It was raining again. Unsurprising, considering the local climate. Tourists far and wide reference the coastal Lower Mainland of British Columbia's beauty, encapsulated by the snow-capped Rockies far to the east and lush, forested hills of the North Shore, a popular place for skiers and snowboarders come winter, bathed in an awe-inspiring seascape that seems to roll off the rounded horizon and disappear into eternity. If said tourists enjoyed near-torrential rains six to eight months of the year that isone of the downsides of growing up on the Burrard Peninsula. It's such a beautiful place! someone might say, and you'd get no argument here, most rainforests are. Locals long used to it might see the area more as a concrete junglehey; maybe Bob Marley was onto something with that songbut on the whole it really was a great place to live. Nestled on the border of this Pacific gem, surrounded by the mighty Fraser River to the south and the gaping Burrard Inlet further north was Brentwood, my hometown.
Over the years, Brentwood evolved from a simple-folk bedroom community where people kept themselves to themselves, said their prayers and went to work nine-to-five, to a roaring dynamo of a city close to rivaling nearby neighbor Vancouver in both density and growth, with its own hustling, bustling nightlife, and equally unpleasant crime and drug problems, though I tried not to focus on that aspect too much. Given a choice between the two, I preferred Vancouver any day, which wasn't to say Brentwood was not without its charms, but Vancouver was the more happening' city; more concerts and bigger event centers that made Murphy's look like just another dingy hole.
Things were finally going great for Systex. With us fully committed to the Thrash, as it'd come to be colloquially known, registration had been taken care of the very next day with Adam being the one to collect dues and pay up. The number of practices increased right away after a bit of finagling with schedule conflicts. Jason pulled a minor miracle and now would only be unavailable on Saturdays. I never quite figured out what he was up to during these times, and when asked, Jason would only smile a little and say I'm just busy then. And you would have to be content with that. Mitchell ended up telling his old grouch of a manager where to stick his head and quit the store, going to work at a gas station just outside of Brentwood that was willing to give him a more flexible schedule. God only knew what Kayla did with her off time. Trying to get that girl to open up about her hobbies or family life was impossible. Eventually we gave up and just accepted that when there was a practice, she'd be there.
We were all exhausted after these skull and jam sessions. Adam in particular pushed himself so hard that he sometimes looked on the verge of blacking out right on top of his drums. Perhaps Monster Machine' suited him better than Moderation.' I think his actual middle name was Martin, but that wasn't important. The old fridge's beverage drawers had to be repeatedly replenished. The Garage would quickly begin to feel like a sauna once we started jamming and the five of us were apt to polish off an entire case of water before calling it a day. Thank God Mr. Merritt worked for a beverage bottling company, he'd constantly come by to drop a flat or two of water, and we loved him for it. Every saved dollar helped. One day Mitchell bought a supply of cola for a change, but no one else drank it. Headbanging on a stomach full of fizz water can go very bad, very fast. We were worn out, but we were happy.
Disagreements still lingered among the group when it came to songwriting, but with a firm goal in mind, they no longer felt insurmountable. Besides, name me one band out there that's never argued once over the creative process. Dedication was no issue, when we set a time, everyone showed, even Kayla, which made it easier for everyone to get along with her. Jason actually hugged her after one practice, an act which both amused and surprised me. We didn't discuss the scratches on my face, which were almost gone at long last. In fact we didn't talk much if at all after practice, opting for the usual silent treatment people seem all too keen to turn to in moments of awkwardness. No more was said about the circumstances that caused their creation, and that was fine. Scratches, what scratches?
We still had one problem to deal with though: No microphone. It was becoming harder for me to stand out among the other instruments, especially the drums, when Adam really got going it was a miracle if anyone could hear me. Attempts at locating a microphone continued to fail, despite everyone else lending a hand to the search. No way was I going to risk wrecking my throat, especially now. It didn't matter if a setup would be provided for the contest, I'd never used a microphone yet; practicing with one was a must to me. I'm sure the others would have agreed.
I'd been standing outside the foggy window of the local QuikPawn store. During my post-practice ride home, I'd opted to ride my bike for a change, the weather looked friendly enough earlier in the day, (ha-ha, joke's on you, Richard,) when I decided to interrupt my travels long enough to peer through the rust stained steel bars that wrapped around the large window and take in the various trinkets and gadgets on display to attract almost any customer. The only one that captured my attention sat in the far right corner of the setup: A smooth, charcoal grey Audio-Technica microphone with speckled black and grey head, free of any apparent dings or scratches, nestled on a coiled pile of electrical cord. I wanted it. Ignoring the nagging voice which said I probably couldn't afford it, I pulled the large glass door open and stepped inside while a small bell tinkled above. If nothing else, I'd be spared from the merciless storm for a few minutes. The air inside the old shop was musty and smelled like an old steamer trunk I'd come across at my Uncle Len's house many years ago. A sullen-faced redhead who looked about my age sat behind a row of glass display cases smudged with fingerprints, arms crossed, chewing away at what looked like a toothpick. Sup? he said, not quite making eye contact.
Sup? I gestured to the display window. That mike for sale? The kid shot me a look. I'll take that as a yes, I said, feeling appropriately foolish. Can I have a look at it?
Sure. He got off his stool and came around the counter, pulling the toothpick from his lips and sliding it behind his ear. He looked at me more closely and said, Hey, you're Richard Day-min aren't you?
It's pronounced 'Demon.' And yes, I am, I corrected, feeling a little hot behind the ears. The only thing I hated more than being called anything other than Richard was the constant butchering of my last name. Those who didn't like me seemed to enjoy teasing me about it. The Central High jocks were the most ruthless, saying things like it's a good name for somebody so fked up. This coming from a group of muscles-for-brains that took turns charging head-first into each other on the school football fieldit takes one to know one, I'd often think.
Thought I recognized you, I see you around Central all the time. The name's Corey. Corey Whitaker.
Good to meet you. You play, too?
What, music? Hell, I can't even hum in tune. He scoffed a little as he plucked the mike from the case, handing it to me. Naw, you're more likely to find me in the woodshop than the music hall. But I remember seeing you hanging with that Matheson chick all the time from Art Compton. What was her name, Sarah?
My stomach twisted into a knot at the mention of her name, the heat flared up once more behind my ears. Please, I groaned, feeling the mike's weight, gently bouncing it between both hands. If I never hear that name again, it'll be too soon. I hadn't seen or heard from that girl since her special guest appearance at The Garage last week. She'd bolted after listening to us play twice through Rage top to bottom, experimenting with Mitchell's intro, which reminded me of early Metallica. It was good but didn't really blend with the rest of the song's deeper tones. He kept working at it, pairing it with a good 5/4 bass solo Jason had been toying with for a while. It had potential. Sarah claimed she had some things to take care of when she left. She always did have a terrible poker face.
Is that right? Corey asked in attempt to make small talk, it'd probably have been less awkward to keep quiet. Tough break man, I thought she was pretty hot. Of course I also heard she'swell, you know.
It was obvious the guy had started to say something he now wished he hadn't, either out of risk of pissing me off or making a fool of himself. He twisted uncomfortably, scratching at the back of his head. You know'promiscuous.'
I almost laughed. Take it from me: That's the least of her issues. I handed the microphone back and asked how much it was going for. Corey must've picked up on the acid dripping from my voice and avoided any further discussion involving her, telling me it was selling for one hundred even. The price made my stomach knot up tighter. I didn't have an extra hundred lying around, and I couldn't see the others willing to share the cost, and why not? Vocals were my sole responsibility. Our songs didn't need any other support. I thanked Corey and headed for home, deflated. Where was I going to get a hundred bucks? Getting a job was out of the question; my time was strictly dedicated to Systex now more than ever, plus I can't say the idea of slaving away for pennies on the dollar was appealing, and asking Captain Bob was a guaranteed recipe for failure.
This wasn't going to be easy.
Dinnertime, a rarely enjoyable event in and of itself at the Demin residence, was made even less so by Eric's unannounced presence. You've got to be kidding me, I thought as I slid into the stiff, uncomfortable chair at the foot of the heavy oak table. Any hope of having one meal in peace, dead and gone before a single bite. Eric just couldn't let one visit go by without getting on my case, asking questions he had no interested in and probably didn't expect straight answers to, questions like what was I up to with your little band, in his words, and how I'd better make sure to have a backup plan, just in case Heavy Metal 101 isn't a course option at college. Ha! As if I had any serious aspirations of wasting further time with school post-graduation. Why don't you just say what you really mean, Eric? Fat chance of that, considering his better half was accompanying him this time. Michelle was a soft-spoken brunette with fair complexion who seemed more interested in my activities than any of my family. She didn't seem to understand why relations between me and Eric were so cold and thus treated like the black sheep of the Demin flock anymore than why I preferred Metallica over Mozart, but she never criticized or judged, so I liked her. Although I had to admit confusion about what she saw in Eric. Then again, love was something I knew very little about and had little interest in.
So Richard, I hear through the grapevine you've been busy, Eric said after a few moments. His beady little weasel eyes locked onto me. With his wispy (and pathetic looking) mustache and obnoxiously colored tie, he looked like someone eager to sell a real lemon of a used car to the next dum-dum to set foot on the lot.
Have you now, I said, lifting a forkful of spaghetti to my mouth, wondering to myself how long I'd have to put up with this charade before I'd be free to spend my Friday evening as I intendedaway from here.
How'd you get those scratches on your face, there? he asked, pointing with his fork. I took a long time to chew, much longer than spaghetti really needed to be chewed, before swallowing and telling him the same thing I told anyone else who bothered to askI'd fallen off my skateboard.
You fell. Eric sounded just like Captain Bob did when confronting me. It was not a pleasant coincidence. Those don't look like the kind of injuries you get from a skateboarding accident.
Yeah well, you don't skateboard. That brought the usual rumbling warning from Captain Bob's and his ever-watchful eye at the table head. I changed tactics. Ah, I just didn't look far enough ahead, caught a low branch and bailed. It could've been worse, I said, adding a weak chuckle for effect. Eric made a noise indicating dissatisfaction with my answer.
Michelle however, was more commiserating. That's terrible! she said in her sparrow-like chirping. Thank goodness you weren't more badly hurt. Ungrammatical but appreciated.
I flashed a lopsided smirk and shrugged as though trying to pass it all off as a joke. It's alright. My ass broke the fall. This time it was Captain Bob giving me the weasel eyes. Watch your mouth boy, his face seemed to say. And if by busy, Eric, you mean my musical pursuits, then yes, I suppose you could say I've been busy, I said.
If one can call that kind of noise music, Captain Bob interjected, taking a sip of wine. Eric grunted in agreement. And people wondered why I didn't like to spend time at home.
Little Kevin looked moon-eyed at the grownups talking around him though otherwise oblivious to the context, shoveling Caesar salad into his mouth much like it was a race to see who could fit the most food in their mouths. Andrea, the youngest Demin, just sat there, poking at her plate like she couldn't have been more grossed out by the red and white wormy blob on her plate. She rarely said anything to anyone. My mind drifted back to the microphone sitting in the QuikPawn window just begging for me to take it, while I watched them. A small part of me always felt sorry for my younger siblings, so nave to the emotional disconnect around them, stuck in their own private worlds childhood seems to offer to a youngling feeling left out. Sometimes I would feel a little jealous, wishing I too could escape so easily.
Eric said something, but I hadn't caught it all. Say again?
I asked you to pass the peppertwice, he said with a hint of impatience. I shook my head a little and passed the smooth wooden pepper grinder across the table to him. Where did you go? he asked, accepting the grinder without any thanks.
Oh, just thinking about something neat I saw in the windows at QuikPawn during my walk home.
Something neat in QuikPawn, now there's a surprise, Eric mused with tongue-in-cheek. Then he switched tones. What was it? Did my ears deceive me? Had my older brother actually just shown legitimate interest in me? Miracle!
A microphone, I said. We really need one for the band, nobody can hear my vocals. I get drowned out by the other instruments.
Oh. Eric's curiosity folded on the spot and he reverted to his usual lip-service politeness like a built-in defense mechanism. God forbid he should appear interested in what baby brother Richard did. So that's what you do, is it, Vocals?'
Yes, among other things.
Well, I suppose if you need it that bad, you could always find a way to get the money. Perhaps you could sell your guitar if you're not playing with it anymore. Sacrilege! I'd had my GIO since I was ten, how on Earth could I reconcile parting with it? Then again, much as I hated to admit it, he did have a point. It was important to get a mikebut just how important?
Eric shrugged, contentedly chewing a mouthful of salad. Ah well. That noise always sounded more like someone strangling a cat with bagpipes than singing to me. So help me, I just don't get what you find so appealing about that. I don't know what irritated me more, that outright stupid sounding simile or his toffee-nosed condescension, like being an office jockey for some chump city councilor made him a better person than me.
Yeah well, don't worry, Eric, I won't be inviting you to rehearsal anytime soon.
His eyes flashed with anger but didn't call me on it. I suppose this means you'll be screaming and fooling around with that guitar of yours?
Captain Bob chimed in with a short bark of a laugh that dripped with derision. Not in my house, you won't.
Big surprise, I muttered.
I beg your pardon? You don't dare say another word, his tone seemed to really say.
You've made your opinion of my taste in music very clear, Dad. I don't expect any support from you or Eric, or anyone else here for that matter. Besides, I didn't say I bought it, did I? I knew I'd already be on thin ice from my previous comment.
(Why not just let fly an F-bomb while you're at it, Richard? Make it a hat-trick!)
I'd be lying if I said the idea wasn't tempting.
It was too expensive anyways, so you can relax, alright? Your precious peace won't be disturbed.
Kevin still looked moon-eyed, although now probably more out of surprise or fright that Richard had dared be rude to Dad. Michelle looked embarrassed at being caught in the middle, her face flush with pinkness. Andrea just kept poking her food, looking sadder than ever. Seeing that made my heart hurt and for what it was worth, I was genuinely sorry about that. I had neither warrant nor desire to be mean to either of them.
Now you listen here, boy! Captain Bob barked, dropping his fork with a clatter and pointing a fat sausage finger at me. His other hand clenched into a fist tight enough to turn the knuckles white. I'm getting just a little fed up with that mouth of yours.
Yeah Dad, well I'm sorry but you know what? I'm getting pretty tired of being looked down upon by you and Eric. Apparently different tastes in music and life are forbidden but being rude to younger brothers is okay? I hate to break it to you but I'm not some spineless jellyfish.
If they were good tastes then perhaps Eric started to say.
Oh, shut up Eric! I yelled, jumping to my feet so fast that my knees caught the lip of the table; it didn't hurt, but it sure made the plates and flatware dance. Just shut the fk up! If you can't find at least one thing nice to say about me, then do us both a favor and stop pretending to care about what I do with my life!
The table grew silent at once, of course.
For centuries, tales have been told of people speaking epiphanies in strange tongues previously unknown during moments of exceptional stress, but rarely did I believe in such storiesuntil now. My brain seemed to have done a total system reboot, leaving me stuck with the eerily familiar out of body experience washing over me like a wave on an incoming tide. Eric sat motionless, fork still poised in midair, a piece of spaghetti dangling from the tines. His face was darker than the wine in his glass. Even Captain Bob was rendered speechless by this sudden explosion; a rare sight indeed, his moon face pale and expressionless, an empty gaze in his wide eyes. Michelle just looked like she wanted to vanish. I think Kevin and Andrea both wanted to vanish too, their mouths hanging open. Reality slowly returned, bringing with it the realization that I was surely going to pay for my profane tirade against my brother. No child endangerment law would be able to save me in time if Captain Bob ever snapped out of his catatonic state long enough to lay hands on me.
Panic struck. I'm out of here, I said, bolting for the stairs, stopping just long enough to grab my guitar case. The rain was gone at last, and while the sun was nowhere to be seen in the gloomy grey overhead, it was still plenty bright out. I caught a faint but unmistakable noise coming from upstairs; one that sent shock-waves of pure terror pulsing throughout my body. It was the sound of wooden chair legs scraping against the tattered linoleum floor, followed by the heavy thumping of leather shoes attacking the stairs at a terrific speed: He was coming for me. And I'd forgotten to close the front door, leaving it wide open while I sprinted onto the lawn, inviting certain doom. (So long Richard. It's been nice knowing you.)
Too late, no way was I going back for it. That would be, as the school Spanish teacher would put it, Muy Loco! By now, I was running on pure instinct and adrenaline, the rational part of my brain long since departed, leaving me to deal with the fallout. Sorry Richard, you're on your own this time! My bike stood propped against the chain-link fence our property shared with the house next door, soaked to the core. All things considered, a wet ass should have been the least of my concerns at that point. The silver body was a perfect camouflage against the steel bars and I almost didn't see it until the radiant glint of chrome spokes shined.
No time to think. I did the first thing that came to mind and raced for it, my shoes squishing in the damp grass, leaving muddy footprints behind.
Suddenly, the eerie silence of the neighborhood was shattered by a heavy booming, as if a bomb had just gone off behind me. It echoed across the street, well into the next block, and my ear began to ache; a hot, brilliant flash of pain in my eardrum. It wasn't until later that I finally pieced it together, and by then it was too late anyways: It was the front door slamming against the frame while the epitome of fury itself charged forward, lining me up perfectly in its crosshairs. The bike handles were in my hand as I ushered it towards the driveway, desperate for just enough of a running start to wheel it off the grass. I climbed on, straddling the guitar on my back as best I could, readied to take off down Maple Crescent and towards sanctuary
Just as the dark silhouette of a hand entered the peripheral of my vision and hooked the scruff of my shirt.