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A deserted, unlit side street was not the wisest place to sit in an idling car with a trunk-load of expensive musical instruments. However, it was better than spending any more time in the practice space. Aside from the state of the place—a haggard, dilapidated husk, with damp so bad the amps inside fuzzed with the contamination of mold and mildew—he was still up there.
“Right,” said Rich, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. “What did we think about Percy?”
“I think I never want to see the fucking freak ever again,” replied Greg, sitting in the passenger seat, staring out the window at the steady patter of light rain. “I think, ‘Why are you even wasting your time asking that question?’”
“What about you, Josh?” said Rich, glancing in the rear view mirror.
“I agree, but with more tact,” came a disembodied, muffled voice from behind them. A bass guitar case shifted slightly in the confined length of the back seat, revealing Josh’s head peeking over the top. “He did come across a bit Village of the Damned. He couldn’t play, either. I don’t think he really understood what—well—what a song was actually. It was like he was just jamming to himself, on his own. Why bother answering an ad for a band if you’re just gonna play on your own?”
“And that fucking cow bell…” muttered Rich.
“His abilities are just superfluous detail though, right? Compared to the fact that he’s a round the twist bloody weirdo? I mean even if he was Josh Freese I wouldn’t be in a band with that guy,” said Greg.
“I was just checking we were all on the same page. I’ll text him now, tell him he’s not the drummer for us,” said Rich.
“Can we just, like, get out of here first?” asked Josh peering out at the dark, looming building they’d just vacated.
“Good idea,” said Greg, turning to look at Rich. “I said I’d meet Mike at The Lansdowne. Drop me off at the roundabout, yeah? I’ll walk the rest.”
“You’re gonna walk, Greg? Round this part of town?” came Josh’s concerned voice from the back.
“Jesus, you’re so sheltered,” sighed Greg.
“Okay then.” Rich shifted in his seat to put his phone in his back pocket. “An email would probably be better anyway, let him down lightly with some bullshit story. I’ll repost the Gumtree ad while I’m at it.”
Greg balked and turned to look at Rich, a sardonic smile plastered on his face.
“‘Bullshit story’? Fuck that. Don’t be a pussy. Just tell him that he’s a nut bar, we all hate him, and he scares Josh.”
“I’m not being pussy, Greg,” countered Rich. “I’m just not a tactless asshole like you.”
“It’s got me this far, mate,” Greg replied, twisting further around in his seat to resume staring out the window at nothing.
Rich started the car and pulled out. The trio sat in silence as Rich drove through the empty streets to Greg’s drop off point.
Greg clambered out wordlessly, wincing slightly as the icy raindrops stung his face. He leaned back into the car.
“Cheers, I guess my guitar can stay at your place?”
“Yeah, you sure you don’t want a lift? It’s not that far out of the way.”
“Nah, I’m alright.”
“Oh, and tell Mike he’s still got my copy of Dear You. He’ll say he hasn’t, but he bloody has,” said Rich, wrestling the tired car into gear. “Don’t let him slime his way out of it.”
“Okay, Okay! Fucking pussy music anyway. Hate that shit,” Greg muttered, half to himself, as he retracted his upper body from the front seat.
With an unhealthy grunt the car pulled away from the curb. Greg just had time to reach out and deliver a hasty goodbye knock on Josh’s backseat window. The car beeped its horn cheerily as it rounded the bend and disappeared from sight.
Turning in the opposite direction, Greg pulled the collar of his coat around his face in a futile attempt to shield it from the hostile night. He buried his hands in his pockets and marched purposefully down the street. After forty yards or so he turned into a rubbish-strewn alley, walled with black bin bags, their spilled innards giving the concrete beneath his feet a squelchy, carpeted feel.
He stopped a meter or two into the alley and lit a cigarette, a welcome but small comfort against the uninviting, ominous darkness of his surroundings. He retrieved an MP3 player and selected something hard and fast to walk in time to, his wet and clammy hands fumbling clumsily with the ear buds, struggling to get a decent grip. He raised them to within an inch of his ears, then stopped.
A sound: a rattling, unsteady, rat-a-tat-tat of metal on metal, like the irregular shaking of a giant cutlery tray. Greg couldn’t tell the direction it was coming from or its distance from him. It reverberated and clanged around the cavernous, narrow alleyway, distorting and deceiving his senses. All he could tell for certain was that it was getting closer.
Louder and louder, closer and closer the sound came. Greg, rooted to the spot, his hands still hovering inches from his ears, gathered himself and began speed walking down the alley, constantly looking over his shoulder, convinced now that the eerie metallic rattling was coming from the street behind him.
Closer and closer it came, until the clanging cacophony seemed so loud Greg could have sworn it was already on top of him, an invisible sound cloud of horrid, excruciating clamour.
Faster and faster he strode, but still the noise seemed to bear down on him.
At last he reached the end of the alley, but instead of emerging into the welcome orange glow of the streetlight something huge veered across his path, blocking his way.
“Greg? Greg! Oh my god, Greg! I thought you guys had left already, wasn’t there room in the car for you either? That’s why Rich said I couldn’t go with you guys. Hey! Do you wanna jam? Like, here! Right here! It’d be totally punk to play some acoustic jams right here. Right? Totes fucking punk.”
It was Percy and a large shopping trolley piled high with the dismembered limbs of his drum kit and an assortment of various other drum and non-drum related paraphernalia—a sleeping bag, some saucepans, clothes, bottles, trinkets—all bound with bungee ropes. Greg, in his haste to escape the alley, had walked right into the source of the noise that had so chilled him seconds earlier. He gaped at the trolley, struggling to collect himself as the fear-infused adrenaline continued to fuel his thumping heart.
Percy was already clambering over his trolley to join Greg in the alley, coming to a stand so close to Greg he could—even in this scant light—make out the nuances of his face: the clammy white skin, a fringe of jet-black, rain-slicked hair plastered across the forehead, eyelashes so thick they looked caked in mascara. And eyes. Huge eyes, bright blue, and so large they seemed to bulge out of his head—like the Beautiful Freak cover Greg thought, but without the beauty part.
“Wow. You scared the shit of me man,” said Greg, his fear subsiding slightly but his voice still quivering with unease. “Umm…I’m actually on my way somewhere…”
“Nah, nah. We’ll jam. Where’s your guitar? Gone? That’s okay, that’s cool. Hey! DRUM CIRCLE!”
Percy’s sharp rise in pitch and volume made Greg jump. He recalled Josh’s anxiety earlier. Here, alone with Percy in this isolated claustrophobic alley, it seemed more reasonable. He stepped forward, intending to walk past Percy back the way he’d come. But Percy stepped sideways, blocking his path.
The two of them stared at each other for a second.
“Like I said,” said Greg, “’gotta be somewhere.”
“C’mon! A two-man drum circle! Here, you take this,” Percy pushed a maraca into Greg’s slightly shaky hands. “You play this and I’ll set up my kit.”
“Where did you get—? Look mate, Percy, we’re not totally sure you’re what we’re looking for, in a drummer I mean—”
Percy, who had moved back to the trolley and was now yanking and dragging bits of drum kit from it, stopped. Another heavy pause ensued.
“I mean, you just seem, you know, maybe a bit too progressive, a bit, um, outside the box for us. We’re just a garage band. It’s not you, it’s us, okay? I’m going now Percy.”
“I think you’ll find I’m very versatile,” squeaked Percy. Greg detected for the first time a slight tinge of American in his voice, and it irked and unnerved him equally.
“Let’s play a drum duet punk cover! How about a bit of Jawbreaker?” chirped Percy with a suddenly renewed cheeriness in his voice.
Despite himself, despite the awkward discomfort of the situation, Greg rolled his eyes, sighed and rubbed his brow wearily. He hated Jawbreaker and wanted to be in the pub. He didn’t want to be standing in an ominous, rain-soaked alley humouring the whims of a nutter.
“Look Percy, we didn’t like you okay? You’re a bit weird. You’re not very good and, to be frank, you scared us all a bit, too. And that fucking cow bell!”
Percy, prodding one of the bin bags with his shoe, looked up into Greg’s face.
“Um, okay. I hear you Greg. I hear your criticisms and I’ve taken them on board, but I really think it would be better for you right now if you just played some Jawbreaker with me. I’ll play snare, you shake that, and I’ll…”
“I hate that whining, pussy music, okay? Just take a fucking hint. Bugger off Per—”
Something large and heavy slammed into the side of Greg’s face. It was so quick, so unexpected, he scarcely believed it had happened, until he noticed the round black shape of the practice pad hanging limply by Percy’s side, and the stinging, throbbing pain in his face.
“Ow! Did you just—?” Greg was stunned with indignation and surprise. “You fucking nut job! Right. I’m leaving. Fuck you, and if I see you in the street don’t expect a stop n’ chat, you freak.”
He began to awkwardly climb over the trolley that still blocked the alley. It was tough, the metal wet and slippery with rain. He could vaguely hear Percy panting behind him.
It was more a squeal than a shout, and it cut Greg to his marrow. He stalled with shock, just long enough for Percy to grab a large chunk of his collar and yank him backwards. His rubber soles slipped off the metal frame of the trolley and he flipped backwards, his head landing with a heavy thud on the gooey, rain-soaked garbage that littered the alley. Dazed, he rolled over onto his front, pushed himself onto his knees and, with the combination of the pain in his head and the smell of the rank rubbish in his noise, puked.
“What the fuck! You fucking nutter, freak fucking—”
Greg’s exclamations were cut off by a sharp kick to his face that sent him crashing backwards, leaving him slumped clumsily against a couple of bin bags.
Percy stalked up and down the alley in front of Greg, his breathing short and his hands fidgeting with his clothes and hair.
“That’s rude Greg. You shouldn’t swear at me Greg. It makes me nervous and I lash out when I’m nervous. You need to learn manners if you want to make it in a band Greg. You’ve got to be tactful and compromise a lot.”
Greg wasn’t hearing. His head was spinning. It lolled from side to side as he tried in vain to get the world back in focus.
“Don’t ignore me Greg!”
He struck him again with the practice pad, bringing Greg partially out of his daze.
“Right, I think I’ve got something here that might teach you a lesson,” said Percy, as he rummaged around in his shopping trolley. Emerging a moment later, he crouched down in front of Greg and waved a broken quarter of a crash cymbal in front of his glazed, unseeing eyes.
“So, are we gonna play some Jawbreaker or what? Who’s going to sing? Huh, Greg? Do you know the words to ‘Accident Prone’?”
Greg, his eyes glazed, mumbled drunkenly, “F…fu…pu…”
“What’s that, Greg?” whispered Percy, encouragingly, coaxing a response out of his victim and resting the sharp edge of the shattered cymbal against one side of his throat.
bewildered and semi conscious, Greg’s bloodied lips broke into a smile.
“Fucking pussy music,” he said.
“Wrong answer, Greg,” whispered Percy again, dragging the edge across Greg’s throat and savouring the warm gush of blood that cascaded out of the expanding wound. It flowed in great thick heaves, looking like slick, black crude oil in the darkness. It coated his hands and collected in little puddles on the bin bag underneath Greg’s convulsing body.
Greg, his eyes wide and transfixed on the opposite wall, gurgled and wheezed. His chest heaved gently as the life seeped out of it. After a moment, his eyes were still wide and staring as he lay motionless. The only sound came from the light splash of the subsiding raindrops and Percy’s own heavy breathing.
With a light clang, Percy threw the piece of cymbal back in the trolley then bent down and picked up Greg’s MP3 player in his bloody hands, studying the electronic display.
“They’re a hardcore band aren’t they? Never liked that stuff myself; the gigs are too violent. Oh well, night-night Greg. See you at band practice.”
He continued on his noisy way, whistling as he went, and trying to remember where Josh had said he lived only two hours before.
“I’m gonna paint the walls with your grey matter,” rasped Josh through gritted teeth. He pulled the trigger on the shotgun and revelled at the sight of the perfectly rendered chunks of skull and cranium splatter against the wall behind.
“Check out the graphics on the skull fragments!” he cried triumphantly.
A crackling voice came through the headset he wore over his mousy jew-fro.
“Nice, you got me. Again. I think I’m gonna turn in now Josh.”
“What! C’mon Phil, you don’t want just one round?”
“Nah. Maybe tomorrow evening if you’re not doing band stuff,” replied Phil’s voice through the tiny speaker next to Josh’s ear.
“Well we don’t have a drummer again, remember,” Josh said into the mic.
“Oh, yeah. Well, whatever. I guess I’ll come over…whenever. Okay, night Josh.”
The microwave pinged in the kitchen. Josh pulled off the headset and set down the X-Box controller on the sofa next to him. He got up and headed to the kitchen, yawning and rubbing his tired eyes. With the help of a tea towel, he struggled momentarily to extract a steaming bowl of instant noodles from the microwave.
Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye—could it have been?—a dark shape passing by the window. Warily, tea towel still in hand, he crossed the kitchen floor. Leaning over the sink, he peered out of the window into the street: nothing but the empty blackness of the night. He stood up straight and peered at his vacant, frightened face reflected in the black square of the windowpane.
“No more first person shooters late at night,” he told himself, shaking his head. He turned his back on the window and searched amongst the clutter on the work surface for the noodle flavour sachet.
A sudden, tumbling clang from outside made him jolt so violently his wayward hand sent a coffee mug flying. The remnants of the black liquid splashed against the skirting board.
The sound of metal bouncing, crashing and scraping along concrete had come from what must only have been a couple of yards away from either side of the window. Josh didn’t dare approach it to confirm this but stared at the window wide-eyed and slowly backed away, step by step, until with a light bump he hit the opposite wall. The window reflected the scene back at him, the light from the kitchen strip-light hiding whatever lay beyond the pane.
Then a face appeared, so close to the glass as to be beyond doubt.
“Mike!” screamed Josh. Relief flooded through him. He shrank and withered slightly with the sudden release of tension.
Mike’s eyes were half closed and glazed with drunken wooziness, his smile crooked and child-like. He gestured sideways towards the front door, stumbling slightly with the momentum of his wildly gesticulating hands.
“Door…the door!” Mike slurred, his voice muffled by the glass.
Mike, leaning against the front door from the outside, fell over the threshold and crumpled into a heap at Josh’s feet.
“Hi Josh. Where’s Greg?” said Mike sleepily from the floor, one side of his face pressed against the dirty carpet.
“What? I thought he was with you?”
“He stood me up! Had to drink his share of booze. Oh, yeah, I fucked up your bins. Sorry about that. You shouldn’t leave them so close to your front door. I was walking by and your bin was just suddenly there and I was all like ‘whaoooo!’ and the bin was all like ‘shhhiiiiit’ and I was all like ‘whaoooo’ and fuckin’ ate it into the gutter. Like, ate it, I think I slept for a little bit. Why haven’t you got wheelie bins like everyone else anyway, man? Those metal ones really hurt. Jesus, get with the fucking program, Granddad. Hey! Where’s Greg?”
Josh noticed the wet, muddy patch on Mike’s flank.
“So that was you making all that noise?”
“Yeah. I just fuckin’ said didn’t I? Jesus get with the fuckin’ progr—“
“The program, right, I’ll do that,” said Josh, wondering how he was going to shift the portly drunkard out of his house.
“I was just about to head off to bed actually, Mike. I guess Greg is back at his house. He might have some booze. Mike? Don’t go to sleep Mike.”
Josh prodded his friend’s gut with his foot, who grunted back to life and wiped a strand of spittle from his mouth.
“GIN PARTY!” He screamed suddenly. “Let’s have a gin party right now Josh!”
Josh sighed, scrunched up his eyes, and ran his hand through his hair.
“Greg has plenty of gin at his house—”
“And ice and lemon? I’m not fucking having it without ice and lemon. That’s just fucking sick. That’s fucked up Josh! THAT’S FUCKED—”
“And lots of ice and lemon. All at Greg’s house. So let’s just get you…”
Josh, slim and slight compared to most, and positively puny compared to Mike, attempted to lift his friend off the carpet. Thankfully, Mike got the message and hauled himself up, dragging the phone off the hallway table in the process.
“Right, I’m off then Josh,” Mike slurred, struggling to focus on Josh’s frowning face. “Bye,” he said, bouncing off the doorframe and meandering down the street.
“Drink lots of water!” Josh shouted after him, before closing the door, shivering slightly from the cold air.
Immediately he found the new silence disconcerting. He went into his room and played a record far louder than was appropriate at that time on a Sunday night. He retrieved the lukewarm, soggy mush that were once his instant noodles and carried them into the living room. He had barely gotten the first forkful to his mouth when he heard a pounding on the front door. Irritated, he made his way to the door and flung it violently open.
“Mike! Can you just—”
His words caught in his throat when he saw, not Mike, but Percy, standing diminutively behind his mountain of drums. He stared dumbly, first at Percy’s grinning face, then at the trolley, then back to Percy’s face.
“Hi Josh! Sorry, totally forgot which house you lived at. Took me ages to get this lot up the hill, and then I heard the music, and guessed this was your place. Pretty lucky you put it on. The Hold Steady. Good choice. I really think we’re on the same page here, Josh, you and me. We’re on the same page and I reckon we could be a pretty damn tight rhythm section. So shall we get started?”
Still struggling just to regain some kind of composure, Josh didn’t have the wherewithal to protest when Percy began ineptly shunting his trolley through the door and into the hallway. He flattened himself against the wall as Percy forced his load through, knocking over the hallway table, running over the phone still lying on the floor and bumping and scraping the walls, tearing great gouges out of the paintwork.
“Umm…Wh-What…I mean…what exactly are you doing here? Practice ended an hour ago,” said Josh as he inspected the gouges in the plaster and wondered, despite his mounting unease, how he was going to explain them to the landlord.
Percy ceased his barging for a moment and turned to look at Josh.
“An extended practice, Josh. Like we agreed, don’t you remember? We’re going to go through the songs and really lock into one another, really get the drums and bass locked in.”
Percy tightly webbed his fingers together to illustrate the point, and Josh noticed for the first time the red stains where his long, uneven fingernails met the skin.
“Umm…no I don’t, I don’t remember agreeing to that,” said Josh.
Percy’s cheery smile vanished, replaced with a hollow, vacant stare. A second later, as quickly as it had gone, the smile returned, along with a single, high-pitched, barked laugh that cut Josh to the root of his back teeth.
“Good one, Josh! See? We’ve got a connection, yeah? Me and you, we only met this afternoon and we’re just so…mmm” Again the webbed hands, the red stains. In fact, Josh noticed, all over his hands there was a slight red tinge.
A knot of panic landed heavily in Josh’s stomach, climbed up his chest, and took an unwelcome residency in his throat. How was he going to get rid of this…this freak? Where was Greg when you needed him? He’d tell this deluded odd ball where to shove it. Or Rich, he could talk his way out of this one; he’d concoct a story that would persuade the fucker to leave. He leaned against the hallway wall, looking upwards with closed eyes and cursing his own awkward inadequacy.
“Greg said the same, you know, Josh,” said Percy, now pulling selected bits of drum kit out of the trolley and arranging them on the living room floor. “He said we were the core of the band, that we could really mold ourselves into something good. All the best bands have tight rhythm sections—”
“You saw Greg? Wh-where?”
“Right after practice, he was going to the pub, but he hung around and we had a real bitchin’ jam.”
“Was Mike there, too?”
Percy looked puzzled for a moment. “Mike?”
“Yeah, he went to meet Mike.”
That same vacant stare, then, cheerily: “Mike? Oh yeah! Mike! Of course Mike! What a great guy. Yeah he turned up. We had a really great chat the three of us, about how great Jawbreaker are—”
“Greg had a chat about how great Jawbreaker are?” asked Josh. Even in his flustered state he couldn’t keep the incredulity out of his voice.
“Yeah, and then they went to the pub, and I came here, like we agreed. Okay buddy?”
They stared at one another, Percy with his merry grin, Josh’s face a picture of fear.
“Well, get your bass out then,” said Percy, gesturing to the instrument propped up in the corner.
With no plan, with no clue as to what to do, Josh obeyed. He retrieved his bass and stood as far from the sofa and Percy as he could. Smiling broadly, Percy patted the space on the sofa next to him.
“Come over here Josh mate, we need to be as familiar with each other as possible. We need a really intimate relationship if we’re going to become a tight rhythm section.”
“I think I’m fine over here, thanks. I prefer to play standing up Percy.”
“Nonsense, I really think it would be better for you if you came over here Josh.”
Again: the stare and that dead-eyed grin.
Just to break the excruciating silence, Josh, impossibly slowly, shuffled over and delicately positioned himself on the edge of the sofa, his back unnaturally straight and stiff.
“Okay, then. What shall we start with?” asked Percy.
“How about “Please, Please Leave”?” suggested Josh.
“Oh yeah, I like that one. Okay: one, two, three, four…”
Percy’s drumming on his stripped-down kit of snare, bass drum, and hi-hat was unbearably dreadful. The unsteady beat grating against Josh’s already shredded nerves. What’s more, he could feel Percy’s gaze drilling into him throughout the awful rendition, making him all the more desperate to leave.
“That went well I—. Hold on. I’ve got a text,” said Percy, fishing his mobile out of this pocket. “Wow, it’s from Rich. It says, ‘great practice this evening, can’t wait for the next one. You free next week?’ and then three kisses. Wow. What a great guy!”
“It…really? Rich said that?” asked Josh, confusion mingling with his fear.
“Sure, check it out.”
Percy handed the phone over to Josh who read the text:
Hi Percy, soz but it’s gonna have 2 B a no I’m afraid. Somethins come up meaning we don’t need your drumming services any more. Will explain in email. Thanx for answering the ad. Bye! Richx
“No, look, it says…” Josh began in a hoarse, cracked whisper, but felt it wiser not to continue. Instead, he buried his head in his hands and began to tremble uncontrollably. Percy’s selective reading of the text confirmed what he’d feared; he was in the company of a maniac. He felt completely helpless. He glanced sideways, and for the first time noticed the large, sticky stains on Percy’s black shirt.
“Wh—. What did you say happened to Greg again?” he asked.
Percy sighed irritably.
“I do wish you’d stop asking about Greg, Okay Josh? OKAY JOSH?!”
The sudden rise in pitch and volume shot down Josh’s spine, making him tremble all the more violently.
“He went to THE PUB Josh. I TOLD YOU ALREADY! Look at me Josh! Look at me!” Percy ordered.
Josh slowly lifted his head out of his hands. With a lightening quickness Percy grabbed Josh’s brown curls and smashed his forehead into the rim of his snare drum. Once, twice…
“He went to the pub Josh!”
Three, four times Percy forced Josh’s head into the metal outer rim with a ferocity and strength that defied his small frame.
“We had a chat, I made my point, and then he went to the pub and had a beer and some Quavers. Okay Josh? He had Quavers. What did he have Josh?”
Percy wrenched Josh’s head back.
“Q-Quavers,” Josh croaked.
“Now, we’ll do that one again. You count it in this time.”
Josh, blood dripping from his forehead to the carpet in one continuous stream, was openly crying and whimpering gently into his hands again.
“I said COUNT IN THE SONG, JOSH,” screamed Percy, thwacking Josh over his head with the fat end of a drumstick.
Feeling he had no choice, Josh obeyed.
Josh bolted. He ran through the living room door and into the landing, then collided painfully with Percy’s trolley that still blocked the hall. He began to clamber over the awkward array of jutting metal stands, cymbals, and assorted crap. He was agonisingly close—agonisingly close to the door and freedom—but when he went to lift his foot to take the last couple of steps he couldn’t. He pulled but it wouldn’t budge. Somewhere within the mess of objects, the lattice of metal, his foot was caught.
He looked over his shoulder to see Percy standing menacingly in the hallway door, a sickening grin plastered on his face.
“Fuck off you, cunt!” screamed Josh, as he frantically twisted his foot this way and that, struggling to get it free. He looked down in search of a weapon and spotted the phone. His foot still caught, he stretched painfully over the side of the trolley, scooped it up, and flung it at Percy. It smacked him full in the chest, bringing out a high-pitched scream from his tormentor.
“I always thought you were such a nice, considerate guy, Josh,” said Percy, holding his chest and wincing, “but I think you just broke my rib, so I’m going to have to teach you the same lesson in manners I taught our bandmate Greg.”
Wide eyed with fear, Josh struggled even harder. Finally, his foot came lose and he lunged forward towards the door. But Percy was too quick; he flung both hands over Josh’s head and lodged a drumstick horizontally against his windpipe. Josh clawed at Percy’s knuckles, but the pain in his throat and the constriction of air made him helpless, allowing Percy to slowly pull him backwards out of the trolley.
Percy spun him around and slammed him against the wall, Josh managing one paltry wheeze before Percy reacquainted his stick with his throat, pushing even harder against his windpipe, strangling the life out of him.
Josh, gasping, groped helplessly in the region of Percy’s hip. His eyes were blurring and a cloudy fog of dizziness was enveloping his brain. Percy had his whole body pressed against Josh’s, trapping his lower half. Suddenly, he felt something hard, small and angular in Percy’s pocket. He pulled it out and, unthinkingly, jammed it into Percy’s right eye.
Percy screamed so shrilly Josh swore his eardrums would shatter. It was a drum key, and Josh pushed as hard as he could. It felt like squashing a miniature stress ball into a hard kitchen surface. Percy continued to scream in pain, but maintained the same pressure on Josh’s windpipe, the two now engaged in a hideous battle of attrition, between Josh’s lungs and Percy’s pain threshold.
Neither won—with a crack, the stick snapped.
Josh took his chance, pushing Percy back and barrelling into him shoulder-first. The pair stumbled through the living room door, smashing through Percy’s drum kit and tumbling over the coffee table. They came to rest in a graceless heap in front of the TV. For a moment, both lay in dazed silence.
Josh recovered first. He hauled himself onto his knees, gave Percy a swift and clumsy punch in the head, then got up and ran for the door. Percy groped desperately for Josh’s foot, but missed. He screamed with rage and punched the carpet.
But in his rush to escape, Josh failed to notice the hi-hat stand lying horizontally on the living room carpet. He stood on it, his foot twisting awkwardly, and he sprawled forward onto his front.
He lay there motionless, his head cocked back at an odd angle, as if propped up by something under his chin, and a soft gurgling sound emanating from his mouth.
Confused at his foe’s apparent paralysis, Percy got up, and with one hand covering his mangled eye walked the length of Josh’s body to investigate. He saw the cause immediately. Two-thirds of his snapped drumstick had come to rest in a coffee mug, the sharp splintered point sticking vertically upwards. Josh had landed on it neck first, the stick puncturing his throat and lodging itself deep in his neck. Blood oozed from the wound, trickling down the length of the stick and collecting in the mug, mingling with the black dregs of coffee that already resided there. His mouth blew foamy, bloody bubbles which popped and sprayed tiny claret droplets onto the living room carpet.
“Well, that’s technically a self-inflicted wound Josh.”
He crouched down on his haunches in front of Josh and watched for a moment, at the color draining from Josh’s face and the blood gradually filling up the receptacle.
“You’ve got yourself into a right state haven’t you Josh? A good bassist needs better judgement than that. You need to be solid and reliable, and not dead. So I think we’ll call it a night.”
Rich couldn’t fucking sleep.
“Jen, I can’t fucking sleep.”
Staring up at the ceiling, he turned to the unresponsive shock of hair lying on the pillow next to him.
“Jen? Are you awake? I am. I can’t sleep…Jen?”
A muffled voice came from the hair.
“Well maybe if you stopped fidgeting like a junkie you’d be able to.”
Rich continued to stare up at the ceiling for a moment.
“Why do you think we keep attracting these freaks, Jen?”
“‘Dunno…birds of a feather and all that?”
“Seriously though—I mean, why? That guy was like our third drummer in a month and he was…I was scared, Jen. I couldn’t adjust the levels on my amp ‘cause I didn’t want to turn my back on him, just in case I turned back around and he was, like, there, really close, but in a really short space of time, like in films when they blink and the things already, like, upon them, you know? You know what I mean Jen? You know how—”
Jennifer abruptly rolled over onto her front, burying her face into the pillow with frustration.
“Yes, I know what you mean Rich, Okay? I don’t care about your little hobby or your idiot new playmates,” she snapped.“It’s all you ever talk about. Now can we please just sleep?”
“But why though, Jen? Why? Why can’t we just get someone that’s good and also not a fucking fruit and nut-bar?”
Jennifer sighed heavily and rolled onto her back, joining Rich in staring at the ceiling, resigned to his persistent nattering.
“It’s Gumtree, Rich. If these guys were regular people with regular social skills, they’d meet musicians in the real world and they’d already be in bands. Think about it; they play this completely inaccessible noisy instrument that no one else plays and they resort to the Internet to find a band? They should have people begging for them to join bands, but they don’t. That’s like being the only guy at a party with the key to the liquor cabinet and still no one talking to you. What does that say about that person Rich?”
“Fuck that person?” offered Rich.
“Correct, fuck that person.”
“That actually makes a lot of sense.”
“I know. I’m a good girlfriend dealing with your petty shit. You should buy me more nice things.”
“You don’t like nice things.”
“Then would it be too much to ask that you let me sleep?”
“‘K,” said Rich, turning onto his side and closing his eyes.
A second later he sat bolt upright.
“Did you hear that noise?” he hissed.
“No. The only noise I hear is you still talking.”
Slowly, warily, Rich lay down, pulling the duvet cover up to his chin.
“Yeah, it was probably nothing.” He whispered.
A sudden crashing from outside shocked both Rich and Jen into an upright position. For a moment both sat, rigid with fright, as the clattering continued outside.
“Rich! Rich! Open the door, man!” an urgent, slurring voice called out.
Rich breathed a sigh of relief. Jennifer slumped back onto the mattress.
“Oh my god, it’s fucking Mike! Why is your drunk, fat friend at our house at two in the fucking morning?”
“I’ll go see what he wants,” said Rich, wearily pulling on his trousers. “He probably just wants a gin party. And you shouldn’t call him fat.”
“A wha? Just deal with it. Where’s your iPod?” snapped Jennifer. “I don’t want to hear his drunken witterings.”
Snatching up the iPod from the bedside dresser, she turned the volume up until Rich himself could clearly make out the distinctive outlines of a J Mascis guitar riff, then rolled over to face the wall angrily.
Rich placed his hand on her shoulder—a weak gesture of apology—and then made his way to the front door.
As soon as the door was opened Mike was upon him, draping his huge body onto Rich’s shoulders. Rich gasped with effort, struggling not to collapse under the weight. Using all his strength he managed to manoeuvre Mike’s body safely to the ground without too much of a bump.
“Oh my god Mike, you really can’t be here. Unless you’ve got my Dear You on you right now you need to go home.”
He stopped talking when he saw the large indentation on the back of Mike’s skull. One whole section of the back of his head had been flattened, like an apple that had been spanked with a shoe. His brown hair was darkened black and matted with already congealing blood.
Rich tentatively knelt beside his friend. He was still breathing, but barely. He’d be dead in minutes.
“M-Mike?” he said quietly, his eyes welling up as he began to process the reality of the situation.
“So this is Mike!” came a high-pitched, boyish voice from the direction of the door. A second later, Percy walked out of the darkness and into the light of Rich’s living room, holding the flat, bloodied foot board of a kick drum pedal.
“That’s so weird. Josh was talking about him, and then the guy hassling me on the street for ice and lemon slices turns out to be him. He led me straight to your house though Rich, that’s a bit of luck, right? Still he was annoying, and we can’t have drunk liabilities treading on our coattails while we’re on the up.”
“Wh-what…why the fuck did you do this? And what the fuck happened to your eye!” whispered Rich, his throat constrained by shock and grief.
“I just said, didn’t I?” said Percy cheerily, stepping over Mike’s body and inspecting the room casually. “Try and keep up, would you? He was in the way, Richard. He was in our way. We can’t compromise. We already need to get a new bassist and guitar player; we’ve got a lot of work to do. Unless you just want to be a two-piece. I think the dynamic between the two of us could probably work, but the whole guitar player and drummer thing’s been played out what with the White Stripes and Against Me! and Apologies, I Have None. I mean Against Me! and Apologies became whole bands in the end. I guess it depends whether you prefer the early stuff or—hey, what are you doing Richard?”
While Percy talked, Rich, almost in a trance, had picked up the phone and dialled 999.
“Police please, and an ambulance.”
He glanced at Mike’s prostrate body.
“But mainly police—lots of them, with guns. Yeah, the address is—”
Before he could get the words out, Percy had slammed the bass drum pedal into the phone, shattering the plastic casing and killing the line.
“No, no, no Richard. No social calls during practice.”
“But…it’s the middle of the night and you’re mental. You’re the guy with the keys to the liquor cabinet.”
Rich’s fear and shock had gone full circle; he felt oddly functional, strangely sober and calm.
“What do you mean a two-piece?” he asked.
“What? Oh yeah; I sacked Josh and Greg.”
“You…‘sacked’ them?’” said Rich, a horrible possibility suddenly occurring to him.
“Yeah, you know, sacked them. Like I sacked Mike. It was a messy business, lots of blood.”
It felt like the bones in Richard’s legs had turned to plasticine. He sank onto the sofa, kneading his eye sockets with the heels of his palms, trying to absorb and process this terrifying turd typhoon of information.
“You killed my friends,” he muttered, almost inaudibly. “You killed my band.”
“That’s another word for it I guess,” said Percy nonchalantly, now inspecting a Fucked Up poster above the mantelpiece. “It’ll take a while finding replacements on Gumtree but we’ll get there.”
A furnace of hate and revulsion ignited within Rich.
“YOU KILLED MY FUCKING BAND!” he screamed, springing from the sofa and rugby tackling Percy, who fell backwards, his shoulders slamming hard into the mantelpiece. Richard straddled Percy’s midriff and began pummelling whatever part of his face and head he could lay his fists on.
Percy tried to fight back, lashing out blindly at Rich, his one working eye partially obscured by the blood from fresh wounds seeping into it. He groped the floor around him in search of a weapon. His hand landed on the TV remote, and he slammed it into the side of Rich’s head.
Dazed by the blow, Rich instinctively raised his hands to where he had been struck. Percy took his chance, lurching forward and wriggling out from beneath Rich. He stood up, panting, and spat a mixture of blood, tooth, and spittle onto the floor. With his bloodied, bruised face and mangled eye Percy was barely recognisable. His swollen lips and broken teeth gave his cheery, polite tones a twisted, warped sound.
“Not cool, Richard. If you’ve got a problem with me, you should learn to communicate and talk about it,” he said to Rich, who sat upright now on the floor, struggling to regain his breath and bearings.
“Okay,” Rich said between deep breaths. “I hate you and I want you to die. How’s that?”
“Ah, I see, creative differences then.”
“Fuck, you really don’t get it do you? Do I have to spell it out?” sighed Rich.
Percy didn’t answer, but lunged towards Rich. Surprised by the strength of his foe, but prepared for the attack, Rich managed to catch Percy’s wrist in his own hands, who twisted and pulled, trying to get free.
“No one’s coming to help you Richard, why delay the inevitable?”
But there was someone who could help. Amid the fear, anger, and ensuing commotion Rich had forgotten Jennifer’s presence in the adjacent room.
“Jen!” he shouted towards the bedroom, “Jen! Jen! Jeeeen! Jen!”
Percy followed the direction of Rich’s shouts, putting two and two together.
“Girlfriend I’m guessing? Doesn’t sound like she likes you very much.”
“She’s just listening to a really long song,” said Rich through gritted teeth, as much to convince himself as Percy.
“Hey, does she play anything? Maybe she could join the band,” leered Percy. “I’ll go and ask her, shall I?”
Percy wrenched himself free from Rich, stood up, and began walking towards the door to the bedroom.
“Don’t even think about it, you fucking cunt,” cried Rich, lunging forward feet-first. He kicked out, his foot connecting hard with Percy’s ankle. Percy turned, shaping up to kick Rich in the face. But he slipped on his own small puddle of spittle and stumbled backwards, tripping over Mike’s body and falling backwards, hands first through the glass-topped coffee table.
As the last twinkling shards of broken glass finally came to a rest, a moment of almost tranquil silence ensued. Then Percy, laying twisted amongst the wreckage, began wailing in anguished pain. He got up, gazing in horror at his tattered, lacerated hands. His mangled face contorted into a look of utter dismay.
“My hands! Look at my hands! I’ll never play again!” he wailed, sobbing with distress, snot and tears mixing with the blood already caked on his face.
Rich stared in revulsion at the stream of blood flowing from the numerous cuts on Percy’s hands and the large crimson puddle it formed on the plywood floor. Percy seemed oblivious to his presence now, lost in the grief of his own private tragedy.
Percy’s sorrow had bought Rich some time. Slowly, he began edging towards the bedroom door, trying to keep as much out of Percy’s peripheral line of sight as he could. Treading carefully, he moved into the landing that connected the living room and bedroom. He would rouse Jennifer and together they’d get as far away from the flat as possible. Barely had he got his trembling hand onto the door handle, however, when he felt his head suddenly wrenched backwards. Something wet and sticky wrapped itself round his face. Pressed hard against his mouth, Rich could taste the rancid blood that coated Percy’s arm and hear his hissing breath millimetres from his ear. He felt nauseated at the thought of Percy’s hideous wounds so close to his own face. He struggled to get free before becoming aware of something sharp pressing into the side of his neck.
“No more messing around Richard, or I might slip this into your jugular,” Percy whispered into Rich’s ear, relieving the pressure on his neck momentarily to wave a large shard of glass in front of Rich’s face. Rich aimed a kick at the door, desperate to wake Jennifer, but he was at Percy’s mercy, who pulled him backwards and out of range. Percy increased the pressure of the shard of glass, until Rich felt a trickle of his own blood slide down his neck.
“Right, well I had a little think back there Richard and I’m a tad concerned about the disrespect you’ve shown me,” he said, guiding Rich back into the living room. “So I think I’m going to end our professional relationship. Now, can you pass me that mug?”
“W-what?” said Rich.
“That mug on the sideboard there, pass it to me.”
Blindly, the grip of Percy’s arm under his chin restricting his movements, Rich fumbled on the sideboard for the mug. In one movement Percy snatched it out of his hand and brought it crashing down onto the back of Rich’s head. Rich’s vision blurred, the room spun, and he sank onto his knees. Percy placed a foot on his chest and pushed him onto his back, leaving him dazed and concussed on the living room floor.
“Right, stay there,” said Percy, as he headed out the front door and began yanking and pulling at the contents of his trolley. He re-emerged, hugging his bass drum to his chest.
Rich, lying on his back, stared up at the ceiling, the light fixtures multiplying and spinning sickeningly. Suddenly, Percy appeared in the foreground of his vision, giant and looming, and holding his bass drum high above his head, ready to bring it crashing down onto Rich’s face.
“Right, nice working with you Rich, shame it had to end like this,” said Percy, as he mustered up all his remaining strength, readying to bring down the bass drum with as much force as possible.
Rich closed his eyes tight, waiting for the inevitable end.
But it didn’t come. Instead, he heard a gasp, then a soft, dull thud. He opened his eyes and saw Percy, still holding the bass drum over his head, but with a glazed, vacant expression on his wrecked face. Behind him stood Jennifer breathing deeply, a look of horrified shock on her face. In her hands was Rich’s black and white Rickenbacker guitar. She lifted the guitar by its neck and brought the body down onto Percy’s head for a second time. Rich gathered himself and rolled sideways, just as Percy collapsed forward, occupying the space on the floor that Rich had just vacated. Percy dropped the bass drum with a loud bang.
Rich got to his feet and gently prised the guitar out of Jennifer’s shaking white-knuckled grip.
“Thanks Jen. What took you so long?” he said, placing his hand gently on her shoulder and rubbing his aching head with the other.
Jennifer stared at him in open mouthed, wide-eyed shock.
“I was—those Dinosaur Junior songs are so long. I fell asleep…Mike’s dead, Rich,” she stammered.
“Yeah, I reckon so.”
She looked down at Percy’s prostrate, broken body. “Is this—”
“Yeah. Like I was saying, he has…issues.”
“Let’s just get the fuck out of here, call the cops,” said Rich, taking her by the hand and coaxing her towards the door.
“Why would anyone—”
“Dunno. I guess some people just take this whole band thing way too seriously,” said Rich, as the two of them walked out the front door, leaving the scene of death and devastation behind them.
John Miskelly lives in Bristol but probably isn’t Banksy. He divides the majority of his time between spirit crushingly dull data entry temp jobs and hanging round the flat wasting time. John is the co-creator and co-author of BonusCupped fanzine, fronts and plays bass in a barely functioning lo-fi indie punk band, and has an ongoing beef with the nation of Canada.
He writes a blog called Protagonist Complex and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter (@JohnMisk) or facebook (search “bonuscupped fanzine”.)
This Razorcake ebook is made possible in part by grants from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and is supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles Arts Commission.