John Eckerd

Here's the first post in our (hopefully) ongoing literary column, Denton Dwellers, Story Tellers. If you have a piece of poetry, fiction, non-fiction (or even fan-fiction involving Midlake), email it to us at and once a month, we'll post what we feel like posting. 

Our first submission comes from John Eckerd. John is a recent graduate of UNT's English department and currently teaches high school nearby. You might find him at Cool Beans, More Fun Comics, The Abbey Underground/BASSment, and/or Art 6. If you like John's Denton-centric, non-fiction submission below, contact him about his four currently unpublished novels or his hip-hop project, ZombieVision, or better yet, go to his blog and read more of his work. 


Ballerina Dub by John Eckerd


     As we round the corner, as we approach the greasy glass door, some primal chill overwhelms me. I wish for a jacket but know that no coat can stifle what grows in my gut. This is the door to The Underground, where King Whiskey – those best and most terrible parts of me – makes his home. We cross the threshold and descend the basement steps into a world where people exist only as living amalgams of flesh and rhythm. The thumping bass blasts through my chest, recalibrating my heart, and in a single instant the chill is purged. That shiver of anticipation dissolves and is replaced with the shaky, white-hot grimace that means the King has

seized the evening.

      JJ and I slither to the bar. The man hands our glasses of gin across the counter. My friend leads me to the corner table, where we sip our drinks and watch the dancers while we wait for the dub to arrive. They shudder like bastard machines, each hearing the same beat but moving in wildly disparate patterns. A man clutches his stetson and gyrates like he’s just uncovered the concept of motion. A drunk girl in face-paint clambers onstage to kiss the DJ. She grins and takes a long drag from someone else’s cigarette. She looks like an Indian brave in a tattered, strapless dress. In front of her dances the one we call The Wretch. She writhes like a half-rotten, coiled viper in fishnet tights. She grinds against any man foolish enough to approach her. Her face, pockmarked and cratered from years of self-abuse, looks more like the texture of Nevada desert than human skin. Between the two – the painted girl and the desperate woman, lies a Scylla-Charibdis situation. I know that I must, at all costs, avoid entanglement.

      Soon, the deep bass begins to swell until it fills the room. It bristles. Its low growl becomes a minotaur’s bellow and echoes among the labyrinthine passages that map the distance between riotous dance floor souls. The music sprouts a row of haughty, serrated talons. The dub, that arbiter of joy and terror, shakes the meaty walls of his maze. At the center of it all, clutching her ball of golden thread, is the ballerina.

      She stands amid the crowd, yet is not a part of it. Her moves are so sleek and precise and ecstatic she seems more a conductor, orchestrating the world around herself, a goddess on the first day, sculpting a galaxy and naming it The Underground. Her whirls, her turns and clenched fists, all of it resembles some primordial sign language. All the world is her late night and early morning. It is all the happy, jagged dust she kicks up. When she soars, the music soars. When she stomps her feet, I sip my drink. When some mortal man dares approach her, I bite into a slice of lime and King Whiskey bares his fangs.

     This is not Nineties Night at Hailey’s, where everything is fueled by worthless nostalgia. This is The Underground, where the future is prophesied in squeezed limes and sangria leavings and spoken through gritted teeth. King Whiskey tells me that this is where I belong – that the dub is my absent, crooked father returned and that the ballerina is my drunken, bitter mom. I know that this is not true. My father is a man. He cannot fill a room, nor can he make me weep with ascendant joy. My mother is no ballerina – just a hard-luck woman who substitutes wine for comfort. She is no sweet spirit of the night.
     Still, King Whiskey is me, and when he has an idea, it is my idea. When he curses, the words pass between my lips. The King is me. He is no saint – no prophet. He is a boy’s secret face, long kept hidden from the world and now revealed to you. All of these things come to me in The Underground.
     Eventually, the ballerina leaves. JJ and I stumble to the dance floor, swimming through a sea of heavy sounds. We dance – not together, but not completely separate, and time flows freely. Frat guys and stoners, nerds and pub rats – all of them exit into the chilly night. Through all of this, I struggle with who I am.
     The music stops. My friend and I look at one another, and in this moment I realize this story means nothing. It is merely a ball of golden thread which I can tie to the centerpiece of this memory – that living, liquid ballerina. I tie it to her and emerge into the street, unwinding as I go. I will keep this thread in my pocket all week, and when the time comes, I will follow it back into the belly of the beast, that country of green lasers and white smoke, and I will be home.