Strangers

The voice came from close behind her. ‘Hi there!’

She jumped. Abandoned warehouses and factories lined the canal here, looming against the autumn sky. She hadn’t seen anyone else on the tow-path but then with her head down and ears full of Pearl Jam she probably wouldn’t have noticed a shark in the canal either.

‘Oh, er, hi.’ She blushed, taking off her headphones and fumbling to stop her tape. ‘I’m Jenna’

The young man who’d appeared beside her was the good looking one she’d noticed here before. He seemed to have business in one of the buildings and she’d been dawdling along the path home from school in the hope of seeing him again. His loose shirt, old fashioned in style, had an open, laced neckline which she thought made him look like the hero from a dodgy romance. On other men she would have laughed at it, but it somehow suited him. She wished fervently that she’d bothered with some make-up this morning instead of running out of the house, toast in hand, exactly fifteen minutes after she’d woken up.

‘I’ve seen you a couple of times about here, haven’t I?’ he asked.

She glanced back along the tow-path, praying that her Dad wouldn’t appear on his daily run. It was starting to get annoying, the way he’d run past her and her friends, wearing leggings and shouting a cheery ‘hello girls!’. It was so excruciatingly embarrassing, even when it was just her friends. Here with this cool guy it would be twice as bad but she did feel a bit lonely here with someone she’d never spoken to before.

‘Yeah. I live near here. Watson Street. My Dad often runs along the canal here,’ she added, just in case. Just in case her Dad showed up, or just in case this guy turned out to be a psycho, either really. ‘So what are you doing here?’

‘I’ve been preparing for a gathering we’re holding tonight.’

‘What, like a party?’

He paused and thought for a moment. ‘Exactly, a party. Would you like to come Jenna? You would be welcome.’ He gestured at the building behind him.

‘What here?’ she said incredulously, looking at the shabby, lonely old warehouse, stained with rust and grime, which looked down on the canal with its broken windows.

‘Why not? There are three stories of space for the dancing to really get going in there.’ He smiled widely, a wink flicked across his face and was gone almost before she spotted it.

She shifted uneasily and chewed her lip, but maybe Sadie would be free to come with her. Sadie would think a party in a warehouse was just the most awesome thing.

‘Yeah,’ she tried to sound casual ‘great.’

‘Any time after dark, just come on in.’

And before she could say or ask any more he had opened a door in the side of the warehouse and slipped quietly through it, leaving her staring thoughtfully at the closed door, the afternoon becoming evening around her.

* * *

‘Mum!’ Jenna yelled along the corridor from her room to the kitchen.

‘What?’ her Mother’s exasperated face appeared round the door ‘Can’t you come in here to speak, rather than yelling? Oh never mind. What is it?’

‘I’ve got a ton of coursework to do, I’ll probably be up later than you. Can you just leave me to it and not interrupt?’

‘Fine. But don’t stay up until dawn again. Any work you do in the wee hours will be worse than useless and you’ll just make yourself ill.’

‘Yes, Mum. If it gets to one in the morning I promise I’ll stop.’

‘Ok. I just worry about you’ her mother wagged a finger ‘It’s good you work hard but sometimes…’

‘Yes, Mum!’ Jenna said sharply and shut the door to her room. She heard her Mum sigh and shut the kitchen door behind her. Jenna’s room was on the ground floor just off the kitchen, isolated from the rest of the house because it used to be the garage until her Dad had converted it. Now she was seventeen they pretty much left her alone if she asked them to and conveniently there was a low window. She’d only snuck out this way once before, but it was nice to know she could if she wanted.

She thought about the fact she really ought to do that coursework and forget about the amazing party she would be missing. She couldn’t believe that Sadie wouldn’t come with her. Standing on her doorstep Sadie had glanced over her shoulder into her house and whispered ‘No really, I can’t risk it. Mum will go mad if I fail and I’m already behind. Mr. Johns wants to see my work tomorrow. I just can’t.’ All Jenna’s other friends lived too far away to ask in person and the phone was in the living room, in prime eavesdropping space. Her parents would be bound to overhear.

So she sat on the bed thinking about how unfair it was. She’d never been to a proper big party before, never had a boyfriend. Sadie was on boyfriend number three and this one was twenty-one years old and achingly cool. The closest Jenna had got was a disappointing and sloppy fumble with James at his house during something he laughably called a party. Jenna stood up and began rummaging through her wardrobe.

* * *

Half an hour later she hurried along the towpath, guts twitching with nerves. In the dark, the noise of her feet scuffing along echoed strangely over the water and the murky smell of the canal seemed to hang in the air. As she approached the warehouse warm lights flickered for a moment in the broken windows and then were gone. She paused to build up the courage to try the door and as she did so a couple opened it and stumbled out and away up the path. Music followed them out, a deep, roaring beat that exhilarated Jenna and drew her in. She tentatively opened the door and stepped through and then jumped when two identical large men appeared, one either side of her. They glanced at each other over her head.

‘Jenna?’ they said in unison.

‘Um, yeah.’ The music she had heard almost seemed quieter here than from outside, as if muffled.

They gestured to an inner door, mirror images of each other. Glancing at them curiously she opened the door they had indicated and was engulfed by the beat. She was a vast, cavernous room. Windows high up in the walls showed deep blue squares of night sky. The room was packed full of people wearing the most ridiculous assortment of clothing. One man wore a red business suit and there was a woman in an old fashioned ball gown, some wore richly coloured and uncanny masks and yet others seemed to be naked but for their gorgeously painted skin. They were all dancing to the thunderous music. She couldn’t see the speakers, but there must have been a massive stack somewhere here. She stared around her, enchanted by the abandonment of the dancers and the variety of their costumes. Some even had wings somehow attached to their backs and tails coiling out behind them.

Their bodies writhed, the beat resonating through them, they jumped and flailed so that it hardly looked like dancing. Some of the people were grinning, having the time of their lives, others had a look of intense concentration on their faces. Lights, seemingly as sourceless as the music, wove and played above them, reflecting off the sweat and glittering costumes. Walkways and stairs criss-crossed the space above the floor and here too people danced, the lights span across them, faces and masks flickering and then falling into silhouette again. Jenna gasped as someone launched themselves from a platform and seemed to hang in the air before unfolding wings and swooping across to the other side of the space.

Jenna stood, awestruck, feeling her plain clothes to be shabby and insufficient. As she wondered whether she ought to leave two smiling people span out from the mess of dancers and gathered her up. Their skin was identically painted in a shimmering luminous green and they laughed as they took her by the hands and drew her into the throng and as they did so she felt the beat move through her body and she began to dance.

* * *

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been dancing with the strange assortment of people when a hand gripped her wrist and drew her out of the crowd. Looking around she saw it was the man who had invited her. He seemed taller than he had outside and somehow held himself apart from the dancers, maybe because he was the host.

‘Having a good time, I see!’ He said and to her surprise she found she could hear him. She nodded breathlessly, bouncing slightly in time with the beat. ‘Would you like to come up for something to eat and drink?’ She nodded uncertainly, feeling drawn back into the crowd, but he took her hand again and led her away from the music and out into the lobby with the two identical security guards. Her host opened another door and they began to ascend a narrow staircase.

They came out onto a long corridor with large windows down one side. Here the place didn’t look or feel particularly industrial. It was more like some kind of sparse mansion. None of the windows were broken and the dull throb of the music was barely audible from below through the carpeted floor. Opening a very plain looking door, he led her into a richly decorated room. Soft lights glistened on velvet sofas, hangings and piles of luxurious cushions. A gentle haze of scented smoke hung in the air and a low table was covered in an assortment of delicious looking food and drinks. She stood in the doorway awkwardly as he walked over to the table, picked up a glass of pink liquid and drained it in one fluid movement. He took a sticky looking pastry and turned to her.

‘Please, have something to eat and drink.’ He gestured to a row of filled glasses of all the colours of the rainbow and the plates full of rich looking food ‘It will allow you to dance forever and a day and open your heart to the other dancers.’ He smiled.

Jenna smiled back awkwardly. This sounded suspiciously like she was being offered drugs although it just looked like food and drink. Fabulous food and drink but still just food and drink but she found herself saying ‘thank you, I’m having a lovely time’ as if on a visit to an aunt ‘but I’m not very hungry.’

He shrugged and picked up a passion fruit, tearing it open and scooping the insides out with a delicate silver spoon.

‘Well,’ a soft voice spoke from behind her ‘I think it’s rude, don’t you darling?’

Jenna spun round and a beautiful green eyed woman was uncoiling herself from a sofa that Jenna could have sworn was empty when she entered the room. Jenna stuttered in embarrassment.

‘Don’t be embarrassed girl-‘

‘She’s called Jenna’ said the man.

‘Don’t be embarrassed, Jenna. I am joking. But please, really, won’t you have anything?’

Jenna flushed. ‘No really, I’m fine thank you.’

The woman smiled with amusement and Jenna felt strangely transparent. The woman laughed a slightly bitter laugh and stepped forward.

‘Poor little girl. Are you rejecting our hospitality? I think she’s rejecting our hospitality, darling.’

‘Oh leave it my sweet’ he sighed and eviscerated another passion fruit.

‘But we haven’t had such a lovely captive for, oh it must be centuries.’

‘No,’ he turned to look at Jenna a thoughtful look on his face ‘no we haven’t.’ He picked up a cobalt blue glass and turned to Jenna staring at her intensely.

She turned and ran for the door, along the corridor and clattered down the stairs, laughter drifting along behind her like the incense.

The music seemed to have stopped and as she ran into the main room she found it empty. There was no sign of the party she had left just minutes before. Impossible shafts of light came in through grey and broken windows, dust motes danced in the air and silence filled the huge space as the beat had moments ago.

Outside she found that it was full daylight. The canal glistened and she blinked, confused. Behind her the warehouse was silent.

Then she realised she must have come out of a different exit from the warehouse, though she didn’t remember there being other branches of the canal there must have been because right opposite the door she’d just come through was a glistening new apartment building, all wood and glass and metal. And up the canal she could see another new building. She’d obviously come out the other side of the warehouse into a newly rebuilt area of town she didn’t recognise.

A white haired man was running purposefully along the tow path towards her in lycra leggings and very snazzy looking running shoes. White cords sprouted from his ears, obviously from some up-market in-ear earphones and tucked down the front of his vest. As he got closer she realised he looked vaguely familiar, as if you’d put her Grandad into lycra, somehow straightened his back and sent him out to train for a marathon.

‘Excuse me!’ she said loudly, intending to ask where she was.

He stopped dead, staring at her disbelievingly then whispered ‘oh my god’ and then, his voice hoarse, ‘Jenna?’

Jenna felt her stomach drop and her head swim with a vertiginous shock of recognition and confusion.

‘Dad?’

 

 

***

Copyright © 2012 Elizabeth Cutts

***

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s