Friday, November 11, 2005

Eleventh Day

In honor of not going to Ragtime Ball tonight, this chapter has dancing in it. (Many thanks to the kind people who encouraged me to go, but I'm still getting over being sick, so it's better that I didn't.)

By the way, I've been listening to Iris, by the Goo Goo Dolls a lot recently. Brings back memories of Opening practices my first year. It was only recently though that I actually figured out the meter in the instrumental break. Neat stuff. I highly recommend listening to it as you read the last part of this chapter.

Chapter 13

Jaden went back to Prof. Oddbury's room behind the janitor's closet again the next night. (Behind it? Inside it? Around it? Wherever it was.) He accepted the offer of a cup of tea and sat down again in one of the armchairs. The professor brought his own cup and saucer in and sat down opposite him.

"You know," Oddbury began, "I feel that there is one thing I should make perfectly clear before we go any further. It is your arm that is the issue here, and your life and your decision. I have no desire to force you into an undertaking you do not wish to accept. You know how your arm is now. In all likelihood it will get no worse, but it is my professional opinion – knowing what has happened to it – that neither will it ever improve. I may be able to aid you in recovering it, but it will be difficult and, I expect, more than a little bit dangerous. The choice to attempt it must be yours."

Jaden forgot about his tea. He hadn't really stopped to think the night before about where all this was leading. It was overwhelming enough just to learn what he had learned. But yes, what were they – what was he – going to do about it?

"So, does that mean you have a plan? Do you know how to get my arm back to normal? How to get it back from the dreamlands?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. But also, in some ways, no. What I mean to say is, there will be a great number of specific details that we cannot foresee, of course, and we will need to deal with those as they arise. But there is a general concept, yes. What I propose is this: We will send you, Jaden Sands, into the dreamlands to find and recover your dreaming hand."

"Send me into the dreamlands?" Jaden was looking a little wide-eyed. "You mean, not like regular dreaming, but actually going there?"


"Wow." Jaden was silent for a moment.

"Excellent travel opportunity, you know," the professor offered. "Not many people get this sort of a chance. Usually you have to be in the business."

"Well yes, I mean, travel is cool and everything. But you said it would be dangerous, too."

"Yes, and I'm afraid we cannot accurately predict the dangers you may encounter, or even the exact nature of the trophy hunter that took your arm. As I said, this is a risk you must weigh for yourself. If you wish, I can pack up tonight and go home to Santa Barbara, and you can forget that any of this ever happened. Or pretend to forget, anyway. But if you decide to follow through, I will do whatever I can to help you. Which is no small offer, if I do say so myself."

Jaden thought for a few moments. A logical, rational part of his brain urged him to cut his losses. He could live without a hand if he had to. No point in getting killed, or whatever else could happen to you in the dreamlands. But a considerable part of him didn't like life without his hand. The few days he had spent at work this way had been a pain, and he couldn't imagine making a career like this. And then, he hadn't tried dancing yet, and he wasn't sure how much that would be affected. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life not quite being able to do the things he was used to doing. And also, a small, hidden, adventurous corner of his mind was beginning to quiver. The dreamlands! It was simply an incredible thought. And that small, hidden part of himself tipped the balance.

"Alright," he said, taking a deep breath. "Let's do it."

"Excellent!" Prof. Oddbury leapt from his chair spilling his tea, and clasped Jaden's good hand enthusiastically. "Marvelous! This is most exciting! I didn't want to say anything to influence you of course, but I was quite hoping you would decide to step up to the challenge. Retired life doesn't exactly agree with me, you see, and this is precisely what I needed!"

Jaden mumbled something about being glad he could help, but the professor was already back at his computer, checking notes and planning a strategy.

"My first bit of advice is that we should wait for Beltane before we actually attempt anything."


"The first of May. May Day. It's a little known fact, but Beltane is actually a counterpart to Samhain, what you would call Halloween. The boundaries between worlds are especially thin on both of those dates, which makes it easier to cross over."

"That would be next weekend, then."

"Yes, and what I would recommend would be to go ahead and go to work as usual next week, but arrange to take some time off the first week in May. I would hope that the journey will not take long, but we should allow for some flexibility and also for some recovery time, if necessary."

"Sure, I can do that. So what should we work on in the meantime?"

"The first thing I'll need to do is to take some physical samples, so we have the appropriate data to correlate with your dream data, which I already have."

"Physical samples? Of what?"

"Of you, of course. I will need a few strands of hair, some saliva, and a very small amount of blood, much less than you would donate, say, to the Red Cross."

"Oh… just a little bit?"

"Just a little bit. The data I will collect from them will let me prepare the necessary chemicals and equipment, and may even aid in tracking your lost hand."

"Well, alright."

"Excellent. We'll make this as quick and painless as possible."

The samples were taken and stored in an array of small vials in a rack on Prof. Oddbury's desk. Jaden looked at the long strand of black hair next to the small tube of dark red liquid, and imagined his right hand in another tiny bottle next to them. Creepy, thinking about parts of yourself taken away and locked up. The professor spoke again, breaking him out of his reverie.

"I'm afraid things will be fairly boring for a while as I run a number of tests and analyses here. All necessary preparation, but somewhat tedious. You may want to relax and get some rest. We will be getting much busier in the week to come."

"Alright. Oh, and not to sound overly mundane or anything, but…"


"Well, there's a Jammix – a dance – up at Stanford tomorrow night, and I was thinking about going to it. It's only been a week since my last dance, of course, but the way the week has been, it feels like a year."

"By all means, my boy. Go ahead and have a nice time. We can begin our work on Saturday. I'll have my preparations ready by then."


* * *

Jaden felt a little apprehensive as he paid his money and headed in to the dance the next night. He was still pretty self-conscious about his hand, and he expected that many people here wouldn't even have heard about his accident yet, and he would probably have to explain it more times than he'd like. Apparently at least one person already knew about it, though.

"Jaden! Are you alright?!" A small, red-headed blur rushed up to him and flung its arms around his neck. "I heard about your accident! That was so horrible!"

"Mmph. Hi, Amanda." Jaden gave her a one-armed hug. "Yes, I'm alright. Well, more or less."

He showed her his right hand and explained. She stared at it, wide-eyed.

"Oh my god! I'm so sorry! Do they think it will get better?"

"Well, it's not certain. Maybe. Too soon to tell for now."

"Wow. I hope it gets better."


"Well, save me a dance, okay?"

"You bet."

Amanda skipped off to greet another friend who had just come in, and Jaden sat down to deal with changing into his dance shoes one-handedly. He reflected that running into Amanda first was probably the best thing he could have done for getting the news out, and indeed, it seemed that nearly everyone else knew about his condition almost as soon as they got in the door. Unfortunately, they all still had to hear about it from his own lips, so it didn't actually save him much.

There was a pretty thorough mix of dances that night, as there always is at Jammix, but Jaden decided early on to limit himself to things like waltzes, polkas, and one-steps. Dances where he could, for the most part, maintain a consistent frame without his right hand and arm having to move too much. Swing, and Latin and such dances could be attempted at a later date, if everything seemed to be going well.

He made sure to start off with a couple of his favorite waltz partners, so he could get a sense of what it was like dancing with his "new" hand without having to worry about his partner any more than necessary. He found that it actually went fairly well, or about as well as he could have expected. Before a dance started, he could use his left hand to get his right hand into approximately the right shape and position to be comfortable, and then just place it around his partner's back and leave it there. His upper arm and shoulder were still fine, so he could maintain a decent frame without it collapsing. The lack of sensation and flexibility was a bit annoying, and sometimes after a turn it would be awkward getting back into closed position, but for the most part, he could work with it.

Rotary waltzes were the easiest, since they used the most stable frame. Cross step waltzes twisted a bit more but weren't too bad. Polkas could get out of control more easily, but with a good partner they were doable. One steps were just silly anyway, so nothing much to worry about there. Plus there was only one of them in the entire evening. For the other dances, Jaden was content to sit and watch.

He was watching a tango – which wasn't the sort of thing he normally would have danced anyway – when he felt a small tap on his shoulder.

"Excuse me," said a voice, "but would you like to dance this?"

He turned and saw a girl he didn't recognize. He guessed she was a student, but she was one of those people who could be old than they looked. Or younger, if it came to that. She was a little shorter than him and she had dark eyes and long, straight hair which hung loose down her back. There was a certain point to her features that Jaden couldn't exactly place, but they held the eye somehow.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but I don't really dance tango. At least not so that it would recognizable as such." That got a smile from her. "I think there's a waltz next, though, would you like to do that?"

"Sure, I'd love to. I was told that you're a good dancer and that I should ask you to dance. I hope you don't mind. My name's Zoe."

"I'm Jaden, and I don't mind in the least. I shall try to live up to my flattery. I warn you, though: I may not be at my best tonight."

The tango music ended as he explained about his hand, and they walked out to take a starting position on the dance floor.

The waltz began: "Iris," by the Goo Goo Dolls. Jaden put his right arm around Zoe, and she seemed to shiver, and tense slightly at his touch. He wondered if it was just weird dancing with someone's paralyzed hand, but thought maybe he shouldn't mention it. They started waltzing with the opening lines.

And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow

He wondered what she had felt. Could she somehow feel the dreamlands through his hand? Feel through to his real hand, beyond the frozen version he had here? Silly thought. Her eyes were locked on him, so he turned his attention to her and they danced.

Zoe was an excellent dancer, and Jaden wondered silently how he had never met her before. Maybe she was new to the area. Regardless, she was fantastic. The waltz felt like flying, and Jaden barely had to think of a turn or a pivot or a redowa step before it became a reality. He hardly even had to look away from her eyes to steer. From his peripheral vision is seemed as though the crowds simply parted in their path.

Then came the instrumental bridge, and the music switched from straightforward waltz time to 3 + 3 + 2. Extra pivots on each phrase. Most couples on the floor were getting confused, or simply waltzing on and getting off the music, then skittering to catch up. Jaden and Zoe hit every beat perfectly, the twos like little knives dismantling the threes, taking out little pieces of the waltz and the world around them, leaving little holes into Elsewhere.

And Jaden saw something in her dark eyes, something that seemed to grow until it filled her face and then his vision. A dark figure on a horse, its features hidden under the cape of a hood that billowed in some mythical wind. A burst of flames appeared in the air before it, and the sky seemed to tear open. The figure spurred its horse, and leapt through the flames into the gap.

The music quieted and lulled back into waltz time again. The figure was gone, leaving a tense, expectant emptiness behind. Jaden realized they were still dancing. And then the final chorus burst forth.

And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand

And once again the figure was appeared, in his vision or in his mind's eye, he didn't know. It burst out of the flaming gap, clutching a small bundle to its chest.

When everything's made to be broken

Jaden's right arm felt a brief stab of pain. The flaming rift in the sky sealed, and the flames flickered, then vanished.

I just want you to know who I am

The horseman galloped off, carrying its burden. And the world reformed around Jaden. Zoe, still dancing with him. The crowd of couples finishing the waltz. The walls, balcony and purple curtains of Roble Dance Studio. Reality.

The music ended. Jaden let go of Zoe slowly, making sure she still had her balance. He himself was feeling rather wobbly, and that was unusual for him, even after a fast waltz. He was also watching her face to see whether she had noticed anything of what he had seen, or noticed that he might have been acting oddly. She looked as though she had just resurfaced from a happy dream.

"That was… wonderful," she breathed. "Thank you."

"No, thank you."

He walked her back to the sidelines, without quite knowing what else to say. Luckily, someone else came up and asked her for the next dance before they were even off the floor, and Jaden was off the hook. He went outside for a drink of water, wondering what exactly had just happened.