As you open your eyes, you are greeted by the hazy blue light of The Den. You feel a dreadful sensation, as if your mind is trying to adjust its focus to the reality it’s finding itself in. You wipe a trickle of dried-up vomit from your cheek, and notice the candle next to you is close to extinguishing itself just from your breathing. You mumble in confusion, and roll over, coming face to face with whoever you have spent a session with this night. You can’t even recognize their face. It does not matter.
This is home to you.
The Den is where everyone goes when they need to escape. Rich, poor, young, old, black, white. It doesn’t matter. Everyone cozies up to everyone in the Den. If you were to visit for the first time, you’d be surprised by how the smoke clears out of the door the moment it is opened. You’d quietly muse to yourself about the various characters strewn about on comfortable pillows, laughing at things you can not see and tasting foods you can not eat. You’d be slightly unnerved by the watchful gaze of Iron, the man behind the counter who issues all the various instruments used in administering everyone’s choice of poison.
This isn’t your first time, though. Life’s been hard, and no one can blame you for wanting a bit of a pick-me-up every now and then. Though you often find yourself buried in the bosom of yet another strung-out nectar fiend or on top of a calloused dockworker, it hardly matters. No one remembers, and no one judges. Any other club would have such events only take place on the most debauched of parties. The papers would be full in the blink of an eye!
No, no one pays attention to you or your many like-minded friends. And you wouldn’t have it any other way. The real world, by this point, can bite you.
Steadying yourself against the wall, you attempt to sit upright, taking care not to knock over the candle. On the opposite side of the room, an elderly man is sobbing heavily, a manic grin spread across his face. His trembling hands reach out, and he calls loudly for someone, anyone, to give him something to drink. You lazily shove the cup next to you towards him, and he greedily drinks from it. He wipes his mouth, and nods towards you in respect. You’re thirsty as well, but he seems to have been having a harder time than you.
There’s a fellow in the corner, slumped against velvety pillows and covered with brilliantly coloured silks. He has been there for a couple of weeks, and by this point you’re actually starting to worry about the possibility of him being dead. The only evidence to the contrary are those rare moments where he wakes from his stupor, and bellows towards the front of the house for another dose. What if he’s stuck, and technically not even alive anymore? Just an animal, purely driven by an instinct to re-dose? Philosophical debates are quite common among the patrons of this establishment, and usually result in the most profound of answers to life’s many questions. It’s a shame most don’t remember their results long enough to write them down.
You grunt as you push yourself up. If only that teacher could see you here. No, scratch that thought. Erase it from your mind, it never happened. It’s funny how easy thoughts are in a place like this. If you don’t like your current situation, why not change it? It takes but a drop of nectar to fine-tune your life, to remove all the rot from your mind. But why stop there?
You step in a puddle of… fluid. You’re not sure what it is. My, this place should get cleaned soon. You consider writing a strongly-worded letter to the ministry of euthanasia. This place has become a bloody dump since they stopped asking for IDs.
Brushing past a few more of the downtrodden, you arrive at The Lounge. The Lounge is the gateway to heaven. At least, that’s what the marketing says. In reality, it’s simply the place where less experienced customers go to get acquainted with the various items on the menu. You can easily recognize them by their tendency to wander into the wrong place, bug-like eyes and nervous demeanor. Every now and then one takes something that their mind doesn’t like, and they have to be restrained by the personnel. The doses are lower, the prices are cheaper, the attendants more watchful. Copper watches over this part of the shop. He’s a charismatic sort, trained to lure in even the most doubtful of clients. Then again, if they came to seek a place like The Den, chances are they weren’t all that doubtful to begin with.
The front of the house is simple: a desk, manned by a stern woman everyone calls Steel. She’s a good sort, though. If one were to arrive for the first time, it’s her job to scare you off with forms, lists and documents. Calls to various agencies are made, your name is written in various inks on increasingly unreadable documents, and you are allowed inside. Once the forward payment has been issued and all administrative problems are solved, you are gently pushed towards The Lounge to sit down and enjoy a Novice’s Session. This usually does not involve the use of nectar or any of the more exotic delicacies offered on the menu, but rather a mild appetizer of sorts. A taste of things to come, a hint of pleasures lying in wait.
You are currently on the monthly plan. You’d even dare and call yourself Experienced, though the senior members would scoff if you ever were to say that out loud to anyone. Coming here by yourself, without any prior ties to The Den, meant never being able to TRULY get to the deepest reaches, but you knew that when you signed on. After all, it’s hard to fault them for not sharing that what grants them the creative potential to produce amazing works.
Brushing past a young, wide-eyed looking man, you exit to the street outside, taking in a deep breath of fresh air. Behind you, the bright blue sign of The Den beckons lazily, provoking the same sense of sludgy well-being as a prolonged nectar session. You lick your dry lips, noting that the stuff’s taste does not seem to go away.
You’ll be back, of course. But the sight of the men being evicted for not being able to afford their continued membership plans makes you hesitant to delve deeper, afraid of encountering a pleasure so strong that anything else would feel like a letdown. Well-off you are not, though a stable income provided by the city’s Central Systems Office ensures that you won’t go hungry. You haven’t much to complain about, really.
There are others who have much more need of a place such as this one. The aforementioned artists and craftsmen, stuck in the deeper reaches of The Den, imbibing various deliriants in an effort to find themselves in a hallucinatory state deep enough to TRULY obtain the advice of their muse, are not using The Den as an escape. Rather, they see it as a tool, to be used to pry open the walls of the 9-to-5 and escape into a world where they can make all the necessary cash they want, without ever having to worry about doing things they do not enjoy or working for a person they do not like.
You sometimes wonder if you should join them. Then you go home, and the next day, you work. Then you come back to The Den, and forget all the revelations and insights you had gained the previous night.