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The Woken Stones

A Solstice Story

By Ian VincePublished 9 days ago Updated 4 days ago 5 min read
Art by AI from author prompt

Every summer solstice (and winter too) the town of Windelton came alive with the traditions of its impossibly long history. While the usual Yule and Christmas customs dominated midwinter in much the same way they gripped the rest of the country, summer solstice was special.

Colourful banners flittered in the breeze as people of the town busied about, preparing for an annual Midsummer Fayre. Stalls stocked with handmade crafts, artisanal foods, and fragrant wreaths of wildflowers lined the cobbled square that was framed by the timbered lychgate of the ancient church. It was like this every year, as if restlessness was an instinctive reflex to the lengthening days and everyone had to play their part. There was nowhere to hide, according to the local saying, in the shorter shadows of noon.

But this year, there was something extra, an undercurrent of excitement charged the air. After decades of neglect, Windelton’s elders had decided to revive an ancient solstice ritual - the Woken Stones. Passed down through generations, the ritual was said to harness the power of the solstice sun to bring good fortune and abundant harvests. Most regarded it as a twee superstition from a bygone era. But more than a few whispered that old stories held grains of truth, that some inexplicable magic was held by the landscape, the hill that overlooked town and the strange, anthropomorphous menhirs that seemed to hold it in a ring.

At dusk, as the sun dipped low and painted the sky in streaks of orange and pink, the people of the town gathered at the base of Hollythorn Hill. They began to climb the winding track up the slope, led by Windelton’s Mayor Councillor Silas Thornberry and Madam Winthrop, the aging town historian who had unearthed the long-forgotten steps of the solstice ritual.

Cresting the hill, the crowd fanned out to encircle the ancient ring of stones. Twenty three in total, each megalith stood twice the height of a man, their surfaces weathered and shimmering with flecks of mica in the angular light. In the centre of the ring lay a wide, flat altar stone, stained with the rusty brown, it was rumoured, by long-dried blood from some distant eon.

An expectant hush fell as Madam Winthrop stepped forward, a velvet pouch in her hands. She took out an orb of polished obsidian from the pouch, the stone’s inky black depths swirled on one side with ribbons of midnight blue. The stone seemed to mirror the sky at its zenith and whatever darkness lay an hill’s nadir. Placing the orb reverently in the centre of the altar stone, she turned to address the crowd.

Art by AI from author prompt

“On this, the longest day, we gather to witness the Woken Stones,” she proclaimed, her reedy voice surprisingly strong. “As our forebears did, so shall we honour the solstice sun and the ancient powers that flow through this sacred moment of space.”

Councillor Silas joined Madam Winthrop at the altar and held aloft an ornate golden sceptre crowned with a glittering amber gem. As the last light of the solstice sun struck the horizon, Silas began to chant, his resonant baritone echoing through the expectant hush. One by one, the townsfolk joined in, their voices rising and blending into an incantation that drifted from dissonance to harmony.

As the final words fell away, Silas brought the sceptre down on the obsidian orb with a resounding crack. For a moment, everything stopped, all was still. Then, a low vibration stirred the ground, building in short measure to a deep, thrumming pulse that shook the earth and rattled the stones. The obsidian orb and amber gem blazed forth with blinding light. Brilliant beams shot out, striking each of the twenty three stones until it seemed the entire hilltop was ablaze.

When the dazzling light died away and sight returned, an astonished gasp ruffled through the crowd. The menhirs glowed with a steady, pulsing light, as if lit from within. Mesmerised, the people of the town watched as glowing sigils in an unknown language scrolled across the stones’ surfaces.

As the twenty third and final stone lit up, magic burst forth across Windelton like a shock wave. The Midsummer Fayre decorations, pretty but plain in daylight, now sparkled and shimmered with enchanted brilliance in the low light of dusk. The central fountain flowed not with water, but with shimmering liquid silver. Glowing orbs of every colour drifted through the streets. Flowers unfurled into fractal blooms never seen before. The people of the town cried out in wonderment as aches and ailments disappeared, as white hair darkened and wrinkles smoothed.

In the days and weeks that followed, Windelton flourished as never before. Crops sprang up nearly overnight, growing with supernatural abundance. Artisans found their skills magnified tenfold, crafting masterpieces with impossible ease. Even the wearied old mill wheel turned once more, without a hand to propel it. Peace and prosperity had come to Windelton, a miraculous gift of the solstice stones.

But some, Madam Winthrop among them, felt an unease amid the miracles. Magic was a capricious thing, she knew. Gifts so freely given seldom came without a price. Poring over crumbling tomes and faded scrolls, she sought to unravel the secrets twined around Windelton’s supposed good fortune.

It was the dogs that first gave hint of something amiss - the way they hung their heads and whined as the moon rose, slinking away to hide until dawn. Then came reports of dark shapes glimpsed lurking in the forests ringing the town. Of eerie chitters and howls that pierced the night. Of nightmares that plagued even the purest of heart, leaving them shaken, sleepless and desperate for rest and relief. And always, the standing stones pulsed throughout, their glow casting long shadows that crept ever further with each passing day.

Madam Winthrop's blood ran cold when at last she found the final fragment of the tome that detailed the Woken Stones ritual. “Beware the balance,” it read. “For what is given shall also be taken in equal measure. When the celestial scales tip, the darkness shall come to claim its due.”

The summer waned and the equinox approached. As the sun’s strength faded, so too did Windelton’s newfound vitality. The unnatural abundance withered, the artisans’ skill faltered, the mill wheel stilled. A miasma of dread blanketed the town, thickening daily. Haunted, furtive eyes darted to the glowering hilltop, where the standing stones blazed now with a sullen, bloody light.

On the eve of the equinox, a keening rose from the stones, an unearthly wail that sent terror into every soul. By ones and twos, then by dozens, shadowy figures crept from the forest, loping on twisted limbs toward waiting Windelton. Madam Winthrop watched in growing horror as the people she had known all her life shambled to join the eldritch horde, their faces blank, eyes gleaming with the same unnatural light as the stones.

“The balance,” Madam Winthrop breathed, hands trembling. “Magic cannot create, only transform. The abundance of summer could only come at the price of winter's barren dark.”

As the equinox sun set and a malevolent moon rose to greet the ravening horde descending upon Windelton, Madam Winthrop stood alone on Hollythorn Hill, clutching the ancient tome to her chest. Tears traced weathered cheeks as she whispered a prayer for her people's souls.

Never again would the Solstice Stones wake in Windelton. But the memory of that one shining, fateful summer would haunt the towns history for generations to come.

Read my other Summer Solstice challenge entry here:

Short StoryMysteryFable

About the Creator

Ian Vince

Erstwhile non-fiction author, ghost & freelance writer for others, finally submitting work that floats my own boat, does my own thing. I'll deal with it if you can.

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    Ian VinceWritten by Ian Vince

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