*** Part 7 ***
Ritchie is working behind the register at Dreamy Steam. This early afternoon is unusually slow. He stands there bored, staring at the empty stage in a daydream. His cell phone rings, so he pulls it out of his pocket. It's a number he doesn't recognise. Looking around, he doesn't see the manager, so he answers it.
"Hello?" Ritchie says quietly.
"Hello! Is this Ritchie White?"
"Okay, great. I'm Patrick with the F. E. Open Air Festival. I've reviewed and like your music, but I can't seem to find the name of your band here. What is it again?"
"Well, we've actually yet to have a name."
"Hmm. Well you'll need one in any case, but I'd like to invite your band to tour in the festival."
"Oh sweet! Umm, how long does the festival last?"
"Just 10 weeks. Are you in?"
"Yes, we're in. When we name ourselves, I can call you at this number?"
"Yes indeed. Alright Mr. White, you have a good day. Make sure to get that name to me as soon as possible."
"Alright, I will. Thank you."
Ritchie is stunned. The rest of the day passes quickly, as he's anxious to tell the rest of the band the news. He wants them all to gather for this, for the news, and naming the band. As he waits with Valgrd for Ron and Greta, he thinks over their material, are they ready for this?
They sit around the circular table in Ritchie and Valgrd's apartment. Ritchie tells them the news. They have a small celebration, though this festival means hard work. Greta is the only member to worry, being that she's new, and has yet to thoroughly know the songs.
"Alright!" Ritchie announces, "We need to name the band. Let's sit down and get some ideas flowing. I have to call and give them our name as soon as I can."
The ideas come and go. Their recent band history has been tragic. The Failure, and Adree. They had the idea of calling themselves "For the Fallen," but eventually decided upon "Journal of Death" as the name. In a moment of inspiration, they all sat quietly, pondering the weight of their new name. There are so many suicides, and every one has a story. A death isn't just a statistic, it's an entire person that no one will ever fully understand. Each one has a reason, a story. Journal of Death, the stories in detail.
Saturday morning, Valgrd wakes up lying on the sofa with Ritchie. On the floor, Greta is still fast asleep. Valgrd slowly moves Ritchie's arm from around her, and without disturbance, makes her way to the window. Looking out as the sunlight is slowly creating a new day, she reflects on her life here. The last two months have held more change for her than the entire preceding year. It's quite enjoyable, this new life she has. Looking down on the parking lot from the second story window, she curiously looks from car to car. No one seems to be about this time of morning, except for an oddly dressed young woman who looks as if she's waiting for someone. Valgrd stares down, almost waiting with her, as she's the only person outside. She soon gets bored of staring, and goes to the kitchen to see about making some kind of breakfast.
Soon breakfast is made, and Valgrd goes to wake Greta and Ritchie. Looking around the room, she finds it odd that Ritchie doesn't have any pictures. There's a painting or two, but not any pictures of friends or family. The walls in her family's house are quite adorned. Is Ritchie trying to hide his family? Valgrd has never met any of Ritchie's relatives. From just looking around this apartment, one couldn't tell that he has any. Pacing around as she thinks, Valgrd passes the window, and notices the same person pacing around down there. Why someone would get into such an outfit and stand in a parking lot, she doesn't know.
"Waking time!" She cheerily whispers into Ritchie's ear, rubbing a hand on his face.
"Yeah yeah" he replies wearily, still not quite conscience.
"Greta," Valgrd speaks a little louder, "times to eat breakfast!"
Greta stirs, then sits up, rubbing her eyes. She likes the way Valgrd says her name, splitting the syllables, "Gre-ta."
The three sit at the table and begin to talk as they eat. "Ritchie, is today some kinds of holiday?" Valgrd asks.
"No. I'm pretty sure it isn't, why?"
"Oh, I saw some lady dressed as the old style nurse, standing down in the parking lot."
"What?" Ritchie says as he gets up, making his way swiftly to the window Valgrd pointed toward. "I don't see her" he says, visually combing the parking lot.
"Whoever she was waiting for must have comes to get her, she was out there a long time though. Why's you worrying about it?"
"Oh... No reason, just curious. That's all."
Greta and Valgrd exchange a glance, and shrug their shoulders in unison as Ritchie sits back down at the table.
"Journal of Death," Greta says reflecting, as she stares blankly at the bedroom door. Her words are echoed softly by Ritchie and Valgrd's voices. "I wasn't sure that it was quite right," she continues, "but I'm new, and now I think I'm beginning understanding why everyone else chose it. You lot aren't like anyone else I know, a good type different though, I guess."
Valgrd makes a contemplating face as she looks at Ritchie. "Oh! Let me call the guy, um, Patrick. Give him our name, right" he says as he walks back into the living room. Greta and Valgrd can hear his muffled conversation as they eat breakfast. "We are in!" Ritchie says as he returns to the table, "We're all set and booked. All we do in the meantime is get our show polished."
Greta fits in nicely. Sometimes she struggles to keep up with the rest of them, but after a week or two, her bass speed is sufficient. She and Ritchie asked for the ten weeks leave from work, but unsurprisingly, were rejected. So, they had to basically quit their jobs at Dreamy Steam. Another gig needs to surface before this tour ends, especially as it's pay only really covers the expenses of being there. Once again, they're assembled in Ritchie and Valgrd's apartment. Due to having to carry all the gear along, they have to take two cars on their trip. Ritchie and Valgrd in one vehicle, and Ron and Greta, happy to take the other together. There's a few hours of road trip ahead of them, so they begin.
Valgrd plays a CD, and after that, they sit in silence for a long time. Ritchie looks angry, but really he's just thinking. This first show is important, at least to him. A bit of nervousness sets in, and he wonders if that new indestructible Ritchie is beginning to fade. It bothers him too much to think if it going away, he mustn't think of it.
"So," he says to Valgrd, "what was it like where you're from?"
"What you mean?"
"About how you grew up, your family, about you."
"I have two older brothers and a younger sister."
"I'm surprised you just came here and stayed, your family didn't have a problem with it?"
"Well, my parents no like, but they can't make me goes back. But my siblings don't like me, so they're happy that I leave. I didn't have anyone to play the music with there. When I play with you the first time, I knew I'd want to stay here. I not have much in Sweden anyway, most of my clothes were in my case I bring here, I just need my guitar, so my brother sent it to me."
Ritchie silently admires her dedication, and it's flattering what she said about the band. "Cool" he responds, understated, but what is there to say?
Valgrd leans her seat back a bit, and relaxes, "What abouts you? Tell me about you."
Ritchie hesitates at first, but discloses to her his story. His inner darkness, the Failure, his relationship with Adree. Valgrd is silent as he speaks, she seems squirmish, agitated. But who wouldn't? Ritchie's past is disturbing, the things he's done to himself. After most of his life flashes before them in vivid recollection, he stops, as they're living what is next. It might have been more of a background, and worse, than she expected, but Valgrd is genuinely interested. There's a long silence, Ritchie doesn't expect a reply, even he feels drained. Sitting up, Valgrd puts a hand on Ritchie's shoulder, and says, "Thanks for trusting me, with your past."
Ritchie might wonder how she senses that she's the only person with whom he's divulged much of these facts. But he doesn't. "Thanks. I only told you all those things because I know you'll keep it to yourself."
"But why telling me?"
"Because, I feel I should be honest with you."
"Okay, I like that. I'll be honest with you too."
Ritchie smiles, the first actually joyful smile since Adree been gone. "But I'll get to know you better another time, we're not far away from the festival."
They arrive well before the setup time, so they leave to get lunch. The festival is tomorrow. Even though it means playing music to a sparse crowd, in the middle of the day, the band still is looking forward to it. They're first real show.
Ron's idea of putting the band name on all their gear paid off. No one else in Journal of Death thought of it, but as it turns out, every other band also did so. Leaving the big things at the festival, they leave as the sun begins to set on a cool night. Sharing a hotel room, they feel like children, goofing around. It's hard for them all to calm down, anxiety for tomorrow weighs on all members of the band. Though none of them would likely admit their excitement.
Valgrd turns to face Ritchie in the bed. "Are you awake?" She whispers blindly into the darkness.
"Yeah" comes his quiet reply.
She moves closer to him, whispering, "Are you nervous abouts tomorrow?"
"Eh. A little, I know we'll be fine though." He repeats it in his mind, will it be fine? No doubt tomorrow's show will go well, but he hopes certain characters to not appear during the night. Now worry sets in, has he ruined the night already by thinking about her? The Nurse seems to plague his mind with increasing frequency.
"Yah, it will. Now go to sleep, we need the rest" Valgrd says, startling him.
"Okay, sleep well." But he can't find rest. Every time he tries to rest, he can't help but see the Nurse. He can't help but try to decode the dreams, to find some pattern, some meaning. They have to mean something, don't they? Even if it's just some trivial thing, there must be a reason for them. Ritchie takes a deep breath, and tries to think of it all in a big picture, from the beginning.
First, the facts. She's only appeared after the Failure. He's only seen her when no one else is around. She seems to know about him. When she's around, he can't help but feel uncontrollably frightened. And another fact Ritchie can't justify, he can't remember her face. The figure, the dress, the hair, he can see those things in his mind. Her face though, he must've seen it, likely more than once. Why can't he remember? "Is it because she won't let me remember?" The questions pour through his mind, all without answers, all keeping him awake. Soon, over an hour has passed, and the others are sound asleep. He wants to take a walk, maybe that would help, anything to try to escape this state of mind he's trapped in. But instead, he lays still. He doesn't want to see her. If he just lays right here in the bed, he'll have to fall asleep. She could be lurking anywhere, and tonight Ritchie doesn't want to take any chances.
In a small restaurant, at a dirty little table, the band is well rested and looking forward to their debut performance. Except for Ritchie. It was apparent from the paleness in his face, and his dreary, sluggish way. For a moment, he worries that their music might be hampered by his exhaustion. "I don't sing well when I'm this tired. I didn't sleep at all this past night. Oh, that's not important. I just have to put all the energy I have into it, no matter how I feel."
"Are you alright?" Valgrd asks him, seeing he looks troubled.
"Oh, I'm fine. Just didn't get much sleep last night, maybe not any sleep. I'm just exhausted."
Greta shakes her head. "You know Ritchie, I worry about you sometimes. I'm not quite sure why, but you seem to me as if... Well I don't know. Is this not sleeping a normal thing?"
"No, not at all, it's just that I couldn't get to sleep."
"What's this?" Ron asks in jest, "Is Ritchie getting excited? The most complacent person I know, getting nervous?"
"Heh." Ritchie gives him the dignity of a fake smile. Greta and Valgrd exchange a wondering look, neither of them think of Ritchie as a complacent sort of person.
After breakfast, Ritchie goes back to the hotel in an attempt to get some sleep. Ron, Greta, and Valgrd go off shopping and sightseeing. As he separated from them in front of the restaurant, Ritchie looked back at his band mates. Seeing them walking away, his mind seemed to store that image. Maybe because he wasn't with them, or maybe Valgrd's casual demeanor, or the way they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Laying on the bed, he tries to read into his own thoughts, so as to find the reason why he felt so strongly about that moment.
It's of no use. He's tired, and it seems that he can only think in circles, the same thoughts leading to the same thoughts. Some rest might clarify these events. Setting his alarm for 2:00, enough time to wake up and get ready for the early show, he slides beneath the covers and falls asleep.
Looking out from on the festival stage, there's a scant audience. Ritchie doesn't bother to give them much attention. Journal of Death has just finished setting up, and he hears the bass intro to "Dead Inside." Without his usual charisma, he looks down as the drums join in a hypnotic rhythm. Through the ambient clean guitar verses, they sound good. Ritchie sings, keeping his eyes closed. Unlike how he played it in Dreamy Steam, the song has loud, heavy, driving choruses. After a slight pause, Ritchie opens his eyes for the chorus. Suddenly, all is silent. He's alone on the stage, standing there without an instrument or microphone. Stunned, he stands there, staring out to the empty field. Looking around, he expects to see her, the nightmare. Surprisingly, she isn't to be seen. After a moment, he decides to just be calm. He simply walks off the stage looking defeated. "This can't be real" he thinks to himself. But it feels so real. It's a breezy evening, and the cool air chills his face.
"Loser!" A voice yells from behind him. Ritchie turns to see who said it. But no one is there, no people in the field. Ritchie sighs, and keeps walking toward the artists tent to look for the rest of the band.
"Dad?" Ritchie mutters as he turns to find the source of these insults. He's still, listening for anyone here, but there's no sound other than the soft wind moving the stage banners. The voice sounded so much like his fathers. A stiffening pain begins to knot in the back of his neck. Refusing to give this insulting voice any further attention, he turns back toward the tent and walks quickly, with angry, deliberate steps. Though trying to stay calm, he can't help but feel the pressure. As if there's thousands of people watching him from behind. He's concluded by now that the Nurse must be behind all this.
"Don't turn around, don't look back," he keeps repeating to himself, "don't break, she wants you to have a look, to not be able to resist the urge." His hands form fists by his sides as he charges toward the large tent. Swiftly making his way inside, he's greeted by a little girl.
"Hello" she speaks out in a small, reserved voice.
Looking at her, she can't be more than 6 years old. She looks up at him, expecting a reply. "Umm, hello. Is anyone else here?"
"I don't think so. What band are you in?"
"Journal of Death. Are you here to see anyone? You're kind young to be in a band, or are you in one?"
"Oh, don't be silly," she says with a smile, "I'm here to see you."
"Oh cool. But how can you like our music? We've never played outside of practice except for yesterday's soundcheck."
"No no, I'm here to talk to you. Just you."
"Have I met you before?"
"I'm pretty sure you have."
She looks oddly familiar, those eyes... Shaking off the moment, he asks, "What's your name? I'm Ritchie."
Listen to Censory 7 online at ReverbNation.com/Censory7.