One last dance... Weird Tales contest runner up
|The earth was rich and fragrant, the night air full of the sounds of the swamp. She was to meet Doc John at his tiny shack along the river just before dawn. He would have Percy's body prepared.
"You must be sure this is what you really want, child." he told her in his rich Cajun accent. "He will use another's body as a vessel, his soul will return but will not look like your beloved. You will know him when he comes to claim you. The Iwa will expect both of your souls in return." Doc was a brilliant medicine man, she trusted him above all others.
He had been one of her father's slaves, freed upon his death. She had been very young when her father died from the alcohol consumption he loved more than his own daughter. Her mother had passed away in childbirth, and she had no other family save the staff and governess appointed to her via her father's will. Doc proved to be most like a father to her, he looked over her quietly as if she were his own. She was like a sister to his own daughter, Maisy.
During the ritual he would be in the space between the living and the dead, communicating with the spirits on her behalf. His ebony skin glistened with sweat and burned with fever throughout the trance. He spoke in tongues as she chanted over him, incense burning throughout his tiny home. Dahlia had visions of bodies rotting away with the natural passing of time, of writhing water snakes and insects eating at her eyes. She knew what the spirits expected of her. Maisy slaughtered the sacrificial rooster, an offering of blood to the spirits.
She was instructed to return in a year and a day to the place she last felt Percy's kiss.
It had been at the cotillion on the Springer plantation. They danced all night that warm spring evening, happy beyond all happiness. He kissed her tenderly there, telling her for the hundredth time he couldn't wait to make her his bride and father the many children they dreamed of having together. He would devote his life to making her happy.
They had been sweethearts since they were children, inseparable. Everyone in town knew they belonged to each other.
When he passed two weeks later, the entire town grieved with her. They knew her heart had broken and would never recover.
For weeks after Percy's death Dahlia retched into her chamber pot and oscillated from consciousness to unconsciousness, unable to leave her bed. The town doctor said she had contracted the typhoid that had ravaged the town and claimed the life of her Percy, but Doc knew better. It was grief sickness. With love and care from Maisy and himself, it would pass.
It did pass, but in it's place madness consumed her. She became a recluse, the town gossiped amongst themselves about what had become of her. "She's been roaming the halls of the house talking to herself in the night." one of the ladies from the local quilting club claimed. "I heard she hasn't changed her dressing gown or bathed in weeks!" said another from the book club.
Her mania grew such that her adoptive father could no longer ignore her pleas for help. He agreed to perform the ritual so that she might be with Percy again.
The townsfolk were pleasantly surprised when Dahlia began frequenting the young people's social functions once more. It took a long while, but it seemed she had finally begun the journey to recovery. She played cards with her friends and socialized at the lavish functions held within the town's wealthy plantations.
Her exotic beauty and the kindness of her soul spurred a few of the local men to attempt to court her. None were surprised to be turned away.
One year and one day after Percy was stolen from her, a cotillion ball was held at the Springer plantation.
She was an eerie yet radiant vision in the same gown she had worn that night she and Percy danced so long ago, laughing and gazing into each other's eyes. It was apricot satin, the neckline skimming her delicate collarbones. Royal velvet ribbon cinched her small waist. The colors complimented her enormous brown eyes and the shining raven curls that cascaded around her flawless cheeks. She sat daintily on a velvet chair that evening, eyes roaming the room with anticipation.
Footsteps echoed on the marble tile, loud above all the others. She shifted in her chair to see a man approaching her. He offered his hand.
His hair was as dark as her's, his stature tall and rigid. At first she felt annoyed, this was not him. He was nothing like her warm skinned, ginger haired Percy. When her chin tilted upward and her eyes met his she knew beyond a doubt it was him. They were his eyes, happy and tidepool blue.
A hush fell over the room as he led her to the dance floor. Puzzled murmuring floated around the room. "Who is he?" some whispered. "I've never seen him before!"
The murmurs melted around the couple until only the music remained. It was as if the waltz had been conjured from a dream.
Within the minutes of this one song their entire lifetime together flashed through her mind. She saw their passionate wedding night. They travelled together to new places and embarked on exciting adventures. They grew old side by side, surrounded by loving children and grandchildren. It was a relief to know she would finally be released from the prison of this life to live eternally in the next with her beloved.
"We'll never be apart again." she whispered into his cheek. Tears tumbled from her eyes.
His lips pressed to hers, then wandered to her cheeks. Her eyes involuntarily rolled into her head and closed. He nuzzled the crook of her neck.
"No. We won't." She was intoxicated by his voice, the smell of him, the warmth of his breath on her ear
When her eyes opened again, she was gazing directly into the face of her beloved. Her ginger-haired, freckle faced Percy with his happy eyes. His tidepool blue eyes.
Soothing warmth overtook her to the soles of her feet. She felt the connection between their bodies and the earth, beckoning them home.
"It's time to go now." He said softly.
"I know. I'm ready."
(word count- 991)