Book Extract: 'The Fatal Dance' by Berndt Sellheim
Film & TV|Oct 27, 2021

Book Extract: 'The Fatal Dance' by Berndt Sellheim

'The Fatal Dance' Is An Intelligent Work Of Fiction From Australian Author Berndt Sellheim.
Penthouse Staff


Red Campbell wakes with something hovering about his head, like a mosquito buzzing his ear, near-insensate vibration. The remnant of a foul dream dims and pales as he comes to. He’s on the couch, on his back. Polo shirt, light blue; Y-fronts; white socks. His ankles are scored by the sock elastic, and he raises his legs to take the socks off – slowly slowly, must be careful not to upset the equilibrium – when he hears that buzz again.

Red shifts his head. Eyes right. Nothing. Eyes left. Still no sign of the fucker.

He peels off the first sock, then raises it, stiff armed, and permits its release. Scanning the space above him. Still no mozzie. All the same, his whole system is now thrumming uncomfortably, as if the buzz and the discomfort and fragments of the dream are carried in the same malign air. Maybe it’s the intercom, on the fritz and catching some static.

His phone battery is dead, he made sure of that last night, so even half asleep he knows it’s not a call. Red makes a valiant attempt to sit, but it’s beyond him so he stops halfway to vertical and less than halfway in his body, and it’s then he remembers about the dog – still in the garage fridge, he’s going to have to deal with that – and the weight of the present pushes him heavily back upon the cushions.

Oh god. He needs water.

He raises both hands and presses his knuckles to his forehead, trying to pick the moment that’s led him here. Not so much here, now, this precise moment of head-bent purgatory on the couch. More the deeper, dispersed movements of fate, which have driven the currents of his life these last  … what? Thirteen months? Somewhere along the way, Red’s shit has utterly derailed. What made his luck turn? It isn’t just Bea, his wife, going to prison. Like some common crook. It’s deeper than that. Personal. Not that it isn’t significant that Red’s wife went into the slammer just three days past. Of course that was a lot for him to deal with. Even his shrink says as much.

What did he do, in this life or another, to make it go so wrong?

How can it all shift so fast?

Oh, sweet Jesus, but his head aches fiercely. The world is coming back into focus and the bulk of it is shoddy. Red closes his eyes, gently, lightly, and attempts to push it all away. Simply breathe through it. In. Out. In. Out. But even as he settles into the rituals of relaxation – there is the beach, warm and gentle, the blue of the ocean, the white of the sand – Red’s body betrays him, and into his consciousness floats the fact that he has a stonking hard-on. Typical. He grabs himself through his Y-fronts, just to confirm, get things straight. The thing is, even this bona fide fact leaves Red not so much excited as perplexed. Why does he always wake like this? It’s not as if his dreamscape is a desert island harem, full of pussy and white sand. Red’s dreams are weird and terrifying. He has the subconscious of an over-burdened morgue attendant, or so Bea, his wife, is fond of saying. Was fond, he corrects himself, before it all went to hell, before she got herself locked up. Nope, his dreams are ghastly, at least when he remembers them. Most of the time he wakes with little more than a feeling. And a taste, as if death is in his mouth and he can’t spit it out. Dread. Disappointment. And a boner. Life is weird, he thinks. And bodies, they’re weird as fuck.

Red closes his eyes, gently, lightly, and attempts to push it all away

He has to move.

He has to do something about the volume of blood pulsing through the pressurised brainspace of his skull. Aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen. But up. Up and to the bathroom. Red scoots his left hand over the floor, trying to locate a solid anchor before the move to vertical. Working by feel, keeping his eyes closed so as not to explode his head. Golf pants, belt still looped. A pocketful of change jingling over the carpet as he pushes the trousers, inch by inch, along the couch front so he can swing his feet down unimpeded, and by the time he’s done that the coins are clanging like church bells against his headache and he’s beneath the tower. He stops to wait it out, and after a minute or so things begin to steady. Red sighs audibly. Maybe the payback won’t be bad as he first thought.

TV’s off. That’s something.

Now all he has to do is kill that mosquito.

He’s sure he can hear it again. Up in a shadowed corner. He shakes his head, trying to push the vision away. Light explodes in his forehead, sharp and bright as a blade.

Red grips his temples, trying to contain the throb at the soft poles of his skull. He has to get up. He sucks in some air, gets ready, and then, in a pocket of silence, the buzz returns. He can almost see it. A mozzie after all. Red brings his hand up, scanning the space cautiously. He hates mosquitos, especially when he’s trying to sleep. They can tell the moment your eyes are closed, the moment you’re vulnerable. Then bzzzzzz, and before you know it, they’ve stung you on the fucking eyelid.

Goddamn freeloading bloodsuckers.

Nausea coheres at the edges of things, the objects in the room, then shrinks to a dot on the darkly mirrored television. Still, it’s better to be out of that dream, even if it means being woken by a mosquito to a Defcon 3 hangover.

He gives a shudder.

Red’s shrink has recommended he keep a dream diary. Even given him a notebook, a nice little Moleskine, to write them all down in. But then, Red figures, he’s put the bastard’s kids through private schools, what with all his sessions this last year, and it’s no less than he deserves. So the notebook’s pages are empty. And anyway, you wake up, you pick up the pen, you look at the page and go to write something down and half the time all you’ve got is a feeling. A shapeless horror, fading as the pen hits the paper – thank god – accompanying the hard-on wrought by REM sleep.

Why, he ponders, does the body give you a boner in the midst of a nightmare?

He grabs his cock and gives it a satisfying bend. God, it’s been a while. But even if he had the energy to jerk off, he doesn’t think his head would stand it. Red lies back, closes his eyes again, and stretches so his feet butt the armrests of the couch. He’s just starting to drift off when the mozzie comes back. Red flicks his eyes open in readiness for the kill. Body still, preparing for the ambush. He’ll slap his own face if it means killing those parasitic little pricks. He’s done it before, made his own nose bleed. Mosquito was dead, though. Big bastard too. You lose, sucker.

* This is an edited extract from The Fatal Dance by Berndt Sellheim (HarperCollins, November 2021, RRP $32.99)