And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
Kaleidoscope. Remember this? Think Ty, think MacBeth, MacBeth, MacBeth. It wasn’t so long ago. Flip back to The Round Table, you’ll find Ty Part 1. On that stage that day I found one of the greatest friends I have ever had. On that stage that day, I found Love.
Now, we are all Box Stepping. We are Pirouetting and Jazz Handing and while this happens, in the corner is Love.
She is getting the choreographer water. She is teaching us the subtleties of the Box Step and she is holding a paper with a list of names she is telling her mistress. And all the while, this beautiful woman is flaming and bored. This is not what dancing is supposed to be. And she will teach me what a body can do when she finds a way to have her time.
See the choreographer of Kaleidoscope hates kids, especially teenagers, and it is obvious to every one of us. She doesn’t want to look at us and she doesn’t want to talk to us, but this is Waynesville, and I do believe she loved dance. She loved to move, she loved to watch people move, and she lives in a tiny town and there are just not that many opportunities to be involved in this sort of thing. She has a studio that is nestled somewhere in the area and that is how she was found by Love.
Love is passing through Waynesville. I knew as soon as I saw her that she didn’t belong here and that she would not be staying long.
She had the bag. Do you know the type? I bet you can picture it. It is big with a long strap but the strap is thick and there is no zipper or button on this bag. The bag is made of some exotic material, like hemp or corduroy. The bag is rounded where the pouch meets the strap and it does not hold its shape at all. It sways and crumples and when you set it down, it looks like a pile of cloth. It holds all the magic that women like this tend to carry with them. It is a Romani’s bag. An actress’s bag. A singer’s bag. It is the kind of bag found on artist types, and when I saw her sway in with it, I knew I had never seen anything like her before.
She wore her skirt tied in a knot on one side, most of her toned leg showing. Her hair told her a long time ago to leave it alone. It would do its own thing. It promised her that without her attention it would look ravishing and so it does. Her shirt was loose. Not tight to the body, but ready to blow up if a stern wind wanted a look.
Love was the kind of beauty that you have to gather yourself around. She walks into a room and you have to take a deep breath before you go and talk to her. Her smile was sly and easy. It was kind and trickster. It was a thing to stare at. And though I knew she was beautiful, I was never attracted to her.
I don’t know why. Maybe I knew she was going to be a sister to me. Maybe I knew she was not here long, so it did not matter if she was mine. Maybe girls like Love decide who they want attracted to them and who they don’t and she had not picked me. I don’t know. All I do know is that from the start I knew she was going to break, or at least shake up, something at Waynesville High School my sophomore year during Kaleidoscope.
We had long practices. We were after school late, and one day during choir class she came early and spoke to Mrs. Wilson. They muttered to each other while Love’s face was gravely serious and her eyes hopeful. She spoke with Mrs. Wilson carefully, cautiously. And I knew that this was it. This was Love’s attack.
Soon Mrs. Wilson exploded. She threw her hands in the air and smiled. She hugged Love and patted her on the back.
“Love has asked permission to get together her own dance for the show. I am so excited to see what she is going to do! Aren’t you guys?”
The class gave a halfhearted applause.
“She said she has a list of names that she wants to talk to outside.” Mrs. Wilson stepped aside and motioned Love forward.
She wanted to see Vonny, Fit, and two other girls. I wish I knew who they were. I feel like someone is going to be very mad that I left them out of this story because it is a good one. All I know for sure is that Fit and Vonny were chosen. Both gorgeous. Both in great shape.
They talked for a while outside in the hallway before Fit stepped in while Mrs. Wilson was running through some music with the Tenors and she grabbed my hand.
“Come on,” she said. “You’re my guy.”
I was pulled out into the hallway along with three other boys chosen by three other girls.
Love looked at all of us with a discerning eye before she smiled and nodded. “Nice choices!” She threw her hands over her head and stomped on the floor in her slipper. “Very nice! This is going to be great, girls!”
I was so confused, but Fit was cruel and she had her arm around me. She had decided to like me that hour so I was going to go with anything she said.
“Okay guys, tell me that want to do a dance with us.” She held her arms tight to her chest, her fists clenched. “Please tell me that this group of guys wants to dance for me. Please.”
Every one of the guys started nodding. Fit elbowed me, and I nodded, too.
“What kind of dance?” a boy said.
Love looked at all of us like a hungry woman when she said, “A showstopper.” She leaned in close. “After school right away in the choir room. Kaleidoscope practice doesn’t start for an hour and a half. That is all the time we have to get started. I’ll be here right after class lets out. Don’t let me down.”
I went back into the choir class reeling. My head was spinning. I had no idea what kind of dance I was going to be doing, but I knew that I was paired up with Fit. She would be moving around me. Love seemed to want something intense and I was more than a little intimidated.
After class Love was in the room. As soon as the last kid leaves she yelled. “Quick, get the chairs!” She started grabbing chairs and stacking them and scooting them out of the way.
We all joined in and soon the floor was cleared.
“We are going to do a mamba,” Love said. “Does anyone know what a mamba is?”
Sleek raised his hand. He was a Latino kid that was adored by every girl that ever saw him. He was handsome. Soft spoken. Funny. Cool. Great with guys. Great with girls. Great with teachers. He was a badass in every way that a person can be. I never saw him fight or do anything aggressive, but he would never have to, and I would assume that he would be great at it if he tried.
“Good,” she said. “What is your name?”
“Well Sleek, we are going to show them how to do it.” She kicked the boombox on and grabbed him. “Can you lead?” she asked.
“Sure.” And they began to move. It was a sexy dance, a fast dance with hips. The song seemed to pop its hips as it played, seemed to throw its arms around. The song seemed to grab its lover. Seemed to run its fingers through her hair. It was the kind of song that demanded sweat, and Sleek did his best, but he was not prepared for Love.
After a few minutes she smiled. “Okay girls, grab your guys.”
Fit grabbed me like I owed her money.
“Now look into his eyes and dare him,” Love said.
No one seemed to know what that meant, but everyone knew exactly what that meant. We were teenagers. We were nothing but a bag of hormones and sexual desire. It did not take much for those girls to know exactly how to look at their guys.
“Now turn and watch me,” she said. Love began to dance as if she had a partner. “Like this see, this sway right here. Here is where you will kick your leg around their thigh and press in tight to their body.”
Is it getting hot in here? It seems like someone cut the heater on.
Fit begins to move and Servant is not ready for this. Guardian comes out long enough to run away. Soon Shadow watches what Fit is doing around his body and he runs his hands down her back. He has not been told to do that. He just touches her while she dances to see what she will do.
She looks at him while trying to keep up with Love and she snarls at him.
“What is funny?” Love turns. She is not mad, just curious, and she smiles and whips her hair out of her eyes.
“I touched her and she snarled at me,” Shadow said. Still didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing, but he was having fun already.
“She is supposed to snarl at you. You are lucky if she doesn’t bite you,” Love said.
Fit grabbed Shadow and pulled him in. She bit his neck and he winced.
“Now grab her and move with her.”
Shadow grabbed Fit and she whipped her hair back at him and grinned.
I don’t remember all the moves. I was sixteen quite a while ago. The moves have left me. But the feeling still resides in me. I can sense the impact that Love had on me.
She asked Sleek to bring his brother in one day. Asked if he was able to mamba, too. Soon an even Sleeker dude is in the room with us. This is a few days later and Love walks up to him, strokes his cheek, and walks away while the music plays. All of us stand back. We’ve been listening to this music now for a while. Three days, maybe a week. And as it plays and we stand back and watch, we’re all swaying. Our hands are moving. My feet can’t stand still. Fit runs her hand up my back and to my head. She makes a fist, and while all of us are churning, no one can take their eyes off of Love and Sleeker.
He stares as she leaves and he waits for her to come back. She struts off. She spins. She slides forward, gives him a bit of a hip shake and moves against him. He runs his hand down her back to her hip and pulls her in tight. Then throws her away. She spins until we realize he has a hold of her hand. She comes back to him and they work it out.
Two bodies have never moved so perfectly together before. It’s like these two people have been dancing for years, as if they grew up next to each other’s houses and spent their days dancing in the driveway. They know each other in this moment and their desire for the other is blatant and gripping.
We all stayed after Kaleidoscope practice. For hours after the school had emptied, we would dance. She would come up behind me and grab my hips and move them back and forth as I held Fit. She had her arm on my shoulder, gently nudging me a bit when I was moving around Fit. Every instruction she gave was tiny. Every correction we made immense.
Finally in her exasperation she threw her hands up and said, “It needs more sex.”
That shut everything down. We are standing in school. She grabbed her flopping swaying bag and headed for the door. “Come on, I have to show you something,” she said.
She took us on the stage. Curtain drawn and we went behind the curtain. She had us sit on a few risers there, and she pulled out of her magic bag, a few candles and a lighter. She grabs the stage boombox and snaps a tape in it. She closes her eyes as the music starts then she looks at all of us very seriously.
“What I am about to do is a belly dance. I can’t do it properly because I don’t have a big enough belly, so you will have to imagine a sexier dance. But I want you to watch the way my body slithers and sways and I want you to try to imagine hands all over my body. Girls, watch very carefully how I move and bring it to practice tomorrow. Guys, try to imagine moving your hands over my body and trying to keep up.
And she danced. And it was not sexual for me. I had a beautiful woman doing a sensual dance in front of me and it was like looking at a painting, or listening to an inspirational piece of music. It reminded me of Dungeons and Dragons a little. And I wanted to write a story about a massive snake.
I would write a story about a massive snake. It won’t come out until October 5th 2032 but it was inspired by this dance.
When she was done, we applauded, and she seemed breathless. “Okay, take that with you tonight. Think about it. Girls, call your guys. Talk to them tonight. Get to know them. You are all so afraid to touch each other. You need to get over it. We are trying to burn it down. You need to make it hot.”
She came to my house one day to pick me up. I had not known she was going to do this. She just showed up.
My mother was not amused.
She came to my room and said, “A harlot is here to see you.” She said it loud enough for the living room to hear her.
“Is Love here?” I asked.
Now that sounds bad, but my mother had never used the word harlot before and it seemed a fitting word for the way that Love moved.
I heard Love laugh from the other room.
She wanted to take me to see a movie. We saw Nightmare Before Christmas. It was right as it was being released for the first time. She wanted to see it and she needed a date, so she picked me. I am using the word date here in a very loose way. She wanted to go to a movie and she didn’t want to go alone. That is better said.
We talked a lot, me and Love. We talked for the entire time she was in town. She told me that she was just passing through. She had an aunt recovering from surgery. Or else she had run out of money on her way across the country and was shacking up with her aunt. Or else she had walked from Philly to Waynesville and found someone to take her in for a while.
She was not staying, is what I am getting at, and she was only going to be in Waynesville for a few more weeks.
We talked a lot and the subject of Fit came up.
“Look, I love Fit. She is fun, she is sexy, she is great. I consider her a friend, but she is a bad thing for you,” Love said. “She is only going to break your heart.”
“I know,” Servant said. And he was waiting for it. He was looking forward to the heart break.
“Listen, you can’t expect too much from her. She picked you to dance with because you are sexy and she wants that. You are giving her something else, too, I don’t know what it is, but she is getting it from you. She won’t stay. This is not love between you two. She is on her way out.” Love smiled at me. “You are more than you think you are.”
She took me to her aunt’s house. She took me to the room they had given her. It was like stepping into a Romani’s cart. That is all I am giving you. That is all you need. Her room was a Romani’s cart.
She sat me on her bed and she handed me a tape. “I made a mixed tape for you. Listen to it when you are alone. It will blow your mind. I am not going to tell you who the bands are. Just devour the music. Don’t listen to it sitting down. Be on your feet when you hear it.”
“You need to get out of that house,” she said. “As soon as you are out of school, find a way to get away from there. That place is—” She shook her head. “Just get away, okay?”
“What were you going to say? That place is what?”
“Poison,” Love said. “Your house is poison. It will kill you if you take too much of it. Find a way out into the world and explode. Do it every day. Over and over again, one explosion after the next.”
We performed the mamba. When the curtain was pulled and we were all in our places she walked up to us and looked us over. I was wearing black pants and a white shirt. The girls were wearing red dresses and Love looked at all of us and said, “Okay, I want it so hot the place burns down around us.” She pointed at all of us and smiled a devil’s smile. “And if they applaud right away, I’ll be pissed. When you are done, I want them to pause and look around to see if they should be clapping. I want them embarrassed. Be yourselves. Be gorgeous.” And she slipped away.
When the dancing started it was Servant. He was very awkward and uncomfortable until Fit slapped him. Right on stage she slapped him. Then out came Shadow. He saw the stage bathed in red light. Saw the crowd. Saw Fit spinning around him and he grabbed her. He pulled her in close and they danced.
It was years before I saw Love again. Two years later I am at a concert at the school when the curtain is drawn closed and everyone gets up to leave. The place is about half empty when the curtain swings open. A sexy song blares out on the speakers. I hear a cat’s howl.
I spin and hear more. Girls are screaming. They are breaking out onto the stage and they are moving. It’s Love. She is back in town and she has Fit, Vonny, and Draconic, and one very beautiful girl who is going to be chomping and furious when she reads this. She was amazing, too. I’m sorry, whoever you are, I was transfixed.
They came out like cats in heat, moving and spinning like they needed sex. I turned and laughed. Mary was with me and she pulled my arm. “Let’s go! I don’t want to be here.”
“Go then. I’ll catch up. This is Love. I am not missing this,” Shadow said.
Mary hissed a few things, but soon he waved a dismissive hand at her and she huffed and walked off.
I watched them all dance. And I missed my friend. I knew she was already gone again.
When the dance was over, there was halted applause and a lot of nervous laughing. A few whistles and that was it. I am sure Love was excited about her response.
I walked up to the stage clapping and Love looked at me. Her eyes swept up and down my body and she smiled. She held her hands out and yelled, “Yes! Yes this!” She grinned. “This is you!”
And she was right. I had lost all of the shy shell. I was bold. I was trim, muscular, with long hair, and that Shadow vibe that had finally matured into a personality.
“This is exactly what I wanted for you!” She looked at the girls with her. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”
Fit and Draconic grinned and nodded. Vonny and the other girl nodded too, but there was nothing in it.
I met up with her outside. All four girls were with her, and Fit and Draconic were with me. They were both flirting and laughing at me, and Love watched them with a smile. She asked me to walk her to her car.
“I was just in for a week. I am gone tomorrow or I would have come to look for you,” she said.
“We are cool. I have been busy. It’s great to see you.”
“Yeah, hey, listen, Draconic loves you but she doesn’t have any idea how to.”
I had no idea how she knew that. No idea how she could read that from what little interaction she saw between me and Draconic.
“Did she talk about me?” Shadow said.
“She didn’t have to. Look, promise me you won’t break her and promise me you won’t let her break you. Bend a little, I can handle. Break, no,” Love said. “Promise.”
I hugged her. “Promise. Go be beautiful somewhere where you are needed,” Shadow said.
“I was needed here tonight.”
“And you delivered.”
She got in her car and she drove off. I haven’t heard about her at all since. She is gone. I have looked for her, but she won’t remember me anyway. I see her in movement. I see her in lights. I see her with children around her laughing as they look up at her and she sprinkles them with a hose. I see her in every great song I hear that makes me want time alone with my wife.
I see Love everywhere.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.