Staff Writers




The scene isn’t what used to be. I should know. I’m an oldtimer.

Back when it began, we were all on the same kick. Polycyclical gene-scramblers hard-coded to biochemical revelation and epiphany: noradrenaline, viral empathogens, and the carrier substance – a mixture of powdered salts and sulphates that gave the whole thing its’ ‘drug’ vibe.

The dirty rush that let you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were getting high.

We’d sniff or spike before we went out. She always took the first hit – muscles in her thin arms popping out like thick cord, sweat glistening on her brow. She was beautiful in a brittle way. The deadly gleam in her eyes, like a handmade prison shank, made me want to fuck her right there on the dirty floor, every time… but this wasn’t about love, or even lust.

It was about the dance. That, and the buzz.

The hit was intense. You had to ride out the come-up lying supine. Try walking around your apartment or the streets when you’re convinced you’re sixty feet high, made of burnished chrome, and immortal, invincible. She would laugh ominously at the hallucinations – no fear in her, not even a glimmer.

Eyes pinned, we’d roll. Stumbling through streets laughing into one another’s shining faces. The world was our playground, its drear inhabitants barely registering on the edges of our perception.

The club itself would probably look familiar – the same trance-harnesses and throat-spikes you find in a regular arcade, set into the brushed-steel and leather interiors of the booths around the dancefloor. We mostly left the uplinks alone.

In those days, we came only to dance.

Beneath the main floor was the pit. When the ecstasy got too intense, when the energy of the congregation became too feral, the cage would open, and two dancers would emerge from the pulsing, writhing crowd.

Just two. Sometimes me, sometimes her, sometimes both together.

As we cheered and yammered, the two grinning, shining, perfect bodies would couple, lock, writhe and release, each successive embrace lacerating skin and spattering blood upon the sawdust floor of the cage. We fought with tooth and nail and fist.

It was brutal – no doubt about that. I finger the decoration she left me with: artful feather-light razor slashes criss-crossing my mouth and cheekbones, a hideous parody of an insane smile, drawn in skittering, pale pink scar tissue. The nerves beneath still tingle and burn in cold weather.

Significantly, no-one ever died.

Proud of our scars? Yes, I suppose we were. They were our pride and joy, our memories. But what use was death? Better to dance with the bony bastard, rather than lay down with him.

Nowadays… it’s different.

I sip my Manhattan and lean over the guardrail, count fourteen dancers in the pit. The stuff they’ve ingested is a million miles from the compounds we used to skin-pop. These kids have gone for full-blown traits.

I see one kid – skinny, muscular, with neon tattoos – leap up into the air with an ear-shattering cry that overpowers the thunderous bass of the DJ rig. Mid-air, his back ripples and splits, huge black wings exploding from his shoulder blades. He dives down on his opponent with a heavy beat of the wings, forcing thumbs into the hapless dancer’s eyesockets. He dies screaming.

These kids are beyond human. Shining scales and sharp talons; vicious stings... they spit acid, breathe fire. Tear each other to shreds.

Everyone’s on different drugs now.

The art has been lost. The meaning.

Now it’s just blood and bone and the dull thuds of fists on flesh, the relentless, dissonant pulse of the music.

I have no regrets. I don’t dance now. I’m done.

As I lean across the rail, breathing in the smell of sawdust, blood and ozone that permeates the club, I see a new dancer enter the arena. A female – lithe and graceful, black hair slicked back, her skin a mottled alligator green. At her elbows, knees and wrists are sharp, hooked, extruding bones – they gleam viciously white in the arclights. She circles the arena, reptilian eyes searching the crowd.

Looking for a partner.

Despite the scales and claws, despite the look of pure murder in those blank, emotionless eyes, I recognise her.

The same lithe movements, the same hunger. My heart stirs. Perhaps there is something here for me, still, after all these years? Perhaps the passion and desire of my past can be regained, paradise recaptured through the rending and tearing of flesh.

She claims me with a glance, starts to pull me in. My savage love, calling me home. I picture myself speared by those cruel claws, rent in two by those razor teeth. She locks her depthless eyes on mine.

It doesn’t take me long to find a trait dealer. I shove a fistful of dirty bills in his face; grab the syringe roughly from his hand. I’m coming out of retirement.

One last dance.

I flex my arm, shove the needle home; wait for the transformation. My lover, my murderer watches passively, a look of fattened contentment writ upon her saurian jaws. I feel the chromosomes boil and bubble beneath my skin. The scars she gave me all those years ago are nothing now – just filigree.

As I step out into the light, I hear her ragged breathing. We used to dance together. Now we dance against one another – feint, slash, duck and weave. As we move together, smashing and tearing and heaving ragged breaths, I finally understand these new dancers – I understand why she stayed.

Her teeth are at my throat now. My lifeblood pulses beneath needle-sharp points.

I raise the bifurcated, poison-tipped tail as it erupts from my spinal column with a tearing, sucking sound. I jam the vicious tip home again and again and again, screaming with joy as she bleeds black blood over my torso, shivering and twitching in my arms.

This was her final gift to me. She coughs blood, smiles. Softly, I hear her whisper:

“There. You’re back.”

Original story written for The434. Performed 24/11/10 at Writer's Bloc in Edinburgh.

Original image 'Untitled' by Francesca E. Harris. Some rights reserved.

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