Mickey flew to Noelle and tried to get in her face to calm her down but Noelle screamed like she had never seen him before in her life. Sage went to her side and tried to steady her but she thrashed violently against them both.

“What happened?” Mickey screamed at me.

Everyone looked at me but I couldn’t even speak.

Jacob put his meaty hand on my shoulder and gripped it hard, the rings digging into my bone.

“What happened, Dawn?” he asked with a glint in his eye.

I shook my head, my tongue thick and stupid. Next the tiny motel clerk with the hairy ears was at my side asking the same thing.

I was finally able to say, “I don’t know. She was sitting here alone and then she just started screaming.”

I could tell Jacob knew I wasn’t telling the whole truth but he let it go. I went on, “I was in my room earlier and someone had broken in.”

“What?” someone in the crowd cried out over Noelle’s wails.

Frenzied whispers erupted among the motel patrons.

“It’s true,” I said to the hotel manager. “I fell asleep, and when I woke up, the lights in my room were all out and someone was in my bathroom. The light was on. I heard them in there. Then they turned off the light and I ran out of the room. I ran all the way here and saw Noelle and then she just started screaming.”

The clerk looked extremely puzzled, shaking his head in disbelief. I didn’t know how else to describe it. They both seemed like two unrelated incidents but I saw Sonja just as Noelle had. Could it have been her in my room?

My eyes made their way back to Noelle. Mickey was trying to calm her but wasn’t having much luck. Sage had a hand on her arm, holding her down, but he was looking at me. His expression was entirely unreadable.

The manager sighed. “I better go call the police and get an ambulance here too.”

He ran off into the office.

“Aw, Christ,” Jacob swore. “This is all we need.”

I couldn’t help but glare at him. “I thought you liked bad press.”

His eyes narrowed into venomous yellow slits. They seemed to go from avian to reptilian in a single blink.

“I think you’re going to need to tell me the truth soon,” he whispered into my ear.

I moved my head out of the way. “I am telling the truth. Take it or leave it.”

He chewed on his lip for a moment, searching my face. “I’ll take it. For now.”

He left my side and went to go help Sage and Mickey.

I felt Robbie sidle up to me.

“Was there really someone in your room?” he asked. His shoulders were hunched and it looked like he couldn’t take any more punches from life.

I nodded, my eyes automatically darting over to the door. If it really had been a person in my room, they were probably gone now thanks to Noelle’s distraction. But I was starting to think it was just as likely that it had been Sonja, or one of the other GTFOs. Someone who wanted to fuck with me.

“I think…” Robbie trailed off.

“What?”

He started laughing to himself, like he remembered a funny joke. I watched and waited until the maniacal laughter stopped and he composed himself. He was still a lesser version of the rock god I used to know.

“Do you feel it?” he asked quietly, his eyes darting around.

I leaned into him. “Feel what?”

“It,” he said. “Something. Like something has a hold on us. Like….”

“Like?”

He shook his head and gave me a twisted smile. “I bet you never expected any of this.”

I frowned at his change of subject. “Did you?”

“Yes,” he answered plainly and didn’t elaborate. I didn’t feel like pressing him. I didn’t think it would do me any good.

We watched Noelle for a few minutes until the police and ambulance arrived. The police immediately came to me and barraged me with questions. I could tell Jacob was hoping they wouldn’t bring up Emeritta’s death, but the Atlanta cops weren’t stupid and they’d already heard all about it. Naturally they believed that Noelle was on drugs until the paramedics seemed to dismiss it.

Maybe it was because I was a female and a journalist, but the cops were easier on me than they were with Robbie and Mickey, and I wasn’t brought in for further questioning.

They went to the motel room to investigate my side of the story, and though they found the bulb in the bedroom had burned out naturally, there was a razor in the sink that hadn’t belonged to me or anyone else. There was no sign of a break-in, so whoever had been there had come in when I wasn’t aware. That freaked me out more than anything, knowing that someone had been in my room and I was lying there asleep and totally helpless.

Noelle still wasn’t responding to anyone, so she was strapped down into a stretcher and shoved in the ambulance. Mickey and Jacob went in the ambulance with her, leaving me, Sage, Robbie, Bob, Graham, and a load of frightened guests.

“So,” Robbie said, looking at us. “Who’s up for sleeping on the bus?”

No one argued, not even Graham, and we gladly locked ourselves in the vehicle and attempted once again to get a good night’s sleep.

Once again, a good night’s sleep never came.

****

The next morning Atlanta was under a deluge of rain as the remnants of an early tropical storm came in from the Gulf Coast. It was hot and sticky inside the bus, the windows all closed to keep out the incoming water that flowed down the planes of the bus like miniature waterfalls. No one had slept and with two nights of sleep deprivation, emotions were running high. We munched sugary confectionaries and strong coffee that Bob had snapped up from a local café, happy just to have our mouths occupied.

I explained what had happened as many times as I could and the guys kept asking me the same questions as if I’d say something new next time. I left out the part about Sonja being across the road knowing that would be dismissed as a trick of the eye, but I mentioned the monsters.

I tried to not make it obvious that I was watching Graham as I told them all. His expression didn’t change at all, not even when I brought up Noelle saying “We’re owed to them.”

“What does that mean?” Robbie asked.

I shrugged and looked at Sage. He was sitting on the couch, staring at some blank spot on the wall. He hadn’t said a word all morning and I had to wonder what on earth was going on in that head of his. I hoped he wouldn’t shut down too. The band needed him more now than ever. I needed him.

“It means Noelle is nuts,” Graham said, rapping a drumstick against his leg.

I shot him a disgusted look. “How can you say that?”

“How can you not say that?” he countered. “Go and listen to what you’re saying and tell us those are not the ramblings of a crazy loon. Fuck, we all know Noelle’s a weak chick. She always was. Even, I don’t know, five years ago. We all thought she’d grow out of it and get some balls or something but she never did. And Mickey just let her do whatever she wanted. Drugs, other men,” his eyes shot to Sage in a brief exchange, “booze, whatever the fuck.”

I wasn’t stupid. I made the connection and it immediately made sense. Sage and Noelle had slept together at some point. That would explain their somewhat strained relationship and the way she seemed to look at him at times with puppy dog eyes.

Or the way she used to. Now there was no knowing what was going on with her. And there was no way in knowing what was going on with me. That last thought chilled me to the bone. I had to wonder how long Noelle had thought she had monsters coming after her. Had it started out for her the same way it started out for me? Was that the path I was going down? I was already hiding things from everyone: what Graham had said to me, the demon faces, seeing Sonja in the darkness. I kept it to myself because I couldn’t bring myself to believe it and I knew no one else would. But maybe Noelle had been doing the exact same thing.

If she had pulled me aside a week earlier and told me what she’d seen, would I have believed her?

No. Of course not.

A few hours later, Jacob returned to the bus. We all jumped in our seats at his knock and Bob reluctantly opened the door, expecting monsters to follow him up the stairs.

“Christ it’s raining as fuck out there,’” Jacob said, shaking his jacket off, water flying onto the floor. He threw it onto the bench in a wet sop and looked down at us like a teacher inspecting his pupils. We sat there, watching him, waiting.

He let out a despondent sigh and rubbed his face. “Okay, folks. Here’s the new development….”

With grim lines across his face, he proceeded to tell us that Noelle wasn’t coming back anytime soon. The doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong with her. There had been no sign of drugs in her system, at least nothing more than residual amounts. She didn’t even test positive for alcohol so the doctors could only say it was most likely a combination of stress and lack of sleep that led to a nervous breakdown. Given that Emeritta had just died, there was a very strong chance that Noelle had been in a state of shock and this was how her body was dealing with it. They were hopeful she would eventually snap out of it, but they were going to keep her under observation for a few days, and after that, she’d probably be sent back to Sacramento to be with her parents. He said that he’d already spoken to them and they were flying out to Atlanta as soon as possible.

Jacob went on to say that Mickey offered to take care of Noelle, but seeing as they didn’t live together in Sacramento and her parents pretty much thought Mickey was the world’s worst influence, they weren’t having any of that. Which led to the next part.

“Unfortunately,” Jacob said, looking at Robbie and Graham with unease. “We’re going to have to cancel the show tonight.”

“Obviously,” I said.

He looked at me sharply. “Obviously, yes. Thank you, Rusty.”

“Just tonight?” Graham asked.

“Well…I don’t know. I’m afraid it’s time for another band meeting.”

Everyone looked at me. I raised my brow.

“Is that my cue to leave?” I asked.

Jacob nodded at Bob. “Both you and Bob should probably go and stretch your legs.”

I looked at the downpour outside and exchanged a look with the stoic bus driver. Seriously?

“Hey, she can stay,” Sage said.

“Why, you’re not done sucking up to your little buddy yet?” Graham spat out, smashing the drumstick against the seat.

Sage glared at him. “She can stay. She’s pretty much one of us now.”

I felt vaguely flattered.

Graham laughed viciously. “She will never be one of us. She wasn’t even supposed to be here in the first place.”

“Yes, yes,” Jacob chided him, “you wanted the guy from Rolling Stone. We heard it a million times before. Well, it’s Creem magazine, baby. What better place to record the shitshow of the century.”

I pursed my lips, thinking that over. Shitshow of the century. A tour that went down in history.

I was suddenly aware that everyone except Sage was looking at me expectantly.

***

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