“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen.”
Good God, that woman had a big mouth. The sound of her shouting at him to wake up made him sit straight in his bed. His hands rubbed his eyes, desperately trying to focus on the woman now pulling at the quilt. He reached for the top of his bedding in a last ditch attempt to stop the removal of his covering, but was too late.
The woman snatched the quilt away from him, leaving him sat upright, naked, with his legs apart.
"Good God, look at the size of that thing," said Helen, pointing between Jack's legs.
Jack's face wore a smug smile.
"Why thank you, I grew it myself," said Jack.
"Not that," said Helen dismissing his manhood with a wave of her finger, "That!"
She was pointing between his legs at the huge black spider, which was gazing at him.
Jack screamed and jumped out of bed, forgetting his nakedness and standing by the window.
"For God's sake Jack," said Helen. "It's only a spider."
She walked to the bathroom and returned with a large glass. She carefully placed the glass over the spider and then slipped a piece of card underneath. Taking care not to drop the glass, she turned the container over so that the opening and the card were on top. Walking towards Jack, she reached past him and opened the window, throwing the spider from the glass, out into the open.
Jack dived to the wardrobe, grabbing some underpants and a pair of trousers, together with a white shirt and covered his nudity.
He gazed at Helen, as if in a sense of bewilderment.
"What?" she asked.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," said Jack. "I'm no expert on arachnids, but last time I checked I'm pretty damn sure that they don't fly. Also I don't believe that the spider had a parachute strapped to his back."
"Your point being?" asked Helen.
"Why pick the thing up so carefully and then launch it out the window? We're eight floors up here," said Jack.
"Oh I'm sorry," said Helen. "Maybe I should have just shoved the thing down your pants Mr Squealer. Ah, but then that would have obscured the view."
"Ha, ha, you're a very funny girl, you know that?" said Jack.
"But not a big girl, like you, hey," said Helen. "Mr Squealer pops."
"I did not squeal," said Jack.
"I think you did," said a patronising Helen.
"I was half asleep," protested Jack. "How did you get in here anyway?"
"You left the door open," said Helen.
Jack looked quizzically at Helen who led him to the door propped open by a beer mat. She reached down and removed the beer mat, causing the door to slam shut. Turning towards Jack, she passed him the item.
"Your thoughts on the narrative please?" she asked.
The words, "Fuck my legs", were written in biro on the beer mat.
Jack laughed a guilty schoolboy laugh, before looking back to Helen and composing himself.
"Yeah, I remember now. I was trying to walk through the door, but it kept hitting me and knocking me over. In the end I worked out that by getting on all fours and crawling through the opening, I could strategically place a beer mat to wedge the door open, thus avoiding any sudden contact between wood and my head," said Jack.
"Wood on wood," said Helen. "I don't know why, but somehow that makes sense."
Jack reached inside the wardrobe and took out a tie and a jacket.
"Tell me. Was it the Guinness or the Jack Daniels that caused this madness?" asked Helen.
"Both," said Jack. "It was a team effort."
Helen gazed at Jack, who was now dressed in a dark suit and tie, which was a noticeably different look to hers. She was dressed in dark brown canvas trousers and a heavy Parka style coat. On her feet were a pair of trainers.
"You're not seriously going out dressed like that?" asked Jack.
"Well I'm going to change the trainers in the car, but that's it," said Helen.
"Hang on one second," said Jack. "Where exactly are we going?"
"You remember John Ballard?" asked Helen.
"Oh yeah, the Andy Pandy guy. How could I forget," said Jack, turning his gaze skyward.
"Well he called this morning. Thought we might be interested in something that happened overnight at a farm. You got any rubber boots?" asked Helen.
"Ermmm no," said Jack sarcastically.
"Mine are in the car. You will just have to manage. We don't have time to stop," said Helen.
"Don't you worry about me, I'm one cool son of a bitch," said Jack.
"Oh by the way, you’re not seriously going out like that, are you?" asked Helen, pointing at his feet.
Jack groaned as he realised he was wearing one black shoe and one brown shoe.
The sat nav elegantly issued directions as Helen drove the rental car through the countryside. Jack loved the countryside, but the light rain outside that decorated the windows with rain droplets and obscured his vision, made him realise that he was inappropriately dressed for a farmland walk. Helen still wore her trainers as she drove, but her rubber boots were placed on the seat just behind her. God I hate organised people, thought Jack.
Jack read the notebook they had received from Vega once more. The imprints were filled with a dark ink now and Jack studied the words that Vega had meant for them to read once more.
He laughed and looked towards Helen.
"This guy thinks he's Nostradamus," he said. "You're surely not taking this seriously."
"I wouldn't be if it wasn't for all the other weird stuff," said Helen. "But you have to admit, this is all very strange and I don't think we can afford to ignore it."
"It's all coincidence," said Jack. "Even that Blake character scoffed at some of the stuff."
"Giant wolves, cartoon thugs, crucified priests, Templers and hippies from nowhere. Seems more than coincidence to me," said Helen.
"It was only one nut job and a gay priest when we were back at home," said Jack.
"Your point being?" asked Helen.
"Maybe this entire country is nuts," said Jack.
"Maybe the overload of Jack Daniels and Guineas is driving you nuts," said Helen.
"It's Guinness not Guineas," said Jack. "And I can handle my drink, thank you very much."
"So much so that you crawl through hotel doorways and wedge the door open with beer mats inscribed with nice messages to avoid hitting your head," Helen replied.
"One bad night that's all," said Jack.
He was not going to tell her that the reason he drank so much in England was that it seemed to stop his recurring nightmare. Better pissed than fucked up, he thought.
"The farm is not far now," said Helen. "According to you, the farmer we're going to meet will be nuts too. Might as well turn back now and get pissed."
"Put your foot down," said Jack, without expression.
"You should change your surname to Daniels," said Helen, smiling.
You should change your surname to Bitch, thought Jack.
They pulled into the courtyard and drove between the two large barns, which gave access to a much larger area at the rear of the barns, where tractors and traditional farm machinery lay. Two police cars occupied part of the area, and outside leaning on the roof of one of the cars, talking to the other officers was John Ballard. Helen parked the rental whilst Jack made his way over to Ballard.
"Where's your wellies?" Ballard shouted to Jack.
Jack stood still, shifting his head from side to side and shrugging his shoulders.
"My what?" he replied.
"Your wellies, man," shouted Jack."Boots?"
"Oh rubbers," said Jack.
The police around Ballard laughed.
"We're not interested whether you're wearing a rubber or not," said Ballard.
Helen had now caught up with Jack and overheard the conversation.
"I told him to bring some rubbers," said Helen, shaking her head. "Told him he'd need them."
Ballard burst into laughter now, together with the other officers.
"Let's just use the phrase “boots” from now on," he said to Helen.
Jack leaned over to Helen and whispered into her ear.
"Told you," he said. "This whole fucking country is nuts."
"I'm glad you lot are having such a great fucking time," said an angry voice behind them.
A burly young man, with a short beard and unkempt thick, curly hair, walked briskly towards the group.
"I'm sorry Tom," said Ballard. "We didn't mean to be disrespectful."
The young man nodded, a quick smile indicated that he forgave them.
"This is Helen and Jack, the FBI team I told you about," said Ballard. "Guys this is Tom East, the son of the owner."
Tom shook their hands, briefly noticing the stature of the FBI man.
"Well if you can help us in any way with this it will be appreciated," said Tom.
"Where's your father?" asked Ballard.
"Staring out into the field," said Tom. "He hasn't moved for half an hour now."
"I'll take Helen and Jack to see him if that's okay," said Ballard.
"Of course," said Tom. "Just tread carefully around him. He's a little...upset."
Jack went to get in the police car.
"Where you going?" asked Ballad.
"Thought we were going to use the car," said Jack.
"Not a fucking chance," said Ballard. "It's been raining steadily all night, didn't you notice?"
"Trust me, he wouldn't have noticed," said Helen.
"No it's too muddy, so we'll have to walk," said Ballard.
"Told you to bring some...” Helen went to say.
"Boots," interrupted Ballard.
The officers behind him chuckled and even Tom smiled.
Ballard, Helen and Jack made their way down a narrow gravel path, stopping when they reached the first gate. Jack looked in despair, as all he could see was miles and miles of muddy field. Ballard opened the gate, and Helen and Jack followed behind him. Jack was the last one through and as he sank into his ankles in mud, Ballard shouted to him.
"Don't forget to close the gate behind you."
Jack moved backwards to close the gate but his feet did not. Thankfully, the weight bearing down on the gate from the man with both arms clinging desperately to it was enough to stop it from moving and left Jack at an almost perfect forty-five degree angle. Not able to move and staring down at the mud, but not in the mud at least. Ballard ran back, stood the big man in an upright position, and then closed the gate.
"Better take your time mate, else you're going to make one hell of a splash," said Ballard.
"Thanks, I will," said Jack.
"Yeah, take your time Mister Stick-in-the-mud," laughed Helen, and turned to carry on in front of the two men.
Unfortunately for Helen, although her feet turned, her boots did not and she fell, with a little whimper, face first into the mud.
The laughter erupted around her, but Ballard still managed to pick her up and knock some of the mud off her.
"Fuck me, it's swamp thing," laughed Jack.
"Fuck off Jack," Helen replied.
Helen twisted her feet back into position inside her boots and went to continue the trek, but Ballard held her shoulder.
"Better take your time too, Swampy," he said.
"Ha ha, nice one," laughed Jack.
Helen gave both men the stare.
Ballard continued on his way, dancing through the mud as though he was walking on smooth tarmac, whilst Helen and Jack trudged painfully and slowly through the quagmire, pausing every now and again to free a stuck leg. The field had a gentle slope upwards to the second gate where an elderly man stood with his arms resting on it, gazing into the next field. When Ballard reached the top, he turned and waved to the other two, urging them to hurry.
Jack and Helen smiled at Ballard, before both raising their hands in perfect unison to acknowledge Ballard.
"Synchronised mud walking," said Jack.
Helen said nothing.
When the two of them eventually reached the top, the elderly man turned and spoke.
"I wouldn't worry about the mud sweetheart, I've spent my whole life covered in shit," said the man to Helen.
"This is Graham East, this is his farm," said Ballard.
"Was my farm," said East.
Jack looked confused.
"Was your farm?" asked Jack. "I don't understand, I just met your son and your buildings looked okay and all that machinery looked used."
"Don't you notice anything?" asked Graham.
Jack and Helen stood still, searching their minds for an appropriate answer but found none.
"There's no sound from the birds or animals, all there is, is wind and rain," said Graham.
"Graham, this is Jack and Helen. They're from the FBI. They're sort of specialists in this type of thing."
"What type of thing?" asked Jack.
"I better tell you what happened, and then perhaps you'll understand," said Graham.
The evening before, a tired but happy Graham East, had gone to bed. Although things were never easy on a farm, Graham, together with his two sons Tom and Lee, had turned a good profit through the farm. They had spent the whole year free of any disease to the livestock, and the crops had yielded good results too. Graham had been sceptical about the success of mixed farming, but thanks to the knowledge and the enthusiasm of his sons, he was able to reap the benefits. The loss of his wife the previous year had been a bitter blow to both Graham and his sons, but where they could have lost the heart for the fight, they instead found resolve and tenacity. He slept well, despite knowing that he would shortly be awake to meet another demanding day.
When the alarm sounded and the hint of a lighter skyline beckoned him outside, he dressed and made his way downstairs. It was quiet today, not even the excitable dog, Crisp, came to greet him. Perhaps they are all as knackered as I am, he thought. He decided to wake the boys after he had eaten some toast, had drunk a strong mug of coffee and stretched his legs outside.
As he ventured out into the courtyard, he shouted for Crisp, but the dog did not come. He should have checked whether the boys were already up as it was not uncommon for the boys to get up before him and get things under way. Usually when this happened, one of them would take the dog with them. He would not be worried by the absence of the dog normally, but the complete silence that overhung the farm indicated that there were no animals or birds around him. He ran to check on the chickens and when he opened the door, he saw that they had all gone.
"Tom, Lee, where are you? We've been turned over," he shouted.
After only a couple of minutes, the boys came running out of the house, still dressing as they made their way towards their father.
"Shit, you were both still asleep, they must have taken the bloody dog as well," snarled Graham.
"I'll check the pigs and sheep, Lee go and see where the cows are," said Tom.
Lee ran off to check the herd whilst his brother went to make sure the pigs were still there. Graham pulled his phone from his pocket and rang the police. Graham looked around whilst the boys made sure they at least had some animals left. No machinery had gone and nothing looked to have been forced. The gates and doors around him looked to be intact. No tyre marks were in evidence in the grit on the floor. Why had the alarms failed to go off? Surely, either he or at least one of the boys would have heard something, even if the alarms had failed.
Tom was running back.
"All gone, I don't fucking believe it," said Tom.
"Same," said Lee, running back towards them.
"This is impossible Dad, I didn't hear anything. How can you silently pinch chickens, let alone the others?" said Lee.
"Shit, the crops! I bet the bastards have ushered them into the other fields," said Graham. "Stay here lads and wait for the cops, I'll check the fields, hopefully I'll find Crisp too.”
The boys nodded and Graham jumped the first gate, running up the hill to the second gate, which led to the crops. When he arrived at the second gate, he saw that it was still closed and he could see no shapes roaming around in the fields. He called for the dog, but Crisp still failed to appear. The sun was still weak but the soft light lit the field in front of him just enough to cause the farmer to vault the second gate and take in the sight before him.
Graham ran and walked around the field for what seemed like ages before falling to his knees.
"Noooo," he screamed.
The sound of their father's cries reached the ears of his sons, and Tom rushed to aid his father. When he reached the top field, his father was still on his knees, his cries now turned to floods of tears.
"What the fuck has done this?" he asked, sobbing.
Tom gazed across the fields now lit dimly by the morning sun, stunned by the sight. All the grain, wheat and hay had gone, along with the grass. Perfectly stripped away, leaving no mess and no remnants. Tom turned around, as his brother Lee appeared beside him.
"The cops are here Dad," said Lee. "Oh my God, how the hell have they done this, and what the fuck is that?"
Lee was pointing to the rise of a distant hillside, which the sun was just illuminating. There, in the centre of the hill, like some variation of a crop circle was a very detailed crucifix.
Jack wondered why he had not noticed the cross in the first place. There it was, printed on the hillside in all its glory. How had the thieves managed to harvest the crops and take all the animals? Above that, how had they found time to carve out the crucifix?
"You must have heard something," said Helen.
"Would I be standing here with nothing left if I had?" asked Graham incredulously.
"I'm sorry, I guess you wouldn't," said Helen.
"They must have used machinery to harvest the crops and a huge fleet of vehicles to move the livestock," said Ballard. "How did they keep it so quiet?"
"There's something else," said Jack. "There are no tyre marks anywhere and no footprints by the look of it."
"There must be somewhere," said Ballard. "Once the guys are organised, we'll go through the fields bit by bit."
Graham was just about to speak when a bark in the distance interrupted him.
"Crisp," he shouted.
Graham ran towards the sound of the dog barking, closely followed by the others. Underneath a large oak at the edge of the field, the dog sat on his haunches. As Graham approached him, Crisp turned towards his owner, snarling and baring his teeth. It was only when Graham spoke to the dog that it shuffled towards him, tail wagging and head bowed, its snarling now turning to a whimper.
"It's alright boy, you're safe now," said Graham stroking and hugging the dog.
"Crisp has never snarled at you before," said Tom. "Why did he do that?"
"I guess whatever was here scared the crap out of him." said Jack, turning to face Tom.
As the pair of them turned their gaze back towards the tree, they saw that Graham was waving his hand in front of the dog's eyes.
"No it's not that. Look he doesn't see my hand," said Graham. "He could only hear us rushing towards him. He didn't know who I was until I spoke. He's blind."
Back by the main house, police officers in waterproofs were preparing to scan the landscape for clues. Tom and Lee were giving interviews to other officers and showing them the now empty barns and out-houses. At least the birds had returned to give some sense of normality with their singing. Graham was still comforting the dog. Graham paused to wipe away the tears that dripped down his own cheeks every now and again. Ballard was thanking Jack and Helen for their help.
"What help?" asked Jack.
"To be honest, just the fact that you two were here helped," said Ballard.
"I'll do some research and ring the guys back home to see if anyone has any experience of something like this," said Helen.
"I'll do the same," said Jack. "There has to be an explanation."
"Thanks guys," said Ballard. "Well I guess I'd better let you go and get cleaned up. Especially you, Swampy."
Helen laughed and shook Ballard's hand. Jack slapped Ballard on the shoulder.
"We'll just say goodbye to Graham," said Jack.
The two of them walked over to the farmer who was still holding the dog.
"Mister East, we have to go now, but we'll be back if you need us," said Helen.
"Yeah, if there's anything we can do to help," said Jack.
"Have you got a herd of cows and some sheep back at the hotel? A stash of grain and hay hidden around the corner you can give me. Have you? Well, have you?" spat East.
Jack and Helen said nothing, just smiled weakly and made their way back towards the rental car.
Jack leaned and whispered in Helen's ear.
"I think I've just been told to fuck off," he said.
Helen wanted to smile but dare not.
When they reached the car, Helen made Jack wait whilst she opened the boot and took out a large fold of polythene, with which she covered the seats and floor of the car. Jack was allowed to remove his shoes and enter the vehicle as Helen put the muddy shoes into the boot of the car. Once all that was done, she removed her coat and trousers to reveal another coat and a less robust pair of trousers. Taking a clean pair of trainers from the back seat, she started the car and cleaned her face in the rear view mirror with a selection of tissues and wipes.
"Should've known really," scoffed Jack.
"Excuse me?" Helen asked.
"What about the mud in your hair?" asked Jack.
"I'll brush it out when it dries a bit more and sort the rest at the hotel," said Helen.
Jack sighed and waved to Ballard and his officers as the car pulled away.
"Well what do you think about that?" asked Helen.
"Obviously bible bashing, alien, crop and cattle thieves," said Jack.
Helen gave him the stare.
When the mobile phone sprang into life emitting a loud ring tone in his jacket pocket, Jack deftly removed it and answered.
"Hi, Captain James T. Kirk," he said, before hurriedly adding. "Sorry, Jack Abrahams."
"Agent Abrahams, I didn't know you're a Star Trek fan," said the man at the other end.
Jack did not answer swiftly enough to prevent the man continuing.
"This is Ian Swain, you came to see me to ask about Adam Blake, remember?" asked Swain.
"Yeah, I remember, of course. How are you?" asked Jack.
"Well, we've had a rather usual development here I thought you might be interested in," said Swain.
"Go on," said Jack.
"Well, remember how I told you about the strange nature of Adam's recovery?" said Swain.
"Yeah, he was just with Benny and suddenly he was perfectly normal again," said Jack.
Helen was glancing across, wondering what the conversation was about exactly, but too focused with the narrow country lanes, to take more of an interest.
"Benjamin Sansom has recovered in exactly the same manner," said Swain. "Indeed, I believe he may well be the sanest person here."
"Now that is weird," said Jack.
"I wondered if you might like to drop in later today and see for yourself?" asked Swain.
"One sec Doc," said Jack, leaning over to Helen.
"Benny Sansom has recovered as well. Completely sane. Doc wants to know if we want to go take a look," said Jack to Helen.
"Wow, of course," said Helen. "Tell him we'll see him this afternoon, if that's okay."
Jack looked at the drying mud dropping off Helen's hair.
"Hey Doc, we're on our way now," said Jack, turning off the phone.
"Bastard," said Helen.