The salon smells of shampoo and pot. It’s expected. Maybe some of the older clients”the women getting their curls and colour”don’t know what that scent is as it occasionally wafts in from the back, but the majority know. They know the owner has two professions. He’s a great hairdresser, but that’s not why he owns a Porsche.
I work round the corner in a small, slow cafe. The hairdresser—or more often his assistant and lover—comes in everyday to order his coffee, usually around noon. I sometimes use this as a cover. Not all the time mind, but when I’m in need of something heavy, I give a nod and tell him that I’ll take the strong soy caffe latte down when it’s done.
As I step into the salon, the assistant jerks his head, directing me out back. He gives me a creepy smirk, which I assume was meant to be suggestive. They’re the most eccentric poof couple I’ve ever witnessed. I saunter through, stepping over a cowering greyhound wearing a jacket made to look like a tuxedo.
I enter into a small courtyard and the crisp winter sun. He’s there, a joint dangling from his left hand. He’s wearing large sunglasses, pink suspenders, and large leather boots. His hair’s slicked back, a pillowy hat covering it. He looks over at me lazily. His right hand fishes around in a huge box of Lego. A small diorama is in front of him. It looks like a scene from his own mind. None of the blocks match in colour, and he has created some odd contraptions. Small yellow heads are scattered liberally across the whole thing. The centrepiece is a green dragon, translucent orange flames stuck to it’s mouth. I put his coffee down next to it.
“I’m needing something for tonight.” I say.
The corner of his mouth twitches, but it’s too much effort to fully smile.
“Yeah, what for?”
“Oh, nothing big. Just catching up with a few old friends.”
“Something mellow? Something yellow? Maybe a plane ticket to somewhere else?”
He always talks like this. Probably since he is almost always high. One time he walked to the street, got in his Porsche, drove it forward three inches, then returned to the salon. He was a bit of a lost cause, almost worthy of pity if he wasn’t rolling in it.
“I’ll leave it up to you.” I say. I put my hands in my pockets, fumbling the folds of cash. My eyes lock on the brim of his hat where a curl of hair has escaped.
He finally manages a grin.
“I’ve got just the thing.”
* * *
I hop off the tram, the influence of half a bottle of Chardonnay causing me to sway. It’s cold, and a light haze of water falls to the ground. I hold my jacket pocket and jog across the street.
A large, decrepit student sharehouse looms over me me. My destination. It’s a mate’s place, or at least an acquaintance’s. He’s a guy I knew better at school. It’s a good excuse to unwind whichever way you look at it. I take a swig from the bottle, screw the cap on and put it away, and start a one-handed text to Craig.
Out front. Have the gear. 😀
I hear the door unlock. My head swings up to greet him.
“‘sup. Get here alright?” He’s holding a glass of what I presume to be Pinot, and has a small red stain on his front. An untapped ciggie hangs from his lips. Classy.
“Yeah, no problems. Bit hard to miss this place.”
He hastens me inside, slapping me on the back. I stiffen a little Dubstep and mildew seep from deeper inside the house. The place stinks of decay, and I’m instantly enthralled.
We skim over some catchup chat”uni, girls, work”as we head for the bottom level. Descending a set of creaky stairs, we walk out into a large room. The brick walls and ugly carpet scream of classic Aussie design. A full-size pool table dominates the space, and an assortment of crap lines the walls. I take it all in, quickening my breath to avoid inhaling too much mould.
In the corner is a kitchenette with two girls in it. One is Craig’s girlfriend, a Scottish lass on exchange called Laura, and the other is another old friend, Sue. The real reason I came over to ‘chill’. Their hair being so close together is like Yin and Yang, with Laura’s platinum blond offsetting the pitch black of Sue’s curls.
“Hey girls.” I kiss both of them on the cheek, catch a whiff of their scents. “How are ya both?”
We all talk for a while, the basic, banal conversations of our generation. More wine. Craig and Laura grind to the music intermittently. We drink. I ask Sue about the latest student protests. She was always into that libertarian movement stuff. The white ends, out comes the red. I suggest we have a game of pool. Sue and I against the couple. We win easily, mostly because we keep our hands to ourselves. I think about that changing. The bottle runs dry. Craig breaks his cue in half, out of anger or for fun I can’t tell.
I go in search of the toilet. There are way too many doors, and they all look the same. I slowly kick one open and fumble for the light. It blinks on briefly, revealing a large room. It finally flickers to full-life. I’m looking in on the garage.
There is shit and crap and odds and ends over every inch of floor, so that the ground is a roiling, frozen ocean of junk. A dryer sits in the middle, disturbingly on full bore. It’s hard to take my eyes off the hoard.
I leave reluctantly, and find the bowl. My mind is on that room. Once I’m run dry, I rush to find Craig and the girls. They’re back in the kitchen, mulling over what to do next. I grin at them, trawl through my bag, and take out a sandwich bag with eight pills in it. The others see it, and childish eagerness explodes on their faces.
“Alright, what you’ve all been waiting for. Let’s go exploring.”
* * *
It begins innocently enough. We swallow the tiny disks, and while we wait for them to kick in I lead everyone to the garage.
We arrive, with me entering ahead of the others. I can’t focus on anything except the mess in front of me. I sweep my hands as if welcoming the troupe to some grand exhibition.
“Welcome to the jungle.”
Craig looks at me with more than a hint of dissatisfaction.
“Yeah, uh, this is my garage? What of it?” He stares at me incredulously.
The girls though, they get it. They get that no normal house is like this. No normal room should be so hidden. They wander through the piles, occasionally dipping down into the swamp of stuff for a closer inspection.
“I don’t usually come in here,” says Craig, “but I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s just a bunch of junk that’s built up over the years.”
“Years?” I say. “That makes it all the more exciting.”
I don’t know why, the girls don’t know why, and in the end Craig doesn’t either, but we all start to stalk these grounds. Sifting through some old sports gear, the world warps. A beat. It’s beginning. I look up. The others feel it too. A thump and distortion.
Then the dryer door pops open, spilling its contents and adding to the mess.
“Spooky,” someone says.
* * *
Time passes, but we don’t feel it. We have changed. I am not who I was; I am a raccoon. While I ferret through the vast cavern, I find items, none of them useful. Pirate regalia, a human skull, a water gun. Under the stairs the walls are plastered in mould and paint and only-the-spirits-know-what-else. It’s like the stalagmites and stalactites you find in the bowels of the earth.
The others are creatures now, too. Sue is a giraffe, her elegant neck rearing up towards the roof. She is dainty, and manages to avoid any collisions with the jagged ceiling. Laura has become a hippopotamus, rather unflatteringly. And Craig, he’s a dragon. A great big green dragon. A great big green dragon that spouts flames, or at least I assume he does. He’s a dragon after all, and this is his lair.
I stay away from the others, on my own little mission for the curious. I feel myself scamper, clawing at the edges of the cavern. From time to time I look up and see Craig the Dragon perched on top of his glowing pile of gold. He observes us from his position, clearly uninterested in joining us. Whatever. He’ll just miss out.
There’s a low overhang in the corner, near the iron gates. I crawl over to it, ready for a new find. As I draw my snout down to have a look beneath it, I notice movement. It stops when I draw my attention to it, but something definitely moved. There, I see it again. A little ball of fur. As I stare it starts to move. It’s growing slightly. I see an eye open.
And then the teeth.
Rows of tiny serrated teeth snap open.
It yellow, feral eyes on me.
Then I’m screaming.
“Get out, get out!”
My voice is a high pitched squeak, not English.
The same. Just the sound of a terrified creature.
The girls scream, but they don’t know why. They are the closest to the exit, and seeing my fear they stampede out, causing an echoing crash just as I reach safety. The way has caved in. I’m trapped with that thing. And Craig.
* * *
I keep away from the opposite corner of the room. Craig continues to sit up high. I try to talk to him, but his burning eyes aren’t on me. I curl up, my tail wrapped around me as I try to stay warm. I forget about the tiny creature, and instead wonder how long I can survive in this cage.
I hear the girls outside. They’re wailing uncontrollably, or cooing reassurance. They stomp back and forth. Craig ignores them, but I try to communicate. It sends them further into hysterics. I kick the thing blocking my escape, kick the surrounding junk, kick the walls of my prison. I yelp in pain, fall to the ground. Craig walk over to me.
He grabs me by the loose skin on my chest, bringing me up to eye level. Smoke makes me cough. He burns my cheek with a flick of flame. I whimper, submit. He is angry, angry at me. I think. Then he throws me towards the other corner, and I remember the Horror.
I jump to all fours. My head snaps back and forth, sniffing out danger. Nothing. Maybe it has gone. Maybe it was never there. Was it part of my imagination? No, it felt so real. I smelt it. I heard the hiss of another beast. I stare up, up, up at the iron gate that’s holding us there. Something breaks.
I scream and scratch at the gate. I tear at a small alcove next to it, and sparks fly. I hear snaps of eldritch energy. Then I’m grabbed again, from behind, thrown back towards the other exit. Craig has broken too.
He stands over me, bearing down on me. He’s so big in comparison. The Dragon raises a giant, clawed hand and punches me in the face, no doubt damaging whiskers. He roars dominance, and turns to see the damage I have done to the Gate. I can hear the girls calling out again.
I have to stand up to the real Beast. The Dragon. He’s causing the girls distress. He’s causing Sue to panic. Sue. And he doesn’t care. He keep growling at me, billowing smoke and flame in his rage. He’s hurt me. I need vengeance.
I attack his hoard, his throne in the centre of this cavern. I grab the nearest thing and start whacking away, squealing as I do. Parts of it fly away. I lose sight and sense as I keep bringing the whatever-it-is down and down again. My feet lash out, a primal bellow escapes me. I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder. I bring the whatever-it-is down and down again.
* * *
At some point I passed out. At some point I lost my sanity, if only briefly. At some point I destroyed my dignity. All this happened at different points of the night. I relive it as I dream, but it gets more and more cloudy the further it goes. I wake, my eyes snap open.
A noise. I turn to see the door. The door to the rest of the house. It’s open. A man is standing in the doorway, a set of keys in his hand. He is looking passed me. Then Sue appears, calling my name. I can understand her, but she’s not saying anything that makes sense. Then Laura is running towards me, no, to something behind me. I roll over.
Craig is lying there, still in his green costume. His face is bloodied and bruised. A rusty baseball bat lies next to him. No, not rusty. I look down at my hands. They are weathered too. The hood to my costume has fallen back. I can feel a dull pain on my jaw. I know what happened now. I know what happened, but I can’t remember it.
I slew the Dragon.