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THE DEVIL’S DANCE
By Cheryl Ann Guido
The two boys hid among the overgrown bushes in front of the old, dilapidated mansion. At ten years of age, they were old enough to know right from wrong but young enough not to care. As they peered through the thick leaves, they could see the dim, yellow flicker of candlelight through one of the windows. From somewhere deep inside the surrounding thicket, a wolf howled. The pale light of the full moon bathed the pointed steeples of the enormous structure in a ghostly light that cast ominous shadows on the ground. Shadows that seemingly had a life of their own.
Then it began, just like it had every night for the past three hundred years. The slow, mournful melody coming from inside the house enveloped the youngsters, lulling them into an almost hypnotic state. As the bow slid across the strings of the violin, the melancholy notes emanating from it seemed to call out to the two friends, inviting them to enter the house. One of the youngsters stood up. With glazed eyes, focused directly on the window, he took a step forward. The other boy grabbed his arm and tried to yank him back.
“Billy, no! You can’t go in there! You know what they say about that place.”
But Billy paid no attention and continued to walk in a trancelike state toward the music. Terrified, his comrade turned and fled back into the thick forest that surrounded the ancient stone residence. As far as he was concerned, Billy was on his own now.
One step in front of the other, Billy slowly made his way down the pebbled walk to the entrance of the house. Upon reaching the rotted wooden door, he stopped and watched with a blank stare as it swung open on its own.
“Come in, child.”
The low raspy voice beckoned him through the cavernous foyer and into a large ballroom lit by hundreds of candles of all shapes and sizes. A blazing fire roared in an old stone hearth but it gave no warmth. The tall, pencil-thin figure stood in front of the mantle, holding a violin in one hand and a bow in the other.
Fully awakened from his hypnotic state now that the music had stopped, Billy shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs from his mind. Who was this mysterious man? He noted that the musician wore a dark blue pea coat with gold buttons, white trousers and black boots that came up to his knees. His white hair was pulled back into a short curly ponytail that jiggled a bit as he laid the instrument on top of the fireplace mantle and joined his guest. Judging by the violin player’s eighteenth-century attire, Billy figured that he either loved wearing costumes or was some kind of eccentric obsessed with a long-ago time. No matter the reason, the man scared him. There was something about the glimmer in his eyes that chilled the little boy to the bone as he sauntered around Billy’s form, rubbing his chin.
“Yes, yes. You will do nicely.”
“What will I do, sir?”
“Why, you will play, of course.”
“The violin, child.”
“The viol—” But before Billy could finish his sentence, he was interrupted.
“Yes, my boy, yes, and you will play splendidly! Oh, I have waited for you for such a long time!”
Billy scrunched up his nose. What was this old man talking about? He did not know how to play the violin nor did he want to learn. Then, realization hit hard.
The legend had been passed down from generation to generation for three hundred years. It told of a wicked, selfish squire who would do anything in order to live forever. According to the story, the squire struck a deal with the Devil whereby he would play for him every night in exchange for immortality. At first, the squire’s songs were high spirited, foot-stomping fiddling, which gave the Devil great pleasure. But as time went by, the squire grew weary of his never-ending slave-like existence and the songs became mournful and sad, reflecting his withering spirit. The Devil, unhappy with the outcome of the binding contract, offered to release the squire if he was able to find someone to take his place. However, the replacement could not be just anybody. Since aging stopped upon taking possession of the violin, it had to be someone who was young and energetic, someone who would remain that way forever, a child. When the townsfolk learned of the unholy contract, they stormed the mansion in an attempt to do away with the squire before he could pass on his violin, but to no avail. For each time a sword pierced his heart, he would simply laugh and keep on fiddling. Fearful for their offspring, the squire’s property became forbidden to all, especially to children.
But that was just an old story someone made up a long time ago, wasn’t it? Nobody makes deals with the Devil, right? Right? Heart racing, Billy spun around, intending to flee but found his feet frozen in place, unable to move in any direction. His eyes bulged as they focused on the squire.
“Please sir, I don’t want to learn how to play the violin and I don’t want to live forever. I want to go home.”
The musician placed a bony hand on Billy’s shoulder, then turned, picked up the instrument and placed it in the youngster’s hands.
“Son, you are home.”
Billy watched in horror as his fingers wrapped around the violin of their own volition. In his other palm, the bow rose and began to swipe back and forth across the strings furiously, creating a rousing melody. Grinning, the squire began to clap in time to the music as wisps of smoke escaped the fire, curling their long tendrils up and around until a dark shape emerged from the grey mist. Billy gasped as he beheld the inhuman figure, with its bent-over body, dark fur, and hooved feet. Green, putrid-smelling vapor emerged from the horns on its head and as it turned toward the boy. Its glowing red eyes seemed to sear his heart. Still, Billy continued to play, unable to stop his fingers from sending the bow flying across the strings.
“Well done, squire. You have fulfilled your part of the agreement. I release you.”
The squire bowed as his body slowly disintegrated and turned to dust.
“See you in Hell,” the Devil snickered.
He burst into a hearty laugh and grabbed his shaking belly as the guffaws subsided until they became a satisfied sigh.
“They never learn. I always win.”
He then turned to his new entertainer.
“I’m in the mood for something … fun. Play a Virginia Reel.”
Billy tried to resist, but the attempt was futile. Once again, he found himself compelled to play. While he fiddled, ghostly figures dressed in colonial garb began to appear around the room, clapping in time to the music. An area cleared and two lines formed, men on one side, women on the other. The men bowed as the women curtsied and the Devil’s dance began.
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