-CHAPTER 1-


-2D's POV-

I'm not very good at telling stories. I never know how to start or finish the stupid things. Murdoc is always saying that the only part I can handle is the middle—and even then I'm complete rubbish. I guess he's right. I like to go off on tangents and make weird little comparisons that only make sense to me. It's not my fault, really. I just get distracted easily, that's all. So if you end up in a completely different place than I'm at by the end of this story, I won't blame you if you won't blame me.

The thing is I'm not exactly sure when this story starts. I know where the middle is, and I'm pretty sure I've got the end nailed down. But the beginning...the beginning is tough to pick out. Everything happened so gradually that none of us noticed anything at all until everything was already completely out of control. Except Noodle. I think that she's the only one who really knows when it all started.

She was the first one to notice when things started to happen, but she kept her mouth shut. Not in a mean, "I'm not going to tell you about this because I want to see you all suffer when things get worse" way. She would never do that. No, she kept her mouth shut in more of an " I think I'm going crazy and if I tell anybody else about this they're going to think I'm a right nutter" way. I can't blame her for not speaking up earlier than she did. The poor kid really must have thought that she was going off her rocker. I know I wouldn't want to tell anybody if I thought I was going crazy.

I don't know how long things were going on before the rest of us noticed anything. It might have been a couple of days, a couple of weeks, or even months and months. I really do hope it wasn't as long as that, though. No kid deserves to go through that, least of all her. Anyways, the point I'm trying to make is that it should really be Noodle who starts this story and not me. But then again, here I am. Weird how things work out like that, huh?

You're probably starting to wonder what I'm blabbering on about with all this junk about going insane and "poor Noodle this" and "poor Noodle that." It's exactly like I warned you: I don't know how to start a story. I guess it would be better if I just did like Murdoc always tells me to do and "spit out your point, face ache, preferably sometime before New Year's." So here I go.

It wasn't dark and it wasn't stormy and it wasn't even night when I first noticed that something was upsetting Noodle. It was sunny and hot and the middle of the day. We—as in me, Noodle, Russel and Murdoc—were trying to record a song for our Demon Days album in the Kong studio. It was…well, to put things nicely, it wasn't going well. Three of us wanted to break for lunch. One of us didn't. All four of us were so hungry our insides were starting to digest themselves. Three of us cared. One of us didn't. Three guesses who the odd one out was.

"Come on, Muds, this is starting to boarder on cruel and unusual punishment," Russel groaned. He clutched at his stomach as it let out an impressive roar. "Can't we break for just five min—"

"No! Damn it, Russ, we have to get that track recorded today! I've already got our agents bitching at me and if we miss this deadline they'll really give me hell. We can break once we get something we can use on tape."

I'd made the mistake of not eating any breakfast before we started recording at the ungodly hour of six o' clock am. It was getting close to three in the afternoon now. I was so hungry I thought I was about to die. Or maybe just pass out. Either way, if I didn't get something to eat soon, things weren't going to be pretty. "We have plenty of good stuff on that tape already," I argued. "Please can we stop for just a little while?"

"You know as well as I do that everything on that tape is garbage," he snarled.

It wasn't all "garbage," really, but Murdoc has the habit of becoming a very foul-tempered perfectionist when we're working on a deadline. (Which we were.) Especially when our agents are bothering him. (Which, apparently, they were.)

He ranted on a bit longer about how lazy we were and how we were both sodding no-talent dullards and how his life would be so much easier and better without us in it. Noodle ignored it all because none of it was directed to her. It never was. Russ and I didn't pay much attention to it either because we'd both heard it about a thousand times before and we both expected to hear it at least a thousand times more. Plus, we knew it was a load anyways. I mean, really, who ever heard of a band with only a bass player in it?

While Murdoc was busy barking himself blue in the face, I snaked a hand into my pocket and fumbled with the little tin of painkillers that I always keep there. His insults had stopped hurting a long time ago, but his voice could still trigger one of my ever-so-delightful migraines if he yelled for long enough. I waited until he wasn't looking and then popped the little white pill into mouth and sucked on it like a tic-tac. The strong, bitter taste burned in the back of my throat, but I knew better than to try chewing. Murdoc would know what I was doing if he saw me crunching away, and then he'd really throw a fit. Besides, I've gotten used to the taste by now. I kind of like it, actually.

When Murdoc finally ran out of things to say (and with Murdoc, that can take an awfully long time), he breathlessly finished with, "And so help me I can and will keep us here until this song is up to snuff, even if it takes us through lunch, dinner, supper, afternoon tea, midnight snack, elevensies, and the fucking apocalypse! One more time from the top." He was so winded by his ranting that he didn't even have the energy left to ask Noodle to start the song. Instead, he just jerked his head at her like he was having a muscle spasm in his neck.

Noodle got the message and began to play her guitar intro. It was a short, high-pitched thing that sounded more like a tuning exercise than a real melody, but the way she played it, you would never think of it that way. Murdoc and Russel came in, both of their instruments sharp and clear as they set the actual tempo of the piece and then a pre-recorded demo of me singing the vocal accompaniment joined them.

My stomach twisted and rolled as I waited for my entrance and I gave Murdoc a dirty look before singing the first few lines of the song:

O green world,

Don't desert me now

Bring me back to fallen town

Where someone is still alive.

Murdoc returned my dirty look with a death glare, and Russel gave us both nasty looks. The only things I could think about were how much my stomach hurt and how lucky it was that we weren't filming a music video right then. The looks on our faces were so ugly they probably would have given the faint of heart nightmares. We were so busy pulling dirty faces at each other that I guess what happened next couldn't have been helped.

I like to think that it was Murdoc who missed the beat first, even though it was probably me. I guess it doesn't really matter who did it first, because after a couple of seconds we were all hitting different beats at different tempos. Except Noodle, of course—she was still right on the beat we'd set. I swear, sometimes I think she's a robot or something along those lines. She probably wouldn't miss a note or skip a beat even if a tornado came along and sucked her up. She'd just keep right on playing her guitar while the funnel cloud whipped her around in the air like a little rag doll.

Eventually, we all realized that there was no way we were going to save the flaming wreck the song had become and one by one, we quit playing our instruments. Murdoc looked angry enough to blow a gasket, so I tried to say something to settle him down before he started screaming at us again.

"Sorry, Muds," I whimpered. "It's just so hard to concentrate when I'm so hungry and…." I trailed off, not exactly sure what should come after the 'and.' Still, I thought it was convincingly pathetic. Anybody with half a heart would have shown a little compassion. Murdoc showed none. Instead, he just picked up on his ranting right where he'd left off before. Sometimes I wonder if he kicks puppies for fun.

We would have had to listen to Murdoc's ranting for a very long time if Noodle hadn't groaned and started swaying on her feet like a teenager at a party who's had way more than one too many drinks. The three of us were at her side in a heartbeat. Russel put his hands on her shoulders to steady her. Murdoc pulled up a folding chair and Russel guided her to sit down in it. And all the while I was saying, "Noodle, are you all right? What's wrong? What happened? Noods? Are you all right?"

"She'd be a lot better if you'd shut up and get out of her face," answered Murdoc. He turned his attention from me to her and gently asked, "What's the matter, love? Feeling a little dizzy?"

Noodle shakily brought a hand up to her face to wipe away the cold sweat that was beading there. "I am fine," she quietly replied. She glanced at each of us with slightly glazed eyes and I noticed that her face was pale and tinted a sickish yellow color. "I think that maybe I am just…just hungry."

Russel sighed heavily and growled, "That does it. I don't care what you think, Muds, we're taking a break. The kid needs food, and she's going to get it."

"Well…well, yeah. Yes, of course," Murdoc stammered. He gave Noodle a worried glance and added, "I'm sorry, love. I didn't know you were feeling that bad. You should have said something."

"It is all right," she assured him. She slid off the chair and held onto it for support while she gained her balance. "Please do not worry for me. I will be fine."

"Come on, Noods, let's get you something to eat," Russel said, and I helped him escort her out of the studio. As we made our way to the cafe, I couldn't help wondering whether her fit was really caused by just hunger alone. She looked sick, I thought to myself. Is she getting sick? Or…or is it something else?

And that was when I first started to think that something was really bothering Noodle.


-Murdoc's POV-

Twelve hours. We spent twelve fucking hours in the studio and what did we have to show for it? Ninety minutes' worth of missed rhythms. An hour and a half of "experiments" that should never have been attempted. In other words, a shit load of…well, shit.

Not that this was my fault, mind you. I'm not saying that I was perfect—I'll even go so far as to admit that I may have made one or two minor errors. But keep in mind that 2D and Russel were the ones to blame for the real train wrecks. The dullard even managed to forget the lyrics to the song a couple of times, even though we'd been playing it all day.

I'd threatened to hold them hostage in the studio until we recorded something that met my standards and I would have made good on that threat if our agents hadn't called around seven o' clock pm. While I was busy trying to appease those slimy harpies, my singer, drummer and guitarist all managed to sneak out of the studio and disappear into the woodwork of Kong like a trio of cockroaches. I swear to hell and back someday I'm getting locks installed on both sides of that door.

I knew that our agents were going to get pissy when they heard that we didn't have the song ready, and I knew that I was going to be the one that had to deal with it. Sure enough, they gave me hell. After an hour (!) of oily sweet-talking and slick excuse-making, I managed to satisfy the bloodsuckers with a promise to have the song ready within the week. My three band mates had very considerately left everything on when they left (amps, mikes, mixers, recording equipment—somebody had even turned on the radio and the pompous newscaster's voice was prattling on about some serial killer that was still at large), so I ended up having to turn it all off myself.

Needless to say, by the time I finally got out of the studio, I was not in a mood to be trifled with. It's a lucky thing for my faithful band mates that I didn't happen across any of them on my way to the kitchen. I was mad enough to kick the shit out of 2D, and I probably would have even taken a swing or two at Russel if I'd had the chance. To tell you the truth, I was hoping to find somebody because I wanted a fight. Why else would I make the trek up to the kitchen for some booze when the haven that is my Winnie was just a few steps down the hall?

It didn't do anything to improve my mood when, after searching every cupboard and corner of the kitchen, the only alcohol I could find was a half-empty bottle of blush wine. I was in the mood to get so shitfaced that everything felt warm and fuzzy and numb and I wanted it to happen fast. The only thing that was going to do that for me was a nice, hard liquor. Of course, I had my good friends Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker along with a nice stash of one-name wonders (Bacardi, Smirnoff, etc.) back in my Winnie, but they weren't going to help me much when I was in the kitchen. But I was damned if I was going to leave the kitchen without a little something for my efforts.

I pulled the cork out of the bottle with my teeth and didn't even try to find a glass before taking a long swig straight from the bottle. Much to my disgust, it was a sweet wine; the sweetest I've ever tasted. (Generally, I'm not a fan of sweet liquors. The way I see it, if you're wanting to get drunk, you shouldn't pussyfoot around it with some girly-tasting trash. The stuff I was drinking probably belonged to 2D—he's too much of a pansy to drink anything that doesn't taste like fruit juice.) Still, I was in such a foul mood that I didn't care much about the taste. I guzzled down about half of what was left in the bottle before coming up for air.

I gave myself a bit of time to catch my breath, and then took another big gulp straight from the bottle. There wasn't much of the stuff left after that. I eyed the piddly amount that was left and decided that it would be enough to get me back downstairs to my Winnie, where I could really get down to business. Taking a small sip with every few steps, I left the kitchen and began to head to the car park.

I heard Noodle's voice as soon as I stepped out of the kitchen and into the corridor. It was coming from the lobby, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of anything she was saying. For about three seconds, I thought that it was the alcohol. I even went so far as to think; well this stuff isn't quite so bad after all. But then I realized that (a) there was absolutely no way I could be that gone on a half-bottle of shitty blush wine, and (b) Noodle was speaking in Japanese.

Now that doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, does it? I thought. I haven't heard her say two words in Japanese since she came back from Japan and was able to speak English. Who in the blooming hell is she talking to? Not Russ or dullard. Neither of them know any Japanese. A zombie that managed to wander inside? I snorted, mildly amused by the idea of the small girl discussing the deep and intricate details of the universe with one of the brain dead walking corpses that roamed the Kong grounds. And in Japanese, no less.

When I reached the lobby, I only ended up more confused. Noodle was there, still yammering on in her native language, but I didn't see anybody around that she could have been talking to. Noodle didn't seem to be having the same problem. Every so often, she would stop speaking and stare at a point in the air in front of her as though she was expecting an answer. I could see her eyes moving back and forth, like she was watching somebody pace back and forth. Taken slightly aback at the sight of my young guitarist talking to thin air, I glanced around the lobby again to make sure that I hadn't missed seeing anything. I hadn't. Aside from Noodle and myself, the room was completely empty.

Finally, after waiting an uncomfortably long time for her to stop speaking, I cleared my throat and said, "Who are you talking to, love?"

She jumped and whipped around to face me with a very unsettling expression on her face. Her eyes were wide; her mouth hanging slack and all of the color had drained from her cheeks. It was an expression of absolute terror, and for a moment I was afraid that she was going to have another fit like she'd experienced in the studio. I took a step forward and put out an arm, ready to catch her if she fell, but then her features relaxed back into a more natural expression and she said, "It's…it was Taro-kun."

"Taro-kun…?" I blankly repeated.

The color that had left her cheeks came rushing back in a dark blush. "That is what I call him. I do not know his real name."

I reached past her to push the button for the lift before asking, "What were you saying to…uh…to Taro-kun?"

"I was asking him what he wants. He will not tell me what he wants or why he is here. He never speaks to me. I think that maybe he cannot speak."

I frowned, concern edging through the buzz that was beginning to set in from the wine. "Where is Taro-kun now?" I gently asked as the lift doors slid open.

She looked down to the ground and quietly replied, "He is gone. I think that you might have scared him away."

"He's afraid of me?" I snickered and stepped onto the lift. "Smart boy."

Before she could answer, the lift doors glided closed. So Noodle's invented herself an imaginary friend, I thought as I felt the familiar jerk that signaled the lift's descent. I thought that she was old enough to be past all that childish nonsense. Strange. I took one last gulp from the bottle in my hand, finishing off the last of the wine, and then shrugged. I suppose it's harmless enough as long as it doesn't get too out-of-control.

By the time the lift had reached the ground floor, the general creepiness of the situation had already begun to lose its edge. I was ready to dismiss it as weird (but not alarmingly so) and return my attentions to my most primary concern: getting back to my Winnie and getting some real liquor flowing through my veins.


Author's Notes: Yay for first person POV! It's definitely my favorite style (which is weird considering I only have about three stories that use it). Anyways, I hope that you enjoyed chapter one. Next up is Noodle and Russel. Review if you are so inclined—it makes me happy!