by Alpert L Pine
[This story is also available in the collection, It's Always the Apocalypse Somewhere]
It was Eighties night.
At least, it was supposed to be. The Eighties seemed to be a lot less populated than Darrin remembered, if this crummy nightclub dance floor was any guide to go by. The junior high school quality lighting display wasn't doing the awkward and lazy design of the interior any favors. Geometric fluorescents—triangles and squares and stars—circled around the empty floor, which was illuminated too much by the regular (and also tacky) strip lighting on the ceiling. It was like a perpetual opening few minutes of a school dance out there, which in a way did bring back memories of the Eighties, although none that Darrin wished to explore.
The few people in the club—which was called Tubular, and according to the sign out front hosted an Eighties-themed night every Thursday—sat mostly by themselves, scattered around the barren interior, nursing drinks (one man was noisily pounding drinks, instead) that weren't going to change the fact that the world was coming to an end.
Perhaps like Darrin, they had sought out a place like Tubular, in order to not spend what was certain to be their final hours alone. Only this was somehow worse, Darrin thought. This empty, sad dance club. It must always look like this, he considered. The lighting, the design. He'd been here a few times—never for Eighties night, a concept which appalled and repulsed him on a level similar to that of a dentist's drill or a squeaking door hinge. He had never noticed the poor quality of the layout before tonight. It looked much different, much better, filled up with dancing, drinking people.
Darrin finished the last of his own drink—a vodka tonic—and pushed the glass aside. The bartender, who was lazily wiping a glass with a rag, glanced up. Darrin shook his head—no more. Instead, twisting on his barstool, Darrin turned his attention to the sad dance floor, where one courageous—or perhaps, exceptionally drunk patron—was moving to the beat.
Depeche Mode, "Enjoy the Silence".
Thinking of the world outside, the crumbling end of all things, the carnivorous plants perhaps right outside the walls of Tubular by now, Darrin felt moody and annoyed. It was hard to find anything positive about the inevitable end of life on planet Earth. Well, human life, anyway. The plants . . . they seemed to be doing just fine. And wasn't that just an understatement.
Looking closer at the lone dancer, Darrin saw with some surprise that it wasn't some poor drunk sap, or crazed lunatic twirler. That lone figure on the Tubular dance floor was a sexy, well-proportioned, and quite coordinated female. Her red dress, baring both shoulders, clung to her body as if powered by some form of anti-gravity or magnetism. The curves suggested birth and life and vitality. They suggested sweaty nights and messy sheets. They reminded Darrin that all of that was out the window now. The rise of the man-eating, monster plants had seen to that.
Bitter and angry, Darrin stood. He wobbled a little from the booze. Something about the woman out there, dancing with herself as though she had no cares in the world, pissed him off. The uselessness of making love to her—a presumptuous idea, but one that had crossed his mind suddenly—made him grind his teeth in irritation, although he'd never considered having children, nor thought of himself as wishing to become a father. There'd be none of that any longer. Human civilization was at its end.
Darrin strode over to her, conscious of one or two sets of eyes among the semi-darkness watching him.
He crossed the dance floor directly to the dancing woman, stopped in front of her. He stood hands on hips, mindless of the music, staring at the woman. She saw him, twirled, and when she came back around, she was smiling.
"I saw you sitting over there," she said.
"I was hoping you'd come over."
"Well, here I am." Darrin spread his arms as if to say, Now what?
"I'm Patricia." She leaned close, still moving her hips and torso with the beat. "Last names don't matter any more," she said.
"Did they ever?"
"What's your name?" She reached out and placed both her hands on Darrin's shoulders. He eyed her distrustfully for a moment, then sighed.
"Last days of existence, and you're drawn to a place like this, Darrin. Why?"
"I could ask you the same thing."
"You could. I like to dance. And I loved the Eighties." She gave him another smile. "That's why I'm here. What about you?"
She was closer to him now. Her hands on his shoulders, her forearms pressed against his chest. The distance between their bodies was almost nil. Darrin could feel the music begin to move his feet, as though she were channeling it through her arms and into his bloodstream, where it was being pumped around his body by his beating heart.
"I liked the Eighties, too," he said after a while, hearing the lie come out lame to his ears. The truth was, he'd come looking to pick someone up. The whole sweaty, messy sheets angle. Then discarded the idea immediately upon arriving and discovering the sorry state of the near-deserted dance club. Drinking had then become a priority.
Now, it seemed, this woman—Patricia—was bringing him back around to his initial plan. Hooking up.
Their bodies pressed together. They were moving as one, to the beat of the song blaring over Tubular's sound system. "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order.
Darrin leaned in close to Patricia's ear. "This is—"
A loud crash sounded near the front of the club. It was accompanied by several shrill screams.
"—nice." The word squeaked out, becoming sour and fearful.
Both Darrin and Patricia turned to see what the commotion was. He clutched the woman close, felt her tensed muscles, her body heat.
More yells came from somewhere up by the front door. An instant later, two or three terrified people rushed from that direction towards the empty dance floor, towards Darrin and Patricia.
Behind them came the plants.
Darrin was no botanist. He could tell you which language a random piece of software was programmed in, but he couldn't identify common flowers or trees; and the categories of plants he knew were basically limited to those he could eat, and lately, a second group—those which could eat him.
The plants now bursting through the entrance of Tubular and into the club were of the second variety.
Darrin watched horrified as one of the green viney things reached out and took hold of a poor man who was too slow in fleeing. Gripping him by the ankles, the plant dangled the man—flailing his arms about and hollering madly the whole while—over its gaping maw. Fascinated and horrified, Darrin watched the creature drop the struggling man into its waiting mouth.
As it began to chew the poor soul, Darrin came awake to the horror of the scene, and turned away, sickened.
"Come on," shouted Patricia. She was pulling on his arm, urging him to move.
Panicked people were now pouring onto the dance floor, fleeing the pursuing plants. Leading them right towards Darrin and Patricia. He felt his feet come unglued from the floor, and allowed himself to be pulled along by the woman he'd just met.
On the sound system, which continued to blare out hits of the Eighties unabated, the song, "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House began.
Together, he and Patricia raced to the edge of the dance floor, cutting across the path of the fleeing men and women and the snapping, snarling plants that followed.
"There's a side door," Patricia called over her shoulder.
They left the dance floor and were running between tables. Patricia suddenly skidded to a stop.
"Back," she said.
"What's the matter?"
"Back! Go back!"
Now he could see over her bare shoulder the door she'd been headed for. It had burst open, and now twisting, probing vines were flowing through.
Darrin reached out and took Patricia's hand. Their eyes met for a split second—he wondered if his were as terrified as hers—and then he turned and began running back towards the dance floor. Patricia trailed along behind him. He was just at the edge of the suddenly very lively and crowded dance floor when he was jerked roughly backwards. Patricia cried out.
He whirled around, and watched helplessly as the woman was ripped from his grip, a leafy tentacle wrapped around her waist, snaking away from Darrin.
"Patricia!" he yelled.
"Run, Darrin!" she called out. The plant lifted her into the air, the bulky trunk of the thing sizing her up, and opened its mutated mouth. A plant tongue wagged expectantly. "It doesn't have to end like this. It's not over, Darrin. Don't—"
And she was gone.
Don't panic? Don't give up? Don't forget about her?
Don't dream it's over.
Was that what she was going to say?
Was she the last of the optimistic people on the planet Earth? Or just a crazy Eighties fanatic after all?
Christ, he thought. Why the hell had he come here tonight?
He didn't even like the Eighties.
Shaking his head, Darrin listened with bitterness to the lyrics of the Crowded House song still playing. Too late, he thought. It's not a dream. It's over. It's all over.
As if on cue, the sound system made a noise of distress as the needle slid over the record, and then with a loud crash and an explosion of sparks, there was a terrific commotion from the DJ's area.
Darrin turned to watch what could only be termed the official end of Eighties night, while all around him—within Tubular, as well as without, in the greater wide world—the end of everything else arrived. At least, for the humans. However, the plants—
Movement to his right caught Darrin's attention, giving him a split second to turn and see the fast approaching, leafy monstrosity. Vines reached out for him; the thing's unnatural jaw snapped open and shut in hungry anticipation.
With a final scream, Darrin was lifted off his feet, held aloft.
The end of Darrin came immediately after.