Crown of Thorns (M)

Written by: Timbo


Lichened with rust, tracks sagging on the bogies, Caterpillar logo indistinct beneath flaking yellow paint, the huge machine hunched on the low loader like a broody mechanical hen. Bumps Winders, his face almost as angled and stained as the crawler he drove cranked the starting handle and the engine fired and settled into a contented diesel double beat. Bumps swung himself up into the driving seat, manipulated a couple of levers and rolled the grumbling old bulldozer down the metal ramps and onto the grassy field on my father’s farm one early  morning back in 1966 and nothing since has ever been the same.

My father had always wanted to reclaim the woodland above the lake. The trees that had once surrounded the rath had been cut during the war and never replanted, and their rotting stumps made the ten acres unusable. Tommy Keating, the local contractor, tricky as the day is long, had been only too happy to supply the bulldozer and he and my Father  had struck a  mutually beneficial deal, so my father told me, but knowing Tommy, I knew that should benefit accrue it would  migrate by some form of natural financial osmosis into Tommy’s bank account.

We had invited my University archaeology Professor, the lovely and desirable Doctor Florence Grace, to survey the site and she had been very interested in its strategic position, high on its bluff above the river dam that formed the lake.

 “There would have been a bronze age settlement here,“ she had said, indicating the acre wide plateau,  “It’s a wonderful defensive position, what with the river on one side and the wood at it’s back and you can see for miles from up here, spot marauders a long way off. Goodness knows what we might uncover if we were to dig the burial ground itself - the rath. Gold and silver perhaps. The rath would have been where the chieftains were buried and they were usually interred with their earthly possessions, ready for the next world.”

“Grave goods?” I had said, “Treasure? I’m ready for this world - where do I start digging?”

Doctor Flo gave me one of her looks, the one that could melt lead at a hundred yards but merely succeeded in further liquefying my lovesick heart. Or maybe it was the way her full jeaned haunches swayed beneath her short jacket as she walked away from me to have a word with my father about his proposed reclamation of the woodland. My father - an honest and civic minded man - had suggested I should bring Professor Grace out from Dublin to take a look at the rath and its surroundings and make sure he was not about to desecrate a potentially valuable national monument. I had of course jumped at the idea, having spent many lecture hours lusting hopelessly. The thought of being on my own with her in my Father’s car was almost more than I could handle, however, she soon put a stop to my imaginary notions by driving herself down and on arrival, concentrating on my father as if I did not exist. Such is the fickle way with older women I told myself while the beautiful Professor told my father that by bulldozing the area surrounding the rath, he would at most disturb a few postholes that would have indicated the siting of the buildings and defensive walls of the original settlement, but the vital rath itself and any ancillary connected earthworks must not, on any account, be touched.

My father had agreed to her conditions and now here we were that morning, my father in his stained overalls and Tommy in a pristine sheepskin jacket, huddled over a large scale ordinance survey map, Bumps in attendance, the bulldozer idling behind them.

“Move the stumps out to either side, Bumps,” My father had instructed,”but on no account touch the rath or the earth ditches, they’re of historical significance and we need to preserve them.”

Bumps rubbed his chin. “God, sir,” he said, “I wouldn’t go near that yoke - it would be very bad luck.” Superstitious, like many locally, nervous of old remnants from the dawn of storytelling: wary of blackthorn trees and their poisonous needles, said to be the material used to make Christ’s crown of thorns and unlucky to bring into a house, so they grew unfettered, never cut or burnt in a hearth and the rath was rimmed with them.

“Good man Bumps,” My father had said, and later when I brought Bumps his lunch, in the surprising silence I walked across freshly churned earth crisscrossed by cleated track-marks, the tree stumps torn from the soil and stacked like dark fallen stars on the plateau rim.  As I approached the rath, I could make out the shape of the bulldozer through the thorn trees, its engine stopped and Bumps with his feet upturned and legs flat on the nubbed earth, slumped against the blade and beyond, laid out behind the naked drive wheels and bogies like a metal walkway leading to the rath, the stripped and broken track linkages.

 I looked at Bumps. He held a cigarette in a shaking hand, his great gnarled head turned away from me.

“God, Timidy,”, he said, “I just barely fecking touched it with the blade. Bad cess to it, but I’m cursed forever now. The Mammy’ll kill me, so she will.”

 I looked at the rath. The bulldozer blade had swiped deep into the breast of the mound, exposing roots, stone works and an entrance, dark and cold. My eyes watered and my skin puckered as, in the void of the disturbed stone, something slow and sinister seemed to move.

Timothy Booth (IRL)

Running order for writers 

1 Suraya  - 2 Joe  - 3 Dan- 4 Amanda - 5 Greg - 6 Matt - 7 Iliena - 8 Emily - 9 Sumanda - 10 Raymond


Tim, I love your style of writing, but to much of a good thing will always give you a stomach ache--or a headache. You loose me in some of those long and winding sentences. It is like walking a labyrinth , sometimes you just get lost and scared you won't be able to find your way out. You are also having a love affair with the word "had."
I don't write as you do, Mrellan, that's what makes it - hopefully - interesting. The interest resides in the difference in styles. I use the word "had " to add distance - as in the distance of recollection.... anyway, as the song says: "How can you have too much of a good thing?"
I am about to start writing chapter 1 of this serial so have had to take the time to study the starter. It is wonderful. It weaves imagery, symbolism, fine characterisation, mood and plot extremely well. I hope I can do it justice. This piece is magic, '...freshly churned earth crisscrossed by cleated track-marks, the tree stumps torn from the soil and stacked like dark fallen stars on the plateau rim.'
I agree and I agree. Maybe it depends on what you like. I found myself weaving in and about more than I wanted to, but some people like it that way.