“Change must be earnt
Sacrificial bonfire must reign
Reign over good
Banish the bad
Oh,Reign over good
Banish the bad, oh, ohh.”
-“Sacrificial Bonfire,” XTC
Jack Lindon was the first one to arrive at the hill. The late afternoon had not turned to twilight just yet, as the setting sun still lit the horizon orange and gold. This, in turn, created a contrast with the sea which was dark, save for the white caps of waves and the small glittering yellow area directly beneath the sun.
He decided to light a cigarette, cupping his hands against the breeze that was flowing inland, bending the hilltop grasses and heather away from him. He then loosened his black tie, and fought the urge to scratch his neck itching from the heavily starched white collar. His black dress slack was looser than he liked, and let the wind flow around his legs. His black suit jacket did a serviceable job keeping him warm.
Beneath him, the village lights were beginning to turn on. Children and adults alike would be dressed up as fairies and dragons, cowboys and astronauts, winding their way through the streets for candies. By the end of the night, after the children were returned home, the villagers would congregate in the main square for the Hallow’s Eve Carnival, laughing and drinking, exchanging kisses between gaudy masks.
Well, the villagers except for Jack and a few, select others.
Jack walked to the kindling on the top of the hill, a large mass of dried wood, old newspaper and discarded toys. As the newest member of the Hill Gang, he had carried the kindling during the dead of night for the last three months. He was one of the few volunteers in the recent past, saving others from the Lottery for the next three years.
For most of his life, the rhythm of Jack’s fortune had followed a point and counterpoint. The rise of his schooling, and later in life, his career, would be inevitably matched by a nadir in his love life–promotions that would occur with a break up. Likewise, the flowering of each new romance would coincide with setbacks in the office or a disruption in his career. Had this rhythm continued, Jack would probably have not volunteered. Even now he was thinking about the flash of green eyes, the kind smile.
However, the last three months of Jack’s life had inexplicably changed. The fortunes in both his career and his love life suddenly met with obstacles simultaneously. He had realized that he had squandered his career by being complacent, and by resting on the graces of his friends instead of completing his own path. At the same time, he inelegantly stumbled in his tentative conversations with a woman who had just recently moved into the village so that promising meetings quickly turned to silence.
By the time Jack finished half a pack of cigarettes, the sun had set beneath the sea, leaving only a red corona surrounded by a deep blue.
“Those things will kill you.” Jack turned around and saw Dr. Kinderman, his physician, a short, stout man in his fifties with curling, salt and pepper hair. Dr. Kinderman was also dressed in a black suit and white shirt, though his was a little more expensive, and certainly more tailored.
Both Jack and Dr. Kinderman chuckled at the weak joke.
“How long have been here?” Dr. Kinderman asked. “You know, no one would have minded if you decided to get a couple of pints, do some flirting. We understand that you’re still young, you know.”
“That’s OK, Dr. Kinderman. I needed to get some air.”
“My my my, so serious. Well, as I said, youth is often wasted on the young. If you’re not going to be drinking with your friends, you might as well take a swig of this, so long as you hand me one of those cancer sticks.” Dr. Kinderman handed Jack a hip flask full of whiskey.
Eventually, more of the Hill Gang arrived. George Haversham, an affluent, thin man in his late-sixties, instructed Jack to start the bonfire. Jack, being the newest member and the youngest, felt awkward among the established members, who were talking amongst themselves about the latest capital gains tax issues, or the doings of their children and grandchildren. Dr. Kinderman had noticed Jack, standing quietly near the fire. “No need to mingle, Jack. You’ll come into your own after tonight,” he said kindly.
By midnight, the Hill Gang was waiting for two more members. The Carnivale in the village was dying down. Jack saw two figures walking up the hill. He knew that they were David Morrison, the second youngest member of the Hill Gang, a young partner at the international law firm of Hale Dickenson, and Alfred Kensington, the oldest member at seventy-two, the founder of the third largest supermarket chain.
“Looks like your initiation is going to be easy,” Dr. Kinderman said. “We don’t have a runner this year.”
Mr. Haversham called out as soon as David and Mr. Kensington were lighted by the bonfire. “I think now is about as good as time as any to start and finish. Dr. Kinderman, do you have the things of old?”
Jack helped Dr. Kinderman carry a trunk of discarded items collected from all the villagers. Jack’s own contributions were photos and letters from old girlfriends. Jack then tipped the trunk into the bonfire.
“Mr. Morrison, is the sacrificial goat ready?” Mr. Haversham asked.
David held Mr. Kensington by his shoulders. It was only then that Jack noticed the golden crown on Mr. Kensington’s head, and that his arms were held behind his back, no doubt bound. Mr. Kensington was swaying, his eyes barely open.
Mr. Haversham sighed. “There was a time when the sacrificial goat was not drugged, and knew its duty.”
“Times change,” Dr. Kinderman said with a shrug.
“Yes, well, indeed they do. Jack, please truss the sacrificial goat.”
Jack walked toward Mr. Kensington and led him toward the bonfire. He then took his belt and wrapped it around Mr. Kensington’s ankles.
“Let us sear the bonfire with the fat of the sacrificial goat,” Mr. Haversham intoned.
Jack looked back at Dr. Kinderman, who nodded his head. He then kicked Mr. Kensington, planting his right foot on Mr. Kensington’s ass and shoving hard.
The kick propelled Mr. Kensington into the fire. Mr. Kensington, like those outside the fire, remained silent. Except for the crackling of meat, it was no different visually than watching a pile of clothes burn.
As the flames began to hide the body, Mr. Haversham nodded to Mr. Morrison. Mr. Morrison produced a gold crown and placed it upon Jack’s head.
“The king is dead, long live the king,” Mr. Haversham said.
“The king is dead, long live the king,” everyone repeated.
“Constable, you’ll take care of the fire I presume,” Mr. Haversham said to a thin man in his forties. When the constable nodded, Mr. Haversham said, “Good, I’m parched. Let’s get a stiff drink for Mr. Lindon.”
Jack felt no change in his fortune, and instead, felt a little foolish with the crown on his head. However, all the members of the Hill Gang were patting him on the back, asking him to stop by their offices, come by their homes. It was too soon to worry about what would happen to him forty-two years from now. Jack walked down the hill, a little tired, and still thinking about the flash of green eyes and a kind smile.