This one wasn’t really one of the short stories that I wrote for the New Scientist competition. It was actually a dream that I had during the period while writing them. Because it left such a strong impression on me (after more than two weeks I could still recall it vividly) I have decided to include it here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to recreate the intensity that permeated me while experiencing it but I hope I do.
To strange places I awake...
(1413 word count)
I’m walking through a huge club where a massive rave party is going on. I’m following a girl, perhaps someone I know from work, perhaps not. There is some sexual tension on my part but mostly some strange kind of friendship that not even I quite understand myself.
I am following her because I know she is getting herself into trouble.
And I want to be there to ameliorate the impending consequences of her present actions.
She wades easily through the crowd, moving closer and closer towards the back of the club. The music is booming all around us but I know my words of caution are drowned both by the sound and by her stubbornness.
Everybody’s high, taking the music and the experience to the limit.
But there are drugs and there are drugs.
And she wants the most dangerous, the most hard to get and the most potent of them all. She doesn’t say it but I know.
I know as soon as she says
“Come with me. I’ve got to pick up something.”
“I really think you shouldn’t.”
“Why? Are you scared?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“If you want to make it there, there has to be no place for fear.”
“I know. That is why I am afraid.”
“Stay here then.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll be fine on my own.”
I follow her through the steaming crowd, pumping more than blood and sound through their system. As we move closer to the back of the club the music seems to become heavier, denser. And so do the people. They seem more sinister and brooding. I begin to feel more and more uncomfortable. This is what I knew would happen.
She moves between all these people almost as if they weren’t even there. She is on a mission and nothing will deter her. This is the correct attitude to have, I’m sure, if one is to come back out alive.
At the back of the club, instead of a wall there is an entrance. A tunnel. It slopes downwards softly, whilst curving to the left, a spiral, always to the left apart from the odd stretch straight ahead.
The tunnel has walls like a cave, the rough hewn edges of stone showing. Dimly lit by a light whose source I cannot fathom. It seems that the light is permanently coming from the tunnel’s end though it is never in sight. But there’s that feeling that it’s just around the next corner.
She enters the tunnel without hesitation. I try not to show mine and follow.
After a few steps I look back. I can still see the lights of the club we’re leaving behind along with any feeling of safety. They dim more and more. And so does the sound. And that’s the scariest part. Losing whatever feeble connection we can have to the place up there.
One more curve to the left and it fades away. The sound quickly follows.
There are steps along the way. They are broad and shallow. Slowly they take us down. We walk at a good pace but carefully. There isn’t enough light to see where we are going and there’re plenty of people inside the tunnel. Waiting. Waiting for customers. Waiting for prey.
We move ever downwards with a constant pace. There is a new sound here. I can’t place it, there’s no perceptible rhythm or riffs. It’s like this gigantic but also blurred mass of distorted guitars, continuously strumming their mass of industrial Goth metal rock. It’s a continuous onslaught of distortion with only a vague discernment of variation. The sound doesn’t seem to change for a long time. It’s always there. Always the same. As if telling us we are never going to reach the objective.
All I know is that at the end of the tunnel there is a terrible thing. That more often than not people that go in search of these drugs that can only be obtained there, do not return. But I wish to protect her and so I move on.
At each step of the way, at each turn, men gage us. Trying to ascertain who we are and what they can do with us. At each step, at each new turn their faces and looks become more and more menacing. Even she’s feeling more and more anxious. I can feel it. We don’t say anything. Exchanging any word here would be an assumption of doubt or hesitation, which are just another words for fear. And that would be deadly. We press on and we look to these people less and less. As if they didn’t matter. As if only the end of the tunnel mattered.
Another turn to the left. Again that vague eerie steely glare escorts us downwards. It never seems to change. I feel that these men want to kill us but, as soon as we drop another step below them it’s as if we drop beyond their reach, their maximum tolerance level and are thus spared. This is why we can never stop.
The steps seem endless. Always the same. Always shallow and long. I calculate that if we had to run back we’d easily trip in them for their length is unnatural and hard to judge.
Then the glare increases and so does the sound. Some sort of ongoing repetitive mass of chords keeps ringing, over saturated.
I don’t know what to do.
I can see the glare as we descend the last few steps. The wall now curves to the right. There’s a dark golden red light coming from inside.
The sound increases.
The men move aside as we pass by them. Staring at us from behind their black shades. As if we are mad to enter that place.
I don’t know what to do.
I follow her.
We enter a small cave. There’s a crowd dancing to the sound of this music that I can’t place where it’s coming from. The wall behind them is completely black and I know that even if I got close to it I would not see anything.
On either side of the crowd there are two hierarchies. They watch the crowd dance, presiding to the whole thing. They are both demonic. I suppose she has sold her soul as soon as we entered the tunnel. Intention is everything and as soon as she made her wish and began down the tunnel, the pact was sealed. This is how it works.
She hesitates. She is so close but it’s as if for the first time it hits her what she can really lose if she goes ahead with this. I don’t know what it is but it’s bigger than life, death and the soul combined. It’s as if she’s about to lose everything and more. I try to stop her. She just shrugs me away and moves towards the crowd. I cannot go any further. This is my limit. It’s not something that I can even conceptualise to do. To follow her. I just watch her move between the hot, pulsing bodies, oblivious to anything but their motion. She goes to the left crowd, passes between the dancing bodies and is received upon the hierarchy. A man with long flowing hair welcomes her courteously and begins to speak with her. Greets her as if he had always known her.
I feel I shouldn’t be here. I feel that they will find me and do something worse than death to me. To her. But I should stay. To protect her. If anything goes wrong I will try and save her, even though I know that my abilities are next to zero when compared to those of the ones playing host to this place.
She makes her request.
The demon in human form pauses and draws a soft smile. He concedes. Something is brought to him and he gives it to her. He leaves her and she wades back into the crowd. She comes towards me with a triumphant yet somewhat nervous look in her face. She has what she wanted. She feels she’s won.
We begin walking away.
We start climbing the long staircase once more.
Her eyes shine.
None of us says anything.
I’m terrified because I know that the pact is now definitive.
I know she is doomed.
She knows it too.
But, right now, she doesn’t care. She has precisely what she’d wanted.
For now, she’s won.