I remember being in a club, enveloped in a sweaty gloom with jet black shapes willowing around me. No moons above, only green circles flitting like swallows and the vague shapes of leopard eyes, thrusting hands. I felt greasy hair flick past my cheek and I realised I had danced my way into someone else’s space. She looked at me over her shoulder and then back to her friend – without malice but also without curiousity. I moved back to the centre of the floor. We were surrounded on three sides by mirrors, although none of our movements seemed to match. I could stop for a moment and stare at my own reflection still dancing away, people next to me dancing away as well who weren’t really there, people hovering near the bar when the bar was empty. Whenever I tried to get close, to touch the glass, someone would always be standing in my way with a hand out.
As I bowed my head to a crunchy gutteral beat, my ribs imploding, I noticed the small hole in the floor. It looked like a small glass of cola, perfectly circular, shimmering and moving, swirling like the last water down the plughole. The song finished above me and a flash of strobe blasted the floor like a machine gun. In the light, the hole grew until it was wider than my foot, and I began to back away, blinking furiously.
People were all around me like dark, thrashing tentacles. I had a memory of being a child, running away from a neighbour’s escaped dog through a patch of brambles that grabbed and tore at my clothes as though all of nature worked together. I thought I would be ripped to pieces by that damn dog. I tried to barge my way through the limbs that seemed to flail so dislocated. When I finally burst through, I leaned against one of the pillars that guarded the main floor. I looked back; the hole was now a whirlpool, huge, and people were starting to disappear.
It took them one at a time, and then two. Inside the hole, I thought I could catch flecks of light being thrown around at speed. Sometimes I would catch a foot, a hand, or most horribly, a head that may not have been attached to the rest of its owner. People were being ripped apart in this thing, and it was getting wider and wider still.
I shrank back against the mirrored wall and looked into it. Instead of a hole, I could see a massive black column, growing at the same rate. The glass felt like soft, hot plastic – I tried to push my hand through but it just stretched away past my wrist until the burning sensation became too intense and I had to withdraw. On the floor, the pillars began to buckle like liquified metal and dribbled away. Almost everyone was gone now except the few people who stood on this perimeter with me, leaning casually against the glass, unconcerned.
I pressed against the mirrors, feeling the heat on my shoulderblades. The whirlpool now spun silently and gracefully at my feet. I didn’t look to see who else was going now but I still caught glimpses of pale flesh spinning inside, a piece of a brightly coloured shirt or jacket. My heart pounding, I felt the first sickening feeling of falling as my feet began to sink, and then I tumbled forward inside.
I landed face down, horizontally floating in a void. I couldn’t move enough to see up or around but everything below was impenetrable black. I didn’t feel the force of being spun, but instead a total stillness that was even more unnerving. Looking down at my hands, I flexed my fingers once and straightened them again with a great effort, like trying to force my way through thick tar.
As I looked down at my arms, a hand shot out of the blackness and ripped a chunk of flesh away. Inside the wound I could see my bone, stained red and purple from the remains of ligaments. The pain bubbled out from the hole and across my upper body. More hands emerged, taking chunks here and there. I could feel my back being stripped, and the backs of my legs. I started to cry out, to really scream. Hands entered my mouth, ripping holes in my throat. Fingertips grasped at my eyes. I wondered how long I would have to endure this before there was nothing left of me. When the intense pain in my legs disappeared, and I could only feel excruciating torture in my upper half, I knew I’d been ripped into two pieces, hands now plunging themselves deep into the cavity of my insides. In those final moments, silently screaming without a voicebox my arms, now just two shredded patchworks of sinew and bone, were ripped out from in front of me.
I regained consciousness in black night and I started to fight and thrash. I could feel arms on me and I realised I could feel my own arms as well, and that my eyes were closed. I opened them into the bright glare of the club. With all the lights on and the music off, the room now looked embarrassed, introverted. A circle of people surrounded me. I lay on the floor, my back soaking wet with dropped beers. I relaxed into the luminous glare of medical staff rushing to attend to me. Someone gently cupped the back of my head and I relaxed into their rough grasp.
The icy air felt moist around us, like frost on a thick cobweb. Snow had fallen overnight, giving the usually gloomy dusk a new and ethereal light. We climbed over the fence – Denzil, of course, scrambling underneath, off the leash and eager to command the ground, snuffling here and there ploughing through the snow with his nose. Before us we could see a vast field of untouched white, bordered in the very distance by plain, unadorned trees. Your eyes shone in winter, as though your body channelled all of its energy into filling them with billowing colours. With every blink a sea blue could turn into a pale blue and a darker purple. Your eyelashes were flecked with drops of condensation.
I’d waited a long time to tell you the story of the club. Somehow I knew it would make you uncomfortable, and it did. So I pressed on past the events and told you about the dreams I’d had since then. Moments, like snapshots, where I would me momentarily transported back to that void, being stripped of everything, except the hands would come with faces of people I recognised. Ex partners, former friends and work colleagues, all trapped in a perpetual afterlife, frozen at the point of last contact, sometimes even wearing the same work uniforms from my previous jobs. You changed the subject quickly and you clutched yourself around your stomach. This kind of talk scared you, so I never brought it up again.
I thought about it even as you clamped onto me, giggling, as Denzil leapt in and out of the deeper drifts. I’d had one of the dreams again recently for the first time in over a year. It’d rattled me this time because the dream had seemed to last for longer than usual. When I awoke suddenly, I pretended to be ill and ran into the bathroom to theatrically throw up, trembling, perspiring and pale.
You always glowed even through the multiple layers of winter wear, a source of deep heat on the side of me that you now clung onto. I’d pulled my scarf up past my chin and my jawline to try and hide the marks on my neck from someone other than you. Crunching through the ankle deep snow, I looked down at my boots and then I turned to face you. You blinked and your eyes swirled as though mixed by a paintbrush, from blue to turquoise and pale green. I kissed your forehead as you pressed yourself into me and I held you tight, looking over your shoulder at the small, growing black hole in the middle of the white field.