The low pulse of the base vibrates through me as I navigate the crowd, searching for her. We’ve had no description, but all the signs point to her being here tonight. The night air is thick with the coming rain
the river will swell and that guy in the corner will be hauled out, grey and bloated, at the bottom of Dumaine Street by tomorrow
and, even with the windows open to the terrace, the air in the bar is heavy, weighed down with the sickly smell of lust and rum as it snakes between the bodies of the revellers. Gaudy beads clatter and flash under the dim lights as I push through
that couple will be having sex in the bathroom less than twenty minutes from now. She won’t call him again and he’ll swear off women for the next year.
a group of rowdy tourists. The crowd finally spits me out somewhere near the bar and I edge to a tall stool where I can sit and keep an eye on the room. The barman
grew up in a house with an abusive alcoholic for a mother – he hates it when people order vodka
hovers and I order a sparkling water; he offers me a friendly jeer and I smirk obligingly. He doesn’t mean any harm by it, anyway. No one ever does.
As I lift the glass to take a sip, there’s a sudden shift, as though the lines of the room have tilted slightly, revealing new angles to the scene.
I know where she is.
I turn toward the open door leading to the terrace and I can see the top of her head, a mess of dark curls
where are you?
in the space between a couple of tall white guys. I can’t tell much from
I can’t find you. I thought you’d be here but I d-
here but it’s definitely her and she’s getting clearer by the second. Satisfied at how quickly the evening’s worked out, I place my water untouched on the
on’t have any idea where to look. Please, I have nowhere else to
bar and start to push my way through the crowd, which seems denser now than it did before. A heavy drop of something like nerves settles at the pit of my belly, surprising me and making me pause for a second. Someone’s dimmed the lights, I think, and in the semi-dark, all I can see are silhouettes – their tangled
go and I think they know where I am. I really thought you’d
arms and necks and the curves of their shoulders painted red in the glow from the bar. The scene is starting to change, like somehow I’ve moved slightly
be here and oh God I think I can see them. I think that’s them and I can’t
off balance. There’s something here that shouldn’t be. Her thoughts are getting louder even though I’ve not managed to get much closer to her – she’s frightened. I start really shoving into the crowd now, making progress but at a price. The friendly shouts over the music turn to complaints as my elbow connects
the fuck, man? I’ll slice you up like that bitch at the
with some guy’s ribs. I duck away from him, slamming straight into
She loves him so much it frightens her. He doesn’t feel the same way, and he feels too guilty to tell her.
a couple who are wrapped tightly around one another, kissing hungrily. As my disruptive presence registers in the crowd, and people start trying to move out of the way, the thoughts around me get louder and more chaotic. Drunks.
The last thing I need is security to pick up on the trouble I’m causing, but I’m struggling to keep track of her, both visually and in in my head. The top of her head disappears behind a dark-haired woman who
cuts herself when she eats too much, greedy, disgusting, greedy, greedy, filthy
turns and gives me an unfriendly look. I’m almost there now – I can see the curve of her shoulder – and she’s turning
Please God, just let me hold it together a little while longer, I can
towards me, her eyes wide, when I see them standing right behind her. I know straight away that this is what she’s been afraid of. I can’t tell if
feel them and I think they can see me, I just don’t kn-
it’s the way the light’s catching them or something else, but there’s something very, very wrong with them. Something about the way they’re
-ow where they are. Please, if you’re here, please hurry
standing, the way they’re starting to move, like insects unfolding overly long limbs. Their faces are a pale blur, the eyes too dark, and they’re not giving off
anything even though I’m trying to get a read on them. I need to get her out of here, but she’s not looking at me. I’m screaming at her silently, shouting at her to
Where are you? Please, I’m sorry, I didn’t know they would
look at me, to catch my eye, but she’s too frightened now. I thrust my arm forward, round the brunette and catch
Get off me, get the fuck off me, fucking touch me, shit, please, let go
hold of her arm. For a second, I think she’s going to scream or faint or
smack me one, but she doesn’t – something seems to click in her mind and she knows that she’s been found, that I’m not with them. There’s no time to
you thank you thank you oh God quick please we ha-
do anything except run so I yank on her arm, pulling her so hard that somewhere in the back of my head I wonder whether I’m going to do her some damage. A black woman goes sprawling in front of me
-ve to get out of here please I think they’re here, I think they see me
and I wince as my feet tangle on her legs. I’m being flooded with thoughts now – the woman, the crowd, security, the barman, and I struggle to keep my eyes open under the weight of it all. I can see dark
shapes moving in from the shadowy corners of the room and I can’t tell if they’re
security but my gut tells me they’re probably not – they’re too
quiet, not thinking anything that I can hear, just sensing, just moving forwards. The glass door is ahead of me and my hand is still tight around her wrist, dragging her through the
crowd. When finally I hit open space, I stumble forward, my body unused to moving without resistance now, and she runs straight into
we have to go, go, now, go, please, move
me. Her head hits me between the shoulder blades and for a split second, it registers with me that she’s shorter than I expected, although what I expected I don’t even know. Then I wonder what the fuck I’m doing, thinking about what she is or isn’t, and I pull her forward again, out through the door and down the stairs to the street.
I don’t know where
The night is hot and fragrant, not lust and rum this time but the tang of the river, and cigarettes, and the sugared doughnuts from the stand on the corner. We’re running and
we’re going please we have to run faster I
all I can hear are her frightened thoughts, and our pounding footsteps and the trilling of the crickets. One hand on her, the other in my jacket pocket, I grab my keys and slam to a stop next to my car. The door’s open in a second and
don’t know how they found me here but
I push her in first, not caring that it’s the driver’s side. I drop in straight after her, slapping and pushing her out of the way, shaking with our combined fears now and pushing the keys at the ignition, once, twice, driving them home on the third attempt. I don’t look
they move so quickly, they’re coming, they must be
outside; I employ the same logic that got me through a thousand terrified bed-times as a child, treating the pitifully thin glass
around us the same way I treated my comforter, like some magic barrier that will keep us safe. The car splutters and roars into life and I want to hush it
and tell it it’s going to give us away. In the seat next
to me, she’s twisted down, her arms folded over her head as she struggles to wedge herself into the space there, under the level of the dashboard. It’s not safe but
this is hardly the time for a vehicle safety lecture, so I pull out, swerving sharply away from the side walk, and the dark shapes I think I see there. If silence can be deafening, this one is. They don’t think
anything; they don’t have to. What they feel is cold and vengeful and hungry, and it tells me everything I need to know.
I’m shaking and freezing and she’s nothing but a pale crouched animal in the foot well of the passenger side now. Her thoughts are a mess – even she doesn’t know what she’s thinking – and I tune them out in a bid to calm myself enough to get us back in one piece. Taking us west on the I-10, I watch the lines in the road disappear under us, and I don’t look in the rear view mirror for a very long time.