I did not expect to open my eyes again.
I thought that I would certainly die in the night. I had hoped that I would.
When I opened my crusty eyes, I saw ash dancing in the morning light. It took me a moment to realize why that was odd. Soft beams of light sifted through the cracks in the walls and peeked in from under the door. I did not have the energy to do more than wonder at the unexpected illumination. It’s been so dark lately. We haven’t seen the sun in ages.
I don’t know how long I lay there, just staring at the ash and the light.
Eventually, I noticed something else. The ash was dancing in the light. It was being moved by a breeze–a breeze strong enough to move the air and lift the ash even inside the walls of our home. As I thought this, ash began to move more quickly and a warm breeze brushed across my face.
It was as though I had been underwater, starving for breath and suddenly my head had broken the surface. I inhaled sharply in surprise. Behind me, I heard the children stir as well.
I stared at the light leaking in under the door with wide eyes, unable to process the feeling in my chest, the touch of the breeze on my skin. I was staring at the door when Skadie flung it open.
For the first time in ages, I felt my heart twitch with joy. My beautiful Skadie had returned to me, now, at the end of things. But even as I thought this, my heart sank again and I lowered my eyes. She had been to the mountains. She had seen what I had done. She would know the truth of my crime. Reluctantly, I looked into her eyes, expecting to find judgement and despair there.
But there was no despair. What was there was almost more unbearable.
Skadie was radiant with joy. She flung the door open and, as I looked back into her eyes, she smiled.
“Father of Children,” she said, breathlessly, “I found The Dancer!”
My chest filled with shame and I began to mumble apologies but Skadie interrupted me.
“He was not lying in stone where you left him, Father.” She took a step forward and knelt beside me in the dust, the breeze from the open door creating whirlwinds of ash around her.
“He wasn’t there and I thought that the Other had taken him and I cried. But Father,” she laid a hand on my cheek, “I was right.” She smiled again, breaking my heart. “The Dancer. He’s not dead. You killed him but He’s not dead.”
“No,” I croaked with my dry, cracked voice, “No, Skadie… He is gone forever. I killed him.”
“Father, look!” She gestured to the wind and the dancing ash. “He has sent The Singer ahead of himself to teach the world how to dance again. Father, He is alive and He is coming here.”
“No, Skadie,” I said again, “That is not possible. There will be no more dancing. I killed The Dancer and I killed the dance and now we wait to die with Him.”
Skadie shook her head, leaned down and kissed my ash-covered forehead and then stood up.
“No, Father. The Dance is not dead.”
And Skadie danced.
It was breathtaking. I heard the other children gasp as I shot up in my bed, astonished. My Skadie was dancing the Dance of Life, the dance her mother had danced every spring since she was a little girl. And now my Skadie danced the Dance… and the wind danced with her. It gusted in through the door, whirled around the small, one-room house and caught the accumulated ash up in dancing grey ribbons. It whirled around Skadie and danced with her and it whistled and sang through the cracks in the walls and around the corners of the building.
It was beautiful.
Beside me in the bed, Mother stirred. Slowly, stiffly, she rose up on her elbows and her long neck swiveled towards the door as her eyes blinked dryly in the light.
“Skadie?” she muttered. “Is that… my Skadie?” Then her eyes flew wide and she inhaled sharply before uttering a sharp, disbelieving, “THE SINGER!” She looked to me with a look of awe on her face. “Father of Children, The Singer has come!”
Skadie’s dance drifted to a stop and the wind dwindled to a gentle breeze with her. Breathing heavily, Skadie smiled at me and her Mother.
“Mother of Life, Father of Children, The Singer has come ahead of The Dancer to bring hope to His people.” She put out her hand towards us in invitation. “Come outside. Hear The Song. The Dancer is coming.”
Slowly, Mother and I rose from our bed, shedding ashes as we walked to the door and out into the light. Green shoots were beginning to show through the ash, small animals were beginning to stir, and there, in the east–from the mountains–was a bright point of warm light. Beneath the light I could just make out a lone figure walking towards us through the wasteland, the wind sweeping ash from his path as he came.
The Dancer had returned. Mother and I looked at each other in wonder.
And we Danced.