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The midnight club, p.8
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       The Midnight Club, p.8

           Christopher Pike
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  "Yes," Ilonka said.

  Anya shrugged. "Somebody else asked me out. I can't remember where I met him—I can't even

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB remember his name. Oh, yeah, it was Charlie. Charlie asked me out and I said all right—the words just came out of my mouth. Because I didn't want to go out with him. He was obviously trouble from the word go. Then again, I had always been attracted to trouble, until I met Bill. But what I did was go out with Chariie the same night I was supposed to go out with Bill. And I didn't even call Bill to tell him I wasn't going to be available. I just shined him on, you know, I was such a bitch.

  "But that isn't the half of it. It isn't a billionth of it. You see, my parents were away for the weekend and I went ahead and invited Charlie back to my place, knowing it would only lead to us having sex. I also knew for a fact that Bill would not be at my house waiting for me. Bill didn't know my parents were out of town and he never got near them. They didn't like him—they didn't like any guy I saw. Boy, I thought as I let Charlie in the front door, what they would have thought about my latest date! Charlie was the kind of guy who was so slimy you felt like you had to spray your hands with disinfectant after touching him. But there I was, ready to screw my brains out with him. Don't ask me why, Ilonka, there is no answer except that I'm a fool.

  "So it happened. We were in the house maybe five minutes and he pinned me up against the wall and started kissing me Uke I was a piece of plasterboard he was trying to drill a hole into. Ten minutes tops and we were naked and in bed. The weird thing was—the whole time—I hated it. I kept wishing I was with Bill. Right in the middle of the

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  act, I closed my eyes and tried to pretend as hard as I could that it was Bill. I prayed to God it was him."

  Anya stopped and closed her eyes.

  "Bill walked in?" Ilonka said gently.

  Anya nodded, a tear slipping out of her right eye.

  "Bad timing," Ilonka whispered.

  Anya opened her eyes and snorted. "The timing was my own. I see now, in some perverted way, that I wanted it all to happen as it did. If I had just wanted to go to bed with Charlie I could have gone to his place. And I said there was no way Bill was coming over to my house, but you know it was always there—the possibility—since I hadn't called him. That's another thing: I wasn't surprised when the light suddenly went on. It was like a part of me had been waiting for it.

  "Bill walked in and there we were, the two of us, blinking at Bill. He stared at me right then, and what hurt the most was not that he looked simply mad. That was to be expected. But he stared at me as if he didn't know me. That hurt the most because of what I said earlier. The day we met, it was as if we had known each other a thousand years. Kind of like your past-life stories. But that night, when Bill saw me, I could have been a worm he had thought was long dead."

  Anya stopped and held up her clay statue. "I was making this for Bill when this happened. As you can see, I still had to paint it. It was supposed to be the two of us—I was going to give it to him for Valentine's Day, which was the next week. I had it on my chest of drawers, near the door, when Bill

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  walked in. After giving us his long hard stare, he reached over and grabbed it and threw it to the floor. He was just reaching for something to break. But that was all he did. He didn't try to hurt either of us. He didn't even say anything. He broke this statue and then he turned around and left. I never saw him again,"

  Anya stopped once more. She had no more tears, but the pain on her face went deeper than her illness. Ilonka leaned over and hugged her, and Anya buried her face in her chest. They sat there like that for a minute. Then Anya whispered something Ilonka didn't catch and she had to ask her to repeat it. Anya pulled away.

  "I said the only part he broke was my right leg," Anya said.

  "On this statue? Yeah, but that doesn't mean anything. Anya, you don't think you got cancer in your leg because of what happened that night?"

  "I got sick a year after that, in my right leg. I got sick and they cut it off."

  "But that was a coincidence. You know how these diseases run. You probably had the cancer for years before you knew it."

  "Maybe," Anya said.

  "There's no 'maybe' about it. Look, you did something that you feel guilty about. That's bad, yes, it makes you feel bad. But it's not why you got sick."

  Anya touched the broken leg of the girl on the clay statue. "There's being sick in the body, and there's being sick in the soul." She shrugged. "It

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  doesn't matter. Like I said last night, we probably

  don't even have one." "You said you haven't seen Bill since. Does he

  know you're here?" "No. I thought of writing him but there didn't

  seem any point." "What did you want to say to him?" Anya's lower lip trembled. "That I was sorry." "You should write him. You should call him." Anya put the statue back in the box. "There isn't

  time." Anya didn't want to talk about it anymore.

  Ilonka returned to her bed and lay down beneath

  the covers. The morphine in her bloodstream

  chased after her, and she was too tired to run from

  it. Soon she was asleep. Soon she was awake only in

  her dreams.

  It was another time. Maybe another world. But what was time and space when everything was one? That was what the Master said. What is reality? Who are you? All this that you see, all this that you know with your senses, is maya— illusion. You are beyond that. You are supreme.

  She was going to see the Master now and was trying to remember the many things he had told her before. But his words were like those of a whispered poem: intoxicating to the ears, so soft and subtle, but difficult to comprehend, at least with the mind. He said he did not speak to the mind, only to the heart. It was unfortunate her heart was so filled with sorrow — that she could not hear better. Ah, well, he

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  understood that. He understood everything about her, and still he loved her.

  She found the Master sitting beside a gently flowing river. His hair and beard were long and dark, his eyes large and lustrous. He smiled as she approached and that was enough to ease her burden, that he should see her again and remember her. She had not seen him in two years, and in that time she had lost everything she loved. He bid her sit beside him.

  His was a gentle peace —// almost seemed as if the wind could stir and sweep it away, like a single petal of a flower on a breeze. Yet she sensed that beneath his delicate quiet was the power that moved the entire universe. He did not speak at first, just looked at her, and she found her eyes moist.

  "You traveled far?" he asked finally.

  She nodded. "Yes, Master."

  He played with a rose in his hand. "Your husband is not with you."

  "No."

  "Ah," he said. "That is it. He is gone and you feel lost."

  Fresh tears sprang to her eyes. "I am lost. He left me and he's not coming back. I don't know what to do. I can't stop thinking about him."

  "You can 7 stop thinking about him," the Master agreed. "What you resist persists in the mind. It is always that way. So you are thinking about him. Observe that. Wonder at it. Even the enlightened have emotions. But whereas you act on them, they just wonder at them." The Master laughed and

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  tapped her lightly on the head with the rose. "It is a wonder that you are here."

  She had to laugh, even though she cried. "Will he come back to me some day?"

  The Master shrugged. "I don't know. If he does, he does. If he doesn't — that, too, is inevitable. But you don't need his love."

  "But I do! His love meant more to me than anything in the world!"

  The Master shook his head. "No, you don't need it. You are love."

  She nodded. "I understand that intellectually. It just doesn't help me right now." She touched the hem of his robe. "Please bring
him back to me."

  "Ah." The Master was thoughtful. "What would you do if I brought him back? Would you love him better? Or would you just love him because of what he could do for you? What he gives to you?"

  "I would love him unconditionally." She replied like that because the Master always emphasized that they had been born to learn unconditional love. But he laughed at her answer.

  "You can love him unconditionally now. You don't need to see him. The only reason you want to see him is so you can get something from him." The Master shook his head. "I have seen you go through this more times than you remember. When you are with him it is all feverish. You become so entangled, so attached. Is it any wonder the universe should take him from you? No, you don't need him. You have me, you have God. It is enough that we love you."

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  She had been counting on a magical wave of the hand from this Master, who had raised others from the dead with just such a wave. But he would not help her, and she didn 't understand why. Once more, though, he read her mind.

  "I see that all this pain is good for you," he said. "It turns you back to your inner self You do not have to be so emotionally needy. Close your eyes and be still. Learn to enjoy your own company." He tapped her on the head once again with his rose. "Go now. Rest."

  She was shocked at the sudden dismissal. "But I am still so hurt. "

  "Emotions come and go — your hurt cannot last. You give such importance to your emotions. I don't know why. "

  She stood up reluctantly. "Will I see him again?"

  The Master closed his eyes briefly. "Yes."

  "In this life?"

  But that question he would not answer.

  It was time for another nieeting of the Midnight Club.

  Spence had brought two bottles of wine and six glasses.

  "We must have a toast," he said as he passed out the glasses. They had just finished doing "I belong to you."

  "What*s the occasion?" Ilonka asked.

  "Today is the first day of the rest of our lives," Spence said and quietly laughed at himself and his cliche.

  Tonight is the start of the endless night.

  Ilonka glanced around, wondering where her thought had come from. She quickly dismissed this as ridiculous since all her thoughts originated inside her own mind. But the sentence could have popped into her head from an outside source, it felt so alien. She searched the faces of those in the room and her eyes came to rest on Anya, who sat in pain and exhaustion. Ilonka had slept for a couple of hours after Anya's tale of Bill, but after awakening

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  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB she had been unable to coax Anya to talk further about the matter. Ilonka was contemplating finding Bill and putting the two of them in touch. Anya could scream at her all she wanted, Ilonka didn't care.

  "That it is." Ilonka agreed with Spence. She had never tasted wine before and was looking forward to it. Her own pain was far less than earlier. She was feeling optimistic that her test results would show her tumors were shrinking. That wouldn't mean she was well—she wasn't that foolish—but it would mean she could get well. That was all she wanted, a second chance.

  Vaguely she remembered dreaming of her Master, and that had also made her feel better. Yet—it was very odd—in the dream she hadn't agreed with what he told her. She couldn't imagine arguing with a being like that.

  "Where did you get the wine?" Kevin asked. It was difficult for Ilonka to even look his way, for a variety of reasons. There was her guilt over what she had told Kathy and her fear that Kathy might have called him and told him what the cruel and evil Ilonka Pawluk had told her. There was also Kevin's dreadful appearance—his cheeks were so hollow he could have been the austere angel he spoke about in his story. That evening Spence had had to help him to the study.

  Sandra—she looked as she always did, not bad.

  "I got it by ordering it through the mail," Spence replied. "They didn't even ask for my fake ID, which I would have been happy to supply. It's a

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  wonderful world we live in when you can buy sin and degradation in a catalog." He finished passing out the glasses and reached for one of his wine bottles. "I say we kill this bottle before we begin our stories."

  "I just want a sip," Sandra said.

  "You will take your medicine like a grown woman and not complain," Spence said. "You must have a full glass. Who knows? It might loosen your tongue and we could hear a story from you tonight."

  Spence walked around the table, pouring the wine as if he were a waiter. When he got to Ilonka's glass, he frowned and picked it up. "Sorry, my Polish Princess," he said, studying the crystal, which he had no doubt borrowed from one of the many cabinets in the mansion. "I believe this one is a little dusty. Fortunately, I was wise enough to bring an extra glass." He pulled out his spare and poured her an ample portion. The dark red fluid looked like blood in the haze of the candlelight. A moment later they were all seated and Spence was proposing a toast. He raised his glass high and they did likewise.

  "To the Midnight Club," he said. "May the wonder of its creative genius inspire many to take up the dark and dangerous, and always erotic, path of late-night storytelling. Cheers!"

  "Cheers!" everyone said. They couldn't all reach to clink their glasses, spread out as they were around the wide wooden table, but Ilonka was able to clink with Kevin. He smiled at her as they did so

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  and she didn't detect even a trace of resentment in his eyes.

  Yet the wine was a disappointment for Ilonka. She had imagined it would taste like glorified grape juice sprinkled with nectar. Instead she found it quite bitter and wondered if that was the alcohol in it. The others, though—probably all experienced wine drinkers—seemed happy with the stuff. In fact, Sandra asked for a second glass, which Spence was only too happy to give her. One bottle down, one to go.

  Finally they settled down to tell their stories. Spence wanted Anya to go first because he said he wanted to follow her and blow her ass out of the water with his great tale. But she said she had no story to tell.

  "But surely the devil must have visited someone else between last night and now?" Ilonka asked, prodding her. Anya shifted uncomfortably in her chair, rubbing her fingers together repeatedly as if they were suffering from arthritis. Her face was so pinched with pain it was as if she were an old and wrinkled woman.

  "The devil is always one step ahead of me," Anya said. "I don't know what he did between then and now. I have no story for tonight." She glanced at Ilonka. "I said what I have to say."

  Ilonka realized she was referring to that afternoon. She had already told her story for the day. Kevin spoke up.

  "You're just working on a big story to blow us all away," he said.

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  Anya smiled faintly. "Yeah."

  "Sandra," Spence said. "Feeling talkative yet?"

  Sandra had already finished her second glass, and there was a glint in her eye as if—yes, she was drunk. Just two glasses of wine. Sandra had a wild smile on her face, which suited her better than her blunt haircut.

  "I feel like talking about the first boy who ever made love to me," Sandra said suddenly, slurring her words. Spence howled and the rest of them chuckled. Sandra shoved her glass at Spence. "Give me another sip."

  Spence had the second bottle open in a moment and soon, further fortified, Sandra was ready to officially join the club. Her grin was as big as her face.

  "His name was Dan," Sandra said. "I met him in a park in Portland. I was feeding the ducks and he was there with his dog. His dog didn't like the ducks. It tried to eat a couple. It actually caught one and ripped out a mouthful of feathers. Anyway, I met Dan and we got to talking, and then we went into the woods and had sex. It was my first time and it was great." Sandra burst out laughing. "That's my story."

  They all stared at their prim and proper Sandra. Ilonka finally broke the silence. "That's it?" she asked. "You'd known the guy a
few minutes and you had sex with him?"

  Sandra was suddenly indignant. "We talked for a couple of hours." Then she cackled again. "We talked about sex!"

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  "Wait a second," Spence said. "What was it about Dan that was so special that you set aside your conservative background and jumped his bones?"

  Sandra was obviously puzzled. "I don*t know. He wasn't that good-looking. It must have been the wine we were drinking."

  Spence cleared his throat. "Enough said." He glanced around at the rest of them. "I guess I should start, unless someone else wants to go first? No? OK, but before I begin I wanted to say I got another letter from Caroline today, and she may be coming for a visit in two weeks. Before that time I'm going to need some things from the pharmacy that the nurses aren't passing out, if you know what I mean."

  "You're so sick I'm sure you're sterile, if not impotent at the same time," Anya said. "You don't need condoms."

  "I assure you that a tumor in the big head has not affected the little head in the slightest," Spence said. "Ilonka, I heard you're going out tomorrow. Can you stop at the drugstore on the way back?"

  "It was today I went out," she said, surprised Spence should have forgotten that fact, he had such a good mind for details.

  "Oh, that's right, never mind then," Spence said, quickly dropping the issue. "Let's get on to my story. This one's called ^Sidney Bums Down His School.'"

  "We should assume Sidney is related to Eddie from last night?" Ilonka asked.

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  "Distant cousins," Spence said. "Sid is still in high school as the story starts. He's a senior and never been out with a girl. He's introverted, but an expert magician who occasionally puts on small shows for his friends. He likes this girl named Mary, and he shows her a few of his tricks, at lunch at school, and she tells him how fabulous he is. Her words give him confidence and he asks her out, and she says yes. On the date he shows her more of his tricks and she convinces him that he must put on a show for the whole school. Sid has his doubts, but Mary's enthusiasm wins him over. She promises him that they can even make him money on the deal, besides making him one of the most popular guys at school. Sid has always wanted to be popular.

 
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