It’s my birthday month, and as a gift to myself, I’ve asked my dear friend Marian to kick off The Story Circle. You’re in for a treat. Marian has a fantastic narrative voice and a truly unique way of seeing people, which makes for engaging and provocative fiction. Her poetry is gorgeous, precise, and visceral. Her blog, runaway sentence is gorgeous, clean, and smart. And our kids play together, which is adorable, and a balm for my soul.
Without further ado, Dance With the Devil, Part One:
He stood there, shivering, cursing himself and weaving just a little as a train rushed by behind him. Leather pants were not warm, he was learning just now. In fact, they seemed to embrace the cold like a beer coozie wrapped around an ice-cold PBR, and he was fucking freezing. This was what they meant when guys said they were freezing their nuts off, he guessed. They meant past-their-prime assholes in leather pants and cowboy hats standing on a train platform in fucking Boise, Idaho.
How did he get here? The better question was, assuming he had any capacity for self-reflection, how did he get to be such a laughable caricature of his former self? He could explain the bus from Reno to the three-week stint at the Oasis in Las Vegas, and the bus that had brought him to a gig in Boise that had brought him to his knees. But how had he crossed over, from Lord of the Dance to his gut overhanging tight leather pants, floundering around on the third-tier Vegas circuit?
What he needed was to go anywhere, away from the stage and the smack and the skanks and the booze flowing in the motel rooms of his flabby existence. Forever Dancing In Our Hearts, still, and vomiting in your bed if you get too close. He tugged his wan blonde hair from its ponytail in the hopes that it might warm the back of his neck just a little. Fingering a knot, pulling it through, his hand found the spot under his formerly white, long-ago starched collar where the skin still throbbed with the burn of a thousand needles. Man, you know you’re on a bad trip when you find yourself with a new tattoo and no memory of getting it.
The train approached, slowly, his train to anywhere. Truly, this train was headed to New York City by way of every mofo train station in between, so he could go wherever he fancied. At least it felt that way, having found a one-way train ticket to NYC tucked in amongst the tubes and tiny bottles of the ziploc bag that doubled as his dopp kit. Like the obtuse tattoo, he did not remember procuring the ticket, and he sure as hell knew he couldn’t afford to buy it himself. But it was gonna get him on this train to parts East, and so he was grateful for it. Very grateful. Epic gratitude, even.
As he boarded the train, he weaved again and had to grasp a pole to steady himself. He closed his eyes and felt the train start to move. Opening his eyes again, he was instantly struck with a feeling of deja-vu, a weird feeling in his stomach that was not pleasant at all. What on earth had happened? It was like the scene had shifted and he was somewhere else, on a different train, in different surroundings, with people who looked dated, somehow. This had been a crazy couple of days, for sure. Now what was going to happen?
“Young man, there’s a seat here. Would you like to sit down?” He looked around, and then realized that the elderly gentleman with the briefcase was addressing him.
“Huh, me?” His voice came out high and squeaky.
“Yes, young man. You should sit. It’s a good many hours to Wichita.” Wichita? He shuffled toward the seat just past the man, aware that his feet fell lightly on the sticky floor. Looking down, he noted black shoes with flames on them, white knee socks, and knobby knees above that.
He sat, completely discombobulated. What the hell had he taken that was lasting this long? The tattoo, the train ticket, now hallucinations on the train. It was going to be a long, strange trip, as they say.
“Why are you headed to Wichita, young man?” The older man peered at him, making him feel uncomfortable, though he couldn’t put a finger on exactly why. He shrugged back at the man and looked down, noticing for the first time the heavy three-ring binder he carried, black naugahyde with a ballet-shoes logo on the front.
“Looks like I’m going to the Mid-West Dance Champions Series Two Conference.” He opened the binder and something clicked in his brain.