When we got to the stage I realized I’d forgotten the camera I’d intended to use to take pictures of her from just off-stage for her fansite. She had a fansite now, by the way. Harvey had built it. I’d just returned when I heard a noise from across the hall. It was a dull, but powerful thump, as if something incredibly heavy had hit the ground with force.
The silence that followed was almost total, except for the quiet crackling of a radio playing Blue Oyster Cult. I looked down the hall, first one way and then the other. Nothing but blank concrete punctuated by the occasional green garbage can. I released the handle of Aura’s dressing room. Shouldn’t I have heard Martine’s entourage through their dressing room door? They hadn’t been a quiet bunch when I’d met them in the hall earlier. And where were the production assistants? Shouldn’t they be streaming in and out of that door, liaising with the media, or airing some petty grievance suffered by Martine to stadium management?
I hadn’t forgotten what I done to the steaks in Martine’s dressing room, but I’d only intended to kill her appetite–less human steak meant less power for her performance. Instead, I’d given a flesh-eating demon a massive dose of medication that included psychosis among its commonly reported side effects. That thought wouldn’t occur to me until I was hiding in the wet and the dark under the Wembley stage. It’s not a comforting thought to be having when said psychotic sex demon was about five feet from your head, but I digress.
Instead, I took my cell phone out of my pocket and swept a finger across the screen to unlock it. I wondered if I should call the police. What would I report? A suspicious thump heard inside a dressing room? What if they found out I’d attempted to dose Martine with antidepressants? I had Rick Casterly’s new number programmed into my phone, and he was ostensibly in charge of this whole gig. I punched it into then phone and then took a few cautious steps across the hall, thumb hovering above the call button. My instinct for self-preservation warred with my desire not to look like a fool by placing a panicked phone call over nothing. Any minute now, some assistant might pop out of that door on some errand.
Any minute now.
Come on errand.
Any time you like, I thought.
But I still couldn’t hear any signs of activity from Martine’s dressing room. Blue Oyster Cult faded into Kenny Loggins as one song ended and the next began. I put my hand on the door handle and then leaned close to the door, not quite willing to put my ear to it. Now I could hear movement from the other side, a shuffling that stopped just as quickly as it began. There was a kind of weird whiffling sound and then a quiet, repeating whisper that I couldn’t discern. All of a sudden the door shook and I darted backwards. Something slid against it and fell onto the floor.
Terrified, I squatted and peered under the door frame. A head of black hair plastered with wet blood lay just on the other side. It shifted lifelessly, as if something had bumped into it and then it was slowly lifted out of my field of view. Several drops of blood splattered onto the ground like falling hammers.
Actually the opposite of good.
Way over on the other side of the spectrum.
I stood slowly and, in perfect silence, placed my cell phone in my pocket. With my eyes locked on Martine’s door, I lifted a knee and removed first one loafer and then the other, and then set them down beside me so that their heels wouldn’t click on the concrete. I wore thin dress socks, and the ground was cool on my feet.
The door shook again.
Every instinct in my body screamed to run.
Death was no more than three feet away and I was swimming in shark-infested waters without a cage. An electric crackle followed, and then the sound of metal bouncing across the floor. Death was probably closer to two feet away now.
I chose my footing carefully, placing the ball of my foot on the ground, then the heel. Step after step, I made my way down the hallway, leaving our own dressing room behind. There was only one entrance, and as soon as Martine finished with hers, ours would be the next natural target.
I’d only managed to make it a few steps before my phone rang.
I panicked and tore off my jacket, spinning it around the phone to try and muffle it, but I was wearing silk and the happy little chirp was still clearly audible. It would have been quicker to answer it, obviously, but that would have entailed having some wits about you and my wits were on that plane to Ghana that took off all those weeks ago.
The handle of Martine’s dressing room turned and then slowly swung open.
Completely naked, her blond hair was plastered to her skull by clotted blood and hung in strands around her viscera-smeared face. Her feet slapped wetly on the concrete and her legs and torso were crimson with even more blood. Way too much blood. I doubt a blood bank had as much blood as she had on her.
She turned to face me, rubbing spread fingers up her waist.
Her eyes focused on me as she shook crimson droplets off her hand and onto the wall. A dark purple snake freed itself from her hair and dropped onto her chest and then slid off her breast. I realized with horror that it was an artery.
My cell phone still buzzed merrily in my jacket and she looked down at it.
“Uh…it’s for you!” I yelled and tossed the jacket at her face.
I turned and bolted.
I hit the end of the hall at a full run, and my stockinged feet slid as I attempted to make the turn. My shoulder hit the wall hard, crunching the safety glass in a framed One Direction poster. I was vaguely aware of stabbing pain in my shoulder as I pushed off the wall, but I knew that pain would get much worse if Martine caught me. I windmilled as I struggled to keep my balance and careened into a nearby dustbin, scattering its contents across the hallway. Inhuman screeching filled the corridor behind me, a sound that ran its way up the ladder of my spine and set my nerves aflame, but I had no way of telling how far behind me she was.
I turned into another long hallway.
At the far end I could hear the deep thump of bass speakers, Aura’s crystal clear voice, and the wavelike sound of the crowd. Even if I was somehow able to sprint to the end of the hall before Martine caught me, I’d emerge backstage and bring her down on Aura and the band, as well as any number of innocent concert go-ers.
Choices choices. I’m not proud to say my first thought was better them than me.
Two orange metal doors were set into one wall from which a tangled mass of electrical cords emerged and were then plugged into the wall just outside. Praying that I wasn’t about to trap myself in a utility closet, I darted for it and hauled the door closed behind me, except for a small opening for the cables.
I emerged into a huge space that must have been under the stage.
Metal scaffolding held up black perforated tile, above which was plywood and flooring material. Orange extension cords bound together into mega cords snaked across the ceiling and down to electrical sockets set at regular intervals into the floor. The cable that led outside of the room provided power to about a dozen snake lamps that shed small pools of LED light into the otherwise dark area.
There were no exits.
Martine was too close behind me to risk going back out into the hallway, so I leapt over a few metal obstructions and found a place where the stage sloped downwards and crawled into it. There was very little clearance, but I was able to pull a few sets of cables around me into an attempt to hide. I concentrated on trying to make myself as small as possible.
I could hear stomping on the stage as various band members and techs moved around above me. I was tempted to call out to them, but I didn’t see how help could arrive before the succubus. And besides, I really didn’t want to draw Martine’s attention. Look, some people are proud of their survival instinct. Look at Darwin, he had an entire theory about survival of the fittest. Right then I was fit. The fittest I’d been all of my life.
Suddenly all the lights went out.
Martine had unplugged the cable in the hallway.
The darkness was almost absolute, punctured only by the flashing blue power light of a closed diagnostics laptop that lay a few columns over. Even as my eyes adjusted, I could barely see my hand in front of my face. The door opened, bathing the area in light and a dark shadow stepped through, disappearing into the blackness as it closed behind her.
Martine was in the room with me.
I stayed perfectly still, clutching cables to my chest to camouflage me. If she’d had night vision, as some of our less savory children of the night do, I would have been fucked. And not in that good way I wanted to go out of this life. The bad way. The eaten by a sex demon way. Actually. Okay. Maybe there’s something to being eaten by a sex demon. I’ll have to think about it. It’s certainly a different way to go not so softly into that endless winter night. I’ll get back to you on it.
I shifted positions and spotted a small shaft of light in the wall.
Moving carefully, I managed to crawl over to it. Just outside stood a huge security guard with long greasy jerry-curls. He had his back to me. The crowd beyond was silent as they looked up at Aura. A high school-aged girl, whose eyes were deep wells, twisted a grey cotton beret in her hands as tears ran down her cheeks. Two more girls held hands as they mouthed the words of the chorus of the funeral dirge for drowned sailors I’d written only a week ago.
I was grateful that Aura was having an effect, but I have to be honest, I was more interested in the Taser the security guard had holstered at his side than the whole teenage fanclub thing. There’d be hell to pay if one was used on a concert-goer, but ever since three fans had been killed rushing the stage at Leeds, stadium security had been mandated to carry them. It was a short hop skip and a jump to AK47s being handed out with the earplugs at the door.
I felt along the edge of the crack, hoping to find a latch or handle that might open it further.
There was a noise in the darkness behind me. I looked back. Nothing. I stared into the darkness and was rewarded when the light from the closed laptop winked out and then back on as Martine moved in front of it. Her breathing sounded low and bestial and her breath stunk of wet carrion. Not sexy. Very much demonic.
My fingers finally found something metal, but it was not a latch. It was a screw. I clamped on to its edges and twisted, and there was some give, but not enough. I twisted harder and felt the metal bite into my fingertips.
I looked through the crack again. The guard was so close. I could call out to him. But Martine was closer, and there wasn’t a sheet of painted plywood between the two of us. I felt around in my pockets–nothing but a set of keys, my wallet, and some change. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t trade for a Swiss army knife at that point. I probably would have taken a Swedish army or any other army, neutral country or not, as long as it had the word knife at the end. I took out the change and groped blinded for a ten pence coin. Finding one, I turned it on its edge and pressed it to the top of the screw. If it was a Phillips head I was a dead man.
Praise be to the god of ironmongery, the coin fit into the slot.
I twisted, willing the screw to turn, and finally I was rewarded with some give. Two more twists, and the screw came out of its hole so abruptly that it dropped to the floor. Tink tink…
The darkness shifted behind me.
One of the metal struts collapsed as Martine scrambled towards me.
For a heartbeat I saw her blood-covered face in the light from the crack between panels and it was terrifying. Her eyes bulged out of their sockets and her pupils were dark and full of fire. Every tendon was clearly visible in her face and her jaw had come unhinged. That was the worst of it. The absolute worst. The jaw. In that jaw were her perfectly formed, dentist-implanted human teeth, but they were spattered crimson and her gums had retreated so that they appeared to be as long as knives.
I launched myself away from her, cracking my head against the plywood stage covering. There must have been another screw holding it in place. I used a metal strut for leverage and shoved backward again with all my strength. A small cry escaped from between my lips as I heard wood crack and the panel begin to give.
Sharp points of fire fastened around my ankle as Martine’s clawed fingertips dug into my skin. I kicked out and my foot smashed into her face, but it was like kicking an oncoming car. She pulled and her nails carved furrows in my foot, but instead of pulling me back towards her, all she managed to do was remove my sock.
Once free I pushed forward again, and was birthed into the stadium proper by shattered plywood. The security guard had turned around, but despite all the commotion, he only spared me a glance. He was looking up at the stage.
I launched myself at him and snatched at his holster.
I had the safety snap unlatched before he could react.
Once armed, I aimed the weapon and fired into the darkness. Wires flew away from the muzzle and then crackled as they hit. The smell of ozone burnt the air, and I could feel Martine grasping and tearing at the cords. The Taser jumped forward in my hands and I barely kept my grip. Desperately, I pumped the trigger. How many volts would it take to bring down a psychotic succubus?
A lot. A fuck of a lot. A whole lot of fucking lots. Job lots of fucking lots. We’re talking more than a three-for-one or BOGOF deal of lots.
Green lights turned red on the side of the Taser as charge after charge was depleted, but Martine’s struggles began to weaken. Finally, I felt her convulse at the other end of the wires. They tightened suddenly and went slack.
I felt like screaming, “I’ve got the power!”
I stepped away and dropped the weapon, and then looked around, baffled that I hadn’t been tackled to the ground yet. No one was paying the least bit of attention to me. What was more important than a seeming madman bursting out the stage and firing a Taser back the way he’d come?
The nearest security guard’s face was upturned and I followed his gaze. We’re talking holy rapture drunk the Kool-Aid upturned, just so we’re clear.
The stage was lit by blue and violet overhead lights that hung from metal scaffolding at least forty feet above. Controlled by the laptop beneath the stage, they highlighted each member of the band in turn, brightening and fading according to their programming. Our drummer Eileen sat on a raised pedestal, tapping a high tom-tom with one drumstick and silencing her crash cymbal with the other, as if she’d just finished a solo. Marnie stood on the other side of the stage, completely oblivious to anything but her bass guitar. She wore the big black headphones I’d suggested as a remedy to Aura’s singing. Alice was closest to me, dressed in pleather pants and a black pleather jacket, which left her red bra mostly exposed. Her fingers danced over the frets of her guitar, but I could see her occasionally glance into the rafters.
Nearly forty feet above the stage, Aura balanced precariously on the metal scaffolding that was holding up the lighting. I had no idea they could even hold a person’s weight, but Aura didn’t weigh much more than a couple of light clusters. Her blue dress cascaded down behind her; she looked like a woman leaping out of the waves. She wasn’t wearing any safety gear and this wasn’t a part of her act. Since she was above most of the lighting, the concert director had lifted the lights in the stadium proper, and I could see that her eyes were closed and her chin lifted as she sang the purest notes of sadness into the microphone.
I felt her sadness radiate out from her like I’d felt her hunger in the Broken Doll. It slammed into me like a tidal surge and thrust me beneath the waves. I staggered under its weight. Some members of the audience were crying openly, while others screamed in fear every time Aura took a step.
I seized control of myself. Puppies and football and yesterday’s news. I didn’t care who was at the top of the Premier League. All I cared about was getting Aura down before she hurt herself. She might be incredibly strong, but she was a creature of the sea not the sky. She wouldn’t survive a fall from that height.
“Aura!” I yelled, but my voice was drowned out by her song.
I tried to get Alice’s attention, drawing my hand across my neck to indicate that she needed to cut the show short, but she was looking up, not down, and didn’t see me.
Frustrated, I spun around and grabbed the bouncer’s arm, but his face remained upturned towards Aura. The reason he hadn’t reacted when I’d stolen his Taser was because he hadn’t been able to. He was a victim of Aura’s voice as much as any audience member.
Above me, Aura held a foot over the abyss, testing her balance. I realized that the song she was singing was the one about calling to a young shepherd boy from the bottom of the Cliffs of Moher. At the end of the song, she coaxed him into jumping to his death on the rocks far below. She was going to throw herself from the lighting rigs at the end of the song. When she’d told me she didn’t know if she could make it through the gig, it wasn’t because she was nervous. It was because she was suicidal. Great. A suicidal siren sings the blues. Just fucking marvelous.
There was no way I could reach her.
And if I tried Aura would simply jump the moment she knew she had company.
She couldn’t hear me over the music, so there no way I could communicate with her.
She was going to jump and I couldn’t stop her.
My mind was racing.
I looked at the security guard. He was a big fat boy. He’d probably argue it was muscle or he was big boned but I wasn’t buying it. He was cushioned… so maybe he could cushion her fall?
The guard wore a headset and battery pack, both of which I was able to remove without protest. I ran to one of the giant speakers that belted music into the stadium, held the microphone to it, and hit the send key. The microphone howled with feedback and up and down the front of the stage, large men with black security shirts doubled over in pain and clutched their ears. How was that for mental wax? It was fucking mental, that’s how.
I had maybe half a minute until the end of the song and Aura’s whole crowd surfing thing took a literal dive, so I spoke quickly into the microphone. “This is Marcus Reardon, Aura’s manager. Take down the barriers. Let the crowd rush the stage. Do it! Now!”
The security guards seemed to move like molasses, but if they’d been in full control of their senses they might not have moved at all. Sure, I was Aura’s manager, but removing the barriers was very dangerous–as that fateful concert in Leeds had demonstrated–and required approval from stadium management, not just the manager of the support act.
Above me, Aura began the closing notes of the song. She clasped her hands together over the microphone like a supplicant praying for forgiveness. Her blue dress came alive in the stadium light and instead of the ocean surging around her, it now looked like the sea was reluctant to let her go.
There was an enthusiastic scream from somewhere in the crowd as the first chains around the security fencing slithered to the ground. A few audience members pushed their way through, but most stood in place, mesmerized by the spectacle unfolding above them. More chains were loosened, but the crowd remained lethargic.
Out of desperation, I threw the headphones at Alice.
They whizzed past her left shoulder, failing to connect, but they got her attention, she turned and gave the crowd the finger and that’s when she spotted me.
I signaled like a disheveled madman, and she walked over and squatted before me, still expertly strumming her instrument.
“She’s going to jump!” I yelled, pointing at Aura.
“You’ve got to play something else! Something to break the spell!”
Her eyes hardened. She’d been at the Broken Doll too. She knew what was happening. She nodded, stood, and her posture changed. She played a few more notes of Aura’s sad funeral dirge and then immediately launched into the first riff of “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols. Oh how I would have given anything for a fascist regime… or at least to hear Aura belting out those words.
The effect was like being punched it the face.
Some audience members blinked, and that was all it took.
The ones in the front rows noticed the opened fences and surged forward.
Above them, the song came to an end and my sad siren launched herself off the lighting rig and plunged towards the concrete below.
I saw her disappear into the crowd amidst a chorus of screams, and then she was lifted aloft triumphantly.
I punched the air as she surfed the crowd, spinning over and over, before they let her down.
She walked among them.
She cupped a face here, pressed her forehead against another’s there, sharing their sadness. Then they parted and she walked back to the stage like Moses through the Red Sea.