Episode 5 – The Club

*Croaks* I’m a bit hungover today, no surprise there. *Clears throat*. I don’t usually do this now, after 4 hours of sleep, but I want to get this recorded before I forget. I haven’t been to the shop in a few days, ever since…whatever it was happened. I’ve been having nightmares of being chased by something I never see, but I can hear the low growls, and somehow I know what it is and that I need to get away from it. As much as I’d like to think it’s just me, stress getting to me, or an undiagnosed mental condition, I just can’t convince myself. It’s that shop, it’s Madam Norna and the work she does, tearing away my perspective of the world until I’m left with something I don’t recognise.

I try not to dwell on these things, in fact I’ve actively been avoiding the subject with a very healthy dose of booze and nights out. Maybe it’s done something to my memory, making me see things…

So, me and my pals are at this club not far from here in the town centre. The one where every student and their dog ends up on a Friday and Saturday night because it’s the only decent place to go. Maybe not even decent, just the only place. We’ve all been drinking for hours, mostly shots, *Buckie, and I want to say gin, but after a while it all tastes the same. We’re all *steaming, so the night’s gone well.

We’re dancing together, with each other, with *randos, the music is so loud you can feel it beneath your feet. Everyone has their hands up, down, swirling around them. I’m having a grand old time, then it starts to get hot, and I begin to feel my calves burning. The alcohol’s starting to wear off, and the reality of my surroundings is starting to show itself. I’ve been splashed with something I hope is beer, it’s not just my calves that hurt but my feet, and the two grinding together beside me is beginning to make me feel like I stumbled into a private show.

To completely kill my buzz one of my pals, Michelle, weaved her way through the crowd like only a master can, coming in our direction. She didn’t look happy, more like the burden that alcohol had made her forget had returned with a vengeance. I stopped dancing, much to my leg’s relief, to ask her what was the matter? By asking I mean going as close as I could to her ear and shouting so she could hear me over the beat.

She said that she was being followed around the place by a lad who wouldn’t leave her alone. I started to scan the crowd to see if I could tell who this lad was, searching the sea ae faces and bodies that surrounded us. The strange thing was that it didn’t take me long to find the likely culprit. He was tall, rising above most of the people in the club, but the most distinctive feature was the cleft chin that I could make out even at some distance. He was leaning against the bar, practically on the other side of the club from us, looking straight in our direction with an intense stare and trouble carved into the set of his features. I say looking at us, but his eyes were glued to Michelle, almost predatorily.

What worried me more was I couldn’t seem to focus on his face. It was distorted, and no matter how many times I blinked, squinted, or blamed the flashing lights, it wouldn’t clear up. The shape of his face and the colour of his hair were the only details I could be certain about. It was probably the alcohol; it’d no worn off as much as I’d thought. I’m also blaming that for the light layer of smoke that floated in the air around his hand and the drink he held in it. Needless to say, I didn’t need to go nearer to know I didn’t like him.

In the off chance I was wrong, I checked with Michelle and she confirmed, solemnly, that he was the lad. Now, I wanted to go and say something, why should he get away with ruining her night? But Michelle shook her head when she saw what I was thinking told me that if she ignored him he might go away. I didn’t believe it, but I wasn’t about to upset her.

Instead, I pulled the rest of our group further into the crowd, hoping he’d lose sight of us. It wasn’t closing time for another few hours and the rest of my pals didn’t want to leave, so we stayed. A club’s really shite if you’re starting to sober up, but I couldn’t go and get another drink because of that arsehole, so he ruined my night as well, in more ways than just that.

I tried to keep an eye on Michelle, but as the most sober one of the group it was like trying to herd sheep. One was about to have a fight with a lassie we didn’t know, claiming there had been some kicking going on, another’s phone had to be confiscated to stop her fae calling her *roaster of an ex, the usual drama. At some point I inevitably lost Michelle, and the next time we met was closing time when we were all in line to get our jackets.

Amidst the drunken `I love you pal` I noticed that Michelle wasn’t with us. No sooner had I started looking for her I saw her as she walked past us, arm in arm with the cleft-chinned lad from earlier. Without really thinking I left the rest of the mob in the queue and ran after her, managing to catch them before they got to the stairs to leave. The first thing that came to my mind to say was “ye forgot your jacket”. Michelle leaned in close and whispered that she wouldn’t be needing it, followed by a suggestive wink that even I wasn’t drunk enough to miss. Before I could say anything’ in reply her new pal interrupted us, ensuring that he’d make sure she was safe.

Saying’ it like that makes anyone with any sense think you’re going to do the opposite. This time he was close, a bit too close for my liking, and the unsettling thing was I still couldn’t quite focus on his face, as if I was looking through ma grannie’s glasses. I could see his dark grey eyes, the neatly combed honey blonde hair, but everything else, the shape of his nose, the state of his skin, the wee details were blurred.

I focused my attention on Michelle, trying to contort my face into a question, checking if she was really sure she wanted to go anywhere with this creep. But her face had this glazed look to it, almost like she’d mixed alcohol with medication. Growing quite concerned by this point I reached out and placed my hand on her wrist, giving it a wee squeeze in the hopes it’d wake her from her trance. I asked her if she was sure, my final attempt at throwing her a lifeline before I’d be forced to watch as she left with the weirdo.

As soon as the question had fallen from my mouth Michelle dropped the stranger’s arm like it was infected, and stumbled unsteadily back, glancing with panic between the both of us. She began shaking her head confusedly, stating that she wanted to go home. I directed her to our pals who were waiting in the queue for the cloakroom and didn’t turn to the lad until I saw her safely with them. When I did look back at him, he was eyeing me with a peculiar expression. Not like the one he gave Michelle, predatory and confident. The one he gave me was something I’ve not seen since I punched a lad at school when I was twelve because he pinged the back of my bra – an unsteady concoction of confusion and fear.

I warned him, channelling my inner twelve-year-old, to leave Michelle alone. I’m not stupid enough to stick around to hear a retaliation so I walked away towards my pals in the queue, and eventually lost sight of the stalker.

 I would’ve said I was almost completely sober by this point, but it’s what happened next that makes me think otherwise. As we were still waiting in the eternal queue for the cloakroom, I glimpsed something that shouldn’t be there. Beside the door to the stairs that led outside, was a wee brown rabbit, sitting bonnie, with its ears sticking up. Its button nose wiggled ever so slightly from left to right, as if it were smelling a fresh carrot. By the way it was staring at me, glassy eyes wide and innocent, you’d have thought I was the one with the carrot. As soon as it realised it had my attention it began to hop its way over to the stairs. I thought it’d get trampled on, it was so wee, but not one of the drunken partiers stumbled anywhere near it. It arrived at the top step, and a few seconds later the white cotton ball of an arse disappeared down.

I don’t know what anyone else would do, but apparently I just follow my hallucinations now. After carelessly handing over my cloakroom ticket to one of my pals, the next thing I remember is being halfway down the stairs, eyes fixated on that white tail. Somehow, I managed to swerve around the rest of the people taking their first unsteady steps home.

Why did I follow? That’s a fuckin’ good question. There was no song, like with the sailors and the sirens, no encouragement from someone. In short, no rhyme or reason, but something in my head, so hidden and unknown, wanted me to follow that rabbit. I must be going *daft, but whatever it is, mental illness or something else, is starting to scare me…a lot.

I continued to follow it until it led me to the cobbled alleyway beside the club entrance. I know how that sounds. At the time it should’ve got some reaction, but I was hypnotised, lured into tunnel vision. Then it disappeared. I’m no talking ran off or disappeared in a poof of smoke. One minute it was hopping and the next it was gone.

My eyes scanned around, barely able to see anything in the amber light streaming fae the lampposts. Mostly everything was in shadow. That was when I heard something from deeper into the alleyway, where the giant bins and steaming grates are. It was a loud thud, like something falling on the ground – if that something was a person. I began to squint, edging further into the alleyway, trying not to be tripped up by the uneven cobblestones. When I realised what I was seeing I wished I hadn’t left the queue inside.

I was closer than I wished to be so I’m pretty sure this is what I saw. There was a man, bent over, dragging a barely conscious, if not completely out of it, lassie further into the alley. She was leaving a trail, and by the metallic taste in the air and the glistening surface, I began to think it was blood. The man pulled her further into the darkness of the alleyway. He eventually placed her into a circle on the ground, scrawled with what I was hoping was black paint. There were a few candles on the boundary, lighting up more detail than I wanted to see.

I must’ve still been drunk because no sober person would ever be this stupid. I stepped further into the alley and said that I’d call the police if he didn’t let the lassie go. *sighs* Why didn’t I run? Why didn’t I go and get help? I’ve played this bit over and over in my head and I can’t understand myself. Standing up to a creep in a club is expected, a right of female passage, but interrupting an assault or murder, or whatever it was, is *mental.

When he whipped his head up to look at me, can you believe it was Mr cleft-chin from earlier? Obviously after no getting his way with Michelle he’d found another poor lassie to take advantage of. It would be my luck to meet him in a dark alley, wouldn’t it?

He said something strange next, although I don’t think you can say anything normal in a situation like that.

“You again?” he sighed, “I would meet someone like you, wouldn’t I?”

Well aye, if ye want to avoid meeting drunken *ijits then the only club in town is not the place to go, pal. I at least had the sense not to say anything, or maybe his question didn’t seem weird at the time. I kept my distance, hoping my phone wouldn’t slip out ma hand it was so sweaty.

Again, I channelled my inner twelve-year-old and told him to let the lassie go in my most threatening tone, which doesn’t seem to work on Chronos, the cat, so probably had no change of working on this psycho. Predictably, he refused and gave the reason that he needed a lassie as a sacrifice for the ritual, and that I’d already taken away the perfect one. Oh, and he wasn’t afraid of me, but it was said with an ounce of uncertainty, like that bairn in class who refuses to do something the teacher tells him to so he can look cool in front of his pals, but deep down he knows he’s getting a *bollocking after.

I have no words, and I had no words at the time. He lost me at sacrifice. It was hard to concentrate on what he was saying over the deep thud of my heart pounding in my ears. My vision was already beginning to spin, and I knew the hangover headache wasn’t far behind it.

A mixture of booze, confusion, and general *roaster-ness stopped me from knowing what to do or being able to think clearly. I should call the police, my phone was in my hand, but there was a disconnect between my brain and my fingers. They never made it to the emergency button.

It might’ve been a few seconds, it might’ve been a millisecond, but the man was within arms’ reach of me quicker than he should’ve been at that distance. I wasn’t that close, I made sure of that. Before he could reach me someone else joined us in the alley.

You’re never going to believe it because I didn’t – it was Fionn, Madam Norna’s friend with benefits. He was right beside me, his hand grabbing the man’s wrist, preventing a very sharp looking knife from being plunged into my stomach.

I might’ve yelped, I might’ve been silent, but I nearly fell on my arse stumbling back. It was like I was in a nightmare, except I couldn’t wake up. Everything made so little sense it may as well have been a dream. After a few seconds of tense silence, Fionn threw the man’s wrist away in disgust. Of all the things Fionn could’ve said, he chose “You know who I am?”. It made as much as sense at the time as it does now. None.

Cleft-chin stared at Fionn, as if trying to find something, like the answer was lying in the curves and lines of his face. Whatever he saw there he didn’t like because after a moment or two his eyes bulged, he paled, and them stumbled back as if Fionn had given him a slap.

From where I was barely standing, I couldn’t see Fionn’s face, but his shoulders were tense, squared, and I could just make out the outline of the veins on his neck as they pushed against his skin. I knew from what I was seeing, and the faint tingling in my fingertips that he was *raging. He told cleft-chin to run back to the rat’s nest he’d come from, and he didn’t want to see his face again.

 The psycho didn’t need to be told twice, and much like myself with a spider, gave Fionn a wide berth as he scuttled from the alley. I half expected Fionn to turn on me next with the rage I could feel radiating from him like steam from a boiling kettle. But when he turned to look at me he had an amused smile spread across his face.

He told me I should be more careful, and that lassies weren’t supposed to wander the streets by themselves at night. And then he said we were even.

“Even?” I managed to repeat.

In a very madam-esque way he shrugged, and informed me I’d find out soon enough, before he suggested I return to my pals, and that he’d help the lassie.

I was more than willing to follow the last order and I left the alley to return to the club. I was silent all the way home, not able to join in the drunken karaoke session of my pals. A part of me thinks I should’ve stayed, helped him with the lassie, and the police…if he even called them. But I was saturated with weird. I’d had enough.

I hadn’t gone to the shop in days because I wanted a break, I wanted that normality life had before the shop, where the biggest problem I had was what *Pot noodle to buy for dinner. But it found me anyway, and I’m beginning to understand that there is no normal anymore. The shop, the things in it, the events that orbit it, that’s the new normal.

I get it now. I can’t keep burying my head in the sand, can I? I can’t keep stringing things together with incomplete and outlandish theories, that deep down, I think I’ve always known don’t fit right, don’t explain everything. I’m ready for answers now, whatever they may be.

*Buckie – Scottish slang for Buckfast, a fortified wine that gets people drunk quite quickly.

*Steaming – Scottish slang for drunk. Yes, we have a lot of words for this too, watch out for them in the podcast.

*Randos – short for randomers, British phrase for strangers.

*roaster – you guessed it, yet another word for a stupid person/an idiot. This one will come up a lot, so best to try and remember it.

*daft – mostly means stupid i.e. don’t be daft, but in this context can mean crazy.

*mental – always means crazy i.e. that goal was pure mental.

*bollocking – in my experience this usually means a dressing down, or being given into trouble by someone. Occasionally I think it can also refer to minor physical violence, but not really sure. I’ve only ever used it or heard it used in the context of a verbal telling off i.e. His Mum gave him a bollocking for taking the car without permission.

*raging – Scottish slang term for very angry, livid.

*Pot noodle – brand of instant snack in the UK. As the name implies, its dried noodles in sauce – just add boiling water. Needless to say, not the healthiest food on the shelves.

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