2. The Stink of Death

2. The Stink of Death

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Had Claudette known it, the month was September and autumn was coming on, but she had never been taught the months of the year and only had the vaguest knowledge of the seasons. Education in her time was in the hand of parents, and her mother wasn’t bothered, never had been, Claudette was just the oldest of too many siblings and in no need of knowledge save that involved in the drudgery of life.

And it was on that September early evening as the night was drawing in that she and Bish started on their bid for freedom.

Now, don’t say owt,” hissed Claudette as they emerged, steaming and stinking, from their hiding place. “Just keep your gob shut and nobody will know we’re anywhere but where we should be.”

What’s that bleeding stink? Where’s it coming from?” came a voice from the gloom.

Claudette reached out and took Bish by one hand, hissed shush and the two of them together with one of the worst clouds of putrid stench in the history of aromatic horrors made their way across a huge field and its turnips, two shadows that would have been much nicer if they hadn’t taken with them a reek like no other.

There was a quarter moon, which meant the night wasn’t completely dark, but it was still almost impossible for them to see what was in front of them.

The field was large and divided into strips so that everyone might have a share of fertile land and there were rough divisions between the separate strips, which made their progress marginally easier if they stuck to one of them.

When they were clear of the main street of Shingleton and unlikely to be overheard if they whispered, Claudette turned to the boy Bish.

Are you all right?” she asked, because he was shivering audibly.

I’ll be,” he told her, “it’s my leg...”

You smashed it last yuletide?” she asked.

Bleeding dad did. And I hadn’t done owt to deserve it, but he broke it for me anyway, and it’s mended sort of crooked.”

That troubled Claudette. She didn’t intend to have his company for long, but she was aware of two things. Firstly, he’d slow them down anyway and secondly she wouldn’t be able to leave him in the wilds if he was helpless.

You best go home, then,” she told him, knowing he wouldn’t.

I’d get killed if I did,” came his laconic reply, “like my sister was last fall when she tried to get away. Buried in our turnip strip, she was, too deep to be found unless you really looked.”

Was that Rosie?” asked Claudette, “I wondered where she went, rumours said she’d up and gone off with a lad, though no lad went missing as far as I could tell.”

There was no lad,” Bish said in a matter-of-fact voice, “she were killed, that’s all, Killed right dead before my eyes and all.”

I’m sorry,” whispered Claudette, who genuinely was sorry. Life was hard for everyone, but it didn’t have to be that hard. “You stick with me, then, and try not to be so slow,” she added, “we must get clear by dawn, and then find somewhere hidden where we won’t be found. There’s the woods ahead, dense forest it is...”

I know,” put in Bish, “I’ve been there with dad, birding. “But we’ll have to go a fair way in to be safe.”

I was about to say that,” agreed Claudette, “so come on, Bish, best foot forward!”

I ain’t got a best foot.”

You’ll have to train one up to be best then,” grinned the girl, “now let’s keep shushed and keep going, and if I have to I’ll help you. Won’t be so bad as we both smell like sinners from Hades.”

The moved on in the subdued light of a quarter moon, any dim shadows lost in the midnight gloom. A wary rabbit hidden in a patch of turnips watched through sharp eyes as they struggled along, wondering in its cony mind at the foulness of the air coming from them. Somewhere in the black night a fox yelped and a wolf howled in threatening reply. And to make matters more difficult a lazy cloud drifted over the moon and the darkness was all but complete.

They came to the end of the field and crude fencing had been built to mark the edge of man’s farmland and the beginning of the forest. Claudette looked behind them.

In the distance she could see a glimmer or two of dim lights from the village they had left, probably one from her home where mum had drunk herself to sleep so she could ignore the yelps of Claudette’s younger siblings whose hungry dreams split the night and went unheeded now that her dad was six or more feet under the ground in the poor end of the churchyard. Probably another glimmer was Bish’s home where the lad was being missed and his father was waiting, armed with cruelty and ready to punish his tardy return home.

He’ll not go back to that hell, and neither shall I, she decided, and the cloud nudged itself away from the moon as if agreeing with her decision.

Come, Bish,” she hissed, and groped for his hand, found it, gripped it, gently pulled it. She could tell the lad was suffering even though she couldn’t see him. And he was shaking like boys of his age don’t.

It was no fun being Bish, she decided, and squeezed his fingers.

You stink,” she told him.

And you,” came his reply.

Then we’ll find that stream and tomorrow if the sun shines we’ll wash the filth of us and maybe stop smelling,” she said.

As plans go, that’s the best,” he replied, his voice shaking.

Are you alright, Bish?” she asked.

I’ll do,” he replied, “I’ll do very well indeed once we’re away from here.

And from Shingleton. There’s nothing for us back there,” she told him, “so come on!”

It was harder under the trees. Autumn hadn’t loosened too many leaves yet so their canopy blotted out much of the moonlight as they struggled along, and it soon became clear that Bish couldn’t go on much longer.

We’ll rest up soon,” Claudette promised him, knowing they should go a great deal further and at the same time sure that Bish couldn’t.

You’ll have to leave me soon,” he said, and she heard the way his voice was caught up with the moisture of a tear.

I’ll stay by your until tomorrow,” she promised him.

No,” he said, “that would be folly. I’ll survive on my own, see if I don’t. You go on. Now. Do you hear that?”

Thinly on the wind and across the turnip field came the harsh voice of someone calling.

Bish! Bish! Where in damnation are you? I can smell the turds on you and I’m ready to break a rod on your back, so make it easier on yourself and come back!”

That’s my dad,” he said, “and I’m ready for him to kill me ‘cause I can’t go any further...”

Yes you can!” she told him, fiercely, “Keep hold of my hand!”

It was almost too much for her, but she pulled the handicapped boy along, between trees she could barely see, past clumps of thorny shrubs, tripping and stumbling and barely supporting him as he dragged his useless leg along and fought the pain he started blacking out from.

And it was all over as he fell.

A rough hand grabbed him from behind and Claudette barely had time to melt into the night, hopefully unseen, as Bish’s father picked up his son, held him high in the air and them smashed him onto the ground as if he was no more weighty than a feather.

That’ll larn ya!” he squawked, “that’ll larn you proper!”

But Bish didn’t reply. He was already too dead to do anything of the sort.

© Peter Rogerson 21.09.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on September 21, 2020
Last Updated on September 22, 2020
Tags: escape rotten smell, medieval conditions


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..