The Dance

by John Ashton

A man was gathering firewood in the forest when he saw a beautiful girl in a glade. She was slender as willow, as fresh as morning dew, her hair was long and fine, and she wore a white tunic but she wore nothing on her feet. And she was dancing.

The man stood transfixed, watching the dance. She seemed at first not to see him, dancing now a little closer to him, now a little further away. Eventually she looked up at the man and their eyes met for a moment, and she seemed to come a step closer to him as she danced.

She looked again, and the man thought to see a smile on her face and he stepped toward her. But she danced further away and he stopped. For a long while he waited, but she did not look back and so he started to walk toward her, but again she danced away, and the quicker he walked, the further she seemed from him, until he was running, and as he ran, she seemed to disappear, and search as he might, he could not find her again.

Back in the village the man told his story, and every man went to the glade to see the girl, to watch her dance, and they always fell in love with her. Always she seemed to smile and invite them, and always they chased her, and always she disappeared.

One day the hunter came to the forest, he was on the trail of a deer. As he stalked the deer he suddenly saw the girl dancing. He stopped and watched her for a moment, but the deer was getting further away, so he moved on, and he did not look back.

Some time later the hunter was again in the forest, this time he was on the trail of a boar. Again the girl appeared, dancing closer this time. Again he stopped and as he looked she looked at him with the hint of a smile. But the boar was getting away, so he nodded curtly and walked on.

As the hunter - running - closed on the boar, the beautiful girl appeared in front of him, even closer than before. Their eyes met, but he ran past her, and in the corner of his eye he seemed to see her stop dancing for a moment as he left.

Time passed. The hunter came to the forest to gather wood to make his arrows. The dancer appeared, further away than before, and this time he stopped to watch her. She danced toward him, step by step drawing closer, now looking at him, now looking away, now smiling at him, now indifferent. He walked swiftly toward her, and she seemed to wait for a moment, but then she danced a few steps away. He stopped, then turned and walked away.

The hunter came back to the forest every week. And every week he watched her dance for a moment, and every week when she danced toward him, he stepped toward her, and he seemed to get ever closer, but she danced away, and he left. He chased the deer and the boar, but he did not chase the dancer.

One day the hunter came to the forest and when the dancer looked at him, because it was good to be a man alive in the forest on a beautiful day and to see a beautiful girl dancing, he smiled a broad joyous smile. The girl's eyes became wide as a doe, she froze and looked down shyly. When she looked up he was still there, the smile gentler now. He nodded to the girl and left.

Several days later the hunter came again into the forest, but this time he was not alone. A huntress was by his side. The dancer appeared, her eyes widened, bewildered and confused. Her dance took an a more frantic speed. But the hunter was not looking, he was looking at the huntress. The dancer followed them all the way to the edge of the forest, and never once did the hunter look back.

The hunter came back to the forest alone the next week, and the dancer seemed sad and anxious in her movements, so he looked at her and smiled, and this time she smiled back. He started to turn toward home, but the dancers eyes became wide again so he turned to look at her.

She was dancing very close to him now, a step forward, a step to the side, a step forward. The hunter smiled gently again and again turned to leave. And now it seemed that it was he that was dancing, and that she was following his dance. They danced like this for what seemed a long while. And now they were almost touching. The hunter held out his hand toward the girl, and she took his hand, and they continued to dance, hand in hand.

John Ashton