“There’s an orgy in room 310!”
I raised my eyes from an exceedingly obstinate bundle of day pass strings—the info desk kids were never ready for Friday—and frowned at the girl in front of the desk, one of the recent additions to the Morakon crew. She was a twig of a person, a bit underdressed for the season in a flowery yellow, taller than me even despite my ancient black platform boots. As the perfect Rijeka-raised specimen of a geek, her general appeal was topped off with blindingly aquamarine hair and clear, albeit reserved dread in her brown eyes—no doubt, from having to talk to me. I’ve never seen her before in my life, and yet my body decided she was worthy of my undivided attention—after hours attention—on the spot.
“And that would be my concern because…?” I let one of my eyebrows twitch, grateful for the days upon days I’d spent practicing in front of a mirror at home as an Addams-loving stripling.
“Aren’t you a member of the con security?” she asked, lowering her gaze. She seemed unsure whether to focus on my too-genderless, square-shaped corset, the newest swirls of color on my arms—a string of orchids from that scene from Secretary, not that the kid would know that, being a Tik Tok native—or the tight, almost impolitely straight part in my pomaded short hair.
“I’m just the welcome committee,” I said and disentangled two particularly tight string knots.
“Who do I talk to, then?” she raised her voice, apparently finding her balls. “If one of the actual security guys catches them… What if somebody calls the police?”
“Find Dejo,” I said. “Let her deal with it before it escalates—whatever it actually is.” With that, I turned my back at the kid, certain it would be the last I heard about the alleged orgy in 310.
What did these kids think, that I was born yesterday?
Saturday morning found my hungover ass alone at the scene of the crime called Morakon, strolling through the empty con venue on my tallest public-friendly heels, ready to finally settle at the info desk and see what the last shift had managed to fuck up.
I’d protested, sure I did, when Dejo had first said she’d post some kids at closing time, offering a chance to get soused Friday night even to me. ‘You’ve done your share of evening shifts on Morakon,’ she’d told me the last time I tried to argue the point of recruiting experienced info and hospitality people for the toughest, late night shifts. ‘I don’t want to drink alone,’ she’d added, too, belying her own words yesterday afternoon when she’d greeted me already a little tipsy before the opening ceremony. I had to get drunk all by my lonesome at the midnight screening of some old Russian fantasy film on the second floor—which hadn’t even turned out all that bad.
Last night’s wrap-up team—comprised of the newest kids on the crew, which made me vaguely hope the blue-haired girl from yesterday hadn’t been among them—had apparently made a thorough enough cleanup job of the old venue. I only had to pick up five discarded, empty cans and no less than three sets of keys.
Why people lose their keys at conventions, I have no idea. How they manage to get back home isn’t my problem. I’m just there to make sure that, when they slowly start trickling back to the con, early Saturday afternoon, and remember to ask the info desk whether any keys had been turned in, we have something to show them.
In the end, I refilled my water bottle, downed a couple of aspirin and set my legs up on the info desk—I’d just gone up and down a lot of stairs—to wait for the first baby volunteers, the ones who took Dejo seriously when she set the schedule for the con.
As I was chilling, scrolling on my phone, I found myself eyeing a certain set of keys—the ones with a beheaded Sam Winchester figurine, with only the head left on the chain. Didn’t Dejo sport a similar one, a while ago?
In the end, the first person to casually stroll into the venue wasn’t a baby, at least not this morning—even though she was a volunteer.
It was my blue-haired not-friend from yesterday. I fought a desperate urge to sit up straight, get my feet out of her line of sight, and act on attention. All of that—even before I took in her appearance. She wore a similar dress to yesterday, this one the brightest, most playful magenta, which made the blue hues in her locks more intense. But the way it fit her was almost improbably better, as if she’d gotten her own, personal celebrity tailor overnight. Her tall, skinny build, which she’d carried with an almost apologetical insecurity yesterday, seemed no less than a young Amazon’s today.
I tried not to drool as I lifted an eyebrow at her—the other one, this time.
“Come to try to fool me into believing the orgy joke once more?” I asked, unwilling to let her even think about fooling around again. It wasn’t easy, holding my own, faced with the bright, almost villainously sexified version of the girl’s yesterday self.
“It wasn’t a joke,” she said, and batted her eyelashes at me—I shit you not, that’s exactly what she did, as if we were teens in some Riverdrake or something. The lashes were dark, imposing—but they still didn’t detract the focus from the abundance of her lips, only slightly glossed, like some girls liked to do. And boys. And the rest of us.
“Right,” I said, doing my best not to doze off into picturing what exactly a person like me might do to lips like those. “Sure.”
“Weren’t you a guy yesterday?” she asked, vehemently ogling—with shameless appreciation in stark contrast from her shyness yesterday—my current getup.
“I’m never a guy,” I said.
“So you’re a girl, then?” She played with a loose lock of the aquamarine crown on her head. Even her hair looked a lot less like cotton candy, and a lot more worshipable today.
“Not me,” I said, shocked both at the cotton candy thought—I’ve always been one for sweets—and the audacity of my sex drive to be prompted into action once more at the sight of one of the infant volunteers.
Not that I ever got paid to work a con—none of us did. Which is why, I think, I didn’t bother trying not to be a petty little shit most of the time during Morakon.
“What about you?” I asked.
“Girl all the way,” she said, those hazel orbs twinkling at me.
“No, you’re… What happened to you?”
The twinkling lights blinked a question—or an invitation to one—and it didn’t help.
“You’ve… changed,” I said.
“Oh, that,” she sighed. As her body relaxed back into its sudden chill, I smelled cherry blossom. Her overnight makeover had come with a good choice of perfume, then. “I joined the orgy,” she said,
“What fucking orgy?” I asked—right before I remembered. “The alleged orgy in 310?”
“There was nothing alleged about it,” she said. Her smile shone brighter than her eyes as she winked at me, turned her fucking back at me in a blatant show of disrespect—stop drooling, for fuck’s sake!—and started up the first of the venue’s many flights of stairs leading up to the program rooms. “What are you waiting for?” she called from the top of the stairs, like a goddess from Olympus.
“I’ve got—” I tried, vaguely pointing at the info desk. “Before Dejo gets here and she finds out that the cash register had—”
“Oh, don’t worry,” the girl said, disappearing from sight at the upper stairs. “I don’t really think she left last night,” her voice echoed after her.
One thing was certain—the stairs were murder in heels as I clambered after her.
The thing is, while making my rounds of the venue earlier this morning, I hadn’t even thought about going into room 310. The last programme slot up there—I knew it was some random music quiz, because it was my business to know—had ended a good two hours before final call last night. It wasn’t one of the smaller rooms, or one of the usually darker rooms, nor a remote one, which would’ve upped its chances of serving as a spot for nefarious deeds. It was right there, in the middle of the third floor hallway, almost in everyone’s sight.
Which is why I, of all people, have missed it.
The low humming tipped me off first. Once I’d become aware of it, it seemed almost impossible to miss. I guess I’d been more hungover than I’d thought earlier today. Must be showing my age.
The humming was spreading out from the closed door to 310, hitting my chest head on, like that time I tried Krav Maga and had nothing to show for it after a few weeks other than a few bruises. (Okay, it wasn’t all bad, obviously. The bruises themselves had made it almost worth it.) The sub-audible sound flowed over my body, encapsulating the blue-haired girl on my side and resonating with her, as if they existed on the same frequency, the girl and the humming. Her blue hair sparkled when I stole a glance at her, and the smell of cherry blossom grew even stronger. So sue me—she smelled like the finest tea I’d ever dreamed of brewing, making it almost uncomfortable for me to stand so close to her in front of the door.
She smiled when she noticed my look—and gave me a similar one in return, matching both the hunger and a little of the awe.
My cheeks burned. To save myself from the knowing look and from the currently unwanted humiliation, I pushed the door to 310 open.
At first, the humming and the cherry blossom—of the literal, petal kind, floating in the air of the usually boring classroom—were all I could fathom.
And then I saw the bodies in motion. They were everywhere—a good twenty, almost thirty people, caught together in a tapestry of skin and hair, moving together, subtly glowing together, hugging, kissing, touching, licking, grinding; having the time of their lives, by the looks of it.
And at the center of it all, a single cherry tree grew almost as tall as the ceiling, its graceful trunk laced with a gentle, pink and white glow from an impossibly warm moonlight from within.
The heat rushing to meet me from inside was almost overpowering.
Among the bodies, I caught a tattooed shoulder of the sighing head organizer herself—Dejo, in all her glory, caught in a pretty tight-looking arrangement with one of her boyfriends. I know it’s unfair of me, but I’d never seen the guy looking as hot as he did right now—nor Dejo, come to think of it. It was a weird feeling, as if you’d suddenly found out the counter lady at the corner store from your building was hot. I dunno. Maybe some counter people were. Not mine.
I shielded my eyes from the… glow up, I guess, the kids these days would call it. Damn, I wish I’d taken my sunglasses from their safe drawer down at the info desk. But the last time Dejo caught me wearing them inside, out of cosplay, she threatened to have her bestie Tina tattoo Edward Cullen 4evah on my forehead.
I’d never thought so hard about getting another tattoo artist like I did then, but Tina was the best in the whole of Rijeka.
I felt a hand at the small of my back. I think I almost tripped on my heels when I jumped.
“Easy,” the blue-haired girl at my side said in a low, calming voice full of cherry blossom and memories of velvet warmth—not my own.
The hand didn’t move away.
“What’s going on?” I asked, the control slipping from my voice.
“I’m just going to help,” she said, and the pressure on my back increased, gently nudging me to turn to her. I thought of keeping to my rules—no fledglings and absolutely no volunteers—and to my dignity. I leaned into her instead.
Her arm snaked around my waist like a gentle, supporting tree branch, and her lips found mine in the humming. The velvet touch of her became all I could feel for a while, as she kissed me. The warmth spread from her lips without staying on them, and flowed through me, filling me up from the inside, making me lean towards her.
“This isn’t you,” I whispered as we parted for a quick breath.
“You’ve known me for a day,” she breathed into my mouth, all cherry heat, while her forehead rested on mine. As I lifted my eyes to find hers, there were sparks of white and pink lights dancing in the hazel. “I’ve wanted to do this ever since I first laid my eyes on you at the volunteer meetup before the con.”
“I didn’t even know you existed,” I replied defiantly, hoping—against common sense—that it would make her more willing to do what I needed her to do, what I’d needed all my partners to do.
“I know,” she said, sliding a scorching-hot thumb down the side of my cheek, making me shiver. “I’m going to make you remember me for the rest of your life.” The thumb found the edge of my jaw, and slid lower, the pressure increasing up to the point we were both able to feel my desperate, quickening heartbeat. “I’m going to keep you at the edge of your wildest dreams for as long as you’re able to stay.” Her palm wrapped around my throat. The humming was coming from inside my ears now. “And then… I’m going to make you bleed.”
I think I died a little, right there, right then. She somehow kept me upright, kissing me, letting her palms get a small taste of my body as we met each other halfway between desire and abandon. I didn’t even mind her touching me all over—feeling more than I let people know before at least the fifth date, because I am, after all, not a teenager anymore—as I gave myself over to the warmth. I swear, I could hear gentle rustling from the cherry tree in front of us, in the middle of the roomful of bodies in heat, and it sounded more than pleased. It sounded satisfied.
And all the while the girl and I kept kissing, sharing quite a few bodily fluids along the way. She never stopped touching me, never ceased her contact with my bare skin, which proved to be an overheating issue pretty quickly, one I was more than willing to ignore as long as she let me stay in her arms.
We kissed and we kissed… right until the wildest moan I’d ever heard in my whole depraved life filled the air and the ceiling collapsed right in the middle of room 310 with a deafening cry of shattering wood.
I gotta give it to the people who’d built the convention venue as a school, the long-ago, Austro-Hungarian construction folk—they didn’t fool around with their stuff. The part of the ceiling which had been broken due to sheer pressure from the ever growing tree left a huge, almost larger-than-life round hole, and it had brought two classroom desks down to our level with it, sending splinters, curved bars and bright pink petals all around.
It had fallen right onto a threesome at the side of the tree, taking down a few of the branches as well as a few lives—I didn’t have the time to see who it was, but they were gone.
At that point, I turned to the girl and screamed to cover the gurgling sounds of death and fornication. “WE NEED TO STOP THIS!”
As if through a full-on pile of cherry blossom petals, she blinked and blinked at me in the slowest movement I’d ever seen.
And then her hazel eyes focused and I knew she was able to see me once again.
“What the actual…” she whispered, her eyes wide.
The tree seemed to pulsate by then, and it grew through the hole in the ceiling again, this time in front of my bare fucking eyes—as if the deaths had filled with with a new, consuming urge to flourish. I almost shit my pants. But the years of info desk duty—years of drunks, lost people, Supernatural fans and a myriad of other characters, one after another, and again, and again—had built me up for this.
It was almost as if Morakon had trained me for this.
I quickly took the room in. Carefully, although quickly, I walked to the first couple I could reach—two boys with cheap neon wigs whose cosplay swords, discarded at their sides, weren’t the only impressive thing about them—and tried to touch the closer one’s shoulder, to get him to move.
The whole room shook, making my legs tremble with it. The petals in the air stilled. But the boys didn’t stop what they had been up to.
I took my hand away while it was still attached to my body and stepped back, quickly.
For fuck’s sake.
I walked back to the girl at the door, who stood perfectly still, unable to take her gaze off the cherry tree. I reached for her arm—hot, almost damagingly so—and turned her to face me. “Listen to me—we need to stop this NOW!” I said.
She nodded and allowed me to steer her towards the door—out of the way of a second, smaller salve of ceiling fodder. “I don’t think we—” she tried when we reached the door, but I shook my head hard enough to get a small concussion.
“You were here when it started!” I said, thinking faster than ever—hopefully fast enough to save my fucking only friend’s life. “What happened? How did this—” I spread my arms around, making quite a few cherry petals sway in the air, in motion again “—happen?”
“I don’t remember!” she screamed. Not one of the glowing, intertwined people seemed to have heard her. Neither did the tree. For what it’s worth.
“Okay,” I said, rubbing my temples, which only made the scent of cherries intensify, almost to the point of overly sweet. “Okay. We can figure this out. When did it start?”
“At the last quiz,” she answered, looking around. A branch crackled and wriggled a little as another guttural moan filled the room, but the rest of the ceiling stayed where it was. “Dejo was late, and she was—well, you know what she was like last night. They’d just begun the Hans Zimmer category and Dejo got into an argument with the quiz organizer about the Pirates of the Caribbean—you know, how The Battle from the 2000 soundtrack for—”
“I know!” I growled. “Get to the point!”
“Well, and then they started playing a song from some nineties’ anime through the speakers—and there was this glow—it came from everywhere,” she said, shaking a little. “It was like the sun on a summer midday—but pink. Like somebody had wrapped a piece of butcher’s cellophane over the sun, and they hadn’t even washed the blood down first.” Her fists clenched at her sides. “And then the quiz girl kissed her partner in front of the whole audience… and all of a sudden there was a sapling in the middle of the room, and I thought—I hadn’t even taken anything. It was just… there, right where an empty chair had been before. And it all sort of… escalated, with… the quiz girl and the…”
“I don’t need the details,” I said, even though I wanted them, craved them—and I couldn’t even be sure it was the cherry blossom menace, and not my usual problematic self talking.
My gaze slipped over the massacre at the center of the room.
“How did you get out?” I asked the girl, quickly losing interest in anything other than the fact that there were dead people in the room. Dejo was still alive—I could see the tattoos at the back, now in a boyfriend-sandwich—but for how long? “You went out of the building—I saw you come in today. You went home, right? You must’ve done something different!”
“I overheated!” the girl yelled at me in return, her eyes threatening to overflow. “I can’t stand the heat, I’ve never been able to. It gets even hotter for me when I come so many times in a row. So I went out of 310 just for a minute or two, to stick my head under the tap in the bathroom.”
“You literally cooled yourself down.”
She stared at me. The anger in her eyes did nothing to tune down my groveling insides. She would’ve been so lovely to grovel at.
“Was the water very cold?”
“Almost freezing,” she muttered. “You know how the pipes in these old buildings get.”
“Alright,” I said, smoothing down my hair, “okay. Come with me if you wanna live to see another Morakon.”
Being an organizer at a big con like this—well, big in Croatian terms—helped a little, because I had access to all the keys to all the storage rooms on all the floors. But the best thing I did in the next fifteen minutes, the longest fifteen minutes of my life, was taking off those goddamned heels. If I’d stayed in them, I’ve no doubt that we would’ve lost another convention patron, or even more.
Talk about the cost of beauty.
The girl with the blue hair, whose face had soon become tear-streaked as she got back from whatever pleasure void the cherry blossom invasion had taken her to, worked alongside me without a single word. We rounded up and filled all the many buckets and washbowls, and gathered the ice-cold water bottles from the cantina fridge, depositing them all right outside room 310, ignoring the gumming and the moaning and the ominous crackling sounds. We worked faster than advisable, running up and down the many stairs—the marble was cold enough under my feet to keep me grounded, but not cold enough to make me start sneezing—and we got lucky because not one morning visitor came to the welcome desk while we were trying to save the world.
Or, at least, the convention.
As I lowered the final bucket to the floor—this one had come from Moracon’s private reserve, from a staff room only Dejo and I had the keys to—I noticed the blue-haired girl looking straight at me.
She straightened herself up when our gazes met. “If we don’t make it…”
“Shut up and open the door for me,” I said.
“Are you always this rude or is it just to me?” she asked, and the commanding note in her pouting made me want to get close up and personal with the cold marble floor beneath her feet.
“Please,” I added.
She kicked the door down with her boot and it burst into room 310 with a satisfying bang, letting out the cherry blossom scent, mixed with the aroma of human lust and overheating, not altogether pleasant anymore.
I picked up the first bucket, walked in as calmly as I was able to—and dumped the full flow of ice water straight onto the glowing, cherry-scented mass of human bodies.
It’s not over until the lady sings—or until the police and the ambulance come, and stop asking too many questions not one of the survivors from the orgy was able to give good answers to, not even Dejo.
Room 310 was as good as gone, and we’d lost five people total to the—whatever the actual fuck it had been. To the emergency services, it was a life-threatening amount of opiates associated with the Satanic youth matched with a Balkan-typical array of structural issues with old buildings.
If asked, I would’ve guessed it was those dreadful larpers and their ‘almost-realistic’ rituals, summoning who-knew-what up in their playroom at the top floor of the venue. The tree was gone, as if it had never even been there. I kinda wished at least a branch had been left, so I could’ve used the motherfucked for kindling, but no luck.
In any case, there was one last thing left for me to take care of before it was truly over—one last thing to come clean about, so to speak.
“Sorry if it makes me a perv,” I said to the blue-haired girl as we stood outside of the disaster range, covered in other people’s jackets, both doubly blue from the police lights in front of the venue. “…But I kinda thought you were hot on Friday, too.”
Her eyes, full of tears and cheap mascara flakes and every bit as glorious without otherworldly help, blinked at me. “Not many people did,” she admitted. “It was one of the reasons I’d joined them in the first place, once they truly got going.”
“The people in room 310?”
She nodded. “They showed more interest in me than anyone ever had, my whole life.”
“Not all of us can afford to let our interest be known,” I grumbled.
“But it’s… genuine?” she asked, tentatively.
“Cross my heart,” I said, “and I hope you won’t make me die, you know—” I curled a shoulder at the mess we’d left behind us at the Morakon venue “—but if you’d be, maybe, interested in letting me get to know you better, I wouldn’t, I suppose, be opposed to the idea—per se.” I brushed a stray lock of damp hair from my forehead. I was damp all over, and it wasn’t getting better any time soon. “If you’d be interested, I wouldn’t mind it if you, uh, let me… do stuff, for you. I guess.”
The smile she offered me brought the light back into her eyes—and it was all her, all the way, this time.
“I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl,” she said, stepping closer to kiss me—without the cherry overload, she tasted even more irresistible. “I’m gonna have so much fun with you, no matter what.”
“I know,” I said, returning the kiss with more urgency than I’d ever known in my whole life.
Author’s note: Dedicated to all the queer kids at Rikon 2021—you’ve no idea how wonderful it felt to see you, and to be seen. VK, Nov 17th, 2021.
© 2021. Vesna Kurilić
Vesna Kurilić is an ex-con volunteer, ex-info desk person, ex-larper and a dedicated congoer. She writes queer spec fic in English for Shtriga, historical PNR in Croatian for Hangar 7, and spends a generally too big amount of time on swooning over Gideon Nav. She works as a copyeditor and publisher on the side and uses up most of her waking hours as a librarian in defense of all things pulp.
Urednički komentar: Vesnina je priča ljubavno pismo starim Rikonima, onima koji su se održavali na tzv. starom faksu, nekada Filozofskom fakultetu u Rijeci. Nostalgija je ovdje tako jaka da je opipljiva koliko i miris trešnje u cvatu.