Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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In those days gods walked among us courtesy of Konami Corporation.

There were two of them arguing right in this spot—

Right over there, in that blasted pit that not even the repavers can heal.

It happened like this.

There’s a cat curled up on old Mrs. McGinty’s porch.

There’re crows croaking raucously on a nearby power line.

Emily walks up from the south. She doesn’t look around. She finds a square of sidewalk and she sets up her Konami Thunder Dance pad.

The crows go silent as death.

She plugs her pad into a PlayStation 6 and an uninterruptible power supply. She kicks off her shoes. She steps up onto the pad.

The cat uncurls. It stretches. It lopes away.

Now Lucy slips down the road. Her hair is soot-black, as are her lips. Her eyes and her hat are white.

She sets up her dance pad.

She plugs it in, just like Emily’s.

She steps on. And smugly, because it’s allowed in the club rules for the Konami Thunder Dance club at their school, she scatters the rune stones on the ground beside her; she reads them; her white eyes see through the veil of time, the malice of space, to the secrets of Emily’s dance.

She looks up at Emily.

“You can still give up,” Lucy says. “I won’t tell anyone. We can just say — we can just say I won, and nobody has to be the wiser.”

The air is clear and still as glass. The sun isn’t moving.

That’s the way it is with Konami Thunder Dance. They could stand there all day, if you’ll pardon some linguistic ambiguity, and the sun wouldn’t move one inch.

But Emily just shakes her head.

She doesn’t let it sit like that. She moves her foot to the side, just sweeps it across what Konami calls the “keyboard of the feet,” and she’s hit the Symbol for storms.

There’s lightning in the sky.

“It’s just a crass marketing move,” says Lucy. “It’s just — don’t do this. Don’t do this, Emily. We shouldn’t do this. The club should stick with the real Thunder Dance. The good Thunder Dance. The Konami Thunder Dance, that was given to us by God.”

Emily shakes her head.

It’s raining now.

Thunder rolls.

“I won’t accept it,” says Lucy. “I won’t let you ruin it. I won’t let you take away Dynamite.

And you can’t see Emily’s tears for all the rain.

And you can’t see her thoughts, if you can’t read minds.

And then, just like God had allegedly done in that sacred vision that inspired Hiro Matsuda to make Konami Thunder Dance, Lucy hits the button with her toe that begins the game.

There’s no turning back now.

And for Emily and Lucy alike the patterns of the Thunder Dance begin to flow.

As Emily is dancing to Tourniquet, it is natural that her first Symbol is BLOOD.

As Lucy is dancing to Jungle Song, it is equally natural that her first Symbol is THE ELEPHANT.

In the books of the sacred thunder dance, this is named The Day That Dumbo Fell. The birds are shrieking; they are rising from the power line, scattered even in the face of the dance; an elephant tumbles past, choking on the crimson angst of its existence.

And Emily throws the symbol KAMI and Lucy throws WILDERNESS, and thus it is that our fair city loses the blessing of Heaven.

They are not dancing well, not either of them. Not now.

Their music is drowning in the gold of Emily’s eyes.

But in and through that consuming and subsuming darkness, and in and through that overwhelming gold: wound through that dance and within that dance, that has been stripped of its magic, there rises an ever-louder and ever-more-infectious beat.

And Lucy is dancing now, not just for the Symbols, not just for the power of it, but for the rhythm; dancing in the rising darkness of Emily’s Symbol LOST, and her dance is STRENGTH.

And Evanescence possesses the darkness, while Toybox whispers of how funky a four-armed monkey could get; and then, pivoting one hand down to support her on the center of the pad, and without interrupting the Symbols of her dance, Lucy uses her free foot to throw Dynamite.

There is a flare of light. The air ignites. Emily tries to contain it; she struggles against a rising wind and a missed half-note and the fire that is cracking her PlayStation to stay in the game; and all up and down the street windows are shattering, roofs are caving in, chicken dinners are rising from their graves to run around clucking—

For the chicken, alone of all the creatures of this Earth, is blessed with independence from its brain—

And this woman comes walking, clicking, ticking footsteps up the path.

There’s something fascinating about the way she walks. It’s like the dawning of the sun. The wind of the dynamite doesn’t even touch her. Her face is lined and her hair is graying and she’s smiling ever so thinly as she walks up.

And the dance goes still.

Both Emily and Lucy just stare at her. The Symbols they’re supposed to dance drift past right to the terrible ending of those songs.

And the woman says, “It’s not worth giving your life for Dynamite, child, and it sure as Hell isn’t worth taking somebody else’s.”

Lucy lifts her chin. Her eyes are fierce and white.

She says, “I want to dance the real thunder dance. The one that matters.”

“You kin’t,” the woman says.

“We live in a degenerate time,” pleads Lucy. “Hobbit-Spock-spider. A Thunder Dance without dynamite. That boy in his mucous hat.”

Emily can’t look at her.

“We can’t just,” Lucy says, “We can’t just let all the old true things go away.”

“I hear,” says the woman, “that they’ve added Symbol support to the new version so that newbies can get by with just four of the steps.”

“It is good for the community of Thunder Dancers,” Emily adds.

This is the way it must be, she is pleading. We must control these things. We must stop them. Gotterdammerung is coming.

Not that evil prophets would understand about Gotterdammerung, she mutters.

“Some people over in America,” the woman says, “they wired it up through a hacked Furby and abused the Hell out of the four-step system so they could pull off twelve-step Symbols. Things you couldn’t imagine, like itserbani and oieiei.”

Her enunciation is very precise.

“I thought that was clever,” she admits.

“I’m not saying the new version is bad,” Lucy protests, although she has been. “I’m just . . . I practiced so much learning to throw Dynamite. And now Konami’s saying that it wasn’t ever intended.”

“Did you know why I stopped Thunder Dancing?” the woman asks.

Lucy shakes her head.

“I stopped Thunder Dancing,” the woman says, “when Konami released the patch that made it so that Thunder Dancers didn’t all die by live burial any more.”

Lucy frowns at her.


“The original version,” the woman says. “It had a bug. Or a feature— who can say?”

“That you’d get buried alive?”

“If you were good enough,” the woman says.

Emily blinks. “That’s pretty radical,” she says.

“It was the genuine thing,” the woman says. “It was the Konami Thunder Dance as sent to us by God. If you were too good then one day the Earth would open up and swallow you. Or you’d get trapped in a mine cave-in. Or something else like that would happen to bury you under the ground, or under scissors. Or whatnot. That’s how the Kid died. And Lois Lethal. Ren the Bing. But not me.”

“Ma’am,” says Lucy.

She isn’t usually respectful of her elders, but she can’t help it. The ma’am just comes out of her.

“Call me Margerie,” the woman says.

“Ma’am,” says Lucy. “I’m sure you’d have been buried alive if they hadn’t released that patch.”


Lucy’s mouth twitches in distress. “Margerie,” she says.

“I stopped playing,” the woman says. “That day. I kept my old pad but I never plugged it in. I would practice without electronic aid. Eventually I learned a few things— just the simplest moves, things like BANANA or GRACE — without the PlayStation. And when I finally danced a proper BANANA and the world went still and a banana manifest, I cried like the rankest of newbs on their third day of struggling with the dance. But you know as well as I do how many thousands of Symbols I must learn to manifest before I am even vaguely competitive again.”

Lucy is staring at her.

“You are telling me,” she says, half-choking, “that you can dance bananas into being without a PlayStation?”

And Margerie laughs. She can’t help it. It is an articulate laugh, careful and slow, but still it is unwilling, and it bends her over a little with it.

When her chuckles die down, she says, “You can see why I am a legend among people who very much like bananas.”

“I mean,” says Lucy, “I mean, wait. Do you summon them, or?”

“I dance,” says Margerie. “That’s all.”

“You . . .”

Emily interrupts. She has amped the volume so that she can speak even softer than usual and still be heard. “Margerie, why are you here?

“Apparently,” Margerie says, “the School for Wayward Youth’s a ‘special administrative region’ in Essex. Now, Parliament gets all a’twitter, you know, when you Thunder Dancers duel for real. Flying Ipswich this, lost blessing of Heaven that, why is Orwell on fire again the other — you know.”

Emily makes the rueful shrug made by Thunder Dancers who are not unrepentant evil prophets of space when acknowledging the incredible danger that Thunder Dancers pose to the world.

“So they said, well, we kin’t send people with guns, and we kin’t send people with papers, so let’s call good old Margerie and promise to push her legislation through if she cools your heads a little. And since my tea leaves were shouting at me all morning about how some young fools were gonna git themselves killed fighting over Dynamite without no safeties on, I figured it was just as well.”

“Oh,” says Emily.

“So I came down here,” says the gray-haired woman, “to tell you to stop this foolishness; and if you don’t, I’ll dance against you.”

Emily stares at her for a while. Then she steps aside. She gestures broadly.

If we don’t fight, she says, forgetting to turn on her amplifier, it’s my win in any case.

Lucy stares at Margerie. Her eyes are intense.

“Ma’am,” she says.


“I —” Lucy says.

She looks down. She flushes bright red.

“I don’t want to fight you,” says the evil prophet of space. “I— God, I’d do whatever you say, except—”

And Margerie’s mouth crooks up at the corner. “Except?”

“I want to fight you,” Lucy whispers.

“I’m a tired old relic,” says Margerie. “I only know a few Symbols. You sure I’m the person you want to beat?”

“It’s the way you walk,” says Lucy. She’s got this transported air of awe about her. “It’s just— you’re like— you’re like—”

She flails for an analogy.

“It’s like you’re a goat, ma’am. A goat who doesn’t play rock-paper-scissors. Or a robot. But only, for dancing!”

This is not a very good analogy.

“Or like, like, scissors,” Lucy tries again. “Please.”

And Margerie snorts.

“Kid,” she says, “I said I’d fight you if you didn’t back down, so you don’t have to insult me and you definitely don’t got to beg.”

Margerie looks to Emily

“Move,” she says.


“Don’t need your machine,” Margerie says, “but I need your music and I need your spot.”

So Emily steps back. She leans against the huddled, whimpering elephant and she watches.

And Margerie steps up.

And this time it is Lucy dancing to Yatta! and Margerie to Stillness in Silence. The former is one of the hardest of songs in the Konami Thunder Dance and the latter is one of the easiest. Nevertheless, the Symbols that flow from Lucy are impeccable while Margerie’s — danced on the sidewalk — are fumbling, failing, and incomplete.

And there is impatience stirring in Lucy because she cannot wait for Margerie to fail out of the dance; she must defeat her.

And there is patience in her because she knows that she is in no danger until and unless the gray-haired woman does Lucy the honor of conceding the failure of her technique and steps onto Emily’s pad.

And so Lucy’s Symbols are not offensive but rather a rising pyre of power that gathers around her, such that the clouds in the sky above them are marked with the burning mandalas of the evil magic of her dance.

And she uses her impatience as an engine to drive the patterns of her feet.

And then she sees that Margerie is near the last gasps of her dance, and Lucy yields to the drive in her. She surrenders to the victory-hunger and her hand comes down to the ground. And without ceasing to dance THE LEAF, she dances also Dynamite.

On the very last movement of this step she slips.

It is a banana peel: nothing much: but it burns through her like a shock and her world explodes in whiteness and whirling green. As she tumbles through two buildings and a third, as her consciousness wobbles and begins to fade, she sees her enemy stepping away with grace and she realizes that Margerie has won.

My God, she thinks, because this is more amazing to her than even the wicked god of space.

A leaf brushes past her cheek.

And tenderly she thinks, with the greatest possible kindness: May you be buried alive.

Her head strikes down on the concrete, hard, and the vast blue world whites out.



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