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Close Encounters | After Dark (Part 3)
Sebastian visits the coolest nightclub in Shadyside, and his defense of Evangeline comes back to bite him.
By Mike DiBaggio Posted in After Dark on January 29, 2020 14 min read
Grimalkin | After Dark (Part 4) Previous Like a Stone | Copper Knights & Granite Men (Part 3) Next

Story: Michael DiBaggio | Illustrations: Shell Presto

I already knew there was going to be trouble tonight. I didn’t know where or what kind, but I knew it. It had nothing to do with ESP, just one of those feelings anybody can get, a notion that sneaks inside your skull and curls up in a corner of your brain, periodically flashing its glowing eyes out of the darkness to remind you.

It was the start of the weekend, and I planned to be out late. I was at Close Encounters, the Shadyside night club with the retro-future motif, for the first under-18 night of the spring, and the place was packed. The glass on the windows hummed from the music (which sucked) and my head vibrated in resonance with the depleted Cavorite dance floor, salvaged from the hull of a junked Martian blastboat. That was the big reason people went there: to make an ass of themselves in one-third G. In Martian gravity, everyone was light on their feet. And the subliminal pulsing did something, too. It made you euphoric, put you in a trance where every face was happy and every touch felt amazing, like broadcast ecstasy. Nobody really knew how it worked. Some people said it was psychosomatic, but that was a load of crap. Nine out of ten people would have felt it the first time they walked into the place without being told about it, and I’d give you even odds that the 10th person was either a void or a sociopath. There were almost never any fights at ‘Encounters.


I was sitting at a table against the wall, knocking back those fruity wine coolers that girls like along with Gil Benjamin and Rachel Mercado. This was against the law in Pennsylvania, and since it was under-18 night there wasn’t even supposed to be any alcohol on the floor, but Rachel’s aunt was one of the bartenders and she was decent enough to supply us. It felt strange being there with Rachel, my sometimes/almost girlfriend. I’d have preferred Evangeline’s company, but even though I’d been flirting with her I hadn’t actually ginned up the courage to ask her out. At first I thought that was why I felt anxious, but I was soon to be disabused of that idea.

It had only been three days since I met Eva, since I stuck up for her against Vanessa DiPalmo and her sycophants, and so far the other shoe hadn’t dropped. I knew they were going to try to get even, but they hadn’t tried to set me up with the dean and I hadn’t even heard any nasty rumors circulating about me. I figured she’d forgotten about it, because I had. But that was stupid of me; women never give up a grudge.

Rachel had stepped away to mingle with some of her other friends and Gil and I were just talking—I don’t remember about what, baseball or something probably—when I saw his mouth kind of drop open and his eyeballs roll up, and I knew right then that trouble had finally arrived. I set my drink down and glanced over my shoulder just as a hand clamped down on it. The fingers dug deep into my trapezius muscle. I winced, holding my breath so I didn’t yelp out loud.

“This is the guy?”

“That’s the one, babe,” Vanessa DiPalmo said. I could practically hear her smile.

“You look familiar,” he breathed at me.

I knew Steve Saranchuk well enough. He didn’t go to St. Bonaventure, but he played Teener League ball. He was a good first baseman, and like most first basemen I knew he was an obnoxious bully. He stood a little taller than me and a lot burlier. More importantly, he had the drop on me, so I didn’t say or do much right then. I didn’t think I could count on Gil to back me up. If Alex had been there, I’m sure he’d have already drilled Saranchuk, but he wasn’t, so it didn’t matter. And even if he had been, it might not have turned out well for either of us; I saw the huge girth of Steve’s best goon, Tommy, hemming me in on the other side. Tommy played baseball too, only he wasn’t any good. He was a decent enough defensive lineman when he played football, but only by virtue of his giant size. He was well over six feet tall and almost as big around, a great deal of fat over a great deal of muscle.

“Pereira, isn’t it?” he said, only he mangled the pronunciation, making it rhyme with ‘cafeteria.’ It probably wasn’t intentional. That wasn’t Saranchuk’s kind of humor; he was just stupid. “Sounds like a disease. That’s some kind of spic name, isn’t it? Yeah, I remember you. Second baseman. Kind of a pussy. Liked to whine about getting spiked.”

Remember what I said about sociopaths?

“I heard you’ve been shooting your mouth off at my woman. Insulting her and her lady friends, threatening them. Threatening ladies is the sort of a thing you’d expect from a limp-wristed pussy, isn’t it? Well, Pereira, speak up.”

I fought to keep myself from shaking, but you can’t fight adrenaline. I was scared and furious, but right then I just wanted to get out of there without looking like a coward or getting my head beat in. He still had his hand dug into my shoulder and it hurt like hell. I didn’t think I could turn around fast enough to do anything before one or both of them clobbered me. Part of me wanted to apologize, to say anything just to get him to leave, but thankfully my manlier sensibilities won out, and I just didn’t say anything.

“Oh, I get it. Your mouth is only loose around ladies. You don’t open it up around men because you know you’d get your head kicked in. You coward.”

“Look at the little bitch sweat,” Nowakowski added, grinning like he had gas.

There are limits to the degradation a man is willing to accept even when the alternative is sure physical harm, and I had reached mine. I was calculating my best first strike option, wondering if I could drive my foot into Tommy’s balls and punch Saranchuk in the throat before they both tackled me. A fist fight is more about size and strength than anything else, but no one was too big or too tough to be beaten, so long as you were willing to be brutal and go for instant incapacitation. My main fear was that it would take too long for the dumb Polock to realize I kicked him in the nuts and he’d crush me in the meantime.

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But it never came to that, because just as my muscles tightened to stand up and flip over the table, I was shocked by something cold and wet soaking through my pants. My eyes rolled up to see Saranchuk’s other hand holding my bottle of wine cooler, inverted. He let go of me then.

“There,” he said, as Vanessa cackled behind him. “You were going to piss yourself anyway. Word to the wise: next time I have to talk to you, I’m just going to batter you. Understand me, boy?”

He dropped the bottle in my lap and they walked off into the crowd.

Gil stared across the table at me, pale and wide-eyed. “What was that about?”

“Nothing,” I spit out, choking on my own humiliation. “Thanks for all your help.”

“What was I supposed to do?” He must have known the answer to that question, though, because he looked ashamed. It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t his fight. I know that, but I hated his guts right then and I felt like diving across the table and beating the hell out of him. But there was a cold ember starting to flare inside me, and it said that if anyone was getting the hell beat out of him tonight, it was Steve Saranchuk. And it reminded me of something, else, too.

‘You’re a superhero.’ I could almost hear it like another voice in my head. ‘Make them afraid of you.’

I forced a smile over at Gil and offered my apologies. He accepted them readily, and offered some of his own.

“Don’t sweat it,” I said, and slid a few coins across the table. “Buy us another round while I clean myself up.”

Then I got up and moved into the crowd, but I didn’t go to the bathroom. I looked for Genghis and her boyfriend. I found them at a tall table near the edge of the dance floor, and as luck had it Nowakowski was blundering over from the bar with a big pitcher of pop. I just had to smile, and I knew the Lord was smiling along with me.

I assure you that you have never seen a sober yonko have so much trouble with a beverage before. I was subtle with the hydrokinesis at first, and the pop sloshed around just enough to splash out on his hands and his cheeks. He stopped and slowed down a couple of times, thinking that he was walking too fast. That’s when I really kicked it up. He swore as a geyser of cola and ice hit his face, and he flung the pitcher away in surprise and actually fell down. There was enough laughter you could actually hear it against the beat of the music, and that really steamed him. A couple of kind souls bent down to help him, but he cursed them and shook them off. The pitcher was made of glass, but it was one of those heavy, tempered ones, so it didn’t shatter; he retrieved it and went back to the bar for a refill.

So I did it again, and I soaked his shirt till it was brown and his flabby man-tits stuck out. Vanessa mocked him ruthlessly and Saranchuk angrily yanked the pitcher out of his hands and told him to sit down. “You’ve wasted enough of my money!” I heard him say.

“That glass is haunted!” Nowakowski replied. He held out his dripping arms and looked down at himself pitifully.

I didn’t let Saranchuk fare any better. I waited until he was looking straight ahead at the table and sloshed the whole pitcher right down the front of his body. He, too, dropped the pitcher and stood there in utter shock. Even the bartender yelled over the noise, “What? Again?” The crowd roared with laughter. I watched with great joy as Vanessa’s face twisted in humiliation and she tried to hide behind her hand.

One of the waitresses came out with a mop and bucket, and the crowd cleared out from around the spill, leaving a wide open avenue between me and Saranchuk. My hand started shaking again, and that cold ember blazed into naked heat. That was enough playing around.

My shoes squelched as I crossed the sticky floor, and I bent down to grab the pitcher, still half-filled with ice, then came up right beside him. As soon as he turned his head, I smashed the pitcher into his jaw. He reeled backwards, his feet kicked out on the slick floor and he went down like a bag of wet shit.

The next thing I knew, there was an arm around my neck, a steel coil coated in fat, hurling me into the dance floor. My legs went up in the air and I spun around backwards, but I didn’t come down immediately. As my body crossed the contragravity envelope, I glided across the air for yards and slowly drifted down to the floor, like the air itself was fighting me. It was one of the most surreal things I’d ever experienced. And that pulsing, the resonance of the field against my skull, was even more pronounced. My brain felt like jello. I was giddy; I actually laughed as my shoulders softly hit the ground.

But then that fat Polock fell on me, and it wasn’t so funny anymore. Even at a third of a G, it wasn’t very pleasant to have his elbow come down on my gut and drive all the air out of my lungs. Nowakowski recovered pretty quickly, and he got his paws around my neck and started to squeeze and slam my head into the ground simultaneously. I guess the low gravity saved me, because he couldn’t quite get enough leverage to really crack my skull. Even so, he was doing a fine job choking me. My limbs flailed, anything I could do to get him off me. Finally my thrashing knee connected with his groin. My suspicions about him being too stupid to feel it were disproved, and the hand he’d held on my throat immediately slackened. Nowakowski moaned hoarsely as I threw him off me. I hopped to my feet to stomp on him, but then another set of arms circled my waist, yanking me off my feet and rushing me off the dance floor. It was the bouncer, and he obviously had a lot more skill at moving across the Cavorite than any of us did. I could see the other bouncers rounding up Nowakowski and Saranchuk, whose head wobbled around on his neck while blood streamed from his nostrils.

I was deposited ungently on the pavement and told to get lost. The manager, a perpetually sunburned, middle-aged guido came out screaming, his veins sticking out from the collar of his polo shirt. “You delinquents are banned FOR LIFE! Do you understand me?”

I looked up at him and the bouncer separating me from Saranchuk and Nowakowski, who were being shooed in the opposite direction. I nodded and shrugged. Fair enough. It was worth it.

“Now get out of here before I call the Troubleshooters!” the manager screamed again, then slammed the front door.

As I got up, I saw Vanessa run out the front door, bawling her eyes out, with Rachel and Gil close behind her. Despite having been humiliated, nearly choked to death, and banned for life, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Vindicated, you might say. Then Rachel cuffed me on the head.

“Sebastian, you super giant asshole! What the hell is the matter with you?”

“They started it. I’ll vouch for that,” Gil said. He patted me on the shoulder and gave me an admiring nod of the head.

“Apologize to your aunt for me, OK, Rach?” I said as I drifted away from them. “Go back and enjoy yourself and I’ll see you on Monday. I have to go home and wash my pants.”

The story you’ve just read is an excerpt from After Dark, a novel of teenage superheroics on the eerie side of Pittsburgh. Buy the book online or learn about the other ways you can support us.


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