Dom waited in the wings of the village hall stage. He had been to grander affairs, but he had been delighted to accept the invitation from this remote settlement – it only seemed fitting: the hamlet was not unlike the setting for his film. He had been feted at Cannes, had wowed them at London’s Fright Fest. His latest picture was scooping up awards like a ravenous demon harvesting souls. And, while it may not be the most glamorous occasion, somehow this unknown, unremarkable accolade touched him more deeply than the newly-announced BAFTA nomination.
He could hear the hall filling up. There was a buzz of conversation and the air fairly prickled with anticipation. Dom’s palms were sweating. He wiped them on his trousers. The last thing he wanted was to give the local mayor or whoever a damp handshake or, God forbid, for the trophy to slip from his grasp and shatter on the floor.
Applause crackled into life as the host of the event strode on from the opposite side of the stage and greeted the audience. There was a squeal of feedback from the rudimentary p.a. system. Dom winced. It was cringeworthy – he wouldn’t bother posting updates of the event on Instagram. Perhaps it would be better for his burgeoning reputation if no one knew about this backwater beano.
He realised he hadn’t been listening to the undoubtedly fulsome introduction. His name was being called. The host was beckoning him onto the stage. The applause redoubled in volume.
Dom, his throat suddenly dry, stepped out, waving cheerily. Spotlights glared, causing him to squint. Dazzled, he reached the podium. The host shook him by the hand and bade him welcome.
The audience settled. Dom coughed.
“Thank you. Thank you for that brilliant reception,” he smiled at the crowd, although he couldn’t see them. “It’s gratifying to find recognition for one’s work, wherever it may be. Let me tell you, the sun-drenched beaches of the South of France pale in comparison with the picturesque greenery you have around here.”
He paused. No one clapped.
“And it thrills me to my core,” Dom continued, “to know that my little project is earning the respect of the industry, the fans of the genre, and most importantly, the general film-going public. Good people, like you.”
He paused again. Still no one clapped.
“Let’s cut the bullshit, shall we?” said the host. He made a gesture and the spotlights snapped off and were replaced by the houselights. Dom’s eyes widened when he saw that every member of the audience was wearing a cowl.
“Your film,” sneered the host, “has caused us quite a lot of bother in these parts. Folk snooping around, sticking their noses in our business.”
“What?” Dom blinked away the sweat that was pouring into his eyes. “The village in my film is not real. It’s fictitious. I made it up.”
“Oh, it’s made up, is it?” the host snarled. “And I suppose the ritual you show in such vivid detail is a child of your imagination as well, is it?”
“Well, yes. Yes, it is.”
“And yet you depict our customs with documentary accuracy.”
“What? What is this? What customs?”
“Mr Bland, your film, The Meating, contains graphic scenes of ritualistic sacrifice, where the Chosen One is stripped of flesh while still alive. Attendants at the rite then partake of the flesh in the belief that the Chosen One’s attributes will become their own.”
Dom blanched. He was suddenly aware of the long and curvy blade in the host’s hand. He backed away only to be prevented from escape by a brace of burly stagehands, each with a knife of his own.
“This is crazy! It was just a film! What, do you all want to become film directors, is that it? You think by eating me alive you’ll all win an Academy Award?”
“Oh, no,” smiled the host. “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”
He made another gesture and a table was wheeled on. Strapped to it was a figure Dom recognised.
“You arsehole!” Dom’s wife wrestled against her bonds. “I told you not to credit me with the screenplay.”
The host handed Dom the long and curvy blade.
“Afterwards, when it’s done, we’d all like you to take a look at some scripts we’ve been working on.”
Dom looked across the crowd. Every person clutched a manuscript; every eye had an expectant look. There must be over a hundred of them. But perhaps one, just one, would show promise… After all, the whole world was waiting for Dominic Bland’s next project…
His fingers tightened around the handle.