BEHIND THE LIGHTS

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Chapter 24

December 3rd, 2016
Shanghai, China
Pressure point - The Ghost inside

If Søren didn’t consider the nights when he woke up agitated because a random memory had crept into his dreams, everything was going smoothly and so far Mikael hadn’t had to yell at them, not until the next day. Right before they went out on stage in Kualalumpur (Malaysia) he had caught Alex smoking something that wasn’t just tobacco.

They all knew, except for the manager, and even though it wasn’t the best for the bass player, none of them had said anything. Alex had been very anxious since he had argued with Astrid two weeks before and the lack of sleep had led him to snap at everyone for the stupidest things. Smoking pot helped him to relax. They had enough drama during their last tour and if that helped with his mood, as long as he wasn’t taking anything else—which Søren was making sure of since they used to share the bedroom in the hotels—they were fine with it.

Was it irresponsible of them? Yes, but being outside their country, outside the comfort of their homes and with those crazy schedules while they tried to give their all in each concert, that was all they thought they could do.

Their lives for the last two weeks had felt like watching one of those movies where you can see the main character’s life passing by fast with blurred sceneries and fast-moving images. They had jumped from one place to another, having a radio interview here, performing in there, appearing on a Chinese national channel. Exhaustion weighing on their shoulders.

His conversations with Leah had become a habit by the time they got to Shanghai. They had even talked about why Dark Omen had signed their shitty contract.

She had questioned him about why they were meeting with BLAST and after he confessed what was going on, she directly asked him how could they have been so dumb to sign their rights away like that—way to be tactful, but it was part of her charm, being so damn blunt.

The thing was that they had been playing together for two years, working their asses off, even making their own self-funded videos, when they embarked on their first European tour, drawing the attention of the president of their current discography because of the incredible buzz building around them.

They were young and fucking stupid, and got offered an incredible deal to record an album with them—a label affiliated with one of the big ones—and if they were successful, the company would extend the term of their contract for another five albums in exchange for an advance that blinded them—fuck, they could have lived a whole lifetime with that amount, and no fucking extreme metal band got deals like that.

But of course, that had a downside. The royalties and the rest of the conditions were pure shit, something they didn’t pay attention to when greed took control. They weren’t sure about signing with them for so long though, but they also knew it would be hard to get a better opportunity.

And so, they signed the papers, selling their souls and all their creations to the devil.

He didn’t mind talking with her about those things because she understood the meaning and didn’t seem to get bored, always asking questions and showing real interest about how they would solve all that—no fucking clue. Even though she was a sarcastic ass most of the time, in those moments she turned serious and just listened.

It had been a month since they had started talking, thousands of miles separated them and the time difference was big, but somehow, he felt as if they were slowly getting closer.

Between eating the weirdest dishes and touring around the city, the two days before Saturday’s concert passed by fast. Shanghai was always, for some reason, one of the places they enjoyed playing at the most. Eager to go out, they peeked out behind thick, black curtains on the off-left wing of the stage.

The crowd was jumping and screaming during the whole opening act, not stopping one moment to breathe, just like the musicians. It was an amazing Japanese alternative metal band they had met when they played in Oslo the previous year.

Dark Omen’s members were glad, and felt honored, they got to go on tour with them because, as eccentric as they were, they turned out to be very fun and heavier drinkers than they looked. Plus, Søren couldn’t stop thinking about how being born in certain areas of the world gave people such a different voiceprint every time he listened to their singer. He was having the time of his life.

When their time finally came, with a grin none of them could hold in anymore, the band ran out to the stage, saluting and coming back to life when the frenzied audience’s cheering and screams reached them.

That feel of being up there, swamped in that atmosphere, was always a blast. It was an electrifying sensation that made Søren feel things he could only express through the strings of his guitar or the passion he put into every syllable as he sang.

After everything he had been through, those moments were the only ones that made him really feel alive and free.


“Welcome back,” the woman sitting on the couch, watching cartoons with her son after dinner, greeted her husband as he walked inside the living room.

The man didn’t even answer, he just looked at her with those empty blue eyes and closed the door of the foyer. Then, put his briefcase on the floor, hung his black jacket on the coat rack, and dragged his feet to the kitchen, ignoring them.

Disheveled hair, red tie undone, unbuttoned shirt, and that characteristic dry, bitter and sour oaky reek right behind him.

“I didn’t think you’d come home so early today so I didn’t cook you anything,” his mother explained as she got up and followed her husband into the kitchen.

Søren quietly walked through the semi-darkened corridor, heart already hammering in his chest as the dark wooden floor cracked under his feet just like it did every time he went back there.

Same socks, same temperature, same smell of brownies, same dark sky out of the window. He knew what was about to come. He had been there before though some things were different, like his father’s tie was blue the first time and his mother was wearing comfy clothing, not a green tartan vintage dress.

The voices of his parents were barely audible as fear began to pound hard in his ears. He couldn’t help but feel scared even if he knew it was just a dream, anguish paralyzing him as he watched that scene repeating once again. It was as if his twenty-eight-year-old mind had been absorbed by the small, frail container of an eight-year-old kid.

Hidden behind the door frame, he peeked inside the kitchen, wishing someone could come save them. Hands trembling as the air slipping into his lungs suddenly felt cold, a thousand icy needles piercing him from within. The rain falling outside thundering.

“You only have a part-time job where you go to lick your bosses ass in the mornings and you still fail to take care of your husband properly,” the man that called himself his father sneered at his mother.

“But, honey, you never come for dinner and—”

“Don’t fucking dare talk back to me,” he slurred the last words as he pointed at her, eyebrows furrowed.

“I can cook you something now,” the woman said in a low voice, moving towards the counter with her head low as she tried to avoid his eyes.

What happened for dad to be so angry at mom? He thought.

“I don’t want anything from you!” his father yelled, dragging both hands along the kitchen table, throwing everything on it to the floor.

“Ulrik!” his mother cried as she jumped on the spot when the loud thud resonated inside the house. “Why did you—”

She didn’t have time to finish the sentence when his hand came flying and slapped her across the face. Her head turned to the side and she instinctively covered her cheek with one hand.

“Mom!” Søren cried, tears threatening to leave his eyes as hatred and other emotions he didn’t understand squeezed his little heart. He had to do something to protect her.

“What’s this little bastard doing here?” his father asked with a scowl.

“Don’t call him that!”

“I fucking said you don’t talk back to me, bitch!” he growled as he pushed her away and made his way towards the kid, who stepped back, terrified.

“What the fuck’s going on?” his big brother asked from behind him.

“Take him upstairs with you and don’t leave your room!” his mother begged.

“You’re drunk again, old man?” the fifteen-year-old guessed, flashing their father a nasty look as he stepped before his little brother, ready to be a shield.

“You fucking bunch of ungrateful shits!” their father stumbled into a chair as he moved towards them, fist already in the air. However, his mother grabbed him just in time, preventing him from smashing his face against the ground.

“Please, go upstairs and don’t leave your room until I tell you so,” Søren’s mother pleaded.

“You don’t get to tell my son what to do!” the drunkard barked as he regained his composure, freeing himself from the woman’s grip.

“Please...” Her eyes watered as her voice died in her throat. “I’ll take care of him. Lock yourselves in your room.”

The teenager stared at her for a few seconds but, after touching the ugly scar he had on his arm, he agreed with a quivering voice, “fine.”

And with that, he grabbed Søren’s hand and, running, he dragged him upstairs with him. The kid wouldn’t stop kicking, crying, and calling his mother. That wasn’t the first time, and he knew that the next few minutes, until his brother covered his ears with his headphones, all he would be hearing was his mother’s muffled cries as his father roared, insulting and hitting her.

“Søren! SØREN!” Alex’s voice woke him up.

When the metalhead opened his eyes, he didn’t know where he was. Agitated and deprived of oxygen, as if he had been holding his breath underwater for an hour, he sat on his bed, trying to recall what had happened, cold sweat covering his forehead.

As his ears kept buzzing and his head spinning around, he looked out the window only to see darkness. It was still the middle of the night.

After receiving that call from the hospital on behalf of his father, some of his nights had turned really disturbing with those constant reminders of his past. But it had been a while since the last time he had heard from him, so why were the nightmares still haunting him? Why were they getting stronger and more vivid as time went by?

“You were screaming...” the bass player told him, pulling him from his trail of thoughts. Concern written all over his face, his hand still on his shoulder.

“What day is it?” Søren asked, still feeling in a daze.

“It’s five in the morning of the fourth,” Alex told him. “December,” he added.

“Fuck!” the singer got up, walked to the bathroom, and slammed the door behind him.

With so many trips and time changes, he didn’t know what day he lived in anymore but, somehow, his brain did. In two days, it would be the eighteenth anniversary of the last time he saw his brother, the anniversary of the biggest betrayal he had ever experienced, a date he would never forget.

“Want me to call Mikael?” Alex asked him.

“Fucking leave me alone!” He growled, sitting on the toilet seat as he pressed his temples with the palms of his hands, elbows resting on his knees.

His whole body was trembling, cold sweat running down his back. He knew that sick sensation and he hated it. The urge of sniffing whatever shit or drinking to oblivion becoming stronger than the last few weeks. He wanted to punch the mirror over the sink, rip the towel racks, get a hammer and fucking destroy the shower tray.

Despair was eating him alive.

“FUCK!”

He didn’t know how long he had been in there but didn’t care either, he got up and went out of the bathroom.

“Are you okay?” Alex asked him, dark circles under his eyes noticeable even in the dimly-lit room. He was sitting on his bed, wearing nothing but his underwear.

“Yeah, just going out to get some fresh air,” he stated as he pulled up his jeans.

“Want me to come with you?”

Søren huffed as he put on his long sleeve t-shirt. He knew Alex was worried, but he wasn’t in the mood to be with or to talk with anyone about anything. “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay... Call if you need anything,” the bass player said before going into the bathroom.

“Sure.” He nodded.

As Alex closed the door Søren put on his black sneakers, grabbed his leather jacket, and left the room, a death stick on his lips by the time he got to the elevator.

When the metal doors slid open before him, he stepped in and leaned on the wall as he pressed the ground floor button.

The clack of his Zippo as he kept opening and closing its lid filled the silence inside that hanging cage, dimming the repetitive and annoying background music. He didn’t remember the last time he had felt so weighed down.

Since the nightmares had started again a month and a half before, the dreams were never complete, just small snippets of certain episodes, scary as fuck, yes, but they were all messed up, mixed with psychedelic, weird shit he never understood so, even if he felt a little shaken up it had never been that bad—not for the last seven years, when he lived in a permanent haze.

When the lift’s ding brought him back to reality, he pushed himself off the wall and walked out, striding towards the main entrance of the hotel.

Once he was outside, he threw his head back and took a deep breath in, lighting the cigarette right after. He needed that blazing smoke to burn his lungs.

The weather wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t too cold either, the amount of humidity perfect. Søren was glad the temperature wasn’t as extreme as in Norway because he didn’t know if he could have handled wearing so many layers at the moment, his chest still feeling heavy and tight.

Replaying those images in his head, the metalhead inhaled and slowly let out the fume, watching as it swirled in the air, vanishing as it lifted away.

“Isn’t it a bit too late or early for you to be here?” A woman’s voice snapped him out of that delusional world he was diving into again.

Søren turned his head and looked down only to see the waitress that had served them their drinks when they came back from the concert. She was wearing her long, straight black hair down, dark eyes with perfect makeup and pouty lips still painted in red. She was beautiful.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he simply told her. “You?” Søren asked, trying to be polite.

“Just finished my shift.”

“I see...”

She crossed her arms over her chest, pushing her breasts up inside the white, tight shirt she was wearing, top three buttons undone. He swallowed, hard.

How could such a small woman carry those tits around? Seriously, they had to be heavy as fuck, bend her forward—wait that might be good.

“May I have one?” she asked.

“Huh?” His eyes fell on hers again.

“A smoke,” she chuckled.

“Sure,” he said as he put his between his lips, shoving his right hand in the back pocket of his jeans to get the pack of death sticks and the left one in the front to get the lighter. “Here.”

She grabbed it and brought it to her lips to light it. “Thanks,” she whispered as she moved closer to him, putting her hand inside one of his pockets to give him back the Zippo, eyes locked on his. Søren looked at her, arching an eyebrow.

“Want to come to my house?” she asked, pressing her body further against him.

So straightforward.

He stared down at her for a few seconds, considering her blunt invitation. He was in a bad mood, but sex had always fixed that shit—more like helped him push it under the rug, whatever. Letting all his rage and confusion out through a session of rough sex would probably relax him. Plus, he had been feeling like getting laid for a while and she was hot.

“Sure.”

He let out one last cloud of smoke, threw the stub on the ashtray the hotel had at the door and followed her to the parking lot while texting Alex.

Søren: Will be back in 2-3h

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