The Prince of Parties

There was a time, before I slipped the shackle of common sanity, when I was a biology student toiling in the dusty subterranean laboratories of Hexford University, back in the decade that now bears the outright odorous appellation ‘The Naughty Aughties.’ Hexford was a small school that sprouted nearly overnight in the decay of another less notable public university, though some curse must have lingered in the campus’s bones as the school lay again abandoned by the end of that year. In those days, I was possessed of an uncertain timidity typical of the unproven scholar and spent the majority of my time secluded in the study of various cultivars. I am not ashamed by the admission that a solitary digit could number my friendships in that place, and how our companionship was tenuous at best.

Jack Tillinghast was the name of my occasional acquaintance; our friendship forged by a mutual attendance of the Science College’s Honor Fraternity, Beta Sigma Sigma. We did not speak often, and our conversations were limited to the most esoteric of matters: the foolish philosophies of scholars-in-training, the minutiae of Biblical verse, and the discussion of relatively unknown experiments pertaining to the effects of stimulus beyond normal perception. Nothing truly fruitful came from those talks, but they were nonetheless entertaining breaks from my studies. It was on the Seventh of January that he extended an invitation to a party hosted somewhere off-campus. The event promised, by his word, to be a spectacle filled with alcohol of all conceivable hues and strengths, women in every state of undress, and, the crown jewel of the event, a professional disc jockey to monitor the music. Briefly overcoming my perpetual diffidence, I accepted the invitation and prepared myself for a night of social niceties.

I dithered on my choice of attire for far too long before settling on a rather standard uniform for such events, then set off on my grand social adventure. The sun was casting its dying rays as I walked, each step plunging me deeper into the crepuscular world. The quaint shops of the local downtown area gave way to housing, and every further footfall brought a new dwelling, each more dilapidated than the last, each seeming more a haunted shell in the growing gloom. It was ten when I arrived at the correct address – an address belonging to a sprawling house dotted with cracked windows and paint that peeled in such great sheets it appeared as ghastly fingers were grasping the sum of it. This house had suffered greatly under the lifestyle of her inhabitants, and altogether crumpled under the weight of their belligerence. I entered through the front door, passing the nameless groups of unimportant grazers that seem to populate the frontage of every party-house, and went in search of the only face I could recognize. I found him in the kitchen, sitting atop an antiquated stove, drinking some variety of grain-based alcohol from a clear plastic jug. There were two men imbibing alongside him, one seemed as lean and untamed as a great lion of the Serengeti, the other was much like myself in his nervous demeanor.

“Jack.” I greeted, and in response he thrust his container towards me in offering. At that time I had been a rather exemplary teetotaler, and held fastidiously to my temperance. My refusal was met with a blank stare and another offer which, when politely declined, was met with yet another offer by the kitchen-dwellers. I politely declined again, and they directed me to head downstairs, where the real event was. Partygoers clotted the stairwell with their numbers, each of them a small organic furnace contributing to the oppressive heat of the cramped space. I pushed through as swiftly as I was able, yet still it felt an eternity as the walls bore down on me. The narrow stairwell opened into a room, incomprehensibly vast after the claustrophobic entryway, where groups of all origins and creeds mingled together on the bright dancefloor. There was no music playing, quite an oddity to my perceived notions, yet still the conversations thronged and hummed in such great numbers that everyone present saw fit to shout their secrets. I edged to a corner of the floor and lurked for a time waiting for something, anything to intrude on this scene and disrupt the ceaseless gaiety. That was when they arrived.

I had not heard of the Prince of Parties before that day, and truthfully, I wish I still had no meanings to attach to the title. He was preceded by a group of three, each masked and clad in raiment of wild extravagance, carrying some piece of electronic equipment. The first of them was a giant in deep crimson, stained to appear slathered with rivulets of equally dark blood.  He hauled a massive speaker of unusual design, complete with strange antennae that jutted from the corners of the monolithic housing at odd angles that seemed more insectoid than mechanical. When his work was finished, he stood atop the stage and observed the horde from behind his mask, a twisted caricature of an elephant with a thrice-split trunk. The other two giants, both wearing similar masks, filtered in from the stairwell and began setting up their respective apparatuses: a booth replete with complicated dials and turntables, and a set of smaller speakers that shimmered oddly in the light. I watched these three strange men go about their work, until they had all assumed positions on the stage, staring emptily into the clamor. The fluorescent lights of the basement flickered ominously and died, leaving the floor bathed in murky darkness. The room collectively gasped in sudden fright that metamorphosed into an uneasy chuckle. There was a hush thereafter.

It was then that the Prince appeared. It was as though he was standing on the stage already and simply stepped into visibility as the lights shuddered– he was a man of unremarkable build, yet there was something distinctly wrong with his silhouette. The lights flickered back to life, and for the first time I was able to take measure of the man. He wore something akin to a hooded doctor’s coat decorated with a fine golden thread that mimicked the weave of spiderwebs, and from under the hood I glimpsed a mask of wrought bronze, expressionless and blank as a comatose man. He also bore a crown (logically, given his princedom) of twisted, needle-like wires over the hood, the tips of which flared with fractal sparks. He usurped the stage from the Elephant-men, and spoke to us directly.

“Friends,” His voice was without warmth and originating from the speakers- “Tonight we embark on a journey unlike any other. Tonight, we will feast on the most delicate of sins. Steel yourselves, for this night – youth will never end.”

Having said his piece, the Prince retreated into the booth of dials and levers, deftly working the knobs and tables until music began pouring into the room. The music was standard fare for that time, a mix-mash of popular melodies and radio hits that typically brought me little joy. At the time I fancied myself something of a classicist, yet there was nonetheless something intriguing about the songs he played. They were familiar to a degree, yet possessed of certain vividness in treble and depth of bass that were titillating and fresh. The floor’s reaction was immediate; the crowd began writhing and thrusting inwards again and again to the rhythmic stresses. The basement burst with liveliness, every man and woman exulting in the glory of their Prince, a mad flurry of sin that set a heavy fog of heat and sweat into the tepid air. The noise was unbearable yet alluring, and I found myself unconsciously bobbing through the crowd, adrift in the sea of revelry.

This went on for some hours, a mad flurry of frenzied jubilance that seemed destined for eternity. I had personally found my way back to the edges of the crowd for a moment of respite when I saw the three Elephants come trundling down the stairs, each with a heavy wooden crate they deposited alongside the mob’s fringe. The music throbbed with a strange syncopation, a sort of muted scream in the midst of a modern summer anthem, and the Prince spoke to us once again.

“Friends,” His voice lacked knowledge of the word, “Fill your cups. Drink, and dance.” At his word the Elephants pried the lids of the crates up, discarding them into the crowd. Each crate was filled with bottles of alcohol that were quite unlike the drugstore vodkas and watery beers pervading the campus – soon the revelers were quaffing from ancient bottles of wine and scotch, opulent drinks that (if any had the sense to take them) could have easily paid a year’s tuition when sold. Although they were minor treasures they passed through the crowd haphazardly, and I dared not ponder what fortune puddled at my feet. I, too, was mired in the jubilance of the moment – the pounding music, the cheery crowd, the mystique of the strange Prince – and broke my abstinence from alcohol. I drank deeply from every bottle that passed near, and in short time my wits had fully departed.

There is some span of time, perhaps an hour, perhaps a year, that left no recollection. The dancing had escalated to a mad drunken slop of bodies sliding against each other to a vague rhythm. The idle chatter gave way to muted screams, the plaintive wails of torpid souls. I cannot give a statement with any degree of accuracy of how long this lasted, but I recall the music – though it was music only by gross approximation. The party anthems of the summer subsumed to wistful twinklings, not music formed by any mortal instrument – it seemed the voice of stars. It lingered in my blackened dreams, though when I awoke it greeted me in a great swell.

The Prince, perched in his booth, still twisted dials and switches, though the large speaker lay silent as the smaller pairs writhed and glimmered with their odd syncopations. All was barren save a few witless souls swaying back and forth to the cascading notes, oblivious to the wilted crowd around them. The majority of the crowd lay twitching and flopping on the ground with the senseless spasms of fish in a dry riverbed. I gingerly picked my way to the stage, careful to avoid stepping on those who had worn themselves to unconsciousness, though the lights were dim and I was hardly in a state for such deftness. Those I stepped on made no indications of discomfort, and I soon found why – nearly all of those on the ground had long ago heaved their last breath; blood dotted the ground around them, and when the light struck just so it illuminated the pale faces of the fitful corpses. Groggy as I was, I failed to register the desolation’s meaning as I continued to press towards the stage.

Every step seemed to move me further from my goal, so that I could not tell if I was truly moving at all. Perhaps the floor was expanding to resist my efforts, I am not sure, but I caught the Prince’s gaze. He looked up from his booth, his crown sizzling with those empyreal sparks, and for a horrid moment I saw him for what he truly was – Or heard him, or felt him, or something more. It is well known that humankind operates within a limited scope of sensation and observation, and the truth of him seemed unconstrained by those bounds.

Wisps of dim obscurity filled the room; not absences of illumination but absences of both darkness and light – they were not shadows, they were unnatural rips in the room, perhaps in time, wherein something imperceptible dwelled. The music hit a crescendo, a cosmic roar, an antediluvian utterance ringing through the ears, the brain, the eyes, as the last few straggling revelers collapsed to the floor, gave their final twitchy gasps, and expired. I fell to my knees. Some amorphous soul or life-force stirred within me, elicited such a feeling of longing that I had never felt before or since – a yearning to leave, to spring the prison of flesh and fly to the nebulous shade, a moth to the music’s flame. My vision blurred. I saw within the void, clearly in that state, the grasping hands and sucking maws, abominations gnashing and tearing – and the Prince, his mask distorted in a horrifying grin of bronze and sparks. That is when I died.

If only it had been that easy.

I awoke in a hospital on the Eighth of January around noon, though the party had seemed an eternity ago. I felt an absence in my body, a numb throbbing akin to the ghost sensation of a lost limb; yet there was nothing outwardly wrong with my person. The hospital released me after a few hours to the police, who questioned me and, likewise, set me loose soon after. The official story was a mass overdose of tainted heroin, as Jack’s lion-like friend had been hiding some needles beneath his coat – yet the newspapers did not report the strange burns found on the bodies, and only the police knew how their flesh powdered and disintegrated to ash overnight. Of the hundred and twenty revelers that night, only three survived.  I will never truly know why we survived, or what we survived, but even now I question if it was a mercy or a curse. Every night since I have dreamt of that sound, and every morning I have awoken with that emptiness. I have spoken to the other survivors, once hearty students who became as hollow and wan as myself; both worried of an abyss inside them, both took to strange experiments of sight and sound – both have now passed from the realms of mortal perception.  My days have been spent, all of them, trying to create that noise, to perfect the pitch, to replicate that twinkling cry from the heavens – I fear the day I succeed.

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