I don't know why I was invited to the birthday party. I haven't seen Daryl Jones since primary school. Why would he suddenly want to re-establish contact after all these years? I suppose I have to take a present. I'm not spending more than a quid or two on a virtual stranger.
The local shop doesn't stock much other than basic foodstuff. "I got something here you can 'ave for two quid." It was a garden gnome; dusty, garrish, just the thing to give to a stranger.
Holly Farm was miles from anywhere. The satnav was useless; I had to follow the directions on the invitation. Country folk and their directions; left at the windmill, on past the field of corn, right at the honesty shop, watch for the barn with the cockerel ...
Eventually I spotted a broken sign;...olly Fa ... (close enough I suppose). As I drove down the farm track I expected to hear music, to see balloons and banners. The house looked deserted apart from a low glow in one of the windows. I knocked on the door and there was Daryl. A few years older, a lot heavier, but still the same ugly bugger from Daraby school.
The party was in full swing. Apart from me and Daryl there were three old codgers, crashed out in battered armchairs in front of the fire. "Will ya have a mash o' tea, Willoughby? Or should I say Doc?" I looked at the cracked, stained mugs. I suppose it would be rude to refuse.
There was a distinct smell in the room; rotting flesh. One of the old guys, introduced to me as Old Bill, had a pained look on his face and flies were circling his left leg. "Is he alright?" Why did I get the feeling this was the reason for the invite?
"It's 'is leg. Gone a bit manky, it 'as. You couldn't just take a look, could ya?" Old Bill struggled to find his feet. He dropped his trousers and fell back into the chair. The smell turned my stomach. The lower half of the leg was rotting from knee to ankle. In places the flesh was down to the bone. Yellow puss oozed from what little flesh was left.
"This man needs to be in hospital." I reached for my mobile; no signal, I might have known.
"I aint goin' to no 'ospital. I was born here an' I'll die here."
"Indeed you will if you don't have an operation to remove that leg."
"I aint leavin'. You'll 'ave to do it here." I know my Hippocratic Oath says I must help this man, but if he was not willing to help himself ...
"You'll do it here." Daryl pointed a shotgun at my belly.
"I'll need my bag from the car." Could I make a run for it?
Daryl was thinking the same. He signalled to the other two men who produced a long chain. The next thing I knew I was bundled into the next room. An old iron bedstead filled the space. I was chained to the frame. "Keys!" I tossed my car keys to Daryl.
The two men covered the mattress with yellowing newspapers, then helped Old Tom onto the bed. "I don't have any anesthetic."
"Don' you worry 'bout that. We got stuff we use on the beast."
"I've got a scalpel to cut through the flesh but nothing to cut through the bone." One of the men came in with a chainsaw. A sticky substance was poured onto a cloth. This was held over the old man's face. His eyes rolled and he was out for the count. I tentatively began cutting at the flesh.
"Get on with it man. This stuff wears off quick." I dug deeper and blood spurted from an artery. I took needle and thread and did my best to stitch the vessel.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord...
As I proceeded the old men continued their bible quotes. I sparked up the chainsaw and did my best to control its progress through the bone.
...And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
I said my own prayer. If the old man died, what would these men do to me? "Burn it." I passed Daryl the severed limb. The smell left the room with the leg. I stitched up what was left.
"He'll need antibiotics." I would have to fetch some from the pharmacy; my escape.
"You write a perscriton an' i'll go to chemist tomorrow mornin'. Fer now, you stay wiv 'im." The smell of burning flesh was unmistakable and made me surprisingly hungry. I had put pork chops out to defrost before I left home. Home. Would I ever see home again?