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Girl in the Crowd

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Cigarette smoke, bong hit leftovers and voices surround the stage. Jimmy peers from behind the curtain, and turns to us smirking. “Real fucking wild bunch out there tonight” he says. He goes back and peers through the curtain, a single eye gazing into the abyss.

And the abyss is too busy cursing, stomping and getting high to stare back.

Stitch and Twig are running around, getting equipment ready. Talking with roadies. Making sure the stage is set before we perform. Twig makes sure everything is in place. Stitch just points and yells.

I’m leaning against the wall, opposite the curtain. Watching everyone else. Stitch and Twig always double check everything. They don’t need, or want, my assistance. That way, they’re sure everything is perfect. they’re sure there aren’t any screw ups.

Jimmy told me when I first joined that live shows are half magic, and half bullshit. The magic being all the prep work. When I asked him what the bullshit was composed of, he smiled and laughed. He never explained the second half. Jimmy did that a lot.

Twig stands in the corner, talking with a roadie. Stitch, light cigarette in hand, comes up and nods at Twig. He jabs a finger in the roadies chest, and points off stage. The roadie hustles away. Stitch turns to Twig, and for the first time all night, smiles as they embrace. They hold the hug a long time. Then both turn, hand in hand, and walk towards Jimmy.

I put my cigarette out on the stage. I stamp my black boot over it, scuffing the floor. One of the roadies would have to clean up later. I walked over to the rest of the band, nodding at each. I tapped Jimmy on the shoulder. He closed the curtain and whipped his head around, still smiling. Like a dumb kid caught peeping.

"Everything ready?" he asked.

We all nodded.

Jimmy, our over-zealous ring master, clapped his hands together. He shouted at a roadie, and told him to go announce us in five. We walked towards our instruments. Twig and Stitch kissed each other for luck.

Jimmy turned, pointing a finger at the both of them. “No faggoty shit, you hear me? This show has to be fucking perfect. I hear there’s a label scout out there tonight. No faggotry. Got it?”

Stitch snarled, muttering something. Twig put a hand on his shoulder, pulling Stitch back. “Yeah, Jimmy. We got it. No big deal.”

The crowd went from a roar to a murmur. The announcer was welcoming everyone, thanking them for coming. His voice was dull and muffled behind the curtain. I grabbed my guitar, pulling my pick out of my pocket.

Behind me, I heard Stitch mutter “Jimmy” and “Nazi”, but not loud enough to endanger his job.

The curtain raised. Lights flashed from cellphones, lighters and cameras. The house was packed. Jimmy marched forward, his boots clopping down hard. He was only five feet away from the front row.

He gripped the mic, yanking it off the stand. The stand fell, and Jimmy kicked it off stage. The crowd laughed, hollered and pumped their fists.

"Hi, everybody. I’m Jagged Jimmy Jay."

The crowd roared. From the back, someone yelled We Love you Jimmy!, but not We love you guys! Always the first. Like that scrawny, laughing son of a bitch made the entire group. Jimmy pumped his fist in the air, and roaring into the mic, said “I’m Jimmy, and I like to fuck dead girls!”

The crowd exploded into yelling, clapping and cheering as we tore into our first song. Stitch played a step faster than we’d practiced. Twig stepped up his own pace to keep up, which made me go faster. It sounded like a loud, angry mess. Just like Stitch. But Jimmy sang just as quick, bellowing chord after chord.

He didn’t play an instrument. Twig told me once Jimmy could play guitar, and sounded fine. He just didn’t. Stitch said it took away from his “act”. I believed him.

If there was a talent scout out there, we’d already failed. The crowd broke into drunken fights, shouting and dancing. It was a colossal noise, pulsing and pressing within and out. Everyone tore their shirt off. Everyone threw a punch. Everyone’s face became an indiscernible goulash, except for one girl.

She stood in the center, near the back. I couldn’t make out her face, or even what she was wearing. Her hair looked black, but could have been any shade. She stood so still, so stationary. She stared at the stage, and didn’t make a noise. Just watched the show.

As I shred through our set, I watched her. I watched her through next song, right up until Jimmy nudged me and whispered “What the fuck, man? Make it lively. Sell this shit” with a smile and wink. I nodded and pointed at the girl.

About five others around her squealed, and held their hands to their chests. They thought I was pointing at them. They scrambled to get to the front of the stage. But that girl, the one I had pointed at, she stood still. And watched. She kept watching, as I did her, right up until the others made their way to the front.

They called my name, barely held back by the barricade and security. They screamed for me, for Jimmy, for Twig or Stitch. I couldn’t tell. Upon hearing others doing the same, they paused. Looked around. And broke into a bare knuckle, all-out cat fight. The crowd gave them room, and started snapping pictures.

Jimmy’s smile dropped for a second, and he raised up both his hands towards the ceiling. We had to pick it up. Make it dirty. Dirtier than a bunch of high-school kids fighting over the lead guitarist, pulling hair and clothes, making each other bleed.

We obeyed. In a few moments, we’d won the crowd back.

I looked out, but I didn’t find the girl again.

———————————————————-

Fuck Dead Girls was pitched as a collaborative effort between the four of us. We told people we had “found each other in the darkness”, and all kinds of other crap. Everyone thought we were friends. Close as brothers.

But later that night, at some near-empty waterhole, things went as always. Stitch and Twig secluded themselves in a booth. One with big, high backs so people couldn’t see them. I sat at the bar, sipping beer and waiting for my cut of tonight’s gig.

Jimmy was nowhere to be seen. He never was after a gig, not for a few hours. Then he’d stagger in, red-eyed and keyed, and talk my ears off the rest of the night. That way, he could have a chance at not paying me.

But tonight, he surprised me.

He walked through the front door in a grand fashion. Big steps, so his boots made noise. They were these big, studded black things he never took off. He came clomping in, threw his arms up and shouted my name. Everyone in the bar turned. First to him, then to me. Then back to their beer, their cigarettes and other slow suicides.

Except for me. I kept drinking my Pabst, and did my damnedest to smile for him. He strutted up to me, clapping his hand over my shoulder. Like we were friends. Brothers.

"Dude, did you see the cat fight? Wasn’t that fucking sweet? Barkeep! I’ll have what he’s having! Fuck, make it two. I’ve had a good night, and I want to forget about it. "

He turned to me, big fucking kid-grin still on his face. No red eyes. No flared nostrils. And he was genuinely happy. My stomach sank.

I put my beer down, and said “Guess the scout talked to you, then?”

Please, God. Please let him say no. If he says yes, and that he signed a contract, I might fucking blow my brains out. I don’t want to work with him. Please, Jesus God, if you exist, let him say no.

The beers arrived. Jimmy slapped a twenty on the table. He took a long pull off of one, grimacing as he swallowed. He looked at me, gathering his thoughts. “What scout?” he said.

Thank you. I swear, I’ll think about going to church. At least once in the next month or so.

"Never mind, Jimmy. Just never mind."

We sat there a while. Jimmy, pretending to enjoy beer, talking on and on. Me, pretending to listen, staying quiet until he was drunk. When the beers were gone, he ordered two fingers of whiskey. He could never have just one. Always more, even when there wasn’t any to be had. Of whiskey, of beer, of anything.

Another twenty dollars on the table. He wasn’t taking change back. I sat my bottle down, the only one I’d had. I snapped my fingers in front of him, shutting him up for a moment.

"Am I getting paid, or what, Jimmy? How’s this going to work?"

Jimmy turned, red-faced and warm. He reached inside his pocket, peeled off five bills and laid it on the table. A hundred dollars. It didn’t even dent the wad in his hand. But he smiled about it all the same, clapped me on the shoulder and said “Damn fine playing you had out there tonight! Hiring you was a fucking great idea!”

I grabbed the bills off the bar, and crumbled them into my pocket. I stood up, slipping away from his arm. I tried to look for Twig and Stitch, so I could wave good bye. But all I heard was Twig’s laughter. As I was walking away, I heard Jimmy say “A toast! A toast to the best fucking guitar player I know!”

———————————————————————-

Making Fuck Dead Girls work was half magic, and half bullshit. But the truth was the bind between the two.

It didn’t matter how much we practiced, so long as we sounded alright. Which we did. The stage lights, occasional effects didn’t matter to our brain-dead audience. Nor the brotherly love and warmth everyone thought we had.

The truth was, Jimmy had us by the balls. All of us. Twig, Stitch and I were a bunch of no-names with mediocre talent. And if we quit, we’d return to that. Even if Jimmy paid us shit, even if he called Twig and Stitch faggots, we put up with it. Because he had us by the balls, and we knew it.

So we kept the magic going, at any costs. We did so under a thin veneer of bullshit, and prayed that one day, the truth would break us loose.

————————————————————————

"Guys, I’ve got an idea. I think it’s a good one, too."

Jimmy said this as he rubbed his hands together, smiling. Every time we practiced, he said this. And every time, we changed our whole routine to fit his “great idea”. Because we didn’t have a choice, but because we never knew when the mythical talent scout might be watching.

Sometimes, eating a lie was better than acknowledging the truth. It made touring with a fiend easier.

Twig and Stitch say nothing. Twig tuned his bass. Stitch texted Twig, despite both being only a yard away. I take a drag off my cigarette.

"So what’s this idea, Jimmy?"

He claps his hands together, squealing. His eyes are red again. Pupils wide. And as he turns his back to us, clasping his wrists behind him, he almost falls. His fingers twitched in spasm.

"We call ourselves Fuck Dead Girls. Our songs are about some dark, putrid shit. And our fans are dumb enough to buy it. But not all of them."

Jimmy starts to pace. First to the left, then right. He stops at his previous place, and turns to us. Twig and Stitch finally look up from their phones.

Jimmy smiles, and says “Do you know what Pitchfork said about our recent performance?”

No one said a word. Twig coughed into his hand, looking away.

Jimmy looked at him, and pointed. “So you did, then? You did read it?”

Twig coughs again, clearing his throat. “I mean, it wasn’t that bad of a review. They enjoyed it, even.” he said, eyes darting between Stitch and Jimmy.

Poor Twig.

"They said we were soft. Us! Can you fucking believe that? Because I sure as shit can’t.” said Jimmy, throwing his hands up. “No sir, I sure fucking can’t believe it. Because we’re the best fucking pieces of filth walking the planet.”

Twig held up a hand, and said “Jimmy, they compared us to Gwar. I mean, that’s kinda nice, right?”

Jimmy glared at Twig, until Twig looked away and sat down. “Gwar?” he said, “Fucking Gwar? Fuck Gwar, man! They’re a bunch of washed up geezers in costumes. Only difference between them and the bubble gum shit on the radio is their shows. And their shows are the only reason they’re known.”

Jimmy holds a finger up, walking closer to us. Stitch gets up, curling his fingers around his drumsticks.

"You know what I think about their shows?" says Jimmy, almost muttering, "I think they’re shit. They’re Saturday morning cartoon bullshit. They’re not dark, and they’re not funny. And I think it’s about time someone does them one better."

Stitch walks over, standing next to Twig. I remain still. Twig just sits there, reaching at last for Stitch’s clenched fist, pulling it down.

"Yeah?" says Stitch, "And just how the fuck do you purpose we do that, Jimmy? We ain’t got a huge budget. Fuck, we’re already working for peanuts, and we ain’t taking a cut from that."

Jimmy smiles, clasping his twitching hands behind him again. His lips quiver over his big, stark white teeth.

"Do you boys trust me?”


For a moment, no one said anything. Stitch looked at Twig, then both looked at me. I sighed, and said “Sure we do. Like we’ve a fucking option not to.”

Jimmy leaped, clapping his hands. “Good, great! Leave it to me then!” he said, walking towards the door. As his hand reached for the knob, he turned to us and said “What we’re going to do at this next show, it’s going to raise the fucking bar. Everyone is going to be talking about it. EVERYONE!”

He pumped his fist in the air, exiting the room. As the door clicked close behind him, Stitch dropped his drum sticks, putting his head in his palms. “Well, fuck,” he says, “Good practice, guys.”

——————————————————————-

The bind between us-Jimmy, me, Twig and Stitch-was magic, bullshit and truth. Often though, it was just bullshit peppered with sad facts.

Whenever Jimmy asked us to trust him, or if we trusted him, we started preparing. Preparing for disappointment, for ruin, for calamity. It wasn’t hard, not really. We were already prisoners of our own choices. We had nothing else to do, save play audience unto Jimmy’s “magic”-empty promises, lies and chaotic deception.

Jimmy’s magic was strong. It had a hold on us, and the people at our shows. But the three of us, we could see the sham. We saw what was behind Jimmy’s curtain, the steps he used for his trick. No two attempts of the trick were the same.

Because in reality, Jimmy was as shitty a magician as he was a musician. He only had one trick-shocking the audience. Every time he went on stage, he pushed the trick a little farther. He peeled back the curtain a little more, until the backstage was almost fully revealed. That’s what Jimmy was really after. Proving that his tricks and illusions weren’t that, not at all. They were a seamless, terrifying part of reality.

We hated Jimmy. All of us did. But that was only part of the truth. The whole story, beneath the magic and bullshit, was he scared the hell out of us, too. Not because of his binges, or his actions. Not because he’d caught the three of us in a bind. But because he really believed that he could push our music and the world into one.

——————————————————————

The first thing I noticed was the smell.

Before I realized everything had been set up, before I saw there weren’t any roadies, it hit me. It wafted its way through the door, out into the alley of the auditorium we were performing at. Once you were inside, it was everywhere. Even the shit-covered-in-disinfectant smell of the bathroom was overpowered by it. It smelled like garbage, but not. More primal and visceral, but no more familiar.

Stitch and Twig noticed it as well. They’d asked me if I knew what it was, or where it was coming from, but I just shook my head. So for the hour before we were to perform, we searched the entire back stage. We climbed the catwalks. We checked the closets, the dressing rooms, everything.

We couldn’t find anything at all that smelled like it. Everything paled by comparison.

We couldn’t find Jimmy, either. But ten minutes before the curtain was suppose to rise, he found us.

Jimmy was one for dramatics, but tonight’s performance must have been special. He was decked in a new costume, a cheap affair-a rubber apron. Some elbow length rubber gloves, and safety goggles.

He was smiling, of course. As his boots clomped across the stage, the grin only got wider and wider. He put his hands on his hips, and said “Well, boys? Do I look okay?”

We all stood, staring at him, at the apron and gloves. I looked down at my battered jeans and shitty shirt. The only pair of jeans I owned, and the only clean shirt I had.

Stitch let out a chuckle, and said “Jimmy, this ain’t fucking Halloween, man. And didn’t you play Dexter last year?”

Jimmy just looked at Stitch, face unmoving. He turned to me and asked “So how long we got?”

I shrugged. “Ten, tennish. We can delay five or so. Why?”

Jimmy clasped his hands, rubber gloves squeaking. “Good, good.” he said, “Go do that. Delay for ten, if you can. I want you boys to go out in front of the curtain. Don’t want to spoil the surprise, not one bit.”

"Um, Jimmy…" Twig said, eyebrows raised, "What exactly are we suppose to do while we’re out there?”

Jimmy just laughed. He pointed towards the curtain. “Ten minutes, guys. I need ten minutes. So twenty before we go on. Make it happen.”

Without another word, we left Jimmy snickering and frittering around the stage as we walked around the curtain and faced the crowd.

——————————————————

Our “fans” tonight were the usual. Punk rock adherents, the addled and the damned. They cursed, they spat, they threw beer and worse at us. But they were easy to entertain.

They had cheered for us when we’d emerged. Not as loud as if Jimmy had been with us. But we welcomed them to the show, and without pause Twig busted into a loose bass solo. The bars were scattered across genres, but it kept the crowd quiet. Calm.

I checked my watch. Ten minutes had passed.

Twig finished his solo, and the crowd cheered. He bowed, a smile on his face and a tinge in his cheeks. Stitch cheered louder than anyone, his claps like thunder. He walked forward and wrapped an arm around Twig, reaching for the microphone.

"Good fucking evening, fuckers! How the hell is everyone?"

The crowd cheered, throwing up their hands. Holding up middle fingers. Phones.

Stitch smirked, and said “Fucking awesome. Now, listen. Jimmy had something planned for you tonight. And like the twisted bastard he is, he didn’t tell us. Not even a single fucking detail. Can you believe that? And we’re his fucking band mates!”

Smoke started somewhere in the crowd, and spread. Pine needles and tobacco, but that other smell, the one we hunted for all night, it was still there. Still overpowering. And, strange as the notion seemed, stronger.

Stitch looked back at me as the crowd stirred, pointing to his wrist. I checked my watch again. 18 minutes had passed. I gave him a thumbs up.

He turned back to the crowd, saying something I didn’t catch. I was already ducking behind the curtain, but stopped.

There, sitting in a chair, surrounded by our gear, was the biggest, lumpiest burlap sack I’ve ever seen. It seemed stuffed, with the end towards the ceiling, tied by twine. And Jimmy stood in front of it, still smiling, still laughing, even as he twirled something in his hands. He was spinning it so fast, I only caught glimpses of it as the lights hit it.

"Jimmy!" said Stitch, "Two minutes! Are you fucking ready or what?"

Jimmy stopped twirling the glinting thing, holding it still by the handle. A wooden handle. A wooden handle, attached to a cleaver. Coupled with the costume, it fit. But not with that fucking smile of his.

I stepped forward, towards my things, plugging in my guitar. I glanced over my shoulder. Twig and Stitch were getting into position as well, but kept looking at the burlap sack. At Jimmy. At the knife.

"Jimmy," I said, grabbing my pick out of my back pocket, "I don’t know what the fuck you’re planning, but-"

Jimmy looked up, holding up a hand. “You said you trusted me, right?”

A moment passed, and I sighed. There was no turning back now. We were going on in one minute.

"Yeah, Jimmy. I trust you."

"Good. Then just play the fucking set. Leave the rest up to me."

I sighed again, facing the curtain. Standing there, taking a few breaths before we sprinkled the crowd with magic and bullshit, I realized something. I’d found the smell.

It was in the burlap sack, right behind me.

——————————————————-


The curtain raised. The crowd went silent, and Jimmy marched towards the microphone. Clopping, squeaking, and shuffling. But when he gripped the mic, and stared out into the crowd, the goofiness of his outfit went away. He didn’t speak at first, just stood there. Staring. Searching.

Then out came that practiced, worn out smile. “Hi, boys and girls!” He said, teeth glinting, butcher knife bopping absently in his other hand. “I’m Jagged Jimmy Jay, and tonight, we’re going to have some audience participation.”

The crowd roared, cheering him on. “What’s with the knife?” someone asked. “What’s in the sack?” another. And yet more, “We love you Jimmy! Have my children, Jimmy!”

Jimmy laughed, and held up a hand. The crowd died to a dull murmur. Jimmy took the butcher knife, and scratched his head with the dull side. “See, folks. You’ve all supported us for so long. In a lot of ways, we’d not exist were it not for you. You’re just as much a part of this band as any of us.”

Twig and Stitch looked at me. I shrugged and mouthed, I don’t fucking know.

Jimmy turned, waving the butcher knife at the crowd, and us. And he stopped, pointing towards the bag.

"Tonight, boys and girls, I’ve got a little present for you. I’m going to give you back a little part of you. How’s that sound? You folks want to unwrap your gift?"

People were jumping up and down, climbing atop shoulders and pillars to get a better view. “Open the bag, what’s in the bag! open the bag, what’s in the bag!” They chanted, pumping their fists in the air.

Jimmy just smiled, and started walking towards the sack. The crowd went wild. Everyone was screaming, except for the four of us. Everyone was snapping photos, writhing and preparing. But Twig, Stitch and I, we just watched as Jimmy started to cut the twine at the top of the sack. He pulled it away, throwing it into the crowd. He tugged the burlap down, until it lay crumbled at the floor. He pulled away, throwing his arms up for the big reveal to a completely silent house.

Twig gasped. Behind me, Stitch said “What in the actual fuck is that?”

I thought it was a dummy. A puppet, like the guys in Gwar used. But it was so real, so pale and clammy looking, I couldn’t tell. It might have been a wax dummy, had it’s head not bobbed, fell and tilted towards me, throwing the dark hair back to reveal a set of darkened, staring eyes.

It was the girl in the crowd. The one from a few nights ago. Only she was paler than before, so pale her veins looked blue beneath her skin. She wore a thin white gown. One of those paper jobs, like they put on you when you die.

And she was staring at me. Silent as before. Just as still and beautiful as before. This had to be bullshit. This had to be something Jimmy had been planning for months. He was fucking with us. But she was so limp in the chair, Jimmy had to grab her by the hair, jerking her head forward just so she wouldn’t fall.

Her eyes didn’t move. Neither did the rest of her. I whipped my head towards Stitch and Twig, both of whom stood looking at the chair, mouths agape. I looked at Jimmy, and he just kept smiling. His grip tightened on her hair, the knife gleaming brighter against the dark curls. Jimmy pulled the mic up to his face. He had the crowds complete attention.

"You know what I always tell the boys here? The best shows, they’re a combination of a few things. Bullshit, for one. But magic, too. But the best of the best-those that are a cut above the rest-they’re all one, or the other."

The crowd didn’t move, it didn’t stir. But it kept snapping pictures, reeling video, even now.

"But the truth is, those kinds of shows, they afraid. Afraid to swallow their own lies, afraid people will see past the tricks. The truth is, all those shows are, is pure-tee shit.”

Stitch got up, and walked over towards me, drum sticks in hand. Twig crossed the stage, joining us.

"What the fuck is going on here? Did he tell either of you anything?” Stitch said, jabbing a finger towards us.

"I don’t fucking know anymore than you do! I’ve been with you the last few nights! How the fuck would I know what he was up to?" said Twig. Both glanced at me.

"I know her." was all I could muster. I glanced over their shoulders, at the body, at Jimmy. "But I don’t have any idea what’s going on. He hasn’t told me anything."

Jimmy’s voice boomed over the microphone.

"Real shows are what everyone wants. It’s the final frontier of entertainment. Nothing is scarier, more magical or unbelievable than reality. Than the truth. So here’s something for you, kids. Something we’ve never told anyone, something you’ve undoubtedly thought about."

Jimmy pulled the girl’s head back, her hands sliding out of her lap, pointing towards the floor. The motion was sloppy, careless. And the girl still didn’t move. Not even her chest.

"This girl was at a show," Jimmy said, "She was at our show, and she came up and asked if I meant it. If I’d really fuck dead girls. And you know what I told her? The truth. I told her there was only one way to find out."

My stomach started turning in knots. The color drained from Twig’s face. Stitch reached out and pulled him closer, holding him still. Holding him up, so he’d not faint as Jimmy bent and pressed his lips against the girl's mouth. The crowd went nuts. They still thought it was a fucking act. They weren’t close enough to smell her, to see her sitting there motionless. Jimmy stood back up, and wiped his mouth, still smiling.

He held the knife up, catching the stage lights with it.

"Dude, this is bad. This is really fucking bad" Stitch said, turning towards me. "We’ve got to get the fuck out of here. Like, now. "

As now left stitches mouth, Jimmy brought down the knife. Hard and fast across the body's neck. Hard enough that blood sprayed as he pulled the knife up, and slammed it down again with a wet, meaty pop. Again and again the cleaver came down, and as it did the crowd just roared louder and louder. The first row was just a yard from the stage. Every swing pelted them with blood and gore. Jimmy just kept hacking and laughing, right up until he yanked the head loose and held it high.

Twig doubled over and vomited. The crowd laughed. Stitch gathered him up in his arms and ran off, behind the curtain, to the back stage.

It was the last time I’d ever see either of them again.

Jimmy brought the head down, and kissed it, blood dripping all over the stage. He slide his tongue across the lips and howled, laughing as the chucked the head into the crowd. A hole formed as people parted, and closed as the head landed and split open, brains spilling onto the cement. It was then someone finally screamed.

The magic died. Jimmy’s grand idea had broken the spell on the crowd, and people scrambled to get to exits. Jimmy tipped the chair over, spilling the body onto the stage. He bent and hiked up its hips, standing wide as he maneuvered it between his legs.

“You sick fuck!” they screamed. But they didn’t do any more than that.

Jimmy just laughed, and gripped his belt buckle, pulling it loose. “Oh, c’mon,” he said into the mic. “You know you want to watch” he said, unzipping his pants, letting them drop to his ankles. He kicked them off, and started to untie the butcher's apron.

What happened next occurred in seconds. But they were seconds that would last me the rest of my life, moments in hell that would come to haunt my waking days, and form my nightmares.

I was already crossing the stage before I realized my guitar was in my hand. And as I got behind Jimmy, watching him struggle to get his boxers off, I gripped my guitar by the neck. I pulled back, and swung it against his head the hardest I could, knocking him over the corpse and off the stage. Right into the front row.

I didn’t stick around to see what happened. I dropped my guitar, and ran, past our gear and the curtain. I pressed my feet to the floor and didn’t stop until I was outside, blocks away, puking my guts out in an alley.

——————————————————-

Her name was Mary Anne Belaton. She was 19 years old. She was in her high school’s marching band. She could play the guitar, flute, and piano. She sang as well, but it wasn’t her passion. She wanted to be a rock star when she grew up. That’s what she told her mother, which is what she told the media when the story broke.

At first, they tried to spin it as a club fire. People had apparently dropped multiple cigarettes, which caught the curtain on fire. But then the eye witness reports came out, and the fact only one body was on the stage-decapitated-corroborated these reports. It was only a month before DNA evidence proved conclusively Mary Anne had been the girl on stage. A girl who’d just been another girl in the crowd with a dream, wanting to see her favorite band perform.

Then she had ran into Jimmy.

The media plastered our names all over. They reeled us in with Jimmy, saying we were all apart of some secret cabal. We worshiped Satan and did stuff like this all the time. Just some bullshit and magic to feed their viewers.

I gave Twig and Stitch a call from a pay phone in Arizona one time. I asked them how they were, since they hadn’t moved once the news story broke. Twig just cried, and Stitch told me he was sorry, but he didn’t want me calling again. Ever. He wished me good luck and hung up.

I traveled the roadhouses after that. I played for beer most nights. I’d join in with a bar band, here and there. But I never got another job with a band. I day-dreamed too much, they would tell me. I’d stare too much at the audience, they’d say. But they didn’t understand. And I could never tell them who I was looking for.

Because at every show, regardless of where I was, she was there. The girl in the crowd, with the pale skin and black hair. Mary Anne Belaton, as beautiful and silent as she was in life.

Only now, she smiled. Because she knew the truth. About me, about the show, and about Jimmy.

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