Joan was a clubber. Not any random clubber though; she preferred the high fashionable nightclubs of Los Angeles. She looked down on the other clubs as if they were all scum. Only the best, smartest, and most expensive clubs were for her. She had always been a night girl, staying up from midnight until four A.M.
They say that three A.M. is the Devil's time. The hour he lives amongst us, brooding.
But Joan never believed in any of that. She just clubbed all night long and never thought of home until dawn.
Unlike most things, there was a reason for this. Her nocturnal life had come into existence to get away from her control freak of a sister. She was mentally unstable due her drinking, smoking, and undesirable friends. Maybe because she worked in an office she had to have these friends, but at the same time her control freak tendencies had come to an all time high. She'd just scream at her when Joan made her a coffee, for example, even if Joan had made it perfectly right. And so Joan had taken to a nocturnal existence and left her sister to handle her own precious affairs.
Joan was also a gatecrasher. Not only did she go to the most expensive clubs, she also gatecrashed other clubs and clubbed there as if it was her own business she was minding. Not that nobody had ever noticed.
One Friday night, when the streets were rough and tumble, she went into a club to shelter from the rowdy men outside. This club was at a far-off corner of town she had never even heard of, and was called "Nick's Deal."
This was a bit weird. In all the club guidebooks and websites she had read, she had never heard of a "Nick's Deal." But it might not be too late to come out on this one. She just went in.
It was dark and faded inside; more like a pub than a club, and nobody seemed to be partying and there was nothing that was cause any glare. It was pitch black outside, but it was even darker in here somehow.
Joan looked at her watch. It read quarter to three in the morning. She had enough time before her abusive sister left for work and she could come back and have the house to herself.
So she walked to the bar. The bartender was a robust man.
"What's it for you?" he asked gruffly.
Joan normally never drank at clubs and she certainly never ate anything but she decided to because nobody seemed to be enjoying themselves that much in here anyway. So she ordered a tonic, and gave the man a twenty. She sat back on a stool by the ailing wall to look around.
Just then, she got a prickle on her neck and her hair seemed to stand on its own accord. She looked around at the ailing wall. She wondered what it could be.
She suddenly saw it, in between two planks of wood, two inhuman looking eyes due to their glare. In the dark behind them, she could see the hunched form of a man's body with his hands on a wooden bar.
She couldn't see anything else but his eyes. He looked like a black silhouette. She had the impression of long hair, but nothing more.
"Your tonic, miss." The bartender thrust it on the table.
Joan turned back and drank.
For the next half hour, nothing much happened. Joan drank in silence. When the bartender made attempts to talk, she answered in monosyllables. Finally, unnerved by the wall at her back, she surprised herself by ordering some fiery peanuts; she never ate at clubs before.
It was now quarter past three in the morning.
The feeling of being watched got stronger, as did the dungeon-like atmosphere of this club (which from the outside did look very sophisticated and classy). Normally it was a club she would avoid but she had decided to stay another hour. Even at half-three, he was in exactly the same position. Nothing had changed, not even his shadowed form. He was still a black silhouette. But was it a mirage or had his eyes changed from black to green in the brief time that had passed since Joan had glimpsed him?
She decided after finishing her drink, she was going to ask about that man watching her. It was quite unnerving.
"Hey, barkeep," she said.
"Yes?" The bartender asked gruffly.
"Who's that man behind the broken wall?"
The bartender looked swiftly at the broken wall behind Joan's back, but said nothing. He could've shown alarm for a moment but then his face grew clear.
Ten minutes went by. Joan decided to ask again.
"Sir, who's that in the club?"
She risked a brief glimpse over her shoulder and saw the silhouette of the man again. It was crazy. It was now almost four in the morning and some light filtered through the bar, but the man was still coated in darkness. Only his green eyes shown through the wood.
The bartender still hadn't answered, which Joan thought was uncommonly rude. She tried again.
"Who's that in the club, behind me?"
Again, the bartender's face showed brief alarm as he looked behind her, but he said nothing.
"Who's that in the club? He's just staring- he's been staring at me for two hours now."
"Please mister - who's that in the club?"
By now it was quarter past four in the morning and some of the devoted regulars were starting to get annoyed at Joan's relentless questions, despite her hushed tone.
They began to rise from their chairs.
Joan tried again but what she received surprised her.
"Who's in the club, behind me?" she asked again.
The bartender looked at her with anger in his face and then suddenly said "We don't talk about Scratch here at Nick's Deal club- just ignore him or shut the hell up!"
Joan was shocked.
Then the bartender said, answering her thoughts for her, "Scratch, he's called- he scratches at the walls when you see him. Can you hear him now? He's listening to your thoughts."
And indeed Joan thought she could hear a quiet, hushed scratching (as if by a fingernail) on the broken wall behind her but then everything was hushed in this club.
What the bartender said next unnerved her completely. "If you wish to know Scratch better - then give us your greatest wish. If you give it to us then it shall be fulfilled and you shall also know everything about Scratch."
Joan looked at her mind but there was nothing she really wanted, other than to get out of this club. But then she remembered how her mentally unstable sister had screamed at her suddenly over housework when they were cleaning. Joan needed the dustpan but then her sister screamed at her about her being a bitch.
A silence, even deeper than before, had settled like the dust on the floor.
"You've got your greatest wish, haven't you?" the bartender asked greedily.
Joan thought back to the ironing fight the other week with her sister. Her sister had left her mark on her cheek to remind her.
"Come with us, Joan, and we'll grant your wish," the bartender said, and held out his hand. Joan suddenly got to her feet.
"No thanks. I've had quite enough to do with this weird cl -" she began to say but realized her head was swaying and her feet fell from under her. As she fell, she dislocated her knee.
She woke up in a back room. It was pitch black and standing over her was the shadow man from behind the wall.
He smiled when he saw her awake.
"Hello," he said, "You don't know me, but I do know you. I am what the bartender called "Scratch," and very soon you will know me!"
Joan tried to stand (she wasn't even shackled down) but her knee ricocheted with pain and she was unable to move.
Suddenly she just wanted to get home, to her sister.
She watched as the man turned round and whisked off a red cloth from the table, exposing in the darkness instruments of torture.
"What are you doing you sick bastard?!?" Joan said. "I'll call my sister if you don't let me go!"
"Oh, there's no fear of that," the shadow man said, his green eyes glittering in the dark as if he was smiling, "because it's nine a.m. after all - you haven't seen the news yet."
He took out an iPhone and held up the recent news.
Joan's sister was dead. She had been stabbed through the throat and thrown into the street.
"You got your wish after all," the man in the club smiled.