There were a few claps and I realized that Graham and Fiddles had joined us on the bus too.

“It’s just a sprain,” Jacob announced. His eyes glinted, unreadable. “He’ll be able to play in New Orleans tomorrow, isn’t that right, Robbie?”

Robbie nodded and raised his wrapped wrist in the air. “And the show goes on.”

I felt Sage stiffen up next to me. It lasted only a second. But it was enough to tell me that we’d be talking tomorrow no matter what happened. We were lucky. If things had gone the wrong way there would be no show to carry on.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

“What happened to your arms, Dawn?” Fiddles asked with his crooked brown eyes.

I had just rolled out of the bunk and was rubbing my eyes at the murky daylight that was filtering in through the dirty windows of the bus.

Oh right, my scabby, cut arms. The places where the GTFOs had made their presence known.

Even though the band knew all about them, I held back on filling them in on what happened to me. Everyone except Sage.

“The crowd got pretty crazy,” I replied casually.

Close to New Orleans, we pulled into a diner off the main highway. It was white and intricate, like a small version of a plantation house, and the parking lot was bordered by waving sweet gum and magnolia. It was the perfect place to grab Sage’s arm as we got off the bus and lead him toward the shade of a towering oak.

We stopped by the rough bark, eyeing each other like we’d been separated for months and weren’t sure where we stood.

“We have to talk,” I said, letting go of his arm.

He smiled and my heart melted. “Are you breaking up with me, Dawn? I thought things were going well.”

I couldn’t help but smile in return. I quickly composed myself.

“What happened last night?”

He frowned but I didn’t believe his confusion for a second. “The stage collapsed.”

One of my eyes began to twitch. “Aside from that. You didn’t see or hear anything strange?”

If he was surprised by my question, he didn’t act it. He calmly folded his strong arms. In the swampy setting around us, the snakes tattooed on his forearms took on a whole new realism. “Please elaborate.”

“I will. And keep in mind that I know what I’m about to say sounds ludicrous but I’m past the point of caring. I’m past the point of most things now.”

He nodded, his full pink lips pursed in anticipation.

I ignored them and went on to tell him everything that happened at the concert. I didn’t fill him in on the backstory, about what I saw with Noelle, or my talks with Bob, but I told him everything else.

When I was done I could tell it was taking time to sink in. A range of emotions flashed in his eyes and his chest heaved as if breathing became a chore. He bit his lip like if he didn’t, the truth would spill from his mouth.

Acting on that and nothing else, I swear, I took a step toward him, closing the gap, and reached for his lips with my hand. I put my fingers on them softly, and said, “Whatever it is you’re not telling me, I think I deserve to know now. Whether I’m just an annoying journalist to you or something more. Or something less. I’m still a person. And, believe it or not, I care about your stupid band. I care about you.”

He grabbed my wrist with his hand. He stepped closer, so his face was right up to mine and said in a lowered and smooth voice, “You do deserve to know everything. Even the things that I can’t come to terms with. But not now. Not here. This isn’t the place.”

I looked around me at the green lawns and swampy surroundings. We were about to board the bus and head into the city of voodoo, the city of New Orleans. If Sage said whatever he had to tell me needed to wait, I believed him.

“Okay,” I said, shoving my finger in his face. “But before the show and after the show, wherever you are, I’m going to be there. You’re going to tell me what the fuck is going on and after that, you’re going to give me my god damn interview.”

I thought he was going to lick my finger for a second. Instead he said, “Deal.”

We made our way back to the diner, grabbed a bite to eat, and were back on the road. The road to answers.

***

I stayed true to my word. I pretty much became Sage’s shadow, following him everywhere he went, my tape recorder tucked firmly into my messenger bag. He tolerated me, barely, and I never pushed him for answers. I just waited and made sure he knew I was waiting.

The band was understandably jittery when it came time to perform. Robbie was hopped up on painkillers for his hand, something he was happy about considering he usually paid a lot for the same pills off the street. Everyone else was double-checking the stage every five minutes. Luckily the venue was small, sturdy, and fairly new.

Despite that though, barely anyone showed up. It was the most timid, lackluster, and small crowd I’d seen yet on the tour. I would have thought New Orleans and its occult and black magick leanings would have brought out the fans and music goers with morbid curiosity, kind of like a car wreck, but that wasn’t the case. People were scared of Hybrid and stayed away. There were maybe fifty people there, tops.

The band looked scared of themselves too. They played subdued and with an air of defeat. Robbie went through the motions, containing himself (the drugs probably had a hand in that), and even Graham’s drums sounded faint. It was a sad, sad show, and as I stood on the side stage with the increasingly mysterious Jacob, I could see the lines of worry on each and every band member’s foreheads.

I had thought about asking Jacob some more pressing questions about Graham and the GTFOs but judging from the swears that spilled out of his lips every five minutes and the hate-filled glare in his eyes, I decided against it. Whether he had something to do with it all or not, he was the band’s manager and for once he wasn’t able to manage everything. There was no doubt that a lawsuit was going to follow from the stage collapse and there was certainly no way the band was going to make a profit from the New Orleans show. Things were slowly spiraling out of control. Maybe Jacob didn’t care about needless deaths and mental illnesses, but he did care about money and now it was finally hitting him where it hurt.

When the band was finished and slogged off the stage with heavy hearts and shoulders, I walked to the backstage area to go wait for Sage. There was more than one dressing room for the guys, so Sage had taken one for himself and I sat on the chair outside, waiting patiently. I only left his side for a few minutes when I had to go to the bathroom and when I came back, the door was still closed.

One of the other dressing rooms opened and Mickey came out.

“Hey,” I said to him, almost tempted to call him ‘boyo’ as the others did. “Did you see Sage come out?”

Mickey finished buttoning up his plaid shirt and shrugged. “I haven’t seen him.”

He started to walk off.

I called after him. “Mickey. I know I haven’t had the chance to tell you this, but I’m really sorry about Noelle. I liked her you know.”

He twitched for a second and stopped. He looked at me over his shoulder.

“Don’t talk about her like she’s not coming back,” he said. His eyes held mine for a brief second and I could see a wealth of sadness in them before he disappeared around the corner.

I sighed, feeling lost and stupid, like I overstepped my bounds, and sat back in the chair for a few moments. Finally I got up and rapped lightly on the door.

“Sage? Are you in there? It’s time.”

I put my ear to the door and listened. I heard something from inside the room, like a chair being pushed back.

“I’m coming in,” I said. “You better cover up what you don’t want me to see.”

Was it wrong to hope he wasn’t covering up anything? I nearly drooled at the thought. I wiped my mouth cautiously then opened the door.

It was empty. What I could see of it anyway. It was obviously never meant to be a dressing room and had an extra room that was separated by half a wall. There were stacks of chairs and old PA equipment spilling out from around the corner.

That’s where I heard the noise again, followed by the sound of a chair being pushed back.

“Sage?” I ventured again. I walked toward the noise, wondering what he could be doing back there. I wished the light from the middle of the room reached far enough, but most of the chairs and equipment were lost in shadow.

I was nearly at the wall, ready to peak over the side, when I heard another noise.

One that made my blood run cold.

It was a wet, slopping sound, like something slimy and heavy was being dragged along the tile floor, heading in my direction. I had heard and seen the shadow of the same thing on the bus, and I was in no hurry to see it again. In my head I pictured a giant earthworm with two legs, dragging its slimy gray segmented body along, leaving trails of goo and blood, a round mouth filled with rotating teeth, open and ready for sucking.

I almost vomited from fright.

“Dawn?”

I gasped and whipped around, startled to see Sage standing in the doorway, rubbing a towel at his curls.

His eyes narrowed. “What is it?”

I looked back at the wall. The noise had stopped. That was probably the only chance we were getting.

I turned and ran toward him.

“I think we need to get out of here,” I said, grabbing his forearm. My fingers barely fit around it. He didn’t budge, his eyes on the back of the room.

“Did you see something?”

“I didn’t see something, I heard something,” I told him, panic rising in my voice. I tugged on him again. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’re not going to stick around and let it show itself to you.”

He bit his lip, almost as if he was deciding whether to explore it or not. He looked down at me, a knowing twist to his lips.

“Is it something bad?”

“Sage,” I said, pulling him closer, keeping my gaze steady. “It’s the worst.”

He nodded quickly. “I thought it might come to this.”

We scampered out of the room and slammed the door shut.

“Should we warn the others?” I asked, nodding at the other dressing room.

He shook his head. “If we tell them not to go in there, they’ll just go in there.”

We crossed the hall and he knocked on the door. “Guys?”

“Do you know what it is?” I whispered.

He gave his head a slight shake. The dressing room opened and Fiddles popped his head out.

“What’s up, my good man?”

“Dawn and I are going to meet a friend of mine,” Sage told him.

This was news to me.

“It’s like, getting late, man,” Fiddles said.

“We won’t be too long. And if we are, hold the bus. This is very important.”

Fiddles shrugged. “All right, catch you later.”

He went back in the room and Sage was walking fast toward the exit. I ran after him, my bag bouncing against my thigh.

“Where are we going? I thought I was going to get some answers.”

“We’re both going to get some answers.”

He opened the door and we stepped out into the humid night that smelled of coffee and gasoline. I’d always dreamed of visiting New Orleans, having some beignets and wandering around the French Quarter, reveling in the atmosphere. Of course life had different plans for me and I soon found myself in the back of a dodgy cab with Sage as he read out an address from a business card.

***

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