The terribleminds.com challenge that inspired this story explores setting. We were given the choice of five settings. A lunar brothel, an abandoned amusement park, the bottom of the sea, an apartment during the Apocalypse, or a fairy tale forest. Limit 1000 words. http://wp.me/p1BAlV-2G
Dance, Baby, Dance Louise Sorensen March 26, 2012
The need is hard upon him. It’s time to give in.
Birds dreaming in the trees sleep on, sheltered from the echoes in the frosty air.
Harry rattles as he limps along. In one hand a heavy jug of water, in the other, his fingers are clenched around a flashlight. A lighted lantern dangles from that hand as well, in his determination to keep the night things at bay. A clutch of glow sticks hangs from his belt, a last resort if batteries or flame fail. A small canteen of water; all he will have for the whole night, balances out his weaponry.
Though he knows it won’t be enough, he takes a long drink of water from the jug. On one side, sand glows pink in the sunset. Waves wash calmly up the beach. On the other, is his destination.
He limps through the gate of the abandoned amusement park. Deeper and deeper in he creeps. A huge dragon comes into view, frozen in a standing position. Yesterday, Harry was here in daylight, and its painted sides were faded, peeling. This evening, though, its scales shine sharp and perfect, reflecting the last red rays of the setting sun.
Movement. Has the dragon stooped lower, its massive jaws opened wider? Does poison glisten from its fangs?
Harry stops and looks it in the eye. Wields his flashlight like a sword. Holds up his glowing lantern. A figure all in gray, hoping the dragon will recognize the spirit of a knight, if not the substance.
A flash across the dragon’s eye, and then it’s dark again. It settles back on its haunches, waiting for easier prey. Harry breathes again, and limps on, trying not to clank too loud.
The skirl of a pipe echoes down a river of rides. Tilt-a-Whirls and Caterpillars on one side and a mammoth roller coaster on the other all sigh in unison, sending the current of music on its way. One Caterpillar, black eyes shining in the lamplight, turns its giant head towards him, and whips its antennae back and forth.
Harry stops again.
The Caterpillar considers the lantern’s rosy flame, then accepts this greeting and resumes a slow trundle along its track.
A snort from the carousel. One of the horses, dark and gleaming in the waning light, stamps its foot. A sword gleams from its saddle.
Sorry old boy, not yet.
Taller and more massive than any medieval destrier, the horse lays back its ears. A whole stable of them froth and champ at their bits, on the wooden platform. Their hooves stamp a slow rhythmic drum beat. Boom… boom… boom. The carousel’s music starts up and it creaks forward, revolving slowly.
Harry rubs his sore leg and limps on. The drumming of the horses’ hooves is faster and faster until the beat is solid, then it stops. He looks back and up. The horses will be airborne, but he can’t detect them in the dark sky.
He reaches the centre of the park and stands in a circle of stones. A wheel made of stars twinkles into being ahead of him.
“This feels like the right place,” he smiles.
Fog rolls all around.
A fiddle howls. A pipe joins in. Green lights swirl from the mist and musicians take shape.
Magic seeps into Harry and the glamour slips over him like an old familiar robe. A line of mirrors appears, one within the other, reflecting a thousand images of him for a moment, a young man clad in black, lithe, strong, dark haired. He throws off his belt of lights and straightens his collar. Considers throwing his canteen to the side but rejects the idea with a grin.
The scent of bilberries, moss. His queen appears at his side. He opens his mouth to murmur her name but she stops him with a finger on his lips.
”Not until you stay,” in a silken voice. He shakes his head and they dance.
The music speeds up. A crowd of whirling figures joins the fray. Harry claps his hands and stamps his feet so hard he fears his bones will crumble. Magic seeps through him, a healing balm to his bruises and blisters. The heels of his boots smoking, he dances on.
Ale flows freely as the musicians pause for refreshment. Sweat pours off of Harry in a torrent and he drains his canteen. He’s careful not to eat or drink anything offered by the servants of the Fae. If he stays, it will be on his own terms.
The last dance is a waltz, and the music ends with a flourish. His queen tilts her head up and kisses him on the lips.
“Will you stay with me now?” The same question she asks him every year, on his birthday.
He laughs, full of himself, and magic, and youth.
“Not this time my love. But I’ll meet you here next year.” He smiles, tastes her ripe sweet lips, and the promises she holds.
The first light of dawn peeks over the horizon. Drawing a cloak of vapour about themselves, the musicians disappear. Fog wreathes his queen and she smiles and fades from sight.
The long walk out of the park is safe. All of the enchantments have gone with the night.
Except for the horse. At the carousel, it falls into step with him and escorts him to the entrance gate, its steel clad hooves silent on the pavement.
“One thing,” says the horse. “Are you ever going to take her up on her offer?”
“To stay with her? To live forever?” He stops and thinks about this for a moment. The night’s magic will wear off in a few days and he‘ll feel again the pains of old age.
“Tempting.” He turns to face the horse.
“Nah,” he grins, stepping lightly through the gate, ”I just love to dance!”