The taste of shit filled Deacon's mouth as he awoke, gasping and sputtering, stumbling backwards. He fell against a mold covered cinderblock wall, and immediately he thought he must have been captured by the police and sent to prison. But once he blinked the viscous fluid from his eyes that dripped from his hair and down his temples, he realized he wasn't in a prison cell at all, but some sort of bathroom.
Cracked and faded mirrors lined the wall opposite him, sporting long-since forgotten messages and tags. Beneath each mirror was a series of sinks, covered in grime and mildew. He realized he was leaning against a wall beside a toilet, and with growing horror, understood that that was where his head had just been not more than a few moments before.
"Oh, Jesus, fuck," he spluttered, spitting and choking. He scuttled over to the rusted bowl and lunged forward, emitting a stream of thin, clear liquid, expelling whatever elements were left within his stomach. Gasping for air, he fell back against the wall, wiping his face clean with the one dry spot on his sleeve. He managed to control his breathing enough to stagger to his feet, limping awkwardly to one of the sink basins lining the opposite wall.
He wiped his forearm across the mirror above it, trying in vain to remove as much of the muck and grime from his view. He saw his pale, gaunt face reflected back at him, eyes like slits and lined with red. His hair was splayed across his forehead and temples in tangled, wet clumps, covered in a thick sheen of sweat and other horrible substances. He looked like complete and utter shit that had been dragged over the coals and back again.
"Where am I?" he murmured, brushing some of his thick, dark hair away. He tried to remember what had happened and how he could have possibly ended up here. The last few hours were a tangled blur, just out of focus. He was having trouble remembering anything that had taken place before the moments he was experiencing now. Tiny flashes of memory would spark up here and there in the dark corners of his mind but quickly vanish like wisps of smoke from a doused match.
He leaned against the sink, head swimming, temples throbbing. But then he realized the throbbing was coming from outside of his head. He tilted his head, listening carefully, and the steady thump, thump, thump of music became more and more apparent to his ears. Deacon did his best to wash away the worst of the excrement covering his skin and shook his hands dry. It was then he noticed a door in the far corner of the room, and the loud thumping music seemed to be emanating from that direction.
He approached the door, hesitant to go through it. He still had no idea where he really was or how he had gotten there. What if this was some kind of an elaborate setup? The cops were still after him. They might have him cornered and they were just waiting for him to finally give himself up and come out of hiding.
"Stop being such a pussy," he whispered to himself.
Deacon shouldered through the door, and at once found his eyes swimming in total darkness, a stark contrast to the dim, yellow light of the bathroom. The door closed behind him, immersing him in the inky, velvet embrace of blackness that surrounded him. The thumping bass beat of the music became much louder, reverberating throughout his entire body, his bones quaking beneath the might of the intonations. Strange, swirling lights became visible, flowing and ebbing across the ceiling, which was vast and seemed to stretch for miles above. Candles rested everywhere, melting into stalactite-like spears from every conceivable surface. Shadows danced like drunken demons across the cave-like walls.
Deacon moved further into the cavernous place, which seemed completely at odds with the room he'd just left. This bohemian, almost Paleolithic, place seemed to exist in a dream world, where colors were more vibrant, darkness was thicker and reality was something you could merely grasp at but never quite catch in your hand.
As the music became clearer, Deacon could now make out a distinct rhythm, full of deep, resounding drum beats and insanely timed guitar riffs that tingled at the base of his spine. The swirling lights seemed to move to the music, becoming more or less intensely bright based on the movement of the rhythm. Deacon couldn't look anywhere but up as he wandered forward, his mind failing to come up with any logical explanation as to where he could be.
As if plunging straight into the depths of the sea, Deacon found himself merging with a throbbing cavalcade of people, each of them moving in their own unique ways to the thrumming bass of the music. Not all of them were people, however. There were things that made them seem human, but other characteristics that distinctly differentiated them. The lights washed over them in waves, illuminating oddly placed body parts and things that Deacon didn't even have names for or couldn't possibly hope to understand or describe.
Surrounding the massive pile of gyrating bodies were large stone daises, each at varying heights, upon which all manner of different beings were dancing in their own individually hued spotlights. Deacon stood amongst the throng, eyes wide, mouth agape, staring at all of the things he was seeing, sure he was dreaming or in some sort of comatose state. Nothing like this could possibly be real.
Within a pale green cone of light stood a woman with a mane of purple hair that extended from her skull all the way down her exposed spine like a horse's mane. Her beautifully sculpted legs ended in delicate purple hooves. A sinewy, lithe tail swished from the base of her spine, flicking and twirling like the director's bow of an orchestra. Her pale, purple tinged skin was completely bare, save for an appropriately placed piece of cloth covering her privates.
Nearby, an orange beam illuminated a gigantic, muscular man with pulsating veins that glowed with an inner light. As he moved, lighter than a feather, he seemed to evaporate into puffs of smoke and fire, reappearing milliseconds later in different positions. His eyes were ablaze with a similar firelight, flickering like burning coals.
Atop another column, bathed in a cool electric blue, an agonizingly beautiful woman stood fully nude, limbs moving fluidly and swiftly. Elongated from her back grew massive, dragon-like wings, flapping and curling in time to the music. There were dozens more like them, all moving and swirling and cavorting upon their stone pedestals, as if they were being worshipped by the hundreds of denizens filling the dance floor.
Deacon became lost in the thrum of the crowds, being pushed and shoved in every direction as each clubber danced and made love and fed upon each other in a fevered frenzy. As he was moved by the ocean of beings, he found himself standing near a large circular stone bar that stretched around a full three hundred and sixty degrees, several humanoid looking bartenders serving up all manner of drinks to their bizarre clientele.
Deacon approached one of the bartenders, a bare-chested man with sculpted features, probably not much older than Deacon himself. He looked like your typical frat boy: meticulously messy-coifed hair, diamond stud in one ear, even a puka necklace. The one distinct difference being that his ears were pointed, like an elf or a sprite. His emerald green eyes sparkled with an electric inner light.
"What can I get you, newbie?" the bartender asked with a flick of his chin.
"What?" Deacon spluttered, unable to grasp the words. Between the thrumming music and the crush of bodies surrounding him on all sides and the flashing of lights in every direction, Deacon couldn't bring himself to focus. The bartender simply chuckled, as if completely unaffected by his surroundings and the fact that Deacon was clearly an outsider to whatever was going on in this strange underground world.
"Welcome to Purgatory, kid," the bartender said.
"Purgatory," Deacon repeated.
"Yeah, my nightclub," the bartender replied, waving his hands above him in a "this is all mine" sort of gesture. "Catchy name, right? Fits, I think. Most people think it's shit, though. Don't really care."
"This is a club?" Deacon asked, feeling even more confused than before.
"Best in the Netherworld, my friend."
The bartender sighed heavily, rolling his eyes. He appeared to be short on patience and full up on customers and like he very much wished he could just dismiss Deacon and move on to doing his job.
"You really are new, aren't you?" the bartender asked. He extended his hand, pale and long-fingered, nails filed to sharp points, like gleaming talons. "Name's Flip. Welcome to the afterlife, kid."
Deacon narrowed his eyes, face screwed up in consternation.
"But I…I'm not dead," he insisted.
"Au contraire," Flip said airily, picking up a cocktail mixer and pouring a bright, pulsating green liquid into it, mixing it with ice. "You are very much dead, kid. No other way you'd be here. This is the Netherworld. You kick the bucket in your world, you end up here. Well, until they decide…"
"They?" Deacon asked, disbelief growing moment by moment.
"I've already said too much," Flip said, shaking the mixer deftly with one hand while he opened up several bottles of some sort of ale for another customer with the other. "You'll learn everything you need to know at Registration. Won't be long until they bring you in. They've got this whole place wired."
"Who are they?" Deacon demanded.
Flip didn't respond, but instead merely smiled, an impish, sly grin. The kind of grin a three year old gets on their face just after committing some dastardly deed that their parents are sure to want to kill them for. He gave the mixer one last shake before gently pouring out the glowing green liquid into a martini glass.
"Here comes one of them now," he said coyly.
Deacon turned to follow Flip's line of sight, his eyes coming to rest upon a gorgeous African American woman with flawless, light ebony skin, deep-set dark curls that fell to shoulder-length and the most insanely perfect eyes he had ever seen. They were feline in nature, curved at the ends, with perfectly manicured eyebrows atop them, darker than the blackest night he'd ever endured.
She was wearing quite the revealing outfit as well, which accentuated her features perfectly. From the hip-hugging skintight leather pants to the midriff baring tank top that showed off her well-defined abs, toned arms and allowed her voluptuous chest to overflow in a most satisfying way. She moved through the crowds easily and gracefully, sliding in and amongst the throngs like a shadow, moving ghost-like and lithely, her reflexes razor sharp and poised.
"Who is she?" Deacon murmured.
"That's Janessa," Flip said from over Deacon's shoulder as he continued to sling drinks to other patrons wordlessly. They didn't seem to care that he wasn't making small talk with any of them. They seemed more intent on imbibing whatever concoctions he was doling out to them, as if they craved it, needed it. "And don't even think about it."
Deacon turned back to Flip, indignant.
"I know what you're thinking, and don't think it."
"How do you know what I'm thinking?" Deacon demanded. This place was too strange. The people, if you could call them that, were strange. Nothing was as it seemed and everything was topsy turvy. As if life hadn't been fucked up enough before, now it was ten times worse. Nothing could be predicted here.
Flip pointed to his ears, sticking up like curved satellites on his head.
"I'm a fairy," he said pointedly. "I can read your mind."
"A fairy?" Deacon intoned dubiously. He eyed Flip up and down, sizing him up. "You don't look like a gay guy, dude, but whatever floats your boat."
"Not that kind of fairy, dumb ass," Flip spat, handing out another cocktail. "A magical being, from Fae. The little people? The fair folk? Ever heard of it?"
"There's no such thing," Deacon snorted.
"Look around, bud," Flip insisted, nostrils flaring. "The things you've seen here tonight? Doesn't it strike you that maybe you aren't in Kansas, anymore?"
Deacon glanced back over to the crowds behind him, searching for Janessa. The mystery woman was nowhere to be found. She had either left or become lost within the sea of smashing bodies. Deacon felt a small swell of disappointment. She had been hot, sure, but according to how Flip had regarded her, she must be someone important. Maybe she could have shed some light on just what the hell was going on.
"I gotta get out of here," Deacon sighed. "This is just…too fucked up."
"Welcome to the Netherworld," Flip said with a shrug. "This place's specialty is fucked up. You'll see. But you get used to it. Sort of."
"How do I -," Deacon started to ask, but suddenly there she was. Janessa. She had reappeared, out of nowhere, like a mirage. She sidled up to the bar, mere feet away from Deacon and leaned across the rough-hewn stone bar towards Flip, smiling lasciviously. Her thick, round lips were coated in a shiny, pink lip gloss that made her mouth sparkle and shine.
"One of your specials, Flip?" she said, flicking a coin across the bar to him.
"Coming right up, hon'," Flip said, grinning back at her. "Haven't seen you in a few days. Been getting into trouble, as usual?"
"Oh you know me," Janessa said playfully. "Trouble ends up finding me eventually."
"You prefer it that way," Flip replied.
"What can I say?" Janessa said, propping herself up by her elbows. "I get bored easily."
Deacon took the opportunity to break into the conversation at that moment, stumbling up to the bar next to Janessa, leaning beside her. She immediately turned and noticed him, lips curling back in disgust, nose crinkled and brow furrowed.
"Oh my God, you smell like shit," she exclaimed, moving back a pace.
Deacon looked down at his shirt, covered in horrifying stains and spots of dried liquid he'd rather not imagine what they could be. He remembered the fact that he'd woken up face-down in a toilet in this place. He'd forgotten that he must smell and look…well, like shit.
"I'm sorry," Deacon muttered. "I…I don't know what happened."
"Well go take a shower and back the fuck off," Janessa snapped. "I don't have time to waste on little beggars like you. What did you do, run away from the Scavengers? You look like you just crawled out of the sewers."
"I don't know where I am," Deacon said more impatiently.
Janessa faltered for a moment, her eyes softening slightly.
"I just woke up here," Deacon continued, taking her silence as permission to continue talking. She watched him with wary eyes. "The last thing I remember is being in New York City, in this alley, and this guy, he was attacking someone. I didn't want to get involved, but shit happened. I tried to run away and I –"
He stopped talking, stopping the outpouring flood of words.
"And then you died," Janessa said softly. She almost seemed to sound sympathetic.
"I…I don't remember what happened," Deacon said softly.
Janessa turned back to Flip, grabbing the pulsating green drink he had prepared for her. She took one long swig of it before sitting the glass back down on the bar, empty. She flicked her chin at Deacon.
"He just showed up tonight?" she asked the fairy.
"Far as I know," Flip replied, wiping out an empty glass. "Seems like a newbie to me. Told him it was a matter of time before Registration. Had no clue what I was talking about."
Janessa turned back to Deacon.
"This true?" she asked in an icy tone.
"Well, yeah…," Deacon faltered, suddenly feeling like he was being questioned by the police. It brought back a lot of memories. Being brought in for petty charges, questioned by overweight police officers who would rather be out roaming the streets in the comfort of their cop cars making an easy paycheck rather than sitting in a stuffy little room talking to him.
Without warning, Janessa produced a sleek, strange looking handgun, pointing it directly at Deacon's chest. She had him dead to rights.
"Freeze!" she cried. "You are currently an unregistered denizen of the Netherworld and under oath of the Higher Beings and the authority of the Necropolis Task Force, I am bound to bring you in for Registration immediately. Come with me."
"Wait, what?" Deacon cried, holding his hands up in surrender.
"I said, come with me!" Janessa seethed.
Without a second to spare, Deacon noticed a squat, bulbous dwarf-like being ambling nearby him, and he tripped the creature, causing a commotion. In the noise and shuffle, Deacon took off running, pushing through the crowds and hoping against hope he would find an exit before Janessa could catch up with him.
As the crowds closed in around him, Deacon ran.
He ran, and hoped he would make it out of this alive.