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The Lord of the Dance: The Elevator, #3

The Lord of the Dance: The Elevator, #3

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The Lord of the Dance: The Elevator, #3

Length:
212 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 23, 2018
ISBN:
9781912718122
Format:
Book

Description

Face your demons. Save humankind.

A future hangs in the balance. Many futures.

Only one person has the power to prevent it all unravelling and he can't do it alone. Aided by companions old and new, Jack returns to the near shore. Foes must be faced, fears conquered.

But for humanity to prevail, the choreographer of chaos must also be vanquished. Insanity and depravity overcome. The Lord of the Dance lies in wait…

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 23, 2018
ISBN:
9781912718122
Format:
Book

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The Lord of the Dance - Sam Kates

Matt

––––––––

No sober man dances,

unless he happens to be mad.

—Marcus Tullius Cicero (Pro Murena)

Part 1: Return to Oz

One

Time can mellow a man. Lend him fresh perspective. Smoothe out the kinks in his character, while adding wrinkles of the physical kind.

Fatherhood, too. What a life-changer, that is. One moment you’ve nothing of more import to concern you than how to pay your rent, the next you find yourself cradling a fragile bundle of new life, gazing down into freshly minted eyes, which seem to stare directly into your soul as if to say, Okay, buster, you’re my dad, well I guess you don’t get to choose your sire so I’m stuck with you for good or ill and I’m lying here ’cause I can’t do much else ’cept poop and wail, and I see you for all your frailties and flaws and, man, I don’t like what I see but, like I said, I’m stuck with you and you with me so we’d both better get used to the idea and make the best of it, right? and—kaboom!—suddenly you’re responsible for the life of another person, one who can’t do the simplest things like wipe the dribble from his chin, much less watch telly or accompany you for a pint down the pub, and you’re not ready for the unbearable weight of that responsibility and never will be.

God knows, you try, but there’s a nagging doubt in the back of your mind that you’ll never be good enough, will never measure up to the other dads who take their kids to Little League—what a peculiarly American pastime—that you’ll forever be a disappointment.

And there’s always that other thing, that shifting thing of shadow, waiting to clutch you in its icy tentacles of despair, engulf you in a cloud of melancholy, and you grow so powerless you can’t feel the sense of impotence in which you’re floundering.

It’s then, when the darkness is about to suck you towards its limitless, spiralling depths that you turn to...

No. Not yet. I’m too easily side-tracked. I was talking about how time can alter a man. On the inside, as well as the more obvious external changes.

In most cases, anyway.

Twenty-three years had passed since a young man of around twenty, six years or so my junior, whom I barely knew, had flipped me the finger from the deck of a raft, grinned and disappeared into a bank of fog. Twenty-three years, during which I’d become padded with accumulated flab, creased with lines of care, begun to turn grey like a fading photograph.

Jack hadn’t aged a day.

* * *

The fog closed around us like a damp blanket, muffling the gloopy drips of water falling from the chain. An unpleasant, waxy taste coated my lips.

Assuming we come out of this fog sooner or later, I said, my voice sounding like I was talking into a pillow, what d’you think awaits us on the other side?

Kim glanced at me from eyes wide with apprehension, but she didn’t reply. Her bottom lip was tucked between her teeth in a gesture of worry I knew well.

Despite the syrupy consistency of the river and the size of the raft upon which we stood—large enough to hold up to twenty people at a push, I reckoned—the effort required to haul us hand-over-hand with the chain was not onerous, even for someone as out of shape as me. The thick hide gauntlets I wore enabled a sure grip on the uncorroded metal links and the raft moved across the surface like an oiled toboggan on ice.

Of course, when we’d stepped aboard she’d made to pick up the gauntlets and I’d had to move quickly to grab them first. Possesses a great deal of strength does that woman, physical as well as mental, and she’d have had little trouble pulling us across the river, but I still retain a flicker of pride. Can’t have your woman do everything, can you?

My woman. Maybe once, before the drinking grew out of hand, but she had been no one’s woman, except her own and her son’s, for many years.

The air didn’t appear as consistently grey ahead. I continued to haul steadily on the chain and narrowed my eyes against the increasing brightness.

We’re coming out of it, I muttered.

Another scared glance from Kim. Scared but removed. There was a time she might have grasped my hand or stood nearer for the comfort being close to another can bring, but I struggle to be strong for myself, let alone her, and she remained standing yards from me, arms hugging herself the only concession to fear.

The fog continued to thin, grew misty, became infused with yellow warmth. A few more hauls on the chain and we broke into clear air. I squinted against the glare and blinked to try to see ahead.

The bank of the river stood maybe fifty yards away. Not that easy to be sure with the eyesight of a forty-nine-year-old who’s lost his spectacles, but it looked as though the chain led to another jetty like the one from which we’d embarked. Beyond that I could make out little more than an impression of fields and forests, perhaps distant mountains. A sharp smell, like that of a school chemistry lab, arose from the river.

Kim still hadn’t spoken. She peered at the land ahead, one hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun.

The only sound was the gurgling of water beneath the raft.

* * *

People born and bred in the United States say things like ‘gotten’ and ‘off of’ (I know The Stones did it in Get Off of My Cloud but, hey, that’s rock ’n’ roll). They say ‘erbs’ where we Brits would pronounce the aitch and, speaking of herbs, what’s with their pronunciation of basil? They make it sound like an exotic colour or a term used in heraldry, rather than a simple accompaniment to pasta. And their spellings are weird; it took me years to realise that their aluminum is the same thing as our aluminium. Course, Kim says we are the weird ones.

Come on, Matt, she’ll say, ‘disorientate’? Why the extra syllable when ‘disorient’ does the job perfectly well?

Not that I’ll ever admit it to her, but I suppose she has a point.

I find the differences between our use of the same language less weird after being immersed in American culture for the past eighteen years. Shoot (see what I did there?), I use the occasional American idiom myself and my accent probably contains an American twang. I call a lift an elevator, except for the one we rode in in Claridge House all those years ago. That one I refer to as the Elevator. 

We moved to the States two years after the wedding. It had been a simple affair; well, I could hardly expect my folks to fork out thousands after I bailed out of uni after barely a term and used what was left of the money they’d saved to help me survive the first year to pay a deposit on a flat twenty miles from home.

Despite Mum’s failing health, both my parents attended the ceremony. My frosty relationship with my father had thawed somewhat with Kim’s help, and his preoccupation with Mum meant a blessed minimum of disapproving glances as I ordered the next drink.

When Mum lost her fight to the big C six months later, he withdrew into himself, becoming a shadow of the forceful character who’d tried his best to mould a man out of his son when he didn’t have the best raw materials to work with. Within another year, I watched dry-eyed beside my sobbing sister his coffin sink into the recess at the crematorium when the vicar pressed the button during the Committal. One thought consoled me: at least I could no longer be a disappointment to him.

Of course, there are always other people to disappoint.

Kim made a noise, a grunt of surprise, and I paused hauling on the chain to look at her.

The passing years had served her well. She had added a few pounds to an already full figure, but conveyed an impression of voluptuousness rather than plumpness. The generally drier and warmer Connecticut summers suited her better than the damp UK. In her early fifties, she didn’t attempt to conceal, other than with the lightest touches of cosmetics, the lines which crinkled the edges of her eyes and mouth when she smiled or frowned. They lent her a sense of grace.

She was frowning at me now.

There are people over there, Matt, she said in a hushed tone. A lot of people.

* * *

Since emerging from the fog bank, I had probably halved the remaining gap to the far shore. But one glance was enough to know that the distance remained too great for my myopic eyes to make out details like people.

How many?

Kim shrugged. Twenty? Thirty? Can’t tell at this range.

But you’re sure they’re people?

The corner of her mouth twitched as it always did when she thought I was doubting her. I’m sure. The edge to her tone betrayed more than mere apprehension.

Sorry, sorry, I muttered. What are we going to do?

Kim’s frown deepened as if I was being stupid. Don’t know why that would cause her to frown; she should be used to it by now.

We either return from where we’ve been, she said, with a brief inclination of her head to the bank of fog, or we continue to the other side and find out what welcome awaits. We can’t stay here: we have no food or water and the stink of chemicals is making my eyes smart. Don’t see we have any other choices.

"We can’t go back. He might be waiting for us. The quiver in my voice was unavoidable and I didn’t make any effort to hide it. Kim didn’t regard the monk with quite the same level of terror that I did, but she hadn’t seen behind his mask; she hadn’t seen the Lord of the Dance. Shall we go on then?"

Like I said, sugar, we are short on alternatives.

Sugar. I hated it when she called me that or honey or sweetpea. She reserved these terms of address for people whom she held in contempt. She had called Jack something similar on the first occasion we’d met. Although we worked in the same building, I had never noticed Kim until she stepped into the Elevator on that fateful morning as I willed the bloody contraption to get moving to take me to the Sixth Floor and much-needed coffee. Despite my hangover, I’d been impressed at the sassy way she’d dealt with Jack’s snide remarks about her accent.

Despising myself a little more, if that was possible, I allowed my expression to reveal hurt, but she had already turned away to stare at the river bank. Had already dismissed me.

I grabbed the chain and began to haul on it once more.

* * *

The distance halved again and I began to make out details of what lay beyond the jetty. Grassland led to a thickly wooded area in the middle distance and a ring of purple-tinged mountains formed the backdrop. But my gaze was drawn to the people.

Two male figures stood facing us on the jetty; the nearest one appeared to be holding some kind of metallic briefcase. Behind them was a clutch of people also staring our way. Around thirty of them, I estimated.

I hauled on the chain—like Kim said, what other choice did we have than to proceed?—until the remaining distance to the jetty was only a few yards. I let the chain fall from my hands and tugged off the gauntlets, dropping them to the deck. My movements had become automatic, unthinking, for my thoughts were wholly occupied by the man holding the briefcase.

More boy than man, complete with a smattering of rash on cheeks and nose, a leftover of recent teenage acne. A feeling of guilt flickered as I recalled referring to him privately as Rudolph before I’d learned his name, but a sense of wonder at seeing him again after all these years, looking exactly as I remembered him down to the scruffy shirt and chinos, snuffed it out.

The raft’s momentum carried it to the jetty where it bumped gently to a halt.

Jack? I said. Is that you?

The man narrowed his eyes and peered at me closely. I had to resist the urge to squirm under his inspection for while he stood before me as the same spotty twenty-year-old I’d last seen disappearing into a bank of fog, I had added twenty-three years of not-so-gracious living to the clock.

At last he spoke. Matt?

I nodded and gestured to my companion. And you remember Kim?

Two

Kim’s pregnancy proceeded smoothly; no complications or scares along the way. She surprised me by not wanting to know the sex of the child in advance, which was quite out of character for my pragmatic American bride.

Let it be a surprise, she said. More fun that way.

Male, female, it didn’t make much difference to me. All I hoped was that it was emphatically one thing or another. I did, however, care about naming the baby when it turned out to be a boy.

We have to call him Jack, I said to Kim as she lay in bed in the Maternity Unit, the twelve-hour-old babe suckling at her breast.

She frowned. Her weariness made her appear more severe than she perhaps intended. You said that when you first met him you thought he was a... let’s see how you put it, oh yeah, ‘a snivelling toe-jam’.

"Toe rag."

Oh, that’s much better, then. A fine basis on which to name our son.

But look what he did. He probably saved our lives.

Yes, he probably did. She considered for a moment. I want to name him for my mom’s father.

In the end, we compromised. We still could, back then. Our son was named Samuel Jack Tyler-Grayson. Someone else for me to disappoint.

* * *

Never mind that we had aged twenty-three years while he hadn’t aged a day; never mind that he was gawping at us as if wondering what the heck had happened to us, and that we gawped back wondering why nothing appeared to have happened to him; never mind the clutch of strangers watching us who looked like extras from BBC period dramas. Only one thing at that moment seemed vitally important to my mind and that was to tell him.

I blurted it out. We named our son after you.

He looked from me to Kim and back again, his brow so creased his eyes had become slits. His knuckles grew whiter where they clutched the metallic case as if it was some form of crutch. What? he managed.

Uh, we named our son after you, I repeated, though it sounded lame and irrelevant the second time. He’s, er, in high school.

"You

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