Short story inspired by Dance Macabre

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2022.01.28 04:56 Thomas-Omalley Short story inspired by Dance Macabre

Hi, I hope this is allowed here.
After figuring out the song was about living/enjoying the last moments during the black death and after reading about the concept of Danse Macabre, I had this idea for a short story (3k words). Would love to hear what fans of the band think about it. Any comment would be appreciated.
Adding a link to google docs here but also added the text here if you don't want to exit reddit.
Dance Macabre
The sun glowed a hazy red through the fog. Shadows of buildings outlined clear beams of light, the fog dancing within them. It swirled in turbulent motions, in a seemingly chaotic manner. But when Lev stood still and watched closely, he could see the small particles slowly dropping to the floor. Every second of every day they dropped, making the layer of ash a little thicker, making breathing a little bit harder, making nights a little bit colder. And there was nothing left to do but wait. The meteor hit three months ago. Millions were instantly crushed, torn apart or swallowed by earthquakes. For millions more, death came slowly as darkness crept towards them. Lev and Mary were far enough from the impact site. Or so they were told. Just make sure you have enough food, water and fuel for the generators, they said. Wait for the dust to clear, they said. The dust should have cleared out a month ago, but it just kept getting worse. The street was silent and smelled of smoke. Lev didn't mind it all that much, to be honest. He got used to it. He even got used to the other smell that mixed with the smoke lately. A scent he wished to never be able to recognize. He didn't ever want to know that it was something he could get used to. So many things were like that these days. When it all started, people were glued to the news. Every new piece of information felt critically important. A hint of a saving grace. But now, knowing there was nothing left to do, watching doom thicken by the day… Well, Lev stopped watching the news long before the power went out. He watched his feet as they trudged through ash. Left, right, left, right. If he cleared his mind and focused on his feet, he could catch glimpses of ignorance. Moments where his mind went to sleep and simply absorbed all sensations as pure input. No interpretations, no worries, simply fractions of pure existence. These moments were the only thing he could look forward to in his last few days. He glanced to the right. Through the fog he could see the church billboard. “DEATH IS UNIVERSAL”, it wrote in those all knowing white capital letters "IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN." Lev was never particularly religious. But walking by the church did manage to turn away some of the gloom. They kept their doors wide open, embracing the dust, embracing death. The confident voice of the pastor giving his sermons was soothing. It was the only voice Lev could hear that was not tinged with despair. He closed his eyes and tried to listen, but the church stood in silence. Did something happen to the priest? He was not a young man. Lev was surprised he held out this far. He should go in and ask, see if there was anything… Let go. He had to remind himself, Stop trying to figure it all out. His focus turned back to his feet and the shifting view of the ashened brick pavement. He played little games with his vision. Like seeing if he could convince himself that he was not walking on the street, but the street was moving beneath his feet. Feeling passive and numb, as if you didn’t exist or make decisions at all, was comfortable. Why try to do anything if the end was inevitable? It was much better to imagine a world simply floating through time. A world that only asked you to sit tight and watch. He reached the stockpile and stood in line. It wasn’t so long anymore. Having people guard and carefully distribute food was silly at this point. They had more than enough food, they quickly learnt that food wasn’t the issue. The entire town would soon die coughing and shivering, regardless of how full their stomachs were. “Saw a plane tonight.” The person in front of Lev said. “Zipped through the sky like a comet.” A woman further down the line grunted. “Oh please, would you stop spreading those idiotic rumors? You’re just getting the kids all worked up.” “Swear to god. I think they developed something to help them fly through the fog. They’ll come for us.” The woman sighed, “They’ve had months to come for us.” “Flying in the fog was never the problem.” An older man with a long grey beard said. The woman nodded. Lev could see the desperation in her eyes. “He’s right,” she said with a voice choked from either dust or hopelessness. “Those monsters. Declined visa my ass. They never wanted to let us in.” “Yes,” the old man continued, “they don’t want to catch the parasites.” She rolled her eyes. “Dear god, not this again.” “It’s true, the meteor moved unnaturally through space. They said it was like gravity didn’t work properly on it. That’s because it was engineered. They found traces of element one twenty five on the crash site, heard about it? The aliens use it to bend gravity. They wanted to test us with this meteor, but got us all infected in the process. Did you read ‘Guns, Germs and Steel'? You know how the colonists killed most native Americans with their germs?” “Please,” she said, cutting him off, “just shut the fuck up. Nobody cares about your stupid conspiracy theories anymore.” Lev kept quiet, the last thing he wanted was to have this conversation all over again. It was pointless. The woman was right, whatever was going on outside the fog, nobody was coming for them. He waited for his turn, asked for some canned baked beans, full cream and potatoes and went back home.
Mary lay on the living room sofa, reading a book. Lev almost asked her how her day was as he entered. An instinct from better times, times when they’d make an effort, when they believed those efforts stacked up to build a future. But now, the question felt like a boorish taunt. He quickly entered the kitchen. He turned on the gas stove and boiled the potatoes. Meanwhile, he chopped onions and garlic and fried them on a pan. He added the baked beans and seasoned them with whatever he had left in the house. Potatoes ready, he mashed them with the cream and some salt and pepper. He struggled to keep the process as technical and mundane as possible. Mundane was good, it was safe. Any time he tried perfecting something, doing anything right, he’d just fall into despair when realizing how pointless it all was. He pulled out two plates, poured the mashed potatoes and beans on and placed them on the dining table. He poured water into two cups and placed them by the plates. “Dinner’s ready.” “Coming.” Mary said in a monotone. She was constantly sedated these days. Hopped up on whatever she could get her hands on. They made a pact to overdose on painkillers together when the end was certain. To peacefully fade out of existence, slowly, without pain, without any feelings at all. Lev didn’t love the idea, maybe because a small part of him still hoped to get out of this mess. But he knew that when the time came, he’d choose numbness over pain. Mary got up and took her seat, never taking her eyes off her book. “Do you mind?” Lev asked, pointing at the book. “Sorry.” She replied and turned it upside down. Dinner used to be a big deal for them. They always made sure to make time to eat together at least once a day, no distractions. Today, they sat in silence and ate. Lev thought about things to say, but nothing came. Dear lord, why even sit? Why stay home? What's the point? They finished their meals, showered, and went to bed. They hugged under the sheets. He turned to kiss her, passionless. She weakly embraced him, her hand moved on his cheek in a faint mimicry of the sparks they used to have. Couldn’t they just pretend everything was alright? Just for tonight? She buried her head in his chest and sobbed. The sound shattered his heart, there was such despair in her tears, such exhaustion. Her spirit was broken, his too. All their goals, their aspirations, everything, were slowly fading in front of their eyes. He joined her and broke down in tears. Tears that hadn’t stopped, but faded out as they fell asleep.
He woke up as muted sunlight entered their bedroom. Staying in bed, he tried focusing on his breath. In, out, in, out. Imagine there is nothing outside the breath. Moments of selflessness faded in and out. They combatted the stream of thoughts accumulating at the back of his mind. When he resisted them, they piled up and eventually burst; when he let them flow, they would shatter his soul. Meditation wasn’t working. I gotta go for a walk. He got out of bed, careful not to pull on the sheets or make any noise. Mary was sound asleep. Waking her was unfair, why prolong her suffering? Outside, the smell of bitter smoke mixed with sour death. He coughed every few minutes. His lungs were reaching their limits, if the fog got any thicker this would be it. A corpse lay on the pavement, covered in ash. Was it there yesterday? Lev shivered; he honestly couldn’t remember. It was such a common sight these days, all the death surrounding him mixed in his head in a flurry of forgotten souls. He quickly passed it by and headed to the church. He told himself that he would go in one day, near the end. Especially if something happened to Mary. The thought of dying alone was too much, someone had to know he existed, someone had to care that he passed away. Staring at the church, he urged himself to enter, to talk with someone, to… The sound of music interrupted his thoughts. Was that a guitar? Who had the nerve to play music at a time like this? He turned around. A young woman sat at the steps of an abandoned building, holding a guitar. She played it and sang along to her music. The sounds chilled Lev. They were beautiful, but… how? He neared her. She seemed entirely out of place. Her pale white skin was contrasted with a black evening gown, a shade perfectly matching the tone of her smooth hair. As he approached, he could see her face. Makeup? How could she wear makeup at a time like this? Their eyes locked. Her music mesmerized him. He waited for her to finish before he could speak. “How?” he asked, “how can you play that right now?” She smiled a toothy grin, the whiteness of her teeth outlined by her bright red lipstick. “Don’t you like it?” “I do, it’s just… Not appropriate.” She cocked her head. “Why not?” He frowned. “Are you mocking me?” She stared at him with wide black eyes, the grin still on her face. “Because we’re doomed, that’s why. Do you seriously not understand my question?” “What does that have to do with playing music?” “Everything. Music is for… better days” “Nonsense. Music can be sad. Here, listen.” She proceeded to play a haunting melody. Her gentle voice decorated the notes with a counter melody. The words she spoke may have been in English, but Lev couldn’t make them out. He was sucked in by her performance. It sent his mind to confront all he was denying. He imagined Mary dying, himself dying. He imagined the children they could have had, trips around the world that could have been. He imagined himself working at the restaurant again, opening a chain like he always wanted. He felt everything at one strum of the note and then felt it all taken away by the next. It tore his soul, squeezed whatever pent up emotion he had inside. When she was done, tears covered his face. It felt amazing, as if his body was cleansed from a horrible illness. She smiled again. “Tell me, what are your plans for today?” He blinked. “Nothing. What plans can I have?” “What would you be doing now if it weren't for…” she waved around, “this.” “Cooking, I guess. I was a chef.” “Was? You look pretty alive to me.” He sighed. “You know what I mean.” “No I don’t,” she replied standing up, “are you not a chef anymore?” “What does it matter now?” “Why did it matter when you were alive?” “I just… I don’t have customers. I don’t have the business anymore” “What about you? Or anyone special that’s still alive? What are you cooking tonight?” “Nothing, just potatoes.” “But you’re a chef!” “What’s the point?!” He said in more of a plea than an answer. “Why did it have a point before? Look, you’re still here, still alive, still experiencing life, why are you wasting your last moments?” He stood still, not wanting to respond, how could she be serious? The ground trembled. He turned around and saw a black cloud of dust on the horizon. Things were getting intense. She smiled again. “Listen, this may be your last day on earth. Go home, make something amazing to eat. Invite everyone you care about. If that’s only you, eat alone. Enjoy your last meal, then come looking for me. You will not waste these precious hours.” And with that she turned away and walked down the street.
Panic set in all around Lev. People screamed and ran from one place to the other. They felt that earthquake, they saw the cloud, they knew what was coming. He ran to the stockpile. No one was there. He entered and took whatever he could find. Meat, fish, fruit, flour. Ideas for different meals ran through his mind. All set, he quickly made his way back home.
“Did you feel that?” Mary asked as he entered. “Yes.” He replied and ran to the kitchen, dropping the bags on the floor. “What the hell are you doing?” “Cooking.” He answered as he turned on the stove and filled a pot with water. “Now?” He placed the pot on the stove then rushed to embrace her. “Mary, I think this is it. I love you so much, I wish we had fifty more years together, but this is all we have. I don’t want us to go out in pain, I want us to enjoy our final moments together.” Her blank eyes stared into him. A spark ignited in them and she shook her head. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a white plastic box. The pills rattled in her trembling hand. She stared at them as a tear slowly streaked down her cheek. She kissed him. “I love you so much,” she said and took a step back, “let’s get it over with.” “Wait,” he said, grabbing her arm, “we still have some time, I was thinking… Maybe we could enjoy our final day, you know? Pretend as if everything was fine. Spend our last moments like we used to.” “I… I don’t know if I can do that.” “I don’t know either, but let’s at least try to... You know, burn out rather than fade away?” She whimpered and buried her head into his shoulder.. “It just hurts so much, Lev. Seeing it all crumble in our hands. I don’t want it to hurt anymore.” He held her tight and rubbed her shoulders. “I know, my love, I know. But if we only have a few more hours, why don’t we at least try and remember what made it all worth it. We can always take the pills if we regret it, okay?” The water in the pot began boiling. “Look, I need to start, how about you give me a hand?” She stood still, hesitating, but after a moment she nodded. Her arm reached to twist the cap off the box. She slid two fingers in, extracted a single pill and quickly swallowed it. “Nothing wrong with a little buzz.” She said, giggling between sobs, and followed him to the kitchen. Mary chopped vegetables for a soup and Lev prepared sauce for the salmon. He heated up the pan with some olive oil and placed the filet on it, carefully adding sauce as it cooked. They didn’t have power for the oven, so for dessert he chopped some fruit and instructed Mary to make creme patisserie to go along with them. Everything was done and the table was set. “Come.” He said, holding her hand. “Let’s get dressed.” She smiled and followed him to the bedroom. He put on his only suit and she put on a long, red dress and a fur coat. The earth rumbled as they rushed their way back to the living room. Everything was perfect. The soup was hot and flavorful. The fish didn’t dry and it’s sweet-sour sauce reminded Lev of all the good times they had together. He suddenly felt stupid for not cooking like this since the disaster happened. What was he waiting for? Nevermind, today was not about regrets. They finished with dessert. They hadn't tasted anything as sweet for months now. It was such a pleasure to taste again, to live again, if only for today. The steady beating of drums suddenly sounded in the distance. It caught them both off guard, but Lev knew what was happening. “Let’s go out.” Mary hesitated for a moment, then shook her head. “Fuck it. Let’s go.” They headed out into the streets. The fog was heavy, breathing was hard, and it was impossible to see anything more than three feet away. But the music led their way. Blurry outlines of other people appeared all around them, they also followed the music. They also wanted to go out with a bang. It’s coming from the church. Lev realized. He held on to Mary’s hand tight, and rushed them towards it. The place was packed. It was hard to see, but it felt like the entire street was here. They danced to the music. That same heavenly voice from before screamed melodies into the haze. The crowd went ballistic. The ground rumbled, but nobody yelled. Lightning flashed outside, momentarily lighting up the entire chamber. Lev saw apparitions of skeletal faces dancing all around him. Was he hallucinating? Were these people even alive? Was he? He honestly didn’t care anymore. He pulled Mary close and they shared an explosive kiss. It was filled with such passion, such life. It combined the thrill the first time they held hands, the first time they made love, the deep affection that came after years of knowing each other, and the finality of a long goodbye. The music grew louder, more intense. And for the last moment before darkness engulfed him, everything was perfect.
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