Authors: Danielle Vega
“Did you swim here?” Shana asks, giggling. Julie groans and tries to flatten her hair.
“Some jerk spilled his drink on me,” she says.
“I offered her my Tide pen,” Aya says, smoothing her hair back behind her ears. I notice that she, somehow, still looks perfect.
“My shirt is
, not stained.” Julie pinches the fabric away from her chest. “Disgusting,” she mutters.
“Here. Take this,” I say, handing my Coke to Julie. “I'll get two more.”
I turn around and wind through the crowd. I need a moment alone, anyway. I know Shana was trying to be nice, but she couldn't possibly understand how I feel. She goes through guys like they're nothing. But Sam isn't nothing. Sam is special.
Someone grabs my shoulders and whips me around.
A huge man looms over me. His fingers dig into my arms, pinning me in place. Thick white makeup covers his face. He's drawn black diamonds over his eyes and lined his lips in bloodred lipstick.
“Excuse me!” I try to pull away, but the man's hands are like vise around my arms. He doesn't wear a shirt, just rainbow suspenders strapped over his bare, hairy chest.
” he says, pressing a meaty finger to my lips. His skin smells like sweat and earth. I cringe, and vomit rises in my throat. I try not to stare at his chipped yellow fingernail.
“Please,” I say. He yanks me away from the bar with massive, muscular arms, muttering something under his breath. I try, again, to fight him off, but his body is solid and hard. It's like punching the wall.
“What are you doing?” I ask. I want to scream but the music's too loud. No one would hear me. The man's eyes dart across my face, hungrily. Makeup runs down his cheeks in streams, and bushy red hair surrounds his face. I beat at his shoulder with my fist. “Let me go!”
“Where are you going to go, little girl?” he asks, grinning to display a row of rotten teeth. He leans close to my face, and his smell makes my eyes water. It's sweat and beer and flesh baking in the sun.
“Please,” I say again, my voice cracking. The man cackles. He thrusts his long, purple-stained tongue out from between his lips and runs it up my cheek.
“Don't you want to play?” he whispers into my ear.
SPIT DRIES ALONG MY CHEEK. I'M DESPERATE TO
wipe it away, but the man's sticky fingers dig into my arms, pinning me in place. A tattoo of a snake eating a rat twists around his wrist.
I want to scream, but music throbs around me, drowning my voice. I scan the crowd. Someone has to see what's happening. Someone
to help. A girl with long blond hair gyrates in front of me, and a guy with thick muttonchops stands next to the bar. Neither of them looks my way. Another cry rises in my throat.
“Quiet, pretty.” The man's rot-and-beer-scented breath wafts over me. He clamps a hand over my lips, and fear rockets through my body. I picture my parents sobbing in the police station, my face on Missing Person posters. I didn't think this sort of thing happened in real life. But the man is very real. Lipstick seeps into every crack around his too-dry mouth, making it look like he's bleeding. I squirm, but he pulls me closer, until I'm pressed against his hairy chest. I stare at him in horror.
He moves his hand to the side of my face and cocks his eyebrow. Then he pulls a sparkler out of my earâlike magic. He drops my arm and produces a cheap gas station lighter with the other hand. I try to slip away, but the man angles his body in front of me. The sparkler crackles to life, shooting blue flames. My heart leaps in my chest.
The club around us falls eerily quiet as everyone turns to watch the crackling sparkler. The song ends and even the band seems to take notice.
The man claps his hands together, sending a spray of blue sparks to the floor. I jump back, knocking my hip against the bar. His red-painted lips part in a manic grin.
invited to play!” He spreads his arms wide and spins on the ball of one foot. “The second Survive the Night rave happens tonight,” the man says. “Midnight.”
Someone catcalls. The man waves the sparkler over his head and dances through the club. He steps out the door and onto the street, his blackened toes curling on the dirty sidewalk. The glittering blue sparkler disappears into the night.
My horror fades. It was a publicity stunt.
The music starts up, and I push my way back through concertgoers who've started dancing again now that the clown man is gone. A pins-and-needles feeling pricks my arms and legs. A guy wearing a white fedora touches my shoulder.
“Hey, you okay?” he asks. I flash him a wobbly smile.
“Peachy,” I say. I shove up to the bar. “Can I get a glass of water, please?” I ask the tattooed, lip-ringed bartender. She nods and disappears.
The guy in front of me hops off his stool, and I slide past him to steal it before anyone else can. I pull my purse onto my lap, my fingers trembling as I try to work the zipper. I swear under my breath and clench and unclench my hands until the trembling fades. I dig out my bottle of Tylenol and pop it open, shaking two small white tablets onto my palm. The bartender sets a water glass in front of me. I thank her and toss the pills back, taking a deep drink.
A girl with spiky green hair perches on the stool next to mine, her back to me while she talks with a curvy girl whose shaved head gleams in the dim light.
“.Â .Â . so many rumors about Survive the Night,” she's saying. I cock my head toward her, listening. “I can't believe anyone would actually go.”
The girl with the shaved head removes a flask from inside her leather jacket and tosses back a swig. Technically the Cog is dry, but everyone sneaks in booze. I take another drink of water.
“Are you kidding?” The girl tucks the flask back into her pocket. “Jenny said
was at the last one. She talked about it for a month.”
Shana bursts out of the crowd and grabs my shoulders. She's wearing an orange baseball hat I've never seen before; the color clashes with her pink hair. Her heavily lined eyes look positively gleeful.
I flick the hat with my finger. “What the hell?”
“What? I made friends.” Her gaze shifts to the Tylenol bottle sitting on the bar next to me. She cocks an eyebrow.
“I had a headache,” I mutter. I take another drink of water and set the half-empty glass down on the bar.
“Jumpy, much?” she asks.
I think she's talking about the Tylenol again, but she nods at my foot. I'm tapping it against the bar so hard that my glass shudders, the water rippling. I hadn't even noticed. I drop a hand on my knee.
“Maybe a little.” That's an understatement. I've been buzzing since that man grabbed me. I keep waiting for the adrenaline to fade but, if anything, it feels stronger. Energy courses through my arms and legs. It's like I need to
something to get rid of it. I slide to the edge of my bar stool. “Let's dance.”
Shana takes my wrists and pulls me to my feet. She spins me in a circle. I giggle, trying not to crash into the person behind me.
“We should go,” she says, her eyes glinting with excitement. My smile freezes. I don't have to ask what she's talking about. Before rehab, I'd been dying to go to some illegal underground rave. But raves mean drugs.
“Remember what I said about taking it easy tonight?” I remind her.
She frowns and leans forward. “Don't I always take care of you?” She rubs my buzzed head, grinning. “Remember the pool party?”
“Of course I remember.”
A few of months ago, Shana had dragged us all to this rave at an empty pool. Three concrete diving towers soared above the party. A bunch of kids crowded on top of them, dancing as close to the edges as they dared.
The highest platform rose nearly forty feet in the air. No one was brave enough to go up there, but I was drunk and a little high and I wanted to do something dangerous. I wanted to feel alive.
I still remember how the wind whipped my hair around my ears and the way my heart thudded in my chest as I climbed. I felt invincible. Like I could fly.
Then, halfway up the ladder, I looked down.
The people below were tiny, like plastic army men. My eyes clouded, and all at once, I realized how high I was, how sweaty my palms were. The wind was too strong, and the ladder felt rickety beneath my fingers. The ground spun. I was going to fall.
But before I did, Shana was there, her hands on my legs. Her cold fingers circled my ankle, and she gave me a comforting squeeze. A second later, her gravelly voice rose above the music.
“You're okay,” she called. “One step down.”
I nodded, and lowered my foot down a single rung.
She talked me down the ladder that way. I was too scared to climb back to the ground, so she stayed on the second-highest platform with me for hours. She sent people off to get me water and ice, and she held my hand and told dirty jokes until I felt sober enough to try the ladder again.
I down the rest of my water in one gulp. As terrifying as that night was, it was also exhilarating. We told the story for weeks afterward. Shana pushes me, but she protects me, too. We're a team.
.” Shana flashes me her little-kid smile. I hate saying no to that smile.
“We don't even know where it is,” I say instead. “You have to know somebody.”
“Woody knows a guy.”
Of course he does. On cue, Woody, the lead singer for Feelings Are Enough, pushes through the crowd, his forehead still slick with sweat from the bright stage lights. He runs a hand through his blond, surfer-dude hair and winks at the girl with the spiky green hair sitting next to me.
“Hey, Amy.” His lips curl into a pouting half smile that he could only have learned from studying old posters of boy bands. He's wearing a cow costume zipped up to his waistâthe arms and head flap around his legs. Pink plastic udders cover the front of his crotch.
“Did you wear that onstage?” I ask. Woody pretends to squirt me with an udder.
“Didn't you see me? I was standing right in front of you,” he says, dropping the udder. “I had a Funky Chicken show earlier.”
“You're still doing that?” I ask, wrinkling my nose. Funky Chicken is Woody's other bandâa two-man rap group that performs in farm animal costumes and sings about chicken sandwiches and bongs.
“You kidding? We're blowing up. New video on YouTube every week.” Woody does a little air guitar, twisting up his face like he's concentrating. “We were
“We didn't suck.” Sam walks up behind him and drops a hand on Woody's shoulder, and my heart nearly stops in my chest. “Hey,” he says. “Nice hair.”
I touch my newly buzzed hair, and a blush creeps over my cheeks. I picture brushing the sweaty strand of hair off Sam's face and burrowing my head into his T-shirt. I already know what he'd smell like: fabric softener and pine needles. I blink and look away.
, I tell myself, though I'm not sure my brain will register that as a command. I can't
stare at Sam. It's as natural as breathing.
“Oh. Hey,” I say, but he turns back around without another word. I bite back my disappointment. We dated for eight months and all he has to say to me is
? I want to add something else, but what would be the point? My chest twists.
“Careful,” Shana whispers. She leans behind me and slides the Tylenol bottle off the bar. My face flushes. I glance back at Sam to make sure he didn't see her. Before rehab, I used to hide oxy in old aspirin bottles so I could take them in public without anyone giving me a hard time. Sam found my stash once, and he was pissed.
Shana slips the bottle into her purse. The only thing inside is Tylenol, but Sam doesn't know that.
, I mouth to her. She winks at me.
Sam turns around. His eyes find mine then flick away. “So,” he asks. “Are you guys going to this thing? Survive the Night?”
A thrill of adrenaline charges through my body. He might have asked both of us, but it felt like he was talking to me. Just like that, I make up my mind. This isn't just an illegal underground rave anymore. It's an illegal underground rave with my perfect ex-boyfriend who never should have dumped me.
I sneak a look at Shana, thinking of the possibilities. Another chance with Sam, maybe. A chance to make things right. “Yeah,” I say, ignoring the heat climbing my neck. “I'm in.”
“GUYS!” AYA WOBBLES OVER TO A RICKETY WOODEN
chair sitting in front of a dumpster. Her spiky heels dangle from one hand and black gunk stains the bottoms of her feet. Just looking at them makes me gag.
“She's going to get chlamydia of the foot,” Julie says, twisting the onyx ring on her finger.
“Maybe we should buy her some flip-flops.” I stare down at a bright blue gob of gum on the concrete. There are probably millions of diseases you could pick up on these sidewalks, but shopping's not really an option out here. We took the subway into Lower Manhattan, and it looks like a completely different city. The cute brick apartment buildings and tiny community parks have disappeared. Huge, empty office buildings stand in their place, their windows dark. They tower over us, cold and austere.
I wrinkle my nose and look away, dimly wondering how much longer we have to do this before officially giving up. It turns out the “guy Woody knows” was just someone he overheard talking back at the Cog. We've been searching for the secret entrance to Survive the Night for over an hour. That tingly, excited feeling I had when we left the Cog Factory has faded. This whole thing was supposed to be about talking to Sam, but the only thing Sam's said to me was “watch out” when I almost stepped in dog crap.
I sigh, and a strand of hair flutters away from my face. I can just make out Sam kneeling at the far end of the alley as he and Woody try to pry open a manhole cover. I should go over and help them, maybe even find a way to brush Sam's arm or lean against his shoulder. But the thought of making the first move turns my stomach.
I need to find a way to get his attention. I loop my arm through Julie's. “Are you still going to that SAT tutor?” I ask. “Craig something?”
“You mean Chris?” Julie scuffs the toe of her combat boot into the dirty concrete. The boots give her a good two inches of height, but her loose-fitting jeans still drag along the streets.
“Right,” I say. Sam glances over his shoulder at us. Before we broke up, he was always saying I needed to focus more on college. I raise my voice. “
. Do you think he has room for one more student? I'm a little behind.”
Shana stops at the industrial door to one of the warehouses and jiggles the handle. The loud, metallic rattle cuts me off. She's been doing this for the last twenty minutes, hoping someone left a door unlocked so we can sneak inside and explore.
Sam glances at her and shakes his head, then turns back to the manhole cover. Disappointment stabs through me.
“Give it up, Shana.” I kick an empty Sprite can at her. It rattles across the alley and smacks into the door.
“Where's your sense of adventure?” Shana asks, jiggling another door handle.
“At home with my comfy shoes,” I mutter, glaring down at my studded leather flats. They pinch my toes, and my feet ache from all the walking. A corner booth at IHOP and a stack of strawberry-banana pancakes is sounding pretty good about now.
“Guys, look!” Aya drops her shoes to the ground and scrambles onto the ledge of a dumpster, flashing us her bright pink panties. “Look! I'm so high.”
I glance back over at Sam. He pulls at the manhole cover, grunting. I sigh, relieved that he isn't paying attention to my friends.
“How much did she have to drink?” I ask. Julie shrugs.
“I don't think she had anything. But I gave her one of these.” She pulls a wrapped candy out of her pocket and hands it to me. It looks like a Jolly Rancher, except the wrapper is a plain, unmarked yellow.
“Great,” I say, turning the candy over. “What's in it?”
“Nothing. Just a little pot.” Julie takes the candy back from me, unwraps it, and pops it into her mouth. “Barely any. Aya can't handle her drugs.”
Aya stands, spreading her arms out to either side. Her hair falls loose from her chignon, and her cardigan slips off one shoulder. She wobbles on the edge, too close to falling inside with the rotting garbage.
“Let me help you down, sweetie.” I grab her legs to hold her steady. She blinks, like she can't quite remember where she is, and takes my hand, half stepping, half falling into my arms. I groan beneath her weight.
Shana jiggles another door handle. This one creaks open.
“Oh my God!” She pushes the door all the way open and steps into the warehouse. “Score!”
“Shana, don't.” I stare into the darkness behind her. “You don't know what's in there.”
“Exactly,” Shana says. “And if you don't come after me, I could
She wraps her hands around her neck and sticks out her tongue, backing into the warehouse. She leaves the door open behind her.
Sam says something to Woody, and the two of them head farther down the alley.
. I watch him walk away, then glance back at the warehouse door.
“Shana!” I call. Aya starts giggling and tries to climb back onto the Dumpster. My friends seem to be competing over who can embarrass me the most tonight.
,” I tell Aya, pointing at the ground. “Julie, help her get her shoes back on. I'm going to get Shana.”
Then, before either of them can argue, I hurry across the alley and step into the warehouse. Crumpled up magazines and empty McDonald's containers litter the floor. Silver light slips through the cracks in the cardboard taped over the windows.
I hesitate at the door, reluctant to move farther inside.
,” I hiss. It's too dark to see anything but hulking shadows. A crowbar leans against the wall just inside the door. I grab it and hold it in front of me like a weapon. The cold metal bites into my palms. I take a tentative step inside.
For some reason, I'm reminded of Mountainside. After Rachel died, I got a new roommate, this girl named Tanya. Tanya was a sleepwalker. A couple of times a week she'd creep out of bed and disappear into the clinic. The nurses told me I didn't have to look for her, but I couldn't help it, not after what had happened to Rachel. I couldn't sleep if I didn't know where Tanya was. I'd lie in bed, picturing all the different ways she could die.
At night, Mountainside was a chilling place. The floorboards creaked and shadows stretched across the long, narrow halls. And then there was the screaming. Withdrawal is worst during the night. Girls would sob and mutter to themselves and scratch at their doors. The sounds echoed around me as I crept past their dorms, calling Tanya's name.
I blink and my eyes start to adjust. I'm not at MountainsideâI'm in a gross warehouse with Shana. A bare mattress lies in the corner, a large black stain spread across its surface. I look away.
“Just dirt,” I mutter under my breath, knowing that's not true. I move farther into the warehouse, tightening my grip on the crowbar. Nerves climb the backs of my legs, making my knees feel weak.
Something flickers at the corner of my eye. I whirl around, swinging the crowbar. A cat leaps from the windowsill to the floor, its paws silent on the concrete. Thick yellow pus oozes from a wound on its side and clumps in its fur.
My stomach churns. The cat watches me with glassy eyes.
“Damn it,” I whisper. I move deeper into the warehouse, careful to step around the trash littering the floor. I listen for movement or for Shana's familiar throaty laugh. But I only hear my own ragged breath. The crowbar nearly slips from my sweaty hands.
The space is smaller than I expected, just one room about the size of a garage. A second door stands ajar at the side wall, sending a sliver of light through the darkness.
Something shuffles through the trash next to me. Every muscle in my body tightens. I spin around.
“Shana?” I whisper. I hold my breath and raise the crowbar. No one answers. I step forward, wiping a sweaty hand on my jeans. Dimly, I remember the screams echoing through Mountainside. Goose bumps rise on my arms.
A crumpled-up piece of newspaper rustles. I wrap my fingers around the crowbar again. “Shana? Is that you?”
A second cat appears beneath the newspaper and darts for the door.
I breathe a sigh of relief. To hell with this place. Shana can live here, for all I care. I lower the crowbar and edge around a pile of blankets.
The blankets move, and an arm shoots out and grabs my ankle. I scream, and whip my crowbar around. It slips from my hands and clatters to the floor.
A man with a cracked, ashen face peers out from the nest of blankets. He's missing an eye, and the skin over the socket looks shiny and raw. It grows mottled around his cheekbone and forehead. Flaps of puckered, blackened flesh jut off his face.
Fear grips my chest. My heart thuds, and I can't seem to find my voice. I feel like I'm in a dream where I want to scream but I can't. Except this isn't a dream. I glance over at the crowbar, but it's too far for me to reach.
“Your friend went that way,” the man says in a gravelly voice, nodding at the door. He lets go of my leg and burrows back under the blankets.
I run for the door.
I burst into the cool night air and there's Shana leaning against the alley wall. She takes a puff of her cigarette and blows the smoke out through her teeth. Another homeless man stands next to her. Dirt and grease line his face, but he's younger than the one-eyed man I saw inside. Thick blond dreadlocks hang down his back, and he has plastic grocery bags knotted around his feet instead of shoes.
The tension drains from my shoulders, but adrenaline still pounds through my veins, leaving me hot and jittery. My heart beats like crazy. It's almost like being high.
“I'm going to kill you,” I say, letting the warehouse door slam behind me. Shana flicks her cigarette, sending a shower of ash to the ground.
“Then why are you smiling?” she asks. I bite my lip. It's that giddy thing again. I can't get scared without grinning like an idiot.
Besides, the warehouse was kind of exciting. In a terrifying way.
“I want you to meet my new friend,” Shana says. “Casey, this is Lawrence.”
The homeless man flashes me a peace sign, quietly humming under his breath. Shana passes him her cigarette, and he takes a deep drag.
“Um, hi,” I say. Lawrence tries to hand the cigarette back to Shana, but she waves him away.
“Keep it,” she says. “Case, you'll never guess what Lawrence just told me.”
I raise an eyebrow, waiting.
“Lawrence was telling me about this alley a couple of blocks over.” Shana stands on one foot, scratching the back of her leg with her boot. “Get this. The alley was singing.”
,” Lawrence interrupts, his voice deep and melodic. He takes another puff of Shana's cigarette. “The alley was humming, not singing. There weren't any words.”
“That's right,” Shana says. “Don't you think that's crazy, Casey? A humming alley?”
“Humming?” I repeat. Shana gives me a comically slow, intentional wink and something clicks inside my head. “Wait, you mean there was music playing? Under the alley?”
Lawrence frowns. “I guess it could have been music,” he says.
I jog to the corner and peer down the opposite alley. Woody crouches in the middle of the street, his head pressed against a manhole cover. The cow costume still hangs from his waist, looking worn. Dirt and grease stain the limp tail and the cow's white ears.
“I don't think this is it,” he mutters.
Sam stands over him, frowning. “I'm telling you, he said
Street, not Cooper Street,” he says.
“Maybe.” Woody pushes himself to his feet and heads farther down the alley. He kicks a beer can, and it skitters behind a Dumpster.
“Guys!” I shout at them. “Shana found something.”
Sam and Woody jog over to us, Aya and Julie trailing behind them. Aya's only wearing one of her shoes and carrying the other. She loses her balance when she tries to walk and stumbles into Julie, giggling.
“What's up?” Sam asks. Woody stares at Lawrence's grocery bag shoes as Shana repeats the story of the humming alley.
Woody pulls his wallet out of his back pocket and removes a twenty-dollar bill. “Lawrence, my man, how'd you like to make some money?” he asks.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
Lawrence leads us through the darkened Manhattan streets, to another alley several blocks over. Woody walks beside him, but Sam lags behind. Now is my chance. I fumble with my turtle necklace and hurry up next to him.
“Hey,” I say, nudging him on the shoulder.
“Hey,” he says back. Usually his voice is casual, and even a little cocky. Now it sounds strained. I roll my lower lip between my teeth, and silence stretches between us.
“So.” I cough awkwardly. “Um, how's school?”
Sam shrugs. His jeans hang low on his hips and his shirt's a little wrinkled, like he dug it out of the back of his dresser. “Same,” he says.
“Any news about James?” I ask. James is Sam's older brother. He was the one who taught Sam to play guitar, but he's a meth addict, and he disappeared right before graduating high school. He's been MIA for a little over a year. Because of him, Sam never touches drugs. He doesn't even drink.
Sam glances up at me. Some of the tightness leaves his jaw. “Nothing new,” he says in a voice that sounds a little more like normal. “Heard he was in California, but who knows?”
Sympathy tugs at my chest. “He hasn't called?”
“Once.” Sam pinches the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “It was weird. He didn't even sound like himself.”
I rub my thumb over Myrtle's shell. Tori Anne, from Mountainside, was a meth addict. She spoke with a lisp because the drug had rotted all her teeth.
“I'm sorry,” I say. Sam shakes his head.
“Don't be,” he says. “You didn't do anything.”
Woody calls Sam's name, and Sam jogs up next to him, leaving me alone. Shana nudges me with her arm.