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The Ploughman's Apprentice (standard:horror, 3718 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Jan 24 2008Views/Reads: 2135/1234Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
He dropped the skull and jumped backwards, shuddering at the sight of its grinning jaws and earth-filled eye sockets…

The Ploughman's Apprentice 

©2008 Ian Hobson 

I am in no way connected with the accused, John Barley and, although I
am of the legal profession, it is not my job to record the proceedings 
of his trial.  Though I was present on the day he gave his testimony 
and find myself compelled to write an account of what he, in his 
mumbling and inarticulate way, claimed to have happened. 

He is, by his own and his mother's account, twelve years of age.  None
too bright perhaps but, prior to the terrible incident, hard-working 
and willing to please; and he had been taken on, this very spring, as 
an apprentice to the ploughman, Henry Goodman who, in turn, worked for 
James Wainwright of Towton, south-west of York. 

Wainwright, having decided to turn his lower pasture over to vegetables
to meet increased demand, had instructed Henry Goodman to plough the 
whole of the field in readiness for planting; and it is here in this 
very pasture that, according to the accused, John Barley, this tale of 
bloody murder begins. 


'Steady now, steady!'  Ploughman, Henry Goodman, shouted words of
encouragement to his two horses as he skilfully guided his wooden 
plough, cutting and turning the sod.  There was a gentle slope to the 
field and the uphill stretch was just a little harder on both man and 
beasts, especially as the field had not been ploughed since Saxon days. 
 Goodman's apprentice, John Barley, ran ahead looking for stones that 
might damage the plough.  He was a scrawny lad, of average height for 
his age, and as he scanned the field ahead his keen young eyes caught 
sight of something white laying close by in the previously cut furrow; 
a large stone by the look of it, he thought. 

He ran to it, wishing he had noticed it before and hoping that no damage
had been done to the plough and that he would not get into trouble; for 
he knew that every ploughman had to make his own plough and was 
responsible for its maintenance.  But as he took a closer look at the 
smooth round white thing and bent down to lift it, he made a gruesome 
discovery: it was not a stone at all, it was a human skull.  He dropped 
the skull and jumped backwards, shuddering at the sight of its grinning 
jaws and earth-filled eye sockets that seemed to be staring straight at 

'Move, boy, move!'  The two plough horses were almost on top of him, but
heeding Goodman's warning just in time, John scampered out of the way 
and ran on to continue his search for stones.  But yet again he came 
across something white, not a scull this time but a bone of some sort; 
perhaps a leg bone from a dead sheep.  Then he noticed that the plough 
horses had stopped and, as he ran back to find out why, he saw that 
Goodman was stooping to examine something turned up by the plough. 

'Did you see that skull back there?'  Goodman asked without looking up. 

'Yes, maister,' John replied, fearful of rebuke for his negligence. 
'But it didn't do no 'arm did it?' 

'No, lad, and nor did this'n.'  Goodman held up another skull and then a
pair of long white bones.  'There's bodies buried in this 'ere pasture. 
 I think thee best go and fetch Master Wainwright.  I don't want to be 
ploughin' up no graveyard.' 


The landowner, James Wainwright, ordered the ploughing to continue, but
he stayed close by, riding his mare up and down the length of the field 
and watching as more bones were unearthed.  He had brought along his 
eight-year-old son, Daniel, and he and John Barley had been given the 
task of collecting the bones and skulls as they were unearthed and 
carrying them to the corner of the field. 

Late in the day, Wainwright sat astride his horse and surveyed the
growing pile of bones.  It had begun to rain heavily and any skeletal 
remains that were still caked in earth were gradually being washed 

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