all the way through. I understood that they were Scottish immediatly. Loved this story!

  • Sam Avery18 days ago

    Amazing good work best of luck

  • ROCK 18 days ago

    Wonderful! Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Hannah Moore18 days ago

    Loved this, I was gripped. Great characters.

  • This is getting good! I love how the creepy feeling sneaks up slowly. Finding out what the note says and then immediately dismissing the warning because of the rain stopping is classic horror build-up. Uh oh, those sounds in the cemetery... can't wait to see what happens next! Keep writing, Katarzyna!!

  • Ameer Bibi19 days ago

    Well deserved Top story congratulations on TS

  • Rachel Deeming19 days ago

    Eek! Always read the small print. Loved the dialogue, giving it that real parochial feel. Humour too all the way through. And what a great place name!

  • Very cool end, I enjoyed it

  • Liam Storm19 days ago

    Spooky! Really liked how it ended, didn't see it coming at all! Well deserved top story!

  • Heather Zieffle 20 days ago

    Wonderfully written! Such an eerie story and I loved the ending! Good luck in the challenge!

  • D.K. Shepard20 days ago

    Great storytelling, Katarzyna! Such a creepy and ominous ending! I have no insight on Scottish accents to offer!

Katarzyna PopielWritten by Katarzyna Popiel

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.