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<<Dance with Me>>

"Dancing is forbidden on the Sabbath," said Brian, reading from the guidebook. He stood, in the warmth of the summer evening, amidst the blue meadow cranesbills and the creamy-white meadow-sweet. Their almond scent loaded the air so that it seemed drenched with sweetness.

Joe looked over the hedge at the field beyond. There was a group of standing stones, crude, rough-hewn slabs of limestone in a circle. They were grey and lichen-stained. Apart from that, the field was empty. No flowers grew; no birds sang. Just rank weeds and rye grass amidst the stones.

"Is today the Sabbath?" asked Joe, easing his back pack off a sore place on his shoulder. He and Brian had been hiking and camping for a week in the Cotswolds and, while lots of it had been fun, the days had merged imperceptibly with each other so that Monday, Tuesday etc had become indistinguishable though 'the day the tent was trampled on by a cow', 'the night it had rained torrents and got into their sleeping-bags' and the day Brian had nearly lost his left boot in a peat bog' stood out clearly enough.

"Depends if you're Jewish," said Brian. "In which case it would be Saturday. Or Christian, Sunday of course."

"What if I'm neither?" said Joe, more for the sake of carrying on the conversation than out of interest. He wanted more than anything to get into the next village, find a decent Bed and Breakfast, have a good meal and then sink into a soft, soft bed, preferably with Brian, to make gentle love until they both fell asleep. Sex in a sleeping-bag where there always seems to be a sharp stone in an inconvenient place, loses its charm after a while - however bright the stars are overhead and balmy the night air.

"If you're a witch, there are four Greater Sabbats - Candlemas (2nd February), May Eve (30th April), Lammas (1st August), Halloween (31st October). Then there are the Lesser Sabbats which are the two equinoxes (spring and autumn) and the two solstices (summer and winter)."

"How do you know all this?" asked Joe.

Brian waved the guidebook in the air, disturbing some gnats which were making a halo round his hair. "It's all here... Now ask me what it's got to do with those lumps of rock over there." He waved disparagingly at the stone circle, which did its best to ignore him - and succeeded.

"What's it got to do . . . ." began Joe obediently.

"Ah! Thought you;d never ask. Well, according to legend, they were once twelve maidens who were persuaded by the Devil to break the Sabbath and dance. The Devil always has the best tunes, you know. They started on Saturday night - which was OK, of course - but as midnight approached, when they should have stopped, the Devil played on his violin faster and faster . . . "

" . . . sort of Paganini," said Joe.

"Yes, whatever, and Bingo! As the church clock struck midnight they were turned into stone - and there they remained ever since." He paused and stared critically. "They're not very comely wenches, sort of a bit over-weight. Oh and it says you can't count them. Most of the time they're twelve but occasionally there are thirteen because the Devil himself comes back from time to time to join them."

"What a load of rubbish!" Joe shrugged off his pack and dumped it on the ground next to him. "I bet you I can count up to twelve." He walked down the lane to where a wooden stile gave access.

Once in the field he walked between two of the stones into the circle. Near to, they were even bigger than they had seemed before, and closer together, crowding. Each must have been at least two metres high and most were a metre wide - at least at the broadest part. There was a silence all around as if the air was static, imprisoned between the limestone bars of a cage.

"They were big girls," he remarked to Brian who had joined him. They stood in the middle of the circle but once there realised that it was hardly a true circle. The stones were scattered, some behind each other so that it was difficult to count all of them from one particular position. Added to that the sun was low behind a bank of clouds towards the west and the air was grey and crepuscular with a thin mist weaving tendrils across the grass and the furthest stones were almost invisible in the half light.

"Perhaps that's what it means," said Joe. "You can't count them from one particular spot."

"Tell you what," said Brian. "I'll stand here and you go round counting." He stood with his back against a stone, his arms spread wide, almost as if he was crucified against it. The sun came out briefly from behind the clouds and lit up his blond hair, his white T-shirt, a smile that was so devilishly attractive that it could persuade Joe into doing absolutely anything. "But kiss me before you go."

"Go?" said Joe, looking mystified. "I'm only walking around the ring."

"Kiss me," said Brian and there was an urgency in his tone that made Joe look at him intently. He saw the smile, the eyebrows raised quizzically, the lock of blond hair that always flopped uncontrollably over his forehead, now dyed a coppery orange by the touch of the setting sun.

Joe brushed the waiting lips with his. "A proper kiss," demanded Brian and took him in his arms. His lips, soft and inviting, pressed like a contract against his and then opened to allow his agile tongue to enter Joe's mouth, to find and embrace Joe;s tongue, to play up his hormones and arouse his prick so that their erections pressed hard against each other. Joe felt his emotions surge. This was his love, his life, his all. He had never felt like this about anyone else before - and was sure he never would again. The kiss seemed to go on for ever. The world turned but here it stayed still.

Suddenly Brian released him and Joe gasped as if he had been spurned.

"Off you go," said Brian, "and count each one as you pass it."

Joe stepped forward leaving Brian still with his back to the stone. He reached the next one, touched it lightly with his fingertips, feeling the hard, cool surface, the grain. "One," he said and went on. "Two . . . Three . . . Four . . . Five . . . Six. That should be half way and he turned to look across at Brian - but already it was too dark to see him. Even the next and the last stones were just vague blurs in the greyness all around.

"Seven . . . Eight . . . Nine . . . Ten . . . Eleven. . . " Brian should be at the next stone but there was no one there. Joe ran, touching the next one desperately. "Twelve!" and then he saw Brian, a lighter blur against the darker. "Thirteen," he said and touched his lover's chest.

"So the Devil is with us tonight," said Brian and smiled, his teeth showing whiter in the dusk.

Joe felt a sudden feeling of apprehension. "How many stones are there supposed to be?" It was all nonsense of course but . . .

"Twelve," said Brian, smiling his impish grin.

Joe felt a primeval fear twist in the pit of his stomach, the darkness, the unknown, the stones, towering around, huge, implacable - and, suddenly. too many.

Brian laughed delightedly and Joe suddenly understood. "You bastard," he said. "You moved on one place, didn't you?"

"Had you going for a minute!"

Joe felt a momentary spurt of anger, had a sudden urge to hit Brian, sublimated it into an embrace which practically cracked Brian's ribs.

"Ouch," he said, then put his arms round Joe. "Dance with me."

"What for?"

"Just to prove that the whole thing is nonsense."

"Of course it's nonsense. The legend or whatever must have been invented in the 17th Century, when the Puritans were around. Those who were against dancing and singing and pictures and things. In the Old testament it was considered a good thing to dance as part of a religious ceremony. Didn't King David dance before the Lord?"

"So . . ."

"But the stones are prehistoric. Must have been here for thousands of years."

"Dance with me then. . ."

Joe felt the same strange sense of apprehension he had felt before. It was quite dark now and the stars pricked into view, one by one. Directly opposite where the sun had gone down a pale moon appeared, gibbous and bloated.

"It's not the Sabbath. I've worked it out. It's Friday."

"It's August 1st," said Brian - almost triumphantly. "Lammas tide. The witches' Greater Sabbat." For the third time he asked, "Dance with me."

Joe couldn't understand why he was so reluctant. The warmth had gone from the evening as if it had been sucked away. He wanted to go to the Bed and Breakfast. Brian's smile danced before him. It was both seductive and yet in a way, cruel. He had thought he would never be able to refuse Brian anything and yet he wanted more than anything to be away from this place. Three times he had asked and three times been refused.

Suddenly Brian whirled away. "I'll dance on my own," he said. Sinuously, provocatively he began to dance, his hips, his body snaking to a tune and a cadence which Joe could not hear, a rhythm of Brian's own making. His arms and hands wove patterns in the air and his feet tapped out the beat. At first Joe was tempted to laugh but Brian's expression made it clear that he was perfectly serious about it. The dance grew quicker. Brian turned in circles getting further and further away from Joe until the only thing that distinguished him from the stones was his motion. And then even that seemed to translate itself for, as Joe stared into the darkness, the stones themselves whirled into a vertiginous dance of their own.

Suddenly nauseated, Joe clutched onto the stone behind him, closed his eyes and felt the world settle around him. He took a deep breath and peered into the circle now lit by the moonlight.

"Brian," he called but nothing moved. He felt anxiety in the pit of his stomach again.

"Brian, don't be a shit."

Joe took a step forward, Only the stones surrounded him, bleak, almost threatening - and surely too many. He felt an inrresistible urge to count them but knew he could not from a single static position. He took his handkerchief from his pocket and laid it on the stone behind him, making it secure in a crevice.

He started out, touching each stone as he passed with finger tips that crawled at the contact.

"One . . . Two . . . Three . . ."

The night around him watched him with a billion billion sightless eyes. The uncountable ages of the stones from which the circle had been built pressed on him with their billions and billions of accumulated years.

"Six . . . Seven . . . Eight . . . "

Evil and good with their separate and fallible interpretations, their myths and legends, whispered their truths and lies in his ears. The silence shrieked; the stars flared. Blindly, he reached for the next stone and the next.

"Twelve."

Where was the handkerchief? It should be glimmering softly in the darkness.

"Thirteen."

And there it was. The marker announcing the last stone.

"Fourteen."
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