[Read part 2 here]
Dylan clocked out at 2:00. He had about 2 hours left before the audition which gave him just enough time to squeeze in a quick rehearsal at the Styx.
The club was more or less deserted at this hour. A bunch of high school kids were scattered around the foyer getting high. The barman was asleep at the counter. A couple of guys were setting up the stage area for the night's show.
Joe was crouched over a circuit box by the floor, tinkering with something. He glanced up as Dylan walked by, his large grey eyes flashing in the dim light.
"You all right?" Joe asked sharply.
Dylan paused to turn towards him. Joe was looking at him strangely, his expression somewhat alarmed.
Not wanting to say anything, he mumbled that he was fine and hurried inside, feeling unsettled. The storage room was as he had left it the previous night, the wreckage of the light bulb hiding behind the door, the dead amp lying forlornly on the ground.
He pulled out the spare practice amp that he kept in the cupboard, a crotchety old Crate VC20 that he hadn't used in years. Cursing his luck for the twentieth time that day, he plugged it in and strummed a few chords. The sound was irritating, choppy. Fighting down his annoyance, he quickly tuned the guitar and set up the controls.
He blundered through the first two Crunch songs he was planning to play. His fingering was sloppy, his timing was off. The grinding from the amp was making everything sound worse. The angrier he got, the clumsier he played. Midway through the third song, he broke off with a frustrated snarl and kicked the amp. Pain flared in his foot, making him madder than ever. He tossed the guitar onto the ground and kicked it aside.
He slumped down on the floor and buried his face in his hands, feeling an intense urge to break more things. Anger slowly gave way to hopelessness. Even the best equipment in the world couldn't make him a better player. Nothing would, because he fundamentally sucked.
Screw the audition. Screw everything. He didn't care anymore. All he wanted to do now was ... get high.
The last thought was especially appealing. He got up and ... stopped. Sitting there on the floor in front of him, where he could've sworn it wasn't there five seconds ago was a joint all neatly rolled up and ready. He looked down at his clenched fist. He was holding a lighter in his hands.
Ten minutes later, Dylan was sprawled on the ground, his head resting on his hands, staring blankly at the ceiling. Smoke curled upwards in lazy wisps. He inhaled slowly, letting it all seep in. A familiar feeling of calm washed over him as the tightness in his chest relaxed.
His eyes slowly wandered across the room, taking in the peeling paint on the walls, the racks filled with broken stage lights, empty paint cans and wire tangles, ultimately resting on a dusty old stereo in the far corner. Absently fingering the welt on his chest, he stood up and walked over to the cabinet to take a closer look. It was an old make, with an AM/FM tuner and dual tape decks. There seemed to be a cassette inside. He flipped the power switch and pressed play.
Alice Cooper's "Welcome to my nightmare" played softly from the speakers. He picked up the guitar again and walked around the room strumming randomly. The tuning was off, how could he have not noticed that before? Humming to himself, he dropped the low e further down and retuned the other strings.
"... Unnecessary sedation ..."
He could hear the low thrum of the exhaust fan above him. Muffled laughter from the foyer floated down from the vents. He loosened the strap around his shoulders and adjusted it to a more comfortable position. Still humming, he reset the amp and meddled around with the knobs, adjusting till the crackle came down to a bare minimum.
"... I think you're gonna like it ..."
His pulse quickened, the way it always did every time he got high. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. Thump thump thump. Everything around him was slightly blurry, like one of those artsy photographs in fashion magazines. Except for his hands and his guitar, which were in sharp focus. He adjusted his grip on the fret board so that he was pressing the flat of his fingers against the strings.
He felt like he was waiting for something or someone to tell him what to do. A distant sense of unease welled up in him. This was starting to get really weird.
"Shut up and listen," said a voice next to him. As though in a trance, he listened.
"... I hope I didn't scare you ..."
To his steady breathing. To the subtle vibration from the amp. To the noises from outside. To drums from the stereo. He heard each sound distinctly, separately. Underneath them all, so faint that he could barely hear it, was the music. The melody that he was looking for. Thump thump thump. That was the rhythm.
"... 'Cause life is just a dream here ..."
Then, his fingers found the right notes. The previously grainy crackle from the amp was now replaced by a pleasant twang - not perfect, but not awful either. The notes flowed seamlessly, as though he had practiced this particular piece for hours. He played it unbroken, in perfect sync with the pounding in his chest.
Fully engaged in the music, he didn't notice the large shadow on the wall behind him, looming over his head.
He now knew what the music was. The riff that he'd been playing yesterday, before the amp exploded. The same one in the dream... If it was really a dream. The one he had heard in his head all his life but kept ignoring...
Suddenly, he stopped, breathing hard. He couldn't hear it anymore. The tape had ended. The sounds from above merged together, now indistinct from each other. His pulse gradually returned to normal. Behind him, the shadow slowly diminished. The room swam back into focus.
This audition was going to be different. He knew it.