The Disco Macabre
Caught in the same traps laid repeatedly throughout history, thousands of people have been lured by mysterious celebrations - disappearing, often forever, into the night.
Despite being described in a variety of forms as far back as records exist, the incidence and incidents that can be positive identified as part of or precursor to The Disco Macabre have grown slowly but steadily across the ensuing centuries. Although many of the details change to account for different cultures and the changing times, the broad strokes retain a consistency that indicates either a singular or shared intent: Scores of people in the affected area (generally a town or city) receive decorative, almost opulent invitations for a feast or festival or party (this is one of the areas where temporal and geographical differences lend themselves to a diversity of details). Described as having minimal details beyond a time and a place, the invitations also bear some localised version of the name, incorporating the nearest translation of Macabre with the gathering du jour. Included subtly, often as a watermark or embossed is a depiction of death, incarnated in as whatever figure or whatever form customs dictate.
Although some of the earliest stories cast Thanatos (death in the form of a young boy) as the host and herald of disaster, the cultural spread of this phenomenon means it encompasses figures from Mictecacihuatl to Marzanna and the Morrígan, from Giltinė to Ördög and Ogbunabal and beyond. More recently this has begun to standardise into a Westernised Grim Reaper, popularised through frescoes of the danse macabre (inspired by what they came to affect). Though many smaller or isolated incidents precede them, the earliest proliferations date back to the early Heian Period in Japan, during the 820s CE. These stories refer to the figure on those invites as Izanami-no-Mikoto, a goddess from the Buddhist tradition who swore to take one thousand lives a day in revenge for being abandoned in the underworld by her partner Izanagi. The descriptions of these invitations, and those in subsequent cases, are second-hand and anecdotal; with the missives themselves variously but invariably lost or disappeared and any records or reproductions thereof corrupted.
We know that those who were summoned by Izanami-no-Mikoto spoke of a compulsion beyond curiosity to attend, a sense of secrecy around keeping their plans private, that they slipped from their homes into the midnight blue darkness without saying a word to those closest to them. Some would never be seen again; the rest may have come to consider these the more fortunate. Over the next few days they found themselves waking up in their homes, recollections of that time reduced to oblique, traumatic flashes ripe, rank, with terrors - bones in the blacklight - and no idea how they found themselves returned to their beds. Since several prominent citizens were numbered among those who did not return, searches were coordinated by local officials, but the survivors’ blackouts extended back to before moments after they left their homes. What remained, vague remembrances, and steps retraced more on instinct than sense, only led to abandoned spaces; empty warehouses and disused barns.
Over the next eleven-hundred years, similar stories played out all over the world across scores of different cultures, the tallies of the dead and the damaged rising and falling with no apparent regard for how strong or weak the belief in the local instantiation of Death was. From what precious little we can discern from historical records, the most significant and ongoing change has been in the demographics of the victims: Where those who were lured into these traps were historically in their thirties and forties they have very gradually trended downwards to people in their late teens and early twenties, settling there in the 1960s. These trends offer us a crude way to account for the missing, to sift those whose tragedies are mysterious from those whose suffering is all too common. From these more recent survivors we have been able to add to what is known or, at least, better understand our ignorance: That there are no unexplained drugs in their systems, no signs of physical force or other harm on their bodies.
The lasting effects on the survivors are harrowing, sharing much with the characteristics of more common traumatic events, and are centred around parasomniac events and other sleep disorders. Chronic insomnia is almost certain for anyone who has lost time as a result of an encounter with The Disco Macabre, with slightly less frequent instances of night terrors and/or somnambulism being common. Interestingly, and perhaps unexpectedly, there appears to be no measurable effect on the amount, severity or regularity of nightmares that a person would otherwise have, or at least remember having. Those who have been affected also experience sleep paralysis far more regularly than most, reporting irregular spells (ten or more times a year) of being trapped, unmoving, between waking and sleep. In addition to these already dreadful, life-limiting conditions, there is another that is as likely to be either their result or their underlying cause. Severe and acute thanatophobia.
These events occurring in extremis creates the tension of two battling fears; the sable dread of having to live on in such a wretched state versus an acute fear of death that renders the option of suicide nigh on impossible. It can lead to a complete break from reality which, in a rare few, evidences itself as a form of dementia. Memory - the very continuity of self - shattered into pieces, but for most who reach this extreme it means the living death of a permanent catatonic state, a deathlike fugue. Perhaps these dissociations and fugues are the desired end result, albeit only sporadically realised, of whatever malign party or parties are behind the Discos Macabre? And would that mean that the people who outright disappear are those that cannot or will not be broken, that cannot be induced to forget? Or instead that in so breaking they represent an immediate success and are taken or destroyed or, maybe, harvested. Until one of the survivors is able to remember, willing to remember, we may never know. Instead we are left to wonder, to speculate, and to mourn those we have lost.