CHAPTER 6: MARY MAY
The curse was no joke.
This is all there is, the voice in my head whispered. It was the voice of my doubt.
Usually, I was able to keep it at the edge of my thoughts by using the bright, hot light of my ambition and rage to hold at bay, but now it crept back into the forefront of my mind and settled in to stay.
This is all there is, and all there will ever be.
We’d made it to Chicago, and we were never going to make it out again. I lay supine on the filthy living room couch as the thoughts settled on me one by one, weighing me down until I didn’t have the strength to get up. Time had lost all meaning.
I forced my eyes open, expecting to see only the Cursèd Place’s derelict living room and found myself staring into the malevolent, black eye of a bad omen. The rooster was back; perched on my chest like a night hag.
“Shit!” Panic punched me in the throat, and I lurched upright startling the rooster into a hurricane of feathers and claws as it launched itself into fluttering half-flight toward the nearby coffee table.
“Gorey!” I called into the house at large, feeling my heart pounding against my ribs in panic. I wasn’t one-hundred percent certain that I hadn’t pissed myself. “GOREY!”
“Oh, good, you’re up,” Gorey appeared in the doorway to the kitchen with a bowl of cereal in his hands, stoned out of his gourd.
“What the fuck is that—” I gestured toward the rooster who was now pecking happily at scraps of leftover Italian beef from a styrofoam takeout container.
“Uhhhh…” Gorey looked at the rooster, then looked back at me as if trying to decide if this was a trick question.
“Is that your granddad’s rooster?”
“Oh, yeah. It was. Now it’s Mary May.”
“Mary May.” I thought about asking what had possessed him to name a rooster Mary May and decided the more pressing question was: “What the fuck is it doing here?”
“Uhh, you touched it, remember?” Gorey said as if this should have been obvious.
“And we can’t keep it in our place cuz it’s unclean?” Gorey’s tone suggested this should have been abundantly obvious to anyone who was not a very stupid child. “But this place is already cursed so…” He gestured around the squalor of the Cursèd Place with a milky spoon. I watched as the rooster tore apart a piece of pre-chewed gristle with gusto and then shat on the trash-covered coffee table.
“Take it the fuck outside,” I said.
“Ughhhhh, fine,” Gorey groaned and set down his bowl before shooing the rooster toward the back door without touching it.
“Never a dull moment around here is there?” croaked a new voice. I turned to see Kilroy, my bassist, sitting on the floor nearby preparing to take yet another rip off a giant homemade bong. He was spider thin; his long, bony limbs folded up like a collapsed umbrella. A slouching, oversized knit cap covered his shaved head, and a haze of smoke lingered in the air around him like a reeking ghost.
“Welcome to the goat rodeo,” I slumped back onto the couch to wait for my heart to stop racing. “When’d you get here?”
“Dunno. Three?” He expelled a thundercloud of smoke into the room. “Caught the last red-eye out of LAX on fucking Spirit. I had to sell my stash just to buy the ticket.”
The fact Kilroy parted with even a single ounce of his precious weed was truly a sign of dark times. Out of all of us in the band, Kilroy was the only one with any sense of numbers. Not that it mattered. Right now, the number was zero. Any bassist could count to that.
He got to his feet and he folded himself into a Downward Facing Dog.
“I’m in so much pain,” Kilroy was always in pain. He’d fractured three vertebrae in a motorcycle accident eight years ago that had curved his spine into a question mark and bounced him off the bottom end of an opioid addiction. “Any more word on Lolla?” he asked from somewhere inside his t-shirt.
“It’s legit as far as I know,” I said. “I called Chase. He’s lookin’ into it.”
“You did what?” Kilroy’s head snapped up.
“I called Chase. He’s looking into it.”
“What the hell did you have to go and do that for?!” Kilroy said in exasperation. “Chase fucking hates you.”
“No, he doesn’t, Chase loves us. We’ve made him a shit ton of money.”
“He loves the band, he hates you,” Kilroy clarified.
Before Kilroy could answer, my phone rang. I held it up: Chase.
“Speak of the devil,” I said.
“Put it on speaker.”
I put the phone on speaker and set it on the coffee table where we could all stare at it like a crystal ball foretelling our future.
“Well, Lolla’s for real…sort of,” Chase said.
“You’re not part of the official lineup—that’s been locked in for months now, but if one of the headliners doesn’t take the stage, you go on instead.”
“Yeah, well…” There was a note of satisfaction in his voice he didn’t bother to hide.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kilroy’s expression tighten into annoyance.
What? I mouthed at him.
You’re a motherfucker. He mouthed back.
“You get paid whether you go on or not. You get paid, I get paid,” Chase was saying.
“Way to fight for us. Really took it to the mat on this one,” I snarled at him.
“It’s free money and the money’s good.”
“Yeahhh, about that,” Chase was smiling. I could hear it. “The agency’s dropping you. Conflict of interest.”
“Fuck you,” I said. “Don’t joke about shit like that.”
“No joke.” He was positively delighted now. “My division just got absorbed by CAA and they’ve got Avenged Sevenfold, so….”
“We were with you first,” I protested.
“Yeah, well… A7X still has a label,” Chase said. “You got jack shit. I’m sending you the paperwork. Sign it, or don’t. I don’t give a flying fuck. Have a nice fucking life.”
There was a clunk as the line disconnected with the force of an executioner’s axe.
“Nice fucking move, Warner,” Kilroy smacked the back of my head.
“Me?! What the hell did I do?!”
“You slept with his wife, dude.”
“I did? No, I didn’t.” I couldn’t remember. Gorey was cackling so hard around a mouth full of Froot Loops that he had to sit down on the floor. Kilroy was dead serious.
“Yeah. Definitely did.”
“How do you know: were you there?”
“Pics or it didn’t happen.”
Kilroy took out his phone and scrolled through Facebook until he found a video. The footage was shaky and handheld, shot at a distance down a backstage hallway as I retreated shirtless out of a dressing room door with a giggling Asian woman with a butterfly tattoo on the lower part of her back where my hand was disappearing beneath the waistband of her skinny jeans.
Definitely me. Definitely her.
I wasn’t the only one whose checkered history of sexual exploits was coming back with a vengeance: Gorey was on a rampage. The threat of impending marriage was having a measurable effect on his libido, which meant he now spent every waking moment sarging around the city, chasing down tail like his life depended on it.
I walked into my bedroom several days later to find him occupying the mattress, pinned beneath the meaty thighs of a big girl with dark hair. The girl yelped and tried to cover her breasts, but it didn’t hide anything, and it was too late anyway.
“Hey! Knock why don’t you?!” he protested.
“Dude, put a sock on the door or something.”
“I did.” Gorey propped himself up on his free arm bringing his face to tit level and gestured to where a graying tube sock was indeed fitted over the doorknob.
“Well, then close the door.”
“Dude, it’s like a million degrees up here with the door closed.”
It was a million degrees with the door open too, only marginally cooler than the sweltering living room. Scorching derecho winds had been blowing through the city all day, filling the air with dust and static electricity, and offering no respite from the heat.
“So, turn off a few computers,” I headed toward an accumulation of electronics that was beginning to spread up the wall like kudzu.
“Don’t touch my stuff,” he said, alarmed.
“I’m not touching your stuff.”
“Don’t fucking touch it!”
I liberated a bottle of whiskey that Gorey had squirreled away inside the empty case of an old computer tower, then tipped an imaginary hat in his direction.
“You’re a cum burping whore, Warner,” Gorey shouted after me as I went to the dormer window and dragged it open with an unholy shriek before climbing out through the opening. Once outside, I slammed the window shut, then pulled down my jeans to press my ass against the glass before staggering to the peak of the house.
It was cooler here, but the shingles still radiated heat from the day. Overhead, heat lightning leaped from cloud to cloud while the trees creaked and swayed in sympathy. I flopped down on the eastward face of the roof and stared at the skyline of downtown across the dark silhouette of the park.
Up until our luck gave out, OBNXS had been half of the act on the Twins of Mayhem tour: a double headliner with a band called Man of Snakes, an aging crew of stupendous posers left over from the goth-punk era. They thought we were obnoxious wannabes. We thought they were self-important has-beens. Our fans hated one another. The whole concept of the tour was flawed from the get-go, but the money was good and Hex had been insistent so we’d gone along with it. Then Hex disappeared, and Man of Snakes slithered on without us—taking with them our crew, our production equipment, our transportation and all the hype they could handle.
Meanwhile, we were living in a cursed house in the armpit of Chicago—where music blared from doorsteps and car stereos, and the sidewalk in front of the house was given over to a semi-continuous fistfight. On the corner, a cluster of heavyset Puerto Ricans in oversized t-shirts and flat-brimmed baseball caps were doing a robust business of handshakes and high fives that implied an exchange of goods.
I watched as an inevitable squad car turned onto the street with its flashers going, no doubt called down by one of the neighbors about the noise. They cruised along the street slowly enough to determine that nobody was dead and nobody was shooting, then continued on their way without stopping. Heat like this turned the city into a welter of gun violence and the cops of Chiraq had bigger things to worry about than a noise complaint.
The whiskey was nearly gone by the time Gorey emerged from the window and scuttled up the slope of the roof to flop down beside me.
“You done fucking your way through the Greater Chicagoland Area?” I asked.
“Hey, I gotta sow my oats while I can. Time’s running out. Wedding date is set.” He settled on the roof beside me still reeking of sex and wiped the lip of the bottle with his t-shirt before taking a swig.
“Ahh. You meet your bride yet?”
“Yeah. She’s okay. Too skinny.”
“Everybody’s too skinny for you, bro,” I told him. It was true. Gorey loved the fatties.
“Granddad’s happy—that’s what counts. Made a good deal. It’s a good match. She’s smart too—smarter ‘n me, anyway. Went to college an’ everything. I’m lucky,” Gorey picked at one of the peeling shingles revealing a second layer of shingle underneath. “Y’know…with this getting married ‘n all…I might have to, you know, leave the band.”
“Ha. You’re funny.”
Gorey just waited until the words actually sank in. It took a full minute before they did.
“Wait, what? You serious?”
“I mean, I’ll be there for Lolla,” Gorey amended quickly. “But after that…I mean, it couldn’t last forever, right? We had a good run.”
“So, you’re just going to fucking bail?”
I couldn’t imagine the band without him, and it wasn’t because of his skill as a guitarist, which was mostly made up of enthusiasm and a complete absence of fuck. We could replace a guitarist, but we couldn’t replace Gorey.
“So, what’re you gonna do instead? Bag groceries at Jewel?”
“I’ll find something. I got skills.”
“You’re a high school dropout who spent your life playing guitar and smoking pot.”
“Yeah, well, that makes two of us,” he snapped.
“I’m not the one threatening to leave!” I hated the note of pleading that was creeping into my voice. “The band needs you, dude!”
Gorey snorted. “The band needs more than me,” he said. He was right—we were in freefall and had been for a while now. Everything we’d built was dissolving like smoke.
“So, we’ve had some bad luck. We’ll be back and we’ll be bigger than ever. You’ll see.” But even I wasn’t sure I believed it anymore.
Gorey was not fooled. “This isn’t just bad luck, bro. We’re not just back at square one. We hit the bottom and we kept going. We’re drilling to fucking China right now.”
Out near the street, a dead elm succumbed to the gale with a splintering crack. It crashed onto the pavement, pulling down the power lines with it and plunged the block into darkness around us. Gorey waved at it as if this somehow proved his point.
“Come onnn,” he pleaded. “Even if we make some kind of comeback, somehow, I mean, what then? Write another album? Disappear on the road for eight months out of the year? I’m getting married, dude. I’m gonna start a family. What kind of a life is that for my kids if I’m never around?”
“So, what? You’re just going to give it all up? For what? To settle down with a chick you barely know and have her squirt out a bunch of screaming brats? Happily ever fucking after?”
“Dude, I want kids, okay?” Gorey said. “I want a family and a home and, I dunno, for it all to mean something. I gotta grow up sometime.” He stood up, straddling the peak of the roof and stood over me. “What the hell are you doing with your life besides clawing your way to rock bottom and dragging the rest of us with you?”
The bald truth of this knocked the breath out of me and for a minute I just stared up at him, open-mouthed. Gorey looked away, ashamed.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, “I didn’t mean that. I just… I gotta get out while I still can. Hate me if you have to, but it’s something I just gotta do.” His shoulders slumped again, and he began to scoot down the roof toward the dormer. “I’ll leave the window open for you.”
Then he turned away, leaving me alone.
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CHAPTER 6: MARY MAY will go live Monday, August 2nd, 2021
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