So I told her exactly what happened, all the details of the ‘ludes night.

“Anyway,” I finished, “it was no big deal. We’re cool.”

“He better be cool or I’m going to come down there and kick his ass. Speaking of coming down there…I’m coming down there!”

I was stunned. “What?”

“I booked a flight for the San Antonio show. I have a cousin down there I can stay with, he’s cool.”

“Oh, Mel…”

“What? Don’t you dare tell me you don’t want me there, bitch. Because I will cut you. After I hug you first, of course.”

I rubbed at my forehead.

“No, it’s not that. Of course, I want you here. I want more than anything to see you. But, I don’t know, it’s really not as fun as you’d think, Mel.”

She laughed. “Look, I’m not looking to hang out with the band. I’m not trying to be all cool. I just want to see you and see the show. That’s it.”

“Have you heard what happened?”

“Yeah, I fucking heard. It’s all over the radio here. A chick dies, now Noelle’s ill? What even happened with her? The press just says she’s sick but they won’t say what with.”

Demonfever, I thought to myself.

“We don’t actually know. Things are pretty heavy here.”

“I bet they are. That’s why you need me there. I know how you get, Dawn when other people are hurting. You turn into a mother, always taking care of everyone else, sticking around, making sure everyone’s going to be all right. That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?”

“Not really.” And that was true. I couldn’t take care of those boys if I tried.

“Bogus, Dawn. You totally are. And what’s my job as your lovely African princess sidekick? It’s to kick your freckly ass.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew there would be no convincing her. Mel was coming to join me on tour, and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to be happy.

“All right, there’s no stopping you,” I relented.

“You got that right, sister. Now I better go before my ma kills me for the phone bill. I love you, lady.”

“Love you too,” I said sadly.

“See you in Texas. Yeee haw!”

We hung up and I heard her voice still in my head. I sighed and got off the bed. I looked at myself in the ornate mirror that hung above the polished desk. I looked hardened, my hair resigned to the eternal fuzz of humidity. It seemed like every time I got a glimpse of myself, I was looking less like Dawn and more like some other girl. No, not a girl. A woman.

Whoever I was turning into, I had to be brave and I had to be strong. I wasn’t about to let some scary groupies and superstitions stop me from doing my job. I still had an article to write, one that would finally garner me the respect I craved, the importance I needed, and I had to stop getting sidetracked. Yes, Emerrita was a tragedy and Noelle’s condition was sad, but I had to find that thread of journalistic hardness somewhere inside me. I needed to stop feeling with the band. Mel was right, I was becoming too focused on them and how they were feeling. I was getting too close. I needed to become that impartial player once more, and I’d start by treating Sage like a subject and not a friend. And certainly not someone I constantly thought about getting in the sack.

Even though from the way he handled me and the feel of his cock on my thigh, he promised to be a very passionate, rough ride.

“Snap out of it!” I yelled at my reflection. “Do your damn job.”

The Dawn in the mirror looked surprised. I took that as a good sign.


The first show in Nashville went off without a hitch. Hybrid played at a tiny venue right downtown and the place was packed to the doors. Robbie started off the set by saying some heartfelt words about Noelle, though Jacob made sure that any mention of Emeritta was zipped. Then the band launched into one of their most powerful and energetic shows yet. It was good to see them back in the game, and I could tell they needed the show to let out all that they’d been feeling since the festival performance. It was raw and emotive and the crowd called them back for three encores. They played until they were absolutely exhausted.

Even Fiddles, the new bassist, kept up nicely and had a nice presence without being too flashy. Jacob looked pleased to the gills, and I could see the money signs dancing in his head as concertgoers stuck around after the show, snapping up Hybrid t-shirts and albums until they were all gone. Everyone likes a sob story and any press was good press. Jacob was right about that.

The next day in Nashville we were set to play at an outdoor venue just outside of town, headlining for a psychedelic band called Electric Duck Bath. We had the whole day free for exploring or doing whatever, so I chose to accompany Bob on his personal tour around the city. He’d been to Nashville with musicians so many times it was like his second home, and he was a very enthusiastic host.

To be honest, I also went with Bob because I wanted to distance myself a bit from the band. After the show last night, I went straight to my hotel room to compose a review and then I went to bed. I didn’t want to party and I didn’t want to socialize. I wanted to be the journalist, and who better to hang around with than the only other person who wasn’t part of the band?

Between old guitar shops and tiny cafes where we scooped up Moonpies and RC Cola, Bob and I danced around the topic of curses. I asked him if he thought Sage knew something about all of it.

“Assuming what you say is true,” I added, licking the sticky marshmallow off my fingers.

“I would think so,” Bob reckoned. “But I don’t know. If we’re talking about Jacob though, I’d say yes.”

“Why is that?”

He shrugged. “He’s the manager. Managers know everything. And all of this is working out to the band’s advantage, don’t you think?”

I stopped in my tracks. A piece of crumbled cookie nearly fell out of my mouth. “You think Jacob is behind all this?”

“No,” he quickly refuted. “I don’t. The Cobb has a reputation for being mean. But I don’t think he’d ever hurt another person. Well, another girl. Well, a girl that was harmless.”


“You can tell there’s a but, eh? Well, he’s a smart man. Too smart. Too conniving. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew what was going on.”

“But what is going on?”

“I don’t know, Rusty. It could be anything. It could be nothing. I’m an old bus driver and I ramble sometimes.”

“Well I’m a young journalist and I don’t think you’re rambling. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

He gave me a grave look with his sprightly blue eyes. “If this does turn out to be more than just my rambling and throwing around frou-frou ideas, I don’t think either of us wants to wait and see.”

I nodded, hearing what he was saying but not finding the strength to keep going, keep touring, keep wondering.


The outdoor venue was nowhere near as nice as the one Hybrid played the night before, or even the Charlotte festival. It was pretty much a concert on a farm. Instead of soft fields of grass, it was a mixture of weeds and dirt. Instead of a glorious stage, it was a rather rickety old thing made out of rough wood. The whole thing may have been going for some backwoods, redneck kind of charm but it just came across as cheap and dirty.

The crowd was a weird mix too.

“It’s like every Pink Floyd fan is out there,” Robbie remarked from the side stage as we watched Electric Duck Bath finish their set. “Where the hell are the Hybrid fans?”

“Maybe we rocked them too hard last night,” Chip commented.

Robbie made an annoyed sound. “Ugh. This is going to be one of those ‘we have to win you over’ shows.”

I smacked him lightly on the shoulder. He jumped.

“I thought every show was supposed to be one of those shows.”

He pointed at the crowd. They were young kids all swaying their muddled heads and waving their lighters to the band’s spaced out moon music. “Do those kids look like they’re about to be won over? They’re about to fall asleep in an acid coma.”

“Weren’t you in an acid coma just recently?” Chip remarked. “Or was that Quaaludes?”

I smiled bashfully while Robbie glared at him. “Just make us sound good, Chip.”

“Got it, boss.”

“Where’s boyo?”

“Right here,” Mickey mumbled from behind us. He was still pale and sullen—I hadn’t seen him smile in days.

Robbie went over and put his arm around him. “I don’t know what you and the Sage one are planning on doing, but I’m going to be cranking up my furnace tonight. I mean, I’m going to be a monkey from mars. I’ll win these spacey fucks over if it kills me.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” Graham said, walking past us toward the drums that the Duck Bath’s drummer was now vacating.

Robbie frowned at his pithy remark and turned his attention back to Mickey. “Anyway, just so you know. Try and stay out of my way.”

Mickey finally looked amused. “Have I ever been in your way, Robbie? I might as well be wallpaper.”

I decided to let the band set up and plot their course of action and headed out into the crowd. They were right, it certainly was different, but there were a few metal heads among the hippies, and everyone looked like they were there to have a great time.

I made my way toward the back of the crowd to escape all the dust that was being stirred up, wishing I had worn my cowboy boots instead of sandals. I stopped at the side, grateful for a cooling breeze that chilled the sweat on my forehead. I felt like I’d been sweating for two weeks straight.

“Nice shirt,” said a boy who had sidled up next to me. He was skinny as anything, all legs and arms and thick glasses. His hair hung down to the middle of his back and braces shined on his teeth.

I looked down at the Bad Company shirt I had snagged at their show and smiled. Any fan of my type of music was a potential friend.

I learned his name was Aaron and he was from just outside of Memphis. He was there with his brother who wanted to see Electric Duck Bath, though he was more of a Hybrid fan himself.

“I heard they can wail,” he told me as if he had some insider information.

I smiled agreeably and made sure my All Access Pass was still tucked in the back pocket of my shorts. At first it was fun to wear it like a badge of honor, but now I just wanted to blend in with everyone else.

Hybrid got off to a high-powered start. I guess Robbie convinced them to start with the cover of Children of the Grave to whet people’s appetites and it worked. All the metal heads, sans me and Aaron, made a beeline to the front of the stage and started pushing against the feeble barricade.

I was just about to remark to Aaron on how boisterous the crowd was when my heart nearly froze. There, to the side of the barricade and by the stage, was Sonja.

She was standing there, watching me. I could barely see her through the crowd, but I could feel her eyes on me, the immense feeling of dread, sinking, drowning dread, like I was being submerged in thick black tar.


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