Darkness descended on Avery like waves. She watched it dance and shift on the walls of her bedroom, growing darker and darker the longer she watched it. The shapes undulated and swam never keeping a form for longer than a second. Sometimes she could recognize the shape. A person. A bat. Other.
People recognize patterns. That is what the eyes do. That is what makes art something than just a series of lines and colors. A TV show more than a splatter of dots. We find patterns everywhere. A fluffy bunny floating down a lazy path in the sky. A face in wooden paneling. Nothing new. Nothing strange. Just something the brain does to make sense of the world and to comfort itself.
But what was ever comforting and sense-making about the shapes on the wall?
Avery rolled over and pressed against her boyfriend’s naked back. She hated the feel of it. She had heard before that we choose our mates by scent. His smell nauseated her. She wondered if she should wake him up before her mom got home. She wondered if she even cared anymore.
She closed her eyes, and the shapes kept dancing on the backs of her eyelids.
Her mother didn’t care about Mike staying over. Or didn’t notice. Or just never came home. It wouldn’t be the first time.
They walked hand in hand through Lower Alethia not making eye contact, because that seemed like the thing to do. The eyes are the window of the soul. Also the first thing to decay. It had occurred to Avery that Alethia would have been the town’s eyes.
They climbed a tree in front of the parking garage and skipped pebbles over the hoods of oncoming cars. No school today to fill the void. So today’s agenda was petty vandalism and pot.
Mike launched a stone. It crunched into the passenger side window of a passing Lincoln. A corner of the glass spider webbed into tiny squares. The car halt to a halt with a piercing screech.
“Crap!” Avery said. “It’s that douchebag with the goatee. The one from the realty office.” Mike slid out of the tree and hit the ground running. Or rather half-limped and half-ran. That knee ended his football career only a month after it started.
She bolted after him. Eventually, she caught up with him in the alley between the Falls Inn and an attorney’s office. The sign indicated that he specialized in class action suits. Methadone and black lung.
“Mike, you prick!” Avery shouted between gasps. She was doubled over, chest heaving. Mike was too enthralled with attempting to look down her shirt to listen. “Son of a –“ Pant. “Bitch.” Gasp. She glared at him.
He stared back into her brown eyes, and leaned in to kiss her. She shoved against his bulk. He was almost twice her size — she couldn’t move him if she had to, but sometimes he got the picture.
“Hell, no! You’re bleeding.”
He dabbed at the warmth against his lips. “Shit. My lip ring.”
Avery grumbled. She grabbed him by the wrist. “That might actually need a stitch or two.”
“I’ve got one better.” He produced a tiny baggie from his black jeans. He dropped a couple of the pills into his palm.
“Is it even noon?”
Mike looked at his wrist and shrugged. “Somewhere.”
“Do you think I’ll ever get out of Ichor Falls?”
“Maybe Athens this weekend,” he said. “They have a great hookah bar up there. Don’t card.”
Around here, going out on the town meant taking the hour-long drive to Huntington or Athens. Now that’s saying something. The only things to do in Ichor Falls are vandalize, get stoned, or fuck. Hence, Mike, King of the Romantics, whose idea of a great night is rolling over and watching Quantum Leap after sex.
Can’t afford college or nursing school. Could probably get a scholarship to the mortuary school outside of town – best case scenario. It’s typically where the kids who have good ACT scores and no money go. Barring an accident or Major Barrett shutting down the women’s clinic, that is. Otherwise, she could see herself in a trailer with Mike and his grandma on the southwest end.
“Aren’t you going to take those?” Mike said. She looked down and registered the shrooms lying in her palm. She searched her mind for a reason not. Something involving Scott Bakula so Mike would understand. Failing to find one she popped them in her mouth.
Avery couldn’t count the number of times that she’s walked through the Stillwood tripping balls. She could count the number of times she’s walked through stone sober: once. It was so unsettling she swore to never do it again. She couldn’t remember what upset her. Something to do with the angles of the trees. The drugs forced her brain to make sense of them. For once she was thankful for the fog so she didn’t have to see those goddamn trees.
A blue light danced in her peripheral vision. She jumped expecting to see an officer trailing behind them. Will-o-wisps pulsed in the fog. The pounding of her heart was replaced with the light thumping of a bass. She rammed her elbow into Mike’s gut.
“Is that… is that really there?”
“The blue lights? The music?” Mike said. “I see it. Doesn’t mean much.” She grabbed Mike by the wrist and they charged into the fog. He dug his feet into ground. “Whoa, whoa! The only thing over there are some bathrooms.”
“Well, maybe I need to go.”
“Probably better off behind a tree…” They tumbled over one another through the fog giggling all the way. The mists cleared and there sat a squat concrete building. Blue Christmas lights were strung over the doors to the restrooms. The bass thumped the structure’s heartbeat, and behind it, the sound of people talking, dancing. The occasional high whine of a violin gave it a peculiar old world feel.
A broad man watched the doors. He worked his fingers under his red cap and considered their approach.
“There’s a cover to get in.”
“He’ll handle it.” Avery gestured at Mike and charged into the ladies’ room before he could protest. She shut the door and pressed her back against it.
The room stretched forever. The stalls were replaced with a mahogany bar with no end in sight. Paper lanterns cast red, blue, and green lights over a rave. A jukebox belted out a hybrid of techno dance beats and Victorian formals.
Her lunch bubbled in her stomach and threatened to resurface. She couldn’t remember eating any. The saliva pooled in her mouth.
An Asian girl cupped the back of Avery’s pixie cut and titled Avery’s head back. She poured the contents of a red Dixie cup down Avery’s throat. It was frothy and sweet. Reminded Avery of honeysuckle. She studied how the highlights in the girl’s hair matched the cup. The room stopped spinning, but it didn’t come into focus. It blurred around the edges. The bile sloshed down to the pit of her stomach.
The girl took Avery by the hand and lead her to the bar. She had never seen the girl before — probably the same age as her too. Private school, most likely. It had been a fad in Elysia to adopt Chinese children.
She had not realized how crowded the bar was; up close it was teeming with unfamiliar faces. In the Falls it might have been an oddity to meet one new person, but a room of them…Avery looked back over her shoulder. She couldn’t spot Mike or the door.
A pale boy eyed her beside the jukebox. The purple half-moons under his eyes hid his irises. He reached from across the room and pulled her towards him. He might have been a little heroin chic, but she danced with him anyway.
It might have mattered if she noticed before, but it certainly didn’t matter now. The boy was white as the driven snow. His hair was translucent -– the light sparkled off each dread like icicles.
The techno beat had dropped from the music. A haunting fiddle melody howled from a live band. She wasn’t sure, but the song might have been Danse Macabre. Icy fingers danced under her shirt on the small of her back. She shoved against the boy’s bar chest, slick with perspiration and burning cold.
She combed the crowd again for familiar faces as oddly proportioned bodies contorted on the dance floor. In the very center was just a jumble of arms and legs. A gray-skinned man with a scar running from lips to cheek ate raw hamburger from a plastic bag. He flashed her a toothy grin that stretched beyond his face.
She ran frantically for the exit. The room was spinning again. She felt like a drowning swimmer, with the water far too black to tell in what direction she was headed — towards the surface or deeper into a watery grave.
She spotted a ray of light streaming through the water: her BFF, Sarah.
“Sarah!” She embraced the girl so hard she lifted Sarah from the crowd. Her skin was clammy. “Thank God, you’re here! I’m freaking the fuck out. I’m too fucked up to find the exit.”
Sarah stared back with hollow eyes. She worked her mouth to speak, but only sewage bubbled out. It streamed from her mouth and down the front of her over her swelling belly. It hung out from under her decaying shirt. Black veins contrasted the pale flesh. She’s more shitfaced than me!
Avery spun on her heels and spotted Mike. He was cutting a Dancing With the Stars-caliber rug with the Asian girl, whose face was now coming off in ragged sheets. It reminded Avery of the town hall’s facade. Pale blue flesh glistened through the patches. Mike’s knee wasn’t stopping him today.
Another Dixie cup found its way into Avery’s hands. She marched back across the dance floor and locked lips with the pale boy.
She came to propped up in a corner of the room; unable to make out any details of the partygoers. The music was now nothing more than a tribal beat.
Sarah was shaking her and screaming. Black bubbles were the only things to escape. They sputtered and popped one by one. Avery could have sworn she heard Sarah calling to her from across the room.
“You’ve got to leave! Don’t drink their drink or eat their food! It all has a price!”
“I can’t hear you!” Avery shouted. “Speak up!” Her chin rested on her chest and her eyes fluttered shut. She remembered something about a friend of hers being drowned by her boyfriend in God’s Wound. Her and her unborn child. Tragic.
A black creature lumbered through the party, a sledgehammer being dragged in its wake. Its inhalations shook the room. Its great gnarled head slowly panned the room, considering. A shriveled man at height with the creature’s knees pointed towards people in the crowd. The creature nodded at each gesture.
Avery cowered under a table. The black thing pointed the business end of its sledgehammer at the table. The shriveled man took off his monocle and wiped it on his shirt. An empty eye socket continued to examine her. He replaced the monocle and the painted-on eye blinked.
After an eternity, he shook his head, and they moved on. She fell over and melted into the coolness of the floor. Every thing slipped back into the haze of sleep.
Avery jerked awake and bolted up right, her brain adrift in a sea of hangover. She grunted and looked around — Mike was nowhere in sight. Most considerate thing he’s ever done.
She lay back down. The mists were too thick to see the sky, but it felt like morning. She watched shadows dance on the foundation of the burned-out house.