Disclaimer: I do not own any aspect of Gorillaz, Zombie Flesh Eaters or any of those folks. No profit is being made from this story.
Warnings: Swearing, mild drug use, violence and sex. 2-D/Paula, Murdoc/Paula.
Other: This is Paula-centric. She's hardly a fan favorite, but I implore you to read this with an open mind. Thanks.
"Come on," she urged the thin machine in her hands. "Work."
It had been giving her problems ever since she hopped off the train in the Docklands. At first gleefully churning out music before the screen scrambled and the sound died. She fussed with it along the street, through gilded double doors, up the lift and now, holed up in a stuffy lobby, she was prepared to hurl it against a wall.
However, she chose to act with a little more finesse by dropping it on the floor and crushing it with her boot. It fizzled under her heel.
She removed her foot and gathered up the plastic mess.
"Damn. 'At's my third iPod 'is year."
The secretary ahead of her looked horrified. A phone near her elbow rang and she was swift to answer it, cradling it against her shoulder.
"Yes, sir. She is," the secretary murmured, glancing at the younger woman who was presently toying with the copper wiring poking from her ruined mp3 player. "I certainly will," she replied crisply, hanging up the phone. "Miss, Mr. Stern will see you now."
The other woman hefted herself to her feet and approached the desk.
"It's Paula. I 'aven't been a 'miss' in years," she retaliated coolly, dropping the broken iPod before the secretary. "Enjoy."
She tucked her cropped black hair behind her ears and regarded the plaque over the door before swinging it open and entering an office far more spacious than the lobby outside. Her eyes were immediately drawn across the room to a series of large windows that ran the entire length of a wall. Sunset was nearing and East London was already draped in a hazy orange glow. Paula reveled in the color for a moment when the noise of someone clearing their throat earned her attention.
Adam Stern was a smarmy, unlikeable human being. Not only because he wore loafers without socks, but because he was editor-in-chief of a sensational tabloid. The National Shit Stirrer or something like that, she couldn't be bothered to remember.
He lounged in his cushy leather chair, fingers locked behind his head. When he grinned, he reminded her of a starving hobo, willing to tear his own limbs off to get what he needed, be it a meal or an exclusive story to garnish the front page. He leaned toward her, that hungry smile growing.
"You must be Paula. Welcome, welcome! Please, 'ave a seat," he motioned jovially to a suede sofa in front of his desk. She did as he requested and cozied up against an arm.
"'Ow was your trip?" he inquired, although from the vacant tone with which he spoke Paula could tell that he didn't give a whit unless she dropped acid in the lift.
"'S fine," she answered with a shrug.
"I 'afta admit, I was surprised when you returned my call. I thought you rock 'n roll types didn't do interviews like this."
"Yeah, well. Why share 'is gem of a story wiv any 'ol rag?"
"Quite right, quite right. Believe me, you're going to get a phenomenal sum for this. But, allow me to begin formally by thanking you for your time."
Adam situated a tape recorder atop his desk and punched 'record.'
"There we are. Now, Paula. Where shall we begin?"
What a question. So much had transpired during her time with the band that, although she didn't stick around long, she had memories that would tail her for life. She closed her eyes and traced them back as thoroughly as possible. A flood of sights and sensations engulfed her: Murdoc, a weathered fag drooping from his lips; Russel and the looks of quiet dislike he shot her now and then; Stuart, of course, with his inane monologues and hollow expression; the four of them making a somber toast in a pub. All of them clearly registered and defined, their voices gravelly and sweet in her ear. It was a touch startling that she could recall them as quickly as she did.
She unzipped her leather blazer and laid it across her lap.
"The beginnin' of the end."
Paula was prepared to maim him, feed each of his fingers to junkyard dogs. Perhaps poke out his eyes and distribute them to wee trick-or-treaters this Halloween under the guise that they're misshapen jelly beans.
No. That would be too soft for him.
She would chuck his booze instead.
She had been aimlessly strumming away at her guitar in the flat that she and Stu shared. A quaint place with four rooms, decorated sparsely. His clothes were normally strewn about the floor, the closets overflowed with jeans he had worn once and hung back up, certain that they could do with another days brandishing before being washed. Since his hospitalization earlier that year, Paula felt compelled to clean his things, going so far as replacing his frayed shoelaces. However, his side of the bed remained untouched and rumpled. She would often reach out and touch his pillow, but that was all.
The phone rang and she abandoned her instrument to answer it. Murdoc was on the other line, he sounded strained but amused.
"Wot 'ave you done?" she demanded.
"We're at Tesco, yeah? Me and Stu, yeah? These birds were flaggin' me down so I ask 'em how well they 'andle stick before pulling a 360," he chuckled grimly.
"Stuart's wiv you? Why?"
"He needed fresh air."
"'E's in a coma!"
"Pipe down, yeh bint! Anyway, I punched the brakes too 'ard and 'e flew righ' through the windscreen. Looked like he was ready to fly home to Krypton or summat."
"... You are a dead man, Murdoc Nicalls."
"Stuff it. He's up now and he's crying for yeh."
"You're sick, don't joke like 'at."
"Don't believe me? Here." There was silence as Murdoc passed the phone to another person.
"'Ello?" A melodious tenor. The sound made Paula's heart clench.
"Paula, lovey? I'm, ah, at the store. Did ya send me for milk again? I don't got much money on me."
Murdoc grumped something hateful in the background.
"Don't go nowhere. I'm comin' ta get you."
Paula returned the phone to its cradle, threw on the first jacket she spotted and hailed a cab. As the driver pulled into Tesco, she pushed pounds into his hand and wrenched open the door. Dashing across the parking lot, she marveled at the skid marks and glass littering the ground. The stench of burnt rubber assaulted her sinuses.
Murdoc rested against a pay phone, taking a thoughtful drag from his cigarette. Her jaw set, she meandered forward, intent on pummeling him within an inch of his life when Stu seized her, spindly arms catching her about the waist.
"Lovey!" he cried, flashing an extraordinary smile.
Her anger dissolved into relief and she pressed her face into his throat, winding her arms around his middle. With a kiss to his shirt collar, she inhaled deeply. Ah, he smelled of butterscotch angel delight, as always. Her fingers ruffled the ends of his hair. Feathery, as always. His fingers, in turn, prodded along her spine in the same way that he would stroke her back as they fell asleep. By the act of a crotchety madman who didn't think to buckle up his charge, her Stu-Pot had come back.
It was true. It was real.
Murdoc pried them apart. "Awright, enough."
Paula elbowed him in the gut and tilted her face up to Stu's when she recoiled with a startled hiss. It looked as if someone speckled coal into his eyes. She ran a palm over his brow and checked for chalky smears. Her hand was clean. She rounded on Murdoc and he glared at her beadily from beneath his fringe.
"Hit me again and you'll regret it."
"'Is is your fault. Lookit 'im!"
"He's a face-ache before an' he's a face-ache now. Whatchu complainin' about?"
"You didn't even fink to call for help?" She fisted the hem of her skirt and turned back to the taller man. "Are you hurt?"
"No," he answered, tugging on an earlobe, his expression troubled. He looked alien and unreal, Paula noted, as she fished in her pocket for change.
"Wot about 'ose other girls. The ones you were showin' off for?"
Murdoc busied himself with stamping out his cigarette, but Stu spoke up.
"They left righ' as I was getting' up, pickin' glass outta my hair. They was laughin' sayin' that they prefer manual to stick."
"You're in for it now, dullard."
Paula cackled as she dialed the hospital.
"When the paramedics showed up, Stu told me 'ey were plannin' to form a band. 'E nominated me as guitarist. Murdoc wasn't too pleased about it, but 'e lost the vote, two against one," Paula finished with a smirk.
"And 'at was around the time 'at Stuart came to be known as 2-D," Adam appended, rocking in his chair.
"'At's right, it was Murdoc's idea. Two dents from the bumps on 'is head. But, 'e was always Stu-Pot ta me."
"What about Russel? When did 'e enter the picture?"
"Not until the next year. Murdoc met 'im in a record store in Soho and invited 'im into the band. 'E was hesitant about it at first, probably thought Muds was tryin' ta come on to 'im, but 'e agreed. When the last member was in place, it was official – we were Gorilla. 'At weekend we celebrated."
It was a frosty, tumultuous winter evening and the pub was packed with people blowing into their hands and dusting snowflakes from their coats. Men lined the bar, clinking glasses and swearing good-naturedly at each other. Couples were perched on splintering stools, watching the flurries outside with clasped hands. Russel, Murdoc, Stu and Paula gathered in a booth and waited on their drinks.
At Paula's insistence, Stu donned dark sunglasses before they left the flat. When asked why, she nibbled her lip and said it would be bad if snow landed in his eyes. Then he kissed her and put them on without further inquiry. She wondered if his own reflection spooked him. Even now, she was chilled whenever he rolled over in bed, peeked at her over his pillow and burbled 'g'mornin'. His eyes were fractured beyond modern repair, but he was still the same, although he had taken a shining to Murdoc which she couldn't comprehend. The bassist had yet to openly admit that it was his hellbent disregard that caused Stu to look the way he did. He may have just been thankful to have been shaken from the coma. Who knew?
Stu poked her in the arm and pointed to his glasses.
"C'n I take 'ese off now? I know Russel's in front o' me, but I can't see 'im." To emphasize his dilemma, he waved a hand before his face. The drummer sighed; that blue-haired kid was hopeless.
"'Ave it," she replied after whipping around to gage who could and couldn't see them. He pushed the glasses to the top of his head and she contemplated snatching them and passing them on to Russel. His eyes glowed white and otherworldly, a piercing gaze.
Murdoc leapt from his seat.
"Wake up, ladies. Although, I use the term loosely," he added greasily, leering at Paula, who retorted with a lewd gesture. "This is our night and you lot look like you're at a fuckin' funeral."
"Christ, Muds, shut your gob. You've not even got your absinthe and already your bein' a twat."
"Listen 'ere, rabbit," he started, making a jibe about her overly large front teeth, "You're in 'is outfit because it makes the dullard happy. To be 'onest, you're a shit guitar player, but you're all we've got for now. I won't trade yeh for some bright-eyed ponce who's played longer, but you're shit."
Russel clapped a hand on Murdoc's shoulder and pulled him down to sit.
"Whoa, man," he soothed in his pleasing baritone, "Relax. If we gonna be a band, we gotta be constructive and tolerant. Like you said, dis is our night, so let's enjoy it."
A begrudged silence fell over the booth for a minute.
"Hang on," Stu began, alarmed, "Wot funeral? Who died?"
By the time their drinks had been delivered, Paula was already nursing a headache.
"So, there was tension straight from the start."
"Mm. Murdoc and I never cared for each other. Russel refereed when 'e could."
"Del popped up a few weeks later, durin' our first rehearsal. Russ nodded off at 'is drums and Murdoc shout for 'im to get 'is act together. Russ' hat rose up over 'is head and there was Del. I fell arse over kettle from my chair. Stu asked where he got a blue tan an' Murdoc said, 'Moonbathing, you amoeba.'"
"Sounds like they took it well."
"A little too well."
"Tell me about 'Ghost Train'."
"Got suicide for my baby ... Ghost train
Living up until I wanted ... Ghost train
Seeing like I'm out of bed, yeah ... Ghost train
Moving up and taught I'm a weapon ... Ghost train"
Stu crooned mournfully into the studio microphone, his thumbs hooked into the belt loop of his jeans. His posture was that of relaxed defiance, but his countenance was sincere. Paula studied his features from beneath her hair, tuning her guitar.
Russel produced a steady rhythm from his corner of the studio. He appeared drowsy, as usual, drumsticks limp in his fists. The tinny clink of a cymbal roused him from his near-sleep throughout the song.
Murdoc was slumped against the wall, plucking his bass. Those digits danced along the instrument's neck in a blur of flesh and dynamism. Face downcast, he licked his lips occasionally.
The little room was heady with music; it crackled with percussion and rolled on thunderous vocals. Even the warbling bass was followed by an electric wave. Paula bounced her guitar on her knee, head swimming. Could she combat that kind of power?
"I see myself pretend how to get there ... Ghost train
Dripping down, I'm poisoned on the street ... Ghost train"
'Let's see,' Paula mused, readying her fingers, 'E F E F E G. No – fuck!'
Murdoc shuffled to the middle of the room, waving his arms.
Russel halted his drumming and Stu hushed immediately.
"Wot's up, Muds?" the singer asked, sliding his headphones down.
"Sort yeh fingers out, rabbit. That's the third time you've muffed up that chord."
Paula tartly crossed her arms.
"It's almost three in the fuckin' mornin', you scratter. I'm exhausted."
"Biggie and the pansy aren't havin' any problems."
Stu and Russel exchanged dubious glances. Paula jumped off her seat and stalked toward Murdoc. The drummer left his set and hovered on the cusp of the argument, primed to pose as a human obstacle. Paula was a woman, granted, but she wouldn't hesitate to punch. And, given their volatile relationship, Murdoc wouldn't think twice about striking back.
"Lovey," Stu beseeched by the microphone.
She glared at the bassist, concentrating every vile thought to bore a hole through him. He stood before her, hands tucked into his back pockets. His veneer was despicable. The muscles in Paula's neck tightened and she spat in his face.
"Bitch," he howled, brushing the saliva from his cheek, "Fucking bitch!" He lunged for her, teeth gnashed, but Russel caught him by his shoulders and pinned him to his enormous frame. "You're outta my band, whore, out!"
Paula scooped up her purse and fled the studio. Murdoc's incensed cursing hounded her as she wound her way to the street. Once outside, she gulped at the open air, her limbs tingling.
"I can't take much more of this, Stuart."
"Stu?" She turned to the door of the studio and her breath hitched.
He hadn't followed her.
Come on come on come on! Ghost train
Come on come on come on! Ghost train
"I avoided the rehearsals after that, fakin' sick or leavin' the flat before Stu woke up and not comin' back until late at night. Sometimes 'e would catch me and beg me ta come play, but I knew Murdoc wouldn't 'ave any of it."
"You still managed to complete the song."
"I recorded early in the mornin'. 'At was fair wiv Murdoc as long as he never ran into me."
"All the bickerin' must've taken it's toll on your relationship with 2-D."
"It did at first. Carousin' for months turned out ta be more trouble than it was worth. Every nigh' he'd be squattin' on the end of the bed waitin' for me wiv the most forlorn mug I've ever seen. I cut out my partyin' 'at summer."
"Then," Paula raked bitterly at her blazer, "'E called."
In the wake of his fury, she had expected the studio to be reduced to fermenting ash. A testament to rock and a mental bassist. Despite his best efforts, the exterior was intact and the walls were sturdy.
Hooking a corner, she saw him trifling with his inverted cross near the toilets.
"I know I'm a stunning thing to behold, but quit gawkin'."
"Mind yeh manners, else I'll keep this to meself."
From his pocket he presented a small baggie and filmy paper. Paula eyed the herb wolfishly. She and Stu smoked together once, which, she realized fifteen minutes later as he stripped naked and lined the kitchen floor with knives, was a grave mistake. Stupefied as he was normally, the drug only served to intensify his offbeat behavior.
"Hold on. Wot's the catch? You've hexed or poisoned it, righ'?"
Murdoc feigned upset.
"There's two things in 'is world yeh never, ever enchant: your muvver and your weed. In here," he purred, sidling up to the men's toilet and opening the door.
"An' wot of enchanting band mates?" Paula smirked, strolling through the hatch and pausing near a sink.
"Band mates are free reign."
Murdoc set to rationing the herb and rolling the joints with exactness. Paula nabbed her joint and held it to her mouth.
"Got a light?"
"Do yeh hafta ask?"
He tossed her his lighter, engraved in onyx, and she blazed up promptly. She gave it back to him and he joined her in her smoke.
They settled on the floor and puffed serenely, gazing up into the dappled ceiling. Paula kneaded her throat as she coughed. Murdoc shot her a wry grin.
"'S been a while."
"Your tit boyfriend doesn't partake?"
"'E 'ates it."
"Now there's a surprise."
Paula finished her joint first and stubbed it out on the floor. An impassive hush enveloped the two.
"Rabbit," he grumbled.
The guitarist inclined her head toward him, her vision deadening.
"Rabbit, we need to talk."
As he spoke, she found herself inexplicably fascinated with his dirty fringe, the way it swept into his face as he killed his own joint. Her tongue withered against her teeth and she smacked her lips.
She emitted an odd giggle and nodded.
"A-ha. Well, what I'm tryin' to say here is - "
Her eyes dropped from his hair to his bony wrists. Hands moved from her lap and crept up his arms, his flesh warming beneath those palms. Thumbs caressed the crook of his elbow. His muscle flexed and something pulsated within her.
Those same hands jumped to explore the planes of his cheeks and nose. Here he was, the creature who had ensnared her Stuart with a maleficent bass line and the promise of fame. A dark pied piper. Fuzzily, she concocted a plan to win her boy back.
"What are you doing?"
She'd rob Murdoc of his might in the only way she knew.
"Cottonmouth," she explained breathlessly.
Rising to her knees, she kissed him, tracing the shell of his ears with ragged fingers before grappling with his shirt. He made a dismissive noise and pushed her hands away. She suckled at his lower lip and attacked the zipper on his fly. Extracting himself from her dominating kisses, he gasped.
"Hey, the-the band.."
"You'll only hurt them," she murmured, her voice husky and remote. She mounted his lap and he groaned, nails clefting her arms as he held her.
She did anyway, undulating fluidly while he clawed at the tile floor.
Voices beyond the door.
Fire germinated in her belly as Murdoc tickled her thighs.
A wooden creak.
She clutched his shoulders and shrieked.
"What in tha hell?"
Murdoc was lugged from underneath her and she toppled to the floor. Russel shoved him into a stall and he landed on a toilet seat, his legs jutting out at strange angles.
"Dat's so fucked up," the drummer bellowed and slugged the other man repeatedly, "How you gonna come off like dat, man?"
Wordlessly, he left. Paula, her senses still clouded by marijuana, stood and drank from the sink faucet. In the mirror, she could see Murdoc bloodied and quivering.
"I-I need a doctor," his reflection admitted.
"'S not my problem anymore."
She smoothed down her hair and exited the bathroom.
"Rabbit bitch," he spluttered.
Russel lingered in the corridor, tending to a gash on his knuckle. No doubt a cut from Murdoc's serrated teeth. He turned to her, a disgusted frown prevalent on his features. Ghostly oculars fastened to hers and she humbled in his presence.
"You'll.. take care of 'im, right? Stuart, I mean."
For a moment it appeared as if he was going to ignore her.
"You know we will," he said plainly.
Then she was gone.
"Murdoc had planned on dropping me from the band for good that night. 'E doped me up so I'd leave without kickin' up a fuss."
"You never spoke with 2-D yourself about what 'appened?"
"I couldn't. Not then. Anyway, I knew 'e was in good hands."
"You never saw Murdoc again either?"
Adam sighed, hit the 'stop' button on his recorder and stretched. Paula got to her feet and gravitated toward the windows that engrossed her before. Adam swiveled in his chair to watch her.
"What about now? Ever think to get in touch with 'em?"
A billboard hung across the road from where she stood. A waifish young man with spiked blue hair was embracing a Japanese girl, both bearing toothy smiles. Two men sandwiched them. The first was gnawing at an inverted cross on a gold chain. The second touched the rim of his baseball hat, a drumstick in his pocket. Gorillaz was emblazoned above the quartet in mock-spray paint. It was like a demented family portrait hung up for all to see. Paula tapped the glass idly and put her blazer on.
"No. I fink the most decent fing for me ta do is stay away. I never belonged wiv 'em."
"Do you miss him?"
"Even if I did, 'e 'as three people who love him in ways I never could: unconditionally and without question."
The sky outside was velvety and infinite, hours had passed during her conference with Adam. The lights affixed to the top of the billboard glimmered to life, illuminating the world she once knew.
It was time to go home.
Author's Note: A labor of love, this was. My first Gorillaz fan fic ever. I'm quite proud of how this came out even though I couldn't find a beta reader. Perhaps next time, eh?
Erm, I don't know what else to put here. Comments and critiques are warmly welcomed – thanks for reading!