“Ancestors—revered ones of the Stones—reveal to me your powers!”
These words, translated and copied from a yellowed scroll the last time he’d been at the archives, were the last Simon uttered before his world went awry.
One instant he was standing inside the circle of monoliths known simply as the Stones on a sunny Christmas morning. He’d been breathing dew-kissed air, crisp and fresh to the taste. The next thing he knew, a powerful force threw him flat on his back on the Solstice Stone, the altar-like slab of rock that lay at the heart of the ancient ring. Night fell instantly, galaxies spun in front of his eyes, aeons flew by in a second, and then he was no longer alone.
Figures whirled around him, men in leather jerkins and knee breeches and women in long dresses and strange lace collars. All wore black half masks with holes cut for their eyes, and each held a flaming torch, lurid yellow against the gray stones and a dark sky bleeding red with the light of dawn. Low, murmured chanting filled his ears, though he could not make out the words.
Simon was too stunned to cry out, too paralyzed with confusion to do anything but gaze from one half-concealed face to another while a series of realizations struck him like blows of a sledgehammer.
He was tied down; he could hardly move. His wrists had been secured above his head, his ankles tethered with his legs splayed wide. And he was naked. His spine pressed into the Solstice Stone beneath, a chill wind licking his bare thighs and his soft, exposed cock.
He struggled against the rope bonds, not caring that they bit into his skin. He needed to close his legs, to conceal the worst of his nudity from the glare of the company. No use. His bonds refused to yield. He screwed his eyes tight.
It had to be a nightmare. Right? He’d not expected the incantation to work in any way, let alone crush his skepticism about the power of the Stones. No dream or vision could evoke the fear that twisted in his guts like an iron fist, or the smoky air that filled his lungs. Ice seeped through his veins, and he shivered, his heart skittering to an ever-accelerating rhythm. He snatched momentary comfort in the knowledge that the Stones had no history of human sacrifice. The ceremonies performed here, from ancient times to the seventeenth century, concerned the search for a higher state of being that pushed the worshipper closer to the Ancestors venerated at the Stones.
Then again, Simon was only in the first year of his PhD, his studies still in their infancy. Whenever pagan magic reared its head, there were always murmurs about blood and sacrifice.
Panic consumed him, incinerating his every rational thought. He yelled so loudly his throat turned ragged. His quaintly dressed captors did not seem to notice; they carried on walking and chanting.
All apart from one.
The figure came to a halt, standing right at Simon’s feet, taller than the rest of the chanters by about half a foot. He wore a long cloak draped across wide shoulders, the fabric lifting and swirling like the flame and smoke.
“Please don’t hurt me.” Simon gasped. “Just let me go.”
The man ignored him, flinging his cloak to the ground with a flourish, revealing a thin, weather-beaten face and long black tresses, wispy in the restless air. A large black circle was tattooed on the left of his broad chest, with triangles that radiated from its edges like the rays of the sun—but this commanded Simon’s attention for only a split second.
The man’s shaft was semierect, the bulbous head glistening. He wrapped it in his hand, slowly tugging.
Simon’s terror soared to a whole new level.
Oh God, oh God, he’s going to fuck me.
The guy’s size made Simon’s stomach clench. That great cock swelled by the moment as the man slipped and toyed. He could rip Simon apart with that thing. “Please…no. There’s some mistake. I didn’t want this. I didn’t ask for this. Please! Can’t you hear me?”
The guy jerked himself off, and his mates, still circling, remained oblivious to Simon’s rising desperation. The man seemed lost in a realm of his own, and despite his obvious arousal, that realm didn’t seem a happy one. Simon gazed up into black-pearl eyes and discerned no threat, just loneliness and a melancholy that all but wrenched the heart from him.
When the guy climbed forward onto the Solstice Stone, all Simon’s sympathies fled. He screamed.
His assailant made no effort to untie Simon’s legs or turn him over, arching above him on hands and knees, his cock thrust inches above Simon’s belly. He didn’t touch Simon, though it could only be a matter of time before he turned his attentions to his victim.
Simon’s heart hammered so hard he feared it might burst.
“Ancestors,” muttered the long-haired man in a lilting accent. “Accept this sacrifice. Lift me up and tear back time. Spin back three hundred and sixty-five days, and bring me what I seek.”
Simon closed his eyes and let out a shuddering sigh, resigning himself to an unthinkable fate. Constellations whirled beneath his eyelids. For a split second he couldn’t breathe, so overpowering was the rush of scorching air that blasted against him.
Somebody slapped his face, the blow soft but stinging. His eyes flew open. He stared up at a familiar, albeit pissed-off man with blue eyes and short, spiky brown hair.
His boyfriend, Pete.
“What the fuck, Simon?”
All Simon could do was gape. He still lay on the Solstice Stone, but the pale winter sun shone in a clear blue sky. The naked guy was gone, and so were his terrifying companions in… What had
they been wearing? Those costumes had looked like they dated from the seventeenth century. The people might have been some historical reenactment group. But how the heck did they appear and vanish like that, in little more than a blink, unless…?
“What the hell were you doing lying here?” Pete stepped back, regarding Simon with a withering stare. “I thought you were just taking a few pictures.”
Simon rubbed his brow, finding it slick with cold sweat. He pushed himself onto his elbows, his muscles still wound tight as armor against attack. “I was trying something out, reading an incantation I translated. And before you jump to any conclusions, it was nothing to do with sex.”
Pete, like many uneducated sorts, assumed pagan rituals were solely about orgies, which Simon found excruciating. As he’d told Pete a thousand times, he was writing a serious thesis about the importance of Ancestor worship to the Ancients who’d built the Stones. Okay, so whatever Simon had just experienced undermined this argument. He’d not tell Pete about that, even if he decided it had been more than a very real daydream.
He jolted at the truth resounding in his heart. It had
been real. That fierce man had seemed all too real, and so had his pain. The remembrance set Simon’s stomach rolling as wildly as his mind raced. This was not the first strange happening at the Stones, even in the last century. Five people had been committed to mental hospitals after being found wandering in the vicinity. No relatives had turned up to identify a single one of them.
I going mad?
“Simon!” Pete clicked his fingers in front of Simon’s nose. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Nothing happened apart from you taking a nap, and we haven’t got all day.”
Simon blinked hard, trying to force his mind back into the here and now. “I’ve only been ten minutes.”
“It’s been an hour. The view of all your beloved Bronze Age burial mounds from the car park gets tiresome pretty damn quick, and we’re going to be late for lunch at my sister’s now. For God’s sake, it’s Christmas. Why don’t you come to this place on the solstice like the rest of the bloody hippies?”
a hippie. I’m a historian. And nobody comes here. Not with Stonehenge fifteen miles up the road.” Simon pushed himself down from the stone, landing unsteadily in the mud. Pete still glared at him, and Simon conceded the man had a point. It was Pete’s arse his sister would kick if the turkey ended up overcooked. He rubbed his boyfriend’s arm. “Okay, I’m sorry; I’ll finish off quick now. Do you mind if I call Gran, though? Just to say hi. She’ll just be waking up in New York.”
“If you must. Two minutes, Simon.”
Pete stomped off down the hill to the car park. Simon forgot his partner’s anger and any sense of urgency before he’d disappeared. Fingers shaking with a mingling of shock, terror, and excitement, he pressed the Dial button on his phone, leaning back against one of the tall, lichen-mottled sarsens that formed the main ring of twelve stones.
He would spare Gran the nudity and lurid details, but he’d just seen a glimpse of the past or future or something
. He could tell her about the chanters in the old-fashioned costumes. A devotee of guardian spirits, she held faith in many otherworldly phenomena and would greet his story with an open mind. Besides, he missed Gran at Christmas, when everyone else met up with close family. Thanksgiving was the festival Simon had always shared with his American grandmother, since he’d been old enough to fly out from England—where his father had raised him—as an unaccompanied minor. It seemed a hell of a long time till he’d next have enough days off to see her for a long weekend in April.
A thin, elderly voice answered. “Simon. Merry Christmas, darling.”
Despite his nerves, a heartfelt smile tugged Simon’s lips. “Happy Christmas, Gran. I’m at the Stones, and…uh…”
“Are you all right?”
Simon wasn’t entirely sure, so he confessed that he was shaken. He was fairly certain he wasn’t mad, so he poured out all he dared of his story.
His grandmother’s response felt as disturbing as it was warming.
“It’s like the angels and demons and the good Lord, Simon. If you believe in your heart the Ancestors linger, you can be sure as heck that they do.”