Who the hell in their right mind would build a mall in the middle of nowhere?

This was what Matt thought as he peered out of the GameStop entrance and into the empty hallway of the Plainsville mall. He had seen at most five people wandering the mall at once, and they were always somebody's little brother or sister from high school, or his next door neighbors, or that annoyingly chatty lady from down the street. How any of the stores even stayed open was beyond him. GameStop would get the Friday afternoon rush of middle school boys who had just gotten their allowances, but for most of the week, if it hadn't been against the rules, Matt could have spent his entire shift sleeping or playing his PSP and it wouldn't have made a difference. The only reason he even worked there was to get discounts on the game, and to earn a living.

A living. There was something about that phrase that hit him wrong. If this was his living, what kind of a living was it? He spent his days bored out of his mind watching over an empty GameStop in an empty mall, and he spent his nights in front of his computer, TV, or PSP playing games he bought with his discounts. He was going nowhere, doing nothing. It was as if he were stuck in limbo, suspended between his childhood and the real start of his life.

Matt wanted out.

He usually didn't do anything rash. He was extraordinarily lazy, but he usually didn't do anything against the rules- he just didn't do anything at all. He was absolutely sick of it, though. He wanted to shake the dust off that crummy old town and see the world. His manager was out to lunch, so there was nothing to stop him from pulling his goggles out of his backpack, pulling them over his eyes, slinging the bag over his shoulder, and heading out. He was sure the other bored shop workers saw him walking, but none of them bothered to say anything to him. He left the mall and headed down the main road, a street that lead through the tiny Plainsville town center and out into the nothingness around it.

Once Matt had left the town, he walked for about five minutes before he found himself coming to a stop. He had no clue what he was going to do, no clue where he was going to go. He had no plan, not to mention he was leaving behind his apartment full of expensive gaming equipment. This was possibly the stupidest thing he had ever done in his life.

Matt couldn't help but smile.

~~DAYS~~

Hours had gone by, and the highway seemed to stretch on forever. There was nothing to either side as far as the eye could see, except the low houses of Plainsville far in the distance behind him. Matt was getting tired and thirsty. The hot sun in the sky was starting to get to him. He wasn't about to turn back, though. He would sooner sleep by the side of the road than turn back.

Suddenly, from the corner of his ears, Matt heard the dull roar of a car behind him. He turned around to see a black dot racing towards him, dust flying up behind it. It certainly wasn't entirely on the road as it should have been, and it might not even have been on the right side of the road, but Matt couldn't really tell from that distance. He watched it approach for what seemed like eons. Finally, when he could see that it was a large black van, he lifted his arm out across the road, sticking up his thumb. They had a long time to notice him, so he figured that if they were willing to pick up a hitchhiker, they'd have plenty of time to slow their speed. He had been warned many times about hitchhiking because he had threatened to do it when he didn't have a car and wanted to go to the nearest city, but he didn't care. As far as he saw it, they had the distinct advantage, because with a van that size, its occupants probably outnumbered him.

The van finally grew closer to him. It flew towards him at breakneck speeds and he was almost afraid that it wasn't going to stop, that it would hit him, but instead it came to a screeching halt, stopping a few yards in front of him. From where he stood, Matt could see that the van actually looked rather sketchy, the black coat spreading over the windows and white gothic L curling across the side. He hesitated as he lowered his arm.

The passenger's door flew open before he had much of a chance to act, and out stepped a rather peculiar-looking man. He wore jeans and a plain white long-sleeved shirt, and his jet-black hair stuck out at rather odd angles. He had enormously deep bags under his eyes. It didn't seem as if he could stand up properly, either- he stood in a low, stooped hunch that Matt thought at first was from exiting the van, but remained long after he had exited. He certainly didn't help the van to look any less sketchy, either.

The man stared unblinkingly at Matt, making him feel a little uncomfortable.

"Woah," he finally said. "Your goggles…they make your eyes like- like headlights or something."

"Thanks?" Matt replied, unsure of whether the comment was really intended as a compliment.

He could practically smell the pot wafting off of the guy as he approached and stuck out a hand. "I'm L, by the way," he informed Matt. "I'm the general guitarist for the band, Lament the Fallen. I don't know if you've ever heard of us. We're pretty…underground."

Matt couldn't help but notice that the band name started with L, their van had an L on the side, and this guy's name was L. It was a little too much of that letter for him, but he wasn't about to criticize.

"I'm Matt," he said, shaking the guy's hand. For someone who looked rather weak, L had a surprisingly firm grip. "I haven't heard of you," he added.

"Well, you could always listen to our demo. Looks like you need a ride somewhere…where are you headed?"

Matt paused for a moment. Where was he headed? "I don't know," he answered truthfully. "Just somewhere other than Plainsville."

"Woah, that's deep," L said, his slightly bugging eyes staring through Matt's goggles. It was starting to creep him out how the guy never seemed to need to blink. "We're headed to Pointe City for a big gig. We've got plenty of room in the back." With that, he turned and walked towards the passenger's door to the van. Matt decided after a moment that L meant for him to follow, so he did. He hesitated when L climbed into the passenger's seat, but L turned around to face him from there.

"The painters kinda messed the van up, plus there's stuff blocking the back doors, so you gotta come in through here," he informed Matt. He moved to the side, and Matt climbed onto the seat. He was about to follow L into the back when he found himself face-to-face with a rather attractive leather-clad blond guy.

"This is Mello, by the way," L introduced. "Lead singer and sometimes guitarist. He's not really mellow, but it's a cool stage name, and it just sort of stuck, so you know…" He shrugged and hunched off down the van.

"Hey," Mello greeted with a smirk. Matt gave a half-smile and squeezed hurriedly through the seats after L. There was something about Mello that made him rather nervous.

Matt hadn't entirely noticed it from the outside, but the van was actually quite enormous. There were an entire drum set, two guitars in cases, and several amps stored in the back, but there was also ample space for seating, and even a table bolted to the floor. He plopped his bag on the table and sat himself down next to L. Across from L was another leather-clad person, this time a female brunette. She smiled at him, and something about her face led him to believe she was the only normal member of the band.

"I'm Naomi," she introduced.

"Matt," he replied curtly.

She looked like she was about to say something, but was interrupted by a shout from the front of the van.

"Let's get this show on the road!"

The vehicle lurched forward, quickly reaching breakneck speed. Matt gripped the table nervously, wishing that there were seatbelts- he had noticed when he sat down that there were not.

"Mello's a speed demon," Naomi commented apologetically.

There was an awkward silence among the passengers. L and Naomi seemed friendly enough, but Matt was still an outsider, making the situation a little awkward.

"Yo, Mel!" L suddenly shouted over Matt, causing him to cringe. "Matt hasn't heard our music!"

Matt could picture the blond's smirk as he saw a hand encased in a leather glove reach dangerously across into the glove compartment. He clung harder to the table, knowing that there was nothing for miles but still nervous about the fact that Mello was blatantly disregarding the road. He finally pulled out a shining silver CD and slipped it into the van's radio.

A few moments passed, and the sound of an electric guitar peeled through the space, backed by a steady drum beat. It wasn't what Matt usually listened to, but he didn't mind it- it was actually pretty good, better than he might have expected. L nodded his head to the beat and jammed out on an air guitar, while Naomi tapped subtly on the table along with the drums. When the lyrics came in, Matt could faintly hear a voice from the front of the van behind all the ruckus.

The lyrics were rather grotesque. Matt couldn't catch all of them, but he distinctly heard the words "fire," "tearing," "knife," and "blood." There was something like "hang me gently with this noose" before the voice changed to roaring screamo. This rendered the lyrics completely incomprehensible. The song finished on one extremely long word that Matt thought was the word "woe," but he forgot whether or not it really started with a "w" by the time it was finished.

In the brief silence between songs, both L and Naomi turned to him, their eagerness apparent in their faces. He shrugged.

"'s pretty cool," he told them. This rather vague answer seemed to satisfy them, and anything else they might have wanted to say was cut off by the next song.

~~DAYS~~

It didn't take Matt long to become comfortable with the band. Their music was a little too depressing for his taste, but it grew on him, and by the third repeat of their album he could actually understand most of the lyrics. The band members were all friendly, too, albeit strange. L's oddities were almost endearing, though his staring continued to unnerve Matt. He turned out to have a rapturous love of sugar, which his pot smoking only helped to increase. Naomi was quite the conversationalist, and very frank about her opinions. Both of them seemed to know a little about everything, and no subject seemed to be off-limits. Mello focused mostly on the road, which greatly relieved Matt, but occasionally he shouted back sharply snarky comments that Matt couldn't help but laugh at. They had only been driving for a few hours, but Matt felt like it had been days- many joyful, interesting days.

"I'm all out of chocolate up here!" Mello called back, interrupting a rather riveting conversation about one-on-one fighting games versus real life fighting. Both Naomi and L were practiced in a Brazilian martial art called capoeira, it turned out, which was actually the same fighting style as one of Matt's favorite characters in a game called Takedown.

L reached into one of his mysterious boxes tucked under the table from which he had been producing a steady stream of sweets. He pulled out a foil-wrapped chocolate bar which he handed to Matt. After a surprised moment, Matt took it and stumbled up to the front. He handed the bar to Mello, who proceeded to steer the van with his knees as he ripped open the foil package. Matt, who was now used to the fact that his life was in danger while Mello drove, turned his gaze to the road. This, of course, didn't help- they were swerving wildly between having two wheels off the road and veering into the other lane. The speed was dizzying, and Matt felt himself fall involuntarily into the passenger's seat. He looked away from the road and his eyes landed again on Mello, who was now steering with one hand but still paying more attention to his chocolate bar than to the road. He snapped off a piece of the bar with his teeth, creating a rather distinctive sound. Mello's attention turned from the chocolate bar briefly to the road and then came to land on Matt.

"What're you doing here?" he asked. The words were hostile, but the tone of his voice though sharp was not unwelcoming.

Matt shrugged. He didn't know why he was still sitting there, but for some reason he wasn't compelled to return to the back.

The silence that followed wasn't as awkward as Matt had expected it would be.

"So what's with this band thing?" Matt blurted out suddenly. He had been thinking it for a while, since the three members seemed like such a ragtag group of people. They were all friendly enough towards each other and they all seemed to work rather harmoniously, but each was so different from the others that Matt had to wonder what it was like when they fought, or if they fought more often and were just hiding their tension in the presence of a guest.

"Band thing?"

"Yeah."

Mello, who had turned himself back towards the road, didn't respond at first. Matt was beginning to wonder if Mello were just ignoring him when he spoke.

"It was all L's idea," he answered definitively. "We met in high school- he was a senior, I was a freshman. We hung out a little from time to time. Once in a while we'd have a jam session, but nothing serious. All of the sudden, he came up to me and was all like, 'Hey, do you want to start a band?' It was kind of out of the blue, because we hadn't played together for like a month, but I said 'sure.' I showed up at his house and there was Naomi with her drum set. I still don't know how he met her, but it doesn't really matter. The second we started our jam session, we all knew that it was going to work. We just sort of…clicked, I guess."

Another silence fell after Mello finished. It sounded almost too perfect, how smoothly things had gone. Matt wondered if Mello was lying, and this was a story they had concocted to make themselves sound good for the fans. Somehow, he still didn't understand how they could all get along so well and be so different.

As if he had heard Matt's silent question, Mello spoke once again. "You seem to get along well with them. That's how it is with me, too. We get each other somehow. It's almost like they're family…the family I never had."

Matt thought he saw Mello's hand tighten on the wheel, though he couldn't quite tell. Mello took another bite of his chocolate bar and focused on the road. It seemed like family was one of the few topics that was closed, so Matt turned his attention to the road as well.

Living in the middle of nowhere made Matt rather good at spotting things in the distance. It was no surprise that he was the first to notice a black dot on the horizon. After a few moments of staring intently at it as it grew marginally in size, he noticed that it did not seem to be moving at all. He waited until it was close enough to almost be recognized a car before he pointed it out to Mello.

"I think something happened there," Matt said, pointing outwards.

Mello squinted into the distance as he licked his chocolate bar. As they approached, it morphed into what appeared to be a stretch limo. Smoke billowed from what Matt guessed to be the hood.

After a few moments, they were joined by L and Naomi, who looked out from behind the front seats.

"Shit," L said elegantly. "Pull over," he told Mello. "They might need help or something."

Mello acquiesced, and this time they rolled rather pleasantly to a stop behind the limo.