The morning of the Hellakill concert, Danny lumbers out into the icy November dawn and stomps his way to the bus stop. His repeated yawns leave puffs of steamy breath drifting into the air. He had been awake most of the night, imagining a thousand different ways the show could go: he plays great and the show is a success. The show is a disaster and it's his fault. He gets through every song without trouble. He screws up every other note. The girls think he looks like a fool. The girls fight over him because he's such a star thinking about it all nearly drove him crazy, and by morning Danny is a nervous, bleary-eyed wreck.
When he gets off the bus and walks up to the front steps of McLaughlin Collegiate, Kev pushes open the front doors and steps outside to meet him. Okay, okay, just hold it right there, Kev says, his usual sneer replaced with a broad grin. Are you ready? You're going to love this.
What the hell are you doing? Danny asks. It's freezing out here. Let's go in.
Kev, already starting to shiver in his Slipknot hoodie, laughs. No, no. This is too good. Guess whose face is on every wall of the whole damn school. Wait, wait, I'll give you a hint. It's one of us, but it's not me.
Danny gives his friend a suspicious glare. What the hell are you talking about?
Benny did you and your band buddies a big favor, Kev says, turning and preceding Danny up the steps and into the main foyer of the high school.
As soon as he's inside, Danny can see what Kev meant: taped up all around the walls at random intervals are small white posters with a picture of Danny's face at the center. He takes a closer look at one of them and reads: THIS GUY will be playing guitar for HELLAKILL tonight at THE VENTURE. $10, doors open at 7pm.
What the what? Where the hell did she get that picture of me?
I gave it to her, Kev says proudly. I've been keeping this a secret for a week. It was too funny.
Shit, this is embarrassing, Danny says. You know I can barely play. I'm basically going to be standing at the back trying not to fuck up. You think I want the whole school there waiting for me to make an idiot of myself?
Kev snorts. So you don't want people to go to this show, or what?
No, I mean, yeah, I want people to go. Just likenot people I know.
Oh dude, Kev says, shaking his head. You are such a chicken.
They head to their lockers, and as they pass down the hall Danny can feel people looking at him. He can hear whispers, Yeah, that's the guy on the poster. His cheeks flush red at each glance and each word.
The two boys separate and Danny goes to his math class. Some girls giggle as he walks by and he snaps his head around to send them a fierce look, but they aren't paying any attention to him. Damn, he thinks. I'm getting paranoid. I've got to chill out.
As he reaches the doorway to the classroom he hears a voice behind him, screeching in a mocking, exaggerated death metal voice: Hellakill! Hellakill!
Danny turns to look. It's Boyd, Benny's metal-head ex-boyfriend. As always, he's wearing a Metallica t-shirt (Metal Up Your Ass), with long blonde hair and a backwards baseball cap. Hellakill! he screeches again, and the boys with him laugh.
Bullies have always been a part of Danny's life. Being raised in a house with an aggressive, loudmouth father, he quickly learned that the easiest way to escape trouble was to become invisible and blend into the background to avoid conflict. That way, either Jay or his mother received the brunt of his father's temper. Danny hates being singled out, which is exactly what that poster is doing. And being singled out exposes him to the bullies and the loudmouths like Boyd.
It occurs to Danny that he should be angry with Benny for putting the posters up and making him such an easy target, but instead the anger wells up towards Boyd and the pack of cackling hyenas following him down the hall. He's seen Boyd's band play and they aren't so hot. Hellakill is a much better band. So why should he have to take that bullshit from Boyd?
Danny clenches his fist in anger and stares as the boys go around the corner and continue down the hall, joking and cackling at his expense. At last he turns and steps into the classroom. Benny is in her usual chair, and when she sees Danny she stands up and strikes a pose. Taa-daa! she says in a jubilant voice.
Taa-daa what? Danny says, easing his way up the aisle to take his usual seat next to her.
What do you mean, taa-daa what? she asks. Didn't you see all the posters?
Yeah, of course. How could I miss them?
Well? she says, sliding back down into her chair. What do you think?
I don't know, he says, avoiding her eyes while he pulls his books out of his knapsack. Don't you think you should have asked me first? I mean, this is kind of embarrassing. Everybody's looking at me when I walk down the hallway.
"I thought you would be happy."
He doesn't say anything.
Benny runs her hands through her short pink and blue hair. You know, Danny, she says, it was actually a lot of work making those things and then getting here early to put them up all over the school. I did it, you know, as a surprise for you, to try and make this show of yours a success. It would be nice if you would show even just a little bit of appreciation.
He sighs. I'm sorry. I know you're helping, it's just I don't know. This whole thing is pretty weird for me. Thanks, I guess.
You're welcome, I guess.
* * * * *
Jay sits in the outer office at Leland Tractor, Millenburgh's Komatsu dealership. It's a small office with dcor dating from the seventies, including orange vinyl chairs and a battered reception desk. The receptionist is a wrinkled woman in her fifties with thick makeup and the craggy voice of a heavy smoker. She occasionally glances up at Jay while he waits for his interview with Mr. Peterson. He sees her looking at him, and she smiles.
Jay nods politely. He can feel a trickle of sweat creeping down his underarm and he suddenly can't remember if he put on deoderant before leaving for this interview. He must have, he's sure. He was meticulous in preparing, even going so far as to dig a white undershirt out of his father's dresser so the name of a heavy metal band would not show through his thin white dress shirt. Yes, he must be wearing deoderant. And besides, even if he did start to sweat and stink, no one would be able to notice in this place. The office smelled faintly of diesel fuel and motor oil.
To relax he starts going over the set list for the show in his mind, considering possible song orders, possible changes. Take one song out, stick another in, move one song up in the order, switch another to the end. The set list they used for a gig in Fort Wayne a year ago was probably their best t ever, but they've added songs since then. And you can't keep repeating the set. You get bored. Fans get bored.
There is the sound of footsteps, and a small man with moustache, glasses and combed-over hair appears from a corridor. He looks at the receptionist.
Debra, Penner keeps calling about the Dover avenue job. I guess it's getting all fucked up because that dipshit Gareth hasn't made it out there yet. See if you can get him to call me back so I can tear him a new one.
Sure. Debra picks up the phone and starts dialling.
Mr. Peterson looks down at Jay, whose nervousness level just jumped up ten notches. You're Jay Warren? Peterson asks.
Yeah, hi, Jay says, standing and shaking hands with the little man.
Okay, come on. Peterson leads him down the hall and into a small office and directs him to sit down on another vinyl-covered chair. It's a depressing office, with faded paint, dusty venetian blinds and a couple of dented metal filing cabinets. The only thing looking even remotely new is the computer humming away on Peterson's desk.
So, Jay, why are you looking for work? Peterson says, sitting down on his squeeky office chair.
Um, well, I've been working as a professional musician for the last few years, and that's going okay, but I need something a bit more steady. You know, a regular paycheck, that kind of thing.
Right. Peterson pushes through some papers that are heaped across his desk. I had your resume here before. Aw, fuck, I don't know where it is. Did you bring one with you?
Jay shakes his head.
"It doesn't matter. Tell me about some other places you've worked.
Jay gives him a brief rundown of the jobs he's held since high school, and since Peterson isn't looking at his actual resume, he stretches the time that he spent at each place of business: three weeks at Burger Haven becomes six months, two months at Sale-Mart become a year. Suddenly Jay's very sparse employment record starts looking quite robust.
All right, that's fine, Peterson says with a wave of his hand. We need someone for our parts department. Your responsibilities would be to receive parts shipments, pull and ship orders to customers, and deliver parts to our shop. It's not difficult work, but you have to be detail oriented. Little mistakes can really slow things down. If some guy needs a fifteen cent o-ring to fix a fuel pump in a motor-grader and you send the wrong one, that's a million-and-a-half dollar machine doing nothing because of your mistake. You follow?
Jay nods. If you show me how to do something, I'll do it the way you want.
That's good, Peterson says. I would need you here from eight until five, Monday to Friday. If you can't show up on time, you can't work here. Got it?
That's a lot of practice time lost, but fuck it, he needs this job. I've never been late for anything in my life, he says in a strong voice.
Good. The wage we're offering is nine and a quarter per hour with a three month probation period. Come in Monday morning and bring your social security number and all that kind of shit and we'll do up your paper work. That sound good to you?
The two men shake hands and Jay leaves, stepping out of the building and into the dusty compound. Massive pieces of yellow industrial equipment sit scattered about the yard. He digs a cigarette out and lights up, sighing with relief, both to be out of the presence of the overbearing little man, and also because one of his major obstacles is out of the way. He has a job. Now he needs to find an apartment for him and Danny.
He heads out of the yard and starts walking down the road toward the bus stop. Shit, full time. At nine-twenty-five a hour, he could replace his guitar in a hundred hours, easy. That's what, two and a half weeks? But he'll need to start banking money to save for rent. too.
But a new guitar. More than anything, Jay needs a new guitar. Walking with a quick, excited step, Jay starts to think about the night's show. It's starting to look like a pretty good day.
2008 Nolan Whyte