Becker woke up early and stumbled into the back room to find to his enjoyment it was empty. He soundly got to work. Fumbling around the room for a piece of paper, he began writing down a small riff in TAB. He quickly grabbed Kris's Les Paul and played it without amplification, so as to not wake anyone up. It was probably 7:30 or so, and he had to move fast, as Jay's inner church-clock woke him up soundly at 8 AM every day.
The riff was more of a jazz piece Becker had been working on for at least a year now but just couldn't get right. But then, as he awoke, he heard it in his head, and simply had to try it. And as his fingers moved soundly up and down the neck, he could tell it was perfect. But then he paused mid-note. This was just the intro. 11 months of writer's block, and all he had was an opening jazz riff?
He smirked at his own uselessness and put Kris's guitar down. Who was he kidding? He wasn't meant to finish the piece. All he had was a progression and a riff. Nothing more.
Stumbling back through the bus, Becker found his bag in the storage closet and proceeded to quickly dress. He wondered who would be driving the bus today when an alarm went off and he saw Kris get up from their bunk and stagger toward the front of the bus past him.
Oh, good. Someone else is awake. Kris muttered through tight lips. Well, if you're going to be bothering me this early, make me some coffee.
Becker nodded distastefully and did so, being careful as Kris started the bus up and got on the highway. The ruckus must have woken up a few others, as he could hear assorted groans from the bunks behind him. One was distinctively Mike's, as Becker could remember Mike's drunk groan. Becker shook it off and went to the front seat to hand Kris his cup of joe.
Thank you. Kris muttered softly and ineffectively as Becker sat in the passenger seat right next to Kris.
We're going to DC, right? Becker asked, trying to nurse the headache his hangover was steadily bringing to the table. It was his feeble attempt at social interaction before 3 PM.
Correct. Kris replied curtly, then added. There's this one guitarist that'll be there. Remind me to introduce him to you.
Will do. Becker mumbled.
His name's Kingston. Kris went on. Larry Ronald Kingston. But most people just call him the King. He's an insane playerpeople say he sold his soul to the devil for his playing abilities.
How come I've never heard of him? Becker asked, staring out the window.
Real underground. Doesn't like the public eye. I met him once. His handshake is as cold as the ninth circle of hell. Icy and blank. He's like a mannequin. They say he's all into the occult and everything. Didn't just come across the devil; he summoned him.
Becker paused and reached into his pocket, withdrawing the fake ID with the phone number written in permanent marker on the back.
Hey, do you think he'd know anything aboutlike, spirit animals, or anything?
Spirit animals? Kris asked, turning his eyes from the road for a moment to stare at Becker. Uh, probably. Why?
No reason. Becker replied, quickly stuffing the ID back in his pocket.
Anson had not lied the night before. It was the bad part of DC they landed in. Mike, taking charge, gathered everyone outside the bus. Everyone had their gear in hand, and were hoping futilely that the warehouse they were playing in had some sort of PA system. But judging by the look of the filthy area, they knew that if that were so, someone would have stolen it by now.
Right, then. Mike stated, clamping the padlock on the door shut. I've locked every lock on this bus and added this padlock beauty, so hopefully, we won't be losing anything.
Hopefully is the key word. Andrew laughed. The people around here are pretty resourceful.
No racist jokes, anyone! Kris ordered, despite Andrew's snickering.
And with that, the group of eight moved silently down the road with guitars and amps and drums in hand, trying to remain inconspicuous. But, as Becker noted, that was rather hard when you're holding a number of musical instruments and wearing strange band t-shirts.
Anson had decided to go all out this evening, as he lived in the slummy part of Harmony Hill back home. He was wearing the jeans he tore on a chain link fence, his crucifix necklace, and a dirty Nirvana shirt. He hadn't shaved in a day or two, and his rotten stubble was an effort in camouflage. And it appeared to work, as a man with long, raggedy hair passed, he nodded to Anson as though he were an old friend. Anson smiled.
See? he said, leaning over to Becker. It's the art of the d*****bag.
An art, I see. Becker nodded. Much like blending into a crowd of Twilight fans by shrieking uncontrollably.
Becker laughed fully, not expecting Anson to be in such a grand mood. Anson had been a bit antsier on the bus recently. He had slept, but very lightly. Becker, in his sleeplessness and loss of sudden dreams, could often hear Anson wake up, roll over, and go back to sleep with an occasional unintelligible mumble. But he had thought nothing of it until now, seeing as Anson was downright peppy.
What's up with the happy demeanor? Becker asked, barely keeping pace with his amp and bass.
I've lost it. Anson joked, choking back a scoff. Nah, I don't know. It's kind of like, I've had a clarifying moment.
A clarifying moment?
Yeah. I mean, I lost my girlfriend, had my parents toss me out of the house, and have been sharing a bus with no shower with seven other guys. And somehow, I feel great.
You got thrown out of your house? Becker repeated, begging for elaboration.
Oh, of course. Anson laughed. Mom decided 16 is old enough for a man to make it on his own.
Wait, so where are you going to live after the tour? Becker asked.
Beats the living hell out of me.
Well, I mean, I'm sure we could find you a place to stay.
Well, Charlie's got no money and no brains, Eric's about a step from running away from home, Jay has two other sisters, La Migra won't let me in
You can stay at my place. Becker suddenly announced.
What? No, you don't have room.
Anson, you've seen my basement. There's a whole other room besides the band room. Take it.
We'llhave to talk about it when we get back.
My mum wouldn't refuse, knowing you'd rot on the streets.
Yeah, yeah. Anson sighed, taking off and leading the pack as the group reached the warehouse, which Becker realized was about 5 blocks away from the tour bus. Mike gave a hearty knock on the large sliding door, and about a minute later, a large bald man in tattoos answered, sliding the massive door aside.
Ahoy hoy. Mike said calmly. Annoyance and the I.N.S.
Gotcha, go on.
Mike nodded to his fellow musicians and the eight strolled through the door into a huge room with a wooden stage carefully constructed against the far wall. It looked quite unstable and ready to collapse at a fly's landing.
Clever lingo, there. Jay said to Mike as they placed their equipment in the large pile of other instruments next to the stage.
Oh, yeah. Mike replied, sounding quite proud of himself.
Synonyms? Jay asked incredulously. It was pure synonyms of our band names!
Shush. Not so loud. Mike held a finger to his lips and whispered. You'll flood this place with my genius.
The bands were eventually shown to a back room filled with a series of ugly-looking, dusty couches, a pool table, and a large refrigerator. La Migra graciously helped themselves to the crustless sandwiches and beer in the fridge before napping on the purple leather couch in the northwestern corner. Jay, Becker, and Eric sat uncomfortably on a plaid cloth couch, with Eric unknowingly receiving a prostate exam from a broken spring.
Eric. Becker began, turning to face him better. Anything else about your family come to you? Names? Birth dates?
No. Go away. Eric said with a scowl. He closed his eyes and sighed before leaning his head back on the backrest of the couch. Jay shrugged at Becker before Kris appeared before them, dragging Becker up by the wrist.
Come on, Kingston's here. Kris explained, leading Becker to the pool table, where a man with a nearly clean-shaven head and a heavy patch of stubble on his chin was lining up a shot. With a flick of his wrist, the cue ball leaped over the eight ball and struck the final striped ball on the table, sinking it effortlessly.
Game, set, the man said, turning to face Kris and Becker. and match.
Becker, this is Kingston. Kris introduced the two, and they shook hands awkwardly. Kingston's hands were as cold as Kris said they were. Kris then retreated to the safety of the purple leather couch for more alcohol and sandwiches.
So you're the one I've been hearing about. Kingston said in a deep but rather friendly voice. Becker felt like he had known this guy for years and they were best friends.
Huh? Becker was confused. Me? Why?
Well, I mean Chagrin in general. Kingston explained. Your whole crazy stalker thing.
The Shredder. Becker muttered. Yeah, I guess you've heard about all that?
Yup. And Word around the Garden of Eden is, you think this guy's followed you on the tour.
What? How did you know that? Nobody was even around when I told that to Jay.
Oh, I have my informants. Kingston nodded and laughed, poking the side of his nose.
Well, I've been on the freak out mode lately. Becker admitted, pulling the ID out of his pocket. For instance, last night. I passed out for a bit, and when I woke up, I swear to God, I was staring at a rabbit on the beach. After it scurried off, I found this phone number on the back of my ID.
Kingston took the ID from Becker and began examining it, running his fingers across its surface.
For one, I'll tell you this is a s****y fake ID. He laughed.
Come on, man. Becker begged.
Okay, hang onnow, you said you passed out. So you were drunk. And you don't recognize the number?
Not a chance. Becker said. Checked all the contacts on my cell.
Well, I'm a-thinkin' your heads messing with you. I think you probably hallucinated the rabbit in a state of semi-sleep, and somehow, these numbers ended up on your ID through your own workings. I think you WANT to believe they appeared in a supernatural pretense.
Huh Becker put a finger to his chin, trying to look like he was thinking, when in reality, he had already thought of that.
Anyway, why not just call the number? Easy, simple, and it answers the question.
Because I have no guts. Becker jokedsort of.
See you onstage, man. He said before going back to his pool game.
Becker stood there, dumbfounded.
Had he just been schooledor owned?
Chagrin was astounded by Kingston and his band's show. They were a fast paced, almost metal sounding group. Kingston slammed out the leads like a man insane. Becker looked to Kris, who gave him a mere eyebrow raise as communication. Not that much could be heard above the band. And toward the end, mainly just as a closing, Kingston riffed off a Dimebag-sounding solo, thrashing his strings. Becker had to wonder if he really had sold his soul to the devil for his playing abilities.
La Migra volunteered to go first, so as to give Chagrin more exposure. As they played, the members of Chagrin fled to the back room. Eric began passing around the set list. Becker took one look at it and laughed.
We're opening with Slither? he looked at Eric with a grim expression. Is that appropriate for this crowd?
We're in a warehouse that used to be a water treatment facility. Jay explained. It's perfect. Dirty, dirty!
Can you pull off Scott Weiland? Becker asked Charlie, who was trying to pat away the smoke from Anson's cigarette.
Assuming Anson doesn't put that thing out, I'll be doing a James Hetfield. Charlie gasped.
Anson, put it out! Eric ordered. Anson complied, albeit with a look of confusion.
What's got you in a bind? Anson asked. Eric was staring down at the crushed cigarette, which was still spewing an occasional ember.
Nothing. Let's go. Eric said, leading the band to the stage as La Migra finished. As usual, Kris patted Becker on the head before they took the stage.
Charlie was feeling charismatic as Becker started the bass track to Slither, so he began to tap out the beat with his head rocking. The performance was a little sloppy, but Eric came through on Slash's solo, making the guitar scream for its mother.
Charlie then gave a short intro to the next song, Enigma. Becker was painfully aware of this song, as they had fought over it the night Eric got attacked. They ebbed and flowed easily through it, before moving onto a new song they had written on the bus, When the Guns Stop. It was a drum heavy song, which began with a military snare part Jay had learned in Drum Corps.
From there, they went through Crash the Glass and "Mars". But when Eric went to start the opening riff of his song Inferno, something odd happened. There was a crackling sound along with the lead riff. Something was wrong. Becker stopped. Smoke. He could swear there was the familiar scent of smoke.
He unplugged himself and moved quickly as the flames licked up from under the stage. Anson had seen them and was already helping Jay move the drum set off stage. Charlie was beyond gone, and Becker didn't think twice. He was off the stage right behind Anson and Jay. The three were met by Kris and Andrew, who looked panic-stricken.
Where's Charlie? Jay asked, out of breath and sweating.
Leapt off the stage. Becker explained.
And Mike? Jay went on.
Firing uper, starting up the bus. He can't talk to the cops, he's still on probation for the drinking thing and we know he's been in the fridge in the back room. We're out of here! Kris said, looking up at the stage.
Becker did so as well, and to his utter horror, he saw Eric standing in the circle of fire, not moving a muscle. Kris cursed loudly, but among the panic, no one could hear him. As Kris charged the stage, he was suddenly repelled by a large wall of flame. The smoke was now clouding the air, and Becker's vision was beginning to fade. It was as if the world was ending around him. He could still sense Jay and La Migra around him, but Anson's aura was missing. It had disappeared.
But then he felt the air to his right move past him, and in the growing light of the fire, he saw the figure of Anson leap right through the flames and onto the stage. Eric's face was still solid in fear, but Anson ignored that, and with an example of amazing human strength, he lifted Eric over his shoulder and ran through another set of flames, crashing to the floor in front of the stage.
Jay and La Migra immediately ran to their aid, but Becker stood where he was. He looked to the burning stage, which was now spreading to the wooden walls of the warehouse. He suddenly crouched and looked under the woodwork. There, lying on its side a few feet in, was a metallic object. Despite the fear of death, Becker lunged under the stage, mere inches from the fire, and crawled desperately toward the object. As his pale, dry hand wrapped around it, he heard a crack and gasped as his method of escape buckled behind him, sealing him into the fiery prison. The smoke began to curl around him like masses of hungry snakes waiting to devour their supper. But then, as he began to lose consciousness, he felt a hand wrap around his ankle and pull him. Just as he felt the stage swoop out from above him, he blacked out.
Becker awoke to the sounds of intermittent cursing and the occasional yelp of glee. He sat up wearily to find he was on the tour bus, laying in one of the bunks alone. From down the hall, he could swear he heard someone say Headshot!
Oh, dear God, they're playing Halo as I'm in a coma. Becker muttered to himself. He rolled his legs off the cot and suddenly felt the metallic object strike against his leg in his pocket. He eagerly plucked it out and held it up.
It occurred to him that he was now staring boldfaced at a metal lighter emblazoned with the Iron Cross. He flicked it open to find it still had fluid in it. It didn't take much for Becker to conclude that this lighter had started the fire. He then placed it back in his pocket and walked back to the room where everyone was gathered. Mike was not among them, as he was driving, but the moment he walked in, everyone turned and smiled.
See? I knew he would be up within three hours. Kris said, holding his hand out to Anson. You owe me ten bucks.
Hey, thanks for pulling me out. Becker said to Kris.
What? Out of where? came Kris's response. As he was chatting, Jay assassinated him on Halo.
The stage. I got pulled out. I went under and I found this. Becker said, taking the lighter out and showing it off.
A lighter? Charlie mumbled, taking it and examining its smooth, somewhat charred surface. Becker found it strange how he had leaned way over from his seat rather than standing up to retrieve it.
Yeah. It was under the stage. Becker sighed.
And you got pulled out? Andrew asked.
Yeah. Why didn't you just get up? Becker asked Charlie.
We think he broke his ankle jumping off the stage. Kris explained, as Jay owned him once more.
Well, if you broke your ankle, what happened to Eric? Becker asked.
Yeah, don't worry about me. Anson grumbled, pointing to his singed shirt. I just leapt through fire to save his life and everything.
Jay fielded Becker's question this time.
He's gone catatonic. Jay said as Kris took his revengeWarthog style. He's in his bunk. He won't talk, eat, or sleep.
The fire. Jay explained as though Becker were a moron. His childhood fire's gone and left him with a phobia slash obsession. You know how he likes to mow his lawn with hairspray and a lighter. See, he likes controlling the thing that destroyed his childhood. But when it bites back, he freaks. That's why he couldn't move when the stage went up. It's eating him inside, and now that the trauma has finally hit him, he can't function. I figure he'll snap out of it in time, but for now, we have to let it rest.
But what about the lighter I found? Becker asked. Charlie took the hint and tossed it back to him.
What about it? Charlie laughed.
It means someone maliciously started the fire. Kris explained. Arson.
Don't tell me you're buying into the Shredder theory again! Jay begged.
I think I am. Kris admitted. I mean, yeah, it's a bad neighborhood, but isn't that the idea? The Shredder's avoiding publicity. He can blame it on the neighborhood's reputation and keep following us.
Yeah. Charlie said, trying to stand but failing miserably when his leg gave out. Look at what's happened! Kris got electrocuted, Eric went catatonic. This guy's trying to take us out!
So who's next, then? Andrew asked from his beanbag chair.
I don't know. Kris said, thinking. This really doesn't have a pattern.
Sure it does. Anson announced, standing. He's targeting the guitarists.
Becker stood aside as Anson shoved past him. He took two steps into the hall, then turned back to address the crowd.