Published in Issue 7 of Visionary Tongue, Beltane (May) 1997.
A dust circle surrounded by ascending rows of mask-like faces, eyelessly blind, earlessly deaf. Though they perceived nothing real, they were not devoid of spirit and passion. They had chosen to ascend to a higher level of existence, to listen to the heart’s whispers not the flagrant noise heard by everyone else. This was an assembly of wanderers and searchers who had come to rest, and with peace had found power; the recognition of something greater than the tangible. They did not feel the dry heat nor the stillness in the air. They could not hear the silence, nor smell the living scent of the Choreographer who stood before them, down in the arena, shading his eyes against the bright sun’s empty rays.
The Choreographer understood and translated the wordless wishes of the Audience into instructions. He picked up the fresh corpse of the suicide and carried it from the walled circle, returning for the paints the victim had used to help him transcribe his emotions. Finally, the Choreographer washed the spirals of colour and splashes of blood from the dirt. Without a word to those now burying the body, he slipped on his dusty coat and left the arena.
The desolate city with its mindless victims lay far across the sand on the edge of the horizon, but the walk never took him as long as it should.
The Choreographer found Lyn in an alleyway, drawn to him by the power of the Audience. There was no picture of Lyn in his mind, but he still recognised him, felt the Audience’s mark upon him. Until that moment, the Choreographer had never doubted the Audience’s decisions. Maybe he was becoming rebellious in his old age, maybe he was losing sight of the fact that appearances count for so little, but all those he had found before had looked more like chosen ones. This boy was mucky. His dirty blond hair hung in clumps and his clothes were in tatters. The Choreographer approached him from behind. The boy was eating something.
There was a corpse on the ground. One of the boy’s hands was deep in the torso, pulling at a piece of meat, trying to tear it away. The other was halfway into his mouth. Bloody flesh trailed from lips that were stained ruby red. On seeing the Choreographer, he stopped and stared like an animal. The Choreographer grabbed him by the arm and started to pull him up. The physical contact allowed him to know everything about the boy and he understood the Audience’s choice. A lifetime of soul-destroying misery; a loveless upbringing before being cast onto the streets as a child; a boy who spoke a truth too strange; a pariah who saw what others didn’t want to see.
‘Come on, Lyn,’ the Choreographer said, hoping the boy was still human enough to understand language. Beneath the grime and the urchin appearance he was a pretty boy. His face was delicate and slightly triangular. His eyes were narrow, becomingly shaped and glittering grey.
Lyn struggled and pulled away enough to pick up a green glass box of cigarettes and an antique gas lighter which had tipped out of the dead man’s pocket.
The Choreographer sighed and hauled him away. Lyn barely bothered to resist but the Choreographer had not expected him to; they never did, they were always instantly aware of the power of the Audience without cognition of what it was.
There were one hundred faces in the Audience. They sat in seemingly attentive rows. Above the Arena, lanterns hung swaying from the thick boughs of overhead trees, linked by thin looped chains. The light they cast was distant and soft.
Lyn stood in the centre of the circle, alone. The unseen orchestra played; waves of dilute and vague sound washed over him. The Choreographer had prepared him for the dance as the Audience had requested. His hair had been thoroughly cleaned, dyed red and black and plaited into a myriad of tiny braids. His face was painted boldly; striking black and red lines extended from his eyes. His lips were violent crimson, his pale face was made paler. Droplets of ruby hung from his ears and around his neck.
As he had been silently transformed, he had seen the Choreographer standing in the doorway, watching with his arms folded, supervising his mindless assistants; hollow people who were nothing but extensions of himself. Lyn did not care how these helpers had come about or who they had been. He was a prisoner here and cared for nothing other than himself. The Choreographer followed him everywhere, maintaining a threatening presence, and the only time Lyn was alone was when he was locked away in his cell, although sometimes he thought he was never more alone than when he danced.
His clothes were comfortable if not spectacular. He was clad in a close-fitting black top and equally dark leggings, with tatters of cloth wrapped around his limbs and waist, so that when he leaped the fine lines of his body could be seen, and when he whirled the strips of material would chase him round. He stood motionless in the middle of the dirt circle. His feet were bare.
It often took him a while to launch into his dances. Sometimes the music churned his soul up and pushed him into it like a stray leaf in a breeze. Sometimes he consciously willed it, knowing that it could never stop if it had never begun and he would be trapped here until he stopped, as he had been trapped here every night for a long long time, regardless.
The Choreographer had told him that he danced for the Audience but would not say who they were. His instructions to Lyn had been minimal; he had to dance with all his heart, but there was no right way.
Why should he dance when no-one watched? Why should music be allowed to fall on deaf ears? The Choreographer never observed him. He wasn’t permitted to and couldn’t tell Lyn why, reacting to the question as if the Audience angered him with that peculiar exclusion. Lyn twisted round slowly and thoughtfully. They would know if the Choreographer watched just as they would know if he died. They could not see or hear but they could feel. This hurt Lyn a little, made him feel hopeless, unnecessary. He needed a reaction, a sign of humanity from the rows of blank faces, to show that they cared about him and that all his passion was for something. If he fell – and he now fell, collapsing into a beautifully delicate bundle in the arena – there would be no reaction. Nor would there be if he died here, if he screamed out, if he stood totally still forevermore.
The thumping of his heart lulled him into a rhythm but he stayed still, feeling as the music urged him to stand that he was free to leave, or stand still, or die, but that he would always choose to dance. It was this choice that they loved so much, his freedom, and they would love whatever he chose to do, as long as he could do it with spirit.
He was free.
The Choreographer handed Lyn a lump of bread as they stood in the costume room, and Lyn took it, but held onto the Choreographer’s hand for a lingering second. Their eyes met and the Choreographer realised with some horror that Lyn was not going to kill himself as the others had done before. He saw the same animal hunger he had glimpsed in Lyn’s eyes back in the alleyway. He realised he had let himself be fooled by Lyn’s compliance, believing him too dim-witted to desire escape.
Lyn’s hands were up around his throat with the grace, speed and strength that the Choreographer expected of a dancer. Instinctively, he struggled, but not with great force, as Lyn seemed so fragile; he didn’t want to anger the Audience by damaging the boy. He tried to control Lyn gently, but failed. He crumpled to the floor after Lyn had thumped his head twice on the wall behind him.
The Choreographer had been surprisingly easy to attack. Lyn had always seen him as a strong and omnipotent being. Now the man lay at his feet, unconscious, unable to prevent Lyn from binding his hands. Lyn waited until he had awakened, and could be urged into the Arena at the point of a sword.
The music sounded as always. The Audience made no reaction. Grinning, Lyn scanned the tiers of apparently lifeless bodies, feeling their anticipation and hunger for what was to come. Dusty colours and pallid faces; ordinary people like those he had murdered in his home city. The Audience comprised a hundred or so people from all walks of life, now blind and deaf to anything that didn’t matter to them.
‘I am your prisoner,’ Lyn yelled at their blank faces. ‘I am he who dances and this is he who found me.’ He shoved the Choreographer forward. ‘You are blind to my movement. I no longer wish to move. And though you applaud me, I cannot believe it is genuine. How can you appreciate my talents when you cannot even see?
‘So tonight I dance a new dance. It is not the swirling creation of my soul as directed by the Choreographer. It is a different dance of passion. You perhaps would like it. If you could see. If you could hear.’
Lyn knew the Audience understood him, and that they all saw his words as lies. For Lyn to confront them, he’d had to pass beyond perceiving them as simply blind and deaf. He’d had to know they loved his dancing for other reasons, otherwise he would have killed himself, as other had before him.
Lyn began his performance by binding the Choreographer’s ankles. Then he began to dance around the man, playfully cutting and slicing, flicking blood over himself and the dust. He leaned down to kiss the Choreographer’s wounds. And the Choreographer remained silent, biting his lip occasionally as if to stop himself from shrieking. Eventually the dance moved towards its climax. Lyn’s digs with the sword became deeper and his motion faster.
The last cut. Across the throat. Straight.
The music stopped, although the musicians could not see him.
The Choreographer lay crumpled at Lyn’s feet, who performed a few more turns around the body before bowing to his audience: these blind, deaf creatures who demanded passion and spirit. The Choreographer had told him that he must always dance with his heart. They would not tolerate soulless movement. They hated disorder but also hated order. He was never to repeat a sequence.
The murder had been as passionate and spirited as all his other dances, if not more so. He would always dance for them but not here, in this heartless arena. The Audience would find another Choreographer, who would solicit for them other artists. Now, Lyn would light a cigarette, supplied to him by the Choreographer – good quality cigarettes at that – and then chew on a couple of the dead man’s bones. Then he would leave, go home, go anywhere. But wherever he was, whoever he was killing, in whatever way, it would be a dance for the sightless ones. Always. This was his goodbye, he decided, bowing deeply once more.
The Audience applauded.