PROLOGUE - LUC
I hit my thumb against the shelf as I grabbed onto the heavy can of paint that nearly slipped out of my hands. I was in the process of re-stocking paint containers on the top shelf, and my lack of concentration nearly caused both a giant mess and an unwelcome injury.
I looked around to see if any customers, or worse, my boss, overheard that slip, and exhaled in a sigh when the coast seemed clear.
I hated my job at the hardware store. I hated everything about it. It was boring as fuck. My boss sucked, and that was being generous towards him. The monotony of each day was slowly killing me inside. And the fact that I was tired from playing a gig the previous night until late, didn’t help things either today.
But I needed a “real job” by day to be able to support myself. It was the price I had to pay in order to pursue my real passion: writing songs and performing live. I craved music like oxygen in my lungs. And even when I was mindlessly re-stocking shelves or helping customers pick out a particular paint for their home improvement projects, I was always composing new songs in my head. Always thinking of lyrics that would match those melodies which lived inside my mind.
Finally, I’d made it midway through the day, to my lunch break. I exited the store with a sigh of relief, but my breath nearly froze in my throat as I was blasted by an arctic wind that pierced mercilessly through everything daring to exist in its path.
And although that day started like so many others before it, it would end up being the day that my fortune changed, that my soul was sold, that my heart was stabbed wide open with the force of a giant, rusty samurai sword.
I was just about to head back inside when my phone started ringing in my pocket. And little did I know, that, that particular call would change my orbit and set me on a collision course with destiny...
“Afternoon...” I answered hesitantly. It was an unknown number, and I was expecting some sort of sales pitch, to begin with...
“Good afternoon, is this Lucas Johnson?” An unfamiliar male voice asked.
“Yes, it is,” I confirmed, a frown starting to furrow between my brows.
“This is Dan Storm, from Daniel Storm Talent Management. You’ve sent in a demo a few weeks ago...”
My hand clenched tighter around the handset, and I felt a sense of anticipation rolling around in my stomach.
“I did, yes.” I was still skeptical, thinking that there was some sort of catch...
“I’d like you to come in for a meeting. This afternoon, preferably.” It was a statement, not a question.
“What time?” My skepticism was starting to give way to hope, slowly...
“Let’s make it four. You have the address?” Storm asked impatiently.
“I’ll manage to find it,” I responded, quickly. I didn’t have a pen handy, but I knew that the address wouldn’t be hard to find.
“See you then.”
The call disconnected, but I still had the handset pressed against my temple. It was the first call-back I’d ever received, after years of sending in demos, making calls, trying to get someone to meet with me, face to face...
And for the first time in months, hope flickered inside of me. A tiny flame, licking at my insides, filling me with warmth even though the temperature was close to freezing point outside.
But I was on the cusp of selling my soul, although I didn’t know it. I was on the verge of making a deal with the Devil, but I didn’t recognize him. I was about to sign my life away, but I was completely unprepared for it...
At exactly two minutes to four, I entered the imposing offices of Daniel Storm Talent Management, located in a glitzy skyscraper with expansive views that I knew must have cost an absolute fortune. I gave the receptionist my name, and I waited...
It was half an hour later when I was finally called. I got the message - my time was clearly not a quarter as important as Dan Storm’s. But when you were in my position, you sucked it up. Because there simply wasn’t any other option.
“Mr. Johnson?” An attractive receptionist walked over to me, tilting her head in a question, and I nodded.
“Mr. Storm is ready to see you now. Please follow me.”
She led me through a swipe-card secured glass door, down a long hallway filled with multi-platinum records on the wall, surrounded by photos of rock stars and legends. It was impressive as hell. And with every step I took, I was one step closer to my destiny, even though I didn’t yet know it...
She knocked on a closed door, with the name “Dan Storm” emblazoned on it in expensive, shiny brass lettering.
“Mr. Storm, I have Lucas Johnson here to see you.”
I patiently waited to be summoned inside the office.
“Bring him in, thanks.” A male voice boomed from inside.
The receptionist stepped aside, so I could enter. And as I stepped through, the door was closed right behind me again.
The man occupying the corner office, whom I assumed must be Dan Storm, looked me up and down without so much as speaking a word. He weighed me... carefully. Meticulously. Callously. Then he finally stood up and stretched out his hand across his photo and paper-filled desk.
I was a lot taller than him, I noticed immediately. And as we sized each other up, I reached over and shook his hand, firmly, while taking in his navy suit-clad exterior and jaded smile.
“Lucas Johnson.” I introduced myself.
And his eyebrows rose immediately at that, his face contorting into an amused smirk.
“No, mate. Your name is Luc Johns.”
I looked at him as though he were crazy.
“Lucas Johnson,” I repeated my name again, for good measure. But his smirk only deepened.
“I heard you. But from now on, your name will be Luc Johns. Because Lucas Johnson is the charming, harmless boy next door. But Luc Johns is the star that every girl wants in her bed, driving her wild.”
He paused, looking amused as my jaw dropped, letting his words sink in before he continued.
“Luc Johns is the man they want whispering dirty secrets in their ears. The man who can make them come by so much as uttering his dirty lyrics in front of a ten thousand strong crowd. Luc Johns is the next lead singer of a soon-to-be-chart-topping-band. While Lucas Johnson is the struggling guy who sings in second-rate bars, who wants to be heard, but whose sound is too dark.”
His gaze held a challenge, and I didn’t back down from it.
“So you tell me, are you Lucas Johnson, or Luc Johns?”
I should’ve known, just then... But that day, I walked out of there with a contract in hand. With my head in the clouds, but with my soul condemned to hell. And worst of all, was that I had absolutely no idea.
It was just after six that I walked through the front door of my apartment. It was an ordinary place in a fairly ordinary building, but I called it home.
I felt hopeful, optimistic, and happy for the first time in months. Because finally, it felt as though my dream was coming alive. As though opportunity finally came knocking on my front door. As though I was on the verge of a breakthrough...
But the very next moment, my life fell apart, like a house of cards in the midst of a merciless tornado. Because life has a way of kicking you down right when you’re feeling invincible, to remind you that you should never get too confident. Too optimistic. Too complacent...
“I can’t take this anymore, Lucas!” My girlfriend, Ashleigh, greeted me with a mixture of anger and exasperation as I walked through the front door. She didn’t even bother saying hello, and it felt as though I’d been hit by an angry tornado the moment I stepped inside.
I sighed. We’d been fighting a lot lately, a lot more than usual. And it was absolutely soul-destroying.
“What’s wrong, Ash?” I walked over to her, my voice placating, my demeanor calm.
Ash was fast-tempered and high-maintenance, to say the least. She was pretty, with blue eyes and long blond hair, and she damn well knew it. But I loved her, even though she was hard work most of the time.
“Listen to this. A review of your gig last night...” Her voice was high-pitched, and her frosty blue eyes were blazing with anger.
My heart fell into my shoes, and I steeled myself for the worst. Because I had a fair idea of how that was going to go down...
“Lucas Johnson has a voice like molten honey - deep, soulful, haunting. But his music makes you want to overdose on Xanax mixed with alcohol, then slit your wrists, just to make sure that you’re really dead, and don’t have to listen to the utterly painful melancholy.” She spat out the last words with undiluted venom, mercilessly driving a dagger through my heart with every single syllable.
“The only good thing about this gig was when it finally ended. Because not even a voice like his can save the dark, broody trainwreck that is the musical offering in his independently released solo album ‘Bleeding in the Dark’.”
Ash looked at me with contempt on her face, and tears staining her expressive eyes. And seeing her like that absolutely killed me. I know that I’d never lived up to her standards, but damn, she was being harsher than usual today...
“The only things bleeding in the dark after this gig, were my ears, as Johnson takes the dark, brooding ballad to a whole next level of melancholic torture. One star from me, unfortunately, for this unsalvageable trainwreck.”
She finished reading, finally. Mercifully... and a deadly silence ensued.
“You’re terrible, Lucas! People tell you that you suck. You’re really bad! Yet you still want to chase this pipedream, this stupid fantasy!” She drew a deep breath, looking angry as hell, flicking a long golden lock of hair over her shoulder.
“When will you finally stop, and realize that you’re wasting your time! When will you get a real job, and make something of yourself? Because I’ve had it! I’ve really had it and I can’t go on like this!” Her voice shook with emotion - embarrassment, and anger, mostly, if I had to guess.
“I can’t listen to you anymore, playing that fucking guitar, every day, feeling like I want to smash it into pieces right against the wall. I can’t listen to those soul-destroying words anymore. Those ‘kill me now’ melodies that make me want to overdose on something so I don’t have to hear it again.” Her gaze pierced right through me, and rage swirled madly in her eyes.
“I don’t want to wake up one day, years from now, with a struggling husband who gets home at midnight, still thinking he’s going to make it big one day while battling every day just to make ends meet. Because, Lucas... you’ll never be famous. You’ll never make it big. You’re chasing a stupid fantasy, a childish dream! And you need to grow up, and realize that your dream has turned to dust.”
Her words were like lashes from a whip, singing my heart, burning deep into my soul. Because every word that fell from her lips proved that she didn’t believe in me anymore. She didn’t have faith in me. She’d given up on me...
“Ash, I...” I started, wanting to tell her about my day, and my news. But she held up her hand, to shut me right down.
Tears of desperation were running down her cheeks, and I could feel the cracks forming inside my heart.
“I can’t go on like this... I want out. I deserve better than this...” She whispered, and those cracks became bigger and bigger by the second...
My heart was bleeding, because she wasn’t just giving up on me, but she was giving up on us, too.
“Ash, something happened today. Something that could change everything...” I started pleadingly, hoping that she’d at least hear me out.
“I don’t love you anymore... I’ve met someone else...” She said, just above a whisper.
And just then, my heart hemorrhaged... because at the bottom of my bedside drawer was a brand new, shiny diamond ring. I’d planned on proposing to the girl of my dreams, soon. But just like that, the dream of us had turned to dust. Within a single heartbeat, my heart stopped beating. With a single sentence, we’d become undone. Within a single breath, the oxygen had been sucked right out of my lungs, and I wondered where the hell I was going to find my next breath from.
To this day, I still look back on that day and wonder...I wonder how my life would’ve turned out had I not gotten that call. Had that review not been published. Had Ash and I been able to work things out. Because looking back on that day, changing even one little thing would have altered my course. But it was as though that sequence had been planned. As though I was on an inevitable collision course, about to meet my destiny.
And that was the day that Lucas Johnson stopped breathing, and Luc Johns took his place. The day that each labored breath burned in my lungs and my heart bled dry. It was the day that I’d lost my soul. And the day that I vowed, never to open my heart again...