Dancing in the Graveyard – a fantasy flash story

Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr creative commons
Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr creative commons

We do not have much power, my little troupe and I. We are not truly of the Elect, and though the spirits speak through our dance, they do so weakly.

Still we do what we can to brighten the life of our town, to bring joy and fertility with our footsteps, light shimmering from our fingertips as the power moves through us.

Before the spirits touched us, we always used to dance in the graveyard. In the summer, it was the most open space not filled with crops. And so we return there now, my skirts swirling as I lead the way. It is a grim place, but would the spirits not want us to celebrate our ancestors? To brighten up the space in which they now dwell?

My mother does not think so. She and the other temple elders stand by the rock pillar at the heart of the graveyard, arms folded across their winter cloaks, glaring accusingly at us.

“Stop this at once,” my mother demands.

We do not listen, but instead join hands as we trip lightly between the gravestones, our footsteps forming a glittering circle around these stern figures.

“Very well then.” My mother draws a heavy book of scripture from within her cloak, and the others do the same. In unison, they sing a curse from one of the oldest books, droning words of condemnation meant for prisoners bound in chains.

As the words surround us, I feel something drag at my arms and legs. It is as if they are bound to those of the dancer next to me. Looking around, I see that the others are struggling as I am, our light and floating magic turning into chains that bind us together in our ring.

This spiteful restriction only makes me more determined in my defiance. Step by heavy step I draw the dance away from the stone and onto the graves themselves. We skip and spin between the gravestones.

But the curses are growing louder, the bindings tighter, and it is becoming hard to move.

One of the dancers stumbles and falls against a gravestone, dragging another down with him. I feel the strands of light that once invigorated me now dragging me down towards the ground.

In desperation, I slam my arm against the nearest gravestone. Cold granite proves stronger than art or prayer, and the strands of magic shatter even as pain fills my wrist. For a moment the power turns once more to bright, sparkling light, falling like fragments of a rainbow before vanishing into the dead earth.

Wearily, I look up at my mother. There is a grim sort of triumph on her face.

That expression falls away as, from the graves around me, intangible figures rise up, the ghosts of a broken rainbow colouring their outlines. They hold hands as they rush between the stones, laughing and smiling as they once did in life.

The magic of the dance fills the graveyard, and my heart.

* * *


This is a follow-up to ‘The Elect‘. Thanks to Steve Hartline for saying kind things about that story, and so encouraging me to write this one.

If you enjoyed this then you might like to try By Sword, Stave or Stylus, my collection of flash short stories. And if you enjoy any of the stories I post here then please share them.

The Elect – a fantasy flash story

Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr creative commons
Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr creative commons

Long before they reach town I see them coming. Bright lights trail behind them as they dance along the road, between fields recently cleared of the harvest. My breath steams the tiny panes of the manor house’s leaded window as I watch in wonder. My heart beats loudly, but sadly its rhythm does not match theirs.

“Come.” Father takes my arm. I am far too old now for him to hold my hand, almost too old to still live unmarried under his roof.

I grab my shawl and walk with him into the street. Most people are already out and waiting, mother and the rest of the temple wardens among them. But I always want to see the Elect coming first.

The ground feels rough beneath the thin soles of my dancing shoes. I hide my discomfort. Father must not know what I have planned.

The Elect are at the edge of town now. The flaming brands along the street dim in their presence, light and warmth sucked into their magic. They are human and yet more than human, these dozen holy wanderers, those who the spirits have touched and who they will save. Not all have a dancer’s build – one is plumply buxom, while another has the hard build of a life-long labourer. Yet all move with astonishing grace.

The power of the spirits flows through them. Ribbons of coloured light trail from the tips of their fingers, their toes, their tailcoats and shawls. As they dance through town they cast a net of beauty across us all. As every autumn, our town is conquered for the spirits once more.

I slip my arm out of father’s. He does not notice. Like the rest, he is caught up in the mix of awe and tension that comes from seeing people so imbued with divinity, more beautiful than we can ever be.

Cautiously at first, I slide through the crowd and out into the street. This is it.

Every year I have studied the movements of the Elect. Every day I have practised them. The desire to be one of them burns inside me. To be one of the beautiful, one of the saved. With growing confidence I follow their movements and join the dance.

There are gasps from the crowd and a cry of alarm from my father. I catch a brief glimpse of disappointment on my mother’s face. I don’t care. I am part of the dance.

Except that I am not. As I weave my way into the dance, the Elect turn their backs on me. I thought my movements perfect, yet I have somehow fallen short.

My confidence wavers and I stumble. I feel my world unravelling. What has gone wrong?

I look again at the dancers. This close I can see that holy light doesn’t just flow from their fingers, it coats their bodies, guiding their movements.

My confidence returns. The attention I paid to spiritual studies is second only to that I paid to dance. I think about the things my mother taught us on the feast days. The ways of the spirits. How to open our minds to them.

I close my eyes, relying on finely honed instincts to keep my movements true, and open up my heart. I feel the sense of something greater, something beyond me. That wordless voice that comes to me in the depths of prayer. I let it take hold of me, and when I open my eyes I can see that my dance is more perfect than ever before – not just imitating but complimenting those of the Elect. The spirits guide me, and laughter bubbles from my lips.

The very nature of their dance now turns the Elect towards me. No light pours from me yet, but in every other way I am one of them. I am part of the dance, and the dance is part of me. I am…

They turn away, and my heart shatters. The dance has me in its hold. It is performing me, not I it, and without that I would drop like a stringless puppet.

The Elect dance on, out of town, their work done and me forgotten. I whirl alone in the road, my neighbours watching me. Some turn away, embarrassed or appalled. Others laugh and point. Tears run down my face.

Then I feel a tingling in my fingertips. My eyes widen as a glow spreads from my hands. Streamers of yellow light trail behind me, short but growing.

Laughing, I dance away from town, not down the road the Elect followed but out into the fields. I will reconquer them in the name of whatever spirit has blessed me. I will follow my steps and feel my power and share my dance with whoever cares to join.

I am not of their Elect. I am one of my own.

* * *


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