Nikki McGraw goes looking for more supernatural trouble in this Paramusicology short story.
3 AM Eternal
He was just another pretty face at just another boring industry event. Even so, I noticed him. It was hard not to. He owned the dance floor with a fluid sensuality that had no competition. Oh, plenty tried, but they paled in comparison and totally lacked his magnetism. His looks appeared to be the real deal, too, rather than the product of surgery, fillers, and other methods. His face was all angles and planes, a bone structure that would have looked hard on another man but on him was delicate. Maybe because of his pale skin, or the twin blooms of color on his cheeks, or the joyous delight he took in dancing. Straight blond hair overdue for a trim and eyes that seemed to capture and reflect the light like disco balls completed the look.
As I watched him dance, it slowly dawned on me that he looked familiar. Not an unusual occurrence. I ran into the same people often, at events like this one or parties, clubs, or concerts. Many I knew by name, some I didn’t. The music business had a huge tapestry as its background, full of people who came and went and made their mark or disappeared forever.
But as the twenty-year-old Underworld dance track climbed toward its crescendo, a tiny match flared in the back of my brain. Like an alarm bell ringing softly, hand-rung by someone unsure if there was a problem or not. Defcon: Maybe. Defcon: Who The Hell Knows. Defcon: The needle on your homemade EMF meter just wiggled, so there might be something spooky in the room.
That internal needle hovered just past the line that marked normal. I set my drink down and paid closer attention to the dancer. Aside from looks and charisma, he didn’t stand out. I mean, he stood out, and if I’d been a casting agent I would have made a beeline for the guy. But there didn’t seem to be anything…dangerous…about him. If anything, the opposite. But still, the needle stayed in the yellow zone, so I stayed alert.
Which didn’t mean shit when a column of six-foot hotties congaed past, blocking my view. By the time they were gone, so was he. My heart sped up as I searched the crowd for the girl he’d been dancing with, followed by relief when I spotted her grinding with someone else.
Idiot. Me, not her or the pretty guy or anyone else. I was an idiot for being so paranoid. So I’d had one encounter with supernatural creatures. So what? That didn’t mean the world was full of vampires. So what if, months later, I still woke up in a cold sweat most nights, shaken from blood-drenched nightmares. So what if going out after dark now gave me anxiety attacks that I worked hard to hide from others. That I jumped at shadows and kept my distance from strange men. I mean, you’d think I’d been the victim of an attack or other serious trauma. All I did was bear witness. I had no right to act like such an idiot, but here I was, doing it anyway.
Embarrassed, I made my way back to the bar, ordered another drink, and found someone to talk to – about music, most definitely not the supernatural.
Turntable Magazine was housed in a converted warehouse too far away from anywhere to be convenient. You couldn’t leave a nice car in the lot, the air conditioning broke down all the time, and the view from the roof was an ugly expanse of run-down buildings that blocked the sight of the ocean. Nonetheless, people were deeply loyal to the magazine and loved coming to work. I was no exception. In addition to my usual duties of covering music news, reviews, and interviews, I’d carved myself a bit of a niche as a music historian. I might not have had the degree to back it up, but I for damn sure had the knowledge.
So rather than hire somebody to digitize the Turntable archives, I did the work along with a couple of interns. Volunteering to head this project had earned me some points with the boss, gave me a little time away from the pop circuit, and best of all allowed me access to some great old articles. It was fun work and I enjoyed doing it.
My only method was to pick an issue and finish the digitization before moving on to the next. I didn’t worry about going in order, which maybe wasn’t the most organized way to do it, but nobody cared. I picked issues at random or based on whatever I was interested in at the time. With the previous night’s soundtrack of Underworld still thumping in my head, I searched for issues from the Nineties then took a few back to the desk I was using in the archives.
Desk was a generous word. It was really an old worktable I’d found shoved against a wall, covered in junk and spider webs. The spider webs were gone, along with most of the dust, but the table still looked like an organizational disaster. There were stacks of magazines and inbox trays full of photos arranged haphazardly, tagged with a rainbow of sticky notes. I plugged my phone into a sound dock and queued up a playlist titled 3 AM Eternal.
House music filled the cluttered space. I nudged the volume up and grabbed a magazine at random. A cover story on pop-punk didn’t interest me so I kept going, my feet tapping and shuffling to the music. As I flipped through pages an image came to me, of the guy who set off a spook alarm in my head the night before. Only, the image wasn’t from the night before. His face, with its delicate, elfin bone structure, but in another setting. Another time.
If I’d already seen it, that photo wasn’t in the trays. I shoved magazines aside, retrieved my laptop from my bag then set it up. The digital archives were all saved in cloud storage, waiting for publication on Turntable’s website, but I had my own copies, too. No one said I couldn’t do that, so I figured what the hell.
I clicked through folders and sub-folders and yet more sub-sub-folders until I found pics from the nineties. Madonna at her best, Bono hiding behind massive sunglasses but still wearing his heart on his sleeve, Jeff Buckley looking like an angel visiting Earth in concert images.
Dozens of photos from a story on rave culture. No, hundreds. My instincts screamed at me to slow down, examine every image. So I did, carefully scanning every shot.
It took forty-five minutes to find him. The pictures were from 1994. Captured on the dance floor, his hair blue and a wide smile lighting up his face. He looked the same. Not like he’d barely aged, but exactly the same.
Like he never aged.
I pushed the chair away from the table and put my head between my knees, gasping for breath and trying not to throw up at the same time. A single word ran through my head on a loop that quickly synced up with the music.