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“There can be no life without joy.
There can be no joy without suffering.”
— Pete Moss
“The tears of heaven only fall
when moved by grace and beauty.”
— Kay Oss
The Rain Dancer
The full moon cast its glow upon the dancer’s lithe form. Wherever she leaped tiny moon flowers sprang from the soil.
The little flowers trilled low as the wind brushed by them. The spirits of old called out in deep hums.
The dancer twirled and bounced and capered. Her feet barely touched the ground. She thrashed against the gloom in wild rhythmic gyrations of light.
The clouds began to roll and rumble over the heavens. Static potential filled the air with a burgeoning potency.
The dancer could taste the wetness on her tongue.
Soon, the rains would fall. Soon, the rivers would fill. The crops would fatten. The people in the village would be fed. For generation after generation, this is the way it had always been.
She loved the dance. She loved the way it made her feel. She loved the tingling electric sensation that traveled from the tips of her toes to the base of her spine and then up and out over her whole body.
Now, each strand of her hair stood on edge.
The wind howled past her. Clouds passed over the moon. The heavens had gone pitch-black.
She could feel a watery weight above her. The breaking point had come near. Only a few more steps and then rains would come.
But then, suddenly, a shriek rang out.
She felt as if struck by lightening. Her big toe caught on a root. Her ankle twisted. She stumbled and dived into the dry, dusty ground.
She lay in the dirt paralyzed with fear. Had she been seen? By whom? And by how many?
Her ankle throbbed. When she licked her lips, she brought dust back into her mouth.
They would kill her. She was sure of it. She trembled.
And the rain? What of the rain? The villagers needed the rain.
The sky began to clear. The moon returned from behind the clouds. She lay there stunned and afraid.
Shadows fell upon her. There must have been a dozen of them. It was a group of men from the village led by the preacher.
The preacher cleared his dry throat. Then he spoke:
“You see, I told you. This woman works in wicked ways. She drives men to lustful thoughts. She cavorts with the Raven and with the Skeleton Man. She would give herself to the Black Rabbit had she a chance. She is evil, through and through. We must destroy her. Come now, pick up your rocks. Don’t be afraid. We do the work of the great sun god in the sky. He will protect us all, even in this darkness.”
The dancer pushed herself up in the dust. Tears fell from her eyes. She said:
“You don’t understand. It hasn’t rained in days. We have to do the dance. We’ve always done the dance. There was a time when it wasn’t even a secret. Before any preacher, there was the dance. I learned it from my mother, and she from hers. We’ve always done the dance. Please.”
“Shut up, you witch,” said the preacher, and he picked up a sizable rock.
She stood up.
She could see their faces under the light of the moon. She knew them all. If she were to have passed them by on a street in the village, they would have smiled at her.
What had this preacher done to them? What had he promised them so dear? She only wanted to help the village. They had to have the rain, or they would all die.
Others began to pick up stones.
“Please, just let me try,” she begged, her eyes welling with tears.
She began to try to move, to get back into step. Her ankle throbbed with pain. Still, she tried to leap. She did it. She jumped, and she capered. Despite the pain in her ankle, she did the dance.
Even the preacher paused, his eyes frozen on her lithe form. The dark clouds began to return. Thunder rumbled through the sky.
“No,” the preacher said.
He hurled his stone. It caught her in the gut. She crumpled immediately. She fell to the ground holding her stomach.
Another stone came in at her. And then another. She felt that she would die.
At that moment a thunderous crack boomed through the air. The world turned white. A blinding pattern of filigree traced out a pattern the likes of which none of them had ever seen.
They ran. Even the preacher ran. Whatever god had spoken, he’d been angry. They all ran in fear for their lives.
But the rain did not fall. The dance had not been completed. She lay there in the dirt and the dust clenching her stomach. For how long she could not say.
But before the dawn came, she managed to get up. On her swollen ankle, she took a single step forward and then another. Eventually, in small uneasy steps, she began to walk.
She walked away from the village.
Two cycles of the moon had come and gone.
In the dusk, a dry hot wind streamed through the village. Dust swirled and blew over everything.
The corn had nearly died. The wells contained only a thick viscous mud.
Even now, a woman tried to strain the mud through dirty rags, to squeeze out a few drops for her little daughter.
Bits of donkey meat hung from the eaves of a few houses. Men with guns watched the meat warily less someone should try to steal it.
In front of the sun god’s church, the preacher sat. His dark brown eyes had drawn deep into his skull.
He moved a dry tongue over cracked lips. He coughed, a dry miserable squelch.
The fetid smell of death whiffed across the village. People had begun to die. They would just collapse, and no one had the energy to move them. They were all dying.
The dancer entered the village riding a donkey. She had nothing else with her at all. She wore only a thin white gossamer covering.
The preacher saw her. He tried to get up, but instead he just fell out of his chair. He struggled to sit up. And once he had, he just stared at her.
A man with a pistol stumbled toward the dancer. He could have been a zombie for all that was left of him.
He pointed the pistol at her. She smiled at him, and she offered him the rope to the donkey. He reached to take it, but then in sheer exhaustion, he fell over.
No one else came to threaten her. They were all too tired. They were nearly dead.
The dusk had faded into night. The full moon stretched huge and orange across the horizon.
The area in front of the church lay wide and open. She walked to it. She curled up in a small ball. She stayed like this for several moments.
Then, she slowly stretched back out until she stood. Then she leaned back. A moonbeam caught her body and highlighted her shapely form.
She began to dance. She capered across the ground, and then she jumped. She twirled, and then she pranced.
Wherever her feet landed tiny moon flowers sprouted. Moisture began to fill the air with potential.
The form of the dance hadn’t changed. It had been this way since the beginning of time. Yet the joy that had been in each step had gone. It had been replaced by a piquant sense of the tragic.
There was a levity, and a grace, that had never been there before. In its own way, the dance had become more lovely and beautiful than ever before.
People had begun to appear around the dancer. They staggered out from wherever they had been hiding. And as they continued to come, eventually, a small crowd formed.
They watched spellbound and compelled.
Dark clouds began to come. The massive orange moon disappeared. Thunder rumbled deep from some place in the sky.
Finally, small drops of water began to fall. You could smell it, the fresh water. Gradually, the rain increased until it reached a steady rhythm.
People looked out at the rain in amazement and relief. They turned their heads up and opened their mouths. They cried.
A subdued joy began to take hold throughout the whole village. They had been saved. The dancer had saved them.
She stood now at the center of the crowd. Her dance was complete. All around her grew the tiny shimmering moon flowers.
She smiled at the people, and they smiled back at her. Some of them kneeled and prayed to her. An old woman approached her, then dropped at her feet and cried.
The dancer lay her hand on the old woman’s head. She looked to the crowd and spoke:
“This is our dance. Not mine. You’d just forgotten. Now you must remember.”
The dancer looked over at the church. The preacher had disappeared, and the church doors lay open.
The dancer turned and walked to the church. She went up the steps. She went inside.
A small lamp burned and cast a pale glow over the pews of the church. She found the preacher near the doors. He lay face up just inside.
He gasped in small breaths. He’d dragged himself in just as it had begun to rain. He’d barely felt a single drop of wetness.
She went to him. She kneeled down next to him. Sadness and pity overwhelmed her.
“Wait,” she whispered.
She rose and went out. She came back. Her hands were cupped and full of water from the falling rain. She knelt again. She placed her cupped hands above the preacher’s face. She let the water trickle down into his mouth.
“You have to drink,” she said. “If you don’t drink you’ll die. And what would be the good of that?”
He grimaced. He turned his head. He spat out the water.
“You’re a witch,” he rasped. “I’ll never drink the water of a witch.”
She lay her wet hand on his forehead. She brushed his dusty hair back. With the back of her wet hand, she soothed his hot and dry cheeks.
She watched him die.
Once he was dead, she bowed her head low. She prayed for him to his own sun god.
Finally, she left the church. The rain fell steady and hard.
She found her donkey and got on. She rode out of the village.
She never returned again.
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