This one was inspired by my state of mind at the time and Lady Gaga’s performance at South by South-West, specifically the performance of Aura. Something about the image of her being barbequed spoke to me and the angst I was feeling. I needed to exorcise all of the poisonous thoughts inside of me and this story was it, my way of coping.
Members from the tribe had travelled from all over the world, coming from their separate lives to join together in this abandoned field. They easily manoeuvred their platform shoes around the roots protruding from the earth in a way that had become habit. Some had joined hands while others preened in little mirrors, knowing they couldn’t look anything less than perfect. Most of the members of the procession held their breath, the importance of this night a nearly-physical presence.
The trees of the forest began to thin, allowing the crying to be heard easier. In the middle of the forest a woman was sobbing. The pain expressed through these shrieks affected all to hear, some reacted with tears of their own.
In the clearing a large tub was filled with burning coals, their smoke filling the air. A woman was suspended above these, a structure holding her parallel to the pit of heat. She was attached to a rod, strapped in by thick black straps, the only thing to cover her pale body. She shuddered violently, her crying beyond her control at this point.
This was the reason they were all here. Steadily the seasoned performers emerged from among the trees, coming upon the stage of their friend’s demise. They had been told of her troubles, but many were shocked by this sight. Their beautiful, talented and smart friend was swollen with poison, her skin covered in slime. She cried, attempting to hide her face behind her bound hands in her shame. She couldn’t meet their eye, would rather die than engage with them in her state. They gaped up at her, unable to believe it. They were silently wondering how this could happen, how had they failed her, how had society failed her?
At the moment only two people were allowed near the subject. One witch doctor, trained for this exact set-up. She would intervene if the situation took a turn for the worst. She kept her eyes locked on her patient, standing perfectly still in her black robes. She was accompanied by a ladyboy, dressed in a latex black dress with a high white wig. A veil hid most of her expertly painted face. She wasn’t trained in eccentric medicine; she was only trained in taking care of her friend. Moral support, she fanned the quivering body and fed her friend water.
Paris Wilde had put the entire banquet together. With Lady Stardust through good and bad times, she had immediately accepted the responsibility to orchestrate this even to help her friend.
The crowd had been here before; a few had attended this kind of ritual at least five times. The world was filled with problems that could infect the soul and destroy the creative spirit. Sometimes the negativity made a home inside the body and it needed to be extracted in a ceremony like this. They needed to help Stardust because she had gone beyond the point of being able to help herself.
The group of friends was unnaturally quiet, assembling in a semi-circle a distance from the tub of heat. The men in their tight skirts while most of the women wore smart suits and leather. Their colourful hairdos reflected their colourful personalities, currently silenced. They stood together, a united front against the darkness threatening a member of their flank.
The night was cool and still, in no way reflecting the drama about to unfold.
The witch walked across to stand in front of the morbid barbeque, her eyes unwavering from the patient. After a while she started speaking the incantation, her voice powerful, reaching every ear. She spoke the ancient words without a hint of nerves. It was obvious the spell was working when Stardust began screaming. Blood-curdling screams rose out of her, as if she had never experienced anything so painful in her whole life. No one tried to help her, or shut the witch up because the pain was a good thing. This meant she was healing, which was never easy. Her skin dramatically sagged, the pockets of pus dropping, the poison was detaching from the rest of her body. The weight dangled, nearly independent, hanging low. Her shrieks died away into steady sobs and finally the witch reached her conclusion. Now Stardust looked even more bizarre, but the witch was satisfied with the result. Step one was complete.
Step two dictated that everyone moved closer, holding a pair of tongs and a plate each. A line was formed, everyone moving in a very orderly manner. The first man stepped out, a long-haired poet; he stood beside Paris momentarily, sharing a long look. Then he reached up to lovingly stroke Stardust’s cheek. She didn’t acknowledge this, still weeping, what she did acknowledge was him using the tongs to remove a chunk of her body. The raw meat separated easily. Blood gushed out of the wound, any excess poison draining. The blood sizzled upon the boiling coals. The poet slapped his meat on to the coals, Stardust groaning deep in her throat.
Each person took a turn at this, grabbing a slab and cooking it. After a while Stardust returned to her normal size, all of the ugly bloating stripped away. They ate their share, recognising Stardust’s pain and taking it away from her. It didn’t taste good, sometimes friendship was bitter. They were strong enough to fight off the poison, making the darkness disappear. Stardust’s body was covered in open wounds, looking more like a battlefield. Her back, her legs and her stomach ripped open. None took satisfaction in this meal; it wasn’t a typical feast for friends to sit down to together. They waited for her to stop bleeding.
“What happens next?” A queen muttered to her neighbouring king.
Stardust was taken out of her binds, replaced into Paris’ awaiting arms. Paris carried her withered friend away, out of sight; her embarrassment was over for the night. Paris held Stardust close to her, spooked by how tiny she was. She was tempted to never let her fag hag go ever again, certain she could protect Stardust through whatever came next. Paris recalled all of the fear during Stardust’s days of deterioration and felt like crying at the thought of finally closing in on salvation.
Paris and the witch doctor didn’t walk for very long. Another tub was placed among a gap in the trees; this one was empty for now. Paris gently lowered Stardust into this porcelain cradle.
The witch doctor summoned their newest collaborator.
The tired squeak of rusted wheels introduced the newcomer. A tall man dressed in a dusty pink suit, his calm face empathetic. He dragged a canvas cart behind him, bulging with unknown supplies. The rhinestones encrusted upon his shoes caught the light of the witch’s lantern, the dazzling sparkle a flash of optimism amongst all of the darkness. It was a reminder of disco balls and glitter, the things that had once sustained Stardust, her suit of armour comprised of sequins.
Her body had moulded to mimic the curve of the empty tub; her arms uselessly limp by her sides. Her state of mind showed no immediate signs of improvement until she spotted the thin man. Her eyes had something to focus on and a smile formed on her cracked lips, this was the sight she had been waiting for. With visible effort she extended an arm to him, beckoning for his good fortune.
Felix took the trembling hand in both of his, kneeling down beside the bath. The witch busied herself with the cart as mentor and protégé reunited. Paris assisted in removing the desired contents. Stardust didn’t speak, she couldn’t, she looked upon Felix’s face lovingly as he ran his fingers through the tangled disaster of her hair.
“You meditated amongst this water?” The witch sought to clarify.
“Yes.” Felix the Phoenix replied. “My mantra was your name, Stardust. My beautiful child filled with all of the power, all of the magic, mystery and glitter of a star. Star-dust.”
The enchanted water had been captured in glass bottles, with short and skinny necks, a silver lid secured into place on each. It appeared as regular as tap-water; still they handled it with great care, as if Stardust’s continued existence depended upon the clear liquid. The witch began by upending the first bottle, the water gushing in, pooling around Stardust’s body. She went through this motion repeatedly until all of the bottles were empty, the bath now full.
The regeneration began, Stardust relaxed, any last traces of fear washed away. Her blood made the water red, but this had no effect on her. She shut her eyes and breathed deeply. Alternately, Felix and Paris held their breath, watching the witch’s judgement of Stardust’s progress. A new trial was lurking on the horizon.
When the witch moved forward Stardust was entirely calm, a separate specimen to the shrieking banshee on the spit. The water was still, copying the look of glass. An un-frantic version of Stardust, so different to the woman Paris had been living with these past tumultuous months. Paris didn’t want this moment spoiled.
Then the witch firmly planted her hand to the top of Stardust’s head and forced her down. Mentally prepared, Stardust didn’t struggle. Her pale face was submerged and the clumpy strands of her hair danced in the ripples. Paris squeezed Felix’s hand, tight enough to break bones, together they waited for air bubbles. Stardust remained tranquilly limp, as if she had fallen asleep and was yet to realise her circumstance.
They had eaten the poison away, instead filling her with healing powers. Now was the final test to determine if these had worked. They were yet to discover whether or not her well to live had been restored. They would soon discover if she was strong enough to handle rebirth.
Paris’ chest burned and her eyes stung with unshed tears as she prayed that her friend not give in. Felix regretted all of the recent times wherein he had failed to show up for Stardust, the guilt eating away at him with the passing of each excruciating moment. The witch watched the water with a cold fascination, this was merely part of a process for her, she possessed no emotional attachment. Naturally she wanted all of her patients to live, but she had seen this enough times to know that not every instance was a success story.
Finally the surface was broken by a single hand, it jutted into the air, curled into a claw, the fingers resembling hooks. Stardust latched onto the lip of the bathtub and pulled herself out. She rushed for oxygen, the sounds of her gasping drowned out by the cheering of the men.
Stardust began to move out of the stained water. She drew herself up with a slight wobble. Droplets rolled down her flesh, no longer broken open, the only scars to remain would be those in her mind. Paris rushed forward, wrapping a towel around Stardust’s body. Stardust threw herself into Paris’ arms, laughing at the joy of this exchange. Paris hugged Stardust tightly, her heart swelling with relief.
This private celebration was followed by preparing for the public one. The witch emptied the tub while Felix and Paris dressed Stardust for her awaiting audience. Felix pulled her hair into an up-do and Paris worked on bringing life back into her face with makeup. Stardust conversed with them, asking what Felix had been doing with his life and suggesting to Paris all of the things they should do upon arriving home. Her behaviour implied she had forgotten everything to happen during the dark times – as if she had been asleep for all of it and was now keen to pick up where she had left off. If this was what kept her sane and happy then Paris was happy to play along.
A long and ornate dress was produced from Felix’s bag. Stardust slid into the black material, admiring the silk of the floor-length skirt. The panel to cover her chest was sheer, the pale flesh underneath barely masked. The dress rested high on her neck, a ring of spikes encircling her throat.
When she was led back to the clearing all of her friends applauded. It was as if weeks-and-weeks of rain had finally come to an end and they could appreciate the sky through the clouds again. She could appreciate it too.
Some members of the tribe skipped on their way home. An amazing party, a worthy cause. Everyone loved a happy ending.