Key’s Cupboard: Belshazzar’s Feast

Key's Cupboard

I – Beforehand

“Will you come with me to Belshazzar’s feast?” asked Agnetha.

“I didn’t know you’d been invited. I’ll have to ask Björn,” said Benny.

Benny strode off into the mountains to find Björn. Agnetha stayed at the hotel, sipping her alcohol-free absinthe. Wild winds were howling and storm clouds gathered.

Benny found Björn sheltering in a declivity. He was burning charcoal.

“Agnetha wants me to go with her to Belshazzar’s feast,” said Benny, after tipping his hat to Björn in greeting, “What do you think?”

“The gods may throw a dice,” said Björn, “Their minds as cold as ice.” He stared off into the mist-enshrouded distance, towards the fireworks factory and the abandoned tennis courts.

“I shall reflect on what you have said and come to a decision, then,” said Benny, “Thank you.”

On the way back to the hotel, Benny was accosted on the mountain path by Anni-Frid. She was dressed like a gaucho and looked as if she had been weeping.

“Anni-Frid, whatever is the matter?” asked Benny.

Anni-Frid dabbed at her tears with a paper napkin from the hotel. Her upper lip curled in a sneer. Discomfited by her silence, Benny began to gabble.

“Agnetha asked me to accompany her to Belshazzar’s feast,” he said, “And I asked Björn for his advice. He is up there in a declivity burning charcoal.”

“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,” said Anni-Frid, and she pranced away into the mist.

II – Afterwards

Returning from Belshazzar’s feast, Agnetha and Benny grew increasingly despondent, and by the time they reached the hotel both of them were staggering under the oppressive weight of grim Scandinavian misery.

“If Fernando were here,” groaned Benny, “He would brighten things up. He could draw sunbeams from a cucumber.”

“You forget that Fernando is but a fictional character in a songlet, Benny,” snapped Agnetha. Tears were rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh,” said Benny, staring out of the hotel window. He saw Anni-Frid flit past, like a phantom. Agnetha was beating her fists upon a piece of pine furniture.

“At least here there is no mysterious writing upon the wall, as there was at the feast,” added Benny, trying to open a crack in the gloom.

All of a sudden Björn came striding manfully into the hotel lobby. His hair and beard and face and clothing were blackened from the charcoal he had been burning.

“I am looking for Anni-Frid,” he said, “Have you seen her?”

“No,” said Benny, lying through his teeth. But had he really seen her? Or were his eyes playing tricks on him again, as they had in Uppsala?

“Check the abandoned cow byre,” said Agnetha, “She went there earlier to clean her rifle.”

“Since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in her hand,” said Björn. He dashed outside into the mist that engulfed the hotel grounds.

Agnetha and Benny slumped in the lobby armchairs, expecting to hear a rifle shot in the distance. But none came. The only sound was the whirring of the fan above their heads and, outside, the strange raucous cries of such Scandinavian birds as had not flown south for the winter.

“Anyway, how would Fernando draw sunbeams from a cucumber?” asked Agnetha, eventually.

But Benny had fallen asleep, lost in dreams of Belshazzar.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

4 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard: Belshazzar’s Feast

  1. Worm
    September 24, 2010 at 09:13

    The writing’s on the wall for this lot. Their art has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It would seem that their days are numbered…

    September 24, 2010 at 10:17

    When the Romans departed, way back when, their actions plunged the country back into darkness, taking many years to regain its lost civility. When Abba arrived their actions had the same effect upon British popular music.
    Sweden ain’t a country, it’s an epidemic.

  3. Brit
    September 24, 2010 at 10:28

    Apparently that’s a common mistake with these tales, Malty. Frank has pointed out here that any resemblance to Abba is purely coincidental; the protagonists just happen to have the same Christian names.

    He has also clarified for me that, contra my Twitter on the subject (I hate Twitter by the way), these bleak little Scandinavian melodramas are not allegorical, but simple factual reportage.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:49

    Ah, that four, not the second four but the first four, the four in the first post.

    The Dabbler, the first for confusion.

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