At dawn, they all went out to the field. It wasn’t a large field, less than a quarter acre. But it was planted with enough wheat, barley, and rye for their needs. The air felt heavy with energy, their anticipation infecting everyone with a quiet giddiness. They selected their sickles and waited.
As the pollen in the air glittered in the new sun, the priest and priestess blessed the field and poured the final bottle of last year’s ale into the ground with thanks to John Barleycorn. With that completed, they entered the field, swinging scythes and feeling the wheat stalks fall in the wake. Althea didn’t know who started the song, but they slowly picked up the strains of the tune. Across the field, they all sang of the murder of John Barleycorn, and their scythes cleared the field as they all worked toward the scarecrow in the center of the field. Their effigy to John Barleycorn, constructed from the sheaves of the previous year’s harvest presided faceless over the field.
They were careful to leave a few stalks standing in tithe to John. When the reapers’ work was finished, those who chose to collect the felled the crops began their share of the work. The reapers ceased their singing, and the harvesters began their own songs – sad songs, mournful tunes – quite unlike the ribald play of the reapers’ songs. Althea looked up at the effigy, knowing that tonight would end with his death. Only to see him resurrected in a new straw effigy to guard their fields another year.
Althea inclined her head to him and followed the other reapers from the field. With the sun glowing at their backs, the reapers took the path the woods to the lake and picked up their songs along the way. The songs become sillier and bawdier as they drew near the lake. A fey mode seemed to take them all as they laughed and stripped before jumping into the cool water. They teased and splashed one another, until one by one, and more often two by two or three by three, the reapers slowly began leaving the lake. The fey mood had overtaken them, and Althea knew they would disappear into the woods and celebrate a different sort of harvest.
Althea, however, remained to luxuriate in the lake. She floated on her back, the dwindling august sun warming her skin – hearing the birds and the occasional stray cry from the reapers in the woods.
Realizing that the sun was directly overhead, she left the lake. It was so warm that she didn’t bother drying off, just twisted her wet hair up and under a wide-brimmed straw hat. She left her still wet clothes to dry on the rocks and made her way naked up the path back to the farm.
The weekend weather was beautiful – warm and sunny, but with a cooling breeze that whispered through the trees. That breeze carried the scent of baking bread even down the path making her mouth water. They’d be feasting on fresh bread and beer brewed from last year’s harvest. Her contribution was a blackberry liquor to be used during the evening ritual.
Her bare skin dried in the breeze and sun – and the air shimmered with heat and glittering wheat dust. The woods loomed between her and the cabin. The sunlight felt thick on her bare skin, and the air shivered with the heat. The rustling woods had fallen silent in the noon-time heat. Althea peered into the dark depths between the trees, wondering about their cool depths, usually so welcoming. But their strange silence and way the sunlight speared between the leaves, kept her to the path.
When the woods gave way, she found herself back in the fields, not at the cabin. Blinking against the sun and haze, she stared at the faceless straw man in the field. The sheaves of grain dotted the field, tied with their red cords. Tomorrow or maybe even the following day, they would trek back out the fields and collected the drying harvest – but only after they sowed the earth with the straw man’s ashes.
She looked back at the silent woods. To reach the cabin quickly, she’d have to walk into their brooding darkness. Instead, Althea found herself walking into the shorn field. Trailing her fingers over the sheaves, leaving her hands and naked flesh gritty with rye. The stray leaves scored her flesh as she continued to cross the field. And her bare feet already stinging from the sun-warmed trail felt scorched by the sun baked field. Yet, she did not stop walking, even when she felt the trickle of blood run down her thigh from a particularly sharp leaf.
The breeze blew through the field as she reached the base of the straw man and it knocked her hat from her head. She watched it roll through the field and felt the heavy damp weight of her hair fall free. The harvesters had already piled the kindling around the straw man, and he looked disquieting like images of witches and heretics burned at the stake.
But here at least, she stood in the shade of the effigy. The sun continued to blaze above her, and the woods remained silent and still. She wondered about sounds from the cabin. It was near enough, separated from the field by a copse of birch and rowan. Yet the only sounds were the susurration of the wind through the husk of the straw man.
Althea turned back to the straw man. The faceless mask of braided wheat looked blankly into the sun. She turned to return to the trail, to find her way back to the cabin, when a bit of braided rye fell across her shoulder. Startled, she turned back expecting that someone else had tossed the braid at her in jest. But she was alone in the sun-drenched field, except for John Barleycorn.
Yet, she turned and found John Barleycorn, the straw man, beside her. Even off of his perch, he was far taller than her, taller than a human man. He loomed over her in the field, and she stared into his blank face, refusing to look at the rest of him. Refusing to look at the rowan wood phallus that had seemed so cheeky when they added it to his form last year. Poor scarecrow left in the field alone with his phallus forever straining for release.
The whispering of wind through the leaves filled her ears as he reached for her. His hands, the raw edges of rye and wheat, scratching her skin as he reached for her. And she felt that wooden phallus press against her, hot from the sun and forever hard.
And Althea was flooded by want, wanting that phallus. She felt her knees grow weak and she slowly drifted to the ground, positioning herself on her hands and knees.
Althea felt the earth digging into her knees, and then felt the bulk of John Barleycorn between her thighs. The endless susurration of the wheat stalks thundered in her ears, and she felt the wooden phallus press against her, felt it sliding in her wetness.
Before she could do anything, the phallus slipped inside her. The comically large cock they’d given to the scarecrow stretched her wide and she grunted in the empty field. Her breasts swung as the monster between her thighs began thrusting into her. She spread her knees wider, feeling the tickle of the braided wheat on her back. It was only a minor distraction for the intense wooden phallus filling her.
Her knees sank deeper into the earth as John Barleycorn, plowed into her. Althea growled in desperate need and met his thrusts. She was lost so deeply in her pleasure that she didn’t notice the drool dripping from her open mouth until it dripped to the dry earth, darkening it beneath her. Her fingers clawed into the dirt before she moaned and let her hand find her clit.
The wetness dripped from fingers as she rubbed at her clit. The sun beat down in her naked back and her head felt light and dizzy with pleasure. She rubbed at her clit with her dirt-stained fingers, moaning and whimpering. And John Barleycorn continued his silent thrusting, his straw hands scoring her hips. Sweat ran down her flanks soaking into the earth.
As her orgasm coursed through her, the strawman seemed unaware. He continued his plunge into her without changing his punishing pace. Althea’s head drooped and her wetness dripped down her thighs. She returned both hands to the ground, her sticky fingers digging deeply into the earth as her orgasm wracked her body.
John Barleycorn’s susurrations become a buzzing in her ears, filling her thoughts as his wooden phallus filled her body. And finally, his pace changed, growing more frantic and she wouldn’t have thought it possible, but pressing deeper into her. Her arms quivered as she felt another orgasm shuddering through her.
Then she felt a rush of liquid filling her, dripping out and down her legs. The heavy scent of sex and malted barley filled the air, while the wooden phallus remained deeply pressed into her.
She rested her face on the earth, lowering her shaking arms. She sank lower, and the sounds of the birds reached her. She raised her head, opening her eyes, and looked back. John Barleycorn was on his perch, but his phallus was gone. Reaching down she slowly pulled it free, and a rush of beer poured from her sex, soaking into the ground.
Holding the phallus, she turned over, laying in her back in the shade of the strawman. Her head swam, as she grew tipsy from the beer and the heat. The breeze returned, cooling her sticky skin. The sounds of laughter and music from the cabin drifted over the field, and slowly Althea pushed herself up until she was seated on the warm earth. She looked at the phallus in her hand and back up at the strawman. She laid the phallus, still wet with her lust and beer on to the kindling.
Rising slowly to her feet, her body aching and used. The walk back to the lake seemed to take no time at all, as the sky seemed to swirl around in her vision. She slipped back into the now shockingly cool water and washed the dried blood, beer, and earth from her skin. The water-cooled her sex but did nothing to ease the deep ache from the rowan phallus. She did not linger in the water, as the voices of the reapers began drifting down the trail and from deep in the woods -their assignations completed.
She dried herself quickly and pulled her clothes on over damp skin. She met a few of the reapers on the trail, they were heading back to the lake with leaves and loam dusting their hair and nude bodies. They greeted her with ebullience, breaking once again into songs of ale and the murder of John Barleycorn.
Althea smiled and continued back to the cabin, humming a different, melancholy tune about poor Johnny.
At the feast, Althea sipped her beer, and with each taste, her sex twitched recalling being filled by the straw man. Around the table, everyone raised a glass to the harvest and to John Barleycorn. Each toast, each sip of the beer, she felt her nipples stiffen and her sex grow moist. She could smell the hot earth and once again the rustling of the straw man blocked all other sounds.
She followed the others back to the field, their torches blazing and snapping in the cool night breeze. She watched as they poured a cup of her blackberry liquor onto the earth, unto the place she had been taken by John Barleycorn himself. The field grew quiet, only the crackling of the torches breaking that silence.
Althea swayed on her feet, her eyes locked on the strawman, who once again wore his phallus. And seeing that gleaming rowan wood, her knees grew weak and she felt the trickle of beer down her thigh. When the first torch was touched to the kindling, she bit her lip. The flames rose quickly, silhouetting the effigy.
For a moment, Althea once again heard the rustle of braided wheat and felt the phantom scratch of his straw hands. The others began their song, cheering as the flames began devouring John Barleycorn. When the wooden phallus began to smolder, Althea’s sex grew warm and ached with need. And as the effigy collapsed into a shower of sparks, Althea felt the smoke stinging her eyes and tears ran unchecked down her cheeks.