Harvey Floyd sat on a bench, feeding kernels of wheat to the pigeons that clustered and cooed around his feet. Car horns blared and buses rumbled down the streets. Vibrations from the constant traffic rattled Harvey Floyd’s bones. He twitched and grimaced from the irritations and exhaust fumes swirling around him.
“I need a quiet and restful place,” he said aloud. “Someplace where there is no noise.”
One of the pigeons near Harvey Floyd’s left foot stopped feeding, cocked its head and stared at him with one shiny eye. “Why don’t you move to Spelsbury?” the pigeon said.
“Where is that?” Harvey Floyd asked, not at all startled by a talking pigeon.
“It’s in England.” The pigeon pecked at some wheat kernels by Harvey Floyd’s left shoe.
“How do you know?” Harvey Floyd scattered another handful of grain.
“I just flew in from there a few moments ago.”
“Ah, that explains your accent.”
“What’s special about Spelsbury?”
The pigeon hopped up on the bench and sat next to Harvey Floyd. “It has a twelfth-century Norman church with a beautiful square tower and a lovely cemetery. The village is so small you hardly encounter anyone. You will like it there. It is quiet, very restful. No cars or buses. I am sure it is the perfect place for you.”
The pigeon hopped off the bench and wandered away down the sidewalk.
Harvey Floyd went to Spelsbury and with good luck managed to rent a small stone cottage right next to the churchyard. The pigeon was right, Harvey Floyd concluded several days after moving in. Spelsbury was indeed quiet and restful.
Harvey Floyd became a fixture, wandering around the tiny village and taking his daily tea in the Rose and Thorn pub. In the evenings he treated himself to two pints of ale and an order of fish and chips. The patrons he encountered in the Rose and Thorn soon learned of his desire for solitude and said very little to him, which pleased Harvey Floyd enormously.
The cemetery, grassy and green and shaded by old oak trees, thrilled Harvey Floyd. He spent his afternoons walking among the gravestones. Many of them, tilted at precarious angles and covered with mosses and lichens, were hundreds of years old. Harvey Floyd could still read the names engraved in many of the weathered marble markers.
After many months in Spelsbury, and for amusement, Harvey Floyd began making up stories about the people buried in the cemetery.
He found one stone with the following epitaph engraved on it:
Here Lies John Nately Spakes
1620 – 1644
A damned highwayman was he
Hanged by the neck
From a stout oak tree
Never again to rob
Either thee or me.
The engraving struck Harvey Floyd as particularly intriguing. On sunny days he sat on the grass, leaned against the headstone and made up swashbuckling exploits of the handsome young brigand. He imagined beautiful and aristocratic ladies swooning with the vapours, and their male companions trembling with fear and impotence, when the highwayman stopped their coaches on the King’s Highways and robbed them of their jewels and money.
One day as Harvey Floyd lazed against the highwayman’s headstone in the warm summer sun, making up a great tale, John Nately Spakes spoke to him. “I am going to rob the coach of Sir John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, this afternoon and you will accompany me,” said a voice from deep within the ground.
Harvey Floyd felt something grasp his ankles and pull. He began to disappear under the ground. Soon he found himself astride a snorting stallion by the side of the King’s Highway. Another man astride a similar horse rode out of the surrounding oak trees. “Who are you?” asked Harvey Floyd. His voice cracked and trembled with fear. “Are you John Nately Spakes?”
“Aye, that I am.” John Nately Spakes grinned savagely. “Here,” he said, handing Harvey Floyd a large and clumsy dragoon pistol. “The Earl is a bloody rotter. You may have to shoot him if he refuses to give up his purse.”
“Oh,” Harvey Floyd stammered, “this is not at all what I wanted. I seek peace and quiet. Oh, no, this simply won’t do.”
“It is too late for you,” roared John Nately Spakes. “Your swaggering tale becomes your life. But look! Yon comes the Earl’s coach!”
Harvey Floyd looked down the road. A coach, pulled by four horses with flaring nostrils and hooves hammering the road’s surface, thundered his way. The driver snapped the reins over the backs of the horses, urging them onward.
Before the coach reached them John Nately Spakes spurred his horse into the middle of the road. He brandished a pistol. “Hold! Hold!” he shouted and aimed the pistol at the driver. The driver pulled on the reins and put his weight on the footbrake, bringing the coach to a stop. Clouds of dust boiled around it.
John Nately Spakes swung his horse round to the coach door. “Out, out with you! Be quick about it,” he commanded. Two women and one man tumbled from the coach. “Well, now,” said John Nately Spakes, baring his teeth in a vicious sneer. “If it isn’t the Earl of Rochester and his harlots. Give up your purses!” ordered Spakes, waving his pistol in the air.
“Never!” bellowed the Earl of Rochester over the shrieks of the two women. “Driver!” he shouted. “Shoot this blackguard at once!” The driver stood and aimed a pistol at John Nately Spakes who fired his own pistol first. The driver dropped to the coach’s footwell and lay still.
The loud pistol shot startled Harvey Floyd’s horse. The horse reared violently. Harvey Floyd toppled off and landed on the top of his head. He heard the bones in his neck snap and break then blackness closed over him.
The groundskeeper found Harvey Floyd the next morning lying against John Nately Spakes’s gravestone and called the local constable who called the coroner. After a brief examination the coroner determined Harvey Floyd died of a broken neck.
How, asked the villagers, did Harvey Floyd break his neck in the cemetery? The coroner shrugged. Some things, he said, cannot be explained. The villagers buried Harvey Floyd in a secluded corner of the churchyard and forgot about him.
Several months later a pigeon flew in and perched on Harvey Floyd’s gravestone. The pigeon surveyed the cemetery, noted the oak leaves twinkling like emeralds in the afternoon sun as a soft summer breeze swept over them. “I see you have found a quiet and restful place,” murmured the pigeon. Then he flapped his wings and flew away.
Robert P. Bishop, a former soldier and teacher, lives in Tucson. His short fiction has appeared in The Literary Hatchet, The Umbrella Factory Magazine, CommuterLit, Lunate Fiction, Spelk, Fleas on the Dog, Corner Bar Magazine, Literally Stories, and elsewhere.
You can find more of Robert’s work here on Ink Pantry.