by Lady H
“Magic.” There's a darkness in his face that goes beyond the flirtatious bartender gag
The Great Escape - Part One
I hesitate, left leg resting over the windowsill ledge, the other planted on my carpeted bedroom floor. A gentle summer breeze ripples the edge of my short emerald dress, teasing and taunting me to follow. I wiggle my bare toes hanging in the cool night air, and anxiously bite the inside of my cheek.
Just one time couldn’t hurt, could it? My adopted mother’s disapproving eyes fill my thoughts; the weighted glare I’d witnessed a thousand times directed at dad. I swallow. I’ve just turned eighteen, and I finished my final A-Level exam today. I have the whole summer ahead of me, although early participation in extracurricular university activities had been suggested over dinner. I glance once at the stack of Cambridge University correspondence piled up on my desk and suppress a shudder.
Mind made up, I swing my right leg to join the left, and reach for the closest sturdy branch of the nearby tree. The branch I’d watched grow for years, over time reaching for my window, daring me to leave. Leave behind the family that had accepted me, brought me up so lovingly and treated me identically to their own son, made sure I wanted for nothing. Nothing except this. Something of my own. Some kind of adventure.
I toss my shoes and bag out into the night and there’s a soft thud as they land on the grass below. The rest of my body leaves the safety of the windowsill, and my feet curl around the rough bark, holding me steady. There is no going back now. I hold back a laugh at my own foolishness; my heart thumping in my chest as if a teenager leaving the house to go to a club was such a crime.
I make quick work of climbing down and pause at the bottom to drink in the night. It was nearly midnight, the friendly suburb still and silent. The soft streetlamp glow illuminates the hedgerows and houses I’d come to know so well these last eighteen years. I imagine the residents tucked up in bed, blissfully unaware of the souls still wide awake and delighting in night-time amusement in the town centre just over a mile away.
I strap on my heels, thoughts now focused on my destination. The big opening of the new club, Castle, that my classmates had been twittering about the last few weeks. It was located on the outside of the biggest shopping complex; a huge glass building surrounded by reaching flood lights and thousands of newly tarmacked parking spaces.
Turning away from my house, I cut through the dark night towards the town centre.
The inside of Castle is like nothing I've ever seen before.
The dance floor is barely contained within the walls, sticky, sweaty bodies writhing and wiggling to the thumping beat. My vision is sliced into a series of still pictures by the throbbing lights; first dowsed in green, then red, then blue. The music seems to seep through the walls, engulfing me, filling my eardrums, and causing my whole body to thump.
Someone knocks into me, breaking my trance. I’m no longer sure if I’ve made the best decision in coming here alone. The only problem is the only friends I have now are the dusty books in the school library. I feel out of place and a bit foolish, enviously eyeing the groups of girls dancing and laughing together. How my older brother would laugh at me if he knew. Picturing Michael’s condensing smirk, I take in a lungful of the stuffy air. I’m here now. I may as well get one drink and see what happens. Then I can leave knowing that I’ve given it a go, but it’s not for me.
I begin to move, pushing my way over to the bar, elbowing and excusing through the hot slick bodies even though they don’t seem to care and there’s no way they can hear my apologies. My shoes scrunch over what I can only imagine is broken glass; there’s not enough room to glance at the floor and it’s too dark to see anyway. A sticky sheen of sweat covers my bare skin, the air stifling and making it difficult to breathe.
The bar’s length is guarded by a crowd three bodies deep. It appears impenetrable at first, but then I notice most are friendship groups shouting at each other to be heard, standing out of the way of the dancers. After some careful squeezing and manoeuvring, I spy the bar through a gap. I reach out my arm and grasp the edge, pulling myself against its cool surface.
I watch in admiration as the barman darts about, serving two customers at a time. He pours multiple drinks side by side, his hands rushing to complete various tasks simultaneously as he works his way down the line of customers. If he’s made a mistake with any of the orders, no one has noticed. Someone pushes in beside me and manages to get his attention, and once he’s served them, I finally catch his eye and place my order.
The girl on my other side with short bleach-blonde hair and a sharp-lined tattoo winding up one side of her neck laughs at my drink and leans over to shout in the barman’s ear. She turns and winks at me before giving another order. He grins at me and moves away. She pushes herself off the bar and turns to me, sticking out her hand.
I grab it, perplexed, as she introduces herself.
“Hi, I’m Kaira. You’ve never been to a place like this, right?”
“Lucy. I mean Luce. And no, I haven't. Is it that obvious?” I’m shouting in her face; it feels rude, but I can barely hear her. I get shoved into the bar as the crowd jostles behind me.
“Luce. Cute name. Don't worry, I know some of the staff here at Castle. I'll look after you.”
I guess she doesn't hear me either; she doesn't answer my question. I don't know what to respond, do I want to be looked after? Do her two sentences even make sense together? I'm saved by the bartender approaching, carrying six drinks in tiny glasses on a tray. Shots.
Kaira takes the first two – a violent green colour – and thrusts one into my hand.
“To Castle!” She shouts, then tips her head back, emptying the whole glass in one.
It seems insulting not to join her. I follow suit, managing to get it all down but choking on the vile liquid as I slam the glass back onto the bar.
She pats me on the back in an oddly motherly gesture, then ruins it by handing me the next drink, this one a pale pink, cloudier than the last. The third is black.
I'm not used to drinking, and after the three shots I'm struggling to stand up straight. I frown to myself, knowing that alcohol doesn’t kick in that fast, but the heady music is making me dizzy and I’m crushed between bodies radiating heat.
Kaira is grinning at me intently, and I feel even weirder. I tear my eyes from hers as the barman approaches again, this time with the drink I’d ordered myself. I know I don’t need it, but my hand reaches out for it automatically, closing around the icy glass.
Kaira laughs, or at least her face contorts as if she’s laughing, but the DJ is making a birthday announcement over the music and its deafening. The thrumming beat imprints itself in my mind, in my body, as if I’ll never be still again. She tugs at my arm, pulling me away from the safety of the bar and onto the crammed, heaving dance floor.
It's hard to tell, but it’s maybe half hour later when I find myself in the very centre of the room in Castle, empty glass long since discarded. I'm not sure how much of it I drank and how much was spilt. The smoke machines must be on full blast, stinging my eyes and filling the room in a wispy haze that hangs a few feet above the ground. I've lost sight of Kaira, and now I'm jumping to a fast-paced track among strangers in their own little worlds, who are dancing in odd frantic movements. We’re just one big crush of sweat and heat. I still can’t make up my mind whether I like it or not, and vaguely wonder if it’s time to head home.
The track changes, fading out into a heavier thud of rock. I recognise it from the radio channel permanently tuned in to my car. It’s a favourite; voices singing along to the first verse build in volume. At the chorus, everyone belts out the simple lyrics, jumping up and down in synchronisation.
Joining in, I catch the eye of a guy near me. He throws me a manic smile, then reaches over, pulling me close. Our hands are interlinked, waving in the air, as the second chorus starts. We jump to the hypnotic beat under lights flashing faster than I can blink. Blasting my eardrums, the music etches itself onto my brain.
As the song ends the guy produces a plastic bag full of tiny white pills from his back pocket with the hand that’s not wrapped around my waist.
“Wanna have one? They're free tonight, complements of the club.” His lips are at my ear, trying to make himself heard over the music.
Drugs. I know I came here to let loose, but I don't want to be that loose. “No I'm alright thanks.” I give him my best smile, but then have to shake my head to get the message across after he looks at me confused.
“No you don't understand - they’re legal. They’ll make you never want to leave. You have to take one, everyone needs one.” He gives me a bright smile, his clear blue eyes staring at me as he flicks his pale blond fringe off his forehead with a quick tilt of his head. I don't know if it's my imagination, but I think Blue Eyes tightens his arm around my waist.
We’re the only ones not dancing, everyone jumping and pushing around us so that I’m pressed up against him. No one seems to notice we aren't moving, or that I don't really want to be here anymore.
“I'm sorry but I'm really not interested.” I reply, shaking my head again and jerking myself out of his grasp. It's hard to tear my eyes away from him; his stare is so intense its hypnotic. His blue eyes are electric, like he can see right through me.
I twist away and Blue Eyes is swallowed up by the crowd and smoke. My head is spinning; what’s his problem? Can't he tell I'm not interested? And what did he mean by ‘everyone needs one’? I think that’s my cue to leave.
As I begin to squeeze off the dance floor, there’s a piercing shriek that’s so loud I hear it above the music. I hesitate, wondering if it’s okay to ignore, but in the same pitch and tone it’s followed by a “Lucy!”. I turn, not at all pleased to hear the voice I now recognise.
Through the haze emerges a figure, slowly taking the form of a girl. It’s Isobel Turner, most popular girl in my year. Her glossy black hair falls in a sheer drop to her waist, olive skin complimenting the deep red of the tight dress that highlights her perfect curves.
“What on earth are you doing here?” She continues. The gaggle of girls around her twitter their approval. “Shouldn’t you be in the library?” It’s so mean-girl cliché I can’t even give her marks for originality.
Of course they would be here, they wouldn’t miss a big club opening. When I don’t immediately react, they seem to forget I’m here. Isobel takes out a bag of pills; they look to be the same as the ones Blue Eyes tried to give me.
A knot of dread forms in my stomach, and before I can stop myself, I’ve grabbed Isobel’s wrist.
She looks up, shocked at my audacity. Her face flashes under the strobe lights.
“I don’t think you should take them.” I shake my head to get the message across in case she can’t hear me.
She snatches her wrist back, anger flushes her cheeks. Her lips purse in thought, then she seems to check herself. “For your information, they’re legal. Lighten up Lucinda.” Her cronies cackle at her use of alliteration. “And I got them for free!” She boasts.
I just look at her, momentarily frazzled, unsure what to do next.
“Are you here on your own? Oh how sad. Shame the other nerd left town, isn’t it?” Isobel continues.
People around us are starting to look as we’re not dancing. I realise it’s a wasted endeavour and turn away. Now is not the time to rehash over past events. Isobel might’ve said something more, but I can no longer see or hear her.
I begin to push through the crowd again, and I’m starting to get sick of my body rubbing up against other people’s sweat. Around me, it seems everyone is popping back these legal pills. There’s something wrong with it all, something not quite right, making my stomach churn. But I can’t focus and could be imagining it.
Not concentrating, I’ve moved in the wrong direction and am now at the bar instead of the exit. It’s quieter than earlier and I suddenly realise how thirsty I am. Once again, I find myself pressed against the bar’s welcoming cool surface. I only have to wait a few minutes before a barman turns to me, and there’s a break in the music while the DJ talks to his audience so I don't have to shout to be heard.
“I'm sorry we don't sell water!” He throws me a cheeky grin, but I’m fed up and don't have time for his games.
“No please, it's for my friend.” I try another tactic.
“Okay okay.” He takes a plastic cup and fills it under the tap. He pushes it across, and I go to grab it but he pulls it away. “Ah ah ah, what do you want for yourself?” Another grin.
“Oh no, I'm fine.” I force a smile as I try and reach for the cup again.
“Hey, it's our job to make sure you all have fun. Have another drink.”
“No no, I really can't.”
“Then perhaps something else?”
I frown, unsure of his meaning, until he reaches underneath the bar and pulls out an all too familiar plastic bag. I must look horrified, because he's talking again before I can speak.
“They're not what you think, they're totally legal, and free. Everyone needs one – management’s orders. Try one.” I watch as he reaches his hand into the bag.
I’m not going to have them, but the forcefulness of the staff here has me intrigued. “What do they do?”
“Magic.” There's a darkness in his face that goes beyond the flirtatious bartender gag. “They’ll make you never want to leave. Go on, take one.” Blue Eyes from the dance floor flashes like a warning in my mind. The barman slides one across the surface of the bar to join the cup of water in front of me. I stare at the perfect tiny white circle.
The DJ is urging everyone to take more pills, announcing they’ll make you never want to leave. That same phrase again. Everyone cheers.
I frown, trapped from all sides. “Thanks.” I can just drop it on the floor once I’ve walked away.
Just as I reach for the water and pill, the girl next to me turns too quickly and her drink sloshes out of her glass straight down the front of my dress.
“Oh shit, sorry!” She squeals, trying to rub at the material with her spare hand.
I turn towards her, forgetting about the bar. “Don't worry its fine – honestly” I add when she doesn’t stop touching me. She grimaces apologetically.
“I'm sorry!” She echoes after me as I head for the doors leading out into the entrance foyer. The music picks up again, the beat tribal, as I weave through the dancers in their trance-like states, moving to the music as if it's the only thing that matters right now.
I'm not sure, but I think the guy behind the bar is yelling after me. It's too late to bother with the water now though; I just want to get out of this place.
Just as I'm nearing the exit, someone grabs me from behind, and I whirl around, surprised to see Blue Eyes.
“You ran out on me earlier.” He yells over the music, a menacing smile on his flawless face. He tilts his head to the side, like he’s sizing up his prey.
When I don't say anything but fidget from foot to foot, trying to assess the best way of escaping from his grasp, he pulls out the pills again.
He offers me one with a tight-lipped smile, but I don't go to take it. He pushes it towards my mouth and I try to back away, but he's got his whole arm wrapped around my waist, holding me in place and force feeding me like a child.
“Leave me alone!” I yell at him, before stomping my heel into the top of his foot with as much force as I can muster. I don't know how much it hurts him, but it's enough for him to relinquish his grip, enabling me to push away and bolt for the doors.
I barrel through them despite the pain in my feet and the unsteadiness of my heels. I don’t stop as I flee down the short flight of stairs, unsure whether I’m being followed.
The effect of the doors swinging shut is immediate; quiet fills the small room and I can only just hear the dull thump of the music on the other side. I finally stop, sure now that I am alone. I grab the handrail at the bottom of the stairs for support. I’m still struggling to breathe atop my wobbly legs, my head swirling like a children’s spinning top.
I take a deep breath and a small step, but my heel catches and I tumble forward. Pain shoots up my legs and arms as I land on all fours, stomach churning and knees and palms aching. I contemplate crawling the last few meters to the exit, then snort, disgusted at myself for even considering it.
With a surge of adrenaline and the knowledge that I need to get out of this creepy place, I push myself up with my grazed palms and stumble through the glass doors.
The blast of cool night air hits me like a wall of ice. I don’t know whether it’s the drastic change in temperature, too much alcohol, or pure relief at finally being out, but I can’t move more than a few places before I throw up into the drain. My stomach empties itself over and over, until I'm producing nothing but florescent bile, and then finally I'm just retching up nothing.
When my stomach has finished convulsing, I try to distance myself from Castle and the drain, and head around the corner of the building. I don’t really know where I’m going, and as I walk past the main doors to the shopping complex within, I catch sight of myself in the glass.
I gasp at the stranger staring back at me, green eyes just like mine blinking in surprise. A tangle of fiery hair has escaped her bun, hanging limp about her shoulders. There’s an ugly dark stain on the front of her green dress. Her skin looks sheeny and sticky; she’s so dishevelled she’s barely recognisable.
For a moment I rest my sweaty forehead on the cool glass, succeeding in numbing my headache somewhat. I’m disgusted at myself, and my reflection. Why did I think any of this was a good idea? Why didn’t I just stay in bed, catch up on some Cambridge University reading?
My brain is thumping; it’s about to bounce right out of my scull. Something’s still nagging me about those pills, the trance-like state of the dancers, and Blue Eyes. I’m in no fit state to make sense of it all now though.
With a defeated sigh I turn and slide my back down the glass, landing on the concrete pavement, legs askew. Glaring even though there's no one to benefit, I bend my knees one at a time and unlace the crippling heels, heaving them off and throwing them away from me in frustration.
I sit for a while and pick at the bits of gravel that have wedged themselves in bloody cuts carved into my knees and palms. Suddenly in the distance a dog howls, and I jolt at the sound.
For the first time, it occurs to me that I’ve seen no sign of life since I left Castle. It’s so eerie, I involuntarily shiver. Where are the taxis? Surely people have started leaving the club or would have come out for some air. Or to smoke? I can’t see or hear a soul.
Maybe it’s earlier than I thought, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Yet I can’t help feeling that something isn’t right. In fact, nothing about this night has felt quite right so far. I need to go home. My throat is so dry I can barely swallow. I need water. I need sleep.
With another shudder and a sigh, I reach for my bag, intending to ring for a taxi.
Except my bag isn't there. I look at the ground around me, but I can't see it. My heart picks up pace again; I've managed to lose it. My bag, which has my phone, purse and ID in. My parents are going to kill me.
Suppressing the tears threatening to spill, I heave myself up off the ground. The grazes on my knees are already starting to scab, so sting as the skin stretches out of shape when I take my fist few steps.
I resign myself to returning to castle, even though barely ten minutes ago I’d sworn to myself I’d never go back. But there’s a chance I dropped my bag out the front, and if I can’t find it, I’ll have to go back in and call a taxi.
When I round the corner and catch sight of the doors to Castle though, I freeze.
Big metal chains are strung between the handles with heavy duty padlocks locking them in place.