KEVIN J. ANDERSON AND JANIS IAN
A graveyard. Night. Lurid branches scrabble across the blood-red moon. Silence, whispers, then a hush of anticipation. Fifteen boom boxes encircle a grave. Giant woofers (removed just that morning from an unsuspecting car) sit with bass ends flat against the massive gravestone.
Here at peace at last lies Thor
Troubled by the Dark no more
The four aging fans in attendance for the midnight show—the ritual—had polished their studs, mangled their hair, added dye where needed and bleach where not. They wore their finest black leather, but left the jackets open to expose too-small T-shirts from concerts past, fabric memories that paid homage to their hero’s mind-blowing shows, when he’d been alive. Thor. The writer of the greatest song in the history of mankind.
“Man, we really should have put a line from ‘Dark Carbuncle’ on his tombstone instead,” Conk said. “I mean, so everybody could see his genius for all eternity.” His given name was William, and he went by the handle of “William the Conqueror” from some impressive historical guy, though most of his friends didn’t get it. They thought “Conk” just meant he liked to bash things.
“Anybody can hear his genius just by playing the song, shithead,” said Kutfist, ending with the sharp sneer he’d practiced all week. “Trust me, we didn’t want to deal with the rights issues.”
“Yeah but, dude, ‘Dark Carbuncle’ is an awesome song, right?” said Dredd, and though he’d said it many times before, nobody disagreed. Especially not on this night of nights.
The lone girl in the group, swaying to the music of a silent song, twisted a lock of hair around her finger. “Kinda creepy, ya think?” Despite the spiderweb tattooed on her chin, Longshanks was always the first to back away from anything remotely disturbing. “I mean, we’re raising him from the dead. . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“God, lighten up, ’shanks. You’ve been this way since grade school. What can he do to us? He’ll be in our power.” Sneering, Kutfist turned toward the others with a shrug. Women. Jeez.
“Yeah, and ‘Dark Carbuncle’ is such an awesome song. . . .” Dredd’s usual sentence trailed off as a cloud covered the moon.
“It has to be tonight, on the anniversary,” said Conk with finality as he connected the last of the speakers. The Wikipedia entry had been very specific on that point.
Kutfist scanned the graveyard in disappointment. “I can’t believe we’re the only ones here. Elvis gets tons of fans on his Death Day every year!”
“Elvis fans don’t know that ‘Dark Carbuncle’ is an awesome song,” Dredd assured him. “Or they’d be here.”
Longshanks tugged harder on her hair. “And what’s he gonna look like with a fractured skull, Kut? I mean, part of his head might be gone. Ecchhh.”
Kutfist pushed his trifocals farther up his nose. “Shut up, ’shanks. The man was a god. That last show we saw was unbelievably amazing. He’d never have killed himself, never. We can finally find out the truth now, so just stop worrying and shut up.”
Nodding, Conk stood up. Brushing leaves off his hands, he pulled a few folded sheets from the back pocket of his jeans and handed them each a paper with the lyrics printed backward phonetically. That was the worrisome part. They knew the lyrics forward well enough to sing them the required seven times, but the backward part made Conk nervous. “We’ve gotta get it right, or we’ll end up raising Frank Sinatra or something. Seriously, you can’t be too careful with the Dark Side. Don’t screw it up.”
With tears in his eyes and excitement in his heart, he reached down to the nearest boom box and pushed PLAY.
Thor opened what was left of his eyes and knew he wasn’t in the Ritz. It had been a long time since he’d stayed in high-class hotels on tour, and now suddenly he experienced a flashback rush of the last images he remembered.
A motel room, after the show, his ears still ringing from feedback and amps turned up to eleven. Used to be his ears would ring from the screaming fans . . . used to be all-night parties, used to be groupies and sex—but the groupies were not as attractive now, and Viagra could only do so much. Ditto the gigs, no more backstage excitement when Mick visited, no more telling the roadie to bring the chick from row five back to the luxe hotel. Now, a gig was just a gig, something to get through until he figured out what to do with the rest of his life.
He hadn’t slept a full night in months—years—and now somebody was playing that damned song so loud it echoed right through the walls of this fleabag purgatory of a room. Where the hell was this?
Thorton Velbiss—Thorny to his friends (not many of those), Thor to his fans (not many of those either)—was not having a good day. First, that pounding bass drum was unacceptable. The only noise he wanted to hear with this kind of hangover was the sound of vodka over ice. Second, his fucking hit record from two decades ago was playing, with the bass booming so wide he could swear the damned thing was sitting on his face. The only time Thor would tolerate listening to “Dark Carbuncle” was onstage, during a show, when he lip-synched his way through it for an audience of haphazardly fat metal-heads bent on reliving their youth.
I was ferocious back then, ya know? Really fero. And taller, I think. Maybe just skinny. Now I have to wear a corset. Still, I had a hell of a good run. Just one hit, but it kept me in chicks and booze. . . .
Fuck, no, it’s a horrible song. Piece of shit me and Dirk the Drummer whipped up one night while we were wanking off. Farthest wank got to title the song. He won.
I hate that fucking song.
’Sides, I can’t hit that high note, never could. Brought a ringer into the studio, never thought it’d be a hit. We had great shit on the album, great shit . . . and all anybody ever wants to hear is “Dark dark dark. Dark dark dark. Dark dark dark, I’m a da-da-da-da-carbuncle.”
Makes you want to puke.
Gotta lip-synch it now anyway, can’t even hit the low notes. At least I remember the words. Stupid effing words—even I don’t know what they mean. Last time I saw the big El, Scotty Moore had to hand him the lyrics to “Love Me Tender.” Speaking of hand . . . hand me that vodka, wouldya?
He’d forgotten there wasn’t anybody here. What the hell, he’d serve himself.
He’d been an altar boy in his youth, a good little Catholic, though that was part of his secret past. The headbangers would never understand it. He hadn’t prayed in . . . what? Thirty years? Not since he’d picked up a Les Paul, plugged it in, and let wail.
Now, as he felt around for the bottle, trying to shake the cobwebs out of his head, he wondered who’d have the nerve to play that scrotum of a song right on top of his room. Boom boom boom. Trying to shut out the sound, he drifted back to the last gig.
It was like reliving a nightmare over and over again, singing that song every night. His agent said this tour could maybe revive his career (but then, he always said that)—opening for some fifteen-year-old one-hit wonder. At least if there was any justice in the world, it should have been one hit, but the kid was coming off his fourth top ten record. Turned out he was a metal fan, though, and loved “Dark Carbuncle” (and wasn’t that embarrassing), and demanded Thor as his opener (though what his Top 40 demographic would make of it, only God knew).
Thor had checked into the motel under a fake name, just in case anybody noticed. Grabbed a quick nap (not that the fans needed to know about that either!), packed his crotch, hit the lobby. Out by the kid’s tour bus, a few rabid Thor fans began jumping up and down, one paunchy guy with dreadlocks yelling “Dude! Dude! ‘Dark Carbuncle’ is an awesome song!” Thor stopped to see if they wanted autographs and noticed that two of them wore pizza delivery uniforms.
“How should I make this out?” he asked a girl with a weird chin tattoo. Glancing at her name tag, he hazarded a guess. “To Tiffany?”
The girl went beet red. “Uh, no, Longshanks—just make it to Longshanks.”
He smiled inwardly, but outwardly gave her the long, slow I could change your life, babe! look. She brightened and giggled at her friends. At least he’d made somebody’s day.
On to the show, which sucked. Of course. How the hell can anyone play music at two in the afternoon, under a wide open sky, looking out at a bunch of hayseeds whose big weekend excitement was probably going to be the pig race? Real waste of Oreos, that one. He sped through the set, not even bothering with the pyro at the end, sneering when people applauded the opening chords of “Carbuncle.” Idiots.
I used to dream about being a Beatle, you know? Back in the day, I played the Garden. Twice. Well, only once as the lead act, but still. Alice Cooper, Ozzie, Rob Zombie, they had nothing on me. Eating a live bat, hell—I used to shove worms up my nose, just to line the coke! Now look at me . . . playing some friggin’ rodeo for a hundred bucks. Pathetic, that’s what it is.
Why couldn’t I have died young, in a private plane crash? At least that would be a respectable ending.
Afterward, back at the motel—still daylight out!—he drank most of the quart of Stoli that Mr. Four-Hit-Wonder...