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Rated: GC · Short Story · Paranormal · #2270160
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Jay awoke covered in sweat as he usually did when this particular nightmare invaded his sleep. A dream that he thought long gone had now returned, sporadically at first but now almost nightly. As a child, the same one would haunt him for years, and yet he never spoke a word of it.

Unlike the witch, who he was convinced lived under his bed that the entire family knew about, this particular dream felt different somehow, something not to be shared.

Jay kept that terror to himself during those years, living constantly in fear of what his mind's eye would conjure up when the lights went out and the rest of the house slept soundly, but that became difficult when it began to bleed into real life.

He would always be walking.

The street, although at first foreign to him, seemed vaguely familiar and, he would soon come to realise, the same on which his long-dead grandmother had once lived. It was at that moment of recognition that the sun gave way to clouds and, knowing what was to come, a sense of dread and impending doom.

The dream never changed. Once he walked the entire length of the street he would stop at the last house and with palms sweating and heart racing he would look into the window of an abode that had now long been ignored.

And he always saw the same thing.

The dining room where he had spent many nights as a boy eating his favourite cereal was unrecognisable. Chairs sat covered in the blackest of cobwebs, the arachnids inhabiting them demonic in their presence, while the cockroaches and the maggots danced in chunky soups of rotting flesh. The smell was overpowering. Jay knew this because he was no longer on the outside looking in. He was standing in his grandmother's dining room, transported by that invisible teleporter often found in dreams.

He gasped for clean air, inhaling nothing but putridity and willed himself to wake up, to no avail.

One lonely photograph of his grandmother hung on the wall covered in little devil spiders spewing acidic venom from their satanic fangs and he turned and looked at it from where he stood.

She was looking directly at him and through him and into him all at the same time. He could feel her stealing his soul yet he was powerless to look away.

And so he stared.

Both Jay and time stood still. He saw existence and extinction in those eyes, twin vortexes of evil containing the past, present, and future. Black pits of despair in which he would see his own demise brought to him by his Nan.

Her mouth opened wide, her vampirically sharp teeth glistening like African blood diamonds and she screamed a horrible scream that echoed painfully in his plasma-stained ears.

Jay stood watching frozen in fear as the photograph crashed to the floor, the kaleidoscopic glass shards turning to sunlight streaming in through a crack in the curtain illuminating both himself and the coke stained mirror and awakening him from his mind-bending adventure and laying him, bed first, back to reality. Or so he thought.

For years after they began, he had wondered why. Was it his fault? Was he the reason his grandmother was haunting him from beyond the grave in such a terrifying fashion? It left such a lasting impression on him that he could, before they started back up again that is, recall every moment, every frightening scene.

He would tell a few close friends as he got older but they were just surprised he could remember them after all the time that had passed. They didn't try to delve too deep into the root causes and underlying traumas and issues of what may have been a factor in said nightmares, it was hard enough dealing with their own problems. He would also write about them, a literal purging onto the pages of the demons of the deceased. Eventually, the dreams would disappear but the memory remained and although it seemed they had forgotten about him, they were now back and with a vengeance and no amount of whiskey would silence the screams.

***


The Pink Beard, as it's now known was the place to go to see real live music. None of that crap currently force-fed to teens with no meaning or musical substance but actual bands that played their own instruments and for the most part wrote their own songs.

Originally a blues club before it was taken over by the Italians during prohibition and turned into a swanky pizza joint with a secret downstairs speakeasy, it was now the place for punks, metal-heads, goths and all styles of rockers and rollers to drink and mosh and fight and fuck although to be fair the fighting was never a big issue and the fucking, blowjobs under the tables notwithstanding, was mostly kept to the bathrooms.

It was the music that kept the patrons coming back though, ever since back in the day. Sure, the place now smelt like a million gorillas smoking cigarettes in a sauna but the sweaty, stale atmosphere was one of unity, a primal concrete sledge in the dankness. A fun place to 'getcha pull' as the legendary guitarist whose facial hair was the inspiration for the venue’s name was once fond of saying.

Emily was finally getting out of the house, stepping away from the shadow of the canyon and venturing down into the heart of the city, where the seclusion and security that came with the zip code evaporated as soon as her Chucks hit the strip.

She had been wanting to go for some time, to sit down and have a drink at the same place that her hero had drank at, a real toast to the music which had saved her life. It was music she had grown up on, that she could rely on in times of need and hurt and pain and even with the violent, senseless death of her idol, it lived on.

She ordered her drink at the bar and sat down to immerse herself in the atmosphere.

It was known as a Black Tooth. Two shots of Crown Royal with a splash of Coke nailed back in one go, because as the saying goes, "it ain't no candy" and it most certainly was not but damn it tasted fucking good as did the refreshing swallow of beer that followed.

Music was playing, Judas Priest maybe, it was definitely the voice of the Metal God, she knew that much for sure.

"Fight." It was the bartender.
"Excuse me?"
"The band. You're wondering who it is."

How could he know that? Like seriously what the fuck.

"I could see you trying to figure it out while you were waiting for the beer. Sort of a thoughtful look on your face, that and your ears were straining."
"My ears were straining? What does that even mean?"
"Like you were trying to hear it better."
"Dude you are weird." He was cute though and she made a point to smile at him as she spoke. Her taste in men wasn't always what you would call responsible but the fact of the matter was she was just a sucker for a guy with ear plugs and Viking dreads.
"More whiskey?"

Everywhere she looked there were pictures and memorabilia of those that had visited here. People of all different colours united by music in various states of inebriation, many of them sadly no longer with us but living on in headphones and speakers across the world, still worrying parents that their children were being seduced by Satan.

Nearly all of those rock stars would absolutely say yes to more whiskey.

She ordered two and placed one on the Dime Shrine. Others were deserving also of the offering and after a few more drinks who knows, but there was only one that was the reason for her being here.
"Cheers Dime, getcha pull brother."

She swore she could hear him doing his Gene Simmons impersonation but whatever was thought to be heard was drowned out by a loud group of Punks entering with their safety pins and anarchy and leaving with a brief singalong, aggressive football songs with a few ‘oi oi ois’ thrown in for good measure. She watched them pass by and disappear right in front of her eyes. One minute they were there, and the next minute, vanished like they never existed.

Just like that, they were gone but the atmosphere had changed.

Ozzy Osbourne started telling a little ditty about a fairy and Emily downed her drink.

***


Surely Jay was still dreaming. Had to be because if not, then something seriously fucked up was going on here. He had woken up screaming, at least he thought he had, to find a strange red smoke pouring from beneath his bathroom door. It was coming from an open manhole cover, with steps disappearing into what looked like the bowels of hell, right where his toilet once was. He felt his asshole clench tight. The last thing he needed right now was to have to take a shit. A nervous chuckle escaped him at the thought of it. A slap to the face established the fact that he was wide awake, and the laughter stopped because now it meant that unless he was hallucinating, this was real, and he had to deal with it.

Where did the steps lead and why had they appeared in his bathroom of all places on this morning? There was only one way to find out and that meant descending down into the darkness.

The sound of blues was faint at first getting louder the further down he went. He could tell it was live but he heard no crowd. Maybe they were respectfully listening, stunned to silence as Jay was. The guitar wailed like the dead, and the cries of the restless echoed through these walls, bringing Jay to tears. He could feel the pain in those chords as if his own heartstrings were being contorted into beautiful music and then it was gone.

Jay pondered for a moment if he wasn't, in fact, dead and on the way to whatever lay beyond, or if he was being reborn, headed down the birth canal into the soul of a newborn baby, when he saw the light.

Turns out it was neither of those things and more like the time when as a kid, he and some of his friends decided it would be cool to go urban exploring in the storm-water drains underneath the town a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was dark and smelly, mysterious. Knowing that very few had visited those parts except for sanitation workers and the like, made it feel so secretive. He and his best friend Daniel were the only ones who didn't chicken out before they reached the end of those subsurface adventures. The claustrophobia was always too much for the others but Jay never turned back then and he wasn't about to start now.

The tunnel opened up to a cavern, not too spacious, but with enough room to dance if you wished, or sit with a drink and enjoy whoever happened to be on the stage that night. Except there was nobody on stage, no instruments or equipment. No crowd, no bartenders, nothing. The place was completely empty.

But what about the music? Tell me you heard that.
The voices in his head were beginning to ask questions.
An apartment above us, probably. Relax.
Don’t be telling me to relax. Look at where the hell we are and how we even got here. It’s a psychotic break, how do you like that.
“How about you both shut up."

Now was not the time to freak out. Jay took a breath. Breathing meant he was alive, which was something. He willed his inner squabbling to cease and tried to focus. No longer could he return down the passageway he had come. It was no longer there.
Unless he could find an exit, or a sign, or an exit sign, he would be trapped.

The light of a bathroom flickered to life. Swinging back and forth in the darkness, it beckoned him and he followed.
The smell, when Jay squeaked open the door, was horrendous. Spilt beer and human excrement that somehow stank as if it had been locked in for years poured out over him, attacking his naval cavities.

It seemed to be a regular men's room.
All these bathrooms are because your career is in the toilet, you know that right?

Just the one voice this time.

There were three stalls, the first two with doors wide open, with the third being closed, a small urinal built for two, and a mirror with a sink. Toilet paper, hardened by time, remained glued to the ceiling, an old drunk prank but a cheap thrill regardless. Graffiti lined the walls. He wondered if Jane would still give him a good time if he called. Doubtful. He did need to piss though. His bladder had been crying out for relief ever since he woke up, it's a wonder it hadn't leaked already. He patted his crotch, yep, still dry. Thank fuck for that.

He could hear music again.

Maybe you have a brain tumour.
Shut up.
Could be why you’re having auditory and visual hallucinations.
I said shut up.
Do you have a headache?
Yeah, you.
Brain tumour.
Fuck you.
Perhaps you are dead already.


That slow soulful sound of the Delta Blues, built from years of oppression and slavery that he had heard earlier in the tunnel was now being replaced by a faster, much more entitled noise. It sounded like punk but not quite, like it was still evolving into the genre. Jay pictured Mohawks, safety pins and pints of British Ale. Not to mention, an intense hatred of the Queen.

This time there was no doubt it was coming from the stage.

***


I saw it, I saw it, I tell you no lie.

Those lyrics echoed in her mind. She saw it, with her own two eyes. Any other time she heard that song she found it whimsical and fun but now it sounded menacing and evil.

She could feel her heart thumping inside her chest, in sync with the bass line and, if you’ve never heard it, not the regularity in which anyone would want their heart to be beating. Something was seriously wrong here. She tried to tell herself it was only a panic attack, but she knew something didn't seem right here. It was as if all the positive energy in the place had been sucked up like a vortex and suddenly replaced with nothing but a negative one.

She tried to calm herself down, she had learnt some breathing techniques to deal with anxiety while on a yearlong trek through Borneo after the death of her father and she tried implementing them now, to no avail. Nauseous and afraid, she stumbled into the empty bathroom and opened the stall door.

Emily screamed when she saw him, the initial shock causing her to stumble backwards and onto her ass. A man, though she could see right through him, so she guessed he had to be a ghost right, was at the end of his rope. She watched his foot pass back and forth through the porcelain as it swung like a glitch in the matrix, keeping the spirit of this man in both worlds. Emily closed her eyes, hoping that when she reopened them, he would be gone, nothing but a mirage brought on by a seedy bartender hoping to get into her pants.

***


Jimmy 'Jive Turkey' Jones or Jive as he was so affectionately referred to, was a Delta Blues prodigy in the same vein as Robert Johnson, and definitely, the most popular performer to frequent The Basement as it was then aptly named during the blues era. He would often sit in with the house band and afterwards get completely obliterated on champagne and reefer. Much like Robert Johnson and the rumour that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for virtuoso playing, many said that Jimmy Jones had also swapped his spirit for skill, a rumour that grew even more so when he was found dead in the bathroom age 27. Some say he overdosed, others say he was murdered by forces unseen and many have sworn they have seen and heard him play, for years after his death. Even to this day.

***


Jay was never a big fan of the blues. He understood that it was the foundation of all the rock music he knew and loved but as far as the image of a toothless black dude playing the guitar on the streets of New Orleans, he just couldn’t dig it. It was too depressing. There were some of those guys he could appreciate but for the most part, it just wasn’t his thing. He liked his music aggressive, with groove, a heavy metal sledgehammer to the skull that moved you and made you want to bust some heads.

His earlier emotional reaction to the music he was hearing, nothing more than the entirety of his surroundings and the fact he was having one weird-ass day, and although he didn’t love punk, he didn’t hate it either, in fact, he had been to a few punk shows back in the day that were quite good, but it tended to be kids who thought they could sing and play, who liked to drink and fight. Punk didn’t give a fuck, especially back then and Jay appreciated the attitude, but they just didn’t have the technical ability.

Pantera did, however, according to Jay, that was. The greatest heavy metal band on the planet, as far as he was concerned. The aggressive electricity that buzzed in the air the first time he saw them live was like nothing else. It was as if at any moment something was about to explode, whether that be in a positive release of negative energy, or violence. From the moment they started, there was nothing to do but bang your head and bounce with the riffs. The singer growled menacingly across the stage, attacking the microphone with murderous intent as if he had once been wronged by it and the crowd slammed in unison. Those at the front who knew the words sang along and as is customary and always a pleasure, boobs were flashed. Good times.

He was standing there reminiscing, lost in his own thoughts of gigs gone by, when the stall banged open, startling him back to the here and now. The music had stopped and at first, he could hear what sounded like someone struggling to breathe. It was a desperate noise, preceded by a final gasp and an unnerving gargling noise. He turned around, hairs on his neck standing up as he did so. A foreboding tingle ran up and down his spine and he shivered as if somebody was walking over his grave.

He had only ever seen a dead body once before, back in school when a bunch of guys decided it would be fun to go on a hike to take a look at some poor guy who got himself splattered by a train. By the looks of it, he had been there for some time, rotten and forgotten with only the bugs for company. They crawled all over his lifeless cadaver, sometimes emerging from the holes where his eyes used to be, only to disappear back into another crevice such as his mouth or an ear. The jeans and t-shirt he put on that day were nothing but tattered rags, eaten by the elements.

This time there were no worms. Just a man in a bathroom stall, hanging from a rope with a noose around his neck, pissing his pants. In the bowl, a final turd that Elvis would have been proud of but Elvis would never know him.

The music Of Jimmy Jones never did reach the king.

It did reach Jay, however. Thinking that perhaps he could save him, it had in fact been only minutes since he stopped breathing and Jay was sure he had read somewhere that the body took four minutes or so to completely die, he tried to figure out a way to get him down but as soon as Jay touched the body, things changed.

It was like a bolt of lightning bursting into his temple followed by a blinding white flash. He saw his face on that body. For a brief moment he was staring back at a ghost of himself and he felt that pain. The pain of a man who could no longer outrun his past, who after years of trying to hide from his mental and physical demons, had finally given himself no other choice but to seek solace in his own extinction.

There was a new pain. All of a sudden Jay was looking back at himself, with a look of sheer terror on his face. He felt the burning in his throat from the rope which was now around his neck and he clawed desperately to somehow loosen the death grip which was now claiming his life.

He tried to get a footing on the toilet but he was just out of reach. The other Jay just stood there, frozen in fear. He wasn’t sure he was even conscious, there didn’t seem to be too much light in here. Not that he could talk. Literally. His airways were being cut off and he was starting to see stars. Oxygen deprivation, no doubt. Make a man see crazy shit. Stuff nobody would ever believe like an insane salvia trip just shooting you all across the galaxies through time from one being to another. He knew he was panicking, I mean who wouldn’t right? This was not the way he wanted to go though. Here of all places. Wherever this was.

Darkness was coming and it was coming fast. He thought he saw himself awake from his mind-fuck and try to help. He thought he heard music. Old, dirty Blues.

Somehow, he knew who it was.

Then everything turned black.

***


Although the ghost of the hanging man was gone when Emily opened her eyes, she was not alone. Standing in front of her was someone else, hopefully, someone real, if the lack of translucence was anything to go by. He turned around from the empty stall with a look of confusion on his face.

“Are you real?” he whispered.
Emily was caught off guard for a second by the question. Here he was wondering if she was real when she was thinking the same.
“Yeah, I’m real, are you real?”
“I’m real.”
“So am I.”
“And you are in the Ladies Room because why exactly?”

There was no way he worked here, he looked like he had slept in the clothes he was wearing. He didn’t look wasted but by the looks of him, and Emily liked those looks, he definitely partook.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
She was curious now.
“Try me.”

And so, he told her what he knew, which wasn’t a lot really. He skipped over the contents of his dream, he was not about to let that out to someone he had only just met, starting from when he awoke until now. She gasped when he mentioned the hanging man her eyes letting him know that she had seen it too.

Emily knew even before he finished that he was telling the truth but she listened till the end before relaying her own account of the night’s events, she told of her ghostly encounters, excluding for whatever reason, the bathroom spectre.
“I could really do with a drink or two to take the edge off, then I suggest we get the fuck outta this place.”

Emily could do well without any more drinks until she was in the comfort of her own home but hell, if that’s what this guy needed to get the courage flowing, so be it. Far from her to judge considering the night they were both having.

“Oh, and the name’s Jay.”
“Emily.”
“Nice to meet you, Emily. Circumstances notwithstanding and all but for real it is a pleasure.” And it was a pleasure. If Jay had a type, then it was this sexy little creature standing before him. That whole rock chick look with the piercings and the tattoos and, oh my god, the purple hair. Praise be.
Yeah, good luck with that.
Shut up.

If Jay was crazy, then so was Emily. At that very moment, if he had stood up and declared himself in a Manson-like way as the new messiah, she would have blindly followed, ready to submit, and even if he didn’t, she might just follow him anyway. After all, he had that piercing that she liked.

If it wasn’t for the lone bartender eerily polishing a pint glass, Jay would have sworn that the place was closed. They had walked in silence to the bar, without seeing a single soul and although there was a strong sense of dread in the air as if En Minor had finished a set. Jay couldn’t help but admire the decor. This was the kind of place that he would usually be found in, the place where outcasts, freaks and rejects, now a trend but once shunned, could come together and party. where he was with his people, getting wasted and rocking out. There was no party here however, the place was dead.

His first drink went down fast.

“Do you have a plan?” he asked in between sips. “Cos I for one have no idea what is going on.”
“I just want to go home to the comfort of my dog and my laptop.”

As she said those words she knew that wasn’t entirely the truth. She felt some kind of unspoken bond with Jay, a connection that was hard to ignore and although yeah, she did want to go home, she didn’t want to go alone.

Jay wasn’t quite sure what he felt, or maybe it was the fact that he felt too many things, the insanity of the day was something he was still trying to wrap his head around. There was definitely something about Emily though, she felt familiar to him, like he had known her in another life.

“Well, I’m not exactly keeping you here, I do have my own shit to deal with but if you need company or help or whatever, then I’m happy to help.” He downed his second drink. “Shall we go then?", he asked.

As he slammed his glass on the table, the lights went out.

***


She squeezed his hand, acknowledging in the affirmative. There was something within the walls here, they could both hear it. A slow shuffling sound, stalking them and bringing with it such a stench of decay, that Jay had to pull his shirt up over his nose to try and block some of it out, to no avail.

“I found a door” Although the shirt over Emily's nose muffled her voice somewhat, Jay heard the relief clearly. That relief was short-lived however because as soon as her fingers touched the doorknob, the jukebox came to life once more.

The light in the window is a crack in the sky. They both knew the song. They both, unbeknown to each other, worshipped at the throne of Sir Ozzy and they both felt the relevance of it and the timing of its playing. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come. For the most part maybe, but he had already seen the stairway to darkness. It was how he ended up in this mess in the first place.

The red light goes on to say it’s time to begin.

Emily had yet to open the door, she, like him, was lost in the music.
And then he saw it. The light. It was coming from beneath the door.
“Open doors so I walk inside” Jay sang, with the appropriate Hetfield twang, bringing Emily back into the moment.
“Dude, did you just quote Load-era Metallica at me?” She had to laugh at it but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t a little bit disappointed that of the albums to quote from he would use this one. It was her least favourite of all their albums though she did think that particular song was pretty kick ass.
“It was the first thing that came to me, If I had to really think about it I’m sure I could come up with something but it’s not really at the top of my list of priorities right now”
“No More Tears is relevant enough but yeah I get your point” Emily’s hand was on the doorknob.

Jay wasn’t exactly keen to see what was on the other side but he also knew that he had no choice. The light called to him. It whispered his name.

Emily opened the door as a Wylde solo played.

“Holy fucking shit, it’s him” They looked at each other briefly in the realisation that they had both said the exact same thing out loud, and then back to what had caused them to do so.

There he sat upon the stage, surrounded at least by one hundred people, and bathed in a deep red glow. The same man they had both witnessed hanging in a bathroom stall. The same man whose music had moved Jay to tears and yet here he was, pouring his soul out through his instrument to the people lucky enough to witness this intimate and amazing performance.

“His name is Jimmy” Jay whispered softly to Emily. He didn’t want to stop the show or have anyone in the audience point them out. He had a feeling they were intruding, spying on something secret. Interruptions would not be tolerated.
“How do you know?” Emily answered back, not taking her eyes off what she was seeing.
“I just do”

They stood and watched him as he played, the passion clearly evident in his movements and mannerisms. The hair on Jay’s arms stood up when he began to sing. The words coming from his mouth were so painfully personal yet so universal as to be interpreted in any way by anyone. It was one of the things he loved about music. It didn’t matter who you were, it didn’t matter where you came from, you were united by the music, the creative genius that for a moment you could relate to and be a part of and it felt incredible because you could feel it, and you knew everyone else was feeling it too. It moved you.

Jay felt that now, and so did Emily, but for her, there was something else in the air besides a sweet soulful tune. She watched the crowd. They sat quiet, a little too quiet for her liking. Perhaps they were enthralled with what they were hearing, as Jay seemed to be but there was no movement whatsoever. At first, she thought maybe there was a special retro event going on here tonight, everyone had dressed the part and she even thought she saw one of those girls that walk around and sells cigarettes. This fancy dress party really went all out she thought to herself. That could well have been true except for the fact that this guy, Jimmy, if Jay was correct, and she had no reason to believe he wasn’t, whose ghost she had seen earlier, was now alive and well, playing the star again.

The speed at which his fingers moved across his axe was insane. A new entity was being created, one which would eventually spawn across space and time and be responsible for countless imitators.
When the song ended there was no applause.

Jay snapped back to it once the only sound was the echoing distortion reverberating through the speaker, the music’s mesmerising effects dissolving away ever so slightly.
“Oh my god Jay look.” she was really digging her fingers into his arm hard, he was sure it would bruise. The audience was gone and with no evidence left behind to show they were even there. All staff had also disappeared, leaving just the three of them. He felt that familiar knot in his stomach, today was already enough of a mind-fuck and it damn sure wasn’t getting any less strange.

For Emily this was not at all how she pictured this night going, she could feel her sense of calm disintegrating as time went on, her blood pressure, something she was paranoid about lately, probably through the roof. Though she wasn’t about to admit it to him, nor to her, they were both scared. Forget the breathing exercises, Emily was happy just to breathe.
“Where did they go? They didn’t just up and leave”

As nauseous as Jay felt about this new development, the disappearance of the crowd into thin air was the least of his problems. Though he wasn’t sure how, he knew they weren’t real, just ghostly apparitions He was more concerned about Jimmy, he was no longer focused on his instrument but rather, glaring up at them standing in the darkness. Jay knew from experience that with the house lights down and the light on the stage, they were invisible in their position but that didn’t stop their presence from being acknowledged.

The spotlight now shone on them, blinding them both temporarily as the voice of Jimmy boomed through the speaker with a deep, southern bass.
“You don’t belong here.”

It caused the hair on each of their arms to prick up and in Emily’s case, she could actually see her own blood coursing through her veins as if her skin were translucent.

Jay was the only thing stopping her from having a full-blown panic attack. He had a tight grip on her hand and although he looked calm on the outside, she could feel how fast his pulse was beating, but the way his thumb was gently stroking her skin was soothing enough for her not to freak.

Jay remained silent. Turning back from whence they came was no longer a possibility, what with a door once again no longer in existence, or at least not in this one. What the fuck’s with the doors, he thought to himself. Although the theatre they had found themselves in was quite generously sized, there didn’t seem to be any exits, at least from what he could see. He was scared, no doubt about it, not that he would admit that to Emily and the last thing he wanted to do was go down to get closer to Jimmy but he also knew that this man was a piece in this paranormal puzzle, and he had no other choice. Surely she knew that too, she had seen him, although she had seen his ghost, he was sure he had seen him in the here and now, or then, or wherever and whenever the hell he was. There had to be a reason why they were all reunited, except this didn’t feel so good. No, not at all.

She resisted when he realised where they were going, as he assumed she would. He still had a hold of her hand, firm enough that she could not break free. Not that she was a captive but the last thing he needed was trying to find her if she got lost or did herself a mischief.
“I know you don’t know me but you need to trust me right now, we need to do this. You know who that is and so do I. Maybe he can help us.”
He spoke softly and urgent to her, doing his best not to show any fear or let her hear the shakiness in his voice. At first, he wasn’t sure if she was listening but then he felt her muscles relax, not a lot, but enough that allowed her to be led, willingly, to the stage.
“We’re nearly there”
“You said that an hour ago”

It was true. For as long as they had been coming down from the balcony, step by step, they didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the stage, while down below, Jimmy sat strumming sombre notes, waiting patiently.
“We have to keep going, down, unless you have a better idea”

He was confident in the fact there were no other options, neither of them had noticed any exits, which stood to reason there must be one on the ground floor.
“Please don’t let me die down here” There was no mistaking the terror in her voice.
“I won’t”
He didn’t promise her. Too many of those had he broke throughout the years. Right there and then he had an epiphany that he was done with that.
“It feels like there is something in every seat and they are all watching us”
Jay didn’t respond, he just gripped her hand tighter and continued on down.

When they entered the ground floor area Jimmy went from strumming aimlessly to something entirely different and for a moment the fear that was festering in Jay turned to exhilaration and excitement. This song was his jam, from the first time he heard it in high school he was floored by its brutality. Though nowadays most people only know it from that stupid Ace Ventura movie, for him, it was his induction into the death metal genre.

And now, heading to the stage, he kind of felt like how he imagined the wrestler Vampiro felt when his theme hit and he made his way from the rafters to the ring. The song pumped him up and made him want to crack some heads, even if it was to an empty theatre.
He didn’t stop to wonder why Cannibal Corpse’s Hammer Smashed Face was the song being played.

Emily didn’t know the song and if she did, she wouldn’t have liked it. She hated that genre of music, not that it was violent, which it was, but because the majority of the violence was perpetrated against women. Not that she was a crazy feminist or anything, but the lyrical content was usually pretty serial killer-ish.

Applause erupted as soon as they reached the stage and the music stopped. Jay turned around to see every seat filled and roaring with joy. Lost in a moment for eternity. He saw people he recognised, famous faces of legends no longer with us and so immersed in the scanning of those faces was he that he failed to see Jimmy head somewhere backstage.

Emily hadn't seen where he went either, like Jay she was too busy looking at the people. She had turned around when a crowd just appeared out of nowhere but continued to look once she started spotting some people. Dead people.

This was an audience of the damned.

“Yo, we gotta go” it was the confidence in his voice that snapped her back to it, making her feel like he knew what he was doing. Her mind flashed back to earlier, and the thought of joining his cult. She smiled to herself, knowing that the first thing she would be doing when this was all over was jumping Jay’s bones.

If Jay knew how she felt, he wasn’t letting on just yet. He was determined to find a way out of here, leading Emily up and onto the platform, past the curtain, into a place that some may go so far as to call sacred.

***

Legends lived and died backstage. It was a rowdy and infamous scene where nothing was ever off-limits. You took advantage of being able to get whatever you wanted, and that included, plenty of women.

It was a pretty much well-known fact, especially in the music business, that you either had to know someone or blow someone to gain admittance. Sometimes, if the stories of Mud Shark molestation and exploding anal bananas were true, even that wasn’t always enough. The golden ticket as it were, was the Access All Areas pass. If you had that baby around your neck nowhere was off-limits.

Jay spent a lot of time backstage in the past and not once did he need to put anyone’s appendage in his mouth, something he was extremely grateful for. He was guilty, however, of degrading and abusing those wannabe groupies who would do whatever it took to meet their heroes, something he fully expected to come back and bite him in the ass one day.

He knew from previous experience that once you got off stage and down the small set of stairs, the corridor was the only way to go. It led first to the dressing rooms, where a few beverages and some illegal drugs were often ingested and then out to where the rental car or tour bus was waiting, depending on your status as well as the beggars and hangers-on, pleading desperately one last time to be taken for a ride.

Usually, the walls would be sporadically lined with equipment. Speakers, guitar cases, luggage, that sort of thing but in this case, they were bare, not even a creative little piece of graffiti or fun little anecdote about someone’s mother. If it wasn’t for the fact that the lights were on, you could be forgiven for thinking that nobody had been down here in a long time.

Emily had only ever been backstage once before and it looked nothing like this.
She had gone with a friend to see a show she had been waiting forever to see. Her friend, Lauren, her best friend, wasn’t really a fan of real music, she loved that mumble rap shit, but she was easily bribed with promises of cold gin, which is what they plied themselves with before heading out.

That night they were filming for their home video, telling the crowd so and demanding we ‘go fucking apeshit’ and so with inhibitions lowered and t-shirts raised, Emily and Lauren jumped around.

Someone must have liked what they saw because during the show they were asked by security if they wanted to meet the guys. Of course they did. After the gig, security gave them their passes and were told to follow. They ended up at the back of the tour bus and as soon as the introductions were done, shots were poured. Everyone was plastered. The night ended with Emily gangbanged by an entire nine-piece metal band. Costumes and all.

That was another life ago and after tonight, if she never went out again, she was totally fine with that.

“I don’t feel so good, we need to get the fuck out, now.” She could hear the panic begin to rise in her voice on that final word and took a deep breath, holding it, counting to five.
“You said ‘holy fucking shit, it’s him', we both said it, do you remember that?” Jay asked. Emily nodded, she was feeling queasy again, using the wall to stop herself from falling.
“So where did you see him before?” Jay knew that Emily had seen Jimmy hanging but he wanted to hear it from her. She looked into his eyes, my god they were so blue, she could feel the blood rushing from her face and her nether-regions beginning to tingle. Was she serious right now? Of all the times to start getting all wet. She pushed it out of her mind.
“I saw him in the bathroom, the one you magically appeared in, it was like you said. He was hanging but he wasn’t really there, I mean he was, but he wasn’t. I could see right through him. A fucking ghost.”

Jay started walking. Emily instinctively followed.
“I didn’t see a ghost. At least I’m pretty sure I didn’t. I saw a dead dude, a flesh and blood dead dude, less flesh than dude mind you and I saw him, as did you, on stage, right, and he sure as hell looked real to me, though who can say, seeing as my whole reality has been just a tad skewed since I got out of bed this morning but the guy I saw looked real yet I saw his demise through his own eyes, and for some reason, I know his name and, obviously we both know he is a musician and maybe the whole reason…” He knew he was rambling and tried to put a lid on it.
“I think he is the key to all of this.”

He was definitely an important piece of the puzzle, of that, they both were certain.
“Not sure what him being a musician has anything to do with but anyways, that’s your plan? Find this guy and then what? Emily had a crazy feeling she wasn’t getting out alive.
“I’m really not sure.”
I have a really bad feeling about this, just so we’re clear.
Jay didn’t respond, but he had that same bad feeling.

***


Emily screamed, shattering the silence like the glass that broke behind her. She turned around to come face to face with something not of this world. She knew the face, the hat he wore, universally recognised but this was something else, something undead like. The shock of that realisation quickly turned to fear when it opened its mouth and begin to eat at her face, her screams quickly reduced to bloodied gurgles, as the thing continued to feed.

There was nothing Jay could have done to save her, he saw what was happening and froze in terror. There was no way that what he was seeing was real, it couldn’t be. And yet it was. When the monster was done, it dropped Emily’s now headless body to the floor, the dead thump echoing loudly in the shadows, and looked at Jay with annihilational intent. He turned and ran, for his life, for Emily’s, for the hope that this nightmare would soon be over.

He ran until he thought his lungs would explode, through a never-ending hallway until he could go no further, collapsing in a breathless heap to await his fate. There was a slow scurrying in the distance and it was then he recognised it as the same sound they had both heard earlier. It had been stalking them. He had outrun it for now but while he cowered on the floor like a bitch, the thing was getting closer, like a plague of bubonic rats bringing black death. He had to keep moving unless her wanted to end up like Emily. He couldn’t believe she was gone, if she even existed at all that was, fact was that at this point Jay had no fucking idea what was real and what wasn’t but he to go with the flow, follow the yellow brick road as it were.

It was death chasing him, Jay knew that. The odour was all around. It had been lurking in his shadows ever since he could remember and now it was after him. It had always been after him. It didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry however and it was that fact that allowed Jay to get some gas back in his tank, get to his feet, and create distance.

***


Jay knew who it was behind the piano immediately when he went through the door, but it took a moment for him to get the song. It was as out of place as he felt and as out of place as Jimmy looked with his cheap, wrinkled suit and unruly hair. He looked alive though, if you didn’t know better, but Jay did. Although Jimmy’s face remained forever young, it was the eyes that were the dead giveaway. The patrons, who looked like mobsters, mind you, weren’t paying any attention to him, dressed in their fancy three-piece garbs, they were focused on each other and their drinks. Nobody reacted to Jay either, he would quickly come to realise he was invisible to them, though that didn’t stop him from walking around the tables and trying not to bump into anybody or anything. He could still smell pizza but it was faint and slowly being overpowered by fine cigars and whiskey. The latter being something Jay could do with, the buzz from the last ones long gone.

When the song finished, a mocking version of Just Because by Jane’s Addiction, Jimmy rose from his stool to the continued clinks and murmurs of ghosts of Italians past and looked directly into the eyes of Jay.
He saw recognition and fear in the eyes of Jimmy.
“Are you here to kill me, why are you haunting me?”
Jay was stunned.
“Seriously, are you kidding right now?”

He swore he was going insane.

“I saw you at one of my shows, but that was years ago, you can’t be here, it’s not possible.”
Jay wasn’t about to get started on what was possible and wasn’t possible, hell, even Mission Impossible was possible. He did however explain that no, it hadn’t, couldn’t have been years ago, because the show had only recently finished. It may have been hours, it sure felt like a lot of hours but years, absolutely not. Jimmy had no recollection of seeing either Jay or Emily before that which was not surprising considering the fact he was dead. There was a flicker in Jimmy’s eyes when he was told about being found hanging in a bathroom stall that Jay didn’t know how to interpret.
“Ah yes, you had a friend with you. Whatever did happen to her”?

Jay had already promised himself that he would never forget Emily but now was not the time for mourning.
“We don’t have a lot of time, I’m pretty sure I’m still being followed but you need to trust me”
The last time you said that you got someone killed.
He hoped it was the last time.

Although the crowd may not have been able to see Jay, they were beginning to get a little agitated now that the music had stopped. Jimmy sensed this and immediately sat back down.
“What are you doing? We gotta go, now!”

Not only was there the worked up audience they had to deal with, but Jay could also hear that familiar scurrying getting closer.
“I can’t stop playing, I just can’t.” Jimmy launched into a jazzy number that Jay didn’t recognise.
“What do you mean, you can't stop playing? You’re my way out of here”

His anger was starting to override his fear and he did his best to not explode, he had a feeling that the crowd could sense this as their voices were raised at the outburst. Jimmy said nothing, instead, he played louder and louder until it was impossible to hear each other. Jay didn’t have time to stand around shouting and trying to convince him. He needed to find a way out and fast, with, or without Jimmy, it seemed.

Around him the crowd were raising their voices argumentatively, excreting a strong sense of violence.

Emily’s voice in his head cut above it all, powerful and with knowledge, at least he thought it was in his head, until he saw her. She beckoned for him to follow her and so he did. More hallways, more tunnels, more stairs, oh my. Jay needed water.

A bathroom, and not just any bathroom, but his own. Except, it wasn’t. He splashed his face with water and guzzled from the tap, he made a conscious effort not to drink too much too fast, lest he get sick like that time in his early teens when he went to see Slayer. He had gone hard in the pit, and at its conclusion, needing hydration, had speedily ingested a good amount of tap water. On the way home it came up, without warning, in his mate's car. No drugs or alcohol involved.

Emily had disappeared back into the ether, a lost soul that Jay would forever carry guilt over. It took him a moment to recognise the man staring back at him, his beard had grown exponentially fast and his eyes were hollow black patches of despair. A shadow of his former self, and that was saying something considering his rock and roll lifestyle. Something he most certainly would be reconsidering once this was all over. The reflection in the mirror changed. He saw what had to be done now and how to do it.

Jay just hoped it worked.

He busted open the door and there was Jimmy. The fear was all over his face. “Leave me be, demon, I’m too tired to fight you.” It was said with no authority, a last-ditch effort to save himself.
“I’m trying to save you. Please do not do what I think you are going to do. Now listen to me, you need to come through this door with me. You might think you know what is on the other side but trust me, and I know I’ve said that before, but you don’t. We need to go now or we will both die. Please, there’s no time.” Jay pleaded with him.
“How do I know this is not a trick? For so long now you have been haunting me, and now here you are again, after all these years to collect the final debt.” It was the price he had to pay to play the game.
“Look” Jay replied, “all I know is that I need to stop you from ending up hanging from that” He pointed at the rope, the shadow it created on the wall behind it a ghoulish reminder that death is always lurking. “Behind that door, you will be forever free and you will never see my face again”

Jimmy still wasn’t convinced. Jay played his last hand.
“You get to be Jimmy ‘Jive Turkey’ Jones, again, in whatever era you wish.”
His eyes lit up at that. “Well, why didn’t you say so, brother, let’s go.”
“I’ll be right behind you,” Jay replied, knowing full well he would not be.
In the blink of an eye, he was gone and Jay was left alone with his own door to go through.

He took a deep breath and stepped in and almost got himself hit by a car.

He was out on the street. Normal people walked around and drove around and here he was a tad disorientated and walking out into traffic. The driver would later upload his dashcam footage online, showing a man appearing through a closed door out of nowhere and going headfirst into traffic.

It was the bar. The Pink Beard. Pretty cool name, Jay thought, I mean who wasn’t a Dime fan? Emily sure was. He couldn’t get her out of his head and wasn’t sure he ever would. This whole experience was something he was pretty sure he would never forget.

The vibe was different now like a dark cloud had lifted. There was still the deathly stalker, the one who stalked all, to contend with eventually, but it felt hopeful, although he still had no idea where he was. He half expected Motley Crue to walk past, androgynously wasted and arrogant. The line to get inside was long, and nearly all who wanted to enter looked like a regular 9 to 5 was off the cards for them. These were the outcasts, the rejects, the heavy metal hoodlums, just like Jay. These were his people and surely one of them would be keen to help.
“Excuse me, can you tell me what town this is” He tapped the shoulder of the person in front of him as he asked, the butterflies in his stomach, nauseously fluttering when he saw who it was.
“Oh my god, Emily, you’re alive.”

There was no recognition at all on her face.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
His heart sank. It was her, he knew it was her. She was wearing the same shirt for Christ's sake.
“We just went through hell together, you…,” he didn’t want to say it. “How are you here?”
“Look dude, you better get the fuck away from me, I don’t know you.” who the fuck was this guy, Emily wondered, looking all desperate and hobo like. Shame, she thought, a shower and a shave and this guy might look alright.
“Listen to me, you can’t go in there, it doesn’t end well for you.” Jay realised that may have come off as a threat. “Please don’t.”

There was something in his eyes on that last sentence that made her hesitate. He was genuinely afraid for her. At that moment she felt him, felt every one of his emotions. It poured out of him and she absorbed all of it. It caused her to shake uncontrollably and worried that she might pass out, she sat her ass down, less of a sitting and more of a crumbling really.

They sat until the sun came up, forever bonded. Jay told a fantastical story, one that she wasn’t entirely sure she believed. But he believed it and she was pretty sure he wasn’t high, though he could be crazy, and wouldn’t entertaining this outlandish outburst, mean she was crazy also? It was almost too much to comprehend.”

“I don’t know about you but I need something to eat, don’t suppose you know somewhere?”
“Funny you should ask” she replied, “because I sure could go some pizza right about now.”
Jay thought of Jimmy, who he would never see again. He knew he was stone free and jamming out there somewhere or when, unshackled of curses and burdens.

Holding hands as they walked away, neither of them heard the faint sound of familiar scurrying, far behind them.


THE END


9673 words.
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