Being the creator of the challenge, one would think that I would have had an easy time of finishing the tale I began. One would be wrong in this thought....
Why someone didn't tell me I would not be able to rattle this one off as a gimme, I don't know. Ideas flowed like wine at Baptist wedding, which is to say, they did not flow at all. Once again, when pressed to write, I was stuck. Nothing seemed to fit, nothing seemed to be quite right, until I just gave in to the wee small voices in my head that so often turn my sunny disposition into partly cloudy output.
Forthwith, then, my completion of the Wordsmiths January Pan-Holiday Extravaganzapallooza Challenge.
The text prior to the picture is what was provided as a start. We, the writers, were to offer up another 500 words (or less!) to finish this ambiguous beginning. My offering is below the picture.
A loud rapping at the door awoke me from a deep dreamy sleep. It was early, too early to be awake, and certainly too early to be out in the streets pounding on doors. I thought that there must be some emergency in town and ran to the door to find out whatever news there was from whoever was there. Much to my surprise, there was no-one at the door ready to identify themselves and their message, and yet a package with my name on it had been left at the door. It was a most curious circumstance, and yet I saw no real harm in it, because secret gift giving was the hallmark of the holiday season. I myself had delivered many a gift in that manner over the years. The package was heavier than it should have been from its size, and once I had it indoors I eagerly opened it to find out what it was and who had sent it. Alas, there was no identification of the giver, and more's the pity because what was inside was a most remarkable carved wood box, worked with figures of animals and dragons all over, in a magnificent shade of red. Whoever sent it to me must have been a prankster, though, because I could see no way into the box, no clasp or lock announced itself, no hinge or platen presented itself as a means to the inside. I was locked out, and most frustrated by this unfortunate turn of events.
Through the rising morning I tried every clever attempt my confused brain could muster to try to gain entry into the mysterious box, but to no avail. My patience wore thin by the time dhuhr was called, and so it was after prayers that I found myself at the doorway of Selnot, the mage.
Selnot was known in our quarter for insight and trickery as well as wisdom in the ways of nature and the mind of men. He was the only one I knew of who might have seen this type of nefarious puzzle before, and so I braved the thugs and filth of that narrow alley to gain what wisdom I could as to the gift's workings.
His rooms smelled of cinnamon and cloves; the air was heavy and cloudy with the smoke of the hookah and incense. A proper mage's den, and Selnot did not disappoint in his appearance, with long robes worked in stars and suns and moons, a long silver beard tipped in red, his charcoal gray eyes smouldering with hungry anticipation at the sight of the box in my shaking hands.
"Ah, you are home at last," Selnot wheezed.
What he meant by this I was soon to find out, and would never forget. Selnot offered me a cushion and the pipe, which I took at his insistence as necessary. One puff of smoke and my anxiety softened, I felt glazed over with limp anticipation. Selnot, seeing the change in my state, began a low moaning song and started stroking the box as though it were a lover. My head grew hot, the box seemed to glow and hum, Selnot's song flooded my thoughts with swirling images of fire and water dancing entwined.
Suddenly, Selnot's intoxicating incantations ceased. A vicious chill swept up my spine; I felt a surge of energy burst forth from my forehead. The shock was tremendous. I recoiled as the box flew open with a blast of intense light and a tremendous shrieking yowl. A spear of heat pierced me between the eyes and knocked me nearly senseless. I couldn't move, save to open my eyes.
How I wish I had not opened them at all, for Selnot was surrounded by a roaring vortex of fire that whipped his robes and beard. The sight was horrific and mezmerizing, yet I could not look away. Selnot shouted praise to a god I did not know in a great and terrible voice. He seemed to scintillate, then shrank to an intense spot of light that disappeared into the box with the fiery maelstrom.
The box slammed shut, there was silence, and I lost all grip on reality.
When at last I came to my senses, the call to 'Isha had just faded, yet I felt no need to kneel. I stood, and the heavy robes of Selnot swirled about my feet and wrists as ancient secrets began to fill my head.
Thus the gift was given, and thus it was received.