Blood red brick stood out against the cerulean sky above the two figures below. The building rose higher than any of the other structures nearby. None of them could have hoped to hold a candle to the art deco castle that made its home on a corner in the historical district. The designs echoed of decadent parties and bathtub gin, of hidden booze tunnels dug down into the earth by mobsters, of bank robberies where people could sign their work. The architecture would’ve caught anyone’s eye.
At least it would’ve before time had grabbed hold of it. The red glass of the windows that had looked like rubies once were now cracked and shattered. Any large open space on its surface had been decorated with graffiti. Dark green vines crawled up and snaked around any bars the plants could grab hold of. The walkway that lead up to the large double doors, once massive squares of concrete with intricate designs had now been pushed from the Earth by overgrown roots and covered in weeds.
The remnants of the large sign on the front that declared the building’s old name had only managed to survive because it would have been extremely difficult to get to.
Fever had seen better days.
In the eyes of the two people that stood on the sidewalk the place still looked like a world of possibilities. They couldn’t help but stop and take a moment at the foot of Fever. The two of them could see passed the warning signs that announced it as condemned and into what it had been before. A night club. A landmark. A sanctuary.
The shutter click of the camera broke the silence of the street. The man held a camera up to his eye and snapped a picture of the disgraced beauty in front of them. The woman caught his elbow and pulled him along.
“Come on, Alex. We’re going to be late. It will still be there later.”
The way the old woman held her cigarette reminded Alex of all the old black and white films he’d grown up on. This moment could’ve been a scene out of one of those movies. Cigarette smoke curled in the air around her, a bourbon sat in front of her, waiting. The two of them stared her down from across the table with notepads in hand and a phone set to record between the three of them. She was just as difficult as one of those women in the movies. Withholding would have been an underestimation.
“You two should drop it. Fever? It was a grandiose night club whose owner bit off more than he could chew.” The dark skinned woman’s voice was husky and rough. She used to be a singer at Fever all those years ago. The woman had long since killed that skill with the cigarettes and whiskey. Almost as if she was trying to tarnish the sound. Alex looked over at Mia next to him. His best friend. His partner in crime. She did a flick of an eyebrows that would have been imperceptible to anyone else.
“What if we don’t want to drop it, Sheila?” Mia’s large dark eyes went back to the woman across from her. Mia didn’t like to take no for an answer. Alex looked her over for a beat. Mia had on her teal leather jacket to fight the cold, a pair of beat up dark blue jeans, her customary black combat boots and her hair was tied back in a tight ponytail to show that she meant business. Mia’s features were delicate but her expressions rarely were. Alex wouldn’t have wanted to be on the wrong side of her.
“We just don’t believe that’s all there is to it.” Alex leaned forward to cut Sheila off before she could open her mouth to answer. Sheila picked up the bourbon and finally took a long swallow from the glass. “I tried to make contact with you so many times but...you didn’t answer until I left a note saying what it was about.” Alex shrugged at her to affect a casual appearance. As if he could just take for granted that she would cooperate with them. Mia turned her own glass on the table with two fingers.
“Why would you have taken the time, if that’s all it was?” Mia’s question was earnest and quiet. Sheila’s dark brown eyes followed Mia’s fingers as they turned her own glass of whiskey on the black iron table. The singer's shoulders rose and dropped with another breath. Her eyes dropped to the whiskey in front of her.
“The place was special.” The words had a tone that said there was more to that story. Alex felt a swell of hope in his chest. “At Fever no one cared who you were, what you were, who you loved or what the hell you looked like, what color you were.” Sheila paused here and Alex felt empathy kick up him in the gut. Sheila must have seen the look on both of their faces. Neither of them landed in the majority.
“You kids get it. That’s one of the reasons you’re here.” She made eye contact with Alex again and he felt like he was the one that was being interviewed. This old woman saw more of him than he thought he’d shared. Alex cleared his throat.
“Fever has… kind of been our place for a long time. We broke in when we were younger; we did reports about it in school, I’ve got blood red pieces of glass lined up on my desk. We’ve been following the story for as long as we’ve been friends.” He gestured between himself and Mia, almost desperate for an answer. Mia started to speak as soon as he’d stopped.
“Almost like a song stuck in our heads. The place sounded like a dream. People wrote about it like heaven on Earth.” Mia pushed and Sheila let out a sound between a scoff and a laugh.
“It wasn’t nothin’ like heaven, honey. Frazier made sure of that.” A slip of a name. One they’d read on deeds and contracts saved for posterity. The stories specific about the owner of Fever were limited. Sheila inhaled more smoke into her lungs and looked between them. Mia shot Alex a look. One that was filled with a thousand questions.
“What about all the other stories?” He asked. Mia’s attention locked onto Sheila like a hunting dog. Alex knew that she searched for any twitch of an eyebrow, any anxious movement of hands. Sheila didn’t reward her for the attention. She stayed still.
“The ghost stories.” Mia pressed, impatient. “The urban legends.” Sheila’s focus landed entirely on Mia now. Alex hadn’t seen Mia shrink back from confrontation in years. She leaned back now.
“Like I said, you two should leave it alone.” The words were followed by smoke. Mia’s hands tightened on the table. Alex hesitated himself. This woman had already given them a lot. Alex took a deep breath.
“The thing is… every other place finds life in this district. Old buildings with far less to offer than that edifice. It’s history is rich. Anyone can see the potential. There’s a reason it lies dormant.” Alex put his passion into the words. The refusal to accept anything less than an answer. Sheila stubbed the cigarette out in an ashtray on the table. Her hand wrapped around the glass of bourbon and she downed the rest of it in one large swallow. His next words were softer. “It doesn’t deserve that.”
Sheila’s stopped her eyes stared off into the distance. He imagined it was a memory the two of them couldn’t see. Her jaw relaxed and when she looked at him this time the expression on her face was gentle. Alex hoped she could see the longing in his own eyes. A story that needed an answer. She lowered the cup onto the table one edge and then the other. The moment stretched on. The silence hovered between the three of them. Her eyes dropped back to her glass and a rebellious smirk slid across her lips.
Alex saw the young woman she could have been back then. All short, shining dresses, long dark legs and lungs. Anyone would have stopped to look at her.
“You know, you two are persistent. Frazier would like you.” She looked back up at the two of them finally. “Maybe you should go back and look one more time. Maybe that place just needs someone to believe in it.”
A low yellow light from a street light cast a pallid glow over a corner across from a homeless shelter. Dry fall leaves scraped across the cement as the wind tossed them around. During the daylight hours these streets teemed with people going in and out of the shelter and about their daily business. Now the streets were empty. Almost silent. Then it was broken by the futile sound of an almost empty cigarette lighter as it clicked over and over again. Sparks lit the face of a dark skin wrinkled woman that once would have been called beautiful. In one of her hands a bottle in a brown bag was held tight. A gift from two intrepid young kids that should’ve listened better.
“I don’t know why you even bother with a lighter.” The voice came from behind Sheila, and her shoulders squared off with a slow roll. The hunch of age in her back disappeared and strength appeared in the line of her body. She turned after a moment, and her eyes landed on a figure with a sweatshirt hood pulled over their head. The light outside wasn’t good enough to give any sense of the person underneath but there was a look of acceptance on Sheila's face. She knew them. The figure took a couple steps closer but Sheila held her ground, the cigarette between her lips.
“That’s because you’ve never wanted to be human.” Sheila’s head tipped back and in the soft light she almost looked like her younger self. Defiant and ready. The figure hesitated as it walked forward. “Never known what it was like.” There was a plume of white breath from beneath the hood, a quiet sigh.
“Violet, why did you it? Are they the only ones?” A step closer. The voice started out soft then ended more pointed. A touch colder. Sheila took a long breath like she had taken a drag off of a cigarette.
“It’s good to hear that name again…” She paused and the two stood and stared at each other. Finally, Sheila spoke. “I’m tired. I’m ready. You’ve all been lost too long. They are the only ones…” Sheila trailed off and the person’s voice was tight when she finished the sentence for her.
Sheila nodded and her brown eyes started to glow in the darkness. One an earthly green and the other the color of the sky. The end of her cigarette began to light with the glow of the ember. She pulled in a long slow drag of smoke as she stared the figure down. She didn’t look her age any longer. She looked strong. Different. The figure’s stance in front of her changed. One foot dropped behind the other and a glow appeared at the hands. Sheila let out a slow breath of smoke and she dropped the bottle to shatter on the ground.
Neither of them flinched.
The figure across from Sheila hesitated for several breaths. Sheila’s hands slowly got brighter. Waves of heat danced around at her fingers. Her stance changed as well. Her feet spread shoulder width apart. Her body steady. Then she lifted her hands up between them in what was almost a clap.
The darkness was cracked wide open with the snapping sound of fire. A plume of fire came at the figure in front of her and in a breath a sword was drawn up between them. The fire broke off around the ornate sword in two large orange plumes that blew back the hood of the person in front of her. A young woman with a strong clenched jaw and scars that cut across in a map across her face. Her dark brown eyes reflected the bright fire in them as if there was nothing else.
“You know,” The woman’s words were pushed through her gritted teeth. “I don’t want to do this.” The backs of her hands turned red from the exposure to the fire. They would be scarred, for the rest of her life. The fire around them went brighter, wilder.
“Child, if you don’t then he’ll kill you. Thank you for giving me a chance to fight.” The woman’s eyebrows furrowed and she turned her head from Sheila, her eyes glassy and hidden behind tightly closed eyelids. Sheila watched the woman collect herself. Then a glowing gold dagger shot past the sword and slammed into Sheila’s throat. The fire puffed into embers that floated into the air and lost their light.
The street was dark again as a young woman caught an old woman in her arms. She lowered Sheila onto the concrete and brushed curls out of her face. The magical light in Sheila’s eyes dissipated. The woman let out a breath before she laid her onto the concrete. Sheila looked at her for the last time before all the light left her completely.