The Soul Farmer
A West Wales Odyssey – Book Four
by David Parkins
Copyright © 2017 by David Parkins
I feel sure that you will all have joined me in visiting those darkest of places – not that I saw any of you there! Probably, these most often reside within your mind, and, if you are like me, you may have little choice about when you might make those visits. It may be a curse that is particularly visited upon those of us with nigh-on photographic memories. The images, including from way back, revisit our minds as if from the highest resolution digital camera. Unfortunately, the audio does too, in some instances.
Sometimes though, you may actually visit one of those dark places for real. Of course, they may only be dark for yourself, and I’m sure that is mostly the case with me. I once worked in a shop on the south coast of England. I’m pleased my period of working there was short lived, as the title of the film ‘Resident Evil’ comes to mind when I think of the upstairs storeroom at the rear of that unpleasant building. Subsequently, it was taken over by a company selling office furniture, and the owner told me that one of his employees outright refused to go up to that room.
I’ve visited several of the ancient places, ‘The Henge’ and Avebury, the most famous. I’ve slept out overnight at some, and I’ve usually come away from them feeling nothing but positive ‘vibes’. One of these places was actually quite magical. Three of us slept out one Saturday night in the Church Henge at Knowlton in Dorset. This encloses a ruined church, parts of it going back to the 12th-century. We awoke at around 4.00am to an amazing spectacle – fireflies everywhere. Small clusters of them doing erratic ‘dances’ along the top of a large part of the inner bank of the circle. We all sat there transfixed. We hadn’t taken anything, I promise!
Pentre Ifan though, was different. It was different for me at any rate. I first went there in 1988 and again, the following year, with a good friend who had been to several of these sites with me in the past. He didn’t feel it, but I did – and on both occasions. I did not like it there. He died suddenly the following year. No connection, I’m sure. It was massive heart failure at the age of fifty-six! The upshot though is that I very much doubt that I’ll be making that right turn off the A487 again, and going back to the old burial chamber, with its most distinctive of capstones.
Although The Soul Farmer is a stand-alone story, if you have followed my ‘West Wales Odyssey’ series through books one to three, then this book will pull several of the unresolved strands from these earlier yarns together, as it reaches its conclusion. I hope too that it will add retrospectively to the experience of reading Splitting Rainbows, Broken Crockery and Sophie.
I trust that this series of four books has given you a real sense of time and place, rooted in the West Wales area, and of how lucky those of us who reside here truly are. At the same time, I hope that they avoid being at all slushy and over-sentimental about it. There are, pro-rata, just as high a proportion of people living here who have their problems, as would be the case anywhere else. You always take the weather with you, and you cannot ever really run away from yourself, when all is said and done.
Whether living in a place like this helps with a person’s healing process, is something upon which I would not like to offer a definitive view. Surely though, it cannot be a negative factor?
A friend who has read final revisions of all four books, made the following observation. She said that it is as if you have parachuted Twin Peaks into West Wales. As I’m a huge fan of everything David Lynch, and of both the original and the recent series of ‘Twin Peaks’ in particular, I take that as a compliment.
Although this was not at all what was in my mind, I feel there is just something irresistible about the concept of dropping trouble into a paradise, or into otherwise peaceable existences. After all, why should the residents of West Wales be the ones to get away without having the odd serial killer, rapist or fascist thug amongst them? Or even the odd farmer of souls!
The question really is though; were they actually here all along? I’m sure there is a ‘dark underbelly’ in even the smallest of places where Homo sapiens exist side by side.
People will say that this is most often brought about by money and wealth, or greed thereof. I disagree. I think that by far the biggest motivator for the darker side of our ‘better angels’ is power, and its concomitant, sexual attraction. That’s what most women have told me, at least – well to be more accurate, they usually just said “I’m not with you for your money or your looks”. Just as well!
If you want confirmation of how power is more addictive than money could ever be, then I thoroughly recommend reading ‘The Bounty Trilogy’ by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Part three chronicles the events that followed the settling on Pitcairn Island of one section of the mutineers from HMAV Bounty, and of the group of Tahitian men and women they took with them. A dark and grisly tale indeed. All of human nature is there.
Of course it is true that money is often involved as well, but in most of these cases, it is simply the tool that is deemed useful in obtaining power and influence, or, just as often, to prevent the loss of a person or organisation’s status, through the lack of it.
In this respect there is another book that I would also wholeheartedly recommend to you – ‘The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst’ by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. Although initially driven to take place in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe round the world yacht race by a desire for money to prop up a failing business venture, his fate was ultimately sealed by the usual range of human frailties, of which the desire for money was, in the end, no longer the principal one. Crowhurst’s sponsors made impossible demands upon a mind that could not cope with them, even before he set sail.
It is a superb read that puts you right inside the man, and shows how any of us could end up in such a situation, albeit in a different context. It is one of the reasons too that I’ve always had a soft spot for the film ‘Falling Down’, starring Michael Douglas – portraying so well, as it does, that hard to define point where you cross a line and then it is easier to go on than to go back, even though you know you are henceforth travelling on a one-way ticket.
Finally, I will try to promise that my next book will not be part of a series. Will it be set in West Wales? No – though I’ll admit that I was tempted!
The storm intensified as Susanne sat on the bed, cradling Vincent’s head in her arms. He had stopped crying as she stroked his long tangled hair. Still, she felt he was not ready to talk. It was intuition that had driven her here, but she knew nothing of the reasons why.
The night before, the other half of Vincent’s life, who took the form of Sophie, had removed herself from this vale of tears by her own hand. Sophie had been forty-five years old but still quite beautiful, an already lovely face and pale complexion, set off perfectly by her striking bright red hair.
Susanne had found him outside his mobile home, kneeling in the rain and covered in mud. She had bundled him into the shower and guided him to his bed afterwards. She could see that he was holding on to his own existence by a thread. Sensing his need for something deeply elemental, Susanne had removed her upper clothing and cradled his head to her breasts, singing him a soothing ancient lullaby from way back. From another time and place entirely.
The storm had lasted for nearly two hours. By the end, it was just the odd rumble of thunder, rolling away into the distance. Vincent had fallen asleep and, leaving the rest of her clothes on, Susanne got under the duvet with him, to continue holding him in her arms. Eventually, she too fell asleep.
In the early afternoon, they both awoke.
Would you like some coffee or something to eat Vincent?
Thank you, Susanne. I don’t think I can eat but I’d love a black coffee with one sugar. It’s all there on the sideboard I think.
Still naked to the waist, she made the coffee and returned to sit on the bed. Vincent sat up as she passed a mug to him. He noticed she had given him Sophie’s mug and that she had his own, but things like that wouldn’t have mattered too much to Soph, and so he decided that they wouldn’t matter to him either.
He had to ask. Why are you being so kind to me Susanne? We don’t even know each other and yet you hold me to your breast and you sing me a beautiful song in a soft voice. You stroke my hair and talk reassuringly to me and you stay with me. I cannot say if I would have made it through otherwise. I think I might have decided to follow Sophie. He recounted the events of the previous night.
Sophie? That is a lovely name, Susanne said. I noticed a photo on the sideboard whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil. Red hair. Is that Sophie?
She is beautiful, said Susanne. In fact, the photo confirmed to her that she had actually seen Sophie up at the village garage shop once or twice.
She was beautiful, agreed Vincent.
She is beautiful Vincent. And she will remain beautiful. My ancestors believe all those who have entered the spirit world remain beautiful, and when you walk and talk with her again, and take her hand and lead her through a beautiful woodland, in the dappled light of a new dawn, she will be as beautiful to you as ever she was before. We can talk much more about this on another day, if you wish.
I want to do that. I would love that image to hold on to. Your ancestors?
I’m part Mississauga Indian, Vincent. It’s kind of why I’m here. It’s a part of how I knew.
We are not strangers, are we? He said.
No, Vincent. We are not.
I don’t want to be alone Susanne.
You don’t have to be. The storm has moved away now. We should get you out of here for a while. Come with me for today, to my home. You can be comfortable there and maybe take some food later, if you wish.
Susanne put the rest of her clothes on and told Vincent to get up and dress.
I’m naked, he said.
Susanne smiled, well, I’ve already seen you once. I promise not to look. Too closely, anyway!
Vincent got out of bed, walked over to the storage cupboard and got out the clothes he needed. He couldn’t understand why, but he didn’t feel at all self-conscious about being in a state of undress in Susanne’s presence, and yet, at the same time, he understood perfectly.
Vincent locked the door of the mobile home that now felt so achingly empty without the other part of his life. Susanne took him by the hand and, unsteadily at first, he walked with her out of the field and back along the lane, in the direction of her home, and to the warmth, comfort, friendship and support that she would now offer him.
And as Susanne would soon discover, she would need to do this for her own sake, as well as for Vincent’s. She would need distraction from a thunderbolt headed in her own direction. And this thunderbolt would mean too, that Vincent’s days of being supportive to very special women were far from over.
He would still have to face the vast chasm in his life caused by the loss of Sophie, but he would not have to do it alone, and he would not have to do it without having a purpose in life.
Twenty four hours later, concern was mounting at an office complex in Scarborough, on the other side of Britain. The North Yorkshire-based company was in a state of flux, as they were in the process of having a new computer network installed by an IT wizzo called Ashley. He was from West Wales, and had travelled over on an eight week contract. Now it was the Monday afternoon of the third week, and there was no sign of him. This job could not be allowed to fall behind schedule.
Ron, the boss, had been ringing Ashley’s mobile, each time with the same result – it was switched off, or so the digitised woman on the other end of the line kept informing him. He asked his own IT manager Liam if he knew where Ashley might be?
He told me he was going out to Flamborough Head yesterday to watch the birdies. It’s his hobby, said Liam.
Ron said, do you know where he is staying?
Yeah, he did tell me. Some B & B just a mile or so out of town, on the coast.
Got the number? Ron asked.
I have, yes.
Could you give them a ring? See if they know anything.
Liam called and spoke to the landlady. She hadn’t seen Ashley since he left early on the Sunday morning on his bird-watching trip. I packed him some sandwiches, she told him. I didn’t think anything of it when he didn’t come back last night. Not really my business! Liam relayed this information to his boss.
Shit, said Ron. If this guy lets us down I’ll want his guts for garters, and compensation to boot.
By this time Ashley’s guts were really in no fit state to be used as garters, or for anything else much – though Ron could have no way of knowing that.
Later on that Monday and far to the west, as night descended.
At Pentre Ifan, a Neolithic burial chamber in West Wales, a mature boar badger was rooting around the edge of the enclosure within which the monument was situated. It had been raining quite heavily at several points over the last two-three days, making his digging for earth worms a much easier task. Along an adjacent hedge came the eerie sound of a barn owl, working its own night shift on silent wings. Otherwise all was peaceful. So far.
Probably old ‘Brock’ would have detected it before any human presence at this ancient site – had there been one. It was a distant rumbling. At first it was a vibration more than anything audible, but over the next minute or two it increased in volume dramatically, as the ground began to shake.
Had there been a moon, a large shadow may have been cast over Pentre Ifan and the site on which it stood. If there had been an observer looking upwards from that exact spot, they would, nonetheless, have been able to discern the contrast between the night-time sky and the large circular black object, seemingly suspended, a hundred or so metres above the burial chamber.
And any observer of this event would, if they had been watching carefully, have also seen a dark figure descend slowly and run off to the right, to be very quickly lost in the landscape. Not that any observer in that position would have survived what happened next, as a short burst of intense heat and ultra-bright orange flame propelled the circular craft upwards into the night sky at high speed.
Dawn would reveal the evidence of this visitation. Burn marks atop the capstone of Pentre Ifan, and scorched earth all around. Scorched earth, and the incinerated body of poor old ‘Brock’.
No other eyes had witnessed these events closely, and certainly not the arrival of that other being, now secreted for the moment, in thick woodland some way to the east. It had travelled a long way, to meet someone in particular – someone chosen long ago, and with very special assets to trade. The Soul Farmer settled in to wait.
Part One – Strands
In a budget hotel on the east coast of England, Trish was going through her routine of cleaning the rooms. As she worked, she reflected on just how sick she was of slogging away under these sodding zero-hours contract conditions. Never knowing what days she would be working, or for how many hours, and yet having to be available just in case she was required. And when she did get to work it was at an hourly rate akin to slave-bloody-labour.
And as for the customers who stayed in places like these! She had concluded quite soon after taking the job that the so called ‘Great British Public’ were, by and large, a bunch of slobs. The conditions they left the rooms in were often unbelievable. Although she could not know it, she was now only one wall away from a room that would change her definition of the term “unbelievable” forever.
As she came to the door of room B21, she checked there was no ‘do not disturb’ sign outside and slid in her plastic passkey card. She pulled her trolley, with its clean bed linen, towels and other replenishments, over the threshold and backwards along the short corridor, past the bathroom. Then Trish turned around. She took in the hellish vision before her and promptly vomited on the industrial grade carpet. She ran downstairs to reception and said Sue, I think you’d better call the police. There’s a dead man in Room B21.
Are you sure he’s dead? Asked the receptionist.
Oh yes, said Trish, still retching. He is very dead indeed.
Less than forty minutes later the police were all over the place, and the room was a crime scene. Forensics were at work and DCI Steven Causer was looking at the scene of horror before him. What have we got then? He asked the Scenes of Crime Officer.
Male, late forties, the SOCO replied. Probably been dead for over twenty four hours. Some very fancy blade work, as I’m sure you can see. There were marks on the victim’s wrists suggesting that they were either tied, or that he was handcuffed during the attack. I’d say the latter. He certainly struggled, poor sod. I think he died a very slow and painful death. He was probably able to watch the killer ‘playing’ with his insides for a short while before he died. You’ll have a much fuller report later on.