Charlie suddenly gasped and leaned over, plastering his hands to his face. He cursed loudly and Becker could see little specks of red seeping between his clenched fingers. Jay quickly strode over and helped Charlie to his knees.
Ah, Christ! Charlie yelped. Must've got some of the glass in my eyes!
But as Jay tended to their fallen singer, Eric and Anson were still incensed on the note. Everyone had gotten a precise explanation from the Shredder, but Eric's had been so direct. You lived. It echoed through their minds like a steadily increasing white noise, blocking their flow of thought.
What does it mean? Anson asked. Eric didn't respond. He simply keeled over and puked among the rubble. Becker couldn't believe anything that had just happened. Everything became a giant gray blur, but he knew La Migra had taken off after the fake Shredder on the hill, and that they were standing in the rubble of the coffee shop's former west wall. The owner came stumbling in, pushing past a few people in the crowd.
Oh, Gawd! he cried. You all okay?!
I think he's got glass in his eyes. Jay said, referring to Charlie.
There's a bathroom down the hall. Try to wash is eyes out!
Jay and Charlie followed his words and stumbled over the rubble toward the hallway. Charlie fell once, but Jay held onto him for the rest of the trip, and they soon disappeared down the hall.
Eric spat the rest of his upturned bile out on the dust and sighed heavily. The smoke from the destruction was still thick in the air, haunting the atmosphere and choking the lives locked inside the coffee shop. They were smack in the middle of the descent to madness, and chained there like a forgotten junkyard dog.
Listen, go ahead and leave, if you want. The owner said to Eric, Anson, and Becker. You guys got nothing to do with this, right?
Yeah. Anson nodded. We'll just uhbe in the bus
Anson began to walk toward the front door, but then turned when he realized it would be quicker to just go through the big hole in the wall to get to the bus. He grabbed his amp and guitar and carefully stepped through the hole, trying to avoid breaking any more plaster off. After catching his breath, Eric did the same, looking very ill. Becker stood there in the destruction for a moment, but realizing quite a few people in the shop were staring at him, he made a hasty retreat. Walking through the hole in the wall with his bass and amp, he had to wonder
Had La Migra caught the Shredder?
Jay gently opened the door to the restroom. It was a dirty looking, medium-sized bathroom with five stalls, a urinal, and one sink with a small vanity mirror. But Jay didn't pay any mind to the detail of the room as he led a blinded Charlie to the sink and turned on the cold water. As Charlie went to work on his eyes, Jay sighed and looked away from the mirror. He didn't want to see his reflection. He would have seen a man filthy with insulation dust.
But as he turned, he saw something that made his stomach drop to the bottom of his abdomen. All five of the doors were adorned with green spray paint, each having their own name on it. Jay, Anson, Charlie, Becker, and at the end, written much more sloppily, Eric.
Oh, God. Jay muttered, looking to the door designed for him. Charlie?
Yo? Charlie replied, looking up from the sink. The dirty water in the sink had washed out most of the contaminants in his eyes, but he still had a line of ugly red in the whites of his eyes. Oh. He muttered, finally seeing the doors.
So do we open them? Jay asked nervously.
Well, what if they explode or some sh*t like that? Charlie questioned. Jay shrugged, then stepped forward.
I'm doing it, then. Jay said. He can't break us.
Charlie nodded and stepped up to his own door. Together, they pushed their respective doors open. They opened with a series of loud squeaks.
Jay stepped inside, and staring at the toilet, he found nothing. But as he turned his head, he saw that the walls of the stall were lined with photos depicting odd things, from mass graves to tanks to what appeared to be a U-boat, whose picture was blown up to an extraordinarily large size. Jay knew what all these pictures were. They were his family's history: their sins, their virtues, and all their crimes. He nervously turned to exit the stall, but his left arm harshly hit the edge of the now open door. I swung closed, revealing another message in green spray paint: Your Family's Legacy.
Jay choked. With his hand wrapped around his neck, he gagged slightly. He had never told anyone about his family's history. It all started with Friedrich Zippler, Jay's great grandfather, who was a U-boat commander and concentration camp guard in WWII, had never been punished for his war crimes. Zippler fled to Scotland and fell in with the Presbyterian Church. There, he met and married a local woman, and had several children. Jay grandfather, Albert Zippler immigrated to the USA, but was soon enlisted in the Army for the Vietnam War. There, he became a high ranking officer, and was assigned as leader of a small force. But Albert soon went mad with power and began burning down random villages in the countryside. Once again, Jay's family avoided being reprimanded for such war crimes, and Albert returned to the USA and had two children: Harold and Franklin. Franklin went on to enlist in the army and was sent in Operation: Desert Storm, where he soon received a dishonorable discharge for reckless behavior. However, Harold became a minister for the Church and settled a family, and had a son, Jason Zippler.
Jay fumbled for the stall door and ripped it open like a present on Christmas. He fell forward out of the stall and barely caught himself on the sink. Staring in the mirror, he could feel the shame flooding his face. How did the Shredder know? Only his family knew the full truth! His face was haunted. It had empty eyes and a skeletal frame. It was looking into the gates of hell and torment with no way out.
Soon enough, Charlie came shambling out of his own stall holding a small flat object in his hand. He seemed transfixed on the object as if it were the only thing keeping him alive.
What was in yours? Jay asked breathlessly. He had just noticed he was wheezing.
Charlie didn't say a word. He simply handed Jay the object, which he discovered was a photograph. In it, a girl of about their age was smiling. She was beautiful, with curly brown hair, bright brown eyes, and a perfect smile.
What of her? Jay asked with a curled eyebrow.
Charlie didn't answer in words. He simply made a gesture with his fingers asking Jay to turn the photograph over. Jay did so, and found himself staring at a message written in red sharpie.
Do you think she forgives you? it read.
What does that mean? Jay asked. Charlie shrugged sadly.
Let's just get out of here. Charlie sighed. Jay nodded as Charlie walked to the door and pulled it weakly. The door didn't budge. Determined, Charlie pulled it again, but much harder this time. It still didn't move.
Oh, sh*t. Charlie muttered.
Kris ran like the wind, with the rain beginning to flow down between the trees' leaves and into his face. He hadn't lost sight of the Shredder in his pursuit, and he could still see the little bastard mere strides ahead of him, moving through the underbrush of the forest. He could tell they were headed downhill now, as he moved even wuicker through the maze of trees and shrubbery. From behind him, he heard two voices arguing as they ran, and he knew it was Andrew and Mike, trying to keep up. But his concern wasn't with his bandmates. It was with catching the Shredder.
From what Kris could see the Shredder had either black or really dark brown hair and was wearing a remarkably heavy coat, which blocked most of his features. He was probably wearing running shoes, judging by how easily he kept ahead of Kris. The Shredder hadn't said a word, but Kris could hear him panting like a dog. That gave him reassurance. At least he was human.
The chase soon came to the edge of the forest, and opened into another dirt incline. But as Kris neared it, he found the figure turned toward him, too dark to see the Shredder's face. The figure was holding two items, one long and one about palm sized. But it struck Kris like a sack of hammers when a hissing sound erupted into a sound so much more familiar. The Shredder had concocted a makeshift flamethrower from hairspray and a lighter. The forest edge was now brimming with the smell of smoke and the bright searing visual of hellish fire.
Kris moved quickly, not having any time to worry about the consequences. The Shredder, seeing his plan working, took off with heels to the wind. Kris ran forward and, with hands covering face, leapt through the fire and landed painfully in the dirt on the other side. Sensing he wasn't ablaze, Kris got to his feet and staggeringly ran after the pyromaniac.
But about a mere football field's length down the dirt incline, he could see that they were nearing a town on the edge of Lake George. A small lot of residential houses were steadily nearing, and Kris knew if the Shredder got there, he would disappear among the urban jungle of concrete and fences. He thought quick and stopped to pick up a good sized rock, heavy enough to do damage but light enough to throw properly. With a wing and a prayer, he threw the rock, aiming for the Shredder's head. But his days of sitting on the bench in baseball came back to haunt him, as the rock sailed right over the Shredder's head. But it wasn't just one of those fly-by-night rocks. It was a traitor to everything, and God was not on his side. The rock kept glidingright into one of the house's windows.
The Shredder kept running, but Kris was taken aback. He froze for a second, caught up in the moment. But then he regained his senses and started running after the fleeing Shredder, who rounded a corner between the houses. But God decided to pile it on today. Kris felt himself slipping; his legs turning to jell-o. He tripped and flew like an eagle, but was eventually brought back to earth in a manner most ungraceful: face first.
By the time he spat the dirt out and looked up, the Shredder was long gone, and he had to explain why one angry homeowner had a fancy new broken window.
And I wonder Charlie sang as Jay slapped out the beat on the tile floor. When I sing along with you
But just as Jay reached the other side of the chorus, Charlie stopped singing. His eyes seemed transfixed on something behind Jay. Jay turned, looking to where Charlie was staring. His gaze was fixed solely on the stalls. Jay furrowed his brow.
What of them? he asked, looking back at Charlie.
I wonder Charlie muttered, quoting Everlong again. What's in everyone else's stall?
Jay paused, thinking of the possibilities. If Charlie's was a simple photo, what was everyone else's? Eric's would probably be related to his cursed childhood, and Jay could imagine Anson's would be over Gina. But he couldn't think of Becker's. He was honestly curious about that one.
Well, don't you think that's their business? Jay asked. Charlie shrugged.
I figure if the Shredder rigged the doors to close, he was just making five stalls as a fallback. I mean, how lucky it is that ANY of us used the bathroom.
You know, man, that's the smartest thing you've ever said. Jay nodded and stood. Charlie followed him curiously to Anson's stall. Jay nervously placed his hand on the small outdated, and no doubt filthy door, and gently pushed it open. Inside were a series of photos, all of them depicting a smiling couple in various embraces.
What? Jay asked, stepping forward and removing one of the photos. Looking at it, he found he was correct in his assumption Anson's stall was about Gina. The happy couple in the photos was Anson and Gina. But what he didn't understand was, there was no taunt visible in the stall. He turned to Charlie, who pulled the door closed behind him upon entering the stall. Pressed nose to nose, the two saw that the Shredder had written in green spray paint, Why did you let her go?
Then it hit him like a sack of hammers. A daring revelation no mortal man had ever dared to dream. A man so insane, too weird to live but too rare to die, maybe.
Charlie. Jay muttered, not bothering or having the room to actually look at him. What if the Shredder isn't trying to hurt us?
What? Charlie sounded flabbergasted, but somewhere in his heart, Jay knew he was thinking the same thing.
What if he's teaching us a lesson? Jay asked. Tough love?
No. Charlie said, then with more fury: No no no no no no no no!
He suddenly wrenched the door open and stormed out into the bathroom. Jay followed quickly and was barely able to see Charlie kick in Becker's stall door. Inside was a simple bit of graffiti depicting a series of numbers:
What the--? Was Charlie's simple response to the numbers. That's it?
It's another number. Jay said. He wants Becker to figure it out...
We still don't get service in this damn room, do we? Charlie asked, moving over to Eric's stall and changing the subject drastically.
Jay took out his cell and looked down at it. No bars.
No, nothing. He replied.
Well, I'll be damned if we're spending more than another hour in here! Charlie cried, kicking in Eric's stall.
And what they found in there made their hearts skip a beat. And in that instant, Jay knew he was wrong. So, so wrong. It was a sign that the end was far from close. It was just heating up, like that of a fire. A fire that burns down a childhood home. And outside, a young boy sits on the tree swing and watches as the house burns, and with it, his mother, his father, a brother, a sister, and two small cats. The flames tearing into the night sky; breaking the boundary of decency; noting the demise of innocence.
For there, posted on the wall right above the toilet, was a single article, depicting a small family house ablaze, the title reading Two presumed dead in house fire.
And written in green spray paint above it was the message: Why did you live?
TWO? Wait, if only two died in the fire, then
Suddenly, the door to the restroom opened behind them, and a portly old man with a Wilford Brimley mustache walked in, then stopped upon seeing two boys standing shocked in front of a bathroom stall. Jay turned to meet the old man's amused gaze.
You boys alright in here?
Becker changed his shirt a little while into the wait for La Migra to come back to the tour bus. But after three hours of waiting much past the sunset, the three remaining members of the tour left in the bus grew anxious.
Goddamn, man. Anson muttered. Where is everyone?
Well, La Migra took off after the Shredder. Eric said calmly. We can hardly expect them to get back by themselves.
That's kind of cynical, no? Anson muttered under his breath.
The three were seated around the small fold out dining table toward the middle of the bus. Anson had chosen to sit right on the off-blue table, and was now curled into an uncomfortable little ball.
What about Jay and Charlie? Anson asked. I mean, that's a little messed up that they haven't got back yet.
Eh Becker made a wish-wash motion with his right hand. They're probably helping clean up like the church boys they are.
But as he finished that sentence, there came a knocking on the bus's front door. Becker stood and walked over to find Jay and Charlie banging furiously on the glass and rubber. He quickly moved the mechanism next to the driver's seat into place so the door opened outward and the two moved quickly into the bus.
You're all gonna want to gather round for this one. Charlie announced to everyone. Becker returned to the table, where Charlie and Jay were now standing, looking like army generals preparing their soldiers for war. Jay removed the article from under his shirt and held it up.
TWO presumed dead in house fire. Charlie said, pointing stupidly to the TWO in the masthead.
Two? Anson asked. Wait, Eric, that's your old house, isn't it?
Eric snatched the article from Jay's hands and slapped it down on the table before reading it like a madman. His eyes grew larger with every paragraph. He eventually reached the end and looked up at the photo of his house burning.
Two. Eric said with a small tear welling up in his eye. Two. My parents.
Which means your siblings are still alive. Jay finished for the visibly shaken Eric.
And Becker. Charlie said, turning to him and handing him a slip of toilet paper. Becker looked down and saw that it was covered in a line of numbers.
Any idea what it means? Jay asked, but Becker had no idea. He looked back over to Eric, who was now being consoled by Anson. The madness was spreading. It had taken them all now, even Charlie in his simple-minded world. What a sickness it was, like an uncontrollable zombie virus in innumerable films.
Yeah, I got low B's in math, so Becker muttered, walking away from the group and toward the bunks. All this was too much for him in one night. He needed to sleep it off.
But Jay and Charlie went on. Charlie had brought one of the photos from Anson's stall and handed it to him. Anson stared nostalgically at it for a moment, then tossed it aside.
Meh. He growled. Nothing to me now. Skank. Didn't seem to be the Shredder's point. Jay said. He wrote Why did you let her go?' on the stall door.
And I should listen to the guy who nearly killed us four timeswhy? Anson was reaching. He frowned sharply, the corners of his mouth wrinkling in frustration.
I don't know. Charlie said, shrugging. But anyway, can someone stay up with Eric tonight? He doesn't look good.
Well, one can suppose a man wouldn't look good after having such a bombshell dropped upon him. Eric was now a face of emotionless lucidity. His eyes were blank and empty; lost somewhere in the abysmal plane of newfound existence. His heart was a ticking time bomb on the edge. It was a good shock away from taking out a city block's worth of his sanity. So how long had they lied to him and said everyone but him had died? How long had he lived in ignorance and bliss?
Meanwhile, Becker, in the back of the bus, placed the toilet paper on his bunk and looked down to leap into bed. But he saw that he had left his phone on the bed and reached down to retrieve it. He lazily pressed the light up button, not expecting to have received anything from anyone, aside from maybe his mum. But what he saw confused him. 1 message.
He flicked the phone open and the text screen came up.
1 new message from
And there it was. It was from the number on his fake ID. Whoever's number it actually was had just texted him. He dared himself.
Press view, he told himself. Do it.
By no means of his own consciousness, he did press view. But what he found was not an answer. It was a plea.
HELP it read in plain text. Absolutely empty of emotion, but at the same time, it said everything. And then his brain snapped into thinking mode.
He looked to the toilet paper. The code was cracking in his head, and somehow, it all made sense. This frightened him as he withdrew a pen from his pocket and began scribbling the answers on his hand. Perhaps only he and the Shredder knew the solutions; maybe they were the only ones on the same brain wavelength; maybe he was just as insane. But regardless of any notion, Becker soon unscrambled the code. Each number had stood for a letter.
24 Creekwood St. Becker whispered to himself, staring at the code. Then his eyes switched to the text. It was back on the bed and was staring him down. It was an address. And somewhere in the Shredder-Becker wavelength, it somehow all connected. He knew he would find the person behind the phone number at that address. But why they needed help eluded him. For all he knew it was a trap. But the urge to know overpowered all other outcomes of rational thought. He had to know.
He suddenly marched up the aisle of the bus, right past the rest of Chagrin. He sat in the driver's seat and turned the key already in the ignition.
Dude, what about Mike, Andrew, and Kris? Anson asked.
Jay fumbled syllables for a second, then finally asked. What are you doing?!
Becker shifted the bus into drive.
We're going back to Harmony Hill.