We walked for a bit longer until we caught a cab. I was trapped in my head, just reeling, unable to come to terms with what was going on. Bob hadn’t been far off with his ideas. I just didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do with the information. Convince everyone else to cancel the tour? Tell Bob to get out while he could? Oh god, Mel was meeting us in San Antonio tomorrow. I was going to have to do everything in my power to make sure she was safe.

Once we were back at the venue, we were met with a bunch of angry people. I felt like yelling at them all and asking them if they had any idea what the bigger picture was here. But I couldn’t.

I also wanted to do something to Graham, anything. If my instincts were telling me something, it was that he wasn’t even part of the damn band and never was. He was only there to make sure the contract was fulfilled. He probably wasn’t even human.

And Jacob. The man who wrangled me into this mess. I had a few words for him but they had to wait till morning.

I climbed onto the bunk in my clothes, feet aching from the walk, head aching from the revelations. I fell asleep, hoping I’d live to see the sunrise.

CHAPTER TWENTY

I missed the sunrise but I did wake up, which was a major bonus. I hadn’t died in my sleep and the bus hadn’t careened off the road in some horrible accident. I was alive and so was everyone else. No one was very cheery, of course, as the bus made its way through strong sunshine and flat, dry desert on the way to San Antonio. The rest of the band was hung up on the dismal showing of the New Orleans show.

I was hung up on the fact that Sage made a deal with the devil and it seemed like everything was going to be taken from him—and from us—over the next few days. Two different things to worry about but each was valid in its own way.

When the bus pulled into a remote diner for breakfast I took the opportunity to grab Jacob.

“Can we have breakfast in here? Alone?” I asked him.

He frowned but didn’t ask why. “All right, love. I guess one of the boys can bring us back something to eat.”

“No problem,” Bob spoke up. They all piled off the bus, stretching to the fresh air and sunshine. Sage was the last to leave and he was giving me a look, either the “don’t you want me to stay?” eyes or the “what the hell are you doing?” stare but I gave him a quick shake of my head, my hint to leave me and Jacob alone. He obliged, dragging his flip-flops.

After they left, Jacob picked up the kettle. “I suppose some more coffee is probably needed, am I correct?”

“You are.”

He made us both a cup and plunked the coffee creamer on the table for me. He eased himself into the booth, had a sip, then gave me a very insincere smile.

“I have a feeling I’m not going to like this,” he said.

“Only if you have a problem with being honest.”

“Rusty, I’m as honest as they come.”

I cleared my throat and stared him down. And who was ‘they’ anyway?

“There’s a very small chance that you’ll think I’m crazy. Or that Sage is crazy. Or that I’m crazy for believing him. But I have to tell you anyway because I believe it’s the truth. And I believe you already know about it. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

A small smile twitched on his lips, his eyes flickering with uncertainty. “Go on…”

I started at the beginning of the tour and touched on every single thing. Everything. The GTFOs, Noelle, Graham, the stage collapse, what happened with Sage last night. Everything.

When I was done explaining, the coffee was cold and I was out of breath. I glanced at the diner, hoping they weren’t coming back soon, and brought my expectant gaze to Jacob’s.

He was smiling at me. “So what do you want me to say?”

I looked at him askance. “I don’t know…anything. I mean, you’re involved. The mambo said so.”

“Well if the mambo said,” he said jokingly. He leaned back in his seat, resting one arm along the top of it.

“So you’re not?”

“I’m not involved. That’s not my job.”

“What’s your job then?”

“I’m the manager. I manage.”

“So you don’t believe me.”

“Believe you? Rusty, I know everything that you’ve told me. I’ve seen it too. I know exactly what’s going on and I’ve known for a very long time.”

My mouth dropped open. “How…how is that possible?”

“How is any of this possible?” He gestured at the bus. “It just is.”

“What are you?” the words barely escaped my mouth.

“Nice choice of words there. Are you insinuating I’m not quite human? Perhaps a demon like Graham? No, I’m human. I am now anyway. I made my own deal.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“There are others like me, Rusty. We’re intermediaries. Some of us are guides. Some of us are guards in another place not unlike this one, a place called the Thin Veil. Some of us are managers in the most literal sense. We are referees. We uphold contracts to make sure things are fairly played out.”

“But you’re a famous tour manager!”

Jacob shrugged. “This isn’t my first rodeo. Anyhow, all of us Jacobs are allowed to trade in our given occupations for a chance at mortality. It’s called ‘going rogue’. I chose to stay here. We are all given that choice, but we give up immortality for it. That’s Jacob’s price. After Hybrid falls apart, I’ll still be around, God willing of course. I’ll manage another band, hopefully some boring hippie shit.”

“And you’re all called Jacob?”

He nodded. “We are the Jacobs. But we can take whatever name we want if we go rogue. So far I’m sticking with Jacob. It suits me. It’s so very biblical.”

“Are you an angel?” I asked, knowing how stupid that sounded.

He laughed, full and hearty. It shook the bus. When he finally calmed down, he wiped his eyes and sputtered, “Oh my bollocks, Rusty. No, I am not an angel. I’m not good nor am I bad. I’m just here, trying to keep the playing field even. Of course if I can manage things in my favor, I’m going to. I’m the manager. It’s what I do.”

I looked down at my coffee and put my head in my hands. “I don’t believe any of this.”

“No, I don’t blame you.”

“Does Sage know?”

“I’m sure Sage has always suspected. But he’s never said anything to me.”

“Does Graham know?””

He nodded. My throat went dry. “So we’re all fucked.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say we’re all fucked.”

“Are they going to take Sage’s soul?”

“They might try. But that’s not part of the bargain. As Miss Mambo said, they are very literal. That’s the only good thing about demons. But if Sage kills himself because he’s lost everything he loves, that’s fair game.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “How can you be so blasé? People are dying.”

“That’s life. It’s not my fault. Sage is the one who made the deal.”

“He was a teenager.”

“Another reason to fear the youth.”

I sighed, blowing a piece of hair out of my face. It was all too much. My eyes flew to the window where I saw the boys leaving the diner, Bob holding two Styrofoam packages for me and Jacob.

Shit. I had so much to talk about and barely any time to do it.

“So you’re going to just let it happen,” I said.

“If you haven’t noticed,” he hissed, leaning in. “I’m trying hard to make sure the band ends up on top. Sage didn’t give me much wiggle room.”

“And me. What happens if I just leave?” I asked.

“You can try. But you won’t be able to. It’s too late. You had your chance to leave, we could have brought another person in.”

“You chose me though! Why? Why me of all people?”

He shrugged. A pause. Then, “I thought a fan should be around for the end.”

The door to the bus opened, the boys’ voices coming in.

“Am I going to die?” I quickly whispered.

He smiled. This time it was melancholic. “I really hope not.”

***

I woke up lying in a field, surrounded by a purple and red sky. A farmhouse was on fire in the distance and the thunderous sound of galloping hooves filled the air, even though no horses could be seen.

“Get up, Dawn,” a voice said from behind me.

I rolled over and sat up. My mother was lying in a bathtub full of dark red tar, submerged up to her neck. Her arms were splayed over the sides, dripping thick clumps of tar onto the dry grass. Each time a clump hit the ground, the grass steamed and hissed.

She was watching me with a serene smile on her face.

It pissed me off.

“What are you doing?” I yelled at her. “Stop smiling at me.”

She didn’t listen. She showed teeth as her grin spread.

I got to my feet and walked over to her. The earth shook a bit.

“Mom, please, this isn’t fair.”

She started to laugh, the sing-song maniacal laugh she would do when Dad tried to take her to a doctor appointment, the real crazy one that suddenly disappeared the moment someone tried to diagnose her. Then she was normal again, laughing only on the inside and the doctors thought we were the crazy ones.

“This isn’t funny!” I screamed. Now her head was back and she was howling away. I stormed right over to the tub, leaning over the revolting tar and getting in her face.

“You left me! You left me to take care of Dad and Eric. You didn’t even bother to stick around! You left and I had to do it all. I had to sacrifice everything! All those times Ryan invited me away with him and his family and I couldn’t go. The times Mel did. I couldn’t go. I always had to stay, I was stuck. You killed yourself because you’re too weak and you left me here! You chained me to this place, you gave me a burden I never wanted to carry. You should have been here. You should have been a mother!”

She stopped laughing abruptly and focused on me like she was seeing me for the first time. Her eyes shone with clarity.

“You got away now, didn’t you? Where’s your chain?”

Then she looked down at my legs and she laughed again, all tenderness gone.

“Oh, there’s your chain.”

I looked down at my legs. My ankles were wrapped in heavy metal chains that went straight into the ground.

The ground that was now shaking.

I looked at my mom. She was still laughing and her bathtub began to sink into the earth, as if it was made of tar too.

And I was going down. All solidity beneath my feet disappeared and I was sinking straight through the earth. I raised my arms, trying to free myself and gain leverage, but there was nothing I could do. I was stuck. I was chained. I was sinking.

I looked up, gasping, but my mother was gone. Sonja was in her place, black leaking holes for eyes and a demonic mouth.

Sonja reached into the tub and pulled out my mom’s arm, flesh cut open at the wrist.

***

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