The van trundled along the desert road, and with it went the hopes and dreams of the five people currently occupying the musty interior. To some the powerful noises emanating from the van's speakers would have seemed to pollute the otherwise perfect desert night, but to these five people it complemented it. Perhaps even completed it. For the soft and melodic intro to Metallica's "Battery" seemed to represent the same calm that this night represented, the calm before the storm that would certainly come. And as the van continued its solitary quest through the lonely darkness, these people could think of no place that they would rather be.
The driver of the van stared into the path of illumination that his headlights created, seeing but not really thinking about what he saw. His thoughts were elsewhere, occupied in the misty uncertainty of the future that lay before him. The snores of his companions did not distract him from this thought, nor did the machine gun riffs emanating from his speakers. Thus, when the white SUV driving on the wrong side of the road appeared in his headlights, the image did not register. The front of the van crumpled like a tin can, and suddenly the world was upside down. Then, stunned silence, followed by, "Holy fuck is everybody okay?"
Dom, as usual, was the first to get to the point when something happened. Charlie, the driver, said "I'm good." This was followed by the same answers from Tom and Kristen. Then, the answer from Steve, "Shit dude, I think I broke my arm. Holy shit, I think I broke my arm!" This came out in a hysterical half sob, half laugh, and Charlie didn't know which was worse. "You guys look at Steve's arm, I'm gonna crawl out and see if the other people are okay," he said, and inched his way out through the broken window, cutting his arm open in the process. He stood up and staggered over to the other car, and as he did, he heard a high, broken wail come from it. Not good. Charlie walked faster, and as he reached the window of the SUV, he saw why. There was one person in the car, and the passenger seat was empty. The passenger seat should not have been empty. Several feet in front of the car, a dark shape lay, and it was oddly misshapen.
The woman in the SUV's driver seat's face showed that she had reached the same conclusion Charlie came to, and a moan of horror escaped her lips. Then, she slumped on the steering wheel, and entered the unknowing bliss of unconsciousness. Charlie was not so lucky. The guitarist dry heaved, and then gave thought to the situation. He knew he must call 911, and then he must do the unthinkable. However, he must first tend to his own. "Kristen, are you guys all good?" he yelled, and then waited for a response.
"Yeah, we're fine, Steve's arm is definitely fractured, but none of us are seriously hurt. How about you?"
"I'm good, but these people aren't. I need you to get rid of the weed, because I have to call the cops." The fact that Charlie could even think of this when there was a dead man lying a few feet away from him made him shudder, but it had to be done nonetheless. The fact that Charlie had killed that man made it much worse. He pulled out his phone and dialed 911, explained what had happened, and hung up. Then, it was up to him to do the next task, the undoable task that must be done. This paradox played itself out in the young guitarists mind as he slowly crept over to that dark mass. He didn't want the shape to hear him, because that shape KNEW that Charlie was the reason it was not going to be lying in bed next to its wife later. Charlie bent over and, with these thoughts dancing through his mind, felt for the pulse of the thing that had once been a man. There was no pulse.
"Charlie, what are you doing?" called Kristen from the direction of the van. Emotion surged in Charlie's chest, and suddenly it exploded out of him. "I fucking killed him! He's dead! Holy shit he's dead! Fuck!" A steady stream of expletives tore from his lips as his knees crumpled beneath him, and then he was silent. Kristen hurried over to comfort him, and then recoiled as she realized what that shape was.
"Come on Charlie, come over to the van. It's all right, you didn't kill him, it was an accident. Come On Charlie! Come On! Stop Fucking Lying There!" Now she was screaming too, because she didn't want to be near that shape anymore. She wanted to be as far away from that shape as possible. Then, the sound of sirens cut through the night, and finally Charlie listened. Ashamed, he softly muttered, "You got rid of the stuff, right?" He couldn't believe he was asking such a question at that moment. At first she seemed to not understand, but then she slowly nodded her head. The guitarist got to his feet and slowly stumbled over to the others, with Kristen behind him. They sat in a circle in the sand, nursing the small injuries they had. Charlie and Kristen collapsed beside them, and they sat in silence until the piercing screams of the sirens reached them.
One Year Later
The adrenaline surged through Charlie's body as he struck the first thunderous chords on his Gibson Explorer. This is life, he thought as he hammered down on the strings, and then burst into a fast, melodic lead. After the accident, he had seen the world very differently. In this world, there was one thing. Music. Or at least, in the beginning there was one thing. Now there were two, the music and the other, the thing he tried not to think about. About two months after the accident, right when the band was starting to hit it big, he had found this other thing. And from then on, he had been a man of two things, music and heroin. They controlled him. They ruled him. They were him.
But for now, the only thing was music, because he was on stage, and when he was performing, the other seemed to melt away, like a vampire waiting for the night to come so it could strike again. On stage, he was god, with the pulsing crowd, Steve belting out his lyrics in a growling scream, the staccato burst of Tom's drums, Kristen's burning rhythm sections, and the steady pound of Dom's bass. Charlie finished out the song by slamming a D power chord, and the crowd screamed for more. Steve stepped to the mic, and yelled out, "We call this one... Genocide!" The crowd roared its approval, and the people in the mosh pits increased their intensity. This was always a crowd pleaser. Tom counted them off, and then Kristen belted out a furious riff that seemed at once as sharp as a knife and as heavy as a sledgehammer. The crowd went nuts. Charlie began his part, and knew at once he had it perfectly. This was bliss. This was perfection. There was nothing else.
"Thank you everybody for being a kick ass crowd, we are Edge of the Blade, have a fuckin good night." The gig was over, and Charlie's euphoria was fading fast. Now would come the dark times, and at once he was repelled and happy. He hated the drug, but he loved the drug. Above all else, he could think of no world in which he didn't have the drug.
"Hey Charlie, we're goin to a bar to get some drinks, you comin?" asked Kristen, but she already knew the answer. Charlie would go back to the hotel, shoot up, and play guitar. It was what he had done after every show since he became a needle freak. It broke her heart, but she had to ask anyway, in the impossible chance that something different might happen this night. It didn't. Charlie went back to the hotel, and Kristen went to the bar with the other guys.
When they got there, she felt she had to say something. "Guys," she began, "I think we need to do something about Charlie. We can't just let him keep ruining his life like he is. Every time I look at him I get depressed, and honestly he's becoming kind of pathetic. It's like the only reason he has to live is to take his fucking drugs. I... I think we should take him to a rehab center or something. I just can't take this anymore." The guys exchanged looks, and they seemed hesitant to speak. Then Dom finally said, "Kristen, this is going to sound heartless, but just listen to what I have to say before you interrupt. ... Ever since that accident, Charlie's been a little off, right? But here's the thing, umm, well it's just that ever since that accident he's also been a much better guitarist." Kristen started to interrupt, but Tom shushed her. "Erm... what I'm trying to say is," continued Dom, "Perhaps it would be better for us, for the band, if we just let Charlie keep doing what he's doing. I mean, ever since that accident, we've been steadily getting bigger gigs, more money, I mean shit, we've got a record deal now! I think that as long as we keep an eye on Charlie, make sure he doesn't go too far, we'd be better off just leaving him be."
Kristen stared at Dom in disbelief, and then at the others who were nodding in agreement. "Are You Fucking Kidding Me!?" she screamed, and people began to stare. "This Is Our Friend You Are Talking About. His Life! You're Willing To Risk His Life Just For A Few Fucking Dollars? I Can't Believe This!" She was sobbing now, but this did nothing to calm her rage. Dom reached over to calm her down, but she slapped him, as hard as she could. Then, she wheeled around and walked out the door.
"Kristen?" called Tom, but he got no reply. He turned to the other two, and they looked back at him in disbelief. "That did not go how I wanted it to," he said. They nodded in agreement. Then, they walked out of the bar to go look for their rhythm guitarist.