Stuart stood up. He felt light-headed. He wondered how long he’d been out. The bathroom came into focus around him. Someone was gagging behind one of the stall doors. Memories of an attack rushed into his mind, but he felt no pain. Maybe it was a distant memory or the pain receptors in his brain had been dulled by alcohol. The snarling mouth, the rank breath, the glint of metal, all of it kept replaying in front of him, but it was an illusion, the ghost of a memory.
He wondered where he was. The layout of the room seemed familiar, but the décor was all wrong. A well-loved mural of The Scream had been painted over in dull dove grey, to be replaced by descriptions of sexual practises and telephone numbers scribbled in black and red Sharpies. The floor seemed different too. The old black and white vinyl had been replaced at some point by an even scruffier looking pitted grey with red speckles, was it blood? No, too regular to be blood, a pattern on the floor covering, nothing more sinister. Although that was sinister enough in this familiar yet unfamiliar room that made Stuart’s head spin.
He approached a mirror, bolted to the wall above a sink that was overflowing with plastic pint glasses. He saw the graffitied wall reversed, shielding his eyes from the painfully bright halogen strip light that bounced back into the room in all directions off a convex panel that framed the glass. But where was his face?
A door creaked and a figure shuffled into view. Dark hair, tanned skin and hedgehog like designer stubble above a black short-sleeved shirt, the top few buttons open. Stuart’s body shook so violently he wondered whether his skeleton might shatter into a million shards of bone. This was not his face. He mentally catalogued the differences. He was cleanly shaven, his hair much longer and darker, his nose and his bottom lip pierced with silver rings. His skin was paler, perpetually hidden from the sun. The colour of the shirt was right, but he would never wear that style. It was nightmarish, that green-gilled face, that faux-male-model look, the heavy eyelids and strong jawline. He put his hand to his chin, no stubble, piercing still in place. The face in the mirror bowed for a moment before retreating. As the door opened the rush of adrenaline fuelled electronic dance music from the club, swallowed Stuart in one greedy gulp. He wondered whether this was hell.
He was squatting on the faux-marble frame that encased the three bathroom sinks when the door opened again. His pixie boots were tucked under his black denim shrouded thighs, and he felt like The Crow, balancing on a rooftop, watching silverfish scuttle along the skirting boards and under discarded sheets of toilet paper, some of which had obviously been used. A different face entered this time, but it was no more familiar to him than the first. This one had a more established beard that almost but not entirely obscured the acne scars on his cheeks. Stuart watched as the man relieved himself into the urinal trough and left again. Limbo, not hell, Stuart thought.
Faces came and faces went. With each arrival and departure the painfully upbeat music boxed Stuart’s ears. It created an impenetrable wall of sound that Stuart could not bear to breach and so he stayed, in the relative peace of the bathroom, wondering when it would end.
He scaled the plywood walls of the toilet stalls and crouched with his back pushed against the sticky ceiling tiles. Using the bathroom as a junglegym at least altered his view for a while. From here he could watch executive types snort lines of coke while avoiding stray streams of piss and chunks of projectile vomit. The image of that terrible anger returned. The thin lips drawn back over sharp teeth, a word, what was it? What was that furious mouth saying to him?
Another mouth now. This one was soft and stained purple as if covered in berry juice. Lips pushed against his, then a tongue, searching inside his mouth. Sweet breath filled him and he felt his body respond.
When that memory receded, he yearned to get it back. The lips were his only comfort in this cold isolation. He wished he could remember who they belonged to.
A clenched fist and the flash of metal. Pressure then release and sticky moisture dripping down his cheek. Tears? Was he crying?
It had been hours since the last interruption of his reverie and Stuart risked creeping towards the door and pulling it ajar. Silence. He opened it further and stepped out into a huge room. At the centre was a sunken dancefloor. The parquet was strewn with trampled plastic and spilt liquids. Beyond it a bar, with a panel of spotlights that made the liquid inside the optics glimmer, appealingly. He needed a drink.
The room seemed empty at first. Then a shadow grew in the centre of the dancefloor. Spinning and swirling, upwards and outwards. A lace skirt, a tiny waist, thick, black hair and those dark berry-coloured lips. He wanted to dance with her, this spectre. He wanted to press his lips against hers again. He knew that face. Those moist eyes that always seemed to be full of tears. She called herself Lucretia, like the song, and he wanted to dance with her again.
He towered over her. She was tiny, even in those impossibly high heels she wore. She kept looking past him. What did she see? Whatever it was seemed to fill her with dread. Her bottom lip trembled and he pressed his thumb gently against it. Did she smile? Did she let him through her wall of sullen silence for a moment. Now she was kissing him. Her hands wandering over his body, pulling him closer until they seemed to melt into each other for a blissful second.
Did she say that? Perhaps, she fled from the dancefloor and he started in pursuit. But as he passed the door to the bathroom he was inside it again. The Scream saw him stumble and tried to push away from the wall, but it was just as trapped as he was. Here came the snarl again, the shark’s eyes, the foul breath and a fist wrapped tightly around a metal spike. It rushed towards him.
The pressure on his eyeball was intense. The membrane felt as hot as fire as it stretched then popped. A rush of liquid streamed down his trembling cheek as he fell to the floor. The scream hurt his ears, he couldn’t stop the noise. It filled his throat and his mind as he rocked from side to side on the floor. Still the metal pushed deeper. The snarl had morphed into an empty cave. An o shaped look of shock and horror. The weight of a man concentrated into the head of a needle that buried deeper into his brain as electrical impulses went into overdrive then shut down and all was dark. All was nothing. Just the black hole of an open mouth and nothing.
Stuart stood up. He felt light-headed. He wondered how long he’d been out. The bathroom came into focus around him. Someone was gagging behind one of the stall doors. Memories of an attack rushed into his mind, but he felt no pain. Maybe it was a distant memory or the pain receptors in his brain had been dulled by alcohol. The snarling mouth, the rank breath, the glint of metal, all of it kept replaying in front of him, but it was an illusion, the ghost of a memory…