Feltus shifted on the hard seat. His butt had fallen asleep and the cold stone felt like it was permeating his skin. It was pretty much the only thing keeping him awake though. Some people had drifted in and were standing around in small whispering groups or sinking into the other benches which were positioned in a rough circle around a puzzle of bluish paving stone. They looked lost and sort of strangeâ€”mostly old people with hair too long for their age. The men had straggly beards and bandannas; the women dressed in wispy scarves and long skirts. They all wore sandals. Some of them clinked with jewelry— assorted bangles, bells, and beads and over all hung a heavy scent, dusty, pungent, like incense mixed with chalk dust and leaf mold. It made Feltuss eyeballs itch and his eyelids grow heavy. Underneath the thick odor he smelled something sharper, like burned toast and it was this which made him finally straighten up and rub his eyes. The Veil had a certain smell and it was unmistakable. He craned his head, trying to pick out the glimmering golden folds in the air that indicated the invisible wall between the worlds but the sun was almost directly above and he could distinguish nothing. Still he felt a little more certain that he was in the right place. He tried to remember if his great-aunt had told him anything useful but all she had said was to get off the bus when it stopped, to take a seat and to look for signs of witchery. Having now spent a couple of hours staring at the boarded up shop fronts, the windblown paper cups and newspapers and drifts of dead leaves in the empty street directly across from him, he could safely say that there was nothing going on here. He turned to the woman sitting next to him. She was thin and dressed in buttercup yellow draperies. Her hair was long and gray and her face was sort of gray too as if she didnt go outside often. She held a tambourine in her lap and her fingers twitched impatiently.
â€œSo whats happening here exactly?â€ Feltus asked her.
â€œWere waiting,â€ she said in a tired voice. Her fingers twitched again. A wild-eyed man in a battered top hat and a necklace of brown and black barred feathers and beads sank onto the bench on Feltuss other side. And now a few more people arrived in a tight cluster– a heavy- set man with a purple-tinged face, sweating profusely in a voluminous robe; a tall, regal woman with silver hair who could have been a school principal; another frizzy-haired woman wearing wire-rimmed spectacles and a red velvet cape who handed out plastic tubs and wooden spoons to the waiting crowd. There was a low murmur of conversation and Feltus was conscious of a sense of excitement. He leaned forward in his seat, his eyes casting around, looking for a hitch in the air or a ripple, or the cold clammy shiver he felt when magic was being done. He sensed nothing. The three new arrivals squatted down in the middle of the paving stone circle. Feltus watched them for a few minutes but they just sat there.
â€œFinally,â€ said the man with the top hat. Feltus noticed he was wearing a grass skirt.
â€œSo what exactly is this all about?â€ Feltus asked.
â€œWeekly jamboree,â€ the man in the skirt said, crossing one leg over the other one. He had striped socks pulled up to his knobbly knees and his legs were very hairy. Feltus wondered if he felt a draft. â€œJust trying to keep the vibe going, ya know,â€ the man continued, polishing his sunglasses on his flowing shirt sleeves. Feltus shook his head.
â€œWell youve heard of the Woodstick festival, of course?â€ The way he said it made it sound as if all the letters were capitalized.
â€œOh yeah,â€ Feltus said, racking his brain. The man looked at him expectantly. â€œThats the festivalâ€¦.hereâ€¦inâ€¦uhhhâ€¦ Woodstick.â€
The man put his sunglasses on and stared at him. Feltus stared back. It was sort of like looking into a bugs eyes. The lenses were very large, circular and black. The man shook his head. â€œKids,â€ he said under his breath. He cracked his knuckles and readjusted his skirt, smoothing it down. â€œThe Woodstick festival was the greatest gathering this world has ever seen. For seven days and seven nights people from the farthest corners of the earth danced and sang, made music and enjoyed themselves. It transformed this small village into a destination spot. A magical place second only to those big waterfalls they have up north. The stores flourished, tourists flocked, business was booming, and then it all stopped.â€
â€œPeople werent excited by old men playing guitars and harmonicas anymore. They wanted five stages, giant inflatable skulls, wireless internet, tattoo tents and snake wrestling. For the last three years this town has been dying.â€
â€œSad,â€ Feltus said, feeling that he had to say something. At the back of his mind he was wondering about the snake wrestling though. It sounded cool. â€œSo whats with the drums then?â€
â€œJust trying to invoke the spirit of the music, little man.â€ He took a silver triangle and a small silver hammer from his chest pocket and held the objects carefully in his big, reddened hands.
â€œHmmm.â€ Feltus shifted on the bench. â€˜Its not some kind of Howling- with- Wolves seminar is it?â€ His father had received a pamphlet in the mail once. Hed crumpled it up and thrown it into the kitchen garbage can where Feltus had fished it out. Actually that one had been for Naked- Howling- with- Wolves- A Private Wilderness Retreat for Executives. Feltus looked around quickly before asking the question and was thankful to see that everyone was still clothed.
The man with the feathers snorted. â€œThis isnt some weird new age thing, little man. This is a serious wiccan ritual.â€ And he made a complicated gesture with his fingers as if he was playing cats cradle with an invisible piece of string. Feltus concentrated again on trying to sense the Veil, or the vibrations he sometimes felt that made his ear hairs stand up, but there was still nothing.
The yellow haired lady next to him had her eyes closed and a faint humming rose from her lips. She smelled very strongly of ginger. The numbness had now spread from his butt to his thighs. He was also conscious of a grumbling in his stomach, but the only storefront around which was not boarded up seemed to be a real estate agent. There was a crooked sign hanging in the dust- smeared windows of a cottage-like shop with a padlocked door but it advertised â€˜hippy eggs on quinoa toast plus wheatgrass juice $2 and Feltus thought it was unlikely that it was open. He was starting to feel a little annoyed. Why had Eunida sent him all the way up here to hang out with a bunch of strange old people who were stuck in the Stone Age? It was clear that nothing out of the ordinary was going on here- just some sad folks with nothing better to do on a Saturday than sit around and make a noise. He breathed in deeply, trying to discern the burned toast smell of the Veil but someone had stuck a bunch of incense sticks in the earth between the paving stones and the pungent smoke rose like a cloud. And although the sun was now over his left shoulder and creeping lower, he couldnt see any weird wrinkles in the air, or folds like a great golden curtain had been drawn aside, or any indication whatsoever that he was sitting near a junction between the worlds. He looked at the clock on the red and white wooden church across the way. Almost two pm. He knew, because he had already studied his ticket a few times looking for loophole, that the only bus back home wasnt leaving until six.
â€œHey,â€ said feather man. His folded sunglasses were thrust into his collar and his dark eyes gleamed. He jerked his thumb towards the middle of the circle, and it was only then that Feltus noticed how quiet it had become. That and the fact that every space on every bench was filled and that he was the youngest member of this strange audience by about fifty years. â€œWatch them.â€
The purple- faced man, the school principal and the frizzy haired woman were breathing, or perhaps snorting was a better way to describe it. Long whooping inhalations through their noses and huffing pants from their mouths and they were doing it all together. The mans face was so shiny he looked like a beet in danger of exploding. The principal swayed on her haunches as if she was caught in a stiff breeze. The frizzy-haired lady inflated her chest like an opera singer. Each one held a small drum cupped in one hand and they began to strike them with one or two fingers but not in time or as part of any kind of melody, and just out of rhythm with their loud breathing. It was an uncomfortable sort of sound. It made Feltus feel just a little off balance and as if a headache was building behind his eyes, and it went on and on, stuttering, hollow thumps or scratchy scritchy noises like a mouse was crawling over the taut drum skin—- slowing and then speeding up, and the panting as if a giant dog was huffing into a microphone. And the crowd around him, many now on their feet, was completely silent. Boom boom boom went the three drums as if someone with no sense of rhythm was striking them, and the sound seemed to reverberate in the soles of Feltuss feet and in the stone bench and in the ground. And in the beat of his heart which was racing and then creeping, and then playing catch up again as it followed one and then another of the three threads of sound.
And all at once he realized that the stones beneath his feet were shifting. It was almost as if they were no longer solid. He pulled his feet up off the ground and stared down. The blue-gray slabs of rock had melted away and in the middle where the three musicians were squatting in their cluster, Feltus saw a glowing golden web and in the very center, a great shadowy hole. Feltus thumped himself on the forehead. Hed been so busy looking up and around that it had never occurred to him that the Veil could be below him, beneath the ground. And that awful wheezing and drumming performance had obviously been some kind of incantation though nothing like the gibberish Great Aunt Eunida spouted when she was making a spell.
A great â€˜ahhhhh rose from the musicians as they exhaled, and as if this released the crowd from their trance, everyone around him grabbed a drum or a pan, and a horrible cacophony of noise exploded around him. The feather man clanged on his triangle, the yellow robed lady on the other side whacked her tambourine with her fist. Everyone seemed to be hitting their drums or their pots with every ounce of strength and the noise surged upwards and out until it seemed to surround them in a wall of sound. And then at a raised arm signal from the purple-faced man who had clambered to his feet, the massed throng fell silent, eyes turned towards the cavernous hole in the very center of the circle. Feltus couldnt help but hold his breath. He was penned in on three sides, warm bodies pressed up against him, holding him firmly in place and restricting his breathing. He wanted nothing more than to bolt from the throng of people but he couldnt even move a finger. His eyes were drawn to the frizzy-haired woman who was leaning so far over the hole that she looked as if she was about to fall in. Her mouth was frozen in a big O, her hair stuck out in a silver cloud around her face. She swayed forward and as if everyone was attached to her by ropes, the crowd leaned forward too. Back and forth, crazily like everyone was balanced on a gigantic see- saw. And it was then that something began to crawl out of the hole.