Let's go,"Jase had said, when we got the invites, grinning with every muscle on his face, and it had seemed a good idea at the time."What are you worried about? They’re girls. They don't come from a different planet."
Exams were over and summer's heavy tendrils had wrapped the world into a cruel orange heat, and the rhythm of the days had sunk into my bones-and the hours slunk on. Jase and I were brothers in arms, best friends, and it seemed natural that we would go to a party together. We did everything else together. Everything except girls. Jase was good with girls, he always knew what to say, and even though he wasn't good looking, he had that self confidence that tricks you into thinking he is. I was still utterly aware of the contours of my stringy still-boyish body -- the fuzz on my chin, the straining of muscles still growing. Jase loped on ahead, uncaring.
This time it was no different. It was a sweltering airless summer and the weather swung between blazing sun and storms, and the morning had swung open like a switchblade, but now the rain was over and the evening was beginning to end softly like a tongue touching the roof of a mouth.
It was Julia, the girl who set next to me in the perpetual hell that was Maths, who had invited us but it was not her who answered the door. It was someone called Suzanne, who had strawberry lips and blonde hair, who took our offerings of cheap crisps. Jase took one look at her and I knew I'd lost him for the evening. He had disappeared with her, a hour ago, peering over his shoulder to demand me to make a move on the girl sitting next to me, but she was beautiful and so I had retreated to the relative safety of the kitchen, to nurse a lukewarm beer, glare at the nearby skinhead in a Metallica t-shirt and reflect on the music playing.
Earlier it had been Bowie, and before then Prince but now the record was nothing like I had ever heard before, a soft curious drumming beat, like hummingbird's wings. There was a singer crooning something, but I couldn't hear what, the lyrics escaping me every time.
Kitchens are good at parties-you don't need an excuse to be there, and there's drink and you don't look so lonely as you would standing by the dancing. It had become clear to me by now, that this was the wrong party-there was nobody here I knew but it was too late to go anywhere now and I didn't want to. There was something about the music and the people there; it was like you were in a half-world, and watching them from afar.
Two girls walked into the kitchen. The first headed towards the beer, and then the skinhead intercepted her, the second towards the tap. I dared to smile at her, she grinned wolfishly back. She had thin black hair, and a gap between her clean white teeth, and I spoke to her, because she was a girl and Jase said that was how you got girls.
"Water- good idea, that’ll cool you down"
She replied that she was and her voice-this is the thing, it was so unforgettable and at the same time completely forgettable and it was methodical, and in tune with the music.
"What's your name?"
"I have no name, “she said, “I was made imperfect."
"That's, er, nice."
"Yes. I am the third of my sisters, and the weakest; that is why I am here." She was serene and weird, but she was a girl and all the other girls whose bodies moved to the music, the red glaring lights bouncing off their skin were unapproachable, and she was here next to me, drinking water in a kitchen. So I didn't move, or step away, but just nodded.
"Where are you from?"She asked, mouth pursing.
"Is that far away?"
“I guess so."
Across the room from us, the skinhead with the leather jacket was getting up to go, holding the hand of her friend, and she nodded at her briefly.
"Yes. I am from someplace close to here too."She waved her hand carelessly-but to me someplace far away could be London or Australia. Maybe she was Australian, which would explain the odd way she was acting. "Where I am from, there are lakes and forests as big as the city, and my house is built from bark. And the birds, you should hear them. My mother says that if I was made perfect, then I would hear them more clearly, and not be so hungry all the time."She made a face and I laughed."All the girls here are hungry, that’s why they've come. The boys here are so thin and weak, it’s easy. We have made poems and songs, too. They are war cries."
Here, she sang along to a few lines of the song and it was something I'd never heard before, but I knew it. My blood hummed in my veins, viciously and she looked unblinking at me."I should have been eliminated. But they decided not to in the end."She stared out the window wistfully, I struggled to make the connections of the story, and eventually shrugged, assuming it was a joke.
"Off to the loo,"I said, and she nodded, I turned away and headed off.
When I came back, she had gone. I was almost disappointed, but another girl had taken her place at the kitchen table, and when I asked where she had gone, the girl shrugged and pointed upstairs, in the general vicinity of the bedrooms.
"With a boy?". She clarified, and I nodded. The new girl had fair translucent hair, and features that almost didn't fit together, as if she was out of proportion.
"What's your name?"I asked and she told me. Her voice was odd too, the accent slurring the words.
"Melody" she said, and I told her it was pretty, because that's what you told girls who you wanted to like you .Jase had said that to Suzanne and now they were upstairs, and I wanted to talk to Melody at the least, for the rest of the evening so I could say that it had been a success.
"It's not pretty, “she said, “It’s a song."
I blinked. You can't be a song and a girl and I told her so, but she just smiled and scratched idly at the dry skin on the base of her violently pale neck.
"My family have made songs for thousands of years, “she said."Do you want to hear one?"
I nodded, and she leaned over and kissed my forehead, as if blessing me. Then she began, and it was endless and over already, and the way she sang-it was like clear cut diamonds and the drum of the wings of thousand birds, and it was thick and red, as red as hate and anger and fury that burns behind eyelids. I may have kissed her, I don't know but there was more still, more words, more verses, it was drowsy and I could feel myself falling as if from a thousand miles away, I certainly wasn't here, I was anywhere else but here-then Jase was tugging at my arm, screaming at me to get up and go.
"It's not over yet."She told us, but by then Jase had turned me around and we were running, stumbling over our too long limbs. I wanted to tell him to get off, but then I saw Suzanne.
She looked at us like a vulture, all the humanity slipping from her face and she was screaming at Jase, repeating something over and over and her mouth was wet with sticky blood. I knew then that we had crossed some boundary, some line between real and unreal.
In the last of the faint sunlight, as we tumbled out of the house, Jase's skin was waxy and soft, like unfired clay. There were the faint remnants of a nosebleed on his face, the baby fat of his cheeks stained the colour of a rusted old car and a graze on his forehead like the smear of a comet.