For one night only…

by Gaston Prereth

The festive season has left me with little time to write the next chapters for Footprints, so rather than rush them I’ve decided to take an interlude during the last two weeks of December and provide you with something a little different.  It is a tradition in my family that we read ghost and horror stories to each other over Christmas and so I thought it would be nice to extend this tradition to you as well.

This week I bring you ‘For one night only…’ a short story first posted on my own blog this year.  Next week I shall post my new Christmas ghost story – a tale influenced by one of the masters of ghouls Walter De La Mare.

In the new year I shall be returning to Footprints to conclude the Sci Fi adventure.

“Gentlemen to the left, ladies to the right, please.  Take off your jackets and remove all headgear.” Jacob called out over the hubbub of the nightclub’s lobby.  The building had used to be an old cinema and still had the ostentatious plaster work and fake Greco-Roman  pillars around its walls.  In the daylight it looked like an abandoned building from an apocalypse movie, not touched by human inhabitants for a hundred years, but at night it gave off an air of seedy promiscuity that got the prehistoric male brain buzzing with excitement.

Hundreds of blank young faces stared blankly back at Jacob with alcohol fuelled impertinence.  He guessed at least half of them were under eighteen, but that didn’t matter tonight.  “Thursday” the manager had told him, “You don’t ID, OK? You just let them in. We need the floor packed.”

“What if we get raided?” he’d asked meekly, knowing that if the police did turn up it would be him who would get hung out to dry by the club’s upper management.

“Don’t worry about the pigs, they won’t bother us on Thursday, that has been sorted. Just get the floor packed.”  With this his manager had picked up the phone on his desk and started to dial.  Jacob turned, taking this as a sign that their little meeting was over, but  just as he was opening the door, his manger called out to him with his hand over the receiver.

“Oh, and no headgear.  Force them to put it in the cloak room.”  This was a policy that the club had never enforced before but Jacob took it in his stride.  There were always new diktats being passed down to him by his manager and compared to letting under age people into the club, it was no big deal.  They had always tried to promote the club as a trendy night spot and, as such, had tried to keep dress codes to a minimum, but if the manager wanted to make an exception for the night, who was he to argue?

“Hats and coats off please gentleman”  Jacob said to a group of young fresh faced boys, no older than sixteen waiting for their pat-down.  Their nervous red speckled faces turned to him but their eyes stayed low like a religious man standing before a sacred alter.

“Yes sir,” said one of them in an ill-advised attempt to sound nonchalant and older. His voice crackled with adolescent timbre and the pitch wavered uncontrollably.  Jacob gave him a thin lipped smile and walked on down the line of people streaming in from the street.  The bouncers on the door were hardly paying any attention tonight, only bothering to look up when an attractive girl in a short skirt strutted up to the door.  Jacob stuck his head out of the door and glanced down the queue of young hopefuls before turning his attention to the suited gorillas on the door.

“Everything OK out here guys?” Jacob asked in what he hoped was a pally but still authoritative tone.  Doormen were a necessary evil in this business, but he still found it hard to converse with them.  They were dimwitted thugs who would have been better placed in a zoo than given any form of responsibility for their fellow man.

“It’s all fine Mr Williams.” growled one of them, his finger clicking a small counter as a couple of young girls hurried past them and into the club.

“How many we up to?” The larger of the two bouncers glanced at his clicker.

“Almost up to a thousand, we’ll let another two hundred in then start one in one out.”

“That’ll take us over capacity.” Said Jacob automatically but then glanced at the bouncer and his instincts gave him a little kick. “The manager give you the nod for tonight?”

“He said he wanted it more packed than we’ve ever had it before.”

“Fine lads, once you close the doors, let more women in than guys all right? No point being fussy till we’ve got our numbers but I don’t want another St Patrick’s day.  Sausage-fests ruin our reputation as the spot guys to come to pick up.”

“Sure boss, just the young and fun, you got it.”  Jacob went back inside and waded through the teenage throng, heading for the backstage area.  It was like trying to walk upstream in waist deep water.  People meandered in front of him without looking and crowds seemed to form in places where they were most likely to get in the way.

As he made his slow progress through the lobby, he pushed past one girl, probably thirteen or fourteen, dressed in a little skirt and tight low cut t-shirt.   The smell of alcohol on her breath almost cancelled out the sugary sweet perfume in which she seemed to have bathed and her face sparkled with glittered make-up.  Already there was a predatory group of men standing near her, their eyes devouring every inch of the considerable amount of pale white flesh on display.

As Jacob pushed past her, she dropped her bag.  She bent down, wobbling like the floor was a small rowing boat, to retrieve it and gave the waiting hyenas a glimpse of the meal with which she would let them feed, if only they were to strike at the perfect time.   One man found this too tempting to resist any longer and decided to make his move.  He and Jacob forced themselves past each other in opposite directions and Jacob had to fight the urge not to grab him.

A true man, Jacob thought, would have twisted the perverts arm as he’d pushed past, locking  it behind his back and leaving him to deal with the gorillas on the door.  What would be the point though? He couldn’t chuck out all of the men in the club.  That girl was going to be preyed on by someone tonight.  He couldn’t watch her all night to make sure she was OK.  He wasn’t a warden, just the floor manager.

Eventually, Jacob made it to the far wall and left through a door sternly marked “Staff Only”.  He strode quickly down the dark scrambled mess of corridors to the dressing rooms.  He needed to check the headline act was happy and ready, he was due on in an hour or so.

He could have thrown her out, of course, for her own protection, he thought as the passageway he was in slunk round the outside of the soon to be packed dance floor.  Yet they’d always be another stupid little girl in the club, he couldn’t throw them all out.  He wanted her here just as much as the perverts she was attracting.  Girls like her kept his club full and it’s reputation high.  He was using her as much as one of those pricks would be in a couple of hours.  Another necessary evil of the industry he thought, not for the first time feeling a small ulcer of self loathing pop in his stomach.

Jacob knocked on the dressing room door but no answer came from inside.  He knocked again a little harder and called out.  There was still no answer, so he twisted the door handle and stepped into the dressing room, letting the door swing shut behind him.

The room was pitch black and smelt of tobacco and marijuana.  A red cloth had been thrown over the dressing table lamp and this gave the only light to the room.   He could see the shadow of a man sat on the floor, his face was bathed in red mist but his eyes were like two black holes; two black shadows that drew Jacobs eyes into them and wouldn’t let go.

“You must be Jacob Williams, I was told to expect you.” came the man’s voice from the gloom.

“Yes Sir, I just wanted to check everything was to your satisfaction and that you will be ready to go on stage on schedule?”

“I never go on on schedule.” Said the man, his voice hollow and toneless.  As Jacobs eyes adjusted to the dim red light, he could see that the man was sat in the lotus position.  “it’s the rules of success, when no one knows who you are, you go on early.  You have try to convince your audience that they matter to you more than you matter to them and try to keep their attention for as long as possible.  Once you are fairly well known you go on stage at the right time.  You no longer need to stop people leaving, but you still need to convince them to stay. However, once you are a star, like I am, you let them wait.  You let their delicious anticipation swell and build and you tease them and toy with them.  The longer they wait, the more they want to see you on stage, the more they need you and desire you.”

“Sorry Mr Boreas, I didn’t mean to suggest you were not a star.  I just…”

“You were just doing your job Jacob Williams.  Your job is to make sure this night goes as smoothly as possible, I hold no grudge against you for that.  My job, however, is to entertain, and to entertain you must create anticipation.  Sit with me, sit.”  The man’s voice suddenly had a twang to it like a snapping guitar string, and the command seemed to force itself through Jacob’s brain and order his body directly.  He sat down cross legged on the floor opposite the strange man.

“You know, Jacob,” he continued, back in his soft humming voice, “I only do one show every ten years.  I never sell any tickets and I don’t charge the establishment.  I just ask for one thing, I just ask that the audience be full.”

“There won’t be a problem there Mr Boreas, we’ve relaxed our admissions policy slightly to ensure we are full, we’ll be over capacity actually, but I’m sure it’ll be fine for one night.”

“I’m sure it will.” replied the man quietly and Jacob was sure he saw the man lick his lips with a slim pointy tongue.  A shiver rattled down Jacob’s spine and he was just about to stand up to leave when the man spoke again. “You’ve relaxed your admissions policy?  Does that mean your door men have been ignoring the pesky need for identification?”

“Yes sir,” said Jacob, his legs refusing to push him back up to his feet despite his increasing discomfort.

“Mmm, delicious.” Said the man again and Jacob was sure this time that he licked his lips.  Jacob sat motionless on the floor. As he looked at the man, he was suddenly aware that the artist was naked.  He could see the undefined contours of his slim chest, the muscular bulk of his upper arms, and his bare hairless thighs.  He’s probably an accountant or something, he thought to himself to try to quieten his nerves.  He probably spends most of his life stuck behind his desk in a boring suit, married to a boring plump lady with four plump and greedy kids. Then, once every ten years he lets go of it all and pretends he is a famous artist.

“No, I’m not an accountant Jacob Williams.” He said suddenly, breaking Jacobs thoughts.

“How…” he started to ask but the man continued in his slow lethargic voice.

“People always think I’m some sad man who just wants to pretend he is important, but they think that because they don’t think clearly.  A man who wants to get away from his life, constantly tries to convince himself he is someone different.  They are never satisfied with one show, they always want more.  They try to do weddings or run-down old bars, they’ll DJ in a toilet of a dirty club if they have to, just to convince themselves they are not a boring suit.  I, on the other hand, only perform once a decade because that is all I need. Familiarity doesn’t just breed contempt.  It also breeds greed and gluttony.  One show a decade is like a carefully prepared feast compared to the unfulfilling fast food of a weekly indulgence.

“Oh people think they enjoy it. They think it satisfies them, but they then get a craving the next week.  They grow obese on cardboard art and senseless noise.  They think they crave it because they liked it, not because it left them unsatiated.  They lose the feeling of anticipation, which gets replaced with the craving pangs of withdrawal.  They don’t look forward, they look back.  Their arteries become clogged with useless junk and yet, they can’t stop themselves pouring more into the inflated gullet.”

A knock came from the door and suddenly Jacob became aware of the room around him again. He realised that all the time the man had been talking he had simply been staring at his naked silhouette.  It was like the words had drifted into his mind without first troubling his ears and they had sat their, in his head, making perfect sense.  Until the knock had come.  The spell seemed to be broken and the room was once again a slightly creepy but mostly sad little space for a slightly creepy but mostly sad man.  No doubt an accountant.

Jacob got up, his legs tensing as if they had not been used for years and he waddled ungainly to the door.  Behind him he heard the man let out an audible sigh and then stand up too.  Jacob opened the door to the face of one of his bar staff.

“We’ve got a problem sir, all the fridges have turned off.”  His face was flushed and he danced from foot to foot as if he was in desperate need of the toilet.

“Damn it, the stage guys will have tripped the circuit again.  I told them not to use the back row of sockets.  Right, I’ll get it sorted, go tell the rest of the bar staff to offer ice with any drink until the fridges come back on.”  The young man quickly scampered away without reply and Jacob turned to face the artist, who was standing and  staring at him. His body was clearly visible now from the corridors light and he showed no concern about standing in the nude in front of Jacob.  He had two large tattoos on his chest; a pair of stallions rearing up over his pectoral muscles, their fore-hooves almost touching over his windpipe.  He looked older than Jacob had expected, with long straggly grey hair falling down to his shoulders and a visible smear of grey stubble.

Jacob kept his eyes firmly locked on the man’s, somehow still remarkably in shadow.  “No later than half an hour OK?  Otherwise we’ll have to close your set early, we need to have the music off by one.”

“Half an our is fine.  I shall be ready.  I trust I shall not need to inspect the equipment.  I do not wish to be on the stage any earlier than I have to be.”

“No we will sound check it for you, it will be working perfectly when you are ready.”

“Very well, Thank you Jacob Williams and I am sorry.”  With that the man stepped forward and pushed the door in his face, leaving Jacob to puzzle over his final words.  He didn’t have time to dwell on them though but hastily headed further round the twisting corridor to the stage.  It took him less than five minutes to fix the issue and flick the circuit breakers back on.  He spent the rest of the time supervising the engineers as they set up the equipment, no longer trusting them to follow his simple instructions.

Time flew by quickly and before he knew it, it was almost time for Mr Boreas to make his carefully delayed entrance.  It had certainly worked, the crowd was restless and were stood staring at the empty stage, most of them seemingly too excited to even talk.  There was certainly a sense of anticipation in the air, an expectancy Jacob had never felt so intensely before.

Usually Jacob was too busy to listen to the acts, but he felt an urge to see what Mr Boreas had in store for the crowd.  Heading back through the rabbit warren of winding corridors backstage, he made his way up to one of the old boxes.  They weren’t open to the club punters for health and safety reasons, but they were still kept in good order for those odd occasions when they had a more sedate music act that required seating as well as standing room.

The box offered a great view of not only the stage but also the crowd.  He could see an ocean of young people, so many of them under age, all standing staring forward.  Some towards the back of the crowd were making last minute trips to the bar, but most seemed to be captivated by the empty stage.

Suddenly the lights faded to black and an audible hush crested over the sea of people. A red light flashed over the crowd, then a yellow one and then a green one.  They were like cracks of coloured lightening striking towards the stage, and then it started.  First it was just the deep growl of a base line but every few seconds, placed completely perfectly, the sound built.  Layers of different beats and rhythms grew on each other, like a forest of sound.  The crowd seemed to be caught in awe and Jacob could see them all still standing there just staring at the stage as the lightening continued to flash and flicker.

The stage was still in darkness.  The silhouette of Mr Boreas occasionally visible as the lights struck towards the stage but little more of him or what he was doing to create such an ecosystem of music could be seen.

Jacob could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.  His body was waiting for something, he could feel it. He was expecting something.  Then it came.  The music resolved itself in an instant, all the different strands and themes driving through it pulled together, a heavy beat thumped through the whole piece like cannon fire through a thin stone wall.  The lights started to flash with the beat and the crowd started to bounce.

It was like a switch had been hit and the crowd had been woken from their trance.  They were now dancing and bouncing in time to the heavy beat in a frenzy that Jacob had not witnessed before.  A light had lit up on the stage too, not directly on Mr Boreas but behind him.  The artist had his hand up in the air, poking into the spotlight. It bobbed and weaved with the beat, conducting the crowd.  His hand appeared to pull and push the audience like a puppeteer.

The music kept evolving and twisting and changing around its driving beat and seemed to continually build.  There was a purpose to every note, a reason for every beat.  Intertwining melodies strove forward like thousands of strings disappearing into the future towards an inevitable goal. Slowly Jacob became aware, as he watched the tumultuous crowd, of a faint mist growing over them.  Each individual seemed to be steaming as they jumped with their hands reaching to some invisible point above the stage.

The haze, flashing in the different colours of the lights, grew thicker by the second. Turning from a morning mist to an evenings fog.  Jacob, in his elevated position, started to feel nervous.  The anticipation that had been gnawing at him before the started of the show was now reducing itself into a wary sense of panic.

The tempo of the music increased and the crowd followed it, jumping faster and calling and shouting in delight.  Mr Boreas had both his hands held up into the spotlight, his fingers out stretched as if ready to catch a flying ball.  The beats of the music started to run together and the lights strobed frenetically.

Jacob watched, wide eyed as the crescendo hit its target.  A tsunami of sound crashing over the beach head.  An unstoppable power of music and energy swept from the stage across the crowd to the back of the hall.  In its wake it left a vacuum that sucked the thick mist above the crowd towards the stage.  In an audible rush of wind that sounded out over the sudden silence of the music, the mist swirled and pulled into the dark silhouette of Mr Boreas.  Thousands of particles of satisfied anticipation coiled into rushing streams of thick white mist, all heading towards the stage and disappearing into the darkness.

It lasted little longer than two silent beats and then the house lights flicked up. The stage was empty except for the decks and massive speakers.   The crowd were silent.  Staring once again at the empty stage. Exhausted.  Empty.

Eventually the crowd started to file out.  Still not one of them spoke and, as Jacob made his way back to the lobby, he saw all their faces were wan and expressionless.  By chance he caught sight of the young girl in the short skirt and low cut top as she stumbled out into the cool night air.  No men seemed to have the energy to follow her.  She’d escaped the predators of the dance floor.  As Jacob watched her leave, though, he didn’t feel relieved.  Something still ate at him in his gut.  The blank gaunt faces of the punters as they left seemed to suggest that they’d all fallen to a predator.  Something had fed on them, they’d all lost something in that hall tonight.

 

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