The Piper Calls His Due

In the wild dance Heloise saw the face of her Stefan, dead now these twenty-three years. The drums drove her feet, the flutes made her throw her hands about in ecstasy, the trumpets scattered all thought of tomorrow. He was there, merry-eyed as any devil, just outside the circle, still as a stone in the music. The dance carried Heloise past him; the smell of brandy rolling off him like fog over a lake made her grit her teeth and gag. She was terrified to see him. Ghosts terrified her, she knew at once, although Stefan was her first visitor.

She began to wail, her voice choking and sobbing along with the music, dragged through languages willy-nilly, soft and desperate. The dancers heard her, pounded their hands together, kicked the floor, shrieked and gibbered. She was thrown to the outside of the circle, and she fought to get back inside, to safety, to thoughtlessness, away from Stefan, away, away. Over the hills and away. But the dance carried her along, and there was Stefan, smiling, hands open and arms wide, and waiting, and waiting.