The Bastards of Barley Downs
by A.P. Sessler
8 May, 1582
Certain men of the city, led by the Constable, found the Harper daughter in the winter barley field belonging to the Peregrine family on this, the eighth day since the flaming wheels appeared. Like the others she was discovered lying in the center of the crop rune, half-naked and out of her mind.
Any soul that remained idly in the rune suffered diverse maladies. Even the girl's own father forgot her name and his own until he was forcibly removed from the rune. Some grew faint, others discerned a metal savor in their mouths which turned bitter in their stomachs, and still others lost all their wits as the girl's father had. The lesser maladies were cured immediately when departing from the crop rune, while the greater remained until the evening.
Concerning the nature of the runes, they are of the most devilish design, capable of being conceived only by Hell itself. No inscription like them hath been recorded in any seized book on magic. In regards to their formation no one hath observed their construction. The stalks of grain are all bent flat with not a one broken, so that if each were straightened they would grow taller still.
13 May, 1582
The parents of the maidens had prevented their examination until now. No one wished to put undue strain upon their feeble minds until it seemed right. It was rightly presumed the examination would cause much strain but one slightly more bearable permitting the brief passing of time.
Each daughter was examined by the Vicar in the order they were found after their captivity, the Harper daughter being the last to be questioned.
She confessed she had been defiled by the Incubus, just as it molested each daughter after the same manner. She recounted the flaming wheels which carried her away into the heavens in the sight of us all, but did not willfully manifest the secret things that followed while she was captive, save that she had been violated by the Incubus.
When questioned concerning the slaughtered cattle found in the Johnson field all five daughters claimed to have no knowledge of the event. When pressed if they made oblations of the cattle to conjure the Incubus and the flaming wheels they denied all accusations.
At no time during their confession did they deny Christ or profess any heresy. They appear solely to be but hapless victims of the devil.
6 June, 1582
The Vicar and Magistrate, as well as the entire city, thought it meet to give the bewitched winter barley fields a sabbath of one year. The harvesting, selling or consumption of the grain hath been strictly forbidden. This prohibition will call upon all men to share all things in common to make up for that which is lacking, so that none hath too little and none hath too much.
9 July, 1582
The daughters have been found to be with child and appear to be in their second month. They each lamented the injustice they suffered with great weeping. Two despaired even of life to the point of seeking to do themselves violence on several occasions. In each instance they were delivered, by what means no one can be certain.
11 September, 1582
Now in their fourth month the mothers have grown suddenly favorable of their unborn bastards. What evil was committed against their consent beforetime hath now been received with joy, as if they had become the recipient of some great favor.
Some in our city thought to bring harm upon those heavy with child. All came to violent ends by unknown means, so that all who remain fear the very devils are guarding this brood like a vicious mother. Though no soul hath thus spoken, the seed of Satan may soon be born into this world.
1 October, 1582
It is again the time for sewing winter barley and reaping other grains. The bewitched fields have not been farmed since the crop runes appeared the previous year, during which time the barley hath withered, but not that which composes the crop runes. For this reason the farmers were ordered to give the fields a second sabbath year before planting.
18 November, 1582
It hath come to our knowledge that, whether by the willful disobedience of the farmers or the practice of common thieves, grain from the bewitched crops hath in truth been harvested and sold. Whilst no one publicly confesses to the selling or consumption of the grain, it hath been whispered that their use hath brought about diverse cures to maladies found difficult to treat by the most learned physicians.
7 January, 1583
As the daughters entered their eighth month their parents reported a multitude of devilish activity occurring in their households in the form of poltergeists. The daughters were taken from their homes peaceably and brought to the nunnery led by the Sisters of the Annunciation. The poltergeist activity hath since ceased.
1 February, 1583
As the hour of their delivery approaches we are fearful. The mothers are now in the final travail of birth pangs. They have each taken their seat on the birthing chairs in the adjacent room. A great anxiety hath ceased upon us all and we are in terrible dread for what it is to come.
In the scripture the Spirit of truth testifieth that the Son of Man came not only by the water of birth but by the blood of virginity. What these bastard children are, or will be, is not clear.
I hear the voice of the midwives saying the firstborn is crowning even now. There are screams in the birthing room. One of the midwives hath now entered the room where I sit writing. She is so covered in blood that I can only observe the white of her eyes and the black hole that is her mouth. She sayeth that the child--
O God, please, let it not be.
A resident of North Carolina's Outer Banks, A.P. Sessler searches for that unique element that twists the everyday commonplace into the weird.
When he's not writing fiction he composes music, dabbles in animation, and muses about theology and mind-hacking, all while watching way too many online movies.
His short stories have appeared in Zippered Flesh 2, Dandelions of Mars, SQ Magazine, and Strangely Funny.
This story was narrated by Jon Jones.
Jon Jones has worked in multi-media production for a variety of entertainment and broadcast mediums for over 30 years.
His recent efforts include providing education, consultation and production services to make digital media more accessible to individuals, schools, small businesses, and social service organizations.
Through his business, Lunarparcel Media, Jon provides video production and voice-over services, as well as digital restoration of antiquated content mediums.