The left pedal clicks and I am in, sending the front disk round and inspiring a whir from my stationary bike. My eyes dart left and right to check the cadence of silk-screened spokes on other wheels, but these vestiges of physical necessity blend into saucers, whirling without so much as a hint of distance or velocity. When the lights quiet and the bass arches its spine, each member of the semicircle melts into a silhouette sharpened by day-glo apparel. Not faces, but tights and wristbands mark the movements in this strange ballet.
Our leader, the lithe and fluid sorceress, climbs a podium to mount her machine. The headset she wears, two spartan strips of plastic, relays words to mix with the chorus pounding on every surface in the room. Between the fan’s intermittent whooshes the speakers bleat her incantation:
“OOO I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive—
Everyone it’s three forty-five,
Time time time to get ready,
Time for your afternoon high—
Better, faster, stronger—
Today, we work for an hour
Towards walking out
The exposition—I can feel it. Like some elder smoking herbs on a stump, the sorceress promises that salvation scrambles in the muddy brush of our thoughts. Yet she warns that in order to snatch its tail and clench its neck we must awaken this amphibian beast, this screeching basilisk with neon teeth. I know what it looks like, for I came upon it my first class, when one shade wore brand-new lavender shoes, and their reflective stripes stabbed light into my corneas, dazzling me at my most exhausted. Right then, right there, the forest of human limbs and carbon frames re-oriented itself so each being’s hues represented the section of a serpent writhing above our gyrating feet. Its lime greens, coral pinks, and aquamarines told a story older than the cave paintings, older than the human mind. It screamed in a language forgotten before the first written line.
In the flushed and sweaty aftermath I was left with no choice but to follow those lavender shoes to the sign-up sheet. My name looked misshapen beneath that slender hand’s perfect cursive, but its placement in the same grid bore a certain potential. I could keep coming back, keep attending this three forty-five class, and let my bones contribute to the skeletal structure of the great snake.
Now for the third time I reconsider my worth in this line of flexing calves. The final chords of the first song toll warm-up’s end, a signal to bolt the doors and begin the journey. My pedals move faster with the others and a hum rises, the room resounding with our effort and anticipation. The sorceress sucks in air as if trying to inhale both the noises and the flashes of exercise gear. Boomerang synthesizers whirl about and a new hex is upon us:
“OOO I really wanna love—
Time to turn the intensity up,
Take a deep breath in,
Show the world how tough—
Dance the night away—
Make all those enemies pay
The price for doubting—
The way. Take me all the way.”
A development to be expected: The door is shut so the riders are stuck. Amplifiers morph what might once have been a human voice into something calibrated, its leveled oscillations conquering the bleak space. I can make out my fellow shades maintaining pace around the room, though their colors get lost in a new dark. Like caryatids with faded faces they march toward nothing while shouldering the weight of another plane. I grin to myself and think of how little they know of what is to come.
But the songs end and start and the drums thump different tempos and the tenor modulates to different keys—yet no tone summons the serpent. Something is amiss, for even the sorceress is silent. I look up: She clenches and releases her thighs like a beast of burden, face cloaked in the same shadow that sticks to my peers.
Then it hits me. That shade and her lavender shoes—they are missing. It was the instant those feet spun with the ferocity to shoot rapid-fire light about the room that the re-alignment made itself known. Those beams were what kissed every surface and set skin and fabric aglow in harmony, penetrating little pores to reconfigure molecular differentiations. Those rays were what bound everything together, so my singular movements became muscular atrophies of a serpent whose veins pumped the plasma that could bring visions to life.
How strange the scene seems, now. Scattered about the room are twenty or so stony torsos, rigidly shifting to an andante pulse. I wonder if this marks the end for me, if I have any chance at the consciousness achieved in two coincidences past. The sorceress does not care; she opens her mouth for a final charm and the caryatids loll their heads to the new song’s steely guitar. I might as well click out and tap my foot to the ground:
“Feeling my way through the darkness,
Guided by a beating heart—
Time to gauge what’s left,
Time to give everything you’ve got—
Life will pass me by
If I don’t open up my eyes—
Dig deep inside you and just—
So wake me up when it’s all over.”