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The Dance

by Heather Hubler 10 days ago in Short Story
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a short story

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The brush of the broom slowly drifting back and forth across the dappled gray floor created a sort of lulling melody. One many would deem a monotonous or perhaps dull annoyance, but Sam thought it was impressive in its simplicity.

The worn bristles slid so smoothly, humming to a timeless rhythm, carrying away the debris of life. It was the soundtrack to Sam's little piece of this world.

It was the sound of security. It was the sound of money, hard earned. It was the sound that staved off loneliness.

And he would no longer hear it after the day's end.

He was too old, they said. He was starting to miss things. His hearing was going. His eyesight was failing. They said all kinds of things, but none of them held a lick of truth. The CEO's nephew needed a job, and Sam was replaceable.

It didn't matter he'd been employed at the aquarium for most of his adult life. It made no difference that he never missed a day of work. He didn't matter. Not to them.

The finality of the next few hours set in, stealing his breath from his lungs, and the broom slowed to a halt. Sam gripped the tip of the long handle with his worn palms, resting his forehead against them. His eyes squeezed shut as they welled with unshed tears.

He told himself he wasn't going to do this. They could force him to leave, but they couldn't choose how he dealt with it. He was trying to remember that, he really was.

His father's words kept whispering in his ears on repeat, urging him to listen.

Son, I'm going to tell you something that will see you through this thing called life. A man's place in this world is often out of his control. Good things will come along and make you want to dance for joy. Bad things will too, and those may cause you to stumble. But no matter what happens, you can choose how you go on.

Sam hastily wiped at his eyes, his spine straightening. He needed to shake off this melancholy.

He looked around at the vivid colors and the undulating water that spoke home to him. The jellies in their grand, floor-to-ceiling tanks dancing to a song he felt down to his bones.

He envied them. How easy life might be without a heart to hurt. A brain to feel the sting of betrayal. Lungs to fill with silent screams.

Always on the outside, looking in. Sam wondered if that's how the sea creatures felt. It was a simple matter of perspective, but made such a profound difference.

He'd been trying for the last few weeks to imagine what his days would look like without the refuge of this watery haven. And he couldn't. He just could not.

His cramped apartment already felt empty in the few hours he spent there when he wasn't at work. No children, no siblings, parents passed on. There were a few neighbors he got on well with, but he wouldn't call them friends.

No, his real friends lived in a world he could only observe. But they always listened. They never judged.

He hummed and sang while they swam along beside him.

He twirled his broom, gliding across the room like Fred Astaire, and in his mind, they applauded.

All his dreams, his regrets, his desires, they absorbed it all like sponges, never letting on they held his secrets.

It couldn't end like this.

He wouldn't let it.

Mind made, Sam propped his broom against the far wall and sat down on the bench meant for visitors.

He drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, then bent to unlace his shoes.

* * *

"Mr. Sam, you in here?" Xavier called. Where was that old coot?

This stupid aquarium creeped him out at night. All those sets of eyes unblinking, staring at him wherever he went. If he didn't need this job to keep him out of jail, he would never set foot in here again.

As Xavier moved to turn on the overhead lights, a large shadow loomed in his peripheral. "Gah!" he wheezed, clutching his chest. "You stupid, freak-ass monsters!"

Thankfully, it was only those dumb jellyfish.

Wait, why were they all floating together? He stood there a moment trying to make out what he was seeing. The strange sight drew him closer and closer until he was right against the glass.

And then it clicked.

They were surrounding a human form splayed out on the bottom of the tank clothed in a drab green uniform.

Xavier stood mesmerized by the morbid scene playing out before him, unable to look away.

The colorful swarm shifted to and fro as though dancing to a song that played only for them. Their long stinging arms passing over ashy skin, causing the steel gray hair of Sam's corpse to move and sway.

It was kind of weirdly beautiful.

He wondered briefly if there was anyone who would miss the old man. And then reality came crashing in.

Xavier was staying out of jail by the skin of his teeth. It would not look good if he was found here with a dead body.

He turned swiftly, moving back through the eerily lit room, leaving Sam to his final dance.

Short Story

About the author

Heather Hubler

Coffee/reading/writing/family–my favorite things in life. I have a degree in biochemistry but my split personality loves creative writing just as much!

Visit me:

@heather_hubler on Twitter

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

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    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (26)

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  • Stephanie Downarda day ago

    Very well-written and descriptive. I loved it, even the sad ending! ❤️

  • Rick Henry2 days ago

    Great bittersweet story. Well written.

  • Oh my goodness! Poor Sam! 🥺 I really related to him in many ways. Loved this story!

  • Alina Z7 days ago

    I don't think there's a reader who wouldn't love Sam from the first paragraph. He's such a tragic, relatable figure. Loved the symbolism of the diaphanous jellyfish giving him a final moment of grace. Well done!

  • Wow that was a depressing ending. Lol. Very well written though. I like the way you write your descriptions. Particularly, “This stupid aquarium creeped him out at night. All those sets of eyes unblinking, staring at him wherever he went.” I liked the shift in perspective. My personal preference when changing perspective is for it to be headed with their name. But this worked as well. Thanks for sharing! Giving a heart.

  • TJ Roy7 days ago

    I never want to read about the author, until I finished this short story. You and I are kindred in more ways that I care to express. You made me imagine movement. It was awesome! If I had money I would pledge you. Alas, I am a similar overqualified for the real world, NVM, I will pledge what I can. Make me imagine more movement! Thank you. Write on.

  • Marie Wilson7 days ago

    Well-written and totally engaging! A great entry to the challenge. It reminded me a little of "Teddy" by JD Salinger: a big age difference in main characters but significant similarities. Well done.

  • Keila Aartila7 days ago

    Great story! I could here and everything, and felt attached to Sam. :)

  • Misty Rae8 days ago

    I loved it! I wanted to hug Sam, and loved how Xavier's need to stay out of trouble highlighted what happened. Excellent job, and such an important commentary about how we shove our older citizens to the side.

  • Subhi Najar8 days ago

    THis is wonderful, Heather!

  • Morgana Miller9 days ago

    Such gorgeous writing, and I can't believe how well I came to know Sam in so few words. Really wonderful story, Heather!

  • Max Russell9 days ago

    I loved the narrator's need to stay out of trouble and how it influenced the story. Fun tale and beautifully told!

  • Cathy holmes9 days ago

    This is excellent. Your writing always has such a beautiful flow. The words just dance off the screen. Well done.

  • To me, this was a difficult challenge. This is definitely going to be a hard story to beat!

  • Gina C.10 days ago

    This was a wonderful take on the challenge, Heather! I truly enjoyed the eery beauty of it all; also, the sadness. I found the story super engaging and loved it all the way through! As always, your writing is gorgeous. :)

  • Scott Wade10 days ago

    What a dance! What a well painted story. I felt his pain and even a selfish Co worker was moved, well for a bit. Great work. 🥰

  • C. H. Richard10 days ago

    Wow loved it! ❤️ Excellent story telling!

  • Madoka Mori10 days ago

    Lovely, haunting prose. Well done!

  • Dana Stewart10 days ago

    An anguished tale written beautifully. Great concept, Heather!

  • Angel Whelan10 days ago

    Beautiful and hauntingly sad

  • I loved this, another gorgeos story and a wonderful challenge entry

  • Babs Iverson10 days ago

    Beautifully written. Yet, touching and heartbreaking story!!! At the end, Sam was with the ones that loved him. Left a heart!!!

  • Thavien Yliaster10 days ago

    Dang, Sam's sleeping with the fishes. That's gotta be a painful way to go. Especially with all of those neurotoxins coursing through his body. I heard that drowning's not a thrashing event that most people imagine. It's a silent passing that normally goes unnoticed. Just like how Sam drowned in that tank, he was drowning in his own world of troubles. From getting demoted to having nobody else to love after he clocked out. His tank of human needs was running on empty. May he rest in peace. May Xavier call the police a.s.a.p. to hopefully remove any potential suspicion.

  • Jordan Twiss10 days ago

    You did such an excellent job of making Sam’s heartache and sadness feel so real, but my favourite line was “He envied them. How easy life might be without a heart to hurt. A brain to feel the sting of betrayal. Lungs to fill with silent screams.” Excellent work!

  • Caroline Jane10 days ago

    Noooo Sam!!!! 😭😭😭

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