The other side
Smiling through a full-body tremble, Margeaux pocketed the ID Christian brought for her as they walked to the bar.
“You’re sweating. Calm down,” he said.
“It’s warm for January. That’s all. I’m overdressed,” she sputtered out.
Her nerves were pulsing: she had turned 17 in November and had crushed on her neighbor Christian for the last 10 years or so. He was two years older and spent the decade only speaking neighborly salutations until this past Christmas, when the neighborhood had a community meal. Margeaux never stopped trying to capture his attention, but they spoke different languages: She loved questions that didn’t have answers and exploring the space between all things obvious; all he could understand was what was directly in front of him, perhaps even just the thing in the center of his focal aperture and only if he had already seen it several times before. At this dinner, she gathered the courage to speak his language and put on a slim-fitting black dress, a little mascara and swore herself to relative silence about all things except for the mundane.
The result of that dinner was this night. They walked up to the doorman. Margeaux stiffly handed him the ID and only took a breath when she got it back. Christian led her, a little catatonic, by the elbow to a table and sat her down. He said something to her, inaudible over the house music, and walked to the bar. Once alone, she shook herself awake and wandered to the bathroom to gain composure. Christian had warned her about the dim bathrooms with stall doors made of two-way glass, “You better hope no one turns the lights on while your pants are down, because they will see everything.” She looked around for a light switch and went into the stall when she was satisfied there wasn’t a conspicuous one.
Margeaux took a few deep breaths, but before she could remember why she came here, she heard the bathroom door slam shut and heavy steps moving toward her. She was confused because through that two-way glass she could see the bathroom clearly and it was empty. The door couldn’t have shut, because she was sure she was last person to open it.
“Hi, Margeaux,” beckoned an unfamiliar voice. Before she could even think to respond, the bathroom brightly lit up, and Margeaux was suddenly leering not into the bathroom, but into her own reflection. The house music was gone. Was it suddenly colder?
“Hello?” she spoke, just above a whisper. After a few moments of silence, she tentatively reached for the latch on the stall door and pushed it open with just the momentum of her fingertips. The glass swung wide and the stall opened into a brightly lit bathroom, just the same as before—empty. Freaked, Margeaux quickly cleared the stall and the bathroom, but upon entering the main room of the bar, she was not relieved. It was empty, too.
“Christian?” she called.
Christian, the doorman, bartenders, DJ, customers—everyone was gone. The previously dark main room was brighter than before, but there were no physical lamps. The brightness seemed to come from the air itself.
Margeaux, desperate to see a familiar face, burst out of the bar and began to run down Fremont Street. The strange brightness expanded into the street and everything was clear and in sharp focus. It was Friday night, and it should have been packed, but everywhere was just as empty. She could walk into any bar she wanted because there were no doormen and she did, opening every door she could with the hopes of finding another human. But there was no one else. The neon signs were dull against the bright night sky and Margeaux’s calls for companionship echoed in the alleys.
She was gasping for breath by the time she made it to Container Park. The mantis that frightened passersby with breath of fire had moved from its usual prone position and was standing vertical, with its praying arms folded across its thorax. It cocked its head and unfurled an arm to beckon Margeaux inside.
“Go inside?” she asked. “Are there people in there?”
She entered by ducking under the metal-barrel abdomen of the insect. Immediately after passing the open gates there was sounds—music, voices and people. It was a vibrant scene and the lights shined bright in the evening air.
Margeaux noticed pressure inside her right elbow and realized she was linked arm in arm with Christian. She interrogated him about the events of the last 45 minutes and was confused upon his insistence that they just walked here after a drink.
“You’re a lightweight, M,” he teased.
Margeaux turned back to look for the mantis and it was there, in its usual spot, spouting its flame and frightening passersby.
No, she thought, there is another side.
Amelia Pond is Nevada native who works and writes in downtown Las Vegas. She spends her free time exploring the Mojave and the world via bare feet and cargo ships. You can read her real-life adventures on medium.com/@ameliaraepond