Sometimes I don’t finish a story. The reasons vary, but a lot of times it’s because I’ve decided the story isn’t good enough to publish or I’ve just become bored with it. That said, here’s a “work in progress” I wrote in 2018.
You’re watching the Piedmont Network
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the man in the light-colored suit and black-framed glasses, microphone in hand. “Welcome to Your Pageant of Stars on the Piedmont Network. I’m your host, Al Yost.
“Tonight we have for you a young singer and musician from Peekskill, New York who just last year had a country and western record out on the Crest label, but this had moved to Essex Records and he’s here to perform for you tonight, a little ditty called ‘The Only Man in Town.’ Will you all please welcome… Jimmy Blakeley.”
The curtains retract to either side of the screen and the camera zooms in on a rail-thin twenty-one year-old man with slicked back black hair, a black suit and a guitar slung over his shoulder. Behind him was a man holding a stand-up bass, a drummer behind him. The three men started playing the rockabilly tune, accompanied by Jimmy’s reedy vocals crackling from the speaker.
Sittin’ in my room, waitin’ for the boom
I was knocked right out of my seat
When I came to, it was half-past noon
There were no men left on my street
I walked around, all over town
Only girls there did I meet–
The video paused, leaving Jimmy’s mouth wide open with a streak of video interference across his forehead.
“That’s the guy,” Lucas whispered, his voice hoarse. “That’s the guy that’s been in my dreams.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Lucas looked up at the woman in the business suit standing by the television screen, remote control in hand. She tilted her head to the side, patiently awaiting his reply.
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’m positive.”
“And you’ve never seen this footage before?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve never even heard of the Piedmont Network. I mean, how long was that around? Five minutes?”
She turned off the television and returned to her seat on the other side of the desk from him. She leaned back in her chair, her ruddy brown hair draping over her left shoulder. She pushed her glasses up her nose and straightened her suit jacket. She sat back up again to fold her arms on the desk, inadvertently bumping her laptop which in turn bumped her name plate: Dr. Cilla Wilkes.
“It’s possible you’ve seen it and not realized it,” she said. “There are lots of videos on the Internet. Maybe you were watching something else and this video queued up after.”
“Maybe,” he said with a shrug. “But I guess that’s enough for him to get into my head, huh?”
“It would be, yes.”
“Except I don’t think that’s what it is,” he said. “I think this guy, this Jimmy Blakely is talking to me.”
“Jimmy Blakely is dead.”
She picked up a pen and tapped in on the desk twice. She then tapped her chin with it as she turned to look him in the eye.
“Do the dead often speak to you in dreams, Lucas?”
“What? No. I mean, I don’t think so. Up until recently, I’ve just had normal dreams.”
She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, folded her hands in her lap. “What happens when you see Jimmy? What does he do? Does he speak to you?”
“He’s spoken to me once,” Lucas said. “I told you this.”
“Why don’t you refresh my memory?”
Lucas stared at her, only to see himself reflected in her glasses. He sighed. “He introduced himself to me.”
“And he asked me when I was from.”
“When you were from. Not where.”
“Why do you suppose he asked you that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because he’s from the ‘50s. Also, it’s a dream.”
“Do you really believe that? That it’s really just a dream?”
“Do you think it’s not?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m asking you what you think.”
“I-It seems real,” he said. “But a lot of dreams seem real and they’re not.”
She sat forward and started typing on the laptop open on her desk. Lucas cleared his throat and glanced at the frozen image of Blakely on the TV screen. He examined his fingernails, discovering a hangnail. He bit at it and returned his attention to his psychologist. She made a grand gesture of hitting the enter key then sat forward, her glasses sliding down her nose.
“Did you come here in the hopes that I’d tell you it’s just a dream? That it’s not Jimmy Blakely speaking to you from beyond the grave?”
“What? No. I-I mean, maybe? No… I think I just wanted you to tell me I wasn’t crazy. That’s all.”
She continued to gaze at him then took a sudden, sharp inhalation of breath. “You know, I’ve taken the liberty of listening to your music. The subject matter seems to revolve around death and the supernatural. I think perhaps this coupled with your extensive knowledge of music dating back to the dawn of rock and roll has caused a matrixing in your subconscious.”
“Oh, I get it,” he said. “My brain is just mixing up a bunch of stuff and spitting it out in my dreams. Jimmy Blakely could have just been a randomly generated name my subconscious put together and it’s just a wacky coincidence that there happened to have been a real-life Jimmy Blakely in the first place.”
“I think you’ve got a grasp on the situation,” she said. “However, there is one thing that concerns me.”
“You said that man on the TV monitor is Jimmy Blakely. The odds of your brain putting that together with the face of the very same man possessing that name are astronomical. Therefore, I cannot tell you that it is a random spitting out of stuff in your brain. That means, either you have seen video footage of this musician before or Jimmy Blakely is actually speaking to you in your dreams.”
“Well,” Lucas said, rubbing his clammy hands together. “I was afraid you were going to say that. What do you propose I do?”
“I don’t know,” she said, pushing back from the desk.
“What? You don’t know?”
“Not yet. I have to research something and get back to you.” She stood up, straightened her jacket and picked up the remote to turn off the TV. She looked back at Lucas. “That concludes our session for today.”
Lucas nodded slowly, got up from his chair and exited the office.
Lucas stared into the mirror as he applied the black makeup around his eyes. He drew lines resembling cracks out from his sockets, careful not to combine it with the white makeup already applied to his entire face. At least, the portions that weren’t covered by his bristly brown hair. He then applied red lipstick around his mouth and smacked his lips.
“How does that look? Bloody enough?”
Mandy looked up from her phone and squinted at him. “You know I can’t see anything without my glasses.” She returned to gazing at her phone, the screen two inches from her face.
“Can’t you stay off social media for two seconds?” Lucas asked, exasperated.
“I’m talking to the fans,” she said. “We’re streaming the concert tonight so they’ve got lots of questions.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said. “Like ‘Who’s the opening band?’ and ‘Do you know you guys suck real hard?’”
“Somebody’s an asshole today,” said bassist Gunther from his position on the dirty green couch. He lifted his beer from his rounded gut and swirled it around in his mouth. “Looks like blood to me. You should’ve asked me instead.” He belched and shut his eyes.
“Sorry,” Lucas said. “I haven’t been sleeping much lately. I probably don’t even need to put this makeup on my eyes. I look pretty close to this without it.”
Mandy heaved a great sigh and put her phone on the table. “Let me see.” She walked over to Lucas and stood close, her breath hot and garlicky as she stared at his face. She smeared the lipstick around his mouth with her thumb and forefinger, wiped it on her torn black tights and repeated the process two more times. “Shit, I fucked it up,” she said. “Gimme.”
Lucas picked up the lipstick and she reapplied it to his mouth area. She flicked the substance with her fingers a couple times then picked up his black makeup pencil to draw lines going out from his mouth. She then stared at her handiwork.
“That doesn’t look too bad,” she said. “What do you think?”
Lucas looked in the mirror and scowled.
“It doesn’t look that bad,” Mandy said.
“What?” he asked. “No, I’m making faces to see how it looks. Also to see how it holds up.” He opened his mouth wide and worked his jaw a few times then nodded. “Yeah, I think this will work. You know, I was thinking, why don’t we all wear the same costumes? It would look kinda cool.”
“Nah,” Mandy said. “I like my blonde and black hair, corsets and torn tights, thank you very much.”
“But isn’t that cliché?”
“Yeah, but so’s a hooded crimson robe. There’s nothing unique anymore, dude. You just got to do what you do and hope people like it.”
“That’s why I don’t even try,” Gunther said with another belch.
“He really doesn’t,” Mandy said.
“Too bad we weren’t born in an earlier time,” Lucas said. “Back when music trends were new and exciting and the next big thing was around the corner. Nothing’s exciting anymore. It’s taken second place to phone apps and social media and even that’s leveling off. People just don’t get excited about things anymore.”
Mandy’s phone rang and she nearly dropped it. “What the fuck? Nobody ever calls me. God damn it. Hello?”
Lucas returned to gazing at his face in the mirror, though not for long. Mandy’s sudden gasp made him whip his head around.
“Oh, my God, are you sure? Okay, okay. Um, yeah. I’ll be there. Thanks. Bye.” She turned to Lucas. “Dude, I gotta go.”
“Griff’s in the hospital. Snake bite.”
“Fuck,” Gunther said. “I told him to get rid of that fuckin’ cobra. Oh, well. I guess he had it comin’.”
“Dude, he’s my brother,” Mandy snapped. “I know you two don’t get along, but what the fuck?” She shook her head. “I ain’t got time for this shit.” She picked up her guitar case and exited the room.
Lucas threw his hands in the air. “Motherfuck me,” he cried. “I guess that’s it for the show tonight. Down a guitarist and a drummer. Do you want to break it to the club-owner or shall I?”
Gunther sat up, finished his beer and threw the bottle on the floor. “Fuck, man. I say we just bolt. We ain’t getting paid anyway, so why the fuck not?”
Lucas pressed his fingers against his eyelids and rubbed them hard. “You know what, you’re right. Why the fuck not? Gravesnake is done anyway.”
“Really?” Gunther asked. “You want to break up because of this? We can always get another drummer, dude. My fuckin’ eight-year-old niece could do it.”
“You see,” he said, dropping his hand. “This is the kind of shit I’m talking about. Not of you guys take this seriously. We’re a shit band and you know it.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Gunther said. “Some people like us. We’ve sold a hundred copies of our record.”
Lucas snorted. “Yeah, we’re practically a household name.”
“What’s your fuckin’ problem all of a sudden?” Gunther demanded. “We didn’t get into doom metal for the adulation and the money. We knew we weren’t going to get rich doing it. We’re doing it because we like it. It’s gets us out of the house.”
“Well, maybe that’s not enough for me anymore,” Lucas said. “Maybe I want something more.”
“Well, dude,” Gunther said after a lengthy silence. “I don’t know what happened to you, but good luck in whatever it is you’re looking for. I’m going to go find another half-ass band to join where I don’t have to exert myself very much.”
Lucas watched him leave with his bass and didn’t move for some time. He turned to look at himself in the mirror, as his ridiculous makeup and his long, unruly hair and beard. He was thirty-nine years old and was only just now figuring out he wanted to be a successful musician? Gunther had been right. He’d formed Gravesnake in order to have something to do, to get out and meet people and have a hobby. He was a pretty good guitar player, good enough to play slow, growly doom metal anyway.
Suddenly, he didn’t want to do it anymore. Ever since the last session with his psychologist, something had been eating at him. The way she had described his music made it sound ridiculous. She had said it in her emotionless tone, too, which somehow made it worse.
You sing about death and the supernatural.
Why is that wrong now when it wasn’t wrong before?
You can’t be successful at that. You, with such a vast knowledge of music, should know that.
“I should,” he said to his reflection. “I should know that.”
A diminutive man in his fifties entered the room. “Hey, you’re on. What the fuck happened to the rest of you?”
“They left,” Lucas said. “Gravesnake is no longer a band.”
“What the fuck? I didn’t book you to break up. I need an act up there in two minutes and if there isn’t someone up there I’m going to sue your ass.”
“Gotcha,” Lucas said. He picked up a towel, wiped the makeup off his face and picked up his guitar. “Guess I’m going solo.”
He walked out on the small stage and was met with a smattering of applause. He plugged his Gibson, creating a short burst of feedback as he walked to the mic. Someone whooped, followed by a smattering of drunken laughter.
The instant he got to the mic, the spot switched on, instantly blinding him. He looked down at his guitar, at the maple finish, at the hucklebuck pickups he’d gotten installed especially for Gravesnake and their sludgy sound. He gave it a strum and there were more whoops.
“Good evening,” he said into the microphone. “I’m Lucas, formerly of the band Gravesnake.” He paused, waiting for the cry of alarm and disappointment that didn’t come. He chuckled nervously. “We just broke up a few minutes ago, so…” He played a few notes on the Gibson and dropped his hand. “It’s just me right now. I didn’t have anything planned for a solo show, so I’m just going to have to wing it.”
“Play something already,” someone shouted.
Lucas jerked his head up and gazed into the spotlight in a vain attempt to see who’d just yelled. He closed his eyes and nodded.
“You’re right,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
He gripped his pick tightly between his finger and thumb and commenced playing a riff that went wrong right away. He tried it again and got it right. He played it twice before he started singing.
Sittin’ in my room, waitin’ for the boom
I was knocked right out of my seat
When I came to, it was half-past noon
There were no men left on my street
I walked around, all over town
Only girls there did I meet
Lucas spiraled into an improvised solo that last three whole minutes before he realized it. He sang the chorus two more times before he finished the song. He dropped his hands and waited for applause. It arrived two heartbeats latter, followed by another smattering of applause.
“Okay,” he said, sweat dripping into his eyes. “That’s about what I expected for that.”
He finished the set with covers by the Beatles and the Ramones before he exited the stage. The owner stared at him with a look of confusion. When Lucas got closer to him, the man clapped him on the back.
“That was pretty good,” he said. “They crowd didn’t really like it, but I sure did.”
“Thanks,” Lucas said and kept walking.
“Hey, wait up,” the owner said. “Don’t you want your money?”
Lucas left the club with money meant for four band members and a strange feeling in his head. He didn’t know where that first song had come from, but the words flew from his mouth like he’d sung it a hundred times before. It wasn’t until he got back to the hotel when he remembered where he’d heard it.
Jimmy Blakely. That was the song he’d sung on the Piedmont network.
Lucas had never heard it before then, and when he did, it was only the first few verses. How did he know the entire song?
“That was an interesting set.”
Lucas gazed at Johnny’s face. It was mostly hidden shadow, but a red glow illuminated his nostrils and mouth. Lucas himself was in shadow, cold bricks against his back. There was a lit cigarette in between his fingers, but he had yet to take a drag. Johnny, however, was hooving away on his. He continued speaking in his heavy New York accent.
“I’ve never heard my song done like that before. It was very interesting. I didn’t know you could do that with a guitar.”
“Well, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have done it at all.”
“Well, that’s true.”
Johnny flicked his cig into the red glow and wet his lips. “You know, we’re both going to benefit from this.”
“From what, exactly?” Lucas inquired.
“This,” Johnny said, making elaborate hand gestures. “This symbiotic relationship we got going here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sure you do,” he said. “I learn from you, you learn from me. Together we’ll make a serious run at this music thing. You’re a little bit older than me, but who cares? People live longer in your time, am I right?”
“Well, I guess,” Lucas said. “But I really don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Oh, you’ll get the picture soon enough,” Johnny said. “I can’t tell you everything right now, but things are already changing for both of us. I win, you win, everybody wins. Some shit has to go down, but, hey. When does shit not go down, am I right?”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” He lit another cigarette and took a long pull. Smoke issued from his nose and he blew a ring that slowly turned into a mushroom cloud. He grinned, showing perfect white teeth above his chiseled, dimpled chin. “You get me?”
Lucas felt his jaw move as he struggled for something to say, his eyes fixed on the mushroom cloud floating in the air between them, turning as red as the distant glow. He turned his head and finally saw what the source of the glow was.
He awoke with a start, his heart pounding in his head. He reached out for his phone and checked the time. Three forty-seven a.m. He set the phone back down and it made a sound. He picked it back up to see he had a news notification.
NUCLEAR WEAPON DETONATES ON AMERICAN SOIL
Lucas sat up, his heart continuing to pound. He tapped on the notification, bringing up video footage of a hydrogen bomb detonation taken from space. His phone then tells him he has a text. Then another and another until his screen is full of text messages, some accompanied by frenzied voices and screaming.
The bedroom window flew open, a blast of hot air encompassing him as another bomb detonated.
His eyes shot open and he groaned, “What the actual fuck?”
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, the springs of the couch bed digging into his spine. He reached for his phone to check to make sure he was really awake this time. There was no nuclear bomb detonation in the news. He sighed relief and shut his eyes.
Stupid spaghetti and meatballs, he told himself. Gives me nightmares every time.
“I need my guitar.”
He scrambled out of bed, threw on a pair of jeans and ran through the house, encountering his sister Katie in the dining room. She looked up form her cereal questioningly and his only response was, “Guitar, where?” She pointed at the living room.
He hurried in to see the case by the couch where he’d left it last night. He took it into the garage and plugged it into the amp. He ran his fingers down the strings, eliciting a harsh resonance.
“What are you doing?” Katie asked from the garage door.
“Inspiration,” he said, his fingers finding positions on the frets placed along neck of his instrument.
“Inspiration for what?”
“What? You’re writing songs now?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Gravesnake broke up and I’m going solo now. It was just me on stage last night and the owner said I was good.”
“Well, if the owner said you’re good…” She rolled her eyes and went back in to the house.
Lucas resumed his playing, experimenting with lyrics as he went along. The tune started out slow and plodding, but soon picked up the pace, becoming a fast and tight little tune. It was incomplete, however. It needed drums and bass. He briefly toyed with the idea of putting all of the pieces together himself, but he was a mediocre drummer at best. He needed to put another band together.
From the other room, music was playing. He payed little attention to it at first, but there was something about it. The melody was familiar, yet wrong. It was clear it was recorded in another decade, but the lyrics weren’t right, the arrangement a bit off. Not unpleasantly so, but off all the same.
He got up and went inside. On the kitchen counter was Katie’s phone plugged into a speaker. He squinted at the album cover displayed on the screen. “My Tender Love,” was the title. Artist: Jimmy Blakely. The song was a direct rip-off of the Elvis classic with different lyrics and a different arrangement. Blakely vocals were Presley-esque, as was his look on the album cover.
“What the fuck?”
Lucas turned to see his sister once again gazing at him from the doorway. She had a cup of coffee in her hand, her auburn hair tied in a ponytail high in the back of her head. Her plaid shirt hung loosely on her slight frame, her jeans baggy, oversized.
“What?” he asked. “No. I mean, I thought this was an Elvis song. Guess I was wrong.”
“Elvis?” she said. “Presley? Well, I guess it kind of sounds like him. Not quite his style though.”
Jimmy Blakely, what did you do?
“Yeah, I thought you were the music expert.”
“I am,” he said. “But I’ve got some blind spots and this is one of the apparently.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll spend the next hour or so researching it now,” she said with a grin. “I’ll leave you to that while I clean out the fridge. Seriously, that thing is disgusting.”
“Sounds like a lot of work,” he said. “Are you sure that won’t wear you out?”
“Lucas, stop worrying about that, okay? We’ve been over this. Let me do things.”
“You’re right. Sorry.”
She put her cup on the counter and embrace him. “Let me worry about it. You live your live normally.”
“Sure, okay,” he said. “It’s just hard sometimes.”
“I know.” She kissed his cheek. “Okay, vamoose. You’re in the way.”
He retreated to the couch where he pulled out his smart phone. He searched Jimmy Blakely’s discography and found a list lifted and twisted straight from Elvis’s catalog. Titles like “You’re So Cruel”, “Cell Block Rock” and “Shook All Up” told him everything he needed to know: Jimmy Blakely was stealing directly from Presley.
Lucas then perused Elvis’s discography and discovered a bunch of titles he’d never associated with the King of Rock and Roll before, the majority of them old blues covers. None of them did will on the charts, though his Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup rendition of “She’s Got No Hair” reached number twenty-seven on The Billboard’s “Best Sellers in Stores” chart.
“He’s totally stolen his career,” Lucas said.
Further research revealed Elvis’s singing career ending in 1959, while Jimmy Blakely’s petered out around 1961.
He phone vibrated in his hand, startling him.
“Hey. I heard you played solo last night.”
“Yeah, I did. Where’d you heard that? Gunther?”
“No, the club owner. I had to go back and get Grif’s drums. He said you were pretty good. The owner, not Grif. He’s in a coma by the way. Grif, not the owner.”
“Does this mean we’re disbanded?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
She sighed heavily. “It’s just as well. I was thinking of quitting anyway. My heart’s not been in it, like, ever.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lucas said with a chuckle. “I’m thinking of dropping the whole doom metal thing. Maybe Nu Metal. Not sure yet. Have to put a new band together first.”
“I don’t really understand this sudden enthusiasm for making music, but I support you.”
“Thanks. Keep in touch, okay?”
“You, too. Bye.”
Katie’s cry was interrupted by a severe fit of coughing. He ran to the upstairs bathroom to find her at the sink, her hand over her mouth. Droplets of blood dripped between her fingers. She looked down at it then looked at him.
“I don’t feel so good,” she said, her eyes fluttering as she fainted.
Faint light illuminated the inside of the cavern, the source a small torch at the other end from where Lucas stood. Between him and the torch was a crouched figure.
At first inspection, it was that of a nude female, her spinal cord protruding from her back, spiral tattoos decorating her shoulder blades and the back of her neck. Her black hair was short, her ears narrow and pointed. From her arms were affixed massive wings, pale skin stretching between thick cartilage that formed divisions like red veins of a leaf.
The wings were folded at her sides, expanding and contracting with every breath she took. Something slithered and Lucas noticed belatedly her tail slowly unwinding from around her feet. She made a guttural sound deep in her throat as she rose up to stand on her feet.
She was tall, muscular, more tattoos circling her breasts and nipples. The tattoos expanded up her neck where they split to reach the tips of her ears. Her facial features were delicate, her lips heart-shaped and crimson. Her nose was small and dainty, the nostrils tiny in the center of rounded cheekbones that curved into a pair of large, hooded blue eyes and thick black eyebrows. He short hair stood on end, one thick thatch curling downward. She gazed haughtily down at him, smiling to show pointed teeth.
“Where am I?” Lucas asked. “Am I in Hell?”
She opened her mouth wide and laughed. Her tail lashed out to wrap around his middle and lift him into the air. It placed him on her back, forcing him to wrap his legs around her middle and clutch onto her large, firm breasts as she emitted a long, high-pitched wail and burst into a run. She flapped her wings and leapt off the ground.
Lucas slid down her back, her sweat making her skin slippery. It was at this moment that he realized he was naked. The sensation of his body sliding down her backside while clutching her breasts send an enormous amount of blood to his penis.
The winged woman threw her head back and howled a scream than gradually degenerated into pleased laughter. She placed one hand on top of his hand, pressed his palm hard against her erect nipple. Her head turned and stuck out her lengthy tongue. It snaked between Lucas lips, the tip bending like a soft hook that pressed against the back of his front teeth, bringing his mouth closer to hers. She kissed him, her tongue a serpent darting between his tonsils. He choked when she withdrew, inadvertently releasing one breast. This threw him off balance and he found himself riding her like a bronco, his free hand waving in the air. Her tail wrapped around his torso and pulled him back into position. His fingers sought out her tit and latched on. He sighed in relief, but sucked air back in when he looked down. Below him was a sea of lava, roiling and bubbling with an occasional shadowy arm, leg or head breaking the surface.
Ahead was a rock outcropping stretching thirty feet into the air. The winged woman landed on the flat surface. She turned her head and kissed him again, her reptilian tongue plunging halfway down his throat. He bucked her hips and then her back, mimicking sexual movements. Her tail drooped as she lowered her rear end, causing Lucas to slid off. She immediately raised it up again, her tail curving to the side to expose her engorged genitals. She arched her back and howled like a cat in heat.
He placed his hand against her swollen vulva and two fingers slid right in. She was hot inside, almost scalding. He removed his hand and she gasped, her tail whipping around to strike him on the buttocks. He yelped and lurched forward, his hardness plunging inside her. Her tail began gently caressing his buttocks and thighs as she lowered her head and gave a low moan. His hands slid along her backside, down her hips to her thighs as he throbbed inside her, the sensation of her slick skin and sweltering moistness was already becoming to much for him. He already felt the familiar building and rushing deep within his groin, threatening to push him to orgasm at any moment.
Her tail encircled his hips, gently tugging him, urging him to move his body. Her head raised up to look at him over her shoulder. Her eyes smoldering and her tongue darted between her sharp incisors.
“What are you doing?” she hissed. “Keep going.”
His fingers dug into the meat of her hindquarters as he slowly withdrew. The rushing in his groin quickly increased, spreading from upward through his chest and shoulders. He closed his eyes and tried desperately to keep his orgasm at bay, but his body spasmed and spasmed again.
He opened his eyes with a start and found himself in an emergency room. Two young children squealed as they ran by, nearly colliding with a man on crutches sitting next to a woman with her hand wrapped in a bloody towel. Behind him a couple argued loudly, throwing racial epithets at one another.
He looked up to see Katie’s doctor standing in front of him, clipboard clutched to her chest.
“Yeah,” he said, jumping to his feet. “How’s she doing?”
“She’s stable, but she has a very aggressive cancer that’s spreading rapidly—”
“Yes, we’re aware of that. Can I see her?”
“For a few minutes. Right this way.”
Katie wasn’t conscious by the time he arrived, but he stayed for a few minutes to see if she woke up. Then visiting hours ended and he was forced to go home. He checked his emails to see he had several folks interested in joining his new band, accompanied by short videos of them performing. One of the emails was from a woman with long, multicolored hair who claimed to be a vocalist. Lucas wasn’t looking for one, but checked out her video anyway.
Her performance blew him away. Not only could she sing, she could scream and screech and make guttural noises that enhanced the heavy sounds coming from her guitar. She was a master that put Lucas’s playing ability to shame.
This is a prank, he thought. This is a professional and some asshole is fucking with me.
At the end of the video, she stopped playing and turned her white face to the camera and opened her blackened lips.
“Hello, Lucas Sandoval. My name is Annalise Motley and I would very much like to try out for your band. Please call me.” She winked and blew him a kiss.
“Well, fuck me,” he said and laughed. “Honey, if you’re for real, you got the gig.”
He slogged through the rest of the emails, but they all paled in comparison to Annalise. He might have a hard time filling the bass and drummer position, but if everything centered around a powerful performer such as her, they need only be passable. And you never knew: Annalise’s talents might rub off on the rest of the band. He responded to the ones he wanted to see and gave them the location where they were to meet Saturday morning. Lucas got up from the computer, entered the garage and picked up his guitar. He plugged it into the amp, strummed a few bars then stopped.
He checked the radon detector to make sure it was operating properly. It was, but to be safe, he replaced the batteries. He then stared at the meter to make sure radon was still not detected. It wasn’t.
Not that it matters now. It’s far too late.
Lucas sat back down in his rickety metal chair and returned to song crafting. He continued the tune he’d started previously which led into inspiration for another song and another. He was happy with his progress and realized he’d have a full album soon if he kept at it at this rate.
He unplugged his guitar and wandered into the kitchen to make dinner. It was just going to be him tonight. He felt his sister’s absence as if it were a tangible thing, something he could touch, something heavy. He knew it was merely a taste of the future, a future that was coming down on him faster and faster as time went on. The day cancer claimed Katie’s life would arrive before he knew it.
Lucas took a pot from the cupboard under the counter, filled it with water and put it on the stove. He withdrew a box of macaroni and cheese and placed it on the counter. Someone rang the doorbell.
A man in his fifties wearing a baseball cap and a puffy coat stood on the doorstep, his hands deep into his jean pockets.
“I’m Richard Blakely. Do you have a moment?”
“Yes, my father is James Blakely, better known as Jimmy. I take it you know him?”
“I know his work.”
“No, I mean personally.”
Lucas took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to answer that.”
“You’ve met him, though, correct?”
“Okay, look,” Richard said bluntly. “I don’t know what you and my father are doing, but you need to stop it. You’re killing him.”
“What?” Lucas asked. “How? I don’t even know where you dad is and not only that, how old he, eighty? I’m sure that whatever’s killing him has got nothing to do with me.”
“He’s eight-three, but that’s beside the point. Every single day, I have to listen to my father moan and groan about how Lucas Sandoval screwed him over, blah, blah, blah. I don’t know what you did to my father, but you need to make it right. You hear me?”
Lucas grabbed Richard’s finger and gently pushed it away. Richard jerked his hand away and turned his head to cough.
“What is it exactly did he say I did?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t. Only that you screwed him by not upholding your end of the deal. I know you’re a musician, Mr. Sandoval, and I can only assume you were supposed to play on one of my dad’s records, but stiffed him after you got paid.”
“Well, you assume wrong,” Lucas said. “I play heavy metal. Ever heard of Gravesnake?”
“Either has Jimmy Blakely.”
“But you said you met him before.”
“Yes, in a dream.”
Richard stared at him. “I don’t—”
“Your father spoke to me in a dream. Actually, he’s spoken to me several times in several dreams. I’d never heard of him before then. As a matter of fact, no one had until I started dreaming about him. Now he’s a pioneer of rock and roll, because he stole Elvis Presley’s early career and, somehow, I’m the only one that’s aware of it. I have no idea why your dad’s mad at me, okay, asshole?”
Richard stepped backward off the step, stuck his hands back in his pockets. “I’m sorry to have taken so much of your time.” He turned and walked away.
Lucas shut the door and took his phone out of his pocket. He went to Jimmy Blakely’s Wikipedia page to find he’d added another iconic rock and roller’s career to his repertoire: Buddy Holly.
This always happens when Jimmy’s in my dreams, but I didn’t dream of him last time. I dreamed of that winged woman, that demon. What exactly is going on here?
Katie sat on the floor with her legs tucked under as she watched the kittens frolic around her. A silver tabby wandered awkwardly toward and she picked it up with a squeal.
“Oh, you’re so cute, ain’tcha?”
She rubbed noses with the tiny creature and laughed gleefully when it mewled back at her.
“Okay, I’ll put you down.”
The tabby immediately ran over to jump on a black kitten with a white patch on it’s chest. The black kitten rolled onto his back and started kicking the tabby, his teeth bared. Katie laughed again.
“I want to keep him,” she said. “Mr. Silver Britches.”
“What?” Lucas asked. “That’s what you’re going to call him?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”
The black kitten growled deep in his throat at is continued to kick the tabby. The tabby smacked him hard in the face with his paw, his ears flattened against his tiny skull. The black kitten growled again, this time a deep, throaty growl that sounded more bear-like than kitty.
“Midnight, stop it,” Katie scolded. “Mr. Silver Britches is just playing.”
The black kitten was suddenly on his feet and on the offensive. His teeth sunk into the flesh of the tabby as he rolled him onto his back. He growled like a bear again as his little yellow eyes turned red. He opened his mouth wide and bit through the tabby’s neck, decapitating it.
Katie screamed and backed up into the corner. “Midnight, what did you do?”
“What the fuck?” Lucas cried, eyes wide in horror.
The front door opened slowly, a low fog drifting in across the floor. Midnight growled one last time and ran out of the room, leaving a trail of blood.
A figure emerged from the fog, a woman Lucas didn’t recognize at first. When she opened her mouth to reveal her pointed teeth, he realized it was the demon woman. She bore no evidence of a tail or wings this time, however, as she sported a black bell bottom dress and heels. She stared across the room at him, her hand on her hip.
“I have unfinished business with you,” she said, her voice little more than a hiss.
He didn’t respond, instead looked down at her legs. A thin trail of fog emanated from beneath her dress and drifted across the room.
That’s not fog, he realized. That’s steam.
“No,” he said, taking a step back. “I don’t want to.”
“You have to uphold your end of the bargain,” said the voice belonging to a certain Jimmy Blakley. He had walked in after the woman, puffing on a cigarette.
“Are you serious?” Jimmy asked, flicking his butt on the floor. “Do you mean to tell me that you don’t remember our little deal?”
“I-I don’t,” he said, trying to back up some more, but a wall was in the way. “I don’t remember any deal.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes and turned to the woman. “You know, maybe it’s my fault. Right? I mean, maybe I didn’t spell it out for him clearly enough.” The woman stuck her tongue out to run across her fangs as she caressed her breast with her hand. “My thoughts exactly,” Jimmy said. He returned his attention to Lucas. “In exchange for me learning about the future of rock and roll, or in your case, the history of it, you have to become successful yourself. And the only way you can do that, is to do whatever it is this lovely creature wants you to. If you don’t, things will go very badly. Not only for you and me, but for the entire world. You remember the last time we talked, don’t you? That was kind of a hint.”
“What?” Lucas asked. “I have to have sex with a demon woman so I can be rich and famous? I don’t remember making a pact with the devil.”
Jimmy and the demon both reared their heads back to laugh. “There is no pact with the devil,” said the former. “Your pact is with me.”
“But I don’t understand,” Lucas said. “Where does she fit in?”
“Think of her as the third party,” he said as he eyeballed her. “She’s got a substantial amount of interest in this agreement. If you do as she says, everything will be smooth sailing.”
“Which means you get to steal careers of others in order to enhance your own.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “That’s what I want and I need you to do that. Without our little chats here, I have no insider information. And if you don’t do what the lady wants, we can no longer have these chats and bad things will start to happen.”
“What, she’s going to start a nuclear war?”
Jimmy shrugged. “Who knows? It’s kind of a hot topic in my time. Maybe yours, too. I don’t know. But maybe you help her and she helps the both of us. We both get fame and fortune and everybody’s happy.”
Lucas watched Jimmy light up another cigarette and said, “So, you’re saying all she wants is to get fucked?”
“Yeah,” he said, smoke drifting from his nose. “I mean, who am I to judge, right? The lady wants to get fucked, the lady should get fucked.”
“But it can’t be as simple as that, can it? I mean, she’s obviously some kind of demon. A succubus, maybe. From what I’ve read, succubi steal men’s souls. I don’t think that’s a price I want to pay.”
“Souls?” Jimmy asked with a chuckle. “Hey, there ain’t no such thing as souls. When you’re dead, you’re dead.”
“Well, this whole agreement we got going would tell me otherwise.”
“Look, I don’t know all the mysteries of the universe, okay? All I know is that this agreement is beneficial to all involved and if you don’t uphold your end, it all falls to shit. You don’t want this to all fall to shit, Lucas. You really don’t.”
His living room was displaced by a hospital room with Katie laying in the bed, connecting to multiple tubes and wires.
“Fuck you,” Lucas spat, stepping back. “Fuck the both of you. Keep my sister out of this.”
“Now, hold on a second,” Jimmy said, raising his hand. “Nothing’s going to happen to her. I mean, nothing will happen to her unless you play ball. Capiche?”
“What, are you in the fucking Mob, now? What are you talking about?”
“Fuck me,” the succubus hissed, her tail snaking down her leg. “And she lives.”
“Hey,” Jimmy said with a snort. “You can’t put it any plainer than that.”
“No,” Lucas said. “I won’t do this. I refuse to do this.”
“That’s what you say now,” Jimmy said, walking after him. “But you’ll change your mind. Once things start turning, you’ll beg for it. I only hope that you’ll be able to live with yourself after what happens.”
“Stop,” Lucas said. “Stop threatening me.”
Jimmy stepped back. “It’s not a threat,” he said, glancing at the succubus. She opened her mouth wide as her wings took shape and tore her dress apart.
“It’s a promise.”
He woke up with a start, his cell phone vibrating. He sat up on the couch, his phone falling from his chest to the floor. He fumbled for it in the dark and picked it up. Mandy has messaged him.
“Good morning, Lucas. Please have a seat.”
He picked one of the two chairs in front of the desk and waited for Dr. Wilkes to sit down in the tall, black chair behind the desk. She typed something into her laptop then smiled.
“So, what is it you’d like to talk about today? Are you still having dreams with Jimmy Blakely in them?”
“Yes,” he said. “As a matter of fact, his son came to visit me the other day.”
“Yes, Richard Blakely. He demanded to know what I did to his father. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he told me Jimmy Blakely keeps muttering my name and complaining that I didn’t uphold my end of the bargain…”
He trailed off as he watched her furrow her brow and begin typing. “Richard Blakely you said, right?”
“Are you sure you didn’t dream it?” she asked.
“No, it was very real, Doctor. It was right after I got back from the hospital. My sister, Katie, has lung cancer and—”
“It’s not possible,” she said.
“What? What’s not possible?”
“That couldn’t have been Richard Blakely. Richard Blakely was killed in the New York Blast in 1977.”
“New York what? I’ve never heard of it.”
She spun the laptop around to show him the article which was accompanied by a black and white photo. The headline read, “King of Rock and Roll’s Son Amongst the Victims.” He briefly perused the article to find that the cause had been an explosion in the underground steam tunnels. Terrorist activity was not ruled out.
“Steam,” he whispered. “Of course, it was steam.”
“Lucas,” the doctor said. “That man who visited you could not have been Richard Blakely.”
He stood up abruptly, knocking his chair over. “I-I’ve got to go.”
“But your session just started. I wanted to ask you about—”
“Katie,” he said, going to the door. “My sister… I have to check on her.”
He exited his psychologist’s office and headed to the hospital. He stepped into Katie’s room to find her surrounded by her doctor and nurses. One of them turned to him as he entered.
“Sir, please step outside.”
“Why?” he demanded. “What’s going on?”
The doctor gave an order to one of the other nurses and hurried over to Lucas. “Mr. Sandoval, let’s step outside, okay?”
“No,” he insisted. “Tell me now. What’s going on? Is Katie okay?”
“Mr. Sandoval,” the doctor said, dropping her eyes. “Your sister’s cancer has metastasized rapidly. We need to get her into surgery right now. So, if you would please step outside…”
Lucas nodded, a sudden numbness overtaking him. He walked into the corridor and watched the nurses wheel Katie out. He watched until they wheeled her around the corner and his shoulders slumped.
So, this is what happens when I don’t do what the demon wants. First, she kills Jimmy’s son and then she kills my sister.
The sadness was so deep and intense that his face immediately spewed tears, saliva and mucous. He collapsed into a nearby chair and held his head in his hands. “Goddamn it,” he moaned. “Goddamn it. Why is this happening to me? Motherfucker.”
He looked up to see a woman and her young son walking by, the boy staring wide-eyed at him. The mother pulled the boy closer to him as she hurried away.
“Sorry,” he said and buried his head in his hands again.
After everything Katie’s been through, she doesn’t deserve to die like this. The death of mom and dad, the abusive relationship and the cancer. She had a promising future as a classical violinist, but life crushed her, bit by bit, until…
The dream with the kittens had been a pleasant memory. Katie was still a teenager, living in the house she and Lucas had inherited. Technically, as a minor of sixteen, she couldn’t own property, but the house was in a trust with Lucas as the trustee. He had graduated high school the year before and was working at a grocery store in order to pay the bills. He had hoped to join a band while in college, but after the tragic plane crash that took his parents away, he found himself working a regular joe job instead. He was Katie’s guardian now and she depended on him.
Shakira, their Aegean cat, was also dependent on him. She was mostly white, with some tabby marking on her head, feet and tail. He gotten herself pregnant and had a litter of nine. Katie loved all of them so much that he wished he could have kept them, but the pocket book would have been adversely affected. She let him keep two: Mr. Silver Britches and Midnight. In real life their names were Ziggy and Chester, however. Ziggy ran away about a year later and never came back and Chester was run over a block away not long after that. Katie was so heartbroken that she was inconsolable. She slammed her door shut and didn’t come out for days. Lucas put plastic containers of food in front of her door at meal times and would collect them after she emptied them. On the fourth day, she quietly came down to sit with him on the couch as he watched a horror movie.
“What’s this one?” she asked as she sat on her feet and cuddled the couch pillow.
She’d done the same thing after mom and dad died. It was how she coped and was all the stronger for it. When she’d left her husband a couple years ago, she’d done the couch act once again.
“I don’t know how you do it,” she’d said once. “Bad things happen and you’re just fine.”
“I’m not fine,” he’d told her. “You just think I’m fine, because you hide in your room for days on end.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of on purpose. I need to think you’re okay so I don’t completely fall apart. I need to think of you as strong, whether it’s true or not. Does that make sense?”
“Not really,” he’d said, making her laugh.
He’d completely fallen apart after the plane crash. He would do it again when Katie died, too. He didn’t think he had the wherewithal to come back from it, either. She was all he had, after all. If she died…
He wiped his face off on his sleeves and his hands on his jeans. “Alright,” he said. “Alright, goddamn it. You win. You fucking win.”
Lucas went home and headed directly to the bathroom medicine cabinet. He down three sleeping pills and laid down on his bed. Last time he’d been awakened before he could complete the deal with the succubus. He wasn’t going to let that happen this time. He had to make sure Katie survived.
He closed his eyes and soon found himself in a dark corridor lit only by a distant light thirty yards ahead. He walked toward it, the sounds of early rock and roll gradually getting louder. It was a rendition of an Everly Brothers song, but the lyrics had been changed to “Get Up, Little Jennie.” Jimmy Blakely’s obvious handiwork.
“Okay,” he said loudly, drawing out the last syllable. “I’m here to uphold my end of the deal.”
The corridor opened up into an auditorium. Blakely’s band was loud and hopping, every audience member on their feet, clapping along. Every single person wore dull brown clothing except for one: a woman in the aisle in the fifth row. She wore a bright white dress that left her arms and shoulder blades bare, her honey brown hair tumbling about her heart-shaped face as she turned around to smile at him.
Her smile widened to show her perfect white teeth, her red lipstick perfectly applied.
“Hello, Lucas,” she said. “You’ve decided to come.” She hurried over to give him a loose hug and a nip on the cheek. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said, clearing his throat. “I was kind of expecting someone else. Unless…”
Her pale blue eyes stared into his, her smile quirking to one side. “Unless,” she repeated.
Oriana laughed. “When was the last time we saw each other, Lucas? The summer after high school?”
“Is this how you want it to go?” he asked. “You want to play this game? Fine. If it means saving Katie, I’ll do it.”
The music stopped and he was suddenly alone with her. She placed her hand on either side of his face and drew her lips to his. She kissed him softly, sweetly. He felt it down to his toes, just as he had when she’d kissed him that last night they’d been together. The night before the plane crash. She withdrew and lowered her gaze.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been nineteen years,” she said. “You look the same as you did back then.”
“So do you,” he said. “But of course this is a dream.”
“Not a dream,” she said, taking his hand. “You only perceive it as such. Do you remember that last night? What happened?”
“Yes,” he said. “I told you I loved you.”
“And I said thank you,” she said. “I’ve always regretted not telling you the truth. Especially after what happened later. I just wanted us to be friends for a little while longer so I could find out how I really felt about you, but you retreated, holed yourself away, even before the accident. You didn’t answer my calls, refused to see me when I came by the house. I’m sorry I didn’t explain myself better.”
“I was crushed,” he said. “You were the first girl I ever said that to.”
She caressed his cheek. “We were both young, trying to figure ourselves out.”
“I thought maybe you liked someone else,” he said. “And then I thought you just didn’t think of me that way.”
“Oh, I did. I was just scared. I didn’t want to make a mistake we’d both be paying for the rest of our lives. I wanted to be sure.”
A tear fell from her eyes, slowly streamed down her face. He touched it with two fingertips and brought them to his lips. She chuckled and lowered his hand, held it in hers.
“I’m sure now,” she said.
She grinned coquettishly over her shoulder at him as he walked to the exit, dragging him along. The dark corridor was now a forest trail, moonlight filtered through the leaves above. She pressed her body against his, tilted her head back, closed her eyes and parted her lips. Lucas kissed her and she melted in his arms, became passive and let him do whatever he liked. He pressed a hand against her breast and mingled his tongue with hers. Abruptly, she pulled away from him, taking three steps before turning around to smile at him mischievously. Her pale blue eyes fixed on his as she slid down the shoulder straps of her dress one by one and let the garment fall to the forest floor.
“Oriana,” Lucas whispered as he reveled in the sight of her nude body.
“Lucas,” she said. “Catch me.”
She took off at a high rate of speed, Lucas unable to keep up with her. Still, he hurried down the trail until he came upon a small camp, the fire embers still burning. Crouched before a small tent was Oriana, beckoning him. He followed her inside where two campers were asleep in their bags, a man and a woman.
Lucas looked down at Oriana’s hand to see a red and black beetle the size of her palm nestled there. A blue-white light shimmered across its chitinous surface as he crawled from her palm to his.
“Place it on the ground.”
He gently lowered his hand and the beetle leapt from it, directly into the sleeping bag of the male camper. The man’s mouth shot open and Oriana clamped hers onto it. A blue-white glow shone through the fabric of the sleeping back as well as the man’s throat and face. The light also filled Oriana’s face and throat as she sucked it in.
The beetle emerged from the man’s sleeping bag to crawl into the woman’s. The same thing happened, Oriana shoving Lucas out of the way to get to the victim’s gaping maw. He tumbled out of the tent, narrowly avoiding striking his head on a campfire rock.
Before he could get up, Oriana was on him her body glowing blue-white. She pulled his pants open, breaking the button and zipper. She pulled them down and clamped her mouth on his. He felt a surge of power enter him orally as he felt his hardness enter Oriana’s vagina.
She threw back her head to scream as the swirling tattoos returned, curling up her arms, down her legs and around her belly and breasts. She then sunk her teeth into Lucas’s shoulder, causing him to scream. He was surprised to feel more pleasure than pain as her teeth entered his flesh and screamed again, this time not in pain. His hands grasped her hips as he rapidly worked his hips, pumping into her as fast as he could.
Oriana threw her head back again, her wings sprouting from her arms, her tail from her coccyx and her sharp teeth from her gums. She sunk her teeth into his other shoulder and he woke up, mid-orgasm.
“Fuck,” he groaned, throwing his arm over his eyes. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He stripped off his pants and hurried to the bathroom to wash off. He thought better of it and removed his shirt, turned on the shower. He scrubbed his body repeatedly with soap, but couldn’t wash away the dirty feeling that he’d absorbed into his skin. He dropped the soap and hung his head, letting the water hit him square on the head and drip down into his face.
A burning sensation at his groin made him look down. Her penis was bright red, a bump on the side of the shaft. A blister. When the hot water hit it, the pain was nearly unbearable.
“Goddamn it,” he said, turning off the water. He stepped out and pulled a towel from the cabinet when he heard the front door open and shut.
“Lucas?” Katie called. “Are you in the shower? Annalise’s here.”
He wrapped a towel around his waist, opened the bathroom door and made a run for his room. “I’ll be right down,” he called before he closed his door. “What the fuck?” he muttered and hurriedly put on some pants and a shirt. He exited his room and walked casually down the steps.
“Well, hello,” he said. “I didn’t expect you today.”
“What are you talking about?” Katie inquired. “I just got off work.”
Lucas noticed the white nametag on her blouse. “You work at Macy’s?” he asked.
“Only for the last year,” she said, eyeing him with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Actually,” he said, clearing his throat. “I kind of have a problem down there.”
“That’s my fault,” Annalise said, emerging from the kitchen clutching a beer. “I know we shouldn’t have fucked so much, but I just couldn’t keep my hands off you.”
Katie shut her eyes and placed her hands in the air, palms out. “Ew. Okay, I’m going upstairs.”
“Wait,” Lucas said. “What about the surgery? Did they get it all?”
Katie tilted her head and raised her brow. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think your girlfriend fucked all your brains out.”
Annalise laughed. “I don’t think it took much,” she said, making Katie laugh as she continued on her way to her room. Annalise smiled at him. “So, how bad is it? The pain, I mean. Can I see?” She stepped forward and he stepped back.
“No, no,” he said. “Wait, wait. I need a second.”
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Suddenly, memories flooded his brain, memories that were new to him. Annalise and he were a new couple and Katie’s cancer had never happened.
“Do you want to see my pussy?” Annalise asked, unbuttoning her purple jeans. “It looks like raw hamburger. It’s really disgusting and hurts like a motherfucker, but it was all worth it, wasn’t it? I’d never fucked a guy for three days straight before.”
Lucas searched his new memories and found the three days in question. They were the best days of his life, it turned out.
“What’s that goofy grin for?”
“Oh, I was just remembering.”
She placed her hands on either side of his head and kissed him. “Oh, my God,” she said. “I haven’t gotten my fill of you, yet. I hate that we have to wait until we heal.” She giggled. “I guess we’ll just have to take our sexual frustration out on stage, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said, suddenly pissed that he didn’t get to experience those three days, only remember them as if he’d watched them on TV. “I can’t wait until we heal, either.”
She pressed her forehead against his then licked the tip of his nose. He cried out and jerked away. She laughed loudly, her hands on her bent knees.
“I had to do it,” she said. “It was just too perfect a setup.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said, unable to keep from laughing himself.
“So, did you finish that song you were working on? If so, we might want to rehearse it before the show tonight.”
“Song? What song?”
Annalise lifted her chin and thrust out her jaw. “I do believe it was a song about me,” she said, copping a nonchalant tone as her hand thrust forward to begin tickling the side of his belly and armpit. He squealed and tried to block her, but she her fingers were quick. He cried in laughter as he begged her to stop. She was relentless, backing him into the couch where she pushed him down and climbed on top of him.
“Ow, ow, my stomach,” he cried, his laughter weak. “Stop, stop. Please, stop, oh, my God, please stop.”
She licked the tip of his nose again and got up, her hair in tangles and hanging in her face as she breathed heavily, a tremendous grin on her face.
“That’s what you get,” she said. “You know I take this song writing shit seriously. Either you’ve finished it or you haven’t. I don’t care which, but it better be fucking good. That’s all I got to say about it.”
“I don’t know,” he said and held up his hand when she looked to go at him again. “It might be finished, I’m not sure.”
“Well, we can work it out in rehearsal then. The rest of us will let you know.” She ran her fingers through her mostly white blonde and purple hair, flipping it back out of her face. “I’ve got a fucking hot outfit to wear tonight, too. It’ll fucking blow your mind.” She helped him to his feet and kissed him. “Come on. We need to get going.”
She walked him outside to the white van where the other two band members waited. Lucas’s memories told him they were Hitch, the drummer, and Broderick, the bassist. Hitch was skinny as a rail with short blonde hair and clad in a Lakers basketball jersey and shorts. Broderick had long black hair tied in a ponytail and a full beard. He wore blue sweater vest complete with a red and black striped tie and powder blue undershirt.
“What’s up?” Hitch said after taking a drag on his joint. Broderick silently raised his chin in greeting.
“How’s it going?” Lucas asked. Both dudes nodded without smiling.
“Okay,” said Annalise. “Let’s go.”
The gig was at the same club Lucas had played solo the day Gravesnake split up. He nodded at the owner who gave him a huge smile and a thumb’s up. Lucas helped set up the gear and seated himself at the microphone while he waited for the rest of the band to finish up. He nodded to the sound guy, Dylan, who paid him no attention.
“Okay,” Annalise said, sitting next to him. “Let’s hear that song you’ve been working on.”
Lucas looked back at Hitch as he hit his snare and proceeded to tighten the screws on it. He hit it again, followed by a cymbal which he also decided needed screwing.
“Pay no attention to him,” Annalise said. “He won’t be ready for a while. Go on, start.”
Lucas glanced at Broderick, standing at the mic on the other side of Annalise, his bass strapped around his shoulder. He glanced back at Lucas, his eyes urging him on. Lucas looked down at his guitar, pick between his forefinger and thumb. His left hand found its position on the frets and his fingers pressed against the strings. He ran the pick down the strings and started playing. A third of the way through, Broderick joined in on bass, while Annalise merely gazed at him, her expression unreadable. When he finished, Broderick clapped three times. Annalise raised her eyes to his.
“So, that’s my song, huh?” she asked. “I’m a succubus, the girl who fucks you until you get a blister on your cock? I have you under my spell and compel you to murder others so I can inhale their life force and become more powerful?”
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “I may have exag—”
She leapt up and threw her arms around him, kissed him hard on the mouth and sat on his knee, one arm around him.
“I love it,” she cried. “It’s the most romantic song anyone’s ever written about me.”
“O-Okay,” he said. “Well, I’m glad you like it.”
“It would be better in 4/4 time,” Hitch said, his foot immediately stomping on the bass pedal. Broderick joined in with a bass riff while Annalise got up off Lucas’s knee to pick up her guitar and start in. Lucas sat and listened to them, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. They kept the riff going for nearly two minutes as they waited for approval. He gave it by singing the vocals, his fingers working the strings of his Gibson. Annalise sang the chorus with him, then took charge on the remaining vocals. She changed some of the words around and added a lengthy solo that improved the song one hundred and fifty percent. She and Lucas sang the chorus one last time before she reprised her solo, keeping it going for three minutes before finally ending with a flourish.
“Alright,” Lucas said. “I think that’s it. What’s do you guys think?”
“It’s fuckin’ awesome,” Hitch said, while Broderick gave a thumb’s up. “I say we perform it tonight.”
“After one more run through,” Annalise said. “Just to be sure we got it. We should do something else right now, though.”
“How about that Jimmy Blakely tune we couldn’t get last time?” Hitch inquired.
“Jimmy Blakely?” Lucas asked, looking at Annalise who shrugged.
“Yeah,” Hitch said. “’Please Me Please’ I think it was.”
“Fuckin’ Jimmy,” Lucas muttered under his breath. “He’s up to the Beatles now.”
“What was that?” Annalise asked. “Did you want to do a Beatles song instead?”
“Oh, so they’re still a thing, then?”
She laughed and said, “Let’s do the Blakely thing. I’ve been practicing.”
As it had been happening all day, the words and music appeared in his memory. He knew the song backwards and forwards, but Hitch had a difficult time with the timing for some reason which threw Broderick off as a result. Broderick held up a hand to silence Hitch and cranked out a guide bass line. He repeated it three times before he spoke low into his mic.
Hitch stomped on his kick drum pedal before finally tapping the toms with his sticks. He nodded as he finally tracked with the beat. He picked up the energy and started pounding on his drums, going heavy on the cymbals.
“We should start it like that,” Lucas said. “I like how that sounds.”
“I’m okay with that,” said Annalise. “Okay, I’ve got a couple new ones I’ve been working on.”
They continued rehearsing for another seventy minutes before they retreated to the green room. It was in much better condition than he remembered. The couch Gunther had lazed upon drinking beer had been replaced by a much nicer one and there was new carpeting that wasn’t vomit and cum stained.
Lucas checked Jimmy Blakely’s Wikipedia page and found the new entry regarding “Please Me Please.” It stated that Jimmy’s career got a sudden boost in 1962 when he introduced a new sound to America that took it by storm. Songs like “You Love Her” and “I Wanna Kiss Your Hand” soared to the top of the charts in the US and the UK and his album “Reintroducing Jimmy” stayed at #1 on the Billboard Album Hot 200 for six months, sparking the phenomenon known as Jimmymania. He subsequent albums were also widely successful, ending abruptly in 1965 when Jimmy suffered a mental breakdown. He was hospitalized for several years and didn’t record another album until 1970. By that time, his popularity had waned somewhat and only his comeback album made the top ten. He’d tried to reinvent himself again as a rock album act, but his efforts paled in comparison to the likes of The Who and Wings. He recorded sporadically through the 80s until his death in 1987 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
“Oh, Jimmy,” Lucas whispered. “What the fuck happened to you?”
The article went on to say that he was survived by his two children, Jimmy Blakely, Jr. and Jennifer Blakely Fredericks. Lucas wondered if either of them would be willing to talk to him about their father.
Annalise pushed his phone away from his face and stepped back. “What do you think?”
She had changed out of her street clothes into a black top that barely covered her nipples and a knee-length black skirt that, when she moved the right way, revealed skimpy red panties underneath.
“Am I fuckin’ hot or what?”
“Told you it’d knock your socks off.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “This is going to be our best show ever,” she said. “It’s going to be so great that we’ll want to fuck each other even though we’re sore as shit.”
“Gotta pop my dick blister somehow, right?” he asked, making her explode with laughter.
“The opener is almost done,” she said. “You might want to change.”
He brushed out his long, brown hair, applied black eyeliner and black lipstick, placed the black band around his neck and donned his studded leather jacket and black jeans. He thought he looked rather stereotypical, but Annalise said it suited him perfectly.
The opener had finished and the house music was blaring through the speakers. The owner walked out onto stage and the spot landed on him, causing him to raise his hand to shield his eyes.
“Hey, everybody, how’s it going?” he asked, his words met by a loud cheer. “Looks like we’ve got a rowdy crowd here tonight. Are you ready for some metal?” More cheers, whoops and screams filled the area. “Alright, then without further delay, I’d like to present Leptis Magna.”
“What did he say?” Lucas asked, shouting to be heard over the crowd.
“Leptis Magna,” Annalise answered.
“Really? What’s that mean?”
“You’re asking me? You’re the one that named it. You said it was an ancient city or something. Did you take something earlier?”
“No, no,” he said. “I just… It sounds different when someone else says it.”
He waited while the lights darkened and Hitch and Broderick took their places. There was a modicum of applause from the crowd at their appearance that quickly increased when Annalise and Lucas walked out. Annalise raised her guitar and gave a scream as Lucas stepped behind her, his eyes scanning the crowd. He tried to estimate the number, but someone took a flash photo, momentarily blinding him.
He looked down at the stage, spotting the playlist next to his pedalboard. A couple of the songs he didn’t recall rehearsing, one of them being the opening number, but when Annalise asked him if he was ready, the songs all popped to the front of his brain. Annalise counted out, “One, two, three, four!” All four members commenced playing, accompanied by Annalise’s loud, piercing shriek.
Leptis Magna played a rapid set, leaving no time between songs for chitchat or rest. At one point, during Annalise’s solo for the new succubus song, Lucas’s vision distorted and blackened around the edges. He thought he heard the flapping of wings overhead and someone whispering his name. He felt like he was going to lose consciousness, but Annalise’s solo ended and normality returned in time to keep his vocals on track.
They finished the show amongst tremendous applause and cheering, Annalise stating they should record an album as they left the stage. They hung out in the green room and waited for the crowd to disperse before they changed into their street clothes and started breaking down their equipment. Lucas had just loaded his amp inside the van when he was approached.
He recognized her immediately by her large black framed glasses, but her white half-shirt, pierced nipple and jean shorts seemed mismatched and out of place at a heavy metal concert.
“Dr. Wilkes,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Yeah, it was a great show.”
“’Scuse me,” Annalise shouted, carrying a drum to the ramp where Lucas and Dr. Wilkes were standing. “Coming through.”
“Sorry,” said Dr. Wilkes, stepping back. “Anyway, it was a great show, Lucas. I liked it a lot.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Come to very many heavy metal concerts?”
“No really,” she said. “But I wanted to see you.”
“Why don’t you show her the blister on your dick,” said Annalise on the way back down the ramp. “I’m sure she’d love to see it.”
“What the fuck?” Lucas cried, embarrassed.
“Well,” Dr. Wilkes said with a chuckle. “Someone’s territorial.”
“She’s my therapist,” he told Annalise, though she’d already walked beyond earshot.
“Besides,” Dr. Wilkes said. “It would be unethical for me to have sex with you while you’re one of my patients. I wanted to see you for another reason. A friend of mine wants to talk to you.”
She took him to a car parked in the club lot and knocked on the window. The individual inside rolled it down and smiled at him.
“Hi, Lucas,” she said. “Long time no see.”
“Oriana,” he said. “Wow, what a surprise.”
“I know, right?” she asked. “I really liked the show. You were really good. I especially liked the song about evil kittens.”
“Did you now?” he asked.
“Why don’t the two of you go somewhere and talk?” Dr. Wilkes suggested.
“Yeah, why don’t we?” Oriana said, getting out of the vehicle. “I think he and I have lots to talk about.”
“About that,” he said, glancing over his shoulder to see if Annalise was nearby. “I’m not—”
Oriana grabbed his hand and started walking down the street with him. She didn’t stop until they were inside a restaurant two blocks away, waiting for a table. She turned to him and said, “Look, I know you’re probably still mad at me, but I was young and stupid and I had no idea what you meant to me until you were gone. So, please, have dinner with me this one time. Please?”
Lucas’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“Where the fuck are you?” demanded Annalise. “We’re not done loading up the truck for one thing, and another, Hitch said he saw you walking away with some bitch. Are you cheating on me?”
“Calm down,” he said as he and Oriana were shown their table. “She’s an old friend from high school. She just wants to talk. I owe you guys one, okay?”
“An old girlfriend, huh?” she asked and sighed. “Alright, I’m sorry. I’m super possessive about you and get super jealous. Don’t worry about it and I hope you have a nice talk. Bye.”
“I’m sorry,” Oriana said. “Do you have a girlfriend? Is it the singer? Is she mad?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think so, but I’m also not sure she’s my girlfriend.”
“Well, okay.” Oriana sat down in the booth facing him and removed her white jacket to fold and place on seat next to her. She folded her arms on the table and leaned forward. “Lucas,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming about you a lot lately and I can’t get you out of my mind.”
“Yes, almost every night,” she said, leaning forward even more, her breasts pressed hard against her arms. “I know you just said you have a girlfriend, but I kind of don’t care.”
Lucas was unable to keep his eyes off her bosom, at the three buttons of her shirt that were undone. They seemed larger than he remembered. He cleared his throat. “Um, well, I didn’t really say that I did…”
“I should never have let you go,” she said, pouting. “After all these years, you’re the only one I’ve ever really loved. I hope we can pick up where we left off.”
“Hi,” said the waiter. “How are you folks tonight? Can I get you something to get started? A drink, perhaps?”
“I’ll have a margarita,” Oriana said, sitting back from the table.
“Water’s fine for me,” Lucas said.
“You still don’t drink?” Oriana asked after the waiter departed.
“Not still. Just right now I don’t.”
“Good for you. I wish I could quit alcohol, but I just love the stuff too damn much,” She giggled and leaned forward again. “So, what’s your answer? Want to pick it up again?”
He turned his head away, watched a young couple get seated on the other side of the restaurant. “Well, the thing is, I’m not so sure I feel the same way. I had a dream about you, too.”
“Really?” she asked excitedly. “That’s great!”
“Not so much,” he said. “Look, I was really hurt when you stopped answering my calls. I was in a really bad state emotionally and I could have used you. The only person I had was Katie and she was worse off than me. I was her rock, but I really needed one for myself. I had to learn to be strong without you, Oriana. Because of that, I think I… outgrew you.”
“Oh,” she said, her face falling. She leaned back from the table and looked up as the waiter arrived with her drink. She sat and stared at it before picking up her jacket. “I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
Lucas watched her walk away as the waiter stood nearby as if nothing was happening. Lucas looked up at him.
“Can I get a steak, please? Medium well. Thanks.”
Lucas drove along a bumpy road in a 1956 blue and white Ford Fairlane with the top pulled down, the desert scenery dotted with cacti and bushes. A legless reptilian snaked its way across the road, causing Lucas to slow down and let it pass unharmed.
“Fuckin’ desert,” Jimmy said, flicking his spent ciggy into the wind. “I hate it. What are we doing out here, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “I thought you brought me here.”
“No, I didn’t,” Jimmy said and heaved a huge sigh. “That means she did this. Man, I’m tellin’ you. I’m sick of it, you know? I don’t think it’s worth it anymore. I can’t fuckin’ handle it.” He produced another cigarette and attempted to light it, but the wind created by the forward moving Ford kept extinguishing his lighter. “Fuck man, can you put the top up? My hair’s blowin’ all over the fuckin’ place plus I can’t light my fucking weed.”
“Weed? You’re smoking pot?”
“What? No, man. It’s a tobacco cigarette. I don’t smoke dope. The fuck you talkin’ about?”
“Sor-ry,” Lucas said. “I didn’t know.”
Jimmy finally got his cig lit and took a drag, blowing smoke into the wind. “So, man, like I was sayin’. I’m fucking done with this shit. It’s not worth it.”
“Are you talking about the deal?” Lucas asked. “After you got pissed at me for not keeping up my end? Now you want out?”
“Yeah, man, I just can’t handle it. I thought I could, but it’s taking its toll. All that music I have to remember, the different styles… It fucking driving me crazy.”
“I might have read something about that,” Lucas said.
“Did you?” Jimmy was silent a moment. “Oh, I see. So, that’s how it ends for me.” He took another drag as his gaze wandered to the passing scenery. “Yeah, I want out.”
A shadowy figure appeared in the road and Lucas swerved left, sending the Fairlane over the shoulder and across the desert sand. Black tendrils shot after them, slithering like snakes to surround them as the car came to a halt.
“Well, this ain’t good,” Jimmy said. “Can you get this thing going again?”
Lucas tried backing up, but the tires were buried in the sand. Besides, the dark tendrils were more concentrated behind him and were beginning to take over the vehicle. Jimmy turned to Lucas.
“I’m going to make this up to you,” he said. “I’ll make it right for not holding up my end of the deal. I only hope that your ride goes better than mine did.” He opened the car door and stepped out to face the shadowy figure that was slowly approaching.
Lucas also got out, lest the black tendrils reach him. He quickly walked about ten feet away and turned around to see the figure standing two feet in front of Jimmy. Lucas could perceive no face beneath the black hood, but a bony hand emerged from the darkness enshrouding the figure and reached out for Jimmy. Jimmy fell to his knees and tilted his head back in order to allow the bony hand to land on his face. Lucas heard the fifties rocker give a loud, shallow gasp as the figure pulled out a long blue and black strand from his throat. Jimmy’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he body shook as the figure placed the end of the strand beneath the hood and thrust out its chest. It proceeded to suck in the strand as if a person were inhaling a long spaghetti noodle. Jimmy’s gasp ceased and his body fell sideways into the sand. This was followed by a blinding flash. Lucas turned to see a mushroom cloud in the distance a moment before a strong gust of wind blew him into darkness.
He awoke with a start and opened his eyes to see the face of Oriana staring back at him. He blinked and she was gone, but he thought he detected movement, like an old television set picking up the transparent image of another channel. It moved away from him, down the length of the bed and toward the closet where it gradually vanished.
Jimmy’s dead, he thought, shutting his eyes again. Was that the fuckin’ Grim Reaper? Seriously? He couldn’t believe that what he saw really happened. Of course, it was a dream. He had to remind himself that, because it was getting to the point he didn’t know what was real anymore. With his dreams affecting reality and changing the past and present, he felt like he could easily lose his grip on sanity. The Grim Reaper figure he’d witness was his brain interpreting what happened. He found the information in his memory, the image in his brain of a hardback book he’d checked out from the library when he was eleven years old. Jimmy Blakely had been a rising star and on his way to a gig when his plane mysteriously got lost and ended up heading directly into Operation Plumbbob, an atom bomb test in the Nevada desert.
Jimmy Blakely was gone. He would not be visiting Lucas in his dreams anymore, nor would he be changing any more history. His soul had been collected and he was done. Game over.
That’s what happens when you don’t uphold your end of the deal.
Lucas wasn’t sure the voice inside his head was his own, but one thing was suddenly clear. The deal was still in effect, Jimmy or no Jimmy.
The bedroom door opened and Annalise walked in. She wore pink and purple pajamas with pictures of little cartoon kittens all over them. She smiled at him without a word and climbed into bed with him. She dug into her bowl of cereal, milk dribbling down her chin to land on her chest. She looked down swiped at the spot with two fingers.
“I’m such a slob,” she said. “How can you stand to be with me?”
Lucas searched his memories to find that he and Annalise had moved in together and Katie had her own place across town. They had shared a home for a little while until she turned eighteen. Lucas eventually sold the house and moved into a larger home with the money he had inherited from his parents. They in turn had inherited from their parents, but it was always a mystery where the money had come from.
It’s no mystery, he thought. It’s all thanks to Jimmy.
“Son of a bitch,” he whispered. “So, that’s how he made it up to me.”
“What?” Annalise asked, dribbling more milk. “Goddamn it. Do I have a hole in my lip? Seriously, look.”
Lucas peered at her mouth and asked, “Is that a new piercing?”
“Shut up,” she said, playfully slapping his hand away. “It’s still split from the other day.”
“Well, then that’s your problem,” he said with a chuckle. “You can’t feel it.”
She sighed. “Fucking wind,” she said. “I wish it would stop already. It’s so dry outside. It’s not doing my hair any good, either.” She pulled at a few strands and brought it to her eye.
“It’s fine,” he told her, noting it wasn’t multiple colors now. It was a deep, rich brown that suited her beautifully. “Your hair looks great.” He kissed her cheek.
“You’re just saying that, because you have to. That’s one of the things I love about you.” She kissed him back, albeit it on his lips.
“Out of curiosity,” he said. “You didn’t happen to see something when you came in, did you?”
“See what? What are you talking about?”
He got up and went to the closet. He opened the door to hanging shirts and pants, boxes of shoes on the floor.
“Nothing, I guess,” he said, shutting the door. He looked down to see a tendril of darkness reach out for his foot, only to gradually disappear.
“Yeah,” he said. “Just thought I saw a spider.”
“Spider? You hate spiders. What if it was a mouse?”
“What?” he exclaimed. “No, I don’t think it was a mouse.”
“Speaking of a mouse in the house,” she said. “What if I told you I was pregnant?”
“What?” he exclaimed again, doubly alarmed this time.
“I’m not, but what if I were? Judging from your reaction right now, I’m thinking it wouldn’t be good.”
“No,” he said. “I mean, how am I supposed to react if you just throw it out there like that first thing after I wake up.”
She put her cereal bowl on the nightstand and stood up. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Just think about it, okay? I know I have been. I’m going to take a shower.” She paused in the doorway. “And it wasn’t first thing. You’ve been up for several minutes.”
The moment she left, there was a knock on the closet door. Lucas nearly leapt out of his skin and turned to see Jimmy Blakley walk through the door as if it were open.
“Surprise, man,” he said. “I’m still here.”
“Okay, wait,” Lucas said, backing up until the bed got in his way. “This is a dream, then.”
“Could be,” Jimmy said, raising his hands as black tendrils of darkness bubbled up from his palms to spill through his fingers, dissipating before they hit the floor. “Who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t?”
“That thing with the Grim Reaper,” Lucas said. “You faked that?”
“Well, yeah,” he said. “What did you think? The Grim Reaper is real? Come on, man, get with it. Mind if I smoke?”
“If this is a dream, I don’t care. If it’s reality, I do mind.”
“Well, okay, then.” A cigarette appeared in his fingers and he placed it in his mouth. He fumbled for his lighter and found it in his back pocket. He lit the cig and inhaled until his cheeks were hollow like a skull’s. He then produced three perfect smoke rings. “So,” he said. “Whattaya think?”
“Impressive,” Lucas said. “I’m not nearly as talented as you are when it comes to blowing smoke.”
“No, man, I mean this house. Your girl. A guy could get used to it, don’tcha think? It’s a nice life with no worries about coming up with another hit song or touring incessantly. If I were you, I’d give up the music and stick with this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Giving up on the dream, man. Like I said before, it’s not worth it. You know what happened to me. I went fuckin’ nutso and killed myself. I’d much rather have had something like you got here.”
“But the more successful I am, the more successful you are,” Lucas said. “That’s how the deal works, isn’t it? All I need to do is keep moving up and the better your life will be. You’ll be able to continue through to the present and have a legendary career that spans your entire lifetime.”
“Through to my nineties?” Jimmy asked. “No fuckin’ thank you, man. I’ll make you a new deal. You give up music and I’ll will my estate to your family. That way you can live comfortably and Katie can have a nice life without marrying that asshole who beat her all the time. And who knows? Maybe your parents won’t die in that car crash.”
“No,” Lucas said. “I’m on the verge of something great, Jimmy. I can feel it. Annalise is a great front woman and the crowds love us. After all these years of struggling, I’m finally getting somewhere. Surely, you can understand that. I can’t give it up. Not now.”
“Well, first of all,” Jimmy said, lighting another cigarette. “You were playing guitar in a horrible band just as a hobby. It wasn’t until you had the deal thrown at you that you became a serious magician. Second of all, there’s the killings.”
“Did you forget? You killed two campers in the woods.”
“What? No. That wasn’t real.”
“Oh, yes it was. It was very real. That scarab that demon bitch used it some kind of mystical creature that steals souls and she eats them. It’s an ancient Egyptian or some such fuckin’ thing, I don’t know. I only know that the killings are what made me go crazy. Oh, yeah, I did it, too. For some reason, that bitch can’t do it herself. She has to make a mortal do it or she can’t eat the soul.”
“What? That doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe not, but it’s the truth.”
“I mean, where did this ‘deal’ come from anyway? Why did it start with you and connect with me sixty years in the future? Because of my music history knowledge? I find that hard to believe. I’m not a quintessential expert by any means.”
“I don’t think so, either,” Jimmy said, smoke billowing from his nostrils. “I think the deal started with you and ‘connected’ back to me. I didn’t do this, Lucas. You did.”
Lucas stared back at him incredulously. “H-How?”
“How should I fuckin’ know?”
“Well, you seem to know everything else.”
“I’m dead, man, not all-knowing.” He took a drag on his cigarette and blew a mushroom cloud from his mouth.
“Can you stop that shit?” Lucas asked, irritated.
“Sorry. I was kind of obsessed with nuclear Armageddon when I was alive, so…” He took a deep breath. “So, maybe you aren’t interested in Annalise. After all, you barely know her and no amount of implanted memories will make you love her. Maybe you’re interested in someone else instead.”
The image he’d seen when he’d awakened reappeared, this time within the wood grains of the closet door. Oriana.
“No,” Lucas said, turning away. “I can’t go back there.”
Oriana’s image vanished. Jimmy sighed.
“Okay, man,” he said. “I understand, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you. Have it your way.”
“Tell me about these dreams you’ve been having.”
Lucas opened his eyes to see Dr. Wilkes sitting in a heavily padded armchair, a tablet on her lap, stylus between her fingers. Her large glasses had slipped down to the tip of her elegant nose and the slit up her black dress showed shapely long legs encased in white silk stockings with tiny black bows on them. He focused on them, on the curve of her calf and the demarcation between the whiteness of the fabric and the creaminess of her thigh.
“I’m not having any dreams,” he said, his mouth dry and pasty. “I haven’t had a dream in a really long time.”
Dr. Wilkes gazed at him wordless then brought the stylus into contact with the surface of the tablet to scribble something as she bit her puffy lower lip.
“I see,” she said. She gazed at the tablet while twirling the stylus between her fingers. “So, what’s going on with your band. Last time you were here, you had broken up Gravesnake and was in the process of forming a new one.”
“Yes,” he said, his eyes orienting on his shoes at the other end of the couch. “That’s right. I had put out an ad online and had several responses. The best one was this woman, I forget her name, but she was fantastic. She sent me a video of herself performing and I was totally blown away. I’m going to hire her on the spot. The drummer and bassist, though, I might have to hold auditions for. Nobody really stands out right now.”
Found an old notebook from 1992 with some unfinished stories in it.
The first story, dated 10-9-92, is called “Bleeding Universe.” I would have been 27. It begins:
The age of Automatic Teller Machines made Baxter Hoenig’s job as a night teller more dull than it would have been otherwise. No one had come in the bank since six and it was now nine. He had spent the entire time either reading a book or thinking of ways to make his life more enjoyable. There wasn’t much. His nights were ruined by the bank and he couldn’t afford to go to school with the tuition rising like it was. He was stuck.
At nine he locked up and went out into the lighted parking lot to his car, passing a disheveled man making exasperated sounds at the ATM. He didn’t give Baxter so much as a glance.
The parking lot was deserted. There had been a mini-mall sharing it with the bank, but the main store, a shopping center, closed up six months ago. It didn’t take long for all of the satellite stores to fold, as well, all except for the video rental shop. Those always did a brisk business. Baxter supposed he could do worse than the night teller job; he could be working there to midnight at the video place.
He reached his car, a dark blue Sentra, and unlocked the door. The key stuck in the lock for a moment, then went in. Strange, it had never done that before. He unlocked the door, then removed the key to examine it. There was not so much as the tiniest knick [sic] in the metal. The only thing he could figure was that the lock had been tampered with. He thought of getting a car alarm as he opened the door and slid inside.
He pulled out of the driveway onto the busy street, mostly kids illegally cruising on a Friday night. The loud thud of a repetitive beat jarred him along until he turned at the next light, heading toward and through downtown.
As he drove, he noted one of the buildings looked different somehow. It took him a moment to realize it was a different color. It was blue, now it was black. Hadn’t it been blue? Maybe it had been black all along. He drove this way every day, but rarely noticed his surroundings any more. It could have been black for a year and he wouldn’t have noticed.
A tiel [sic] car cut him off. He slammed on the brakes as the car slowed down.
“Idiot,” he mumbled, taking in the license plate number and car make. It was a Nissan Transporter. Funny, he’d never heard of that. He shrugged. They were always coming out with new model names. Besides, he never kept track what car companies were up to.
That’s the first page plus one paragraph. Seems to be a story about slipping into an alternate universe. After twelve handwritten pages, on 10-16-92, it abruptly ends.
That same day, I write half a page. There is no title:
Senator Phillip Wuesthoff said goodbye to the other fourteen Senators and switched off the image projector. None of the Senators had been in the same room, but with the projector, it had appeared that they were. Once the projector was switched off, all fourteen of them vanished. Senator Wuesthoff leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes.
“Father?” came a voice from the door speaker. “May I come in?”
“Open,” he said, using the code word that allowed entry into the conference room. His son, Vincent, walked in as the panel diminished its existence.
“How went the meeting?” Vincent asked.
“The Californians are on the rampage again,” the Senator said. “There’s been a strike at Yreka. Rape, pillage, murder… The Senators voted to use force to quell them.”
“Who are they sending?”
“General Waltis Bernadotti. Against my better wishes. After than blunder at Atascadero, the Senate should have clearly seen his lack of ability in defeating the Califs.”
“He’s Senator Bernadotti’s son, too,” said Vincent, giving the reason the General was chosen for duty.
It ends there. Not sure where that was going. Apparently, I didn’t then, either. The next page was begun 10-19-92, titled “Nuclear Windows.” This one I remember. It had to do with a weapon that created rotating, ever-expanding windows into other universes. In the margin, I wrote “Thx to Mike.” That must have been Mike Callaghan. I worked with him from 1991-1996 when he committed suicide. Not sure what I’m thanking him for. Surely not the story, since he wasn’t a particularly creative individual.
The story begins with California seceding from the union. Yes, they were talking about that even back then. I was living in Sacramento at the time and the story takes place in that area of the state. This story goes on for 54 handwritten pages, ending with the words, “DEAD [underlined twice] IN THE WATER! UNSENSIBLE STORY!!” Most of page 54 is crossed out. Looks like I got frustrated with it on 11-25-92 and quit.
The next story in the notebook is called, “While The Lighthouse Keeper Slept.” The note in the margin reads, “Make this happen in one nite.” Date started, 12-1-92. I’m guessing Thanksgiving spanned the gap between this one and the last.
The main character is Justin, a lighthouse keeper in the first lighthouse to have electric light. He is alone one night and starts seeing and hearing things. He hears a knock on the door, calls down, “Come in,” but no one is there. A delivery man visits and tells him maybe it was his lady friend. Justin tells the man he’s the only one there. Then he finally sees her climbing on the rocks during a storm. There’s another knock on the door, again with no one there. Then Justin dreams he’s the girl. She is confronted by her husband who accuses her of cheating and yanks her out of bed. He forces her into a boat, but she gets away. She spots the lighthouse and runs to it, screaming for help. She pounds on the door, but there’s no answer. Her husband catches up to her and tells her the lighthouse is abandoned. He comes after her with a knife and leaps at her. Justin wakes up and goes to the spot the girl had last been in the dream. He sees her there, her eyes pleading with him. She pointed down at the rocks. He sees a ship coming toward shore, a figure at the helm waving. He tells the man to stop, go back, the rocks, but the man shakes his head and points at the shore. Justin refuses to look and the ship continues on unscathed. Lightning flashes and Justin sees a body floating near the shore. The ghost appears, pleased with her job well done. The cops arrive and the last line reads:
The next day, Justin’s replacement arrived.
This story appears complete, but I don’t think I ever typed it up. It is a little over 11 handwritten pages long, the 2nd to last paragraph crossed out. The ending date is 12-9-92. This is actually a neat little story. I might publish it someday.
The rest of this notebook is blank.
I decided I wanted to become a professional writer when I was nineteen, in 1986. The first thing I can remember writing after that was a short story about a spacebus that had stops with what I thought were science-fiction names. The only stop I remember is Gorbachev. The story had no plot and I think was only a couple of pages, double-spaced. I typed on a Canon electronic typewriter then. There was no saving to disk! I don’t know if I still have that story. The first two novels I wrote (1987-88) were on this typewriter, called “Gallimaufry” and “A New Coast.” I still do have these and they are terrible.
I purchased an Amstrad computer in 1988 the novels I wrote in the years after that are not currently accessible to me. They are on 5 1/4″ floppies in WordPerfect 5.0 format. A particular fantasy novel that I spent a lot of time on got ruined one day when I removed the disk while it was saving. Two sections of the novels were lost. I was so despondent (angry) I never rewrote them. I remember twin girls that together had some kind of magic power, nothing else. I gave up on fantasy early, decided I had nothing new to add to the genre. That goes with vampires, werewolves and zombies. I leave them to other authors and, frankly, I have no interest in the subject.
I have written somewhere between 25-30 novels since 1986. I once had a chronological list of all my books, but no longer. I can’t remember the names of all of them. The number goes up if you count novels I couldn’t quite finish and even more if you count all of the little scraps that never got very far.
A few years ago, I decided to write a novel about a fictional character in ancient Rome. I had been reading Roman fiction and fact for many years and felt I had that world figured out and had some ideas that were interesting. Wrote about 100 pages before I burnt out on it. I had briefly published a short story called “The Kalends of Martius” on Lulu that was a condensed version of the attempted novel. I took it down after a while and it is not currently available.