Chapter 1: A Bad Night at Sanctum (1997) (1)
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Saturday night, and Sanctum was throbbing. As Charles headed up to the club, the narrow shaft of the stairwell focused the music into a sonic assault that made his chest vibrate and his bones shake. He grinned at the sensation as it worked its usual spell on him. A night at Sanctum always managed to purge the week’s bullshit from his body.

His Doc Martins clumped on the steps as he reached the stop of the stairs, and as always he had the impression he was walking into a giant diseased heart. The pulse became deafening as he emerged from the stairwell and found himself face-to-face with the bouncer. In the purple-blue bruise-light of the club, the bulky bald guy with the bull nose ring looked like hell's own gatekeeper.

I should know this joker’s name by now, he thought. Been coming here long enough.

The bouncer grunted, "ID and cover." Charles flashed his license and gave the guy a rumpled five dollar bill. The bull-devil gestured with his hairless head, and Charles moved into the press of bodies.

The place was decked out like an eternal Halloween party. Hanging from the walls were wrought iron sconces containing blacklights. The walls themselves were covered with what looked like crumbling brick work. Great billowing sheets of silk, dyed in shades of red and black, rippled overhead in the heat rising from the people writhing on the dance floor.

The outfits worn by the dancers perpetuated the perception of an endless Day of the Dead celebration. Everyone was swathed in blacks, greys, purples, and reds from head to toe. It was a gyrating sea of raven hair, pale flesh, and flashing piercings. All of their frenetic, jerking movements were driven by the engine of the music, with its repetitive screechings and rumblings. The unrelenting concussion of the bass notes made his lungs throb so much it was hard to breathe.

Charles glanced at himself in a large mirror, which had been purposefully spiderwebbed with cracks. He checked out his hair, reddish brown and styled in short spikes. He was wearing an untucked red button-down with the sleeves rolled up and halfway unbuttoned, the blacklights making his white undershirt glow like a beacon. Habit had made him tuck his hands into the front pockets of his black jeans. He pulled them out, took a deep breath, and headed deeper into Sanctum.

He didn’t look the part, but his soul was as committedly Goth as anyone in the club. That didn’t stop him from getting sneers from some of the people he passed. They probably thought he was some shithead who had wandered in off the street, looking to make fun of “the freaks.”

Sure, let them think he was a normie. Fuck them.

As he wove through clusters of bodies, he heard snatches of conversation. Talk about upcoming black masses, places where "real blood stuff" happened, and somebody raving over the most recent Type O Negative album. Black-painted lips promised to teach the secrets of “actual” sex magic.

It was all the usual poser bullshit. Charles was willing to bet he knew more about the occult than most of the dopes surrounding him. He had a deep and genuine appreciation for the darker things in life: the history of witchcraft and Satanism, classic horror fiction, slasher flicks, the appealing melancholy of cloudy days. But he never felt the need to slavishly follow the subculture that sprang up to veritably worship all things unholy. You didn’t have to play vampire dress-up to have a dark soul.

As he made his way to the bar, Charles swept his gaze out over the dance floor. He gloried silently in the sight of leather, flashing glimpses of silver, and faces smiling or grimacing in concentration. The crowd was reveling in the shared ritual of deafening music, glaring strobes, gyrations, and sweat.

All the while, the booming, sad voice of Peter Murphy preached to the faithful from the club’s massive speakers:

You know the way
It leaves you dry
It cuts you up
And takes you high

You know the way
It's painted gold
Is it honey
Is it cold

You know the way
It throws about
It takes you in
And spits you out

And in the middle of the communal celebration of darkness, as usual, was Tai Chi Guy.

According to legend, the old man had been coming to Sanctum since it opened seven years before. No one ever talked to him, but not for lack of trying. When you asked him his name, or where he was from, or what the fuck he was doing, he just smiled and went on dancing. He got his nickname because, instead of dancing, he did what basically looked like martial arts routines, moving his arms in odd repetitive patterns.

Charles laughed out loud at the sight of the man going through his slow and deliberate motions, as he pushed his open palms outward, raised them toward the ceiling, then lowered them toward the floor. For Charles, Tai Chi Guy’s performance never got old, no matter how many times he saw it. He admired the older man for not caring how he looked in this crowd, which could be downright sadistic when it came to tearing other people apart with talons made of scathing sarcasm and disdain.

Tai Chi Guy clearly didn’t give a shit what other people thought.

Charles found himself wishing again that he could be so disengaged from caring about the judgments of others. He took a deep breath as he shoved toward the bar, taking in scents of sweat, leather, and clove cigarettes. He scanned the crowd, slipping between conversations as he went.

Charles laughed under his breath and squeezed into the bar mob. He got the stink eye from some mook wearing white contacts. Goths made claims that their clubs weren’t full of the bullshit posturing you'd find at normie clubs, but Charles knew that was a lie. The feathers might be black, but here were the same preening roosters and hens, strutting around like fools for mating rights.

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