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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #215
Dragons Dancing Theatrically
David Gunn

By someone else’s count, Cleptomilian Smythe had been in 27 different dance companies over the course of her forty-odd years of stretching her hamstrings at the barre: Planetdanz, The Shin Fayn Splints, Roscoe’s Oyster, Lummoxie, the Ramses T. Gonzo Ensemble, to name but approximately 18½ percent of them. While she received her share of good press from the numerous odd ballets, conga-concerti and baggage cotillions she’d flogged her feet in, she always felt pangs of discontent, as if something in the performance was lacking. The leotards always looked greener on the other side, and all that. Which is why she was so surprised at how excited she felt when she saw the small, hand-lettered advertisement in the weekly grocery sale flyer for "dragons dancing theatrically." No matter the amount of information in the blurb raised the bar to a new high in the sketchy department, she was convinced that all of her training and leg cramps had led up to this moment, this event. The message advised interested parties to gather in a clearing in a remote corner of the Worcester Woods, a vast throbbing forest of ginkgo and hemlock at the magnetic epicenter of the state. The directions to the site were as convoluted as the image Cleptomilian conjured of "dragons dancing theatrically," for her experience with the mythical monsters, even as metaphors, was limited. She pictured them digging their claws into the earth -- or linoleum, or whatever -- flicking around their poison-tipped tails, and beating leathern wings against their dangerously scaly skin. Pretty theatrical at that, though not necessarily the kind of theater you’d plunk down ten bucks to go see, then afterwards sit hunched over a cup of Ovaltine in the Savoy Café discussing the existential angst that the choreographer was attempting to portray.

Cleptomilian followed the road into the woods. It curved this way and that, wrapping around itself like a wimple on the head of a belly dancer with the DTs. After a time, but sooner than the directions suggested, she came into a clearing. Two pickup trucks were parked there so she stopped and got out of her car. She hadn’t taken two steps when a twenty-foot high wall of fire erupted around her, and the two trucks transmogrified into giant manticores that snarled and approached her threateningly. Alarmed, she backed slowly to her car, but when she reached for the door handle ... it and the car had vanished. In its place was a hole a foot in diameter that seemed to waver in and out of focus. And when she tried to step over it, a tendril of harsh air burst from the hole, seized her legs, and sucked her in.

Unaccountable time passed, and Cleptomilian had an unsettling vision. She was sitting atop an inflatable 1949 DeSoto roadster as scores of giant sentient wads of bee hair hurtled past her, disappearing down a maze of passageways. She sensed, but couldn’t physically see, a billion bread loaves rising all around her, as if a demented baker were performing a magic act for a convention of Saturday night ghouls.

Assuming she wasn’t still hallucinating, she next found herself walking down a dark, earthen corridor that was illuminated every hundred feet or so by a torch stuck in the wall. The ground undulated beneath her, and Cleptomilian shuddered when one of the torches illuminated hundreds of writhing serpents underfoot. She was following a man who was clad in a shimmering robe and jodhpurs and who clutched a massive book that, too, seemed unsure of which reality it ought to exist in. From other passageways that occasionally branched off of the main one there emanated terrible screams, and the man stopped at each intersection and briefly consulted the book before venturing on. At one of those pauses Cleptomilian noted the book’s title: "Faiths & Avatars and Spells & Magic." On and on they walked until suddenly the corridor opened into a giant subterranean amphitheater. A simmering volcano glowed in the distance, but provided enough light to see what looked like a reconstruction of the Parthenon in the middle of the giant room. This version, however, had numerous macabre alterations. Each of the free-standing columns that surrounded the temple had been fashioned into a barred cell in which an individual was imprisoned. Worse, the cells had been retrofitted with gruesome torture devises -- the brainpan pipe, the testiculopper, the hemorrhoid hammer and the Tickle Me Elbow -- and it was here whence the awful screams issued. A door to the temple was thrust open then and out streamed a ghastly array of witches and warlocks, wizards and anti-priests, griffins and, yes, dragons. They circled the prisoners, tormenting them further with taunts, jeers and squirt guns filled with acid.

In the distance, the volcano moved. It rose into the sky and slowly circled overhead. Cleptomilian gradually could make out great leathery wings flapping against a scaly hide. A terrifying roar completed the transmutation in her mind from lava mountain to fire-breathing dragon, and as it approached the temple, the bizarre assemblage parading around it scattered like dolphin fleas. Cleptomilian, however, was transfixed, unable to move. The air around her grew steamy and noxious from the brimstone breath of the monster, and as it gently exhaled, her hair caught fire.

She screamed.

Abruptly, there was a dramatic change in her surroundings. The dragon vanished, her hair ceased tingling, a more normal overhead light was switched on, and an uncostumed man materialized with a glass of mineral water.

"What’s the problem, missy?" he asked, offering her the beverage.

Borderline hysterical, she sat down and tried to explain in a squeaky voice how she’d come looking for "dragons dancing theatrically," only to stumble upon this gothic horror show. As she glanced around now, however, she saw the amphitheater more closely resembled an elaborate theatrical set.

The man raised his hands and cried "ten minutes, everybody, ten minutes!" And with that, the Parthenon emptied of prisoners and fiends alike who milled around, drinking diet sodas and conversing in loud, happy voices.

The man turned again to Cleptomilian. "Sorry, love, but you want Dragon Dance Theater. That’s another mile, mile and a half down the road. There here’s Dungeons and Dragons Dance Theater. Sorry about the mix-up. Just follow Simon, here, and he’ll get you straight back to your car. Cheers!"

A manticore strode up then, pulled off its mask and, with an innocent smile, led her out of the cavern. They entered an elevator, where Simon pushed the Ground button. As the door closed, the horrific activity behind her started up again. The car rose, and Cleptomilian was about to ask any one of dozens of questions that flooded her mind, but then it stopped and the door opened. It was cleverly concealed in the bole of a tree, and she was sure that if someone wasn’t expressly looking for it, it would forever go unnoticed. Simon pointed to her car, which was parked in a paved lot with a hundred others. He waved good-bye and disappeared back into the tree. When the door shut, it was impossible to see anything other than a tree. Cleptomilian even paused to examine it closely, and was slightly nonplused to discover that there really wasn’t any door there to be found.

But what you, our listening audient, may yet find today on this 215th episode of Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar is the real Dragon Dance Theater, in which dragons really do dance theatrically, because a representative of this chimerical performing ensemble lurks in the wings, sort of like angst lurks in the Ovaltined words of Kalvos.