Sorry, but the Popwell Chronicler is on holiday. Back on the 19th and we will find out what the villagers have been up to then.
Violet Pegg had heard the screams and came, somewhat tentatively, out of Church cottage. As she crept towards the church she could hear a violent furore and then she saw flashing sparkles of red and gold thrown against the darkened walls of the village cottages as Aubrey and his sequins spun. It was cold and dark and Violet wished she were still in her bed. What was happening to Popwell? It had always been a steady place (of course it had had its share of murder and incest like any other village) but in the last few years, things seemed to be getting out of hand. People were not to be able to sit quietly by the fire with the Reader’s Digest of an evening. Instead, they needed thrills and spills and she blamed the television; all that excitement beamed into one’s sitting room caused nothing but discontent. She vowed not to look at Strictly Come Dancing again.
Across the fields and down the long gravel driveway, Diana Chevaux also heard the screams. She was sitting up in her bed, an unread copy of Heat magazine open on the eiderdown. Dogs of various shapes, sizes and smells slumbered on and about her. The house creaked, the dogs snored and farted and Aubrey’s screams floated across the meadows, pens and copses on the autumn breeze and made her feel alive for the first time in weeks. It was as if each time he yelled the life blood flowed back into her veins. She had never been one for condoning revenge, but now on this night, she was beginning to experience the very visceral feeling of being given satisfaction.
When he had spewed his awful dark secrets to her that day in the prison, Aubrey had done so with no regard for her delicate sensibilities. What he told her had scarred her mind and consequently it had shut down in a defensive reaction. Now, tonight he was being made to feel pain too and somehow that relieved her suffering as a leech lets bad blood. Her eyes shone and a girlish flush appeared in her cheeks.
Valentine was thinking of his dear Mater as he threw buckets of water over Aubrey. The vicar was remonstrating with him but he heard nothing but the roar of the rage in his ears. He was descended from a long line of valiant knights and he felt that somewhere, in the corner of heaven reserved for the Chevaux family, his forebears were egging him on. This was his land, these were his people. They must submit.
All of sudden he felt a tug at his sleeve. He turned in anger, ready to lash out, but when he saw that the tugee was Miss Pegg he desisted. “Mr Chevaux!” said Violet firmly, “Mr Chevaux! I really must ask you sir, would you care for a flapjack?” and she held out a tupperware box full of unctious golden oats and syrupy sugar – still a little warm.
He hesitated. “Oh yes, thank you” he said and took one.
At that moment, Violet signalled to the Vicar and Adrian the Redeemer who hurried forwards and, taking the bell pull from Valentine, let Aubrey down the sodden ground.
Upon Valentine Chevaux’s rather violent suggestion that he be killed, Aubrey abruptly stopped speaking welsh and opened his eyes.
“Look dear boy, what happened that awful day in 1973 is something I’ve been living with every single day of my life. I shouldn’t have been anywhere near the factory and how was I to know that there was a disused mine shaft in the woods? Sometimes things conspire to trip us up in life and sometimes we make bad decisions. But does that make me a bad man? Well I think that’s for the vicar to say don’t you? And anyway, you’re not so snowy white yourself are you? Don’t forget I’ve seen you grow up. I’ve known you since you were a mewling spittling smut of a boy who thought his mother to be a lurcher called Tweed. I know what you got up to in the holidays. I saw you in the barns and witnessed the filthy glint in your piggy pale eyes as you visited great cruelties on the village children. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone Valentine Chevaux! I’m not afraid of you!” he ended with a shriek.
At this, Valentine became enraged. He picked Aubrey up (still lashed to the wooden plank) and hoisted him over his shoulder, fireman style. Then he rushed at the french windows, and using the plank and Aubrey’s feet as a battering ram, smashed through them and out into the garden. Glass flew everywhere and Whitney and Adrian the Redeemer (who had been avidly listening at the doors) were thrown backwards onto the grass. Shards of victorian glass showered them and Whitney screamed as a large sliver embedded itself in her chest.
But Valentine didn’t break step. He ran on into the village carrying a shrieking Aubrey and kept going until he reached the churchyard. There, he propped the plank against a large and venerable yew tree whilst he disappeared into the church itself. Returning moments later with a bell rope in hand, he passed it underneath Aubrey’s arms, around his chest and back and then proceeded to lob the other end over a sturdy branch. As the rope came down the other side he began to pull with all his might, and Aubrey began to rise.
The vicar, Whitney and Adrian came running into the churchyard. Rev’d Wattle was carrying an industrial torch and yelled for calm as he jumped the graves until he too reached the yew. He shone his light into the tree and the beam caught Aubrey’s sequinned bolero jacket as he spun round and round, dangling beneath the tree like a grotesque, screaming christmas fairy.
“Awesome!” grinned Whitney as blood trickled down her chest.
According to Whitney’s phone it was 1.13am precisely when Aubrey started ranting in a foreign language. The vicar, who had been diligently reading from his carefully prepared list of texts for over an hour now, was delighted. “He’s speaking in tongues!” he exclaimed and turned to Valentine with a triumphant glint in his eye.
“Sounds like Welsh to me” said Valentine, who had found an interesting book documenting the travels of a nun through the Edcuadorian rainforest with a dwarf in 1823.
“Really? No, I think it’s Bielzebub being drawn from the dark recesses of Aubrey’s soul. That can happen sometimes when the final exorcism is near. I think I might try something a little stronger to really get things going… perhaps some Knight’s Templar stuff or even that incantation from the Hopi Indians that I found in the Observer magazine…” and he started leafing through sheets of paper.
Outside, Whitney Cox shivered. It was a clear night and the moon was full. But Adrian the Redeemer was beside her, and his thick cloak was wrapped partially around her hump to keep her warm.
“This is why I was sent here” he whispered “I’m hearing the call stronger than ever before. I think it’s tonight!” he whispered.
“What’s tonight my love?” asked Whitney “I thought we was going to put this on the web and get sponsorsed so we can get free Bacardi Breezers or summat?”
“I think we might get a sign, as sign from on high that the dark veil is closing in and it’s time for me to take up arms”
“What kind of arms do you mean? Will you want to borrow Mr Chevaux’s crossbow only since that nasty incident with the swedish fella I don’t think he’ll lend it. Might have to go down the Red Lion on Thursday and get a few snares from Robert Snape. He told me at the Valentines disco he had man traps in his shed. Mind you he had a skinful of snakebite so he might have just been jessing about. He ended up getting off with Suzanne Perks and she’s not right in the head. Everyone knows that…” and she tailed off as Adrian The Redeemer put his hand lovingly over her mouth.
Inside, Valentine had put down his book and was standing over Aubrey with a malevolent look on his face. “It is welsh. It’s just a load of bloody welsh. I’m beginning to think he’s having you on vicar. What exactly did he tell you that led you to believe him to be posessed?”
Rev’d Wattle looked up in alarm. “No, no, dear boy. It’s not the sort of thing decent folk should hear.”
“But he made Mummy listen, the filthy snake. And now she’s laid up at home not able to speak or eat or even discipline her dogs. Do you know one of the terriers has chewed every pair of her Peter Jones thermal kidney warmers and she didn’t raise her voice a jot? Do you have any idea how cold one’s organs get in that house come Autumn? She could die without that additional quilting, but she doesn’t seem to care. I think she’s given up. And all because of the terrible shock she seems to have had at the hands of this, this, this great sequinned monster! Let’s just kill him. No one would give a toss” he looked at the vicar with wild eyes, filled with longing. Outside, Whitney looked at Adrian and dreamt of premium bottled cocktails.
At some point near midnight, the vicar woke with a start. Once his eyes had focused he remembered where he was and why he was here. He looked about him and saw Aubrey curled in a tight ball, fast asleep on an Astrakhan rug with a Judy Garland memoir clutched to his chest. To his right Valentine Chevaux snored gustily from a rather characterful wing-back chair.
To be honest, at that moment the vicar felt no diabolic presence – only a sense of camaraderie that was bordering on affection. He realised he must still be drunk and, standing quite quickly and banged a small brass gong that they’d placed on the side table earlier; the vicar had thought that noise might be key element in driving out the devil from Mr Sinclair and intended to strike it smartly between bouts of incanting and the like.
Valentine Chevaux was awake at once and jumped to attention. All of those dawn raids by sadistic housemasters had had an affect. Aubrey took longer to come to, rolling on the rug and making small chuntering sounds before finally opening his eyes and blinking in the light.
“We must get on. I fear the forces of evil have tried to turn us from our path” said the vicar. Valentine nodded assent but Aubrey whispered “Oh do you think so? I was having such a lovely dream; about a dear friend I once knew in Copa Cobana – he dealt coconuts by day and sang like an angel in the beach huts at night. Happy times. Do you really think the devil would have sent me such marvellous dreams? Perhaps he left of his own accord earlier. I must say, I think I would have scarpered too upon seeing Mr Chevaux’s angry face pushing through my front door. You are a very alarming man you know and I think you might want to consider some kind of anger management course in the near future. You can’t possibly hand out sweets to the children after Christmas service with that kind of rage burning in your heart. What does your mother think?”
All was going quite well until that point, but the mention of Valentine’s mother, who was at that very moment at home in her bed sitting bolt upright muttering about surgical jelly was more than he could bear. He lifted Aubrey off the floor and dumped him unceremoniously on the wooden exorcism plank. He then put his hanky in Aubrey’s mouth so that he could neither speak nor scream and lashed him tightly down. He then turned to Rev’d Wattle and urged him to get going before he decided to take things into his own hands.
The vicar needed no further invitation. He was worried that Valentine would get too rough, so he hastily opened his notebook and began to read from one or two of the passages he’d copied down over the last week or so. He started with a psalm (no. 23) just because it steadied his nerves, and then went on to a super passage from ‘The life and loves of a She-Devil’ which was a novel he’d always enjoyed…
Valentine Chevaux sighed.
And outside in the garden, Whitney Cox positioned her phone closer to the french windows to make sure she was getting all of this for her YouTube channel.
It wasn’t that Aubrey was prevaricating over having the exorcism done, it was just that he couldn’t decide what to wear. What did one don for an evening of devil banishment? Was it going to get messy? Were liquids likely to be expelled? He sighed and plonked down on his bed. It was all so difficult. He was sure life had been simpler in London where one just got duffed up regularly on the way home from the club. He opened his wardrobe and flicked rather disconsolately through richly coloured garments. But then he came across a rather darling blue snakeskin gilet and began to cheer up.
Downstairs the vicar and Valentine Chevaux were getting a little impatient. Both were keen to get going; Valentine was missing drinks at the De Morely’s in Little DeRisory and Rev’d Wattle was eager to find out how all this stuff worked. He was hoping that a successful exorcism might find favour with the Bishop; and he needed a few brownie points. But he musn’t push poor Aubrey too hard, he thought, this was clearly going to be a challenging experience for the poor man. It might not be pleasant being spiritually cleansed.
“Sinclair you great Fairy, get down here!” bellowed Valentine.
“Oh do have a heart, I’ve got to get this right” replied Aubrey from the landing. “You’ll not be throwing things over me or using fire at all will you?” he asked.
“Oh no dear chap. Nothing like that. No, nothing too unpleasant. But I think perhaps we should all sit together in a moment of contemplation before we begin don’t you?” said the Vicar.
“Oh yes splendid idea. I’ll mix us each a White Lady” said Aubrey as he descended the stairs and this time, even the Vicar’s mouth fell open (and he’d seen a few things in his time) as he beheld the sequined bolero top, bare midriff and coral coloured leggings being sported by Mr Sinclair.
“Good God!” spurted Valentine.
“Oh have we begun?” asked Aubrey with furrowed brow and sat gingerly on the wooden plank that had been lashed between two pieces of furniture. “Only I really must insist that I have a cocktail before we kick off. My nerves need steadying.”
“Good idea” said the Vicar, who was suddenly feeling a little apprehensive about the whole thing himself on account of Mr Sinclair’s belly button being on show. It was an ‘outy’ of course.
Quick as you like, Aubrey had shaken three icy White Ladies and the three men sat sipping at the nectar-like beverages. “I must say, these are bloody great” said Valentine and the vicar nodded his agreement. So they had a couple more and suddenly the sequins on Aubrey’s top began to seem quite lovely. After his fourth White Lady, Rev’d Wattle lay down on the exorcism plank and closed his eyes for a moment. Valentine wandered out into the garden to look at the stars and Aubrey sat looking through plates of Judy Garland’s finest years with tears streaming down his cheeks.
At about seven thirty that evening, Valentine and the Vicar had all but finished making their preparations for Aubrey’s exorcism. His little powder blue dining room had been transformed: Where once there had been chintzy swagged blinds, were now black bin liners split open and taped up, and his leggy georgian table and chairs had been pushed to one one side in favour of a pair of short step ladders with a wide plank of wood balanced between them. The idea was to black out the room and then tie the Posessed One firmly to the plank. Thereafter there would be incantations and the like and probably some talking in tongues. Rev’d Wattle had seen Roman Polanski’s early film The Exorcist several times over the last week. His only hope was that Aubrey would neither vomit nor make his head spin on its axis. And especially not both at the same time.
Whilst the vicar was rearranging the dining room, Aubrey was in the kitchen preparing some light snacks for his guests; quail eggs with celery salt (so difficult to find in the sticks) and some deftly buttered brown bread topped with gravad lax. He was just scattering some decorative dill onto a platter when the vicar called him through.
Poor Aubrey’s jaw dropped when he saw the state of his lovely room. The black bin liners at the windows had begun to sweat a little and were giving off a smell of burnt plastic. Valentine’s big boots had trodden clods of autumnal earth and leaves into his italian rug and a couple of paintings had been knocked askew; the reproduction Canaletto now showed gondoliers gondoliering downhill. Gently he placed the platter of food on the good victorian sideboard and turned to his captors.
“Well, gentlemen” he said solemnly, “I can see you mean business. I’m not adverse to a big of a roughing up, but please try to to harm my Queen Anne love seat. It was a present from the third Duke of Romely. Services very rendered.”
Rev’d Wattle was on his was to see Aubrey Sinclair. He was in a rare jaunty mood, singing the first few bars of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ as he drove. He’d been doing some on-line research into exorcisms and was pleased to note that it was all quite straightforward. What the Bishop needed a specialist exorcist for was beyond him; he felt sure he could perform the task using a few well-chosen words, a big cross, some garlic, a rope a dead bat and a jug of holy water. It was a bit mix and match between various faiths, but these days a kaliedoscope of belief was all the rage in the C of E.
He had also heard from Lally Rowe’s mother, who had confirmed that they would like a simple service in Popwell by the end of the week. Much as Rev’d Wattle disliked funeral services, he was pleased that they had ‘outbid’ London so to speak, and had high hopes that the Rowe family would prove to be well heeled and therefore quite generous in their donations. People always gave more for funerals than weddings; driven by a mixture of guilt and hope he surmised. He must remember to mention ‘soul insurance’ in his sermon; it was catchy and to the point.
On the way into the village, the vicar spied Valentine Chevaux striding along the footpath at a cracking pace, with a thunderous look upon his face. Feeling unusually confident in his pastoral abilities, the vicar stopped his car and got out so as to intercept the landowner by the oak tree. He held out his arms – the palms of his hands opened in welcome and smiled at the man’s rapid approach.
“Mr Chevaux, how nice to bump into you”
“Yes vicar, thank you. But I’m in a bit of a hurry. Catch you at evensong” barked Valentine – probably a little more rudely than he’d intended.
“And where are you headed on this fine day? You look to be eager to arrive” said the Vicar, still smiling.
“I’m going to teach that bloody poof Aubrey Sinclair a lesson he won’t forget” snarled Aubrey.
“Oh how wonderful, me too!” squealed Rev’d Wattle. “Let’s make haste together – I have a need of some help. I was going to ask dear Miss Pegg, but I don’t think her rope skills are up to it. I have a feeling that you, on the other hand could happily lash a sailor to a mast and I’m going to need to such specialist skills”. And with that he held the door of his Mazda open for Mr Chevaux to get in.
As Valentine crunched up the long driveway he was reminded of those bleak days of his youth when he would be dropped by one of the estate workers at the bottom of his parent’s drive at the beginning of school holidays and exeats. They had never once been to get him; they were supremely practical people and saw no reason to interrupt their busy days when they could get a hired hand to go instead. And it was such a boring journey; even then the M4 corridor was like one sprawling wasteland.
They were often out when he arrived home and he would pace the passageways trying to think of things to tell them over supper. He could mention that he had been spirited away for a couple of weeks to Borneo by the new Biology teacher who was conducting a study of Wooly Pipistrelles in virgin rainforests and had taken a special interest in Valentine, but what was the point? They wouldn’t listen anyway. Really they were only interested in dogs and horses. All other animals they preferred dead. His father thought he was an idiot because he couldn’t train a labrador to come to heel just by flicking his eyes. Of course Pater Chevaux could do two at once; call a lab to his side with his right, whilst despatching a spaniel into cover with his left. Give him a whistle and he could command an entire pack of hounds.
What miserable days those were. He hated school, he hated home. And he especially hated the purgatory that was his own mind. How much better things were now, he mused. Reaching middle age had at least given him some gravitas in his father’s estimation. And he was getting quite good with his labs and his beloved Cock.
As he let himself in the back door he immediately sensed that something was awry. There were crumbs in the kitchen – his mother had something of an obsession with keeping the formica surfaces clean, so he knew she could not be herself. As he approached the drawing room a feeling of dread spread through him. What if his father was right and she really had lost her marbles? There was no way he was looking after him if she no longer could.
He opened the door and immediately his heart sank. She was staring vacantly at a bloodied whippet who had settled on her lap to merrily chew its own femur.
“Mummy!” Valentine squealed, “What’s wrong? Look at Mr. Whippy, look at what he’s doing Mummy!”
Diana Chevaux looked blankly at Valentine and then back to her lap.
“Oh dear” she said.
“Mummy what’s happened to you?!” Valentine said, his voice trembling.
“Oh I’m just jolly lovely thank you darling. I had a cup of tea with Mr Sinclair and I’ve been feeling a bit swimmy since. Lovely”.
“Swimmy? Mummy there are bits all over the surfaces! When was Mr Whippy last fed? Why is Scabby eating the curtains?” He looked questioningly to his father “Daddy? What are you going to do?!” But his father just turned to face the fireplace.
“Right, that’s it. I’m not standing for this. I’m bloody well going to do something if you won’t!” At this his father spoke ”Where are you going you Buffoon?”
Valentine spun on his heel and said through gritted teeth “I’m going to Popwell to see the queen”.
Rev’d Wattle was feeling disgruntled. He had been looking forward to performing an exorcism on Aubrey Sinclair – the drama of it appealed to him and he liked the idea of summoning his faith to fight a demon rather than having to call it up to get him through yet another dreadful wedding between two people whose concept of belief was to cross their fingers as they did the lottery.
But he’d read up on it as soon as he’d got home and it seemed he needed the Bishop’s approval. That did not bode well. He’d already been summoned to a couple of cosy chats with the Dean, who was (as everyone knew) his enforcer. The Rev’d had been left in no doubt that he was supposed to tighten things up around the parish. It always seemed to be his particular sheep who were astray; caught fly tipping or peeing in shop doorways. The Bishop seemed to be under the impression that Rev’d Wattle was making little impression.
And then it appeared he would not be allowed to do it himself but would be asked to step aside for a member of the Deliverance Ministry – a fully paid up exorcist, who would no doubt be a bit of a tiresome glory boy.
But Rev’d Wattle was not to be thwarted. He decided to compromise and do a kind of exorcism lite on Aubrey. Quite what this would involve was not yet clear, but he was working on it. He’d definitely need a big cross from the church and perhaps even some garlic – or was that strictly for vampires? There was research to be done.
In the meantime, Diana Chevaux had been uncommonly quiet over the past week. Her husband, who was not given to attending to the more emotional side of things, had even noticed. It was the way she was working her dogs that had got his attention. Usually she commanded the pack with a voice that could only come from a woman whose ancestry could be traced back to commanders in the invading Norman armies. It brooked no dissent and wavered not one jot. Ever. All except for the last week when an altogether hesitant note had set in. The dogs of course were all over the shop – they didn’t know whether to heel, stay or get on. One whippet had started to gnaw its own leg. It was their evident distress that had caused Mr Chevaux to take note.
“You alright old thing?” he asked over evening drinks.
Diana looked up with surprise. ”Of course, yes. Lovely. I jolly well am fine. Yes.”
“It’s just your hounds are restless” He said, watching a Norfolk terrier tearing its way throught the bottom of a curtain.
“Are they? Well, I see. I’ll speak to them. Lovely.” She answered. And her husband ( a man of action) immediately went out into the passage to call his son.
“Boy! Your mother’s lost her mind. Get over would you? Goodbye”.
Valentine Chevaux who was in the middle of working out how one would design an Inuit canoe whilst working his way through a very good bottle of Chateau Margaux was more than a little irked. Why did his father always call him ‘boy’? But dutifully, he drained his glass, packed away his drawings and set off across the fields to his Mater and Pater.