Mikael stumbles through the darkened streets of Astoria, rolling and more than a little dazed.
Ok, now I just follow 21st street.
E-Zoo had been amazing, and that DJ...Mikael couldn't get her out of his head. Rave girls trended pretty, but this woman was ravishing. An alabaster goddess...So now he was in Astoria, trying to find some place called the 'Blue Velvet' How tacky just to see her afterhours set.
The date is Saturday, September 3.
You've made your way over the Triborough and into Astoria. The crisp night air exhilarates you and fills you with energy as you weave back into pedestrian traffic. You look at your phone.
Blue Velvet. Nightclub. Four Stars.
You finally get there and there's a line out the door. There are ten to fifteen people in front of you, shifting their legs and getting antsy. One surprisingly thin man is acting as the bouncer.
I take my place at the back of the line. As I wait, I reach into my jacket pocket for my cigarette case and extract a joint, lighting it with an antique Zippo.
The first puff calms my nerves and makes the Molly surge. A bit more relaxed, I take a good look at this bouncer.
A slight man, seeming strong but strangely delicate, exits the establishment and approaches the bouncer. You keep your eyes diverted but the conversation easily wafts to your ears.
"Frankie, you doin' OK out here?"
"Yeah I'm doing alright. It's just the -- "
And the conversation is cut off quickly when a young woman in front of you starts cackling with laughter. The sound is extremely loud and off-putting and is almost enough to harsh your buzz. But not quite.
You continue to wait in line, watching the bouncer and his friend chatter behind the raucous laughter of the girl in front of you. A second man emerges from the bar and follows the path of familiarity set forth by his predecessor. There are now two men talking to the skinny excuse for a bouncer.
"Chiasa's getting ready now. Are all these people here to see her?"
"Yeah, she really blew the crowd away it seems."
I savor the joint while observing the crowd and the small gathering at the door. (Do I see what the woman is laughing at? Is anyone eyeing my joint with interest?)
You turn your attention to the woman and her friends in front of you when the same woman stumbles and bumps into you, her open water bottle falling from her hands and emptying over your shirt, pants, and shoes.
You can tell by the sweet smell emanating from the liquid that she'd spiked her drink. Rather heavily.
She looks up at you stupidly and says nothing, a pleading expression on her face being the only response she can muster.
I give her an understanding smile, brush off what I can, then pick up the bottle, making sure to 'accidentally' spill whatever remains before handing it back. Feeling friendly, and hoping to mitigate her embarrassment, I offer her (and with a gesture her friends) a puff.
"Have some of this, it might help clear your head."
"Uh..." She's clearly stupified by your show of generosity in the face of her misstep. "Thanks...!"
A voice calls over the small crowd. It's the blond man who'd been talking to the bouncer. "Everything all right back there?"
He walks through the crowd, it splits like a sea before the devout.
Suddenly he's standing before you, with the drink-spiller on one side and you on the other. He looks toward you, your front now stained with cranberry.
"Is this woman making trouble?"
"No no, it was an honest mistake. She lost her balance and spilled her drink. As you can see, the bottle is empty, so problem solved."
"Well, we've got to get you cleaned up. Follow me."
You follow the man and notice an audible scoff from the crowd.
Why him, and not me?
Quickly, you find yourself at the entrance to the backstage. The man pulls a keychain from his pocket and opens the door. "We've got quite the collection of costumes. You should be able to find something."
The rack of costumes before you seems to go on endlessly in either direction. As you leaf through the hangers, there really is anything you could imagine -- you turn over a Starfleet uniform circa DS9, a highly ornamented pirate costume, and then various period costumes. There are even modern street clothes for those performances that require it.
"Yeah, sorry the thing's in no kind of order." The man stares at the brick wall behind the rack of costumes. "Name's Cedric, by the way. I work for the custodian of the club. He wouldn't want you coming in here with someone's sorrows spilled on your shirt."
I met Cedric's gaze and extend my hand "Mikael. Thank you very much...you know I always wanted to try this one on." I pull a Superman costume off the rack.
"Where is the nearest restroom?"
"Nice. Dressing rooms are down that way," he points, "and to the left. You'll see the wall painting." He watches you for a moment to ensure you take the right path and then turns his eyes back to the corner where the high ceiling met the darkly painted brick walls.
Pushing open the bathroom door, I commandeer a stall and quickly change, stowing my clothing in my messenger bag. Exiting the bathroom, I return to the backstage area and look for an out of the way corner to place my bag, figuring I'll pick it up later. My wallet, cellphone, and a few extra 'cigarettes' fit in some concealed pockets along the belt of the costume.
Costumed and ready, I exit the stage into the club, heading for the bar.
The bar is crowded with people clamoring to have their drink order filled. Off to the side, the stage of the cabaret has been outfitted to contain a DJ booth, where getting ready is a face you recognize. It's the striking woman from E-Zoo: Chiasa Chinoko. Unfortunately there is little chance of you catching her eye-contact; her attention is buried in setting up her workstation.
As you wait, you turn your gaze toward the bar, where you mostly see backs of the patrons. One woman catches your eye, not because she's particularly attractive, rather she looks fairly ordinary, but because she just seems to belong, like a stone submerged in a creek. She watches the bartender prepare drink after drink, as do you.
It's almost your turn to order.
I wait patiently, taking in the sights. The costume is surprisingly comfortable, though a few seated guests grumble when I hit them in the face with my cape. I finally catch the bartender's eye.
"Whiskey sour, make it a double".
The barkeep fills a few other orders and then soon responds by pushing an over-full beverage across the counter toward your position.
You pick up the drink and it spills a little on the counter, causing a woman in a dark blue sequin dress seated at the bar to turn over her shoulder and give you a grave look-over.
"Excuse me, young man. Care to be a little more careful over a lady's place-setting?"
Her dress is beautiful, and the way the sequins catch the little light in the room makes her seem as if she's shimmering.
"My apologies Madam, though I can't help but notice that your beautiful dress is unmarred."
Having said my piece, I sip my drink and scan the crowd.
The crowd is starting to gather in front of Chiasa's booth, where she's been seen ducking in and out preparing her set.
This leaves the bar a little less populated than it had been. The crowd is beginning to clump at the foot of the stage and all the booths are already full.
I finish my drink and make my way into the crowd, aiming for a spot 10ft or so from the edge of the stage.
When you look back toward the bar, the people you took notice of are absent. The girl who spilled her drink on you is dancing to the filler ambiance in the back of the room (her friends look embarrassed for her). Adjacent to the DJ booth on the stage is a pair of darkly clad men, one of whom is the blond man who helped you get your costume from the house's collection.
I muscle through the crowd, hoping to get closer to the two men, trying to catch their eye. When one of them sees me, I give a silent 'thanks' and a thumbs up.
He nods, and you think you see him crack the smallest smile as he resumes his pose as guard and peacekeeper.
Chiasa appears from behind a curtain and the whole crowd breaks into a cheer.
I join the crowd in cheering for Chiasa and let myself relax, feeling the alcohol begin to interact with the Roll.
As the music starts and the lights drop, I begin to dance.
As you dance, a fog creeps in and falls over the edge of the stage, coating the floor in a thick grey cloud. You recognize the distinctive smell of dry ice sublimating, overwhelming the scent of sweat and booze coming off the crowd around you. The music swells as the air seems to vibrate with excitement.
The opaque cloud continues to flow from the stage. The light flickers and strobes through the puffy fog.
The cloudcover continues to rise, air thickening rapidly. You look up toward the stage but the blond man and his partner have disappeared.
I continue to dance, trying to lose myself in the music but something holds me back and my senses are on-edge.
You watch Chiasa holding a headset to her ear and bobbing up and down to the beat. You notice she's looking around anxiously.
Suddenly you hear the unmistakable sound of gunfire, deafening, so loud it's difficult to tell exactly where it's coming from. But the crowd breaks into a panic and a number of the women scream in fear. The crowd begins to messily file toward the door and people start clamoring messily, running into you and nearly knocking you down.
A number of the active tracks stop, and you look up to see Chiasa looking around the crowd and stage in angry disarray.
I attempt to peer through the smoke, hoping to discern the source of the gunshots.
You think the sound emanated from the front right-hand side of the dance floor. People continue to rush by you, knocking into your shoulders as they barrel toward the door in panic.
I set my feet firmly and wade through the crowd towards the right side of the dance floor, my eyes scanning the area where I heard the noise.
A voice calls out to you through the fog, "This isn't your fight, Kal-El. Run."
The blond guy? At his words the reality of what is happening begins to worm its way into my awareness. Gunshots. Screaming. What AM I doing here. I start to turn away, when suddenly a figure stumbles out of the fog in front of me. It's the girl from earlier, the clumsy drunk; she's bleeding from her stomach, both hands pressed against her body in futile stubbornness. Her eyes meet mine. One instant of desperate hope, a soul laid bare. Then...nothing. The body drops to the floor in growing pool of blood.
My sister dead, and I could do nothing. My parents dead, and I could do nothing. Now, this woman...I could do nothing. My fists tighten as tears begin to fall. Someone has to do something...I have to do something
I stand for a moment, overwhelmed and frozen, as my mind replays these deaths and the endless stories of suffering across the world. Shock and pain is swiftly replaced by anger, at both the tragedies and the apathy of those with the power to help. The anger becomes a consuming flame, a incandescent core of fury that pulses like a quasar. I offer myself to the roaring inferno.
There is pain. My skin burns and my heart is a furnace pumping molten metal through my veins. There is wonder. My mind expands beyond comprehension. I can perceive individual photons in a frozen world. I focus, and see through the fog as if it didn't exist.
As the echoes of gunfire fade, a woman's voice cuts through the fog. The screaming seems to fade into your unawareness as needless chaos; the mark of fear. Fear you've left behind.
"Elysium is a farce. There can be no such thing as peace between the hunter and the hunted. The keeper and the kept. Where are you, ancient one? Will you not come to protect your beloved sheep?"
The fog seems to clear, even if slightly. But you realize it's not so much that the fog is clearing, rather, your vision seems to pierce through the vapor; you're seeing auras, an illusion of light collecting around the edges of souls. But you sense something else, too. Raw emotion.
Toward the origin of the gunfire, you see a pale aura of anger, resentment, rage. But she is kept stable by something. A second aura.
You barely have time to make sense of it when your attention is drawn toward the stage, where you see the blond man. He calls out toward the woman who presumably fired the shots.
"You don't belong here, Lindsay. Leave before you really get hurt."
Lindsay. It was the woman in the dress made of stars.
"No. No leaving, not this time." (I begin to walk slowly towards the two auras).
"This Bedazzled cunt is getting exactly what's coming to her."
Voices come from the raised stage to your ten o'clock. It's Cedric and a voice you don't recognize.
"Where was the gun fired?"
It's a woman's voice, deep and soothing. A voice that's seen more than a few battles.
"Somewhere in the mosh pit." Cedric replies.
You hear the sound of footfall off the stage, clapping lightly to your level. Lindsay, obscured from your view, yells out again into the fog.
"Sending your Salubri to do what you can't?"
The fog divides and the newcomer stands before you. She has dark skin and piercing yellow eyes but something about her exudes a feeling of calm.
"Where's the victim?" she asks you.
You try to focus on her words but are increasingly aware of the scene unfolding behind the fog.
"Straud? You in there? Come out, come out, wherever you are!"
But you cannot think about that right now. You have to help this woman find the gunshot victim.
Remembering the woman's wound, I realize she couldn't have gotten far. I drag my eyes away from the shooter and try to leash my rage long enough to help find the victim, searching along the ground around and behind me.
The woman suddenly collapses to her knees in front of the gunshot victim. She holds out her hands toward the wounded. Light erupts in a bright red from her palms.
She attempts to soothe her patient with song, singing gentle words under her breath, just loud enough for you to hear from where you are standing. But your attention turns to the chaos around you.
A deep guttural voice continues to call out: "Straud? You can't hide forever..."
But it is not that unknown voice that you hear next. The woman you've made your enemy cries out quickly in pain, as if she's been struck by a sharp blow. It orients you amidst the fog and you run toward the sound.
Before you is the woman in the long dress, although it seems to have changed shape. It fades into shadows behind the opaque fog. Any stars that had dotted the dress seem to have disappeared.
The same shadows that obscure the woman's figure are, bafflingly, reaching out of the ground as flailing tendrils. The tendrils reach and grasp as one, snatching the calves of her victim: Cedric.
She cackles while motioning to control her shadowy tentacles.
"Who's your friend, Ced? He can't seem to leave us...ALONE!"
With a flick of her arm, a cluster of tentacles erupt from the ground and reach toward you.
The tentacles spring forward and Mikael is stunned for a split second, which is just the time Lindsay needed. The inky ropes of shadow wrap around Mikael's legs and arms, holding him fast, though he struggles mightly.
Are you there, Kal-El? It's Cedric. Are you hurt?
You look over at Cedric and suddenly he winces in pain; the tentacle has begun to constrict his body. Lindsay cackles.
"Your little friend is cute, Ced, but it's really you I'm interested in."
Her once beautiful face is twisted into a concentrated grimace, completed with a sadistic smile. She turns toward Cedric and begins to walk toward him, her dress flowing out behind her.
Suddenly, from behind the cloud of fog, comes a gigantic monster of a man. He towers nearly eight foot tall, and between ripped edges of clothing are unnaturally bulging muscles. He lumbers into the scene and stumbles toward Lindsay.
I'm fine, she's faster than I thought. I stretch against the tendrils of shadow Going to try to break free in a second.
As the musclebound hulk comes into view: Holy shit, check out Dr. Mundo...do you know this guy?
That's Whack Jack but I hate the name. Did some digging --, at this, Cedric's line of thought halts as he is visibly enfeebled with pain, but it relents and he resumes: Did some digging and I found out his name was Noah Cooper. I don't know what his people call him but it's probably not that.
But Dr. Mundo. I like that.
The giant appears to be clutching at his head, stumbling around while he does so. His footfalls are dangerously close to the comparatively delicate woman. She dances around, trying to avoid his chaotic motion.
"You oaf! Shake it off!" Lindsay chatters angrily.
As if at her command, he immediately falls asleep and his body, now a huge lifeless mass, thumps toward the ground toward Lindsay. She uses her speed to withdraw from his trajectory and he falls to the ground.
Mikael is suddenly still, eyes closed, no longer fighting the tendrils; his face a mask of serene focus.
Cedric pulls at the tendrils but the shadow grasps tight -- he has no choice but to employ a shapeshift. It's a gamble at best, one he hates taking -- and yet...
"Wake up, you idiot!" Lindsay kicks at Jack's shoulder, but does no appreciable damage. He's still asleep and Lindsay is distracted.
He changes and instantly changes back into a human, seeming to blink out of the bind with a magical quality.
Mikael opens his eyes and thrusts his hands out simultaneously. The tendrils stretch and then disintegrate into nothing. A thin layer of prismatic white light surrounds his form, and his eyes are pits of silver fire.
"Fuck!" Lindsay yells out, seeing that her captors have escaped her hold.
Jack groggily responds to the woman, trying to stumble to his feet. "So...tired..."
"It's just make-believe!" she responds angrily.
The huge man slowly begins to shrink, soon appearing about six feet tall and covered in tattered shreds of clothing.
The two seem strikingly normal again, diminutive, defeated.
A man's voice, artificially magnified, calls out over the now-fading fog.
"I'll take out the trash."
There is an explosion of sound and pressure; Mikael and the two interlopers and gone, presumably through the new hole in the southeast wall. Anyone with enhanced hearing is now aware of the distant cries of the two attackers as they soar into the air. After a moment, Mikael walks back into the club. Looking sheepish and stunned as he inspects the hole.
As the fog finally clears, you see a small crowd of people forming a loose circle. At the head of the gathering is a man standing on the side of the stage. He is thin and almost gaunt, but carries a personage beyond his apparent strength. His silver hair and alabaster skin lend an otherworldliness to his aura.
"That is one way to eject an interloper. What is your name?"
Noticing his pre-eminent position, I respond in my best 'talking to the professor about my grade' voice "Mikael. Sorry about the wall Sir, I will have a contractor come first thing tomorrow and start repairs."
Mikael looks around the room then shakes his head, and stares at the blonde man with short hair who fought Lindsay with him. "You...spoke into my mind. I didn't notice it at first, but it wasn't sound. Who are you? And who were those...people?"
"My name is Vladislaus Straud and you find yourself in my club of friends. We run a place of peace for all kinds. I hope you will come to see it as fortuitous that you found yourself here at this place, in this time. But I must be frank with you -- we are not like you. We each have our own special gifts, as you witnessed tonight, but we are vampires; predators, through and through. I hope this will not put us at odds."
"Nevertheless, if tonight truly is the first time you've experienced your apparent full potential, may I welcome you to the outer realms of reality. Your world will never be the same. You met my associate, Cedric, but there are many of us. Do not worry about the wall, I will send for someone first thing."
I am quiet for a moment, processing what Straud said, the tableau of vampires(?!) in front of me; part of me wants to be afraid, (Vampires!) but somehow I am calm, almost relaxed. I have no reason to trust, but they have shown me nothing but understanding and kindness this evening, and everything Straud said had the ring of truth.
"Vampires? Which kind...Bela Lugosi or Robert Pattinson?"
"We find Bela Lugosi dead and his closest successor allied against us. Our brand of Robert Pattinson you already met this evening." (at this, Cedric's smile turns into an expression of mock offense)
"You'll find that there are as many kinds of vampires and other fantastical creatures out there as you can possibly imagine. From places far beyond what you once thought formed the edges of possibility. I have heard tale of people like yourself but time will tell what you will be able to do."
I am stunned into silence again, the implications of his comment working their way through my consciousness. "People like me?"
"You are more than can be explained by the science of Men. You seem to effortlessly wield a power that comes from within your cells; or else you are a servant of a greater power. I hope it will set your mind at ease to know you are not alone in your gifts, there are others like you able to work great feats and alter the world around them. I suggest, Mikael, that you take some time to seek them out."
Straud's measured rhetoric helps me to stay calm despite my mind racing. "Of...of course, though up until today I had no idea that (he waves vaguely at the assemblage in front of him) this was real; I was looking forward to a very different surreal experience this evening."
I am looking around the room as I speak, when suddenly a familiar face in the back of the crowd grabs my attention. "Izanami?"
Chiasa looks startled for a second, then gives Mikael an embarrassed smile and nods.
"Didn't you find it odd I never played a daytime festival?"
"But be careful in assuming it's a restriction upon all of us. Even the most doctrine-bound creature of the night, at extraordinary times, finds will and way to stretch what he is ordinarily capable of. But I must leave you to rest; the night draws thin. Can I offer you a ride home?"
"Understood. Thank you for your candor, Mr. Straud, I think I am actually quite lucky whatever happened to me, happened here. As for the ride, I won't say no. Forest Hills is a decent walk."
"Cedric, if you'll do the honors?" There is a pause in the conversation and those gathered in the circle fade away into the framework of the bar. Cedric, too, has disappeared into the darkness. All of a sudden you turn your head and there is Straud, standing still as if he'd instantly stepped across the room. He approaches you and seems to impress a moment of privacy between the two of you. He whispers to you, "Mikael. I have a friend, a one Davian Hughes, with whom I think you should become acquainted. He is a man of many talents, as I am sure you will quickly become aware upon your meeting."
He's quickly escorted you to the door -- the actual door, not the one you created by ejecting Lindsay and Jack -- and after stepping into the cool night air, you are greeted by a hunter green Cadillac. The door opens, and you're not even sure how, and you take your seat in the back of the car. Cedric has put on a dark grey driving cap, camoflaging his platinum splash of hair.
Straud leans into the car door to give his farewell. "Goodnight, and many safe returns."
I close the door of the Caddy after bidding farewell to Cedric, the deep green paint now dappled in the rosy light of dawn. Still in costume, I happen to catch my neighbor leaving for work: she gives one look at me and smiles "Enjoy these days." I give an sheepish shrug and a smile before entering the house.