From the DarkBy: Michele Hauf
C ount seven tombstones to the left, and then, five tombstones up. A pair of dark eyes observed him from behind a paperback book. Her attire, entirely black, matched fingernails, eye shadow and hair.
Sunglasses propped at the end of his nose, Michael averted his eyes from the woman’s morbid curiosity. In his hands, he held an iPod. The screen played The Fallen’s next video, Pieces of Rapture. The final cut looked awesome. He switched it off, tugged the earbuds from his ears, and tucked the slim white player into his back pocket.
“What do you think?” he said as he squatted before a granite tombstone that glittered with chunks of mica. “Not bad for a small-town Minnesota boy, eh?”
The graveyard was quiet this evening, the humidity of summer pushing away spring with a burst of warm wind through Michael’s hair. Three hundred twenty-seven tombstones were arrayed around him. Two rusted shovels leaned against the chain-link fence to the north. One brick shed must store grounds-keeping supplies.
The goth chick still studied him from behind cover. Michael waved, acknowledging her. She sneered, and flipped him off.
“Whatever happened to Minnesota nice?” he muttered.
Probably went the same way his nice had gone. The real world offered so much in way of temptation and addictions. How desperately he held on to any remnants of humanity still within him.
He rested the heel of his hand upon the curved top of the tombstone and, with his other hand, traced a forefinger through the words carved into the stone. Shards of wilted grass blades sifted to the freshly mown lawn. Noting the brass vase stabbed into the ground at the base of the tombstone, Michael winced. He should have brought flowers. She deserved flowers by the armload.
“Been a while since I’ve come home.” He scanned the sky through the dark sunglasses. The sun had just set. Remnants of rose-colored warmth traced the horizon. “Our band is at the top of its game. We played at the Grammies this year. The press has dubbed us a phenomenon. And guess what? It’s my birthday in a few weeks. We’ll celebrate together. Life is good, Mom. I certainly have nothing to complain about.”
No, no complaints. And yet, the monster within him growled a protest or two.
On the outside, Michael Lynsay wore a mask for the world to scream at. And man, did they scream. Loud, wild, rock ’n’ roll screams of joy.
He liked the screams. Life, in general, was all about the scream. And him? Master of screams. For with the scream, came the delicious adrenaline, and that was an exquisite drug.
Michael had achieved success by going for it, and by reaching for a dream. And though the dream stomped him daily, he continued to soar on the incredible highs it also offered. Rock star, anyone? A man couldn’t ask for a better gig.
But beyond the adulation of screaming fans, lurked an unforgiving, hungry monster, that would not take no for an answer.
Sooner or later the spotlight would shine upon that creature, and then Michael would be forced to flee even deeper into the darkness that shrouded his life.
Tugging the music rag from his back jeans pocket, Michael unrolled the tightly twisted newspaper he’d picked up after landing at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport an hour earlier. The headline made him smirk. Fallen Angel sets down his microphone. Rumored exhaustion.
Fallen Angel is what the fans had dubbed him, because reporters were always comparing his voice to that of a fallen angel screaming back at Heaven.
But exhaustion? That’s what he paid the band’s spin doctors for—lies.
Thing is, he had never felt so alive in his entire life. Frenetic and bold, he had become something different. A something he had learned to embrace.
Now, it was threatening to consume him. He had to keep his head above the surface. Out of the dark.
On more than one occasion, he’d almost exposed his darkest secret in public. The press followed him everywhere. They made it difficult to take a piss in private, let alone find a moment of peace to feed his habit.
Michael’s best friend, Jesse Olson, the band’s lead guitarist, had finally convinced Michael to step down from the stage, for a few months at the very least.
“I don’t know if this is the right thing. I’m going to be missing out on—”
“On absolutely nothing.” Jesse had placed a palm to each of Michael’s shoulders and eyed his friend squarely. “Listen, man, The Fallen has been on the road for a year. Steady. No breaks. The new album is in the can and the video is going to be hot. We all need a vacation, Michael. After the MTV thing this Friday, me and the rest of the guys are a few days behind you.”
“I don’t need a vacation.”
“That’s what you think. And—” Jesse rushed in before Michael could protest “—you will take it. I don’t want to lose you, man. You’re my best friend. Even if you are a bloodsucker.”