Mayday by David Hartley
Today, in the village of Mayday, only ticketed tourists walk the parade route, led by dead-eyed actors in cheap costumes who spout fast and dubious facts. But the actors are bit-parts in the theatrics of Mayday herself: England’s Village of the Vanished. The tourists frame the route on their phones. The faded bunting, the dead bulbs, the scattered pinwheels, the frayed flags. In the midst of this candy floss joy, 538 people upped and vanished, and left the streamers fluttering, the maypole creaking and the giant wicker frog, unlit, unoffered, and waiting.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, a forensic row walked the parade route, inch by painful inch. They bagged every sequin, tagged every feather, logged every stain. They cordoned the frog, probed it with cameras, noted every detail no matter how small. It had been mayday in Mayday, the festival in full burst. They filled their books, but found no bodies. And no answers. And no clues.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, a brown hare hopped the parade route. It shot from the field, in flight from a sky shadow, and cowered by the flagpole by the bridge that marked the start. Then, as the sun faded, it followed the path, nose nudging curled confetti, mouth testing fossilised apples. By the pull of some ancient mystery, it hopped the full route, the exact and correct lefts and rights; past the Flek and Shettle, past the Hangman’s Nook, past Tadpole Glassware and Lily’s Pad until, drawn by the waters, it leapt to the green and the grand wicker frog. It was watched the whole way by an audience of one; the sky shadow with thermaled wings and tick-tock eyes.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, six sexy teenagers stumbled upon the place in a tipsy giggle. They meandered through the parade route and at first it was all snogs and piggy-backs, sniggered shushes and macho poses. But, as they snuck deeper into the village, the exact and correct lefts and rights, they were quietened. The boys tried doors; all locked. They pushed and kicked at the Flek and Shettle to no success; even the windows refused to smash. Machismo was drained, flirtation was ceased. They felt watched. Followed. They ran to the green and screamed to a stop before the giant, fractured silhouette of the frog, the beast haloed by the moon, silver-edged, gilt, mercurial and always, always waiting. The teens fled Mayday and, over the next few days, were murdered, one-by-one, in ironic ways, by one of their mothers, or someone similar.
Before that, an old man came to Mayday clutching the name of his daughter and her likeness in charcoal. The sun was high as he reached the foot of the bridge, inches away from the start of the route. He looked at the village, paused and erased. He could see the wicker frog on the green, staring at the clouds as if praying for rain. The man knew he was on the verge of something bad. He did not enter the village that day, but promised himself he would try again. But he was an old man.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, a crowd from All Hallows marched in at twilight, farm tools raised and torches lit. Twenty men, ten women, their heads anointed, drenched, dripping with holy water. A vicar led them, cross raised, a rifle hidden in his cassock, the bullets blessed for good measure; a man only half-believed, but he was all they had. They raised hell for their neighbours and prayed to heaven for a response. But the village walls blunted their shouts, their voices skimmed off the roofs without an echo. They wanted to put their torches to the frog, but the vicar’s fake seizure put the plan to a grumbled stop, and then the evening rain put out their torches. Minds fell to looting, but nothing would open, no glass would break. They skulked home, wearied. The vicar returned to his church and never again came out.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, a lone figure walked the parade route in reverse. From the frog to the bridge, the exact and correct lefts and rights, every step precisely placed. When he reached the edge of the village he looked across the fields to All Hallows, to the mountains beyond, to the sky beyond the mountains, to the dark behind the sky, and further. Then he turned on his his hoof and walked the route a final time. No stragglers. Everyone accounted for. A job well done.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, the 538, the purest and angelic, the peak of perfection, pond-cleansed, nude, thrumming; each man, each woman, each child, and the ancient ratio; the span from fingertip to fingertip, from hair to toe, almost floating along the route, bodies too good for the too-solid ground. Spring air heated to summer sweats, flesh mashed flesh, hair stroked hair, fingers found holes and strings, plucked pleasures and beaten hearts, and the shrill whistle at their front which led them on, on, on, the exact and correct lefts and rights. None watched, all danced, streamers, papers, glitters flung on the beat, apples ravished by the Flek and Shettle, flies clapped between palms and licked down by sticky tongues. Blood and worse from places unseen, bones thinned and softened, muscles stretched and squeaked and twisted their dances to shapes impossible, and skin glazed then shimmered then shifted and betrayed the insides it had been charged to keep hidden. Organs glowed. Rainbowed breaths. Veins swelled with dirty waters. Frogspawn eyes. Dance on, dance on, no rest for the wickered. They fucked past the nook, gasped by the glass, were filled at Lily’s then man became woman, woman became man, man and woman became both and none and, on the face of their leader, a single smile as he whistled them on and then to a stop as at last they reached the frog. Hours of silence, perfect stillness. Not a flinch, not a fidget, not a blink. Above the frog a single cloud formed from the silent rise of their fluids. It thickened, it darkened, it sagged, then it burst. The waters fell upon the frog, the wicker creaked a croak, the rain stopped. Done. Nothing to return to. Not their former selves. One by one they took to the pond. Beneath the surface, they were stripped, shrunk, amoebaed, swallowed, made gone.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, only druids walked the parade route. They let the people dance, and sing, and cheer, and drink, and kiss, and fall away into darkened corners, but they alone walked the route, the exact and correct lefts and rights. Feet bare and bleeding, backs flogged, scalps thorned. Oakflint frogs on their tongues, alive and confused. The druids hummed, resisting the urge to swallow.
Before that, in the village of Mayday, the spirits walked the parade route. A midnight procession. Felt but not seen. Moonlight channelled. Glimpsed figures. Cold silver, hot stone. Frogspawn in the ponds by morning.
Before that, a wronged angel scratched his cursed name into the pit between mountains. He dipped his severed wings into
Today, in the village of Mayday, only ticketed tourists walk the parade route, led by dead-eyed actors in cheap costumes who spout fast and dubious facts.
David Hartley writes strange stories for strange people and his work has appeared in Ambit, Black Static and The Shadow Booth. He is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Manchester. Feel free to haunt him on @DHartleyWriter and find out more at davidhartleywriter.com