Wednesday, 5 May 2010

At the end of the hall…

There's a monster at the end of our hall.

He lives in a room that was supposed to be occupied by another student. We were told he had come from overseas and so moved in before the semester began. We were told that he’d started his research early, that he’d already made good progress, that he could teach us a great many things.

Then we were told the room was empty. He’d quit the course and moved away. In the week we had been there not one of us had once seen or heard him.

We continued with our studies, much of which took place in our individual rooms with the clunky old PCs the university had provided us with; the best the under funded department could supply. But the interfaces were brand new, built to their unique specifications. There were rumours of investment from multinational corporations interested in the end product. For all their shininess they looked like over-sized electric pencil sharpeners; a large box with a hole through which the user could connect to the machine by way of a finger.

A student in Japan had played a game of Pong using a similar device, moving the 2D paddle with a thought. We were working at an even more basic level, repositioning a cursor on a screen then making notes from the code. It was hard to reconcile what we were learning in our advanced computing lectures with the frustrating limitations we faced in testing the device.

Then the noises started. Bumps, shufflings and occasional beeps from the supposedly unoccupied room at the end of the hall. We reported this to the university accommodation office, to our resident tutors, to our lecturers - they all promised to look into it. When they didn’t we decided to look into it ourselves. We stole a key from the cleaner and one afternoon, after a seminar on nanotechnology, we opened the door.

Sitting in the room, in the dark, was a student. He was at his desk, plugged into his machine as all of us were used to doing by now. But on closer inspection it seemed that the machine was perhaps plugged into him, wires running into his flesh. We tried to get his attention but he was unresponsive, staring at the endless stream of text flashing across his monitor. Except he couldn’t have been staring. He didn’t have any eyes.

I have since decided to ignore the monster at the end of the hall. I’m doing better than the others. I’ve realised that the key to using the device isn't in the code, but in meeting the machine halfway. Thinking like the machine.

There’s a commotion outside. They've decided to disconnect him. I can hear him screaming, like a 56K modem failing to connect. I ignore it, plugging myself in.

I can feel one of my eyes coming loose in its socket. This is okay. I won't need them soon.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down - Part 3 of 3

The first thing Jenny saw when she walked into the bar was the bricklayer, or the man from the train who had joked about being a bricklayer. She almost gave him a polite hello, before she noticed that one hand was on an open briefcase from which a tiny clown person was climbing out. There was another clown dropping from the table to the floor, and another in front of him. She looked along a line of tiny, waddling clowns until she saw a mound of them piled on top of a writhing person, presumably Dante. The miniature knives in their hands were raised in unison then brought down repeatedly into Dante’s flesh.

Jenny acted quickly, and with a flick of her wrist and a whispered word she lifted the attacking clowns a few feet into the air. She couldn’t hold them there for long, but it was long enough for Gabriel to pull Dante free, or what was left of him. The tiny knives had slashed his clothes and flesh into confetti and his black blood had spread out into a sticky pool where his body had been a second ago. She had never seen him hurt this bad before.

‘Please,’ said the bricklayer, ‘I would prefer it if you didn’t interfere.’

Jenny couldn’t hold the clowns anymore anyway and she let them drop. They landed hard and rolled around on their backs, waving their arms and legs like insects unable to right themselves. It would give her some time before they attacked again, she thought, but when she turned back to the briefcase there were already a dozen more clowns on the ground and on their way towards her.

‘Maybe I can’t hurt them,’ she said, ‘but I can stop you.’

Jenny rubbed her hands together, opened her palms and blew. White hot energy crackled between her fingers which she aimed at the bricklayer.

‘And then what?’ he asked, ‘You think they’ll fall back just because I’m dead? They won’t stop until I make them stop.’

Jenny gave this a moment’s thought, then redirected the energy at the dozen or so clowns now at her feet. She fried the majority, their eyeballs popping as they convulsed and span around before finally dropping to the floor dead. It hadn’t helped – two dozen more were already waddling towards her. Yet more were heading for the main room.

‘You can’t do this, there are people in there,’ argued Jenny.

‘You had fair warning,’ he replied, ‘You were given a chance to ensure the building was empty. You didn’t take it. Now it’s too late.’

Gabriel pointed at a couple of clowns who had run into a steel pillar and full of disbelief he said, ‘They’re tearing the place apart.’

Jenny could only watch as they slashed at it with their knives and when that proved fruitless chomped at the metal with their over-sized mouths. This second tactic was surprisingly effective. Other clowns were using similar methods to turn chairs and tables to sawdust in seconds. And there were still more clowns emerging from the case with no sign of stopping. A couple more minutes and the Dark Room would be overrun, a few minutes after that and there would be nothing and nobody left.

Jenny repeated the incantation she uttered before, but widened the spread and lifted everything in the room a couple of inches off the ground. The clowns wiggled their legs frantically, trying to run through the air and looking around in confusion when they didn’t gain any ground. Those closest to Jenny, Gabriel and Dante slashed at them with the knives. Some even slashed at each other, desperate to destroy something.

‘Can you hold them?’ asked Dante, pulling himself to his knees with the help of a nearby table.

Only the table had been partially destroyed by clowns and collapsed under his weight. He fell towards a couple of suspended clowns and Gabriel only just managed to pull him to safety. Jenny looked down at his wrecked body. He had been cut to ribbons and had lost so much blood that the wounds were slow to heal. She didn’t even know if he would heal fully this time. But at least he was moving.

‘No,’ said Jenny, honestly, ‘Not for long anyway.’

She was already starting to sweat with the exertion of keeping so many things afloat with her magic. Across the other side of the room the bricklayer was floating serenely a couple of feet above the clowns. He had the briefcase in his arms and was shaking it so the clowns could escape into the room more easily. The tumbled out into Jenny’s spell like astronauts in zero gravity and drifted towards the others until the room was thick with clowns.

‘We have to get them back into that case,’ stated Dante.

‘Yeah, I gathered that,’ said Jenny.

Gabriel tried to grab one of the clowns but it slashed at his arm, drawing blood.

‘Fucker,’ he swore, then grabbed at the clown again and brought it crashing down at his feet where he stamped repeatedly on the creature’s head. A pool of multicoloured blood spread out behind its cracked skull.

This was followed by a silence as the clowns all looked toward their fallen comrade in unison. It took Jenny a moment to realise that there was something more worrying about the silence, and it wasn’t until she saw a couple of very confused looking people walk into the room that she realised what it meant - the band had stopped playing.


It was only when Django found himself performing before the assembled masses that he began to question the logic behind what he was doing. And there was logic there somewhere, although it was more like a kind of dream logic than actual real life logic. Only he knew it wasn’t a dream – it felt too real. There was also nothing to gain in trying to make sense of it. So he’d decided early on to act as if in a dream, going along with every increasingly bizarre development until some meaning or preferably some means of escape presented itself.

He didn’t feel quite so confident in the ring. They were all staring at him, waiting for him to do something. There were the people in coats on the left with large, bulging shapes bobbing up and down around their bellies, and then on the right the others. The others were the new people. The men in coats had been there a long time, perhaps forever. They knew how everything worked and the melting man had explained most of it to Django. The new people perform for them and if they perform well and one of the coats has a vacancy they get a permanent place on the left. On the left they get all the purple dream juice they could ever want.

The melting man hadn’t called it ‘purple dream juice’. He had simply said ‘dreams’.

‘We feed them dreams,’ he said, ‘It keeps them happy.’

But there weren’t very often vacancies for those wanting to feed on dreams. Mostly the people did their acts, took some abuse from the crowd then went back to the right where they were crammed into a space that would struggle to accommodate half their number. There were very few dreams over there, but there was the odd one.

A few of the people in coats were pickier than the others and hadn’t found their perfect act yet. So they wandered the cramped stalls looking for talent. Django was performing for one of them now. Jan had introduced them, thinking it would give Django an edge over the other potentials. His full name was far too complicated to remember so Django called him Jim. It seemed to fit. Jim was skinnier and shinier than most of the people in coats, but had a large belly where he kept the dreams. His dreams were clearly in demand as the other acts were forever crowding around him, trying to attract his attention. But Jim’s attention was on Django.

Most of the acts, and Django had watched a good few before going on, had involved bleeding. In fact, come to think of it they had all involved bleeding in some form or other. They either started with a wound, or incorporated some kind of self-harm into the act whether it was a slit wrist or flaying of flesh, and almost all ended with a widening pool of blood on the ground beneath the performer. Some bled quickly and heavily, other bled slowly and for longer. No one bled long enough to die from it, although Django had seen more than one come close.

Jim hadn’t known what to make of Django’s act. He bled, and he bled well, but it was the wrong colour and it went back into the flesh afterwards. This he found most unusual. It was different, different enough for him to take a chance on the hope that this was the act he had been waiting for. Which is how Django ended up performing for Jim and why he was now in the centre of the ring biting his wrist open.

When the blood went back in there was silence.


Bobby had expected Molly to freeze in front of the crowd, maybe for a moment, then he figured when the silence became more awkward than the sound of her own voice she might actually get over it. She ran away instead. Which left Bobby on guitar and Laloo on drums, making sounds.

He looked at Laloo and mouthed, ‘Drum solo’.

She wasn’t even looking.

He found Molly backstage packing her gear up. It wasn’t the first time, usually they’d figure out a way to carry on without her. It had happened so many times that Jenny had pretty much learnt to play the bass guitar based on the occasions she’d been forced to take over. They never came down too hard on Molly as a result – she was different in ways they couldn’t imagine. But this time it was unacceptable.

‘People are going to die if we don’t finish this set,’ said Bobby.

‘Do you have any idea how ludicrous that sounds?’ argued Molly, ‘It’s a fucking gig! They came to see Jenny, just like always, she fucking left so now they’re not interested. That’s all.’

‘You’re the one who’s not interested, Molly,’ he spat back at her, ‘Every bloody rehearsal we have to sit through you going on and on about never getting a chance. And now you’ve got it and you’re packing up!’

‘Is it?’ asked Molly, ‘Can you call this my big chance when Jenny’s got the audience fucking hypnotised into thinking we’re fucking Zeppelin as long as we make noises?’

Bobby was silent, but not because he couldn’t think of a response. He had been distracted by the tiny clown at Molly’s feet, swinging a knife at her ankles.


Django was lining up at the back of the tent. They hadn’t liked his act. No one had cheered. No applause, not even a polite cricket clap. They hadn’t booed either, they had mainly just looked at him in confusion. But that was worse than booing apparently and he was sent right to the back of the class. Or tent, where there was a queue leading to another exit.

As he made his slow progress towards the exit he passed the insect band and though they were still in shadow he now realised they were much larger than he first thought. It was while he was looking at the creatures that Jim walked alongside him in the queue.

‘Sorry, chap,’ he said, ‘It was a rather unusual performance, but that was your problem, you see. We can handle a little deviation here and there, but what you did, that was practically avant-garde and it just won’t do.’

Django nodded, accepting this, though in a way what he had seen the others do was to him much stranger than his act.

‘Still, I don’t want you to leave here empty handed,’ Jim continued, ‘You won’t get many dreams where you’re going.’

Until that point Django had presumed he was going home. Suddenly he started to wonder, but he didn’t have much time to wonder as Jim was opening his coat and the acts around him were abandoning the queue to get to Jim. Django looked down at the weeping protrusion where Jim’s belly button ought to have been. A drop of the purple dream juice was dribbling out and down towards his crotch.

‘A parting gift,’ offered Jim.

And though their eyes were wide and their mouths watering the assembled acts scrabbling to get closer to Jim seemed to understand that this was meant for Django and Django only.

Django looked at the exit, and saw that it wasn’t an exit at all but a distorted mirror. He watched as the next act in line, a skinny young man who’d flayed half the flesh off his torso, reached out to touch the curve in the reflective surface only for it to ripple like water. And as the flayed man stepped through the glass the reflection on the other side became even more distorted with parts of it shrinking and other parts, its head, feet and hands, remaining the same size. The thing that remained on the other side was not a man at all, but a tiny, ugly clown.


Another clown emerged from the briefcase, joining the hundreds of others floating in the bar of the Dark Room. Jenny was straining to keep the other clowns afloat but found herself distracted by the growing group of confused onlookers making their way through from the other room. One had already tried to make it to the exit and had been cut to shreds by the clowns’ knives as a result. At the same time a couple of rogue clowns had escaped Jenny’s spell and made it through. She could already hear the screams.

Dante was still piecing himself together and too fragmented to help. Even if he was at full strength there was little he would be able to do other than stare in horror like Gabriel. The furniture that had been in the room was nothing but dust now and the clowns nearest the walls had already torn most of the plastering apart.

‘I’m losing it,’ she warned.

The levitation spell was a party trick, not meant for prolonged use. She was amazed she had kept it up this long.

Dante turned to Gabriel who was reloading the shotgun, ‘Take out as many as you can.’

Gabriel nodded, aiming at the clowns closest to the people.

‘Stay back!,’ shouted Jenny, but they couldn’t hear. Collectively the clowns made a noise that individually would sound like a chattering of teeth but in their hundreds more closely resembled an earthquake.

She was so focused on the people and their suicidal dash for the exit that she failed to notice the clown at her feet that had crawled under her spell and was about to take a bite out of her leg.


‘That’s it,’ said Molly as she backed away from the clowns at her feet, ‘I quit!’

‘You can’t,’ said Bobby, although he was too confused by the sight of tiny clowns to offer any rational reason not to quit.

‘I’m sick of this shit, Bobby,’ continued Molly, ‘We’re a band! The only thing that’s ever supposed to kill us is ourselves, or maybe each other, but not—‘

There was a dull smacking sound as Bobby turned to see what had shut Molly up. Evidently Laloo had punched her in the face. Her nose was bleeding and she looked as if she might cry.

Laloo lifted Molly’s head up to face her and said, ‘That’s better. They like it when we bleed.’

Then she grabbed Molly’s hand and led her back out onstage. Bobby ran after them, and by the time he had picked up his guitar Laloo had started into another song – Molly’s song. Molly looked at Bobby and he started to play. The clowns were on the stage now, Molly had nowhere to go. So she wiped the blood from her nose and started to sing.


Jenny would’ve let go anyway, she had no choice, but it seemed that the moment she did so the band started to play and the people turned around. Suddenly Molly’s voice on the mic was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. Only it was followed by the worst - the sound of a thousand tiny clowns hitting the concrete floor.

Jenny, Dante and Gabriel looked down at the horde of clowns and realised with some reluctance that they would be torn down along with the building.

‘Take him out,’ Dante said to Gabriel, indicating the man with the case.

‘But how are we supposed to--‘

Dante cut Gabriel off, ‘We’re not supposed to. Just take him out, make sure he won’t do this to anyone else.’

Gabriel looked at the clowns clawing at his feet, then levelled the gun at the man with the briefcase. Only he didn’t have the briefcase anymore, it was on the floor at his feet. And something else was emerging from inside, something much larger than any of the clowns.

‘Django!’ screamed Jenny, recognising his face as he pulled himself up into the room.

Django climbed to his feet took a quick look around. The clowns were everywhere now but that didn‘t seem bother him. He spat something into his hand then held it up for all in the room to see – a thick, sticky, purple liquid.

The clowns all turned in unison and charged Django, not to hurt him but desperate to get to the liquid in his hand. But it wasn’t in his hand anymore, it was being squeezed into the open case at his feet, dripping slowly enough for the clowns to see it and try to follow.

And follow they did, back into the case, back where they came from.

‘No!’ shouted the bricklayer, ‘Only I can send them back!’

The bricklayer had wrenched a knife from one of the clowns and was charging at Django. But he never made it that far, cut short when Gabriel took his shot and hit him in the chest. He fell, bleeding, and could only watch as his army disappeared into the darkness.

And when the clowns had reduced in number to around five hundred, enough to see the floor again, the bricklayer dragged himself to the exit. Gabriel moved after him with the shotgun, but Dante stopped him.

‘Let him go.’

‘But you said—‘

Dante shook his head, ‘We’ve got the case. He can’t hurt anyone else.’

It was good enough for Dante and as usual Gabriel gave him the benefit of the doubt, but Django wasn’t satisfied. He was out of the purple liquid anyway, so he stepped away from the case and ran for the door. Jenny stepped into his place and when the last clown dived back into the case she slammed it shut, and then stood on it to make sure.


Outside Django caught up with the bricklayer as he crawled up into the alley.

‘Wait!’ he shouted after him, ‘I need to know for definite.’

He dropped down onto his knees in front of the crawling man and looked him in the eye.

‘I get it now,’ he said, ‘I know how things are destroyed. But is this how they’re built too?’

The bricklayer said nothing for a moment, then shook his head.

‘No,’ he said, ‘There’s another man, with another briefcase. I don’t know any more than that.’

And knowing that this was the most he could hope for Django pulled the bricklayer to his feet and sent him on his merry bleeding way.


When Dante had finally reassured her that standing on the briefcase wasn’t required to keep the clowns in Jenny returned to the stage for a last couple of songs. Molly backed away from the mic at first, but Jenny held out her arms and took the bass from her. They played the rest of their set like that, Jenny playing mostly the wrong notes and Molly making up her lyrics as she went along. The people at the back started to lose interest and some left or went to the bar for drinks, but that wasn’t so important now – they were enjoying themselves for the first time that evening.

Meanwhile Dante and Gabriel were assessing the damage. It looked like a bulldozer had come through the bar, but it was mostly surface damage – nothing structural. Half the bar itself was gone and they’d need a lot of new furniture but all things considered they had been pretty lucky. They just had to decide what to do with the case – whether it was more dangerous to keep it or throw it away.

Django was sitting on the floor having a drink with Sara and some of the regulars. He was telling them what happened to him, in a matter of fact way that made it sound like it was the kind of thing that happened to him every day. This meant than none of the assembled audience really believed a word of it, and as he listened in from a distance Dante decided that this was probably for the best.

‘What happened when you got to the mirror?’ asked Sara, wondering why Django wasn’t a tiny clown.

‘Mustn’t have worked on me,’ he lied.


The next morning Django was standing on the rooftop, looking across at the buildings again. The one that was still being built yesterday looked pretty much finished - it had been a busy night for someone. He had thought that greater knowledge about the way this world had been constructed would have been some comfort. But it wasn’t any kind of comfort at all.

He looked down at his hand and remembered standing in front of that mirror and reaching out to touch his distorted reflection. He remembered the pain that shot though his body as his fingers sent ripples across the surface of the glass. And he remembered her voice.

‘I can help you,’ said the woman in the mirror, ‘I can stop this, send you back home.’

Django had agreed without hearing the terms, thinking nothing could be worse than the transformation he had seen the poor acts before him go through.

‘All I ask in return,’ she said, ‘is that you owe me a favour. And that when I ask you for this favour, whatever it may be, you do it, without question.’

A slender, white hand emerged from the mirror at that point. Django had taken the hand in his and kissed it. And then he was back in the world and spitting dreams into his hand. He knew they’d be useful for something.

But while he was here and the Dark Room was safe, there was something worse about owing the woman in the mirror a favour. At least before he’d known what he would become, what would be required of him. The tiny clowns knew where they stood, but he had no idea.


The bricklayer had bled his way to Blackfriar’s Bridge where he knew he would find the man in the bowler hat who liked to watch the sun rise over the Thames. His name was Mr. B.

‘Didn’t go too well I see,’ said Mr. B without even looking at the bleeding bricklayer at his feet.

‘They took my case…’ said the bricklayer.

‘That won’t do,’ said Mr. B, ‘I shouldn’t worry though. They’ll be too afraid to get up to any mischief with it. I’ll get it back.’

‘Thank you…I can try again…’

‘Not for you, dear boy. You’re being replaced. Your employment has been terminated.’

The bricklayer looked horrified for a moment, but it only took a moment for Mr. B to run the knife across his throat. And as he bled what remained of his life out through his throat Mr. B scooped out his eyes with a silver teaspoon and then tossed the bricklayer into the river. The cut was so deep that the bricklayer lost his head as he fell.

‘Sometimes I just don’t know my own strength,’ said Mr. B to himself.

Then he quickly strolled over to the other side of the bridge to see which the current would pull through first – the head or the body. When neither came through he sighed, then headed off to work.


Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down - Part 2 of 3

Dante had been doing some research of his own. The Wikipedia entry on ‘demolition’ helpfully advised that it was the opposite of ‘construction’. He watched videos of buildings collapsing like they were stacks of playing cards and scanned the websites of demolition contractors who seemed to treat the specifics of their work as a closely guarded secret. Mostly what he turned up were 9/11 conspiracy theories, which were no use. He knew what happened there.

Gabriel brought him a beer and pointed out that it was seven o’clock, ‘Only a couple of hours till opening. If you’re going to close the place tonight you’d better decide.’

‘We never close,’ said Dante, although Gabriel already knew that. It was just wishful thinking.

Jenny’s band were already rehearsing their set...without Jenny. They would have to be good tonight. They would have to keep people distracted, maintain the illusion that The Dark Room was the safest place in the world to be. Keep the heart beating.

Gabriel was lining up shotgun cartridges on the bar, tossing away the empties he’d collected by mistake and grumbling under his breath.

‘If you’d rather go home…‘ offered Dante.

Wouldn’t miss this for the world,’ said Gabriel with much more sarcasm than he intended.

Jenny’s bass player, Molly, walked over to Dante with a kind of mock decisiveness that didn’t quite suit her casually nihilistic persona.

‘Where is she?’ she asked, lifting her watch to her face in one big, sweeping movement.

‘Talking to ex-boyfriends,’ said Dante.

‘She’s supposed to be here now! We wanted to rehearse the new songs.’

‘Maybe she’s doing more than talking’ suggested Gabriel, regretting it the moment Dante glared at him.

‘Look, if she isn’t here by the time we open I’m singing, okay?’

Dante and Gabriel both looked at Molly, unsure whether the idea was meant as a solution or a threat. They didn’t get chance to decide.

‘We’re fucked,’ exclaimed Jenny as she walked through the door, ‘They’re going to burn this place to the ground and I have no idea how to stop them.’

‘You mean you learnt nothing’ asked Dante.

‘Less than nothing,’ said Jenny, ‘Less than we knew before. We have no fucking clue what’s coming for us tonight. Could be a bloke with a sledgehammer, could be fucking Godzilla – we won’t know until it gets here.’

Dante took a moment to consider this as Django strolled in behind Jenny.

Preoccupied with her own thoughts too much to care, Molly stated, ‘I’m going to sing tonight. I’ve decided. Dante agrees with me’

Jenny looked across at Dante, ‘Jesus, you have to be the most insanely jealous person I’ve ever met. Is this some kind of punishment? You’re kicking me out of my own band?’

Dante wasn’t even listening. He turned to Django, ‘What do you think?’

‘I think we wait and see what happens,’ he said, ‘I’m excited.’

‘We can’t prepare for something we don’t know anything about,’ said Gabriel.

‘We can do our best,’ Dante decided, ‘We treat it like any other night, except I want the entrance and the bar clear. Whatever comes through that door we stop it before it gets into the main room. Jenny, you need to keep everyone down in front of the stage. I mean everyone.’

Jenny nodded, but it wasn’t good enough.

‘I’m serious. You have to be good tonight. Better than good. You have to be the best thing they've ever seen. They need to believe that what they're seeing and hearing is something unique and perfect and not to be missed at any cost'

‘I can do that,’ said Jenny.

‘So can I if you’d give me the chance.’ said Molly, but no one was listening.


An hour later, Django was outside, waiting for it to get dark. Dante came out and lit a cigarette.

‘Not much happening yet,’ Django told Dante.

Dante nodded and smoked a while.

He was down to the butt before he asked, ‘What was he like?’

It took Django a moment to realise Dante was talking about Barry.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, stalling while he thought of the best possible answer, ‘He was like someone who moves bricks around for a living.’

Dante nodded again.

‘You’re not seriously worried about it, are you?’

Yes, he was worried. He worried that sometimes he couldn’t give her what a normal man could. He worried that the things he offered instead sometimes weren’t enough. He worried that they were too different to really stay together, but he worried about what would happen to him if they didn’t. He wanted her; needed her, more than maybe she realised. More than maybe he’d ever told her. And he certainly didn’t tell Django this.

‘Look, if it helps, she didn’t look at all happy about kissing him.’

Dante nodded, then processed what he’d just heard.



Jenny and the band were coming to the end of another new song. It wasn’t great, borderline rubbish in fact.

‘Fuck it, we’ll stick with what we know,’ she said decisively, ‘We can’t take any chances tonight.’

She’d forgotten about one thing.

‘Oh I see,’ said Molly, ‘You can’t sing the song I wrote so we won’t do it at all. That’s just great.’

Bobby sighed, knowing this wasn’t going to be pleasant. He glanced across at Laloo. She was staring at the ceiling oblivious, lost in the drumbeat that pounded a constant rhythm through her head whenever she was onstage.

‘It’s not about you, Molly,’ Jenny tried diplomatically, ‘The song just isn’t ready yet. We’re not ready to play it.’

‘Bullshit!’ shouted Molly, aiming her bass like it was a machine gun as she stormed over to where Jenny was standing centrestage, ‘It sounds fine, you’re not ready to sing it. Everyone else can do it, just not you.’

‘You’re not singing tonight and that’s the end of it,’ said Jenny, heading Molly off before she even got there.

‘Why not? I can do it! You know I can fucking do it – first time I played you the song I sang it and you said it was great.’

Molly’s eyes had started to glow green which was a sign she was getting angrier by the second and bad things were about to happen. Jenny turned Bobby for support.

‘What happened last time we let Molly sing in front of a crowd?’

‘I’m staying out of this,’ said Bobby.

But they all remembered. Molly got bad stage fright the moment there were more than two or three people watching. Mostly when she played bass she hid at the side of the stage, or made sure she was as close to being hidden as she could be without being completely off-stage.

The lights dimmed and one of Dante’s playlists came over the PA. They were opening. There would be people here soon.

‘Not tonight, Molly,’ said Jenny finally, ‘I’m serious. If we fuck up this set…’

‘What?’ asked Molly, ‘What exactly is going to happen if we mess this up?’

Jenny didn’t know.


The regulars were already queuing up outside the door. Django scanned the line for anything unusual. There were a few faces he didn’t recognise, but there always were and he wasn’t great with faces anyhow.

It was pointless anyway – the ones who came to knock the place down wouldn’t be queuing. For all Django knew the earth could suddenly open and swallow the building whole. It was just as feasible as anything else he’d thought of so far. Maybe opening tonight wasn’t such a good idea. He knew what Dante would say –
‘We’re always open’. But if the building was going to be swallowed up by the earth wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if that building were empty?

There was a tugging at his arm and he looked down to see Sara, one of the regulars, staring up at him from behind dark glasses – even the moonlight was too bright for her.

‘Are you opening tonight or what?’ she asked.

She looked to him for an answer, as did everyone else in the rapidly expanding queue.

Django glanced at his watch, but he was just stalling. Then he heard Dante opening the door behind him. It was no use arguing. He stepped to one side and the regulars flooded down the steps and into the club.


Jenny and the band stood in silence, staring into the dark as they waited for the right moment. She could see the first few people, drinks in their hands, making their way into the room. She whispered something into her hand, and all the way across the other side of the room, a girl heard it like it was whispered into her ear. And she turned to her friend and whispered the same thing, and her friend turned to the person next to her and whispered it again. And so word spread that a very special show was about to start.

The room filled up quickly then, people pushing eagerly to the front in anticipation of something wondrous, even if they didn’t know where that anticipation had come from. There were a few shouts from the back, from people who hadn’t heard the whisper yet, but they’d be okay – she’d have them once the music started. Otherwise it was completely silent.

She looked down at the front row, right into the eyes of the most excited members of the audience. They looked up into the blackness on the stage, unaware they were being watched.

Jenny spotted Gabriel at the back of the room giving her a wave – the majority of the people were in here now which meant it was time. As the music faded out she looked up to the balcony of the upstairs bar at the back of the room. Dante was standing there, watching. He nodded.

‘Now,’ she said.

Laloo tapped her drumsticks three times, then the stage exploded in light and colour as the band started to play.


Django could hear Jenny sing from outside, and as always wanted to be in there listening, and watching her. The thought crossed his mind that he may never get the chance to do so again – that this could be the last night Jenny Ringo played The Dark Room. And as he was thinking this a man stepped towards the door.

‘Hold on,’ said Django, looking the smartly dressed man over, ‘What’s in the case?’

The man in the pin-stripe suit didn’t answer right away. Instead he pulled out a gold pocket watch, read the time, and said, ‘I’m late for an appointment.’

And Django knew he was the one.

‘Show me what’s in the case,’ he asked again.

The man sighed, then, ‘Here. I’ll show you.’

He laid the briefcase on the ground, entered a combination into the lock and opened it slowly. Django stared into a blackness that seemed to go on forever. Before he knew it he was falling into that blackness, and hearing the case snap shut behind him.


Gabriel was alone at the bar. He could just about hear Jenny sing her siren song on but it was muffled by the earplugs he’d forgotten to give to his bar staff. He watched as they moved further and further towards the main room. It didn’t matter – better they were in there than in here.

He looked up to see a handsome, smartly dressed man in his early forties standing at the bar. He was carrying a briefcase.

‘What would you like?’ asked Gabriel.

‘I’d liked to see the proprietor,’ he said, ‘I have an appointment. He was notified by letter.’

Gabriel couldn’t hear a thing and was thankful when Dante stepped into view.

‘You’re here, then,’ he said.

The man nodded, then he moved over to a table upon which he placed the briefcase.

‘I’d like to start now, if I may,’ he said, ‘I’ll give you a moment to evacuate the building. If you don’t want anyone to get hurt that is.’

‘I can’t allow you to go through with it,’ said Dante, ‘Not until I’ve shown you what’s downstairs.’

‘I’ve seen your heart, sir,’ said the man with a smile, ‘It’s old and dying. It needs to be put out of its misery. We’re building a new heart. A better one. One that will beat with the screams of the helpless and pump the blood of the dying through the renewed arteries of a rejuvenated city.’

Dante considered this, then decided,
‘I’m afraid I still can’t let you do it.’

The man entered a combination and snapped the locks open.

‘You had your moment.’

And with that he opened the briefcase.


Django couldn’t remember quite where the light had come from, but it was there, he could see it. He wasn’t sure if he’d fallen here, in which case he couldn’t remember landing, or just appeared, in which case he wasn’t sure how long he’d been here. There was light ahead, he could be sure of that. But when he decided to move towards the light he couldn’t be sure if he was physically walking or just moving. Did he even have a body anymore?

Before long there was enough light to confirm he did indeed still have a body and there was solid ground beneath his feet. Unfortunately the light itself was not the way out as he had hoped. It was simply an ancient looking streetlamp. The circle of gaslight only extended a few feet until it hit blackness again, but Django could see another light in the distance. He moved on. Better to stick to the light rather than strike off into the darkness – there were sounds of scuttling things out there. Sometimes he even thought he heard a kind of high-pitched giggle.

By the time he reached the third or fourth light he was starting to wonder where he was being led. By the seventh and eighth he had started to lose count. After a few more he started to wonder if the lights were taking him in a circle. He became more aware of this the further he walked, until he finally realised that it wasn’t a circle at all, but a spiral. And in the centre of the spiral he came across a large, brightly-coloured circus tent with lights strung around the perimeter. He had never been to the circus.

Django circled the tent once, making sure there wasn’t anything he was missing. There wasn’t, so he went in and immediately wished he hadn’t. There were people inside the tent. Lots of people. And they had all turned to look at him.

Ahead of him was a large, open ring surrounded by tiered seating that was rammed full of people. There were too many faces to take in any details – he noticed that some were smartly dressed, others in more outlandish attire, most did not look happy. There was a young woman standing in the centre of the ring and he realised with embarrassment that he had clearly interrupted some sort of act. She looked at him, her smile shimmering almost as much as her sparkly red dress. She was clearly waiting for him to take a seat so she could continue.

Django looked around anxiously for a space. He’d spied the one on the front row some time ago but didn’t like the idea of sitting so close – what if there was audience participation? When people started tutting he gave up the search and took the front row seat. The man next to him, a chubby, sweating gentleman in an even larger coat who appeared to be melting under the heat of the lights, gave him a knowing wink. But Django didn’t know anything.

There was a drum roll from the shadows. Django squinted – there were shapes there. They didn’t look like human shapes, but he didn’t have time to concentrate on the band – the woman in the ring was about to perform. She took a long sword from a barrel at her side and swallowed it to the hilt. The crowd applauded. It was true that Django had never been to the circus, but he had seen this before. He watched as she withdrew the sword in one fluid movement, much to the crowd’s amazement, then chose another, longer than the first. This continued for some time but as the crowd’s interest escalated Django found himself looking towards the band again. There were long, spindly legs in silhouette against the back of the tent moving with each drum roll, like some sort of insect.

By the time Django looked back to the ring the woman had in her hands a sword that looked to be quite clearly bigger than she was. He laughed, presuming it was a joke, but the melting man scowled at him. The crowd was silent. She lifted the sword, wavering slightly beneath its weight (was that for effect?) and slowly inserted the tip between her lips.

Django watched in awe as the sword slowly descended down through her throat, visibly widening her neck as it went. It was over sooner than he thought, the sword buried to the hilt. There was a glint of metal at the hem of her dress, between her legs. She span around, stripping off her dress as she did so and revealing that the tip of the sword had indeed emerged where Django had presumed it must have done. The crowd leapt out of their seats in approval, applauding and roaring with excitement. She turned around for them, unable to bow but clearly enjoying the applause.

The melting man nudged Django, clearly wondering why he wasn’t applauding like the rest of them. But Django was too busy staring at the floor beneath her feet, and the deep red blood that was dripping so frequently now the sawdust was no longer soaking it up. And he wondered if there would be clowns.


Dante looked at the open briefcase, knowing that whatever was in there would be dangerous but not confident enough to act until he knew exactly what it was. The briefcase moved slightly, shunting half an inch towards the edge of the table, then back again. The smartly dressed man just watched, smiling, as he took another step back. Then something glinted as it rose out of the case and into the room.

The thin, sharp looking knife was followed by the normal sized hand that was holding it. The hand dropped the knife onto the table and grabbed the edge of the case to pull whatever its arm was connected to up and out. The body, probably about a foot long, was dressed in brightly coloured, oversized clothes with huge shoes on its man-sized feet. Like the hands and feet, the head was also regular size in contrast with the body, maybe even larger, and perfectly round like a bowling ball. The flesh was pure white, with brightly coloured make-up smudged over the eyes.

The teeth were perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the creature. When it opened its mouth to smile the red-painted lips stretched from ear to ear and parted to reveal a hundred or so teeth, each sharpened to a vicious looking point.

The tiny clown picked up its knife and leapt down off the table, giggling. It waddled across the floor towards Dante, lifting the knife as if to slash at his ankles. Dante didn’t let him get that close. He aimed a kick at the oversized head and sent it flying across the room. The clown hit a wall and slid to the floor, still giggling until it landed on its head with a bump.

Dante looked to Gabriel to see if he was missing anything. Gabriel looked as confused as he did and just shrugged. Dante turned back to the smartly dressed man expecting to see him packing up the case to leave.

But he wasn’t leaving. Another knife was emerging from the case, followed by another. There were more clowns.


When they were halfway through their usual set Jenny started to think that maybe they would make it through the night without incident. They were playing at their best (despite the occasional glare from Molly), the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves (although Jenny hadn’t really given them a choice), and she hadn’t seen anything suspicious from the back of the room. It was perfectly reasonable to believe that Dante had contained the problem without any issues (he usually did).

Then she noticed Gabriel standing at the side of the stage looking worried. She nodded at Bobby who immediately went into an over-the-top guitar solo – something she would normally never allow, which is why he leapt at the opportunity. Gabriel pulled Jenny backstage.

‘He needs your help,’ said Gabriel.

‘Why? What is it?’ asked Jenny.

Gabriel tried to say something, then, ‘You’ll just have to come and see for yourself.’

‘If whatever’s back there is as bad as you’re making out you need me here. I leave the stage that crowd are going to lose interest.’

‘Oh get over yourself, Jenny,’ exclaimed Gabriel, ‘You did your stuff, they’re hooked, let someone else have a go for a change.’

‘It’s not that simple. You have to ride the magic, like—‘

Jenny stopped as she realised the song was coming to an end. The crowd had started into a slow, zombie-like applause, clearly missing her already. But there was another sound over the applause and Bobby’s wailing guitar; a sound she had never heard before as long as she had known him. Dante was screaming.

Jenny turned to and shouted to Molly.

‘You’re on!’ she said, ‘Don’t fuck it up.’

Molly nodded, looking excited, until Jenny added, ‘I’m serious – we can’t allow even one person out of this room. That’s up to you now.’

Molly nodded again, then thought about what she would now have to do and shouted, ‘Wait! I can’t do it!’

But Jenny had already gone, leaving Molly to staring out at the expectant crowd as Bobby came to the end of his solo. She made wild hand signals in an effort to get him to drag it out. He saw her, but thought he meant for her to stop, so he did. Laloo continued to play until she realised Bobby and Molly had both stopped, at which point she stopped too. Molly played a few notes on her bass to fill up the silence, but they only made the silence seem bigger; more oppressive.

There were a couple of shouts from the crowd. She peered out into the darkness and saw movement among the shadows. They would start to leave soon, and then she’d really be in trouble. This wasn’t about her talent or Jenny’s ego anymore. It was bigger than that and it was all on her shoulders. So she stepped up to the mic.

She froze. Bobby saw it and immediately waved to Laloo to start playing something, anything to draw attention away from Molly. He started to play along – it was the new song, the one Molly had written, but still she didn’t sing.

Bobby walked over to Molly, ‘Jenny got them hooked, just keep them interested.’

Molly’s head nodded, but that was the most she could get her petrified body to do. Laloo and Bobby continued to play and Molly just watched as the people in the audience started to look at each other in confusion, wondering what they were doing there. Soon they would realise they didn’t have an answer, and they would leave. Molly almost wished they would get on with it – it would be over quicker that way.


The next act was a skeletal man with a parasitic twin where his penis should’ve been, although the cynic in him wondered if the entire act was simply constructed from a dead baby and a lot of staples. Just when he thought he had decided on the latter the thing started to move.

‘He used to be one of mine’ said the melting man, guessing wrongly that Django was enjoying the show.

‘One of your what?’ asked Django.

‘One of my acts,’ replied the man holding out his hand, ‘Name’s Salo January. Call me Jan.’

Django shook the sweaty hand and was horrified to find it felt as moist to the touch as it looked. Maybe he really was melting.

‘Django,’ he said in response.

Jan prompted him for more but Django wasn’t really sure what he meant.

‘You only have one name?’ asked Jan, but before Django could respond, ‘Then you’re on the wrong side! This area is for promoters, like me. You should be over there.’

Django looked where Jan was pointing. The opposite side of the tent looked even more packed full of people than this side. On closer inspection he realised the majority of the people took up at least three times as less space as the people on Jan’s side. They were mostly skinny and wearing all kinds of ill-fitting clothes that may once have been bright and colourful but were now dull and dirty. Some carried props that gave away their acts, like unicycles or spooky looking dolls or armfuls of assorted sharp objects, presumably for juggling. Others carried complex-looking engines and contraptions the use for which was often not apparent.

‘I’m not one of them,’ stated Django.

‘If you’re not a promoter you’re an act,’ replied Jan, ‘And you don’t have enough names to be a promoter.’

Jan prodded Django’s belly, ‘You don’t have the right gear either.’

Django looked back at the ring. The parasitic dead baby twin was now taking a bow. He’d been wrong on all counts – it was the man who had been dead.

‘I’ve got an act,’ said Django.

‘I don’t care,’ said Jan, ‘Over here, we’ve already got acts. Here comes mine now.’

Django watched as the sword swallower he saw earlier squeezed passed other promoters to get to Jan.

‘Can I have it now?’ she asked eagerly.

Jan gave her a mischievous smile and said, ‘What happened to the finale? What happened to the rehearsal?’

She looked ashamed, almost scared as she replied, ‘It hurt. It hurt too much.’

‘Well I don’t know about that,’ said Jan, ‘You’ve done better.’

‘I thought it was great,’ said Django, but Jan shot him a disapproving look.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the sword swallower, ‘I’ll try harder next time.’

Jan looked at her for a moment, then nodded. Her face lit up as he opened his coat, revealing a sweaty, blubbery belly beneath. Django noticed Jan’s belly-button protruded about an inch from the flesh, forming a stiff cone of wrinkled flesh. There was some kind of fluid, purple in colour, dribbling from the end.

The sword swallower dropped to her knees and clamped her lips around the protrusion, her eyes rolling up into her skull as she drank the purple fluid. Jan closed his coat over her, prompting Django to take another look at the crowd around him. This time he noticed that many of the obese promoters had their coats buttoned up over human-shaped bulges that bobbed up and down with a steady rhythm. He turned back to Jan slightly horrified, but Jan clearly mistook his horror for disappointment.

‘Okay, show me your act,’ he said, ‘I can’t help you, but if you want to show off your act go ahead - I won’t tell anyone you’re not supposed to be here.’

Django didn’t want to show him his act anymore, but a couple of other promoters had turned to look at him now and he had a feeling this was a rare opportunity. He lifted his wrist to his mouth and bit into the flesh, hard. After some gnawing he drew blood and held the wrist out for the onlookers to see. A thick black jet of blood spurted a couple of feet into the air, then froze, solidified and slithered back into Django’s flesh, closing up the wound on re-entry.

There was a moment of silence while Django tried to read the expressions of the faces around him.

‘Mine can do that,’ said one.

‘Mine too,’ said another.

Django looked to Jan, fearing the worst.

‘Not like that they can’t,’ said Jan, clearly astonished, ‘If you’re looking for representation...’

‘I’m not,’ said Django, ‘I just want to get out of here.’

Jan pointed to an exit behind him. There a promoter, much skinnier than the others, was opening his coat. A healthy looking, plump performer emerged, purple fluid running down his chin. The performer shook the withered promoter’s hand and walked out through the exit.

‘That’s the only way out,’ said Jan, ‘You perform for long enough you’ll be strong enough to leave.’

Django thought about this and decided he didn’t really have any other options. There were rules governing this world that he didn’t yet understand and he had always believed that you can’t bend or break a rule until you understand why it’s there. He did consider making a run for it, but when the slit in the tent had been pulled to one side for the performer to exit all he had seen was darkness. It was a way out of the circus but he was not convinced it was the way home. Not yet anyway.

‘Fine,’ he said, ‘Then you’ll take me on?’

‘I can’t possibly take on any new clients at the moment,’ said Jan, motioning towards the bobbing bulge beneath his coat, ‘But I know a man who can.’


Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down - Part 1 of 3

‘I still like Bathory’s Loving Trio,’ said Bobby in yet another attempt to rename the band ‘It sounds kind of dangerous--’

‘Dangerous like a sandwich,’ replied Jenny, beginning to regret ever challenging him to come up with a better name than hers, ‘Besides, there’s four of us.’

‘Exactly! There are four of us!’

‘That’s what I said.’

Jenny looked optimistically up at the screen above the platform – still a couple of minutes until the next train, which unfortunately gave Bobby time to explain himself.

‘No, see that’s what people will think it means,’ Bobby started, ‘but the trio part doesn’t refer to how many of us are in the band.’

Thankfully the sound of the train roaring into the station drowned out Bobby before he could explain what exactly the trio part of his genius new band name did refer to. After an eight hour rehearsal Jenny could barely string two words together, but lack of sleep and exhaustion seemed to work the opposite way for Bobby than it did for everyone else. It wasn’t the only thing that was different about Bobby Eck.

Not having a face was a big difference. His whole head was featureless – no hair, no eyes, nose, mouth, ears…he was a surprisingly good guitar player considering he had no ears. Jenny had made him a mask out of electricity and rhythm that worked well enough for him to be seen out in public. As a result looking at Bobby was kind of like looking at someone through a camera that’s out of focus – you can see that it’s a face but you can’t quite make out any features. Luckily they lived in London, where no one looks anyone in the eyes anyway so it didn’t matter that there were no eyes to not look into.

When they stepped onto the train Jenny realised what time it was – 6am. Laloo, their drummer, had the best rehearsal space and couldn’t be bothered lugging her drums across town anyway so they always went to her’s. Unfortunately she also lived the wrong side of the river and Jenny and Bobby often ended up heading back into the city at this time of the morning – commuter time.

The train was packed full of smartly dressed men and women in suits, some reading newspapers but most studying countless pages of stapled reports. Jenny had worked in offices – she knew how that world of money and bureaucracy worked. Some of them were probably people like her, well, like she used to be. Then again, this was the early-bird crowd – the ones who would be in the office for 7 and then wouldn’t leave until midnight. Then they’d go out on Fridays, get fucked up on coke and cocktails, spend Saturday puking blood and cum and be back at work by Sunday afternoon. That was the life.

‘What do they all do?’ asked Bobby.

It was a good question, one that Jenny had also been pondering, but did Bobby realise he’d said it out loud? The way he was leaning over the shoulder of the woman next to him to read her report suggested he did realise and he intended to get an answer.

‘Excuse me, what’s your job?’

The woman ignored him – the first stage of the regulation response to communication on the tube. The second was turning away, then maybe she’d throw him an evil look and finally she’d move down the other end of the carriage. That was if Bobby pressed his enquiries to that point and Jenny nudged him in the hope that he wouldn’t.

Bobby turned away from the woman, but he wasn’t done. He was looking for a more responsive target. He found one – a large, burly man who looked like he’d inflate to twice his already substantial size if his shirt buttons were undone.

‘You, sir. What is it that you do?’ Bobby continued.

The man just stared at Bobby, skipping stages one and two and going straight for the evils. But Bobby’s out-of-focus face confused him so he moved back a stage and turned away.

‘Bobby, stop,’ pleaded Jenny quietly, ‘They’re in commuter mode, you won’t get an answer.’

Bobby continued to scan the faces of the commuters on the train for his next victim. One of them, a thin, handsome man in his mid-forties with a briefcase on his lap, was looking straight back at Bobby almost daring him to ask the question.

Bobby went for it, ‘How about you? What’s your job exactly?’

‘I’m a bricklayer,’ he said, with a straight face.

This made Jenny laugh, mainly due to the effect on Bobby who was lost for words for the first time that day. She looked at the man more closely this time. He was good looking for his age, and seemed a little more at ease than his fellow commuters, although he clutched his briefcase between both hands as if his life was in there. Then his eye’s met her’s for an instant and she found herself thinking of Dante.


The man from the council wasn’t even looking where he was going, let alone looking Dante in the eye when he told him they were tearing his nightclub down. Dante was used to this – they had been trying to clear him out ever since he signed the lease. The fact that the building was old and ugly perplexed their computers. They could do so many things with it if they were allowed.

They were not allowed. Dante had signed an agreement that said so, and it didn’t matter that he had the only copy, that the officials who put that agreement together were long dead, that it was written in a language that was no longer recognised and referred to laws that had been in effect since the dawn of time and had been forgotten for just as long. It was an agreement signed in the blood of the earth by the blood of the earth. And if they knew what would happen if he broke that promise they would not be trying to shut him down.

‘I’ll show you,’ Dante offered. Worth a try, ‘I’ll show you why we have to stay here. It’s not far.’

‘No, thank you,’ was the response ‘I was just supposed to give you notice, that’s all, I’m leaving now.’

As the man from the council scuttled towards the door Dante considered reaching out and grabbing him, digging his thumb and forefinger into the neck at the base of the skull and then ripping his spine out, fully intact, with the brain bobbing around on top…

‘What’s that you got there?’ asked Gabriel, lugging a stack of crates over to the door.

Dante looked at the thing in his hand that Gabriel was referring to and was rather disappointed to see the letter he had been given and not the man from the council’s spine.

‘They’re knocking this place down,’ said Dante.

‘Again?’ Gabriel dumped the crates and snatched the letter from Dante’s hand, ‘They bloody well are too. Didn’t you show him downstairs?’

‘He didn’t want to see.’ Dante watched the door shut behind the man from the council, trying to convince himself this was okay, ‘Maybe we can convince the men with the machines.’

‘Do they use machines? Don’t they just blow things up?’

Dante thought for a moment.

‘I honestly don’t know.’


Django was up on the roof, looking out over the city, or what you could see of it from on top of the club. Technically it wasn’t even the roof of the club – it was the roof of the archive building that sat on top of the club. The long abandoned archive building that didn’t archive anything much anymore. It was a wonder they hadn’t knocked it down. So there he stood, staring across at two building sites, wondering how they worked.

One of them wasn’t a building site anymore. It was a fully finished building now. It still had the condom of scaffolding wrapped tight, still had the odd builder wandering around on a fag break, but it was there, it was done, it was finished. It wasn’t finished yesterday, he swore it wasn’t. It had sprung rapidly into its erect state overnight, prompted by the gentle touch of…of what?

‘Dante wants to see you,’ Gabriel stepped up behind him and said, ‘There might be some trouble tonight.’

‘There’s always trouble tonight,’ replied Django, and then ‘Do you know how buildings work?’

Gabriel looked at Django for a moment, considering how best to reply.

‘I don’t know. It’s all pipes and wires and stuff. Go ask a builder.’

Django gestured to the skyline, ‘Doesn’t it worry you that you don’t know where all this came from?’

‘I can see where it came from,’ said Gabriel, pointing at a couple of workers on a lunch break in the scaffolding of the unfinished structure, ‘They’re built by overweight, chain-smoking monkey-men like that lot.’

‘They’re not though, are they?’ argued Django, ‘I’ve been watching them. They just sit there all day, talking. Then sometimes a man in a suit comes and they pretend to move bits of scaffolding round.’

‘Well they must work sometimes.’

‘I’ve never seen them build anything, and I’ve really looked. See that one?’ Django pointed at a third, brand new office building on the horizon, so new it was only out of its steel chrysalis, ‘It was a building site for weeks. No progress, nothing. Then one day I come up here and it’s all done. Finished. Just like that. As if it was built overnight. How does that happen?’

Gabriel was just trying to decide if Django’s innocent curiosity was endearingly cute or just rather annoying.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, deciding it used to be cute and had since become annoying, ‘All I know is that Dante needs to see you right now because there really is trouble this time.’

‘What kind of trouble?’

‘They’re knocking the place down,’ said Gabriel.

Django shrugged and turned back to the buildings. They worried him. Sometimes the city felt oppressive, with all the buildings closing in around him, new ones being put up every second. If he knew how they were built maybe he’d understand how they worked and maybe then they wouldn’t seem so terrifying in their masses.

A thought occurred to him, ‘Do they send the same people who build the things to knock them down?’

Gabriel had given up and was already heading back down into the building. Django looked back one last time at the builders. As if they knew they were being watched they had started to move bricks from one pile and stacking them somewhere else. Django hoped they didn’t have to knock the things down. It was depressing to think they might spend half their lives creating things and the other half destroying them. That’s if they even did create the things in the first place.


The meeting was in full swing by the time Jenny arrived, if you can say that about three people sitting around a table in confused silence. She’d only managed to grab a couple of hours of sleep at home before Dante had called and asked her to come over early and she was not in a good mood. Jenny didn’t like getting involved in the day-to-day running of the club. Technically she was on the payroll and if she was free she worked behind the bar. But tonight she was playing a show, and when she was playing a show she liked to pretend she was just visiting The Dark Room rather than spending every waking moment in there.

She kissed Dante on the cheek as she sat down next to him and he smiled, which made her forget all about being tired. He only smiled for her.

Django and Gabriel were sitting at the table also, Gabriel looking more tired than she was, presumably having not slept since the previous night, and Django looking as perpetually perplexed as always.

Dante handed her the letter from the council.

‘They’re knocking us down,’ he said.

‘Is that all?’ replied Jenny, starting to get annoyed again – this better have been worth getting out of bed for, ‘They’re always knocking us down. We’re still here aren’t we?’

‘Dante thinks they may be serious this time,’ said Gabriel.

Jenny scanned the letter. It looked serious.

She asked the obvious question, ‘Did you show them downstairs?’

‘He was just the messenger,’ said Dante, ‘They’re sending their men over tonight.’

‘Possibly with machines,’ added Gabriel, ‘We don’t really know.’

‘They’re coming at night?’

She checked the letter for her answer. It stated quite clearly that the building was scheduled for demolition at midnight.

‘It must be a mistake,’ she decided.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Dante, ‘I think maybe they’re not sending the regular crew this time. We’ve been through that before. We’ve shown them what’s downstairs and they never come back. I think they’re sending something else.’

Jenny thought about this for about as long it took for another, more relevant thought to replace it.

‘What’s this got to do with me?’

There was a moment of silence. The others seemed to be looking to Dante for the answer.

Then Gabriel said, ‘You fucked a builder once.’

Jenny glared, first at Gabriel, then at the estimated source of the revelation.

‘That’s not what I said,’ protested Dante, ‘I said you were once courting someone in the construction industry and perhaps he passed on some knowledge of how these things work…’

Jenny knew who he meant, but still had to think for a moment, until she had the face, then the body and then finally, ‘Barry?’

‘Yes, Barry,’ nodded Dante, ‘Barry the builder.’

‘That was years ago. How do you remember stuff like that?’

‘Did he ever say anything about knocking things down?’ asked Dante, avoiding the question, although Jenny already knew how. The fact that he had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of her former lovers made her feel both secure in his jealousy and slightly disturbed by his possessiveness.

‘Gabriel was closer,’ answered Jenny, ‘We fucked once. During that fuck I never thought to ask about the exact details of his profession. Anyway, he was a builder, not a…what do they call people who demolish buildings? A demolisher?’

‘We don’t know,’ said Gabriel, ‘That’s why we’re presuming it’s builders what do it.’

Jenny thought carefully before she said, ‘I could call him.’

‘You still have his number?’ asked Dante, which is exactly why Jenny thought carefully before she said it.

Then Django asked, ‘What’s downstairs?’


Down in the cellar Django immediately wished he hadn’t asked. He’d been down there before – Gabriel sometimes had him changing the barrels if it was quiet on the door – but he had never liked it. There was something in the dark, something alive. Worse, it felt familiar and reminded him too much of his own otherness.

Dante led Django over to the damp, brick wall at one end of the room. He snapped open his lighter and moved the flame towards a small opening in the brick, just large enough for a fist.

‘Put your arm in there,’ he said.

‘Fuck off,’ he laughed nervously, ‘You put your arm in there!’

Dante just stared at him. Django was beginning to learn that was what Dante did when he wanted something. He would stare at you, looking vaguely disappointed until the silence became unbearable. He often wondered if that was how he had convinced Jenny to be with him.

As if catching the thought Dante changed tactics and said, ‘Just do it.’

Django pushed his hand tentatively into the hole. It was wet inside and he felt something crawl over his fingers.

‘Go on.’

Django pushed his hand in further, up to the elbow. The inside of the hole seemed to be getting more and more damp the further he pushed his arm inside. Then his fingers found something soft. He looked to Dante for approval.

‘Push it.’

Django pushed his hand into the soft, fleshy growth inside the wall, and the wall gasped. Slowly, the bricks began to move inward, widening the opening as they did so, only stopping when it was wide enough for a man to enter. The only sound inside the black was the heavy breathing of the wall, or what lay behind it.

‘After you,’ said Dante.

Django stepped through the hole and into the darkness the other side. Then he stopped. There was another sound, very faint, but there all the same. It sounded like the beating of a heart.

‘What is that?’ he asked.

‘It’s what I needed to show you,’ replied Dante, ‘It’s the heart of the city.’


Jenny had to practically hold Django’s hand as she led towards Holborn tube. And he hadn’t even seen the heart of the city. The sound of it beating had been enough.

‘Jesus, it’s just a big fucking heart,’ she said, ‘Like what we’ve got, only massive.’

For a moment it was like Django hadn’t heard a word she said, for more than a moment even, then finally, ‘But what’s it connected to?’

Jenny looked up at the sky, at the buildings towering over them.

‘All this,’ she said, ‘It’s connected to all of it.’

Django also looked at the buildings.

‘Is that it?’ he asked, ‘Do they just grow, like people do?’

Jenny had expressed some confusion at Django’s decision to accompany her on the visit to Barry the Builder, but Gabriel had helpfully explained Django’s fascination with buildings. Unlike Gabriel, she did still find Django’s lack of knowledge and therefore cynicism somewhat endearing. To a point.

They didn’t speak again until they crowded into a packed lunchtime train, Django thinking about where buildings came from and Jenny preoccupied with thoughts of lost loves. Had she loved Barry the Builder once? Would it ever have worked out? Could she have married a builder by now and be living in a house built to order with three kids and a flatscreen TV?

Django broke the thought in two, ‘Each station is right next to the next one; in the dark, London belches dirty air and heat, rattling our carriages for its amusement before we emerge just metres away from the space we left in a place unrecognisable every time you visit.’

‘What’s that from?’ asked Jenny, guessing that he was quoting something.

Django look confused for a moment, then, ‘One of your songs?’

Jenny shook her head, ‘I like it here.’

‘Maybe it came from the heart,’ he suggested, then looking her in the eye, ‘Does Dante scare you?’

His childlike way of switching topics without warning never failed to confuse or unnerve her.

‘He scares everyone,’ she replied.


They resurfaced at Liverpool Street and walked half a mile to the brand new office building where Barry the Builder was working. She had to call him to get him to meet them outside the site. He kept them waiting about fifteen minutes then stepped casually out through a door in a temporary wall – so overly casual it was almost as if he’d been waiting there the whole time. He had cultivated a rather dubious moustache, which made Jenny happy. He looked like he’d stepped off a porn set – far too ludicrous to qualify as an actual regret.

‘This your new bloke then?’ he said, looking at Django.

‘Yes,’ said Jenny. It was easier that way.

Django shook Barry’s hand, looking at him in awe like a child seeing the fake shopping centre Santa Claus for the first time. What wondrous secrets you must have, he was saying with his eyes.

‘We want to know how you build things,’ she said, wanting to get this over with, ‘Or more specifically, how you go about knocking things down?’

Barry looked at her for a moment, then asked, ‘Do you want a tour?’

Django nodded eagerly. They followed Barry inside where he showed them piles of bricks and occasionally scaffolding. They watched other builders move stacks of bricks and occasionally scaffolding from one end of the site to the other. It all looked like hard work but Django noted that he had yet to see anything actually getting built. Jenny wanted to go up higher but Barry told her it wasn’t allowed. This was fast becoming a wasted trip.

‘Fancy a cuppa before you go?’ asked Barry.

One last chance, thought Jenny.

While Barry was boiling the kettle in the portacabin Jenny discreetly searched the fridge and hid the milk in a filing cabinet. When Barry left the cabin to get more she stuck a needle into her palm and bled a little into the boiling water. Django watched, about to say something.

‘Shut the fuck up,’ said Jenny, ‘Don’t drink the tea and don’t say anything weird, okay?’

Django nodded, as Jenny reached into her bag and added a pinch of organic matter and a few strands of glowing fibres into the mix. Then she shook the kettle like a cocktail and put it back down seconds before Barry re-entered, waving a carton of milk victoriously.

Minutes later Django was staring at his tea suspiciously, as Barry necked his. Jenny nudged Django and he tried to play along a bit more, sipping air from his mug. Jenny was chewing something that made her teeth black.

‘I’m sorry, Jen,’ said Barry, ‘There’s not much I can say. You’ve seen what it’s like out there. Madness. Building, that’s what I know. Fuck knows how they knock the things down.’

Barry hesitated for a moment.

Then, ‘Fuck knows how they knock the things down… Fuck knows—‘

Jenny leant over the table and kissed him, clamping her lips over his and forcing her tongue down his throat.

Django stood up, uncomfortable, ‘I’ll leave you to it.’

Jenny pulled away suddenly, a black, sticky goo stretching between her mouth and Barry’s.

‘Sit down,’ she said, ‘Barry wants to tell us a story.’

Barry nodded. The black goo from Jenny’s mouth was evaporating into a thick grey smoke that forced its way down Barry’s throat, no doubt mingling with the contaminated tea.

‘Go on, Barry,’ Prompted Jenny, ‘You want to tell us what you do here all day.’

Barry just sat and stared at her, or more specifically at the space over her head.

Jenny turned to Django and ordered, ‘Get him another cup of tea.’

Django was about to do so when Barry said, ‘We don’t do anything.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Jenny, ‘You must do something.’

‘You’ve seen what we do. We start late, we finish early. We move things. We go on breaks,’ he paused, then, ‘We pretend.’

Jenny paused, taking this in, then asked, ‘Who builds the things then?’

‘We never see them,’ replied Barry, ‘We get told about a job through the post and we turn up and look like we’re busy. We all know the routine. Read a paper, smoke a couple of fags, watch the girls walk by, move a brick here and there - it’s an easy life for good money, so we don’t complain. ’

Jenny looked at Django to see if he was as perplexed and surprised as she was. He wasn’t. She turned to Barry again.

‘But where did you learn the routine?’ she asked.

‘We all start as apprentices. You learn the basics, moving stuff, when to have your breaks. One day you ask, “Is this all there is?” And the boss nods, and you carry on with it.’

Jenny was about to continue when Django nudged her – there were more builders approaching.

Moments before the door opened she popped something that looked like a peanut into Barry’s mouth and tipped his head back. There was a sound, like air escaping from a tyre.

‘You off then?’ asked Barry.


As soon as they were off the site Django started straight into his questions. Only they weren’t the questions Jenny was anticipating.

‘Do you do that to a lot of people?’ he asked, ‘Have you ever done it to me?’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘It takes a lot of prep and it doesn’t work on everyone. Sometimes it makes people crazy. Barry couldn’t be crazy if he tried so I guessed it was safe.’

‘And you’re sure you’ve never done it to me?’


‘No, you’re not sure, or no…’

‘Did you hear what he said? It’s all pretend! They just sit around all day and someone else builds the things.’

Django considered this for a moment, then, ‘I thought that was probably the case.’

Jenny gave up, deciding to focus instead on how she was going to explain this to Dante. All they had managed to learn was that it probably wasn’t going to be a man with a machine on his way to the club that night. It would be something else.