The Strange Dancer

The Strange Dancer

This is a story told to me by a very old lady, who wished to be anonymous.

When I was a young girl, back in the 1930s, our family lived in a very old house. It was big and rambling, and because my parents didn’t have much money, the house was in a poor state of repair. They were ‘doing it up’ bit by bit.

There was a whole upper floor that we children were not supposed to go anywhere near. They said it was dangerous, but they went up there sometimes, because they used it for storage.

When you are a child, of course, the forbidden looks very attractive.

Our bedrooms were on the first floor, and the forbidden floor was right above us. I shared a room with two of my younger sisters, and lying in bed at night when they were both asleep, I would sometimes hear the quick patter of footsteps across the floor above my head.

I told my parents about it, and they said it was mice, but the footsteps were too distinct to be little scurrying creatures. It sounded more like a small person running across the floor.

I used to lie awake in the dark, listening to the sound of little feet above my head. Whatever it was used to run from the side where the door was in our bedroom over to the window. In the daytime I looked from the garden at the little window above my own bedroom window, expecting, hoping, to see a face looking back at me, but there was never anyone there.

I was never afraid, only curious to know what it was.

One Saturday in July my parents, my brother and sisters were all out in the garden having tea and playing games. My Mother was busy deadheading the roses, which were very beautiful that year. I went inside to fetch a ball from my bedroom. It was right at the bottom of my toybox. Just as I found it, the footsteps ran across the floor above, to the window.

I suppose that I thought that this was my chance to catch whatever it was, so I ran as quietly as I could up the stairs to the forbidden floor. I turned left towards the room above mine, and I remember that the door was open just a crack. Pulling it all the way open, I went in, and found that the room was filled with boxes. There was a narrow, winding path between the boxes, but it was difficult even for a small girl to squeeze through. There was no way that anything, not even a mouse, could quickly and directly run from the door to the window – but I could see a dark shape in front of the window, looking out.

I shouted ‘Hey’ and it turned around. The sun was behind it, very bright, and I couldn’t make out anything but a dark silhouette, like a small person, no taller than me.

Just as I was about to go into the room, I was grabbed from behind and I squealed. The shape at the window disappeared, and my Father, who had stopped me from going in, started to tell me off for being up there at all. I told him what I had heard and seen, but he thought I was making it all up.

He sent me downstairs. Back in the garden, I looked up to see him at the little window. That seemed wrong to me somehow, and I called to him to come down. A couple of minutes later he was in the garden with us again. I asked if he had seen anything, and he told me not to be silly, but there was an odd look in his eyes.

My parents took me aside before bedtime and very seriously told me not to go up to that floor because the boxes might fall on me, and some of the floorboards were old and rotten and might break under my weight.

I did stay away, but the footsteps would sound every might, waking me up. They became odd little prancing noises.

One night I woke to hear pattering on the floor above. For a few days I had been feeling strange and light-headed, and then in the middle of the night, waking like that, I was dizzy and everything felt unreal.

I got up out of bed and went upstairs. The door to the room was shut. When I opened it, I saw that all the boxes were gone. Moonlight was streaming through the little window and someone was twirling around in the middle of the floor, across a carpet patterned with flowers.

I stepped into the room this time and saw that the person dancing was a large cat, as tall as I was, upright on its two back legs. The cat danced towards me, put its paws into my outstretched hands and danced me across the room. I remember now the feel of its warm furry paws and the slight pricking of partly extended claws.

The cat’s eyes were large and glowed amber in the moonlight. Though I could not hear any music, I could feel music in my bones as we spun and danced together across the carpet of flowers.

The next time I woke, I was in a hospital bed. They told me I was unconscious for days with a high temperature, and everyone had expected me to die. I was dancing all that time, but could not tell anyone. There were five tiny prick marks in each of my palms from the cat’s claws.

Back at home again, my sisters were moved into another room while I stayed in bed to recover. I was very weak for a long time and could hardly stand, except when the cat visited me at night and we danced together.

When I recovered my health he stopped coming and I have never seen him since, but I would love to dance with him again. Perhaps I will.

My parents repaired the floorboards on the top floor and took all the boxes out of that room. When I was allowed to go up there, they had laid a new carpet, like a flowery meadow. Exactly the carpet I danced over with the cat. Even today you can see the little pinpricks on my palms where his claws bit into me.

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