Queen of the May
The air was still cool, the breeze blowing over the village green where three poles had been erected in the centre. As May stood and watched, two men were attaching brightly coloured silk ribbons to the top of the poles and letting them drop to the ground, the different colours swirling in the light wind.
May turned to see her mother standing next to her, smiling as she watched the men at work. “I remember when I was a young girl looking forward to the May Day festivities, wondering if I would be picked as the Queen. I never really thought I would still be here one day, wondering if my daughter would be picked for the honour.”
Looking over, May realised once again just how alike she and her mother were. Even with twenty years between them, the facial similarities were plain, and the two inches height difference not that important. Even with the grey streaks in her light blonde hair, anyone would know they were mother and daughter.
“Mum, just how long has this holiday been celebrated this way?”
Laura Innes pulled the front of her cardigan round and tied the belt around it to keep her top covered. “For as long as I’ve been here, and for years before that,” she said. “Every year one of the young ladies of the town is selected to be the Queen of the May and be the one who oversees the various fete activities. It’s a real honour – one I never really enjoyed. Still, maybe I can live the honour through you.”
“MUM!” May shouted out. The two women turned and made their way towards Laura’s waiting car. As May waited for her mother to unlock the car doors, she wiped the mud off the soles of her shoes.
“It won’t be me – it’ll be Sharon or Ellie. After all, they are far more beautiful than me.”
Laura smiled as she got into the car and started the engine. “Well, we’ll see. I have a surprise for you at home – I hope you’ll like it.”
From the window of the hotel room, he watched Laura and May driving off before turning back to the other two sat there.
“So, are we clear as to what we need to do tonight?”
They nodded, looking to the bags that were sitting on the floor in the corner of the room.
In the old manor house, Sharon Coleridge was sitting talking to her family, comfortably sat in an old stuffed armchair. She was sat sprawled across the arms, her legs hanging off one side as she leant on the other. Her mother looked at her there, dressed in an old checked lumberjack shirt over a grey t-shirt and leggings, with long white socks pulled up over her feet, and wondered where the last twenty years had gone.
“So anyway,” she said, “If I am elected Queen then my first decree will be to make that little darling May Innes my chambermaid for the day – and she’ll have to dress as one as well. I can’t wait to see her in the little black maid’s outfit.”
Looking out of the window, Mrs Coleridge could see the sun was starting to set on the horizon. “Well, you won’t find out until the morning, so keep those nasty little sarcastic thoughts to yourself.” Sharon could see her mother smiling as she said that, and was aware she and Laura Innes had not exactly been friends in their youth. “Anyway,” she continued, “I need you to go and get a few things from the supermarket. Do you mind?”
“Nope,” Sharon said as she righted herself and grabbed a pair of short grey boots that were on the floor. “Give me the list and I’ll head off now in the car.”
Ten minutes later, the gates to the manor house swung open as Sharon drove out in her Mini Coupe. Turning left, she didn’t notice the grey car that drove off and followed her down the main road.
On a quiet cul-de-sac, Ellie Forbes was getting out of her own car and looking forward to a quiet night at home. She was alone in the house at the moment, as her parents had gone for a “restorative holiday” – a phase she knew very well meant they were living the life of Riley in Las Vegas for the next week or so.
This didn’t bother her too much – after all, she preferred being on her own. But after the day she had just had, and with the May celebrations on the following morning, she would have appreciated some company. Zipping her leather jacket up against the cold April air, she locked her car and made her way towards the front door, quickly unlocking it so that she could get in.
As she closed the door behind her, the darkness of the small enclosed corridor made her feel a little nervous. Removing her jacket, she turned on the light before hanging it in the closet and looking at herself in the full length mirror in the hallway. Using her hands to check her auburn hair was still in the tight bun she had made with it this morning, she adjusted the straps on her paisley smock top so that they hung evenly over the cream wool of her jumper. Taking a moment to adjust the belt that held her grey silk wrap-round skirt in place, she then walked to the main room, the material swishing on the floor as she took each step.
It was as she walked into the room that she sensed she was not alone. That wasn’t enough to make her run, so that when the sweet smelling cloth was clamped over her nose and mouth she had very little time to try and pull it away before fog started to cover her eyes. She caught a brief glimpse of a man in the reflection in a glass cabinet before a deep, dark sleep descended upon her and she was allowed to fall to the floor.
May nodded, and watched as her mother took the plates from the table towards the kitchen, the clump as her boots hit the wooden floor audible even as she made her way down the corridor.
“So what’s this surprise you have for me?”
Laura smiled as she came back into the room. “Why don’t you go up to your room and have a look? I’ve left it on the bed for you.”
Sharon grumbled as the cold wind bit into her body while she walked to her car. Even though she had buttoned up the front of her shirt, and fastened an old grey webbing belt over it, she didn’t like the way the air was turning. Approaching the parking space she had used, she let out a low moan at the sight of the flat tyre on the front at the driver’s side. Leaving her trolley at the back of the car, she leaned down and looked at the deflated ring.
“Who on earth would have done this?” she said to herself as she looked at the small round hole that had been made in the tread. The answer was swift to come to her as she stood up and an arm was passed round her waist, holding her in a tight grip as a soaked pad was pressed over her nose and mouth. Reaching up, she tried to pull it away, but soon she too was unconscious on the ground as her assailant opened the boot of a nearby grey car.
“Well? What do you think?”
Laura looked towards the door of their front room as May came in, dressed in a long white dress that had a floral pattern around the hem of the floor length skirt, cuffs of the sleeves and yoke collar. She gave a twirl that caused the skirt of her dress to rise slightly, showing the white satin shoes that were on her feet.
“Where on earth did you get this? Mum?” she asked as she looked at her mother, sat in the chair with her legs crossed.
“It’s the dress I would have worn if I had won that year,” she said as a smile played on her lips. “Even if you are not chosen, I think you should have it for a party dress.”
“Thanks,” May said as she walked over and hugged her mother, kissing her on the cheek as she did so. “So, are you going to get dressed or not?”
“And what’s wrong with what I’m wearing – I’m not planning to go out,” Laura said with an air of mock horror. She was still wearing her cardigan over a blue polo neck sweater, and a pair of faded blue jeans with the legs tucked into her favourite knee length black leather boots.
“All right, all right – do you mind if I go and get changed? I’d hate to ruin this,” May said as she turned, only to be stopped in her tracks by the unexpected arrival in the room.
Ellie opened her eyes, wondering what had happened. Her head was throbbing, and there was a strange taste in her mouth, as if she had spent a particularly hard night partying. Something cold and wooden was pressing against her back, and she couldn’t move her hands or legs.
“Where the hell am I?” she thought to herself. She remembered walking into her front room, and then – she opened her eyes suddenly, only to discover to her horror that she still could not see. All that was in front if her eyes was black – all consuming, all covering, black, and she still could not move her hands. Probing with her fingers, she felt something rough encircling her wrists, and the realisation that they had been tied together hit her like a sledge hammer. As she tried to twist round, the horror grew as she realised she was also lashed to something.
“Help,” she tried to scream out, only to realise that she wasn’t able to say anything – there was something in her mouth, filling it and preventing her from speaking. Ellie tried to move her tongue, and found some sort of cloth was holding it firmly to the floor of her mouth. She screamed silently, as the sound of footsteps approached her.
“Who are you?” Laura said as she stood and looked at the man who had joined her and May. He was dressed in a black jumper and slacks, a stocking over her head and his gloved hands holding a shotgun with the two barrels cut off near the stock. This was pointing at both women as they stared back at him.
“Oh we’ve met before, even if you don’t realise it. Now, neither of you move unless I tell you and no sudden noises. I don’t want to spoil that lovely dress your daughter is wearing – not yet, anyway.”
“I know that voice,” Laura said as she stared at the man. “You’re...”
“Now, now, time for introductions later. I promised you I would get my revenge, and that time has come.”
“Mum, who is this man?” May said as she looked over and saw the colour drain from her mother’s face.
“It... It was while you were at your grandmother’s on holiday. I was in the bank when three men robbed it – along with Ellie’s mother and Sharon’s. We testified at their trial – but you got twenty years. How did...”
“Time off for good behaviour – and now I want to teach you a lesson. Lie face down on the long chair, and put your hands behind your back.”
Laura stared at the intruder as he reached into a back pocket and drew out several lengths of rope.
“I said lie face down and put your hands behind your back. Your daughter here is going to tie you up, and then I’m taking her for a little trip. Don’t worry – you’ll get her back – but you need to be taught a lesson in what happens to those who cross me.”
May looked at her mother, who had started to shiver, and then back to the masked and armed man. “Let me talk to her,” she said, and he nodded as she went over and held her mother in her arms.
“I’ll be all right, mum – let’s just do as he says and get this over with. Lie down and I’ll do as he asks.”
“How can you stay so calm,” Laura said as she laid herself down and turned her head so that she could talk to May. The man handed her a length of rope, which she doubled over before gently crossing her mother’s arms and passing the rope over the sleeves of her cardigan.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been in this situation, is it?” she said with a sad smile as she pulled the rope around Laura’s wrists and wrapped it round several more times, her mind going back to that holiday at her grandmother’s...
The door opened quietly, and the woman walked silently back into the bedroom to look at the two people on the bed, their eyes closed and sleeping peacefully. The young girl was to one side, still in her cotton pyjamas with the teddy pattern and her head snuggled into her grandmother’s side. It had been a surprise when the girl had come in while she was talking to the older woman, but the explanation that it was a game she could play too was accepted.
She looked up now at the older woman, her head on the pillow as the grey hair fell around it. Her white nightdress covered her body, although the arms had slipped down slightly because of the way she was lying. The woman pulled them back up as she checked the ropes that were holding her wrist to the ornate headboard, before looking down and checking the ropes around her ankles, as well as those that gathered the skirt of her nightdress around her legs.
As she walked round, and looked again at the young girl, she used her brown gloved hand to brush her long blonde hair away from her face. Looking down, she contemplated removing the rope that held her wrists together and went down to where it wrapped round the cuffs of her pyjama bottoms, but decided against it. Instead, she reached up and gently peeled away the strip of plaster that covered her mouth, crumpling it up and placing it in her pocket.
As she looked up, she could see the grandmother looking at her, and nodded in response to the silent look of thanks she gave. The older woman watched as The Vixen turned and went out of the bedroom, leaving the two of them alone.
As May took another length of rope from the masked intruder, she shuffled down and passed it round her mother’s ankles, pulling them tightly together and passing the rope around and between them. “What are you going to do next?” May said as she looked up at the man standing over them.
“None of your business, dear,” he said as May tied the ends of the rope together and tucked them into the binding. “All right, roll over and let this charming young girl tie your legs together.”
Sharon knew she wasn’t alone – she could hear rustling and muffled calls – but where she was she had absolutely no idea. All she knew was it was cold, she was sore and stiff, and she could do nothing to alleviate her aches so long as she was fixed in this position. She also felt slightly damp – something in the air was wet – but that was incidental as she sensed rather than saw that she was being covered with some sort of cloth.
Laura let out an exclamation as the intruder forced May to pull her mother’s legs back and secure her ankles to her wrists with a further length of rope. As she straightened herself up, she heard the sound of the gun being placed on a table and offered no resistance as her own arms were pulled behind her back, the rope encircling her wrist as they were secured together.
“Take those shoes off – we don’t want that delicate fabric damaged,” he said as he passed a further length of rope around May’s ankles, pulling them together and forcing her shoulder blades back so that her chest was more prominent at the front. Laura watched as her daughter stepped carefully out of the satin shoes and pushed them forward with her bare feet.
“What are you going to do with her,” Laura demanded as she looked over her shoulder, wondering if there was any way she could free herself. The man just smiled through the nylon as he tightened the ropes around May’s arms before walking over to the table and picking up a napkin that was lying there.
“You’ll find out soon enough – after all, it’s May Day tomorrow,” he said as she rolled the cloth into a thick band and approached Laura, the ends of the cloth taut in his gloved hands.
Sharon’s mother looked in the bedroom, wondering where her daughter had got to. Concerned, she made her way down the stairs and dialled Ellie’s number, in case she had gone there and stayed late, but there was no answer. She replaced the handset, thought for a moment and then dialled a different number.
May looked at the telephone as it started ringing, but the masked man merely pushed her out of the room and turned the light off, leaving Laura to start struggling and attempting to call out through the thick cotton gag that was between her lips.
“Where are you taking me?” May said as she was pushed out of the front door and towards a waiting car.
“To join your friends,” he said as he opened the rear passenger door. “Get in and lie down.”
“Yeah – Ellie and Sharon, I believe they’re called.”
“Those two – I hate their guts, and their mother hates my mother.”
“Well, you are going to be strange bedfellows – now shut up,” he said as he flung a blanket over May and slammed the car door shut. How long they drove for she wasn’t sure, but eventually the car stopped and the blanket was pulled away.
“Come on,” the man said as he pulled May out of the car. It was dark, but she could feel grass under her feet as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. She was pushed forward and made to walk towards where two men were standing in front of a large tarpaulin in the middle of the grassy area. They nodded to her captor as they held the edge up to allow them to pass under. The musty smell you get when you enter a tent hit May’s nostrils, but that was not what caught her eye and made her catch her breath.
“Over there,” the man said as muffled calls were heard outside the covered area.
The dim starting of dawn were filtering through the drawn curtains when Laura was awoken by the sound of someone thumping on her front door. She called out, screaming as loudly as she could through the saliva soaked cloth and twisting round as she heard footsteps coming from the rear of the house. Raising her head, she screamed as the door opened and a uniformed policeman came in, spying her and coming over to pull the cloth out of her mouth.
“Are you all right, Mrs Innes?” he said as he looked at the knots holding the ropes in place around her.
“Not really, but he’s taken May somewhere – my daughter’s been taken captive.”
“Not just yours – there are two other girls missing as well.”
“Sharon Coleridge and Ellie Forbes?”
The officer looked at her in surprise. “Yeah – how did you know?”
“No time – tell someone it was the TSB bank raid gang – they’ve taken them somewhere, and I’ve no idea where.”
The clock was striking nine in the police station as Sharon’s mother came into the room, looking at Laura as she sat there nursing a mug of tea.
“Was it really them?” she said, and Laura simply looked up and nodded. “MY god,” the other woman said as she sat down, “They really did come back – but where have they taken them?”
“I wish I knew,” Laura said with a slight sob. “All he said before he took her was that it was May Day tomorrow – today now.”
The two women looked at each other, before Laura shook herself. “Have they managed to get in touch with Ellie’s parents yet?”
“I think so – they’re in America at the moment, but they’ve been told. I wonder where they are.”
As Laura sat there, something the masked man had said the previous evening came into her mind.
“I want to teach you a lesson...
“You’ll find out soon enough...
“It’s May Day tomorrow, after all...”
She looked up with a start. “I think I know where they are – if they were after money, why did they not rob me or attack you at home?” She stood quickly up, leaving her mug on the table. “Come on – and pray to God I’m right.”
The green was quiet, with a number of tents pitched around for the stalls, and in the centre a large tarpaulin covering where the three poles had been erected the previous day. The police cars stopped at the edge of the green, and as Laura climbed out a number of officers approached the covered area at the centre of the green. One lifted the edge, looked under and signalled to the others to come and help remove the cover.
The first thing Sharon’s’ mother saw as the tarpaulin was pulled away was a pair of grey soft boots, the soles stained by the morning dew, but as the cover came over she put her hands to her face in reaction to the sight that greeted them. Laura stood there, crying softly at the full spectacle that was unveiled.
The three Maypoles each had one of the girls lashed to them, a black scarf over the eyes of both Sharon and Ellie who were bound to either side of May. She was not blindfolded, but stared at the assembled group over the thick white cloth that had been tied into her mouth, her red lips failing to close over the sodden mass.
Both Sharon and Ellie had been lashed to the pole with white rope, their arms pinioned to the rear and their ankles, legs, waist and chest tied firmly to the wooden rods. The hem of Ellie’s skirt had been stained darker as the morning dew had risen through the fabric, while Sharon was shivering from the cold, sweat patches visible under her arms. Both had tape smoothed over their lips, but from the way their cheeks bulged it was obvious some sort of packing must be filling their mouths.
As one of the assembled officers removed the blindfold from Ellie’s eyes, she could see as she blinked the way that May had been bound to the centre pole. Unlike the other tow, her wrists were between her body and the tall pole, but she had also been lashed to the pole around her neck, waist and legs. The dew had also risen slightly up the skirt of her white dress, but the rope that had gathered the skirt around her lower legs revealed her bare feet on the cool grass.
For Sharon’s part, the relief on seeing her mother when the blindfold was removed far outweighed any other thoughts that may have crossed her mind during the long, damp night she had spent there. As she was finally released from the pole, she walked unsteadily to where the older woman was waiting, her arms outstretched to welcome her with a hug and the reassurance that everything would be all right. She looked back at May as she was slowly untied, and resolved not to be quite so mean to her in future.
May looked at her mother as she was released from her bonds, only reaching up to take the cloth out of her mouth when she was fully free and walking over to her mother. “I’m sorry, mum,” she said as they held each other while three ambulances pulled up.
“It’s not your fault, darling,” Laura said as they held each other while Sharon and Ellie were taken to where the ambulances were waiting. “Did they say anything else to you?”
“Just one thing,” May said as the tears started to flow, “they said ‘Congratulations, Queen’ before they left. I’m not sure I want to be that – not after this.” Laura nodded as she helped her daughter to walk away, while the police began the job of examining the site.