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.’


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