Women have no appreciation of good looks, at
least, good women have not.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
In all the time that has elapsed since that night I have thought about my life in such detail that my heart is near sickened, and in all that time I don’t think I’ve came any closer to understanding the eddies that deposited me in that place at that time. Was it some celestial manifestation or dumb luck, bad at that? Or was it that the man that life has made me was unable to comprehend the situations that I’ been dealt? Who knows?
I believe the only intelligent comment I could add would be that a person can understand an idea, can even believe in that idea, and still not care a damn about it.
I know that doesn’t sound logical, and it’s about as immoral as you could get, but it’s very often true.
Thankfully, when my case came to court, my lawyer came up with a much more practical line of defence, it was logical and believable; I just knew it wasn’t true.
I guess a man can’t have everything.
I remember it being a sunny day; much brighter and warmer than it had any right to be so early in the year. It was nearing the end of March, and I had spent most of the day roaming around the city centre like the aimless creature that I was. I must have looked like any of a thousand older children as I rummaged through C.D.s I couldn’t pay for and clothes I wouldn’t wear, and this is the most amazing fact to me now. I was just some nothing kids for all anyone knew, with my tattooed arms and my pierced ears I wasn’t so different from the others. We all wore our uniform of youth, all identical in our quest to be unique had shaved my head to the skin some time before and it had just began to grow back, along with my few days worth of stubble it gave me a daring, roguish look that I prised. I caught the looks of the women who passed me, seeing in some the mingled glint of fear and desire reflected in their eyes.
It embarrasses me to think of it, all my outward confidence and pre-eminence hiding the insecurities I always felt. All that smoke and not a lick of flame to back it up, but as it turned out, today my bluff was about to be called.
The small music store had only one entrance and no lights, lending the grubby little place the look of a deep, dark cave as I stepped inside, making my way along the scratch-built racks of second-hand C.D.s and cassettes. To my left a pit of light shone, a stairwell down into the shops basement, a sign above it swung slightly in the breeze from the open door, it read; ‘Alternative-Unsigned’. I looked around at the other people in the small record store, all of them buried in their respective shelves of music, and then turned toward the narrow stairs.
Below me the stairs wound down, the other end invisible around a curve of rough brick wall. I took a step, then another before I heard it, a low, moody melody accompanied by the most beautiful of voices.
The next step I took sealed my fate as the heel of my worn toe-capped boot slipped on the smooth worn concrete and I felt my body topple uncontrollably over. My head struck the wall with enough force to drive bright sparks through my skull, the world around me spun and the wall rushed over and smashed into my head again. I gave up all pretence at control and allowed myself to be taken, tumbling head over boots into the light below. My head struck the steps and walls again and again, each one stripping away more consciousness until, when I landed at the never-ending steps foot; I was caught in a whirlpool of shapes and colours.
The first thing I knew of her existence was a small, strong hand wrapped around my arm, her weight pressing briefly against my side as she struggled to pull me upright. I heard C.D’s crash across the floor and a man’s voice cry out in annoyance.
My head swam and slipped momentarily into darkness and, in a sudden moment of clarity I noticed the lovely music had stopped.
When I came to I was on a large, torn couch that sat at the basements far end, before me were the steps that led up into the darkness. Around me were shelves crammed full of every breed and category of music and format imaginable. Above the lights burned a comforting soft orange and not a sound was audible from neither upstairs nor the world outside until I heard the clatter of plastic on plastic in the far corner, beside the stairs.
This was it, the point of no return, if I hadn’t of looked I would never have been hooked.
She turned and placed the C.D’s back on the shelf and around her time seemed to slow down as she looked over to me, her large brown eyes showing a frank curiosity that I found instantly arresting. Her dark brown hair was brutally short, showing the light brown of her scalp. Her full lips curled into a smile and she walked over towards me. The baggy jeans she wore nearly covering her huge boots and, as if in comparison, her home cropped t-shirt barely covered her small breasts, the legend ‘Look Homeward Angel’ hardly twisted out of shape over her modest chest.
My eyes drifted over her, taking in the black scorpion tattoo that was half hidden by her white tops sleeve, and the thick scar that travelled from beside her navel, down the flat chocolate of her tummy to disappear under the thick, bunched waistband of her jeans. Her cheekbones were high and her mouth large, her lips plump and pale brown, naked of any colour; in fact she wore no make up at all. Adding it would’ve been a pointless exercise that could even border on blasphemy, though I didn’t think that was her reason. Her hair, backcombed into an uneven spike wasn’t the only thing brutal about her; her beauty was too, uncompromising, vicious. It had been no more than five seconds since I had laid eyes on her, but by that time I was already knee-deep, I’d already lost any battle that my common sense may have put up against my desire. If I had retained enough intellect to think with anything resembling coherence, then I would have known that I had lost myself to this nameless girl.
“Are you feeling better?” She asked, and my mind swam back into my head. Her voice was quiet, little more than a sighing of words, but I heard every note of her speech to perfection, and beneath them I heard the tone of a woman who wasn’t used to talking to others. Suddenly I remembered the man’s voice I had heard after I fell and I looked around for him.
“That was the owner, Ted, he’s gone home,” She paused a moment then added, “we’re closed now.”
I glanced at my watch; I’d been out for nearly an hour. The woman turned and walked back to the C.D. rack, placing the remainder of the fallen C.D. cases back onto the shelf. Her eyes wandered over them, a dozen clear plastic cases littering the basement floor of the small back street store. She casually knelt and, moving with graceful ease she collected up the squares of transparent plastic, reaching under the rack for the ones that had tumbled beneath. A simple, unremarkable act that a thousand people do in a thousand cities every day was elevated to a performance that no one could match on any stage. With her chore finished she placed one hand on the displays edging, steadying herself as her gaze rose slowly to my face. The pressure of her eyes skating up my body, her lips parting slightly in a moist, laconic smile as her look met my own, her free hand rose in the air and hung, motionless, a foot from my stomach and I found to my surprise that I’d climbed to my feet and walked over to her without realizing it.
Bewildered I just stared at her slender fingers dumbly before a spark of awareness lit my mind and I took her hand in mine. She stood, hardly needing my help, just ladylike enough to request it, an act so out of place with her work boots and tattoo as it was with the world in which we live.
“Well, would you give a girl a hand?” She asked, standing no taller than my shoulder I found myself trying to guess her height.
“What do you need?” I replied, hardly hearing myself answer, a little stunned to find my voice steady, not betraying my in the slightest. I wanted to look around the room, to replace my mask of casual brusqueness with idle restfulness, but my eyes would not allow me to, they seemed fixed on this beautiful, otherworldly young woman.
“I need some things moved,” She began, “I need to get my things from him, I don’t really want to do it alone.”
“Boyfriend?” I felt a sudden mixture of fear and anticipation crawl around in my stomach at the idea1
“Not any more.” She said. “Could you help me? Please?”
Not trusting myself to speak I nodded and the young girl smiled a huge smile that, I’m sure, was designed to break hearts and led the way through a curtain that hung over a arch into an annex to the basement room. I looked around finally, finding myself in a cluttered, dirty office, boxes of L.P’s stacked in the one corner, the girl leading pat them to a tall cupboard set against the wall. She paused and looked at me a moment, her large brown eyes burrowing into my own, digging to my soul like some lovely drilling platform for the heart. Quickly, her decision made, she turned and tugged at the cupboards edge, as if trying to rip it free of the wall. Slowly, with much resistance it pulled aside, showing a stout door behind it, a door that possibly belonged originally in Noah’s Ark. The nameless girl produced equally ancient keys from one of the pockets in her huge trousers and twisted one in the lock.
With a shriek like a newborn the key turned and the door creaked open a crack. I sniffed the air that hissed from the room beyond, a smell of dust and rot that forced me back a frightened step. The girl turned and stared at me, her slim fingered hand moving and pushing the door open with ease that belied the scream of the hinges.
“Are you helping me?” She asked slowly after we had stood there for a time, my eyes buried in the blackness behind the door, an ebony nothingness that the lights from the shops basement seemed powerless to light.
I sighed, my heart pounding in my chest hard enough to burst as my eyes travelled from the darkness to the unnamed girl’s gorgeous face.
The obvious question is; why did I follow her?
She needed help, and her underlying mood would’ve told the most dim-witted of men that the help she needed was big help. This was a point in the encounter that was controlled by neither logic nor survival. To simply answer, I was willing to tread any amount of darkness for the taste of the divine.
Was she really such a woman? You have to be asking.
Read on my friend, I’ll make a believer of you yet.
She led the way, stepping through the ancient doorway, an entrance that could’ve led to Hades itself and still been no more ominous. As she walked she began to talk in her soft, singsong voice, and I suddenly realized that it was her voice that had attracted me into the basement in the first place, she was the owner of the sweet dark voice that had so enticed me.
“These lead so deep.” She said, her words echoing, returning to us a moment later. “I don’t think any of us know allthe tunnels down here.”
The walls were made of stone rather than brick and I could feel, rather than see, that we were steadily walking downhill from where we’d entered. Cobwebs fought with the roots for dominance over the filthy grey stone and every ten feet or so a cast iron external lighting fixture hung from a thick, but brittle looking, strand of electrical cable. The wire cage over the bulbs sending prison bar streaks over us as we walked.
“Where are we?” I asked her finally, ducking and brushing roots and webs from my head. My voice sounded small and vulnerable in the deep alien blackness. The woman before me paused and turned as we neared a corner. The lights shone in her eyes, turning them to burning spheres caught as if by a miracle in her head, suddenly I found myself fearless.
“These are the old cellars of the town, before it was known as Blackbridge, when it was still Rose Heath.” She paused a moment, turning and taking a step around the corner, I followed, finding her stepping down a flight of steps that led into what could only be described as a pit of darkness.
“Keep close.” She said, so I stepped closer, each step into the blackness sending me a little more blind, eventually I felt a slim, soft hand wrap around my own and my body crawled with pleasure.
“These are the cellars to the Inferno.” She stated. “They only use the top floor, the one under the dance floor.”
“We’re halfway down the street from the Inferno!” I exclaimed, and it was true, the Inferno Nightclub sat a good four buildings up the street.
“The building that was here before it was huge,” as she spoke I saw that the light level on the steps was improving, “it was owned by a family called the Grey’s for many years before it was sold on, the land broken up, sold to many buyers.”
Finally we came to the bottom of the steps and I glanced back up them, my hand still caught in the young woman’s. The steps slid up from view until darkness would allow me to see no further. I swallowed and turned my attention to where we were.
We were in a much larger tunnel, this one hewn, by hand, out of solid rock, an opening stood thirty feet or so in front of us, I blinked into the brightly lit cavern, sounds, muted a little by their distance, drifted over to me.
“Oh, my God!” I muttered and walked ahead of the lovely woman, pulling her along by her hand. Smiling, she followed.
We stepped out into the light.
My initial impression had been right; we had been walking into the Pit, a crevasse that was so deep I had no chance of seeing its bottom. Into the abysmal caverns walls, hollows had been dug, people walked along them casually, like they were on a stroll through any mundane city street. Walkways criss-crossed from wall to wall, like spaghetti suspended over a trench and above me the walls leaned in, meeting some fifty feet over my head, wedge like.
I boggled around me, here and there along the rock face walkways caverns had been carved deeper into the stone, people selling all manner of wares from fruit to bicycles. The whole place was lit by streetlights that were wedged into holes dug into the walls, thick cables wound around them, holding them into place.
“This is the belly of your city.” The young woman beside me said with a note of awe in her voice. “This is where we live.”
I tore my eyes from the spectacle around me, looking into her puppy-dog brown gaze.
Beauty was like pain I concluded, both could always grow, neither had an end.
“Who are you?” I asked her; afraid of the answer she may give. Instead she turned and led me down the walkway, a sheer drop to my right that appeared to go down forever. My eyes wandered around, my mouth ajar as, amid this bizarre sight, I saw lovers kissing and old women walking dogs, men riding push-bikes as others sold newspapers, normalcy caught within the preternatural.
She spoke as we walked, commenting on those we passed like they were old friends, some of them nodding hellos to her, a curious gaze saved for me. Slowly we wound our way from what I’ve come to think of as the city centre to a quieter spot. A corridor cut at right angles into the wall, its sides and floor straight, rows of crisply cut doors either side of us as we walked deeper.
Suddenly the woman’s feet slowed, and then stopped, her hand in mine tightening slightly as she peered up at me worriedly.
Any moment I would wake, I was sure; such things never happened in the real world, such beauty didn’t exist.
“Be careful, he can get nasty.” She said. “Don’t talk to him, just help me move my things, there shouldn’t be much.”
Reluctantly she turned and approached one of the doors, her free hand resting on the handle she waited a moment, taking one deep breath; she swung it inward and led me inside.
Inside it was a house like any other I’d been in, walls papered, pictures hung, floor carpeted, chairs sat. If I had been magically transported here, if I hadn’t have seen the route I had taken, I would’ve sworn nothing was out of the ordinary.
Except that was for the man sat on a leather upholstered chair in the far corner, the single powered light in the room burning over him, lighting half his face.
His clothes were dark, as was his hair; over his eyes he wore a small pair of circular, blue sunglasses that hid his eyes entirely. He was, without a doubt, the most striking man I’d ever seen, perhaps the only man who looked an equal to the woman beside me. I watched as his head moved up and down up, the glasses preventing me from seeing exactly where he was looking.
“I was wondering if you turn up.” He said in a slow, tired voice. “Didn’t think you’d have the guts to be honest.”
He shifted and stood up, sauntering over to a door opposite us; he kicked it open, revealing a collection of bags. He pointed at them theatrically.
The woman led me over, her hand still in mine; the man looked down, unmistakably at our entwined hands.
“You work fast sweetheart!” He scoffed, peering at me with a depreciating smile. “Pity you couldn’t find any better, or what is he, a snack?”
She ignored him; letting go of my hand she grasped two bags and passed them to me, picking up another large one in one hand and two smaller ones in her other. I turned to walk away but the man stood before me, blocking my path, one strong hand resting on my shoulder with enough power to show what he was capable of, given the opportunity.
“Leave him be, Cain.” The woman barked and with his free hand he slowly pulled his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose, staring over the top of them at me. His eyes were a pale blue so subtle that they may have been mistaken for white. For a moment I was caught like a rabbit in headlight beams waiting for the thick tyres of a car to squash it flat.
“Cain?” The woman repeated menacingly and his eyes moved from mine, their gaze sliding over her, up her slim body to her face. “You leave that man be!”
Cain smiled and raised his hand from my shoulder, showing her his palm in an exaggerated motion before he looked again at me while speaking to her.
“He’s a runt! I can’t believe you’re leaving me for such a despicable wretch.” Venom dripped from each word.
“Well, be used to it, he’s a better man than you,” she said and I felt a sudden burst of overpowering pride, while I simultaneously noticed that he didn’t look so formidable as I initially thought.
She turned to the door and walked over to it slowly, putting down the large bag briefly as she opened it and, grasping it once more, moving through. I followed uneasily, fighting the temptation to look over my shoulder at the angry, obviously dangerous man.
“Hey! Bitch!” Cain snarled and the woman paused.
He strode over to the door and I took a single involuntary step back as he stalked up nose to nose with my beautiful companion.
“What about the keys?!”
“They were never yours.” She answered him. “They were always mine.”
“I want them.” Was his simple reply, the menace evident?
“Wanting is not getting.”
“I want them.” He repeated, taking a step closer, driving her back until she looked directly up to keep his face in sight.
“Then you’ll have to take them.”
The woman stood her ground, not budging, staring up at the powerful man. Seconds ticked by that I could easily measure by the audible beating of my labouring heart. The man stared at her, face blank, unreadable in the harsh light from the streetlamps above.
“Go!” He said finally. “But you mark my words Anetta, the keys will be mine. I deserve them.”
“You deserve nothing from me!” She shouted back and moved away down the stone passageway, leaving me to run to catch up with the man’s shouting echoing behind me as if in pursuit.
“You watch your back little man!” He shrieked. “Do you hear me?! Watch your back.”
The shouting followed us as we ran around the corner and rushed along a walkway cut into the wall of the great fissure
We walked quite some way before we stopped, the great abyss in the earth narrowing and widening slightly as we trudged down its length. Sometimes the walkways had been cut out deeper into the walls, making level areas where wooden tables and benches had been set down, and it was at one of these that we sat, the bags piled up next to us and a plastic cup of coffee in our hands from, what passed as, a street vendor.
I sipped at the surprisingly good coffee, trying to get used to the fact that I couldn’t see the sky above me while I calmed down from the episode with Anetta’s boyfriend. She sat opposite me drinking a strange reddish concoction from the cup she held in both hands.
“I don’t know anyone anymore,” she said between sips of the odd looking liquid, “I’ve only just came back out and things have changed so much for me you know.”
I shook my head, bewildered.
“I know: I’m sorry.” She took another sip. “It’s all pretty hard to explain.” She took a deep breath. “People have been living down under the city since before the city was called Blackbridge and I’ve been away for a time.”
“Yes?” I prompted, calmed a little by the coffee and the surroundings.
“That’s it really.” She said. “Things down here are pretty much the same as they are up world.”
“So why are you all down here?” I asked, half watching the people as they milled around us, some of them looking at me curiously, others looking at me with something like anger in their eyes. Anetta looked around us quickly, following my gaze, someone on a nearby bench; an old man with a cap pushed back on his head, cursed and spat in our general direction. The young woman before me turned her attention back to me, ignoring the treatment.
“We prefer it down here.” She stated, looking into my eyes she added; “So have you a name?”
“Bastian” I said back a little reluctantly. “Sebastian Densmore.”
She looked at me a second or two, perhaps trying to decide if I were joking or not before she answered.
“That is a truly awful name,” She said, then suddenly her eyes grew wide and she hastily added, “I’m sorry, that was terribly rude of me!”
“It is a bad name, but I didn’t have no choice in it”
Sympathetically she nodded and I noticed that the amount of people around us who were taking interest in us was increasing.
“Do you have somewhere to go?” I asked, mostly in an attempt to draw my attention away from the spooky looks I seemed to be attracting.
She sat there a moment, staring at the bags piled next to her on the flat cut floor. She glanced around at the people who stared at us, the expression on her face unchanged, her eyes darted back to mine.
“What time is it?” She asked and I peered at my watch, answered that it was half past seven. “C’mon, lets go back up.”
We collected the bags and wound our way around the staring people toward the spaghetti of walkways that was suspended over the pit in the earth. Anetta walked over and I followed, trying my best not to look over the sheer side down into the blackness below. The walkways seemed to be carved out of rock as well, cut into chunks that, when placed together, locked into place over the abyss without the aid of cement or any other form of support.
“We’re going the wrong way.” I said, trying to look anywhere instead of the hole under me.
“Where you from?” She asked over her shoulder.
“Appleton Street, in Wheldon…” I answered as we got to the far side of the bridge like walkway and Anetta paused, looking back at me with a look of curious disbelief in her eyes.” What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing…” She said after another pause, then turned and walked down one of the wall walkways. “This way…”
I walked along behind her, a bag in each hand, struggling to hold on to them as I noticed, to my masculinities detriment, that she was exhibiting no difficulty at all.
The crevasse split, a wide crack easily fifty foot in width veering off from the wider, deeper trench. I looked up to the jagged roof of the cavern, then down into the darkness below, just seeing the bottom of the smaller crack in the wall as we walked over another bridge cut out of similar stone to the last.
“What’s above us?” I asked, peering overhead again as we walked to the far side, onto the cut pathway again.
“I think,” she paused, biting her lower lip as she thought. “I think we’re under Wheldon road now.”
We walked a little further in silence; Anetta leading me down a side tunnel to a flight of stone cut stairs. She stopped, biting her lower lip again before speaking.
“Is there anywhere I could leave these?” She indicated the three bags she carried, lifting them slightly like they didn’t weigh a thing.
I smiled, I couldn’t help it, she had shown me something that was obviously secret, trusting me with both this knowledge and her own safety and now, when she knew I wouldn’t see her in difficulty, she chose to become coy.
“I live alone,” I replied slowly, trying to sound offhand. “You could leave them at my flat.”
With no more to be said she turned and took the stairs two at a time, bounding up them like trampolines.
The top of the stairs was covered in a thick layer of moss, like a carpet that covered floor ceiling and walls, it clung to every surface, a thick fold of it half covering the stoutly built door like a curtain.
I watched Anetta pluck the ring of rusted keys from her pocket and shuffle through them for the right one.
“What keys was he talking about?” I asked suddenly. “Cain wanted some keys?!”
She found the correct one and slid it into the lock, twisting it with little difficulty. Returning them to her pocket she pushed open the ancient door.
“These are the ones he wanted.” She simply said and walked through. I followed, finding myself out in the open again, the moonlit sky above me clear of cloud, every star bright and clear. I listened as Anetta pulled the door closed, the lock falling, securing it, but my eyes didn’t wander from the blanket of stars that hung above me.
“It seems clearer when you’ve been down there for a time doesn’t it?!” Anetta stated and I looked down to her as she collected up her bags and waited.
I looked around me, finding a gate not too distant I set out for it, checking to see that my companion was in tow. We were in the deepest recesses of old man Morrison’s scrap yard. Junked cars piled high either side of us as we walked between them like
a bride and groom at some bizarre ceremony. The ground under our feet was thick with nettles and thorn bushes, the near strangled grass almost waist high in some places. It was obviously not a well-used spot for the old man.
We came to the perimeter fence, nine feet high, topped with rusty barbed wire, unclimable, but thankfully some kind soul had previously tore a hole in the fences base. Anetta slithered through first and, after pushing through the bags, I followed.
“So what so special about them?” I asked as we began to walk down South Street towards the river.
“I assume you mean the keys?”
“Yes.” I replied. “If the wants a set why don’t you just get him one cut, get him off your back?!”
The lovely woman shook her head.
“Doesn’t work like that Bastian.” I winced at the use of my name. These aren’t keys you can simply copy.”
“Why’s that?” I said, shifting the bags, trying to grasp them more firmly. Before me Anetta shook her head and continued to walk on ahead of me.
“You wouldn’t understand.” She said, and her condescension cut me like a blade. “It’s not the fact that they can physically open the locks that important Bastian, i its more a symbolic thing.”
“Can you stopcalling me that?!” I blurted rudely, and Anetta suddenly stopped, face turned to me, eyes wide. I looked into her hurt, bewildered eyes and felt a quick stab of pain in my chest.
“So,” she began, “what would you like me to call you?”
I thought for a while, the street around me silent but for the occasional passing motorist, the whole world ebbing down into slow motion, trying to give me time.
“I don’t know.” I finally answered, beaten. “It’s just such a stupid name, it seems.”
My words trailed away, my mind unable to explain.
How could I tell her I felt inferior to her? That I felt like a child playing grown up? How could I describe how Cain had made me feel so ugly and substandard? After all, if he could not please her, what chance would I have?!
“I’m sorry Anetta,” I said humbly, walking past her down the street, “my block is the next on the right.”
I opened the door to the flats and tried my best to climb the stairs with the two bags without showing too much strain, cursing the fact that my flat was on the top floor, four flights up. I opened the door to my small apartment and ushered her inside, swinging the door closed behind us.
As always the flat was in messy disarray, but thankfully it couldn’t be accurately described as dirty, things were merely out of place. Anetta dropped her bags in the corner behind the two-seater sofa and sat down as I busied myself clearing up what I could of the mess.
“It’s okay,” she said, “hey Sebas…” She paused a moment, “Don’t worry, it’s okay.”
I stopped and turned to face her, sitting on the arm of my torn armchair that sat in front of the room’s only window.
“Do you want to stay here?” I asked quickly, not giving myself time to think. Anetta looked around the small living room, then up at me.
“Do you have a spare room?” She said, and I felt my mouth go suddenly dry.
“Yeah,” I said back, “I do.”
The door to the spare room opened with some difficulty, it wasn’t that the lock had froze or that the handle wouldn’t work, it was because the room was so filled with junk of all types. I pushed some of it aside and Anetta stumbled in, stepping over boxes of audiocassettes and broken video recorder parts.
Anetta peered around the tiny room, then over to me with a huge grin pulling at her full lips. She made her way deeper in, pulling out items here and there, looking through boxes filled with books and posters. Stopping at one over brimming with clothes and pulling out a few items, holding them up against her slim body, looking down at herself, finally, her inspection complete, she turned to me.
“I’ll take it.” She simply said, and I beamed back at her.
“I’ve got a shed downstairs; we can get rid of most of it, the rest we can throw out.” I said as I watched her root through the posters, pulling some out and looking at them.
“You’re throwing it all out?'” I nodded in reply and she continued. “Can I take a look through it first?”
“Sure.” I answered, no other answer was possible.
We had reached my flat at quarter past eight and had started tidying the spare room a half hour later. It was the next day before wet finished, trudging down the stairs with our arms filled with boxes at two o’clock in the morning, hoping that we didn’t wake the other residents, but by three it was over and the room was liveable again.
There was already a bed in the room, buried under all the rubbish for so long it probably forgot what its original use was, but usable it still was. Anetta sat on the bed as I manhandled the wardrobe into the room from out of my own, the junk that previously filled it down in the shed with its kindred. I got the large, cumbersome thing through the door and paused, resting.
“Do you think..?” She started, and I looked over.
“What?” I asked, watching her teeth chew on her bottom lip once again.
“I don’t like the sunlight.” She spat out finally.
“Everyone needs sunlight Anetta,” I said smiling, “it makes you ill if you don’t get enough sunlight.”
“But I don’t like it.” She insisted. “Could you put the wardrobe in front of the window?”
I looked over to the rooms tiny window, the broad back of the wardrobe could easily cover it leaving a little gap between it and the wall where the skirting board held it out a little from the wall. I looked back at Anetta, her eyes peering up at me innocently.
How could I say no? Even if it was an eccentric request?
In no time her bags were unpacked and put away, her clothes filling the wardrobe to bursting and her huge collection of books piled up on the floor. Anetta surveyed the room critically, looking over the H.R. Giger posters she saved from my collection that she had pinned up on the walls. She turned to me.
“I’m tired.” She said quietly. “Shall we call it a night? If you get up before me tomorrow I need a little refrigerator, nothing fancy, second hand’ll do. Do you think you could find me one?”
I nodded slowly in response. “I think so.” I said. “You need anything else?'”
She shook her head, her eyes not leaving my own; suddenly she took a single step toward me and wrapped her arms around my body, planting a hot, soft kiss on my lips. Instantly I felt my body react
She took a step back and we stood there, her hands on my shoulders mine resting on her hips. I stared into her eyes and realised that I’d never wanted anyone as badly as this mysterious woman, my desire for her was so complete it was obscene and I felt myself pull away from her before I realised I intended to, shame-fully I moved toward the door.
“Goodnight.” I said, my voice catching in the back of my throat and Anetta frowned, confused. The tip of her tongue appeared and swept across her lovely lips and that was all I could stand, I opened the door and stepped through.
“’Night…” I heard her say as I closed to door on her.
I stood there and listened to her as she moved around her room, my eyes closing as my heart fluttered maniacally in my chest like something insane that had finally discovered its master’s weakness. I longed to open the door again and walk back in to gather her up in my arms and
But I wouldn’t allow myself to.
As I made my way to my own room beside hers, I thought the most shameful thoughts no matter how hard I tried to force them from my mind. Finally, after many hours staring at my ceiling listening to her shift and move in her bed so close to my own, I managed to sleep.
Sometime dreams can skate on the ice of sanity; cutting deep into that fragile layer until the dream itself becomes a danger to the dreamer.
I dreamt such dreams that night.
Mercy struck, and I awoke.
The clock on the bedside table read four in the evening, an hour before all the shops I could try for a ‘fridge would be closed for the day. My head filled with dark dream images that I could, thankfully, barely remember, I quickly dressed and made my way into town without disturbing Anetta, jogging most of the way down the long Walton Road into town. I found something that she could use in a second hand shop in a run down street filled with places that dealt with self help books and hippy wear. The tiny refrigerator was no bigger than a portable T.V. and weighed considerably less, causing me to shed little sweat on the route back home.
When I arrived back it was nearing six o’clock, only two hours or so of daylight left. I put the fridge aside and cooked myself something to eat, wondering whether I should make Anetta anything as I munched my overcooked egg-rice stir-fry. Thinking that she perhaps liked her food cooked properly, I decided that it might be a good idea not to do her anything.
With agonising slowness an hour ticked by, the drone of the T.V. easing my boredom not a dot, books and music not helping either. The clock ticked past seven as I took out a pad of paper and began writing letters to friends that I’d never post to pass the time. By the time I heard movement in her room I’d written to every friend I’d ever had and had started writing one to a children’s television presenter.
“’Evening…” She said as she entered the living room, her face slightly reddened from her vigorous scrubbing in the bathroom. I watched her as she walked over and gracefully slipped onto the sofa, crossing her slim legs.
Her long black skirt hugged her thigh, but the split down beneath her knee allowed it to slide open, exposing her smooth calf. Her blouse was black too, silken and shiny, enough buttons undone down the front to make a man want just one more unhooked.
She wiggled her foot, looking at me attentively as I tried to wrench my eyes from her body and place them on her face.
Eventually I did and found that her face was just as arresting. I knew make up had been used but it was done with such skill and subtlety that I had no idea how of where, and contrary to the thoughts I’d had when I’d first met her, it wasn’t blasphemous, it was magical.
The word beauty could no longer adequately describe her, and the words lovely and gorgeous fell way too short, what I found sat on my sofa as the suns final red rays disappeared over the horizon, was nothing less than perfection.
“Put something nice on,” she said to me, snapping me out of the strange reverie into which I’d slipped, “we’re going out.”
“We are? Where?”
“I was thinking the Inferno.” She said as she slipped off her shoe and rubbed her toes, putting it back on after.
“Okay.” I said and rose to find something to wear. “Could you keep these for me?” She asked, and in her outstretched hand Isaw therusty ring of old keys. I wrapped my hand around them, slipping them into my pocket with a nod and left the room to dress.
I resolved to try for a similar look to Anetta, picking black trousers, shirt and waistcoat with a silver pocket watch whose chain hung in a loop from the pocket’s studied myself in the mirror as I hoard Anetta getting herself ready outside the door. As hard as I tried I could not see myself as a handsome man anymore. I thought back to the previous day, when I was walking down the street thinking of myself as something special, and I could barely believe that I could be so misguided about my appearance. Today, the mirror could not lie to me.
Today I knew that, beside the woman outside, I was nothing even remotely special. Even in my finest clothes I looked common and uncouth, lacking anything that resembled social grace. I felt beneath her, I felt unworthy to tread the same streets as her.
J closed my eyes and leaned on the edge of the bathroom sink. I tried to concentrate on nothingness, trying to fill my mind with an ebony blankness with little success. All I could see was Anetta’s perfect face smiling back at me from behind my eyelids.
When we got to the nightclub it was packed, all two stories and three bars bursting at the seems with people of all types, men watched as Anetta passed, their eyes moving to me with tangible envy. She led the way once more, pushing up to one of the bars and raising her hand to the bartender. He smiled back at her, waving one hand curtly in reply.
“Anetta!” He exclaimed loudly as he walked over, ignoring the waving arms of people trying to attract his attention. “I thought it was your day off?!”
“This is a social call Jack,” she answered, pointing her thumb in my direction, “can you get my friend whatever he wants and me a pint of my usual?”
I watched as the large man peered around behind the bar, his frown traitorously informing on his ineptitude, beside me my companion laughed and pointed to a bottle beneath the bar and Jack grasped for it pouring her a drink and placing it on the bar before her. It was the same dark, thickly sweet smelling drink that she’d drank in the underground.
The huge man turned to me and I peered up at him fearfully.
“Lager.” I simply stated. “Any kind, thank you.” The man turned from me and selected a glass. “You work here?” I asked Anetta beside me, the bodies around us pushing her uncomfortably close. She drank half her drink in one go and wiped her lower lip with her thumb. Jack passed me my drink and I offered him a five-pound note but he shook his head and moved on down the line.
“I’ve been working here for a few weeks.” She said back finishing her drink. “I needed the money if I was to move away from Cain.” She looked at me quickly. “Are the keys safe?”
I nodded tapping my hip pocket.
“What’s the story with them anyhow?” I asked and she led me away from the bar toward a near empty booth in the corner, a couple sat entwined in each other’s arm, other things on their mind. We sat with our backs to them and Anetta began to talk.
“The underground was discovered a few hundred years ago by a woman called Mama Lucrese, a slave owned by a local family, the Appleton’s, you know of them I take it?” I nodded in reply. “Well she found the fissure beneath the city and began to build a retreat for runaways, but she died before she completed it. A younger woman was left all Mama Lucreso’s things after her death, and continued her work, securing the doors and, with others, cutting out the subterranean world.”
“So what’s with the keys?'” I persisted, fascinated.
“There are twelve doors to the up world, hence twelve keys, and the people who control the keys control who and what passes in and out of the underground.”
“But that don’t explain why you can’t cut more of….”
“It’s not as simple as that.” She cut me off. “I really can’t explain any more than that. All you’ve got to understand is that the keys are power, those who have them control every-thing.”
“Well, shouldn’t you have them then?!” The small pieces of rusted metal felt a little too heavy in my pocket. “If they’re so important shouldn’t…
“No.” She cut me off again. “They’re safer withyou.”
She stood and glanced at my pint, it was still over half full before she gracefully moved through the crowd to the bar, her feet seeming to skim over the polished wood floor rather than step on it.
I looked around me, trying to decide whether her story or her person amazed me the most when I saw him.
In the far corner, opposite the door to the main dance floor was Cain, half hidden in a small group of women. He chatted to one of them a moment then looked over to me, sparing me the briefest of waves. My guts squirmed in my belly and my half raised glass clattered as its base slammed down onto the chipped, worn table.
“Anetta ?!” I muttered, my fear reducing it to a whisper.
I saw Anetta twist around to face me at the bar, her face soft with concern. Before I could wonder how she’d heard she had already travelled the fifteen-foot distance between the bar and our table, sitting down before me, blocking my view of the slimy good looks of Cain.
“I know,” she whispered, her voice carrying easily to me over the noises around us, “I saw him when we arrived.”
“What’s he doing here?!” My voice sounded shrill as a child’s to my own ears, I prayed they sounded better to Anetta.
“Why?” She said, honestly baffled by my statement.
“Do you own a mirror Anetta?!” I said with good-natured sarcasm. “When was the last time you looked into it?”
“I don’t like mirrors Bastian.” She answered and, again, I grimaced at the use of my name, she noticed and added; “We’re going to have to think up a better one aren’t we?!”
“Yeah.” I agreed, then continued; “I guess I’m not quite the man you thought I was oh?”
Again Anetta shrugged, her chin still on her closed fist, her free hand slid across the table and wrapped around mine.
“Honesty is a rare thing from a man.” She paused. “Are there any other things you’d like to say?”‘
I shook my head, not saying that I didn’t, but not knowing.
“I don’t know, I’m a pacifist.” I paused. “And I guess I’m what you’d describe as a loner, but I have no skeletons buried deep in my closet.”
“I know,” she quipped back, “I helped tidy it.”
I relaxed, glancing over her shoulder once more at the seated form of Cain in the corner. Some of the women had left his table leaving him and the girl he was with and one other woman. The three spoke and laughed amongst themselves.
I pulled my attention back to Anetta
“Are you going to stay.” I asked, and then decided to elaborate. “Stay at my place I mean.”
“If I can.” Was her reply.
I nodded and smiled to myself.
The night wound on as we sat and talked, covering every subject imaginable as profoundly as we were able, but despite the sheer amount that we spoke, I couldn’t recount any of it now. All I can remember from that point on was that my furtive looks over her shoulder ceased as her fascinating discussion drew me in.
Sometime during the night the bar emptied as everyone migrated to the dance floor, leaving Anetta and I alone with perhaps six or seven other couples, not including Cain and his entourage.
The big man behind the bar wandered over at one point and said hello, enquiring about me to Anetta, who introduced me as her new roommate, re-naming me Ash in the process. The man, Jack, said hello and shook my hand with such force I thought it would rip free from my body.
Fresh drinks were brought to the table and the bar was closed, Jack leaving the room to attend his usual job on the door.
Again we were left alone.
Finally the night could be felt winding to an end, my head pleasantly buzzing around the feeling, my eyes and heart pleasantly buzzing around Anetta. She rose and excused herself, and I watched as she walked steadily across the room toward the ladies room to the one side of the bar.
I waited, peering around the barroom at the remaining couples that sat and talked or kissed in their booths around the edges of the room. Anetta’s drink sat half empty on the table before me, my own glass next to it drained dry. I reached over and raised her glass to my lips, tipping it back. The taste was sweet and metallic, I peered at it and sot it back down whore it was. I had never tasted such a drink before but still it seemed familiar to me.
I waited a while longer, glancing at my watch.
She had been gone ten minutes, and Cain couldn’t be seen.
I stood slowly, walking a few steps towards the ladies room door, a few faces around me looking up and following my progress across the scuffed wooden floor. Light streamed out from between the door and jams; clear in the dimly lit room.
Motionless, I stood, the room vibrating with the muted music from the dance floor in the larger room behind me. My eyes moved to the seat in the corner, Cain gone sometime during our conversation.
My paralysis broke and I burst across the room to the ladies room door, kicking it open and rushing in, half hearing call of astonishment from behind me. The bright light of the room hurt my eyes as I began pushing open the stalls doors, calling Anetta’s name frantically, moving from tiny cubicle to cubicle, finding all empty. I turned and ran from the room, slamming into a gaggle of onlookers, one of the men grabbing my arm, shouting indecipherable words of disgust in my face. I forced my way past him, making for the dancehalls door, the latch on it breaking rather than unlatching I hit it with such force.
The door slammed open and I groaned as the light and sound of the dancehall hit me. The music drowning out all other sounds but for the awful drumbeat of my heart, even the sheer volume of dancing bodies could do nothing to make a dent through the curtain of frantic noise. I pushed my way toward the front, to the doors where I knew Jack would be, hoping the man could help me. I bumped and ricocheting between the couples that moved over the floors worn wood. My head swam with disorientated fear, my temples throbbing in time with the nightclubs strobes. Finally, though halfway across the room from him, I saw the huge man, he turned to me, almost like ho knew I was there, and a smile began to emerge on his lips, dying almost instantly when he saw me stumble towards him.
He ran over to me, the crowd seeming to part like the red sea for Moses and he clamped his hands around my shoulders, loaning in to hoar what I had to report.
My mouth made the shape of the name ‘Cain’ in the deafening din from the gigantic club speakers and Jacks eyes grew wide, he caught me by the shoulder and led me through the swarm of people. A door marked private looming closer.
We stepped through it and Jack closed the heavy door in our wake, effectively cutting off the din from the other room. I found myself in a narrow corridor, Jack leading the way down it, his broad shoulders nearly scraping the walls as he made his way to a particular door and let himself in.
With the activation of several switches the monitors bracketed to the bare bricks blinked to life and I saw black and white images of the nightclub, Jack slid his fingers over the controls and the images moved, flicking from camera to camera. On none of them was Anetta or Cain to be seen.
I cursed and Jack glared at me.
“Mind the language.” He said, his voice soft, and I opened my mouth to curse again in defiance when I heard a familiar voice cry out. Jack and I turned as one, racing through the door and rushing further down the corridor.
“Where are they?!” Cain shrieked in rage, grabbing a cupboard anchored to the wall and ripping it free with ease, as Jack and I rounded the ‘T’ junction at the corridors far end. Anetta, her arms raised to protect her lovely face from the shattered shards of wood, stood with her back to the furthest wall from him.
“I haven’t got them!” She shouted back, her voice devoid of anything resembling fear. “and if I did, it’d be a cold day in Hell before you got them!”
His mouth twisted in grotesque fury the man’s arm darted out and plucked up a jagged length of wood from the concrete floor, advancing on Anetta. Without a thought I flung myself forward, colliding with the larger man, slamming him into the far wall, an ancient door set into it rattling in its setting. I heard voices call out around me, but listened to nothing but the call I felt for Anetta’s safety.
Cain’s hand wrapped around my throat, lifting me with such ease I might as well have been a child in arms. I felt him flick his wrist and instantly I was catapulted through the air, hitting and skimming across the ceiling before colliding with the wall, rebounding into the rough concrete floor.
I half saw Jack as he advanced on Cain, towering over the odious man, and I, my body bruised and battered, grinned in my certainty of Jack’s triumph.
Blows were thrown and parried, the two men moving with speed that defied the eye, turning them both into blurs.
Anetta rushed to me, her slim, incredibly strong arms lifting me upright, my head pressed against her shoulder. My eyes closed and I breathed in her fragrance, a smell of strength and beauty that intoxicated me more thoroughly than all the drink I’d drank that night.
Cain and Jack fought, against all reason the larger man losing the battle. Cain’s repeated blows wearing his bigger opponent down though Jack’s own powerful punches bore little impact on the smaller man.
Cain caught Jack in his throat, stunning him before driving his shaved head into the wall hard enough to crack one of the pitted red bricks. Jack fell to the floor limply.
He descended on us, Anetta torn from her feet by a handful of her hair, her lithesome body tumbling head over heels directly into the cracked wood of the old door at the corridors end, she crumpled on the floor, flakes of paint and motes of dust raining around her.
Cain turned to her ignoring me; the world swam as I rolled to my stomach, the concrete blood smeared where I fell from Anetta’s arms. I struggled to my feet, my vision greying, my neck and knees made of rubber. I grabbed the thick shard of wood that had fallen from Cain’s hand.
My legs carried me forward uncertainly, the world dreamlike around me, my legs heavily stomping closer. I raised the stake of wood and thrust it down, the tip piercing his back between his shoulder blades, the point ripping through his chest, blood spraying from the hole torn through his heart. Cain shrieked, my hands slapping over my ears in a vain attempt at blocking out the horrific bellow of pain and rage. His body toppled forward, slamming into the wall beside where Anetta laid, her puppy-dog eyes wide.
His head connected with the wall and it cracked open, blood flying in droplets over the scarlet brick, his hair matted with it. Cain fell into a heap beside her, his hands grasping at nothing spasmodically before his whole body shook violently for a few moments, and then lay still.
I moved unsteadily to Anetta’s side, our arms wrapped
around each other. We stood like that for a long time, my weak weight ‘supported by her preternatural strength, until Jack came around and moved through the labyrinth of corridors to phone the authorities.
In the time that has elapsed ‘since that night I have thought about my life in ‘such detail that my heart is near ‘sickened, and in all that time I don’t think I’ve came any closer to understanding the eddies that deposited me in that place at that time. Was it ‘some celestial manifestation or dumb luck, bad at that? Or was it that the man that life has made me was unable to comprehend the ‘situation’s that I’d been dealt? Who knows?
I believe the only intelligent comment I could add would be that a person can understand an idea, can oven believe in that idea, and ‘still not care a damn about it.
I know that doesn’t ‘sound logical, and it’s about as immoral as you can get, but it’s very often true.
Thankfully, when my case came to court, my lawyer came up with a much more practical line of defence, it was logical and believable; I just knew it wasn’t true.
I guess a man can’t have everything.
Jack had taken the ‘stand in my defence, and I sometimes think that it was his testimony alone that allowed me to walk free with the verdict of ‘self-defence’. He had ‘sat there and told the tale with such obvious honesty that no-one, not even the man paid to prosecute me, could disbelieve him.
I returned home, Anetta nowhere to be found in our up world ‘since the police had arrived on that night. I ‘sat alone and thought about my actions and my responsibility’s, trying to find a place in it all where I would feel no ‘shame.
I pulled the rusted ring of keys from my pocket and ‘stared at them, struggling to see the importance caught in the worn metal, finding none.
The keys returned to my pocket, I ‘stood and walked over to the door, intending to find a doorway to which a key would fit.
The door opened and I looked into the large brown eyes of Anetta, she smiled and raised her hand, a ‘single key hold between two rust dirtied fingers.
“Another for our collection.” She said and stepped into the flat, the door closing behind her.