The sharp taps of her steel-toed boots echoed through the alleyway as she wove through the veritable maze set between the abandoned buildings. Breathing out a sigh of relief, Jennifer smiled at the sight of her warm breath in the frigid air before her. Slipping a hand into her coat, her fingers numb from the frost of the frigid evening, she errantly tugged on the necklace she’d been gifted by the strange man she’d encountered a few days earlier.
“You! You there!” Jennifer turned to see a shabby looking man pointing at her from a stall in the small market she’d entered with her friends during their sojourn to China town.
“Rude much?” She replied, cocking a hand on her hip as she blew her bangs from her face. “What do you want weirdo?”
The man smiled, revealing twin rows of yellowed teeth. His state of dress, an old suit made of crushed velvet, hardly matched the rest of his attire, from his wooden sandals to the glittering rings on his thick fingers, to the straw hat on his head. Between all of this was a wily beard that reached the man’s chest, and a pair of twinkling blue eyes that seemed to grow darker the longer you stared into them.
“You dress like the dead girl. Do you wish to join them?” He asked, making Jennifer blink at the strange question, before getting slightly angry.
“Is that a threat?” She asked, hand drifting down to her wide belt to the switchblade she had hidden from view. While the market had a decent sized crowd milling about the various stalls, nobody seemed to have noticed the exchange between Jennifer and the strange man.
He laughed, a dry wheezing sound that grated on the ears. “No, no. No threat, merely a question! I see you dressed all in black, with skull rings and dyed hair… between that and your pale skin, a man would be liable to think of you as a walking corpse before they’d think you to be a teenager.”
Jennifer blinked, hand drifting away from her stowed blade to adjust her hair. “Well… thanks, I guess. But I don’t want to be dead dumbass, this is a just a look. I’m Goth.”
“Goth? Not a very suitable name for a pretty young thing like yourself…” The man muttered, eyes never leaving hers.
“No, that’s not my name; it’s a way of describing how I dress. And act.”
“Goth…” The man said as if testing the texture of the word. Shaking his head, he looked back up to Jennifer. “No matter. I see you are in search of something unique, hmmm? Perhaps a trinket to go with your outfit?”
Holding up the bundle of brightly painted skulls at the end of her leather necklace, Jennifer ran a thumb over the largest skull of the three, feeling the raised lettering that was too faint to read. The blood-red skulls did indeed go with her outfit (all of them really) and they were often something she could allow her idle hands to wander to.
Now, in the darkness of downtown San Antonio, standing in a darkened alleyway surrounded by trash, she could only heave a sigh as she waited for her friends to find her. They were supposed to attend a rave together and had gotten separated about half an hour earlier. Standing where she was, Jennifer could hear the steady driving bass of the party somewhere close, and she didn’t want to go in without them.
A crash from a few feet away caused Jennifer to hump, earning a peal of laughter from her friends as they walked around the overturned metal trash can. Jennifer growled, shoving Timothy’s lean figure against the wall. “That wasn’t funny!”
Timothy, a lean red head with long hair and naturally pale skin, held up his hands in surrender. The long sleeves of his trench coat were buckled and wet from something, and the bottom of his coat glistened from similar signs of moisture. With him was a lanky man with long black hair and a faded “Slayer” tee shirt over his lithe frame. James had his hands in his jean pockets, numerous chains dangling from his hip, one pierced eyebrow raised as he stared at Timothy as if he were insane.
“Clumsy much?” James asked, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.
“Fuck you…” Timothy replied while looking at his sleeves and down at his coat. “This is fuckin’ sick man, I got garbage water all over me!”
“No way we’re turning back now man, this rave is supposed to be killer!” James cried, slinging an arm around Jennifer’s shoulders, one hand coming up to cup her face. “If we miss it, you’ll make Jenn cry. You don’t want that, do you?”
Jennifer shrugged his arm off her back, stepping forward to look Timothy up and down. “You look fine, quit worrying.”
“But I stink now man, what if I meet some hot chick?” He whined, looking up at Jennifer as if that were the goal of the evening. Perhaps to him it was…
She whacked him upside the head before settling her hands on her hips. “It’s a rave dummy, everyone’s gonna be all sweaty and gross within fifteen minutes, cute girls included.”
“About that, where’d you hear about this party again?” James asked, shaking the ends of his coat dry. “Cause I ain’t heard of anything out this way but warehouses and crack dens.”
“I got a flyer about it at that market I told you guys about,” Jennifer reminded him, shaking her head as she absently played with her necklace. “It’s called the Sinner’s Dance, supposed to be pretty wild.”
“The Sinner’s Dance…?” A voice asked from a pile of trash several feet away, causing both Jennifer and James to shriek in fright. Emerging from a mass of tatty rags was a man, haggard and old, with several layers of clothing on to help protect him from the cold. “I know where that is, if’n ya’ll need directions…”
Catching her breath while steadying herself on Timothy, Jennifer could only nod as Timothy replied. “Yeah, we could use some help old man. What’ll it cost us for some useful directions? A five spot?”
The old man scratched at his unkempt mane with dirty fingernails. “I wasn’t planning on charging ya anything but hell, if your offering, sure.”
Timothy fished out his money clip, yanking a crisp five dollar bill from between the gleaming metal holding the bulge of money, tossing the flimsy piece of currency towards the old man.
Ignoring it as it landed a few feet from him, the old man reached into his makeshift bed, tongue sticking out of his mouth as he sought some unseen object. It only took a few moments until he cackled with glee, pulling a crumpled flyer up from beneath his blanket of rags, holding it proudly before them.
“This here was posted up a few weeks ago aroun’ the college campuses, has directions once you enter the Ghetto of Lost Souls,” the man explained, leaning over to both pass the piece of paper and take the lonely five dollar bill.
“Ghetto of Lost Souls?” Jennifer repeated, looking at him with a raised eyebrow.
The old man shrugged. “Here, I ’spose. The whole area is like a maze for outsiders, with more twists and turns and dead-end alleys than any other city in America.”
“Sounds like San Antonio all right.” James joked, earning nervous chuckles from his friends.
“So do you know how to get to the Sinner’s Dance?” Jennifer asked, shuffling her feet nervously. While she liked to put on a tough front, she really wasn’t used to dealing with people who were less fortunate. They made her a little nervous, truth be told.
The man smiled a grim smile, scratching at his neck slowly as he spoke. “Depends on what you’re willing to part with. Been a long while since I got a drink in me, seeing as all those freaks ‘ave been keeping me out of the bars round here.”
Timothy rolled his eyes and threw a twenty at the man, who greedily snatched it from the air with speed that belied his age.
“Just keep on heading straight down past the wood yards and over the old bridge. Once you go over, there’s gonna be another homeless guy sitting against a light pole. Show him your little flyer and you’ll be let on in.”
“How do you know this?” James asked eyes narrowed. “How do we know you aren’t just yanking out chains and ripping us off?”
“You don’t,” the old man said with a careless shrug. “But I got yer money now, so no sense in lying to ya unless I think you’re willing to beat on an old man, and none of you look like you got the stomach for that.”
They all shifted uncomfortably at that, to which the old man crowed, slowly rising to his feet, scooping the discarded five on his way up. “Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to the corner store to buy me a case or two of beer! Might be able to share some with the fellas down by the rails, get a little weed…”
Timothy turned and looked down the foreboding alleyway that the old man had pointed out, the only lights spaced a good forty feet apart, and dim at best. The entire alleyway was littered with planks and large sheets of wood stacked against the cement walls, fire escapes mere inches above the gathered wood. A scant few trash cans, overflowing with garbage, were visible in the dim light.
All in all, not an inviting picture.
“This party better be fucking worth it,” James groused as he shoved his hands into his pockets, stomping off into the lead with Jennifer in tow, Timothy bringing up the rear.
For minutes, they walked in silence, the only sounds being the sharp clacking of their hard-soled shoes on stone alleyway and the distant call of mariachi bands from the Riverwalk. Above the double story buildings, fireworks occasionally burst in the air, lighting up the alley to a disturbing degree. With one such burst, Jennifer flinched back as she saw a large splatter of… something on the wall.
She hadn’t brought it to anyone’s attention, but it held her thoughts until they exited the alleyway onto a street running along the San Antonio River, a stone bridge sitting in front of them leading across the bubbling waters. Slowly walking across, Jennifer was the first to catch sight of the homeless man they sought out.
She suddenly wished she didn’t have that good of eyesight.
The man was huge and muscular, almost too muscular for his rags to contain him. With a tattered coat sewn from several other coats, he sat against a mailbox next to a light pole, drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag. His skin was a sickly yellow, with open sores and lesions, his eyes pale and watery. Beneath his hood, as they approached him, they could see he was bald though he had the faintest markings of a tattoo going up the back of his head, hidden from view.
“Spare some change?” He asked, his voice thick and course, holding out a hand towards James. James balked slightly, though quickly regained his nerve as he turned around and spoke with Jennifer in hushed tones. Turning back, he cleared his throat.
“We’re here for the Sinner’s Dance,” He said calmly, holding his nose high as if he were important.
The man sat there, staring at the long-haired youth for several moments, before he wrestled his way to his feet, revealing he was three times as wide as any of them, and over a head taller.
“The dance is by invitation only. You got an invite, or what?” The man asked, taking a long swig from his bottle before wiping his mouth on his forearm.
Jennifer pulled the folded up flyer from her pocket, passing it forward with trembling hand to James, who unfolded it enough to show to the burly guardian. Looking over them critically, the man snorted once before shaking his head.
“How old are you kids?” He asked eyebrow raised.
“Old enough to party,” James replied with confidence.
“Is that so? Well, who am I to turn away three fine specimens such as yourselves?” The man said, bowing drunkenly before them before laughing, slow and low. Turning, he walked up to a warehouse, windows boarded up and yellow police tape crossing over the entrance. Lifting up the tape, he pushed open the door. “Just head down to the basement, and have some fun. Tell the bartender that the first drink’s on Hastur.”
“Hastur? What kind of name is Hastur?” James asked as he ducked beneath the tape, entering the darkness of the warehouse.
“The kind that belongs to a man that can fuck you up big time if you keep asking dumbass questions, that’s what.” The man snapped, nodding his head to Jennifer as she ducked under the tape. Timothy stopped and pulled out his money clip, pulling a five from it and tucking it into the gigantic man’s front pocket.
“My father always said tip the doorman and pay the ferryman,” Timothy explained, earning a bark of laughter from the giant.
“Wise words to live by!” He cried as he slammed the door shut, plunging the trio into a musty darkness.
The floor they stood upon was metal, with bumps to prevent anything from rolling forward or back in an uncontrolled fashion. Chains clinked from the ceiling of the warehouse, the breeze brought in from the door causing them to clatter ominously. Looking around, Jennifer’s eyes began to slowly adjust, to the point where she could make out the interior of the old warehouse. They were on a raised platform, some ten feet above the floor of the building, which ran along the edges of the interior, all the way over to an old freight elevator. The walkway was littered with burnt-out cigarettes and crushed beer cans.
As well as bones.
Jennifer let out a small squeak of fear upon seeing the first one, a large femur hanging from the wall. James must have seen it to because he grabbed Timothy by the back of his trench coat.
“What?” Timothy asked, turning to look at James.
“Pull out your lighter,” James said.
“What? Why?” Timothy demanded.
“Just do it!” Jennifer said, her eyes never leaving the femur.
Timothy grumbled as he fished out a silver light, flicking it open with a whip of the wrist. Sparking it up, he held it up. “Whoa… dude, is that a bone?”
“Yeah,” James said, staring at the femur in the flickering light. Jennifer gasped as she realized there were more hanging along the wall.
“Look,” she said, pointing at a skull, dusty and old, with strange black writing over the brow. It hung from a hook next to a pair of slimmer bones that crossed beneath it, creating a literal skull and bones figure. Going down the wall, the teens could make out hundreds of other bones, all yellowed and dusty with age.
Jennifer walked up to one of the skulls, looking at it carefully. She held a hand up to it, running a finger over the loose teeth, her fingers stopping on an elongated canine.
“Man,” Timothy said holding the lighter up higher as he walked forward. “This crowd sure knows how to set a mood!”
Jennifer turned and looked at him as if he were crazy. “What do you mean?”
“I mean all the decorations. They want this rave to attract all the goths imaginable.”
“You mean you aren’t freaked out even a little bit by the human remains hanging from the walls?” Jennifer asked.
Timothy shrugged. “They’re probably fake, made of plaster or something.”
“He may be right,” James said as he walked up to Jennifer. “Either way, do you want to turn back now?”
Jennifer bit her lower lip, eyes lingering on the skull, on the long teeth… it looked so real. But they had come a long way… and this was supposed to be a killer rave. She nodded, “let’s head in.”
James patted her on the back, hands moving to her shoulders as he marched her down the walkway, laughing. “That’s the spirit! We’re going to have fun tonight, just wait and see.”