All these people in suits and uniforms so giddy. It would almost be funny if I wasn’t so sure we were making a mistake. “I saw Michael at the pre-trial hearing, he was meek, awkward. There’s no way he’s the criminal kingpin and cult leader, he can’t be, he’s a fall guy. We need to re-examine the case” I blurt out. My boss Harry, a dreamy man with gorgeous hazel eyes, leaves the room. That is not a good sign. Inspector Watford sighs, “we’ve been through this, it’s him, of course he’s trying to act innocent, we’ve been building this case for years and we’ve finally got him. We’re so close, Take this across the finishing line for us.” I nod but I’m not convinced. My colleagues start making comments about how tired I look. There’s not a single person in this room who would be sleeping if they were the lead prosecutor on this case.

Harry summons me from the corridor, “What’s wrong?” I ask. “That letter you received a few days ago, what was it?” His voice is unusually quiet. “Urmm, my aunt left her house to me, it’s weird we haven’t spoke in years. That’s why they sent the letter here, she didn’t know my address.” My aunt was weird and what would I do in a village anyway? Harry sighs “I need you to go to that house, the hearing has been postponed, the judge has been hospitalised. He’s not the first, you must have noticed how that briefing has a few less people every time, A lot of people connected to this case are going missing or having accidents. I need you to get out of London, go somewhere safe. And you’re exhausted, take a break I’ll call you when we have a new date and you can get back to work.” Shocked, I agree and pack up my desk.

black and white photo of a woman walking through a forest

Driving into the village I feel uneasy. It’s night, dark and quiet, but I can’t shake the feeling I’m being watched. A banging at the door wakes me, there’s a stern woman. “Morning Kiera, I’m Julie, Head of the Harvest Festival committee, I take it you are coming to our planning meeting”.

I’m confused I have no idea who this woman is or how she knows my name and there’s something about her necklace. I stare blankly trying to work out what to say. “That’ll be the London effect. You’ve forgot how to speak to your neighbours, We’ll soon fix that, see you tonight.” She marches off. I run back in to see what time it is and how I slept through my alarm. There’s an empty space where my phone and laptop should be. I grab the landline and call the police. Within minutes there’s a knock on the door.

A policeman stands with my laptop and phone. “How did you get here so fast?” I ask, “Your items Miss Lamb” he says turning to leave. “Wait” I demand “Who took my belongings? Has someone been inside my house? I have sensitive documents on that laptop, I need a crime reference number.” He looks amused “We have different ways of doing things here…” He continues talking and I want to scream about the ridiculousness of the situation but his cufflinks catch my eye. There’s something about them, I stare tuning out his voice until he leaves.

“That’ll be the London effect. You’ve forgot how to speak to your neighbours, We’ll soon fix that, see you tonight.”

I’m on my laptop frantically checking documents. I open one of the evidence files and my heart nearly explodes. The woman's necklace, the policeman's cufflinks, I recognised them, a lot of Michaels followers wore the same...That’s it! Michael has something to do with this village, that’s why everyone knows who I am, they’re trying to sabotage my case! I call Harry, “There’s something not right here, I think they're working for him” I rant. “You’re burnt out, just calm down and remember no work, you’re taking a break” Harry replies calmly. “I want to come home” I plead, “no, your safer there, You’ve never been able to rest, you just need to find something to keep you occupied, Is there anything happening in the village?” he asks. “There’s a meeting tonight but I’m not going” I tell him. “Go it’ll give you a distraction.”

Arriving at the meeting everyone says “Hi Kiera” in unison. I half listen as they talk about how important it is everyone play their role. I think about the case and how much doesn’t add up. The meeting ends and I’m rushing home when Julie catches up with me, “We’re so excited you’re going to be such an important part of our festival this year” she chirps. “What do you mean?” I ask but she’s disappeared. I run into my house, lock everything and get into bed. I can’t sleep, I just lie mind racing. The cyber security team found no sign of malware. If the goal isn’t to destroy my case, what is it? And what did they mean I’m an important part of the festival? Oh my god! I think they’re going to hurt me. I know I sound insane but the details of the case are crazy, the strange and violent things people have done. And how does the festival fit into this? Surely not? Surely that’s only a thing in movies?

black and white photo of a tree branch

I feel awful, I haven’t slept in days. I’ve tried ringing the office and my friends, but the calls all cut out. Even my emails aren’t receiving replies. Things keep disappearing then reappearing a day or two later. I tried to go home but I can’t find my car keys. The only time I leave the house is to go to Parish Meetings. I don’t know why I go, they terrify me but I think maybe if I work out their plan I can stop it. People keep talking about my role in the festival. It’s connected to the reveal of the Harvest King, they all know who he is but they won’t name him. Nothing makes sense but I just keep going through the motions, powerless.

It’s here, festival day. There was a white bridal like dress and a flower headdress in my room this morning. I’ve given up questioning it, I just put the outfit on. Walking down my path, I see Julie waiting “Good I don’t have to come and get you, let’s get down the road, you’ll make a fine Harvest Queen, the King chose you especially,” she informs me. Of course Michael picked me, at least I’ll finally get the truth even if I’m unable to present it in court.

The festival goes past in a blur. The Harvest King is on stage removing his mask. It’s not Michael, of course it’s not. Of course I’m not going to be sacrificed in some weird festival. Maybe I’ve had a breakdown, nothing else could explain these thoughts. The crowd parts and my feet start walking towards the King. He looks kind of familiar, I’ve probably just seen him around the village. As I get closer I finally see. Those hazel eyes, Harry’s eyes.

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