Dusk in the desert had a peculiar kind of light I’d never seen anywhere else. Gold and blue and a bruised purple shimmered in the sky as the sun sank below the horizon. Joshua trees stood sentinel at the side of the road. According to my phone’s GPS, this road didn’t even exist, much less lead anywhere. There was no traffic. A freeway headed toward a weekend rave in the desert should have had more than its share of traffic, but mine was the only car. I didn’t ask Larry about it. I just drove.
My new elvish friend sat in the passenger seat, going through the pink vinyl CD holder in which I kept my physical copies of EDM. I’d tossed it in the car just for this trip. I’d dressed for the rave, too, as close to festival wear as I got. Cut-off jeans that stopped barely below my undies, a sheer white sleeveless peasant blouse and a midnight blue bra underneath adorned with little daisies and sunflowers. Rave kandi – funky bracelets made of colorful plastic beads – halfway up both forearms. I’d made some of those bracelets, got others by trading at festivals. I had no idea how similar or different tonight’s event would be compared to raves I’d attended before, but I liked the kandi so I wore it. If an elf wanted to trade, cool.
As Larry slipped a Kaskade CD into the player, I finally allowed the thought churning in the back of my brain to come to the front: I had a supernatural being in the car with me, and we were on our way to meeting up with more such creatures. To be honest, I didn’t know how to feel about this life decision.
Because it for damn sure felt like an all-caps, blazing LEDs, LIFE DECISION. A decision that would alter the course of my life, in ways I had no way of anticipating. Was this a good idea? Probably not. Was I going to do it anyway? Obviously yes. Why was my curiosity greater than my fear and good sense? That one, I didn’t know how to answer. I just knew it was true.
What was I searching for, on this nonexistent road into the mystic? A way to write about music that meant something?
Ah, but that was some bullshit, wasn’t it? Even as I worked constantly to turn even the most pedestrian assignment from Turntable into something deep and meaningful, I knew it was bullshit. Something I did because I wanted to make a name for myself. Wanted to impress my editor, my colleagues, any and everyone in the business. That was the purpose of the writing I showed the world. What I kept for myself was something else entirely.
Because in truth, I don’t give a damn about meaning. Depth. Gravitas. Shit, who cares about all that? To me, it was like memorizing all the production details of a record. Good to know, even frequently interesting, but ultimately not what was at the heart of music.
Does it move you? Move your body? Your heart, your soul? Because if it doesn’t, who cares. And if it does…the rest doesn’t matter. Genre, production details, the artist’s shitty lifestyle – it all falls away.
Does it move you? Does it get under your skin and inside your DNA? Woven into the spiral of molecules that make you who you are, a mystical cellular tattoo. Does it speak for you when you don’t know what to say? Does it take you to places you’ve never been? Does it make you want to crawl inside and live in the beat, take flight into the drop and never touch the ground again?
That’s what I’ve always looked for in music. That’s the music I’ve always wanted to write about. Music that is blissed out, made of vivid colors and deep shadows. Music that connects to the places within us that have no name. Music made from guitars and 808s and magic cast from spell books written in notes and rests.
But how do you capture the mystical in mere words? After all my years of both amateur and professional music writing, I still hadn’t been able to do that. So maybe delving into the supernatural was a way to continue this quest to slip between the melody and the rhythm, travel deep into the mystic and then come back with sacred knowledge. A shaman of song.
Maybe part of me liked the danger of it, too. A cheery, sparkling pop song can be a great thing, but sometimes you need the darkness, too. The mystery. The unknown, and the risk that came with it. As I drove into the desert night, I realized every mile took me further from what my life had been, and there was no turning back now.
The road curved around a series of large dunes. Full dark now, I slowed the car and gazed out the dirty windshield at the starlight above. “You sure this thing is tonight?”
“There’s usually more people headed to an event like this. Signs pointing the way. Lights on the horizon once you start getting close.” I looked at the elf. “There’s none of that.”
“We don’t exactly advertise this sort of thing on Twitter.”
I laughed. “That would bring in a hell of a crowd.”
“Everyone who needs to be there tonight will be there.”
Whatever that meant. The road curved around another dune then leveled off into a straightaway. The car’s electronics flashed and buzzed, went out completely for several seconds, then came back on. It happened so fast, I barely had time to react and slow down. I opened my mouth to speak, but what suddenly came into view up ahead dried up my throat and stopped all words.
A Ferris wheel as big as the London Eye glowed pink and gold just a few miles ahead. Streamers of light glittered in the night sky, launched from the desert floor and unfurling into various shapes and images. Something about that light made me think of Larry’s pixie dust trick on my palm. He turned the stereo off. Underneath the sound of the car over the road, I could hear something else. Feel something else. A heavy, thumping bass that made my feet itch to move and my hips want to sway. Anticipation rocketed through me. Within minutes, I had the car parked and we were walking into the site. Larry was my ticket in – no one questioned my presence.
I’d been to raves and festivals before. I’d seen some shit, man. But this…for several minutes, all I could do was stand at the edge of the revelry and stare. Just trying to take it all in was overwhelming.
Glow sticks and LED lights, tattoos and body paint, outfits made of plastic beads and cheap fairy wings – I’d seen plenty of that before. But this…this was on another level. And that level was a kind of magic.
A woman stood backlit by the Ferris wheel. Tall and willowy, she wore a bikini made of flower petals, her short blue hair stood on end. She waved her arms in the air as she danced, and light flowed from her fingertips, beautiful arcs of color that spun and twirled before dissolving.
It was happening everywhere I looked. Flowers bloomed above the heads of dancers, some as big as cars. Shapes, random swirls, glittery ribbons, complicated patterns. I’d never seen a light show like it. Time and space lost all meaning as I walked around the revel. In more than one place, it seemed as if reality folded in on itself. There were no physical barriers between each stage’s dance area, but rather more elvish magic at work. Whatever spells or enchantments had been used, they served to create themed pavilions that matched the music coming from the stage. I found myself in a crowd moving to electric cellos and violins that emitted butterflies made of light. One of them briefly landed on my shoulder, its wings glowing several shades of blue.
I watched the people everywhere I went. It wasn’t hard to spot the elves, with their otherworldly beauty and elegantly pointed ears. The mortals I saw fit right in, wearing a mix of rave styles and elvish decoration. I looked positively sedate by comparison. No one cared, though, and neither did I.
A rainbow of pixie dust wrapped around me and gently tugged. I found Larry on the other end of it and went to his side. “The lights are magic, right?”
He grinned. “It’s all magic.” He swept his arm out to indicate the whole expanse, with stages and rides and tents and hundreds of people, maybe a few thousand. “None of this is real, strictly speaking. It’s all magic. It’ll be gone just after dawn, nothing left but a little pixie dust in the sand.”
“None of it? I mean, this is all.” I stopped, not sure how to ask, or even what to ask. On the nearest stage, a deejay pogoed behind the decks as the music neared a crescendo.
“Well, okay, technically not all of it. The big stuff was cast. Some of the deejays were hired, so they brought their own gear. There’s some craft beer in one of the tents. Bottled water and pizza.”
I pointed at the pink and gold Ferris wheel. “That’s not real? But people are willing to get on it? Or do they not know?”
“They know. Most of the people here are elves and other Fae. There’s a few mortals like you, but not many.” He rested his hand on my shoulder lightly for a moment. “Don’t worry. The wheel is safe. It’s all safe. The mortals we bring to our revels, we don’t want them getting hurt.”
As I watched his appearance changed, shifted. His bone structure sharpened, leaving his face even more angular and striking. His hair bloomed with color, the reds and golds of autumn, and his pale skin glittered.
“Lorcan,” a voice called from behind Larry.
The elf smiled. “Be right with you, Aodh n.”
I peered around Larry to see the bodyguard waiting for him. “You’re going back?”
“Not until dawn. Tonight we dance.” He took my hand and kissed my knuckles. “You, too, Nikki. Find the right music and follow it, all the way to daybreak.”
“Thank you for letting me come here tonight.” I rose on tiptoe and hugged him.
“I hope you find what you need,” he whispered in my ear. He took my hand and drew a play button on the inside of my left wrist in a glittery teal.
I had no idea what that meant. Before I had a chance to ask, he slipped away. The last time I saw him, he stood entwined with his handsome bodyguard. They made a gorgeous couple and I would have liked to have learned their story, but tonight was for something else.
Tonight was for dancing.
The dubstep pavilion was packed. I made my way across the dance floor slowly, dancing alone and with random partiers. Green light pulsed in time with the music, released into the air by an elf who danced at the edge of the stage. Once I got close to the nebulous barrier between pavilions, I could hear the more muscular rhythm of trap. I stepped across the corridor into a slower, heavier beat. Bodies pressed against me, hands on my shoulders, my hips. The crowd bounced and swayed together. Raised our arms as one as the music climbed higher and higher. Somehow I wound up across the corridor again, and my body slipped into the different rhythm easily.
Going back and forth became a game. It took a while for me to realize that the space between the pavilions had grown wider. The riot of multicolored lights from the two dance floors gradually dimmed. In the distance, a tendril of smoky blue light stretched as if reaching for me. A third rhythm insinuated itself into my awareness. As I crossed from dubstep to trap and back again, that third rhythm teased and pulled at me. Curious, I gave up the back and forth and took a few steps down the corridor. I paused for a long moment, listening. Feeling all those clashing rhythms reverberate through me. Then I took another step.
Whatever magic was at work recognized that step for what it was, even if I didn’t at the time. The bright lights and hard beats fell away, leaving me in a place barely lit with a faint blue glow and a downtempo track that slithered under my skin. I followed the music deeper into the dark.
The play button on my wrist caught my eye and I noticed it had picked up the shade of blue that glowed along the path. It pulsed in time with the music that grew increasingly louder. The corridor twisted and turned. Occasionally other music intruded but I kept my focus on the trip-hop coming from the distance. One track eased into another and the light grew brighter.
Another minute and I crossed the magical barrier. This pavilion was smaller than the others. Darker, too, lit only in a hazy blue. There was no stage, no deejay putting on a flashy show. Instead, a table topped with equipment was manned by a black-clad man wearing headphones and staring down at his stacks of CDs and vinyl. The dance floor had few people. As I looked around, I realized that not all of them were exactly…people. A few elves were present, but there were also, um, creatures?
When I write about this later, I thought, I know I’m going to stare at the screen for an hour while I debate with myself whether or not it would be considered racist to use the word creatures.
A naked satyr danced in the middle of a group of what looked like various types of nymphs. Like, I don’t know, the one wearing leaves was probably a wood nymph? And why would a satyr be anything but naked? His curled horns were both menacing and fascinating. Thick waves of black hair flowed down his back. His bevy of nymphs danced around him, petting his muscles and grinding against him. They stayed so close to him, I couldn’t see his heavily muscled goat’s legs at first. Once I did get an eyeful, his lack of pants was, um, hugely obvious.
By the time I realized the satyr was headed my way, it was too late. The sight of him stalking toward me, surrounded by his harem and staring at me with intense, dark eyes, was mesmerizing.
“Want to join us, little one?” His voice was a deep rumble I felt all the way down to my toes.
I fumbled for a smooth answer, dropped it like it was hot, then let my mouth get ahead of my brain. “I don’t think I’m ready for that jelly.”
The satyr laughed, and if his voice was a deep rumble, his laughter was a fall of boulders. “Another time, then,” he said. “When you are ready.” The satyr and his nymphs moved on, and I breathed a sigh of relief, or perhaps mild disappointment with myself.
A creature with wings – real wings, not store-bought – floated nearby. She had a heart-shaped face with narrow, alien features and wore only a few flowers that hid nothing of her runway model body. She circled me once, twice, an unspoken invitation in her eyes.
Yet more jelly I wasn’t ready for.
A slender, handsome man with a greenish cast to his skin and horns protruding from his curly brown hair caught my eye. I had no idea what he was. His horns and general countenance were less intimidating than the satyr. Still, I kept my distance. I’d fallen off the map here, so totally out of my element that I didn’t even feel like myself. The only thing that felt solid and real in this world was the music, so I clung to it.
I inhaled deeply, as if breathing in the music. It wrapped around me, offering familiar comfort. I might have been out of place in every other way, but there was room for everyone on the dance floor. I left the sidelines and staked out a small space of my own.
The music opened me up, filled me with a radiance like nothing else. It claimed ownership of my body, arms and legs, hips and head. Everything fell away. Doubt and fear dissolved into nothing under the relentless beat. One track bled into another and I could feel myself slipping away, melting under an onslaught of bass. On and on and on the track went. A beat I could feel in my chest and in the soles of my feet. A verse on an endless loop. Tension rose in the air at the denial of release, along with shouts and showers of kaleidoscopic light.
The deejay cut in another track and I swear I saw him grinning. He meant to break us, and with this song, he might just do it. A hard-driving house beat drove the dancers, including me, into a frenzy. The ground shook under our feet as we danced and bounced and pogoed.
When the drop finally came, the music took us right over the edge into oblivion. Nowhere and no when, into a mindspace where touching something infinite seemed not just possible, but a foregone conclusion. Magic lived there, deep inside the music, and I reached for it with everything I had.
My legs ached from dancing and my wrists hurt from writing. Good pain. The best kind I knew. I sat back to take in that lovely view, the view of a screen full of words. Over twenty pages worth, before revisions and editing. I’d let it sit a few days, clean it up, then post it on my blog. Nobody would read it, but that was okay.
My life was built around observing and reporting. Sure, I’d done my share of joining the party. But I wanted more than that. I can’t sing or play any instruments, and despite being a writer I’d never tried my hands at lyrics. I’ve always been on the outside, orbiting something that I love but can’t fully grasp. A mystery that I’m not a part of.
So how could I get to the inside?
Music had always felt supernatural to me. Dark and holy and so much in between. Solace for the broken. A way to understand yourself and others. The soundtrack to moments big and small, good times and bad. Finding out the paranormal was more than just metaphor…maybe that was the way in, the path to a deeper understanding. I might find what I was looking for, whatever that nebulous thing was, somewhere at the crossroads of music and the supernatural.
I ran a thumb over the skin on the inside of my left wrist. The night before, I’d thought the play button drawn there by a friendly elf had been the pixie dust equivalent of a temporary tattoo. This morning I’d realize it was more like a real tattoo, permanent and with a faint glow in the darkness. The skin there was warm but not tender, showing none of the signs of a new tattoo. It made for a nice souvenir of my night dancing with elves and Fae, though it made me slightly uneasy. I knew pixie dust was a form of magic. What did that mean for my new body art?
Uneasy wasn’t the same as scared. Curiosity and excitement had completely outpaced fear, and I wondered what else was out there. What kind of magic? What kind of creatures? What would I discover if I ventured down that crossroads?
I couldn’t wait to find out.