Arthur shouldn’t be here. He knows he crossed the line when he followed a girl he met during a morning TV interview into this club. She’s connected to the magical ones, and Arthur shouldn’t stick his nose into the places meant only for them. He can only hope she hasn’t noticed him sneaking inside after her.
He loses her right after entering the club. The crowd of sweating bodies jumping up and down to the pounding rhythm of the music reminds him of early rave parties, snatches of which he’s seen on TV. He’s too young to have taken part in them, but it wouldn’t be his kind of entertainment anyway.
The air smells like ozone and perfume, and the lights are constantly flashing and changing colours. It makes Arthur dizzy. At this time on a Friday night he’d normally be in a pub with his best mate, Leon, drinking beer and watching football on the telly. He’s tired and wants to get out of the crowd, silently cursing himself for his nosiness and stupid idea of following the girl to this damned place.
He’s about to leave when the lights dim and the music changes. The whole crowd goes ecstatic—hollering, whistling, and stomping their feet—moving as one to face a little stage at the back where an enormous throne is placed. A group of young people dressed like Ancient Egyptian slaves enter the stage. Their tunics are wrapped loosely around their hips, long necklaces hang down their bare chests, and bracelets hug their arms like golden serpents. They’re followed by a tall young man in a black cape with a hood. He raises his head and greets everyone with a small wave of his hand. The man’s exposed skin is glowing, as if it’s covered in golden dust. He’s wearing nothing under the opened cape, except for a necklace with a half-moon pendant.
This mustbe some kind of show. Arthur’s seen something like this in a nightclub once before. But no one on the stage is dancing or performing. The guy sits on the throne and the “slaves” take up positions around him, as though they’re his guards.
For a long moment nothing happens, but Arthur is unable to take his eyes off the motionless hooded man. The sight of his exposed body ignites something warm in Arthur’s stomach. The way the man has his eyes half closed, as if his lids are too heavy, is filling Arthur with want to see what’s behind them, to have a glimpse. He aches to touch this man’s golden skin.
That’s probably why Arthur doesn’t oppose when the crowd squeezes and pushes him into one of the first rows around the stage. The music changes once more, and two olive-skinned women, dressed in black capes matching the one the man is wearing, enter the stage carrying a large golden cup in their hands. They kneel in front of the man on the throne, and after what seems like ages he finally gets up and takes the cup from them, walking slowly to the edge of the stage.
Arthur rolls his eyes because the whole scene before him is so cliché: the priest-like appearance of the man, the golden cup, the kneeling girls—it’s way too tacky. However, something about the ambiance around him isn’t matching the parody. People seem to be holding their breath, anticipating the man’s next move. And then the man raises his eyes and Arthur can see that they’re glowing—they are pure gold. He’s mesmerized, just like the people surrounding him. When the man beckons with his hand and the front row starts approaching him, Arthur moves along in the line with them.
“Who is he?” he whispers to a girl standing next to him in the line.
“What?” she snaps, as if bewildered that he doesn’t know. “That’s Emrys, our Merlin.”
“Who brought you here?” she asks sharply, but before she can pay him more attention it’s her turn in line.
Emrys dips his finger into the liquid in the cup. Arthur can see now that it’s the same colour as the man’s eyes and it seems to be alive,swirling and glistening and moving inside the cup. Emrys reaches his finger towards the girl and she opens her mouth while he places a drop of the liquid onto her tongue. It looks as if it’s a communion of sorts, or a strange drug-taking ritual.
Arthur wants to get out of the crowd. He’s never taken drugs before—apart from smoking some pot in the backyard of Leon’s house—and he doesn’t want to start popping some modern magical kind of ecstasy or whatever the golden stuff is. But then Emrys sets his eyes on him and Arthur’s legs almost give out underneath him. He walks shakily towards the man, unable to break the connection of their stare. Emrys’ eyes are indeed the same as the liquid in the cup. Fire dances in them like molten gold, oscillating and moving as if driven by some inner force.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Emrys says to Arthur. His voice is deep and melodic.
“I, uh—” Arthur tries to explain himself, but Emrys isn’t listening.
“Open,” he says and Arthur opens his mouth while Emrys places a drop of the golden liquid onto his tongue.
It tastes bitter and sweet, like oriental spices, or a medication, and it heats up the inside of his mouth instantly while numbing it at the same time. The feeling is similar to the cooling heat of menthol paste his father used to rub on his chest and feet when he was little and sick with fever.
At first nothing happens, but then he starts feeling an odd tingling in his fingers that soon spreads throughout his whole body. The lines around him become blurry and shapes seem to be glowing with pale golden light. People have started dancing again, and he’s caught up in a prison of tangled limbs, backs rubbing against him, feet stamping upon him, hands pushing him out of the way. He looks down at his hands and sees they are glowing, too. The gold is seeping out of them, making him wonder if his body still has its boundaries or if he’s melted into the glowing, surreal surroundings and can’t define himself anymore.
There’s a young man standing right in front of Arthur on the other side of the room. He’s motionless, surrounded by the mass of moving bodies, and he’s observing Arthur with intense, watery blue eyes. In a way it feels weird, this gaze, and Arthur is about to walk towards the man to see what he wants, when suddenly he feels a tug on his hand.
“Follow me.” He hears from behind. Someone’s dragging him through the crowd and then up some stairs. He can’t be sure where he is exactly, but he supposes it’s the back part of the club, maybe the staff offices. He’s pushed through a door and into a small, dimly lit room, and he hears the door shutting behind him.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Arthur hears again, and then Emrys suddenly emerges from the darkness. Arthur has trouble keeping his focus, the phases of movements are lost to him and it seems like one moment Emrys is at the back of the room and the next he’s right in front of him. In the dim light, the golden aura makes it difficult to discern the edges of objects in the room.
Emrys wraps his fingers around Arthur’s wrist. His touch is cool and a bit damp, and the skin contact sends a jolt of electricity between them. It’s a bit unpleasant, like when you touch your tongue to a battery, but it’s also mesmerizing, and Arthur wants the feeling to continue. The air smells even more strongly of ozone now, and Arthur can’t avert his eyes from Emrys’ hand.
Arthur has never allowed himself to be interested in men before, but he’s achingly hard and breathless, one hot tangle of pure want. He needs Emrys to touch him, he yearns to feel Emrys’ hands on more of his skin. But when the man finally touches him, Arthur stills in shock, suddenly uncertain. He watches, paralysed, as Emrys pulls up Arthur’s shirt and opens the buttons of his jeans with one hand. His fingers, long and elegant, are leaking gold just like Arthur’s skin is leaking it—glowing, tingling, alive with the magic.
Emrys pushes Arthur back onto a couch, covering Arthur’s body with his. His breath is hot on Arthur’s skin and when his fingers curl around Arthur’s erection Arthur comes embarrassingly quickly, almost at the first touch, spilling messily over Emrys’ hand.
“It’s a sin to spill your seed like this,” Emrys says, leaning down, licking his fingers of Arthur’s come. “Unless you do it over wet ground to make it breed.” He darts his tongue out to lap at Arthur’s skin, cleaning him up like he’s eating him.
Arthur blinks, desperately trying to clear his blurry vision and stop the fluctuating dance of the surroundings, but all he can see is the glowing contour of Emrys’ body looming above him. Emrys’ skin keeps getting warmer and warmer, the heat of it hitting Arthur’s skin, robbing him of his breath like the aftershock of an explosion.
Emrys’ touch is creating small jolts that sting a bit but are also painfully arousing. Arthur closes his eyes and gives in to the feeling, letting the liquid gold spread inside his body and take over his cells and blood vessels. He hears Emrys whispering something in his ear in a language he doesn’t recognize, and suddenly their clothes are gone. Now they’re touching skin to skin, and the feeling is more intense than before. Arthur gasps when Emrys’ heat bursts somewhere deep inside his body, filling him up intimately, as he surrenders to Emrys moving inside him, conquering his body with his own and his strange magic.
Light flashes brightly in front of Arthur’s eyes, even though he’s sure he’s kept them shut tightly. He feels gentle touches of delicate fingers on his face and a shuddered breath on his lips. Then he hears Emrys whispering, “Now I’ve planted my magic inside you.”
Arthur wakes up the next morning from disturbing dreams of golden eyes and moving bodies. He doesn’t remember leaving the back room, or going home from the club. The last thing he can recall is Emrys looking at him in a way that makes his chest clench and his insides twist in a tight knot even now.
It was just a dream, he tries to convince himself as he sits up, roughing his hair up with his fingers. It’s not possible he had sex with a man. That can’t be real. But as he’s standing up he catches a glimpse of something shimmering on his wrist. It’s a stamp he got while entering the club. It’s a bit faded, but he can make out the lines that create an elaborate sign. For a moment he thinks the lines are moving and pulsing a bit, but when he looks closer it’s just simple golden ink on his skin.
The more Arthur thinks of the events of the previous night the more he’s convinced most of his memories aren’t real. He must indeed have been drugged and poisoned there, out of his mind hallucinating.
But dream or not, he can’t get Emrys out of his head. He seems to see the man everywhere—on the Tube when he goes to work, in a crowd in front of a theatre the next weekend. The stamp is no longer visible on his skin, but Arthur feels as if Emrys has taken over his body and his mind, as if he’s really planted himself inside him.
He tries going back to the club to see if he can meet Emrys there, but no matter how meticulously he searches he can’t seem to find his way back. It’s as if the club has vanished, replaced by ugly, abandoned buildings with no glass in the windows and with peeling paint on the walls.
Eventually, he gives up searching.
It’s been a long, hard morning in the office and Arthur has to go out for at least a few minutes or his brain will fry. He grabs a sandwich from the cafeteria and goes to a nearby park to eat it outside, never mind the cold.
A bunch of boys on rollerblades, skateboards and longboards are doing their tricks, jumping on a high kerb and then down again. Arthur looks without really looking until he recognizes Emrys among the boys, riding on a small black board that twists underneath his battered trainers.
There is no mistake about it: those are the same delicate facial features, full lips, and dark ruffled hair of the man from the club.
“Hey! Oi!” Arthur shouts, jumping to his feet and walking towards the boys. He sees him clearly now in the midday light. Emrys can’t be older than fifteen, sixteen maybe.
Christ, he’s just a child, Arthur thinks in horror, but it doesn’t deter him from his chase. Because it is a chase, now that Emrys has spotted him and tries to escape on his skateboard.
“Hey, Emrys, wait!” Arthur shouts again, catching up with the boy, reaching for his bony elbow.
“Let me go!” the boy yells, pulling his arm out of Arthur’s grasp.
“You’re Emrys,” Arthur whispers, amazed by the deep blue of the boy’s eyes.
“I’m not,” the boy says firmly. “I don’t know you.” He pushes Arthur out of the way and rides away, glancing a few times over his shoulder to see if Arthur is following him.
This is the same Emrys from the club and Arthur’s sure of it. But he lets the boy go.
Inside his body Arthur feels as if something’s being shifted—particles moving into new slots, and knots being tied—until a whole new order of cells is established.