I’ve decided – either stupidly or optimistically, we’ll see – to have a go at the flash fiction month, where I write a flash fiction every day. I’m actually going to attempt 35 days, just for fun. This may end in tears and the tearing out of hair, but in the meantime, here:
The American wouldn’t get out of the coach. “It’s not compulsory,” he drawled, wiping his pink face with a crumpled handkerchief.
Our tour guide smiled brightly. “Not at all sir,” he said. “It’s just a big part of the day.”
The American’s wife tugged at her husband and hissed: “It’s historical darling.”
With a groan, he unfolded himself from his seat.
The tour guide beamed at the rest of us, who were already standing in the late afternoon sunshine. “Now follow me,” he said, and we walked into the stones.
They would have been beautiful and magnificent, but I could hardly see them for the people crowding into the space. The henge looked like so many dropped blocks of ice cream and we were the colourful ants who swarmed greedily over it. Our tour guide found the quietest spot he could and started explaining the significance of the megalith that surrounded us. The American, standing at the back, whispered loudly to his wife: “This seems like an awful lot of fuss for a bunch of rocks.”
She snorted, mock-cross.
I pressed my hand against one of the stones, awed by the thought that someone, however many hundreds of years ago, could have placed their own hand in exactly the same spot.
“The stones have been so precisely positioned that on midwinter’s day the sun sets exactly between the two larger boulders you can see here,” the guide said. He pointed and we all made appreciative noises. “This is even more of an achievement when you consider the manpower needed to move these stones into place,” he continued.
“What’s this middle one for?” a boy interrupted, standing on a low, square block. “Is it for chopping people’s heads off?”
The tour guide laughed politely. “I’m afraid not. Although it has been suggested that stone circles like this one were the site of sacrifices performed to appease gods or ensure a good harvest, there is no proof that anything like that ever happened.”
The boy made a disappointed groan. His father muttered something about chopping his head off if he couldn’t be quiet, and the boy turned and ran away, making gun noises. He barged into the American, who clutched at his chest. For a moment I thought he was playing along with the boy, pretending he’d been shot, but then his knees buckled. As he sank towards the ground, the fingers of one hand plucking uselessly at the buttons on his shirt, his head came to rest on the low square block. There was a moment of silence and shock, then his wife was by his side, squawking. The tour guide ran across, white faced, and soon enough first aiders were summoned.
As we were all herded out of the space, I glanced back. In the light of the setting sun, the stone behind the American’s head glowed crimson.