When Gretchen Met Sally

Peter Morrison

When you decide to have cosmetic surgery, you had better be ready for the consequences.

Gretchen watches Dana lazily. A skinny little blonde, with an attitude problem. Rocking back and forth on her plain, black, functional work shoes. For Gretchen the shoes a symbol for the differences between the two of them, dressed as they are in essentially the same fashion, the waitress uniform - white blouse, black waistcoat, dark trousers - like millions of others across Berlin, the world. The difference is that Gretchen wears large, solid, clunky boots. She feels it says something essential about the difference in their personalities. Though perhaps the differences in their body language and attitude towards the work say much more clearly that these are two very different types of people. Gretchen stands by the bar, poised and waiting, playing with her pen, this being one of those slow moments she sometimes gets on a shift like this.

The bell above the door chimes, set to swinging as the black-framed glass door is pushed open by a pink haired girl - curls spilling across her shoulder, while half her face is hidden by a black woollen scarf, which she is tugging free as she enters the café. The bell jingling in a clearly audible fashion, designed to catch attention during the day when the Schwarzenraben is likely to be quieter. In the evenings the chances are the bell would go unheard, that night's guest DJ just about drowning out all other sounds, and besides the place is abuzz with activity, people and staff in constant motion, shifts which are more fun and more stress. Gretchen watches the foursome take the two steps from street level to the café floor, stamping snow from boots as they do so, seeming to straighten up as though with the interior's warmth a burden is removed from their shoulders.

When you have an eagle's head, you are used to people staring
Tourists. Everything about them makes this fact clear to Gretchen. The way they are dressed, and just the way that they look. This misfit quartet are not from Berlin at all - the cut of the clothes, the brands, the entire body language, marks them as 'other'. They look around, appraising the layout of the café. There are tables along the two opposing walls, until they reach the bar. Behind the bar, leading to a beer garden, there is a restaurant. In the middle of the front part of the establishment there is a pillar island, the core surrounded by a circle of tables. A variety of posters is stuck and layered across the pillar's surface, in contrast to the precise black and white illustrations framed at intervals along the walls. The café is medium busy for a Wednesday afternoon. The girl with the wild pink curls leads the group to the window seat away from the door.

Gretchen gets a vibe from this group. Something strange, and it is not just the way the fourth member has stopped to look at her. A woman with a hood over her head as well as the scarf covering her face, so that only those intense eyes are visible. When you have an eagle's head, you are used to people staring; this is different. The strange woman nods to herself, and follows her friends. Gretchen glances at Dana, Dana turns her back on the newcomers. Her lips curling in that superior sneer-smile that riles Gretchen so much, twirling a finger in her shoulder length hair like she doesn't have a care in the world, with her elbows propped on the polished surface of the bar. Gretchen can tell Dana is pretending to stare into space, but is actually looking into the mirrors along the wall at the back of the bar. Watching to see if anyone notices her.

Gretchen shrugs, gives herself a shake to release the tension that has gathered while she stood around, straightening as she heads to the window table. As she does so, she can feel the eyes following her. Her particular kind of cosmetic surgery is still new, still particularly radical. Deviant, some would say. Expensive work, and more than Gretchen can afford. A combination of the latest reconstructive techniques, coupled with cybernetics, and the associated smart plastics. She wears her feathers with pride, holds her eagle head high, and lets them look. Half way across the space, the strange girl removes her hood. Removes her scarf. Gretchen doesn't miss a step; while inside something does a flip. The dog-headed girl looks back at her.

Gretchen stops at the table, "Guten tag." "Hey," the pink haired girl says, the hint of a Scottish accent coming through, even from that one word. Gretchen glances at the man, who it is clear is wearing a cybernetic body, better than anything she has seen before, making it most likely South American work, and at a guess she would say Paraguayan, he nods at her. The Japanese girl is looking out of the window, and Gretchen has the sense that she doesn't feel as if she is as much of a part of the group as the other three. Sally Sally Dog Girl leans forward, Gretchen recognises the singer. While she might not know much about her music, there are sufficiently few celebrity animalists that she has at least seen pictures of Sally Sally and that Chinese cat supermodel. The dog girl reaches for Gretchen's hand, takes it in her own.

"Hi, I'm Sally"

"Gretchen, hi."

"That is some damn fine work you have there," the dog girl grins, admiring the eagle girl.

"Absolutely radical," the eagle girl replies to the dog girl.

The handshake lingers for a moment, and then they release, and resume their rôles.

"So. What can I get you?"

The pink haired girl hides a smile, bowing her head as she trails a finger down the page of hot drinks on the menu, "I'll have a pot of Earl Grey tea please," the warm accent more evident now than before.

"I'll take a beer, something local," the man says, his voice smooth, synthetic, unplaceable.

"Green tea, please," the Japanese girl says, with a quick nod, and quicker smile, her gaze wandering to Gretchen's eyes long enough to place her order, and then back to the street, following the bustling passage of people.

"I'll take a green tea as well, Gretchen," Sally's voice having a certain growl. Is it possible to place an accent from someone who has had that kind of surgery, that kind of reconstruction, and even if you could, could you rely on that impression? Gretchen wonders, detecting a hint of something Hispanic. This time, as Gretchen crosses the space, not an eye follows her, attention has shifted to the new exotic presence in their midst, an animalist, and one who has at least a degree of fame, in certain circles.

Dana is paying attention now, glancing a tight scowl at Gretchen as she potters about behind the bar, pulling together the order. A kettle bubbles and clicks, transferred to 3 identical white pots, tea bags in paper envelopes, extracted from boxes on wire stacked racks. A chilled beer from the cabinet, a clean glass from a shelf. Gretchen balances it all on a tray, carries it via another of Dana's scowls, a little bemused by this unexpected turn of events, if she is honest with herself. She places the teas in front of each of the girls, the beer in front of the man. They smile and thank her, she nods, clicks her beak, and leaves them to drink. The sound of their conversations lingering in her ear, as she walks as through a fog back to her safe little spot by the bar.

The half hour that follows seems long and slow. She serves a few customers, and is amused on occasion when Dana actually makes any effort towards working - clattery and clumsy for all her careful aloofness. Gretchen's attention drifts back, time and time again to the tourists at that table, to the dog girl. Watching the strangers and their chatter, occasionally Sally will meet her look, and then they will nod a little, acknowledgement of some kind of animal bond that exists between them, even if they have never met before this day.

Gretchen counts the change from the 50 mark note that the pink haired girl used to pay the bill, while Sally is rooting through her jacket pockets, to produce a couple of slips of paper. "Here," Sally says, handing the paper to Gretchen, so she can see that they are tickets for a gig, "We are playing tonight, these are a couple of tickets, I would like it if you were to come along."

"Thank you, I will try." Gretchen folds them, and slips them into the back of her order pad, and glances back to see whether Dana is watching, while Sally stands and pulls her jacket on. Gretchen steps back to let the group leave, Sally touching her arm and squeezing lightly as she departs. Gretchen stands and watches them as they step back into the street, crunching through the snow, Sally pulling up her hood again, before taking the man's arm, and walking close beside him, as they disappear around the corner.

Gretchen pulls her hood down as she takes the final step to their third floor flat. Fumbling with the keys, she opens the door. Swings the cloth bag with tonight's dinner on to the top of the hall cabinet. Gretchen tugs the laces free, kicks her boots aside, and they clatter against the wooden flooring. She runs her hands through her feathers, a sensation she never gets tired of. She sighs, feeling the weight of a day's fatigue sitting on her shoulders. She walks to the living room, lazily dragging her sock-clad feet along the floorboards, in a moment of self-amused self-indulgence. In the living room she boots up the system, and selects the last Children With Machine Guns album, having decided those spare melancholic melodies match her mood of the moment. With the sound of "You don't like seagulls" entering the room, she exits, into the bedroom. She strips off her uniform, pulls on something casual, jeans, t-shirt, thick grey jumper. Living room, hall, grabs bag of food, and into the kitchen to start making dinner, humming to herself "These are the machine gun children of our generation."

As Gretchen tips the last handful of chopped vegetables into the wok, she hears the door to the flat opening, and listens to the sound of someone come in, and, like she had before, kick off their shoes. "I'm in the kitchen", she calls out.

"Ok", a man's voice replies, accompanied by the sound of the kitchen door creaking open a degree. Gretchen doesn't turn from the wok, stirring the food around with a plastic spoon. He slides his arms around her, embracing her stomach, pressing against her back, brushing his feathers against hers. She accommodates him, her head tipping a degree to increase the sensation of her feathers against his. "Hello, love," he murmurs to her, and her facial muscles shift, in what would be a smile for a base human, the same hard-wired conscious motion, but something a degree different for the girl with the eagle head. Within his embrace she turns round, her eagle eyes look into his. She brings a hand up, to run through his feathers, his dark, almost black, feathers in contrast to the golden radiance of her own.

Gretchen has been married to Anders for three years now. He works for the Berlin branch of the second biggest Chinese record label, which is to say the second biggest record label in the world. He does quite well, a fact that surprises them both, given that he started it as a summer job all those years ago. A combination of luck and of being in the right place at the right time have worked wonders. Though, never let it be said that Anders is a slacker, he is someone who works hard for his money and would hate to think someone thought otherwise. Even if with his eagle's head they think all kinds of other things about him. But, hell, it's the music industry, and there is a fine tradition of eccentricity to be upheld. Regardless, it is through the work Anders does that they were able to afford the surgery at all - something they did for their honeymoon. They checked into a Shanghai clinic, for the dozen operations, before spending a couple of weeks together, recuperating and learning who these new people were. Giving a human at least the appearance of having an animal's head is, unsurprisingly, not a straightforward process. Some aspects of the problem are obvious, others more subtle - from how does someone with an eagle's head conduct human speech, to what kind of proportions of each component are required so that the end result, at least as far as the client is concerned, does not look entirely absurd. In contrast to which the tattoos they got while they were there seemed rather minor endeavours on the scale of things.

"Dinner will be ready in a second, if you give me a bit of space," Gretchen says, giving Anders a playful shove, turning back to stir the sizzling vegetables.

"Ok, ok. You want me to open some wine to go with that?" Anders asks, already taking two glasses from the cupboard. Gretchen turns to him, her eyes flash, amused, and she nods to him.

"Yeah, that sounds good"

"I'm on it," Anders replies, laughing.

"So I see," Gretchen says, quietly, smiling to herself. "Oh. Yeah..." she says after another moment.

"Oh, yeah, what?" Anders pauses, something in Gretchen's tone catching his attention.

"Oh, yeah, give me a minute, and I'll tell you what happened to me today." "Oh, yeah, you are a tease, and you know it!"

"Ha, yeah, I know that. But you love me for it!"

"I love you? Who told you that?"

"You did, stupid!"

"Oh well, I guess it must be true then," Anders says, laughing and shrugging.

Gretchen puts a plate on the table in front of him, another opposite him. Anders hands her a pair of chopsticks, and sits expectantly. He watches Gretchen take a mouthful of wine and clucks mock exasperation as it looks as though she is about to eat without saying anything else. "Well?" he taps his plate with his chopsticks, making a clacking sound. Gretchen tilts her head, looks at him and shrugs, picks up a chunk of pepper and raises it towards her mouth.

"Come on!" Anders moans. Gretchen sits back in the chair, and laughs, dropping the pepper.

"Ok, ok. Keep your feathers on! Ok, so, you know that singer?"

"What singer?"


"Sally who?"

"The dog head Sally"

"Oh. Right. The singer."

"Yeah. The singer."

"From myslutsonfire. What about her?"

"She came into the bar today."

"What! No way?"



"Yeah. It was a strange day"


"You said that already!"

Anders does the equivalent of a grin, and a what-can-I-say kind of shrug, "I did. But you know, wow. I didn't even hear anything about her being in the country."

"Well there she was, there was a group of them, an odd bunch, you know?" Gretchen laughs, takes a bite of her food now, and chews.

"I bet. Tell me about the others?"

"There were the four of them altogether. Sally and two other girls - one was Scottish, with this wild pink hair, and a quiet Japanese girl."

"Hmm the Scot would be Kirsty Munro, don't know the other one, though they do have a tendency to change the membership a lot, I get the impression it's a pretty casual kind of idea."

"And then there was the guy, he had some heavy prosthetics, serious cybernetic rebuild."

"Yeah, that would be Hugo. Sally, Kirsty and Hugo are the three core members, always those three. Apparently they met in a Scotian Youth Detention Centre, formed bonds that have kept them together ever since."

"Scotia? That's some bad shit."

"Yeah, well, the war..." Anders leaves the sentence hanging there, unfinished. The two eat in silence for a moment, lost in reflection. World War Three was one Germany had sat out of, but they watched and witnessed the aftermath as much as anyone. Europe, the World, was a changed place now.

Gretchen finishes her glass of wine, and Anders refills it. When he places the bottle back down again, she reaches for his hand, takes it in her own and gives it a squeeze. She tilts her head one way, he tilts his the other, and he squeezes her hand back.

"Anyway, the band are playing a gig tonight."

"They are?"

"Sally gave me two tickets, she asked me to come. You want to go along?"

Anders looks at his wife, chews on a piece of synthetic meat, and holds her hand in his. "Such a funny old world," he mutters to himself.

"Pardon?" Gretchen asks.

"Yeah," he says ", lets go. Should be pretty fun."

"It seems like such a long time since we had a night out," she smiles at him "Well, I guess I had better decide on what I am going to wear then."

Gretchen throws the slight red top on the bed, confident that it will expose her pierced belly button, and will show off the two small wings she has tattooed across her shoulders. Then she selects a pair of heavy, baggy cargo trousers, a warm, dark, burnt, brown colour, and adds to those pile. Anders steps up behind her, slides his arms around her, caressing his hands up her belly, beneath her jumper, up to her breasts. She pulls her jumper and top off, over her head, and he pulls him to her, their beaks opening, heads tilting in practiced motions as their mouths meet in a kiss. Gretchen takes Anders' belt buckle in her hand, and starts to loosen it, tugging it free. The pair strip, with touches and kisses, beaks against beaks, tongues flicking from mouth to mouth, till they are standing naked and eager. Gretchen takes his hand in hers, and leads him to the shower, where they make love together, slowly and passionately, and wetly.

Fresh snow falls, spinning white flakes like special effects stars in a science fiction film. Disorientating as the silent train charges through the dark, towards the more industrial areas of the city, tilting from side to side with the invisible pathways of steel tracks. The carriage lights set to a minimum, Gretchen imagines the light as a slight humming sound, at the periphery of her vision. The space itself is almost empty, one in a series of lonely carriages, strung together, the only other people on board, going in this direction, are a group of a half dozen kids. They create a quiet buzz amongst themselves, mutters and whispers exchanged, as they pass a cigarette between them, carefully and covertly trying to avoid attention, their attitude restrained by the half-light, the time of night, the presence of the odd couple at the other end. With the ongoing fuel crisis - which refuses to be effectively met - regardless of all the wonders of clean bio-fuels that have been developed in the last decade - there is an ongoing effort towards conservation. As such, industrial estates full of warehouses and factories, like the one they can catch the ghost of outside the windows, where the venue is, are kept dark at night, once the daily shifts are finished. Gretchen and Anders have come prepared, both for the cold and for the dark, stepping out of the train as it comes to a stop, out onto the platform. They are wearing heavy jackets, the hoods up and scarves across their faces to protect them from the weather, and minimise unwanted attention. Cautiously crunching through the snow, feeling a certain amount of ice mixed in with the white powder, their feet slide momentarily and slightly, such that Gretchen reaches for Anders, sliding her arm through his, they use each other for balance and support as they make progress. The station has a minimum lighting, but as they totter down the old wooden stairs down to street level, Gretchen uses her free hand to hold onto the hand rail, while Anders flicks on the beams of his torch - a long and heavy device, which could readily double as a handy baton, should it come to that. It is not that they expect trouble, especially not at this time of year with the weather discouraging nocturnal expeditions, but in the dark areas of cities crime happens, add to that their own peculiar and particular appearances and they are prone to attract unwanted attention on occasion. Crossing the road from the station Anders flashes his torch up to the street sign screwed to the side of the flat grey expanse of some nondescript warehouse building, to confirm their bearings, while Gretchen retrieves her own torch and switches it on as well.

They do know this area, though not well, at each street corner they have to double check their location, compare it to the hand drawn map they made before they left the flat, a scribble of intersecting lines and scrawled street names, like a jigsaw piece extracted leaving the picture a mystery. They are looking for Werkhouse 4, an old warehouse that went out of business some years ago and was converted into a club venue, a building like all the others in this warren of business spaces. As is often the case, the conversion from warehouse to clubhouse was done on the cheap - money first, value second - a big open space that might be suitable enough for groups of people, but was never really designed for this type of gathering, let alone designed with acoustics in mind. So it isn't entirely ideal, though to some extent it is not as bad as it could have been, and they have seen some good bands play here in the past, taking the available space the promoters have offered, unaware or unconcerned by the problems the space might present. Anders has suggested in the past that the way things are in the world means that it really can't be easy for the bands of today, which is certainly a factor in why tours from bands from so far afield have become something of a rarity. Who has the funding for that kind of thing, and where are the returns that make the whole thing pay off? Though, certainly, local scenes flurry in the void, with the same old crap and cream balance that there ever was, Berlin, always a hot spot on the music map of the world, works at hyper speed of flash and burn as talents rise and fall.

Along the way they pass gateways, chained closed; sharp rusted fences, with barbed wire toppings; it is intensely quiet on this stretch; here and there silent security guards stand behind these gates like spectres, watching people like Anders and Gretchen wander past, large dogs sitting by their feet, also watching, with lazy vigilance. One last corner and they can tell that they have arrived, the change in atmosphere - lights and sound, the appearance of groups of people. There is a glow of lights, put out by the club owners, just off the street, to attract attention and serve its customers. There is also a murmur of sound, people flowing towards the venue, and a group of people gathered by the roadside. Gretchen tenses against Anders, there is something in the air, they both have their torches by their sides, balanced, and pointed down towards the ground. As they get close enough to hear some of the conversation the pair have an idea of what is going on, the edges of tones, snatches of words. In front of them protestors are challenging other people going to the concert, handing them flyers, trying to discourage them from going on. As they near it is clear that they are making little headway in this context.

There are religious fanatics who feel that animalism is a step too far on the scale of body modification, a step into sin, and a crime against God. This kind of attitude is something that both Gretchen and Anders have encountered before, something they knew to expect when they discussed the operations and how it would affect their lives. However, when Anders had talked about the body mods, having read about it in a magazine, and showing her the photographs of a transformed Chinese supermodel, the idea had got into her head and stuck. Anti-animalism is something they would have preferred not to encounter tonight, though, Gretchen reflects, given the nature of tonight's band, she supposes she should not be surprised in any way. The people ahead shove their way through the agitated crowd, accompanied by a chorus of "sinners!" While half of the group are turning, having spied new people to harangue, someone new to attempt to dissuade, a man steps forward, balding head exposed to the cold, as though the black woollen hat held in his clasped hands would detract from his sincerity. There is a large, gold coloured, cross, pinned to the collar of his jacket, glinting warnings in the bare available light.

"Comrades," he calls, with a false joviality, "please do not enter here, for they encourage crimes against the human spirit, against god!"

Anders takes a step to the side, away from the man and his friends, Gretchen following as she still holds on to his arm, scanning faces for signs of trouble, reading expressions on faces with each step. The man leans towards Gretchen, an arm outstretched, it seems for a moment that he is lunging, it seems for a moment that his face is filled with aggression. Anders steps forward, trying to intercept the man's arm, the protestor roars with a fury, turning on Anders with an aggression that dislodges his scarf from in front of his face. The man staggers back, sliding, and falling, his eyes transfixed by what he finds in the hood, the bare beak exposed, feathers bristling, those inhuman eyes piercing.

"Devils," a woman mutters in a voice edged with hysteria, and Gretchen can't help but think it sounds so damned medieval, the fear of witches and burnings turning in her stomach. She tightens her grip on Anders, pulling him back, at the same time tightening her grip on the solid barrel of her torch, bearing it with the clear intent of protecting herself if needed. But it looks as though this group will fall apart when faced by the very thing that they fear, dissent reaching a murmuring pitch that puts distance between them. The fact that Gretchen and Anders are both over six foot tall, and bear the mark of such fierce predators, of course, contributes to the horror/fear that the group are experiencing. Cautiously, but with confidence, the couple step through the gate, into the small industrial estate. They follow the path past a couple of other facilities, which are currently locked up for the night.

"What madness!" Gretchen hears Anders mutter.

"Forget about it," Gretchen murmurs to him.

Outside the entrance to Werkhouse 4, where a number of people are lined up, waiting to get inside, there are more lights. They join the line, with Gretchen digging the tickets from her jacket pocket, clutching them in her hand, as though she might lose them or as though they might suddenly vanish. One of those particularly large men who inevitably end up in that kind of job, stands by the door, a massive bouncer. In addition to the intimidating sense of his size is the fact that he is animalist as well. With a bear's head on those shoulders you could be forgiven for thinking he was a real live bear, in a suit, a suit which looks strained with his bulk. Sniffing the air, and blinking beady eyes, the bear is glancing about, while a smaller, more human bouncer is filtering people past him, and through the ticket desk. Gretchen is watching the bear with curiosity. When he catches her eye, he, in turn, takes her in, looking the pair of them up and down, seeing the tickets in her hand.

"You got tickets?" he growls, wobbling his way towards them, Gretchen finds that she is resisting taking a step away from him. "How you get tickets? No-one have ticket? Is secret. People pay here."

"Sally gave them to me," Gretchen shrugs, flashing the tickets in front of him, "This afternoon."

The bear peers at them, shrugs idly, mirroring her motion unconsciously, waves them forward, "Ok. You come, go in now."

Gretchen grabs Anders' hand and pulls him after her. "Come on!"

The bear ambles back to the doorway, with the pair close behind; he points into the corridor, "Show girl tickets." Then with a grunt turns away, his small intense eyes going back to scanning the world as though it were all a novelty. The bored girl at the ticket desk looks at them with disinterest, twiddling one of the pieces of metal that ornament her face in an idle fashion, thumb and forefinger rotating stud, tugging lip into deformed pout. With all the time in the world, the girl takes the tickets from Gretchen's hand, tears a strip from them, which she drops on to the table, and wafts the tickets back in their direction, then with a barely suggestive motion shrugs in a way that perhaps translates "Please enter, and enjoy your evening." At least that is how Gretchen interprets the motion, and she strolls past the ticket desk and along the narrow white corridor towards the main hall. The level of noise already forms the impression of solidity, which makes her blink up her implant menu and turn on the smart filters that will control her hearing for the evening. No point in going deaf when you have a simple blink to trigger the appliance of science that goes hand in hand with their kind of body modification.

Thick black strips of plastic hang across the doorway. Gretchen uses her whole arm to physically separate them, and push through into the large square space behind. There are a handful of people there already, enough to make the place look big and empty. Hanging above the stage there are three half naked men, heavily tattooed, and bleeding. Each has a series of polished hooks through the meat of their chests, attached to thick wire, holding them in space, slow spinning motions as they float artificially in space. Gretchen has seen pictures of suspensions before, but this is the first time she has seen it in the flesh. She feels that she can appreciate aspects of the idea; she too would like to fly, to lift her feet from the ground and rise up. But she can't entirely see past those gruesome hooks and knows that in that sense it is a trick, though, she understands, that isn't entirely the idea behind suspension anyway, as the blood trickles and thickens it provides her with a firm distraction from any suggested ideal. Anders stands and watches the men, rotating slightly one way, lightly spinning back. He shrugs.

"So, how about a drink?" he asks Gretchen.

"Sounds good. I'll have a beer."

"You waiting here?" he asks, glancing once more at the ornamental people.

"Nah, I'll come through with you."

The lights dip and there is a sudden accompanying hush of expectation, Gretchen nudging Anders as she smiles and anticipates, takes another swig from her bottle. There is a low droning sound that starts to build by increments. An expanding bass spiral, carefully controlled progression, notes layering into the original to create a dense vibrancy that becomes a charged wall of sound. The pink haired girl walks on stage, Kirsty, Anders had called her. She is playing bagpipes, and Gretchen guesses this is where the original sound has come from, though the layering suggests some electronic sampling and manipulation. Hugo, the cybernetic, comes on stage, placing a couple of black boxes with flashing lights beside all the other black boxes with flashing lights that mean nothing to Gretchen, that are all stacked on a table at the back of the stage. The crowd around them starts to become restless, a growing mutter, energy building in an infectious manner. Emerging from the wall of sound, Gretchen can now hear a dog howling, a deep and intimidating sound. Sally Sally storms on to the stage - she is wearing a lot less than she was in the café this afternoon. A chunky pair of beat-up army boots. A short tartan skirt. And a plain black vest top, slight enough to show her bare belly - a tattoo of a running dog across her stomach, a thick black tribal thing that seems alive with her motion. Light brown arms and legs, and that big black dog's head. Alive and animal, pacing the stage, barking into the microphone. Gretchen is hit by a wave of lust for life, for running free and the crowd are starting to go wild around her. Beats kick in, hard, shifting the atmosphere abruptly to a more abrasive dance scene, though the other layers remain now tainted.

"Are you listening?" Sally Sally speaks, "Are you?"

"The future's voices, past and present talking to you."

"Voices in the air." Vocals filtering through effects, and echoes.

"Water, earth, fire"

"Are you listening?"

A voice calls from the audience, "Yeah, we can hear you bitch, get on with it." A couple of other voices call out from the same area, tinged with a hard tone that goes beyond regular drunken heckling "Bitch!" Sally Sally ignores the voices as she starts to sing the body of the first song. The combination of all the sound and mixed energy in the room makes Gretchen dizzy for a moment

There are more antagonistic shouts, accompanied by some shouting back, an increasing turn in the language being used that reveals the agenda of those who are instigating trouble - hate words, anti-animalist words. There is a jostling in the crowd, Gretchen feels as though she is being shoved back and forth. Anders takes her hand, and she can tell he is starting to feel as defensive as she is, the negativity coming from certain quarters is unsettling and disturbing in an atmosphere that is already so charged. Gretchen has the sense that violence is imminent, it can only be a matter of time before something gets out of control. There is a great roar and Sally Sally is leaping from the stage in the direction of the shouting. She lands on a man, knees first, in a move that seems like something Gretchen saw in a film that had Thai kick boxing in it.

"Come on!" she shouts at Anders, and before either of them know what is going on, Gretchen is dragging them in Sally Sally's direction. Sally Sally is struggling to bite the man she has knocked over, snarling and snapping in lunging motions, while a couple of other guys are trying to get a hold on her to drag her off. But she is feral and resisting all attempts to stop her with a ferocious animalist energy. Things are getting out of order and while Gretchen feels that there is something entirely absurd about the whole situation she is filled with a quick sharp fury. Gretchen kicks one of the men who has just dragged Sally Sally off her target, a great lashing boot that sends the man to his knees howling with pain. Anders slams into the other guy, hitting him, so that before they know it the pair are in the midst of a brawl. There are a dozen or so guys that are clearly together and looking to get involved in the trouble, fighting Sally Sally and a number of other audience members. A man shoves at Gretchen, pulling a knife from a pocket, a folding thing. With a quick flick the blade clicks into place, and he lunges at her; with a spike of panic she falls back, scrabbling to get away, but space is limited and she is afraid that stabbing her will become pretty easy. The crowd shifts again, and Gretchen is pushed forward, feeling a sickening inevitability churn in her stomach, toward the blade, then just as quickly she finds herself moving sideways, a roaring filling her ears, and sees a look of terror in the man's eyes, before she is herself spun about. She watches as a great paw of a hand flies past her face, catching the man's wrist and twisting, brutal and hard, the knife slips out from the fingers and the man's face is transformed by pain, spittle slapping his cheeks as that great bear mouth roars at him. Whether he was moving to save Gretchen or not, she can't be sure, but the current result is the important thing. Hands grab her shoulder and pull her round into an embrace, she finds Anders holding on to her "This is madness," he cries in her ear, "Are you ok?"

Gretchen lets him hold her, "Yeah, I'm fine."

More bouncers arrive, so that the tide of things is turned against the troublemakers, and it is not long before they are ejected in a decisive and forceful manner. Gretchen feels spun around as things now go from the slow motion of moments before to a high speed fast forward style of reality.

"Sorry about that!" a voice calls from the stage, Gretchen turning to find that Sally Sally and the band are back up there and ready to get on with the gig, "This kind of thing doesn't happen every night!"

"No, just every 5th or 6th night," laughs Kirsty, picking up a guitar from the back of the stage. As she plugs it in, Midori starts to play the bass. Soon the two of them are playing and the sound mixes with Hugo's electronics until myslutsonfire are building the sound back up once more. But this time the sound is more charged, Gretchen feels dazed, and like many she feels the greater undercurrent of aggression that comes through now. This has turned into a much stranger night than Gretchen had expected. Anders squeezes her, his hands on her waist, his head brushes against hers, feathers against feathers, saying into her ear, "This has turned into a much stranger night than I expected."

"That's just what I was thinking," Gretchen replies, laughing.

The crowd moves, captivated by the energy of the music and the violence now past, and despite herself, Gretchen finds that she is dancing. They are all dancing, bodies in tune to music, stomping and swaying, crushing against each other. They howl with Sally Sally, visceral vocal discharges.

The night comes to an end suddenly, it seems to Gretchen, who, like the rest of the audience, finds herself suddenly standing still and exhausted. There is something primal and liberating in the way that they find themselves standing now, grunting with heavy breath and drenched in sweat.

Outside, in the street, back in the momentarily forgotten snow, Gretchen stands, staring into this deep, dark December sky. This is the time where you can feel anti-climax, like you came, you saw and it ended, and what was it all worth? Gretchen feels the other way, though, charged, and enthused, like life is a wonderful thing and it is great to be alive right now, right here. Looking at the tiny stars, glinting and winking above, describing odd patterns for myths to be read into. A star moves, shifting as it describes an arc across the darkness, the flash, flash, flash of a spy satellite, capturing this moment forever. Oh for a copy of that picture - a girl on earth, a black dot against white street, filled with happiness, looking at the stars. Anders catches up with her, puts a hand on her shoulder, and she leans into him, and he holds her against his chest for a long moment. He kisses her cheek, brushing his hand across her back, "You ok?"

She turns to him, and kisses him fully, "Yeah." He takes her hand in his, and leads Gretchen back in the direction of the train station.

"So, did you enjoy yourself?" Anders asks her.

"Oh yes!" she says squeezing his hand in hers.

"You did?" he asks, teasing a little, laughing a little. "Wow."

© Peter Morrison 2008 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 09:52 Wed 12 Nov 2008
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