"Love is too young to know what conscience is." William Shakespeare
Six Days Later
"You dragged us in too fast!" cried Eric, lugging in his guitar as Amber led him through the backstage door. "You dragged us in too fast!"
Indeed, it appeared Amber had thought too quickly. She and Eric, along with Porfirio, were now playing their first show, barely a week after they formed the Feed. Amber felt purely confident over the matter, as the three had come together as a fine-tuned machine in practice. Eric and Porfirio, however, felt the band was not nearly ready to play the Garden, but nevertheless, they were now unpacking Eric's Nissan and mentally preparing to open for a local band.
"We're going to be laughed at!" Eric continued to complain, following Amber into a small room with a star engraved on the door. Inside the room, Porfirio stood at a wall-length mirror, examining his facial hair solemnly. As the two entered, Eric immediately fell on the ugly green couch and covered his face with his hands.
"Oh, god" he whimpered, remembering the night he had been stabbed. From the moment they arrived, his scar had begun to sting, and it was growing more and more agonizing every few minutes. It was like having heartburn in his abs.
"Do you think my stubble is too long?" Porfirio asked, running a tanned hand over his chin.
"No." Amber sighed and rolled her eyes. "You two are such drama queens. We can do this. We got chemistry!"
Eric looked up, somewhat frustrated. His eyes narrowed in semi-anger.
"Chemistry or not, we have been jamming for a week straight. I've barely slept! Do you think I'll even remember half the solos?"
"I do, yes." Amber replied plainly, placing her bass tenderly on the couch next to Eric, who eyed it suspiciously.
"And the rhythms." Porfirio added, turning to face his band mates and pulling himself up onto the counter to sit. "They are rather complicated."
"Progressive is progressive, man." Amber replied, shrugging. "You either know it or you don't. Besides, it's too late for us to pull out now."
"That's what your mom said." Eric muttered, placing his face back in the palms of his hands.
"Very funny." Amber sighed, pushing a lock of her dark hair behind her ear. "Listen, if we do well tonight, Dangerous Ways might want us to open for them again. Or even better, the Garden might ask us to headline sometime."
"You have high hopes." Porfirio said calmly, looking over at her with a morbid curiosity. "That is odd for someone of your family."
"I told you once before, Porfirio." Amber grumbled. "I'm not like Anson"
Beck stopped his companion mid-stride with a straight arm out. The hallway was mostly empty, aside from them and a few flies buzzing around a garbage can at the end of the hall.
"Hey, I need to know who's in that head of yours before we go in." Beck said, his newly-grown soul patch following his lower lip's every move. "Because that'll kinda determine how I introduce you."
Anson froze for a moment, not really sure if he was in total control this time. After Hank took control for two days following the conversation at the caf, Anson had been struggling to re-emerge. This war over a single body was taking a toll on his personality, and he was beginning to grow tired. In a way, he sort of wanted to just leave Hank to take over the body, but he knew Hank was more dangerous than he let on. For the time being, Anson decided, he would fight for control, but let Hank take over when bad things began to happen, which, in his mind, he knew couldn't be far off. They were playing a dangerous game.
"Anson." He answered, staring at Beck, who had decided to dye his hair a very dark blue, in order to disguise himself from anyone who might recognize him during the course of the evening.
"Oh, good." Beck replied with a chuckle. "This'll be easier, then. Can I go over some ground rules?"
Anson nodded, but looked away, not wanting to look at the burned right side of Beck's face.
"Okay, as I've told you, refer to me as Beck when we're around them. It's a way to differentiate me from my dead self.' They'll question of you call me Becker. I know, it's kinda obvious, but trust me. They're not the brightest bunch."
The duo continued walking down the hall, passing a few rooms, of which Anson was sure one had to be a broom closet, as it smelled of rotten ammonia. Then he took a brief pause and sniffed the air. Oh, he thought, that's me
"This gal pal of yours" Anson snickered, twiddling his fingers. "She a looker?"
"Hands off, freak-o." Beck replied sourly. "She's cute, I'll give you that."
"What about hot? Cute isn't the same thing, you know. Whereas Zooey Deschanel is cute, Katy Perry is hot."
"Same face." Beck snorted. "If you hit on Sam, I'll kill you."
"Got it." Anson sighed.
Beck stopped in front of a door, upon which a piece of paper with the words "Dangerous Ways" scribbled in marker had been taped. Anson had read the front billboard as he and Becker had walked in and already knew this was their band name, which he assumed was probably already taken by some other group, somewhere. But at the moment, none of that really mattered. Apparently, Dangerous Ways had been rocking Sussex County during the months Anson had been gone, and they had garnered an impressive fan base. Coming in the side door, the two had passed by a hallway leading to the bathrooms, and Anson had spied a pretty little thing wearing one of Dangerous Ways' t-shirts, depicting a white skull spray-painted on a racked brick wall. Anson had to admit, he was a bit jealous of their success.
Beck knocked twice and opened the door. He walked in calmly, waving slightly at the three people within. Anson followed behind closely, closing the door behind him. As he turned back to the band members, the unconscious effort of Hank scanned the three. Beck had given him a low-down of the members, but Hank made his own observations.
Rex, the guitar-player and lead vocalist, was an average-built kid of probably 17 or 18, with medium length dyed neon red hair. Leaning on the counter in front of the mirror, he looked up and smiled at Becker, who gave a polite smirk right back. His young face had an odd wisdom to it, as though he had seen many a hard time in his short life. Tracing the boy's arms past his Led Zeppelin t-shirt to his wrists, Anson discovered a pair of Mario mushroom-adorned sweatbands around his wrists. Rex gave Anson a look of distrust as he scanned, but Anson felt no fear or anxiety as he noticed the boy's dark jeans and beat up red Converse with obnoxious pink laces. From within their head, Hank gave the boy a label: wannabe. He was too much of a poseur to be real.
Next on Hank's scanning list was Bard, the muscular guy sitting on the armrest of the dressing room couch. He was handsome, but there was something behind his dark brown eyes and short cropped black hair that made Anson nervous. He looked like he could throw anyone in the room through the brick walls. In short, he was a beast. Thick, but not fat at all, Bard gave Beck a casual "what's up" as they entered. He looked friendly despite his stature, but the definition of muscle in his arms revealed by his dark blue tank top frightened Anson. If he were to ever become an enemy, he would be the end of both of them.
Finally, Anson's gaze came to rest upon the beauty of the room: Becker's new girlfriend Sam, a dirty blonde rocker-esque type gal. Her face had the distinct cuteness to it that Beck had described. Her deep blue eyes locked immediately with Becker's and suddenly, Anson felt very invisible. No one had really paid him any attention aside from the suspicious glance from Rex, but being ignored by the shapely Samantha Hunter hurt more than a needle through the heart. He was genuinely jealous of Beck.
"Becker!" she cried, leaping to her feet and clasping him in a warm embrace. From in front of the door, Anson winced.
"Hey, I said I'd show up." Becker seemed to remind her.
Ah, Anson thought, she's a bit airheaded, then. Understandable in someone as pretty as she was.
"And you've never broken a promise." Sam giggled. "Not yet, at least."
"Nice of you to come, man." Bard chirped in, pulling his drumsticks out of a crevasse in the couch cushions. "We could use another friendly face."
"Why's that?" Anson asked. Everyone turned to look at him, and his feeling of invisibility was immediately replaced with a feeling of embarrassment. Why had he even said anything?
"Because we've been getting some bad reviews." Rex said coldly, staring Anson in the eyes. Anson shivered. There was something wrong with the way he glared at him. Something evil.
"What genre are you guys?" Anson asked tenderly, not wanting to tread on sore ground.
"Progressive rock." Bard said plainly as he bounced his sticks in his hands.
"Weird. I've never really seen Rush get a bad review." Anson muttered, trying desperately to make conversation. But he was immediately shot down.
"New prog." Rex corrected condescendingly with a roll of his eyes. "Like The Mars Volta, or Mew?"
Anson blushed. He was growing more frustrated. Rex was a headstrong person, no doubt, but there was something else in his words. Some sort of underlying darkness. Anson could feel it.
The show would be interesting.
Anson and Becker laid low while the Feed played. Anson knew Amber would spot him immediately, so the two stuck to the dark corner at the edge of the venue, hiding amongst a group of teens passing around a spliff. Becker seemed bothered by the smoke, but Anson felt a nice contact high going, so his worries melted away faster than a chocolate bar left in a jeans pocket.
Becker looked perpetually on edge, knowing Eric could recognize him at any moment. Even with his precautions, Becker still looked very much like his former self. Luckily, he hadn't had many friends in his former life, so he was basically safe in the crowd. It had been a huge risk coming to the show, but he just had to see Sam perform.
"And if I forget/It'll be the best time I'll remember" Amber crooned up on stage, adding a fill to the end of the phrase.
"So what do you figure all their songs are about?" Beck asked Anson, who turned away to look at Amber. He could see the pain in her brown eyes. It was about mom and dad. Anson inhaled and looked back to Beck.
"Politics." He said.
The rest of the set went smoothly. They really did mesh well, despite having only been together a week. Porfirio kept a perfect rhythm, and even came up with some creative fills of his own, nearly stealing the spotlight toward the end of some bars. But as they seemed to round off one song, Eric suddenly erupted in a Californication-esque solo of his own, pouring the contents of his soul out from the frets.
"Jesus." Beck said aloud. "He's really in the zone."
Anson looked back at the stage. He really was; Eric's face was faced upward, grimacing in some inner pain as his guitar gently wept. He stumbled backward, letting Amber back into the spotlight to finish the lyrics.
"And no one else will e-ver knooow"
The crowd gave a loud but polite applause. They seemed to really enjoy the set, and Anson felt a sudden pride in his sister. She had absolutely rocked the mic, and tore up the bass. They were one damn clever band. Anson couldn't quite put a genre to them, but they kind of reminded him of Sublime. Southern California rock of sorts. Anson flashed back a bit to when he first met Porfirio in the confessional booth. All this beautiful music was based upon lies. Beautiful lies.
"Thank you." Amber announced, taking a short curtsey. "We're the Feed. But let's get to what you really came for: Dangerous Ways. They'll be up in just a few. Thanks again."
And with that, the three disappeared off-stage and the stage hands began breaking down their equipment. After giving a bit of applause, Beck turned to Anson, suddenly very serious.
"You didn't make eye contact, right?"
"Right." Anson muttered, suddenly being interrupted so the dude next to him could pass him the spliff. He took a quick puff and passed it to Becker, who immediately passed it to the guy on his right without taking in any of it.
"No chance of them coming over?"
This back and forth interrogation continued until Dangerous Ways took the stage. Becker became so lost in ogling his gal pal that he didn't ask any further questions, and Anson saw nothing of Amber that evening until he got back to the Basement. Beck ran off to Sam's house immediately after the show ended, leaving Anson to drive himself home in the Saturn. As he left the Garden, he passed by the alleyway in which Eric had been stabbed and sighed. The scene passed through his mind, though he hadn't seen it happen. Eric walked through, dragging his guitar case, when Jana, draped in a black sweatshirt, followed up behind, placed a hand on his shoulder, spun him around, and jabbed the pocket knife into his gut. Anson gagged. No, no more. He left with due haste, leaving the scene behind.
Things had changed, but the memories remained.
"I have things to do. I'm going to need you to make the exchange."
"What, have sex with that gal pal of yours?"
"Anson, I ask you for one thing. She'll show up, you tie her up, let Lauren go, then call me. And keep your face covered, man.
"Dammit, Becker! I can't keep doing your dirty work!"
"You want to make Harmony Hill right again?"
"Then, please. Just do this. I'm begging you."
"Okay, fine. But don't expect any more favors!"
The garage door opened quickly. So quickly, in fact, that Anson found himself off-guard, adjusting the gift-wrap like bow on Lauren's head. The light flooded in, momentarily blinding him. However, he felt an odd sense of security, knowing the plain white mask over his face protected him from identification. This would be easy. Screw Becker, Anson thought.
Jana stepped forward and into the warehouse, and gasped slightly upon seeing the helpless Lauren tied to the chair. Beneath the mask, Anson smiled. The psycho had finally been frightened.
"Alright, you know the deal." Said Anson, brandishing a small paring knife from his pocket. "On the ground."
"Okay, just don't hurt anyone." Jana said calmly, locking eyes with Anson. She kept her gaze focused, even as Anson approached with a coil of rope.
"Funny, Jana." Anson laughed as he turned her to face away from him so he could bind her wrists. "You've always been the chaos artist, but todayyou're just another victim."
"Yes." Jana said cryptically. "Victim."
From behind him, Anson heard a shuffling, then a bit of a swoosh before the crowbar made contact with the back of his head. He fell forward onto Jana, who shoved him off with ease. On her knees, she looked up at her younger sister, now grasping the crowbar in both hands and breathing heavily. To her side, Anson lay unconscious, but breathing. He had been so foolish as to turn his back on a Zippler; a mistake many only made once. Jana crawled over to him and peeled off the mask, revealing his tanned face. She smirked.
"Oh, Anson." She sighed. "If only you had been someone else."
Then, she looked over her shoulder at her sister, who was still panting and clutching the crowbar with white knuckles.
Jana could see the look of madness in her eyes. The very same she had seen many a time before.
Whenever she looked in a mirror.
Rex hated fetching the mail. It was an obnoxiously hot November 1st, and he had to descend a flight of rickety fire escape stairs just to reach the back alley before walking around to the front. And of course, the mailbox was just one of three: a metal box in the wall of the Laundromat he lived above. One for the Laundromat, one for Apartment A, and one for him, Apartment B.
He pulled the key out of his pocket and turned it in the lock quickly. He was already sweating.
"Jesus Christ," he said to himself, "is it 90 degrees?"
He gave a frustrated growl and swung the mail door open to find about three or four letters lying in the box. He carefully removed them. Last time he took them out in a hurry, he had given himself the nastiest paper cut he had ever known.
As he strolled back toward the metal stairs, he began flipping through the mail. Bill, bill, cruddy advertisement
But then he saw the letter marked only with his name and the word BURN.
He quickly ascended the stairs and slammed his door shut behind him. Standing in the tiny main room of his apartment, he looked out of the peep hole in the door before looking back down at the letter. He furiously took to it, tearing the top off and retrieving the paper within. Unfolding the sheet, his sweat turned to ice. There was a sudden cold about the room as he read to himself:
"Rex. These are dark times we live in, but I can assure you, there is good left. I have a task for you, written on the back of this sheet. If you follow the instructions perfectly, you will be rewarded handsomely. The letters that appear to be bills are not. One envelope contains $1,000. The other's contents will assist you in your task. If you do not comply, no further action will be taken. Just know that I will be watching you.
Rex began hyperventilating and stumbled for his nearby dinner table, where he sat and read the message over and over, then flipped it over and read thoroughly. It was plain and clear; black and white. Moving on, he opened the other envelopes and rolled their contents onto the table.
A syringe and a bottle labeled "BLISS".