Dance Macabre

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 08, 2019

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Submitted: November 08, 2019

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DANCE MACABRE

 

1879


 

EL PUEBLO DE NUESTRA SENORA LA REINA DE LOS ANGELES

 

Her baby cried as she paced with him in her arms. The floor vibrated in time to the honky-tonk piano coming from downstairs. The place was full of Indians, Mexicanos, Chinamen and dissolute Angelenos with just enough money to throw around on women and whiskey. Sometimes, the would gamble, if the White men with guns, the Rifleros, let them join the table. Usually, the did, because the Indians and Chinese got so drunk, they were easy to cheat out of their meager coins: money earned by breaking their backs in the fields and houses of the “Gente de Razon;” Spaniards who could trace their lineage in Spain for a thousand years.

It was time to go to work, but where was Jessie? She couldn’t leave the child alone and crying. Shhh, my son, my Angel. Mama has to work but I’ll be back soon.” As she lay the baby down on the bed, he started to scream. She was sweating in the airless room. “Dios! How did my life turn to shit?”

Isabel Hidalgo had been born on a Rancho which had been granted to her family by the Spanish crown over one hundred years before. She was named for a queen of Spain and had been as gently reared as any royalty. Life on the Rancho had been idyllic and sweet until the day she fell in love with a vaquero with golden eyes and a white horse. “Ah, yes,” she thought. The hero on his steed had come to rescue the fair maiden from a life of ease and plenty, only to leave her pregnant and tossed from her father’s house like so much garbage. She remembered how her beloved father had grabbed her and shaken her until her head ached. Then, he had slapped her face; he had never laid a violent hand on her before. Never. He had then practically pulled her arm out of it's socket, throwing her down the front steps of the house, to land in the dust and horse manure of the carriage way in front of their Rancho. Her mother stood by, wringing her hands and crying out, “Ay, Dios mio, Ay Dios mio,” over and over, not even stopping to help her only daughter out of the dirt. Her father took a few silver coins from his pocket and angrily threw them at her. Some hitting her in the face, some in the horse shit. She scrambled to pick them up. The shame of this memory was unbearable and she felt the sting of tears. The only thing left to her was her son, her beautiful Angelito with his dark curls and eyes like his sire’s, the father he would never know. She loved him desperately; he was all she had, now.

Isabel had given birth to Angel right here in this dank room, her only attendant the old Chumash woman, Jessie. Isabel had never experienced such pain as her labor to give birth. She thought she would hate the baby for it.

Just when she felt she would be would be torn in half, Jessie wrested the baby from her body. He gave a soft cry, like a kitten. “Breech,” thought the old woman. “A very bad omen.” Jessie washed the baby, handed him back to Isabel, and showed her how to hold him to get him to suckle. Isabel was instantly smitten with her son. As she nourished her baby boy, she hardly felt Jessie stitching her up where the breech baby had torn her delicate flesh.

Now, Jessie was his caretaker when Isabel had to go downstairs to work: dancing with strangers for a dollar a dance. The dollar went to the house, of course, and Isabel earned a nickel for each dance; extra if she could get the patrons to buy more liquor.

There was a furtive knock on the flimsy door. “Jessie, is that you?” whispered Isabel.

“Yes, Senorita Isabel.” Isabel slid the latch and Jessie let herself in. “What’s wrong with your niño? He’s crying as if he will never see you again.”

“I don’t know, Jessie. He is never like this-- he has been this way all evening.”

“Perhaps, he's getting teeth. You will not want to feed him from your breasts soon.” Jessie winked at Isabel, trying to lighten her mood.

Isabel fussed in the mirror for a moment and wiped the back of her neck with a damp rag. Jesus Cristo, it was sweltering tonight. She appraised her reflection for a moment. Not too bad, she thought. I’m still pretty enough. Unlike the other women, she still felt she was too much of a lady to paint her face up with the garish pinks and reds used by the other dance hall girls. Her own high color and dark, flashing eyes would have to be enough. Her pale blue, silk dress had seen happier days; it was the same one she was wearing when she was cursed and banned from the only home she had ever known. She had had to keep herself corseted throughout her pregnancy to be able to fit into it.

“Go, Isabel,” said Jessie. I will look after your little Angel for you.” The native woman lifted the crying infant off the bed and cradled him against her breast. That seemed to calm him for the moment and Isabel gave him a quick kiss on the top of his black curls, inhaling his sweet scent and hurried out the door.

Downstairs, the tinny piano thumped out a jaunty tune and the smell of alcohol and body odor was overpowering.

Isabel pasted on a smile and made her way to the bar where she would wait to be asked for a dance. She could not bring herself to approach the men the way the others did; twining their arms around the men’s necks and saying, “How ‘bout a dance, Handsome?”

Isabel took her usual place at the end of the long bar and sipped a glass of water tinted with a bit of sarsaparilla make it look as if it were whiskey. Her eyes took in the scene before her: tipsy men groping the girls as they danced and the girls laughing and getting the men to pay up. She shivered, suddenly cold even though the night was scorching. She felt she was being watched, but couldn’t tell where the look was coming from. She scanned the room. She finally saw him at the other end of the bar; the most handsome man she had ever seen. She could see that many of the other women had noticed him, as well, shooting him flirtatious looks as they danced by with their drunken partners. Even with all this attention directed towards him, he still seemed only to have eyes for Isabel. She returned his gaze shyly, as much as she dared. He smiled at her, displaying even, white teeth and sparkling green eyes. He wasn’t like the other men that patronized the dance hall. He was not only handsome, but clean and well-dressed. His formal shirt as white as a cloud. His vest, jacket and pants fit him perfectly and were impeccably tailored. He didn’t seem to be drinking himself into a stupor and he wasn’t dancing, either, even though he had been approached at least a half dozen times in the last minute. He just stood there, smoking a very expensive cigarette and staring at Isabel.

Isabel watched, hypnotized as he made his way towards her, the crowd parting to make way, the women staring jealously and pouting as they watched him as he approached Isabel. The piano and fiddle began a waltz. The stranger approached her and gave a slight bow.

“You are the only woman here that interests me,” he said in a softly accented voice. “May I have a dance?”

Isabel gave a small curtsy. “Si, Senor, of course. The cost is one dollar,” she added, looking down as though embarrassed. The stranger laughed quietly; a slightly grating sound that took Isabel aback for a moment.

“Money is meaningless to me, Isabel.”

“Madre de Dios, how does he know my name?” thought Isabel. “I suppose he could have asked one of the bartenders, but how could he not give a thought to the money; is he wealthy or crazy?”

“We shall dance now, Isabel.”

She tried to demure; somehow the thought of his hands on her was not as attractive as it had been when she first spied him across the room. “Senor, this is not the best time for a dance—perhaps a drink first?” The stranger laughed his rasping sound again, and the hair at her nape stood on end. He snatched her hand, turned and started to walk toward the dance floor and Isabel was pulled along in a grip of iron, unable to resist. His hand was cold, and there was something strange about his gait; was that a limp? As he put an arm around her waist, Isabel could feel his icy touch through her gown. She raised her eyes to his and saw for the first time that his eyes were like chips of black stone: cold and empty. Even in her frantic need to feed her son and keep a roof over their heads, she began to feel fear pooling in her stomach and rising up like gorge in her throat as his hands burned her with their freezing touch. He took a deep breath.

“I can smell your fear, Isabel,” he rasped. “I like it.”

He grasped her more tightly and Isabel felt her feet leave the floor. She gave a small yelp but that was the only sound she could get out. Words failed to form in her brain as all reason gave way to the fear she felt as she met the stranger’s eyes. The pain of his grip was becoming unbearable. She looked around hysterically and saw that although there were others dancing around them, no one seemed to sense anything out of the ordinary—just a very beautiful young woman dancing with an astonishingly handsome man. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to scream, but could not utter a sound as he whirled her crazily around the floor. Her fear was at a fever pitch and the excruciating pain in her body where he touched her ripped all rational thought from her mind.

Isabel felt her feet find the dance floor, but his terrible grip on her did not lessen. He forced her to meet his eyes and said in that rasping, accented voice, “You will follow me. Follow me to Hell.” Suddenly, appallingly, she knew who he was; the only one he could be. Faster and faster, he whirled her on the dance floor until she felt the floor open and a vortex pulled her down. She could not fight anymore, resistance was useless. He laughed and they both vanished from the saloon in fire.

The only thing that remained of their passing was a puff of smoke and the butt of a very expensive cigarette.


 


 


 


 


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