by: James Burr
He danced in the dry ice, his limbs staccato-jerking in the strobes. He’d cleared a space for himself and was dancing on the spot, breathing heavily through his nose and mouth, his eyes glazed and staring blankly ahead. “I’m dancing, I’m dancing,” he kept repeating as he danced and danced. Around him, sweating clubbers pointed and whooped and high-fived him, this consummate dancer, as the beat rattled and the bass wobbled and dropped.
The next time I saw him was at a Rugby Club Ball, standing on a table, Harlequins jersey stained with curry, leading a drunken rendition of Father Abraham, Stella Artois spilling and splashing those who stood around him, laughing and cheering. At the end of each line he thrust his hips with a powerful snap, his cheering, ruddy-faced compatriots doing the same, following this seeming best friend to all, as they slapped him on the back and cheered and roared their drunken approval.
I spoke to one of his friends later at the end of the evening, after the lights had come up and the bar had mostly emptied save for some stragglers trying to stay awake as they drank in small groups or a couple trying to finger new girl friends in the shadows. He could barely focus and was slumped on a table, the sleeves of his blazer sodden with beer, but despite my describing the man in detail and saying what he had been doing all evening, one of this man’s seeming core group of friends had no idea who I was talking about, my questions only prompting vague recollection of someone being there but nothing more.
But then I saw more of him after that. At demonstrations outside the Student Union, his hair dyed purple, surrounded by cheering social justice warriors who applauded his railing against the patriarchy, and at poetry evenings, clad in tweed and thick-rimmed specs, his verse received with standing ovations before he then retired to the café where he held court to the assembled poets and performance artists and spoke of the merits of repetition, word play and the importance of oral storytelling. Occasionally, I’d see him out of the corner of my eye, walking around a corner surrounded by an adoring group of chavs, baseball cap on his head and can of White Lightning in hand or entering a Metal club, all in black, illegible band logo on his T-Shirt, and always, always the centre of attention, effortlessly the leader of the group, clearly the best friend to all.
Sometimes, I’d speak to these people about him, sometimes only moments after he’d left, but they could only vaguely recall him, just remembering a few details, a tinge of an accent, a mannerism, an odd recollection that someone had indeed been there. No-one seemed to know him; no-one knew who he was yet whenever I saw him, he was always the centre of attention, the focal point of that social group.
So I wasn’t that surprised when the next time I saw him was when I went to a friend’s house for a quiet smoke. As I opened the door to the living room, through a hashish haze I saw him holding court, expertly skinning up as he mumbled about his travels to Tibet and his experiences of various drugs, my friends relaxed with his company and enraptured with his conversation. And I watched him through the evening, this consummate Head, as he expertly selected the music, Floyd then Orb then ambient trance, as my friends mumbled their approval at his selections. But as the night progressed, my limbs grew heavy and my head filled with warm cotton wool, the others slowly went home or shuffled upstairs until I was finally left alone with him, the first time I’d seen him outside of a group.
We sat slumped on the floor as the ambient wash pulsed and throbbed around us and as for a moment I think I saw a look of panic pass across his face as he realized we were alone. Then he turned to me, his face an exact mirror of my own. I wanted to ask him who he was, how he seemed to know everyone, be liked by everyone. But my mouth was dry and I could feel myself sinking into unconsciousness. As I closed my eyes, I thought I heard him say, “I’m not sure I want to find myself….”
When I woke up the next day, I found his “body”, if you want to call it that, on the floor where I had last seen him. Lying on the carpet amidst the full ashtrays and fragments of discarded cardboard was a man-shaped transparent vessel, a brittle glass container, empty and dead.
His hollow frame shattered into a thousand fragments when I threw it into the bin outside, and when my friends slowly surfaced, rubbing their eyes and shuffling to the kitchen to make mugs of hot tea, like everyone else, none could remember him or even recall his name.
An English writer of dark, humorous, paranoiac fiction, James Burr is the author of Ugly Stories for Beautiful People and is working on a novel titled Razor Moccasins. You can follow him on Twitter and find more of his stories here.
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