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The Dance by Dan Reilly

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Photo by Nihal Demirci

The Dance

10-Word Challenge Winner 2020

It began slowly at first, a little wiggle here, some foot shaking and twisting there. Once started, no one ever stopped. Early on, it was mostly the adults dancing, but then children too, and finally, even newborns came forth quivering and quaking. The entire world got that flop and fling, that bounce and bump which came to be known simply as the dance.

Tough to do much effectively when in the dance, but you can persevere. Sleep becomes rare, but it happens. Fidgety as a squirrel, you adapt to walking, talking, and cooking. Concentration diminishes, yet science and research continue. Behavioral changes, muscular dystrophies, and myopathies were studied with many theories initially proposed, like hyperthyroidism, Cushing Syndrome, and Sydenham's chorea. It was all of those and none. PSNP, polystyrene nano plastic, was the link. Although difficult to persuade people initially, the truth became apparent. PSNP accumulation in the pancreas disrupts glucose homeostasis, inducing increased cortisol secretion and hyperactivity. Simultaneously, although most nano plastics accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract or the outer epithelium, they also cross epithelial barriers to reside in the brain and heart, causing a complex set of feedback interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and internal tissue (HPI-axis). This too results in changes to metabolic rate with a stress response of rapid uncoordinated jerking movements, and the telltale purple pinstripe skin markings.

Permanent movements, it turns out. No drug or surgery stays the dance. Constant inhalation and ingestion of invisible particles of acrylic, melamine, and polyester are the geneses, one without a vaccine or adaptive immunity. Microplastics from industry, cosmetics, and packaging formed a multi-millennium life cycle in the environment, a culmination of chem-photodegradation and fragmentation that put these particles everywhere, land, sea, or air. In that time of motorized vehicles with tires, the synthetic styrene-butane rubber eroded into unseen clouds in all our cities, cities that are no more.

We few who remain are the children and grandchildren of microbiologists whose legacy to us was a machine to filter the blood and another to purify water and our food which emerges always as a kind of gruel. Only our small indoor crop is real food and therefore savored. Much time is spent maintaining these machines in our sealed ex-university building, replenishing the silk filters, for example, but that work becomes increasingly difficult now after nearly seventy years without even the merest manufacturing supply network which made their construction possible. Our brief time, our human lifespan is grievously insufficient to the degeneration and reduction of these materials, or to the necessary evolution and adaptation of our bodies. Once, we were the Adams and Eves, even so, optimistic as to decorate our many rooms. Now, sitting in this vast library of knowledge, artistry, and symmetry, I am more likely the final chronicler of a lost race.

The hyperkinetic writhing, grimacing and tongue fasciculations perhaps resemble the carnival-like, frenzied dances which took place so long ago on the feast of St. Vitus, in front of his statue. The dance goes on until it consumes you. Lives became brief, yet somehow resplendent, even joyful, as new compassion advanced, post-civilization, amnesia of hatred. Each saw the other with the same affliction, the identical end, saw the other with . . . humanity, once and forever, all dancing together.


The Author

Dan Reilly lives in the Adirondacks where he had his first reading thanks to Mohawk poet Maurice Kenny. Dan has worked in films and construction, bartended, driven trucks and taxis, written for a newspaper, taught in prisons, owned a business, and lived in NYC and LA. His poems and stories have appeared in Pif Magazine, Closed Eye Open, Beyond Words Magazine, Obelus Journal, The Ocotillo Review, and SPLASH! of Haunted Waters Press. He was featured on The New Guard's BANG! page. His story "Muffled and Distant" received honorable mention in a Flash Fiction Magazine contest. "Dream an Emptiness" won third prize in poetry at The Chestnut Review. Dan and his wife Aggie are completing a children’s book. Artist Gail Foster is collaborating with Dan on a chapbook. Website:

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