Life-Changing by Melissa Manuel

I mean it was just an accident on Uriah’s part, but for me it was pretty funny. Noor said my laughing didn’t help the situation, but I can’t say it wasn’t funny.

Because when Julian said it’d be “life-changing” if we went to this underground club I guess he never thought it would literally become “life-changing.”

The club was quite literally underground to start with, which I thought was a little shady, but when I told Noor she said my puns were not appreciated. So I had to shut up after that.

Julian had been basically bouncing the whole way there, he kept pulling my hand to make me walk faster, which didn’t really work and only felt like he was trying to pull my arm out of its socket.

Uriah had tried to keep the whole “I’m a cool hipster” air on the way there, but when we reached the entrance to the club he had started fidgeting visibly and it was incredibly distracting because he kept cracking his knuckles as loud as he could.

The entrance to the club was a manhole. An old rusted manhole that had been so weathered down that the words were no longer legible and the holes where someone was suppose to use to open it were so disgusting that I remember wishing I had brought hand sanitizer. Or gloves.

“Okay Julian why are we standing in front of a manhole?” I was the first one to speak knowing everyone preferred to leave the obvious questions for me to ask.

His arm slid over my shoulders and pecked my cheek, causing me to scrunch up my face and Uriah and Noor to roll their eyes. Julian’s other hand swept the air as he said, “Tonight we begin our true clubbing experience!” Noor made a scene of looking around the poorly lit street her glossy black hair shone oddly in the streetlights.

“This isn’t exactly a clubbing zone Julian.” Uriah cracked his knuckles loudly again before he spoke, “Or the safest.”

Now I hadn’t really thought about that till Uriah said that because the whole city always seemed so peaceful to me at night, so I just always felt safe. Uriah has pointed out though that I’ve been robbed five times for taking late night walks alone through the city and that my idea of “safe” is obviously skewed. Personally I think he’s just paranoid, it’s not like I got hurt any time I was robbed. The thugs had all pointed guns at me and sometimes even politely asked for money or my phone.

Julian had shaken his head and waved his finger at Uriah, “Already scared?” Uriah scowled but just cracked his knuckles again.

Noor had open her mouth to speak again just as Julian knelt down and made a series of intricate knocks against the old rusted and moggy manhole.

When he stood back up we all stood in silence staring at the manhole just as what I think sounded like a gunshot went off in the distance. Uriah completely blanched grabbing whatever was closest to him, which happened to be Noor’s arm, very tightly, “Guys…”

And at that moment the manhole rose a few inches and moved to the side allowing a stream of bright colored lights to escape the hole in the ground and what sounded like bluegrass music. The sound of the banjo was probably the most unnerving part of the whole scene.

Julian had grinned widely took my hand and said, “C’mon gang! You’re all going to love this place.” Before I could really think about whether Julian had come here before or whether I was going to “love this place” he was helping me down into the manhole.

As I climbed down into this odd club I had looked up to see Noor climbing down after Julian, and then Uriah cracking his knuckles one last time before he stepped inside. When the manhole cover closed by itself none of us seemed to pay it much attention.

Jumping to the ground I was blinded by the colorful mist that surrounded me, for a moment I had felt alone floating in the abstract cloud of color surrounding me, but then Julian had hopped down next to me and I heard the music again and  noticed all the dancing bodies that poked through the fog.

Noor and Uriah appeared quick enough and both of their faces were wrapped in wonderment at the sight that surrounded us. Julian noted their expressions and he grinned smugly, “I told you: this place is amazing.
Noor for once had said nothing and just waved her hand at the mist floating in front of her and Uriah nodded his head to the excited banjo.
I turned my head to look at Julian again but where he had stood next to me he was no longer standing there. Panicked a bit I glanced at Noor and Uriah to make sure they were still there, and they were but they had started dancing in a way I had never seen before.

I laughed a bit thinking they were joking around, but when I saw their faces, they were impassive. Feeling confused I had grabbed and shaken Noor’s shoulder, but she didn’t react or even seem to notice me. Uriah acted the same way and that’s when I knew something was wrong.

The colorful mist no longer felt light but suffocating and I choked on its moisture as I repeated Noor and Uriah’s name over and over.

Even the music seemed to get louder and the whole room getting more and more packed with people. My head spun nauseatingly and when I couldn’t see anything but the sharp colors of the lights that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, I just grabbed Noor and Uriah’s arms tightly before closing my eyes tightly and then lost consciousness.

I blinked awake, momentarily disoriented, I soon realized I was lying on the ground next to the manhole of the club entrance. I instantly relaxed as the soothing bleakness of the city returned to fill  my vision. My head throbbed at the very memory of the bright club I had been in for less than ten minutes.

Lying on either side of me was Uriah and Noor, they were also waking up, when they opened their eyes I quickly noted the fear in their eyes as they looked around trying to figure out where they were.

“What happened?” Was the first thing Noor asked she rubbed her hand against her temple as if trying to release her memory. Uriah cracked his knuckles before asking, “Wait… Where’s Julian?”

The three of us exchanged worried glances before rising and looking around to see if Julian was lying on the ground like we had been.
When he still did not appear Noor and Uriah both seemed extremely afraid, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel much of anything. I had sat down next to the manhole as Noor and Uriah paced anxiously murmuring to each other.

Curious I knocked once on the manhole to see what might happen. It was a soft knock, neither Noor or Uriah had even noticed. The manhole remained motionless for a moment and then two gunshots went off causing Uriah to sway a little on his feet. I had laughed and while I did the manhole opened again and this time there were no colorful lights just the motionless body of Julian slumped over the ledge of the hole. I had gasped and stared at him surprised at his sudden appearance.

Noor reacted more appropriately instantly grabbing him under the arms and pulling him away from the manhole which slowly shut itself again.

When Noor turned him over and I saw what had happened to his face a slow hiccup of laughter escaped my throat. That evolved into full-out laughs until Noor had said, “Your laughing isn’t exactly helping the situation.”

I had covered my mouth with my hand, but the laughter sat uneasily in my throat. Uriah had stood stock still staring down at Julian an expression of both confusion and horror clear on his face, which I didn’t really understand.

Julian’s once handsome face was now covered in cracks. They looked like someone had drawn them with a thin black Sharpie, but when you looked closer you could tell they were actual cracks in his skin equivalent to those on a vase or ceramic plate.

There wasn’t any blood or anything, but I guess it still looked painful. Suddenly Julian’s cracked eyelids fluttered open and he gasped for air. Nobody moved for a moment and then, because I’m the one who has to ask the obvious questions, I asked, “Julian, what happened to your face?” Another snicker escaped me involuntarily. The sight of him like that is just so amusing to me for some reason.

Julian’s hand flew to his face and froze before his fingers slowly felt the odd cracks, or perhaps scars in his face.

Julian opened his mouth to speak just as Uriah cracked his knuckles, and before all of our eyes a new crack slowly tore open on Julian’s cheek, he yelped in pain as Uriah began to cry saying, “Oh man I’m sorry- I didn’t know- I didn’t mean to… it was an accident!”

Again a laugh choked me remembering Julian’s words, “A life-changing” night indeed.

 

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