Downtown vibrates with the echoes of dance clubs, the bass beats filling the weave of streets, and the smell of beer permeates the walls of bars around every corner. Cigarette butts litter the sidewalks, illuminated in a flash with each passing car filled to the brim with passengers – some coming to enjoy the buzzing night life, others cursing every stranger who darts across the street slowing traffic to a crawl. The autumn air has girls tugging at the bottom of the their short skirts and shivering in their metallic heels as they bustle from bar to bar looking for Mr. Right (for right now).
Andy stands under a streetlight in black skinny jeans, lace up boots, and a leather jacket. She watches girls in short sequined dresses shiver by and sips from her pocket flask as her phone vibrates against her jacket lining. Everett has been calling since Andy ran out of the coffee shop. Every voicemail and text message Andy has quickly deleted without a second glance.
She drinks the rest of her flask with a flourish, wiping at the corners of her mouth with the edge of her jacket sleeve, and begins walking the last block to the address Jasper sent her once she agreed to attend his art show. The moon plays hide-and-seek amongst the tall downtown buildings and the whiskey from Andy’s flask warms her body with every step. She smiles. The nighttime air is her element, this is the time when she comes alive: shadows lurk and creep around every corner coming alive with electric eyes, secrets run rampant and draw passing strangers into amorous entanglements.
Andy finds herself facing a old brick house, mossy shutters cover the few visible windows, and vines race towards the caving roof. The streetlights on this block flicker incessantly, like a strobe light at a rave, and despite being technically downtown the world seems quieter.
There’s no sign of an Art Show: no poster, no “enter here”, no sounds of pretentious art buyers drinking champagne, not even the sound of Jasper’s voice ringing out as he woefully describes the hardships that inspired his magnificent masterpieces. Andy glances up and down the block searching for any familiar faces under the flashing streetlights, but she finds herself entirely alone.
What the hell? A strange churning fills Andy’s stomach, she nervously fidgets from foot to foot as she pulls her phone from her pocket. Before she can open her text messages a giggle pulls her focus to a tiny alley between the buildings in front of her. Glancing around the corner she sees the glint of a gold heel before the girl disappears into a black, unlabeled door under a haze of blue light.
Andy grasps for the door handle and stops at the feeling of the cold metal against her palm. What the hell is going on? What am I getting myself into? But the thought fades as Andy flings open the door and dives headfirst into the dark atmosphere of the old building. She listens intently for the clicking of the girl with the gold heels and intuitively wanders through the abandoned home.
The darkness of the night seems to press in from all sides, the only light coming from the cracks in the shutters she had seen outside. Slivers of moonlight illuminate stranded pieces of upholstered furniture, covered in a thick coat of dust. The walls appear barren from the glimpses Andy manages as she chases the ever-fading sound of the mystery woman.
Everything feels hazy. Andy’s mind whirls with wonderment. Am I even in the right place? Who was that woman? Should I turn around and leave? Call Jasper later?
The next moment Andy finds herself at the top of a long, narrow staircase. She stares down where the clicking heels have faded away, feeling a hum from beneath the floorboards. A glow appears to be reflecting off the walls in whatever room awaits below, but Andy can’t be certain with the whiskey still warming her body and blurring her mind. She glances behind herself and realizes she has no recollection of the trail she took to get here. Go downstairs and try to find that woman, go back and try to find my way out. Fuck. Fuckin Jasper.
She glances back one last time, attempting to draw a map in her head to the unlabeled black door beneath the blue light, before she finally descends the narrow stairs. She balances herself by placing each hand on the encroaching walls, attempting to keep her approach secret to whoever that gold-heeled woman may be and whoever she may be meeting.
The hum grows louder, the reflected light becomes clearer. Andy begins hearing muffled laughter, the slightest sound of clinking glasses, and finally the sound of Jasper’s confident, pretentious voice. At the bottom of the stairs Andy pinpoints the origin of the light: a trapdoor in the floor, barely visible in the old wood flooring were it not outlined by the floodlights below. The sounds remain faint glimmers of what Andy knew them to be. The flooring must be thick….or soundproof…..who the hell would have a soundproof room under their basement. Andy stands directly above the trapdoor, uncertain of the protocol for entry.
She fingers the edge of her phone in her pocket before simply deciding to knock. Delicately at first, then her irritation at Jasper takes over and she pounds her first firmly against the floor three times. The slight sounds pause and Andy finds her heart in her throat as the trapdoor begins to vibrate at someone’s touch. In a flurry the trapdoor opens and Jasper’s familiar head of red hair pops through. His eyes land on Andy from behind an elegant black mask. Andy’s head tilts in confusion as she gazes from the black mask to Jasper’s ebony silk tie tucked neatly in a perfectly tailored suit.
“What’s with the get up Jasper?” Andy blurts out with a laugh. Jasper remains silent, but a mischievous grin that turns Andy’s stomach spreads across his face.
“Andy…” Jasper’s voice seems to slither across the floor towards her feet, “I’m so glad you could make it.” He reaches out his hand, Andy takes it gingerly allowing Jasper to present her to the room of strangers below. “Welcome” Jasper whispers against her neck, kissing her delicately, before pulling Andy to the party below.