An indiscernible sonic energy emanates from behind a brick wall, causing the structure to shake and moan. The low frequencies take shape as a muffled pulsation, forcing each sun-dried piece of red clay to tremble in its slot. Groups of people approach the building, dropped off by taxis and Ubers, walking from their homes and their parked cars, attracted to the sound traversing the block on the frigid winter evening. They cross the street without delay, eager to escape the freezing air. A sign clings to the side of the wall, its Gothic letters reading, “Enter Here.” An arrow points down to double wooden doors, flanked by two tall men. They stare towards the street, unmoving, sturdier than the building behind them. They analyze the incoming bodies. One of the men shuffles his hand, dragging his fingers out of his jeans pocket, and then picks a cigarette and a Zippo out of a pouch in his coat. He lights, drags, and blows a gray nebula into the moonlit void. The other man opens the doors for a group of three; the building takes a breath, letting a hot, sweaty puff of aroma and humid air escape from inside and up into the clear black sky.
A line forms indoors, in front of a large ballroom. A heavy dark smoke fills the air, choking the dimly-lit room with the scent of burning marijuana, nose-stinging vomit, wet bodies and dollar-store perfume. Victorian-era gilt-iron chandeliers hang on rusted chains from the low ceiling, emitting a sickening yellow haze, piercing through the cloud and illuminating the area with a claustrophobic glow. Breathing becomes a heavy mechanism, fed with a bad air that taxes the lungs, a grueling inflation and deflation of poisoned oxygen. In line, a man in ripped baggy jeans tucked into green combat boots leans over to the girl whose hand he clutches. “Tonight’s going to be epic,” he groans into her ear. Her dingy hair whips around her skull as her head swivels.
“I might just go home with you tonight. If you’re lucky. Who knows who I could find here.” The man laughs, his mouth full of decaying amber teeth.
I approach the ticket counter. “Welcome to Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom,” says the female checker through full lips bathed in shiny red makeup. She studies my face for a moment. “You’re not going to be drinking tonight,” she comments, as she pops the cap off of a black sharpie. “Give me your hand.” I feel the cold ink seep into my skin, as she scrawls an X on my right hand. “Stay away from the bar, have fun.”
I enter a feverish mass: blood-red lips, running mascara, low-cut tops, and push-up bras; malicious smiles and dark gazes from a pool of black eyes and circus-colored faces; exotic piercings, treasure chests of jewels and bounty punctured through inflamed holes in pale membranes; tattoos of skulls impaled on spikes and Chinese dragons emerging from cleavage, winding upwards to the neck and spraying fire on the right cheek; crooked spines and wretched grins and dirty, yellow, painful teeth; ragged, knotted hair hanging down from waxy skin stretched across ailing craniums. Breathing comes at a price; the energy used to sort through hundreds of bags could be fatal.
Eardrums wail for rescue; two enormous PA speakers, titans resting on the stage, assault the dance floor with sound. The crowd thickens, a gradient of savagery and primal animation. Grinding masses of flesh and ghoulish frames dance to the rhythm of electronic music, in an ode to animalistic ancestry and the inescapable macabre. The murky bouquet of body odor and drug waste radiates from the dance floor. On the boundary, red blood sprays out of a woman’s morbid nose, all over the dirty counter of the bar, dotted with crimson-soaked napkins and circles of shot glasses sprinkled with droplets of nasal gore. The bartender ignores the woman; she pours a beer and graces the floor behind the counter with an elegant nature and ample room to sway to the beat, serving drinks without making eye contact.
Specimens of carbon chains react to sonic waves looping at 140 beats per minute, seemingly enjoying the overdose of noise underneath 100 hertz. Screams, chatters, shrieks, weeps, cries, shouts, and shrills fill the aural space, emitted from decaying mouths and cigarette-blackened tongues. A young couple kiss, pressed against a vibrating corinthian column. The man pulls on his sweetheart’s bra straps. She pushes him away. He grabs her wrist and pulls her into the crowd.
A balcony area packed with old wooden stools and antique coffee tables overlooks the pandemonium of bodies on the floor. Local vendors have set up exhibits of their trinkets and artwork: prints of illusionistic portraiture, psychedelic, multicolored spirals, jewels and metalwork, lit by hunched-over LED lamps. “Fifteen,” says a young man in a shiny leather jacket. His red eye contacts study the poster of a smiling skull surrounded by red tulips, mounted on a black spray-painted French frame covered in dust.
“Are you all ready for Truth?!”
At six-and-a-half feet tall, Truth towers over the crowd on the elevated stage; he hovers over his equipment in a tight black shirt with the print of a malicious cartoon octopus, its tentacles wrapping around bubble letters: TRUTH. He raises the microphone, “How are we all feeling tonight?” The crowd screams, seemingly out of sheer agony induced by the gigantic speakers and the fact that finally, at half past midnight, the main act has taken the stage.
Truth begins his set. The drum rhythms become vicious; the crowd, like drone ants, move closer to the stage, like a single being, packing tighter, bodies filling all crevices, like a brutish amoeba, pulsating and undulating as an insatiable gelatinous mass.
A tropical climate swells in the space, sizzling with sweat and thermal energy. A man, carried toward the restroom, pukes into a clear plastic cup. Some individuals, ejected from the sweltering mass, migrate away to the back of the room to escape the noise and the heat; a line accumulates next to the only water fountain, trickling out liquid into paper cones.
The music stops.
“Truth, don’t lie to me!”
The DJ scrambles with wires and buttons to revive the machines in his booth. The bodies groan, now mere corpses of melted makeup, sweltering in a bath of sweat and smoke. The radiance from the chandeliers reflects off the skin of the people, now plucked from their dream states. Left with nothing to do, some bodies roam over to the bar, others surround the stage, watching Truth as he plugs in wires and flips switches, urging him to hurry up before they regain consciousness of their past selves.
The music jolts back to life. The walls tremble and the bodies reform in the center, surging and throbbing with excitement. Truth clasps his hands together as if in a frenzied prayer, and headbangs to the rhythm brought back from the dead.
The people, barely alive, dig out of their premature graves. The speakers blast louder than before. The building may crumble to dust, burn away from existence along with its population; but after nearly six hours, the crowd maintains its vigor. The masquerade and its inhabitants transform into fantastical monsters of savagery, into dystopian creatures of the underground, their stamina fed by sonic waves and corrupted air.
I throw a paper cone of lukewarm water on my face and take a deep breath; an entire gallon of the liquid could not revive my anatomy. My eyes ache; my brain throbs, as the music I hear degrades into nonsensical rhythms, bouncing around my cranium. I sit on a high bar stool in the back of the ballroom. The space starts to spin. My vision blurs. My eyelids close.
A perfectly dark place.