Minutes passed, and the tension waxed and waned as the substances crawled into our veins and the music flowed and crescendoed like a fast tide. Before I knew it everyone was seething drunk, and the cocaine rush was lifting me up off the floor and away from my thoughts about Nietzsche and the chaos inside me.
Elliot hulked about the room restlessly, occasionally moving to the speakers to change the music and sitting to take more coke. The room was revolving around the drugs, which made me think I would take mine soon. But just as I was about to go upstairs to fetch them, the opportunity to sit next to Margot arrived like the morning sun on my horizon. Elliot was deep in a furious conversation about rugby or something similarly insignificant – she was defenceless, alone, a sure target for the wonderful, the unstoppable Charlie Gunn!
‘Margot,’ I said, taking a seat next to her on the sofa. She turned to me with a jerk, her great, grey eyes gazing at my beautiful face. Her inebriation crawled about her skin, her deep, dilated pupils peering out of a gale of wildness in the mind. ‘How’s it going?’
‘Charlie-e,’ she crooned breathlessly. ‘Charlie Gunn. You have quite the reputation, don’t you, Charlie Gunn?’
‘Well, I suppose I do,’ I laughed innocently. ‘You’re referring, I assume, to my reputation with the women?’
‘Yes. Yes, the women.’
‘Well, what can I say. It just happens sometimes.’
She continued to stare at me with either fascination or fear.
‘You’re very good looking,’ she said.
‘How awfully kind of you to say so. You know, you’re a terribly beautiful woman yourself –‘
‘No, no, I don’t believe it,’ she said, shaking her head madly. ‘I don’t believe it for a second.’
‘You are, you know. I mean it.’ I looked deep into her wide, uncertain eyes. ‘I don’t understand why you choose to stay with Elliot. After all this time. After everything he’s done to you…’
I let these words hang off the edge of my lips like a delicious flavour I hoped the girl would bite. Margot dripped her watery eyes across the room at Elliot, who was bellowing incomprehensible things with the lads and laughing like there was nothing better in the world. She lingered on his face for a moment.
‘I don’t know…’ She looked desperately from Elliot to me. ‘He doesn’t mean to be bad. I don’t think he half-understands his own strength.’
‘But he mistreats you and maligns you so much, and he cheats on you, Margot. Haven’t you had enough?’
The poor girl’s inner conscience was stirring in her brain for the first time in years.
‘Yes, he does… But… But…’
‘Think about it.’
I gave her another profound, elemental stare, the kind that was meant to communicate something incommunicable with words. She gazed back at me, and I could see her confidence was shaken.
‘Ten-thirty!’ suddenly came a roar from Sam, leaping off the sofa and nearly knocking an unsteady Harriet off her feet. ‘Someone order a cab!’
In a fuzz of cigarette smoke, Elliot insisted on ordering the cab – using Uber, which I believe he rather praised as a business model – and within ten minutes we were in a large people carrier, racing through the laughing, amber streets towards Drogue. Margot and Elliot sat together, while I was squashed between Pete’s muscular frame and the door. I’d filled a plastic bottle with vodka and blackcurrant juice before I left, and was thanking the warm imperviousness it gave me for allowing me to tolerate these people. I was counting the musical beats until even stronger substances would hit me and I would be taken away from this mortal consciousness and touch the divine for at least the transcendent hours of a Friday night.
The queue for Drogue was waving like a fat snake when we arrived. From within the enormous warehouse-turned-nightclub came the thumping of music hammering against the walls, shaking violently through every surface like a demonic drum beating from the devil’s handshake. We entered the scramble at the back, to the sounds of the weekend revellers buzzing with alcoholic excitement.
‘Look, it’s Lucy Redhouse!’ cried Harriet, pointing over the railing to a girl across the street.
‘No it isn’t, that’s a girl from my yoga class,’ yawned Ciara.
‘I like her leggings.’
‘My mate Bence used to get with Lucy Redhouse,’ smirked Pete.
‘She’s beautiful,’ sighed Margot wistfully.
‘Elliot!’ cried Sam. When Elliot turned to him, Felix gestured with his eyes to the girl, staring obliviously at her phone, and Elliot stuck his tongue out like a Maori warrior. This gave cause for a fresh round of laughter.
I checked my wallet to see if my customary valium was hidden inside, and was relieved to see that they were. Six of them, to be precise. I had to keep them there in case the Bad Place came and panic descended, at which point they became my only hope of survival. Tonight, though, it seemed as if I’d only need them to forget whose company I was in.
The queue shoved forward violently. There was shouting from ahead, and as we looked up a person of manful youth erupted from the bulge along with a flying accomplice who landed him several punches before our watching eyes. ‘Stop him!’ cried a girl, and the crowd began shouting alternate cries of ‘Stop!’ and ‘Fight!’
‘Plebs,’ spat Elliot, grinning wildly with pleasure.
‘I can’t decide if I want them to stop or fight,’ sighed Ciara with a contemplative stroke of her chin, as if she was clever.
Two enormous bouncers exploded out of nowhere and dragged the lads apart. One of them gave in immediately, but the other tried to fight on and the bouncer proceeded to beat whatever daylights were still living in him out of existence.
We all watched in fascination, simultaneously repelled and respectful of the masculinity on display.
Elliot then turned to me and said, ‘That’s what you’ll get if you ever pick a fight with me, Gunn!’
The lads all laughed and the girls tittered, apart from Harriet who turned to me with what I almost thought was concern.
‘You alright, Charlie?’ she asked.
‘Oh, just simply splendid, terrific, on top of the world,’ I replied, and immediately made to take my drugs. A pill of MDMA and forty milligrams of 2C-B, my dear human! What a transplendent path I would be fox-trotting down on this heavenly coil tonight! I gulped them down with the last of my vodka and fruit juice as if I were swigging from the pap of the universe itself.
Harriet raised a smile to tell me she was on my side, but I had eyes only for Margot. As the queue moved forward, I did my best to stay next to her where we could talk, letting Harriet stand behind us. Elliot was two steps ahead.
‘WA-HEY!’ one of the boys cried for some reason, and the others cried a territorial ‘WA-HEY!’ back, along with a few scattered profanities. I gritted my teeth and wished to god I didn’t have to be with these imbeciles. Just thirty minutes and I’d be free of caring – just thirty minutes…
‘We all got our materials, boys?’ Pete cut in, and the lads all nodded sagely, their faces suddenly sincere and secretive. With furtive glances about them, they each withdrew their drug of choice – small, innocent-looking white pills of MDMA – and slipped them down their throats in quiet, swift movements. A great, hulking bouncer thudded past at almost precisely that moment, but the pills were already gone.
Invigorated by the alcohol and realising we were near the front of the queue, I took advantage of the lad’s momentarily turned backs to hop in front of them like a genius. (Perhaps I was having a delayed reaction to the coke? I felt MAGNIFICENT!!!). ‘Evening,’ I saluted to the young girls in front of us, who barely had a chance to curtsey before I was at the foot of the bouncer.
‘ID,’ the brute grunted monosyllabically. ‘He could do with some elocution lessons,’ I quipped to myself and produced my provisional driver’s licence. I eyed his duncey little features as he struggled to read the card – the poor dear was probably illiterate. ‘Do you have anything on you you shouldn’t have?’ he asked.
‘Only my devastating genius,’ I replied.
The bouncer stared at me with a look of the most intense fury I had seen for some time. For a moment I thought he was going to raise his fist.
‘Get the fuck inside before I kick you out,’ he eventually said, and I sauntered past him like a dandy on a summer stroll.
I looked back to see that Margot was the one immediately behind me, and after we were both through the bouncer’s checks I locked arms with her and entered the building. She seemed surprised by this but did not resist – and Elliot couldn’t see us for the unsightly size of the bouncers blocking his view.
Immediately after walking through the doors the night outside seemed to be sucked in with us. Opened up before us was the huge main dancefloor, a newly dark world where figures flashed between internecine lights and the frenzied, repeated rumbling of noise pulsated around a vivid humidity and sublime wailing of souls in the rumbling black. The lads caught up with us – whereupon I released Margot – and greeted the heat with faces that told everyone they were in their element.
‘Party ti-ime!’ cheered Sam, and the others all joined in with another chorus of laughter and imbecility.
It was generally agreed that we would all go to the bar and buy some drinks. I was fascinated and delighted to see that Elliot seemed not to be keeping such close proximity to Margot, so I tried as hard as I could to stay by her side, engaging her in conversation with whatever my mind threw up. I bought her a drink at the bar, as a gentleman does – a double vodka coke and a beer for yours truly – and then headed out to the smoking area.
Drogue was an enormous, three-floored, multi-roomed ex-warehouse that had been re-appropriated as a place for the young people of this world to forget their earthly boundaries and ascend to heights inaccessible to the sober. The lights grow darker and the music grows louder as you enter the melee, a vat of lost souls spinning in beautiful tumult on whatever substances they had chosen to escape the world with; the chaotic, gorgeous madness of the young trying to squeeze the life from their youth.
We all took a seat in the large, canvassed smoking area, where I desperately dug into my pouch of tobacco and rolled myself a cigarette. Margot sat beside me, and I had to withhold my delight at this subtle but suggestive movement. Elliot, quiet for the moment, glanced at us, then looked away.
As the conversation rolled between the rest of them, I cast wandering eyes about the rest of the smoking area. My view sauntered idly over the loose souls. The canvas over the smoking area looked almost phosphorescent, as if it was absorbing all the brightness of the youth that was leaking away; all sorts of waving sounds could be heard: the juttering lilt of a phone playing indiscernible music; the rubbery squeal of two girls singing along to it; and the booming cry for attention of boys being loud and unprovoked, looking hopefully but in vain at the faces of every girl that passed them; the indefinite mingling of laughter and crying. Somewhere to my right a boy pleaded hopelessly with a girl who had used to be his girlfriend, but now was not. Packs of tobacco and the occasional bag of marijuana lay on the garrulous tables. Two boys with big muscles and tight, floral shirts hugged ironically to the delight of their friends. On a stool by the wall, a girl, sitting by herself, her head down, vomited violently, swayed and fell over, lying like a damp fawn without friends or family to look after her. No one noticed. For a moment I caught her eyes, which flickered for a bizarre second before they finally cut out; then I looked away, because she was not my responsibility.
Harriet, who was tentatively dragging on a cigarette, seemed about to open conversation with me when she was cut off by a bellowing cry.
‘Siddy!’ shouted Felix. A boy turned around and bellowed a similarly loud, needy response, and the two lads hugged. ‘How’s it going, mate?’
‘Good man! Yeah, really good!’ replied Siddy. The other lads welcomed him with similar noises. ‘Harriet!’ he said, his grin as dilated as his pupils and his jaw as extended as his handshake. ‘How’s it going, Harriet! Haven’t seen you in ages!’
‘Yeah, good thanks,’ replied Harriet, taking his hand with a clear degree of apprehension and forcing her best look of joy. ‘Great to see you!’
‘Yeah, yeah, great to see you too!’ the boy said ecstatically before turning to me.
‘Charlie,’ I said, pre-empting his ecstatically charged greeting. ‘Charlie Gunn.’
‘Charlie Gunn, great to meet you too, mate. How do you know this lot?’
‘I live with Harriet and Elliot-‘
‘Nice! Nice! Awesome man, awesome! You boys on anything tonight?’
‘Mandy, mate,’ replied Elliot solemnly.
‘Ah man, sick! What did you take?’
‘What were the pills called, Sam?’
‘Dominoes,’ said Sam. ‘Apparently they’re a blast.’
‘Oh man!’ cried Siddy. ‘You boys are gonna have one hell of a night! Did you take them in halves?’
‘Mate! You know how strong they are, right? You boys are gonna have one hell of a night!’
‘Yeah, buddy!’ laughed Pete, and all the lads cheered. Margot, Di and Sarah, who had also taken the pills, looked at one another with a flash of anxiety. I too felt the drop of my stomach as my mind ran through all the possibilities of what might happen when the drugs hit. What if there was something bad in them? What if I’d overdosed? What if they made me psychotic?
I gulped down the beer in an effort to distract my wild thoughts from the future.
As it happened, everything worked out rather dip-diddily-aciously. Somewhere around thirty minutes later, I found myself in mid-conversation with Margot, her and Elliot seeming to have tacitly fallen out for the night, and we were discussing the pros and cons of doc martens footwear when all of a sudden my world inverted rather violently.
First I sensed a bulging warmth in my stomach and a tingling about the soles of my feet. Then, as I watched Margot’s face begin to fall back into a distant, greyish haze, I sensed a slow, rising seep of lightness in my head; then, within moments, it became an avalanche. It rushed throughout my face and down through my body and nauseated stomach and down my right leg and back up and down my left leg and back up and into my sick stomach and into my heart which started pounding like a bull smashing open the barn door and a million splendid suns imploding into hell and the pupils of my eyes swelling like the openings of black holes in the immersive eternity of space and the explosive combustion of nerve cells wingle-wangling inside out and setting my skin alight with their beauty, their energy, their sheer, all-inclusive, death-exclusive, madness-infuriating intangible gorgeousness and sickness and all at once, all the time everywhere, I was falling, I was going, I was GOINGIGNIGNIGNRIGNNVCWQIEURWKMSDV S;ADRIWKWEKD,M
‘If you’ll excuse me for just a moment,’ I politely said to Margot, and promptly crossed the smoking area, where I vomited in the corner.
The world vanished; then, one by one, in a sweep of breathless illness, my senses came back to me. First was the vague musical thumping in the background; then the hanging chatter of the smoking area; then the sound of laughter.
‘Looks like Gunn can’t handle it!’
My breath caught up with me, and I staggered back to the group in a whirl of madness.
‘I’m alright,’ I spewed breathlessly. ‘Just the – just the drugs.’
‘Are you alright?’ said Margot, looking genuinely worried.
‘Splendid, thank you.’ I looked about me and became concerned about the movement of the ceiling.
‘Are you sure you’re alright, Charlie?’ said Harriet. ‘Seriously, you haven’t taken anything bad have you?’
‘No, I promise it happens sometimes.’
‘It’s just the come up, happens all the time to some people,’ said Siddy with a wild grin on his face. Elliot, Pete and Sam looked at me with some consternation, until Elliot suddenly snapped to attention.
‘Speaking of coming up, think I’m feeling it now,’ he said all of a sudden, staring rather intensely at the opposite wall.
‘Me too, fella,’ said Pete.
‘Quick selfie, lads?’ said Felix, who had produced his phone and was already in the process of taking a blurred photo of the group.
‘Right, dancefloor?’ said Elliot, dropping his half-smoked cigarette and stamping it out.
‘Dancefloor!’ cried Pete with a clap of his hands. ‘Dancefloor, dancefloor, dancefloor!’ chanted the lads, and the girls giggled as they moved out of the smoking area.
‘Let’s head in!’ I said in a swirl to Margot, though it was probably aimed at no one in particular. The drugs were hitting heavy and hard, and I was entering the zone of the unimaginable and titty-wib-wabbling about of psychedelic walking. I trotted laughing beside Margot, bumping shoulders and brushing hands with her, and she didn’t seem to make any attempts to make it stop. Elliot, in his own brain, seemed utterly oblivious.
We all ambled back inside, and the music and the manicness caught me as I was falling and brought me back to an understanding of what was happening.
And on the dancefloor, the drugs began to carry me away…
The crowd pulsed and rejoiced, and I started seeing in sound. Every movement was a sound, every sound was a movement; the world had become such a pleasant place to be, all synchronised to music and pulsing in and out of my bloodstream, bleeding like flowers into the blue darkness. With every twist of my arm or raise of my leg the swell of sudden ripples would clear out over the crowd, who were also moving inside and outside the music, thumping and waving as one ecstatic, weatherworn mass. More than ever, I felt the plunging blueness of ecstasy, that fed into my limbs and into my heart, that caught me as I tried to run away and brought me sailing sky high like a flock of birds, all dizzying and patterning in their flight. Everything was so plungingly beautiful. I looked at Margot, her face lighting up with the push of the ecstasy, and – oh! – dear Margot looked so gorgeous, so emphatically, non-undeniably beautiful and stunning and striking. I could not believe the way she looked! Her hair hung down as if it was damp, sliding down her sliding form. How did she get her hair to look like that? And in her top, like a swimming costume, her chest looked as if it were bronzed and varnished… This was a love that I was feeling, the most intense, painful kind of love a boy can possibly feel for a girl that was instigated by a fancy and that MDMA had driven to an inferno, I was certain of it, what else could it be if I couldn’t understand anything else at that moment? What does one do when one fancies a female? What hell to unloose? Kiss her then… Kiss her!
Just as I was running these wild thoughts through my unbridled mind, the dark cloud of Elliot descended upon us. He started dancing with Margot, riding up beside her, but she seemed almost to reject his advances, if not quite so obviously. He moved his hands onto her distant body, but she kept hers to herself and looked away from him.
Suddenly a hand landed on my shoulder. It was Sam, who bellowed in my ear: ‘How you feeling mate? You good?’
‘Yeah!’ I shouted back, though I have to admit I was having trouble understanding sentences. ‘Great, man!’
‘Awesome, mate! Ah, I love this! I love it so much!’
Things were becoming both more and less vivid, and as I stared about the space at all the beautiful youth surrounding and enclosing me, I swore I could see the music moving between them, rippling like opalescent waves through their removed, statuesque faces. The lights were dipping around and the movement was an involvement of all my heart-
The DJ said something incomprehensible over the speakers, and the crowd cheered, although no one knew what he said, and no one cared. I definitely didn’t care – because I was there! I was at my peak! I was away from it all, up in the sky, high in the heavens where I could peer down at this earthly realm and condemn it for all its faults, its lives and its deaths, its ecstasies and its sufferings, and all the things that humans do to escape its repulsive, revolting reality. I was God – I was the Creator – and I condemned all of this.
The walls were crashing in as the euphoria rushed up within me, and as I stared at the lights dancing about the darkness I remembered that abortive fury I felt for time and it’s refusal to let things be permanent – because I wanted this moment to last forever! – but right then, with the chemicals swimming through every pore of my soul, it was okay. I was too high to care for reality; I was above and beyond it, and I had a girl casting down into my inward clutches.
After so much dancing, and with the drugs in full effect, Margot, Di and Sarah made for the smoking area, and the rest of us followed like the lemmings we were. Harriet followed gingerly beside, evidently downcast from the sense she was not on the same level as us.
As I jitterbugged through the crowd, my consciousness pulsed and for a moment I thought I could see a face in everything; I stared at a wall and was certain I was looking at the silhouette of someone, though I couldn’t say who. For a moment I was scared – then the euphoria returned and I chased the outlines of the humans I was with for the night.
In the smoking area we gathered to roll our cigarettes, and that speedy and sensational conversation provided by the high began pelting between the others like raindrops in a thunderstorm.
‘I’m feeling like it’s party ti-ime!’ said Elliot with a cigarette filter in his mouth. ‘Par-ty time, par-ty time!’ chanted Pete, Sam and Felix in hysterics.
I was staring at the stars, though. They weren’t the quiet, introverted things they had been earlier in the evening; now they were wide and laughing, bellowing a fitful of raucous laughter from their seat in heaven and trying to spell something out for me. I could see them do it: almost like hieroglyphics, the stars were spelling something out in the sky, a message for me to read, something drastically, profoundly important… What did it say!? I needed to know! I needed to know more than anything ever before! I stared and stared at them as they continued to laugh and draw out their eternal message, until one of them said: ‘Do you understand yet?’
‘How are you, Charlie?’ said Margot. I snapped back to her face, remembering I was a part of another reality. Di and Sarah had broken into conversation with two boys they obviously didn’t know, and I watched them talk as I tried to make sense of what Margot had said.
‘I’m fan-dibbly-tastic,’ I finally replied, trying to remember how to roll a cigarette. ‘Just staying open to new experiences, you know, I’ve taken mandy and 2C-B tonight so, you know, just keeping myself on top of things, trying out what works well, you know what I mean.’
‘You’ve taken 2C-B as well?’ she said with some surprise.
But at that moment a scream broke from somewhere nearby, and we turned to see a girl spread out on the ground, her face white and stressed, hyperventilating crazily. Her friends gathered around her and were talking to her in fast, frightened voices. I overheard the words ‘panic attack’ repeated.
‘Someone can’t handle their drugs,’ remarked Elliot. He turned back to the lads.
‘I hope she’s okay,’ said Harriet, breaking her silence. ‘Panic attacks are horrible…’
But then she caught sight of someone and her face lit up. I was trying to keep conversation up with Margot, but a symphony of greetings interrupted us.
And the stars said: ‘Do you understand yet?’
I was spinning about like a helter skelter when my eyes met this girl. Harriet was hugging her, the girl was hugging her back – for an instant, there was something intensely erotic about it – and then the girl was looking at me.
‘Guys, this is Lola,’ said Harriet. ‘She’s a mate from my course.’
But Lola didn’t say anything. She was staring at me. And I was staring at her. I couldn’t understand.
‘Lovely to meet you, Lola!’ said someone.
I forgot where I was. A wave of something dark blue and endless erupted up through me, and I got lost in a bilious swirl. But then I came back, and Margot was talking, and this girl was still staring at me. She was staring at me in an open-mouthed, fantastical way, as if she had just seen the sheer and absolute meaning in her life.
As the wave subsided, I could make out her face enough to see that she was as high, high, high as anything – and when you’re as high, high, high as anything, the sight of Charlie Gunn’s face to a young girl could seem like the sheer and absolute meaning of life.
‘Hi,’ she said, and I suspected it was addressed to me. I felt the urgent need to leave – to run away, to get outside, to escape and dance the night away in the bucolic streets and descant lamplight til dawn…
Then I felt appallingly attracted to this girl. Then I felt sick. Then I stopped looking at her, and looked manically at Margot. Distress fell upon me.
‘Excuse me for a moment,’ I said, and as the girl Lola continued to stare at and unsettle me, I withdrew into the men’s toilets, where I took out my six valium and ground them into a powder in their plastic baggy.
Then I reappeared in the smoking area, and, too washed into the time warp in my head, found Margot.
‘Shall we dance?’ I whispered to her. Elliot had disappeared with the lads to the other side of the smoking area.
Margot eyed me carefully, then looked to see where Elliot was. ‘Sure,’ she finally responded. As the girl Lola continued to stare at and unsettle me, I took Margot’s hand and led her inside.
I bought her another drink, and with dextrous skill – I need not tell you how – I poured the valium powder in without a soul detecting it, and as we entered the dancefloor she drank the whole thing.
No one saw us. No one needed to know. What more do I need to tell you, my dear human?
We were in a cab… Margot was feeling strange, very strange… I was opening the front door, and the walls were a-tippy-toeing and the floor was a-wavy-wangling … And Margot was in my bed…
She came easy at first – very easy, in fact – she was willing, compliant, lost. And the valium smoothed her out til she drove as smooth as fresh road. Then she hardened like marble, and I had to carve her out. But she flowered for me, my dear human – she was mine, all mine…
And then the dawn had come, and the stars were silent once more.