“I know very few young people, but it seems to me that they are all possessed with an almost fatal hunger for permanence.”
-Evelyn Waugh, “Vile Bodies”
"I hate that song."
Andrew was talking to himself, but the girl next to him gave him a dirty look anyway. “I thought you liked the classic sound?”
"Not this classic. I can't believe they're really playing this."
"Well don't stick around for it on my account," she said.
The girl (what was her name again? Hannah?) seemed edgy and he knew she wanted to go dance, but since he'd paid for her drink politeness demanded she at least stand next to him while she finished it. She must have been between paydays, because normally she turned him down when he tried to buy for her. He leaned on the mezzanine railing and watched the dance floor, a seething mass of black. It was the saddest thing he'd ever seen. How could things have gotten this bad?
"Look at these people," he said. "No style, no originality, no creativity; why do they even show up?"
"Hey?" said Hannah, gesturing to her own outfit. Andrew looked her up and down and sneered. "Well what are you doing that's so fucking original?" she said, picking at his sleeve. He ignored her.
"You don't understand," he said. "You don't remember how it used to be."
"How did it used to be?"
She rolled her eyes, drank the rest of her glass in one go, and left. He watched her walk away with skintight red PVC stretched across her ass and considered chasing her. Nah, he thought, I'm too good for that.
The song ended (finally) and he watched the sparse crowd move through the dark corners of the club. The bars (four in the tiny venue) were crowded, but in general the turnout was small. Not many left, he thought. Someday there won't be any.
He heard the manager talking to the DJ:
"Don't ever play that song again."
"It was a request."
"When that happens just push the button marked 'boiling oil.'"
Andrew had heard the joke before. He hoped it was serious.
He picked the least crowded bar and elbowed his way to the front. He saw Hannah dancing with a group of rivetheads who looked like their only agenda was injuring themselves. Fuck her, he thought, then realized he never had. It was definitely time to leave, but he decided he would finish this one last drink and try one last girl.
He scanned the crowd for anyone he didn't recognize, and something near the door caught his eye; 20ish, doe-eyed, and somehow out of place. She had on a lot of makeup, but he decided it wasn't so bad. She was watching the floor, biting the tip of one fingernail. He made his way over to her.
"First time?" he said.
"What's your name?"
"I'm Andrew. Do you want a drink?" He raised his glass.
"No thanks, but come sit with me." She pulled him to a booth.
"So what brings you out?" he said.
"I was just looking." She had a faraway look. He decided she must be on something.
"There's not much to see these days," he said. "It's not like it used to be. The scene is pretty much dead."
"Well, it will be if you keep saying that," she said.
Andrew thought of a rude response but kept it to himself. It's not her fault, he thought. She's too young to know better.
"Do you want to get out of here?" she said. He choked a little. That was faster than he could have hoped for. "There's another club I wanted to look at," she continued. His enthusiasm bated a bit, but he decided this might still be a promising development.
"What club?" he said. "Maybe I know it?"
"I don't think you do, but you'll like it. Come on, finish that and meet me outside."
As she left he checked out her ass, then got up to follow. He stopped at the coat check and heard Hannah's voice behind him.
"You leaving early?" she said. She almost sounded disappointed.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm not feeling it tonight."
"Why don't you stay and have another drink with me?" she said. She put her hand on his arm. A friend of hers standing nearby (Jessica, 5'8, nipples pierced, naturally black hair. Never fucked but second base in the parking lot in June while she was blacked out) looked shocked.
"What's wrong?" he said, "Too sober to buy your own?"
"Don't be such an asshole," said Jessica, talking loud over a terrible Southern Death Cult remix.
Hannah tugged his sleeve a little. "Why can't you just have a good time like everyone else? You'd enjoy yourself if you lightened up a little."
He tried to read her body language. The rubber outfit made her tits look good and she seemed game tonight. He'd been leaning on her for months. Maybe...
"You can all lighten up," he said. "I've got real things to do."
He pushed her away. Jessica came to her rescue.
"Just get the fuck out, Andrew," she said. "Guys like you are the reason no one comes here anymore."
That's hilarious, he thought, but left without bothering to say it. Outside it was cold and foggy, and a few bedraggled smokers hugged the wall. He worried Ruby might have wandered off, but he was pleased to see that she had waited for him after all. She skipped up and took his hand.
"Where are we going?" he said.
"Somewhere new." She pulled him along. He looked over his shoulder at the exterior of the club, vanishing as the late-night shadows caused by broken streetlamps closed in. He tried to make small talk, but she didn't seem interested in chatting. Weird chick, he thought. Before long he was lost. He didn't recognize the street they were on. Had they turned off onto Mission? No, Mission was the other way? Where was—
"Is this place close?"
The streets were deserted. He kicked trash out of the way. It wasn't a good idea to be wandering around this neighborhood at night. Just as he was about to say something, she pointed to a redbrick building. The windows were dark, but there was a crowd outside, and he heard the rhythmic thump of music.
"Come on," said Ruby. He didn't see any signs or identifying marks on the building; it looked like a warehouse. He sighed inwardly, because raves were strictly for dickheads and tweakers, but when Ruby took him in (skipping the line and waving at the bouncer) he found the setup pretty elaborate: two floors, a real bar, good sound system, and a sizy stage with a live band.
He took it all in; throbbing speakers, neon lights, milling, dancing, and cavorting masses of leather, hair dye, makeup, metal studs, net shirts, top hats, billowing skirts, thigh boots, fetish gear, body art, and black lace. The place was packed, wall to wall.
"Do you like it?" said Ruby.
Andrew blinked. "Yeah."
"Let's have fun," she said.
"Wait, what is—" he said, but she was pulling him deeper inside. She put her hands on his hips and pulled him in close. "Dance with me," she said, her lips hovering just over his. Normally Andrew would have said no, but the music was hard to ignore and his head was spinning. A wall of people surrounded them on all sides. He usually hated being crowded, but now he didn't care because it meant that Ruby stood very close, her body gyrating against his. "I could dance to this song forever," she said. She looked him in the eye. "Do you want to?"
Andrew closed his eyes and let himself drift. The bass crept down inside him, and he felt his heart jump in time with the chords. The mob moved with them. He wasn't sure how long they danced, but it felt like hours. By the end he was exhausted, drenched in sweat, muscles aching. No one else seemed to tire at all.
"I think I need to take it down a notch for a few minutes," Andrew said. His head hurt. It was definitely time for another drink. Something was strange about this place; there was a smell, a bad smell, lingering under the scent of sweat and booze and circulated air, like something fetid. He leaned against a pillar to catch his breath. They'd stopped dancing but he couldn't get away from the music. He didn't recognize the band, but they were good. None of that cop out industrial garbage or stupid stripped-down techno shit, just real music.
Ruby was still with him. Under the purple and blue club lights her makeup stood out, looking stark and blanched. She was still dancing in place, her shoulders and hips twitching, as if she couldn't stop. When she opened her eyes again she smiled at him.
"Do you come here a lot?" he said.
"A long time."
"I never even knew this place was here. What's it called? How long has it been around?"
"It doesn't have a name, but I think it opened in '79."
"It's been here that long?" he said. They shouted over the music.
"It's been here longer than that; that's just when it opened."
Andrew didn't understand. "I wonder if—hey!"
He turned in the crowd, trying to push forward but getting pushed back by the throngs. He struggled for a minute, but by then he'd lost sight of who he was looking for. Ruby held him up as he swayed back and forth drunkenly and held his head.
"You okay?" she said, arching one black eyebrow.
"Yeah, it's just...I thought I saw someone I knew. An old friend of mine."
"Maybe you did."
"Can't be, he's dead. It looked just like Troy though. He walked right past me. Freaked me out."
She put her arms around his neck and stroked his shoulders. "Poor thing. You've probably just had too much to drink. You want to relax?"
"Yeah," said Andrew, letting himself be led. They went through the lounge, where he saw a crowd of people with their backs to him, circling a table. That setup usually indicated that someone had coke and was in the mood to share, but Ruby didn't let him stop. He didn't realize she was taking him into the restroom until she locked the door. It was a one room with a single stall, just big enough for both of them.
"What's going on?" he said.
"I'm going to help you relax," she said. "Unzip."
He was sitting on the toilet and she had one high-heeled boot up on the lid, between his knees.
"In here?" he said.
"You afraid of getting dirty?
She smirked a little and Andrew felt his blood rise, so he undid his belt and opened his fly. Ruby slid her hand in, her black-lacquered nails grazing him.
"What've you got for me?" she said, licking her stained lips. Her fingers wrapped around him, and he grunted. An alcoholic haze crowded his head, and her touch seemed unreal. Her hands were cold, and her skin felt slick. She pulled his cock out, eyeing it, running her fingers around it.
"Not bad," she said. "But I've seen better."
"Fuck off," he said.
"Not with that," she said. "But I won't leave you hanging, baby." She bent over and licked him, twirling her tongue around the head. His stomach jumped up. She closed her eyes and sucked the tip, working it inside her lips, bobbing her head in time with the music that was still pounding outside. Someone knocked on the door and she kicked it once in response.
Ruby gripped the base of him with one hand, squeezing while she worked him past her lips and over her tongue. He went to grab her hair but she pushed him away with her free hand, so instead he gripped the handicap rails. There was something strangely clammy about her mouth; he only felt warmth when she exhaled. He wondered if she was sick, and then wondered what you could catch that made your body temperature drop, and then decided he didn't care.
She pushed him in, her tongue lolling. She was halfway down him now, and her glossy lips were sucking tight, sliding up and down, wet noises filling the tiny space of the stall. She bent almost double over him, and he saw her ass arched up, the waist of her skirt sliding down to show the thin black line of her thong. He wanted to reach out and grab that, but he figured she would probably object.
She was throating him now, making a kind of strangling noise as she shoved him all the way in and kept him there. She swallowed and her throat muscles rippled around him in a wave. He groaned, and then someone was banging on the door again, and he said "Fuck off!" and then groaned again.
She swallowed over and over, and there was a continuous wave of contractions clenching and unclenching on him. She was staring up at him, and her eyes spooked him. He covered her face with his hands, and although he expected this to make her angry she actually responded by sucking with even greater enthusiasm.
Her cold hand cradled his balls and squeezed. He jerked his hips up once, fucking her mouth, and her head rolled back. She moaned around him, squeezing more in encouragement, and he pushed again. She bobbed her head with the music but kept him in the whole time, never moving him from her throat. He was throbbing inside of her, and now when he grabbed handfuls of her hair she let him, and he pushed down on her head and pushed himself up inside. Her legs kicked and her boots scuffed the porcelain on the walls.
Images flashed in front of his eyes, sporadic and epileptic: He saw Hannah's face, and Jessica's, and the face of Michelle, the girl he'd lost his virginity to fifteen years ago after they'd both been thrown out of a club just like this one for trying to use a fake ID. He saw Debbie, whom he thought he'd loved, who made him stop coming to the club and stop drinking and who had made him happy until the day he came home and found her in a bloody bathtub.
He saw Julia, the girl he dated five years ago and dumped as soon as she told him she was pregnant, only later learning that she'd died in the middle of a miscarriage. He saw her now, looking pale and frightened with her hair stringy, clutching something to her chest in a blanket, something that was bloody. Something that moved...
He saw more and more faces, more and more women, and he realized how many of them were dead. How can I know so many dead people, he thought, and still be alive?
His reverie was interrupted when Ruby' teeth grazed him. Not hard, just enough to get his attention back. The swarm of hallucinatory faces cleared, and the alcohol fog lifted a little, and he was back in the moment, back in the hot, sweaty, muscle-aching fuck, pushing up and into this girl's open mouth as she sucked him down.
Finally he was cumming and she moaned, her lips vibrating on his cock as he gushed into her. She swallowed, and slid him out, wiping her mouth on her net gloves after catching the last dribbles on her tongue. He fell back, panting. She stood and straightened herself out.
“There, that should tide you over,” she said. She went to unlock the door but Andrew grabbed her hand.
“Hang on,” he said. He stood, buckling his belt but leaving his fly open. “Who says I’m done?”
“I do,” Ruby said. “You won’t recover from that for a while anyway.”
“You don’t know me very well,” he said. He pushed her against the door and stuck his hand between her legs. She kicked at him, but there wasn’t enough room. He went in for a kiss and she tried to bite him. He pushed her away from the door and pinned her up against the wall.
“You want to let me go,” she said.
“I don’t think I do.”
“No, really, you want to let me go.”
He leaned in close. “Say pretty please.”
She bit him. This time she connected, her teeth sinking into his cheek. “You fucking bitch!” he said, and slapped her. She slid down the wall. He shook his hand. Something felt strange when he’d connected. What was that stuck to his hand? Some white substance he didn't recognize clung to his palm, so he peeled it off. What the hell...?
“You asshole,” Ruby said, standing. He gaped. There was a hole in her cheek where the scrap stuck his hand had peeled away.
“You messed up my makeup," she said. "Now I have to do it all over again.”
Then she stuck her finger in the gap in her face and pulled, tearing the skin away with her nails. It fell away in strips, like pale white rubber. Grey bone showed underneath, a decaying skull lurking just beneath the surface. Exposed teeth sat in a snapping jawbone in front of a writhing black tongue. Her eyes fell into empty sockets. As he watched she unwound the plasticky skin from her hands, revealing the bony, grasping claws underneath.
Andrew felt something warm. He realized he’d pissed himself.
“Come on,” said Ruby, jawbone moving up and down. “I thought you weren’t done?”
“Get the fuck away from me!” he screamed. His sweaty fingers fumbled with the door lock and pushed it open, and then he ran. He bowled right through the line that had formed outside. His boots slipped on something and he slid into the lounge, falling against the table. The crowd looked up, surprised.
“Help me!” he screamed. “Somebody please help me, there’s something in—”
He stopped. Everyone stared at him. He saw empty eye sockets, and exposed bone, and grasping, skeletal hands. He saw what they were all hunched over at the table, that red, bleeding mass...
“No,” he said. “No, no, no, no!”
They pushed toward him. He turned to run, but there were more of them. Artificial white faces barely covering worn bone stared at him. He fell down and tried to crawl, but hands grabbed him and pulled him up. They dragged him to the table. He saw Ruby, or what was left of her, leering at him from the doorway. He spotted a familiar face in the crowd.
“Troy! Help me, Troy! It’s me, Andrew! Please help me!”
Troy stared, expressionless. He turned and Andrew saw the other side of his face, still bloody and raw from the car accident. The band was still playing, and people on the floor were still dancing, and Andrew heard the soft rustle of terrible things in the shadows. They held him down on the table, pulling at his clothes. He was crying, and laughing, delirious, watching the lights strobe overhead.
“Having a good time?” said Ruby. She leaned over him.
“Get me out of here! Oh God, please, get me out of here!”
“But I thought this would be your kind of place?”
“I don’t belong here,” Andrew said through tears. “I don’t belong here.”
“Oh come on, Andrew,” Ruby said. “You were never happy anywhere else. It’s like you’re always telling people: