I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment I woke up. One minute my mind was filled with nothing but swirling images that expanded so much they broke apart into tatters, and the next I was in a darkened room. My eyes struggled to focus on the smoke that hung low, clinging to the lamps on the tables like a sea fret. Figures moved through the fug like shadowy demons at twilight.
The clarion call of a saxophone cut through the static in my ears and I tried to sit up. A hand, more like a paw with its stubby fingers and massive palm, pressed on my shoulder and pushed me back down. I stared upwards and a face swam into view, tiny eyes set into a fleshy face, like currants in an under cooked bun. I didn’t know that face.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter who he is.” A voice replied from behind the face. I tried to peer around the mountain in a suit that held me down.
“So who are you then?”
Someone snapped their fingers and the brute let go of my shoulder. I sat up, and realised I was sitting on a billiards table. The heavy moved aside, and I saw him. Tall and thin, with a black goatee clinging to his pointed chin, he wore a suit so black it hurt my eyes to look at it. He kept his gaze locked on the floor but the quiet smile around his cruel lips told me he thought I recognise him. I didn’t.
“I don’t know who you are, or why I’m here, but this is beginning to freak me out, so-”
“You don’t know who I am, or you don’t remember?” The man’s voice felt like liquid silk in my eyes, but I didn’t dare think there wouldn’t be a sharp edge hidden beneath the satin.
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
I looked beyond the stranger to the rest of the room. The smoke cleared a little, and the room looked to be a club of some sort, all gilt-edged columns and chandeliers. The band huddled on a stage at the far end, separated from me by acres of tables covered in white cloths. Groups of people clustered around the tables, the men in dinner jackets and the women draped in furs or silk, their bobbed hair in finger waves or hidden beneath hats. Smoking indoors and not a mobile phone to be seen – I didn’t worry so much about where I was, but more when I was.
“Do you remember your graduation ball a week ago?” asked the man.
I shuddered. “I try not to.”
“Do you remember standing alone for most of the evening, watching everyone else have a whale of a time?”
“And do you remember the young man who struck up a conversation with you?”
A vague memory niggled at me of a young man in a tux who tried to talk to me while I stood watching everyone take hundreds of photos of each other, and I knew that I would be in none of them. The memory of his face eluded me.
“You told him you’d give anything to have a night out in the 1920s, where you thought men would be gentlemen and women would be ladies. Not like that ball, where men and women alike behaved like stags in rutting season.”
Nausea bubbled at the back of my throat. I didn’t like where the conversation was heading at all.
“I do remember saying that, but it was a turn of phrase, you know?”
“Yes, I do know. But you’re here now – why don’t you enjoy your 1920s night out?”
I looked down. A black tassled flapper dress and flat shoes replaced the scruffy tracksuit pants and T-shirt I remembered wearing last. A string of pearls hung around my neck. I probed my hair with my fingers, feeling sculpted waves instead of frizzy curls.
“What have you done to me? Is this some kind of prank?” I looked around, waiting to see television cameras.
The man finally looked at me. I couldn’t tell what colour his eyes were because he had no eyes – not in the sense I was used to. Long lashes fringed the black voids. I couldn’t help but stare, wanting to see something in their depths, but there was nothing. Just cold emptiness.
“The year is 1924, and you’re in my club, just off the Strand in London. For now, all you owe me is a dance.”
“Well, what will you give me to get home?”
He stared at me with those cold, black, dead eyes, and I shivered because I knew he was not staring at me, but right into my soul. I guess I knew what I’d need to give up to get back to the twenty first century.