The hooded figures formed two lines like a funnel and pushed the art patrons toward a small opening in the black fabric walls. No one knew it was because of Ben. Melody still held his hand, but looser. A pungent smell of stress and sweat strengthens as everyone pushed together.
“What’s going to happen?” Melody asked.
“I don’t know, but we’re about to find out,” Ben said.
Everyone walked with an awkward shuffle, which struck Ben. He never thought of art patrons losing their confidence. One man had spent the night striding to each painting with purpose. That man now slumped and shuffled with the rest. The energy from the Artist Apprentices could have charged a local thunderstorm.
“Welcome my friends to The Exhibit,” One of the hooded figures said, “we thank all of you for your patronage and ask that you remain quiet and respectful while in the viewing areas.”
A hallway glowed to life in a dull red light from LED strips on the ground. Strange shadows formed on the hooded figure in front of the pathway. Ben squeezed Melody’s hand a little tighter. This doesn’t feel right. Ben knew that none of it was right. The sense of dread from the mysterious hallway made him want to jump through the windows.
The man unclipped the rope from the stanchion pole. A red stream of blood trickled down the white rope. Melody tugged on Ben’s arm and gave him a stern look.
“Time to tell me why they called you out,” Melody said.
Ben wanted to fight her and tell her not to worry, but Melody wouldn’t listen past her anger. Ben checked for anyone too close before he told Melody about the terrors of the previous year. The greatest benefit of Melody’s out-of-state status disappeared as she pulled her hand out of Ben’s and stepped away.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Melody asked.
Ben stammered. The anger in her eyes made Ben feel guilty. I never wanted to tell her. He wouldn’t tell her that the therapist recommended confiding in Melody. The desire to tell Melody everything loomed over his mind like a vulture waiting for its prey to die. The last dive for food came when least expected, though.
“I thought you would leave me,” Ben said.
Tears on Melody’s cheeks reflected the red lights. The crowd pushed the flow forward. A red glow encircled a darkened stage ahead. Within the ring, two figures sat, but one looked strange. Melody pushed towards the other end of the crowd, and worried strangers closed the gaps behind her before Ben could give chase. The crushing reality set Ben in his place.