Where Do I Fit In?
by Andrew Foote
Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.
It was strange. We did think about what had happened in the church but neither of us found it upsetting or anything out of the ordinary but we later found out that we were in a minority of two. Even the guys wanted explanations which quite obviously we couldn't supply, Lauren set the phones ablaze in an attempt to get information and Reverend Judy was busy seeking an audience with her Bishop at the earliest opportunity.
"Your Grace, I really need to see you! I'm not the type who's given to emotional outbursts so I ask you to take this seriously. I can't say I'm frightened, I'm not, after all what happened took place in the house of God but I need to try and understand what occurred and why."
"Very well Judy. What are your commitments for the coming week?"
"I have a wedding this Saturday, Sunday services of course but otherwise it's just my normal parish duties."
"Can you get to Oxford this afternoon? I could see you at three if you can make it."
"That would be fine Your Grace. I'll be there and thank you."
"So what's this all about Judy?"
"It happened yesterday but it began over a thousand years ago in Wormleighton village. It's a very long story and to do it justice I need to tell you everything. Do you have enough time?"
"I'll find the time so carry on."
She went through the entire thing from us finding or rather pin-pointing the grave site, the way the boys were buried, their position in the grave and Mr Parker's assumptions as to why they were laid to rest away from the confines of the village. Next she went on to detail the occurrences at the committal service, our actions and the subsequent earth tremor.
"Your Grace, I've been around the block in my youth. Nothing much shocks or upsets me anymore but this has shaken me to the core. I called the authorities and there have been no reports of any seismic activity in the area and so far as I can say, nobody outside the church, no one in the village felt anything but it was enough to knock over a sizeable chalice on the Alter and dislodge a couple of roof slates. Is it at all possible we witnessed the hand of God at work?"
"Firstly, I am well aware of your misspent youth before you found God! This equipped you admirably for your calling as a people-person and not given to flights of fancy or hysteria so I take on board as fact everything you've told me. The next part has to be pure conjecture. Hand of God? It can't be dismissed or ruled out as impossible, that's why we have faith, but like you, I have no first-hand experience of such things so all I can do it take the matter to the synod, maybe to the Archbishop himself. What about these two boys Andrew and Lucas? Where is their connection in all this?"
"That is something I've not told you up 'till now.
Are you aware that the visitor centre at the medieval village gives people the opportunity to donate a DNA sample? They use these to cross-reference against the DNA of the remains I've been laying to rest in the churchyard."
"I wasn't aware but do continue."
"Lucas and Andrew took part and contributed hair samples to the project and this is at the point where it becomes worrying.
Out of a total of ten-thousand donated samples, only three showed even the smallest of results, insignificant you might say but they did show a distant link to the village but now we come to those two lads. Their DNA was cross-referenced in the normal way and showed a distant link and that in itself is surprising given up to that point there had only been three others but yet in one day, two boys come along and almost double the tally but it doesn't end there. When this shallow grave was opened and the remains exhumed, they ran a comparison of the DNA of the corpses against those of Lucas and Andrew. I'm no scientist so I don't fully understand the implications but I'm told that the matches were so close, they could've been identical twins, Andrew with one, Lucas with the other. The way it was put to me was that if you think the odds against winning a lottery jackpot are long, multiply that by a few hundred-million and you come close to understanding the enormity of it, not just one of the boys but both of them!"
"Dear Lord in his Heaven! How can that be possible?"
"No one is saying Your Grace but I go back to how that grave was identified in the first place. Those lads knew it was there! The car they were travelling in broke down in the village, they stay up at Wormleighton Manor Hotel overnight, take a tour of the old site, convince John Parker of the need to investigate an area which all the experts felt unnecessary and bingo. They find a grave in the exact same spot that those boys led them to. A series of complete coincidences, all random, nothing planned and now it would appear we're faced with one of the most baffling scientific and religious mysteries of modern times."
"Yes. I will do my own spot of digging but for now I think it might be wise if we keep this firmly under wraps. God knows we don't need the press getting wind of it or all hell will break loose!"
"I agree with you but what about Lucas, Andrew and their friends? They were all at the committal, they know all about how the grave was discovered? How can they be expected to keep quiet?"
"I'll personally talk to them and their parents. Damage limitation I think it's called.
Thank you Judy. Now I understand why you needed to see me and I promise I'll keep you fully informed of developments."
A few days later we had just completed our final dive of the evening when Lucas spotted both sets of parents and another man we didn't recognise standing poolside deep in conversation with Peter and Tony. Both our Dads looked agitated so we left them to talk but it was too late and we were beckoned over to join them. Mr Carmichael made the introductions.
"Boys? Allow me to introduce His Grace the Bishop of Oxford. This Your Grace, is my son Lucas and his friend and partner Andy."
"Remarkable diving lads! I'm very impressed but you must be curious as to why I'm here. Is there somewhere quiet we can talk?"
"The gym is probably the best place now the pool is open Sir. Follow me please."
Once inside we found somewhere to sit then the Bishop told us what was on his mind but summed up with the following.
"I don't want you to think that we expect you to cover this up but it might be wise not to go around telling everyone. What happened at Wormleighton was very unusual and so we need some time to figure out what went on and for that to be achieved, we need confidentiality. Can you agree to that?"
I wasn't too happy but Lucas gave me his take on it all be it silently so I agreed.
"Yes okay but what's the big deal?"
"Really from our point of view, it's the committal service and what occurred during that time. Scientifically, I think that the DNA results are to say the least, interesting but then I'm no expert, but if, as your Mums and Dads tell me, you're attracting enough media attention due to your sporting endeavours, let's not go adding to the pressure."
"Fine. We'll keep it quiet if you think it best."
"Thank you. What about your friends? Can they be relied upon to do the same?"
"If they've not already left for home, we'll talk to them and once they understand then we can guarantee they'll be fine with it."
"Great! We'll let you go and have a chat with them. I'm leaving contact details with you families if you have any questions but for now, just keep on with your extraordinary diving. Nice to meet you both!"
We found the others drinking coffee in the reception area.
"Given you two up for lost! Who were you talking to?"
"We'll tell you on the way home Lor. Not for public consumption okay?"
"So okay? Who was he Lucas?"
"His Grace the Bishop of Oxford if you must know and no, I'm not getting ordained!"
"So why did he want to talk to you?"
"Because of what happened at the Committal service. He wants us to keep quiet about it, that's all."
"It must be very important if he comes over all the way from Oxford just to tell you that? Wouldn't he normally leave that to a parish priest?"
"I think you're right. A Bishop is like the Anglican church's version of royalty but I didn't press the point, in fact I'd rather not know the reason why he took it upon himself to make the trip. What I don't know, I can't worry about I guess. Can you promise us to keep quiet?"
"We won't say another word but just promise us that you'll keep us up to speed?"
"Lor? I promise we'll share everything with all of you as and when we can. Thanks guys?"
"No thanks needed. See you in the morning!"
The next thing to happen was a late evening visit from Lauren to our parents. We had no knowledge of this as we were most likely cuddled up and fast asleep at the time but later we understood she was urgently trying to explain that as a sports psychologist she had a duty to report on her charges but in our case, senior scientists had become involved and were anxious to interview us and conduct various tests which she was fervently opposed to. Both sets of parents agreed with her but she said that it didn't mean that by being in opposition meant that pressure wouldn't be applied and so we should be on our guard. Mr Carmichael really did lay it on the line.
"I know all of us feel the same way so if I may, I'll speak for us all. Our boys are under enough stain as it is. They're in a relationship which God knows isn't what you might call mainstream and especially at their age but as if that wasn't enough, their training regime, schooling and just having the opportunity to be kids is pressure enough without feeling as if they're out of step with everyone else. No. Once they're eighteen and have the rights of adults, then and only then will they be in a position to make their own judgement. Until that time, I absolutely refuse to allow Lucas to be subjected to further investigation no matter what the scientific community think. What do you think Roy?"
"I'm 110% with you Gregg. Leave them alone and give them the space to develop in whatever direction is right for them. Childhood lasts but five minutes, adulthood lasts a bloody lifetime!"
Once again life settled in to a routine of training, school work, self-catering at the weekends and yet more training but it was fun and we weren't about to complain.
We went to Berlin for our first major gala and came away with silver. We were slightly disappointed but Liam reassured us by saying that too much too soon would take the edge of our competitive spirit and to bide our time for a really big event. Big event?? Just competing at international level seemed big to us but then we were still novices really.
Lor and Paul had their own successes as they were both selected for the England squad to face Norway, Sweden and Finland where they also came away with silver medals beaten only by Sweden who we thought cheated as they had members of their squad who played in America and Canada but that's the way of sport. I mean how many Premier League football players are English these days? You could probably count them on your fingers and still have a few to spare.
Benny was going great guns. His lithe but powerful body seemed to propel him through the air at a frightening speed, his sure-footing making his landing look so easy and it wasn't long before he was singled out for advanced coaching meaning he was being fast tracked for a place on the Rio 2016 gymnastics team. His search for a girlfriend became less of a priority but then we saw him talking to a girl one evening after training. She was really pretty and didn't seem to be hanging on his every word but rather she seemed genuinely interested in him. This continued for a number of weeks before he announced that they were and I quote 'seeing each other'! Such a sweet yet old-fashioned statement but then he qualified it by telling us that nothing had gone on between the two of them as he didn't want to break the spell! Our Benny was finally growing up.
Gary and Dan were possibly the less fortunate of all of us. Lack of facilities locally were holding them back despite Tony's best efforts. They had come out at school to a mixed reception but their personalities got them through but they still hadn't found the courage to speak to their parents. It was one Friday evening as we were jogging home after training that Dan broke the news.
"Tony reckons we have to ramp it up a notch or two if we're to make it and so we've been offered an academy place in London starting next term. The deal has been put to our parents and they've agreed to let us go so it might be we don't see you guys for a while. It's sad but……..if we are to succeed then there's no other way. Tony is really upset as he feels it's like all his fault but it really isn't! My God he's tried but if the facilities aren't there, what chance does he stand? The upside for him is that……..I shouldn't tell you this but he's been offered a place with the SCGB. They want him to get involved full-time coaching the really young athletes like ten plus? He'd be really good at that cos he has the patience and humour as well as an awesome ability."
"Yeah you're spot on there Dan. Tony is one great teacher and nice too. We'll miss him though and so will our school. Funny now I come to think about it? I used to be really scared of him!! Strange how the wheel turns don't you think? Will you be back weekends?"
"Some but we'll probably go back home to be with our folks."
"Understandable I suppose but just remember, you're always welcome at 212. Keep in touch and when the holidays come, we'll organise a party or a barbeque or something."
"Deal! Talking of parties? Weren't you going to hold a house-warming thing?"
"Oh shit! So we were! We'd completely forgotten about that? Okay? What's on everyone's agenda for tomorrow night?"
"Sounds as if it might just be PARTY TIME!!!"
That Saturday was manic! Training, shopping for the party, preparing the food then sweet-talking my father into buying us some wine.
"I've no objection to getting some for you son? You and your friends are very sensible but I'm playing golf with Gregg this afternoon and Mum is out with Julie. Tell you what? If I get Gregg to drive, I'll leave my car keys so if you can persuade Jo to go shopping for you, how does that sound?"
"Thanks Dad. You're a star!"
"I know but don't go telling everyone!"
The vague sniff of a party and Jo was a pushover!
"Of course you're invited sis! Bring some of your friends but we have a flat full so we can't put anyone up overnight?"
"There are two spare rooms next door Andy but we'll probably not invite anyone especially after what happened at the barbeque. Keep it tight with just your friends."
In the event, we invited some other friends from school although we didn't go as far as extending that to staying over mainly because we still had to go to Christchurch the following morning and booting everyone out the door at half five in the morning didn't seem fair, Lor and Paul brought sleeping bags, Dan and Gary stayed as was usual but Benny said he'd walk his girlfriend home and see us in the morning.
It was a great evening with nobody misbehaving or getting drunk. We sat around talking, dancing, eating and drinking then at midnight we called a halt. Once everyone had left, we looked at the mountain of clearing up but decided to leave it until we got back in the morning, said our goodnight's and went to bed.
Neither Lucas nor I could sleep so we ended up talking for a while.
"Did you realise that it's exactly two months since Liam's car broke down on our way back from Oxford Lucas?"
"Not really clocked it but like you, that place is still in my mind. It's almost like I'll never be able to forget it somehow."
"I know how you feel cos I feel the same way. I just wish there were some answers but it's like we're being shielded from everything. Do you think they think there's something more to it than they're letting on?"
"Either that or there's absolutely nothing to it but I don't go with that cos of what we both feel inside. I've tried to analyse it but aside from the fact that we sensed the grave and the results of the DNA samples, I come up with diddly-squat."
"Maybe they've got the same problem as us but then we have an advantage. We know that there's something so all we have to do is figure it out. How? I dunno but there must be a way."
"Go back to the beginning maybe?"
"You mean go back to Wormleighton then?"
"Yes but how we get there might be difficult."
"I'll have a talk with Jo in the morning. If my guess is correct, my Mum and Dad stayed over at yours last night so she might be able to borrow Dad's car and run us over there after Christchurch. It's got to be worth a try?"
"And if she won't? What then?"
"We don't have a Plan B."
"I know we don't so we'll just have to rely on Jo being in a good mood."
We got back from training and I went through into the main house to see if Jo and Simon had surfaced. I found them sitting in the lounge watching telly.
"Fancy a coffee?"
"What, at yours?"
"Yes why not?"
"This isn't a sneaky plan to get us roped in to helping you to clear up after last night is it?"
"No honestly but I was looking for a favour though."
"Okay. Lead the way then."
"So that's pretty much everything sis. Didn't Mum and Dad mention any of this?"
"Not so much as a word. Why all the cloak and dagger routine?"
"So as not to attract unwanted attention. When even the Bishop of Oxford gets involved, there must be more to this than meets the eye wouldn't you have thought? He even mentioned about taking it to the Archbishop of Canterbury for heaven's sake!"
"Okay. Anyway you said you were looking for a favour."
"Oh yeah, sorry. We want to go back to that village. I'm not sure why, it's just a feeling we have. The thing is, we need answers and at the moment we're being stone-walled."
"What do you expect to find Andy? Is there like a game plan?"
"No nothing like that. We most likely won't find out anything but we just know we have to revisit the place. Does that sound weird to you?"
"A lot of what you two get up to is weird, this being one of them but alright, we'll drive you over there but on the understanding that you buy us a pub lunch."
"Not a problem! Should we tell Dad where we're going?"
"I'll phone him to say we're going out for the day but I don't think he needs to know exactly where especially as it's supposed to be kept low-key. You two go and get changed and we'll see you outside."
Half an hour later we were on the road. Jo was driving with Simon up front next to her while Lucas and I were in the back map reading for them.
"One of these days the old man might launch himself into the twenty-first century and buy a sat-nav! Make life a hell of a lot easier."
"Don't you mean a GPS?"
"No Lucas, I meant a sat-nav, you know, like a route finder thingy."
"Yeah, a GPS!"
"Whatever. Have it your own way! You need to take the next left Jo. It should be signed Hayford Wharf then you should pick up signs for Wormleighton."
We drove into the village and spotting a pub on the village green, we stopped off for lunch. A casual conversation with the landlord didn't reveal much information as he explained that he'd only bought the pub some five years previously although his understanding was that the plague had come to the village and the story went that many of the villagers at that time had either died or had moved out. As time progressed, fear of returning meant that the settlement was all but abandoned but now some of the land and remaining properties had been bought by private individuals and slowly there was the beginnings of a population once more.
Lucas tried to frame the next question in a way that wouldn't raise suspicions.
"So if the plague hit, wouldn't the dead get buried outside of the village boundaries?"
The landlord just shrugged his shoulders.
"I really can't answer that one son. Try asking John over yonder. Tell you what? I'll ask him cos he can be a funny bugger sometimes!
John? What do you know about the plague that came to the village?"
"Not very much. I'm not that bloody old am I?"
"Ha-ha! You say! Seriously now, where would they have buried the dead? Inside the village or out?"
"Neither. They might've been uneducated but that doesn't mean to say they were stupid, they torched all the poor bastards on funeral pyres and then the ashes would've been buried along with everything they owned. Most likely their houses would've been set alight too. They found evidence of this when they dug the cut back in the 1600's. What's your interest in our village history boy?"
"Just that. Interest. I think it's fascinating is all."
"Well you bloody well wouldn't have done had you been alive back then is all I'll say!"
With that, he turned his back on us and returned to his newspaper.
The landlord smiled at us and lowering his voice said
"Don't mind him, he's got more attitude than you can shake a stick at!"
I paid the bill and having asked if we could leave the car on the pub car park for a while, we set off towards the old Manor House.
The Manor House, not to be confused with the manor Hotel was an interesting mixture of the very old through to fairly recent alterations such as modern windows and doors but the gatehouse and tower looked to be very much part of the original building having no glass at the windows and the massive oak doors still being held together by large iron studs or nails. On the tower were what appeared to be two sets of coats of arms. Lucas took out his camera and photographed the entire structure then took close-ups of the shields.
We were approached by a lady who stood back as Lucas took his shots but once he'd done, spoke to us.
"So nice to see you youngsters taking an interest in history. Very gratifying!"
Lucas was animated!
"Well I spent my life living in America where the oldest and most historic towns are Charleston in North Carolina and New Orleans in Louisiana so for me this is all very different. How old is this gatehouse do you know?"
"We can't be absolutely sure but we know that it's part of the original house and best estimate puts it at about the eleventh century. It's a very rare example of medieval architecture and so its Grade One listed and we can hardly sneeze near it without obtaining special planning permission!"
"Do you own it?"
"Yes for our sins! My husband was left it in his uncles will so now all we have to do is restore it all. It's a lot of very hard work but our children love it, you know, having their very own castle to play in! Anyway, enjoy your walk won't you."
We carried on round the back of the house following a rubble wall so called not because it was falling down but more because that was how it was built, sort of like a dry stone wall but without the finesse.
Beyond this wall was the garden to the house and the toys, swings and slides made it look like a very nice family home with a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Further down the path, the grass gave way to a small area of woodland then beyond that, the church.
The church wasn't like a traditional cross-shape-with-pointy-spire sort of thing. It was functional almost, rectangular with a square tower rather than a spire. It was also very old and we learned later that parts of the tower dated back to the year 1068AD but then during the reformation, the squabbles between the Anglican Church and the Catholics, much of the building had been destroyed so over the years, bits had been added as the population grew.
The church was locked which I thought odd given it was Sunday but Simon pointed out the service times.
"All today's services are being conducted at Hayford. Did you need to go inside?"
"No not really. It would've been nice but not essential. We need to go and see the grave although I've no idea why."
It hadn't occurred to us before but where the boys had been laid to rest abutted the tower and the south-facing wall of the church, near to the oldest part of the building but bathed in sunlight which took away the sadness somehow but then I noticed something, something odd. The earth over the grave was still obviously freshly turned over from the burial but there was grass growing on top of it, small spring flowers, snow drops and crocuses were poking their heads above the ground covering the grave and while that might be easily explained away if they were growing everywhere, they weren't, they just covered this one grave. Lucas and I looked at each other with tears falling from our eyes. Jo noticed this.
"We'll go and take a look around and leave you two alone for a while. You look as if you need some space, okay?"
After they'd disappeared, Lucas turned to me.
"Will you pray with me Andy? I know you don't have a faith but I need you to be with me with this."
"I wouldn't know what to say?"
"You don't have to say anything. Leave that to me. I'm not going to use flowery-churchy language cos I believe God is modern and he's heard all the old shit a billion times over so I'm going to say what I have to say for the here and now. Kneel down and shut your eyes."
I did as instructed then a few moment later I heard Lucas' voice in my head.
"God? I know you're listening? You give life to the smallest microbes so I know you can hear me and are also aware of my friend Andy by my side. First off, thanks for taking the spirit of these two boys into your house and finally giving them peace. For that, both Andy and I owe you big time but what we need to know is, what is the connection between us and them? A thousand years have passed since these lads last drew breath but yet, here we are with our distant brothers and we need to understand. Now you might want to tell us to sod off and mind our own business but the way we see it is that actually, it is our business or are you going to leave us to fester? We're grateful for the gifts that you've seen right to give us but honestly, we'd trade them all for some small sign, a tiny clue as to how we're connected. Give it some thought Father, talk to us please. Amen."
I felt very moved as we stood up but Lucas looked radiant.
"Wow that was good!"
"Talking to God like that surely can't be right can it?"
"Why on earth not? I wasn't rude to him and besides, I bet he was chuckling just a little! Get real Andy? He's a God of the people?"
I went to bend down and brush the dirt off my jeans when I noticed something on the wall of the tower just inches above the head of the grave which I hadn't seen before.
"What's that then Lucas, that writing? I don't remember seeing it before, do you?"
He looked to where I was pointing then turned to me.
"Not a clue but isn't it like Roman numerals or something?"
"That's what they look like but they're recent cos that's ironstone they've been carved into, not sandstone so you can still see the colour differences. I don't remember seeing them before now, either at the committal or when we got here today. Get a photo of them so we can study them later cos we really should go and find Jo and Simon and get back home."
I scooped up a handful of earth together with some dust left over from the engraving, stood up and we walked away.
Most of the places depicted in my stories are known to me personally, Wormleighton being no exception. It's a beautiful village and one that's steeped in history so if you're interested, try Googling it and have a look.
Thanks for reading my work.
To all of you, a happy and peaceful New Year and to Michael in Texas, I fervently hope you find what you're looking for.
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