The beer wasn’t cold enough, the faces were all the same – even those of his so called friends. He wasn’t happy with the clothes he was wearing and the DJ was just pandering to the masses rather than playing anything decent or clever. Floor fillers, for sure, but he wasn’t in the mood to join the gurning, coordinated throng. Not this straight, not this… He fudged for an half-hearted emotion and came up blank. He had to admit, this wasn’t shaping up to be his greatest adventure in club land.

      “Hey Taylor you steaming fucknut!” barked Willsden – a hooting rugger bugger, all real ale and puerile ditties sung only in the loud, testosterone spattered presence of other team players.

      Taylor gave a half nod. “‘Sup?”

      “Where’re the drugs at?” Wellsden’s smile, for a second, obscured the room.

      Despite his faults, his infectious joy at just about anything and everything could sometimes distract.

      “No idea.” Taylor lied, thinking of the bagged eighth nestled in the corner of his rolling tin.

      “Ah… Ah well.” Wellsden’s smile faltered a fraction and then resolved itself. He kissed his bottle of beer, the condensation showing it was so much colder than the one Taylor clutched. “This will have to do then.” And he was off, slapping Taylor painfully on the shoulder as he strode back into the crowd, his size and drunken determination effortlessly parting the dancers. They glared in his impervious wake.

      “Where did you get that beer?” Taylor tried to make himself heard above a grinding barrage of electronica, but it was too late. The knot of gyrating bodies closed and he was left in his own little cul-de-sac of dancers. Above them all the light show jittered and beamed through a general haze of scented cracker smoke, while the bassline thrust its massive sub-sonic tendrils into every solar plexus. He tried to rise with it, seeking the natural high of a surging tune, the thrill of a perfectly timed drop… Just noise. He sighed.

      Why was he here? He’d agreed to meet up with Duncan but quickly tired of the perpetual over the shoulder conversations – that boy was always looking for the next eye to catch, the next lady, the next whatever. Taylor wondered why Duncan even put up such a pretence of friendship. Perhaps for those scant moments when his guard persona dropped away and he revealed someone more fragile, more vulnerable. In those rare instances, Taylor had felt some kind of connection, but hardly enough to warrant him being side-lined at yet another lacklustre student night. Thinking about it, Duncan’s fragile association with him was probably due to the fact that he – Duncan – was just too chicken-shit and street inept to talk to those selling drugs.

      Taylor recalled the boy telling him a tale of almost getting stabbed as a result of properly fucking off a dealer at a party. His approach had been all wrong, all need and no smarts. He was a walking liability as far as narcotics were concerned. Taylor would share Duncan’s stash if he had one, but that’s as far as it should go.

      “Note to self…” He said out loud, but the words were lost in the pulsating rhythms that clashed around him.

      Time passed and his beer warmed to an undrinkable level. It was this, and the mobile advert of Wellsden’s super-cooled beverage that pushed him up from his resting space and out into the crowd.

      The hot jostle of his passage back to the four deep bar only accentuated his thirst, but he held back from the sticky cling wrap of moist T-shirts. He didn’t need a drink that badly.

      A few half-known faces appeared briefly in the crush, turning as other friends added their order to whoever held the bar staff’s perpetually pissed off attention. It was a tactic that only slowed the whole process further, turning the group into a writhing horror-show of impatience and desire.

      Taylor, watched a thinning section of the crowd, undecided as to whether to engage or not, and was startled when a sprite-sized girl with black bobbed hair squeezed out of the mass and walked straight into him. He, in turn, stepped back – checking his front for spilled drink – and bumped into Marius who just happened to be strolling past. The girl’s eyes lit up in a moment of cheerful apology, she mouthed a ‘sorry’ and then darted away leaving Marius and Taylor looking at each other in mild amusement.

      “Cute!” Marius shouted, imploding the word’s meaning through his yelled delivery. Taylor turned giving the new arrival his full attention.

      He’d dealt with Marius before. A weekend trader with a mixed reputation and, as with all in his chosen profession, a slightly paranoid outlook on everyone he came into contact with. Taylor hadn’t scored off him in ages as it usually meant being pulled in to an extended evening with the man. Not that it wasn’t usually an interesting experience – Marius always kept the best gear for himself. It was more that hanging out with a dealer, any dealer, always threw the darker side of the drugs into stark relief. The register, the emotional neediness, the perpetual questioning of motivations, the darker chain of contacts and professional criminals that sat in a shadowed realm somewhere just outside the cluttered rooms all dealers seemed to inhabit. A night in their company really was like trading something deeper inside yourself. Enticing, sometimes even funny, but somewhere a precious currency was transacted leaving you feeling like you’d been short-changed in something of indescribable value.

      Marius nodded and leant in to communicate. His beer bottle also sat at liquid nitrogen levels of cool. Taylor wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

      “Hey. You look like a bundle of laughs.” Marius grinned.

      Taylor looked down at his own drink and noted that the label had sweated off onto the floor. He glanced back, the smaller man’s dark hair was precision cut and gelled into an explosive freeze-frame.

      “This tune is making me want to self-harm, my drink’s rancid and a wall of pricks lie between me and happiness. You, on the other hand, look like you’re having a whale of a time.”

      “Music is happiness my man. Music!” He stretched the last word out, thrusting an index finger into the air as he elongated the vowels. Taylor laughed.

      “What the fuck are you on and where do I get some?” He asked. Perhaps the night wasn’t a complete washout. Maybe that was hope sparkling in the corners of Marius’ wacked out eyes.

      “It’s new,” he said, nodding. “Experimental. I’m a… I’m a test pilot. The Chuck frikking Yeager of inner space. Colliderscope the maker calls it. Came to me through a Russian contact.”

      “Like the child’s toy? The one where you twiddle one end and the images sparkle in the view finder?” Taylor tried not to sound confused.

      “No!” Marius punched at him with a limp fist. “Like something that collides into something else and a ‘scope’. Something that ah…” He struggled here, his explanation masked either by the drug itself or the sheer oddity of its title. He gave up and shrugged. “Something with a wide view of things. Something visual… All I know is that it’s a synthetic union of two separate rainforest plant extracts.”

      “Rainforest?”

      “Yeah, the locals have been keeping this shit to themselves for years. But now the drugs trade brings it to me. Brings it to you.” Marius unfurled one hand to reveal a tiny, battered and rusted pill box. The chipped enamel top read ‘cocaine’ in a highly floral font.

      “Cocaine?” Taylor failed to hide his confusion. His question also confused Marius who looked into his hand.

      “Haha,” Realisation dawning. “No, no. This is Victorian. Swapped it with an antiques dealer I know. This is when coke had its own brand name. Before the drink, I mean.”

      Taylor nodded in half comprehension which seemed to satisfy Marius. The other man turned and wandered off into the crowd, beckoning to Taylor as he went.

*****

      It wasn’t being crushed into another toilet cubicle that bothered Taylor, this kind of territory was known to him. No, it was the returning voice of the drugs awareness team that had once visited his school. Actually, not that of the whole team, just the one lady who ran the session. She had genuinely radiated a sense of caring. Just enough to ensure that her words held credence and weren’t overshadowed but a heavy-handed underlying message.

      She’d held his attention with her sincerity and gave a reassuring smile as she explained that making decisions about taking drugs was all about where you were, who you were with and how you felt. Taylor tried to side-step his guilt, tried not to think about cyclical behaviour as he glanced about himself now.

      The cistern lid scatter shot with cigarette burns, the juvenile and pornographic graffiti, the gig and club flyers, band stickers, the smell of sweat, smoke-machines and piss.

      Where I am. He thought. OK, let’s skip that one. Moving on…

      Marius’ wacked out grin bobbing too close to his face, his overly cautious hands gently prizing the pill box open to reveal a series of intricate wraps, pills and some blotting paper squares printed with a fish of some kind. Marius looked up.

      “It’s a coelacanth.” He explained. “Very ancient fish. Been around since the dinosaurs.”

      “Oh,” Taylor said. “Is that relevant?”

      Marius shrugged, “Not really. Just this shit seems to be unique to each person who takes it. Tailor made, you might say.” He raised his eyebrows expectantly, pleased at his own pun.

      Taylor looked at the tiny squares and quickly suppressed the ‘who he was with’ part of the drug councillor’s mantra. How did he feel? Isolated, overly ponderous and slightly depressed. It was the final emotion that spurred him on. He’d take anything over that emotional singularity. He wanted to feel alive, not join the ranks of the pill-popping walking dead. Antidepressants, he knew, took the colour out of the highs as well as boot-strapping the lows. He went to lick a finger to dab up the small, fish emblazoned square but realised that Marius was already offering one on the end of his little finger. Taylor moved his hand over to pick the square free.

      “Just fuck-ing eat it!” Marius chided with a grin.

      It was a typical act of dealer control, a master and servant piece of passive domination, but Taylor was already too far along the path of ego oblivion to really care. He stuck out his tongue – not wanting the awkward, unhygienic and pseudo sexual act of Marius actually putting his finger inside his mouth. The dealer sighed but obligingly dabbed the piece of blotting paper onto the proffered slab of quivering taste receptors.

      “As I said, it’s a very individual thing so hang with me until you’ve navigated the initial hit.” Marius was still grinning, his focus flitting from one of Taylor’s eyes to the other as if checking to see what his reaction might be. Taylor felt nothing, said nothing.

      Marius cracked open the cubicle door, checked to see who was out in the wash area and then sauntered back into the club. Taylor followed, pushing back into the heat and noise, his mind a constant check list of sensations and feelings. Any heightened awareness of things? Any thickening of visual edges leading to a cartoon skew to the world? His pulse had increased, but that was just in anticipation he guessed.

      They arrived back at the bar and, with the merest hint of acknowledgement between Marius and one of the bar staff, he received two ice cold beers. He passed one of the bottles to Taylor and they clinked the drinks together.

      “Happy travels my friend!” The dealer shouted over the noise before dropping into a mute reverie. Eyes shut he lost himself to the music, his head gently nodding to the beat. Taylor watched Marius for a while, appreciating the taste and freshness of the beer.

      It was almost shamanistic, almost trance-like, the way the other man had withdrawn from what was happening around them. Taylor wondered if this was the drug talking, the first cognitive steps on his trip. And then he realised he would have made the connection without any narcotics. It seemed as if the blotting paper had missed the dipping process altogether.

      He stood, listened to more music he didn’t like. Even the few tracks that he usually would have appreciated were made dull by the general disappointment he was now feeling. He finished his beer, looked at Marius still bobbing on the spot and, on the pretence of taking his empty bottle back to the bar, made his way to the exit.

*****

      The red switchback of the stairs was unpopulated, its open coolness welcome after the heady crush of the club. Taylor glanced at the pasted flyers, stickers and posters – a cartoon Japanese schoolgirl here, a stencilled face in a gas mask there – and felt as though he had seen them all before. Not here in this club, but in all his time following the circuit. Repeated images that cycled non-stop in the designers collective imagination. He considered again whether the Colliderscope was finally taking control, but the arduous nature of the climb and his relief at leaving the club seemed too familiar, too mundane.

      The bouncers on the door gave a passing nod as he departed – he knew the name of one and they might have chatted about video games if the other hadn’t already been engrossed in conversation.

      Condensation was thick on the glass door, which meant it was a lot cooler outside. The safety crash bar clunked and Taylor stepped into the cool, damp evening.

      It had been raining and everything sparkled with the reflected lights of the city. Damp sounds fought against the gentle ringing in his ears, the swoosh of passing cars, the slap, slap, slap of people moving over polished pavements, louder voices carrying somehow against the dead air. There was a massive bank of low cloud hanging over everything, its underbelly a dirty, regular orange. Taylor looked up, relishing the odd drop of rain hitting his face – a shower starting or finishing. He couldn’t tell. He’d cool down with a walk he decided, and mapped a route back to his flat that avoided busy streets and any areas that might leave him vulnerable. He knew of friends that had been mugged in the early hours, but believed that his knowledge of the city had helped him avoid such disasters. Maybe it was just magical thinking on his part, the die role of pure statistics, but he trusted to his routes and the theory hadn’t fallen down so far.

      It wasn’t long before things transformed from commercial into well-lit residential; the uniformity of the houses a muted visual feed, allowing his thoughts to wander. An old thought, that returned to him from time to time, made its presence felt at the edges of his awareness. Something exacerbated by the soggy plod of his feet and the evaporating sweat that left him chilled despite his jacket. He realised that for years now he had chased the transient cool of the club scene, from dusty fields, to pristine European multifloored temples riddled with black lights, robotics, precision lasers… But in the here and now – the cold razor of sobriety cutting at his lungs, a life of dancing making his knees ache with every step – he noticed the thought returning with fresh intensity. Perhaps – still that thankful ‘perhaps’ – he was getting too old for this shit.

      He turned his collar up against the cold and cut across another high street and into a road where the detritus of a market lay. Flattened and dirty boxes, the smell for rotten plant life and fast food. Taylor instinctively took a few breaths through his mouth but the rain had pushed the stench to a background level. He felt vulnerable and moved into the middle of the street relishing the faux Victorian street lamps that kept the gloom at curb length. If only there was some way to do that internally… To keep the shadows at bay.

      He gritted his teeth, did his best to silence the rising tide of recriminations that crowded in and increased his pace, hoping to loose himself in the repetition of his walking.

      He followed the path on two long streets and felt the assurance of the familiar fall into pace around him. There a curry house he’d once caught a bus to reach. Here a barbers shop with a proprietor’s name that sounded so otherworldly it usually made him smile. Not tonight. Another turn and he entered the road that bisected his local territory. It connected one high street with an arterial route that fed traffic out towards the orbital. It was lengthy, gently curving and had a smattering of shops and churches along its path. Close to home, but still an arduous trek for someone who seemed to be leaking motivation at every step.

      Finally, three roads beyond the railway bridge that remained festooned with squat and struggling weeds despite the exhaust heavy locale, he saw the entrance to Knowls Close. Home. A sense of relief swelled within him, but it rapidly shifted to unease as he approached. A schism appeared between his anticipated mental image and what was actually present in front of him. The gap widened as the lights from the close, reflecting now on the walls of the houses nearest the main road, made him think that he was somehow back in the club.

      Bright white, reds and blues bounced, stretched and flew off the brickwork to return seconds later. They merged briefly into splashes of magenta, then span away. A curtain twitched to his right, an old woman’s face pulling back into the room beyond, her blemish dappled hand the last of her to slip from view.

      He heard noises now, totally out of kilter with how quiet a residential area should sound at this time in the morning. Scuffling feet, muted voices hissing in urgent and intense discussion.

      Taylor knew that he should hang back, not move towards this audio visual oddity but, somehow, his feet drew him forward. Another step and he could almost feel the press of alien hands goading him at hip level, propelling him onwards. He tried to resist and imagined that if he turned he would end up walking, running, scrambling on the spot, the pavement becoming a treadmill that would shift gear to thwart any idea of escape. This sickened him and through the nausea a fluke of horror undulated a strong and needy path into his heart. But still his feet carried him forward, a slow unwavering, inevitable pace.

      He rounded the corner.

      Three police cars were drawn up to one side of the close, near to the entrance of Taylor’s flat. Two were parked further into the street, a couple of hunched and shadowy figures scrabbling items out of the boot. The lights dazzled as Taylor’s unwilling feet pushed him closer to the scene, the whispers had turned into muffled barks of panic. The scene was building in intensity, drawing a sleepy but nervous crowd to their windows.

      A passing shadow cast, bizarrely, by a lamp post that simply wasn’t as bright as the rotating illuminations of the cars, finally gave Taylor a clear view to the source of the commotion.

      There, standing on the roof of what looked like a wrecked police car stood a man. He was naked to the waist, his muscles taught and straining, his fists clenched and yet his stance still managed to tighten further before a sudden, loud, inhuman bellow lept from his bruised lips. His eyes were rolled back in their sockets and yet, despite their seeming sightlessness, they turned to lock on Taylor. Although it was impossible to recognise those eyes, the face in which they sat – after resisting an initial pass of comprehension – finally gave beneath a cognitive spark of recognition. Taylor was looking at himself.

      The hands he had imagined propelling him forward now gripped him tight, lifting him off his feet in one fluid move and flung him through the air towards his doppelganger. He flailed once in transit and realised that his arms had become insubstantial and weak. Not that it mattered, there was no way he could stop the impact or steer himself away from the scratched and spittled visage that was rushing towards him.

      The crushing blow never came. The entanglement of bodies didn’t happen. Instead Taylor’s perspective flipped and twisted, leaving him impossibly still and looking out and down at the scene below him. Simultaneously he felt himself become weighty, solid, sore… He stared down, his eyes suddenly shooting pain at every focus, and saw the blood slick roof of the patrol car, his bare feet planted among the shattered plastic of the ruined emergency lights. Two slumped figures in uniform could now been seen on the road below, and he became obliquely aware that the other offices had emerged from behind the boot lid of their vehicle. They were clutching small devices in both hands and shouting in unison. Orders clashed in the air around him, a cacophony of noise with no meaning.

      He tasted blood in his mouth causing disjointed memories to flow suddenly foreground. He knew these were also somehow his, but they struggled and vied for some kind of rational, sequential order alongside the uneventful experience of his walk home.

      He was on the dance floor, his body hot and uncaring. Others crowded in and they pounded their feet, trading breath and sweat with every pace, every gesture. He had run. He had dodged the clasping arms of men bigger and stronger, but slower than him. He had shed his bag and all its associated digital detritus. His shirt went next, his shoes… Puddle cool alternating against the rasp of concrete. A park, dark and fresh and feral. Well groomed foliage flailing his impervious skin. The need to rest, to be safe. Fear of the open street leading to a sense of home and then frustration that his way was barred. More men, faster and wearing a different type of uniform this time. But not as strong. Knowing that he could stop them and doing so.

      And now here, his anger gone and their shouts around him. The insect stings of small hooks on his chest and his awareness of what they were now, how they attached to the weapon that one of the officers had pointed at him.

      Taylor laughed at the sight of the barbs piercing his skin. Laughed again as the pulse of energy made everything convulse at once. He’d never felt anything like it before. The irony wasn’t lost on the functioning remnants of his higher self that he should feel so alive mere seconds before he was rendered unconscious.

— THE END —

(Copyright © 2014 by J. E. Bryant. All Rights
Reserved.
)