Chuck Wendig: The Dancer and the Shattered Shell

I missed the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge last week, so I was determined to get one done for this week.  This week’s challenge is to pick one from a list of ten randomly-generated titles that he put out there, and write a story of up to 1,000 words to go with it.  Mine is 645 words long.  I hope you like it.


The Dancer and the Shattered Shell

I sat alone in the back of every room I was ever in.  I was the kid who never raised his hand, who never spoke up, who never said hello.  Or goodbye.  Or anything else.

I built walls around myself to keep me in and everyone else out.  Walls that reached up and arched over and met in the middle to form a dome high over my head.

A shell.

And inside my shell, I kept my own counsel.  I drew.  I wrote.  I read.  I sang.

I drew innumerable doodles of starships and swans and dolphins and cartoon dogs in the margins of my class notes, but never showed the drawings to anyone.

I wrote poetry on the inside covers of my notebooks.  Shy, hesitant poems about darkness and light and the way the wind feels on your face when you step outside into a cold winter storm.  I never showed those to anyone, either.

I read thick, impenetrable epics full of heroes and villains and magic and love and fantasy that took me to places I knew I would never reach on my own.

I sang.  Not out loud, but in my heart, where only I could hear it.  I sang the popular songs of the day as well as my own compositions, songs of longing and desire and the need to be accepted and the fear of reaching out.

And I danced.

Oh, above all, how I danced.

In my bedroom, late at night, I would put on headphones and turn on the music, crank up the volume, and I would dance.

I never had any sort of musical training, and my rhythm was suspect, but I didn’t care.  As the music pounded through my headphones into my soul, I would throw my head back and my arms wide and spin and leap and hop and thrash and mosh and give myself over to the beat.  It was the only time I ever allowed myself to let go, to show who I truly was.

Of course, no one ever saw it but me.  Everyone else was outside the shell.  I was safe and insulated within.

Then one day at school, some kids were fooling around while we were waiting for the bell to ring.  We were out in the courtyard and someone turned on a speaker and started playing music.  A couple of kids started dancing, just goofing around, and everyone else was laughing and clapping, egging them on, joining in.

As I usually did, I moved away and sat alone, reading.  I read while listening to the music with one ear, head bobbing ever so slightly to the beat.

Someone called my name.  I looked up, and they were all waving at me.  “Hey,” they shouted.  “Come on!  Show us what you got!”

They had done this before.  I did what I always did.  I held up my book and shook my head.  “No thanks,” I said, and I ducked my head back down to read.

This day would be different, though.  For some reason, they weren’t going to take no for an answer this time.  Someone came over, laughing, and reached through my shell and took the book out of my hand.  Other hands reached out to me, imploring me to get up.  Faces smiled and heads nodded reassuringly.

The call came again.  “Show us what you got!”  Cheers, clapping, some of it probably from people who were hoping to see the class mope make a fool of himself.  They weren’t going to let it go.  I took a breath, and I stood up.

The song changed.  One of my favorite late night songs came on.  It was a sign.  I smiled.  It was the first time some of these kids had ever seen an expression on my face.

I threw my arms wide.

My shell shattered.

And I danced.