Once I reached the bar, I saw my friend waiting outside. He nodded to me and we proceeded to enter the bar. It was pretty filled that night, of course this was a Friday night in West Palm Beach, in the middle of spring break to boot. You can imagine the number of lame frat boys and already well-drunken college girls trodding about the bar, dancing and dry-humping and...
God I miss college.
Andrew and I sat down at the bar and ordered two beers, dark ale if I remember correctly. We were talking and laughing, enjoying our smart-ass commentary of the bar-dwellers and reminiscing upon the days we did the same stupid antics. All the while the drinks kept coming, the laughter and conversation growing more and more; we even began to hit on and talk with a few girls who made their way over to us. At the same time, I kept noticing a fellow patron of the bar sitting a few stools away from us, but there was something different about this man. He was about in his forties, unshaven and had a very disgruntled aura surrounding him. The area of the bar around him was packed with shot glasses, meaning this man had been here for a long, looooong time. Of course Andrew and I were already drunk, and once I pointed it out to him, he felt the need to start conversing drunkenly with him. “Hey,” I said to Andrew and pointed in the man’s direction. “Get a load of this guy.”
Andrew stared at the man for a few seconds and looked back at me. Once a few seconds of silence elapsed, we broke out in drunken laughter, as if we didn’t say the same thing, but thought it simultaneously.
“Who pissed in his cereal this morning?” Andrew snorted.
I called the bartender down for another round of beer. Once he had arrived, I motioned for him to lean over so I could talk to him over all the noise. “Is that one of your happy hour weekend warriors?” I asked in a very sarcastic, laughter suppressed tone.
The bartender looked at me with a gaze of both confusion and what felt like dread. “He’s Joe. He comes in here every Friday and pounds about a bottle and a half of Turkey, then leaves.”
Andrew and I looked at each other in bewilderment. I mean, I used to drink Wild Turkey at parties all the time, and that stuff will kill you. Seriously. This guy either was a dead man, or was on his last leg. Something bad must have happened to him.
Andrew turned his head towards Joe. “Shit dude, what’s wrong with this guy?”
I smirked and chugged about half of the bottle of my beer. “Maybe we should ask.”
Andrew turned back and looked at me. I knew that look.
“No. I mean, Andrew, this guy could be the next Dahmer, I don’t want to end up in pieces in Miami Bay or in a dumpster out back.”
Andrew sighed. “C’mon, don’t be such a puss.”
I chugged the rest of my beer, asked for another one, and the two of us moved down the bar right next to Joe. More disturbing features arose from this man upon further inspection; the bags under his eyes, the hollow stare leering at the empty shot glasses, the whiteness of his skin made this man look as if he was already dead. I lit a cigarette and cleared my throat.
“Hey, are you Joe?”
His gaze remained unbroken as he took another shot of whiskey. “Who wants to know?”
“Just two guys curious about what might be up with you?”
Joe stopped and looked up from the bar, then turned his head towards us. His icy blue eyes, lifeless eyes shot right into my soul. “What happened to me? What happened to me was no accident. And it’s destroyed my life.” His rough voice seemed to quake the ground below us.
Andrew spoke up. “Hey man, it’s cool, we’ll leave you alone.”
As Andrew began to get up, Joe reached over and grabbed his arm, pulling him back into the stool. From what Andrew told me later the next day, his hand was as cold as ice, and was vice strong. “Since you boys asked,” Joe began to say as he reached for a pack of Marlboro’s on the bar, “I’ll tell you. But once I finish this story, you promise me three things.”
As drunk as I was, my interest in the man raised through the roof. “This would be?”
Joe lit a cigarette from the pack. “One, you tell no one else this story, otherwise they’ll come for me, you, your friend, and anyone else who hears.” Andrew and I were fixed on this man. Either something really bad happened, or Joe was bat-shit crazy.
“Two,” he said as he exhaled a hit from his cigarette, “Don’t ever get drunk and wander into the Glades at night, might be the last time you will be a sane man.”
“No shit,” Andrew said as he took a swig of beer. “Any dumbass who walks into the Everglades at night shouldn’t be living to begin with.”
Joe nodded. “I was lucky.”
I scratched the back of my neck uncomfortably. “And what’s three?”
“When this story is over, you must never, EVER go dancing again...lest you dance with them.”
Andrew whispered something under his breath which sounded like ‘koo-koo’. I took another drink.
“Who do you mean by ‘them’?”
Joe took another shot and a hit of his cigarette.
“Let me tell you a story, one to chill the bones, about a thing that I had witnessed. On a night such as this, I was out with my friend, just like you are now. We went to this same pub, and me being the more responsible person than my friend, had only one drink that night. Well, my friend had become so hammered that he stumbled out of the bar and took a cab home, leaving me at the bar. The drink I had that night must’ve been strong, because I remember leaving the bar and wandering the streets late at night. There was something about the stars that night... they were so shiny that they had absolutely captured my attention. As I wandered along, I kept my gaze up at the stars, not noticing the changes in scenery: the hard concrete turning to soft, semi-muddy plains, the hustle and bustle of the city surrendering to nothing more than crickets and frogs.”
“Oh shit.” I murmured.
“You see boys,” Joe continued as he inhaled yet another hit of smoke, “I had walked all the way into the mangroves of the Everglades, late at night. I was so fixated on the stars that I cared not where I was, and the fact that I was still in quite the drunken stupor made me indifferent to my surroundings. Yet, what happened to me next made me quite sober. I had this feeling for a while, a buzz in my ears as if someone or something was near me, watching me as I walked aimlessly through the mangroves. I felt scared for my life.”
He paused as he began to tear up a bit. He took another shot and swallowed the hard lump in his throat.
“I fell to my knees as these figures, these dark shadows rushed from the trees with such an inhuman grace and velocity that I felt my soul, yes, my soul depart from my body into the night. I felt broken, dead almost. As they descended onto me, I blacked out. Throughout the ordeal, I kept waking in and out of consciousness, watching as these things dragged me into a clearing of the mangroves. Through my own blurred vision I saw a light, which appeared to be some kind of bonfire. I began to put two and two together, figuring that some backwoods degenerates had ambushed me and were planning to murder me in some unholy and gruesome matter, but things aren’t always what they seem.”
Andrew could hardly take this guy seriously. “Aliens? Oh, wait I know: Bigfoot!” He laughed, but his laugh was cut short by Joe’s fist pounding on the table.
“Dammit kid! This is not something to childishly joke about. These things I’ve seen, out in the Everglades, they ain’t human. I finally came to, and when I did, trust me kid, I’d wish they would have killed me.”
Something inside of me felt that this man wasn’t lying. That scared me more than his story. “What was it Joe?”
Joe continued on with the story, giving Andrew a wicked, lifeless glare. “They had me walk out onto the fire...yet the coals did not hurt my feet. I felt as if my mind had been captured, I’d been put into some kind of trance. Then once I had exited the flame, the things motioned for me to come forth, as I did. When I touched the wet marsh grounds, I began to make out more figures, dozens, prancing and dancing about me and the fire. Off in the distance the cadence of a drum could be heard, and the things seemed to dance to the rhythm. As my eyes adjusted to the area, I saw that some of these things were men and women, some fully clothed, others half naked. However, some of these things were far from men of the earth, and had completely unnerved me. Dark, burnt skin, black lifeless eyes, rotting, wormy teeth... the more and more I noticed, now all of them looked the same. They all had ascended on this night from whatever hell they came from, and whether it was fate or worse, I was to join them in this dance. The trance made my fear subside, and a sense of drunkenness captured my body again. I felt a sense of joy, peace and happiness. Then, in the blink of an eye, I joined in with the hellish ballet, prancing about like a madman.”
Joe leaned in and looked me and Andrew with his icy gaze.
“Yes, my friends...this was the dance of the dead.”
Joe looked over his shoulder, trying to see something that wasn't there, as far as I could tell.
“These spirits and their guardians were laughing and howling into the night as we all danced together around the fire, and I was completely unaware that I was to be their next unfortunate member of the dance. For all I knew at that moment I was already dead, but I did not care as well. Still, to this day, they haunt me in my dreams, as I wake from my dreams and find myself dancing about my room. Every dance I see, I see those hellish abominations incarnate, taking the form of those who dance. I used to think that it was merely my mind playing tricks on me, or that my drinking problem had become much worse, but soon I figured out that they were hunting me, waiting for me to dance again.”
As he went on with his story, I turned my gaze to all those on the dance floor of the bar. Whether I was still drunk or too deep in Joe’s story I’d never know, but I could have sworn that there were three figures, things standing at about eight feet tall, watching over the dancing men and women. I could make out two faint points of red light coming out from underneath the hoods of their robes, where the eyes would be. To my shock I began noticing that all those who were dancing had began to take on a horrific appearance, something similar to corpses rotting at the same pace that they were dancing. After a few seconds of watching this, I rubbed my eyes only to see that it was all normal people again. Thinking now for sure that it was indeed my mind playing tricks on me, I threw myself back into Joe’s story.
“How did you get away?” I asked as I took a sip of beer, both keeping my gaze on Joe and watching over my shoulder. I kept thinking that I saw those things again, their toothy jaws salivating, murmuring gibberish from an age long gone.
“Something happened between the shadowy figures and the dead, and at the same time I felt what I could only describe as my spirit returning back to my body. Once they took their gaze from me, I turned back towards the dark mangroves and ran with a breakneck speed. As I did, I heard the most unearthly shrieks and screams pierce the forest behind me, prompting me to run faster than I ever had in my life. I could hear the scampering of feet behind me, lighter than air, almost inaudible... I kept running till I finally reached the outskirts of the Everglades, where then I felt I had to turn around to face behind me.”
“What did you see?” I asked, my own question managed to send a shiver up my spine.
“Thousand’s of ‘em,” he whimpered. “They were all staring at me, that unhallowed, empty glare. Almost as if they were beckoning me to come back.” He took one last shot of whiskey. “Eventually they’ll get what they want.” As Joe got out some money and put his coat on, Andrew got up from his stool.
“That’s the story? That’s bullshit!”
Joe turned and glared at Andrew again, the last time Joe would ever look at me and my friend. “You’ll believe me, and you’ll eat your words as well. You’ll see them whenever you are near a gathering of those dancing, and you’ll know your time has come. You’ll say a prayer, as I have, and have a drink for it, because the end of your life is near...you’ll be joining the dance of the dead as well.” With that Joe had left Roxy’s bar. Andrew and I continued to sit at the bar, dumbfounded at what just conspired. Another hour passed, and I still could see those beings, staring at us, staring at those dancing. Andrew had decided that we’d done enough that night, and the two of us went our separate ways back home.
I passed out when I had arrived at my house, only to have horrible dreams of the undead figures Joe had painfully told us about, dancing about a fire. Before something in my mind had told me to join in, I had woke up. I had the worst hangover I’d ever had in ages, but still something kept in my mind that Joe told us something that was unfortunately true, and Andrew and I are now part of the curse.
Years had passed, and now I find myself in Joe’s position. Two weeks after Joe had left, his face had shown up in the paper as Florida’s most recent “missing” victim. This same fate was met by Andrew, who one night at a club in Miami, collapsed on a dance floor from a heart attack and was pronounced dead on the scene. It wasn’t that he had the same appearance of what I had seen in my dreams and what Joe had described; it was the smile that Andrew wore when he had died, as if he was in total ecstasy.
And as I said before, here I sit in Roxy’s Pub, telling those with great regret who ask of my story, frightfully watching those kids and adults dancing nearby, wearing the faces of death and decay as their hooded escorts watch me with evil, ravenous eyes. But for as long as I can hold up for, I will swear by some of what Joe had said, for I have already told his story now. But for one, like my late friend said, I will never go wandering out into the Glades at night, alone, although I feel the fate that Mother Nature would grant me would be a relief from the horrid end which I already possess. And most important, I will never go dancing anymore....
....lest I dance with the dead.