Song Hunter

If they listen, they can tell he’s listening to the music again. It beats and wavers from the basement that Friday night as he sits at their computer. Sometimes it is a combination of industrial sounds and chiming. Other times it seems to encompass the night. There are even moments when they can make out voices, though the hard percussion and beats of the music are muffled by the floor between him and them: making the vocals only vaguely decipherable at best.

So they don’t really know what the music is, or what might–or might not–mean to him.

They don’t see him hunched over and cross-legged on the swivel chair. He sits there staring at a blank Google screen. His hands are clasped together and his fingers are entwined in front of him. They feel cold.

He listens to the music and its rhythms: as though trying to find something, trying to go back to the night beyond the basement, to the city, to a club that doesn’t exist, and another one that changed … trying to go back in time.

As he listens to VNV Nation’s “Space and Time” again, he tries to remember the remnants of a train of music. The beats are faint in his head, but they do not translate into words or anything tangible enough to work with.

One, you love the goddess,
two, you bring the night,
three, your song has ended,
and four is the god-killing light.

The half-imagined refrain of “spread the lay, Judgment Day …” faintly thunders like echoes or receding footsteps through his mind. He can’t find the song’s name: not through the typing of half-imagined fragments of lyrics on Google, or sifting through Electric Body Music on YouTube. Sometimes he wonders if the song and the dancing pale bodies were just figments of a long-standing delusion: the same one on which he had been out of this house, out of this basement … dancing …

Spread the lay,
Judgment Day …

Somehow, he thinks if he can find that song it will all come back in some way, somehow … the bouncer with the golden eyes, the concrete stairs, the welcoming dark beat …

Old dark nights two years gone sit like uneasy ashes in the pit of his stomach, rustling the occasional word, the remains of a memory, when all of it was still real …

Huddled in his sweatshirt and old sweatpants, he tries to remember the feel of black leather on his shoulders, and the luminous lights of downtown and clanking tracks, and the anticipation that far outweighed the anxiety.

And then, clicking on the mouse in one chill hand, he finds something. An 8-Tracks.

It belongs to a DJ that went to a club he knows well, though it was long gone before he ever walked the streets of Toronto on his own.

It’s music from Sanctuary.

That is when he knows. He can’t skip too many tracks: the application won’t let him. Instead, he sits and waits it out. Each wailing note and synthesized tone brings him closer. Queen Street. Floor-length black leather coats. Floating must. The night bus on the way home. A girl’s head on his shoulder.

But music creates videos inside his mind: replaying scenes that may or may not have happened. He isn’t sure yet. He isn’t sure …

Then there is the silence. And the hollow beat. He checks the list to see what it is called.

Front 242’s “Headhunter V1.0.”

Finally. Finally, he knows its name. He knows who made it. He can call it up on YouTube and the Web with impunity. He can play it whenever he wants.

And he plays it. He waits until the song comes to its crescendo and he finally–and truly–hears it.

One you lock the target,
Two you bait the line,
Three you slowly spread the net,
And four you catch the man!

As the song tells him to “Lock the target, bait the line, spread the net, and catch the man,” over and again, he listens to the rest of the music. And, for a few moments, he’s back.

He takes the bus the bus from his apartment, to the subway and to the Spadina streetcar. Sometimes he goes to the Velvet at Queen but usually it’s the Neutral Lounge. He goes there every Friday night. Sometimes he’s there with friends, sometimes meeting friends but more often than not he goes there alone …

Except for that night when he got off the streetcar. He’d been reading Soseki’s Kokoro–a novel about an old man eaten away by the shadow of guilt and youth being the loneliest time of all–when he met an unexpected Cheshire smile, electric blue eyes, the inside of a red car smelling like cigars, and something wonderful.

Until it and everything after was eroded by shadow.

Lock the target, bait the line,
spread the net, then catch the man …

Something dead stirs inside him as he finds himself back in the basement. While he is reminded of the freedom that going to that club first held for him, he also recalls the disconnect of watching the beautiful people dance and hearing nothing but the music, the fear that he would lose this place, and the emptiness underneath it all. It never seemed real. He never really belonged.

He will never dance there or anywhere as he once had. The music of the clubs is now regulated to the speakers of the computer that doesn’t belong to him and his once aggressive movements have become the nervous twitches of a burnt-out recluse. But even as the pang of what he lost reverberates through him again, he remembers the hollow feeling and the fleeting nature of happiness, and how even if he could go back–even when he could–there is nothing waiting for him there now.

Perhaps there never was. Perhaps he was just as alone there as he is here, as he was in the apartment that the people upstairs helped him take apart that last night.

Perhaps it was all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Maybe it had all meant nothing.

So he sits in that basement, listening to dead music from a dead life, staring at a blank screen and reliving glory days that never happened, still remembering–like Lucifer–the time when he thought he was an Angel but always knowing that his own fall had been a slow and gradual matter of becoming an unmovable object colliding against the unstoppable force inside himself.

The real and imagined lyrics of the song he looked for, for so long, begins to coalesce in his head now: the real words hard, and his own become shadowy echoes interlapping with one another inside the dark core of what he now knows what he truly is.

One you lock the target,
one, you love the goddess,
Two you bait the line,
two, you bring the night,
Three you slowly spread the net,
three, your song has ended,
And four you catch the man!
…is the god-killing light…

Spread the lay,
Judgment Day …

Photo Credit: Sevres Babylone

Skeletons Have All the Fun

It isn’t even a ten-minute walk from the Velvet to Rainbow Nosferatu’s club, but his chest still aches. He shakes his head and looks up at his handiwork.

The Scrawling is in the back of the office complex closest to the parking lot. A sign with stylized cursive red font over a black background greets him: complete with a skeleton’s hand drawing a hanged stickman on a white skull with a quill. Rainbow Nosferatu spares a glance at the makeshift bike-rack below the steps of the entrance: knowing he will be back for his ride later as he enters his club.

Despite his name, Rainbow Nosferatu finds himself bathed in the familiar dark red light of the remaining candles in their glasses on the tables closest to the door. A large projector screen dominates the dark red club while slide-shows scroll through a variety of images up overhead. He waves at some of the staff as they continue cleaning up for the night. Chairs and tables scrape across the floor without the music that has no doubt stopped for the night. But this doesn’t bother Rainbow Nosferatu. Instead, he closes his eyes for a few moments and basks in the warmth of the place he made with his few friends, very little money and a great deal of love.

The feeling of sunflowers seems to approach him from behind and he actually smiles a bit–for real this time–as he opens his eyes and watches the slide on the screen transition into another page from a public domain 1950s horror comic.

“You know,” he says, looking up at a scene of skeletons rising up from their graves to embrace a screaming blonde-haired woman in a white bridal gown, “Skeletons used to be so cool in the fifties.”

The sense of sunflowers seemed to laugh with its voice, “Probably because some people needed a real proper boning.”

Rainbow Nosferatu shakes his head, “They weren’t just about the sex. No, there was the vengeance too. Artists in those days could only be so … graphic,” he turns to her as she groans, “What? You just did that earlier Marigold. It’s true though. Underneath all that flesh, we just want to possess each other: out of anger and out of passion. Now it’s all about the zombies: eating flesh indiscriminately and not caring about where your meal has been, or what it even tastes like.”

“I don’t know boss,” Marigold grins up at him through twisted red and yellow dreadlocks, “Flesh-eating has at least a few uses I can think of.”

“True,” Rainbow Nosferatu can’t help but smirk at this game of innuendo, “But a skeleton still has their personality. Even without a bit of flesh on them, they still remember who or what wronged them. They remember what life was like when they had it. Revenge or lust, they keep their eye-socket on the prize and they take what they want. They are the bare essence of want.”

“Ah, so you mean to say ‘kids these days,’ huh Rain?” she wraps an arm around his shoulder and hugs him.

“Yeah, those gosh-darned zombie goth kids these days,” he says ruefully and moves to lean his head against hers in order to return her brief half-hug, “Were there many of them since I was last here?”

Marigold smoothes out the ivory dress on her lithe frame, “Nah boss. A few writer-types. One girl asked for something at the juice-bar and I made it for her. There was a dancer or two. Some Tarot-readers. Oh, and some of the Ancients dropped by and asked about you. Not much else though.”

Rainbow Nosferatu sees as much. The juice stall is closed for the night. Marigold made excellent drinks among hostessing and ticket-collecting. Despite what he told Jake earlier about checking on drinking in his club–which was mostly to get away from him anyway–he couldn’t actually afford a liquor license: yet another thing Linda would remind him of …

“Don’t come back until you have your shit together.”

Rainbow Nosferatu suddenly feels tired, “I guess the All-Ages Nights are going the way of the skeletons too,” he looks sadly around the place, his place, “Has Linda …”

“No,” Marigold shakes her head, “I’m sorry, boss, but I didn’t see her come in or down from the loft,” she puts a hand on his shoulder, “Is everything ok Rain?”

He looks at her for a few moments and senses her warmth and concern. He knows that sometimes she can see right through him: through each other without the details, “Is my aura really that blue?”

“Yeah, well,” she shrugs again, “Let me put it to you this way: your aura might as well be singing ‘I hurt myself today’ in Texican drawl.”

“Heh,” he gives her that, knowing that she is trying to make him laugh and feel a bit better, “I thought … Linda and I thought to ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make a Club for All-Ages where you can sit and write, or dance to Dead Can Dance or Sisters of Mercy while reading projected slides of old horror comics and poetry on the screen instead of watching muted TV shows or music videos?’ But we weren’t prepared for the costs. Now things are changing and I guess, in the end, that’s the way things go.”

“I still think it’s a really awesome idea, Rain,” she squeezes his hand.

“Yeah. Me too,” Rainbow Nosferatu sighs, “we had some good times here. But it’s only a matter of time now … before we go the way of Sanctuary.”

“We lasted a while, Rain.”

“A few months now,” he nods, “I guess we have one more at best. Maybe I can get away with using some epic video game boss battle sound-track for the Last Nights!” he somehow manages to wink against his crushing sadness.

“We’ll have a Gothic Tetris face-off,” Marigold says, “with Dark Soundtracks and Fin de Siecle Tequila Shots!”

“Sounds like a date!” Rainbow Nosferatu hears himself say and inwardly winces at the choice of words, “Well, I’m heading off now. See you next week Marigold.”

“See you. Oh, boss, I almost forgot something.”

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. He can see the sunflower glow around Marigold become subdued with blue, “What is it Marigold?”

She reaches into her bra and takes out a small envelope, “It’s from … Lily.”

Rainbow Nosferatu feels his hands turn clammy.

“Oh,” he says simply, dumbly, staring at the letter in Marigold’s hand, “I’d been trying to get in touch with her for a while now …”

“I know,” Marigold’s eyes look at him with sympathy, “I didn’t open–”

He waves her off as he takes the letter, “Oh I know that, Mari. I appreciate you holding this for me.”

He doesn’t tell her that he’d been sending emails, texts and voice messages to Lily for a month or so now: every once and a while … trying to be unobtrusive. Trying not to be needy … and slowly going crazy inside from not hearing from her. Dark-haired, pallid, thin slight Lily with her love of Neil Gaiman’s Death and the way she listened to his stories whenever they hung out here at The Scrawling. She’d met Linda and they seemed to have gotten along. He and her would hold hands whenever she made it. That was all they really did for a month. It had made him happy to hold that slight pale hand in his own that made his seem so awkward and gangly by comparison.

He remembered her email quite a few nights ago: finally telling him she would get in contact with him soon. He’d almost forgotten that email. Almost.

“You’d never turn pussy down,” he remembers Linda screaming at him during that fight, “In fact, you pride yourself on it.”

He turns away and opens the letter. It is a simple piece of paper with three words written in beautiful cursive writing.

Stop writing me.

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. Stop. Writing. Me. Each word hits him. Each word is like a punch to the stomach. Three punches to the stomach. Three times. He swallows.

“Rain?”

Marigold walks in front of him and takes the letter. She looks at it. Her subdued aura becomes a burning one of vivid reds, blues and violets, “Oh Rain, I’m …”

“I-it’s ok, Marigold,” he says, quietly, “I guess … in the end, she’s just a kid. She …”

“She’s twenty years old, Rain,” Marigold looks as angry as she feels to him, “She was adult enough to get into it. She knew what she was doing. I did back in the day. And this … this is just totally uncool! I mean … oh Rain, I’m sorry.”

She hugs him again. It takes him a few moments, but he returns her embrace, “It’s okay, Mari,” he gently pushes her away, “I’m … disappointed, I won’t lie. But with Linda and everything, it’s … just as well now. Wow. I’m really not having a good month,” he shakes his head and finds himself tucking the piece of paper into his pants pocket, “Gosh darn zombie goth kids these days I guess,” he smiles weakly, “I need to go.”

“Are you sure? Rain …”

He looks at her: Marigold the bartender, waitress, ticket-collector, dancer, Goth, one of the few that believed sunflowers were happy accidents of God, who knew what obscure movie that paraphrase came from, one of his few friends who he knows that right now–anytime–but especially right now would do anything for him. Anything. He breaks that half-thought and he’s glad his face is painted white enough to cover the red that threatens it.

“I need some time to myself right now. Thank you. Love you, Mari. See you later,” he hugs her one more time and leaves.

He wonders, as he clears the door and down the stairs, what people might think of the streaks of black mascara and white make-up rolling down his face. Maybe they would think he’s some dumb punk kid. Or maybe a clown. That was it. Maybe they’d think he was the Great Pagliacci.

Pagliacci: the Gothic Clown.