The Four Bill Club

Donald McCarthy

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T he party roars. I can barely decipher what anyone says. That’s fine. The people here aren’t the type to say anything interesting. Almost everyone in the Four Bill Club can brag of immense wealth and power, and I’ve found the relationship between being interesting and being wealthy is an indirect one. The few here who aren’t part of the elite count themselves as lucky guests of some rich patron. I’m neither wealthy nor someone’s guest, though, so how am I here? Dedication. You want something enough, and don’t care what you must do to get it, and you can set your sights on almost anything.

The Four Bill Club sits on a world that’s not part of the ten colonies, making its legal status nebulous. That’s how the people here like it. Adds a touch of the forbidden. This is a world of gray and brown rock, a world that promises no life, letting the club stand out, almost cruelly mocking this barren planet. Mania among bleakness.

I walk through the club’s crowd, although it’s a challenge. Music comes from somewhere, maybe everywhere, and it’s deafening. The main room reaches the volume of a stadium, its vastness unnecessary, a monument to excess. The place is so packed, especially in the center of the hall, that people seem to merge into one another, ceasing to be individuals: just a mass of drunken, drugged-up flesh. Overhead, the same circumstance plays out. An anti-gravity system allows there to be two parties: one on the ceiling, two hundred feet above, and one down here. Someone told me that party gets nicknamed “Heaven”, and this one gets nicknamed “Hell”. Nonsense. It’s filth straight up and straight down. This club serves only the people who’ve ruined everything, the type of people who long ago made Earth’s climate turn against us.

A waiter zips just above my head, carrying a tray of cocktails. He and the others glide through the air on levitating disks. I wish I had one of those. I wouldn’t have to be trapped among these people who’d hate me if they knew who I was, where I came from, and what I plan to do to them.

Well, the plan itself remains foggy. Part of me had wondered if just getting here would be enough, seeing the excess, smelling the hallucinogens. But it’s not.

This place needs punishment. These people need punishment.

I try my best to squeeze through partygoers in bright dresses and dark suits. A few look at me, probably unsure if they see a boy or a girl. I wear tight black pants and a tight black shirt with a black jacket made from Symorian cloth. Always wearing black cuts down prep time, I never have to worry if my outfit matches. I avoid meeting anyone’s eyes, looking only at the other parts of their bodies – mouths with smiles that curdle, the women with bare, muscular backs, the men with shirts that cling to surgically enhanced biceps. There’s something vulgar about all of them. Everything a transaction. Give this one a drink, they’ll kiss you; give that one a drug, they’ll fuck you.

The music evolves into a techno rhythm, matching my heartbeat. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. The lighting in the club turns violet, everyone bathed in shades of purple. I continue to slink through the mass of flesh.

Bodies rub against me.

I hate being touched. Always have, but it became far worse after they found us in the empty church back home. An abandoned church in a green field. Just me and him, until the police came. I never found out who called them. Maybe no one. Maybe they just came by hoping they’d find somebody. They grabbed me, their grip on my arms tight. He fought back, though. They beat him until I thought he’d die. He did.

I can’t think on that now, though. I must be locked onto the present moment.

I pass into a shadowed area of the floor. One of three large spheres hangs above me. A thin staircase leads up, spiraling around it. The sphere contains a private room for the most elite guests. I spoke to someone who worked here once, and she told me that you cannot see what goes on inside, but everyone in the spheres can see what happens down here. A voyeur’s heaven.

I take a breath and push further through the partiers, hoping to get to the far side of the club, where it’s far less crowded. I try not to think about the amount of people around me, how easily I could be suffocated by them if they closed in just a little tighter. If I think like that I’ll have a panic attack, and that I cannot allow. I’ve learned there’s nothing worse than choking during an important moment.

I make it to the other side, where this main hall branches off into smaller rooms, ones where I get the impression you don’t necessarily want to enter. Above, far above, people who may as well be ants also trickle into side rooms, breaking off from the center mass. It’s disorienting to see them up there, a weird form of vertigo. Dizziness threatens to overtake me.

Most of the doors to the side rooms are solid black, but a couple are gray. Each gray door harbors a peephole in the center. I look into one, not certain what I’ll see, and I’m greeted with an eye staring back out at me. The eyes is red, the iris hazy. The skin around it shifts a little, and I wonder if they’re talking. The music, that awful music, makes certain I’ll never hear.

I pull away. I shouldn’t allow myself to be so easily distracted. I’m not here just to observe. I’m not sure what, precisely, I’ll do, but it will be more than passively staring. I need to understand this place before I do anything, though. I need to see how it works, how it breathes, how it—

There are severed heads mounted on the rear wall of the club.

Severed heads, positioned to form seven circles. Not human ones, but still. Not what you want to see. Each has heavy black fur, a small snout, and tiny eyes. They’re the Jorjandi, a now-extinct species that lived on Maldrove, the first world colonized by humanity after the Exodus from Earth. They emitted an odor that was near-unbearable, to us at least, so the early colonizers poisoned the Jorjandi’s drinking spots, and they died out in a year. I’d seen holograms of them in college a couple years ago, but seeing them here is different. Perverse trophies for humanity’s success.

I force myself back into the crowd, the bodies against me once more. I spot an older man and a younger woman leaving the crowd, heading towards one of the black doors. The young woman meets my eyes briefly. I’m not sure what she thinks I can do, and I look away.

Besides, I have to focus. I’m here to make a statement. I’m here to be heard. I’m here to let them know we can’t be ignored forever.

A hand grabs my wrist.

Adrenaline rushes through me, and I feel a mix of anger and fear. In a flash I recall the hands on me in the church, the police screaming at us that we were trespassing, us saying it’d been abandoned for years, why would anyone care? Well, he said that. Not me. I stayed silent and lived. He protested and died.

This hand belongs to a woman in a suit so dark the club’s lights seem loath to taint it.

“Someone wants to see you.” Despite the throbbing music her voice is very clear, like she knew exactly what tone to use to be heard. She’s security, but not for the club, I suspect. A private guest. “Please come with me.”

This could be advantageous. I want to do something in this place, leave my mark. It couldn’t hurt to see the highest clientele here, no matter what vile things they may have in mind when sending for me.

I let the security woman guide me towards one of the spiral staircases. No one in the crowd looks at her, but they move aside as if by instinct. What it must be like, to have such power. She lets go of my wrist as we begin the ascent, apparently convinced I’m not going to flee. She hasn’t once looked at me since she told me to come with her. I’m just food to be fetched.

I keep my hand on the railing as I climb. Whether I look up or down, I’m going to get vertigo thanks to this awful club’s design, so I instead try to focus only on the white stairs. I don’t care at all about being caught here, thrown out, arrested, or worse – but heights? They still unnerve me.

The stairs wind, rising into the center of the sphere, and as soon as I enter the private zone the music goes silent. I freeze, but the security guard takes my wrist once more, pulling me fully into the sphere and across the smoothly carpeted floor towards a low table flanked by a leather couch and matching chair. The semi-transparent wall gives everything happening outside an emerald hue.

“I was intrigued, watching you below,” a man says from the other side of the sphere. He leans against a small bar, although there’s no bartender in sight, and the man does not have a drink. He wears a tailored three-piece suit of cobalt gray over a brushed steel shirt and a deep, cold-blue tie. A thin gold chain loosely connects the pockets of his vest between the open breasts of his jacket. His pale face almost glows in the dim lighting. I can’t help but think him a vampire; the word just lodges itself into my mind.

“I could tell you didn’t belong,” he continues. He pockets his hands and crosses the room. The security guard has somehow vanished. It’s just me and the vampire. His gait is slow, his smile steady – his teeth normal – and he takes a seat in the leather chair across from the couch. Only a glass table lies between us. On it rests a plate with a knife and fork, along with some juices that I suspect are the remains of a steak. An actual steak, cut from an actual animal.

“What do you want from me?” I ask.

“My name is Lace,” the vampire says, as if I’d asked that instead. “I’m the owner of Tyrius Incorporated.”

I’ve heard of that company, of course. It was responsible for humanity’s ability to terraform other worlds and leave Earth. Well, some of humanity. It was also responsible for almost every advancement in weaponry since – a complicated legacy to put it politely.

“I see,” I reply, and try not to eye the knife. I came here to do something, after all, didn’t I?

He crosses one leg over the other, sinking into the chair. “I was people watching when I saw you. I’m supposed to meet with someone, but they’re delayed. Anyway, you walked with a purpose the others here don’t have. I thought you were female, I’ll confess, but I think I got the rest of you right.”

“I’m just here to have a nice time.” That sounds like something people at a club would say.

“I don’t think that’s true,” the vampire replies. “When people enjoy themselves they have a tendency to look, you know, happy. You look the opposite of that. I saw how you shuddered when the crowd rubbed up against you.”

I find I have to clear my throat. “I don’t like being touched.”

“We have that in common.”

I look to my side, out over the crowd. How many of them own businesses that got rich off the Exodus? How many came from families that ruined Earth? “Do you like people watching?” I ask.

“It’s how I learn. Watch people for long enough and you become pretty good at reading them.”

I meet his gaze. “You certainly seem to think you know me.”

He raises his right hand. “I don’t mean to sound pretentious, I swear, but people in my, ah, stratosphere of society have a certain way about themselves. As do our clingers-on. You stuck out like a sore thumb.”

I almost protest but figure there’s no point. May as well be honest. I can’t let fear always win. The vampire’s intentions elude me, but this could be my opportunity to… to do something. So I smile, and make sure to sit on the edge of the couch. Within reach the steak knife.

“How lucky for me you noticed,” I say, trying to keep anxiety from my voice. “I’m not ashamed of not belonging here. Even the name of the club is perverse.”

The vampire gives a light laugh. “It is, isn’t it? We left four billion people to die on Earth, but, hey, at least they get a club named after them. A charming sort running this place. Enough to give a person some bad ideas. No wonder colorful characters make threats against it.”

Is he alluding to me? I’m not sure I’d count as a colorful character. “Do they?”

“Oh, yes.”

“You don’t sound concerned.” If anything, he sounds excited, almost aroused by the idea. There’s a fresh smile playing around the edges of his mouth. Does this man find everything amusing?

“I don’t come here often, so it wouldn’t matter much to me if the place shut down. If it happened thanks to a massive catastrophe, well, let’s just say that my company’s desirability will skyrocket. There’s never a bad time to sell weapons and security, but after some attack on the wealthy?” He whistles. “Forget about it. I’ll be swimming in money.”

He waves his own comment away. “But it’s rude of me to talk about my successes. Let’s chat about you. You’re from Symoria, aren’t you? I hear it in your voice. Beautiful colony. If humanity had settled there first instead of Maldrove, who knows how much nicer our history would be? You were lucky to grow up on such a lovely planet.”

I recall the fist coming down, his teeth breaking, one of them tumbling across the floor. I can hear it, too. I almost picked it up so I could have something of him. I remember the police dragging me outside. They never read my rights, but they had a good time.

“There’s still plenty to dislike,” I remark. “They just hide their fascism better.”

“Well, one thing I dislike is that they don’t much care for my business.” He shakes his head and throws up his hands. I assume it’s a performance for me, or maybe just for his own amusement. “The other colonies love working with us, but Symoria – and I don’t say this to offend you – thinks it’s better than us. That’s what happens when you have a bunch of Marxists running the government.”

“I don’t think we have Marxists running anything.”

“Oh, anyone who’s against my business is a Marxist.” He removes a very old school pocketwatch from his vest pocket, the thin gold chain dangling as he glances at it. He sighs. “My guest was supposed to be here an hour ago. Do you know what they’re doing? A power play. Make me wait to show that they’re not really concerned. What they don’t realize is that in trying to show strength they reveal their insecurity.” He taps the side of his nose. “I’ve been in business long enough to not only know all the moves but to know what the moves mean about the person behind them.”

“Must be nice to have that confidence.”

“It is.” He rises and walks to the transparent wall, turning his gaze below. “Look at them down there. They say they come here for fun, to relax, but they’re lying to themselves, aren’t they?”

With his attention averted, I move the steak knife a little closer. The sound it makes as I move it across the table is soft, but he continues gazing at the crowd. “Why do you think they come here?” he asks.

I have some nasty thoughts on that. “Same reason anyone goes to parties or clubs. To feel good and forget.”

“Wrong.” He turns back to me. No smile. Instead, his lips curl with disgust. “They come here for violence. The music, the loudness, the crush of the people, the dark lighting, the little fuckville rooms on the side, it all feels like something will boil over. It won’t, but it feels like it will. That’s why people come. The thrill of danger.”

I hear screams echoing in an empty church. “If they want that, there are plenty of places I can suggest they go.”

“They like the possibility of danger, not the actual thing.” A waiter flies by the sphere behind him, and the lighting in the club begins to change color, from purple to orange to dark red. “You’ve moved that knife a fair bit closer.”

I freeze. His voice stayed calm, like he thought me no threat. A part of me wants to pick up the knife and show him different, but… “I think it’s time for me to go.”

He starts walking in a semi-circle around the couch. “You want to make things exciting, I can have my guard come back in and give you her gun. Then we can really see what you’re made of.”

I’m not sure what to say. “Would she actually give it to me?”

He’s behind his chair now. He rests his hands on top of it. “She’ll do anything I tell her to.”

I swallow. “Tell her to bring it.” He turns to the stairs. “Wait,” I blurt, hating myself.

“Ah, and you were so close,” he says. “We’ll have to see if you have the stomach for your business downstairs.”

My stomach starts to turn, as if in response. I do my best not to let the discomfort show, but can you ever really know how you appear to others?

“It’s been a treat having you stop by,” he says, clapping his hands together. “Enjoy yourself! Be careful, though. The people here aren’t always the kindest, especially to boys who look like girls.”

It’s the second time he’s mentioned my non-traditional appearance. As if his appearance is so normal. “You— you should be careful that the next steak you’re served doesn’t come with garlic.”

The vampire’s eyes widen and he laughs in surprise or disbelief. “I never quite thought of myself like that before. Have I become that pale? Ah, maybe.”

I slowly stand. “I’m going back down now.” I say it like an affirmation.

He points up. “Not above?”


“I agree. Too disorienting. See? We’re peas in a pod.”

He comes around, and for an awful moment I think he’s going to try and hug me or something. Instead, he picks up the steak knife and holds it out to me, handle first. He grips the blade tight, causing thin cuts in his hand that he seems not to notice. “You should take this with you.”

I stare at the knife. “No thanks.”

“Don’t be silly. Take it. Never know when you might need it in a place like this. Your jacket have a pocket? Take it. Take it.”

I take the handle. It’s cold. “What do you want me to do with it?”

“Whatever you want,” he says.

I can’t go around carrying it, so I place it in my jacket’s inner pocket.

“See?” he says. “There you go.”

Maybe he’s setting me up. He’ll alert security, they’ll find me with the knife. In a place like this, nobody would ever get to know what happened next. But if that was all he wanted, he could just call security now. Or have his own guard beat me down, a little private show right here. Or, maybe, do it himself.

“I hate to see you go,” the vampire laments, “but I know what you want is down there. I imagine you’ve pictured it many times.”

He knows why I’m here. He knows I’m here to kill, to purge the hate that sprouted in me a year ago, when I saw what power meant.

“Why are you letting me go?” I whisper.

“Why not?” Then, softer but more vicious, he states it, “Why not.”

The bodyguard emerges then from the exit in the floor like she’s answering his call, though I didn’t see him signal some hidden camera or anything else. As she follows me down the steps I glance back, and his gaze is gently on mine until the carpet swallows him up and all I see is the gloss black tiles of the stairwell, spiraling towards the opening below.

And I’m back in the club. Back in Hell.

If anything, the music is louder than before. It feels like I could cut my own heart out and the beat alone would keep my blood pumping.

The lighting dims and brightens, dims and brightens. First green, then blue, then red. I’m back in the mass, bodies once more pushing against me. The knife doesn’t cut through my jacket, but I feel it, and I wonder if the vampire gave me a gift or a curse. I try to get to the side of the room faster, I need to get out of this so I can think. The music is too loud, the reverberations too intense, the breathing of everyone around me too suffocating.

I could cut my way through them, I realize. I could cut them until they run and scream. I won’t be on the wrong end of the violence this time. I could do it. I could. I could. I won’t choke, like I did with the vampire. Like I did with—

At last I emerge, and I’m back at the wall where the Jorjandi heads hang. The gray and black doors. Two men exit the door nearest, glancing at me with suspicion. I must look like a wreck. I’m sweating so much. The music is so loud, everyone is merging into one person. Everyone here is the same. Am I going to be like that, too? Am I going to make a stand or am I going to get sucked into this awful place?

I lean my forehead against a door, trying to stay calm, trying to think straight again. The peephole calls to me, and I cannot help myself: I look in.

Inside is a person with dark, shoulder length hair. They turn, and the person is me.

They say, “Why’d you let them do that to you?”

I reply, or at least I think I reply, “This place is where the worst people come.”

“You let yourself be… just to get a ticket to here?”

“I needed to do something.” I see the police beating him. “I needed to do something after I stood there and did nothing.” There was no reason. They just could. “But I’m here now. In the belly of the beast.”

They look at me sadly. “You’re going to die here.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’m the dead you.”

Impossible, of course. I’m losing it. Not the first time I’ve disassociated and spoken to myself. Or perhaps I inhaled something without realizing it. This place is filled with substances. Everyone oozes something.

“Are you going in the fucking room or not?” A man grabs my arm, his mouth near my ear. “You’re blocking the way.”

It’s automatic, like a side of me that’s been sleeping takes control. I pull the steak knife from my pocket, cutting part of my jacket’s fabric, and draw the blade across the man’s arm. He screams and pulls back, eyes wide with fear.

I’ve never felt so empowered. I’ve never felt so good.

And then the music stops.

Some sort of security system must’ve observed what I’ve done. Now, the crowd will turn on me, devour me. Maybe literally. But it was worth it, just for that moment.

A voice booms out: “YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.”

At the center of the club three people are standing on disks, hovering over the crowd. Not waiters: all three wear Jorjandi heads like grotesque masks, and they give off an aura like gods judging everyone here, including me.

Apparently I’m not the only person unhappy with this place. These, though, are serious people with serious intentions, not half-baked fantasies like mine. Half-baked fantasies and near a nervous breakdown. That’s all I am.

“WE KNOW WHAT YOU ARE.” It’s not clear which of the three speaks, but their voice is magnified throughout the room. Everyone is silent, motionless, watching them, amazed.

I’m in awe. They’re really doing something. Why couldn’t I be with them? The clockwork of this awful universe made it so we were here at the same moment, so I can see what I should’ve done, what I could have been, how useless I really am. To these people, I must look like one of the crowd. I want to say something, prove I’m more like them than the awful people around me. Even if I could be heard, though, what could I possibly say?


One of the interlopers raises their hand, showing they’re holding a small electronic device. They squeeze it, activate it, and something causes the air to shift.

The three disks bank and veer away, and I realize what they’ve done just as the distant screaming starts. The awful thing is that the bodies don’t hit the dancefloor fast. Death isn’t instant, or even guaranteed. The gravity in Heaven doesn’t turn off all at once, it lessens and lessens, dragging out the fall. Flailing forms twist in the air, drawing closer, then faster and faster. Then the first of them rain down as the crowd on Hell’s dancefloor scatter and bunch to avoid the initial impacts, their cries of panic punctuated by meaty thuds and the sound of bones cracking.

I put my back up against the door, hoping no one will fall on top of me. The man I cut scrambles backwards only to have a body slam down onto him. They both scream as they brokenly try to untangle themselves from one another, try and fail, and their screams may as well be silent because the hall is filled with one lasting shriek as the dying and the pained let loose. The crowd is crazed and scared and violent. Someone grabs at an interloper’s disk, pulling them down into the crowd, which then descends upon them, wanting vengeance even if it’s the last act of their lives.

I slowly move, back to the wall, gripping my knife tightly. I don’t know of a way out other than the way I came in, which is all the way across this hall turned abattoir. I’ll get there, I just have to not focus on how far it is.

I have to stay in my head, pretend I’m somewhere else, back home in that abandoned church before they found us, when I was happy.

A man rushes out of the crowd, his eyes wide and full of insanity. He’s seen too much, he’s coming my way, but I won’t let him grab me. Not another person will ever touch me.

He reaches out for me, so I stab him in the gut, blood marinating his gray dress shirt. I could’ve been somewhere else if things hadn’t gone all wrong. He lets loose an awful sound, and I keep stabbing. I could’ve been happy. I’m screaming, too. I could’ve been with someone who loved me. The knife hits flesh and bone again and again. I could’ve been someplace other than the Four Bill Club.

Once he’s dead, I sink to the floor with him. Bodies are still falling. People stampede around, bumping against me, and for once I don’t care.

I don’t know how I make the decision. I just do. I turn the knife’s handle in my hand and thrust it at my chest, at my heart. It bounces off. The blade of the knife is bent, twisted to the side, probably blunted by the dead man’s bones.

I drop it to the ground. I guess I’ll have to wait then. I’ll die horribly, crushed from above, or trampled, made part of the crowd of the dying. I need to make peace with that. What other choice do I have? Go out screaming and crying?

“Look who it is,” someone says.

The vampire stands over me. He’s smiling. His guard mutters something in his ear, and he shakes his head in the negative. “No, we should take our friend with us.” He holds out a hand to me, unconcerned about the chaos all around. “No need to die here. You can come with me.”

I try to speak, but my mouth is suddenly dry. I take his hand, and he pulls me to my feet. I have no choice, you understand? I have to take his hand. I can’t even kill myself.

“We need to go, Mr Lace,” his guard insists.

“Lead the way,” says the vampire, giving me a supportive smile.

She does. She carries her gun in her right hand, and twice shoots someone who comes out of the mangled crowd. The vampire does not blink when she does so. People call for our help, but we ignore them. We walk out the way we came in, forgetting the dying, the rich, their servants, the interlopers, all of them.

The air outside tastes of fuel and smoke. The guard leads us past the nearby spaceships, making her way to the vampire’s craft. The vampire, for his part, has not let go of my hand. He holds it gently, as if we are a couple. I don’t know what to do. I want to let go, and I want to cling to it.

I think he knows that, too. That’s why he came for me.

We board his ship.

Whatever technology the interlopers used to disrupt the club must have expired, because seconds before the ship’s door snaps shut behind us, I hear the music in the club start again. My heartbeat once more matches it.


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Donald McCarthy

Author image of Donald McCarthy Donald McCarthy is an author from Long Island, New York. He’s published short fiction with The Baltimore Review, Pseudopod, Cosmic Horror Monthly, The Grey Rooms, and more. His non-fiction has appeared at Salon, Undark Magazine, The Huffington Post, Nightmare Magazine, and more. A full list of his publications can be found at

© Donald McCarthy 2023 All Rights Reserved.

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: Cottonbro Studio, Wendy Wei and Pexels.

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