Trouble was brewing in the heart of Dullard’s Field. This was a rather unexpected development, as any one of this boring little village’s residents will tell you. The Trouble had nothing to do with crime. Crime was something of a non-entity in this quaint little patch of faded sunshine and gentle breezes. The worst thing that the skeleton police force of Dullard’s Field had to put up with was the occasional spike in litterbug activity, or the even rarer and far more feeble attempts at loitering perpetrated by bored schoolboys, and even these ne’er-do-wells were usually scared straight by a friendly slap on the wrist and a polite but stern lecture. No, the cause of the Trouble that had seeped into this remote little corner of the English countryside was-as is increasingly the case up and down this green and pleasant land-entirely political.
For the last four decades-ever since it had been forgotten about by the rest of the UK-Dullard’s Field had placed a very firm emphasis on the twin principles of Fairness and Democracy. This is how the system of governance worked for this quiet hamlet of no more than three hundred people: The people elected a council of ten representatives, known as the Dullard’s Council. This Council, ever since the village’s accidental independence of 1963, had held fortnightly meetings in the village’s great town hall, which was just large enough and comfortable enough to squeeze all three hundred of citizens of Dullard’s Field inside. The Council would then pitch ideas they had for any changes they wanted to make to the village before allowing the people to vote on their proposals. When it came to voting, the Council had two main rules that every single villager knew by heart. The first rule was that every citizen of Dullard’s Field that had reached the age of eighteen HAD to vote. Abstention, whilst there was no specific law against it, was certainly frowned upon by the elders of Dullard’s Field. The second rule was that no proposal from the Council could be undertaken until it had unanimous support from the people of Dullard’s Field. This stopped the Council from being able to tyrannize an unpopular minority within the village-the Butcher’s, a family of former Bakers that now ran the local pub, were one example of a group that it would have been quite easy for the Council to oppress, if the inclination to oppress ever seized them. The Butcher’s had grown most unpopular over the years due to the nasty habit of the family’s patriarch, Tom Butcher, of watering down his beer and talking over the football. It was this second rule that was the ultimate cause of the trouble that had swept through this little hamlet.
It all started with a proposal from the Council to build a brand-new school for the village’s children. The old one, which was really more of a glorified shed than a school, had certainly seen better days. The Council even had the perfect place to build it. Just to the south of Dullard’s Field there was a little patch of trees that squatted beside the most beautiful river you could imagine, a river that sparkled like diamonds, full of fish that shimmered like rubies. All the village would have to do was clear away
the trees, and the children would have the perfect spot for a school. Besides, there was nowhere else they could possibly build it. The north, east and west of Dullard’s Field was reserved for farmland. Farming was the main source of sustenance for the town’s population-and it went a long way to line the pockets of the Council as well. It would have to be the south. The trees wouldn’t be much of an obstacle. There couldn’t have been more than fifty or sixty of them. They resembled a dark clump of weeds more than they did a proper wood. The town all agreed, the trees were really more of an eyesore than anything else. For the sake of the school and the sake of the view, they would have to go.
Everyone, that is, except for Eloise Wisteria Finch.
Finch was the granddaughter of one of Dullard’s Field’s original founders, although, to look at her wizened face and yellow, jagged teeth, you wouldn’t have been blamed for mistaking her for actually being one of the village’s original founders. She was a small woman, with a long, crooked nose and quivering, gold-rimmed spectacles that always looked like they were about to fall from her shrivelled face. Her fingers were like old yellow talons and she never left her giant house without wrapping herself in an old wolf-skin coat-even at the height of summer-and a gold-topped cane that clacked on the ground wherever she walked, like the clucking tongue of some awful, omnipresent Matron. She alone sneered at the proposal to clear away the woods to build a brand-new school.
“Those woods belong to me” hissed the old crone, scaring all the children so badly that they clung to the legs of their parents in blind terror “they’re on my land. They were passed down to me by my Mother, God rest her. They were nurtured by her and my twin sister, God rest her. I’m not about to give them up just to make space for forty screaming brats to run amok down there. Not on my land, thank you very much!”
The Council tried to reason with the old woman. They pointed out that, while it was true that the land did belong to Finch, she hadn’t stepped foot on it for almost a whole decade. Finch only ever left the cavernous shade of her home to curl up in the corner of the Butcher’s pub, snake-like, and read The Daily Mail, or to take her once-a-week morning walk around the village’s perimeter, her awful clacking cane waking up all the new-borns as she passed by their houses and driving stray cats mad with the sight of her coat. One representative promised Finch that, of course, she would be fairly compensated for her land. The Council offered to pay her three times what it was worth and even vowed to name the newly built school after her late sister, God rest her. Finch heard all these proposals and shook her head.
“It’s the principle of the thing” spat Finch “I don’t want a bunch of noisy brats on my land. No thank you. No, you’ll have to find somewhere else to dump them. Good day!”
And with these words, Finch clacked away. The Council were stunned. Never, in the history of Dullard’s Field, had they ever met anyone so unreasonable. Their disbelief soon gave way to anger and, in almost no time at all, this terrible anger had infected every one of the villagers, from the oldest gent to the youngest babe. It was decided that Finch needed to be punished for her selfishness. And that, I’m afraid, is how the Trouble started.
It wasn’t all to terrible for the first day or so. It was simply decided amongst the villagers that they would no longer associate with Eloise Finch, in any capacity. If any of them saw Finch coming down the pavement, they would cross to the other side of the road. If Finch walked into one of the little shops that dotted the village, the hole shop was fall silent as a grave. Of course, it didn’t stop there. The anger of the villagers would not be sated without seeing old Finch squirm, just a little bit. Tom Butcher’s wife, Nina Butcher would secretly spit in Finch’s sherry when the old crone wandered into the pub and watch with glee behind the bar as the old woman sipped her drink, oblivious. Very soon, the postman stopped coming to Finch’s house. In fact, the only people who ever came to Finch’s house were schoolchildren with little stones and eggs, looking to satisfy their anger at the old woman by decorating her house. The old woman tried to chase after them on more than one occasion, but they were always too fast for her. Finch tried to complain about this to the village police but, no matter what time she arrived, they always seemed to be out to lunch. Even at eight o’ clock on a Friday morning. Things took a turn for the worse when someone stole Finch’s cane whilst she was sleeping on a park bench. You would think that the sight of an old widow shuffling down the street at a snail’s pace, wobbling like a leaf in a storm without the aid of her stick might have softened the villagers. If anything, the enfeeblement Finch only made them angrier. What right did she have to act so feeble and old, after how selfish she had been?
The Trouble continued. Until one fateful Saturday morning at the start of children’s summer holidays. Three brats, led by John Butcher, the oldest son of Tom and Nina, were throwing rocks at Finch’s towering house. They had already succeeded in smashing two windows were now aiming their projectiles at an old ginger cat that had once belonged to Finch’s sister and liked to sleep on the ledge just below Finch’s bedroom window. One missile caught the cat on the throat, and it yelped in pain. The yelp was enough to summon Finch and she burst out of her front door, intending to teach the children a lesson.
The children laughed at the old crone as she wobbled from the dark shadows of her house and wobbled onto the steps that lead down from her porch into her front garden, they were still laughing as the old woman wobbled off her porch and landed, head first on the concrete pathway that connected Finch’s porch to her front gate. They only stopped laughing when John Butcher saw the blood.
Finch was driven to hospital and given the best possible care, but it was too late. She died, alone and without even her cane for comfort, in hospital bed ten miles from the village she had lived in all her life. Shortly after this, Finch’s land was left to a distant niece who now lived in Spain and wanted nothing to do with it. The Council made all the necessary arrangements. Less than a month after Finch’s passing, they secured the rights to her land and by the end of that long and awkward summer the ‘Eloise Finch Junior School’ was finished. That should have been the end of the Trouble. It really
Of course, it wasn’t.
The Trouble carried on with the unexpected and tragic death of John Butcher, who drowned in that beautiful river that skirted the border of Finch’s patch of land whilst playing with his friends. The last that any of them ever saw of him was a skinny little hand, breaking the surface of the sparkling blue water as the body it was attached to was swept away by the current. Nina and Tom’s marriage didn’t survive this catastrophe. Tom moved away, to some family he had in a distant city, far away from any of this Trouble. Nina stayed behind, and now she spends most of her days drinking watered down beer and sherry, muttering the name of her son to herself, over and over again. Maybe she’ll keep on muttering it forever.
Then, about a week or two into the spring term, the school was hit by two more disasters. A plague of woodlice infested the place and it was forced to close down whilst exterminators cleared them out. Whilst this was going on, a stray ginger cat bit the hand of the new, yet soon to be disposed, Head Teacher. The cat was rabid and, like Finch, by the time he was ferried away to hospital, there was nothing that anyone could do. The school remains closed to this day. Nobody wants to go back there, not anymore. All of us, from the oldest gent to the smallest toddler, can’t escape the horrible feeling that,
maybe, that little spot of land still considers itself the property of Eloise Wisteria Finch. And none of us have the stomach to argue with it, not anymore.