Belly of the Beast

Jade Antcliffe

I’m standing at the back of a straggly line of people, waiting in front of a poorly-lit doorway after nightfall. I exhale in a deep sigh, looking up at the muted stars peppering the sky above the city. They look smothered, hidden behind a curtain of smog and blinding artificial light.

Billions of tiny kindred spirits for me tonight, then.

The line shuffles up a few places, and I stifle a groan. I’m here with a friend, and I’m already regretting that I let her persuade me to come. Sure, it’s an escape, a trip away from the real world for a few hours, but its precarious.

The entrance is guarded by a formidable man, who looks jaded. His mild disdain seems at odds with the youthful anticipation standing before him. Five 18-year-old girls are at the front of the line. Laughter feverishly bubbles out of them as they await the first taste of their new, semi-adult existence.

He stands aside, his expression impassive. I watch the group of girls hurriedly skitter through the entryway from my spot a few places back in the line. The club stands ready to receive them, hungry, equally eager for the long-awaited occasion.

The group disappear into the shadows beyond the doorway, happily chattering as they teeter slightly in their platform heels. Right then, a sense of gloominess suddenly abounds. It pours out through the doorway, almost stifling me. It leaves a foul taste in my mouth as it constricts my airways, like a pungent rising damp.

The club recovers from her belch, licks her lips, and laughs. Her cackling reverberates through the grimy walls as monotonous EDM. Her thudding bass-beat heart turns rapid, quickening in anticipation, as she stands ready to devour the five girls — ready to sustain herself on their innocence, then cough them back out when the party is over.

I move closer. A little older, arguably a little wiser, and yet here I stand, willing to sate the club’s insatiable appetite.

Ghostly tendrils of mist are escaping from behind the guard now, remnants from a smoke machine inside. The smoky fingers waft towards me, swirling in translucent wisps and curls along the pavement. They dissolve a moment later, but I can almost feel their wraithlike caress. How they would have snaked up my spine, raising goose bumps along my skin as they went. How they would have tickled my neck as they slithered up towards my ear. Then the predatory voice that would have purred in my ear, Hello darling.

Lost in thought, I’ve already reached the front of the line. The security guard nods vaguely in my direction. I want to shake my head in response but my friend grabs my hand and tugs me straight into the mouth of the monster, and my shriek gets lost somewhere in the back of my mind.

The sensory overload is all-encompassing. I’m starting to feel the effects of my pre-drinks now, and I’m glad. This place is best viewed through a haze. Cool, cloudy vapour bursts from either side of the room, filling the space. The room is dark, but kaleidoscopic lights dance on every surface. They flash rhythmically, lighting a mass of bodies that seem to writhe in unison, eyes fluttering half-shut, hypnotised.

Another round? I nod, dumbly, and soon I’ve gulped down three, then four. The music seems distant, almost like I’m floating, but I can feel the bass in my chest, grounding me. The crowd moves like a technicolour wave, violently crashing into each other, only to recede, pause, and start again. It’s a frenzied sort of beauty, and I want to join the throng.

Blinking slowly, I vaguely register something wet and hot on my neck. It feels slimy, and I want it to go away, to leave me to this exquisite tempest.

Fuck— did someone just bite me?

I turn to see a figure, completely dwarfing me in size. Thick, meaty hands run roughly down my back, and I’m suddenly yanked against this man in a vice-like grip. I jerk away in shock, but I don’t seem to get anywhere. Angered, I yell something at him, probably something garbled and slurred. It gets lost amongst the thudding music, or he simply ignores it, because suddenly there’s hot breath hissing into my ear. I can’t hear a word of it, but I don’t think he cares about that anyway. I can hear a cackle vibrating from within the club’s walls.

The guy’s trying to force his mouth on me now, and I squirm away as he hitches up my skirt. Getting a nauseating sense of déjà vu, and feeling increasingly like a caged animal, I yank his hand away and dig my nails in deep enough that he jerks away in pain.

Taking advantage of his confusion, I slip back into the crowd, forcing my way through the mass of bodies. Slightly frantic, I take off towards the door, running clumsily in heels I wish I’d never bought.

The exit seems to slide further away the closer I get, like I’m racing, panic-stricken in a nightmare, but then I burst into the sharp night air, flushed and gasping for breath.

Precarious indeed. The sky is turning a lighter indigo now, greying at the edges, and I begin to numbly walk back home. I don’t look back, but I can feel the club’s presence behind me. She leers at my back, beaming.

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