It was a cold, dark night, and somewhat moist. A perfect night, thought Derek, as he made his way through the crispy leaves and decaying annuals. His trail sparkled in the moonlight, joining the organic artwork of his friends on the otherwise dull brickwork of The Wall. But Derek’s trail stood out from the rest on account of the regular bumps and humps along its winding path. This was because Derek liked to shimmy. He also liked to bop. And occasionally grind. Derek was a disco snail.
Now, it is true to say that snails aren’t known primarily for their disco prowess, even amongst their fellow snails. Derek’s friends had come to accept his love of the boogie, but still they knew he just wasn’t normal, like snails normally are. Some snails, the ones who weren’t Derek’s friends, we’re really quite nasty about it. Like, for instance, Pamela, who was approaching, slowly. She slinked along, knowing all other snails were watching her perfect shell lolling from side to side, seductively looking in their direction. Just ignore her, Derek said to himself.
“Hey Derek,” said Pamela as they began to pass, “I see you still can’t keep a straight trail.” She laughed through her bubbling slime which fizzed and popped with each chuckle.
“What’s it like being such a weirdo, eh? Who ever heard of a snail doing disco? Freak!”
This last hurtful word echoed through the small garden as Pamela passed, sniggering and fizzing. Derek stopped in his tracks and hung his eyes. As much as his friends accepted his unusual hobby he knew that Pamela was only voicing what they all really thought. He looked back over his bumpy trail, then turned and tried his hardest to keep himself straight as he made his way to the top of The Wall.
“Derek mate, good to see you!” Lucy’s friendly face lifted Derek’s eyes, and the lapse of concentration sent his back end into a sharp bump and controlled grind.
“Hi,” said Derek, mournfully. Lucy’s concern managed to coerce Derek’s troubles from him.
“Oh just ignore her.”
“I try to. It’s difficult though.”
“Difficult shmifficult,” said Lucy. “She’s nothing. Just a snail with a straight trail.”
“A straight trail snail?” Derek let out a little shimmy to the rhythm of his words.
“She’s only jealous.”
“Jealous of not being normal?”
“Exactly. Who wants to be normal?” said Lucy, sarcastically. “And you can’t get more normal than Pamela.” Both snails giggled and bubbled.
“And, Derek, you should be proud of your talents.” Lucy edged closer to her friend, so they were almost touching foots. “You should show them off. Let the world know about your snailian disco. Like, say, at some kind of disco championship.” Lucy smirked. Derek didn’t like it when Lucy smirked. It usually meant deviancy, or she’d been eating birch leaves which always gave her terrible wind.
“Look,” she said, pointing her eye stalks downwards and slowly revealing the title of the soggy paper they’d both been resting on.
Regional Freestyle Disco Dancing Championship
Lockfelt Village Hall
Friday 10th February
All competitors must be on the floor by 8pm
Lucy spent a good half hour persuading Derek to take up the challenge. It would be good for him, she said. Spend some time with his fellow discoers. Show everyone, including Pamela, that he didn’t care what anyone thought of his freakish ways. This was who he was, and he should be proud of it.
The night was almost upon him, and Derek was feeling the nerves. Lucy had spent all day chewing up copper tape to stick to his shell. He had a frill of moss along the flare of his sides and a medallion of the reddest hawthorn berry Lucy could find. She’d fought off a blackbird for this last accessory. Lucy had risked her life for him, so Derek knew there was no backing out now. He had a sneaky sip of beer from the bating trap before he left and he bumped and humped his way to the village hall feeling the call of the funky beat through the ground. As he climbed through the ladies’ frosted window the pulse intensified. This was like an inner fuel to Derek, and meant he made good time across the damp toilet floor, between the feet of the queue, and onto the dance floor. The thrill of the music enveloped him. He’d never felt such a powerful beat before, and he shimmied with every inch if his slimy body. The dance floor was busy with sparkling heels, and by eight o’clock all competitors were warmed up and ready to drop their funk, including Derek.
The judge was watching the rolling hips and disco points with keen eyes. Raymond Filcher, 1977 Disco Champion (Northern Region), scrutinised with expert vigour. Wobbles were dismissed from the floor, as were incomplete splits and out of sync hustles. In fact, everyone started to wonder if anyone would survive the pernickety judge’s harsh dismissals. They knew one would though. DeeDee ‘Delicious’ Myers was, as far as Raymond Filcher was concerned, the Queen of Disco. Her hair was pulled violently to the top of her head, leaving a long blond silky tail that finished in a bounce between her shoulder blades. Her face was pulled by the strangulated hair so that it seemed she consisted entirely of a red lipstick smile which bounced around the room along with the disco ball’s reflections. As she kicked her long legs high the pink lame jumpsuit held strong, giving a fitting surround to the four inch red stilettos lying underneath the flared ends. Her whole body shimmered as she boogied, including every inch of exposed skin under a layer of pink body glitter. Raymond was enchanted, and she caught his eye at every opportunity just to make sure he stayed that way.
As the night wore on the amount of feet on the dance floor lessened, thanks to Raymond’s disciplined pruning, and Derek could concentrate more on his funk than on trying to avoid the deathly platforms. That’s when Mojo Harris, Disco DJ, noticed him. The Baron of Disco had been boogying to his rambunctious tunes as he fiddled with the various knobs and sliders on his decks. He wasn’t particularly interested in this small time competition, which was nothing compared to back in the day. The talent was young and vibrant then. Now it was old and saggy, and the lightness had gone, the steps heavier and more clumsy. It was a dubious ode to disco, that’s for sure. He preferred to get lost in the music he played until someone gave him the game over sign. But this…this…this master of the beat, this rider of the rhythm, this tiny groove-filled bundle of far outness was a show stopper! He grabbed his mic.
“That cat’s outta sight, man!”
Everyone turned, squinted, then found the tiny snail in the middle of the dance floor, his copper taped body glinting under the disco lights.
“It’s a snail, you moron,” shouted Ken, DeeDee’s current boyfriend.
“Look at him go!” yelled Mojo. And everyone did.
Derek felt radiant. The combination of the music, the spinning lights, and attentive eyes upon him made him fizz with joy. He strutted his way round his part of the dance floor, timing his foot stomps perfectly, dipping his lustrous shell to the left, then the right, and he could feel the room pulsing with him. And so could DeeDee.
Raymond had dismissed the rest of the contestants with relative ease, leaving Derek, DeeDee, and Gary, a small, neat man wearing original Qiana shirt and trousers with appropriate flared and pointy bits, all in various shades of brown. While Raymond was busy working out a technical reason for dismissing Gary from the competition instead of an ill-considered fashion reason, DeeDee took matters into her own hands. Or stilettos. She trotted in time towards Derek’s patch, now covered in glistening slime rings. It was difficult to make out the small target with the swirling disco ball reflections and shiny floor, but a flash of copper alerted her to her target and she began her deadly move. She twisted and kicked, then threw her arms in the air dramatically and stamped her foot hard, but found she’d missed the snail by millimetres. She covered her disappointment with a few finger points, and, after a wiggle of hips, spun and slammed down a shiny red stiletto on the polished floor. Still no crushed snail. She needed to get closer, so she could see him properly. She got down on all fours and improvised some cat-esque crawl, accentuating the movement of her hips and shoulders and curling her fingers before slamming her pretend paws to the floor in a final pounce. She could see the snail, she was nearly on him. A couple more slinks and she’d be there. She grinned manically, helped by her strict hair, and was about to pounce when two large blue and purple platform shoes created a barrier.
“Hey pink lady, whatchu think you’re doin’, huh?” said DJ Mojo Harris.
The announcement was made, and the contestants cleared the dance floor for their allotted break before the final round of the competition. Derek found safety under a table, away from bustling shoes.
“Hey little bud, want some refreshments?”
Derek stared up at the towering figure in his sparkling blue spandex jumpsuit with a V neck so deep it was nearly indecent. A shiny golden medallion nestled amongst his sweaty forest of man chest, topped off with a big black bushy afro, purple shades, and the whitest smile any snail has ever seen. In a way the Baron of Disco resembled the shape of a perfectly proportioned tree, which Derek appreciated more so than any human.
The large afro got larger as Mojo bent to offer a lift via his hand, and Derek accepted. After he’d had a sip from a melting ice cube procured by his new friend, Derek felt renewed.
“Say, man, you can totally disco. I dig!” Mojo’s afro bobbed as he nodded in agreement with himself. Derek would have blushed, if he could.
“Thank you, Mr Harris, he managed.”
“Hey man, call me Mojo. Don’t go freakin’ me out with formality.”
“Okay,” said Derek. “I’m Derek,” said Derek, not quite knowing how to do conversations with humans.
“Derek, man, I take pleasure in meeting your vibes.”
“Thanks for your help out there. There were a few close shaves.”
“Hey, man, I know you could have handled the situ, but just wanted to help. I didn’t wanna step or your toes or nutin’, dig?”
“No, I can’t. Dig, that is. I don’t have toes,” said Derek. “Just this one foot.” Derek waved the tail end of his foot at Mojo, who beamed his generous smile.
“No toes, huh?”
“Yeah. I can get up to 46 meters per hour on a good day, but certainly not fast enough to dodge a human sized hand. If you hadn’t come along I’d be with the great snails in the sky by now.”
“Hey man, I saw her giving you the hairy eyeball. Knew she was up to no good.”
“She’s going to win. I know that.” Derek sighed. “I can’t believe I’ve got this far, to be honest.”
“Don’t let those chumps drag you down, brother. She may have the moves, but she ain’t got the soul. Not like you. You blow those cheese weasels outta the water, man!”
Derek smiled, but shook his head. “Thanks, Mr Ha…I mean, Mojo. But I might as well give it up now, especially if she’s gonna play dirty like that.”
“Now that, my friend, just ain’t gonna fly,” said Mojo with a bob of his spongy head. “There’s two types of people in this world, ones with egos causing their tangentials to go out of whack, and ones with music in their soul. The vibe of love. The pure groove that fills them up to their tips. Tha’s you, man. A one hundred and fi’ty percent bona fide-ee disco snail. Slammin’!”
Mojo flipped his fingers so hard his joints cracked. “Cool threads too!”
Derek remembered Lucy and how she’d risked her life for his cool threads. He’d come this far, and he had loved every second of it. He didn’t care if he won, he just wanted to tell Lucy that he’d done it.
“Give us a lift to the dance floor would you Mr Mojo? I’ve got a competition to finish.”
The music started up and the three contestants stretched their way to the dance floor. The audience were on their feet, focused, curious, and rather enamoured with the little snail. Derek bobbed his way in a circle, imbibing DJ Mojo’s tunes, who’s massive afro was bobbing away too, as if they were connected by the invisible beats. DeeDee was busy with a new move she’d been practising in front of Ken which involved wiggling as much as possible whilst thrusting her head in time to the music. It made her look like a broken clockwork chicken. Gary, who’d started with a very impressive quadruple heel spin with double toe adjustment, was now concentrating on hip rolling, which he knew he needed to get into his routine, and knew it would probably be the thing that Raymond disqualified him for. He was absolutely right, and Raymond, somewhat relieved something had finally turned up, pointed exaggeratedly off the dance floor.
Derek was doing the best strut. So was DeeDee, eyeing up the pesky snail with a dagger filled stare. Her nostrils flared above her wide mouth, and she launched into a classic New York hustle. Derek did the same, it being known as a group dance move. But then, just after her slide step, she spun across the floor and launched herself into the air, her legs wide, arms reaching her stiletto toes, and landed perfectly, with no wobble, straight into a triple spin. Derek appreciated this move, but, not to be outdone, he jumped into the air and bent back on himself, catching his tail in his mouth, then landed into a head jerking bop with a tail end hump. The crowd went wild. Derek could hear the gasps of amazement and mutters of “How did he do that?” which only made his hump more rampant.
By this time DeeDee was in full finger point mode, her hips swaying the opposite way to her impassioned pointing, to the ceiling, to the floor, to the ceiling, to the floor. The determination on her face radiated almost as much as her pink glittery body. She glanced at the pathetic snail and her face pinched. Derek couldn’t do the disco finger, so he was doing the disco eye stalk instead, which, cleverly, he mirrored with a bit of disco tail. He spun on the spot, then stopped in time with the thunderous beat and stood firm, pointing around the crowd with his left eye. The crowd could feel the boldness with which he stared at them and they all beamed and clapped with an almost collective head bop. He stepped to the right, then the left, then forward and back. His shell wiggled in time with a coppery twinkle.
“Discolicious!” yelled Mojo over his mic.
Derek had never felt such euphoria. Such acceptance. He didn’t just feel normal, he felt special. He was so caught up in the moment that he hadn’t noticed Ken, DeeDee’s boyfriend, creeping up behind him through the crowd until it was too late. The salt rained down on him like boulders of viscous poison. Ken’s wide eyes bulged with delight.
“What you gonna do now, snail?” he sneered.
And, to be quite honest, Derek didn’t know what he was going to do now. He could feel his moist foot drying up as he panicked. He tried to slither out of the salty mess, but the traction it caused was too much for his little body to overpower. At least he would die on a dance floor, he thought. Then suddenly, a pool of cool water surrounded his foot from behind. He looked round to see where it was coming from and saw Lucy stood in a puddle of liquid and ice cubes, flicking her tail. But it wasn’t just Lucy. There was Bob and Mike, Theresa and Marge, Lulu, Robbie and Carlton, all his mates, all pushing at spilled plastic cups and flicking their tails, sending the lifesaving liquid in Derek’s direction, far enough so he could make his way safely out of the salty death trap. He pointed his eyes in their direction, in time with the music, of course, and smiled at his friends, who started booging at the edge of the dance floor. Even Pamela was there, shimmying away.
Meanwhile DeeDee had taken the opportunity of having the floor virtually to herself and was leaping and flinging in all directions, twisting, turning, dipping, flipping, hair sailing through the air and whipping round her neck. She ended with a couple of cartwheels and perfect splits, which had definitely caught Raymond’s eye. She swept her legs round and wiggled her body into the start of the Bus Stop stance, but then some drips landed on her face from above. She looked up to see where they’d come from, and there, right on the huge disco ball in the middle of the ceiling, was Derek, strutting, sliding, pointing, and throwing his head from side to side. Raymond, DeeDee, Mojo, and the crowd stared in awe, and, as smiles of astonishment were forming all around the room, Derek lifted himself up onto the very tip of his foot and stayed there, spinning with the ball and casting a huge snail shaped shadow over the reflections it made around the room. DeeDee’s angry outburst was covered by the roaring crowd. She looked at Ken, and Ken nodded, producing a large mallet from behind his back which he’d been ordered to fetch from the car boot. But, just as DeeDee was preparing for her next move – a spin with double heel tap – her left stiletto heel disappeared from underneath her. She tried to save herself with her right heel, but it caught on something sticky, leaving her foot there without her body on top of it. Her scream went unheard against the cheering crowd, and it wasn’t until the final beats pulsed through the room and Derek did a stunning dismount from his spinning podium, landing squarely, perfectly, on his own foot, that anybody noticed DeeDee’s fate. Not that the crowd cared. Their applause could be heard even from The Wall. Encouraged (pushed) by Mojo Harris, Raymond stepped onto the dance floor holding a big golden trophy with purple glitter ribbons on the handles. The crowd watched, and he stumbled to turn on his mic. Through the wailing feedback Raymond’s voice hesitantly stuttered, “Er… [squeeeeal], and this year’s winner [squeeeak]…er…is…”
“His name’s Derek, man,” said Mojo from his own mic, “And he’s the funkiest disco snail you’ll ever meet!”
Having made the rounds on Mojo’s hand, next to his trophy held in Mojo’s other hand, Derek was dropped off into his circle of friends who all gathered round, slimy feet touching, to congratulate their special friend. Derek was overwhelmed. He bubbled and fizzed. His friends bubbled and fizzed, until a mound of foam was all that could be seen. Derek saw Lucy at the side of his foaming pile of friends and smiled at her. If it wasn’t for her…
“Hey, Derek,” said Pamela. Her big fluttering eyes blocked the space between Derek and Lucy.
“Wanna escort me back to The Wall tonight, hmm?” The suggestive way she said this made Derek do a double take. Was Pamela actually flirting with him?
“I’ll give you a foot rub,” she said.
When a snail offers another snail a foot rub it means something slightly more than just a foot rub, given the location of a snail’s unmentionables. As Pamela giggled coyly Derek saw Lucy behind her. She was turning away from them, her eyes hanging. Why is she leaving? asked Derek’s thoughts. Surely she doesn’t think…
“Er, actually, no thanks, Pamela. I’d rather slip back with Lucy. Thanks for coming though. See you around on The Wall some time.” Pamela wafted her eyes high into the air and turned, rather slower than she’d have liked, and left, by herself.