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The Dance of Death

You can only evade the dance for so long.

By Kevin McLaughlinPublished 12 months ago 5 min read
Dance of Death 'The Nobleman' - Hans Holbein

“What is this?” I ask the curator. Tentatively, I reach for the book he has placed before me. The Dance of Death written in thick, black letters upon the cover.

“It is what you asked for,” he responds. He dark eyes, piercing and emotionless. He stands in front of me, arms clasped firmly behind his back, waiting.

The curator is a tall, thin man. The bones of his cheeks exaggerate the long features of his face. He is bald, hairless aside from the thin whisps of black that make up his eyebrows. His suit hangs loosely around his frame. It is a black pinstripe suit with a white shirt beneath it, and a red tie the color of a fine wine.

Again, I find myself looking over the curator. He is curious to me. Feeble, yet resolute. Quiet and perceptive, he betrays nothing. A silver nametag sits pinned on his suit jacket. It is blank. For the curator has no name.

“If I may?” he asks me, taking the book gently in his hands and opening it to a preselected page. A page he has picked just for me.

I let my gaze drop to the title of the page: ‘The Nobleman.’

There is a drawing of two figures grappling each other on the page. The first, a man, dressed in fine regalia and holding a sword firmly above his head. His aim is to strike down the second figure, who pulls and tears at the man’s coat. That figure is death.

I push the book away.

“This is not what I asked for,” I tell the curator.

“No?” the curator responds, allowing confusion to filter through his features. “You asked for answers. I have shown them to you.”

“This is not an answer. This is nonsense. I requested specifically how one might find the key to agelessness. To evade death. Achieve immortality. I did not pay for whatever the hell this is.”

The curator’s expression grew grim. “Perhaps then you do not understand the nature of this agreement. I am a curator. I curate. You asked how you might escape your own mortality and I provide you the knowledge so desperately sought after. As agreed.”

The curator took the book in his hands. Carefully he closed the book and passed it back across the table to me. “Take this with you when you go. Bring it back to me when you’ve found what answers you’re after.”

I reach for the book angrily and shove it under my arm as I turn to leave. Before I can get far however, the curator calls me back again.

“Tell me one thing before you go,” he starts, “if you find immortality, what will you do with it?”

“I thought you weren’t supposed to ask questions,” I say firmly before storming out of the room.

Outside it rains heavily and cars slowly navigate the streets flooded with water. Horns blare and echo through the city. It takes me a moment to recognize the familiar buildings that tower overhead on all sides. It is easy to forget where you are when one visits the curator.

“Mr. Donahue,” a familiar smile greeted me with an umbrella in hand. My driver, Armand Martin, opened the umbrella above me as I walked towards the car.

Armand was a young man. He had simple dreams, finding love and caring for a family of his own. I paid him well, and he did his job without complaint and with great care. So, I had grown fond of him and his dreams. Hearing the simplicity of his life relaxed me. Reminded me why I was who I was.

“Looks like you got what you came for.” Armand opened the back door of the car for me, nodding at the book.

I grunted an acknowledgement and climbed into the car, setting the book beside me.

“Where to, Mr. Donahue? Back to the office?” Armand questioned me, when we returned to the driver’s seat.

“No,” I say after a moment, “Take me home.”

“As you wish,” he replies.

The car peeled out into the crowded streets, the sound of water spraying from the wheels onto the sidewalk and pelting the windshield did nothing to ease my frustration. I opened the book again to the page the curator had shown me. I scowled. Who was he to give such a cryptic response after being paid such a large sum of money.

I flipped the page only to find another drawing, this time a woman of faith being dragged from her abbey by the skeletal figure of death. I turned to another page, then another, and another. On each page someone grappled with the figure of death. Figures from all walks of life, from emperors, to plowmen, to children succumbed to the figure of death who haunted their steps. I turned back to the page the curator had shown me. The nobleman who would fight death would surely lose, would he not?

I set the book back down beside me leaving it open to the page chosen for me and I laughed.

Many years have passed since that day, and I have seen friends and family pass away, even Armand. Now I lay motionless in my hospital bed. The Slow rhythmic beeping of the EKG always accompanies me along with the steady rotation of doctors for which my dwindling wealth pays. Unmoving, still I hunt for the secret I searched for so long ago.

A new doctor enters the room. I do not recognize him; thought I feel I have seen him before. He is thin, and bald. He smiles, but his eyes do not convey the same emotion.

“I know you,” I say weakly.

“Yes, it has been a long time.” The curator sits beside me on the bed. He has not aged a day. “Did you ever find your answer?” he asks me, though he already knows my reply. I can see it in his eyes.

“Yes.” My hand fumbles to reach the bedside drawer. Out of it I pull the book, The Dance of the Dead, handing it to the curator. “I held on to this for when you would come.”

“And for that I thank you.” he took the book with a gloved hand then caresses by forehead with the other.

“I am sorry that you cannot stay, and I admire how far you’ve been able to stay from me. Now, however, it is time for you to come with me.” The curator holds out a hand to me. I take it with my own shaking, wrinkled hand.

“I’m ready.”

Death shares a genuine smile with me, welcoming me. In the end I hear the EKG flatline as it all fades to white.

GeneralPaintingIllustrationFine ArtFiction

About the Creator

Kevin McLaughlin

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Comments (3)

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  • Mackenzie Davis12 months ago

    Interesting, I love the subtle commentary on Donahue not being the nobleman in the painting (metaphorically). His quest to avoid death spoke to cowardice and fear. His avoidance to old age did the same. He didn’t pursue simple pleasures, as Armand had and watched them from afar with a quiet, sad kind of interest. On the whole, not a great person. Rich, and so able to obsess over living forever, a luxury. Yet his interactions with Death speak to an intricate truth, that everyone has to gather courage when they face him for the last time, that we all, ultimately, have to battle him and be brave about it, as Donahue is in this final moment. I also love Death’s tenderness there. I am now contemplating the significance of the symbol of the nobleman. Well done!

  • Kim Loostrom12 months ago

    Very cool! I always love stories with death personified as the grim reaper!

  • RAJ VEER12 months ago

    Dance with death

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