He came out of the bookstore with his customary magazine and coffee and found a seat at a nearby park bench. It was a pretty day at the beginning of fall; the colors had just begun to change and there was a faint chill in the air. As he methodically read from cover to cover, always careful never to skip a section even if it held no particular interest, he noticed the dancing girl out of the corner of his eye.
She looked like a student, a fair haired girl in her late teens or early twenties that danced around the edge of the duck pond with balletic grace.
He put down his magazine, suddenly transfixed by her motion. She moved to an unheard song, reacted to an unseen partner. It was like watching a ballet only the dancer knew was happening. It moved him to action; he got to his feet and joined the dance. He moved awkwardly, had never danced before in his life, but his crude attempts at grace and beauty never slowed his efforts.
He wasn’t the only one. An elderly woman waltzed with her walker, and a young father spun around with his baby daughter like they were at prom. A boy in his teens leapt around wildly, playing the lead in Swan Lake, and a seriously dressed businessman forgot his important meeting as he entered the fray. Soon everyone around them was a part of the act, struggling to interpret an exotic language with the most rudimentary of skills. Movements were quick and clunky, while limbs were neither languid nor in line. It had a discordant effect. But each was deeply focused, tuned out of the outside world as if that dance was all that mattered.
Pedestrians that came by got swept into it. Traffic came to a stop. Children too young to ride bikes giggled and spun, as did the old and infirm. None were untouched by the charms of a hysteria that spread like wildfire, even the disabled. Those that could not hear saw and understood with perfect clarity. Those that could not see heard the music best of all.
The afternoon faded to dusk then nightfall, and the dance continued on without break. As time went by the man with the magazine got better, always using the ballerina girl as his guide. A natural rhythm forced its way into his limbs through osmosis and repetition. He pushed past the limits of his body, ignoring soreness, exhaustion, and even the need to relieve himself. They all did, none daring to stop once they had begun.
By sunrise the old woman with the walker had fallen, and by mid morning others had joined her. The young and old succumbed to their limitations, but they still moved what they could, even if it was just a wave of the hand or a nod of the head. Some stumbled over the bodies, more than a few collapsed from stroke, and one unlucky boy fell into the pond face first and never raised his head again. By sunset of the next day many more had gone, and by next the morning many more still.
At sunset on the third day only he and his muse remained. She was drenched in dirt and sweat and was breathing heavily, her wiry body looking to be knocked over by the slightest breeze. But she still moved, and was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He moved with dogged clumsiness, barely able to keep himself up. Every muscle in his body screamed at him to stop, every neuron told him the end was near. But he ignored this and strained to hear the beautiful music that propelled the dance, unsure of what it was but convinced it meant everything. Even when his heart beat irregularly and his limbs stopped moving he fought against collapse.
He reached for her, seeing her silhouette against the last light of day, and she pirouetted away. He cried tears of sorrow and joy, sad to be done with the dance but thankful to have been a part of something so beautiful. And thus contented he died.
Craig Meinhart has previously been published in the webzines SCHLOCK! and MICROHORROR, is a singer and lyricist in a metal band, and lives in Dallas Texas.