Cultural nightmares begin in the most likely of places. Caught up in a maelstrom of booze and confusion, I stumble across the threshold and into a strange new world. For reasons unknown, I exchange my jacket for a paper stub with ‘No. 421’ on it. Will I ever get it back? No one is quite sure. I take a step, then one more, then another. And suddenly, people surround me. We bump and grind, and wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care. It all started so well.
But then I’m shoved sideways by a careering drunkard, forcing me to take evasive action. I veer to my left, duck to avoid a headshot with a double vodka coke, and regain my footing. I stand up, and I survey, and I realise something. I’m on my own. Thirty minutes until Pokémon. In the sea of wavey garms, untucked shirts, patterned cardigans, and miniskirts, I see no friendly faces. I shout into the blaring loud, “Friends!”, and the echo responds, “Friends?”
Anxiety rises in my chest at the knowledge I have been abandoned. No, not abandoned, forsaken. I resolve to find them, before the panic becomes too much. I pivot to check my nearest emergency exits, remembering that they may be behind me. There is an avenue of escape, though it is arduous and full of perils. I commit. I first shove the guy to my left, leaving him off balance and leaning to the side. I spin through the gap, only to be faced with a couple eating each other’s faces. There’s no way through. Round the edge I skip, and I’m away. Twenty minutes until Pokémon.
Search and rescue begins; the immediate results are not positive. The queue for the bar is a lost cause, packed full not of people I recognise but with a mob who resemble a real life depiction of the evolution of man in regress. The dance floor shows no signs of intelligent life either. The alcoholic halo is beginning to clear, my mind is slowing regaining lucidity. This is not good. There can’t be that much time left.
An executive decision is made to use the stairs as a vantage point, yet instead of stopping and staring, I’m careered onwards on a tide of rave-seeking partyers. Welcome to Level Two. An alien expanse confronts me, all flashing strobes and aggressive bass. We’re the fuckin’ animals. Visibility has dropped from good to dangerous levels, from metres to millimetres. I am a lone speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. I step, not forwards but onto someone’s previously white trainers. The auspices are not good.
I retreat from the front lines to find imagined solace at the bar, cling desperately to a drink and begin introspection. Where is everyone? Why am I here? How did I end up in a Park, let alone the End of it? No time for that now. I have to look busy, otherwise my as-yet unnoticed solitude will become obvious and the sharks will circle. I take out my phone, and pretend to receive a call. I maintain the ruse with utmost professionalism. The previously judgemental eyes of those nearby swivel back to their own meaningless chit-chat. I’m safe (for now).
Only now do the realities of my surroundings begin to penetrate through my drunken exoskeleton. My cultural senses begin to tingle. Only now do I realise that the carpet was taken from the hotel in The Shining. Only now do I notice that the dance floor does not seem to want to detach from the sole of my shoe. And the flashing lights serve only to illuminate scenes best left unseen. And only now do I remember that I’ve been sat here too long. Alone. Staring gormlessly. I’ve been spotted.
My position is too open, there’s not enough cover. I sketch out the route in my mind, and the manoeuvres begin with a slide to the left. A girl stubbornly blocks my path of least resistance. I am willing to sacrifice her. I half-squeeze, half-shunt past, and once again find myself on the stairs. Still no sightings. Five minutes until Pokémon. The tightness in my chest returns, the panic begins to strip the breath from my lungs. The room starts to spin, but I know that if I fall I may never get back up. I resolve not to die, not at 11:58 on Wednesday evening in this deafening Alcatraz.
Options are limited: meld formlessly into the dancing herd of Pokémon revellers, repeat my previous search circuit or emergency eject. I cannot get out. I hear drums, drums in the deep. I cannot get out. It is coming. I wanna be the very best, like no one…
First I was afraid, then I was petrified. Memory fails me here. All that I can recall is the flailing of arms to make space, a potentially stifled scream and then the cool wash of post-midnight evening air on skin. The walls had dissolved, and left me on a bridge, finally free from my solitudinous inferno. I take the tentative steps of a child, leaving my brain time to recover. I stick my hands in my pockets to calm my nerves. But a familiar paper stub rubs against my shell-shocked thumb.
No, I can’t go back. I can never go back. That godforsaken place adds another innocent victim to its list. Goodbye, dear jacket. Your efforts will never be forgotten. But I am away. And I shimmy to the beat of my own freedom, away into the moonlit and VK stain-streaked night.