Before Rosie entered the griffin-surmounted gates she could sense an atmosphere within. Someone squeezed at an accordion in one part of the grounds; elsewhere, someone scraped a little more skilfully at a violin, though not together, or with the same tune. Dark was rising from the valley below as the sun came down somewhere near the Fox and Badger at Wellow, and people spoke loudly from gin. Stars came faintly in the pale sky, women shrieked in laughter, and spasmodic clapping could be heard. In the gardens, between the shrieks, a man was wearing the hide and head of a bull. He pranced and pounced, leaped and loomed, tickled and goosed with the tail. The bull’s head covered his completely; his arms were in the forelegs; the skin was fastened tight at the chest and the rest just flopped loosely below. It was old, very old indeed …
The sight of it and very feel of it troubled Rosie greatly. She had glimpsed such things in her visions, in those lost worlds that she had explored with Grahl. But people were different then, when the stones were intact and the circles unbroken, and the bull-men were right for the time and place. Here and now, on the edge of Winsley Hill in the autumn of 1908, with a strange mix of the middle-class, servant class, and the Kellaways around, there was an air about it like a rotting corpse: sickly-sweet; full of infections. To Rosie’s inner eye, spirits of the worst kind were drawn to it all like flies to the opened flesh.
The bull-man gave a muffled roar. It might have been her name Rrrrrose! which she heard as he lolloped toward her in his obscene parody of ancient things once holy. Rosie drew back. Under the sputtering torches, in the rising dark, the effect of the mask was unnerving. Even the most pathetic specimen of Winsley manhood – and there were many – would have been transformed. The bull-man danced before her from one foot to the other and back again. The tail waved. The whole thing was strangely obscene but compelling also. Yet when the tip of the tail moved slowly but certainly to the point of Rosie’s right nipple, that was enough.
“Touch me with that bloody thing,” she said, “and I’ll rip your head off and shove the horns up your arse.”
–On Winsley Hill is available now from the Skylight website, priced £8.99.