‘Tear Here,’ it said on the ‘lucky ticket’ given to me at the entrance. I did so to find I wasn’t a winner. Perhaps they should amend them to begin with ‘Un,’ I thought.
A young woman in a rustic green smock stood behind a tombola. She smiled at me. “Try your luck, sir? It’s to raise money for the donkey sanctuary.”
That explained why there were pictures of donkeys everywhere. “What do I have to do?”
“It’s fifty pence a ticket, or five for two pounds. If it ends with a five or a zero it’ll be a winner, then you just match it with the prize.”
“Sounds complicated.” I winked. “Go on, I’ll have five.”
Two were winners. The first was a hefty volume of Longfellow verse. I’d rather have won a hole in the head. “Look, can I pick it up later? I don’t want to lug it around the fair.”
She gave me a pearly smile. “I’m here till five. Oh, that’s strange.”
“Oh, the ticket on your other prize is on the table. It must have fallen off this.” She held up a wooden bracelet.
I’d give it to my niece, I thought, as I headed off through the crowds thronging the myriad stalls filling the lawns of Cawthorpe House. I’d only been inside once. Long dark corridors full of scowling ancestors glaring through cracked glaze and room after high-ceilinged room full of chintzy antique furniture.
I narrowly avoided being run over by a pony and trap, one of the many trotting around the vast estate, giving customers a view of what they’d never be able to afford. I headed past stands with guns, riding boots, saddles, cane furniture, mowing machines, canoes, you name it, there must have been hundreds of them. Feeling like a drink, I went down to the maze where I knew there was a bar.
Due to the sheer size of the place, nowhere was especially crowded and I found an unoccupied table and gazed up at the brilliant blue sky, where two white vapour trails formed a ‘V’ shape overhead. Soon, I was served and sat sipping gorgeous ice-cold lager in the warm sunshine. Over the PA they were announcing a terrier race about to start. I took out the bangle I’d won on the tombola. Now I looked more closely, I could see it was in the open-ended form of a snake, where the head overlapped the tail. It was made from dark polished wood that looked very old. I put it over my fingers and the gap widened easily to accommodate my hand as it slid onto my wrist.
As it did so, the sky darkened, a chill wind brushed my cheeks and there was the smell of smoke. The crowds and the stalls were gone, all that remained was rust-coloured grass and the foreboding form of the maze, like a giant tombstone.
A young woman wearing a black dress and top hat stood before me. Her lips, eyes, and nostrils were black with make-up and a painted smile extended across her cheeks. Her hair was long and purple. “Greetings, I am Erzulie.” Her voice was soft and husky with a strong foreign accent.
“Where am I, what’s going on?”
“That,” she tapped the bracelet on my wrist, “brought you here. In the maze there is something I need. The maze is enchanted and I cannot enter. Fetch it for me and you can return to your world.”
I lost track of time in the maze. I started by taking every right turn but soon found myself back near the entrance.
Finally, I tried a new pattern, two rights then a left, and found myself in a part of the maze where the boxwood had areas of brown, dying leaves. One more repetition of the pattern and there, ahead of me, was a green tent.
Inside, it felt calm and peaceful. On a red tablecloth stood the thing Erzulie had asked me to fetch. It was a statue of a man, several inches high and carved from black stone or ivory. He was naked, bearded and wore a headdress. His fists pounded the air and sticking out in front of him was an erect penis, extreme in size and about as long as he was high.
“You shall not have him!” A skinny youth of perhaps thirteen had appeared from nowhere. He wore a brown tunic and a jester’s hat. He stood between me and the table with a leering expression on his flushed face.
I feinted to the right, then as he went to block me, I lurched to the left, grabbed the statue and cracked him round the head with it. He stumbled and fell to the ground. As he did so, there came a sound like a window being smashed and, in an instant, I was back at the tombola stand.
The sky was blue, crowds of people swirled around and the PA was announcing the winner of the terrier race. The woman smiled and held out her hand. “Master Priapus, if you please.”
I handed the statue over, noticing her purple hair for the first time, and was that a top hat on a chair behind her? “Look, what happened?”
She came around and slipped the bracelet off my wrist. “This is powerful magic. Look, have this instead.” She held up a ship in a bottle. It looked antique.
I let out a gasp. “It’s beautiful.”
“Look, I’ll pack it for you. You can collect it with your book.”
As I re-joined the milling crowds I wondered just who the hell the woman at the tombola was. It was certainly the strangest two pounds I’d ever spent.
- To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
- If you are interested in joining Write Away, a fortnightly story group (giving a choice of 250, 500 or 750 word assignments) please contact me and I’ll be pleased to send details.
- Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 350!