The Magic Flutebyoggbashan©
Copyright Oggbashan August 2013 The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
"Only those with a pure heart can pass safely through the ordeal..."
"You're joking! Who has one of them?"
"That's what I'm supposed to say to everyone."
"How many admit to having a pure heart?"
"All of them."
"And how many succeed?"
"I'm not allowed to tell you that."
I was standing at the entrance to what looked like a large haunted house at a fun fair. But this wasn't a fun fair. This was our village fete. The construction was far larger than anything we had ever had before. It had arrived as two articulated trucks and a separate flatbed-mounted generator. At a fete committee meeting six months ago, someone had been told about The Magic Flute themed sideshow.
"They don't charge us. The admission is reasonable and those going through can win prizes. It would make a change from our usual stalls."
It was very different. So many of our stalls were the same as they had been for many years, run by the same people, and just as boring as they had always been.
The Magic Flute was out of scale with the rest of our fete. Apart from being massive, it was obviously expensive. The quietness of the generator could only have been achieved with quality equipment. One thing was odd. Among the painted decoration were white spaces that could once have been sponsors' logos. I was intrigued. The Magic Flute had arrived with several sharp-suited people who were staying in our local hotel. Why? What were they doing with a fun fair ride?
It was late on the afternoon of a hot summer day. So many of our fetes had taken place in the rain, or in strong winds. I had thought that The Magic Flute might be cooler than standing in the sun, but I wasn't sure about entering.
I certainly didn't have a pure heart. Many of our village maidens and matrons were reduced to minimum clothing. Cleavage, attractive or not, was everywhere. Bare legs were normal even if they shouldn't have been bared. My thoughts had been far from pure.
"Is your lady friend here?"
"Your lady friend. The ordeal is for couples, like Tamino and Pamina."
"Oh. OK. I'll get her."
I walked off. I had last seen Julia at the 'Catch a Duck' stall. The plastic ducks looked tired but I was sure Julia would have won a couple of prizes. She had hooked ducks ever since she was old enough to hold the rod.
I was right. She was walking away with a couple of hand-made stuffed toys to add to her collection.
"Julia!" I shouted.
She waved a free hand and started towards me.
"What is it, Tom?" she asked.
"I thought I'd try The Magic Flute stand, but it's only for couples."
Julia looked at me.
"Are we a couple, Tom?"
That was a serious question needing an answer. I hesitated slightly.
"Yes." I said emphatically. "I want us to be a couple."
Julia kissed me on the cheek.
"Then we are. I'll just leave these with Mrs Jones on the cake stall and we can try The Magic Flute."
Mrs Jones is the headmistress of the village school and the Girl Guide leader. The cakes were supposed to be made by the Guides but most were made by the Guides' mothers. The Guide-made ones were obvious because of their irregular shades and too much garish icing. They were often bought by the Guides' parents as soon as the stall opened to avoid poisoning the general public.
I watched Julia as she walked. She was wearing a light summer dress, more decorous than many, but it fluttered in the wind showing off her slim legs.
Mrs Jones waved at me as she tucked Julia's soft toys underneath the trestle table. I waved back. She replied with a thumbs-up. Had Julia said something to her? Nothing could be kept secret in our village. We may have been a couple for less than a minute or two but it seems that Mrs Jones knows already.
Julia took my hand as we walked towards The Magic Flute. This was serious. What was a kiss on the cheek? Any one of the village maidens or matrons would give me that, but holding hands in public was a clear declaration that Julia had accepted me as her boyfriend.
I squeezed Julia's hand lightly. I wasn't regretting my decision.
At The Magic Flute, the operator took our entrance money and started his routine speech.
"Only those with a pure heart can pass safely through the ordeal..."
"We've been through that," I interrupted. "I haven't got a pure heart."
"Neither have I," she said. "I've got a dirty mind too."
"You're not taking this seriously," he said.
"What do we have to do?" Julia asked.
"You have to take the Magic Flute, and pass through three ordeals."
"Fire, Air and Water?" Julia asked.
He produced a wooden recorder.
"That's the Magic Flute?" I asked.
"It has to do. Very few people can actually play a flute, and a flute is an expensive instrument. Can you play a recorder?"
"Sort of..." I said.
"I can," said Julia, holding out her hand.
The operator looked startled but gave it to her.
"Please leave any belongings you value in this box. They'll be here when you finish, or exit."
I felt in my pockets. I had a few coins. Julia had a small neck purse. We had nothing else. Why should we? We were in our village, less than a hundred yards from our houses. We didn't have house keys because the whole village had unlocked back doors. Mobile phones? Unless we went up the hill behind the village there was no reception so we only took mobile phones with us when we were away.
"No belongings," I said. Julia nodded her agreement.
"OK. You can go in. Fifteen seconds after the door closes behind you, the first ordeal will start. Follow the instructions. You can abort the ordeals at any point. Just step to your left, pass through the curtain and you'll be in the corridor to the exit. You can stop in between each ordeal to recover. As soon as you pass through each door, there is a break of fifteen seconds before and between each ordeal."
"And if we continue?" Julia asked.
"If you successfully pass all the ordeals, you'll win a prize."
"How are we going to do this?" I asked Julia as the door closed behind us. There was light but it was gradually dimming.
"Like The Magic Flute. I play the recorder, we hold hands..."
"We can't Julia. You need two hands to play the recorder."
"So I do. OK. I go first, playing the recorder. You are behind me with your arms around my waist. Don't let go."
That sounded good. Julia put the recorder to her lips. I wrapped my arms around her waist and my chest touched her back. My head was beside hers in the darkness as we read the notice that suddenly lit up.
"Ordeal by Fire. Play The Magic Flute continuously, be brave, walk forward steadily and you will endure. To end the ordeal, step leftwards and go through the curtain."
A door opened in front of us. Julia started forward playing Frére Jacques. A bright red light flashed to our right. We flinched left. The light was followed by a real sheet of flame to our right. Julia's playing faltered. The flame swung nearer. I twisted Julia so that I was closer to the flames than she was. My jeans would stand the heat more than her bare legs. I slid my right hand down her thigh holding her dress close to her leg. I was worried the cotton might burn. We shuffled forwards, keeping as far left as we could without leaving the marked path. As Julia played louder, the flames turned upright and then angled slightly away.
So much for getting cooler inside The Magic Flute. The heat was only just bearable.
Another door opened. We stepped through into the light and heard the flames die behind us.
"Phew!" Julia said. "If you hadn't been holding me, and I couldn't talk because I was playing, I'd have jumped left and out."
"While you were still playing, I thought you wanted to carry on."
"I did. But I wouldn't have, but for you."
"Why are we doing this, Julia? That ordeal was real, and dangerous."
"Because we can, Tom? Or because we can do this together? You helped me this time. Maybe I'll help you with the next one."
"So we'll go on?"
"Yes, Tom. We can always jump left if we have to."
"How hard will we try before giving up?"
"If we're going to do this, we should do it properly. I won't give up until you do, Tom."
"And I won't give up unless you do."
"Then were committed. To these ordeals..." Julia paused to look closely at me.
"I know," I said. "We're not just committed to these ordeals. We have just committed ourselves to each other."
We kissed. Not the peck on the cheek I'd had earlier but a full mouth to mouth long and satisfying kiss. We were reluctant to stop. Eventually we broke contact, breathless.
"Ready?" Julia asked.
"Ready," I replied.
We opened the door.
The light dimmed. The next notice lit up.
"Ordeal by Water. Play The Magic Flute continuously, be brave, walk forward steadily and you will endure. To end the ordeal, step leftwards and go through the curtain."
Disaster! Julia slipped on the wet walkway as the lights dimmed. The recorder squawked once. She nearly dropped it. As she put it back to her mouth water poured on to us from above. It was like being under a waterfall. Julia spluttered and bent forwards dropping the recorder. I reached around her and picked it up. It was soaking wet.
Julia held her body above me, breaking the force of the waterfall as I shook the water out of the recorder. I started to play as loud as I could. The water from above lessened but continued to pour to our right. I played the recorder. I don't know what I played. I must have remembered some of the basic tunes from the village infants' school. I shuffled forwards on my knees while Julia's body protected me and the recorder from the deluge.
Even as I continued to play I thought that Julia would be a great contestant in a wet T-shirt contest. Her soaked dress showed that she had nothing on underneath it. Her nipples were erect and sometimes brushing against me. My heart certainly wasn't pure. I was thinking about Julia's body too much.
As we left the water ordeal I was out of breath. I had been concentrating hard on playing that recorder despite being distracted by Julia's revealing dress. I sprawled on the floor as Julia tried to dry her dress.
"Fuck it!" she said.
She stripped her dress off, twisted it and wrung it out.
"What are you looking at, Tom?" she giggled.
"You, of course. You look great."
"What? Even soaking wet, with bedraggled hair?"
I stood up.
"This is serious, Julia. I didn't expect The Magic Flute to be so realistic. Are you sure we want to go on?"
"Of course, Tom," Julia said as she put her dress back on, smoothing it down as it clung to her. "Air must be the easiest and we are two-thirds of the way through. Perhaps the Air ordeal will dry me out. If not? You'll have to go to my house and get me a change of clothing. I'm not walking across the village like this."
"You'd stop the fete in its tracks."
"I would, wouldn't I? The village gossips would talk for months about it -- and blame you."
"If we are going on, I need to do something first."
Julia looked puzzled.
"What are you on about, Tom?"
I dropped to my knees.
"Julia, will you marry me?"
"Julia. Will you marry me -- please?"
She grabbed my head and held it to her wet body.
"Yes." She whispered.
"What did you say?"
I knew exactly what she had said.
"Yes!" She shouted. She pulled me up and we kissed.
"Thank you," I managed to say when our lips broke contact briefly.
"Let's get this last ordeal over with," Julia said. "I don't care what it is like. I can face anything now, with you beside me."
"Even the village gossips?"
"Even them. We could strip off and walk through the village naked, together. Fuck them."
We kissed again.
Julia took the recorder out of my hand.
We walked through the last door with my arms around Julia's wet waist.
We expected the notice.
"Ordeal by Air. Play The Magic Flute continuously, be brave, walk forward steadily and you will endure. To end the ordeal, step leftwards and go through the curtain."
We were hit by a blast of wind like a hurricane. We were in a wind tunnel at full throttle. There was no way that Julia could play the recorder in that. Our clothes were flapping painfully against us. She was lurching sideways but the wind was more ahead of us than to the right.
I lifted Julia off her feet and held her under my crouched body as I stumbled through the ordeal. I crashed through the end door and we ended in a heap on the floor. I barely heard the triumphal music playing because I was still deafened by the wind tunnel.
"I was wrong," Julia spluttered as she got her breath back. "That was the worst of the three."
"But we've done it."
"So have you, Tom. You proposed. Remember?"
"Of course I remember. You don't think I'd forget that. I remember that you accepted me."
"I did. No regrets, Tom?"
"No regrets, Julia. I should have proposed months ago."
"That's what Mrs Jones suggested when I dropped my prizes off. She asked when we're getting married."
"I suppose all the village gossips have been expecting it?"
"Fuck them, Tom. What we want is all that matters."
"I think we have won the prize that is really important -- our future together."
Double doors opened in front of us as we staggered to our feet. We felt and looked bedraggled and windswept. The operator came towards us, smiling broadly. He shook our hands.
"Well done," he said. "You succeeded. Come and meet the team."
We walked into a small TV studio. We sat down on a plush settee among smiling well-dressed people, acutely conscious of the TV cameras. Julia tried to pull her hair into order.
"Don't worry about how you look," the obvious boss said. "This will never be broadcast. I'm Bob, the director. Have some tea and I'll explain what The Magic Flute is about."
He introduced us to the team. We settled back as the operator, we now knew was Ralph, handed us cups of tea.
"The Magic Flute was going to be a pilot for a TV game show. Our intention was to have engaged couples competing for prizes and the twist was that they didn't know that they were in a game show at all. They would enter a fun fair ride and if they got to the end, they would have won, not knowing that they were competing."
Helen the game show commentator continued.
"The idea was sound. The set-up was flawed. Too few people knew the plot of The Magic Flute. We had spent a lot on the equipment before audience surveys showed that using an opera would lose too many viewers. We decided to take the ride around village events to fine-tune the game before spending more money.
But even that wasn't a success. We had made the ordeals too difficult for people who apparently had little incentive to continue..."
"Why did you continue?" Bob interrupted.
We both started to answer. I let Julia do the talking.
"What started us off was the idea that the competition was for couples. Were we a couple, or weren't we? We had been avoiding that decision for months. Were we girlfriend and boyfriend, or just 'friends'? When Tom needed a partner for The Magic Flute he decided that he wanted me."
I tried to interrupt. Julia squeezed my hand and kept talking.
"That decision wasn't about me being his partner for The Magic Flute. That was about us being partners, period. So we entered the ride having just committed ourselves to each other. The Magic Flute would be the first thing we would do together. That was our incentive."
Bob and the others were nodding.
"During the Fire sequence, Tom tried to protect me, and afterwards we knew that we had continued because neither of us would let the other down. That reinforced our recently stated commitment."
I jumped in.
"Through the waterfall, Julia protected me so that I could play the recorder. She then stripped. Did you see that?"
"Sorry, Tom. Sorry Julia. Everything was recorded on multiple high definition cameras in stereo sound."
"Even his proposal," Bob added. "Sorry Tom. If you want to back out, you can't. It's on record."
"Back out?" I snorted. "Of course not. I'm delighted Julia accepted me."
Julia hugged me.
"And I want him."
"We rather thought you did," Bob said. "which brings me on to more about the proposed show."
"Did anyone else succeed?" Julia interrupted.
"No. You two are the only ones who made it through. The only ones who even got past Fire. Everyone else cut their losses after a couple of steps. Why should they risk something so dangerous when they had no idea whether the potential reward was worth the risk?"
"But we were not competing for an unknown prize, Bob," I said. "We were competing to show our commitment to each other."
"Yes, Tom, and that incentive made you two the most determined, and the only successful contestants. We, that is this team, have to rethink the balance between risk and reward. As it is, we obviously had it wrong. Or perhaps not. What we had wrong was making the reward unknown, or potentially not worth trying for."
"You haven't asked what you've won," Helen said.
"We thought you'd tell us -- eventually," Julia replied.
"I've won Julia," I said. "Whatever else we've won can't match that."
"He's right," Julia said, "we are now engaged. That's more important than any prize."
"I can see that," Bob said. "Congratulations. But there are several prizes. The first was to be for all those who completed the three ordeals. It was to be fifty pounds each for the couple. But we allowed for several couples to win over the summer, and only you two have. So you've scooped the lot. That is two thousand pounds each with no conditions attached..."
"Thank you very much," Julia said. "That could pay for our wedding."
Helen looked startled. Julia looked at her and repeated.
"That could, no probably would, pay for our wedding."
"How?" Helen couldn't resist asking. "Most weddings cost far more than that."
"Maybe," I answered, "but we are villagers. Any wedding is a community event and the village comes together. If we follow the local traditions..."
I looked at Julia to confirm what I thought. She nodded.
"...we'll be married in the Parish Church over there. The music will be played on the church's organ by one of our relations. The bride's dress..."
"...will be an heirloom passed down in the bride's family," Julia added, "and the bridesmaids' dresses too. If they need adapting, the families have the skills."
"I get the message," said Bob. "But I have something to ask you two. We are still trying to get a contest as a programme. We would like to use you and your progress through The Magic Flute..."
"...NOT me nude!" Julia protested.
"Of course not. We'll edit that out. What I was going to say is that we want to use the video to recruit sponsors. We would like to record your wedding too. Would that be possible?"
Julia looked at me.
"We would need to consider that -- together. After all, we only got engaged a few minutes ago."
"We would like to know before we leave the village this evening. Is that long enough?"
"Maybe," Julia replied. "Can we go home and change first? My dress is still damp in places and I look a fright."
"Yes, Julia, of course you can go and change. We're leaving about eight this evening. Can you two tell us whether recording your wedding is yes, no or at least maybe by then?"
"Probably. Tom and I need to talk. What's the time now?"