They all danced until they died. Every last one of them.
It started and ended with Rose. Rose, the wallflower. Rose, who never once complained about homework. Rose, who’d begun to wonder if she’d ever kiss a boy. Her tiny feet, cosseted by tiny patent leather shoes, began their involuntary gambol as she entered the outskirts of town, and by the time she crossed Main Street her entire body was whirling to the beat of a song that no one, not even she herself, could hear.
The first person to notice her was Tom, a corn-fed boy from school who earned pocket money by working for the local butcher every Sunday. He smiled when he first saw Rose coming from up the road, the lace trim of her white sundress billowing in the early evening air as she swayed in his direction. He’d had dreams just like this, in which she would appear and he, in turn, would finally muster the courage to invite her to a dance. But here was Rose, already dancing, and so Tom, wanting to impress her, gamely followed suit. It wasn’t until she got too close, and until it was too late, that he noticed the panic in her tear-drenched eyes. “Get away!” she screamed. But the damage had already been done. Try as he might, Tom could do nothing to quell the movement of his strong legs.
Frightened but not yet hysterical, Rose and Tom decided to seek refuge in Doctor Monroe’s office at the far end of Main. He’d have the pill, the elixir, to heal them. They would all soon laugh at their temporary bout of insanity, and relish the glorious stillness of their legs. But Doctor Monroe had been called out of town, and the door to his clinic mercilessly locked. By then, a crowd of townspeople were assembled in their wake, each of them—Reverend Shepherd, Sheriff Donahue, even Mayor Stalwart—huddled in a mass of convulsion as the soundless symphony raged on in spite of their breathless fatigue.
Mr. Stone, a nasty drunk who spent his nights slurring obscenities down the end of a whiskey bottle, was the first to die. His obese body simply couldn’t withstand the cellular staccato that raged through his cluttered arteries. Fewer than two hours after Rose came literally waltzing into town, his heart erupted inside his pendulous bosom and he fell jaw-first against the cobblestone street. While blood pooled around his head, forming an ironic halo for the fallen father of two, his wife and twin boys, flailing their arms and grinding their hips melodically, wept at his feet.
Little Suzie was next. Rose’s younger sister was a severe diabetic, and it didn’t take long for her skeletal figure to crack under the pressure of its unstoppable movement. But it wasn’t the dance that killed her; rather, it was the stampede of neighbors and friends who, despite their intense desire to keep her out of harm’s way, crushed Suzie when she finally fainted. Not long after, Susie and Rose’s mother, who’d never learned to swim, danced herself into the creek and drowned. Rose watched her best friend Lissy, to whom she’d confided her every hope and dream, saunter straight from her third-story bedroom balcony onto the ground below her. Lying there, her neck angled at a hideously obtuse angle, Lissy exhaled her last breath while her feet continued to twitch like hands that hold applause for a few beats too many.
Seen from afar, it must have looked like the most mirthful of parades. But in reality, and over the course of 32 grueling hours, every single person perished in an exceedingly horrifying pageant of grotesquerie. Rose was the last one left standing, and just before her knees buckled with exhaustion, she scanned the town into which she was born. She surveyed the people she’d known, those who’d raised her, taught her, and loved her. They were all dead. She looked down at Tom’s corpse and, despite herself, a smile built across her tear- and sweat-soaked face. Because even though she was staring at the empty shell of a young man for whom she’d always secretly pined, she couldn’t help thinking how cute he looked when he danced.