The plea from his friend Rick appeared in the text message window, announcing its arrival with its signature whistling tones. ‘Come on Prem – I’m gagging.’
Prem laughed, opened a drawer of the desk and pulled out a bottle of vodka. He tapped out his response. “OK, OK.” Then “Look, this site is amazing,’ he pasted the url of the site into the message and pressed enter.
Prem returned to the browser window and scrolled down, pausing now and again to look at the pictures or read the words. The phrases ‘Sign of the Beast,’ ‘666’, ‘Black Magic,’ flashed at him in a blood-red gothic font on a black background. The images on the screen were a mixture of gore and beauty. A beautiful girl in a long black robe stared at him, her eyes seemed to pull him in – he was transfixed.
The tones of the message from Rick were enough to break the spell –‘Man, that’s scary.’
Prem laughed and took another swig of the vodka. He kissed the photo of the girl on the screen and stood up, moving towards the door.
When he got downstairs ten minutes later he had put on a clean shirt and a dab of aftershave his father had given him at Christmas. ‘You’re a man now,’ his father had said. ‘You have to deal with these things like an adult.’ Prem didn’t care then about his father and he didn’t care now.
His mother was still sitting at the dining table nibbling a chapatti. His own plate of food was untouched opposite her.
“Where are you going Prem?”
She looked at him with that look, the look that said he was a stupid, irresponsible boy.
“Aren’t you going to spend your last night at home with your mother? I’m going to get very lonely after tonight; you can at least do that for me.”
Prem fought the urge to comply. No, he’d already made his mind up. Tonight he was going to enjoy himself for once, after all the stress of his A levels, he’d had enough.
“Look Mum. I’m off to University tomorrow. This is the last chance I’ll get to see most of my friends.”
“Will that girl be there?”
“It’s not my fault that Dad left.”
“But you haven’t eaten anything. You’re not going to drink are you?”
“Don’t be silly Mum, you know I’m not like that. I won’t be late.”
He made his exit quickly, before his mother had a chance to turn those emotional screws more tightly.
When Prem arrived in the club it was already packed. Most of the revellers were students from the college and most of them would be off to university themselves over the next few days. He moved towards a group of his friends. Norma was there, but the booze had numbed him enough not to care. He nodded at her and took another swig of the vodka. She smiled awkwardly and turned away.
He handed the bottle to Rick. “Here, have some of this.”
Rick unscrewed the cap and took a sip.
“Who’s here?” Prem asked.
“The usual suspects, including that bunch of idiots from Sports Science unfortunately.”
Prem laughed. “Oh, they’re all right. You’re all right. Everyone’s all right. Come on, let’s go for a wander. Give me that.” He grabbed the bottle from Rick as they moved into the throng.
Rick had to shout above the noise of the loud drum and bass music. “Are you OK with the Norma thing?”
“Me – OK? Of course I am. It had to end sometime. Better now. No, it’s cool.”
Over the next hour or so Prem got increasingly drunk on the surreptitious swigs of vodka he was taking and ended up staggering from person to person on his own. He’d lost Rick when he’d taken a quick diversion to the toilet to puke up.
Still pissed, but less nauseous, he made his way through the crowds, hugging people and wishing them luck for the next phase of their journey into adulthood. He was hugging Jessica, a slightly nutty art student when he saw them.
It came on him in a rush. The emotions he’d been suppressing burst through the drunken numbness of his brain and smashed into his stomach like a clenched fist. Rick and Norma were kissing, going for it in a frenzied snog-fest. Prem retched. Jessica pushed him away and suddenly he was alone in a chaotic world of noise and light. Everything seemed to be spinning out of control. He felt himself falling.
When he opened his eyes he was on the floor. It was a blur but people continued to mill around him, the music continued to play, and the lights continued to pulsate. He focussed his eyes and then he saw her. It was the girl from the internet, the one with the eyes that had transfixed him. She was dressed in the same black robe, her lips were the same blood red, her hair was black and framed her whitened face under the cowl of her robe so that she looked like a beautiful porcelain doll.
She reached her hand out to Prem. He took it and pulled himself off the floor. Her skin was as cold as ice but soft and incredibly sensual. He couldn’t speak as he followed her across the dance floor and outside the back of the club. She led him to a dark doorway. She turned to him and looked at him with those eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked incredulously.
She raised her finger to her lips. “Ssh!” she said. “My name is Cher – I am Death.”
He couldn’t move or speak, only stare in awe. She leant towards him and kissed him on the lips. The kiss thrilled every nerve in his body and he felt himself shuddering as if he was going to burst apart like an overfilled balloon. The world spun again but this time there was no light or music, just blackness. He felt himself falling, falling . . .
The blackness lasted forever and for no time at all. Then there was a spike of light and when he concentrated on it he could see the face of the girl Cher, except her hair was fair and her complexion was blooming and healthy. She was smiling.
“Who are you?” Prem asked open-mouthed at her beauty.
“I am Cris,” she said. “I am life.”
Just then Cher reappeared, and she looked equally beautiful. “Come with me,” she said.
Prem looked at Cris, who was still smiling, beckoning him with her beautiful eyes. He leant towards her, resisting the urge to look back at Cher.
Someone was shaking him. He was afraid to open his eyes, assuming he still had eyes, but he did.
“Come on Prem – we’ve got a lot to do today if you’re going to start that new life you’ve always wanted.” It was his mother’s voice and it sounded normal, if a little agitated.
He opened his eyes –yes – everything was normal. This was his bedroom. Most of his stuff was packed into boxes for the trip to university.
“Now, don’t be long getting up. I’ve got some tea and toast on the go. We’ve still got some packing to do.”
His mother turned to leave the room.
“Mum, I love you, you know that.”
They smiled at each other.
What was all that about last night, he thought. Must have been a dream, must have been spiked with something. He didn’t know. He shrugged and got out of bed. The computer on his desk was still on. He yawned and shook the mouse to get rid of the screensaver. As the monitor faded into life he stared at the screen.
The girl stared back at him, it was the same pose, the same eyes, but instead of the black robe, she was dressed in a glittering white gown, her face was full of life and colour. He found himself developing a wide grin. He moved the mouse to close the window. As it closed he was sure she winked at him and whispered “see you soon.”
Prem switched the monitor off, shook himself and walked jauntily out of the bedroom.