“I dare you,” she says, her gaze crawling over his skin like a horde of insects, chipping at his skin, nipping away at his nerves.
It overtakes him as easy as that, one eye winking into the ether, the corner of his mouth lifting in poor imitation Elvis. Faery thrall, a glamour. She smiles with that orthodontic dream of a mouth and his body tremors in violent response.
“What’s the matter, Johnny boy?” And oh god, that echoing laughter, all the power of a latin chant surrounding his bones.
He’s spent the night watching the bottle spin like a dowsing crystal, divining the fates of every alcohol blurred face in this, the witches circle. He’s been on gin all night, took down the medicinal taste like a tincture for his nerves but now…
They call it mother’s ruin for a reason, don’t they?
John strains his neck, as if that could pull his arms up, could kiss the smirk off of her mouth and forfeit.
We’re too old for this, he thinks. But after hotboxing the living room an energy had settled around the room like the mist of smoke rolling around their feet, and someone had said those words. The downfall of the anxiety-riddled, the virginal, the sensible.
“Fine,” he says, the corner of his mouth still betraying him, his jaw wanting to crack. He notices her hands are on his thighs now, that she’s closer, closest, the only point of focus in the hazy room. He stares back up into her eyes, the way he can’t tell the colour but can read something guarded, something relentless.
He wonders if that’s how she’s used to being looked at – past the features, looking for the parts inside that squirm. She smiles again, sinfully, brutally. “Atta boy!”
She squeezes his leg as his throat swallows, twinning movements, a twitch of muscle. The vein in his eye throbs again in sympathy. “Show me this ledge.”
It wants to go so badly, the muscle twitch, the tick always thrumming beneath the surface of his right side. It’s the dominant one – he should find that funny, but he doesn’t, particularly. The girl (what’s her name, anyway? A friend of a friend twice removed, as intangible to him as a ghost.)
It’s too high – eighth floor. More than enough to shatter him if he slips, and in the night air, the groan of the breeze that is as goading as the assembled mass of beer brined stupidity, downfall is a real possibility.
The girl smiles, her cloud of dark hair falling around her cheeks and darkening her features. Another guy slaps him on his shoulder, offers up a cup of courage.
John shakes his head and presses one hand onto the wooden window frame. Everything is out of control – the beast inside gorges on his anxiety, weakens the last vestige of control he has on those muscles – and yet, there his hand is. There his foot goes, testing the weight of the wood.
There is something intoxicating about the way everyone smiles for him. Cheering on the dead man walking, lining up to the plank to his inevitable doom. He’s not sure he knows a single face in the crowd, not now that 3 am has long been laid waste to. Two girls whisper, ducking heads into the space between their throats and shoulders and he turns around to the outside world – the black tar of the road, the glimmer of waning street lights.
Oh god, he’s going to do it.
One shaking foot stabilizes enough for him to raise the other, to rest his weight on the thin window frame. The crowd cheers and the sound raises his spine like a pair of solid hands, like a pair of feathered wings. He sets his spine, hands braced on the flaking wood of the window frame, ignoring the way his brain lurches. He feels – he feels –
He feels invincible.
A warm hand presses against the small of his back, just a fingertip touch; not enough pressure to do damage, but the threat is there. “Didn’t think you had it in you.”
It’s her, he thinks. Her voice – it taps into something inside of him, summons the tremor beneath his skin. She’s pretty. She’s intimidating. He’s pretty sure she wants him dead.
He grips the wood harder, feels the splinters sink into each palm as his eyelid threatens to slip, corner of his mouth twitching. All he has to do is step backwards, and he’s safe again. But his knees lock tightly, like his cramping hands have around the window frame. The only part of him that wants to move is the beast of a tick, fighting against the rigidity of his spine to pull him for a sharp second over the edge.
For a moment he is held aloft, at the edge of the sky on the window ledge. Then his right eye pulls shut, and the balance shifts. The world lurches sideways. The pavement becomes a warping wave beneath him.
The fingers at his back fist hard into his shirt as his nerves pull in opposing directions.
He breathes, hard and fast. Both eyes squeezed shut against the roiling street, John accepts the darkness like a flood.
And so it goes.