Halloween 2016: Danse Macabre


“Well, that’s taking the Halloween theme to extremes,” Bess muttered as the foghorn-like door chime echoed inside. She was standing on the porch of an old house that looked in dire need of paint. There was an intricately woven spider web angling from the top left corner of the door to the opposite bottom corner. She could see the flicker of orange candlelight through dusty windows. The usual doorbell button had been replaced by a ragged cord. The foghorn sounded when Bess tugged the cord.

She stood on the porch, listening to the wind creak in the boards for a few moments. She shivered, although she wasn’t sure it was just from the chill in the October evening air. She was having second thoughts about accepting Crystal’s invitation to this Halloween party. But Crystal was new at work, and she seemed to have a hard time making friends. Bess thought it would be nice to reach out to her and go to the party. Now, she wasn’t so sure.

Just as she was about to turn around and head back to her car, the door creaked open on hinges in dire need of oil.

“Bess!” Crystal was standing in the doorway, dressed in a long, blood-red slim gown with a black velvet cape over her shoulders. Her hair, usually a dark brown, hung over her shoulders silver-white. Bess made a mental note to ask where she got the dye. She was sure it wasn’t a wig.

“You came! I’m so glad. Come on in. I just mixed up the punch. Oh, don’t worry. It’s non-alcoholic. I know people have to drive. That’s a great costume. Did you buy it or make it?” Crystal kept chattering as she drew Bess inside the house and shut the door. Bess glanced back. She thought she’d heard the lock click but there was no one behind her. Crystal took her arm and led her down the entry and into a large parlor.

The doorway faced a stone fireplace that took up most of the wall. Bess could have stood upright inside it, if not for the roaring fire that was lit. Flames leapt and crackled under the arched mantel, throwing shadows across the stone floor. Candles glowed orange and yellow in groups and singly all around the room. Every windowsill, table, and shelf held as many candles as it could. There were tall candelabra in the corners. A chandelier, black iron with multiple staggered arms was loaded with fat yellow candles. They gave plenty of light, but it wasn’t the clean, still light of electric lamps. It danced and shifted, moving to the rhythm of the flames. Beth found it unsettling for some reason. She shook off the feeling, telling herself it was just the Halloween atmosphere. Crystal drew her farther into the room, and Bess stopped. She turned to the far wall, where a platform was set against the wall. It was raised several inches off the floor and a dark velvet curtain hung over the wall behind it. Tall, thick iron stands stood at each back corner, with round candles that must have been eight or ten inches around on top. The surface of the candles was one large flame, fed by multiple wicks in the candlewax. In the center of the stage was a large chair, with a high back and thick carved arms. The seat and back were covered in a dark tufted material. It reminded Bess of a throne.

Seated there was a man, dressed in a formal suit, with a black bow tie. He wore white gloves on his hands and his shoes were polished to a high gloss. White make-up covered his face and his eyes were outlined in broad bands of black. His lips were black also, and thin, painted on lines made eyebrows. The eyes peering across the room under the black bands glittered, the flickering candlelight dancing there. He wore a top hat, and a silver-handled cane rested against the arm of his chair.

“Uh, who’s that?” Bess realized she was whispering. Crystal glanced across the room, then looked away.

“That’s Old Hobb,” she said. She wasn’t quite whispering, but she didn’t speak out loud, either. “He’s the host of the party.”

“So, this is one of those where no one knows who he is until the end? And then it’s a big surprise, right?”

“Something like that.” Crystal plucked at the corded edge of the cape she wore. “Oh, look! There are the rest of the people from work.” She led Bess to the small group next to the fireplace and left her there.

“Hey, Bess,” a gray mouse said as Bess joined the group.

“Carol? Is that you?” The mouse lifted the white mask hiding her eyes.

“Yes, it’s me. Love the costume. You make a great pirate.”

“Maybe I should commandeer a ship and start pillaging and plundering!” They all laughed, and then the Carol-mouse grew serious again. “This is the weirdest Halloween party I have ever been to.”

Bess shrugged. “I haven’t been to one since I was a kid, so I have no idea. What do you mean?” Carol waved a gray fur paw around the room.

“Well, for one thing, it looks like it’s only girls.”

Bess glanced at the other guests. They did all seem to be female. “So, maybe Crystal wanted to do a girls’ night.”

“Maybe. But if she wanted a theme party, she should have said something.” Bess looked puzzled. “Everyone else seems to be doing some sort of Goth look. We kind of stand out over here.” Again, Bess looked at the other guests. Carol was right. Other than their group- a mouse, a pirate, a witch, and a pumpkin- everyone else was dressed in black or red with stark makeup. It looked like the groups of teenagers that hung out at the mall on weekends.

“And that guy in the chair? Aside from the fact that he’s the only guy, he creeps me out. He’s looking everyone over like cookies in a bakery window.” Carol shivered as the man Crystal called Old Hobb turned his gaze to them. He did look like he was appraising each one of them. And it was kind of creepy.

“Maybe he’s the judge of the costume contest?” Bess said.

“Could be. Still, he could be a little less stalker about it.” They talked a bit about work, and sampled some of the food on the buffet table. Bess was refilling her glass from the punch bowl when Crystal stepped into the center of the room.

“We’re going to start the Danse soon,” she said. There was a murmur among the guests.
“Dance?” Bess shrugged at Carol. Crystal came over to the group.

“I know you haven’t been to a party here before, but we have a traditional dance for Halloween. We call it the Danse Macabre.” Carol looked alarmed, and Crystal put a hand on her arm. Her nails were six inches long, curved and painted black with silver spider webs.

“Don’t worry, it’s just a name. And you’ll learn it quickly. It’s actually pretty easy and everyone will be dancing. Just follow the person in front of you.” As she spoke, Old Hobb stood up from his chair. He picked up a violin that was lying behind it and walked out to the center of the room. The guests formed a large circle around him, pulling Bess and her co-workers into line with them. Old Hobb grinned through his black-painted lips, and tucked the violin under his chin. He began playing a slow jig tune. The circle began moving counterclockwise. Crystal was right, the dance was easy to learn. It was a simple combination of step-skip-step, repeated in time to the violin’s music. The dance went on for several minutes, the only sounds the music from the violin, the shuffle of shoes and boots on the stone floor, and rustle of fabric as the guests danced. The violin stopped, and Old Hobb held it and the bow out behind his back. A tall skeleton stepped up and took the violin, tucking it under the bony chin of the mask he wore. Old Hobb stepped forward and stood in front of one of the Goth costumed guests. He held out a hand in an elaborate invitation, bowing as he did so. The girl took his hand and let him lead her a few steps inside the circle. The violin player began a slow tune, and Old Hobb and the chosen girl danced an exaggerated waltz while everyone else watched. The tune slowed and stopped and Old Hobb bowed over the girl’s hand and led her back to her place on the circle. He took the violin again, and the circle dance started over. The dance stopped, Old Hobb chose another partner, and the scene repeated. The next round, Old Hobb stopped in front of Bess and offered his hand. She hesitated, but when she saw the shocked look on Crystal’s face, she let him lead her into the slow dance. He was a good dancer, and other than his strange appearance and the silence from the other guests, Bess was almost relaxed. The dance ended and he led her back to her place, bowing with a flourish over her hand. The circle started again. The pattern repeated several more times, until Old Hobb simply stopped playing and went back to his chair. The skeleton took the violin and put it in an old, worn leather case, snapping the locks with a loud click. Crystal picked up a woven basket from under the food table.

“Well, that was fun! But I want to make sure you are all home safe and sound before it gets too late, so we are going to wrap up the party now.” She walked toward the door, as the skeleton began putting out the candles with a long-handled snuffer. She shifted the basket to her hip and reached inside, pulling out a small, bright red apple.
“This is one of our family traditions for Hallows Eve. I am going to give each one of you an apple as you leave. Take it home, and eat it, looking in a mirror. At midnight, look in that same mirror over your left shoulder. You will see the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with.”

Bess almost snickered, but Crystal looked so serious, she decided not to risk hurting her feelings. When her turn came to leave, she took the apple from Crystal and turned it in her hand. It was perfectly shaped, with a shine to the skin that almost looked fake.
“This is going to predict who I am going to marry, huh?”

“S-something like that.” Crystal seemed uncomfortable, so Bess didn’t say anything more than to thank her for inviting her and good night. She walked out with the group from work. They said their good-byes and separated to their cars. Bess dropped the apple in her purse and drove home.

After letting herself into her apartment, Bess climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She changed out of the pirate costume, and washed the extra makeup off her face. She was brushing out her hair at the mirror when her eyes dropped to the open purse sitting on the counter next to her. She spied the small apple Crystal gave her. Setting the brush down, she reached in and took it out. She turned it in her hand. It was perfectly shaped, with a glossy sheen to the deep red skin. She shrugged as she brought the apple to her lips.
It’s not like I’m having any luck figuring out who my soul mate is on my own, she thought. At least I get a healthy bedtime snack. She took a bite. The skin snapped as she bit through it. The flesh was sweet and juicy, with just a hint of tartness to temper the sweet. It was actually quite a good apple. She finished it and dropped the core in the wastebasket. She looked at her reflection.

“Well, apple, it’s on you now.” She went back downstairs, checked the locks on the doors, and set up the coffeemaker for the morning. As she was brushing her teeth, she heard the living room clock chime midnight. She remembered what Crystal said at the party.
“Look in the same mirror over your left shoulder. You’ll see the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with.” Bess rinsed her mouth and set the glass back on the counter. She started to turn away from the sink, and then stopped. Really, what could it hurt? It’s some silly old wives’ tale or superstition, but there was no harm in playing along. She’d just tell Crystal tomorrow that maybe she wasn’t going to spend her life with anyone. She turned her back to the mirror and looked over her left shoulder. There was nothing there, just as she’d expected. She was about to turn around again, when a glimmer of movement caught her eye. She spun toward the mirror. Reflected in the silver surface was Old Hobb, the violin player from Crystal’s party. Only now, instead of black, his lips and pointed fingernails were blood-red. He smiled at her from the mirror and held out his hand, bowing over it as he had during the Danse Macabre.

“What the…?” Beth said, staring at the image in the mirror. The smile on Old Hobb’s face broadened, and he beckoned with his outstretched hand.

“I don’t know how you are doing this, but it’s not very funny! Turn off the camera or computer or whatever it is and leave me alone!” Bess tried to back away as the hand reached through the glass, across the sink, and closed around her arm.

“N-no! This is impossible!” Bess stammered. Old Hobb’s smile widened as he pulled her arm, drawing her toward him. Bess screamed and twisted, trying to break his hold, but he was strong and now had both hands on her arm. He pulled, hard. Bess’ final scream echoed off the tile walls, and faded to silence.

(Image from tumblr)


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