This extract is one of the pieces of flash fiction from my second collection of short stories, Tales From Dark Corners.
Brightly-coloured ribbons, jaunty music, adults rosy-cheeked with the last chill wind of winter, and special mead from the village pub. The laughter of small children.
Claudette had spent the winter practising, at least twice a week, in the village hall. Twelve children had been selected, six boys, and six girls. Graham, the chubby child in the school, hadn’t been selected. His mother came to the school to complain. To no avail.
And for this year, a different song, composed by the new music teacher at the village school. Mister Grainger had come from a place up north. Somewhere she’d never heard of. But he seemed nice.
On the day, the sun shone brightly as Claudette lined up with her classmates. All were a little nervous, but as soon as the first strains of the song came from the speakers, all nervousness was gone. Claudette and her friends began their dance, skipping in circles, one inside the other. At the predetermined point, they turned, and skipped the other way. Then, with the others girls, she dived in to the pole to collect her orange ribbon, and then move away to allow the boys to collect theirs.
Then ... a pause. The music changed, the beat increased, became stronger. The children lifted their heads, nodding in time with the strong drum beat, and then the violins began with the melody. The audience clapped in time, the children stepped and skipped and ducked and weaved and twisted. Their eyes stared straight ahead, as they’d been taught. They let the music into their ears, their minds, and their souls, driving them forward. Slowly, imperceptibly, the beat increased, the children moved more quickly, the parents and friends clapped louder and faster. Skip, jump, duck, twist. Swerve, pivot, reverse, hop. The music went on, faster and faster, but still the children danced through the steps, until ... there was a final bang on the drum, and they stopped. The halfway point.
The children breathed fast, gulping in air, and there was a silence in the courtyard, before, as one, the audience leapt to their feet, clapping and cheering. The children stayed in their positions, as they’d been drilled.
And then, as the applause died down - one scream. One loud and piercing scream which punctured the atmosphere and burst it like a balloon. As if coming from a trance, the children looked at each other, and then, turned inward, to the tightly-wrapped ribbons criss-crossing the central pole. Multiple colours, from the top, downwards, to the small, misshapen lump, standing just over a metre in height. It moved, slightly, then stopped.
“My boy! My boy!” Graham’s mother ran forward and began pulling at the ribbons, screaming “help me, help me someone”. No one moved. She ineffectually picked at the edges of the ribbons with her fingernails, but they were all wound tight, unmoving. Eventually, she sank to her knees, her eyes wide, watched by the dancers.
The music started again.
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