Sex, Drugs, and Infinite Hunger
The day Savage came to town was the day I went to search for my brother — my sister, now — who had gone missing six months earlier. What I found was a version of her. Maybe not the version of her she always wanted, the version she spent years trying to achieve, but the essence of it. The spirit. The knowing that every time we die, we become more free.
It was the sixth of December, just about the time when moonlight gives snow-veiled evenings a ghostly citrine glow, and the North cold had a real grip around our necks. Temperatures had dropped six degrees before dark, and it had been steadily lowering since then. Twice I turned up the thermostat only to feel the shivers come on again an hour later. The chill was literally creeping inside from through the walls.
Just me and Dad were home. I was upstairs, putting the last touches of my mascara on, getting ready to leave. He was downstairs, in the dining room, with a clear view of the front door. That wasn’t good. If he saw me leaving, he’d have something to say. And if he found out what I was about to do, any number of bad scenarios could occur. God knows I’ve had enough bad scenarios living here. With Dad, there were always plenty on hand.
But I couldn’t miss this opportunity.
I packed my purse, threw on a coat and scarf, and then started on my way out. I made it to the front foyer before he caught me.
“You going somewhere,” he asked. He was sitting at the table with a bottle of Russian Standard in front of him.
“Just — out,” I said.
“Where’s your mother.”
“I don’t know.”
He nodded with his lips pressed together and then poured some of the vodka into a glass, looking sorry for himself. I absolutely hated him when he was like this. Mom did too.
“Where you going,” he said.
I leaned down and started slipping a pair of boots on. “I said ‘out’.”
“Have something to do with that concert ticket, maybe.”
I paused and slowly raised my head. He was looking into me from under his brow with his eyes all smouldering.
“You went through my purse?”
“Never mind that. You know what happens at Savage concerts, Candice. What goes on at those shows. What they do.” His voice took a gravelly weight. “The reports.”
“I know about the reports.” I looked back down and as I finished adjusting my boots an uncomfortable feeling suddenly came over me. I felt vulnerable. Raw. All over.
“Shouldn’t go,” he said.
I didn’t say anything back.
He started up: “Kinda music Caleb listened to. Devil’s music. And look what happened to him —”
I rose and swung open the door with enough force to interrupt him. “Her name is ‘Cailey’, and someone at that concert might know where she is. So I’m going to go and find out what I can — since no one else seems to give a damn.”
“‘She’? You saying you approve that disease?”
He wanted to argue. I didn’t.
I went through the doorway and slammed the door shut behind me. As I rushed to my car, the wind howled around the eaves and frigid air seeped under my coat. I didn’t have to look back through the house windows to know that, at that very moment, Dad was taking a slug of his winter wheat cure-all.
I drove down Bleams and took a left on Trussler. The roads all through Oxford County were clear, despite a foot-thick blanket of snow that covered everything else. Sky was clear, and the moon shined above like a steel disc, producing just enough light to illuminate the immediate countryside — but not enough to subdue the eerie amber tinge that accompanied it.
That raw feeling came over me again. Couldn’t shake it. It felt exactly like being in bed, late at night, and then suddenly having the blankets pull away. A feeling of exposure. Things being undone.
As if to reassure myself, or maybe something else entirely, I slid my fingers under my scarf and pulled out the object resting around my neck: my necklace. It was a thin sterling chain with a small crucifix attached to it. Used to belong to Cailey before she denounced all that. Before her transition. Before she left. I kept it sheerly for sentiment. I’m not much into religion anymore, either. Fanatics make unreliable friends. They make worse family.
The thing was, Dad might have been in the right for this one. Savage concerts had notoriety. Not the way other heavy rock bands had it. No — Savage was black metal. People disappeared at Savage concerts. People died at Savage concerts.
There’d been investigations and lawsuits and protests. I remember watching their frontman, Yngve ‘Death’ Blomberg, appearing on the news in an interview with all his black-and-white corpse makeup on and everything. As he talked, you couldn’t help but get the impression that this guy was a very weird personality. Obscure. Melancholic. Dark. Sort of like he didn’t want to be in this world. When they questioned him about the bizarre occurrences, he famously replied, “Some people don’t belong.” Then he looked at the camera. “Surviving is a rite of passage.”
Authorities did manage to find some of the missing people. Some of them. Their carcasses, at least. And according to the indentations and notches all over their remaining bones, the victims were — apparently — eaten.
Nothing ever conclusively linked the band to any of it. The bites didn’t match any of the band members’ dental impressions. Or any of the roadies’. Not even any of the concertgoers’. The reason for that was because the depressions didn’t resemble any type of tooth you’d find from a human. They came from fangs.
And here I was with a VIP backstage ticket to Savage, about ask ‘Death’ himself if he knew anything about my lost sister who’d disappeared at one of his shows half a year back.
I held the crucifix hard against my chest.
Ten minutes later, I arrived at the community arena outside town where the concert was being held. There were a couple hundred or so people lined up at the front. Not much, but pretty standard considering the underground nature of the music. Many of them were teens, not much younger than myself.
At eight o’clock, security opened the doors. First thing they tell us: no jewellery.
My knees got shaky. Not from the cold.
One by one, the attendees dropped their trinkets and charms into plastic containers as they shuffled into the arena. I adjusted my scarf, keeping the necklace hidden behind it. No way I’d relinquish my necklace; the only memory I had of Cailey.
I got through without more than a glance my way.
And so I continued on, following the large clump of people into the main rink where the stage was. I kept my distance at the back of the crowd. Near the exit.
Before I knew it, the lights went dim and a soft acoustic tune came over the speakers. It started very sad, then gained this haunting kind of intensity and beauty as it went on; a murder ballad. As it played on, each band member came out and somberly took their place on the set. You could barely see them except for the gleam on their eyes and bullet belts from within their silhouettes. Death tilted his head to one side with a sort of curiosity, as if something intrigued him. Then the harmony concluded. Savage started.
Black metal concert — ever been to one?
It’s a frenzy. The snare hammers against your ears and the thick guitar tones drill into your head. Each chord blares all through your body, and unlike other music, you feel it a bit lower. At your core. In your legs and feet. And the crowd feeds it back. The energy you get is something else. Positive and negative. Right and wrong. Arranged entropy.
That being said, it was difficult to watch. Seeing Death belting out lyrics about witchcraft, blood, and fire, made me feel a bit more than uneasy. Whenever he tilted his head back and screamed under the stage lighting, his face paint acquired the impression of a skull weeping tears of black ink from each eye socket. I was downright disturbed when a skinned lamb was brought out and lobbed into the audience. People started passing it around, above their heads, like some macabre crowd surfer. By the time the razorblades came out, I had to consciously subdue a primal, adrenal urge to get the hell out.
I watched in pure dread as Death slit his wrists open and then held them out over the crowd. With each crash of the drummer’s symbol, he shook his arms. Flecks of fresh blood spattered onto the faces of God knows how many teenage boys and girls, holding their tongues out like animals eager for a taste of prey. A taste of insanity.
This wasn’t just a concert. It was rebellion. An excising. A big middle finger to established society.
It was about at that point that the guitarist let the final chord ring out. It was accompanied by a roaring applause that concluded the show.
As soon as I could, I ran up to security and flashed my VIP pass. To my surprise, I was told that VIPs and band members would be spending the rest of the evening partying in a warehouse down the road. They said that, if I went there and showed my pass, they’d let me in. They offered to escort me, too. I thought about the necklace I’d snuck in and declined.
I knew where it was, anyway. It was an old building in the field just behind Yunker’s Auto. Across the back road next to us. It bordered a forest that ran all along Highway 7-8. Though I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have just used the arena’s facilities, it would only be a two-minute walk away.
Well, that two-minute walk felt like two hours in a freezer. The sky was clear, but the air was cold as ice. I was shivering and stumbling the whole way there. The wind, practically a gale by now, grabbed at my scarf ends and blew sand-fine snow off the ground and into my face as I crossed the road. When I got to the other side, I readjusted my scarf and saw something in the corner of my vision.
I turned just a shade too late. I thought I saw some slumped figure fading away from my direction, into the woods, but that could have been my imagination. A deer, maybe. I remember, at that moment, making a mental note that I never knew a deer’s eyes shined red in the night.
I plodded across a field and saw the warehouse just ahead, right next to the woods. There was no light coming from inside. Just dark. Behind it, bare trees leaned sideways with each great gust of wind, their branches twitching out of sync with the swaying trunks. Against the blue of the night, they were hundreds of waving black arms with thousands of spindly fingers, clamouring to touch the moon which floated just out of their reach.
Stop it, I thought. I told myself to relax. My nerves were still all worked up from that concert.
I walked up to the wooden door. There was a sign nailed to it, which read:
With blatant disregard, I slammed my fist against the door a few times. I was just eager to get inside where it’d be warm.
I pounded again, harder this time. Whether it was the force of my hand or the wind, the door open inwards revealing the interior.
It was basically nothing more than a concrete floor and brick walls. A musty smell permeated the crisp cool air. There was a large jagged hole in the roof that afforded a single beam of moonlight, and under it were just the four members of Savage. They were standing still around something. Some kind of grey clump. Maybe a pile of rocks.
Death turned with his makeup still on — all their makeup was still on — and looked into me with eyes that reflected no light. His body was blocking the view of the pile of stones. “Welcome,” he said.
“Hello,” I said, a little louder than I meant to. “I’ve got — I’ve got a VIP.” I flashed the pass.
“Yes, yes. Of course. Come.”
I folded my arms and started towards them. As I got closer, I realized the interior of the whole place was about as cold as the outside. “Where is e-everyone?” I asked through my quivering mouth.
“This is it,” said Death. His voice was level, with a bit of a Swedish accent coming through. “Bass guitar ‘Famine’, lead guitar ‘War’, drummer ‘Conquest’, and me — vocals. ‘Death’.”
As he said their names, each member slowly nodded in an offhand sort of way. I immediately got the impression that Death was the spokesperson for all of them. Their leader. And his impressive height gave him a type of alpha presence.
“I’m Candice.” I took a step closer and got a better look of the man in front of me. The man who named himself Death. He was tall with long, straight, golden blonde hair that almost reached his waist. He was clad in black and, in the moonlight, the black paint accentuating his eyes more closely resembled the two wings of a swallowtail butterfly.
“Actually,” I said, “I just —”
Death stepped out of the light, and when he did that I choked back a scream. He went somewhere beyond the circle of light, and through the throbbing in my temples I could hear each thump of his black biker-boots producing brief echoes throughout that oversized cellar of a warehouse. A moment later, he came back with a dirty old plastic chair. Using his foot, he swiftly pushed it behind my legs. “Sit,” he said.
I didn’t. I couldn’t. I just stood there with fear gripping me tighter than the cold. You see, when Death had moved to go get the chair, he revealed the sickening sight of what I first thought was just a pile of stones: it was the bare body of a human. Pieces of a body. Severed arms. Severed legs. No head. No torso. The pieces appeared to have been drained long before, giving the skin and exposed sinew a near-white pallor.
Death stepped in front of me now, thumbs in his pockets. “You’re really going to want to sit.”
He was right. My legs gave and I stumbled back, just barely landing into the chair.
“You didn’t read the sign in the front.” Death pointed somewhere under my chin.
Despite my uncontrollable shaking, I managed to look down: the necklace. My scarf was all out of place and the crucifix was hanging out in plain sight, gleaming blue in the moonlight. The wind must have jostled everything around. “I-I didn’t — I didn’t think —”
“It doesn’t matter now.” He turned and faced the opposite direction. “Go home.”
I did think about it. Who the hell wouldn’t have? But I thought about what awaited me. I thought about Dad. I thought about vodka.
“I d-don’t want to go back home,” I said.
Death was motionless. He just stared into that pile of flesh in front of him. “Oh?”
“I don’t want to g-go back home. It’s lonely there. My Dad is a drunk and my mother doesn’t say a — a damn word about it. My s-sister isn’t even around anymore. I c-c-came here to find her. Please, if you’d just tell me, please, have you — have you seen her?”
“We see many people.”
“But you must have seen her. Six m-months ago. She had a VIP. She would have s-said her name is Cailey. She was — she was non-binary. A transgender. Boy to girl.”
“Ohhh.” His head tilted with interest. “Her. I remember.”
“You do?” Then the thought of that horrendous sight I saw just moments before intruded. “Did you —”
A needle of grief penetrated my heart and injected a bitter, acidic venom that flooded outwards. Just before it began to drain out of my eyes in the form of tears, I managed to ask in a quavering whisper, “Did you — do s-something to her?”
I breathed in sharply.
“Too much drugging, that one. Body full of poisons. Dirty blood. Bitter taste.”
I wiped tears off my cheeks with the sleeve of my coat. “Then,” I said, “how did she — die?”
Death turned around. His eyes were all fiery and wild. “She’s ‘dead’ in the sense that she has been reborn.”
“So, sh-she’s alive?”
“None of us are ‘alive’,” he said. Then his voice dropped to a low growl. “We are all dead versions of our past-selves. Life is only a succession of deaths. And every time we die, we become more free.”
“I d-don’t —”
He placed his foot on my chair, between my legs, and then rested his arms over his thigh. Now his face paint had the distinct spectacle of a Siberian Husky’s striking fur mask. It occurred to me that maybe the paint itself shifted depending on his mood. But that was insane.
About as insane as a chopped up body.
“Listen to me,” he said. “Do you understand why she did that? Why she drank and drugged and left?”
I shook my head. My fingers felt like icicles.
“We do.” He motioned over at his bandmates. “We knew Cailey. We understand her torment. In this world, people like us must make difficult decisions. With limited information. Our choices are balanced against family, church, and province. We are often pulled in all directions by these ‘masters’, wrenching on our leashes, tugging us this way and that, while we try to discern if our own feelings are true. To be who we are while keeping our families at peace, our faiths at peace, and our countries at peace — that is all we want. But sometimes, no matter how much we pull back on the leash, the world will not bend our way. Sometimes, it will not change. And so we change. We die.”
He raised his hands in a sort of shrugging motion. “Through change, intractable conflicts are ended. Through sacrifice, we transcend. Through death, our chains are broken. Every time we die, we become more free.”
He tilted his head once more. “Your sister is free. I can show her to you. A fragment. Do you wish to know her?”
My mind was whirling. Sanity seemed to be slipping away from me. But the thought of Cailey came back, and it helped lock things back into place. That, and something else. Something inexplicable. “How?” I said.
He reached out and I thought he was going to grab my neck. Instead, he pulled his coat sleeve just far enough back to reveal a dark, bloody gash on his wrist which he held just above my eyes. “Taste.”
I winced. The other band members chuckled.
“Come,” said Death. His expression was unflinching, and an out-of-place tranquility came off him like cologne. “Find Cailey.”
And maybe I did lean forwards a little. Something pulled me. How can I say it? An allure. I yearned. At that moment, Death was so dark and beautiful with that golden hair draped around the jagged patterns on his face, as exotic and strange as to make you think of something from an Austin Spare painting.
Before I knew it, drops of hot blood dripped off his wrist and onto my cheeks. I grimaced and squirmed in my seat as red rivulets wormed over and across my lips.
He took his foot off the chair and stepped back. “Tell me,” he said. “Did anyone report her missing?”
“No,” I said. “Not at f-first. My p-parents wouldn’t. So I called it in. But the whole thing just sort of trailed off. Like they didn’t care, like no one cared, when I told them she was — when I told them she was —” The sharp, metallic taste of iron interrupted my train of thought.
“Different.” Death finished my sentence.
I sputtered and swayed. When I looked back up, everything was blurry. Death and his band members were black pastel figures looming over me with two neon red dots at the centre of each of their heads.
I was full-on shivering cold now; I couldn’t even subdue my chattering teeth by clenching my jaw. That’s when a terrible thought occurred to me. A question. The implications of that question caused the touch of terror to fingertip all up and down my spine.
“How,” I managed to say, “how are y-y-you guys not — not f-f-freezing?”
My answer came in the form of horror.
The figures’ shapes pulsed and shifted. I saw them bend. I saw them stretch. They twisted left and right and arched their backs impossibly. Black tongues emerged and protruded out of wet snouts that enveloped sharpened fangs. I heard skin tearing. Bones snapping from under thick coats of hair. And then I smelled sour, vinegary, foul breath.
There was some kind of shriek — a roar — and then I was on the floor. My vision went double. The blurriness intensified. But through my delirium I could see that, whatever these creatures were, their faces were planted now in that pile of cut-up human. Biting. Rending. Chewing. Snarling and panting ragged as the meat squished and tore between their jaws.
The last thing I remember was the sound of my own hyperventilation and the feeling of warmth, such incredible warmth, before my vision faded to black.
When I woke up the next day, in the warehouse, I was utterly relieved to find myself okay. Actually, I was more than okay. It still must have been below freezing, but I wasn’t cold at all. In fact, I felt almost uncomfortably hot. Like I’d been moving around a lot. Or like I was angry at something and I didn’t know what. Like my blood was boiling.
Death, Famine, War, and Conquest were all gone. All that remained of whoever they ate was a pile of splintered bones. I of course didn’t want anything to do with them anymore, and I made my way back to my car, having to come to terms with my disappointment of not finding Cailey.
Over the course of the next few weeks, however, I’d have to learn to come to terms with more than that.
It started with this terrible rash around my neck. When the skin started to blister, I got really worried and tried a lot of things treat it. The only thing that actually worked was removing my necklace. Eventually, unable to go near the thing any longer without patches of my skin turning bright red, I locked the crucifix and chain away in a keepsake chest.
I thought of Cailey.
Then came hair. All over my body. Tufts that grew on my abdomen, arms, neck. Face, too. It got so bad I was buying Gillette disposables to shave all this unwanted hair. As I cleared long strips off my chest, it reminded me of mowing a lawn. I’ll never forget how traumatizing it was to watch clumps of black fur twirl down the shower drain, knowing full that more of it would grow back in hours.
I thought of Cailey.
Last week, I went to the doctor. He said it’s called Hypertrichosis — Ambras syndrome. Only I don’t think he believes how bad I’ve got it. He said there is no sure-fire treatment, but it’s manageable with medication. Medication that would cause a myriad of undesirable side-effects.
I thought of Cailey.
It’s a full moon tonight. I know that without looking. I have a lot of nightmares during full moons. Not so much about what I do, but of Cailey. That she might still be somewhere out there. Afraid and alone. Without anyone to help her. Without anyone that understands. But I’m still young, and life is long; there’s a time when nightmares must end. There’s a time when we must die. And every time we die, we become more free.
So, Cailey — if you’re reading this, please know that I understand. I understand better than I ever did. I know your strength. I know a calling that can’t be denied. I know wisdom that can only come from being outcast from family, province, and maybe even the Kingdom of God. I know what it means to change.
And we can only lie about who we are for so long.
I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself anymore. I have a new identity. And I don’t know what that means yet. But you saved my life. I owe you this.
It was the necklace — that’s what kept Death from giving me the fate of the other victims. What kept him away as I lay on that concrete floor, unconscious.
It was the silver.
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