It's not a ringing phone I'm hearing while sprawled out across the carpeted floor. It's the sound of thundering footsteps descending from the heavens, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse playing bass drums and throwing hand grenades. Veins across my head throb in perfect rhythm while a melted steel bar is plowing through my skull, eliciting screams from my brain and mouth.
Sitting up on my own power isn't going to happen. I reach out and grab the arm of the couch, one hand first and then the other. It feels like minutes before I can pull myself up to my knees, and another marathon before I'm standing; a feat impossible without the couch arm there to support my weight. I try blinking away the hazy blur, trying to gauge my bearings. The phone continues to ring and buzz on the counter, and I'm happy to let it. My mouth feels dry and disgusting, like someone stuffed cotton balls in it. Talking is out of the question right now.
I shuffle forward a couple of steps and ease my way down onto the center couch cushion, crushing a pair of cans. I reach around, pull them out from underneath me, look at their smashed remains, and throw them onto the floor, next to a battalion of fellow dead soldiers. Was it fifteen cans, I wonder, or eighteen? I strain for a closer look and find only darkness. It stays for a long time.
I'm jostled awake again, more violently this time, by a furious barrage of knocks. I'm able to jump to my feet this time, with only a moderate groan from my head and little protest from my stomach. It's the police. They're here about last night. It's the only explanation. In the quiet stillness of the apartment, I hold my breath and pray that they go away.
I really should know better by now, I know. The knocking is louder, harder this time. Through the sleepy haze, I can actually make out the faintest trembling of the door in its frame. Patience is a word with no meaning here, because knocking continues for ten to twelve seconds straight. A gruff voice barks on the other side. "Mallory! Mallory, open up, goddammit, I know you're there."
I blink. "Billy?" The name catches in my throat, and I repeat it after a harsh cough.
"No, it's dear old Dad," comes the sarcastic reply. "Now are you gonna open up?"
I look around, then down at my bare legs. "Gimme a second, I'm missing my pants." As Billy shares aloud his dislike of being kept waiting, I stumble into my bedroom to find a pair of day-worn jeans, new socks and a Slayer tee, then go open the door, but keep the chain on, unsure what to expect on the other side.
"How the hell did you get into the building?"
"Slipped in behind someone else as they were unlocking the door."
"Oh. What do you want?"
"You have any idea what time it is?" Billy asks. I don't, and step away from the door to look at my oven clock. It ticks over to 3:33 p.m.
"Yeah, no kidding. Come on, or we're gonna be even later. Stephen's already waiting there."
"Huh? Late for what?"
Billy looks ready to tear the door off its hinges. "Are you retarded?" he asks, making a backhand smacking motion in the air. "The gig, hello?"
"You're joking, right? That's just begging the police to show up and haul us away."
"Did you listen to any of the messages I left you?" he asks.
"Considering I've just been jostled awake, no."
"Well if you'd bothered, you'd know the goings on. Jesus man, how much did you drink last night?"
"Enough to help me hope the police wouldn't show up at my door like you've done now," I say, pushing the door closed, sliding the chain out of its slot and opening up all the way. "Billy, my God, man. I mean, really. What the hell were you thinking yesterday?"
He doesn't seem the least bit affected at the thought of the police busting us. "I was getting our gear back. I was helping the band."
"Well, you sure made a spectacle of it! You just know somebody on that street called the cops and coughed up your license plate. How's that helping the band? We should be thanking our lucky stars none of us are sitting in lockup."
"I still had keys to the door, didn't I? That's not B&E, and it certainly ain't a crime taking what's ours. Now come on, we gotta get there and setup. Doors are opening at six."
This isn't happening, I tell myself. This is just some terrible dream I'm having, I'll snap out of it soon. And I do, though not in the conventional way. Billy reaches out and flicks the middle of my forehead with one of his sausage fingers. It feels like I've been struck by a rock instead.
"Ouch! What the hell!"
"Good, you are awake. Now I'm not gonna say it again: Let's go."
"You really are serious about this," I say, holding my forehead with my palm, closing my eyes, trying to wish this all away. This makes Billy turn back and look at me through the narrowest eyes I've ever seen. Of all the things I've heard him say over our multi-month "partnership," the next ones he say strike the coldest touch.
"I don't f--k around when it comes to music."
Gathering my wallet, my keys and other pocket essentials, I can't decide which is the more disturbing part in all of this: Billy's tone of voice, or the fact that deep down, I find myself agreeing with him.
I make certain that both my cigarettes and aspirin are in my jacket pocket before leaving.
Everything has been building up to this moment. All the blood, sweat and tears, the stress and anxieties, fights and screams (song lyrics and otherwise) are coming together at last to form an almost ethereal bond with the notes and riffs, the beats and words and fill the atmosphere. All while a sea of bodies crowding the floor, cheering, hooting, screaming, embrace the excitement hanging in the air, waiting for it to begin.
The buzzing from the crowds don't take away all the horrors of the last month, but it serves as a good antidote. I can feel some of that excitement beginning to build within me, the urge to get out there and just bring it home rising, as I'm standing in front of a urinal in the grungy bathroom of Funky's, taking a quick piss before hitting the stage. Setup was a pathetic display of band solidarity, apart from brief conversations regarding hookups and amp placement, nobody was in a talking mood, especially Brea, who looked like she hadn't completely recovered from her involuntary participation in Mr. Billy's Wild Ride. When soundcheck was done, everyone went their own ways. Stephen joined me briefly for a bite at a corner taco stand, but we didn't talk. We didn't have to, we knew the other one was thinking the same thing: we're going to be in jail by the weekend.
I know deep down I have no right to worry or hope, it's my own stupid ass that got myself into this mess, but I just can't help thinking otherwise.
Looking up at a poster encouraging readers everywhere to embrace our inner wildness with the notorious rugged, almost exotic European appeal that Jägermeister provides, I spot a hand-scribbled note in the bottom left corner. "ICE COLD SHOTS AVAILABLE ALL DAY, EVERYDAY! $4.00." That's a hell of a lot cheaper than I've seen it at other places, but given the less than attractive ambiance of Funky's, it's also not surprising. It's also tempting, but I can wait until after the show. I hope.
As I keep my eyes on the poster, a silhouette passes over it, reflecting in the glassy frame like a mirage. I almost consider turning my head to look and see who it is, when a familiar voice makes me snap it back and wish I'd opted to piss in the alley.
I don't say anything. I've finished pissing by now, but I can't - won't look at him. Even though my rational mind lets me know I can't just stand there, holding my prick, forever.
"Not in a talking mood, huh? I don't blame you. Save those vocal cords for the stage, that's what Billy always says."
It's inevitable, I know it, zipping up and turning towards the row of sinks littered with water, (God, I hope it's water!), soap suds and soaked paper towels. Better to grin and bear it. Of course I'm in no mood to grin. But Curtis Crest is. A wide, tight-lipped smug of pure cocky satisfaction stretches across his big, stupid face. He also looked pissed to the nines, barely able to stand still, using the bathroom wall for support - and to block me from leaving, it seems.
"Go figure you'd be here," I say, washing my hands. "You just can't let go, can you?"
Curtis' head snaps back and he lets fly a raspberry from his pursed lips, slapping the wall once, twice, three times. "You know me, I love a show," he slurs. "Looks like it'll be a good one."
"It will be. Now get lost." I try to slink past him, but his free arm juts out and pushes into my chest like a turnstile. "Goddammit, I'm in no mood for your bullsh-t, Curtis. I said move." The arm intercepts me on my second attempt to get free.
"Who's your friend?" he asks.
"Your friend, the redhead." The repulsive grin grows bigger. "You know, the one you brought to replace me. She looks awful fine, but can she finger her way better than me?"
"What? No, Lindsay's not - hey, how the hell do you know - what the f--k! Are you spying on me? On us?"
"Mmm, Lindsay. I like that name."
I've never punched anyone in the face before, but the temptation to try is strong; stronger than the desire for a shot or three of Jäger. Outside, in the main bar area, I can barely make out the sound of a microphone squealing as a harsh voice announces the main event of the evening is about to get underway, and the desire intensifies.
"Alright, enough with the games, move or I'll make you," I snap. To no surprise, Curtis once again tries to block my access. "You watch your a-s around her, she's not a chick to be f--ked with."
Curtis cackles. "Oh my, my, my. The DoM men sure are protective of their women, aren't they?"
"God, you are so full of sh-t, it's depressing."
"Oh? So, she's single, then? 'Cause she's standing over there by the bar."
That's news to me. I hadn't seen her or Kevin the Drummer in the hours leading up to now, and right now, all I really care about is getting on that stage before Billy kills me. "Yeah, go knock yourself out, whatever. Now f--king move!"
I shove him hard with both hands. He goes tripping backwards, slips on the chipped tile floor, falls against the wall. The impact seems to sober him up, if only for a moment. His grin turns itself upside-down into a snarl. "You wanna go, b-tch? I'll f--king kill you!" he yells. This draws the attention of a Tub o' Lard dressed head to tow in black, skin included, obviously one of the bouncers. He raises an eyebrow and turns to approach us.
"My thoughts exactly. But I got a show to do," I say and storm out of the bathroom, past Tub o' Lard, who gives me a look that makes it crystal clear the weekly entertainment aren't exempt from ejection, which I return with an understanding nod, and make for the stage.
The others are all equipped and ready to go when I race up the short flight of steps to the stage platform to mocking laughter and applause. Billy looks ready to rip my head off and kick it into the gathering moshpit. "Well, now that we're all here," Billy says, looking over his shoulder at me as I'm strapping on my Warwick, "we are motherf--king Dichotomy of Mind from right here in Vancouver, B.C.!"
"Kiss my a-s, you fatf--k," I spit, fiddling with a tuner knob, unaware of how loud I'm speaking. Billy's face darkens as pockets of laughter erupt from the crowd amidst the semi-enthusiastic reception to our lukewarm introduction. To my left, Brea looks both amused and astonished at my audacity. Stephen tries not to look concerned. I turn to face the crowd, which draws a few more drunken cheers, and look across the sea of people. Off in the crowd, leaning against one of the ugly green columns, beer bottle hanging down by her legs in a tightfisted grip, Lindsay watches, her own smirk wide and appreciative. Our eyes meet for a brief moment. Her pale, pink lips form the words "Give 'em hell" and tighten back into a smile.
As a cymbal crashes four times and we jump into our first song.
You can spend weeks preparing for a show, visualizing it in your mind, right down to the final detail; how the venue looks from the outside, where you'll stand on stage, how long the lineups to get in might be. But at the end of the day, when you step out from the shadows and into the spotlight, everything you thought you knew changes in a heartbeat. Whatever plans, dreams, or ideas you might have once had, you're no longer part of. You've become a new thing; separate from everything else, a new individual, on display for the whole world to see. Even if that world consists of a couple hundred liquor-fuelled renegades in a seedy dive who seem more interested in keeping their precious drinks unspilt than letting loose in a moshpit and forgetting the troubles of this world for a few hours.
We've gone through half our set, including the much-reviled "Snake Tongue," and most of the others appear to have reached the same conclusion: this sh-t sucks. Only a handful of the truly dedicated have kept the pit alive while others stand in the crowd and drink or stand and sneak puffs from something that doesn't look like a Number Seven, or just stand, unsure or unwilling to respond. They look like they've shown up for a black metal concert and have been given Green Day instead. All I need is corpsepaint and a hell of a lot of spikes to make it complete. On second thought, never mind the paint, these people look dead enough.
Billy is the only one oblivious to the surroundings, of course. Twice in between songs, he's egged the crowd to show some life and get that pit "a-rockin," a phrase that makes me cry on the inside, but the crowd remains mostly obstinate. "Alright!" Billy barks into the mic, "this next song can be found off our EP, which we'll be selling after the show," - (only one cheer) - "and it is called 'Silence Speaks!' Hope you like it."
I couldn't have said it better myself, I think, breaking into the opening bass riff slightly reminiscent of the lesser-known Pantera hit, "The Art of Shredding," but lower in tone and deeper in impact. Thinking about Pantera, I look over at Lindsay, and not for the first time since kicking off our set. I can't get a read off of her, God only knows what she's thinking with that polite, almost vacant smile. And that's the exact moment that fate continues to give me the finger.
Curtis, the idiot drunk formerly of Dichotomy of Mind infamy, who hasn't stopped looking at us either, glaring from behind a stream of lager-filled glasses emptying with alarming speed, comes stumbling out of the men's room, looking a bit worse for wear. Bumping into tables and chairs without any concern for others, (is he even capable of concern for others?), he crosses the room and comes up behind Lindsay, the empty expression on his face filling with a perverted leer I'm not entirely sure is directed at me. But I still burn on the inside, and catch myself wondering why as we continue to play and Billy continues to bleat a soliloquy about a neglectful childhood dripping with adolescent angst like sap from a tree. The analogy, I decide, is probably not so far wrong.
Curtis' wrist rests on one of her shoulders while he whispers something into her ear. For the first time since we took to the stage, Lindsay's face changes expressions, and not for the better. A violent jerk of the shoulder and Curtis is scrambling to stay afoot while she slides around him, using the column for a barrier between her and the uninvited and unwelcome mouth breather.
The whispered voice breaks my concentration. Billy is looking back over at me again, veins pulsing in his wrists as his fists clench the mic. "F--king pay attention! You're slowing us down." He doesn't like the response I mouth to him, and for a second, I'm convinced he's going to use the mic as a brass knuckle and cave my nose in. He doesn't. But he does flip me off going into the third verse, and mouths a single word - "useless."
Something feels different right then. I can't tell what, I'm too distracted with the song and the one-way flirtation going on between Curtis and Lindsay, all I know is something is now different, like the turning of a page in the book of life, starring Joshua "Jay" Mallory as himself. It doesn't feel good or bad, all that's there is a sense of frightened determination in the air - along with weed smoke.
Curtis tries a second time to cozy up to Lindsay, his wandering hand daring to descend the slender length of her torso and cup around one of her breasts. In an odd, deja-vu way, I get the sense of knowing what happens next before Lindsay is even aware she's just been violated.
It plays out like a soap opera in front of the whole bar. Lindsay's first reaction is to widen her eyes to the point they look ready to fall out of her sockets. The second is to lift an elbow up into Curtis' nose, while simultaneously delivering a booted foot between his legs. The noise Curtis makes closely rivals Billy on the mic, and draws attention from him and the others, along with everyone else off to the sidelines. We manage to keep the song going, barely.
As Curtis stumbles backwards, clutching what a more reserved person might refer to as "something delicate," I can make out a messy river of blood flowing from his nostrils, and then a figure looking much like the drummer who's been harassing me for a week emerges from the shadows of the bar, seizing Curtis by the shirt, and more or less throws him like a discus towards the moshpit. Curtis is swallowed up by the crowds, and the little drummer boy follows.
Things start to get exciting on the floor at last. A large revolving circle begins to grow in the middle, drawing people - and objects - into the middle like a hurricane. I know I'm falling behind again in tempo, I can hear it. But you try to take your eyes off a circle pit and see how well that works. A few plastic cups go flying through the air like hailstones, and an errant bottle, which ends up striking Billy in the face and exploding, raining glinting brown shards over the rest of us. A quick hand to the face prevents any serious damage, although I can feel a warm trickle going down my arm.
Billy screams, not into the mic this time, dropping it in fact, and staggers backwards, almost running into me. I push him away, more out of instinct than anything. It doesn't translate that way to Billy. As both Brea and Stephen stop playing long enough to add screams of their own to the mix, Billy, with blood running into his eyes, lashes out and punches me. I'm able to save my face again, but my left temple takes a heavy blow. The world jumps clear and bright. Everything around me starts spinning like a Tilt-a-Whirl carnival ride. At some point, the hated Warwick disengages from the shoulder strap and drops to the stage floor with a heavy thunk.
There is no sound. Whatever cosmic force controlling my body has turned the rheostat all the way down to zero. I can see people fighting in the pit, security scrambling to action, pushing aside tables, chairs, other patrons even to break up the action, Stephen and Brea fleeing their own instruments; the latter the stage as well, flying down the stairs and out the front doors, past a bouncer more concerned with keeping the chaos contained within the bar, while Stephen tries to pull Billy away from me. It's all quiet, silenced by the muffled metronomic thumping of my pulse, making it feel like the world is operating at one-quarter speed, while a stranger taking control over my body directs one hand to push Stephen away, and another return the favour to Billy, connecting with his soft, padded gut. The blow makes Billy double over and stumble backwards, dangerously close to the stage edge, closer still to hook sausage fingers around my shirt collar and pull. Hard.
To this day, I'm still not entirely sure of what happened next. The picture in my mind fades to black before we both land on the floor of the moshpit.