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Farewell Engagement

by Lincoln Crisler

“Dude,” Jared hung up the phone and ran his fingers through his spiky black hair. “That was Preston. He got us another gig.”

Preston, the band’s effeminate, emo-styled manager, had put together a regional tour for the Veins, and the kids had spent the last three weeks of their summer rocking out in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They were spending next week in New Jersey before playing the local stage at the Warpit Tour. There was no better way to finish the summer before senior year, in Jared’s mind.

“You mean, on top of what’s already lined up?” Tim tossed his guitar on the bed, opened the door of their cheap hotel room and lit a cigarette.

“Yeah, man. Some little club outside Philly, before we shoot into Jersey for next week’s shows. We need to be there tonight.”

“Man, tonight was our night off,” Mike muttered as he came out of the shower, towel wrapped around his waist.

“The guy told Preston he’d pay five grand. Besides, we won’t be traveling with the geek today. He’s going to meet us in Jersey day after tomorrow.”

“Five grand, eh,” Tim mused. “It’s worth it, Mikey. Besides, when we hit it big, we’re going to have to deal with a lot more crap than just playing an extra show.”

* * *

“Ugh. Look at this place.” Tim shifted into neutral and pulled the parking brake. The parking lot was cracked and pitted with potholes and the building itself looked condemned; soot-stained bricks, broken windows and rusty gutters. A stray cat cried from a nearby alley as Jared and Mike began unloading the van.

“Anyone else think it’s odd that the owner of a place like this is giving us five grand?” Mike grunted as Jared dropped his end of a large amp. “Dammit, man.”

“Sorry.” Jared grimaced as he hoisted the case once more.

“Maybe it’s one of those places that looks better on the inside,” Tim laughed.

“Anything would look better than this.”

They made two trips into the club without seeing anyone else. The place looked abandoned. The stage was dirty, the tables were dusty and the floor was covered with cigarette butts, old concert fliers and congealed, ages-old, spilled drinks.

“Who the hell is going to come here?” Mike grumped as he and Jared lugged the drums onto the stage.

“Oh, this place will be packed in a couple hours. Believe me, our patrons are very eager for a taste of something new.” A tall, thin man stepped out of the manager’s office. He brushed a wispy cobweb from his thick blonde hair and extended his hand to Jared.

“No offense to your place, man,” Jared said apologetically, “But it could use a bit of upkeep.” The manager’s hand was cold and clammy, and Jared pulled his hand back quickly when the man released it.

The thin man shrugged and cracked a razor-tipped smile. “You guys are punkers, right? I’ll write you a check after the show. I’m Dino, by the way.” Dino shook hands with Mike and Tim and shuffled back to the office.

“Man, that dude seemed a bit off,” Mike mused as the band went back to the van for their guitars.

“As long as the check clears,” Jared laughed, wiping his hand on his faded jeans.

* * *

By the time the Veins set up their equipment, did a quick sound check and walked across the street to get some beers, the club was still empty.

“Not that I’d want to drink there anyhow,” Mike grinned.

“You’d think the help would have shown up by now.” Tim pulled out his fake ID and walked up to the bar to order a pitcher.

“Even if no one shows up,” Jared reassured him when he came back, “That guy’s writing us a check or Preston will have his ass.”

“Little poser’s good for something, at least.” Mike poured the beer and passed it around.

“I’ll drink to that,” Tim said. And he did.

* * *

After a couple pitchers, Jared decided it was time to return to the club. They entered through the back door, which opened onto the stage.

“Holy crap,” Tim gasped. The club was packed with people, filled with conversation and blanketed with cigarette smoke. Dino was leaned up against the far wall, puffing on a cigar.

“It even looks a little cleaner,” Jared mumbled as he strapped on his bass and stepped up to the microphone.

“You may have heard of us,” he addressed the crowd as Tim cranked up his guitar and hammered a power chord, “We’re the Veins. We’d like to thank Dino for having us,” the tall man inclined his head toward the stage, “And we hope you enjoy the show.”

Mike crashed into the drums, and the band began their set. The crowd piled in front of the stage and began jumping up and down. Some of the people even knew the words, and screamed along with Jared.

Though completely unaware they were in agreement, Jared, Tim and Mike didn’t think the band had ever played a better show. Their timing was perfect and their instruments and vocals were clearer than they had ever heard. This venue had somehow brought out the best in them.

They ripped through a few songs, then paused for a quick break. As Jared gulped water from a gallon jug, Tim waved him over.

“Dude, none of these clowns are drinking.”

“It must be an all-ages show, Tim. No big deal.”

“Look around,” Tim urged. “They’re not even drinking soda. There’s not even a bartender.”

“He must have called in sick. The crowd doesn’t seem to mind. Let’s do this.”

“What’s up?” Mike raised a concerned eyebrow over the top of his drums.

“Nothing.” Tim shrugged and stepped up to his microphone to introduce the next song.

If the crowd’s reaction to their first few songs was favorable, it was nothing compared to their increasing furor as the set continued. More and more people packed the floor in front of the stage, until everyone was as close as they could get and the rest of the room was an ocean of dead space between them and Dino. The manager, still leaned against the wall, puffed his stogie and bobbed his head with the beat.

The band was carried along on the crowd’s wave of energy. Jared hammered his bass harder, screamed the lyrics louder, and the crowd jumped higher, yelled louder. Tim looked over at him, mouthing something to him. He had an insane look in his eyes as his hands shredded the strings in a furious solo.

Tim finished and Jared plucked the rhythm leading up to Mike’s drum solo. Mike beat harder and faster as the crowd chanted unintelligibly, and drops of blood appeared on his brow. He wiped his hand across his brow as he tapped out sixteenth notes on the hi-hat with the other. He raised an eyebrow at the blood, but he just looked at Tim and shrugged. Screw it, he mouthed, and played harder.

As Mike finished his solo and Tim began strumming the chorus, Jared threw his bass behind him and leapt into the crowd. They reached up eagerly to catch him.

All around, people pulled at his clothes, and his skin twitched in the places where they had slipped fingers beneath his garments. Their nails were sharp and their skin was cold and waxy. He looked up into the face of one man and screamed. The creature’s skin sagged away from his eyes, revealing more of the bulging, bloodshot orbs and he grinned, exposing two rows of crooked yellow tombstones.

Two slender, pale girls oozed out of the shadows behind Tim; they could have been twins. One ran her fingers and lips over the guitarist’s body as the other flipped open a straight razor and began systematically slicing tendons; behind the knees, under the armpits, inside the elbows and finally at the wrists. Tim played, oblivious to the caresses and cutting, until he was physically unable to continue. His clothes were soaked through with blood, and he was on his knees with his guitar in his lap. The girls slurped the spilled blood as Tim rocked back and forth in front of his mike stand like a charmed snake, grinning from ear to ear.

A large, half-rotten man clambered up the side of the stage, grabbed a rough handful of Mike’s hair, yanked back and sunk his teeth into the drummer’s throat. The frantic punk rhythm became more erratic the longer the ghoul drank, but Mike didn’t stop until he slipped from the stool, knocking over the crash cymbal. The creature fell to his knees as Mike dropped and continued drinking.

The club’s patrons screamed as their friends systematically butchered the Veins. Dino remained against the wall, puffing his cigar; after all, this was part of the entertainment. After a brief moment he clapped his hands; the sound somehow carried over the noise. The crowd screamed and rushed the stage, each slavering ghoul eager for his piece. Dino strolled over to the pit, paused and looked down. He plucked a severed finger from the floor and considered it carefully. The bass player’s.

“Kids had a lot of potential. Lot of power,” he mused. “That was the show of a lifetime.” He sucked the meat from the bone, then sauntered back to his office to cut Preston a check.

Copyright © 2007 by Lincoln Crisler

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