Six weeks had passed since that infamous Saturday night at the Macabre Cabaret. Despite the carnage and chaos that occurred that evening, a fellow musician who was at the club offered A Murder of Crows perhaps the most plum and prestigious gig they had ever received: becoming an opening act for Ditchspade Symphony's nationwide tour.
After weeks of rehearsals and preparation, the tour was about to kick off at the first venue, the place where it all began; the Macabre Cabaret.
Over in the men's dressing room, Edgar had twenty minutes left to spare on his own. Dillon and Jimmy had left to rehearse some last minute notes and to take a few quick swigs of red wine. Edgar scanned the room and settled on the hard black case for his bass guitar. He carefully opened up the case, gently removed his bass guitar and reached for a thick hardcover book originally obscured by the guitar; his Bible.
Edgar flipped the massive book open and thumbed through the thin pages to the section where he last left off. He tuned out the thunderous, guitar heavy music of London Afternoon filling the airwaves of the club and let himself become absorbed with the spiritual passages that withstood the ravages of time. He took a deep breath and exhaled, calmed and at peace. He wouldn't know how long he would have times like these to himself while on tour but one thing he knew was that he wanted this time of private serenity and to enjoy every second of it.
A loud knock on the door interrupted Edgar's brief moment of solitude. The pounding startled him as he shuffled in his seat, the Bible falling from his hands.
"Just a minute!" he said as he picked up his Bible, hid it behind his guitar case and made his way to the door. He opened the door to reveal Devi standing before him, looking much more comfortable in both her stage ensemble and with herself.
"Hey, we're going on in a bit and Elize is wondering where the rest of the band is," said Devi. She noticed Edgar's apprehensive stance by the doorway.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Oh? Me? I-I'm doing okay," he replied as he smoothed out the wrinkles on his black shirt.
"Are you sure? I mean, it's been a while since that bar fight. Are you sure you aren't inflicted with amnesia?"
"Oh, right, that, heh. Don't worry, I'm doing okay."
"Fine, what's my name then?"
"Okay, I believe you now. C'mon, skinny boy, let's go."
As Devi and Edgar were making their way towards the rest of the band at the other end backstage, they were stopped by Todd. His hands were behind his back.
"Um, uh, are you Devi?" stammered Todd.
"Yeah, what is it?"
"Um, someone asked me to give this to you…"
Todd timidly handed Devi a red rose with a small tag tied to the thorny stem with a black ribbon.
"Who is this from?" asked Devi but it was too late. Todd had already scuttled off. Devi looked at the tag on the card. A small gasp escaped from Devi as soon as she read the contents of the tag…
Edgar noticed the look of fear in Devi's eyes. It was as if her strong soul was replaced with one of a weak, feeble creature.
"Devi? Are you alright?" asked Edgar.
"What? Oh. I'm fine. I'm fine. It's okay. It's nothing. Nothing at all," Devi said quickly and defensively.
"Hey!! Get your bony asses over here! We're going on in a few minutes!" shouted Dillon as he swayed his glass of wine, a few droplets landing on the floor.
As Devi and Edgar quickly rushed to the band, Devi hesitated as to where to place her gift. She gently placed the rose by her dressing room door then followed Edgar to the other Crows.
An undeniable buzz was setting in the crowd. As they flocked to the center of the dance floor, Johnny swung over to his usual perch and took a seat. The lights were dimming. His wicked grin widened as he looked on with great anticipation.
"Sing like the transcendent goddess that you are. Sing like you rise above this rotting, disgusting planet…" he whispered to himself.
A slow, brooding synthesized melody filled the crowded club, its repetition hypnotizing the audience. A smoky green spotlight brightened the center of the stage, highlighting Devi hidden away in the shadows. She lifted the microphone to her lips, looked out to the audience and began to sing…
"That day still stays in my mind
The day you were left behind
It wasn't my choice,
I couldn't find my voice…"
Silence. A screaming, soaring electric guitar, courtesy of Dillon, kicked in and changed the pace of the melody.
"I wanted to run to you
But I only stood still on the ground.
I wanted to scream out loud
But we were nowhere to be found…"
A shiver traveled through Johnny's body. He leaned in closer, letting the music wrap around him like a cloak. A tear glistened on his sharp defined cheek bone.
"All I could do was stare at you
Falling deep into the blue
I don't know what I can do
I can only be drowning in you
Drowning in you…"
Devi could barely hear her own voice escalate well beyond the roof tops of the club due to the cheering of the crowds and screeching of the guitar. Johnny peered down at the stage; he couldn't help but notice the sweat trickling down her temples, truly pouring every ounce of her into the song only to be invaded by Dillon's intrusive guitar. It infuriated him to hear this strong voice become powerless to aching, strained shrieks.
The five song set ended with tremendous amounts of applause and resounding chants for Devi. It appeared that Ditchspade Symphony would have quite the act to follow, considering this was only the opening act. As A Murder of Crows exited the stage, the band members were greeted by the two front women of Ditchspade Symphony.
"Holy shit, you guys freakin' rocked out there! You especially!" raved the woman with purple and pink dreadfalls as she pulled in Devi for a hug.
"Oh, um, thanks," said Devi humbly, "I'm still not quite used to all this but thanks…"
"Don't worry about it! You guys are gonna kick ass on this tour!" smiled the other woman with blue and black streaked hair. Soon, the two women along with their fellow band members were being prattled onto the stage.
"Oh my God, we did it, you guys!" shouted Tess.
"Wonder if the Phantom Maniac liked us?" beamed Jimmy.
Devi's face turned pale.
"Phantom Schmantom my ass! You guys head over to the green room and I'll get us some more booze," said Dillon.
As the rest of the band retreated to the "green" room, Dillon walked the opposite direction over to the men's dressing room. A merger of the pounding music and the ringing in Dillon's ears blocked out the ominous steel taps inching closer and closer towards him. Before he could open the door, a rough lasso tightened itself around Dillon's neck and jerked him away from the doorknob.
The ladies of Ditchspade Symphony proceeded to prove that they were able to perform at the same level as their opening act…but little did they know they were about to be upstaged.
The dreadfalled vocalist was quickly approaching the bridge of their gloomy anthem, the keyboardist adding touches to the final buildup.
As if on cue, a lifeless body tied to a noose flopped from the ceiling but barely missed the ground. Cheers quickly morphed into mortified shrieks. The drummer gazed at the body slowly swaying back and forth in front of him before breaking into a fit of vomiting. The singer turned around and quickly noticed that familiar face; that mohawk, those piercings.
"Isn't that…oh FUCK!!" she howled in horror before fainting.
As the rest of Ditchspade Symphony rushed to the singer's aid, Elize quickly ran up to the stage and grabbed the microphone from the unconscious singer.
"Ahem, uh, ladies…and gentlemen, I-I assure you that this was all planned in advance. The guitarist here is also a, uh, trained stuntman. Yes, that's it!"
Elize turned around and saw the body, still motionless, still swaying.
"Oh, fuck…" she huffed under her breath, perhaps a little too audibly into the microphone.
Meanwhile, back in the "green" room, the screams (and occasional hurling sounds) baffled the remaining Crows.
"What the fuck's goin' on out there, man?" asked Jimmy.
"Yeah, and Dillon said he was gonna get the drinks twenty minutes ago. Where the hell could he be?" Tess chimed in.
Just then, Tenna barged into the room. She struggled to catch her breath as she squeaked Spooky repeatedly.
"Tenna! Tenna?" pondered Devi, "what's everyone screaming—"
"Dillon…Dillon…" panted Tenna, "he's dead! His body's just hanging there above the stage on a noose!"
Tess let out a loud gasp.
"Oh my god, Dillon's dead?! Oh…" Tess paused briefly. "Say, um, uhh…Edgar, do you know how to play guitar?"
Edgar gave Tess a dumbfounded look. His eyes clearly showed he was caught off guard by Tess' request.
"Well, I, uh, a little but I-I'm sure I can give it a try!" stuttered Edgar.
Devi's jaw dropped. Her blood turned cold. It wasn't the death of Dillon that disturbed her but it was the mere fact of knowing exactly who the culprit behind the murder would be. She fidgeted on the couch as her eyes darted around the room searching for at least some kind of emergency exit. Oh fuck, oh fuck, why couldn't there be some kind of vent in here or something?
Finally, she settled on grabbing Edgar by the wrist and dragging him along with her to the "green" room door.
"Look, I don't know about you guys but I'm getting the fuck out of here!" yelled Devi before she, along with Edgar, bolted out of the room. She continued to tug Edgar along like a freight train down to the emergency exit at the other end of the backstage hallway. What was normally a two minute stroll felt like two thousand miles.
"Shouldn't you be dragging Tess and Jimmy along with you? I mean, my arm's hurting quite a bit. Could you at least loosen your grip?" asked Edgar.
"They'll be following us out. They know where the exit is but we really need to talk!" barked Devi as they brushed past the last dressing room door before the exit door, completely overlooking the lone red rose leaning against the door.
Devi and Edgar stepped out from the club into a dark back alley. Countless speckled stars shone through the smoggy, polluted clouds in the midnight sky. A sweltering, humid air still remained despite the presence of night.A bright spotlight emitting from a street lamp barely shone on the sweaty, slender duo.
Before each of them could recollect their breath, Edgar noticed Devi staring down at the ground, her bare arms tightly crossed.
"Devi? You said you wanted to talk to me about something. Is…is everything okay?" asked Edgar, lowering his head trying to see if there was a telling expression on Devi's face.
Devi bit her lip and sighed.
"I saw him…" she breathed softly.
"I-I saw him," she spoke with slightly more volume.
"No, him. Nny, the Phantom Maniac."
Edgar paused and cocked his head.
"The Phantom Maniac? Isn't he just a myth everyone's made up here?"
"He's real, Edgar. I know."
"Hmmm…" he nodded his head. "How so, exactly?"
"Look, I know I sound like a nutcase in the looney bin but just hear me out, okay?"
"Alright. I'm listening."
"Okay…you know the first gig I performed with you guys? Everyone was wondering where I was…I was with Nny. Well, his name is actually Johnny but he also goes by Nny. He took me down to a secret passageway and led me to his secret underground lair beneath the club. We talked for a little bit and I think I may have passed out or something at one point. When I woke up…I found a knife," she stopped, and then gulped.
"What kind of knife?" asked Edgar, stroking the small tuft of hair on his chin.
"A butcher knife. A really bloody one…I…I" Devi quivered before finally spitting it out. "I think he wanted to kill me."
Edgar raised his eyebrows.
"I remember he was yelling at me and telling me I was fucking complicated. I-I find the whole thing extremely fucking weird myself. I don't get it…he was completely kind to me, intelligent and seemed supportive of me. He said he loved the way I sang and asked me to sing for him…but then he was losing it and freaking out. It's weird that he's killed Dillon…and I think he killed Anne Gwish too. Is he working his way up to me or is he just bumping them off in order to get me ahead in the band?" said Devi; every word had been uttered quickly.
"Okay…so, if I'm getting this straight, you think he killed Dillon and Anne and you think he's planning to get you farther in the band…or you think he's going to kill you?" asked Edgar.
"He gave me that rose tonight…"
The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to come together for Edgar. He flashed back to Devi's submissive nature upon receiving the rose.
"I, I just don't get it. He wants me to succeed…but does he have to go about it this way? Fuck…fuck…" said Devi, her throat began to feel tight and heavy. "F-fuck…I'm confused…" she choked. She turned away from Edgar, hoping he wouldn't see her trying her hardest to keep her eyes from watering.
"Devi…" he timidly reached towards her and slowly, but gently rested his hand on her shoulder. Her shoulders dropped upon his touch, acknowledging his caring gesture. "Tonight's the last time we're going to be here for a very long time. We're going to different cities and we'll all be busy with this tour. You'll be far away from him. He won't be able to harm you in any way. There's no way he'll follow us from city to city. Don't forget, you have all of us with you. We'll all make sure everyone's doing okay and, um…I'll be there for you. I'll make sure you're okay…"
After a small gap of silence, Devi took a deep breath and turned around. A small smile was on her face.
"Thank you…" she said softly.
"You're welcome," he replied, nodding his head.
The two stood in front of each other, inches apart. They both stared at the stars shining down upon them. Sweet silence filled their ears. The screaming ceased. The music remained in the club. Their eyes wandered from the sky and back to each other. Either both had tapped into instinct or there was something else in the moist air, but both Devi and Edgar took small steps towards each other. Hesitantly, they wrapped their arms around each other. Devi rested her head against Edgar's chest, feeling safe and relieved over the thought of gaining an ally. Edgar closed his eyes, savoring the embrace, something so new and unfamiliar. Being the black sheep of A Murder of Crows was isolating but it felt wonderful to have someone there and to offer them comfort at the same time.
Devi and Edgar reveled in the final moments of their spontaneous embrace before letting go. They both inhaled deeply, and then exhaled.
"I suppose we should find the others, don't you think?" suggested Edgar.
"Yeah, they're probably wondering where the hell we went," said Devi.
"I think I remember where they parked. Let's go," said Edgar. He and Devi walked together, at the same pace unbeknownst to each other, in search of the other Crows and Ditchspade Symphony.
Meanwhile, Devi and Edgar had been completely unaware that there was another set of eyes watching them from the roof tops of the Macabre Cabaret. Johnny continued to watch them walk away. He stood as still as the lavish gargoyles at the front entrance of the club. His jaw trembled as hot tears streaked down from his eyes.
"I did it all for her…" he growled under his breath. "I fucking slaughtered them for her…"
He clenched a rose in his gloved fist, piercing the skin. The petals crumpled and tore off the stem inside his grasp. He loosened his grip and let the rose fall from his hand. His breathing became hard and heavy, panting like a rabid wolf. He ran to the center of the roof top and screamed to the stars; a scream of strain and rage, bigger than his wiry, small build. The power of the scream caused him to loose his balance and fall to his knees. A new kind of thirst and yearning fired up within him. He took out his butcher's knife, the stars reflecting in the large, sharp blade.
"Yes…yes…blood will be shed…" he hissed.
END of ACT ONE