Excerpt from FROM THE DARK, a November Nocturne release by Michele Hauf
Count seven tombstones to the left, and then, five tombstones up. A pair of dark eyes observed him from behind a paperback book. Her attire, entirely black, matched fingernails, eye shadow and hair.
Sunglasses propped at the end of his nose, Michael averted his eyes from the woman's morbid curiosity. In his hands, he held an iPod. The screen played The Fallen's next video, Pieces of Rapture . The final cut looked awesome. He switched it off, tugged the earbuds from his ears, and tucked the slim white player into his back pocket.
"What do you think?" he said as he squatted before a granite tombstone that glittered with chunks of mica. "Not bad for a small town Minnesota boy, eh?"
The graveyard was quiet this evening, the humidity of summer pushing away spring with a burst of warm wind through Michael's hair. Three hundred twenty-seven tombstones arrayed about him. Two rusted shovels leaned post against the chain-link fence to the north. One brick shed must store grounds-keeping supplies.
The goth chick still studied him from behind cover. Michael waved, acknowledging her. She sneered, and flipped him off.
"Whatever happened to Minnesota nice?" he muttered.
Probably went the same way his nice had gone. The real world offered so much in way of temptation and addictions. How desperately he cleaved to any remnants of humanity still within him.
He rested the heel of his hand upon the curved top of the tombstone and, with his other hand, traced a forefinger through the words carved into the stone. Shards of wilted grass blades sifted to the freshly mown lawn. Noting the brass vase stabbed into the ground at the base of the tombstone, Michael winced. Should have brought flowers. She deserved flowers by the armload.
"Been a while since I've come home." He scanned the sky through the dark sunglasses. The sun had just set. Remnants of rose-colored warmth traced the horizon. "Our band is at the top of its game. We played at the Grammies this year. The press has dubbed us a phenomenon. And guess what? It's my birthday in a few weeks. We'll celebrate together. Life is good, Mom. I certainly have nothing to complain about."
No, no complaints. And yet, the monster within him growled a protest or two.
On the outside, Michael Lynsay wore a mask for the world to scream at. And man, did they scream. Loud, wild, rock n' roll screams of joy.
He liked the screams. Life, in general, was all about the scream. And him? Master of screams. For with the scream, came the delicious adrenaline, and that was an exquisite drug.
Michael had achieved success by going for it, and by reaching for a dream. And though the dream stomped him daily, he continued to soar on the incredible highs it also offered. Rock star, anyone? A man couldn't ask for a better gig.
But beyond the adulation of screaming fans, lurked an unforgiving, hungry monster, that would not take no for an answer.
Sooner or later the spotlight would shine upon that creature, and then Michael would be forced to flee even deeper into the darkness that shrouded his life.
Tugging the music rag from his back jeans pocket, Michael unrolled the tightly twisted newspaper he'd picked up after landing at the Minneapolis St-Paul International airport an hour earlier. The headline made him smirk. Fallen Angel sets down his microphone. Rumored exhaustion.
Fallen Angel is what the fans had dubbed him, because reporters were always comparing his voice to that of a fallen angel screaming back at Heaven.
But exhaustion? That's what he paid the band's spin doctors for--lies.
Thing is, he had never felt so alive in his entire life. Frenetic and bold, he had become something different. A something he had learned to embrace.
Now, to keep his head above the surface. Out of the dark.
On more than one occasion, he'd almost exposed his darkest secret in public. The press followed him everywhere. Made it hard enough to take a piss in private, let alone having to worry about finding a moment of peace to feed his habit.
Michael's best friend, Jesse Olson, the band's lead guitarist, had finally convinced Michael to step down from the stage, for a few months at the very least.
"I don't know if this is the right thing. I'm going to be missing out on--"
"On absolutely nothing." Jesse had placed a palm to each of Michael's shoulders and eyed his friend squarely. "Listen, man, The Fallen has been on the road for a year. Steady. No breaks. The new album is in the can and the video is going to be hot. We all need a vacation, Michael. After the MTV thing this Friday, me and the rest of the guys are a few days behind you."
"I don't need a vacation."
"That's what you think. And--" Jesse rushed in before Michael could protest "--you will take it. I don't want to lose you, man, you're my best friend. Even if you are a bloodsucker."
"Settle down, Jesse, I'm not going anywhere."
"Your mind may not be, but it's your soul I'm worried about, Michael." He slapped a hand over Michael's heart, and the singer clasped Jesse's wrist.
They both knew what Jesse hadn't been able to voice. Michael was so close to losing control. And if he did? There was no going back.
Jesse had offered Michael the house he'd purchased a year ago, and--since it was private property--had given him permission to enter and use the place as he wished, for however long it took.
How long did it require to kick a habit? A deadly habit.
"A few months exile in an empty estate in the backwoods of Minnesota," Michael said now. "It's been a while since I've been back. Seem to remember gas being less than a dollar then. And no one had even heard of MTV."
He'd grown up in North Lake and would never tire of the small-town hominess and quiet goodness of the people. Hell, after doing the tour bus for over a year, he craved the yokel charm that reminded of his childhood--creepy goth chick not included. And it wasn't as though he couldn't afford the missed time. He'd made himself a pretty penny over the past few years, and, like Jesse, had an excellent investment manager.
Michael stood and shook back his hair over his shoulders. "If I don't do this," he said to his mother, "I will lose my career. And if that's not bad enough, I risk loss of humanity. I just want... I don't want to lose it. I won't step over that edge. A line must be drawn. Some things in this world are not acceptable."
But he was close. Michael walked a fine line between taking what he needed, and taking everything.
Behind him a familiar chirr stirred the air. Michael swung about. His senses honed on the swish of maple leaves, and the scamper of squirrels nearby on the grass. He scanned the hedgerows; high as his shoulders, they blocked out the lazy city street on the other side. Many old, wide oaks--which a person could easily hide behind--dotted the graveyard.
Sniffing the air, he sought the scent of an intruder. Acrid and stale, fear scent was easy to pinpoint. And yet, he scented nothing inordinate beyond the black nail polish the goth chick must use by the gallons.
He knew that sound. A man didn't spend years of his life on the road playing gigs at every major stadium without running into the paparazzi daily, and learning to loath them.
Fists forming at his sides, Michael clenched his jaw. "You bastards have no right!"
To follow him here? To interrupt while he took a few moments with his dead mother?
A glance to the goth chick found her pouring over the book. Michael swung his shoulders to scan the periphery. He avoided noting the inscriptions on the tombstones--some were beautifully decorated with crosses and heartfelt quotes.
Chains strapped around the ankles of his leather boots clinked out his anger as Michael stomped across the cemetery plots. A shadow danced across the brick wall siding the north end of the graveyard. He rushed toward the utility shed and gripped the neck of the shadow, shoving it against the wall.
"Where's the camera?" Michael demanded.
He slammed his palm against the guy's shoulder. His catch was small and squirmy, a mere teenager. "In your pocket?"
"I don't have one! You're hurting me!"
"Man, this isn't a hurt, you'll know a hurt when I give it. Empty your pockets. Can't a guy have one moment of peace?"
"Y-you're a public figure."
"Yeah, and you bastards hound me every step I take. Is it too much to ask that when I stop to visit my dead mother, I can get some private time?"
"I didn't take p-pictures. Honest."
"Then what are you doing here? Who are you? I know you've been following me. The cab driver pointed out the same yellow VW every time we turned."
Michael shoved hard against the boy's shoulder. He could break bones with ease, but he had no intention of causing harm, just frightening him.
"Ouch! I have been following you. You're famous, Mr. Lynsay. I just wanted to look--"
"My camera is in the car."
Dropping the kid like a sizzling coal, Michael then stepped back as if he were skipping away from rising flames. Now the boy's fear scent invaded his nostrils. Delicious. He adored that smell. Michael feared nothing--except himself. It was the fear he found in others--mortals--that drew him, for it was always laced with adrenaline.
A rich aroma wavered into his body, tickling his blood. Awakening--
They were not alone. Michael switched his sensory focus to his surroundings. Avoid a scene, at all costs. Especially with a witness nearby.
After The Fallen's first appearance on MTV, Michael had accepted the lack of privacy that accompanied fame. Females rushed him. Men sang his songs at sight of him. Reporters were constantly trying to find out whom he was dating. Paparazzi were part of the daily routine. But when they intruded on personal moments then he had to draw the line.
"Bring the camera to me."
"I haven't taken any pictures." His hands shaking, the kid swiped at a stream of sweat above his brow. "Not yet."
His fear had settled. He told the truth.
The rags paid top dollar for exclusive pictures. Michael could imagine what a shot of him in a graveyard would go for. More than he raked in for a week's worth of concerts, no doubt.
"Get out of here."
The kid stood there, stubbornly lifting his jaw, so Michael snarled and made a false lunge for him. That got his feet scissoring swiftly out of the gated graveyard. "Thanks for nothing!" he hollered back.
Swiping a hand down his face, Michael gave one last glance around the graveyard. The goth chick had split.
Jesse was right. He did need this self-imposed exile. A break from situations like what had just occurred. To put it bluntly? A break from people, which would then allow opportunity to fight the addiction to their fear.
Truth be told, he could not survive without people; they had become both bane and boon to his life.
This was going to be tough. Was he ready?
Exile. Michael exhaled and dropped his shoulders. The concept didn't fit his idea of a good time.
Perhaps one last fix before he locked himself away?
"Most definitely," he muttered.