Prompt: A man wants to save his mother from evil, but must become evil to do so.
It was too dark for a proper celebration, but there was nothing proper about the Black Gala. Nearly every guest had a gloomy look on their face, even as they danced in circles across the marble floor in the grandest room the entire region had to offer.
It was an affair of the Harduins. They were the pinnacle of society, if society were an ornate mausoluem. They still looked like humans at first glance, but at second you noticed their oddities. Dead eyes. Sparkling white teeth. No sweat, no color. Never a hair out of place and never a blonde one.
The Harduins were a family an age ago, when the tree of their lineage still lived. Now they were simply fixtures, somewhat alive: the high-water marks of a city overseen by a necromantic ruler. Some of the Harduins held high office, some were judges, and others generals. All of them were present at their family reunion and gala, along with their unwilling guests.
Griswald was faced with the task of dancing with several of them in order to make his way across the room. Dark magic was in place to make sure no one disturbed the event, or objected to the Harduins generally. The floor could only be crossed if you were amongst the dancers, and if you danced well. He took the first pale hand that reached out and let himself be pulled into a twirl.
The First Dance
“I know you did not receive an invitation,” the woman dancing with Griswald said. Her eyes were as dead as the rest of the Harduins. She was Philharmina, youngest of the necromantic immortals. Her narrow nose and shark cheeks were forever preserved, only brought out into the light and powdered on special occasions such as this.
“You know I am unwelcome,” Griswald replied, his voice rasping like a cricket. It was all he could do to avoid sweating through the fancy clothes he’d borrowed from his older brother. “Yet you have not stopped dancing with me. Why am I not foiled?” The two of them rotated around another couple, moved closer to his goal, closer to the stairs where the eldest Harduins stood and watched.
“You are not invited, but I don’t mind,” Philharmina said with the smallest stiffest smile that ever existed. “You’re trying to do something stupid. I would love to watch. It’s like when I throw poison bread to the carp. I don’t kill them. They simply eat it and kill themselves. It’s so amusing. Please. Go on. I’ll give you your next partner in the dance, and enjoy the sound every time your foot falls.” There was no laughter in her breast, it was too dead and dry for that, but he saw her amusement. Very well.
She lifted her hand and coaxed him into a spin. A moment later her fingers were gone and someone else’s had taken their place. Griswald lowered his head to see his new partner: a man. That was not orthodox, but apparently the magic was not affronted, as Griswald still had his flesh.
The Second Dance
“Who are you?” the short portly man asked Griswald. He nearly tripped over his own feet and ruined the dance. “My partner’s supposed to be a woman. You’re ruining this! You’ll get us killed!” His voice dropped into a hiss as he checked the balconies and the stairs. The Harduins were still posed, hands behind their backs; no alert had been raised.
“Just stay calm,” Griswald whispered as he checked the upper echelons himself. He knew this man was an innocent, just someone conscripted as a party guest to fill out the background of those newfangled photographs. He probably couldn’t even dream of disobeying a Harduin order. Griswald had to at least try to reason with him. “I just need to make my way to the stairs. Pass me off at the end of the dance and no harm will come to you.”
“The stairs? Why would you want to go there? If you were chosen you would’ve been invited.” The short man puzzled something out in his fear-cluttered mind. “Do you have a death wish?” Griswald looked at the stairs. One dance away now. One dance until five people were forcibly added to the ranks of the Harduins.
“Yes,” he said plainly, surprising himself, “I have a death wish. My mind is consumed by the idea of living death. I have chosen this path. No magic can blow me off it, and no blithering complaint from you can either. Now be quiet.” The little man obeyed, and they danced.
The pattern was perfect, with no stragglers or strays left unpartnered. All the waiters were off to one side, diligently holding up silver trays covered in the abominations the Harduins liked to snack on: dried rat tails hanging over goblet rims, cheese gone completely white and puffy, crackers of baked salamander skin spotted with yellow or red, and pastries raised from bloody dough.
Griswald had nothing in his stomach, so nothing turned at the sight of the undead delicacies. He made sure not to eat anything the night prior, for he heard a rumor that if you were brought into the fold of the Harduins with a full stomach you would forever smell the rot of it in the back of your throat.
He needed one partner in particular, and he spotted her, dancing with another younger Harduin. She wore a green dress while most others, including himself, wore black. She had already accepted her fate. Her future would be nothing but black clothes, a bedroom full of spider webs, and the cruel sneers she passed out to the living commoners. Griswald had not accepted this fate.
He hopped away from the little man at just the right moment, slipping in as the partners changed. He grabbed her raised hand and spun her around at the bottom of the stairs. One more dance to tell her. One more dance until the end of the gala.
The Final Dance
“Griswald! My son! How dare you disobey me!” She was almost too shocked to dance, but Griswald pushed her back into the routine of the waltz. His mother was a beautiful woman, even with a full crop of gray hair and smile lines that could hold handkerchiefs aloft. That was why they had chosen her, invited her. Her beauty was to be made permanent, another ornament on the black branches of the Harduin tree.
“You look dazzling as ever mother,” Griswald said. He smiled genuinely, shaking off the stiffness that infected his face after seeing Philharmina’s thin imitation. “This is a lovely building isn’t it? If only someone would sweep those nasty bats away.” He tilted his head toward the Harduins. Several of them stared at him now, in pure rage, but it was too late to interrupt the necromantic ceremony. The magic was in place.
“I was chosen!” she protested. “I will not watch you die in my place. No parent should ever…”
“You will,” Griswald interrupted. “You gave me freedom alongside my life, and I’m using it now. No parent should ever try to take it back.” He interrupted the dance for one moment, risking everyone’s lives, to stroke her cheek. “Brother still lives. We still have a line. You can tell them the story of the real me.”
Before she could protest further, the dance ended. He spun her away, back into the crowd of innocents, leaving himself with the others selected to join. He felt the black magic seep up through the floor and stop his legs. He faced the stairs and his new nasty family. His heart slowed. He could feel cruelty curling around his spine like black thorns. His soul could not weather it, but he had to say one more thing before leaving his body to the whim of the necromantics.
“You’ve ruined it,” one of them snarled at him, the one wearing a black rose boutonniere nearly the size of a dinner plate. “Now you’re stuck up here. Your mother is old. She would’ve died soon anyway. Was she worth it?” Griswald took his last deep breath.
“Who do you think taught me to dance?”
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by GuilltyNorriS during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!