So a few years back I punched out a novella, which I’d pitch as The Slap meets Trainspotting set in regional Queensland, and it’s currently marinating on a hard drive somewhere until it’s fit for public consumption.
Anyway, the blurb on the back of the book would go a little something like this…
Seven young Australian lives intersect and collide across a quarter century – from Toowoomba’s drug scene to Brisbane’s rave scene; war-torn Afghanistan to the crowded streets and trains of India. And no matter how far they escape from the small-town hopelessness of their past, one friend’s catchphrase continues to ring in their ears: “The rent always catches up.”
And the below chapter is plucked from right in the middle of it all, set at Brisbane’s Advent*jah warehouse rave on a particularly scorching early December night in 2001 (and yes, trainspotters, I’m aware the image is from A*jah ’99 – the correct image will be uploaded once I return to Oz and extract it from the deep, dark depths of a shoebox in a storage shed).
You can enjoy it independent of what becomes before and after, I hope…
DECEMBER 1, 2001
Katie’s eyes rolled deep into their sockets. The back of her head collected the side of the warehouse with a thud. She drew a deep breath and let it slide out.
This shit was really killing her vibe.
‘Are we really having this conversation again right now?’
Her eyelids peeled back and she locked her gaze on her lover. Thumper’s lithe frame bounced in time to… something. There were nine arenas of various sizes running at the RNA Showgrounds, and their crew’s designated meet-up spot was along one of the concrete kerbs running parallel to the Breaks room. A dull throb rattled through the timber walls – BOOM-thwack-BOOM BOOM-thwack – as Kid Kenobi and Shureshock worked the cavernous John Reid Pavilion behind them, but hard trance pounded out of the Nu Skool room across from where Katie sat while the tin shed hosting drum’n’bass sounded like a rocket about to launch, fuelled by one endless, monotonous, distorted BLEURRGGHH. Katie and Thumper were at the apex of the vortex where it all collided in a sub-bass cacophony. She was comfortably in her sweet spot until Thumper decided to press rewind on some old tapes.
Thumper’s jaw chomped away at a stick of gum – always Extra, always blue peppermint flavour. His eyes locked in on Katie’s intermittently. They’d been saucer-shaped since Bobcat came over to boot him up in the afternoon, and Katie knew he’d been dipping into the stash of wizzer they were supposed to be saving for afters. Sweat dripped down his shirtless torso, its only accoutrement a black cord necklace sporting a stopwatch which Thumper had set to clock mode. (Katie still didn’t get how that was easier than wearing the Fossil wristwatch she’d bought him, even if its display digitally ticked through minutes and seconds and hours in Chinese characters, but knew better than to argue with raver haute couture.) It was well past midnight but the air still hadn’t cooled; Katie had lived through twenty-two Brisbane summers, and none of those in the sixteen years her brain could actually recall had opened with a December scorcher quite like this.
Still, Thumper persisted with the phat pants he was wearing when they met at Advent*jah ’99. His stick-thin legs disappeared underneath the ever-widening denim until his Skechers poked out at the ends, each tapered leg covered in three concentric reflective yellow stripes.
‘What?’ Thumper barked down at her.
‘You know ‘what’. This fucking insecure bullshit.’
‘Well why don’t you just tell me?’
She sighed with exasperation.
‘Do we need to go through this again? I’ve told you.’
Thumper’s jaw chomped mechanically, methodically, maniacally. Insecure fuckstick or not, she found his sideways face incredibly sexy.
His eyes never left hers as he turned his palms upwards and shrugged, as if to say ‘well, I’m waiting’.
‘Babe, not tonight. It’s our two-year anniversary and our crew’s all here and the line-up’s great and these Versaces are mind-blowing and I just want to lose myself in it all.’
‘Fuck the crew and fuck the Versaces!’ Thumper thundered. He spun and swerved his way through waves of gurners, nattering sweet nothings at each other as they stumbled intently from one warehouse to the next. Screams strafed through the chaos from the Zipper ride which whirred above. An ominous hum oozed from the Gravitron, as if the saucer-shaped ride were preparing for take-off. The riff of some long forgotten one-hit wonder (was it Whitesnake? Warrant?) attempted to rise above the bedlam of the dodgem cars. (‘Because getting behind the wheel when you’re on the chomp is a fucking awesome idea,’ Katie had deadpanned earlier when a pre-jealous rage Thumper wanted to challenge her and Dani to a race.)
I can’t fucking believe this shit, Katie thought. She felt a nudge from her right.
‘I’m gonna go check out LTJ Bukem,’ Dani said. Then in her ear: ‘You all good?’
Katie shook her head.
‘Same shit, different dancefloor babe. I’ll find you in there soon. Front left?’
Dani nodded. She wrapped her skinny arms around Katie’s broad shoulders and pulled her in close. ‘Front left.’
Dani slung her miniature Elmo backpack over her shoulders, stood and bounded off the kerb into the throng. Katie wouldn’t be able to miss her if they came face to face – they were dressed in identical raver girl attire, from the skin-tight space-age sleeveless silver top to the knee-high pink fluffy boots beneath their short white skirts. Twinsies. Even without a neck full of eckies, Katie loved that girl to bits.
Thumper shimmied his way past two waves of gurners to recommence his assault.
‘Where’s she going?’
‘To dance. Have some fun. You know, the reason we love this place.’
‘Drop the fucking sarcasm.’
Katie looked up at Thumper with her best ‘are you fucking serious?’ face. He readied his big guns.
‘How am I supposed dance and have fun when my girlfriend doesn’t even know who the father of her daughter is?’
‘And here we fucking go again,’ Katie said, calmly, her head rocking in time to Kenobi’s breakbeats. ‘Fuck. This. Shit.’
She fished her bottle of Mount Franklin out of the small river of empty bottles and baggies that now lined the gutter, flinging it at Thumper in one movement. He caught it and flung it away behind him, collecting the ankle of a fluffy-boot clad woman who looked like she’d clocked at least a dozen Summers of Love.
‘Watch it dude!’
‘Mind your own fucking business bitch,’ he spat back at her.
She looked down at Katie as she continued past.
‘So much for fucking PLUR, hey?’
‘Mine needs a top-up as well. Sorry about him’ – she motioned at Thumper – ‘speed freak, you know?’
The old-skool raver gave a nod of recognition.
‘Good luck with that.’
And then she was gone.
Thumper fumed. ‘What the fuck would she know? Looked like a narc.’
‘Or maybe she’s just a regular woman with a shitty job who comes here to feel alive? Like I used to before we had Ella, and like we have been at Systo the last few weeks.’
‘What do you mean before ‘we’ had Ella?’
Katie slung her Elmo backpack over her skin-tight space-age sleeveless silver top and pushed herself up off the gutter. Her skin still tingled, her head felt slightly numb. She’d heard a lot about these Versaces during her time out of the scene, and they were living up to the hype. Time to get this over with so she could enjoy the ride.
‘I’m done with this short-man syndrome shit Thumper,’ she said to him. ‘It’s old and it’s tired and it’s fucking pointless.’
‘Well how do you think I feel knowing my girlfriend was a slut?’
‘But if it was your life we’d be talking about how much of a stud you were, right?’ Two years of rage rushed through Katie’s veins like a chemical high. ‘You and all your speed-freak mates would have a big laugh about how much tang you slayed and all of the abortions you had to pay for because you were so fucking virile.’
‘Fuck you,’ he spat. ‘This isn’t about me.’
‘No, it is about you.’
Her pitch was rising now.
‘You want to know why I did it? Huh, you really want to fucking know?’
Thumper, defiant, didn’t flinch.
‘I fucked the two guys in the hotel room because I wanted free drugs and I loved being spit-roasted by anonymous cock,” Katie’s lips danced expertly over the words like she’d been rehearsing them for months. ‘I spent that week selling trucker’s speed with Andy because I loved having that junkie dick inside me until the cops told me I was harbouring an axe murderer. I fucked Kevin Walters because he’s a famous footy player. I’ve got no idea if one of them or any of the other guys I fucked two years ago when I was having the time of my fucking life are Ella’s father, but I do know that I don’t want an insecure, emotional fucktard like you anywhere near her anymore.’
Thumper’s jaw clenched so tight it quivered. Katie took a final step towards him and, going in for the kill, angled her mouth towards his ear.
‘And every time your pathetic little cock is pumping selfishly away at my pussy,’ she whispered, ‘I fantasise about how hot it would be if Maxie was smashing me instead.’
Katie’s thrust her hands hard into Thumper’s chest with a thud that was audible above the techno soundclash. Thumper stumbled back into the pedestrian traffic, his glistening pecs glowing red at the point of her thrust. She hadn’t thrown shot put since school but still packed a mean punch.
‘Babe, you need to settle the fuck—’
‘We are fucking done!’ Katie shouted. ‘You hear me? Done!’
The world became even blurrier as the streetlamps above were distorted by her tears.
‘Now get the fuck away from me so I can enjoy my night.’
She sidestepped right and disappeared into the masses before Thumper caught his breath. Waves of ravers crested and broke either side of him, too caught up in MDMA’s loving embrace to care about the extinction-level event in their midst, too intent on their latest mission to notice the dark matter leaking from his ears. But Thumper’s blinkers were off. He’d deal with Katie later. He pushed angrily through a pair of barely-legal kiddie ravers and made a mental note to wave a bag of speed under their acne-covered noses once they’d sweated their makeup off and were looking for someone to fuel their kick-on. At least those young sluts will appreciate me, he thought as he rushed into the toilet block and joined the long queue to the besser-brick cubicle where he’d down a wash bag of wizzer before shelving the last of Katie’s Versace stash.
The Drum’n’Bass room was more timber shoebox with ill-fitting aluminium lid than warehouse proper; a quagmire of sub-bass and clattering drum breaks and heavily compressed beat drops which would rattle the sabre of a less experienced raver.
Katie had navigated this quadrophonic boom box when she first stumbled across Thumper two years earlier. Her frame was thinner now, thanks in part to her and Thumper’s three-month chemical binge now that Ella was old enough for a babysitter, and she glided gracefully around the dancefloor perimeter without disturbing the surrounding ritual. Arms flailed around her like rhythmic gymnasts trying to tame an out-of-control rhythm, feet and legs doing a high-speed interpretation of the heel-and-toe polka minus the constraints of a high school dance instructor’s unenthusiastic drone. (‘Heel and toe, heel and toe, step-2-3-4.’ And old people called ‘that doof-doof music’ repetitive.)
She thought she caught the back of Adam and Anthony’s heads in the middle of the maelstrom, and heard Jill squeal her approval as Bukem threw down another liquid roller. It was way too quiet in this room, despite its washing machine of frequencies, melodies and rhythms. Too much space for thinking, Katie thought. Gotta get Dani out of here.
Except Dani wasn’t in here – at least not in front of the speaker stack they always called home. Katie wiped her tears and looked again. On tip-toes she did a 360 scan of the ram-jammed shoebox, peering over heads, then squatted to search through an ever-changing hedge of limbs. Along the bottom of the wall at the dancefloor’s edge lay discarded water bottles, hastily thrown down backpacks, once-green glow sticks that had lost their lustre, plenty of couples in excited conversation about who had more drugs or how much they loved each other (‘Fuck I love you. I fucking love you,’ slurred one thirtysomething brunette, ad infinitum, to her much younger partner.). No sign of her mirror image.
‘Fuck it Dani!’
A body slammed into her with force from behind and rebounded back just as quickly. The gentle touch of a hand brushed Katie’s shoulder as she pirouetted to face the culprit. A tiny south-east Asian girl, eighteen at best, looked up at her.
‘Sorry babe, sorry,’ the girl said. Was she Aussie? Kiwi? She had big brown cheeks, kind eyes, and way more composure than Katie had at her age. Her pupils consumed every inch of her eyeballs and her mouth broke into a big smile around the Chupa Chup stick poking out of it.
‘All good babe,’ Katie said. ‘Have you seen a girl dressed like me?’
‘I’m looking at one now,’ snapped the polycultural teen through her lollipop, not missing a beat as the crowd roared against the onslaught of Bukem’s next too-quiet bassline.
‘Dressed like me!’ Katie laughed. Her shoulders began dipping subconsciously in halftime, swaying left before snapping back to the right with a jolt as each snare drum cracked across the sea of heads like a high-pitched sledgehammer. Even when this room’s rattling reverb overpowered the tunes, Katie never failed to find her groove.
‘Sorry babe, haven’t seen her.’
Her eyebrows creased as she looked closer at Katie.
Katie nodded as she wiped her eyes again. The other girl handed her water bottle to Katie, who gratefully swigged fresh cold water from it. She wiped the condensation from the bottle before handing it back, then covered her face with her palms and let her hands slowly slide down off the bottom of her jaw. The ice cold water and the heat and the MDMA and the music mixed together perfectly, like that rare high-school chemistry experiment that actually worked, and her troubles began to melt away.
‘Feels good hey?’
Katie opened her eyes and found the girl grinning at her. She nodded.
‘I give the bist hid massages, hey,’ the girl continued. ‘Want one?’
Katie shook her head.
‘I’ve got to find my friend,’ Katie said. ‘And before anyone touches me these days I prefer to know their name.’
The girl laughed.
The younger girl threw her arms around her.
‘It’ll be okay, Katie.’
Katie broke the embrace but Maddie kept a hold on her hands.
‘You got a mobile?’
‘In my backpack.’
‘Turn around then.’
Katie spun back towards the DJ booth and out of the cone of silence she’d been in with Maddie. She surveyed the room while her new friend fished around in Elmo’s innards. Half the heads around her were deep in conversation, the room less united whole than collection of vacuums jostling for space in a finite quadrant of space. The other half were alone, eyes either wide open or wide shut, finding PLUR in the rhythms of Bukem’s music or perhaps trying to find it within themselves, just like her.
Katie grinned as her knees slipped back into that half-time groove. I’m starting to think like a fucking music geek. Dan the backpacker would be proud back in Bristol or Bath or wherever it was he disappeared back to after finger-fucking her behind the Breaks room here two years ago. If Thumper had known about that he might not have asked her back to the recovery at his in the first place. And then I wouldn’t be stuck in this fucking mess.
‘I’ve got a thirty-three-ten as well!’ Maddie squealed excitedly. ‘Twinsies!’
Katie snapped out of her reverie and spun back around, never losing her rhythm as the sound swirled around her. She kept dancing as Maddie typed something into her phone, then motioned Katie to turn again so she could return it to her backpack.
‘What’s your number?’
Katie spun back and recited it. Maddie typed it with machine gun speed before tucking her own 3310 back into the left cup of her bra.
‘I’ll tixt you later. Big recovery at ours if you’re keen.’
Overcome with love, Katie welled up. She wrapped her arms around Maddie and gave her the kind of hug only ecstasy could buy.
‘That’s okay babe.’
Katie sobbed into her shoulder. Maddie patted the back of her head.
‘You can collect that hid massage then.’
The gangly, scruffy-haired kid turned around. A faint growth of whiskers covered his face, chin and top lip. The wide-eyed boy Katie knew two years ago had become a man while she was off being a Mum.
He wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her head.
‘Heard you were back babe. Where’s Dani?’
Katie shook her head as she backed away.
‘No idea. I lost her hours ago.’
‘Don’t care. I’m done with that fuckwit.’
Jax knew not to ask.
‘He’s been smashing the goey pretty hard babe. Seen him at so many Morning Glory lock-ins this year I’m surprised they haven’t offered him a residency.’
‘The little fucking prick’s got the rest of our drugs as well. Can you get any pingers?’
Jax’s face lit up.
Jax handed Katie his water bottle so he could fish around in his pants pockets. He and Thumper looked like they shopped at the same rave-wear shop – the only difference between their outfits was the fluoro patterns on their phat pants, and the suspenders that Jax had over his shoulders to keep the pants slipping off his narrow frame. Katie’s eyes were drawn down his hairy snail trail to the bulge beneath his zipper. Dani had confirmed to her last week that reports of his legendary appendage were far from exaggerated.
‘Did you see Kenobi and Shureshock?’
Katie shook her head.
‘I was sitting outside while they were on. Bukem was pretty cool but.’
‘The sound in there was shit. You missed out with Kenobi, they fucking killed it.’
‘The sound in here is pretty shit as well. It’s shit everywhere.’
They were in the Trance room, front left, ten metres back from a speaker tower that dwarfed what the Drum’n’Bass room had to offer. Twin projector screens above the speaker towers pulsed with indescribable psychedelic landscapes. Lasers shot ribbons of green from behind a DJ booth that was more like a pulpit, built on scaffolding which towered above the disciples below, a combination of dry ice and cigarette smoke and human body heat giving the room the murky aura of a dream sequence. The air remained still but the day’s heat had finally relented. Katie wanted it to rain all day Sunday so she could stay in bed feeling sorry for herself until Ella was returned.
‘Van Buuren is fucking sick but.’
Jax faced the stage and pointed both hands towards the lasers overhead as spiralling synths and a build-up – like a group of librarians in an ever-loudening chorus of ‘Shhhhh!’, as Dani described it – dropped into a kick drum that reverberated through the warehouse.
‘Woooooooot!’ Jax cried, turning back towards Katie with his shoulder mechanically pumping his fist up and down towards a cement floor wearing the usual impromptu carpet of baggies and bottles. ‘Prog-trance baby.’
Katie grinned and bopped her head politely in time. She really, really hated prog-trance.
Jax’s shoulder stopped pumping as he opened the palm of his hand to Katie.
‘Have some of this.’
He was holding what looked like a jumbo-sized tampon – the kind Thumper suggested she probably needed to stuff up her whore’s pussy when he was off on one of his jealous come-down rages. On closer inspection, it was actually more like a suppository; a clear plastic tube, two inches long but as thick as a baby carrot, vacuum-packed with bright white powder.
‘What the fuck is it?’
‘No idea babe. I was working the cloak room earlier and noticed it below the racks of backpacks. Couldn’t work out which one it came from so pocketed it for later. Have you got nails?’
Katie presented her hands. The glitter-coated fake nails she and Dani had bought to match their matching silver space suits were the perfect length for dipping into a snap-lock bag for a pick-me-up. ‘What a coinkydink!’ Dani had winked while they were powdering their noses at Katie’s earlier.
‘Well let’s split this bad boy open and see what it’s made of.’
Katie rested her trembling left hand under Jax’s trembling right one so she could make the incision. The plastic was much flimsier than a snappie – more like one of those cheap sandwich bags that her mum used to pack almonds in for her high-school snacks – and peeled open at in an instant at the touch of her index finger. Katie licked the end of the nail, but could only taste the remnants of Thumper’s trucker speed. She shuddered.
A figure was now standing beside them. His body was shirtless, entirely covered in sweat; his face barely recognisable as human. Narrow slits stood in for eye sockets and his lips jibbered ‘Rewrwrwrwrwrrwrwww’ as if he was suffering the early onset of frostbite in the middle of a heatwave. On his head he wore a yellow Stackhat, like Katie’s mum had her ride to primary school in. Katie smiled politely at the vaguely familiar face. She’d never seen someone so sideways before. Not even herself during her and Andy’s week of hedonistic bliss.
Katie turned to Jax.
‘How should we take it?’
‘It’s easy,’ the Stackhat-clad gurner offered through rattling lips. ‘You just do it like this.’
He dipped his finger into the slit and scooped some of the white powder into this mouth.
He took another scoop.
He licked his finger, jibbered ‘Rewrwrwrwrwrrwrwww’, then walked off towards the speaker tower and curled up in a bassbin.
Katie looked at Jax, mouth aghast.
‘I know that guy. Did he play tonight?’
‘He was supposed to get up with Goo but got too sideways after triple-dropping some pingwah and lost his records somewhere. He’ll probably play some at the kick-on.’
‘He triple-dropped Versaces?’
‘You guys are fucking machines!’
‘We’re not here to fuck spiders, babe,’ Jax grinned, then motioned at the stash.
‘Should we do this?’
Katie scooped some powder up with her nail and held it up towards Jax’s lips. He took her whole finger into his mouth and gently sucked on it as she withdrew. Jax’s eyes never left Katie’s.
She was surprised to see the powder had disappeared. They repeated the process. Katie could feel herself getting wet. I should’ve shaved my pussy, she thought. This was hot.
Her flat pancaked nipples hardened under the spacesuit.
Katie scooped some more powder out with her middle finger and up to her right nostril. Sniff. Then her left. Sniff. It felt much smoother than Thumper’s yellow-tinged crystals. Another scoop. Right nostril. Sniff. Left again.
She looked down at the plastic tube. They’d barely made a dint in the powder.
She looked up at Jax’s boyish grin.
‘This tube is like a fucking Tardis of drugs.’
His eyes widened as he rested a hand on her shoulder, as if trying to steady the ship.
‘You look fucked babe.’
Katie nodded as she backed away from him, the speaker tower, life, reality. The vacuum wasn’t just a cylinder now, it was a corridor with translucent walls. Everything outside them was moving in slow motion, or maybe she was and they were at normal speed. Jax’s lips moved, but whatever sound was coming out of them disappeared in the distance between them in this virtual hallway, three metres long, then five, then ten. The thunderous rhythms had stopped and there was silence in the arena until a nursery rhyme began to play. It sounded like a wind-up toy her mum had found her, from Russia or some other faraway land, and it was calming and soothing and she felt safe at home.
Jax stumbled and fell in Katie’s direction. Her brain managed to collect its thoughts long enough to assemble the words Maybe he feels as good as me? Powder flew through the air, joining the cocktail of dry ice and body heat. A figure had broken through her translucent walls – a shirtless man in phat pants and crazy eyes whose lips were barking something in double time. The lunatic picked Jax up by his suspenders and smashed his forehead directly into Jax’s nose, just as he did to Katie when he found out about Kevin Walters. Katie turned to flee into the sea of human detritus as the bass drum dropped and wave after wave of exultations crashed around her.
Lost, flailing, Katie turned back to face the chaos, now just a blur of limbs through a haze of white powder that hung suspended in the air like dust in the dawn light. A long-lost lyric circled her head. I’m in-vis-a-ble. I’m in-vis-a-ble.
Taking that as her cue, Katie held her breath, hid her face behind her index finger, and disappeared backwards into the crowd. Her narrow escape route was now a hall of mirrors alternating concave and convex, the whole warped illusion threatening to collapse around her at the slightest touch.
Everything around Katie was bright flashes and general mayhem. She was a blur attempting to navigate the human traffic that flowed in every direction, only now she was pin-balling off passers-by, the silky skills that allowed to her to slip and slide her way into the D’n’B room and Bukem’s bass assault only hours earlier now temporarily disabled. She wafted through another cavernous but nearly deserted warehouse. It was somehow deeper in there, dark and cold, the few faces in the room more serious. A set of old male eyes locked in with hers and there was joy in them that his grimacing face would never betray. Katie again took shelter behind her finger and scurried off towards the open roller-door and freedom from the mood of this shed, all relentless brood and ominous intent.
Then she was on a street littered with humans in various stages of undress, deep in conversation about the gravitas of it all. She was defenceless but impenetrable. She was nothing and everything. Nothing else was getting near her or Ella. No one. Ever.
The streetlamps overhead twinkled like sparklers. Everything around her bent and shimmered. This hall of mirrors was wonderful. It felt like the sky was raining love. She spun, head titled back, arms aloft, screaming ‘Woooooooooooo!’ at the blackness above as imaginary raindrops caressed her face like cool, refreshing feathers.
‘Hey space fairy!’
The words smashed through the hall’s walls like a cyber-discus from Tron. Once Katie stopped spinning she searched furtively for their source, unable to focus on anything but her own warm glow, yet careful not to tread on the mirrors’ broken shards. The lights, the faces, the amusement park rides all sparkled alike, as if she were looking at the world through a kaleidoscope of star filters.
Katie’s eyes locked in on their target.
‘Space fairy! This way now, come on.’
A laughing vendor motioned to her from behind a row of timber trestle tables, where he was one of many worker bees slinging canned beer, UDLs and energy drinks into the crowd. She slid over to him as if on a hoverboard, parting the pointing and laughing crowds that she was now oblivious too despite their scoffing. Her wide eyes looked directly into his, equally wide, but surrounded by crow’s feet filled with wisdom, his face framed by thick sideburns that said he didn’t belong here. Katie knew that face from behind another bar, or perhaps behind a guitar, perhaps both. His eyes darted left, right, left again then straight into hers as he pressed a bottle of still water into her palm and leaned in closer.
‘Only believe half of what you see,’ began the grizzled voice, interrupted by a rapid clicking sound below as he broke the water bottle’s seal, ‘and half of what you hear.’
And then he was slinging two vodka, lime and soda cans at a couple, pointing and laughing, and Katie was along the street and around the corner, where a green dome had erupted out of the ground. The structure was silent and strangely luminescent, as if filled by radioactive ooze. Shadows twisted and turned inside it, like animals flailing as they tried to escape a trap. In the distance stood a familiar-looking cube, encased in corrugated iron, its surface rippling like a pond pierced by a dragonfly’s wings each time the dirge inside shifted key. Just before it, the gutter that once served as her throne. She was walking in circles.
Katie wiped the bottle of water across her face, the condensation seeming to seep into her skin, another chemistry class success. She was cackling now, the world’s happiest witch broken free of her warlock’s evil enchantment. This is life, she thought. This is fucking LIFE.
‘Here I go again, on my o-woah-woan!’ screeched a voice over shrill guitars from her left and Katie turned, stunned, to see cars circling around and around a tiny track with no end in sight, smashing each other out of the way in a bid to reach their destination first. She hurried away from the endless loop (An eraser of love, an eraser of love instantly wiped from her own inner jukebox) and towards a warehouse where a bored-looking DJ presided over a tired-looking crowd, a monotonous BOOM-thwack-BOOM BOOM-thwack echoing off the walls in a similarly listless fashion. Through a massive metal doorway into another warehouse, raver drones queued up to buy water and beer and energy drinks to her right, brief flashes of light peeking out from behind a curtain to her left. The lights in the distance had her mesmerised though, even as the walls around her buckled like they were about to collapse under the weight of the importance of what was happening inside them. Because this is important, Katie’s brain assured her, otherwise everything is meaningless.
Katie nodded in agreement as she entered the main arena. A kick-drum obnoxiously smashed its way down the centre of the arena and directly into her chest, banging on and on and on with the relentlessness of a pile driver trying to pierce her defences so its owner could cleave her ribcage apart and devour its contents. Two thousand sets of eyes were focused at the deliverer of that kick drum; standing between towers of speakers, arms aloft in a Jesus Christ pose. Technicolour minions of this new prophet lined the timber bleachers either side of the room, hundreds of hands reaching out for direction or forgiveness or just more of whatever it was that the DJ had to give them. Hard house had always been Katie’s sound, until Thumper turned it into the sound of violence. The speakers began to screech angrily and Katie felt the sermon transform around her, all spiritual trappings stripped bare. This room was more Nazi rally than religious experience, the sinister synthesisers Hell’s clarion call. Katie fought against the surging tide, determined to break free of what was once her congregation before it was too late to escape their inexorable march towards oblivion.
Katie noticed movement beside her and turned to see her soul had escaped and was dancing in double-time, kicking and spinning and ravercising itself into distended shapes its owner could barely imagine. Except her soul looked different – it was dressed identically, but the frame was more petite, the curves sexier, the hair blonde not brown, the Elmo backpack shaking around so frantically because it was an empty prop, not practical adornment.
Her soul, perhaps noticing it was being observed up close, stopped what it was doing and turned towards her. Its mouth opened up in shock, then snapped closed, then open again as its hands gripped Katie’s shoulders. Katie looked into the mirror and didn’t recognise who she saw.
She was shocked when her soul spoke in slow motion.
Katie was shocked again. She shook her head.
‘You’re not me.’
‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere,’ said Dani, excitement and worry rippling across her face. She chomped away on some gum. A switch in Katie’s head flicked. She knew that smell. Blue Extra.
‘I can’t find myself.’
‘Katie,’ Dani said, gently shaking her friend. ‘It’s me.’
‘Are you an angel?’
‘I’m your friend.’
‘Then why do you smell like him?’
‘WHY DO YOU SMELL LIKE HIM!’
Katie knocked Dani’s hands off her shoulders and fled through the metal-rimmed entryway, away from the soundtrack to Hitler’s house party. She cleared the roller doors and pivoted right, towards the curtain dividing the next room in two. She spied a crack in the middle of it which she raced through, emerging into another galaxy. A giant disco ball fired stars in every direction, spiralling them around the space’s black-plastic-wrapped walls as tribal drums rumbled out from the stage. It was different in here – not just the sound, but the people. This room was sexy, primal, organic, inviting. She looked out of place amongst the dreadlocked hair and hemp clothing, but instantly felt at home.
Katie moved towards the stage where a single drummer sat to the right of the DJ, his face a picture of smugness as his fingers danced across the skin of a giant, goblet-shaped timber drum. Three other drums lined the stage before him, while behind him a pair of hippies writhed to the tribal rhythms. The hippie to the drummer’s right was impossibly toned and tanned for a man pushing 50, his tie-died shirt flung open to reveal sweat-drenched abs and pecs as he gyrated, occasionally accentuating the drummer’s intricate patterns with a pair of clap-sticks bearing Aboriginal markings. The hippie to his left looked like she was trying to summon spirits up from the ground beneath the stage, writhing and wailing tantalisingly with the barest hint of a soft belly peeking out from beneath where the bottom button on her red sleeveless top had popped open. Condensation dripped down the black plastic wrap behind them, shining more against the disco ball’s stars than the silver semi-quaver and treble-clef symbols that had been stuck on the walls in a cut-price attempt at decoration.
But it was the drummer who had Katie’s attention as she started stomping in time to the music. His eyes alternated between open and shut underneath a floppy hat, decorated with Australian beer labels, that was soaked in sweat, but there was something about them that looked familiar. His frame was thin, and the shirt hanging off it bore a giant printed insignia of a wild pig’s head with the phrase ‘BANNERGAME BIG BOAR – Shooter of the Week’ written around it. His pasty white legs poked out from beneath sweat-coated blue shorts, rivulets of sweat flowing through the barest covering off leg hair. He wore white basketball socks rolled down under black Converse shoes. He didn’t seem to belong here, but the sounds coming from his hands said otherwise.
The beats suddenly stopped, and the drummer a millisecond after.
‘That’s it from the Ravebreak Chill Zone ravers,’ said the DJ, his hands now clutching a microphone instead of a mixer. ‘Thanks for a fucking great party!’
He motioned to his right.
‘I’ve never met this guy, but how fucking sick is this drummer? Give it up!’
The room erupted in hoots and hollers, and the drummer’s face lit up. Katie whooped and his eyes locked with hers. Her face broke into a smile as she applauded him. The drummer looked spooked and broke her gaze to look nervously around the room.
‘The sun’s up outside but the party’s still going over in the Trance room, so we’ll catch you over there soon. Peace!’
The dancing hippies let out gypsy war cries as they leapt from the stage and linked hands. The woman motioned her partner towards Katie.
‘Hey space fairy. What are you doing now?’
Katie shook her head. She didn’t know.
‘It’s okay babe, you’re safe. Come with us.’
She wrapped her left arm around Katie’s shoulder and led her towards the crack in the curtains.
‘Come on little one.’
As they passed through, something struck Katie.
‘The drummer had Ella’s eyes.’
Lewis looked up from the drum to see The Girl from Room 14’s silver space-singlet and pink fluffy boots and Elmo’s lifeless stare pass through the curtain. His stomach had dropped out. He blinked and shook his head as if trying to remove the vision. His words croaked out like a whisper.
‘What in the actual fuck.’