APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 1 February, 2001


Up and Out in Fort Henry

Tom McGrenery

My clock stares me impertinently in the face as I emerge from vivid, dehydrated dreams.


I have been asleep for two hours. My head is reeling. The dreams echo though I cannot remember them. Water - yes, that's an idea. But it means getting out of bed. Damn. I turn over as if being comfy in bed will make it all better. The brush of the sheets' fibres on my arm is tinglingly pleasant. I realise I am still under the effects, at least slightly.

I also realise I cannot remember a thing. Time to delve. Let's see.

The table was getting filled up with empty glasses and noise. With Gavven gone, there were four of us seated on the curving bench seat. Kris, Sara, Ralf and me. Call me Ishmael.

Sara turned as Kris bent down to whisper in her ear. Sweet nothings, presumably, from the way she smiled. I took another sip of my generic beer. Three marks well spent, when considered against the prices they charged there in the New Nest, allegedly the best bar in Fort Henry. It seemed hard to swallow - the place was just a dimly-lit box with a nice view, a bar and some very pretentious people. Then again, the rest of Fort Henry wasn't exactly a-buzz with activity.

I was in one of those holes of conversation where no one is paying any attention to you. Ralf was shouting some kind of extended anecdote to Kris, possibly involving agriculture. I could barely hear a word. I looked around the room. Here in the upstairs bar, the fall-out from the dance floor lay slouched on sofas and chairs, with expensive jackets draped like their owners. A haze of smoke obscured those furthest away. Hernandez Enriquez, the owner, travelled between tables, keeping up the connections with regulars and the fast set, such as it is in Fort Henry.

I have made it to the bathroom. In a shocking flurry of action, I have even made it in to the shower. The narrow jet of water (for the shower head is broken again) courses hotly down my back. I shift my weight in the vain hope that maybe if I move fast enough, a much larger proportion of my body will be covered with water. After a while, I notice that I am unconsciously dancing. To, apparently, the funky beat of the extractor fan. This is ridiculous. How long is this going to go before it wears off?

Finding my glass mysteriously empty, I swerved dangerously to my feet and headed roughly in the direction of the bar. I found my path blocked by someone. A slim, blonde girl in calf-high boots and a ludicrously short dress, made of some kind of shimmery green cloth. I recognised her from around town - quite the dancing queen. It occurred to me that you've been in a city too long when you start to know people around the night-clubs. I made a mental note to go on holiday.

"Hi," she said. This looked eerily like a conversation in the offing and I wasn't too sure if I could handle it.

"Hello," I replied, giving my best attempt at a winning smile.

How did it go from there? Hmm. Some kind of non-committal small talk to kick off, then...

ME: Yeah, I thought I recognised you. You're not from here, are you?

HER: No, I'm from Basal.

ME: Interesting. Been back there lately?

HER: No.

ME: Right... Oh, hey, what's your name?

(Music swells, obscuring her speech.)

ME: Pardon?

(She says her name again. Another crescendo makes it impossible to hear.)

ME: (smiling and nodding) Uh-huh. You working here?

HER: Yeah.

ME: And dancing, naturally.

HER: And dancing - I have to, it's so boring here. There's nothing else to do.

Nothing else to do. Right. She was still kind of dancing all the time I was talking to her. She was stood close by my shoulder, bobbing in time, with her hands flashing past either side of me. The whole effect was rather unnerving, and as made my excuses and went back towards the table and my friends, a horrible moment of lucidity hit me.

Ralf stood up before I reached the others and came towards me. Pushing his light hair back with one hand, he spoke close to my ear.

"Mate, have you got a hundred marks?"

I replied that I did.

"Do you want to get a pill?"

"Yes," I said, "I most certainly do."

There's a knock at the door. I open it to find Ralf still wearing the same long black coat he had on last night. This morning, more accurately. I wonder briefly whether I look as rough as he does.

"Thought I'd come and see how you were," he says, "How did you sleep?"

"Fully clothed," I reply, as Ralf plonks himself down on the bed, which creaks noisily.

He puts his face in his hands, then runs his fingers through his hair. He looks up and grins.

"Well, that was fun. What time did we get home?"

I tell him.

"What the hell am I doing out of bed?" he asks nobody in particular.

Ralf came back after about ten minutes. Quietly he pressed a pill into my hand and jerked his head in the direction of the toilets. I sneaked a glance at the pill as I walked. Dark orange. Pentagonal. Some kind of rough spiral shape imprinted on it.

"D'you get any change out of that hundred?" I asked Ralf.

"Did I bollocks," came the reply.

Nobody was in the gents' when we got there. That was convenient. I looked at myself in the mirror, through a patina of water marks and other stains. I still seemed presentably suave or, at the very least, presentable. I tried to do something with my hair, though my hair was having none of it.

"On three?" suggested Ralf.




Anticlimactic, after that build up. We swallowed the pills to, naturally, no immediate effect. The orange tablet tasted sour on the back of my tongue, so I drank some water to try to get rid of that taste, and the dryness from the heat in the bar. I held the door for Ralf and we walked back into the pounding chaos of light that waited for us. Kris was off his head, dancing like a loon, bouncing around with his arms flailing. His clothes flashed through a spectrum under the lights.

Ten minutes later, on the dance floor, I hit that beautiful moment at which you realise you are up, and are going to stay that way for a good amount of time. The heightened senses were blissful. I stopped for a moment to drink in my surroundings. I could see everything, everything, as if it were daylight in there. Ralf span past me in some semblance of a dance.

I became that I had to dance. I had to move, to feel the sensation of the air rushing against my hands. I felt as though wrapped tight within my skin, now that I was acutely aware of every part of my body. My limbs seemed thinner, my fingers more delicate. I danced.

Ralf and I are sitting at a roadside café, in metal chairs under the sun.

"Frankly," he says, "I think we should avoid running into anyone we know for the moment, as I really can't handle holding a conversation with anyone apart from you at this time."

I nod sagely, contemplating the sludge in the bottom of my cup. Ralf is now constantly running his fingers through his hair.

I came across Sara just standing in the middle of the floor. Everyone gave her space. Her eyes were wide, and I could see the colours reflect within them, as she gazed at the light and sound that surrounded her. She clutched at her jacket, as though she might drift away. The sight of her then, with her childlike smile, bright in the midst of her dark-toned face, is an image that will stay with me for a long time.

Foolishly, I tried to say hello. She didn't even flicker as I came into her field of vision. I tried again. Her smile vanished and she looked at me with a frightened expression. My heart collapsed into a sudden melancholy for taking her out of her vision. I ran a hand down her cheek and backed away with a sheepish smile.

We are walking home. My hands have begun to shake uncontrollably. I try not to let it bother me, and Ralf shows no sign of having noticed. An unfortunate memory bubbles up of when we left our final venue: a door to the outside world swings open, and painful white daylight floods in, along with a cool morning breeze.

I put my hands in my pockets and try to remember the rest of the night.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 1 February, 2001