Taste of Madness

I was never really a night person. But somehow, her soft, warm hands combatted the chilling cold breeze that accompanied us through our walk in this dimly-lit part of the city. My mind wandered quite a bit every time we passed an alley, they seemed to stretch out infinitely in the dark.

"Let's go somewhere." She interrupted my vivid imagination. "I don't want the night to end yet." I could sense mixed emotions in her voice. A part of her clearly wanted to rest. But, her energetic side, the one that draws me to her, prevailed.

"Somewhere like what?" I examined my wristwatch, the batteries had died a while ago and I keep forgetting to change them. My phone enlightened me with the correct time. 02:00. Not my favourite hour of the day. "Most places are closed by now.." They really were. It's not just that I wanted to hug my pillow. We have been outside far too long for my comfort.

"Uhmm…" I can sense her diminished ability to read the surroundings through drunken eyes. "There!" Her face suddenly lights up. She sways her hand up and briefly points at a conspicuous-looking entrance. An uninterrupted strip of green neon light outline surrounds a half-open doorway. There IS a sign, but I simply can't be bothered to read what it says.

"Okay." I usually don't fight her impulsive decisions. It may sound lame, but it gives me a sense of adventure. I like mystery. And despite hating not knowing things, I like jumping into situations similar to this.

I did not pull a push door this time, it swings with ease. It knows its purpose: to let outsiders in easily but challenge leavers. The walls are velvet. The floor tainted glass. The ceiling has more strips of green light. It was a gateway from the quiet darkness into what seemed like blues-land. The music wasn't too loud, contrary to what you'd expect from a bar open at this time. It wasn't a rave. And it made sure you knew that. It felt… homey.

Passing over to the hub felt like an achievement. The walkthrough that hallway felt long. Too long.

"I love these colours." She is clearly losing her sensations and giving in to the atmosphere. "Nice sofas!" Her statement steals me away from the ceiling and the imperceptible corners of the room. It was massive. Scattered around were bean bags, long sofas that you can actually sleep on, and a few people grooving to the soft live jazz. Everyone seems to be coupled up.

We join in on the dancing, not shying away from kissing, or getting a bit too close to each other. I am glad that we are at that stage. We dance and dance. A sudden feeling of weakness in our knees creeps upon us. Almost simultaneously. We both remember the last words spoken tonight, the sofas. We glance over at a yellow sofa, then back at each other, nod, and tread over there side by side.

We sit with our backs straight and legs stretched out. My right hand is around her neck. Left is playing with her right. She leans in and rests her head on my chest.

A waiter approaches, almost ominously, and interrupts our romantic cuddle. Maybe for the best. "May I get you anything to drink?" He places a hookah next to our sofa.

"We didn't order this," I say, puzzled. But she has already reached for the pipe and taken a couple of puffs. "Oookay, never-mind then." I approve of keeping it. I can smell cherry. "Some water would be good."

The waiter nods. As he turns around, I notice his long dreads. I always wonder if these are real or fake. This trend seems to have crept out of nowhere with Africans. One day they have short hair, the next, braids.

"This is good." She forcefully hands the pipe over to me. "Try." I start smoking and lose myself to the music, gazing on the smoke's battle with the air. What seems like an hour passes with me staring at smoke, learning dance moves by observing others and watching the coal crackle with every sip.

Fatigue can now be read off of our faces. Exhaustion spelt out with every word out of our mouths. Time to head home. I gesture to the waiter, who has been glancing at us for a while now.

"This can't be right." I say as I examine the bill. "You're not charging us for the hookah?"

"That is separately charged, sir." He affirms with a menacing smile.

"How much is it?"

"Three… tissues." His eyes trace the length of my exposed arm.

"Excuse me?" I raise an eyebrow. "Tissues? That's… odd to say the least."

"Well, that's the price, sir." His expression makes me feel uneasy.

I am too tired and too woozy to argue this point further. I reach for her purse. It's not hard to find things in it, surprisingly. You would assume that her impulsive nature comes with a messy purse. But it is very neat and organized. I pull out three tissues and hand them over. Then reach for my wallet and pay for the water. The waiter nods, wishes us a good night and moves out of the way.

We walk out. That eternal hallway was much shorter this time. The door was unexpectedly light. It didn't fight me at all as I opened it. As if it knew I would come back. Releasing me was simply part of the process.

We ordered a taxi. Cuddled up in the back seat. The night suddenly felt too hazy. I couldn't really remember much of what transpired in there. I remember passionately kissing her. I remember feeling her warmth. I also remember that cherry hookah. But the rest was too… distant.

We arrive home. Our cat probably heard the keys rattling as we were trying to get in and waited behind the door, greeting us with a meow. He ran away as soon as we got in though, which was strange. He usually likes to hover around our feet until we've carried him and said hello. This will be a puzzle to solve tomorrow.

We clumsily change into our pyjamas. Creep under the blanket. Kiss Goodnight. Sleep.

Who needs alarms when you have a cat that likes to fight with the local bird population? Every pigeon that resides in our block likes to spend their morning by our window. Taunting and flaunting their tails at our cat. While he scratches, crackles and bounces at the window. We wake up.

I look at her, she smiles and gives me a kiss. Something disrupts her soft expression. Shortly after, I feel a jab at my brain. Cherry. I can still taste it in my mouth.

"Are you okay?" I ask. I yawn in a hopeless attempt at shaking off this flavour.

"No. My head feels like it's going to explode. How much did we drink last night?" She asks as she struggles to get out of bed.

"Me, nothing. You, not enough to cause this." I observe her slow walk into the bathroom, leaning against the wall.

A thud echoes in my head. Energy shoots up inside me and I make haste towards the source. She's lying on the floor, motionless. I call her, no answer. A quick breath and pulse check confirms she is alive. I carry her back to the bed, get a glass of water and place it on the nightstand next to her. Nothing seems to bring her back.

I taste cherry again. Could it be? Was it spiked?

I check her pulse again. Normal. Breathing is normal. I call her sister who lives a few buildings away and ask her to come over.

I pace around the room. Headache pulses and I could feel a weird sensation journey through different parts of my body. Systematically checking on her motionless body on the bed. Her sister is a nurse, she would know what to do.

"What the hell happened?" She asks as she uses her keys to come in. "Why didn't you answer the door?"

"I.." her statement shocks me, I didn't hear anything. "She's over there." I point at the bed, but she was already on her knees, checking her heart rate, doing that flashlight thing on her eyes to see if there's a response.

"What did you guys do last night? Did she take any drugs?" She demands to know.

"Of course not. We just had a couple of drinks. And a hookah. Nothing out of the ordinary." I try to recall everything that happened, different scenes from the blues bar flash in my head.

"Do you think someone spiked your drinks then?" She sets her stethoscope aside. This kind of relaxes me a bit. She would have said something if there was anything abnormal. "I need to take her to the hospital. How do you feel? Let me check your vitals."

She approaches, repeats the same tests. "Your heart rate is a bit high. But given the situation, this is normal." She reaches for her phone and dials for an ambulance. "Eat something. Wash up. I will take care of her. Meet us at the hospital after you fix yourself up." That statement kind of scares me a bit. How do I look?

I go to the bathroom, there's a ghastly expression on my face. The circles around my eyes are too dark. Skin is pale. And I taste cherry. Have you ever had too many cocktail cherries? "Okay. I think I know what the problem is. I will go get to the bottom of this."

"Do what you have to. But please stay safe." She shouts from the other room. Sirens can be heard approaching. Once it arrives at our building it stops. The bell rings, paramedics take her and her sister walks with them. She stops and gives me a hug as she leaves. "Keep me posted." She says.

"You too." My mind is racing. I go to my closet, wear the first thing I see. Then reach for a small black box at the bottom left corner. I reveal the switchblade hidden inside and tuck it in my pocket. I haven't carried this around since high school. I never got into fights. But I sometimes hung out with the wrong sorts.

I'm getting an eerie feeling. Am I getting way over my head here? Am I really going to barge in there and confront people? Am I over-reacting?

The taste of cherry in the back of my throat, tickling my lungs. Every time I interact with the air, my stomach flips. No, I'm not over-reacting.

I reach for my phone. He certainly can help. I call up my college buddy. Did some sort of martial arts and was very athletic. Not sure if he's ever gotten in a fight. But he didn't strike me as a pacifist either. He confirms his availability and wants to help. I share the address with him. A bus ride later, I'm there.

"Long time no see. So you only call me up when you're in too deep, eh?" He says with a smug. Why is he excited? Didn't he hear the story?

"Let's catch up later. I need to get this cherry taste out of my mouth."

"Maybe kicking some asses will help." I can see I made the right choice by calling him.

We walk a short distance to reach that bar. The door was wide open. It is late in the afternoon, the sun is still up. So the lights are turned off. It suddenly looks like a drug den. It is strange how disgusting these places look in the daylight. We walk in. The hallway was extremely short. The decorative lights are turned on, the hallway was lit by the setting sun. You can hear musicians testing the audio in the next room. With the occasional distant clicking and clacking of dishes and glasses from the kitchen echoing throughout the place.

"Where is the dude that served you that thing?" He asks, looking around for someone who fits the description I texted him on my way.

"I don't see him." I sense someone is watching me, I examine the room, and it really looks different. Deserted, almost. I meet the eyes that were staring me down from behind a counter.

"Can I help you?" A deep womanly voice sends a chill down my spine. "We are closed for customers right now." She raises an eyebrow.

"We aren't customers." My friend walks up to her. "My friend here suspects being drugged by one of your staff last night."

Her reaction caught me off guard. She seemed to welcome that statement. Almost expecting it. The cherry taste suddenly grows much stronger. Anger.

"My fiancé got knocked into a coma." I get closer to the counter. Her smirk becomes clearer. Her hair is tied up in a ponytail. She is wearing a suit and a tie. Light makeup. "And something tells me this place is the reason."

"Oh, it certainly is." I hear that damned waiter's voice creeping up from behind me. I turn around, it seems like he's been here all along, tending to the bar. He goes around the bar and approaches. "You failed to pay the price." He too is dressed up. A white shirt complemented by a red tie, covered by a black vest and tucked in a black pair of pants. Formal.

"You skipped the bill?" My friend asks. I question whose side he's on.

"No, I didn't. I paid in full." I feel aggressive. That cursed taste is in my nose now. "I gave you what you asked for."

"No, you didn't." He creeps up closer. "I asked for living tissue."

"What?" My friend exclaims. "LIVING tissue? Like, skin? Muscles?"

"Exactly." He grins. I look back at the woman, she's not there. I look around, the atmosphere changes. It feels intense. I put my hand in my pocket. The knife is not there. Panic.

"Hey." I nudge my friend. "Maybe we should go and call the authorities?" I feel really uneasy. But my words seem to have no effect on my friend. Who now stands there completely motionless. "Are you here?" I nudge again. Nothing.

That cherry flavour in the air evokes flashbacks of last night. I knew there was something wrong with it. I remember dark shadows. I remember hearing screams. I remember… fire? Just what did I get myself, and my friend into?

The waiter is within reach now. I throw a punch directed at his face. But my hand doesn't connect. It refuses to arrive at its destination.

"Come now. There's no need for this sort of behaviour. Give in." He gets closer.

Music starts playing and the light gets dimmed, heralding the beginning of the evening. People walk in. Something about this jump-started my fight or flight instincts. Flight. Run. LEAVE.

I abandon my friend and sprint towards the hallway. I can't see the door at the end. But I remember where it is. I run. And run. I know I'm moving. The green lights that decorate the ceiling are moving. So I must be. I turn left. I turn right. My destination simply isn't there.

There's nothing behind me and nothing ahead.

I run for what seems like 15 minutes. The door opens. More people are walking in. A distinctive feature grabs my attention. Their blank expressions. I rustle through the crowd and make it… outside?

I almost don't recognize anything around me. Everything looks different. There's a sort of grey hue on everything. Cherry flavour kicks in again. I run. After a while, I stop to look behind me, my steps seem to have left footprints in the dust. The waiter is just standing in the distance. Glaring at me. I can feel his gaze petrifying me. I search my pocket again. Nothing. He puts his hand in his pocket and pulls something out. Unfolds it and throws it with ease. A knife digs into the ground before my feet. MY knife. I refuse to bend over and get it. I turn around and dart away. Anywhere. Anything is better than this.

As soon as I take a step, I feel surrounded. I speed up. Someone outruns me. And another. And another. I can't make-out their appearances. They are keeping up. I feel someone to my right. I glance over there to find the barrel of a gun pointed at me. It clicks. The bullet whistles besides my ear. Four more bullets do so. I stop running. Five people surround me.

I remember seeing their faces last night. The waiter. The manager. The guy tending the bar. And two of the dancers that were glued to each other all night. All seem to be holding guns. All pointing towards me. I remember watching videos on how to disarm a gun wielder. But not five. Cherry kicks in again. We are in an open space. Other than them, I haven't seen anyone in a while.

"Things would be so simpler if you just did what you were asked." The waiter says. "Funny how the others reacted differently."

"What are you?" I ask with a cracked tone. My mind wanders. Demons? Djinn? Angels? Witches? What could they be?

"We are something you can't perceive." One of them says.

"And you owe us." Another adds.

Cherry.

A surge of adrenaline throws me at the nearest one of them, I apply what I've seen in that video. But it felt like it was too easy. The gun is in my hand now. The person I disarmed lifts her arms in the air. But is smiling. Odd.

I cannot. But I must. Something pushes me to squeeze the trigger. The gun's kickback is stronger than I thought. I heard 4 other guns fire right after mine. Then collision. The four bullets shot out the bullet that left my gun.

"Just give in." The waiter says. "This is the end."

They aren't killing me for a reason. They had the chance multiple times. Do they need my consent? I can't outrun them. I can't fight back. I'm in some other world. Only one thing I can do. There IS a way out. This must be a dream. Or a hallucination. You know how you always wake up before you die in a dream?

I look at the gun.

Yes.

That's it.

My way out.

I point it at my face.

"What are you doing?" They all say simultaneously.

"Winning," I say as I pull the trigger. The cherry flavour flies away with the bullet as it exited the other side of my skull. I can feel my last breath leave my body. I'm supposed to wake up. Why aren't I waking up?!

"The price is paid, mortal." I hear the waiter as everything vanishes.