Dedicated to Sanctuary (1992-2000)
Inside of Sanctuary, past the black banner with its horizontal flying horned skeleton blowing into a trumpet, the large cross above it and Jason the doorman leaving for the night, Lance strokes his goatee thoughtfully.
He leans back against the bar counter, his black trench-coat’s tails splaying out behind him and waits. Finally, he sees his other bartender coming up the stairs from the Catacombs.
“Lare,” Lance slowly waves in greeting.
‘We’ve cleaned the place up. Well, as much as anything can really ever get fully clean down there,” he pauses, “Um, speaking of which, someone’s actually still downstairs.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lance pushes a bang of long dark hair back from his face, “He’s probably been waiting there for a while.”
Lare only blinks once, “The whole night actually. I didn’t even notice him until everyone else left really.”
“He is from another time.”
“Oh,” Lare does manage to blink again, “You mean he is one of the ‘ancients?’”
“No,” Lance purses his lips and gets up from the bar, “I’ll take care of it. Have a good night, Lare.”
“You too Lance.”
Lance walks down the old stairs and into the Catacombs. Despite their best efforts, the second level of Sanctuary always smelled like must and shit: or at least that’s what some of the patrons complained about when they weren’t ranting about how filthy the club bathrooms were.
It is a little cold downstairs, as always. Lance has his hands in his pockets even as the chill becomes a natural part of him: like everything else in his club. The owner of Sanctuary only glances at the painted car body parts on the dank walls and the blank television screen in the corner of the room as he focuses all of his attention on the figure sitting at one of the nearby tables.
He wears a black leather jacket and jeans. His long coarse dark brown hair is tied into a ponytail. It’s the kind that women — especially women here — always love to play with. Right now, he is leaning over a notebook with lined paper and writes in it at a very feverish pace with a pale, long-fingered hand.
Lance approaches the table. Usually it’s Paul–the bald man and self-proclaimed “doctor of bad blood”–that’s the last patron to leave for the night. Even though he suspects certain things already, he is still curious.
“And who are you supposed to be?” Lance can’t resist, “Neil Gaiman?”
The other perks up and looks a little startled. The young man — who looks almost boyish in appearance — does have something of a resemblance to the fantasy author. It’s something in the aquiline nose, his high cheekbones and the almond shape of his eyes.
“I’ve gotten that a lot,” his reply is very precise and clear, and somehow still shyly spoken. If Lance didn’t know any better, he’d say that English isn’t the other’s first language.
The young man has clear pale skin except for the faint ruddiness on the bridge of his nose that spreads out a bit to his cheeks. On closer glance, Lance notices that his jacket has a buttoned-up collar. It looks like The Master’s jacket in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer: an ongoing series he knows a lot of the younger crowd now follows religiously. Of course, it also resembles a form of fetish wear that both Dominants and submissives like to wear in BDSM. By all appearances, and to anyone else, the young man definitely doesn’t look out of place here.
“They say a woman was raped and killed down here, once,” the other’s voice almost sounds faraway, with a storyteller’s lilt to it, “Back when a Claremont speakeasy existed here during the Great Depression, or perhaps it was in a diner built on this very spot. In both stories, her name was Tina and in both stories it happened on or near those stairs there,” he points at the staircase leading to nowhere, “In the second story, she was a waitress who went into an old air conditioning room: that sealed room where those stairs lead. Her manager killed her and left her to rot. They say bad things happen to men here, even now, when left alone.
“But then there is the other account: that she died in the thirties and takes things from people near that same place. Little things with only immediate value go missing for a time and you can’t find them until you least expect it.”
Lance nods, “And what do you think?”
The young man’s brow furrows, accentuating his arched eyebrows into a look of irritation, “I think that I was really annoyed to ‘misplace’ my pen for the first hour and a half. Though I admit, I am good at losing things.”
Lance chuckles quietly. The young man gives him a penetrating stare. It is a strange thing because usually — or so he hears from his patrons — it’s he himself that gazes at newcomers like that. This time, it is the other way around. The young man’s eyes are a dark green with a flash of hazel, “You are neither going to confirm nor deny this, are you.”
Lance only smirks, then he crosses his arms over his chest and leans to one side, “So are you going to tell me your story, or are you just going to talk about other people’s hearsay?”
The young man sighs and even though Lance can see he’s not an Ancient, the suddenly visible lines around his eyes and mouth, with the melancholy in his green eyes, definitely makes him older than he looks.
“If there is one thing about Queen Street West and the city of Toronto I’ve come to understand, it’s that all of it is old and sometimes it loses things much more permanently, and those absences can become a great presence — an empty heart — that can swallow you up in the wee hours of the morning,” he turns his face away, “And that is one of my greatest fears. That everything I was, and am, and everyone I care about will be swallowed up by time — by the city’s urban purgatory — and I’d just become like poor Tina: bound in a dark place hearing only the memories of life unfolding above me and only be able to steal small things at certain periods in time. Small glimpses.
“I love this city, but sometimes I am so afraid of that darker side of its spirit consuming my soul. Forever,” he shakes his head, “I’m sorry. This must sound very depressing.”
“Well it does sound very Italo Calvino, I’ll grant you that. But it doesn’t answer the question,” this time it’s Lance’s cobalt eyes that finally stare into the young man, “Why are you here?”
This time, the lines on the young man’s face seem to ease as a soft smile quirks on his lips, “Because it’s only now that I got to watch the people here. That’s what I did that first hour and a half my pen went missing,” he looks down and smile ruefully, “I belonged here.”
“But this isn’t your time,” Lance prompts, “Is it.”
The young man says nothing for a few moments. His smooth brow furrows again for a little while and almost pushes his eyebrows together.
“I would have been in my teens — in high school, right now. I’d still be in the suburbs, only dreaming of being with girls and being too afraid to talk to even one. There was so much I wanted to discover, despite myself. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t better off then, before I made all those adult decisions and mistakes.”
“Most likely, you’d have made those mistakes faster in the city. You’d have become quickly jaded about this place and its group politics,” Lance shrugs, “Just the usual bullshit all people — even gods and monsters — make when put in one spot to socialize in. And if you never made those decisions when you did, you would have made them later or really, never did and felt a whole other kind of emptiness: the kind that people who think they’ve not made any mistakes in their lives feel. I think you know that too.”
The young man says nothing.
“Don’t you have anyone waiting for you?”
He perks up a bit again, “Actually yes,” he smiles a little bit wider now, “In fact, a few people, actually.”
“Heh,” Lance smirks again, “A guy looking like you? I’m not surprised. With comments like ‘empty hearts,’ long hair, and your brooding look and jacket I’m really surprised they don’t face-paint you like the Crow.”
“Actually …” then the young man seems to think better of it, “I’m sorry. I just get into these funks where I think I’ll be rotting in someone’s basement forever. I get … lost sometimes.”
“We all have those days,” Lance offers.
The young man laughs as he packs his notebook into the faded dark blue travel bag at his side. He hoists the strap onto his right shoulder.
“I always wondered if some of my friends came here. But I definitely know that a few of them have,” the young man starts looking around in his pockets, “This kind of travel is a lot like your Sanctuary. You can hunt, but you cannot feed,” he looks down for a few moments, with some sadness in his eyes, “I can’t change the past. No one can.”
Then he looks directly at Lance again, “I know two girls that come here. One of them right now has blonde-hair, marble skin, and very cold hazel eyes. Dead eyes. The other is a very curvy girl with a curved nose, and glasses. She’s probably wearing a frilly black dress and white-makeup. Both of them are with friends, though the second girl is usually in the corner of the room somewhere.”
Lance nods, “I think I know the girls you’re talking about.”
The young man pauses. He turns his back to Lance and faces the main stairs.
“Tell them — no. Don’t talk to the first one. Leave her alone. Make sure she’s left alone. She will figure it out on her own, and those dead eyes will come alive. She will be truly great. And as for the second one … she is unhappy. And she’ll be even more unhappy later. But tell her … please tell her it will get better. Just as long as she knows who her friends really are, it will get better.”
“Okay,” Lance doesn’t ask if he should tell her who said this to him. He already knows he shouldn’t and even if he did it would be pointless. These are also the same reasons Lance doesn’t even ask the other’s name.
“Thank you,” the young man turns around and offers his hand.
“I have to say,” Lance accepts the other’s hand and squeezes it firmly, “You are one very strange Ghost of Christmas Future.”
“I try,” the young man smiles wryly, and turns around again.
“Hey,” Lance says, suddenly, as the young man is at the stairs. The owner of Sanctuary finally decides to let curiosity get the better of him, “I have my own suspicions but do you know … what will happen to this place?”
The young man stops at the bottom of the stairs. He looks over his shoulder.
“Honestly Lance, it will go the way of the speakeasies and diners, and all the other places that came after them. But you guys …” he blinks, “You guys have the time of your lives.”
He pats his pants and jacket pockets again and sighs, “Also, when it turns up, you can have my pen. But please consider letting Tina keep it. She’s existed in her black space longer than I have, and she needs it much more than me. And chances are, it’s already out of ink.”
The young man turns back to the stairs and waves. Then he walks up the main stairs and Lance feels him leave. Lance is about to follow suit until he notices a white pen with a blue cap on at the foot of the other staircase. He is about to pick it up, but then thinks better of it, and leaves it there for the Catacombs.
Photo Credit: Richelle Forsey.