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Wicked by Jenika Snow (1)

1

There’s this little café on the corner of Bourbon and Amsted called Claret. It’s a small establishment that is rumored to be a portal to another dimension. Do I believe that? Why not? I live in a world where vampires walk beside me on the street, serve me beer at the local bar, even treat me when I’m sick. They are supposedly myth and lore, fabled monsters straight from a movie or dream, but in my world they are very much reality.

I know people that have been to certain establishments that they considered mythical and occult. I listened to them rant and rave about the exquisite creatures that played there. I might walk beside everything that goes bump in the night, but I have never been daring enough to go to a strictly parallel business. Honestly, it frightened me to the point that I stayed in my own little bubble of stupidity. But then something inside of me just snapped, just twisted and churned until I was sick of living this life of blindness. It was as if a beast had been lying dormant within my body this whole time and was clawing its way out. I wanted to be wild, reckless even, but most of all I just wanted something unusual and unique. I had always feared that if I changed how I lived my life I would end up being trapped in a mundane and empty existence. I’d be in my house isolated from the world around me. I was sick of my monotonous and arid life, but I had no one to blame for that but myself.

That was actually my worst fear, aloneness and sequestration.

I usually keep to myself, hanging out at the “mortal” clubs and bars in my area, when I did go out. But one night, at a club with some of my friends, I heard them talking about the elusive and mysterious paranormal club, and the thought that I needed to branch out filled my head. I decided to visit Claret, a club that frightened me, yet intrigued me as well. I didn’t actually know anyone who had gone there, but the reputation that Claret had was one of blood, arousal, and downright freakish activity. It shouldn’t have been what I wanted to experience, but God, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

One night I worked up the nerve to go to the club, alone, which was probably not the best idea. The weather was unusually cold for a summer evening, or maybe it was just because I was frightened and excited, dual emotions that took me off guard. The wind whipped by me as if it were angry at the world and sought vengeance, and I was the closest thing it could clutch its volatile hands on. I wanted to observe what the hype was all about, wanted to be intangible, covert even, but there was this little part of me that knew I was being naïve and stupid for venturing out alone. The closer I got to the small building, the more the tension in my body tightened, as if I already knew that where I was going was perilous, portentous.

I shivered, not because of the chilled air, but because of the anticipation and trepidation that coursed through me. Adrenaline pumped through my bloodstream, giving me the kind of excitement and high that only the unknown can bring. My heels clicked against the pavement, the sound seeming obstreperous compared to everything around me.

I slowed my pace as the tiny building I sought came into focus. It really wasn’t anything spectacular, and if you didn’t know what it was, or who was within its walls, you would pass it by without notice. Thick gray stone slabs made up the building, and the scarred, narrow door looked plain and dull in appearance. Standing next to the tall modern buildings in the city, Claret seemed out of place, from a completely different world, one only a select few were permitted to enter.

I looked right and then left. The street was barren of life, and the flickering of the streetlamp above my head cast my shadow a million different ways. I took that first step off the sidewalk and made my way across the street. The front door looked so much bigger now, more alluring, yet terrifying. The place looked dead, but I knew there was life within the walls, just waiting for me to open the door. I slipped my hand from the warm cocoon of my pocket and reached for the handle. The metal was icy against my flesh as I gripped the circular knob, turned it, and finally pushed the door open. The wood swung open soundlessly. The first thing to pierce my senses was the scent of cloves and hyacinth. I stepped fully inside and looked around at the empty room. Strewn tables and chairs littered the ground. Dust was a thick layer atop the bar counter, a testament that no life had been present for eons. Or that was what they wanted everyone to think. But I knew better.