|At the foot of Montaigle Castle by Eric Huybrechts|
There was once a young man who was dying and terrified of never waking to see his beautiful face in the mirror again. His wavy golden-brown hair was reminiscent of a lion’s mane though he lacked such kingly vigor. Instead, his fair skin was palish with a sickly tinge of yellow. Over a year’s time, the poor man had been afflicted with a mysterious ailment that left him more and more exhausted although he slept plentifully, did not suffer from hypothyroidism, ate a nutritious balance of food, exercised sound hygiene and was not clinically depressed. As the months passed, his spirits caved. His eyes developed a distant, far-off quality to them. It was from staring down Death, his loyal wife swore. A beautiful specimen herself, she accompanied him everywhere throughout that vexing, difficult time. When they first married years before, the man often marched home across the town’s cobblestone streets instead of waiting for the tram. But once he became sick for months on end, merely flipping off his bed sheets to trudge down the hall to the bathroom took every ounce of energy he could muster.
The man and his wife sought every trusted medical means to diagnose his malady. All of his bodily faculties seemed in good order: his lungs, heart, mind, and cardiovascular and digestive systems were normal for a man of his young age. They were confounded. On a lark he sought a psychotherapist to help him conclude that the symptoms were not psychosomatic, nor that he secretly wished to be ill so his wife could shower him with attention. His therapist assured the man that he had not subconsciously manifested his illness to sabotage his lucrative business. Quite the opposite, his therapist deduced.
Once his psychotherapy sessions ended, the man and his wife traveled around their country—a land once strewn with castles wrapped in ribbons of fog—in search of alternative therapies. Like acupuncture. Chiropractic. Multiple cleansing diets. Leech therapy. Mud bath therapy. Crystal healing. Craniosacral therapy. They even paid for a curandera to fly in from the United States. After taking a tour of their mansion, she sensed no evil curse had been laid upon him. She gave him a tear-inducing massage but none of it helped to alleviate his ceaseless fatigue.
One day, an associate of his told them about a healer he had heard of named The Tango Doctor. His specialty was curing terminal patients who could not be saved by traditional Western medicine. A veil of mystery surrounded him since his clients were sworn to keep his healing methods secret. It was rumored that his methods were unorthodox but effective. The man and his wife figured they had nothing to lose by enlisting his services.
The sky was draped with snowfall on the day the Tango Doctor was set to arrive at their mansion. The sick man’s bedroom windows were frosted by the cold winds. The tentacled branches of the trees outside were bare. Their orange-yellow leaves were scattered about the snow-covered lawn as the doctor pulled up to the mansion in a black hearse.
The butler escorted the doctor inside. He was a tall, wiry man dressed in a striped black tuxedo. A lush burgundy rose was pinned to his jacket. A black bowtie the color of his slicked hair was tied around his collar. His stride was long and deliberate as they passed through a hall filled with busts and portraits of the couple.
As they approached the double doors leading into the man’s private chambers, the Tango Doctor came to a halt.
“Is this his bedroom?” the doctor asked with a thick Spanish accent.
The butler nodded.
“Would you mind throwing those doors open to mark my arrival?” the doctor said. “And I mean really push open those doors, as if you were opening it for a…raging elephant.”
The butler cocked an eyebrow. “As you wish, sir,” he said.
The Tango Doctor adjusted his bowtie as the butler flung the doors open. The friends and loved ones gathered in the bedroom gasped.
“The doctor has arrived,” the butler said, as he strode in.
“Not just any doctor, but I am the Tango Doctor! At your service,” he said, stepping to the middle of the vast room to bow to his audience. With his wife’s hand on his back, the man sat up in bed.
“Thank you, doctor,” the man said in a meek voice. “Welcome to our home.”
The doctor strode over to the man’s wife. He took her hand and kissed it, then took the sick man’s hand in both of his. With a mechanical precision, the doctor stepped to the foot of the bed. He nodded at the clawfoot tub beside it.
“I see you have followed my instructions,” the doctor said.
“We have, doctor,” the wife said.
“Excellent. Every step is important. They must be carried without questions…and with love!”
The doctor turned to the band of friends gathered by the sick man’s bedside. With complete seriousness, he looked at each one of them from head to toe, pausing when his eyes gazed upon the voluptuous chest of one of the women. The man and his wife exchanged puzzled looks.
“Very well. Now, we must move. Take action with all of our being! You, all of you, we must retreat outside to gather soil for our ceremony.”
“Ceremony?” one person whispered.
“Soil?” another said.
The doctor clapped his hands brusquely.
“Not just any soil…fertile soil! We must do so now while the sun, our benevolent giver, is shining upon us. And let me repeat, I said no questions! There is no room for doubt. We must all believe in this endeavor or else I will leave and be unable to participate in this ceremony.”
Waving her hands, the wife scurried over to the doctor’s side.
“No, no, we shall provide the faith you need, doctor,” she said. “We will do what is asked of us.”
Outside, the wife and her loved ones drove shovels into the snowy ground surrounding a mighty beech tree. The Tango Doctor and butler stood off to the side. One of the women, donning a floor-length dress, pushed a wheelbarrow full of dirt and snow to the front of the mansion. There, a man tipped the wheelbarrow to fill a chest with soil. He tied a rope around the chest, which was then lifted to an open window on the second floor with the use of a pulley. A broad-shouldered man guided the chest into the bedroom where it was taken to fill the bathtub by the man’s bed.
Once a layer of soil filled the bottom of the tub, the doctor instructed the man to lie on it. Shovel by shovel, bit by bit, the sick man’s legs and torso were covered in dirt strewn with leaves and clumps of melting snow. The man shivered. He began to hyperventilate. His wife cried. She threw her arms around him.
“You can’t do this to my husband,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“But we must,” the doctor said. “It is necessary. I will not kill him. You must believe.”
“I can’t do this, doctor,” the man said, half submerged and trembling in cold, damp soil. “I can’t!”
“Let me repeat, I will not kill you. Believe me! You can give one of your friends a hunting rifle and instruct him to shoot me dead if I attempt to leave this house with your carcass lying in that tub. It would be a detriment to kill you! I am here to heal you.”
The doctor bent to his knees. He unbuckled a bulky, leather medical bag.
“If you cannot go on, I can knock you out.”
The man looked at his wife. They stared into each other’s eyes. He nodded, then she nodded. He laid his arm out over the mound of soil.
“Do what you must,” the man said.
The doctor took a syringe. He injected him. Within seconds, the man’s head lulled back where the doctor’s hands awaited him. He gently set the man down on the tub, as if he were being buried alive. The crowd stared at the doctor. As though it were a dance move, the doctor took a step forward and clapped his hands twice.
“Come now, let’s keep going!” he shouted.
Before long, the man was covered in dirt. His wife could not bear to see him buried. Sobbing, she fled the bedroom quarters, accompanied by the butler. The doctor found himself surrounded by the couple’s friends. The burly man who dumped the soil into the bathtub glared at the doctor as if he had seen him kissing his own mother. “If you’ve killed him, I swear to God you will not leave here with your life,” he said.
The doctor turned his face and put out an outstretched hand.
“There will be no need for such words my good man.”
The doctor reached again into his bag. He slipped a pair of wire-rimmed glasses on. He produced a piece of paper from his jacket. Stepping over to the bathtub, he unfolded it. The room was silent. All eyes were upon the doctor. He startled his captive audience by pitching his arm deep into the dirt to grab the man’s arm. He put his fingers over the man’s wrist. For half a minute he checked his pulse. He released the man’s forearm, which fell limp over the layer of soil. A few of the women whimpered. One whispered, “Oh my god, he’s dead!” The doctor knelt to have his eyes level with the top of the bathtub. He stared at the patch of dirt clumped over the man’s chest. Bending his head, he peered at the list. He took a pen from his suit pocket.
“Heart rate…no,” he said, marking the list. “Pulse…none!”
The doctor turned his head to stare at the dirt piled over the man’s chest. He stared at it for a while.
The doctor marked his list again, then grabbed the man’s wrist. With his free hand he poked the man.
After he made another notation, the doctor wiped the dirt off his hand. He stood and loomed over the bathtub. With his lips zipped tight, he stared at the tub.
“Pablo, can you hear me?” he calmly said. The room was still. “Pablo!”
One of the women yelped and cowered behind her husband. The doctor took a handkerchief from his pocket. He wiped his forehead. Taking a deep breath, he drew the list up to his face again.
“Bring back the dead…with tango!” he read.
As the sick man’s wife was shepherded into the room, the Tango Doctor reached into his leather bag and grabbed two cymbals. In one fluid motion he stood and clashed them together, the ringing sound echoing off the walls, then flipped off a sheet that concealed a boombox resting on a stool next to the bathtub and hit play on the cassette deck, the tango classic, “La Cumparsita” filled the bedroom as the sick man shot up in the tub, his hair, eyelashes and face covered with dirt.
“He is alive! He is arisen!” the doctor shouted and punctuated by dramatically flailing his arm.
The doctor waltzed about the bedroom in union with the music. He grabbed one of the women and twisted and twirled with her to the tango. As the wife ran to embrace her husband, the doctor strode across the room with his bewildered partner. As the music came to a peak, he dipped the woman, then sent her twirling back to their group of friends. While they scampered over to Pablo’s side as he rose out of the tub, the Tango Doctor grabbed his leather bag, nodded at the butler and said, “My work here is done” before he strode out of the bedroom.