CHAPTER TWO - RECLUSE
Dylan didn't stop running until he slipped between the doors of the battered subway car. He sat down with a heavy thump. An old lady drew her shawl tighter around her shoulders and turned away from him. Her vinegary pinched face clearly said: hooligan. Dylan grinned as he tried to catch his breath after running the ten blocks from his house to the nearest subway entrance at Clybourn. It would only take twenty minutes to get to downtown Daimon's Cross and another five minute walk to get to Recluse. If the gig went well tonight and the right people were there, his band, Label Rejects, could take off. He could almost taste the expectation of success: coppery and sweet.
The sway of the subway car soothed Dylan's jittery nerves. He leaned back in the vinyl seat and looked out the windows opposite him. Beyond his reflection, he could see the sky. It was nearly pitch black out with the heavy haze of the Scorch passing over the gibbous moon, dulling that orb's reflected light.
Dylan's mouth pursed as he watched the strange black clouds cross over the moon's surface. Ever since the sky has been scorched two decades before, few places escaped the black clouds, but it seemed like Reach had more of them every year. Scientists could not explain the Scorch. Those who were religious thought it was an act of God. And others thought it was the act of the Devil.
Dylan had been born the same year as the Scorch began. Maybe that accounted for why he saw things in the shadows. In the darkness. Things with flamed eyes and unnatural bodies. It was always out of the corner of his eye. But he knew when he saw them, clustering, that something bad was going to happen.
When he was eight, he saw them hovering around his grandmother. He told his mother that Nana going to die. She had shushed him. His grandmother had suffered a massive stroke later on that night. Dylan remembered looking into her clouded dead eyes and seeing a reflection of something behind him. He spun around, but whatever it was had hidden itself. After that, Dylan's mother never looked at him the same way again. There were superstitions about the Scorch. Questions about those who were born into a world with so little light. For Dylan, the only light came from his singing.
He drew his leather jacket tighter around him, grateful for the bright lights in the subway car. Daimon's Cross had plenty of shadows, plenty of darkness, and Dylan knew he would be running again for the club's lights soon enough.
The subway car jolted to a stop and the doors squeaked open. Dylan leaped out into the underground station. His footsteps echoed as he walked along the concrete sidewalk towards the stairs that lead up to the street. The lights on the walls buzzed and flickered. Dylan tried not to look for the shadows that would form when they failed. Even in those few seconds of darkness, he would see things.
His footsteps and his heart seemed to pick up the rhythm. As he walked faster, his heart beat faster. The stairs were only five feet away when he heard a shifting to his right. The light there was flickering more than the others. Suddenly, there was a chittering sound. Dylan knew that whatever was there wanted him to turn and look. But he wouldn't. Not even as he heard its claws clicking on the concrete behind him. Instead, he began to run.
His feet hit the stairs. The scent of the exhaust from cars entered his nose. It was the sweetest smell. He expected that just like in his basement he would feel the swipe of something against his ankle, but there was no clawed caress. He reached the street and whirled around to try and catch a glance of what was following him, but there was nothing there. He thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye slinking into the black alleyway.
Heart pounding a mile a minute, Dylan ran from streetlamp to streetlamp until he approached Recluse's well-lighted double doors. Already there was a line to get in. Girls in dresses that barely brushed the bottom of their buttocks and only went up to just above their nipples clustered thickly by the suit-clad bouncers. The bouncers looked like the wrestlers on television: big guys with broken noses and craggy faces. They each had earpieces like the Secret Service.
Dylan knew that the people waiting were probably not there for Label Rejects. The club was what drew them. Playing at Recluse was automatically considered cool and the music performed there was adopted by those who waited for hours in the damp cold just to get inside. The people that were standing here at 8 p.m. might not get in at all that night even though Recluse was open until 4 a.m. It was a crap shoot with the craggy-faced bouncers as the gatekeepers to wonderland.
One of the bouncers nodded at Dylan and tipped his head towards the alleyway that bordered the club where the side entrance was. Dylan felt amazed that the bouncer knew who he was, but Recluse was efficient and sleek like that. His photo had undoubtedly been memorized.
The alleyway was through the line of club goers. It was dark and there was only one small red light which hung over the side door. Dylan knew that there was another bouncer positioned there, but he often kept fully to the shadows so as not to attract the patron's attention. Dylan's throat went tight as he stepped through the crowd. He hated to be touched and loathed crowds. He only enjoyed them from behind a microphone where he could just close his eyes and forget anyone else was there but the band.
The giggling and shouting of the girls and the posturing of the guys in line blocked out any skittering sounds that the creatures might be making in the alleyway and he was almost grateful for that. He was shouldering his way through the crowd when an arm slid around his waist and he was pulled against a muscled chest. Shocked into silence at first, Dylan stared up at the man who had grabbed him.
"Where are you going, sweet thing?" The man asked.
He was built like a fire-plug and felt like he was made of metal. His face was flushed with alcohol and a sheen of sweat covered his brow. Old acne scars pitted his cheeks and his breath reeked of the sour stench of beer and whiskey. The scent nearly had Dylan retching. It was too much like his father.
"I'm with the band." Dylan wrenched the man's beefy hand off his arm. It felt like insects were crawling underneath his skin from where the drunk man had touched him.
"Right. Sure you are. You look more like you're line jumping or maybe you have a secret way inside," the man said, more alcohol-laden breath flowing over Dylan's face.
Dylan's shoulders tensed and he fisted his hands at his sides. "I told you I'm with the --"
"C'mon, sweet thing, tell me how you're going to get inside," the man wheedled.
Dylan stared at the veins in the man's nose. They bulged unhealthily. It was a sign that he drank a lot. Dylan recognized it from his father. In a few years, this man would sport a beer gut and his breath would stink like an open sewer. He might have a kid or two as well. And maybe he would grab their arms too hard and yank them across the room and dislocate their shoulders. Or later, when the kids were older, maybe he would use his fists like meat tenderizers on their bodies, blackening their eyes and bloodying their noses.
"Or maybe we could just go over in that dark alley and you know." The man leaned forward, making kisses noises.
Dylan swore under his breath and slammed his booted heal down on the guy's instep. The man howled in shocked pain and rage. His face flushed a dark, mottled red. Dylan strode past him towards the alley when the drunk man's buddies swarmed him.
"Where do you think you're going?" The man's blond-haired companion asked, his pasty face twisting in on itself.
"Yeah! You can't treat our friend like that!" Another yelled with clenched fists.
Fear tastes like black licorice candy, Dylan thought nonsensically as the three friends, all twice his weight, surrounded him. He swung around to dash out the other way, but the drunk man had recovered and was limping towards him from the direction he hoped to escape.
"You fucking prick! You fucking little shit! I'm going to pound you and then take what I want!" The drunk man barreled towards Dylan.
Dylan's stomach clenched. He crouched down, but there was no where he could go. This was going to hurt. Why hadn't he kept his mouth shut and just slipped past the guy? His father's face rose up in Dylan's mind and he knew why. So my dad's going to fuck me up tonight after all. Only it won't be his fists, but theirs. But it'll really be my fault this time.
"What do you think you're doing?" The voice rose up above the roar of the crowd. A silence fell. Even the barreling drunk man stopped shouting and halted in place like an invisible leash had been pulled.
Dylan turned towards the owner of that voice. His chest seized. It was Karidon Raiken, the owner of Recluse, and the head of the Mars Crime Syndicate. Dylan cataloged the man's features, comparing and contrasting them to the photographs he had seen of the elusive crime lord on the internet.
They don't do him justice, Dylan's mind whispered.
Karidon stood over six feet, but with his ankle-length, camel-colored dress coat swirling around him, he looked far bigger. Blue eyes the color of sea glass pierced through Dylan's attackers. One of the men actually took a step back when Karidon's gaze hit him. The crime lord's long prematurely white hair was pulled into a tight ponytail at the base of his skull and looked like a long rope of cream silk running down his back. Sharp, aristocratic features and sculpted lips rounded out the stunning picture.
Karidon was beautiful, but he was scary as all Hell, too. Dylan swallowed hard. Karidon had bodyguards. Two men dressed all in black with earpieces and barely hidden sidearms that bulged at the sides of their jackets. But Dylan didn't think that Karidon needed them.
"I believe I asked a question," Karidon said softly, his smoky voice carrying easily over the crowd's complete hush.
The drunk man made a strangled sound then pointed a shaky hand towards Dylan. "He -- he attacked me!"
Karidon's powerful gaze swung towards Dylan for the first time. The young rocker felt time skip then still. He stared back. His shoulders suddenly relaxed. He wasn't afraid. Even though he should have been as Karidon seemed to be looking inside of him, sorting through who he was, and making a decision. He felt calm.
"You're supposed to sing at my club tonight, aren't you?" Karidon asked.
Dylan's mouth felt like it was filled with sand. "Y-yeah."
"Did you attack this potential patron?" Karidon asked, tipping his head towards the drunk man.
Dylan's jaw tensed. He could explain that they had attacked him first by touching him and getting into his face, but somehow that sounded juvenile. Misery crashed over him as he realized he might not only have fucked up his chance at making a living as a singer, but his band mates' chances as well.
"I -- yes, I did." The words fell like stones from his mouth.
"Good," Karidon said with a smile. The he said to his bodyguards, "Make sure these gentlemen," he gestured towards Dylan's attackers, "never get into any of my clubs. Ever."
The drunk man and his friends were backing away as the two bodyguards swooped around Karidon and flowed towards them.
"Hey! What the Hell?" one of the attackers yelled as he was jabbed in the side to move along.
"We didn't start nothing!" another protested.
"He's the one who --" Whatever was going to be said was swallowed up by the cries and thumps as the men were taken down the street, away from the lights of the club, and silenced.
Karidon was suddenly in front of Dylan. The young rocker looked up and fought the urge to duck his head. The crime lord gestured for Dylan to precede him into the alleyway. The crowd had retreated to fifteen feet away on either side of them so all Dylan had to do was walk into the inky blackness. He drew a quick breath and stepped forward. Something shifted to his left. His shoulder blades drew together, but suddenly Karidon's hand was at the base of his spine. A thrill went through him, but Dylan forced himself not to acknowledge it.
"It's all right," the crime lord whispered. "I'll lead you through."
He must think I'm nervous about tripping over something. He can't know about the things I see in the dark, Dylan thought. No one I know sees the same things I do. Not even the other Scorchers.
With Karidon's hand on Dylan's lower back, they stepped into the darkness.