The Dancing Dead is a scary story for kids about a young Irish girl who encounters strange figures one November night. It is based on an old Irish legend called “Dance of the Dead” and “Kathleen”. A version of this tale appeared in the Short and Shivery books as “The Dancing Dead of Shark Island”.
Years ago, in Ireland, people were afraid to leave their houses on the last night of November. They believed that, on that one night of the year, the dead would rise from their graves and go forth among the living. If you were out on that night, they said, and you heard footsteps behind you, you shouldn’t look around, because the dead were following you and if you looked them in the eye, then you would surely die.
Just off the west coast of Ireland, there is a small island that the locals call “Shark Island”, though its proper name in Irish is “Inis Airc”. Today, it is uninhabited, but many years ago, there were people who lived their whole lives on the island and one of them was a young girl named Kathleen.
One November night, Kathleen was on her way home. The road back to her house was long and she was tired of walking, so she sat down to take a rest.
It was a cold, dark night and the chill night air sent a shiver down her spine. She looked around and realized she was sitting by the wall of a churchyard. In the moonlight, the headstones looked like bones.
All at once, she saw a figure appear from the darkness. She had to cover her mouth to stop herself letting out a cry of surprise. As the figure came closer, she realized it was a young boy with pale white skin.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Take a good look at me,” said the boy. “Don’t you know me?”
“There is something familiar about you,” said Kathleen.
“Take another look closer,” he said, stepping into the moonlight. “Now do you know me?”
“Yes, I know you now,” she said, her voice a frightened whisper. “You’re young Brian… but you… you were drowned last year when you went out fishing… Why are you here?”
“Look,” he said, pointing at the hill nearby. “That’s why I’m here.”
Kathleen looked and saw faint lights on the hillside, dancing like fireflies in the darkness. When she looked closer, she saw they were people. Men, women and children, dressed all in white, their faces sad and pale as a funeral shroud, all dancing to the music of unseen pipes.
Kathleen looked closer and saw a girl that had died the year before, then another man she knew had died long ago. To her horror, she recognized each and every one of them. All of the dancers, men, women and children, were people who had died on the island, as far back as she could remember. The sight chilled her to the bone.
Then, suddenly, the music stopped. All the ghastly pale faces turned to stare at her. They raised their arms, stretched out their bony hands and beckoned her to join them. Their sad faces changed and hideous, malevolent grins spread out across their sunken cheeks.
“Now,” said the boy, “run for your life, for if they bring you into their dance, you’ll never be able to leave.”
The terrified girl turned to flee, but at that moment, the dead floated towards her and joined hands, forming a circle around her. They threw back their heads in silent laughter and stared at her with eyes that looked like they wanted to snatch her up and drag her off with them.
Kathleen stood there trembling, as the laughing dead gathered around her, spinning faster and faster as they edged closer and closer. She started to grow dizzy as their pale faces became a blur of whirling white and all at once, she fainted and fell to the ground.
The next morning, Kathleen woke up at home in her own bed. When she didn’t return the night before, her brother had gone out searching for her. He found her lying unconscious in a stone circle on the hill and brought her home.
Kathleen’s family were gathered by her bedside. They could see that her face was drained of color and she was too weak to move. The poor girl was as pale and listless as the dead. They sent for the doctor and he came as quick as he could. He tried everything he could to save her, but it was no use.
As the moon rose that night, her family were saying prayers at her bedside when they heard the eerie sounds of faint music, drifting on the breeze.
“Do you hear it?” Kathleen asked weakly. “What does it mean?”
Her family went to the window to see who was playing the music, but they saw nothing in the moonlight but empty, desolate fields as far as the eye could see.
Just then, Kathleen sat up in bed and screamed, “Mother! Mother! The dead are coming for me! They’re here! They’re here!”
Suddenly, the music stopped and when they returned to Kathleen’s bedside, they saw that the poor girl was dead.
Outside in the night, nobody saw the pale, white figure of a young girl, dancing away towards the moonlit hill.