I ingest a single swallow and hold on. Bruno says I’ll feel the effects in a few minutes—our flasks will be nice and secure in our coat pockets. Mine’s a thin jacket on a cold night, but ink warms you up, and it tastes better with a little chill to it.
I lock my door on our way out; the city is a dangerous place these days—lately all the thugs acquired these laser box cutters to mug people like my elderly neighbor Mrs. Faust. Cauterization probably saved her from bleeding to death.
But I’m with four other dudes, a pack on the prowl with no natural predators, and now the ink’s starting to kick in. Mild euphoria, nothing major—Bruno gave me the flask, and despite what the public health people say he insists ink is fine, and if you can’t trust your best friend, who can you trust?
“This is going to be a great night, Jim,” Bruno says, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
The stuff is like black honey, hard to take in large mouthfuls. Ink has power to it—every day of your life you write your story in ink. This time I can feel its power faster, like it’s making the jump straight from tongue to bloodstream and bypassing digestion. My smile is huge.
Dan takes us to a club called The Hyper Dome. Everything inside is certainly hyper—flashing strobe lights and pounding music and bumping hips and bass drops. A girl in a bikini top passes us a handful of luminous sticks to wrap around our necks, wrists, hips, whatever. Bryan lingers to flirt and Dan has to drag him away, but she’s good with the attention, and Bryan’s good with the rejection, and I’m good with watching them—it’s all good!
The first thing I notice on the dance floor is the girl to guy ratio—so many more girls! This goes against the general rule of bars and clubs throughout the history of time, and I feel the flask in my pocket and wonder if the ink is actually changing the rules, altering the odds in the drinker’s favor, contorting the very fabric of space-time itself!
There are two other guys near us, though, and Harvey steps on their toes, literally and figuratively. They are big and burly, with necks like buffaloes—football players? Harvey claims it was an accident, but he’s speaking to the pair of college girls beside them. He receives a shove.
It appears the rule of numbers still exists as the five of us rush the two jocks and tackle them. The ink is pumping through my arteries now, dancing with adrenaline, thick and viscous and commanding. I’m not a fighter—I played soccer as a kid and got good at flopping—but with a dab of ink I am whatever I want to be. Right now I want to be a flurry of fists and feet.
Shouting girls attract security, and Harvey has his arm bent behind him and is steered out. His lip bleeds; he shouts profanities; we follow in their wake, glaring at the crowd that has paused mid-debauchery, though the music still thumps. Someone come for us! Someone try to take us! We dare you!
“That was some intense stuff to say, Jim,” Dan says.
Had I spoken aloud?
“Well, things got heated, didn’t they?” Bruno says. “Have a sip, bro.”
The night air carries a thin breeze that cracks my lips, helps the blood congeal on my knuckles, seems to take my vision for a doe-see-doe as it blows by. We wander. Some of us are talking; I can’t tell who, but I can tell they’re upset by their raised voices, their tones, their shouts.
Something tells me I should find out what’s wrong. I stop and pivot, realizing I’ve roamed half a block away from my friends, who stopped to meet the two hulking silhouettes of the jocks from the club, come to finish what was started.
Harvey leads our vanguard, but apparently these two aren’t football players but heavyweight boxers—one right hook and he’s tasting sidewalk. My pack lunges; I see Bruno double over, spitting.
My legs hurl me toward them, teeth bared like a wolf, my only thought to do as much damage as possible to these intruders threatening my friends. My forehead connects with nose; my victim stumbles back. I expect him to come after me, but something steals his attention.
Three figures materialize from the shadows of low buildings—we’re far from downtown now, though how we got here I couldn’t say. The thugs rush us, their tattooed faces illuminated green by something in their hands.
The blow meets my side, dull at first but once I’m on the ground it becomes hot and clarifying; I see a brawl on the sidewalk; Bryan slamming into a parked car so hard its alarm goes off; a thug flailing with a box cutter so fast it spells names in the air.
One of the jocks lands an uppercut and flattens a thug. The other two turn on him. His friend with the newly broken nose rushes to help. I grab Bruno by one arm and hoist Harvey off the ground. A blink later we’re all five blocks away, sprinting, running as if lions bit at our heels, turning right and flying past a gasping crowd enjoying drinks outside beneath orange heat lamps. I fumble my key out while we’re still two blocks away.
Back inside, we all collapse—on couches, in chairs, on the carpet. I shrug out of my coat and examine the wound—a simple cut. Practically nothing. But my jacket is shredded, the flask inside split open, ink draining out like blood from a wound.
“Dude,” Bruno pants, “save what’s left.”
I don’t think I will.
Devin Miller is a tar heel who writes stories… and sometimes does other things, too.