We were rushed for time and the last thing I wanted to do was visit an old estate. But I caught a quick glimpse through the hedge of giant manor and something pulled at me. I had to stop.
“What are you doing?” Vish asked. She’s our lead singer.
“I want to see if they allow public here. You know, tours or anything.”
She rolled her eyes at me.
I understood. We had a once in a lifetime opportunity, six UK concerts. We rented some equipment and, after our London shows, we rented a “lorry”, though it looked like a small delivery truck to us. The rest of the guys crammed into the truck and drove to the next gig, but Vish and I wanted to visit some of the great historical sites. Places that we’d only dreamed about back in the States. You might not think we’re the cultural type, but I could never pass up an opportunity to visit places that had been made famous by the Stones, The Kinks, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and other heroes.
Manor houses were definitely not on the list.
Someone walked up as I was parking.
“May I help you?” he asked.
“Yeah, I was wondering if there are any parts of the manor open to the public?”
“We sometimes let guests wonder the gardens,” the man said. “Sometimes. But first, if you don’t mind, can I please have your names?”
“Sure. I’m Def Blood, and my friend here is Vish Splatter.” I pulled myself up proudly. Vish smiled. The Suicide Penguins weren’t quite a household name yet, but I always acted as if we were bigger than the Beatles.
“I see, Mr. Blood,” the man said. “I take it that the Punk Trail is closed and you decided to slum it in our neck of the woods.”
“Something like that,” I said.
He smiled at me, though it was as if he knew a joke and wouldn’t tell me. “You can go ahead and walk around, but try to stay away from the buildings, please. And as you look around, remember that my family was recorded in the Doomsday Book as owning this land.”
“Doomsday? That sounds cool!” I said.
“Hey stupid,” Vish said. “Don’t ya know nothing? That was the census taken a thousand years ago.” She looked at the man and shrugged. “Lead guitarists. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
The man smiled. “The young lady is correct. We were here when the Normans came and even proceeded the Saxons. We are an old family and follow the old ways”
“Cool,” Vish said. Then looked quizzical. “Old ways?”
“I guess our family is a tad, how should I say it, ‘old fashioned’. We still do things here the way they’ve always been done.”
I surprised a giggle, but Vish nodded and said that it was cool.
I hate to admit it, but the gardens were gorgeous. I couldn’t stand it that the so called “nobility” ate up so many resources while they kept the normal people, my people, in servitude. I mean, I didn’t write the songs “Eat the Rich” and “Burn Wall Street” for nothing.
Vish didn’t hide her feelings. “I watched every episode of Downton Abbey,” she said. “But I never saw anything like this, though. Wow! Just, wow. I could die here and think I was already in heaven.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said. She just smiled.
And yet I felt it too. More than that, I knew that there was something there that I was meant to see. Something pulled me in.
There was a grove of trees in the middle of a field and I made a beeline for it. In the middle there was a circle of ancient oak. A standing stone was at one end.
“You don’t think this is one of those ancient stones like that one place, what’s it called?” I asked. “You know, like Spinal Tap?”
“Stonehenge? Na, that’s huge. This isn’t much bigger than you. And I bet that carving there is pretty new.” Vish pointed to a niche in the stone, shaped like a barrel arch. In the niche was a strange sculpture. It reminded me of a skull, but very stylized. There was a candle in what I called the mouth.
“Hmm, this is some odd shrine, I guess,” I said. I notice weird carvings all over the stone. Some were worn with age, but others were fresh.
“It don’t look Christian,” Vish said. “No crosses or other things like that. I don’t know what those symbols are.” She pointed at the carvings.
“No, but that skull sure is cool.”
“Skull?” she asked.
“Yeah, that strange three eyed, opened mouth monster skull. You know, with the candle in the mouth”
She laughed. “You are stupid, aren’t you? But yeah, it gives me the creeps.”
“You? Aren’t you the one that holds up that life like severed head when you sing ‘The Revolution Has Come’? You lick fake blood off of a knife during ‘Eat the Rich’. How can this creep you out?”
She laughed again, but it was a nervous sound. “Well, those are just props, see? This? This ain’t no prop. It’s a shrine, but to what, I don’t know It’s spooky..”
“As I said, we celebrate the old ways here,” a voice said. We spun around. The man was standing before us, but behind him there were three large, hooded figures. I couldn’t see their faces. “Do you know today’s date?”
“Uhm, the 21st?” I asked.
“Exactly. It is the Summer Solstice. We have a sacrifice on the solstice. It has been many years since we’ve been able to get a real human, though. Chickens just aren’t the same.” He made a motion and the hooded figures advanced towards us.
I was frozen. I was sure they had a used a magical spell. Vish must have found a way to break the spell. She went up and kicked the lead guy in the shin.
“Ouch! Now why’d you go and do that for?” he said.
Vish turned and grabbed my arm. Her touch unfroze me and I ran with her all of the way to the car. Forgetting the backwards driving, I was in the passenger seat and Vish the driver’s seat. It didn’t matter. Rubber was squealing as we pulled out onto the road.
As we drove, a new song entered my head. It was far more complicated than anything I had ever tried. There were four parts, “The Old Ways”, “the Shrine”, “The Victims” and “The Sacrifice”, with a reprise of “The Old Ways” at the end. As Vish drove, I reached back and got my guitar. I figured out all of the intricate chords and things. Vish knew all of the lyrics by the time we go to the next venue. I thought that we could go over it with the guys a few times before the gig and all would be cool. This might be a new direction for The Suicide Penguins. It was far, far more complex and nuanced than anything we had tried before. Maybe this was the break we needed.
I knew this trip to the Land of Ozzie would be worth it in inspiration, if not money.
— — —
After the “guests” had driven away, Robert turned to the other three. “Great job, fellows. I doubt if they’ll be back to bother us.”
“But she kicked me! Right in the shin,” Nigel said.
“You aren’t that injured,” James said. “Here, let’s go up to the house and take a look.”
After the others had left, Robert lit the candle. He took two hairs out of his pouch. He had taken them from his “gusts” without their knowledge. He carefully burned them in the candle. “Thank you,” he said to the shrine
The two “eye holes” on the outside glowed briefly.
He did still follow the old ways, even if the hired hands didn’t realize it. But in this modern age, he had modified them to make his life easier.
He bowed to the shrine. The middle hole shone brightly. He smiled at the good omens and snuffed the candle out.
As he walked back to the manor house, Robert wondered if his Punk Rock “friends” had benefited as well. He hoped so.
— — —