Fiction Fantasy Urban Fantasy

Rough edged black lines dance on old paper, released from its life sentence to the trunk. I correct my hunch, clear my throat, and perform an old oration. Inhale.

"Keep your wits about you: for your mind will play tricks." Pause for effect, smile coyly, bite lip. "Mine are better." And release breath. I dig out a couple more pieces of paper. I don't feel like writing a whole new routine. Turning around on the bed, I see a woman undressed, asleep since late this night. I consider waking her, but I just prepare to leave; it's more befitting of me.

A shower, clean clothes, and my trunk is all I have when I leave. The night is warmer than I thought it would be. Even from my perspective, my hair blends with the night. I stalk away from the hotel rooms, down the building, and into the city. My boots say "thump" to the concrete and I feel the strangest sensation of flight, like when my foot meets shadow I dash to the next darkened space.

I arrived very early, according to the people who were still taking down their equipment in the backroom. That must be their van outside, I conclude. Glancing out at the night again, a moment of regret spears itself up from my heart. That woman, I feel like she'd just realized I left. I shrug off the feeling, but it's replaced with a sense of eyes on me. Walking back in and closing the door behind me, I try to assist the band with their things.

"Don't touch my shit." A girl dressed head to toe in black breaking down her drums tells me blankly, and the rest of the crew echoes the sentiment without even speaking.

"Just trying to be nice." I defend, but I still feel out of place. Not even allowed to be good when I want to. You're being self-righteous, a voice in the corner of my mind speaks. I tell it to shut up, the band leaving taking me out of my own head. I set up, drawing my guitar and papers from the trunk, piecing something together from old performances. I notice that the drummer girl had left some breakables and hardware on the ground, which makes me wonder how you could forget to bring something that you're deeply involved in taking apart.

I feel a pressure at the base of my skull, tensing up before turning around. For a brief moment, nothing happens. The door opens, and the drummer in black steps through. Weird.

"Forget something?" I tease, my thin grin growing. She doesn't say anything as I hand her the cymbal stand and pedals. I turn back to my papers, but I hear her voice again, louder than the muttering she seemed to favor.

"What kind of set can you play with just a bass? I guess this asshole doesn't have any friends." I'm stunned, a fire of embarrassment and irritation lights on my skin. I spin around.

"Could you repeat that?" I assert the inquiry at the girl, standing up. She's halfway out the door, turning to face me.

"What are you talking about, psycho? I didn't say shit." She begins to leave.

"No no no, you said something. You said something about, well, let's see..." I fake contemplation, like I'm trying to recall a lost memory, keeping her looking at me while I walk in a semicircle, "That's it!" I hop onto the stage, boots saying "THUNK", then clear my voice and mimic her with unerring accuracy, "'What kind of set can you play with just a bass? Guess this asshole doesn't have friends.' Sound familiar?"

She stares at me, mouth stunned agape, but her face twisted in anger and confusion. The flame blue of her eyes looks strange with the contortion of my favorite expression: the glare of someone who was caught red-handed. One of her little friends breaks her from the gaze, telling her to hurry up, but she stays for a bit longer.

"I didn't say anything." She says noncommittally, hesitates, then leaves. I wish she stayed, she seemed so interesting. Is that what people think when I leave? I rub my neck, feeling cruel and ridiculous, and brush over a wound I didn't know I had. I look around the tiny room, finding yet another thing they forgot: drumsticks. I pick them up and dash to the door, opening it and finding a blank alleyway: no van, no girl, only the city. I stick an empty beer bottle in the door to keep it open and step out into the night, taking a deep breath, then ambling to the sidewalk.

I see a blue van bumping down the city streets and I step towards it, only to realize that it's a vehicle and I'm a human. I look at the drumsticks, marked "Audrey." I think I'm lonely.

"Freak show." I look toward the van hustling down the street, hearing her voice; Audrey's.

"Reed." Another, the hotel. "You are lonely. Poor baby..." It's the woman, I realize, but begin to feel sick. I must've woken up way too early. I stagger to the door and into the backroom, sitting down and thinking things through. You really shouldn't do this anymore, the corner voice speaks again, it doesn't help people. It helps me, I contest, and that's good enough. I pick up my bass and practice the chords, muttering the words of the papers to find what sounds right.

My mind drifts to yesterday night, when the woman took me to the hotel. Her name, what was it? Something tells me Juniper. She was at my last show in Northgate, but I was the one mesmerized. While I was speaking rhythmic readings and prophecies which weighed like molasses, I felt lighter than air while she stared at me. We spoke after the performance, and she said the most bewitching things.

"You're a phony, but you shouldn't be." Her eyes felt like they didn't see me. They have no shine and her skin was dull, her head shaven without shame, her voice low and full. "What's your real name?" And I told her without panache or performance. We danced together in another club, and she kissed me. She paid for the cab, took me to a hotel room, and laid down tarot cards. Her voice purred as she spoke each meaning from memory, interpreting every card before she flipped them.

"The Tower, poor baby is having a hard time, aren't you? Who were you committed to? Whoever he was, it's over now." She revealed the first two cards: her voice soothing as it showed an upright Tower and a reversed Queen of Pentacles. "It's better now, my Queen of Pentacles. All of this is happening for you, not to you." She flipped the last card, the future in tow. "The Empress, reversed. That part is up to you, isn't it?" She's close, her body radiated a chill as mine provided heat. "Strike the balance, beautiful man."

The door to the club opens, a strange small man in business casual waddling over. He's clad in blue and pink, his brown hair slicked back without skill. I'm still lost in my thoughts as I stare at him, his words like Latin upon modern ears.

"...and you didn't even come in to tell me?" He finishes, upset and red. I realize that this man might be the showrunner here, so I stand up and shake his hand.

"Apologies. My name is Mousa." His grip scales in proportion to mine, which tells me I was right. Looking at his shirt, I know he has a lot of rough nights with customers, a couple stains marking drinks thrown in his face and a slight mound that indicates a weapon. He has a fancy metal name tag on his shirtpocket that says "Gideon Gomez."

"Yeah I know, and I don't care. I have about ten people waiting to see your act. Pompous phony dickheads like you really draw in the big bucks, huh?" His sarcasm is disingenuous, his gaze breaking in the middle of the sentence.

"Would you like to attend, Gideon?" I remark with a smirk, which blossoms into another grin as he sputters out something about not having the time. His eyebrows furrow as he looks me in the face.

"By the way, I'm the one that got you hired. From the looks of tonight, you might be the one who gets me fired." The last part, at the very least, is genuine; he keeps my eye as he says it. 

"Typically, I'm the kind of act that people return for." I place my hand on his shoulder, trying to reassure him. "I came from performing at the same club's backroom for more than a week up in Northgate."

"Right, whatever." He says, pushing my hand off. "It's not you that'll get me kicked out." My eyes narrow, the grin on my face dimming. He didn't move his lips. Did he just say that? We stand there awkwardly, me staring at Gideon's mouth. "Stop looking at me." He asserts before walking away, propping open the door from the club to the backroom and yelling at a bouncer to guard it.

A dozen or so people walk into the room as I spend the next few minutes putting my papers back into my trunk. I close the door without any resistance from the bouncer. I step onto the stage and exchange some pleasantries with the small crowd, checking my set-up and making sure my bass is tuned. I clear my throat, now swallow. Inhale.

"In order to read you all as a group," Start into the microphone, but then set it aside. Chuckle, say you don't need it. Now there's a closer connection. "We must match each other's rhythms. Please check your pulses." Raise right hand, check pulse with left hand. There's no pulse. I stare at my wrist, then check my throat, touching the wound again. None, but it's a trick of the mind, I know that much. I take a deep breath.

"Once you know your pulse, focus not on it or even me. Focus on nothing but this." Begin plucking the lowest note. The entire room vibrates in response. "This is your new rhythm, stay with it, and it will stay with you." Now alternate. Inhale. The rest comes naturally. "It works best if you close your eyes."

I plunge myself into darkness, the world within my eyelids illuminated by the sound. Vibrations beneath my feet give way to a pulse of its own, a connecting pattern that puts everyone on equal ground. I begin to simply play my instrument, keeping the same tempo as when I started. After less than a minute, the staccato melts into drawn out notes that can slow any heart to death.

"Keep your wits about you: the mind plays tricks." I strum the instrument, the whole room feeling ready to burst with the vibration. "Mine are better." The sound becomes solid around us all, waves of tangible change outlining each and every person in the room. I open my eyes to see them waiting patiently, absorbed into the rhythm. They all wait in different ways, but when they're attentive like this, they want something that no one can give them.

"Find the way the sound vibrates through your feet." I speak to the midnight mass, audible over the bass only to those who are listening intently. "If it rises in your being, shaking your atomic structure itself, you are sensitive now, as though you were just born." I drive this with notes long and low that leave them, and even me, dying to hear the next. "If you are missing a beloved, you can feel them in this room. If you are in need of guidance, the tides of fate will push you in a direction."

Many clutch their hands around the one of an invisible lover, while others glance over their shoulders in response to a phantom touch. Others lean this way and that, engrossed by the music and my words, feeling the embrace of someone who cannot return. Not without me.

"Ask your question." I say it loud, shunting some out of their dream-like state. "Ask any, and I will answer in turn with the vibrations." Some speak their questions, but I can barely hear them. I thought I couldn't. A cavalcade of voices, drowning my sound, asking questions that I didn't think I'd have to hear.

"Why did they take her? Why was he chosen instead of me? Will I ever see you again? Why did you do this to me?" Traumas overwhelm me, their questions reaching my mind for the first time. I can't play like this, I need to leave. "Are you here? Can you come back to us? Where did you go?" The voices overpower me as I collapse into them, diving into the crowd out of exhaustion.

Colliding with the people in the front row, I learn more than I ever wanted to. One misses his spouse, the man he cheated on, "Where did you go?" The other was beaten by her father, "Why did you do this to me?" They fall with me, stumbling up while I writhe underneath them. I notice that I feel like I'm observing; like I'm watching this all happen. I focus on this feeling, and view myself being helped up by a woman dressed without care from the corner of the room. Whoever's looking at this is scared and disappointed, "Why was he chosen over me?"

I release the second sight, knocking the wind out of me as I return to my body, and stumble out of the backroom. My body says "thud" to the concrete, and the rain puddle responds with a resounding "splash." I smell the vomit before I see it, my reflection replaced with a pale green. I feel halfway better. Standing up and leaning against the wall for support, I stagger away from the club as a couple people wander out after me.

As I stumble down the darkness, I notice a man twitching beside the corner of the club. I think he's drunk. He's choking on his own vomit and attempting to flail, to no success. I step away from him, back to the crowd, but his torment strikes itself into my head, and the mass' inquiries sandwich me in a cavalcade of traumas. Darkness becomes absolute - in it, artificial light burns like the sun. I have to get away from him, yet I can't face the hunger of those who ask. The suffocating man inhales more of his digest, bringing it into his lungs and mine.

I'm strangled by the pressure in this atmosphere. I shuffle in the dark, dashing into the wall across from the club. The confused horde gathers until I can't tell what perspective I'm looking from. I see myself move like a blur: falling to the ground, standing back up, gliding across the ground and around the light. Now I see the sky, my eyes wide open as they curl into the back of my head, twitching in the rain as bile builds in my lungs. Then I'm back in my body, and I try to use the flight of darkness to escape.

One foot in front, then the next foot. I focus on keeping myself upright, the shadows propelling me to the end of the street, far from the crowd and the corpse. But I still feel the build up deep in my chest, and like a cat I try to escape death by fleeing. Umbral lurching takes me across the city, yet the absolute darkness in my mind only grows. My body twists and turns, trying to squeeze the touch of mortality out of my being. In my struggle, a van greets my body with a joyful "crash" and a how-do-you-do "thunk thunk thunk" as I roll over the top of it.

The wound on my neck begins to leak like a faucet, a stream of blood seeping out onto the street beneath me, but that's the only place I bleed. I stand, noting my opened skin produces nothing sanguine. I ignore the lack of red for the eyes of blue, the van, the band, the girl: the Audrey.

January 08, 2022 01:20

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