The Demon Dance
by Ryan Stothard
McRoy nervously stepped up to the altar. He still had no idea how he managed to get himself into these situations. Less than an hour ago he was sitting in a nice, warm tavern, nursing a pint. He was listening to the barman tell a tale about a local temple that had fallen into disuse and had become the residence of an unholy demon from another plane of existence. For reasons unknown even to himself, but that probably had basis in alcohol, McRoy had offered to try his hand at banishment. After all, priests did it all the time, and in his opinion they were all skinny little sissy men. McRoy was a dwarf, and a damn proud one at that. How hard could it be to send some nasty little spirit on its way?
The temple was more eerie than foreboding, with polished, white marble floors and walls. At least the demon kept the place tidy. Other than the small stone altar that was set towards the back wall, the single room was completely empty. On the altar sat what looked like a normal, wooden music box. McRoy stared at it for a moment and then prodded it carefully with the end of his axe. He scratched his beard as he gave the situation some more thought. Sitting his weapon down, he picked up the box. It was beautifully ornate, its wood painstakingly carved with scenes of music and frivolity. Against his own better judgement, McRoy began to turn the handle. The music was haunting, like nothing he had heard before. He felt compelled to keep turning and turning, mesmerised by the melodic sounds. The music came to an end and the lid clicked open. What appeared to be cold, black steam began to billow out into the temple, causing McRoy to drop the box. The darkness slowly took shape; a very unpleasant shape that vaguely resembled a man sitting on a crab. It had four long legs that ended in points, a strong, toned torso and a handsome face. McRoy knew immediately what he had gotten himself into. He had heard tales of this dread beast told, always in the kind of hushed, fearful voices reserved only for the most terrifying and nerve shattering creatures of the most horrific nature. It was Ceilidh, the Demon of Dance.
“What say you, short one?” the demon inquired. His voice was cool and silky.
“Who are ye callin’ short, ye spindly-legged bastard!” the dwarf snapped.
“I meant no offence,” came the wispy reply. “I just wish to know how I can help.”
“You can help by packin’ up your things and goin’ back where ye came from,” said McRoy, trying to look as intimidating as he could. This was made especially difficult by the fact that he had to crane his neck upwards to see above the creature’s waist.
“I was afraid of this,” Ceilidh sighed, his gaze drifting off to some unseen point beyond the ceiling. “The villagers do not understand the intricacies of Dance. They fear it.” He lowered his head to look at McRoy. “I will make you a deal,” he said. “If you can outdance me I will leave as you command.”
“Oh, what?” whined McRoy. “Can’t I just hit ye with me axe?”
Ceilidh answered by raising his hands above his head in a dramatic pose. A jaunty but eerie melody began to rise from nothingness into the temple. His claw-like legs began to tap rhythmically around each other as he moved gracefully across the floor. He had the balance of a gymnast and the speed of an athlete. McRoy watched in awe as the demon took a tremendous spinning jump to make a sliding landing on his knees as the music stopped.
“Your turn,” said Ceilidh, gesturing the dwarf to the center of the floor.
The music started again and McRoy began to move. He was the perfect contrast to the grace of the demon. He clumped around awkwardly, his arms swaying at his sides to keep balance as his legs threatened to kick one another.
“Stop! Stop!” called Ceilidh, clapping the air and stopping the music. “What was that?” he said to a dejected-looking McRoy. “I know dwarfs can dance. I’ve seen them. You do that thing where you all stand in a line and sort of kick together.”
“That’s a highland jig,” the disappointed dwarf explained. “Bit hard to do if ye never learn how.”
Ceilidh looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “Okay,” the demon said, leading McRoy back to the middle of the temple. “I’m going to teach you to dance.”
There was music again, but this time it was a less lively melody. Ceilidh taught McRoy the basics of balance and stance, the difference between 3:4 and 4:4 time, and how not to step on his own foot. He found out pretty quickly that he couldn’t stop the dwarf from waving his arms about, but at least he had him waving them in time to the music. He was quite a fast learner and under Ceilidh’s instruction had ceased to be a danger to himself and those around him. Most importantly of all, he was enjoying it. McRoy had always been of the mind that dance was just difficult and pointless, but with his beard flapping and his toes tapping he was starting to see the attraction.
McRoy stepped out of the temple to a waiting crowd, breathing hard from overexertion. The whole village came out when they had heard that someone was going to face the demon. It was about a 50/50 mix of people who wanted to see the demon gone and people who also wanted to see the demon gone, but would settle for seeing a smooshed dwarf. There was a hush of expectation as McRoy caught his breath.
“Dance is not something to be afraid of,” he announced. “Embrace the Dance and your lives will be the richer for it! I have looked into the cold eyes of rhythmic movement and I know this to be true.”
A cheer went up in the crowd for McRoy. Their new hero celebrated by dancing a little jig. He fell on his face, but felt that he had still made his point.
Ryan Stothard is an Australian short story author and perpetual dreamer. When he isn't writing he is thinking about writing (or chocolate). He is often found in the garden with his cat, Justice.
What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?
Fantasy and science fiction are the only genres in which anything can happen, and in science fiction you're still expected to explain how. In short; fantasy is magical.