This story represents my entry into Week #25 of Finish the Story Contest, sponsored by @bananafish. I've entered several of these Finish the Story Contests and each one has been great fun. I do recommend the contest to steemians who like to write, or to those who would like to try their hand at writing. A very friendly, supportive group of people participate.
If you suffer from writer's block, don't worry. The first half is written for you. All you have to do is come up with an ending. Here's mine, this week, entitled The Stage.
Part I: The Beginning
In the eyes of the couple, the slate-paved street of the village revealed a cornucopia of crafts, sweets and jubilant peasants. Along the noisy main street, colourful festoons hung from the balconies of typical mountain houses, made of solid stone and original woodwork. The buildings themselves, due to the abundance of decorations, seemed to curve over the long snake of stalls.
There had been an imperceptible moment of silence when the two had laid their feet on the dark pavement of the village, nothing but a quick counterpoint to underline the next wave of noise of the festival in its full becoming.
It had been enough to turn left on the path between the conifers marked by the navigator and their journey had moulted with grey scales now transformed into coloured harlequin’s diamonds.
"Fasnachat". That bizarre writing on a shaky sign had tickled their imagination.
"If Google had reported this village party we could have left two hours earlier." At her voice’s sound, Ben instinctively thought of two Dolce & Gabbana sneakers on the 100 meters starting blocks.
"A break cannot hurt us, but let's not forget about our timetable," he replied, not without a trail of scepticism in his voice.
Ben's senses captured fragrances, widened eyes and inebriated laughter. That joy was as disruptive as it was contagious.
"We do not need to remind ourselves of what it means being late for Grandma Maude's birthday dinner," he said, turning to his wife, whose hand was already wriggling from his, ready to compulsively stuff the car with the many bits and bobs offered by the fair.
Debated between the growing curiosity and the thought of his father-in-law blaming him for the delay, Ben had not even noticed that he had already lost sight of Joelle.
Like a pebble escaping the river’s current, the flow of the crowd had carried him in the middle of a small square dominated by a soaring wooden stage. An acute, strangely cacophonous, chant of stringed instruments enlivened a typical traditional group dance, where couples slapped each other’s feet and bodies.
Under the ever more pounding rhythm of the dance, among almost hypnotized and swaying villagers, his eyes increasingly focused on the show.
For a moment, he thought he saw Joelle surrounded by villagers who invited her to eat something viscidly black. The substance seemed to smear the white aprons and faces of the women, perhaps even that of Joelle who had joined them in a wild chortle. She seemed so lighthearted and it felt good. There was one thing Ben could not remember and squatted in the back of his head, but maybe it wasn’t that important.
He returned to plunge into the dance: it was simply wonderful. He felt he could not miss a movement, not even a note. He smiled at the villagers as a strange heat flared up inside him. An empty and collective smile painted back on the villagers’ gaunt faces.
In a frayed embryo of thought, Ben recorded the distant verses of Joelle, who, strangely, had fused together in a long animal bleating.
A flare of amber filled the cobalt sky. He couldn't move. His hands and legs were tied. Figures, draped in red and black, rhythmically swayed, their arms raised above their heads, their faces covered in harlequin masks. Torches held high sent sparks into the ether.
"Let me up," he hollered, but his words didn't carry past the masked forms.
Where was he? Why couldn't he move?
A demon mask leaned over him.
"Calm yourself, Ben." Deep and magisterial, the voice seemed to emanate from a place far away. How did it know his name? It spoke again, its breath exuding the foul smell of a crypt.
"All will be clear to you, Ben. Each of us has our place in nature and each is fulfilling a destiny prescribed before we were born."
Ben was terrified of this mad demon, who seemed to be in the grips of a bizarre fantasy. The torch-bearing figures began to drift in a circular motion. Ben could see that beyond them was the plaza where he had first encountered the masked dancers. He realized they must have tied him to the raised stage.
Maybe this was a performance. If he played his part, and stayed calm, they might let him go.
"Please tell me," Ben addressed the demon as he would have spoken to a student in one of his classes. "Where's my wife?"
The torches grew brighter, fading daylight exaggerating their effect.
"Your wife has accepted her destiny. Long before you married, she knew this day would come. It is ordained that a descendant of one born on Fastnachat will return with her mate to the village and be offered. This will insure future harvests. When you made the turn at the conifers, Joelle understood what would follow. That the two of you would end on this stage and fulfill the most important mission of your lives."
The demon was insane. He wasn't play acting. And how did he know Grandma Maude's birthday?
"I want to see my wife. Let me go!" He could no longer control himself. He thrashed and screamed so violently that spittle flew from his lips. The struggle was futile, for he remained bound on the stage.
The demon chanted phrases into the unfolding night. "We gather together on Fastnachat to give thanks for our bountiful harvest and to offer sacrifice. We pray humbly that future harvests will be rich and nourish the people of this land."
The demon waved a silver charm. Ben turned his head to avoid the spray that fell from the amulet, but a few stinging drops seeped through his tightly closed eyes.
This was a dream. It had to be. He would wake and find Joelle sleeping at his side. They would dress for the drive to Grandma Maude's birthday party. Every Fastnachat she threw a grand celebration, the family's annual ritual.
If he would only wake up--everything would be back to normal--