“What is it?” I asked, putting my hand behind her head, my fingers melting into her tangled hair.
Her eyes drifted over to the woman at the pew who was slowly getting to her knees, her black robe draping around her, her back still to us.
“She’s not human,” Dawn said quietly, her fear audible with each syllable.
I couldn’t tell if Dawn was being overly paranoid or not, but if she didn’t feel safe here, in the place I thought she would, then I wanted us to leave.
“Let’s go,” I said, assuring her. I got to my feet, my knees hitting the back of the pew with a whack, the church not constructed for someone as tall as me. I pulled her up and we squeezed out into the aisle.
We both stared dumbly at the front. The woman was standing absolutely still in the middle of the aisle, facing the altar.
A huge BANG caused us both to jump and flip around.
The huge wooden door we came in through had slammed shut. The flames in the candles around it danced, and it felt like a shadow came over the whole room, like a cloud going over the sun.
We looked at each other. I could tell the terror inside Dawn wanted to annihilate her. But it was just a closed door. It was just the wind. Nothing could happen in here, in one of these houses of the holy, with Rome going outside the door as normal. If it could, it would rewrite everything I thought of as a sure thing in this world.
“Come on,” I said, grabbing her hand.
We made it to a few pews outside the door when we heard the rustle. The sound of clothing dragging on the ground. Ragged breathing. Heavy thumps. Behind us.
I squeezed her hand, my way of telling her to keep going, to not turn around. Even though we both knew now that there was something behind us, that there was something very unnatural going on in this goddamned church.
We got to the door and I tried to open it, lifting the heavy iron latch on the handle.
It wouldn’t open.
There was a terrible, skeletal crack behind us, followed by more in rapid succession. It sounded like my dad when he cracked his knuckles, but deeper, more succinct, like someone was breaking every bone in their body, over and over again. The sound was so loud, so clear, and so sharp that it echoed loudly around the church.
Dawn started to turn around to look, but I tugged harshly on her arm, my eyes digging into hers. “Do not turn around,” I told her. “Whatever you do, do not turn around.”
I saw her swallow, her eyes bulging wide, her mouth quivering, but she held it together and nodded.
The cracking noise got closer, the rustling, dragging noise continuing. In my mind I saw the woman crawling on her knees, reaching for us with bony arms and long spindly fingers, her black cloak behind her, her joints and bones breaking as she stretched and grew and took on an inhuman form. I was so tempted to turn around and look, to see if the horror in my mind matched the horror that was right there behind us.
Fucking shit. I was going to lose it.
I took in a deep breath and tried the door again, willing myself not to panic, praying, fucking praying that we would be let out of the church.
The iron latch lifted. I gasped in relief and pulled open the heavy door and, with Dawn’s hand in mine, we ran out into the busy Roman street, the sunshine and crowds blowing the terror away from our faces.
We ran all the way back to the hotel. We never once looked back.
Despite what went on the church, despite the way we felt, what we saw or, more specifically, didn’t see, the concert in Rome went off without a hitch. Once Dawn and I got back from the church, trying desperately to make sense of what had happened (our theory was that either we were extremely paranoid—with reason—or the demons fed off our fear), we were quickly swept up in the soundcheck and the concert proceedings.
Normally I would have been worried about my performance, the setlist, the way the band was performing together, the fans in Rome, but none of that even crossed my mind. I just cared about Dawn and keeping her safe. When I knew Max would be on the side stage with her during the show and Jacob would be on the other side, I relaxed. I made the night about just going out there and delivering my music the way I wanted to. I conjured up all the dreams I had as a kid, just wanting fame and adulation and respect and the chance to share something I made—something I was—with the people who wanted to receive it.
So yeah, Rome was an awesome show. Thank you, Italy. I played sober, remembered all my lyrics, tried to give everyone my soul, and they in turn seemed more than satisfied. They sang along, they cheered, they danced, they rocked out. And every now and then, I’d look to the shadows of the side stage and see Dawn watching me, always watching me, like the fucking biggest fan, and that’s what I so loved about her. That through and through, she was a fan, a lover, a friend, a girlfriend. She was everything, and at that moment on stage, I had everything. A world at my feet and a woman with my heart.
Things didn’t get weird until we finished the encore. I decided on “Wet Lips” again, just because I was feeling respectful, just because I was feeling. Because, God-fucking-dammit, did Hybrid mean the world to me, and though I loved being a solo artist, I loved having the control and going at it on my own, it was lonely. It was lonely in this creative realm. I missed Robbie and Mickey and even Chip, our sound tech. I missed Noelle’s smile when you did something that actually made her smile. I missed the way Robbie argued the lyrics, even when he didn’t write the song. I missed it all. But now I was alone, the one-man show, and I was making a go of it. This was my tribute.
It was after the solo during “Wet Lips,” the one part where I really thought that I gave Mr. James Page a run for his money, where the licks just peeled off of my fingers, that I saw something that reminded me things were not one hundred percent normal and we were not one hundred percent safe.
I looked out into the audience. Half the time you were blinded by stage lights and couldn’t really see any individual faces, which usually made it that much easier to perform for someone like me, who didn’t get off on it (unlike Robbie, who did get off on it). But with the sporadic way the house had the lights for “Lips,” the spotlight was going off on the crowd.
And I saw a familiar face looking back at me.
Long white hair, calculating purple eyes, and a vicious, razor-sharp grin.
The ultimate groupie from Hell: Alva.
The last time I’d seen her was when she dragged me to Lake Shasta in an attempt to kill Dawn and finish me off before my twenty-eighth birthday.
Now she was here in Rome at my solo show.
Now she’d come to collect on Dawn.
I nearly fucked up the last chorus of the song, my eyes trained on the demon in horror. But when the spotlight moved off of her, she was gone, and I managed to soldier through the very end to the applause.
I wasn’t imagining shit, though, not this time. I was shown just enough to put the fear back into my soul.
When the house lights went back on, signaling the end of the show, I headed straight to Dawn at the side stage, my Gibson 335 still around my neck.
“Are you okay?” I asked her, wiping the sweat from my brow.
She was smiling though looking concerned now. “Yeah, I’m fine. Sage…that was amazing.”
I was buzzing too much from Alva now to be buzzing about the show. I reached over and kissed her hard with salty lips, my guitar pressed between us.
When I pulled away, she was breathless, and I noticed Max staring at me intently. I could tell he knew something was up, but I didn’t want to worry Dawn and neither did he.
“Sage,” Jacob boomed, striding over with a glass of red wine in his hand.
I eyed it. “That for me?”
“No,” he said dryly, taking a sip. “A manager has to have his perks, too.” He jerked his head toward the backstage. “Come on, the Italian press wants to get a hold of you, and I believe they’re even, er, grabbier than the French.” He looked to Dawn. “You can come, too, love, now that your relationship is the talk of the town.”
I squeezed her hand and peered down at her, not wanting her out of my sight. “You’re staying by my side whether you want to or not.”
“I think I can handle myself,” she said with a sly grin, and together we walked off into the zoo backstage. And when I say zoo, I mean zoo. Jacob was right. The Italian journalists were pushy, loud, and passionate. The translators had to work fast to make sure the correct questions came through, though I had to say they were at least a smiling bunch of hacks, which made the whole thing a lot more bearable.
When that was over and done with, Dawn handling herself quite well as the subject instead of the journalist this time, we headed back to the hotel, with Tricky and Garth dragging us out to a bar around the corner. It seems in the short time we’d been Rome, Tricky had fallen in love with waitress who worked there. He was also giving me a hard time about how serious we’d all gotten over the last couple of days.
“Seriously, dude,” he said to me after we slammed back a shot of Sambuca, “you should be grinning like you’ve eaten shit here.” He looked to Dawn, who was sitting beside me at the bar. Smoke sat in a haze above our heads, ‘50s jazz music played over the speakers, and Garth was in the toilets, apparently sick from drinking too much earlier. “And you, too. What’s with all the glum faces lately?”
I exchanged a look with Dawn. Tricky definitely wouldn’t understand. His idea of the supernatural was taking a lot of mushrooms and talking to God on the roof of the Philadelphia Public Library. I know because I was there.
“We’re just tired,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, his eyes drifting over to the waitress behind the bar, “tired from all the sex, I bet.”
I smiled and let him think that, even though he knew for a fact that I could go all night long.
After another a shot, he went off to check on Garth. I put my arm around Dawn, pulling her into me so she was almost falling off her stool. I was pleasantly buzzed, but it wasn’t enough to make me forget. It wasn’t enough to make the chills on my back disappear.
“Listen,” I said to her, hoping she could pick up on the gravity in my voice. “I know we’ve got Prague after this; Jacob told me the visas came in to the hotel today. And then West Germany and who-the-hell-knows-where after. I know this tour isn’t over yet, but…I’m thinking it should be.”
She looked at me in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” I took in a deep breath, somewhat surprised I was about to say this and with no reservations about it. “I mean, I could cancel the tour. I should.”
“Sage, no,” she said, her curls shaking.
“I’m serious, and I think it would be for the best.”
“The best for whom?”
I frowned, my eyes starting to water from the smoke in the bar. “For you, of course. Not for me. It would be a shitty idea for me.”
“I know,” she said, pressing her hand down on my leg, “that’s why I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. Sage, whatever is happening, it’s not going to stop because you’ve stopped the tour. It will keep following me until this is all over.”
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