“Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to mourn, and there is a time to dance.” – Footloose
“Today is a good day to die.” – Klingon Proverb
For as long as he could remember, the Klingon-American boy had dreamed of musical theater.
Kovan, son of Kovax (or, “Kevin” as he identified himself to non-Klingons) could trace this desire back to his first memory: a wedding that took place at the Klingon community center in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As the cleric told the story of Kahless—the hero of the Klingon Empire—and Lukara—his great love—the targ-skin drums were beaten with such force that they evoked the fire and steel from which the Gods forged the Klingon heart. But while the crowd stomped its feet to the music, the boy tapped his toes.
The bride and groom each swore to stand together against all that would oppose them, for nothing could stand against two Klingon hearts that beat as one. And though the boy was too young to understand adult love, he felt his own heart beating along with the low pops of the drum and was sure that the cleric must have been speaking about the bond between his body and the music. (Then he picked up his pain stick and ceremonially attacked the happy couple as is demanded by the ancient texts.)
But his parents held very traditional Klingon values; they had come to New York from the homeworld, Chronos, for jobs and opportunity, not to lose the old ways. When, at the age of ten, Kevin told them about his dreams of singing and dancing on stage, his father smacked him across the face, leaving a red mark upon his brown skin that stretched from his cheek all the way to bottom of his ridged forehead.
“No son of mine will be a P’tach who moves his body for a living and sings human songs about apple pie and dishonor,” said his father.
“It is just a phase, it will pass,” said his mother. “He will grow out of it and make us proud as a warrior, and also a lawyer or an engineer.”
But Kevin was undeterred. He believed that there was more than one way to light the gates to Stovokor, the city of the honored dead. Though tradition spoke of crossing the river of blood and lighting the gates with the fires of burned enemies, Kevin dreamed of red floodlights and the roar of applauding crowds crumbling rocks into the river. He dreamed of the vanquished souls of competing choreographers and all of the talent scouts who said he couldn’t do it.
When he reached high school age, he was forced to attend the Klingon Charter School in the Bronx and not the performing arts school in Manhattan—“No great deeds could be done in musical theater,” he was reminded, “No battles won, no honor earned”—but despite his family’s protestations, he built himself a secret curriculum; he began writing a musical. He knew it wasn’t quite polished (he didn’t even know how to write down any of the notes), but he also knew, because his heart and the music beat as one, that one day it would be. He would bring the glorious saga of Kahless to a place it had never been before:
The premise of Kevin’s musical is a cross between the saga of Kahless and the story of Footloose.
The first act begins with Kahless as a boy, living under the cruel rule of the tyrant, Molar. We are told that Chronos, the Klingon home world, was once a land of freedom and glory. But Molar has heard of a prophecy that the liberator who will one day overthrow him will celebrate that victory by dancing on his grave. And so, in his cowardice, he has made dancing an offense punishable by death throughout the land.
Is there a warrior anywhere brave enough to stand (and dance) against him?
Samantha Rosenbaum (daughter of Robert and Constance) dreamed of shedding blood for an honorable house. She had always been fascinated by Klingon culture, especially the idea that violence was not just about hurting others, but was a way to enrich the spirit. (This defense was of little help on the countless occasions she found herself in trouble for hitting other children. Among her deeds worthy of song before the age of eleven: Being sent to the guidance counselor for fashioning a Bat’Leth out of cardboard scraps in art class; being the most fearsome, elbow swinging, rebounder in the Greenwich Village Youth Basketball League; scaring Timmy Templeton, a boy she had a crush on, to the point of peeing his pants as she gritted her teeth and growled at him as a demonstration of affection; being held in detention until the principal could figure out what the proper punishment for calling your teacher a “P’tach” was; and trying (and failing) to cut her palm with a pair of safety scissors in the performance of a Klingon ritual on school property.)
Unable to find humans willing to fight her in honorable combat—“Psycho Samantha” they called her on the playground, “stay away from Bam Bam Sam!”—she tried to reach out to Klingon immigrants. But none were willing to let her into their world. The Klingon kids that she sought out in their neighborhood laughed at her when she challenged them. They saw no honor in battling a human, a female at that. She fared no better with the adult Klingons, who she would brazenly interrogate inside their shops. “Where can I buy a Daq-tagh?” she might ask a grocery clerk in Little Chronos. “Who do I need to talk to about becoming a warrior?” Some tapped her on her head and shooed her as they might a pet targ. Some looked at her with ancient pain and told her not to joke of such things.
Worse than the discouragement she received from the outside world was the infuriating support she got from her parents. Both psychiatrists, they encouraged her to explore her interest in Klingon culture with maddening enthusiasm. Their motto was that as long as she was honest to them, and true to herself, then they would be proud of her.
Yet for all the words of encouragement they gave her, they could not completely speak her language. For all of their child psychology expertise, they never knew that all she wanted them to tell her was “K’Plah!”
Despite her hefty permanent record, she was admitted into the Performing Arts magnet high school. (Her parents had made her apply, thinking that most of her Klingon phase was just a displaced desire to perform. Samantha had gone along with it, using the entire five-minute audition to list every Klingon curse word she knew. The people grading the audition loved her “spunk” and thought she had a “hilarious” accent.)
She had only been going there for a week when a Klingon boy walked up to her after school.
“Hi, I’m Kevin,” he said shyly. “I’m looking for someone who can help me write down the notes to my musical.”
Samantha gritted her teeth. “I am Samantha. Daughter of Robert,” she growled.
Then she punched him in the face.
In the sacred texts, it is written that Kahless forged the first Bat’Leth by dipping his own hair into the lava of the Kri’stak volcano, and molding it into a double-edged sword. In Kevin’s musical, Kahless, now a teenager, molds the first ever pair of Klingon dancing shoes.
The second act opens with Kahless powerless to stop Molar as he slaughters innocent peasants for the crime of dancing, condemning them to dance themselves to death on their own pyres.
Kahless vows that these deaths will not be in vain, and that he will make Molar pay for his crimes. He knows that he will need a pair of dancing shoes that can withstand whatever torments he will be forced to endure. And so he sets out to the volcano to entreat the Gods to honor his gift of pain and grant him the shoes of destiny.
When he first places the shoes upon his feet, he dances with such passion and force as to make the mountain belch forth fire and smoke as herald to his glory.
They made a deal: Samantha would help Kevin put his musical on paper, and he would show her the way of the warrior.
Samantha knew how to read music from the piano lessons her parents had put her through (after a brief and disastrous stint with the violin where she tried to wield the bow as a MetLith).
And Kevin was skilled and graceful with a Bat’Leth from years of lessons, during which he had been one of the best fighters but one of the least popular boys. He was graceful and quick, able to avoid the awkward swings of his opponents, able to see the sword as an extension of his body. But the other boys resented his skill, and made fun of his lack of aggression, which they viewed as evidence of cowardice. “Why don’t you ever attack? Don’t you have any Grombas?” the other boys, most of whom were bigger than him, would jeer. When the instructor wasn’t looking, they would gang up on him, lifting up his shirt and making small cuts on the exposed flesh. “That blood looks human to me!” they would laugh. Sometimes, Kevin would want vengeance—to make them swear a blood oath to the size and power of his Grombas—but his heart (which longed only to dance) did not want the round to end or the music to stop.
“Loosen your grip,” Kevin told Samantha during her first lesson. She was gripping the two hilts to the curved blade like the handlebars of her first bicycle. She had never held a real Bat’Leth before and the steel was cold in her hands. “It is part of your arm now,” he said as she made the baton twirling motions that he had shown her. She wanted to believe that the heavy steel was an extension of her skinny and pale arms, but the weight was too much and she dropped it on the floor of her bedroom, scuffing the hardwood floor of her parents’ apartment (which given that they worked late, and had a piano, made it the ideal place for their sessions).
“Shit!” she groaned, picking up the sword again. She was used to receiving default praise from her parents and default derision from her teachers and classmates. Kevin offered neither. Modeling the instruction he’d received as a boy, he simply said, “Again!” and so she continued. With each lesson, she dropped the sword less and less.
When the full draft of the musical was completed, they decided to enter it in a contest that was taking place at Samantha’s school. The winning musical would be produced by the freshman class and performed at Lincoln Center itself! Kevin would get to see his vision on a grand stage, and Samantha (whose Klingon was much better than anyone else at her school) was confident she could score the lead role of Kahless. And what greater glory could she find than dressing in a chainmail cloak and standing in front of an audience of followers as she sang songs of tribute to the war God of the Empire? She would be a true warrior, if only for a night.
They placed Samantha’s name upon the manuscript cover—you needed to be a Performing Arts student to enter the contest—and then they entreated the Gods to bring them glory. Over a clutch of Var’Hama candles which they had lit in the only holder they could find in her apartment—a Hanukah menorah—they were to draw thin slits in their palms with his Daqtagh dagger and drop blood into the melting wax.
“You should do it quick, like a band-aid,” Kevin started to say, but Samantha (who had waited for this moment for many years) had already drawn the blade across her flesh. It did not create the leaky faucet she had imagined, but, when she used her finger, she was able to form and flick droplets into the flame.
Kevin now held the blade, hesitating to make the cut. Samantha saw the fear in his eyes, which watered with shame. “Here,” she said, “Just prick your finger on the top.”
Confused but relieved to not have to slit open his palm, he touched his index finger to the top of the dagger, leaving a small dot of blood. Samantha touched her open, bleeding hand to his finger. “Now your blood is my blood,” she said, “and I will bleed enough for both of us.”
The Gods must have heeded their offering, for the musical, “A Good Day to Dance,” was chosen from the dozens that were submitted, and shortly thereafter, Samantha was awarded the role of Kahless. When she told Kevin, she screeched the good news in girlish excitement. “KAH-PLAAAAAAH!!!!!!!”
The third act of Kevin’s musical begins with Kahless being betrayed by his brother, Morath. Morath is jealous of Kahless’ dancing ability, and covets the shoes of destiny. He tells Molar that he will deliver his brother in exchange for the sacred footwear.
When Kevin’s father Kovax found the flier for the Kahless musical among his things, he shook the subsidized housing complex in his rage. The flier showed a human girl wielding a Bat’Leth menacingly: a Bat’Leth that was clearly identifiable as Kovan’s by the family crest emblazoned upon it.
“What is this Baktag?” Kovax screamed, brandishing the fuchsia flier in his son’s face like a torch. “You would lend your family name and honor to a human musical?” he screamed, stepping forward and smacking Kevin across the face with the back of his hand, sending him falling back against the door, which was still ajar and slammed shut with his impact. The framed family tree that hung over the entryway rattled against the wall.
“Father,” Kevin pleaded, now from the floor, his back against the door, “Father, it is a play honoring Kahless, honoring our ways.”
“What do humans know of our ways? How can they honor what they do not know? They would sing show tunes about great warriors, and you would help them with this disgrace?”
His father continued to pace, his stomps heavy on the cheap floor, and these beats reminded Kevin of the beats of the Klingon heart. And thinking of Kahless, he let his own warrior’s pride overtake him. He forgot that he had sworn to Samantha that he would say that she had written the play (as her contest entry had sworn to). He got to his feet and yelled back. “No. Father, I am not helping them; they are helping me! It is my story, my music.”
“You wrote this?” he spit the words, before crumpling the flier into a ball and throwing it wildly his son’s direction.
“Yes I did! And I choreographed it too!” Kevin’s heart raced in the exhilaration of his rebellion.
At this, his father’s bulging eyes and pulsing forehead seemed to threaten to push his glasses from his face. He walked over to his son, but he did not strike him again as Kevin was expecting. Instead, he picked up the flier from his feet, uncrumpled it and began smoothing it out against the hall table. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone, and dialed the number for the Performing Arts High School Drama Department printed on the bottom.
“Hello. This is Kovax son of Kovak,” he said in his low snarling accent, “and I demand to speak to the principal.”
Over the next fifteen minutes, Kevin was powerless and forced to listen to a one-sided conversation that concluded with the cancellation of his musical. The Performing Arts school principal was outraged to find out that the work was written by a boy who was not a student, alarmed to find himself being yelled at by a Klingon, but, more than anything, shocked to find out that the musical had not been intended to be taken ironically. He assured Kovax that he did not know he was putting on an earnest treatment of sacred Klingon texts, and that he never would have approved it if he’d known the work was serious.
Kevin was still sulking in his room when his father came in hours later. “We will put all of this behind us. There is a fighting tournament at your school next week. I have entered you in it. You will remember what you have forgotten, and reclaim the honor you have lost on this day.”
Kevin merely nodded obediently. He looked down at his hand—which would have still born the scar from the Daqtagh had he not let Samantha offer her blood in his place—and knew that the heart which was racing in his chest did not belong to a warrior.
The next day, Samantha sat in the principal’s office (the wall festooned with plaques and certificates of glory) and was asked to answer for the crime of plagiarism. Her parents, who normally wanted to psychoanalyze and share their feelings on every small topic from remote control usage to laundry folding, sat silent and stoned faced. They could abide any slight from their daughter, but for dishonesty, of which academic fraud was the worst example. And though they could not form the words, the message was clear: she had brought grave dishonor to her house.
Later that night, Kovax and Kevin came by Samantha’s house to retrieve the Bat’Leth. Both parents apologized for inflicting their child on the other, while Samantha and Kevin stared silently at each other through the open threshold of the doorway. As she handed him the sword, she could not help but remember his words, to think of it as a part of her arm, and so handing it back to him felt like surrendering a piece of herself. Kevin was slow to take it, as his eyes caught on the grand piano in their living room where he had spent so many afternoons with Samantha singing the tunes to his dreams and watching her write them in dancing notes upon the bars of the page. His father noticed his hesitation and snapped the Bat’Leth from Samantha’s hands, thrusting it into Kevin’s. “Take it! You will need to remind yourself how it feels in your hand if you are to succeed in the upcoming tournament!”
“He’s competing in a Bat’Leth tournament?” Samantha asked, her first words since they had left the principal’s office.
Kovax did not look at her, but at Kevin as he replied, “Despite what my son may have told you, he is a Klingon warrior, not a singer or dancer. And he will prove it next Friday, or his body will be marked with scars to remind him of this disgrace.”
After the Klingons had left—and after a silent dinner—Samantha sat in her room and contemplated her revenge. The loss of the musical was nothing; she realized in the moment she had the sword yanked from her hand that she could gain no honor pretending to be someone else. What she could not forgive was the shame that Kevin had brought upon her, first by providing her with the false feeling of being Klingon (she looked now at her own copy of the flier and saw how weak, how human she looked in it, despite her makeup and costume) and then by breaking his blood-brother oath to pretend she had written it. But she knew what she must now do. Looking at her palm and the faint scar that his Dagtach had left there the day they had grasped palms, she knew that she could only redeem herself with his blood in honorable combat. And Kevin’s father had let slip where she could find opportunity.
She would infiltrate the Bat’Leth tournament and make Kevin pay for the shame he had brought to the house of Rosenbaum.
And so Kahless is lured to a dance hall by Morath who tells him that it is a place of very honorable music. But as soon as he has begun dancing—to lame and most dishonorable house music—Molar’s guards storm in and surround them. And though he would be willing to dance until he died, he would not see his brother die with him, and so he surrenders himself and gives the shoes to Molar. Molar puts them on, reveals Morath’s treachery in song, and then stomps Kahless’ brother to death in an elaborate dance number.
He orders Kahless be executed. Positioned on a floor of fire and spikes and made to dance, shoeless, until he dies, all while Molar watches from his throne. Kahless’ death would be slow and dishonorable.
He would forced to dance without music. Which is to say without glory.
Kevin’s first match of the tournament was to be against a boy named Veklar, a stout boy who saw no honor in deodorant. The tournament was taking place in the high school auditorium, and much of the Klingon immigrant community had turned out watch. The five hundred seats were filled with men and women in their chainmail traditional-wear, crests of their houses proudly fastened to their chests.
(There was also one human teenager there, hidden backstage, waiting for her opportunity to strike.)
Samantha’s plan was to wait until Kevin’s match had started, then to charge out from the back of the stage, knocking down and disarming his opponent before taking up the captured Bat’Leth and turning it on her former brother. Everything was shaping up as she’d planned. The large crowd had allowed her to slip into the school undetected, and after waiting an hour for his match to start, she was now only moments away from reclaiming the honor that had eluded her for all her life.
Kevin and Veklar stood at opposite ends of the stage with the referee in the center, as is the custom. The forty or so feet between them would give Samantha ample time to charge and disarm Veklar before Kevin was upon them. She pulled the curtain open just wide enough to peek through and confirm, once more, that the time was coming. Then she closed her eyes and lowered her head as would a sprinter on the starting blocks. All there was to do was to wait for the referee to give the starting command.
“Enchok!” The start came quicker than she was expecting, and in the moment of hesitation before she burst through the red curtain, she heard another sound: the clattering of steel on the ground, the dropping of a Bat’Leth.
Coming through the curtain, expecting to see one of the boys having disarmed the other, she was not prepared for what was happening. Kevin, who had taught her all she knew about balance and poise with a sword, had laid down his weapon.
And as Veklar charged toward him, he began to dance.
Here is how the final dance sequence in Kevin’s musical goes:
Kahless is by himself, untied, but on a floor of steel and fire with only his courage to protect his bare feet. His first movements are brief and jerky—a brief touch of his toe upon the floor, immediately pulled back—and Molar laughs from his perch. But, slowly, we start to hear a drum beat. Faint.
And then louder.
THUMP THUMP THUMP.
For when Molar sought to deny Kahless the honor of a backbeat he did not realize—as a coward never could—that a warrior will always have the backbeat of his own beating heart.
And so Kahless begins to dance. The fire burns him, and the knives cut him. But the Klingon heart was forged from steel and fire, and so as his blood spills upon the floor, his pain goes with it. The fire melts the steel, and the liquid ore mixes with his blood, and Kahless’ feet become the very shoes that Molar feared.
And then, Kahless starts to just tear up the motherfucking dance floor.
He dances with purpose and with courage that the universe has never seen. The Gods themselves are shaken by the fierceness of his get-down, and the sky begins to bellow with thunderous cheers. Molar orders his goons out onto the floor and Kahless begins dancing towards them. With twirls and leaps, and dance steps of incomparable flyness, Kahless slays all of them, their feeble ruins littering the red floodlit dance floor
Five hundred angry Klingons rise from their seats in the Lower East Side auditorium and scream at the stage where Kevin is dancing. Many pull out their Daqtachs and brandish them menacingly. Veklar is confused by Kevin’s dancing, but is spurred by the crowd to attack. He rushes toward him and brings his Bat’Leth back for a mighty swing, only he does not see Samantha burst out from the back of the stage and pick up Kevin’s sword in time to parry the blow: the crash of steel on steel echoing over the crowd.
“I am Samantha, daughter of Robert,” she yells, the room’s acoustics amplifying her words, “prepare to die!”
Though Veklar is stronger, Samantha is the more skilled. She wields the blade as if it was part of her arm and easily trips him, leading him to fall off the stage. Then she holds the Bat’Leth over her head and screams:
“ARE THERE ANY OTHER P’TACHS HERE WHO WANT TO CHALLENGE ME? OR AM I THE ONLY ONE HERE WITH ANY FUCKING GROMBAS?”
And so there is only Kahless and Molar. They trade dance steps with a kind of call and response choreography. Molar is trying to drown out the beat of Kahless’ warrior heart with whatever cowardly music he can command from his tyrannical stereo system.
But Kahless is too much. Molar’s weak heart is torn from his body by the power of the beats which Kahless stomps onto the floor, sending the rhythms through Molar’s very veins.
The war is over. The people are free.
And through all of this, Kevin is dancing, performing every step that he has dreamed of his whole life. As he dances, he catches his parents’ eyes in the front row. His father has a look not of anger, but of terror.
It is the same look that Samantha’s parents will have when they see her come home later that night, her clothes covered in blood: some hers; some the blood of her enemies’.
They will know that the innocent little girl they thought they had is not only gone, but has been killed in battle. And they will look at the warrior who slayed her standing before them and know that this death was violent, and that the killer will sing glorious songs of her triumph for the rest of her days.
Daniel Paul received his MFA from Southern Illinois University. His fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and humor writing has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Pinch, Puerto Del Sol, Hobart, New Delta Review, Passages North and other magazines. He has been awarded prizes for short fiction from Briar Cliff Review, Yemassee, and elsewhere. He lives in Ohio where he is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Cincinnati. Find his work at danpiercepaul.wordpress.com