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The Dance

I did not want to sleep.  I knew that if I slept tonight I would begin again the Dance.  Most nights I danced the Dance of dreaming with the ghosts of countless lives past.  I did not actually dance with the ghosts.  I danced as the ghosts.

I began the Dance of dreaming when I was only eight years old.  I still remember awakening in the cold blackness in a terror.  I still remember the dream.  I could hear the sound of music heard by no one but me.  It was the tenor voice of the rasp of a sword; the basso profundo of the galloping cavalry punctuated by the cello creaking of their saddles.  I could almost feel the soprano whistle of falling arrows with the thumping tympani of the shields being struck.

The music rose around me and the men I stood with, middle-ages foot soldiers, by their look, began to dance to the music, some singing out a counter-melody as they were struck down by arrow or blade.  I had danced this dance countless times.

The real me, the dreaming me, was stricken in panic, fearing for my life, but I was completely unable to do anything but dance this Dance of dreaming.

I remember leaving the dance to wake up as the other “me” began dancing his way across a battlefield, leaving Death in his path.

I do not like the Dance.  I also could not stop the Dance.  It did not happen every night.  It came seemingly at random.  One night I may dance.  The next I may not.

Sleep came unbidden and the next morning I awoke in a cold sweat, the newest Dance still haunting me with its melodies.  This time it was a pitched fire-fight in Vietnam.  I looked at the clock.  6:53 am.   Only seven minutes till the alarm went off; not enough time to go back to sleep.

I rolled out of bed, trying to be quiet.  My mother was already awake and making breakfast.  The scent of bacon and toast hung in the air.  I grabbed a towel and my clothes for school and tiptoed down the hallway to the bathroom so I didn’t wake my two little sisters.  As I showered I let the steam take the tension of the Dance from my body.

I dressed in my usual school clothes, khaki pants and a solid colored tee shirt.  I hated the stiffness of blue jeans and never wore logo shirts unless someone was paying me to.  No one ever paid me, so I never wore them.  As I walked toward the stairs I heard my sisters in the kitchen.  They were eating their breakfast in the kitchen and watching TV.  Breakfast was on the table: eggs and jam in addition to the bacon and toast I had smelled cooking.

My mother smiled at me as I came in the door. “You were up early this morning,”  she said, by way of greeting as she turned back to finish up the dishes.

“Yes, Ma’am,” I answered.  “I just woke up and decided I had slept long enough.”  My Dad would beat me black and blue if I answered my mother without calling her “Ma’am”.  Okay, he wouldn’t actually beat me, but he made sure we were always respectful.  I looked at my sisters at the table.  Nine year old Elizabeth was still in her purple PJ’s and was slathering homemade strawberry jam on a piece of toast.  Six year old Gillian (we called her Jill) was sitting in a chair and was trying to eat as neatly as she could.  She was dressed in one of my old shirts as a nightgown.  It hung almost to her knees.

I got a plate and dished out some food and sat down to eat.  The girls were watching some kid’s show I didn’t care about anymore so I turned my back to the TV and tried not to think about the Dance.  I always tried to put it behind me after I got up.  It really creeped me out.

I talked to my parents about the dreams once.  I had been having them for about six  months, off and on.  They looked at me with some small sympathy and said, “We all have bad dreams, Andrew.  Sometimes watching something frightening on TV before bed can make them worse.  Why don’t we try turning off the TV a little earlier and not watch anything quite so violent as that war movie we watched last night?”  I knew that was all that would be done but if I kept talking about the Dance, my parents might worry.  I didn’t like worrying my Mom and Dad.  They had too many things going on with new baby Jill in the house.

Now it was six years later.  I was starting eighth grade today and was turning 14 in about a month.  I should be worried about girls and sports, but no.  Every few nights I have a battle play out in my head to music.  I had told my best friends, Jason Futone and Edgar Belcher, about my dreams; the battles, not the music part.  They thought it was cool.  They liked to hear about the battles.  I had long stopped telling them about the Dance because it wasn’t helping me sleep and only made me think about it more often.

I finished eating and was taking my plate to the kitchen to put it into the dishwasher when my cell phone rang.  My mother looked at me with one of those looks only moms can do.  The kind that said, “Who is calling you at 7:30 am?”  I gave her one of those looks only middle school kids can do that said, “How should I know?  I didn’t call.”  I looked at my phone.  It was Jason.  “It’s Jason,” I told her.  I pressed the answer button. “Hello?”

“Hey, Drew.  Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?” I responded.

“For flying to the moon, butt-head.  What do you think?  For school!  My mom and I were going to take you this morning.  Did you forget?”  Jason always thought he was the only one that remembered ANYTHING.  He did have a near perfect memory, but he wasn’t always a snot about it.

“No.  I didn’t forget.  How long till you are ready to go?” I asked.

I heard him cover the phone with his hand and say something to his mother.  “Mom says about 10 minutes if we want to be early enough to get our lockers and stuff before home room.”

“I’ll be ready.”  I hung up with Jason and got my school stuff together.  I slung my backpack up on my shoulder hearing my notebooks settle like a series of bass drum beats.  I walked down the stairs and into the kitchen and saw Jill getting her things together for school.   Her tennis shoes squeaked across the floor as she ran to show me her new outfit.

“Hey, Bubby.  Look at my school clothes for First Grade!”  Her lilting soprano voice seemed stuck between a giggle and a song.  In her world “First Grade” was always capitalized.  I complemented her on her choice of outfits and gave her a hug.

As I started toward the door I heard my mom’s staccato steps coming down the hallway.  “Mom,  I’m gone.  Love you!  Love you , too, Lizzy!”

“I love you, Andy.”  She knew I hated to be called Andy.  But then again, I knew she hated to be called Lizzy.

I laughed to myself and went out the door.  As it closed it hummed a dissonance with the melody of the birds singing in the maple outside.  I went down the street and across the road into Jason’s yard.  The wind struck up a cadence in Jason’s mom’s rose bushes as I approached.  I could hear the dogs in the neighborhood barking in a shared baritone and alto counter-melody.  I heard someone talking around the corner at the side of Jason’s house.  A bass voice coupled in a duet with a singsong contralto.

The sudden realization that I was hearing music in the sounds of the morning stopped me in my tracks.  It was a little too familiar.  The Dance wasn’t supposed to affect me in my waking life.  Was I dreaming?  No, I was in control of my body.

I started toward the voices.  I could hear Mrs. Futone arguing with a man.  It sounded like her boyfriend, Mike.  Mike was not a large man but he looked mean.  Like one of those scrawny little dogs that would bite your hand off if you tried to pet it.  I don’t think Mrs. Futone liked him much anymore either.  Jason said they argued all the time.

When I recognized the voices, I figured it wasn’t any of my business and turned toward the door.  That was when I heard the percussion of flesh striking flesh and Jason’s mother’s scream sounded a cymbal crash, there between the houses.  As I sprinted the remaining yards  toward the corner I could hear Mike’s bass voice saying, “You can’t get rid of me.  I’m all you got.  I’m all you’ll ever have.”

I rounded the corner and saw Mike standing over Mrs. Futone, who was sitting on the ground, cheek already swelling, blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.  She saw me come around the corner and tried to stand up.  Mike raised his fist to punch her again.  As I reached Mike, who smelled faintly of beer, even at this hour, he suddenly noticed me.  That was when the Dance began again, for the millionth time, but this time in real life.

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  1. July 19, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    This is really good. 🙂
    I really love the description of the dance/Dance.
    A few things:
    1. Look at your opening and ask yourself if the word dance is used so often it becomes a distraction OR if it’s used as repetition on purpose for the cadence of the language.
    2.How many sisters does he have?
    3. Timeline: He starts off not wanting to sleep then a few paragraphs later he’s already slept. Might be a little off there.
    4. I like the details about school, but this early, they’re distracting to the whole Dance thing. Remember, you want to start fast with lots of conflict and add the details in later.
    5. You can’t fix a blank page, and getting a draft down is most important. Once you do that, you can go back and fix. Revising is as important as the original draft. Those details you put in early now will move in later drafts, but getting them down on the page will help you develop full characters as you go on.
    6. I love your writing voice. It’s very lyrical.
    7. BICHOK is key (butt in chair, hands on keys)
    8. If you get published before me, I’m going to give you a HUGE congratulations, but I’ll also cry. 🙂 lol
    9. Is this a quest story? If so, look up The Hero’s Journey by Vogler. It’s a great book, especially for quest stories.

    LOVE YOU!!!!

    • July 20, 2010 at 8:49 am

      1. I believe I’d call it a stylistic choice to establish a different feel for the Dance as opposed to the rest of the story. The question is, Does it do that or is it distracting? I can’t tell. What do you think?

      2 and 3. Good points. Changed the wording just a little.

      4. I think you are right, I’ll try to balance character exposition with action and conflict. However I’ll leave it where it is for now so I have someplace to cut it from when I get where it should go, if it should ever go anywhere.

      9. I hadn’t really planned on it being a quest story, but I think all adventures are partly that, in a way, aren’t they? I’ll look Vogler up. I’d heard of him many times before.

  2. July 20, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Great read Bill! Good character development…I hope this story isn’t done?? I’m not much of a writer so I don’t have any advice or thoughts to offer, but I definitely want to read it again when you’re done.

  3. July 20, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Excellent changes. WOW!
    I want to read more now.
    On the sisters, you have Mary Ella and Maggie early and then it switches to Elizabeth and Jill.
    Unless there are four. If there are four, I was confused. 🙂
    Keep writing, and don’t let your internal editor mess with you. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Poor Andrew!

    • July 20, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      Thanks for the catching the names. I started to use names close to the kids’ names but then decided against it. I just forgot I had named them up there.

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