Hello? the voice repeated.
Hello? Becker echoed.
Who is this? the voice asked. It sounded masculine.
Becker Heiner. Who's this?
Brendan Krater, but its not my phone. And why would you call a number you didn't know?
Brendan Krater? Becker knew him from school, but he had only met him once, when someone had introduced them. He was somebody's boyfriend, he could remember that, but
Anyway, I'll remember to write your name down... And with that came the click, and Becker was left holding a cell phone connected to no one and staring down at Jay, who was now starting to get to his feet. An indescribable emptiness flooded through him.
F**k. Becker muttered under his breath as he put his cell back in his pocket. The emergency sprinklers were still going off despite the absence of any fire. As Jay got to his feet, Mike and Kris made it up on stage.
Dude, holy crap! were Mike's first words on seeing the metal shard stuck in Jay's crucifix.
Looks like Jesus died for your sins again! Kris exclaimed, poking the necklace.
There's no Jesus on my necklace. Jay said as he began to pace back and forth. I'm Presbyterian.
Right, right. Kris grumbled. Jay was a little unnerved.
Jay, is this enough? Becker asked. Is this enough for you to believe the Shredder followed us?
Yes! Okay? Yes! Jay cried, throwing his hands up in the air. The Shredder followed us!
But we were wrong about me! Anson shouted in the chaos.
So he has no victim pattern. Kris said. But you were right. He's using the elements.
Fire, thunder, water. Jay added, still shaken.
God, let's just go home! Anson tossed into the fray.
No. Mike said simply. We're too involved now. Besides, there's only two gigs left.
And exactly two elements remaining. Becker added. Earth and wind.
Thing is, who's going down next? Kris asked.
No one answered. They merely shrugged at each other and went to remove their instruments before water damage set in from the sprinklers. It was an uncomfortable silence that no one dared to break. The utter spontaneity of the moment was the only string grasping the social outward appearance and stability. But it was so razor thin.
In Becker's mind, they were caught in a destructive tornado. They couldn't escape the twisting winds, which tossed them to and fro at its own pleasure. They couldn't control their fate. But the thing about the tornado was, the debris had failed to kill them yet. But it still had two counties to run through. Its inner demon was still waiting at the bottom of the funnel, and it was waiting to rear its ugly head.
The bus soon found itself it the Catskills, surrounded by unforgiving mountains. The tin structure barely kept a hold on the steep roads, which were unbearably cold for the summer. Becker attributed it to the altitude, but he still didn't like the inconsistency. Maybe Al Gore was right about the global warming thing
Hey, I know this area. Becker said to Andrew, who was nervously driving the bus.
That so? Andrew replied, hands white with anxiety.
Yeah. Becker said. Mum's boyfriend owns a few acres up here. He's got a small little house and everything.
Oh? came Mike's voice from behind the passenger seat. Mike wrapped his arms around the chair, enveloping Becker in a disturbing embrace. And where might this uninhabited little place be?
Let's see. We're right here Becker muttered as he pointed to the map he was holding. So turn leftnow!
And Andrew followed suit, drastically turning the bus at the mentioned road. From the back of the bus, Becker heard Anson cry out. He soon emerged from the bathroom looking rather perturbed.
Hey, next time you decide to try to flip the bus, can you give me proper warning? I nearly ate my toothbrush back there! The eight boys soon found themselves standing in front of a rickety old shack, which, from the look of it, hadn't been inhabited since last winter. The woodwork was waterlogged from the recent rain, and the metal shack roof was a bit dented from heavy snowfall. The front porch looked sturdy enough, and it snaked across the front and side of the house like a worm with epilepsy. Becker knew there were three bedrooms, one bath, a stone basement, and at least two or three couches throughout the house. It was more than enough to hold eight boys.
Yeah, it'll do. Mike announced. Boys, claim your spaces.
And so came the mad rush for a place to sleep. The members of La Migra deftly took the three bedrooms, claiming band seniority as the cause for privilege. Anson and Eric took the upstairs couches, with guitarist superiority being their claim. Charlie, Jay, and Becker fled to the cold stone basement, where they found not many, but a single dirty couch and a bar stocked with ancient liquor.
Are you kidding me? Charlie cried, staring down at the ugly plaid couch. He drew the strings of his red hoodie, unnecessarily choking himself in the process.
Okay, so Jay scratched his head, not knowing what to do.
Short straw gets the bed. Becker announced, grabbing three straws and a pair of scissors from the bar nearby. He quickly cut the short end off one straw before disguising them in his fist. The three drew, and Jay, lucky as always, got the short straw.
That's right! Jay said arrogantly. He tossed a fist in the air in triumph.
Yeah, yeah. Save it for the show. Charlie muttered. He immediately took to the bar like a camel attracted to water. Becker simply stood in the dim light of the basement, trying to flood his mind. He wanted to drown in his own thoughts and escape the madness. Let the water fall over your head and let it be. Let the world go. All the mystery, all the misery, all the tricks and devious deeds. No more Shredder, no more agony. No more pain and confusion. Just an endless source of blank slates with which to rebuild the universe he stood in. A final destination.
Suddenly, Mike peeked his head out from the stairwell. He looked quite serious.
Okay, band meeting upstairs--. He began to say, but immediately stopped upon seeing the bar stock to the rim of its proverbial bin.
Nevermind. Mike corrected himself. Meeting's down here!
In a matter of ten minutes, every member of both La Migra and Chagrin were gathered around the bar with their drink of choice. For Becker, he decided heavy liquor the day before a gig would not be advantageous, so he stuck to simple watered-down American beer. Mike and the rest of the La Migra crew were positively wasted, but Mike was still able to form coherent sentences.
Now, as we are all aware, Jay barely escaped death yesterday. Mike mumbled, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
Still got a nice bruise. Jay added.
Anyway, we're probably aware that the Shredder has our number right now, and we've only got two more shows. Tomorrow, we are playing a small little coffee shop just outside the Lake George area. Now, we have also deduced that the Shredder has been basing his attacks on the elements. All that are left are earth and wind.
And so, Anson broke in. We've got to endure two more attacks.
Hang on. Jay interrupted Anson. You were supposed to be the next in the pattern!
So what? Anson asked, shrugging.
So why were you skipped? Jay went on. He had a strange accusatory look in his eyes.
Are you trying to say I'm the Shredder?
Well, let's review. Jay said, counting the reasons out on his fingers. You were skipped. When you got pissed at Eric, he got stabbed. Your cheating girlfriend's job was put in jeopardy just as you found out about her. Your parents kicked you out of the house.
Who told you that?! Anson suddenly exploded. Jay laughed harshly. It was then Anson looked to Becker with a glare of pure hatred and betrayal.
You! he said, pointing a poison finger at Becker. You told him? How could you?
Becker was gob smacked. He had only casually mentioned it to Jay during the night when he had a bout of insomnia. He had been lying there, with Kris driving the bus, and Jay had been up due to his own worries, and one thing led to another. But Becker had no malicious idea in revealing Anson's downfalls to Jay.
This isn't about Becker. Jay continued, and Becker felt like he could hug him. This is about you. The Shredder's been pretty convenient for you.
Hey, I donated the blood that Anson began, but he was interrupted by Jay.
That got stolen! How convenient!
That was you covering your tracks!
I saved Eric from the fire! Anson shot back awkwardly. His finger was still pointing limply, but at this time, it was pointed squarely at Eric, who was sitting in the fetal position on Charlie's couch.
Which you yourself started. Jay said calmly. Once again, another bit of posterity for your character. It's all a distraction. You'd know how to rig an amp and start a remote fire.
And you ARE in honors chemistry. Charlie tossed in dumbly.
Which explains the knowledge of sodium. Jay finished.
Anson was dumbfounded. Everything had been railed against him, and Becker could sense he was reeling for an answer. Even Becker was starting to believe Anson was guilty. Could he really be the Shredder?
Very clever. Came a voice from the stairway. Everyone turned from the bar to see a figure emerge out of the shadows and into the dim basement lighting. He was bald, wearing a Muse t-shirt, and smoking a rather sloppily rolled cigarette. Becker could immediately recognize him as Kingston.
Ever heard of Occam's Razor? Kingston went on, ashing his cigarette. That the simplest explanation is probably the correct one?
Sure. Jay replied.
Well, I'm not so sure on this one. Kingston sighed, taking a long drag.
God, at least someone believes me! Anson cried in thanksgiving.
I have a feeling these things have more to them than meets the eye. Kingston went on.
How did you find us? Becker interrupted with a question.
That's not of your concern right now. Kingston shoved him away. What matters is, this haunting of yours is centering on one person.
What? Charlie inquired. Who?
Eric. Kingston said simply, pointing to the pathetic looking guitarist. Eric hadn't showered or shaved in a week, and his unruly facial hair had enough push to say for it. He was currently dressed in a Trivium t-shirt that smelled of smoke and a pair of crisp jeans. He was barefoot at the moment, and overall, he appeared as a man unchained. He looked up with heavy, tired eyes at Kingston.
Me? he asked meekly.
Precisely. Kingston nodded as he took a seat on the closest barstool. Notice. He was fooling around with Gina when the Shredder first struck. And as I hear, the Shredder struck after your first gig. Eric, what did you do during that gig?
Eric sat up awkwardly, still an emotional wreck.
WellI played, andI talked.
Gina, on the phone.
You bastard. Anson shot in as a single blow. Kingston looked to him with a deathly glare and Anson backed off.
Was anyone around when you made the call? Kingston asked.
I don't think soI called her around the side of the house
There are windows. Becker said. Kingston nodded sternly. But I want to know how you know all this!
Fine. Kingston said plainly, ashing his cigarette again. You know how Kris and I know one another?
Yeah. He introduced me to you. Becker replied blankly.
Well, he's a cheeky guy. He's heard everything you've said or done, and reported it back to me.
What? Becker looked to Kris, who shrugged sheepishly and laughed. Becker had no idea Kris had even been around when he spoke agonizing truths to the seeming strangers now sitting before him. They were completely empty inside, like rag dolls; clean slates. Now, back to my point. Kingston quickly took control of the conversation. Eric is the obvious target of all this. Do you have any enemies?
No. Eric curtly replied.
Apparently. Kingston sighed. He suddenly pulled up the left arm sleeve to his plaid shirt, and, before anyone could react, he put out his cigarette on his forearm, searing the embers away in his flesh. Jay gagged, and the rest at least looked halfway amazed. Kingston hadn't even flinched. And from what Becker could see of Kingston's forearm, he had done it before. There were a number of circular scars from previous cigarettes.
Dude, don't do that again. Andrew begged from his seat at the bar.
Sorry. Kingston apologized. It helps one develop pain resistance. But I digress. At your show, this Shredder is going to attack again, no doubt. But before I go, I wanted you to know, I got your back.
And with these parting words, Kingston got up from the couch and began to walk toward the stairs. But Becker had other ideas. He quickly leapt from his position and smashed his bottle across the bar. He was as quick as a sadistic rabbit, moving in front of Kingston and holding the bottle out threateningly.
Hang on. Becker said calmly as he held the sharp bottle edges toward Kingston. You know a bit too much to just have Kris as a source. This is another ***damn Deus Ex Machina!
Becker, calm down. Jay ordered, but Becker held the bottle with a steady hand.
You seem to know all the damn answers, eh? Becker said with a cocked eyebrow. Well answer me this: how do we know you're not responsible for all this?
Kingston nodded, thinking for a moment. But then, in a lightning flash's time, he ducked under Becker's arm and smashed upward with an open palm, cracking Becker in the elbow. As the bottle crashed to the floor, Kingston swept Becker's knee and gently let him fall to the ground. Kingston nodded again and walked for the stairs.
BecauseI know how to hold a bottle properly.
Despite the occasional nightcap, everyone slept disturbingly soundly. Becker even found his usual insomnia had faded with ease, and he had another good night of sleep. This began to bother him, because back at home, he never slept as easily. He would be awake all night, fearful of the future, and of the things that go bump in the night. He could imagine what nightmares waited in the shadows just out of sight.
They packed up their things late the next day. No one drank a drop of alcohol, as they needed to play to their potential. They were the only bands at the coffee shop that evening, and Becker determined they would have to completely focus on their work.
The coffee shop, named The Bean Grinder, lay at the bottom of a steep dirt incline. From the front porch, one could see a large portion of Lake George, and, as many of them described it, the view was beautiful. Outside the store, a stand-up placard read: Tonight: La Migra & Chagrin performance 7-9
It began simply enough, with everyone piling their things in a small corner where they would soon be playing. The owner, a king, aging old man came over and said they could have anything on the menu free of charge. They refused for the moment, but said they would take him up on the offer after the show. But in everyone's heads, they had the sickening feeling they were going down. Nay, it was more like they KNEW they were going down. With only two elements remaining, they were growing more anxious as the Shredder was growing bolder. His actions were becoming deadlier.
A large enough crowd had gathered by 7 PM. Chagrin went first, starting with Crash the Glass. Eric had recovered from his fire ordeal rather easily, and was now shredding the riffs with relative ease. His normally chubby fingers were gliding mercilessly over the frets; essentially showing up anything La Migra could do later. They soon went into Glory, which was smooth and fluid. Charlie gave a little intro here, and Becker took the opportunity to talk to Jay.
How's the borrowed snare? Becker joked with a sick grin.
Shut up! Jay growled and made a half-hearted lunge for Becker, who quickly moved back to his place, laughing like a madman as he went.
After Charlie exited his usual back and forth dialogue with the crowd, they went into an uneasy cover of Slither, with Anson taking lead for it. He played Slash's part appropriately, but everyone could sense a distinct anxiety in every note. Anson was sweating, and Becker knew it was because of what had happened in the basement. If the Shredder struck and Anson was unaffected, Jay would jump on his case like a suicidal man would off a bridge. And, as everyone knew, Anson was eager to show Eric up.
Next came Mars, which was more difficult for Anson, who was also going to take lead on this one. Eric almost lost it when Anson nearly lost his grip on the solo. The slick sweat providing lubrication between his hands, Anson's hands slipped toward the end, and everyone got a taste of juicy iron feedback. Eric gave him a glare as they played Inferno, which Eric took lead on and rocked while Anson moved back in the playing area toward Becker. He was breaking under the pressure.
Becker. Anson said, taking Becker's attention. I can't do the next one.
Why? Becker asked.
I just can't! Anson urged. He looked positively sick. His normal Italian skin tone had been replaced by a dull gray-green, making Anson look like a rather awkward elephant.
Nevertheless, they went into their finale, When the Guns Stop, and Jay blasted through his Drum Corps snare line. But Becker knew something was wrong. He slowly walked away from the wall he was so close to, basically because of pure neurotics. Anson wasn't lying when he said he couldn't play the next one. His fingers were all out of joint, and the chords he was TRYING to play were failing like Eric did in first grade. Seeing Charlie as blissfully ignorant as the day he met him, Becker lost some of the nervous feeling, but it lingered there in his unconscious like some unwanted child, begging to be let out of the basement.
And as they reached the outro, Becker suddenly had a moment of pure revelation, and ducked. Anson saw him, and did the same, diving for cover under a nearby table. Jay, however, was caught completely unaware, and found himself covered in debris in a mere moment. Charlie whirled himself around, but was met with splinters of wood and glass, and he screamed a terrible scream that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Eric didn't even have time to react as a huge moving 2 X 4 smacked him in the back of the head and knocked him out immediately.
Becker rolled over after the wood stopped moving and sat up. He found himself among a pile of dust, insulation, wood, and broken glass. Before him lay a series of gaping holes in the wall of the coffee shop. The rocks had come sliding right down the hill behind the shop and tore the old building a new one. As a matter of fact, it tore the poor place a series of new ones. Becker scrambled to his feet, and to his horror, he saw Jay barely moving beneath a huge bit of fallen wall. Running over, he began to lift the massive bit of woodwork off of Jay, but to no avail.
But he soon felt the wall become lighter. He looked over next to him and saw Anson beside him, lifting the wall. Together, the two were just able to toss the shattered bit aside and help Jay to his feet.
As the smoke began to clear, Becker could make out a figure running up the hill in a staggering way, with one fit raised, and a shade of red about his face.
You sunnofab***h! the figure said, and Becker could recognize the voice of Kris.
He's running after him! Jay coughed, pulling a large splinter from his arm. The Shredder's still around!
But Becker was too preoccupied to listen to Jay revel about Kris's bravery. He was transfixed on the largest stone in the room, which came up to his waist. Anson was also staring at the boulder, but at least he had the courage to walk over to it. Taped to the boulder was a dirty torn note. Anson slowly plucked it from the stone, expecting it to explode at any moment. But nothing happened as Becker walked over to Anson, who opened the note.
Isn't it strange? Anson read aloud. That one minute you're all caught up in your life. But then something goes wrong, and you're caught up in a completely different life. I've decided to address your problems, one by one. Charlie: Your life of simplicity has brought you to unorthodox means of love. Becker: You have so little confidence. Why? Afraid to call again? Jay: Your belief in a higher good is so easily destroyed. Where is your messiah now? Anson: You let her go so easily. You are a user.
The group gathered as La Migra took off after the Shredder, but Becker knew they were chasing someone else. That wasn't the Shredder. This wasn't his direct style. He was more crafty; more diabolical. Eric, Jay and Charlie had gathered, and Charlie & Jay had heard their problems. But when Anson read Eric's problem, everyone's blood turned to ice.
Eric: You lived.