Small, thick and crumbly, Billy placed the pill on her tongue as discretely as she could, and took a sip of her vodka and lemonade to wash it down. It dissolved slightly as it made its way down her throat. Bitter. Very bitter. Billy pulled a funny face, but within a second reminded herself that if she wasn’t discreet she’d get kicked out.
Her friends had pretty much the same reaction to it. Belle, her new found French friend had been persuading Billy and her friends to go out and get high for months now. Billy was always apprehensive but tonight Belle got her way.
‘I got it from Joe; dis is really good stuff.’ Belle said in her French accent. Billy smiled to shut her up.
They got up from the sofa in sync to go into the next room in which two hundred high people were dancing, all sweaty with their eyes shut, banging into each other.
They interlaced themselves between the sweaty dancers. In front of Billy was a group of boys all in white t-shirts. Billy closed her eyes and danced as best as she could to the beat of the music. Every time she opened her eyes she was conscious of the tall white t-shirt guy edging closer to her, constantly turning around, desperate to catch her eye. As though catching her eye would guarantee a fuck.
Billy was hyper aware of herself, and despite feeling herself slowly rising she avoided eye contact, and inched away from him every time he got closer.
The droning, repetitive, music slowly faded away to make room for a disco track which was fast, catchy and upbeat. The entire crowd suddenly seemed to rise even further, as though in sync with Billy. Arms waved high in the air and the mood switched from repetitive and robotic to ecstatic. Billy turned to grin at Belle.
Belle grinned back, her yellow teeth bright. She pushed her curly brown hair out of her face, and for just a second Billy could have sworn she saw a snake’s head amongst Belle’s wild afro. Billy shook her head. No one told her she would see things. Billy wouldn’t panic though, she was too in control of herself to panic. She took a deep breath and told herself to keep calm. It would soon pass.
The white t-shirt guy inched closer. She turned away from him to face her friends. They were all up and into the music only a couple of hours ago they complained they despised.
Billy raised her arms in the air and scrunched her hair with her right hand, the other extended further into the air. It was a weird attempt at being sexy that only feels natural when you’re highly intoxicated. Eyes shut and feeling herself rise even higher, Billy didn’t ever want the feeling to stop.
She fluttered her eyes open, thinking this time she would edge closer, and not away, from the tall white t-shirt guy. Why was she resisting?
Except when she opened her eyes the white t-shirt guy was no longer in front of her. In fact, there was no one around her. The windows that were a second ago boarded up were bright, the sunlight shinning from all directions. The room was completely empty and bare. She was in a literal empty warehouse.
Billy closed her eyes again, and then snapped them open but nothing had changed. It was eerily quiet, except for the sound of Billy’s heavy breathing. Billy ran out of the room into the corridor/bar. It was empty there too.
‘Did I black out?’ Billy said aloud, hoping there would be someone, somewhere, anywhere, who would answer her question. It was only worrying silence that followed. Billy left the club, no longer surprised at the emptiness that surrounded her outside now. There was no one in the smoking area and no bouncers outside.
Billy walked home and met no one during the ten-minute journey. As she went around the corner to her block of flats, she heard the faint sound of her neighbour playing Beyonce’s 7/11.
‘Thank Jesus.’ Billy whispered. Once outside her door, she rummaged in her bra for her front door key. She could feel the small packet also in her bra and swore not to take anything again, at least not for a very long time.
Billy took out the key, pushed it into the keyhole and felt comfort in the usual struggle she had with the door. Normally she’d curse the key for sticking, but the familiarity of it gave her hope that she was going to be okay.
When she got in the darkness of the house made Billy blink to adjust her eyes.
Billy put her key on the table next to the door to find Falafel, the tabby cat, there. He didn’t live with Billy but treated her house as his own; everyone in the house adored him but Billy.
‘Meoooow,’ the cat yelled. That cat always yelled, and it was always an annoying type of yell that reminded Billy why she didn’t like him.
‘Fuck off,’ Billy muttered, not too loudly for the fear of her housemates hearing her. In fact, she hoped they heard it; it would mean human contact, and that she wasn’t alone.
The cat jumped from the table to the opposite stairway bannister, his extremely long and slender body leaping gracefully. What also annoyed Billy about the cat was the fact that he didn’t look like a cat, he had the body of a leopard, and his meow was so violent as though two households weren’t feeding him.
‘You really fucked it up this time.’ Billy looked around. There was no one around her.
She walked down the hallway and into the living room. Still nothing. And yet the voice sounded too clear to have come from a bedroom.
Billy’s eyebrows furrowed together. The cat jumped down and ran towards her. Billy was about to say something when the cat intervened.
‘It’s me you idiot.’ Again, Billy looked around.
The cat jumped up to the table, his paws hitting the surface with a small thud. The cat waved one paw in Billy’s face. ‘Over here, duh.’ The cat was speaking.
Billy’s heart stopped for a second. She immediately turned around to see if this was a joke her flatmates pulled on her. When she looked back at the cat it had begun speak, and its mouth moved.
‘Oh you can hear me now! I’ve been trying to speak to you for months now.’ He sounded annoyed. The cat sounded annoyed. What was weirder was that he had the voice of a gentleman; he spoke perfect English with no sign of an accent.
‘What – what?’ Billy could barely breath. Her body felt heavy, slack with the shock that Falafel, the annoying cat that scratched her door and yowled outside it every night, was actually talking to her. ‘What the fuck!’ Billy said suddenly surprising herself. She got up and ran toward the front door. As she got half way however he spoke again.
‘I’m the only one in your world now, and I’m also the only one who can help you figure out why you’re alone in this new realm.’ And that’s when Billy knew she needed his help.
‘How are you talking; you’re a cat?’ Billy’s voice cracked when she said cat on the ‘a’. She took a deep breath and walked back into the living room. She shut the door.
‘I was sent to earth to warn you,’ Falafel said. He repositioned himself so that he was lying on his side, such a casual pose Billy had seen him do many times before. Billy remembered a meme she had seen of a cat doing the same pose with a caption ‘paint me like one of your French girls.’ Billy almost laughed, could feel the smile creeping at the sides of her mouth, threatening to turn upwards, as though she had not just heard a cat speak, and had a blackout after taking a pill in a club.
As immediate as the meme popped in her head, it departed. This is real, Billy thought soberly.
‘Who-’ Billy’s voice cracked. ‘Who sent you to give me a message?’
‘Beings above your mental capability as a human. If you believed perhaps you would have heard me.’
‘Believed what?’ Billy’s body felt tight, her bones locked into place. To move even an inch felt impossible.
‘In something beyond earth, beyond your habitat, beyond yourself.’
‘You mean God?’ Dread of the answer lingered in the air. Billy could almost taste the stale air. The non-existence of Jesus and God was all Billy preached about since her mother had died.
If God did exist, why did she die? Billy thought in the silence.
Falafel moved. He jumped from the table to the floor gracefully. He sat by Billy’s feet. She had still not moved an inch.
‘Not necessarily. Belief in anything is better than nothing. Anyway, it’s too late now. You made the error of trusting Satan’s messenger, and of ignoring me.’
‘What does that mean? Who is Satan’s messenger?’
Falafel rubbed himself against Billy’s leg and momentarily calmed her down, yet she had the urge to kick him off. It was a force of habit.
‘The pretend French girl that gave you the drugs.’
‘What? How could this happen?’
Falafel sighed. ‘Billy, Billy, Billy…’ He moved his paws forward to stretch, and lifted his bottom in the air. ‘If you didn’t shut me out for months on end I could have warned you, but instead you treated me like I was nothing. Some days you even completely ignored me, no greetings, no snacks, nothing. This is your fault.’
‘You aren’t even my cat, I didn’t know!’ Billy exclaimed.
‘It doesn’t matter now, anyway.’ Falafel said bitterly, his tail twitching from left to right aggressively. ‘You’ve entered the in-between realm between life and death. You could survive from the overdose, or you could die. That’s out of our control. There are beings who want you down with them though, and they’re much more powerful than the beings up there.’ Falafel hated this part; it was boring and repetitive. The interesting part was their reaction. Some were aggressive, others despondent, and some, thought Falafel, dumb like Billy.
‘What? What does that mean?’
Falafel opened his mouth wide, to feign yawning. Billy didn’t get it though. ‘To put it in your generations terms, there are beasts in that place you call ‘Hell’ that want you, and they are much stronger and forceful than those in ‘Heaven’. The girl that gave you drugs was the Devil’s servant. Once you gave into temptation those in Heaven could do nothing. They’ll be coming for you very soon.’
‘This has to be a dream,’ Billy mouthed, suddenly pacing up and down. But Billy’s dreams were never this vivid. They usually consisted of her ex-boyfriend and her mother, not talking cats, and certainly not about heaven and hell.
‘You are thinking about your mother now aren’t you? She did not endure this; don’t worry. The Devil only targets those who have lost faith, your mother had hers.’
‘Shut up! You don’t know anything.’ Billy caught herself. ‘I’m having an actual argument with a cat. I must be crazy.’
‘Don’t I? Look outside the window.’ Billy walked over to the window, drew the blinds and gasped in horror. Stood staring at her through the glass was a creature she had never seen before. Dark red eyes stared at her; they seemed to be looking into her soul. The thing’s face and entire body was black and scaled, the lips a fine line. In seeing Billy the thing didn’t move, it just continued to stare. Billy’s eyes flickered down for a second and saw that the entire ground was covered with insects of every variety all-moving slowly around.
Billy dropped the blind and stepped back quickly. ‘Oh my God – what is, what is that thing? What’s going on?’ Billy continued walking backward until she hit the wall, her hand reached for the door handle, she needed to get away.
‘They can’t touch you until you die. When you are confirmed as dead that will be when they come. If you’re lucky and stay alive they can’t touch you. However, if you are dead they will most certainly come and drag you to Satan.’
‘No. How do we get away from them?’
‘You can’t; they’re surrounding the place. They surround this realm.’
Billy plucked up the courage to walk over to the window again. Tentatively, she moved the blind. There were now around ten of them in a line all watching her. Billy backed away and ran to the front door. She peeped through the eyehole and saw them outside her house too. Her heart quickened to a degree she thought was impossible.
Falafel ran over to her. ‘Be careful!’
‘You said they can’t hurt me until I die.’ Billy said reassuring herself.
‘They can’t but-’ The door suddenly crashed open, pushing Billy into a wall. The beasts with heavy feet clambered in.
Billy couldn’t find the breath to scream. She attempted to run up the stairs, and found a hand around her ankle that sent her flying to the ground face first. Her chin cracked, and she felt a sharp pain in her knee.
‘You can’t do this – there are rules!’ Falafel screeched. Billy looked up and saw Falafel sent flying across the hallway, and then a thud. The beast had his hand around Billy’s neck and brought her close to it’s face. An overwhelming scent of smoke flooded her nostrils and mouth, she felt suffocated by the smell, as though she were in a fire.
The beast pushed her against the wall and slammed her head against the wall repeatedly. Billy’s senses were failing her. Her eyes were fluttering shut from the blows. She felt her skull was shattered, but could it shatter? Was she even alive?
‘Falaf-’ Billy breathed. Billy couldn’t open her eyes but could feel one of beasts pulling out chunks of her hair, the smoke enveloping her into darkness. And then another blow, this time to the stomach. It was hard enough to rouse her from her drowsiness, but not hard enough to send her further under.
She could feel insects crawling on her, most notable was the slushy slug crawling up her thigh under her trousers.
And then something changed. They backed away, the insects and the beasts. The beast closest to her screamed in pure despair. Billy managed to open her eyes, and saw Falafel sat on the banister, unharmed, his fur as glossy as ever. ‘You’re lucky.’
Billy’s memory of the events is erased, whilst the other realm waits for its next visitor, hoping next time they are unlucky.