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8th floor studio
Release Date: 04 May, 2016
At thirteen, Gabriel was subjected to experimentation designed to awaken latent psychic abilities.
He’s been locked in a downward spiral of self-destruction ever since.
Then one night he meets Laurie, who is the antithesis of everything Gabriel’s become: cheerful, optimistic, and comfortable in his own skin.
Laurie pursues Gabriel. But Gabriel no longer believes in love. With a dark past and a history of disastrous relationships, he’s promised himself ‘no more’. Laurie, however, won’t let go, no matter how many obstacles Gabriel places in his way.
When Gabriel starts hearing voices in his head, he realizes they belong to the scientists who experimented on him. Worse, they’re trying to track him down.
With the past nipping at his heels, Gabriel and Laurie flee together.
Can they outrun the enemy? Can they save Gabriel before either his life or his sanity are forfeit?
And is Gabriel as helpless as he, or Laurie, thinks he is?
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LIFE SUCKS. I mean really sucks. I’m a good person, so why do bad things keep happening to me? While I’m not really the type to help old ladies across the road—I’d probably scare them into a heart attack—I don’t go out of my way to hurt people either. And yet….
My family has pretty much disowned me, and I don’t blame them. They can’t cope with me, never could. Hell, I can’t cope with myself. They tried for a while, in their own way. The thing is—it wasn’t my way. It wasn’t a good way. It wasn’t the right way.
When I was thirteen, something bad happened to me—really bad. They never got over it. Neither did I, but that didn’t matter. I got into drugs and alcohol in a big way. I became dark. Then, when I was fifteen it all got to be too much. I couldn’t hold it in anymore: the memories, the pressure, the… problems it left me with.
They say I had a breakdown. I don’t really know what that is, but I know I ended up in hospital. I don’t know how long I was there or what happened to me. I only know that I felt safe. For the first time since it happened, I felt safe. I didn’t want to come out. I wasn’t ready to come out, but they pronounced me “cured” because I could string sentences together and go for days without screaming or hiding under the bed.
My parents knew though. They knew I wasn’t “cured”, that I never would be. They tried for a while, but they couldn’t cope. Not with the screaming in the night. Or the staggering in at three in the morning, either high or pissed, to stop the screaming in the night. They couldn’t cope with the physical conditions, the mental problems, the attitude, the violence. They couldn’t cope with watching the child they loved change into a monster.
When I was sixteen, I moved out and really went off the rails. Surprisingly, I still managed to go to school now and again, and I got decent results in my exams. This led to the headmaster persuading me to go back for my A-levels, and even more surprisingly, given what I was doing to my body by that time, I got three A-levels in one year. And thus ended my academic career.
There was talk about going on to university but, to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered. I still had the nightmares and I was afraid to go out into the world. I felt vulnerable and exposed in unfamiliar places and situations. I guess I was—I am—a complete nut job.
At the moment, I’m living in a grotty room, in a grotty house, in a nondescript street, in a second rate town that is… nowhere. I have two housemates who are used to me and know when it is and isn’t safe to talk to me, and who ignore the screams.
Tonight, I’m going out. It’s Saturday night. I always go out on Saturday nights. I go to the same place, see the same people, and do the same things. You’d think I’d get bored, but it’s safe.
I give myself a last look in the mirror and am reasonably satisfied with what I see. I need a haircut and I’m way too pale, but at least the shadows around my eyes are camouflaged by the kohl, and where I’m going the vampire look is par for the course. The black lips in the mirror smile at me, but there isn’t any humour in them, or in the piercing blue eyes that stare coldly at me when I allow myself to catch their gaze.
Ah well. This is the best it’s going to get tonight. I haven’t had a good day. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I don’t really feel up to going out. I’m not myself at the moment, mentally or physically. But then, today hasn’t been a good day. If my head’s anything to go by, it’s not going to be a good night either, so what’s the point in being good? What’s the point in trying to look after myself? Fuck it.
I check my wallet to make sure I have enough for taxis and plenty of booze; then I flick my hair over my shoulder, make sure my wrist straps are tight, and stalk out of the room.
I intimidate people easily, and I don’t know why. I’m really a nice person to everyone but myself. Okay, I’m not the most sociable. I have friends, but I don’t let anyone get too close. What’s the point? I’m not a good friend to have. I try, but good friends don’t turn cold for no reason. They don’t run away, don’t get so angry they have to hit the wall so they don’t hit you for no reason at all. Real friends can be relied on, can give, can communicate. Don’t drag you down.
Surprisingly, I do have real friends. Despite being such a bad friend, there are people who somehow seem to like me despite it all. I’m a shit to them. I spend all my time trying to push them away and they spend all theirs trying to save me. I wish they wouldn’t. Although sometimes it’s nice to have someone hold my hand when I wake up in hospital, or on the floor, or… worse. Sometimes it’s nice not to be alone. But it’s not safe.
I turn around and force myself to smile at two girls running down the street towards me. The taller of the two reaches me first. She jumps at me, flinging her arms around my neck. I’ve no choice but to put my arms around her to steady her as she presses herself against my chest and kisses me.
I don’t kiss her back. She doesn’t expect me to. I don’t kiss anyone. That’s getting too close, and I don’t do close. I draw back and smile at her, setting her on her feet. The other girl catches up and they both link arms with me.
“You look awesome tonight, Gabe.”
“Thanks, Carrie. You don’t look so bad yourself.”
The other girl, Sophy—the bossy and pushy one—tosses her candyfloss-pink hair and grins at me with purple lips. Her striped top and net miniskirt are the same colour as her hair. She strokes her hand down the softness of my coat sleeve. “This is nice. Is it new?”
“Yes. It’s cashmere. Very expensive wool. Another guilt offering from the ’rents.”
“You shouldn’t be so hard on them, Gabe,” Carrie says softly. “They do their best.”
“Yeah. They’ve always done their best. Shame their best was never good enough.”
“Maybe if you gave them a chance, if you didn’t keep pushing all the time—”
“Don’t!” I snap in my cold don’t–fuck–with–me–right–now voice. Blushing, she turns her head away.
I feel bad. Carrie doesn’t deserve that. She doesn’t deserve me being a twat to her. But I can’t help it. Some places just don’t bear examining, and my relationship with my parents is one of them. If I’m being honest, they really aren’t that bad. They did their best, they really did. I was completely out of control. No one could’ve helped me. No one can.
Shaking my head, I smile at Carrie. “Sorry. You’re probably right, but you know how it is with me and the ’rents. It’s not a place I want to go right now. Right now, I want to go out and let my hair down. I want to dance, sing songs I don’t even know tunelessly at the top of my voice, and get completely and horribly pissed.”
“You’re not supposed to drink.”
“There’s a lot of things I’m not supposed to do.”
I turn to her, suppressing the desire to slap her. “Carrie, you’re one of my best friends, but tonight I really don’t need a lecture. About anything.”
“Had a bad day, hon?” Sophy innocently quips. I wince and turn away. I know she’ll have that expression in her eyes and I really don’t want to see it, not now.
The club’s hopping. There’s a long queue of kids outside, pretending to be something they’re not. Trying to look dark and deadly when the darkest thing in their lives is the make-up they slap on their faces. The place is saturated with teenage angst. Not one of them knows what it’s like to look into your heart and find only darkness. Not one of them gazes in the mirror and sees hell staring back through unfamiliar eyes.
I sigh and close my eyes. Today’s been a bad day and tonight’s going to be a bad night. I need a drink.
Sophy drags us to the front of the queue, eliciting cries of complaint that she ignores. Those who know her don’t bother. She’s a natural force, like the wind or the tide. When she sets her eyes on something, nothing gets in her way… almost.
The bouncer knows us. He smiles and steps aside to let us pass. And then the sound envelops me. I love it. A pounding beat I hear with my heart. The stress leaks out of me and I relax for the first time in days.
The writhing mass of bodies in the middle of the floor is as enticing as the sea on a hot summer day, and I can’t wait to go swimming. It takes a while to undo all the buttons on my coat, but it’s a relief to take it off and hand it to the check-in desk. I thrust the ticket into my trouser pocket. I can just about get my hand in there.
Sophy and Carrie have disappeared into the crowd, and I’m glad… so glad. I don’t want to be with friends tonight—friends whose eyes accuse me of things I’m well aware I’m guilty of.
Skirting the edge of the dance floor, I decide to give the pleasure of the dance a miss, for now. It’ll be all the better for the anticipation. I really need a drink.
The bar’s busy, but not unusually so. I can be patient. I lean on the counter, waiting for the barman to catch my eye… but something else does. At the far end of the bar, where it curves around, there’s a group of boys I haven’t seen here before. One of them looks up as I glance in their direction, and for the briefest instant, there’s a spark of electricity that arcs between me and the biggest, brightest, bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.
I don’t see the rest of him—the face, the hair, the clothes. Just the eyes. With something close to panic, I make a point of turning away. The barman appears in front of me. I order two straight JDs on the rocks—doubles, of course. I down the first in two gulps.
Ah. That feels so good. I didn’t even taste it, but the warm sensation as it goes down makes me close my eyes in pleasure. Sipping carefully on my second glass, I weave through the crowd to an area where a forest of Grecian pillars cluster together. Some are encircled by shelves at elbow height, perfect for setting down drinks.
I’m not a fool. I never put down my drink—not anymore. There was a time when I didn’t care, when I was pretty much hoping for someone to spike it so I could get free drugs and a good hard screw. But I left that behind some time ago. I carefully cradle my drink and scan the dance floor.
There are plenty of familiar faces. Many of them smile or wink when they catch my eye. Most of them would give their right arm to go home with me… and that’s not conceit. In fact, it’s a depressing thought. Depressing because I haven’t taken anyone home with me for months. Shit, it’s been years.
I sip my drink and people-watch, refusing to allow myself to admit that I’m actually watching for a particular person. Of course I’m not. That’s a ridiculous thought. I don’t do that kind of thing. It’s too dangerous—way too dangerous.
Annoyed, I realise my glass is empty. Feeling a little light-headed, I head back to the bar. The group of boys has gone. Of course they have. Why would they linger at the bar? Why would I even care?
After gradually consuming another JD, I decide it’s a good time to start dancing. If I don’t, I’ll be far too pissed, far too quickly, and I don’t want to go home yet.
Putting my empty glass down on the shelf, I step on to the dance floor and allow myself to be absorbed. I close my eyes and slip into the stream of energy, my body picking up the basic rhythm of the dance and moving with it. This isn’t the kind of place where people dance a foot apart in couples. If there are couples, they’re locked together, usually engaging in sexual acts of one kind or another, some more adventurous than others. Oh, I’m not suggesting anyone’s stripping off and having sex in the middle of the dance floor, but it’s surprising what two people can get up to, fully clothed in the middle of a crowd. That’s part of the reason I keep my eyes closed.
It’s not difficult to lose myself in the music. This is the only time I ever feel completely relaxed, in control, safe, and real. I don’t dance, not as such. I just let myself be taken over by the music, allowing my body to move as it will. Somehow, I never seem to bump into anyone and often find myself swaying in someone’s arms. I always dance away as soon as I realize what I’m doing, but it makes me smile… unless they try to hold on. Then I panic. I’m not a good person to be around when I panic.
Tonight’s a good night after all. The alcohol’s hitting my system big time. I haven’t eaten today. It wasn’t deliberate—I just wasn’t up to it. I had neither the focus to prepare a meal nor the appetite to eat it. As you can imagine, after three double JDs and no food I’m pretty mellow.
The light-headedness develops into a feeling of detachment. I love this stage in the inebriation process. It’s as if I exist in my own world. Everything and everyone else is on the outside and I’m completely safe. Nothing bad can happen to me. Nothing sad can reach me. I’m at perfect peace.
I become aware of arms around my waist, and the smell of someone I’ve never smelled before. I know it’s strange, but scent is important to me. I recognize people instantly by their scent, even with my eyes closed. So I know this one is new. It’s earthy and powerful.
I open my eyes and immediately go into shock. The intense blue eyes that smile down into my own, from behind a curtain of glossy, wild scarlet-and-black hair, are familiar to me. Under normal circumstances, I would panic and run away, but this is different. I don’t know why it’s different, it just… is.
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?”
I’ve been thinking the same thing myself—not about me—but I’d never say it, never in a million years. How dangerous would that be? How dangerous is this?
I stop dancing and so does he. We stare at each other: he’s smiling and I’m not. I should move. I should move now… now Gabe… now… run… move… get away… get out of here… danger… danger! But I don’t move. I can’t.
I’m going to faint. I can’t breathe, and the lack of oxygen, along with the alcohol, makes me dizzy. I have to get away from here. Oh shit. I close my eyes and try to steady myself. I knew this would happen, of course I did, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. Still with my eyes closed, I feel warm breath on my face and lips brushing mine. My eyes snap open in shock. A feeling of… strangeness sweeps over me. I have to get out of here. I have to do it now.
I can’t head for the door; the door is too far. I can’t see anyone I know. Breaking away from him, I push through the dancing bodies, which are suddenly hostile, blocking my way when I have to… I have to…. The toilets. They’re close, and I can lock myself in a stall. I’ll be okay when I’m on my own. It’ll be okay if no one sees. If no one knows.
Why the hell are there so many people in here? Surely there shouldn’t be so many people. It’s wrong, all wrong. I find it hard to breathe. It’s so hot. I’m panicking, I know I am, and it’s making everything worse, but I have to… I have to….
The door bursts open, slamming into the wall with the force of my thrust. There are a couple of people in here. In the act, so to speak. They’re startled by my explosive entrance. I head for a cubicle, but it’s hard to see. There’s a pounding pain in my left temple. I stumble and go down on one knee. I can’t get up. I can’t….
Someone calls my name, but it seems to be coming from a long way away. Someone puts their arms around me. I open my eyes and find myself gazing into vivid blue eyes. Then it all just… goes away.
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