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Danse Macabre

Written by Dhanyashree Hegde


Illustrated by S. K. Deeraj

I wake up feeling an odd sense of accomplishment. Like a session of indulgence in an insatiable craving. Rubbing my eyes as I sit up, I find the chamber empty. I stumble across the room looking for my family and step into the antechamber then out into the street. 


In the distance, a multitude of people are whirling to what seems like non-existent festive music. Dazzled by the scene, I stand there staring, feeling an increasing desire to join in. And from the looks of it, everyone around me does too. I watch hands twitch in anticipation, as if awaiting only a hint of an invitation to step in. As the crowd comes closer, I spot not only humans-their neatly worn tunics of vivid shades of blue and grey in  disarray from the dancing-but also numerous lanky figures swaying amidst them. Skeletons. Chills run through me as I watch the ivory frameworks of life moving in sync with corporal beings. Some of them have fissures on their sternum, a missing rib or two, decay evident from their brown speckles, while others sport festered crevices. A few appear ready to crumble under the touch of a feather. Although my skin crawls, I can't help but gaze at them.


A familiar-looking clerk is the first to join in. Eyes brimming with inebriation as he takes the outstretched hand of a skeleton walking into the welcoming circle of dancers. For a brief moment, a picture of his ink-stained hand as a cadaver, rotting and infested with maggots, flashes across my vision. Alarmed, I look away, towards the people around me.


I watch as my family scatters about, each in their own direction, yet drifting along with the crowd, arms locked with the bony creatures. Although all that's visible is an array of gaping cavities, I can imagine them looking down upon us with twisted sinister smiles. Anxious, I start towards my mother but am yanked back by bones. I have the urge to snap them, to stare at the jagged edges and the jarring perforations in them. It seems futile though, like everything else does, and pales with my rising desire to dance. I spin along, humming to myself a tune that sounds otherworldly. Strange. I could almost perceive music from lutes and tambourines cheerfully accompanying our little malady.  


The frenzy accumulates masses as it goes on. From afar, I catch sight of jewels glinting in the light; the emperor's crown. He appears intoxicated with fascination. At the same time, people at the edges of the crowd look nauseated with fright. Unwillingly but inevitably being dragged into the tangle of limbs. 


It seems that no one is spared.


I dance amidst the mob, my feet moving of their own accord, finding a strange sense of solace in the presence of the skeleton. Like a desolate man might feel watching his fireplace burn. We pass by a rosarium, stepping along a path enveloped by brilliant roses. Giggles erupt from me as I watch midnight black seep into them. 


The skeleton twirls me and lets go for a beat or two. The haze of pleasure dissolves into obsidian trails of claustrophobia. Suddenly, I want to get away, away from the crowd , away from the despair. I feel hollow on the inside. I hate how it felt so familiar, almost a sense of Déjà Vu. 


We arrive in front of a church. The edifice towering over us looks shrouded in dust, as opposed to its usual pristine sanctity. In the distance I notice the Pope stop in his tracks, a note of longing flashing across his face before he is whisked away, back into the crowd. 


We approach the sepulchre, it seems so alluring with all its eerie colours. I hear peals of laughter echoing across the steadily darkening sky. Children, unaware of the grief surrounding the setting, squeal in delight as they skip along. We dance our way through the gates, weaving through tombstones. As we tread past, I catch sight of words sprawled across them. 

"Benedict age 8 "

"Isabel age 47"

"Celestina age ….". The words seem to blend into the faded grey . Nevertheless, the name is familiar. Like it was calling out to me. Was it… me ? I turn to find the skeleton close enough to kiss me, our fingers intertwined. The ecstatic haze returns and I feel a steady pull downwards. A slow, but steady fractal of pain grows through me as I step back, only for my foot to fall right through the assumed ground. Suddenly, I understood the worry and fright that marred everyone else's faces. Something isn't right. I’m ripped away from the comfort as I fall into an endless abyss. 


I sit up with a gasp. An erratic beeping that sounds suspiciously similar to an EKG machine rings through my ears. Disoriented, it takes me a moment to calm myself before hopelessness crashes into me in waves. I shut my eyes desperately wanting to push away the haunting image of crimson rivulets flowing from my wrist; winding about my fingers before dripping to the ground. Oddly, it sounds like music. 


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