She arrives.

She is ensnared.

The city sprawls, lazily, negligently, lounging over the broad sweeping bush, a great eagle fanning its wings. Buildings have two stories, tall, to tell.

They collapse, taking the space they need from the infinite expanse stretching away to the horizon at the end of the street. Those streets have four lanes for every car that weaves its way around the potholes.

Alice gawps, wide-eyed, marvelling at a city with no height, no mass to the low crumbling structures slumped on the ground.

They are old, the buildings, old and worn and sighing as the last faded remnants of their colonial finery are blasted by the heat and the remorseless sun and the pounding rains. Paint flakes and flickers away, half-vanished pictures and slogans promising delights the decrepit buildings last contained in a brighter, earlier time, years ago. Not the twilight that spreads softly through the cracked, unmarked streets.

A pillar of concrete rises up abruptly, snapping into view as she rounds a corner. The skyscraper is unexpected, unlooked for, a brutally terse, modernist interjection into the decaying grandeur.

Alice trips, staring, stumbling in a crevasse in the broken pavement as she totters forward. Another, then another of the skyscrapers thrust upward into her sight, forming a neatly parading line. Stopping, she raises her phone and frames a picture.

The skyline against the sunset. Orange glows, burnishing the grey concrete to polished copper. Brutal lines rendered soft and beautiful for an instant. They stand, stark and definite, straining harshly upwards and blocking out Alice’s view of the fiery African sunset.

Sunlight catches on the windows of the gleaming structures, bounces onto the market stalls clustered below. A rickety wooden shack is momentarily aflame. Then the breeze catches a hanging cloth, blowing it across the reflection, and the light is gone. The racks of shiny new smartphone covers and chargers, their plastic casings perched hopefully on rotting, splintered planks under a flapping roof of canvas sacking and tarpaulin, are cast back into the shade.

Scents of petrol and burning, car exhausts and roasting meat, are on the evening air. A tire is aflame to her left, belching up clouds of oily, thick smoke. There is the noise of people, of chatter, of traffic, of roaring industry, of blaring, incessant, poundingly rhythmical music. Shouts in twenty unknown tongues chase her, falling limply to the ground as they flail at her uncomprehending ears.

People stream along the street, flowing inwards and outwards, but parting and swirling round her, staring at her, muttering at her, but leaving her standing alone, a lonely pale outcrop in a dark sea.

Alice drifts along the street, staring from side to side, swivelling and twisting and posing and dancing and wondering at the fury and the noise and the ethereal unreality. She floats from one street to the next, swept along in the current of her whims, flashing glimpses of interest and intrigue tantalising her down streets and alleys and along boulevards. Her hands drop to her sides, her camera hangs unheeded around her neck as she marvels.

Everything finds its way home.

Standing in front of the hotel, it is almost dark. The crowds have become less willing to part for Alice, they stare more openly, they begin to shout in English.

The darkness conceals things that were hidden in the day. A light fixed to the front of the hotel casts a brightness into the street that only creates deeper shadows in the alleyways alongside.

Alice doesn’t look into the alleys. She only catches momentary glimpses of what is there from the corners of her eyes as she checks the sign is the correct one and strides confidently into the hotel.

There are things there, hiding beyond her sught. Living things. Not quite formless, but the snatches of movement that snared Alice’s sleeping subconscious were almost human.

The power cuts out. Everything is completely black, a deep, inky, impenetrable black. Alice stands in the corridor leading to the reception, stands completely still, waiting. She is quaking just slightly, just enough. An imperceptible quiver on the surface of a deep, glassy lake.

There is a shiver of movement from behind her. Something slides and shifts in the darkness.

A grinding roar resounds throughout the hotel as the generator powers up. Lights flicker back into brightness. Alice exhales. She turns around, spinning slowly, disguising her discomfort with a show of dancing eccentricity. There is nothing there.

She looks out the door, over the threshold she has just passed, into the street. Stars flicker into being on the black skyline outside. The hotel is one. Other lodges and hostels pop or wink suddenly back, brightening the street once again with their brightly coloured tourist lures. Banks flare instantly, sparing no petrol or expense in flooding their buildings, their offices, their shopfronts with light. In the constellation of the street, they are all enormous, burning suns.

There are branches of Western banks, of African banks, of Indian banks, of Asian banks, of banks from every corner of the capitalist and communist world. Everyone who works there has gone home for the evening. Vast arrays of lighting blast illumination into desolate expanses of empty hallway.

Nothing else lights up.

The carpet is soft, comfortingly cushioning under her feet after a day of crumbling concrete. Her toes ache from clawing, clutching at the unfamiliar open shoes. Creases are worn into the soles of her feet, spidering the alabaster surface with the angry red reminiscences of cracks and stumbles.

Alice pads softly into the reception. A man, a local, smiling broadly, his shirt impossibly smooth and unstained, his hair as finely sculpted and shaped as if it has been shaded onto his pate, stands behind the desk. He greets her in almost aggressively cosmopolitan, unaccented English.

Good evening, madam, he begins politely. I hope you weren’t too distressed by the power cut.

He laughs softly to himself, smiling warmly at Alice all the while. Her shoulders loosen and drop from their tense hunch.

Welcome to Africa, I suppose, he continues, still smiling. How may I help you this evening?

The key for room 45, please, Alice asks, hearing her own accent grate harshly against the receptionist’s polished agnosticism. It is regional, rural, a marker of class and birth, privilege denied. She speaks quietly, embarrassed.

Of course, madam.

The man reaches under the desk and rummages through a tinkling backstage. He keeps his eyes focused on Alice, still smiling. Alice can’t maintain the eye contact he wants, keeps glancing over his shoulder or down towards the floor or scanning the room around her. There is a mirror behind the reception and she sees herself there, pale and alone, looking drawn and tired.

She is thin, she would say scrawny, wan, with sharp features. Her hair is short and lank, as tired and worn as the rest of her face after days of travel to get here. But when confronted with her pale skin, any other characteristics become secondary, indistinguishable, meld into every other white face that has adjusted its hair or checked its teeth in that mirror. They come and they go and their money is usually just as good.

The receptionist thinks he recognises her, but he’s not quite sure. It could be he’s thinking of that woman from a month ago, or maybe recalling one of the regulars who were good to him right back when he started. He’s staring, trying to work it out, cursing that they all look alike.

Then his hand emerges from below the desk, the asked-for key dangling loosely from one fingertip. He still hasn’t made up his mind.

There you are, he says, placing the key on the desk and sliding it towards her. Is there anything else I can do for you?

Not at the moment, thank you.

She scurries away, unnerved by the attention, the staring, the warm smile.

A staircase blusteringly sweeps her upstairs on an elegant curve of peelingly varnished wood. Every second step complains, creaking, as she places her foot down. The carpet running down the steps is a faded memory of floral gilt.

There are pictures of the hotel front in the colonial era lining the staircase. Alice can’t shake the feeling that the hotel is aging into a senile decrepitude before her eyes. Perhaps that’s why the rooms are quite so cheap.

Oh cool, Daisy chokes out from the bathroom when Alice shoves open the ill-fitting door to their room, you’re back.

Tendrils of smoke curl around the closed bathroom door. Alice doesn’t recognise the acrid smell hanging in the air. She hears the noise of a deep inhalation coming from the adjoining room, and there is no more conversation.

The large, double bed dominating the room is strewn with clothes. Dresses and skirts and shorts are scattered across the covers. Alice carefully picks some up, folds them, piles them delicately on one side of the bed until she has cleared a space amongst the debris. She folds herself.

Lying on the bed, face in the pillow, sleep tugs at the corners of her eyes. So do memories, memories of the city and the sights and the sounds and the smells. And so does the hint of something lurking in the darkness, something interested in her.

She shivers, just so, as the door to the bathroom opens and a cool evening breeze wafts in, tasting of grilled meat from the restaurant below. The window is open to disperse the smoke from Daisy’s joint.

Hey, Alice. Alice, are you – oh cool, you moved my stuff, no worries. See anything you want to wear tonight?

Alice strains, heaves, hauls her head up from its exhausted nest and blears at Daisy. She’s framed in the doorway of the bathroom by the fluorescent strip above the mirror, silhouetted against her own reflection. One arm rests casually on a hip, while the other is contorting out of the window.

Tonight? Alice blurts.

Yeah, when we hit the town. We’ve only got a couple of nights here, they’re gonna be massive.

It’s impossible to tell Daisy’s expressions with her face cast in shadow.

Aren’t you tired? Alice sighs. I think I just want to sleep, try and get over the jet-lag and the travelling and stuff.

What, did you not sleep earlier? Daisy chuckles. ‘Scuse me, she mutters, and exits stage left. Soon, Alice hears a deep, gasping exhale, and Daisy reappears again.

No, I went out to have a look at the city, Alice murmurs.

Oh shit, so you gotta rest up before we go out tonight? Daisy’s silhouette dips its head in thought. Tell you what, some of us are gonna go grab some pizza now, I’ll get you one, bring it back here, you can eat something while we get ready in an hour or two.

Oh, thanks so much, Alice says. She gratefully lets her head fall back into the pillow.

You want a drag? It’ll help you sleep, Daisy asks, her voice muffled now.

Nah, I’m OK. Thanks anyway, Alice answers into the bed. Instead, she surrenders to the creeping darkness.

There are dreams, vivid, strange dreams. She is home, with her family, all of them snug in their cosy living room, all cushions and fabrics and warmth. Parents, grandparents, siblings, even an uncle who lives nearby are there, seeing her off on her great adventure. She crinkles her face in her sleep, feels the wrongness of it, the looming inexplicability. But she laughs and eats and jokes and chatters.

The fire is intense, red and blue and yellow, crackling and spitting, birthing flickering shadows in corners and crannies. Alice loves the room with the fire lit and the lights off. It feels smaller, warmer, more filled with people.

She’s talking about her adventure, what she has planned, where she’ll go and what she’ll do and explaining that it’s only for a little while, that it’ll be safe really, she’s meeting up with a group of people, one of them’s Helen’s older sister, you know Helen? Used to live down the road?

No, she doesn’t really know any of them, but it’s a good arrangement, Helen’s sister’s been travelling loads before, she’s older, she’ll look after Alice.

We wouldn’t let her go otherwise.

Her father frowns with concern, but stays silent, glowering into the fireplace. Her mother is quiet, methodical, unrelenting in her fussing. Grandparents nod and smile and say it’ll be fantastic, but when are you coming home, what are you going to study at university, what’s your plan after you’ve gone travelling? Alice skates away, feet barely touching the ground. The questions are left, drifting, on the air.

Something snaps, strikes from a shadow, snatching the queries in a fanged maw. Alice sees movement flash. She jerks her head, drops a tray she is carrying, spins in place.

Moosh, her dog, pounces adorably, leaping on the spilled crisps and gobbling as many as he can before he is hauled away by her scolding, grinning mother.

The thing slinks back to its shadowy corner and swallows the words whole.

Alice is jerked awake. A clumsy, pawing hand is clutching roughly at her, pulling insistently.

Alice, hey Alice, we’ve got your pizza. And we bought you some stuff for tonight, like a welcome present or something.

Alice rolls over onto her back. She squints into the bare lightbulb glowing fiercely over her head. Voices filter into her brain through the haze of sleep, female voices, laughing and joking, moving about. Accents, timbres, she recognises some of the strange mix. There’s one that sounds almost like her. A door opens and closes and opens again, people come and go.

Her arm itches incessantly, and she reaches down to scratch at the irritation. She touches her skin, digs her nails in, clawing for some relief. Her hand is slapped away, stinging.

Don’t itch it! You’ll just make it worse!

It’s that voice which almost matches hers. Alice opens her eyes fully, struggles up to sit, sweeps her hair back off her face.

Did you not put your mozzie net down when you went to sleep? Regina asks.

Alice crumples her face, trying to clear her head, yawns with her mouth open, wide. No, I forgot, she mumbles.

Man, I’m not telling you off, fuck knows I’ve been drunk and forgotten to do it before, Regina laughs softly, just you’ll get bitten to hell if you make a habit of it.

There’s a spot on her arm, now that Alice looks down to examine the source of the itching, angry and red, glowingly raised. Shit.

I said to your mum I’d look out for you, didn’t I? Regina laughs again, looking from Alice and flashing an awkward grin. So, now that we’ve got the serious bullshit I have to pretend to do out of the way, we’ve got some food and some drink for you for tonight. I dunno what you usually drink, so I got you some of what I’m having.

Um… sure, that sounds great, thanks. What – what drink is it you’re having?

I got a bottle of vodka for us to share, Regina says, matter-of-fact.

Oh.

Didn’t know what mixers you like either, so you’re stuck with shitty diet limeade. The best you’re gonna get here on our budget.

Yeah, thanks. Alice’s stomach awakens, then, pangs and howls and aches with longing. And… you mentioned food?

Regina laughs properly for the first time in the conversation, full-throated, head-throwing, life affirming. Sorry, I should have given you that first. Here, enjoy. She passes Alice a warm, soggy cardboard box, smells of cheese and meat seeping, oozing, dripping.

Alice wrenches the box open and scoops a fistful of the congealed mass, shovels it into her mouth, stuffs it in her throat without tasting the salt, the tang, feels the molten goo drip down her throat, sighing. She fills her mouth. It falls, to the pit of her stomach, and she goes back again, tearing desperately for what she wants, what she needs, arousal, of her body and of memories, of the familiar. Her nails rip ribbons of wet card from the box. It is doughy and cheesy and greasy and unspeakable, incomparable ecstasy.

Calm down, babe, it’s just a pizza, another voice jokes sarcastically from somewhere in the room. Alice looks up, abashed.

Sorry. Alice tails off, glancing up at Regina before letting her gaze sink down again to the ravaged pizza she cradles. A welter of confusing feelings rushes to her eyes.

An arm snakes its way around her shoulders and holds her, supports her, grips her in place. It’s fine. Regina’s voice. I was exactly the same the first time I went travelling. You’ll get used to it, but for now, you’re our little sis, we’ll look after you. Cool?

Alice nods, silent.

Awesome. Eat the rest of that pizza and get a shower. You fucking stink, and I’m not letting you borrow any of my dresses unless you wash.

Borrow a dress? I won’t fit any of yours, will I? Alice asks, trying not to openly ogle Regina’s body.

Bullshit, you’ll look hot as hell. Regina squeezes her shoulder for a second. And I know you didn’t bring any going out clothes, so if you’re gonna come with us, you’ll have to wear something, right? Might as well be something of mine.

Oh, I’m so sorry, Alice stammers, struck with remembrance, how much do I owe you for the pizza and the, the vodka?

Forget about it, man. For tonight, everything’s on us.

The shower is another material bliss, warm caressing over her body, a steamy embrace filling her head, floating her mind. She dries herself, every muscle in her body loose and free and relaxed.

She walks out into the room, rubbing a towel distractedly against her hair and is seized by a multitude of hands, whisked, transported into a world of streaming colours and patterns and fabrics, held against her face, her eyes, her hair, tossed aside or laid carefully in a neat pile. The towel she is wearing is clinically whipped away and she is handed dress after dress after dress, confronted with a succession of pursed lips and furrowed brows, murmured conferences among her captors. Halfway down the neat pile, their faces light as one.

She looks fucking awesome in that one, Daisy states, daring argument.

Regina is grinning broadly. You look great, she says, just don’t look yet, we’ll do your makeup.

Again, Alice is swept into shades and angles and lighting. Her head is turned this way and that, tilted and squinted at. Sponges, brushes, sticks and paints touch her, stroke her, tickle her lovingly. Orders come to close her eyes, open them, purse her lips, move her head, hold her fringe. She obeys unthinkingly, powerless to resist.

It stops. The collective takes a step back.

Fuck me, one of them breathes.

She wouldn’t fuck you in a million years, she’s too classy, ya slag, jokes another.

Hey, Alice, come look at yourself over here, Regina says, beckoning beside the full length mirror.

It’s not perfect, she apologises as Alice stands and drifts over, you’ve got pretty big feet and you wouldn’t fit in any of our shoes so – but anyway.

She breaks off as Alice reaches her side.

The woman in the mirror is not the girl. She is not her. Alice knows that she is ungainly, clumsily tall, thin, awkwardly angular, but she is graceful, elegant, striking, dramatic. Her hair swoops, shrieking her fierce pride, and the sharp lines of her face pierce her heart.

Alice mutters some insubstantial, pitifully inadequate gratitude, too struck with herself.

Don’t worry about it, our treat. Regina brushes aside the gesture with a sweep of her arm. Then she looks at Alice more closely, scrutinising. How many clubs have you been in back home? I know I gave Helen my old fake ID but did you guys ever manage to get in anywhere?

No, we never did, I couldn’t get hold of anything, Alice says to her reflection. The only thing she recognises is the look of blank amazement.

So…? Regina lets the question hang in the air.

I’ve been to Corinth a couple of times, my eighteenth and a few other people’s but-

And Corinth’s shit, and always empty. Right, well tonight’s gonna make your head explode then, African clubs get fucking mental. Here, have some of this.

Regina passes a flimsy plastic cup to Alice. The liquid inside is lukewarm, coloured brightly green, so much that the colour bleeds through the plastic, spilling, staining her pale hand, marking her. She sees the colour swirl in the shifting light as she raises the cup to her mouth to take a sip.

It is sweet for an instant, sugar and citrus sharp on her tongue, then she swallows. It burns her. She coughs, shocked, the fire dripping down her throat igniting her breath and her lungs and her gut.

I’ll make yours a bit weaker, Regina says, vanishing from her side, then materialising again, another cup in her hand. She passes it to Alice and takes the first one back.

This time, when she takes a tentative sip, the liquid is pleasantly warm, heating gently from her core out, not burning angrily hot and sharp in her stomach but osmosing through her, spreading and filling her to the tips of her fingers, the ends of her hairs. She takes another sip, and another, and another, and the cup is empty, and Regina snatches it from her joyfully and it is there again, sweeter and warmer and she drinks deeply.

Alice is there and here and home and gone and flying, flying far away from everything she’s ever known. She is talking, deep, intense talk, about her, her dreams, her life, there is music coming from somewhere, a beat that she can dance to and she dances, spinning, swaying, eyes closed, feeling her freedom and the rhythm echoing deep within her primal self.

There is another cup in her hand, she is laughing and joking with the other girls, they are playing games and shouting and encouraging and it’s a whirling miasma of noise and sound. The drink isn’t burning any more, is barely even warm, she’s so warm already, the drink is cool and quenches the thirst raging in her throat and she gulps more of it down, and then she’s outside, in the air, the coolness of the evening balm on her bare arms and her legs, soothing, calming.

The power is still out. There are swinging beams, flashing snapshots from the torches on people’s phones.

The breeze has scents on it, warm, animal smells, memories of snuffling and tenderness. Alice sniffs, and then sees Moosh scampering along the road in front of her.  He capers, looks back, ears flapping, lifted by the wind, then gambols onwards.

Something moves in the dark.

Something darts on the edge of sight. Moosh bounds on, heedless. He reaches the edge of a shadow cast by a large building up ahead, a shadow looming outward from some modern development.

The thing strikes. Moosh is snatched into the shadow. Alice hears a brief, final crunch.

She screams.

What?

Others flinch reflexively, brace against the unknown terror of the night. Startled looks, eyes wide, spinning cautiously round, hands seeking hands.

What is it?

Over there, Alice points, hand trembling, I saw something.

Torches converge on the shadow. Eyes shine back, wide and staring.

Something is caught, frozen in the glare, something with too many legs, monstrous teeth, horns. And something else standing beside, something with a hand outstretched, stroking, caring, loving, something with two legs and two arms and a head. The outline of a human.

They’re gone.

They’re not even there. The space is empty, a windswept, dusty alleyway just like any other.

What did you see? one of them asks, Cath maybe? Alice’s head is spinning.

I… I thought I saw…

She stops talking, losing the energy to even care. There’s nothing there, it’s nothing, it must be the drink or the excitement or even that little drag on someone’s joint she had just before they left the room, fuck, she had a drag on a joint?, jesus, that’s, oh wait, yeah, drink.

She looks down and sees that Alice’s hand is still holding a half full plastic cup. She takes another sip.

The street melts into lights and people, a crowd of people, pressing against her as they queue, but why queue, she just wants to sit down to close her eyes to surrender to sleep to go, no, she’s told to smile at the man standing glowering beside the door and she’s inside, in the bowels of the night.

It thrums. Thumps. The music of the club shivers through the people, all the people, jammed against her, tight against her, she’s trapped so tightly, she can’t move, she looks up and around, panics. Regina and the others are there, over there, dancing, laughing, in a circle, and Alice tries to get to them, apologise her way through the crowd, drift ghostlike through gaps, but she’s stuck, alone. The wall swells and stays solid and is so very tight up against her.

She’s so tired.

A green light glows off his face, reflecting his paleness, his whiteness marking him, making him stand out next to her like a beacon. Like a marker to the familiar, the safe. He is beautiful as well, angelic, prettily innocent with a reflected glint in his eye that hints of darker things.

He has seen her. He smiles when she looks at him, dances closer to her. Now they are next to one another, he moving his hips, looking at her face, smiling, she shuffling as best she can.

She looks up into his face and he’s looking into her eyes.

When he puts his arms around her, she doesn’t resist. She feels her arms being guided around him, feels her hands being put in position, lets herself be posed against his body as they keep moving to the pulsing of the night. He is firm against her, and she relaxes into his grip.

She leans against his chest, finds a place to rest her weary head, closes her eyes.

Then her head is tilted upwards and a delicate kiss lingers on her lips long after the contact is gone. She opens her eyes. He is still looking into her eyes, into her soul, smiling at her, at her alone. He moves a hand over her back, stroking up her spine, around her collarbone, runs a finger up her neck and traces the fragile line of her cheekbone outlined in the darkness.

A rush of longing overcomes her. She grabs his face, kisses him hungrily, presses herself against his body, clutches at what is solid and real. He is taken aback for a moment by her enthusiasm then returns her kiss just as hungrily. Their hands claw at one another’s bodies, searching and exploring and finding.

She knows, she feels she wants this, has wanted this unknowingly for years.

There is an insistent tugging on her arm and she breaks away from him regretfully, trying to draw out the moment of agonising loss as she turns to see what it is. Regina beckons to her and she follows.

He follows too, eyes flashing in the dark. She looks back to check he is still there. When he doesn’t know she’s looking at him, he isn’t smiling. His face looks starved, bleaker, angrier.

The projector throwing images onto the wall flickers and fails. The room is plunged into more darkness. Except his face, glowing in the light of a massive hyena padding towards Alice on the far wall, stepping muscularly, heavy shouldered and slavering on and out of the wall, towards her, fangs dripping with drool. It looks like him.

She blinks and it is gone and the club is as it was, people and lights and music and noise and swarming, massing people. Alice turns round to see where Regina has gone and sees her disappearing out of the front door. She follows, floating through gaps, spaces in the crowd.

Cold, unexpected and sharp, like a physical slap after the steamy closeness. It hits her, jerks her, suddenly sensate, comprehending. Regina is standing there, peering at the entrance, standing on her tiptoes trying to see over the milling morass. Alice spots her and moves towards her, the crowd parting before her, mutely, obligingly, not looking at her as she passes.

Still he follows her, hanging back at a distance, watching and waiting.

Hey Regina, Alice slurs, grinning loosely in the freshness, what’s up?

Oh, thank God, Regina gasps, nobody could see you in there, I thought we might have lost you for a second. What happened?

Alice can’t prevent a smile creeping onto her face. She says nothing, but the embarrassed, guilty smile steals onto the corners of her lips and betrays her.

Oh, it’s like that, is it? Regina asks, grinning herself now, that’s where you disappeared off to? I hope he’s hot.

Alice nods, turns, looks behind her. He is leaning against a wall, smoking nonchalantly, not paying attention to her. His eyes are closed as he pulls the smoke deep into his lungs.

She is angry at him, unreasoningly angry. She wants him to open his eyes, to look at her, to long for her.

That guy smoking over there? Daaaamn, girl, you done good, Regina laughs, elbowing another of the girls now fidgeting behind her in the fresh air. Look who pulled!

Fuck, he’s gorgeous. Fancy sharing? one of them shouts back.

Alice blushes.

You want the room to yourself tonight? Daisy asks, a lewd grin on her face. I can squeeze in one of the others, three in a bed’s not too much more than two.

Alice blushes more, tries to hide it. One of the girls whistles.

Yeah, get you some!

Room’s yours. Have fun! Daisy slaps Alice on the shoulder.

You’re sure? Regina now. You know what you’re doing?

Yeah, I’m sure, Alice replies.

Cool. Well, I was looking for you because we’re all leaving now anyway, so you two walk back with us.

Alice turns and catches him staring at her. His eyes are hungry again, flashing. He isn’t smiling. She waves at him and his face changes, softens, lights angelically. Then he is at her side, towering over her.

Did I pass muster with your overprotective friends? he mocks. His accent is harsh, grating, with sharp, spitting consonants. Alice doesn’t recognise it.

Yeah, they’re just looking out for me, she consoles him, laying a hand on his chest, rubbing gently. Look…

She can’t quite get the words out. She looks up at him, silently asking the question, putting all her longing and uncertainty and nervousness in her gaze.

Look? Look at what? He’s sarcastic. His smile looks harder, more bladed, more cruel.

I… I, d’you, would you, Alice stumbles, trying to phrase the unfamiliar. D’you want to come back with me?

It falls out in a rush, one sentence. His eyes glint. Bending down, lowering his face to hers, he kisses her, squeezes her lower lip in his teeth, pulls away and whispers in her ear.

Through the darkened streets, heels catching in potholes, bare feet splashing in unexpected puddles, friends clinging to one another for support. Alice hangs back, holding his hand, feeling his fingers flex and stroke her palm. He tries to hold her back, grabs her and pulls her into an embrace, a kiss, but she pulls away from him.

We have to stay with my friends, she calls back to him, pulling him along with her as she runs to catch up.

They stagger into the hotel, flash their torches about, trip and stumble laughingly up the stairs. Now Alice allows herself to be pulled back into his arms, laughs softly as he reaches for her in the dark.

You can’t do that here, you idiot, we’ll never find the room, she giggles into his ear.

I don’t really care, comes the answering growl.

Then he wraps his arms around her, pulls her upwards. What room are you in?

45.

All she can see of him is the glinting reflection in his eyes of the torch he is using to light their way up the stairs. He carries her up there, finds 45, dumps her down.

Unlock it, he commands.

She fishes the key from her bag and stabs at the lock. The key scrapes against the metal of the door, so she pulls back and stabs again, again, trying to drive the key home. Finally, it goes in and she turns it and she falls over the threshold, lies laughing at the absurdity on the floor.

He grabs her arm and pulls her up, back into his arms. The door is flung shut and the room is in darkness. His eyes flash in the torchlight. Then he turns the light off and she can’t see him any more.

We don’t need that now, do we? he murmurs.

The room still smells of grease and cheese and spilled drinks, a melange of memories filling Alice’s brain. She’s hungry. There is a pulling, a tugging at her dress and a snarl of frustration.

Here, let me, she tries to push his clawing hands away.

No, I’ve got it.

There is a terrible ripping sound and she is standing there, exposed to the comforting caresses of the warm breeze. The window is open slightly. She feels an insect land on her tickle, tingle its way up her bare skin.

There is a grunting, thumping noise as he sheds and discards his clothing. He grabs her again, pushes her onto the bed, where she sprawls, tangled and unsure. He positions her legs and arms, strips her bare, throws the scraps of material away into the darkness.

She smells him, a heady mix of sweat and cheap cologne, and reaches a hand up to touch him, to stroke him, to feel the body that she wants so desperately, but she simply waves her hand uselessly, searching in the darkness.

The bed dips slightly as his weight drops onto it and he is there at her side, grabs her face, kisses her with hunger and fire and passion. She answers and presses into him, feels her exposed skin slide against his, their sweat and hair.

Again, she reaches out to caress him, but he grabs her arms, pins them above her head. He holds her there. She is motionless.

You like that, don’t you, you slut, he snarls at her.

The city outside is quiet and asleep.

He thrusts, suddenly, unexpectedly. She gasps, unprepared. He does it again, and again and again, and she is in shock and pleasure and awe and pain and wants it to stop, wants it never to stop, wants it to keep going, wants to push him, throw him away and wants to lock him there forever.

He reaches around her with one hand, lifts her up, clutches at her as he clings to something. Her arms are still pinned above her and she arches her body to meet him, pushes into and onto him, curves herself with him. He is clinging fiercely, gripping, so tight that his nails are digging into her, scratching her.

Lines of pain scorch their way down their body as he drags his nails downwards. She gasps again, and he leans in close to her.

Yeah, you like that don’t you, you dirty bitch, he spits into her ear, and twists one nail into the small of her back.

A small cry breaks from her lips and he goes to kiss her, to silence her. She kisses him back, still trying to move her body with him, feeling a surging need begin to crest within her.

He bites down on her lip, hard now, drawing blood, his sharp canines digging into her flesh.

Then he rears backwards, grunts, swears, stiffens. Alice feels him pulse, once, twice, and deflate, the tension in the arm holding hers gone.

Now she can move her arms again, she reaches for his hand, to stroke, to ask, to question, to continue. Again, she waves futilely into empty space.

He is gone from her. A torch flicks on and she can see his outline, silhouetted, crouching in the light. He finds the pile of clothes and throws them over himself. There is a clicking, a creaking, a thumping wave of air thrown into the room as the door is pulled open.

Thanks, that was fun, he says from the doorway. Hope you enjoyed yourself too, see you around.

The door slams shut behind him. Alice lies on the bed in the darkness, still on her back. The scores on her back are hot against the sheets.

Through swimming, tired eyes, she can see patterns, things moving on the ceiling. Moosh is there, playing, darting, with other animals, some antelope, a zebra, an ungainly, awkward giraffe. They want her there and she can’t, they’re too far away, and then there is a presence beside her, a snuffling nose burrowing its way past her arms to lick her face with a rough tongue.

She reaches a hand to stroke it and feels horns, pointed ears. The little antelope begins to glow, softly, comfortingly, nuzzling against her. Another appears and climbs onto the bed, nestles into her, warming her, soothing her, also glowing softly.

Alice wipes her eyes with one hand and her quivering lips break into a hesitant smile. The antelopes press their warmth against her and she is safe.

Part 2 is here.

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