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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Mitchell

Midnight Show


It is difficult to pinpoint when my insomnia started. I remember fitful sleep, filled with agitated dreams of clanking noises and foul odors. I remember long darkness slowly giving way to cumbersome dormancy, only to be bothered by some clamoring outside my bedroom. Then, sleep evaded me completely, and I trudged through each day with tired bones and a head full of cobwebs. 

Without the catharsis of dreams to soothe my weary mind, I began to turn my attention to those goings-on in the city after dark.

There was the queer murmuring of night creatures rummaging through trash. There was the discordance of horns, sirens, and roaring engines from frustrated vehicles locked in passage. Many voices echoed in the streets, searching for excitement under the midnight shadows. 

My roommate was one of these searchers. Almost in spite of my sleeplessness, he seemed to have developed the opposite condition. 

Deep into the night, I heard his key scrape in the lock. Stumbling, heavy footsteps blundered to his bed, where he disappeared into a noiseless sleep. Then came the stench of urban liveliness: stagnant rainwater and putrid mud, human sweat, and the dense, earthen smell of stale beer. Beneath these odors was some intoxicating pheromone, like the restless atmosphere right before a lightning strike. 

I laid awake all night, musing about his late-night excursions. Visions of riotous parties came to me, a phantasmagoria of darkened revelries filled with roguish dilettantes and sinister fiends. What else but a night of earthly pleasure could make him sleep so soundlessly? What else could gather that sour reek he wore like a perfume? 

Sleepless nights turned to sleepless weeks, and still nothing could deter my roommate from his routine. 

My occupation was exhausting in those days, doubly so without the proper rest to grapple with its challenges. Worse, I was incapable of working without ruminating on my somnolent roommate. The bosses had several discussions with me about my performance, for which I was genuinely apologetic, before they finally put me on a temporary leave.

Free from the debilitating side-effects of my job, I expected to get some sleep. Just as I drifted off, there was my roommate. Crashing through the door. Jangling his keys. Bringing with him that enticing miasma, which promised a hallucinatory night beyond my wildest imagination. 

No, I didn’t need rest. My solution hid in the dark corners of my roommate’s regular haunts.


 

I confronted my roommate. It was noon, possibly the only hour where I could catch him awake. He was pouring some brown gruel into a bowl, half asleep at the kitchen table, when I pulled up the chair next to him and placed a steaming cup of coffee by his hand. 

His eyes flashed. He brought the cup to his lips, gulping the liquid down in one swig. He shivered, a slight frown forming as he realized his surroundings. He ate a spoonful of gruel. 

“How’ve you been?” They were my first words to him in months. In fact, it was our first time face-to-face since my insomnia. I found myself puzzling over his features, grasping at attributes like searching for familiarity in a long-lost friend. Had his nose always been so stubby? His ears always so flared? And his eyes! Hadn’t they been blue instead of iridescent green? 

He grumbled a reply, gruel dripping onto his chin. 

I sat for a while, trying to recount our first meeting, searching my mind’s eye for an image of my roommate. Finally, I relented, noting this as an effect of my sleep-deprived mind. 

“What’s that? More coffee?” I dipped into the kitchen to pour us both another cup.

He drank and ate. Ate and drank. Gradually, strength replaced feebleness. He sat upright, scarfing down that abhorrent brown mush, finishing with a belch and a final swig of coffee. 

“Hopefully you haven’t been working late.” Directness had always been difficult between my roommate and I, with discussion impossible over the preceding months due to his weariness and my insomnia. But something nagged at me. That delightful pheromone beneath the rancid stench. The promise of a night filled with earthly wonders. I pressed him. “Must be exhausting.” 

At this, my roommate let slip a sly smile. “Oh no, not working. Why? Am I behind on rent?” 

“No, no. You’re just out so often, and so tired during the day–” 

“Oh.” The remark fell out of his mouth and a daze came over him, as if suddenly enraptured by a powerful daydream. 

“Well, I would hate to intrude, but is there a bar you usually go to? Or club?” 

His delight sealed itself behind pinched lips. His eyes betrayed a reluctance to share, but beneath that reluctance was fear. Fear of spilling a secret. 

“It’s alright if it’s some kind of exclusive event. Some friends are interested in going out. We were looking for a few other destinations to add to our pub crawl.” I tried to smile through the lie. I didn’t have any friends. Not then. 

“Right,” he said, “It’s exclusive.” 

And with that, he noticed his gruel was gone. He thanked me for the coffee, deposited dishes in the sink, and tumbled back into bed.

Another fitful night passed. More stomping from my roommate in the hours after midnight. More of that smell, now enticing and sweet, like a voluptuous flower. Still, that unearthly pheromone lay outside of my identification, nagging and scratching at the base of my skull. 

I craved that deep chasm my roommate fell into every night. If he wouldn’t give me the roaring release of ecstasy that I needed to rest properly, then I would take it for myself. 

Finally, I decided to follow him. 


 

His leaving wasn’t half as noisy as his arriving. Some days, he seemed to disappear in the afternoon and reappear after midnight. Waiting in our common area for him to embark would give up my aim too easily, and I wouldn’t risk another stagnant conversation. 

One day, as the sun was setting, I heard the quiet hush of our door on its hinges. I burst from my bed and waited for some sign that my roommate had left, then carefully opened the door. Peeking into the hallway, I saw him disappear down a stairwell. 

Elation. Exuberance. These things pulled at my heart and set it pounding in my chest. Without waiting, I grabbed my keys and coat and jumped into my pursuit. 

I followed him down the hallway and into a dank stairwell. Footsteps echoed below, and the door rattled shut. 

I rushed down the stairwell and arrived at the exit, where a sliver of window offered a view of the surrounding street. The atmosphere was ripe with fading daylight. Neon signs hung low over the sidewalk, advertising numerous goods and services. The buildings were decrepit things, buzzing with the beginning whispers of nightlife. Everywhere, people jostled back and forth, exchanging one greasy bar for the next, preparing for a sumptuous evening. 

Amidst it all, like a spider scurrying over its web, went my roommate. He crawled across patrons and scrambled through crowds, stopping briefly to greet acquaintances here and there. Occasionally, he would meet one or two passersby and become absorbed in furtive conversation. The whole of the street moved around them, a rushing river of bodies reshaping its path, only for those halted individuals to rejoin the stream after sharing their brief secret. 

Through all of this, I slunk after my roommate. I hid in door frames hung at jaunty, haphazard angles. I dipped into shops filled with miscellaneous antiquities and squinted through dirty windows, across crowds, watching him. Not once could I hear his conversations or understand the details of his engagements. 

When the sun had finally set and the first stars twinkled in the sky, my roommate entered a restaurant, and the animated diners greeted him as an old friend. 

From my place at a cafe across the street, I smelled the sharp, tangy odor of meats cured in countless spices. It was then that I realized a peculiarity of these acquaintances. Each was some strange hybrid of the other. Two had the same upturned nose. Three had the same pointed lips. Their bodies were a patchwork of repeated appendages and shared features, so their group gave the impression of a distant family.

But as I observed, my head grew heavy with sleep. I was almost delighted, almost rushed back to my apartment to capitalize on this newfound somnolence. But my mission, and my curiosity, ushered me on, so I ordered a coffee to counteract my exhaustion. 


 

My roommate and his friends stayed at the restaurant for some time. They ate steaming meat with thick sauces rich with vegetables, their delectable smell wafting across the street and calling me like some siren’s song to join them. While this odor was curious, it was not the alluring pheromone that set me on my quest. They drank pitchers and pitchers of beer, each emptied glass immediately filled again by a drunken friend. 

One hour before the peak of night, the cheerful group settled their bill and departed the restaurant. 

As they went, they gathered other individuals I recognized from earlier. Each new arrival bore some twinned aspect from the last, and revelation struck me. It was the memory of my roommate and our hopeless conversation. Those weird features, somehow subtly different from the man I’d first met. Did they match the features of someone here? 

I began to follow them more closely, scrutinizing their appearances, but their path turned from busy streets to darkened alleys, making my pursuit even more difficult. My roommate and his compatriots got ahead of me, so I followed the sound of them fraternizing through the labyrinthine side streets. 

The alley dumped me onto another major thoroughfare, although this street was foreign to me. Strange, jagged characters were scrawled across the signs of buildings, calling out their purpose to anyone who could make sense of the twisted letters. Dozens of bizarre smells accompanied this unfamiliar street, and a smile twitched on my lips. Among these odors was that pheromone I recognized from my roommate’s many late night entries. That bewitching aroma must be emanating from a restaurant, as it was the delicious scent of roasting meat. Somewhere along this street was their final stop, which offered a meal so exquisite it would cure my nagging obsession and give me rest. 

Dazed from this assault on my senses, I quickly checked the street for my roommate and his party, worried that I had let them slip from my attention. The sidewalk activity was dwindling, with most residents entering their final club of the night. 

Just as I was about to give up hope, I spied my roommate ducking into another alley. 

I sighed, exasperated. I was dead tired. I thought of calling a cab to navigate these winding streets and take me home. 

Then, I heard the music. 

A delightful woodwind melody floated out of the alley and down the street, capturing my ears and forcing my attention. This music dashed away the ruins that surrounded me and replaced them with a vibrant landscape. It was the sound of a lonely forest overlooking an immense body of water, with the sun perched low in the sky, preparing for its descent. 

As I stepped closer, I heard more instruments to accompany that light melody. The soft pull of strings. The gentle beat of a drum. Rocks, underbrush, and creatures populated my dream forest with wonderful vividness.

I arrived at the mouth of the alley. This ruined brick canyon, hewn from defunct buildings, led to an establishment. A neon sign flickered above the entrance, but the lettering was unintelligible. My roommate and his friends cavorted down the alley, ignoring garbage heaps and broken bottles. 

They met a man at the front door who recognized them immediately and bid them enter. When the door opened, music soared from within. With it came the laughter of guests inside. 

That music drew me closer. I stuck tight to the walls, avoiding detection by the club’s lone sentry, and approached a battered window. 

Patrons filled the club, dancing and conversing in a spirited frenzy. Among them all, I noticed those repeated features. Could this be some outlandish family reunion? But that wouldn’t explain the imperceptible change in my roommate’s features. I shifted at the window, struggling to peer closer. 


There was a wide, open floor where countless bodies swayed together in time with the delicate music. On stage, a band practiced their art. It was curious, but I could not deny the power their music had over me. Once again, it conjured the image of a lush forest, but now I heard voices between the trees. Whispers, like the rustling of leaves, dashed back and forth between trunks and drew me into the woods. 

Whispers turned to conversation, which became the forceful chanting of many voices. And the music changed.

A deep bass line struck the room, rousing me from my vision of the forest. It vibrated beneath my skin like a subdermal itch. Everywhere, all over me, my flesh crawled, yearning to be free. From my place in the window, I watched this effect taking hold over the occupants. They shook and rattled on the floor, faces tuned to rapturous anticipation. 

My heart pounded as my body pulsed with the music. Breathless, I wrenched my eyes away from the window and fell to the ground. My curiosity was satisfied. I wanted to be home in bed. I would leave and sleep soundlessly, like my expedition had never happened at all. 

A heavy hand fell onto my shoulder. I froze. It was the establishment’s guard. His skin fluttered, reverberating with each beat of the drum inside, which grew heavier and heavier as each stroke fell. 

Staring at the man and his quivering flesh, a whimper lodged itself in my throat. 

The guard lifted his hand off my shoulder, smiling. Turning it over, he presented his hand to me. 

The music, the powerful wiles of that sound, compelled me to take his hand.

He lifted me off the ground and led me into the building. 

The entire building thrummed with raucous music. Percussion. Bass. Rhythm. Noises throbbed together, resounding inside my body, building to some climax that threatened to tear open my flesh. 

The listeners were not concerned. They danced, jumbling their bodies together, each movement matched to a dozen competing cadences.

The music erupted. My skin, so eager to be free of the flesh it protected, slipped off my body and congealed on the floor in a steaming puddle. The others shed their skin too, leaving behind rippling muscle and white bone. Their jaws opened, cackling, with no smile to note their apparent euphoria. A familiar smell filled the room, the one that had sparked my curiosity before. 


That enticing pheromone was the smell of melting flesh. 

I stumbled backwards, away from the quagmire of skin on the dance floor, and screamed. My lungs flexed, my throat rippled, pushing out that deep howl. But as the music continued to build, my lungs, heart, and bowels all fell from my shuddering skeletal frame with a heap of other organs. I watched my lungs twitch on the ground with the final gasp of my scream, and then they fell still. 

Without ears to hear, sounds thrummed heavily inside my mind. The listeners’ cries of elation ceased, replaced by the clattering of bones and squish of mutilated flesh beneath our feet. And there was the music, building, building, building. 

Muscles untwined themselves from my bones and dropped to the floor, leaving only my eyes dangling loose in their sockets and my mind boiling with madness inside its skull. I fell to my knees, arms outstretched, wishing for a mouth with which to plead. Wishing for lungs with which to scream. 

The dancers watched me, skulls tuned to a look of sympathy. 

Our bones shattered, dissipating into dust that floated in rugged patterns throughout the room. Just as I thought my sapience would slip away forever, and I would join these dancers as so many motes of lifeless flesh, the music tore whatever threadbare cosmic tapestry was keeping this reality in place, and I began to dream. 

There was no forest or ocean. There was only a togetherness like I have never known. Intimate details of strange lives drifted in and out of my purview, and I felt widening eyes grow to absorb the minutiae of my own life. Hopes, dreams, fears, and pleasures swirled together in a grand kaleidoscope until I could no longer remember which memories belonged to me. 

Accompanying this fantasy was the strange rhythm that turned me to dust.

It was there where I found rest. 


 

I awoke in my own bed with the sun low on the horizon. Night approached, and my first thoughts yearned for music. Then, I remembered my roommate, the journey, and our horrible dismemberment. 

I rushed to a mirror and screamed. My body was no longer wholly my own. It was a delicate miscellany of interwoven flesh that I now shared with some unknown member of that secret club. Strange memories burned just outside of my mind’s eye, teasing me with the visions of someone else’s life. 

For several nights, I didn’t leave my bedroom. I slept deeply, and each night brought new friends to my luscious dreamscape. Among them was my roommate, who greeted me as a forgotten friend. He mentored me, teaching me to travel between minds along the byways of our shared experience. When I was strong enough, I joined their midnight wanderings.

Now, sleep comes like a host of silent spirits, whisking me away to black dreamscapes of swirling fabric sewn from a hundred secret desires. Together, we dream of a grand forest. In our forest, we are building a divine palace where all will be welcome. Someday, we will bring it into reality.


 


Jonathan Mitchell lives in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys reading and writing weird stories.



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