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The Boomerang Lounge

Come for the drinks, stay for the show

By K. C. WexlarPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 19 min read

The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own. My splotched complexion - a mix of last night's make-up and cracked lips- running on minimal sleep and Adderall, a face I avoided most mornings as if that would somehow help hide the way I'd been living, had vanished.

In the glass now stared a woman with sunken eyes that bore into me, her witchy hair fraying around a weathered face.

Quickly I spun around, but The Boomerang Lounge was as I'd originally thought - without a single customer. My eyes darted back to the dusty old mirror behind the bar, but only I reflected back. Relieved, I snickered, remembering the new and very potent vape I'd been sampling in the bathroom during tonight's shift. But, of course, my eyes playing tricks wasn't completely new these days, likely due to whatever was the pharma/booze/weed mix du jour that helped me to get through them in the first place.

But whatever caused that creepy lady doubletake had been enough to send my heart racing, so I instinctively grabbed the scotch and poured it into my Arizona Green Tea out of view of the security camera. The owner Mr. Cass was away during these hours, but it was better to keep up appearances just in case. He lived upstairs, and I didn't typically see him as Cass preferred to turn in early and have the closing bartender drop the key in the lockbox. I sighed as the booze warmed me and instantly felt the familiar self-loathing of drinking alone, compulsively, desperately.

My fourth bartender gig in three months was undoubtedly the worst - money-wise. The Boomerang was a decrepit dive on Avenue C even the most broke NYU students seemed to avoid drinking in, even ironically. I was curious how Cass made rent but assumed he'd gotten some sweetheart deal in the city's Bad Old Days.

Damn, I must’ve finished the J&B tonight, noticing the empty bottle as I replaced it. There were few places more disgusting than the Boomerang’s basement, with more than enough evidence this place had mice and roaches, and probably worse, and we didn’t even serve food. Ol’ Cass didn't keep inventory too tight, but he’d definitely notice an empty scotch not replaced.

I flipped on the basement lights and stomped down the stairs hoping the noise would scatter whatever may be creeping around. Bending down to pick up the J&B, I felt a shooting pain suddenly, a knife from my back and down my right leg until it felt numb. Immediately, I had no choice but to sit on an old, destroyed green couch shoved into the basement’s walls that probably had puke stains from the Reagan administration, or at least it just smelled that way.

How long had it been since I started this gig? The sign on the door read, "Bartender Wanted, Must Be Damaged." I thought it was a joke, but I figured whoever posted this had a pretty good sense of humor, and I certainly fit the description.

I came to NYC five years ago on a full ballet scholarship to Julliard. But during rehearsals for my first show, I experienced a shooting pain up my back, later diagnosed as a herniated disc. I was put on bedrest and Oxycontin, but my part was recast. One botched spine surgery later, and I was done with the stage before I even started. My parents wanted me to come home to Ohio and back to school, but I'd sooner die than see my old high school friends and have to explain how despite my golden ticket, the universe had other plans - and did you also want a Fribble since I'd surely be working at Dairy Queen.

I'd rather be dead.

Sitting on the couch, the pain finally subsided, and I stood up when I definitely heard a scratching noise. My eyes went to the far corner of the basement to spy not just a mouse but a disgusting rat scurrying under a pipe and disappearing into the dark. Normally I’d have screamed and run up the stairs, but I was either too buzzed or too jaded nowadays. I unscrewed the scotch, toasted the rat on his escape and took a long swing before I headed upstairs.

Back upstairs, I passed the mirror to my spot behind the bar.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it again.

The woman with the hollow face. Sitting at one of the tables.

I stopped in my tracks and spun to face the room.


My eyes were playing tricks again, but I could text a friend to come by to give me some company. I scrolled through my contacts, but at that moment, my bank app alerted me that I was below my account minimum. I sighed, taking another swing from my “Arizona,” but decided I’d need something stronger from the goodie bag in my purse.

My botched spinal surgery had awarded a malpractice settlement (my murdered dreams had been worth $360,000), so I could rent a postage stamp studio and started working restaurant gigs, planning not to dip in too much. The hours were rough, and my back was prone to flair-up, especially during the dinner rush. I'd medicate with legal and illegal substances to barely make it through, but I always seemed to end up in the red living my Best NYC Life EVA, at least according to my socials. However, as one of my supervisors said during my Exit Interview (AKA Why We Need to Fire You), "Your behavior is too erratic for our clientele. Have you thought about rehab, sweetie?" That's funny. Most men I'd been "seeing" had said the same thing.

When I discovered all my fellow mixologists imbibed on the job, I decided bartending was much more my speed. But even the most chill places expect staff to show up to their shifts, and lately, I needed more than a few pick-me-ups just to crawl out of bed. So after a couple more no-shows and firings, I was now at The Boomerang Lounge, where Cass gave me the graveyard weekday shifts, 8 pm to 2 am, which worked well for me, except when there were generally no customers.

Tonight’s stormy Tuesday night seemed deader than usual. The old bar's brick walls, the battered tables and a broken jukebox in the corner that (based on its musical selection) also probably hadn’t worked since Reagan. Usually, on these nights, I'd read crap on my phone and siphon off cocktails before it was time to close up, but I was a little uneasy now and remembered I wanted to try and text a pal to swing by.

Then the bar's front door swung open, letting in the cold rain as a trashy-looking couple zigzagged in.

"Two G&Ts, baby!" announced a weasel-faced guy as he tucked his greasy hair behind pointy ears plunking a crisp fifty on the table.

I made the drinks wordlessly, as The Boomerang wasn't where you'd ask customers about their gin preference. Cass's speed rack was exclusively bargain basement swill (I would know), and I didn't want to engage so they'd get out quickly. At the same time, I was briefly relieved not to be alone with the mirror.

"So, did you go to Julliard?" asked the girl, a bottle blonde with bright pink glitter streaks in her hair like a trashy Barbie doll.

My Julliard sweatshirt, I couldn't bring myself to throw it away with the rest of the dance stuff. I wore it like a weird badge of honor of when I'd been "special."

"You must have studied dance," murmured weasel-face, looking down his long nose and leering at me.

"Yep," I said curtly and turned to slip a happy pill from my goodie bag into my mouth, swallowing it dry down my scratchy throat—no need for chit-chat with these losers. I knew the only “backstory” this guy would be interested in was my ass.

When I looked up from my bag, I was worried I'd see the weird lady in the mirror again, but she was gone. Instead, I heard the music start to play on the decrepit old jukebox.

“Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics started pumping out—one of my audition songs. I guess Cass finally got the old junker fixed? I must have missed the couple putting in some quarters.

"Do you party?" weasel face gave me a smarmy grin.

My ears perked up. Maybe this shift wouldn't be a total loss.

"We're celebrating tonight!" trashy Barbie knocked back her drink and slammed it on the bar.

I turned on the charm like I always did for free drugs and gave my best performer's smile, "What's the occasion?"

"Just got promoted," bragged weasel face, "I'm a talent scout for High Jinx - a very classy gentleman's club." He slyly lifted a hand to reveal a baggie of powder. I went to point at the security camera but saw the light was off. It was a piece of shit that knocked out all the time. Cass said he'd fix it but, in the meantime, to call his cell if shit went offline.

I'd try him later and turned away to do a quick bump. I didn't want to make it obvious.

Oh my god, this was premium. I closed my eyes as my brain short-circuited to give the perfect blissed-out feeling I'd get when I performed this song, my whole body in the flow, the memory flooding with all the sweet and none of the bitter for a perfect moment.

But the moment was gone too fast, like always.

I opened my eyes and turned back to the stools.

Now the couple was gone too.

I took in a sharp breath, confused. How'd they leave so fast? I didn't even hear the door. I looked down, and two empty glasses were clean instead of drained. But weirdly, the package of coke now sat next to my bag.

Wait, was that mine? I hadn't been able to afford anything that good in a while. Maybe I did get this stuff last night?

The jukebox was still playing my song. As the drugs filled my veins, I swayed my hips. I was alone, so why not dance like no one is watching? My body instantly remembered the old routine, unconsciously placing my arms in position. Step one, two, three and turn to the back.

The mirror. The music cut.

There she was, the blurred ghoulish woman.

Instantly shooting pain stabbed my spine, slicing at every nerve. I almost fell to my knees, the agony taking me back to Lincoln Center, to that nightmarish rehearsal when I knew something was wrong. Really wrong. When I could regain my standing, I rose to meet weasel-face again. This time he was alone.

Hey, when did he get back in?

"Nice moves, baby,"

"Didn't you just leave?" I didn't hear the door, but the music had been loud.

"You could make a few thousand a night at the club, baby," weasel face bragged, handing me a cigarette. Given the bizarre night I was having, smoking in the Boomerang seemed fitting, so I let him light me one. This dump reeked anyway.

"That blonde I was with, she cleans up. But you are a hundred times sexier." He leaned in toward me and flashed a wad of cash. "Beats this hole in the wall?"

Who was this dude? Should I call Cass?

"Look, baby, there are plenty more goodies where that came from," he winked, "Why don't you just try it for a night? I promise all you do is dance. They are just a bunch of Republican Wall Street closet cases with money to burn. May as well give it to someone who will actually enjoy it…."

I felt myself being pulled toward him like we'd met before, like he knew what I looked like naked…

Suddenly the Boomerang's lights flickered off, the music cut and everything went completely dark. I fumbled around for my phone and called out to the dude.

"Hey man, are you still here?" I heard the door swing open this time. I told myself he must've left to find Trashy Barbie. But I better call Cass.

In the heavy dark, I fumbled for my purse as my eyes adjusted to the shadows and felt its leather strap, but the bag slipped and fell back behind the bar’s sink. I stretched my hand down to rescue it when I felt something bristled and warm. To my horror, realizing it must be some kind of rodent, I yelped, recoiling back -the cigarette in my mouth falling to the floor.

The lights came back up. But this time, they were tinted red.

What is this? Was it the emergency lights? No way. This place didn't even have a smoke detector, never mind backup lights. I tried to reach behind the sink, but there was a big hole where an ice vat should have been. Damn. My purse must have fallen into the basement.

After seeing that rat, the last thing I wanted to do was go downstairs. The glow from the red lights, weird as they were, at least let me see where the front door was so I could buzz up to Cass's apartment. But when I pulled on its grimy handle, the door wouldn't budge. I banged on the windows to get someone's attention. Weasel face couldn't have gone that far, and I'd even take help from him right about now.

"Hello! Is anyone out there?!" But all there was were sheets of rain. No one.

I yanked one last time, but it was useless. The old lock for the front door must've been broken. I needed to call Cass or even the cops. Just then, I remembered The Boomerang had an ancient landline. I picked up the phone, but there was no dial tone. I smacked the sticky receiver a few times, but there was only a static hiss.

Then I heard a mumbling voice come over the line.

"Hello??" I didn't think they had operators anymore.

"C'mon, an uptown girl like you - I bet you could even recruit for us," I could've sworn it sounded like weasel face.

"Who is this? I need the cops. I'm stuck in here!"

"C'mon baby, in this city, to find girls like you, down on their luck, needing some green. You can help us 'discover' them, Miss Julliard."

I slammed the phone down.

But then it rang on its own.

Over and over it shrieked, forcing me to snatch it back up.

"Who IS this?! I need the cops! I'm stuck inside!"

"Baby, this is the easiest gig you ever had," the same voice came over the line. "We'll keep you sitting pretty, feeling good. Just keep getting us the girls,"

"What are you talking about?!"

"Remember, you keep letting them say, "'I just want to dance' Sure, sure, you're only gonna dance,” a sadistic laugh. “It never ends up that way in the end. If anyone knows, it’s you, right, baby?"

I slammed the phone down again, but I could hear the jukebox coming back on. The red lights were melting into darkness all around me. My throat was closing up like I'd suddenly smoked a hundred cigarettes in a row.

Sweet dreams are made of these.

Then out of nowhere, a spotlight shone on me.

"And now, welcome to the stage, a REAL professional, welcome Jules!" a muffled voice like it was coming from a broken mic above me.

The bar's air suddenly felt hot and wet, like a club with a stink of cheap perfume and body odor that filled the room like a gas, almost gagging me.

I backed into the room when I felt two hands reach around me, under my alma mater's sweatshirt and grab my breasts.

I spun around.

There was the woman in the mirror.

She cocked her head and looked and me with gray haunted eyes.

My eyes.

She pointed at me and opened her mouth to speak, her rotted teeth displayed like filmy corn. Then my own mouth began to ache as much as my throat, throbbing heat in my jaws.

I shut my eyes, wincing.

But the jukebox cut out, the air instantly cooled again, the cheap perfume and cologne stink vanished, and the lights flipped back on full, without the red. I sprinted back to the Boomerang's door and yanked it with my whole weight. It swung wide so fast that I slipped back onto the bar's filthy floor, my back set on fire from the fall.

The whole place swirled around, and I tried to steady myself to run through the icy rain to the nearest location with other people. Whatever drugs that couple had were probably laced with something.

I looked at the bar's mirror without meaning to, but only my wild-eyed stare appeared in the glass. Then, more quickly than usual, my back’s throbbing stopped.

Just a bad batch.

It wouldn't be the first time.

You better get out before that weird guy comes back.

I was about to pull my sweatshirt's hood up to prepare for the ice rain when I heard my phone ring from wherever it had landed below. There was no way I could dash without it, and I needed Uber or Apple pay, plus my keys to get home. The cell was ringing urgently, begging me not to forget it.

It could be that the lights were all back on, and the Boomerang was the same old dump. I must have been coming down from the bad batch, so even if I couldn't catch my breath completely, I pulled my nerves together to get my stuff back.

I slowly went to the basement stairs, flipped on the light, and it seemed normal. If there were rats, they'd scampered away when they heard me scream. I was grateful the phone was ringing and ringing, and I followed the noise from the bottom of the stairs toward a few towers of old Barton’s Vodka boxes, where I saw my scattered purse on the floor. Quickly I stuffed everything in my bag. Then, finding the phone at last, I looked at the caller ID.

"Mr. High Jinx :-P" came up on the screen, a saved contact I didn't remember even having on there.

"Who is this?" I answered the call with a tense whisper.

"Remember, Jules, baby. You're scouting the lower east side tonight. Tell the prospects about the five hundred dollar advance, and no more sob stories. You owe us."

"What? My name's not Jules!"

"Whatever you say, you're the one who picked it. Like it matters now - just get some fresh talent or your shit's out on the sidewalk."

I ended the call and shoved the phone in my bag.

The lights went out again, and I wrapped my arms around my now-shaking body, clutching my purse to my chest to my sweatshirt as my head felt like it was caving in on itself. I waited for my eyes to adjust again to find the stairs.

Then sounds of scratching and scampering broke the momentary silence like something was crawling in the walls.

Oh my god. Where are the stairs?

I backed up and must’ve slipped on something wet as my heel twisted and sent me falling sideways. I braced for another impact when something soft broke my fall, then cracked under me. It must have been the old green sex couch. Even though I didn’t want to touch it, laying its cushion seemed necessary now I was so woozy from whatever I’d taken.

Then I felt something move beneath my body - squirming, squealing.

I jumped up and grabbed my phone to the light the way. But I accidentally lit the broken couch to reveal a massive rat’s nest - a hoard of pink, shriveled, blinded babies screeching at me.

I dropped my phone in the dark but I didn’t care anymore about my stuff.

Oh my god, where are the stairs??

Suddenly I could hear moaning, crying, and slapping like a woman getting knocked around.

"Do it, Do it for the goodies like you always do!" a man's voice.

Oh my god! Was that couple down here? Was that weasel face hitting her?!

My heart was pounding, my throat was closed and the copper taste of blood filled my mouth. I reached inside and horrifyingly felt as I pulled out one of my front teeth.

At that moment, a wall of boxes crashed into me as something slammed into them. When the debris settled, I thought I could make out the shape of a woman crumpled on the floor.

I couldn't scream- I was so terrified, blinded in the basement's darkness, my quaking hand dropped the tooth it was clutching, losing it to the black below.

Then I heard her, the woman who lay on the ground, whimpering like a wounded animal and heavy footsteps climbing up the stairs, then the Boomerang's front door slamming.

He must have been gone now.

The lights came back on.

I wanted to leave her in that pile of boxes and run, but her open, desperate weeping stopped me. She sounded exactly like me, just how I had cried when all the bad overwhelmed me - when I remembered my promise, my passion, my dream torturously ripped away from a betraying body. She sounded like me on the bathroom floor - before I learned to stop it with the constant numbing.

No. I knew these sounds too well, the sobs of complete heartbreak, and I couldn’t leave her down here in this pit.

I slowly inched toward the woman and reached down to offer her a hand.

"It's ok," I soothed and moved closer as she lay with her back to me, doubled over in pain, tightly curled into a fetal position in the piles of cardboard. "I'll get you help."

I knew from my own back injury that I shouldn’t try and move her, so I gently touched her shoulder to show her she wasn't alone.

That's when I noticed this girl didn't have the pink glitter streaks like Trashy Barbie.

She had dark brown hair like mine.

She rolled over.

My blood froze.

The mirror woman with her rotten teeth and vacant eyes.

She was wearing my Julliard sweatshirt.

Her broken face howled at me—my face.

"I just want to dance!"

In my apartment, I sat up in bed screaming.

Hypervenatling in panic for a few seconds, I looked out the single window. Then, gasping in relief, I saw it was morning, the familiar street sounds from outside, an ambulance on its way to St. Luke's, and traffic from the morning rush honking in protest. I started hyperventilating, reaching into my mouth to check if my teeth were all there. It all felt so real. I'd had bad trips before but that one…

In the cold light of day, I welcomed the fresh air, gulping it into my lungs like I'd never been able to breathe so well. There was no way to keep working at the Boomerang, but I walked to Avenue C, the morning chill a sobering welcome to get my last badly needed paycheck.

I was going to do it. Go to rehab. This much I knew. If I could get there and admit to my parents how bad things had gotten, I'd be able to backtrack. I may not have to work at Dairy Queen either, and I could do something else besides dance…

I turned down to The Boomerang's corner building, ready to buzz Cass, collect my cash and quit. Quit it all. Today. Right Now.

But when I approached my soon-to-be former bartending gig, the sign was already up, "Bartender Wanted, Must Be Damaged."


About the Creator

K. C. Wexlar

Sweet, scary and strange but always satisfying.

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  • Bridget Coutureabout a month ago

    Wow great job!! I love the twist ending - it’s a great way to conclude. The suspense in the dream was well done too. You definitely get a sense that something’s not right and want to read more. Overall my only comment is to watch out for repetition (like words/phrases/sentence structures)

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