by Clayton Heilman
The interpretive dance, fueled by some inner desire — a state of lowered inhibitions, allowing this fluid-mechanical motion. The body weaves noiselessly in-between the contrast of dark and light. Spinning across shadows, strobing flesh through light beams. The room lacks power, save that which gushes from deep within a body’s soul.
“Half a league. Half a league. Onward. In the valley of Death-rode the six hundred.”
Dirty light filtered through windows older than her grandparents.
“Forward, light brigade. Charge for the guns! Into the valley of Death-rode the six hundred.”
Dusty stripes blanketed the tile floor and walls.
“Forward, the light brigade! Was there a man . . . Not though the soldier knew.”
Doorways, halls, places to stand and sit shadow the room, a utilitarian past.
“Someone had blundered.”
The tile-floor remains, mostly open, a few pews left behind, shoved aside to make room — but for what?
“Theirs not to make reply. Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death-rode the six hundred.”
Neglect and old-age, the only experiences this sanctuary’s memory could recall.
“Cannon . . . cannon . . . volleyed and thundered?”
The work of skilled craftsmen and a faithful congregation — both long dead — evidenced in the remainder of the room’s objects.
“Ah, yes . . . Stormed at with shot and shell. Boldly they rode and well. Into the jaws of Death.”
A brownish-grey scene patterned with crosses — a symbol of love or hate, depending on body’s story.
“Into the mouth of hell, rode the six hundred.”
Every crucifix carved to perfection on pews and pillars.
Kristen passes her face across the lines of light, giggling with the warmth, inhaling the stale air. A soiled, linen top betrayed the length of time she’d spent in the room, dancing and singing with her ghosts. She sways back and forth, but the light doesn’t follow.
“Flashed all their sabers bare. Flashed as they turned in air. Sabring the gunners there.”
Her bare feet rise and fall as her weight shifts back and forth to a steady beat — an invisible, inaudible force that willed her motion.
“Charging an army, while all the world wondered.”
Overlooking the dance, light filters through remnants of a stained glass window. A cross shape sits in the center. An the empty iron skeleton of art that once colored this chapel’s peak. Bird shit and rusty grey iron replaced the images in rainbow glass. The noise and motion stirring another breath to life. Resting eyes slowly open, trying to focus in the dark; shallow breaths try to orient the body to the room once again.
“What are you doing?” A man’s voice questioned from the shadows.
Another burst of laughter tumbled out of Kristin, bouncing around the cavernous sanctuary.
“I can’t help it.”
“Seriously, we’re gonna get busted.”
“Why you worried? Someone gonna tell mommy and daddy?”
The back-and-forth stalled. The young man sat up, crossed his legs and leaned into the conversation.
“Fuck off, you know I don’t give a shit about that.”
“Oh, always so serious. Lighten up Keith.”
“You’re high again, aren’t you?”
Another burst of laughter.
“Got any left?”
“What’s going on in here?” A new voice boomed from the corner.
Kristen and Keith spun to face the new presence. Squinting eyes and a wide smile cross the beam of light that enters through the bird shit window.
“Grant — shit.” Kristen gasped.
Keith snorted, trying not to laugh.
“Settle down, I couldn’t help myself,” the voice drew closer.
The sound of shoes scuffing across a neglected floor sped up, followed by the smack of palms as Grant bent down face-to-face with Kyle. He pressed his lips into Kyle’s half open mouth, that sat poised, awaiting their arrival.
“Oh, get a room you two,” Kristin’s voice tried to interrupt but the two men didn’t seem to notice. Kristin stood in half-focused attention. She held her breath, ready to interject another snarky comment that had bubbled up when Grant darted back quickly, as if startled by something, facing Kristin.
“You’re just jealous Wes isn’t back so you can get some too.”
The inner snarkiness dissolved into the hunger she had almost
“Action? Please — you know what I’m waiting for.”
Grant clapped the fresh layer of dirt off his hands.
“If Grant here hadn’t blown our last stash on his mates we
wouldn’t be in this sitch.” Keith stated matter of factly.
“We had enough to last us a week, Grant, you’re never going to live this one down.”
“C’mon, I’m not the only one to blame. You gotta share the wealth. It was my trust-fund money that has fueled our fun for the past . . . How long have we been going?”
“By my count, 30 days, to be exact,” Kristin stated.
“You’ve been so fucked up, how could you possibly keep track?”
“I’m still a little up,” Kristin added. “I found a joint in my
“And you didn’t share?” Grant asked.
“You were gone — and Keith was passed out. Sorry.”
“Messed up,” Keith said.
“Wes will be back any minute,” Kristin threw up a futile
In spite of the darkness, she felt the pressure of eyes. Chills ran up her spine. Her mind still clouded — but positive, relaxed. She should have shared, they would have. But she couldn’t wait. How long has Wes been gone? How long til he returns? Her body collapses in a puff of dust against the cool floor. Aside from her dance, her body has been unstretched and untested for days, she tries to release some of the stiffness as her torso leans to accommodate the new position, ribs and shoulder blades pulling against flesh and muscle. She used to work out to feel alive, now she retreats inside to find life, reaching into her depths, trying to find the bottom. The drugs always help her get there quicker. Sitting criss-cross-applesauce, she picks at an invisible object on the ground in front of her; willing something to be there, something to hold on to. But the object is a spectre, or she’s a spectre who can’t hold on to anything tangible. Her eyes, well adjusted to the darkness,focus on the boys who stare numbly in her direction. They’ve entered her silence, a welcome change. Kristin can’t remember the last time she got to sit and enjoy this kind of quiet without being high, though the occasional car or bus could be heard accelerating outside and scattered chirps of some type of bird. To Kristin, these past few weeks have enabled her to really be herself and find herself. She’s never felt more alive. Even in this tomb-like place. This was her resting place.
“It’s my birthday this week,” Kristin’s random thought lept out of her mouth before she even realized.
“No. Shit. What day?” Keith said.
“Tomorrow. I’ll be 17.”
“Yeah, pup,” Grant echoed.
“Fuck off, you’re only 18.”
“But I’m an a-dult, you’re still a child. Child.”
“What’s going on here?” A new voice tested the room.
“Wes, baby!” Kristin came alive again, flinging herself across the new shadow in the room.
“Hold up, hold up, you’re gonna make me drop the goods. We’ll never find it if it falls in this shithole.”
“Just gimme that,” Keith said. “Let’s do this.”
Keith picked up the bag and examined it’s contents. The greyish auburn powder held delicately in the ray of sunlight.
“We gonna use needle or snort?” Grant interrupted Keith’s
“Needles,” Wes said. “This is cooked for our veins.”
“It better be cooked right,” Kristin said.
Grant rolled his eyes and leaned back, watching Keith open the bag and go to work.
Keith moved quickly, laying everything out in front of him, Grant mindlessly licked his lips. The dryness in the abandoned building starting to subtly affect him.
“You sure you can handle this,” Wes said, looking to Kristin.
Kristin had the same distracted stare, mirroring Grant’s pose. Wes’ comment snapped her out of the daze.
“Yeah, this is just what I need.”
“Cuz you haven’t been tasting for very long, and this has been one long trip.”
“I can handle myself.”
“I just worry about you, you know.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“I do worry about you . . . a few weeks ago you were
prep-school-valedictorian-goody-girl, now you’re here slummin with us.”
“Slumming? The net worth between our families has gotta be like, what, hundreds of millions? And not like you’re privilege-ass wasn’t in a classroom at King’s College that long ago either.”
“Don’t get so defensive . . .”
“Ha — get that shit ready, I’m headed to a better place right now. Right where I need to be.”
“Do you miss that?”
“Miss? Fuck no. I don’t need that school — I don’t need my family. I got all I need right here . . . and I’ve got you guys with me.”
“Shucks, girl,” Keith blurted. “You’re making me blush.”
“Seriously, this is everything I’ve been missing, everything I’ve needed. I don’t have to listen to Dana anymore — Kristin, take care of that cat, get dinner ready, clean your books out of the living room, I’m having friends over so don’t come out of your room — I don’t know who she thought she was . . . with mom and dad gone she’s just a faux parent anyway, a total bitch. I don’t have time to make her life easier. As if that life’s worth it. Let’s get living biotches.”
“Hey, remember no flushing Keith.” Wes said.
“Yah yah yah, thanks mom.”
Kristin continued, “I’m finally connecting with myself, finding out who I really am. It’s kinda funny we’re sitting in church. I couldn’t stand to be in a place like this before. They always feel so fake — all the smiles and sister, glad to see you today nonsense. We had this young pastor — I think he was straight out of college or something — he used to tell us that with God we’d truly be living. I don’t think he’s ever experienced this Holy Terror. I’m probably half his age, I could even tell he had no fuckin’ idea what he’s talking about; just reading off some script someone, somewhere handed him. Dana and I stopped listening to that crack-pot long before mom and dad stopped takin’ us to church anyway — three years before they fell off the face of the earth.”
“That’s a harsh way to talk about your mom and dad.” Wes said.
“They abandoned us.”
“I’m sorry, baby, I can’t imagine going through that. I want you to know I’m here for you. I love you. I’ll always be here for you. . . How did your parents pass away again? I don’t know if you’ve told me before.”
“Pass away? They’re not dead. They’re alive and well — at least I assume they are.”
“Alive? I thought they were dead?”
“Well, they’ve been gone. Working and traveling and taking care of the love of their lives — their careers. They’re never around.”
“Hold up, you always talk about them like they are dead.”
“Yeah, they are sort of dead — to me. They’re not real anymore, they don’t help me, care for me, or raise me. They’re not involved and don’t want to be. It probably doesn’t matter if they are alive or dead. They’re gone in my world. And this shit helps me step into that reality so much easier. So much better than this fucked-up-place that everyone else is trying to control, trying to make real. . . Keith, you ready yet?”
“Working on it, two minutes.”
“C’mon,” Wes said. “You can’t mean all that about your parents, I mean all our parents are probably screwed up in some way, but I don’t wish mine were dead.”
“I do. They’re nothing to me. They’re the ones that made me realize that all this crap that people work for and live through really ain’t the point of it all. Follow the rules, go through the hoops, study, work hard, grow old, have kids, tell them to do the same, then die. I don’t have time for all that. I don’t want that counterfeit life. I want this. I want this now — Keith.”
“Yeah, yeah, one sec.” Keith had just pulled the needle out of his arm and was passing it to Grant, who still hadn’t broken his concentrated stare from minutes before. Licking his lips one last time, Grant grabbed the syringe.
“My parents lied to me, and they were never there for me. What’s the point of all that stuff they made me care about — school, work,responsibility, all shit. The lie my parents lived, the lie they fed me all those years. I don’t need them or that life.”
Wes face looked contorted as he wrestled with all the words tumbling out of her mouth. His eyes bounced from the syringe to Kristin, from Kristin to the syringe. The hunger was contagious and Wes seemed like he was starving. Grant finished and passed again, lazily dropping the syringe into Wes’ hand.
“When you use lies, half-truths, or cherry-picked truth as capital and currency to feed your hungry children, reality becomes collateral damage. I’d say I was shocked when I first figured all this out, but that’s all in the past.”
“What’s past?” Grant’s fading voice asked.
“Being shocked — They said they loved us, they said they cared about us, that they wanted what was best for us, that they wanted to help us succeed and all that shit. Then they left. At first, I was stunned, didn’t speak for weeks; but them leaving was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Wes squeezed the plunger into his arm. Kristin’s eyes locked on the skull tattoo wrapped around his forearm. His body released the tension.
“I just want to forget life, forget everyone I grew up with,”
Kristin continued slightly distracted about the thought of her coming taste. “They ignored me anyway, I could be dead and they wouldn’t even know it; let them go on living, so I can be dead-to-life here with you guys.”
Keith and Grant lay lifeless on the outskirts of their circle. Bodies full of dreams and history. Wes’ eyes lazily drifted upward, smiling he extended his hand with the needle toward Kristin. Hand open where the rays of light used to stream violently into the room, Kristin reached out, forgetting everything, except one promise.
The glitter of gilded surfaces sit restless and dark, buried in the silence of the sanctuary. The bustle of life, the reverence of searching souls no longer kneeled — prayers no longer echoed between the walls. Though, the hunger and thirst for some other-world experience still remained. The four human bodies await tomorrow in the chapel of shadow and memory.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student