This story was inspired by my own night travels. About ten years back, I used to live in a small town. I fell in love with Salsa dancing, and the nearest club was an hour away. So, for years I’d make the drive alone, often returning home on the dark, lonely road in the early morning hours.

But one night, I forgot to fill up my gas tank. I had so much fun dancing; I didn’t even notice that my gas tank was perilously close to empty until I saw the low fuel light turn on. I was a good thirty minutes away from home, and I’ve never understood, even until this day, how I made it home safely coasting on fumes.

I’ve often wondered. What would have happened if I had not been so lucky?

So, I’d like to tell you a story about another woman. She happens to come from a small town like me, or perhaps even the same small town, and her and I are a lot alike. After all, we both love to dance. And sometimes, we can be a little reckless. But unlike me, she is at a club listening to DJ Max.

“It happened at a club not far from here on Halloween night,” DJ Max looks at the lot of us hanging around outside drinking.

    The live band is playing, so DJ Max is taking a break before it’s his turn to entertain us again. He’s been in this dancing scene longer than most of us, for almost thirty years now. Dancing has been good to him. He’s charming, friendly, and the women adore him.  

    I settle in with my drink to listen to him talk. I have an hour-long drive home tonight, so I’m drinking a soda. My best friend, Suzie, was supposed to make the drive with me, but she’s sick with the stomach flu. Halloween only happens once a year, so I decided to make the drive solo. Plus, I had already bought my costume, a 1920s red flapper dress with fringes that look fantastic when I spin.

       “Her name was Daisy. She was a new dancer, and this was her first Halloween Salsa Night. Daisy had to drive two hours to the Salsa club, south on the 101 Highway, taking country roads and backways,” DJ Max begins, making eye contact with each of us, to make sure we’re listening.

    “I heard it was a guy named David,” Efrain interrupts.

    “And it was the Pacific Coast Highway,” Pablo, a plump Salsero, blurts out before taking a swig of his beer.

    “Wasn’t it north? She was headed to a club in San Francisco, right?” Maria pipes up, swishing her long curly locks with a flick of her hand, as she takes a seat next to me.

    “Like I said,” DJ Max gives them an annoyed look, which seems to be enough to quiet them. “Daisy was headed south on the 101 Highway, and she didn’t care about driving alone at night, because more than anything, she wanted to dance with Fernando.”

    “You mean Ricardo,” Rodrigo interjects.

    “Look when you tell the story, you can call him Billy, Bob or Fred, all right. But Fernando,” DJ Max raises his voice a little louder and stares us down with a raised eyebrow, challenging anyone to interrupt again. We stay quiet. Satisfied, he continues, “was the dancer that had captured Daisy’s heart. When she danced with him all her troubles floated away. He was exciting, the best dancer in the area. When he danced, people watched. And when Daisy danced with him, she felt beautiful,” DJ Max pauses so we can let his words sink in.

    I know that feeling. I feel that way about Daniel. He’s an amazing dancer and when I dance with him I feel like I’m able to move in ways I never have before. Every time I visit the club, I hope to see him. He’s sweet. Daniel always asks me for a dance, but never more than one. He dances with everyone.

    “Daisy was so excited to get to the club that night she forgot to fill her gas tank before leaving town. She didn’t notice that it was only half way full until she was miles into her drive. She shrugged it off. Daisy figured that she could always stop off to get gas on her way back,” DJ Max takes a sip of his beer. He doesn’t have to say what we all know. That is a mistake that will get her later.

    I feel fidgety. I don’t exactly like hearing a Halloween story about a woman traveling alone at night. At least I breathe easier knowing my car has a full tank of gas.

    “Now, Fernando was a player. There were so many women after him, even though he wasn’t the most attractive looking guy. His hair was receding and his belly expanding, but that didn’t seem to bother the ladies. Because when he danced with them, he treated them like a queen. Unfortunately, he didn’t treat them that way off the dance floor, and that made more than a few jilted women upset. In fact, one was mad enough to slash his tires, so he never made it to the club that night,” DJ Max looks at the men and shrugs. A few of them look guilty, all of them take a swig of their drink.

    “Daisy was extra excited that night, because Fernando had finally noticed her the Saturday before. He had asked her if she was coming to the Halloween Salsa Night. Unbeknownst to Daisy, Fernando had asked all the women that same question. But in Daisy’s mind, it meant that Fernando would be waiting for her. She used part of her rent money to buy an expensive costume and had her hair professionally done, just for him. But, he never showed.

    Daisy was the last one to leave the club, hoping to the last minute to see Fernando. She cried as she drove home and didn’t remember to fill her gas tank. It wasn’t until Daisy was deep into the back country roads that she stopped crying long enough to realize the tank was empty,” DJ Max takes a breath and shakes his head.

    “Daisy never made it home. Her car ran out of gas, and cell phones don’t work well in the middle of nowhere. She tried to flag down a car, but a tired truck driver didn’t see her standing in the middle of the road, and she was struck dead,” DJ Max lifts his drink and everyone follows his lead. They take a big swig for Daisy.

    “It’s said that Daisy visits the Salsa clubs on Halloween night. She’s searching for her Fernando, desperate to be in his arms twirling about the dance floor, feeling beautiful. Most of the time, she’s disappointed. At midnight, she vanishes, once again sad that Fernando never showed up. But every now and then, Daisy finds a dancer that is so talented she believes he’s Fernando. In her happiness, she’ll kiss him on his cheek. But it is the kiss of death, and her lips are as cold as ice. That’s how you know you’ve danced with Daisy,” DJ Max finishes his tale.

    “Yep, my friend Joe said he danced with her last Halloween in Miami,” Michael chimes in. “She was a gorgeous blonde dressed up as Marilyn Monroe. He was pretty sad when she disappeared at midnight.” He laughs before taking a drink.

    “So, follow these rules on a Halloween Salsa night,” DJ Max starts up again. We groan and laugh.

    “First, never drive alone, go with friends!” He starts. I feel a chill on that one. Oh well, I’m here. What can I do?

    “Second, if you have your heart set on a beautiful girl give her a kiss before taking her home,” he nods to the guys. They seem to agree.

    “Third, if you meet a stranger on Halloween, check to see if they’re around after midnight,” he smiles at us. “Okay, that’s it for me. I’ve warned you. The band is singing their last song. I have to get back to work. Come on, baila! Get off your asses. It’s time to dance!”

    I trail behind the group as we head back in. I watch from the doorway to see if I can find Daniel on the dance floor. So far, he hasn’t shown up, but that’s to be expected. The best dancers come a little late.

DJ Max is setting up while the band finishes their last song. The dance floor is buzzing with excitement. I watch Superman dipping a French maid. A pirate furiously spinning Cinderella. And then, I see Daniel. He’s wearing a Zorro costume.

The classic black hat and mask create an air of mystery, but his green eyes and devilish grin are a dead giveaway. He has a signature style. No one else moves like him. He captures the nuances of the music with such expression, I could watch him forever. But suddenly, I am whisked away to the dance floor by Dracula.

    “Are you having fun?” Vlad the Impaler asks. I nod as he signals a right hand spin.

    As I dance with Dracula, I catch glimpses of Daniel. I’ve been dancing for five years, but I’m nowhere near Daniel’s level.  I’ve been practicing every day, trying to improve, hoping he’ll notice. He’s so incredibly handsome tonight dressed all in black. Just the thought of him approaching me makes my heart race. Will I ever grab his attention?

    Oh, well, I decide to forget about it for now. Dracula and I are having too much fun to worry. This is Halloween night, and Daniel is here. I give into the dance and enjoy feeling alive. The music pulses through everyone and without having to say a word we all feel connected.

    My song with Dracula ends. I start to leave the dance floor, but I feel someone touch my shoulder. I turn and see Daniel’s green eyes. Have they always been this green? He’s smiling. He holds out his hand to ask for a dance. I place mine in his, and off we go.

    Yes, I’d know him anywhere by the way he moves. I’ve been dancing with him for five years now, just one song at each Salsa Night, but somehow it’s added up. I can follow him flawlessly. I know he can feel it too. We are completely in sync. He pulls me in closer this time. Holds me for longer. I hear him laugh. I see him smile more. Tonight is different. All my hard work has paid off. After the song ends, he doesn’t let me go. We dance another.

    And another.

    In fact, we dance so many songs in a row, I lose count. This is what I’ve always wanted. I wish he’d take off his mask and hat. He’s intoxicating in his Zorro costume. I’ve always had a thing for Zorro, but we feel so close tonight. I’d love to see his whole face as we dance.

    “This is the last song before midnight!” DJ Max announces. I turn to look at him. He’s holding his drink in his hand. I think he’s had one too many. With a big smile, he winks at me, an inside joke for those of us who know Daisy’s story.  

    He plays my favorite song. Before I know it, Daniel has me flying about him. Has he ever danced this good? He surprises me with new combinations, and I love it! He pulls me close and this time he doesn’t let me go. I feel how warm he is and my heart pounds as I’m sure there is something real happening between us. I laugh, and he lets me go into crazy twists and turns about each other until the song comes to a finish.

    I end up in his arms, and he leans in close. I take one last look into his green eyes before his lips touch mine.

    He pulls away.

    “Your lips are cold. They’re like ice,” I hear him say. I open my eyes and see him staring directly at me with a weird look on his face.

    “Daniel?” I ask. He shakes his head and takes a step back. He bumps into Pablo.

    “Whoa, watch it, Jacob,” Pablo teases as he puts a hand on Daniel’s shoulder to steady him. “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah, Jose. There was a beautiful girl dancing with me, and she just disappeared. Did you see where she went? She was right here wearing a red flapper’s dress,” he tells him pointing straight at me. Both men look through me as if I’m not there. I wave my hands. There’s no reaction.

    Pablo looks around the room and then at me, square in the eye, and tells Daniel, “Nope. I saw a girl like that earlier when I was outside, but I don’t see her anywhere now.”

    Daniel shakes his head and walks off, almost bumping into me as he passes by.

    I run to the bathroom and lock myself in one of the stalls. I can’t stop trembling.

    Why were they calling each other different names? Why did they pretend I wasn’t there? DJ Max’s story and Daniel dancing with me all night, did Daniel and his friends pull a prank? Did Daniel realize how much I liked him and decide to make fun of me? They’re probably out there laughing with DJ Max right now, having the best Halloween night ever.

    I see a Halloween Salsa Night flyer taped to the back of the stall door. I remember how excited I was last week when I saw this advertisement. DJ Max wearing a Frankenstein costume with a Salsa band behind him. I feel so angry at him. I could scream, but something catches my eye. I take a closer look at the flyer, and I feel my hands tremble. It doesn’t say DJ Max. No, it says, “Salsa Halloween with Ghoulish DJ Gary.” Shaking, I leave the bathroom.

    I walk through the club, but no one notices me. The bouncers at the door don’t even bother saying goodnight as I pass by. I just get in my car and drive. I just want to go home.

    For most of the drive, I feel numb. I replay the night. The creepy story, DJ Max, Daniel, dancing, the poster, and none of it makes sense. I just keep driving.

    It isn’t until I am on the quiet country road that I start to relax. It was a hoax. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they recorded it on their cell phones. Tomorrow I’ll see it posted on Facebook. Everything from the urban legend to the icy kiss, an elaborate scheme that they can use to advertise their next Salsa Halloween. I breathe easier.

    I glance down at the gas tank, grateful that I filled it earlier before heading out. My heart skips a beat. It isn’t full, not even half full. The gauge is hovering right above empty.

    I’ll never make it home.

    I take a deep breath. Even if I didn’t dance with Daniel, didn’t I have a good time? The music and energy of everyone around me, feeling so alive. And wasn’t Zorro to die for? His green eyes and devilish smile watching my every move. So what if Daniel didn’t show up this time. There’s always next year.

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