Falling

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9.

I should have asked where the bathroom was, because, blundering through various rooms, I got contradictory directions. The group of players and party-goers were enjoying diverse forms of altered consciousness. Some were asleep, or as near comatose as makes no difference. Some were inhabiting other bodies, and too preoccupied by their mutual explorations to deal with my enquiry. Some, quite a number, were inclined towards blissfully inane circumlocutions that, at another time, might have gathered me into their bubble of omni-love, but now caused annoyance.

‘The bathroom, man? That’s a B-I-G-G question...big like the whole universe...like it’s t-h-i-s big (indicating with finger and thumb a millimetre apart)…or maybe…hey, man, don’t go, this is like really major…’

I guided myself by wrong turnings, by déjà vu, and when I grew warmer, by sound, because I became aware of a feral moaning, muffled but audible, rising and falling in a regular rhythm like a mechanism being cranked. It came from behind a half-glazed door. The room it guarded was dark within. I rattled the door. It was locked. I called out for Danny who was, I presumed, making the noise, even though the sound of it was scarcely human. There was no answer, simply the continued moaning or howling; it was both at different times. Far from Danny having been locked in the ‘cooler’, the opposite had occurred. He had locked himself in. There was no telling what he would do in there, I thought, once his vocal chords gave out.

I had always wanted to kick in a door. For the past half hour I had wanted to kick most things. Here was a legitimate reason and I was going to take advantage of it. I stood back and stomped my foot against the lock. It didn’t give. Nothing much happened except for the sharp pain in my heel.

‘Hey cool, hombre!’ I turned and found Actaeon beside me. He was dressed in a sort of nightshirt. Just behind him stood Daisy. They looked as if they had just been roused from slumber.

‘Danny – my friend Danny – is in there. He doesn’t sound in good shape. I need to get in,’ I said, giving my voice the urgency of the Lone Ranger announcing a plan.

‘You should be very careful, he’s crazy. He bit Casanova. Maybe you should just leave him.’ I found the biting news heartening evidence of rationality, but the noise continued. More than anything, I wanted it to stop.

‘No, I need to get in,’ I said, preparing to take another kick.

‘Hey no, easy, man. Just wait a second…’ Actaeon made a pacifying gesture, and disappeared into an adjoining room.

Daisy and I stood where we were, awkwardly saying nothing.

A moment later he came back holding a knife. I felt a prickle of cold sweat: what if he’d slipped into his parallel identity as ‘the huntsman’? However it was just a kitchen knife. The door proved to be one with a blind screw to operate the lock from the other side, for just such eventualities as this: to provide access when the facilities are occupied by a lunatic.

He worked the catch, and we inched open the door. The bathroom was not much more than a corridor with a basin and toilet; a pail and mop were stationed behind the door. It ended in a window that took up nearly the full width of the room. There was light enough from the hallway to detect a figure, a silhouette, crouching on the sill of the open window. I could tell it was Danny from the shape of his mop of hair, but he was facing outwards. He didn’t see us. He was rocking on his haunches, making his noise, like a dog baying at the moon, except there was none; instead only the sparse firmament of lights belonging to insomniacs in the surrounding apartment blocks.

‘Hey, Danny, it’s time to go…’ I said in a voice that could have been designed to calm a ferocious beast.

He turned his head, as if weary, but continued making the noise.

‘That’s enough of that, Danny. Let’s split…’ I began to move forward, towards him.

‘Filth! The filth in here!’ His eyes were darting all over the place.

‘C’mon, it’s time to go,’ I said, inching forwards.

‘I’m ready,’ he said, smiling as if recognising a secret command that he had been waiting to hear. ‘I’ve learnt to fly. I’ve been taking in the knowledge.’ He lowered his voice confidentially. ‘They don’t know how. Filth doesn’t fly – but flies like filth.’ He laughed at his quip.

Then he turned away. Before I could react, he disappeared through the window. There was an echoing whump! – as he hit concrete – followed by a clatter of bins. I felt sick. I could hear voices cursing, coming from the flats just over the back wall. In the search for the bathroom, I’d become disoriented: I had no idea what storey we were on. Fearing the worst, I rushed to the window and stared down into a pool of darkness. I couldn’t make out Danny, but at least I could tell this was the first floor and no higher. Perhaps it wasn’t a fatal drop, but then again – the bins! If they were down another level, a basement maybe? No further sounds were to be heard; that was worrying.

‘Danny, Danny, you crazy idiot! Are you OK?’ The only answer came from across the way.

’Madonna! Four in the morning! That fucking commune – I’m getting the police. Anna, call the police. Tell ’em there’s druggies. Tell ’em there’s an orgy goin’ on…’

’You tell ’em, why don’tcha?’ came a second voice, more annoyed, it seemed, by this proposed escalation than by the clamour caused by us. ‘The police are going to love you for getting them out – yeah, why not call our good friends, the pigs? They’ll thank you! An’ wanna poke around in our business, while they’re at it. God give me strength, get back inside…’

While this exchange was going on, I tried my best to listen for signs of life down below.

‘Danny, are you OK?’ I strained my ears, but all I could hear were the voices opposite, still bickering. I called down, ‘Stay put, I’m coming.’ As I turned to go out of the bathroom, I barged into the mop and bucket, adding more racket to the night air. On the stairs I met Actaeon going the other way.

‘Danny, he’s knocked himself out…’ He had an air of concern.

‘Jesus, he’s not dead?’

‘No, no, he’s making a noise, like he’s, er,’ he paused to select his word, ‘awaking… I’m going to get Matteo. He’s a doctor, sort of…’

I hurried past him. Getting Matteo, the original cause of all this, would be like asking a pyromaniac to put out a fire. I blundered on.

Outside, in the lee of the house, it was pitch black. I looked up to the bathroom window, to try and work out where Danny should be. In looking up, I lost balance and fell over the same bins he’d already disturbed. Their clatter made a mocking echo off the walls and concrete. I lay on the ground clutching the knee I had cracked, waiting for the pain to drain away. Beside me I heard sounds, a scuffling and a snorting, as if I were in the lair of some beast.

‘Danny?’

The presence beside me propelled itself out of the cavernous space, disturbing another bin in the process.

‘Danny? Wait on, Danny!’

Light from the bathroom painted a distorted rectangle across the yard. Flushed from cover among the trash cans and rubbish, a figure passed through it. The silhouette of Danny’s mop confirmed his identity. His lopsided gait betold the painful impact of his fall; he could have been a Yeti.

A voice called down from above: Daisy’s. ‘Adam, what’s happening?’ That’s the question, I thought. What is happening – to us all?

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