For this week’s TerribleMinds.com Flash Fiction Challenge, we chose a random sentence. “The spurs glow,” snagged my eye. Not much time to talk, but look up St. Vitus’s Dance when you have some time.
Crick is in a pissier mood than usual. He’s muttering curses in that dead language, hunched over the wild rye stalks, his straw hat wide as his shoulders.
He stands and stretches his elderly back. My Fecking backe. He turns and marches through the man tramped furlough and I await his abuse. He moves quick for an old man, and he doesn’t let me forget it.
“A full basket,” he says. Showing me the ergot spurs. “A full day’s pay and what do you have, leezy basteerd?”
He pulls at the edge of my basket, dragging me close. My basket is half full, and I’ve been picking fast as I can. “Ha. I pay for full baskets.” He pushes his face into mine. His face is wrinkled like a cabbage leaf, smells of it too. “Fill that basket you worthless doonkeey. The temple pays by volume. With the Light festival upon them, they will expect a large quantity.”
He heads for the wagon, tramping down a new path into the rye. I shake off my brimming rage and set to picking. Coooksecker, I say, mocking one of his curses. I grab a rye stalk by the stem as if I want to strangle it and pick off three spurs, filling by basket nary a thimbleful.
I blame the row, it’s a bad row. Crick finds the good ones. He’s coming back and I hear the rye rustle behind me. He passes and drops a handful of spurs into my basket. “Missed these you blind eedeeot.”
When I’m nervous, I scratch my neck. “Don’t touch your face, mooron, even if you’re wearing gloves. The Priestess doesn’t let runts dance.”
I suffer it because he took me in and makes good possum stew. Also, unlike the Mother-fearing citizens of Slava, he’s never called me a red headed basteerd.
Night falls and the festival is tomorrow night. I push through the crowded rye, notice one stalk is different. Its spurs are white, not black. I reach for it and cup the bud in my hand and a greenish light casts on my palm. Crick comes to inspect my basket and he gasps.
“The Spur glows!” He touches the tip of the glowing spurs. He snaps off the bud and turns it sideways. “Bioloomeenescent foong-aye. It glows like foxfire.”
I see more of the glowing spurs. I pick them off but Crick stops my hand. “No. Go to the cart and get a new basket. We need to keep these separated.” I return with the basket and he dumps a handful of the glowing spurs into it.
“I am uncertain if has the same effects, but it’s rare. Glowing Dancing Spurs! If I can cultivate these, we’ll be rich.”
Neither I or Crick take dancing spurs. Her other children shoved us away from her teats. As spring and summer cusp, she gifts them the Dancing Spurs. Only the Temple is allowed to make the Dancing Tea. The usually sullen Mother-fearers dance as if set afire, have visions, take to all fours and mate like animals. We don’t join them. Runts never dance.
I pick fast, so fast Crick hasn’t cursed me. I have half a basket of glowing spurs and he stops me before I pick more. “Leave the rest so they’ll regrow next year.”
At morning, we head for Slava. The villagers are busy hanging lanterns, rolling brew barrels, and sweeping their doorsteps. When we pass by, they stop their chores and turn their backs to us, and then resume their toils in our wake. The temple is several rows of perfectly square columns, with ancient runes painted on them. Crick can read and understand them, but never tells the priestess. Parkeeng levul one. Lost tikkets pay fool daye raat, he mutters, then chuckles.
The Priestess stands in the middle of the temple next to a jagged slab of white rock, the altar. She turns her back to us, but says over her shoulder “Set the dancing spurs on the altar.”
Crick sets the basket down and the Priestess puts on a leather glove and inspects them. “These are white. Worthless”
“But they glow. Dancers will glow,” he says.
She pushes the basket aside. “Worthless. Give us our spurs.”
He sets the basket of regular spurs beside her. “Acceptable,” she says after inspecting them. “We will permit you entrance to the village four times a year and will gift you four bushels of wheat and ten bushels of potatoes at winter’s opening. Also, you may have one bowl of goulash when you leave.”
Last year it was five village visits. He doesn’t protest or negotiate. “The Mother is too generous. May I take my unworthy spurs?”
The Priestess nods, and Crick takes the spur basket and we leave the temple. “Arrogant eedeeots. Won’t even try them. “
We find the pot of goulash cooking over a fire – the goulash prepared to feed the festival workers. We ladle a heaping bowl of goulash into two bowls. We sit on the ground and wolf down the rich stew. As we finish, we prepare to return home, but I see Crick looking around furtively, and then drops some of the glowing spurs into the stew.
“I have to know what they do,” he says on our journey home.
The goulash gave me heartburn, so I walk outside to fetch water. Over hill I see a red hue where the village lay and I hear mad screaming. I wake Crick and show him. In a panic, he lights a torch and we go to the village.
We find the village on fire, and its residents dancing in the fire, not screaming in pain, but delight. Flesh falls from their bones like charred meat from a roasting flagon, but still they dance. Their smiles a skeleton’s grimace.
“They glow,” I say.
Crick’s mouth widens with horror, but he slaps me on the back of my head. “See, eedeeot. Why I tell you not to touch your face.”