Short Story: Devil’s Dance Floor

“Well swing a little more, little more o’er the merry-o
Swing a little more, a little more next to me
Swing a little more, little more o’er the merry-o
Swing a little more, on the Devil’s Dance Floor”

Devil’s Dance Floor © Flogging MollySilent slaves pulled the straps tight, covering the deep scars of his body with leather and steel, wrapping him in a cocoon of limited safety. Nine hundred and fifty-three bouts, providing that he survived tonight. One thousand and he would be free. Years spent keeping top shape, weeks and months at a time spent healing. They placed the tight leather and steel cap on his head, none dared meet his eyes. Pale golden eyes that peered from a darkly tanned face crossed with scars of varied shades from pale white to angry purple.

Twin gladiuses were placed in his hands, short swords with wicked edges and he stood a pace from the door, outwardly cool and composed as he waited as he had several hundred times before. They had tried all to bring him low, none had ever earned their freedom, and he had advanced twice as far as any other.

Faces returned unbidden. Twisted in pain, covered in blood, screaming for mercy. He showed nothing, but deep inside he felt the pain of them all. He was but one man, one man at the will and whim of an entire empire. He waited his turn and wondered what would face him this time. Man and beast had fallen to his sword. A week before it was a lion, a few days before that a man larger than any he had seen before.

The door opened and he stepped out into the dust of the arena. He brushed it with his foot and saw it smooth. He strode to the center and contemplated the irony that one thousand must die that he alone would find freedom, then purged his mind of fear and doubt. The crowd grew silent as he faced the Emperor and saluted with a negligence that bespoke more contempt than the man allowed from any living being.

“Champion, are you ready to face the next test?” The chamberlain intoned.

“Send the next to their turn on the devil’s dance floor,” the Champion intoned deeply.

He turned to the opponent’s door and watched impassively as the door opened slowly. From the darkness stepped a small child was pushed forward bearing a long stick. Mockery. How could he kill a child? How could he die for a child? He glanced sideways and saw the smirk raise the corners of the emperor’s mouth.

The champion smiled and spun like a dancer, releasing one of his blades, seeing it pin the emperor to his seat. Arrows pierced him by the dozen, slowly driving the proud man to his knees, he fell to his back, feeling the shafts driven through his body as he lay bleeding and cold in the fiery sun.

He smiled as a realization came to him. He had cheated them. Freedom was the choice to give your life to something greater than yourself. He had cheated them of forty-eight deaths and taken the life most abhorrent to him. He was free. He had beaten down the devil on his own dance floor.

© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.

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