I was buzzed awake the next morning by a text from my drummer Jojo:

Arriving from LA at 9. Pick me up.

There was a link to a map with a pin dropped near O’Hare which turned out to be an executive terminal set aside from the main commercial circus. The cars were sleek and black, and the clientele were fat and white. The GTO stood out in the middle of it all like a defiant middle finger. I pulled to the curb and settled in to wait.

A man in khaki slacks emerged from the concourse carrying two enormous, designer-brand suitcases He placed them like an offering at the feet of a dark-haired woman wearing a sequined top and heart-shaped sunglasses. The woman beamed and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug that was all tits and pointed toes, but her expression faded when she caught a glimpse of me over the man’s shoulder.

I waved.

The woman rolled her eyes, and mouthed the words ‘save me’ but quickly snapped back into a smile as the man broke the embrace and reached into his pocket to press a fold of cash into her hand. A cocked head.

Oh, no—you shouldn’t have.

Please, it was my pleasure.

My mind played the dialogue without needing to hear it.

A kiss on the cheek. A slap on the ass. Giggle, giggle.

The man got into the car and drove away, leaving the woman alone on the sidewalk. She waved him out of sight, then shrugged off the affect and lit a cigarette, waving me forward.

“Hey baby, you lookin’ for a date?” I called to her out the window.

Jojo leaned down to peer at me over the tops of her sunglasses. The wide collar of her shirt gapped open to her waist. I could smell cloves and some kind of expensive perfume.

“Took you long enough.”

“Didn’t want to cramp your style with your Biggest Fan,” I said.

“His name is Thackery.”

“Thounds thpecial.”

“He has his own jet.” Jojo blew smoke out her nose.

“And all you had to do was…?”

“Let him massage my feet during the flight.” She kept her face straight. I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not. I shook my head.

“You and your fans.”

I’d been friends with Jojo since kindergarten: back when she was still a shy, chubby, half-Korean kid with scuffed knees named Joseph. Since then, she’d spent every cent she ever made on gender confirmation surgery. There was no doubt about where she stood on the gender spectrum now.

“You getting in, or what?”

“You gonna help me with my bags?”

“I haul enough shit around for you with your fucking drum kit. Handle your own baggage.”

“Bitch, please, you don’t have enough room for my baggage.”

I climbed out of the drivers’ seat and went around the back to unlock the trunk and watched her load in her two giant suitcases, struggling under the weight of them.

“Thanks for fucking nothing.” She brushed her hair back from her sweaty forehead with the backs of her manicured fingers.

“How do you need two giant suitcases? All your clothes are the size of dish towels.”

“A girl needs options.”

“Whatever, dude.”

Jojo climbed into the passenger seat, tugging uselessly at the hem of her high-waisted shorts as her bare legs landed on the hot leather. She pulled a face. “This fucking city.”

“Yeah, this fucking city,” I said. I pulled into traffic and immediately found myself mired in congestion creeping towards the exit.

“How long are we gonna be in town for?”

“I dunno. At least through Lolla, right? So, a month?” I hoped. I hadn’t given it much thought: it wasn’t like there was anything waiting for us back in LA.

“Maybe we should stay awhile.”

“Hell no.”

“Oh, come on,” she whined, “we’ve been on the road for months. I’m sick of living out of a suitcase.”

“But Chicago? You hate Chicago.”

“No, you hate Chicago,” she said “Chicago, LA, I don’t really fucking care, but Tombstone wants to see his kids—”

“Don’t talk to me about Tombstone—”

“—and Gorey’s got his family here. I’m tired of babysitting Kilroy on the road. It’s a nightmare keeping the dealers away. Just cuz he’s not freebasing anymore doesn’t mean he’s not an addict—”

“Chicago’s not going to fix that.”

“No, but he’ll be able to have a regular group for a change. Let them handle his sobriety. I still like getting fucked up.”

I resisted the urge to tell her that Tombstone had sold off all her pills.

“Where’re you staying?” I asked, finally accelerating onto the highway.

Jojo huffed out a breath. “I dunno. I’m as broke as you are, dude.” She ran a hand through her hair, pinning it back from her face in the buffeting wind from the window. I glimpsed myself reflected in her sunglasses.

“You not stayin’ with khaki Thackery?”

“Gawd, no. It’s his week with the kids—can you imagine me in the suburbs?”

I couldn’t.

“Gorey’s got a place,” I said. “I haven’t seen it, but he says it’s cursed.”

“Sounds chah-ming.”

*          *          *          *

It was not charming. It was a shitheap.

Gorey hadn’t been exaggerating about the state of the property: it was a derelict Chicago bungalow constructed of brick and misery a few blocks away from Humboldt Park. The first-floor windows were boarded up and mossy shingles sagged down over crumbling brickwork and flaking lead paint. There was a padlock on the front door that Gorey struggled with for so long, I worried he might not be using a key. When he finally shouldered the door open, a musty wheeze of air poured out, fluttering the ribbon ends of police tape stuck to the door frame.

“What the fuck happened here?” Jojo asked.

“A squatter died.” Gorey shrugged. “Don’t worry—they decided it was natural causes.”

“Wait, someone died in there?” I stopped on the threshold without going in.

“People die all sorts of places, dude.”

Reluctantly, I followed him inside.

“Hotter ‘n hell in here.” Jojo stepped into the oven-like heat, fanning herself with the collar of her shirt. Sweat was already dripping down my back. A needle of light found its way around the plywood on the windows cutting a bright line through the murk. Gorey fumbled for a light switch and flicked it on.

“Front room. Kitchen. Dining room ‘round the side.” Gorey pointed to the spaces on the side of the entrance. “Bathroom in the back. Bedrooms upstairs. Basement. Fully furnished.”

“Do the bedbugs cost extra?” I asked.

“They carpet-bombed the place.”

The front room had a pad of green shag carpet spread over a scuffed wood floor. An ancient sofa was shoved in the corner; one broken leg was propped up on a brick. The dining room windows had been bricked up with cinderblocks.

“Where’d they find the body?” Jojo wanted to know.

Gorey shrugged again. “The bathroom, I think? A cleaning service hadda come out and drain all the plumbing.” He stumped up the stairs. The bedroom was divided into two claustrophobic halves beneath the sloping roof. One half had a dormer window that was painted shut. The furnishings consisted of a warped dresser and a single, slumped, queen-sized mattress on the bare floor. The previous owner still resided there in the form of a large yellow sweat stain pooled in the bottom of a body-shaped divot.

The other half of the room was the shell of a little girl’s room: oppressively pink and papered with Hello Kitty stickers.

“Guess we know which room is yours,” I said to Jojo as she gingerly stepped inside to survey the space. Her face was already sculpted into a grimace of distaste. Hustling Gorey back through the dividing wall I slammed the door and wedged it shut with a wooden shim.

“Hey!” I heard Jojo jiggle the doorknob uselessly and then pound on the door with the flat of her hand. “You’re a dickless faggot, Warner!” she yelled. “Open this door before I chum your gnarled choad, you fucking blue waffle!”

Jojo’s repertoire of swears was unparalleled for its range and scope. It would be a while before she ran out of names to call me, so I slung an arm over Gorey’s shoulder and ushered him back down the stairs so we could talk.

“Well?” he asked. “You still want it?”

It was the worst fucking house I’d ever seen, but we needed a place to live. From upstairs I heard Jojo begin to hammer at the walls of her prison with one of her shoes.

“Jojo likes it,” I said, “and, you know, women, amiright?”

There was an audible creak as Jojo managed to pry the plywood off the upstairs window, followed by the sound of glass shattering and a gentle rain of shards on the side walkway. Gorey hastily undid the bolts on the plywood over the side window and stuck his head out in time to see Jojo sling a leg over the upstairs window frame and stretch her bare toes toward a crumbling stone cornice. Gorey stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled.

“Lookin’ good, hotpants.”

“Don’t start with me, you motherless mongrel turd.”

“C’mon, baby, give us a smile,” I piled on. “Show us your tits.”

“I’m gonna punch you in the nuts so hard your grandkids are gonna fucking feel it,” Jojo snarled, climbing down the side of the house like a cat burglar. She made it down to the sidewalk and hurled a shoe at us through the window with the full force of a drummer’s upper body strength. It hit the far wall hard enough that the stiletto heel embedded itself in the plaster. “We’ll take it,” I said.

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CHAPTER 6: MARY MAY will go live Monday, August 2nd, 2021

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Quetzalez was waiting for me when I arrived at the storage facility. I pulled the Bandwagon to a halt in front of the rolling door to my unit, nose-to-nose with the gleaming, black town car he drove for my folks.

“Damen!” Quetzalez opened his arms to me with a joviality that was both genuine and over-bright. He was somewhere in his mid-forties, but he still hadn’t outgrown slicking his hair into some kind of rockabilly pompadour. Tattoos ran the length of his arms from below his ears all the way to the second knuckles of each finger.

A movement caught my eye through the dim glass of the windshield of the town car and I could make out a crown of fair hair in the back seat: he hadn’t come alone. My stomach dropped.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“I told you I was driving your mom around,” Quetzalez said.

“Dude, you promised.”

Quetzalez held up his hands. “I said no one would hear it from me: but she was in the car when you called. She heard it for herself.”

“Fuck,” I grimaced, but let it go. “You know what? Fine. Whatever. Give me my keys.”

Quetzalez shook his head. “Sorry, buddy; boss wants a word with you first.”

“Hell, no.”

“She’s your mom, kid.”

“Oh, well in that case: fuck no.”

Quetzalez fixed me with a look that suggested I was overreacting and failed to produce any keys. “C’mon, it’s not like you were going to be able to keep it a secret forever. Might as well get it over with. Rip off the band-aid.”

I glared at him. “I hate you for this.”

“Uh-huh,” Quetzalez produced a tobacco tin from one pocket and began to roll a cigarette, unconcerned. I sighed and opened the door to the car.

Mom sat in the expensive, upholstered silence of the back seat of the town car like a marble queen. Thin as a willow. Cold as frost. She nodded to the seat beside her.

“Get in.”

I did.

“Close the door.”

A thick, snowy silence settled around me in the dim alcove of the town car. I couldn’t remember when I’d seen her last, but it didn’t really matter—she never changed. It was as if I’d put her away in my memory and she’d stayed there without moving or aging until I called her up again. Her gray eyes traced over my piercings, taking a deliberate mental inventory. I fidgeted under her scrutiny, feeling like something that had been scraped up off the side of the road.

“Say something, will you?”

“Something,” Mom said. She didn’t mean it as a joke. I was pretty sure.

She reached out to smooth my hair and I felt a needle-prick of pain at my temple.

“You’re going gray,” she held up a strand to me—blue at the tip, gray at the root. I stared at it with a sense of numb futility.

“Yeah, well, I’m thirty now.”

“I know. I was there when you were born.”

“Har har, Mom.”

Mom smiled but gave a weighty sigh. “No one warns you what it is like to look at your children and to see them as adults growing old. Not that thirty is old.” She tweaked my nose. Reaching out a hand to my cheek she brushed one of the studs on my lip.

“This one is new.” Her eyes flickered back and forth between one ear and the other. “And this—” a cuff through the cartilage of my left ear. “Who were you trying to forget?”

“Do you care?”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” She let the subject drop. “You’ve been on the road now for…eighteen months?” She asked it like a question she already knew the answer to. “Are you finished now?”

“Oh, I’m finished alright.” I hated the truth of it. “The record label dropped us. Our manager is MIA. Our agent won’t return my calls, and I’m unemployed and broke and homeless…” The more I spoke the more the words turned to acid in my mouth.

Mom remained unfazed.

“Yes, that’s the way it goes sometimes I’m afraid, but I’m pleased you’re back,” she smiled, but it only made it as far as her mouth. Her eyes were still and cool.

“You don’t have to pretend for my benefit.”

“I never do.”

Sometimes I wondered if Mom was on the spectrum.

 “How long will you be in town? You’ll be staying with us I presume? We have plenty of room.” The thought of sharing a steel-and-chrome corporate condo down in the Loop with Mom and Michael sounded like a slice of hell.

“Fuck no.”

Mom’s fingers caught my arm near the elbow and pinched a nerve until my hand went numb. I gasped at the pain and Mom caught my jaw in her other hand and forced me to meet her stare. “Don’t curse in front of me, you wretched child,” she growled between clenched teeth.

I swallowed hard and nodded. Mom released my arm and let her fingers trail down my jawline as if reluctant to let me go. She took a deep breath and sat back in her seat, once again as tranquil as deep water.

 “Your father and I—”

“Michael’s not—”

Mom held up a hand to cut me off before I could get started.

 “You’re always welcome. You know that.”

I bit my tongue until I could taste blood.

“Am I free to go?” I asked.

Mom sighed. “Yes, I suppose so.” She pressed her lips to my cheek leaving a stain of lipstick on my cheekbone: as much a declaration of territory as a gesture of affection. “I’m glad you’re back. Let me know where you land.”

I climbed out of the town car and glared at Quetzalez.

“Ambush me like that again and I will set you on fire,” I told him.

“That bad, huh?” Unconcerned, Quetzalez licked the paper of the cigarette and stuck the end between his lips without lighting it. Fishing around in his pocket, he extracted a set of keys on a threadbare rabbit’s foot keychain and held them out to me. I reached out to take them but Quetzalez didn’t let it go—not right away.

“Good to have you back. I mean it, kid.”

“Thanks. You’re the only one who thinks so.”

He brushed a finger against the side of his nose. “Cuz I’m smarter ‘n everybody.”

I smiled in spite of myself and he relinquished the keys into my hand. I flipped through the keys on the ring looking for the one that went to the padlock on the storage unit. A plain brass house key caught my eye. I held it up.

“What’s this?”

“My spare. In case you need a place to crash. You know the rules.”

No sex. No drugs. No rock and roll.

Ironic, since he had been the one to teach me about all of those things. I’d never dared to test him on it. Of everyone trapped in the orbit of my family, he was the only one willing to call me on my shit and still put up with me anyway.

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Jagoff.” The corners of Quetzalez’ eyes crinkled as he lit his cigarette and took a drag.

 I unlocked the unit, hauling the rolling door open with a mighty rumble to reveal a ’67 Pontiac GTO, painstakingly restored to gleaming factory perfection: The Goat. Quetzalez gave a whistle.

“Ahh, so that’s where it’s at,” he said, recognizing it. “Does Edward know you got his GTO?”

“It’s my GTO,” I said. “I bought it.”

“Uh-huh.” Quetzalez was not fooled. “And it was your brother who busted his ass fixing it up.” This was true: my brother Edward found The Goat listed at a sheriff’s auction for a couple grand back when it was a wreck. Money had been no object at the time, so I’d bought it to spite him and told him he could restore it and then buy it from me when he had the money. Every improvement Edward made to it raised its value: the better he made it the farther it got from his reach, but he’d just kept working on it anyway. Working on it until it was perfect. Hell would freeze over before he had enough money to buy it from me.

“Yeah, well, I still got the title,” I said.

“Christ, you’re a dick.” Quetzalez shook his head. “One of these days, Edward’s gonna tell you to jump in the lake and you’re gonna deserve it.”

“Bitch please, Edward loves me,” I released the jack-stands until the Goat’s tires settled on the cement, then put it in neutral and rolled it out of the unit to make room for the gear.

“Edward loves everybody. Doesn’t mean you deserve it.”

“You wanna rub it in a little more or you gonna help me unload?” I bit back at him. Quetzalez just feigned innocence. “Who me? I just work here,” A knocking sound came from the direction of the town car and Quetzalez grinned. “Speaking of which: duty calls.” He licked his fingers to extinguish the cigarette, tucking it back into the tin for later before giving my shoulder a parting slap. “See you ‘round, kid. Try to stay out of trouble.”

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CHAPTER 5: THE CURSED PLACE will go live Monday, July 26th, 2021

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I sat slumped in the driver’s seat of the Bandwagon, waiting for Quetzalez’s call. Overhead the July sun blazed through the driver’s side window to beat on my sweating body like a physical force. The summer air was so thick with humidity it felt like dog’s breath.

All afternoon I’d watched a steady stream of people pour into the Gorey house dressed in bright colors, bearing gifts. From the backyard I could hear the sound of music and voices. The whole neighborhood smelled like roasting meat.


A movement caught my eye in the side-view mirror. In the tarnished reflection, a piece of darkness strutted out into the street and resolved into the shape of a… rooster? I rubbed my face, wondering if I was finally succumbing to heat-stroke, then stuck my head out the window to look again.

A rooster. Pitch black. From crown to claws.

“The fuck?”

At the far end of the block, a souped-up Chrysler turned onto the street and revved its engine. I could hear the booming bassline of a high-end stereo system over the grumble of a low-end American-made engine. The rooster just preened the long scythe-like spurs on the back of its legs and gave zero shits.


The Chrysler charged forward with the loud, ripping clatter of a glass-pack exhaust system. I scrambled out of the Bandwagon and waved my arms for attention, but the driver leaned on the horn, startling the rooster into half-flight toward my face with claws extended.


I flailed wildly, hoping I wasn’t about to be knifed by its spurs and clamped my hands around a bundle of feathers and fury. The rooster screamed his displeasure and slashed at the air, but I managed to hold on and dodge sideways as the car roared past.

“Fuck you, puto!” the driver shouted out the window.

“Stick it up your ass, fucknozzle!”

The Chrysler roared away leaving me alone with my heart pounding in my throat and ten pounds of enraged poultry in my hands.


A low, gravelly laugh drew my attention to the curb where a decrepit skeleton of a man stood watching me. One of Gorey’s wizard kin, I presumed. His dark suit was open at the collar and I could see the glint of gold chains around his neck through the plume of cigar smoke that wafted around him like an aura.

“You think that’s funny, huh?”

The old man raised a placid hand and removed the cigar to say something in a language made mostly of z and k.


The old man stuck the cigar back in his mouth and held out his gnarled hands toward the rooster, gesturing for me to hand it over.

“Trust me, you can have him,” I said, handing it over at arm’s length. The old man gripped the bird’s legs between the knobs of two arthritic knuckles and tucked it under his elbow, briefly revealing a blue number tattooed on the inside of his arm. He stroked the bird like a cat and murmured to it in soothing tones.

“Hey bro, I brought you some—” Gorey emerged from the front door with a plate of food in his hand but stopped short when he saw the old man was there. “What’s going on?” His tone suggested that he suspected a trap.

The old man blew a plume of smoke out of his nose and said something that sounded like a vampire reading a haiku. He nodded toward me with an expression of wry amusement. Gorey’s face registered shock and he looked at me.

“You touched RomRom’s cock?!”

“I did what?”

“You don’t go around touching people’s cocks, dude!” Gorey said. I realized, belatedly, he meant the rooster under his granddad’s arm.

“Christ, phrasing!” I said. “And yeah—it was going to be roadkill.”

Gorey opened his mouth to say something else, but the old man put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. There was an exchange of glances that I couldn’t interpret, and then the old man nodded toward the house and the party beyond. Gorey’s shoulders sagged.

“Yeah, alright. I’ll be in in a minute.”

The old man patted his shoulder approvingly and headed toward the house without a backward glance. Gorey waited until he was gone and then offered me the plate, loaded to the limits of its structural integrity with some kind of steaming meat.

“What is all this?” I nodded toward the house, the hubbub, and in the general direction of Gorey’s cleaned-up appearance. He’d swapped out all his steel jewelry for gold and his shirt had a collar. He smelled like a Macy’s fragrance counter.

“Family thing,” Gorey waved it away, embarrassed.

“Is that a corsage?” I poked a finger at the flower pinned to his shirt pocket and then swiped it upwards into his face when he looked down.

Gorey batted it away. “No, it’s not a corsage, it’s a boutonniere. Duh.”

“Duh yourself.” I realized he hadn’t just cleaned up, he’d been groomed. “Your Ma’s really turning the screws on this marriage thing, huh?”


“You know, here in ‘Murica most people don’t let their folks arrange their marriages anymore.”

“Yeah, well, most people don’t have my folks. It’s all fixed up. I mean, has been for years, but they’re finally getting down to brass tacks.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“My folks and hers.”

“She hot at least?”         

“Dunno. Never met her.” I’d never heard Gorey sound so down. “She’s old, though—like twenty-three, or something, which probably means she’s hideous. Her family’s loaded—did pretty well in the housing crash—people were just walking away from their houses—it was a golden age…” He looked sorry to have missed it. I let my brain catch up with Gorey’s brand of logic in which twenty-three constituted old and the Great Recession was a golden age.

“So, it’s about money.”

“It always is, isn’t it? That and the curse.”

“The curse.”

There was no such thing as a normal conversation with Gorey.

“Yeah. This property they own. Some house in Humboldt Park. They think it’s cursed. They want us to take it off their hands.”

“Is it?”

“Is it what?”


Gorey shrugged. “The hell do I know? They’ve had a run of bad luck since they got it and now, they can’t sell it, so they’re trying to foist it on us as part of the bride price.”

“First of all, ‘bride price’? For real?”

“Don’t judge, bro.”

“And second of all, they’re giving you a house?”

“A cursed house.”

“Curse, schmurse. It’s a free house!”

“It is a shitheap.” Gorey underscored ‘shitheap’ in a tone that spoke of black mold, lead paint, and a possible history of murder-suicide. “Would you want to live in a shitheap?”

I gestured pointedly toward the Bandwagon. A shitheap. My current abode.

“Okay, fair enough.” Gorey conceded.

“Look, if they’re gonna make you get married anyway, why not take the house? I’ll live there so you don’t have to. Your family’s happy; you’d be doing me a solid. Win, win.”

“Yeah, but I still gotta get married.” Gorey protested as my phone buzzed in my pocket. I glanced at the screen to see a text from Quetzalez: Headed your way.

“That sounds like a ‘you’ problem. I gotta go.” I stowed the phone in my pocket and headed toward the Bandwagon.

Gorey looked alarmed at the thought of me leaving him. “Go? Go where?!”

“Storage facility. I got a unit.”

“You been holding out on us?” I caught a note of reproach in his tone; like he was actually hurt to discover there was some part of my life I hadn’t shared with him.

“Yeah, and good thing I did. Or Hex woulda taken that too.”

Hex had been our manager for years: the kind of guy who had more ambition than luck, and who occasionally got left behind at rest stops. He’d disappeared somewhere between El Paso and Denver and no one had heard from him since. Our money had disappeared with him. All of it. Every cent. Our shared storage unit had gone into default and all our belongings had been sold at auction. Cash transaction. No way to trace it. But I had a unit in Chicago, and I paid for it through my attorney, which meant it was now the last source of any value I had to my name.

I gestured toward the Bandwagon.

“I gotta stash our gear somewhere. You know, if I’m going to be living in the van.”

Gorey’s shoulders slumped.

“Fine. Fine!” he said in exasperation. “I’ll ask about the damn house… Christ, the things I do for you…”

“You’re a prince among men.”

“And you can suck a garlic cat fart directly from my asshole.”

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CHAPTER 4: MOTHER will go live Monday, July 19th, 2021

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Chicago squatted on the horizon, pointing at the heavens like an accusing finger. Even from a distance it seemed to laugh at me. I ground my teeth and stomped on the gas hoping to wreck myself on the highway before I got there.

“Dude, you’re viral,” my rhythm guitarist, Gorey, stuck his phone between my face and the windshield to show me a gif playing on an endless loop.

“Dude, I’m driving!” I knocked his hand away, struggling not to swerve across all available lanes of traffic. It didn’t take more than a glance for me to know it was a video of the debacle with the TSA. I stole a second glance at the screen out of the corner of my eye.

Damen Warner Bares it All!

Yup. Definitely me. I watched myself turn toward the camera: my mouth forming the words ‘fuck off’ again, and again, and again. Someone had added a black bar over my junk: the fig leaf of the digital age.

“D’you make that?” I asked.

“Pfft. No. I got people for that.”

“We don’t have ‘people’ anymore,” I reminded him. “Remember? The Robot Overlords cut us loose.”

We don’t have people,” he grinned broadly enough to show the gold tooth on the right side of his mouth. “I have people.”

It was true. Gorey had an enormous, sprawling family and he was as contagiously likable as a terrier puppy. He tumbled through life in a tangle of enthusiasm, superstition and glee; with a nose ring and a rat’s nest of a top-knot that he never bothered to put any product in. His main contribution to our sound was criminal mischief and social media, which, now that we’d been dropped by our record label, was about all we had left. Now, here we were: careening toward fucking Chicago in a battered cargo van that smelled like farts; the same van we’d packed up thirteen years ago to haul our asses to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune. The passenger side was emblazoned with our band’s handle: the letters OBNXS scrawled out in lurid blue spray paint. Below this, someone had helpfully added “SUCKS”.

God, I hated my life.

I steered the van onto an exit ramp toward the west side neighborhood that the Gorej family had occupied for decades: an enclave of Hungarians locked in a war of attrition against the encroaching Latino population. I pulled to the curb in front of a non-descript brownstone with the oversized hand of a palm-reader in the front window and put the van in park. Gorey stared up at the house but didn’t get out.

“Welp. Here we are,” he said, unnecessarily.

“Yeah. Sweet fucking home Chicago.” I nodded toward the house. “You wouldn’t happen to have a couch I could crash on, would you?”

Gorey looked at me in surprise. “Me? What, no—I was gonna stay with you.”

“Me?” It was my turn to be surprised. “I’m literally gonna be living in a van down by the river if I don’t find a couch to surf on.” I gestured meaningfully to the Bandwagon around me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d called it home.

“What about your folks?”

My expression must have said everything it needed to because Gorey held up his hands in surrender. “Sorry, stupid question.”

“What about your folks?” I asked. As far as I knew, Gorey was on good terms with his family. “Trouble at home?”

Gorey squirmed. “Ma’s gonna make me get married,” he mumbled, “she wants grandkids.”

“Oh. That.”

Gorey’s people married young, and his mom had been trying to set him up in a family way since high school.

“Don’t your sisters each have a litter?” I asked.

“Doesn’t count—they don’t have the family name.”

I stifled my urge to roll my eyes. Family names meant fuck-all to me: I was already wearing a dead name. I’d emancipated when I was sixteen and taken Mom’s maiden name, Warner, as a final gesture of defiance. No fucking way was I going to go through life as an Adomnan. But names meant a lot to Gorey’s people and they’d been after him to get married for years now in order to produce the appropriate name-carrying heir.

“They were fine with me being on the road as long as the money was coming in,” he continued. “we’re travelers—we’ve been musicians for, like, a million generations—but when the money stopped…” he trailed off, but I could fill in the rest. Gorey stared up at the palm-reading sign as if it really did hold the future and cracked his fingers. “I oughtta just get it over with. I’m almost thirty—”

“Fuck, don’t remind me—I’ve finally sobered up.”

“—How bad could it be?”

“I mean…” I trailed off without finishing the thought. I didn’t need to.

“Yeah…” he muttered, resigned. “Hey, this Lolla thing… It is for real, right? I’m not back in Chicago risking my nuptials for…you know.…” He looked to me hopefully.

“Of course, it’s real,” I said with a certainty I didn’t feel.

“I mean, I’m with you, dude, but…you were pretty drunk still at the airport.”

The same thought had crossed my mind. I’d spent the past two days trying to call our agent but kept getting the brush-off from his assistant. Never a good sign.

“Gimme your phone,” I said.

“Use your own.”

“They screen my number.”

Gorey tugged his cell phone out of his pocket and tossed it to me. I typed in the agency number and listened to it ring.

“Chase Kitsch’s desk.”

I put on a falsetto with a southern twang. “Howdy, darlin’, y’all lemme talk to Chase, now, this here’s Reverend Walter Simon with the Light of Christ Evangelical Mission callin’ ‘bout his tithin’.” Gorey snorted and dissolved into giggles, but the assistant was not fooled.

“Is this Damen again?”

“Have you prepared your immortal soul for the comin’ end of days?”

“He’s not at his desk right now.”

“Gaaaawwd will stand in judgment over all the LIAHS!”

There was a click and the line disconnected.

“Hung up,” I tossed the phone back to him. “Same thing all week. Y’know what? Fuck this.” There was one last card to play. I pulled out my own phone and dialed.

“I thought you said they screen your calls?” Gorey said.

“I’m not calling the agency.”

There was a click as the line connected and Chase himself answered. “How’d you get this number?” he demanded.

“If you don’t want me calling your private number, don’t have your assistant jerk me off every time I call your goddamn office.”

“This is my wife’s phone,” he said, his voice cold. “I don’t have anything for you.”

“You didn’t get us the Lolla gig then?”

“What Lolla gig?”

“Lollapalooza,” I said. “They offered us a spot in the Saturday lineup. I got a call from some dude named… Austin? Dallas? Some city in Texas.”


“That’s the one.”

“About Lollapalooza?” his disbelief was palpable.

“I know, right? It’s like they don’t even know us. Is it for real? We’re in Chicago now, and we’re fucking trapped here if there’s no gig.”

“Is that a promise?”

“You wanna be smart or you wanna do your fucking job?” I demanded. There was an annoyed silence on the far end of the line. I waited him out.

“I’ll see what I can find out,” Chase said at last. “Just stay put.”

 “Fuck,” Gorey said.

“Fuck,” I agreed.

Stephen?! Is that you? I thought I saw your van— A dark-skinned, woman rapped on the window with her knuckles then turned back to the house to shout: “It’s him! Stephen’s back! He’s back!”

Gorey sighed without turning. “Hey, Ma.”

A flood of women and children poured out of the house to surround the Bandwagon pressing their noses and fingers against the passenger side windows for a glimpse of their wayward son. The door yanked open from the outside and a surge of hands reached inside to paw at Gorey’s clothes like they were trying to pull him from a burning wreck.

“Hang on, hang on!” he protested, struggling to untangle himself from the seatbelt; a task made even more difficult by the fact that his Ma had both arms wrapped around his head and was smothering him with a storm of kisses. “Ma. Ma! I can’t see!”

Gorey’s Ma backed off incrementally and he cast a pleading look in my direction.

Gorey’s Ma seemed to notice me for the first time and scowled.

“Oh, it’s you,” she spat on the back of two fingers like I’d seen Gorey do a hundred times when he wanted to ward off bad luck. His entire family was an old-world kind of superstitious. Gorey himself still gave me grief for getting the Ouija board alphabet tattooed across my chest.

I gave her a limp salute. “Hey, Mrs. G.”

“You’re the one been keeping him away from us—”

“Leave him alone, Ma.”

“We finally got him back. Don’t be comin’ ‘round here tryin’ to spirit him away again—”

“God, Ma!” He gave me an apologetic look. “Guess this is it. See you on the flippity-flop.” With a click he unbuckled his seatbelt and was immediately swept out of the van on a familial tide. He turned a wide-eyed backward glance toward me and mouthed the word halp! before the Gorey clan dragged him up the steps to the front door and disappeared inside.

And just like that, I was alone. Again.

Gorey could joke about his family all he wanted, but at least they wanted him. I tried to imagine my own family wanting me that much and failed. No one was going to drag my ass out of the wreckage of my life to welcome me back into the fold. I was a bastard son. The man I grew up calling my father had met my mother on the day I was born; a police officer who just so  happened to be riding the same train as my mom when she went into labor. He delivered me into the cruel world but had played no part in my conception. Later, he and my mom got married and had two other legitimate children: a boy for him, a girl for her. One big happy family: perfectly complete without me in it.

I surveyed the Bandwagon and considered my options. I hadn’t been kidding about living in it, but the cargo cabin was packed wall-to-wall with gig cases and the thought of sleeping upright in a driver’s seat for four weeks until Lollapalooza made me want to stab myself in the eye. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be parking thousands of dollars of instruments and gear on the streets of Chicago in the swelter of summer heat anyway: I was going to have to find a place to stash it, and with a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, I already knew where that place was going to be.

I picked up my phone and dialed before I could talk myself out of it.

“Yo,” a male voice answered over a connection that sounded like a speakerphone.

“Quetzalez? It’s Damen.”

“Well, shit.” He drew out the word as if annoyed, but I could hear a smile in his voice. “What’s up, buddy?” Thirty years ago, Dave Quetzalez had been the Chicano punk kid who lived next door. Mom hired him to babysit me while she was working on her doctorate, and he’d practically raised me. Now, he was nominally employed as the family driver, but in truth he was part of the family.

 “I need my keys,” I said. “You still got them?”

“Sure, I still got ‘em. You back  in town?” Quetzalez sounded surprised, but not displeased.

“Yeah, for a few weeks. Whether I want to be or not,” I muttered. “Do me a favor. Don’t tell anyone I’m here.”

There was a pause on the far end of the line and then: “Well, no one’ll hear it from me. I’m up Glencoe right now, drove your mom up for a wedding at the Gardens. I can message you when I’m back your way. Where you stayin’?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” I said. “Right now, I just gotta get into my storage unit to stash a bunch of gear.”

“Ahh,” Quetzalez said. “I’ll let you know when I’m headed your way. Just sit tight.”

As if I had any fucking choice.

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“Don’t call me son.”

“Put your drawers back on,” a TSA official said, reaching for me with blue latex gloves. I knocked his hand away.

“Fuck off.”

It was just a matter of time before they arrested me now. With my jeans around my ankles, I couldn’t run anywhere if I’d wanted to, and I was too aggressively hungover to want to.

“Take a picture, it’ll fucking last longer,” I snarled to a woman nearby who was wearing a scandalized expression and covering her toddler’s eyes. I was, after all, standing in the security line at the Denver airport wearing nothing but a pair of sunglasses. Anybody who wasn’t busy covering their kids’ eyes was taking a picture on their ubiquitous camera phones. No way it wasn’t ending up on Facebook.

I wondered how I must look to the soft, normal eyes of the soft, normal people around me, six foot two and every inch looking like the aging punk wannabe I was: blue-haired, covered in tattoos, wiry and feral and three years past his expiration date.

I was getting too old for this shit. Thirty years old was too old for this shit, and I’d been thirty for a good four (… five?) days now. It was all pretty much the same day repeated over and over: I’d wake up, remember I was thirty, and spend the rest of the day trying to forget it. I should have gone into legend tragically young at twenty-seven, cutting short my own potential with drugs and alcohol and, if necessary, a shotgun. But it was too late for that now; now I was thirty. Suicide wasn’t going to turn me into a legend; it would just make me another loser who died trying.

My cell phone rang. I could hear it somewhere in the depths of the tub beneath my shoes and my jacket and my belt and everything else I’d obediently handed over. I reached for it and pressed it to my ear.


“Hey—is this Damen? Damen Warner?” a voice on the far end of the line asked.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“This is Houston with C3 Presents.”

Did I know a Houston? I couldn’t remember.

“Cool. Talk fast, I’m about to get arrested,” I told him.

“You wanna play Lollapalooza?”

“Sorry dude, what? Say again. I thought you just asked if I wanted to play Lollapalooza.”

“I did.”

“You’re funny.” I wasn’t in the mood for this. “Fucking hiLAIRious, Houston. I’m being Punk’d, right?” I glanced around for Ashton Kutcher’s asshole face. “You know we just got kicked off our own tour, right?” It was why we were in the airport in the first place: flying home in disgrace, me and my four bad-mannered bandmates slinking back to Los Angeles to lick our wounds.

“I’m serious,” the voice managed to sound serious. “We have an opening.”

“What day?”

“Saturday. In the afternoon.”

“What stage?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, it fucking matters,” I snapped, dodging the groping hands of TSA agents and the uncompromising eyes of disapproving bystanders. “You banish us to Perry tent, and they’ll laugh us off the stage: we’re a metal band, not some sixteen-year-old playing dubstep from a MacBook.”

“It’s not Perry stage. Trust me; I’m aware of your sound. We have an artist that’s threatening to walk, and we need someone… local.” I could hear him mentally cross out the word desperate. We were desperate, alright, and Houston knew it: everybody knew it. Our label had dropped us, our manager had gone missing, and our agent wasn’t returning my calls. We were deader than rock and roll.

“Yeah, well, Houston we got a problem: we’re not local. We’re in Denver right now.”

“But you’re all from Chicago, right? Got people there? Family? Pay ‘em a visit for a few weeks.”

“Hard pass.”

“Look, you wanna play Lollapalooza or not?” Houston sounded annoyed; like he hadn’t expected this to be a hard sell.

“Of course I fucking want it,” I said.

“Then get to Chicago. Have your people call me when you get there—”

The officers jerked the phone out of my hand, killing the call. They flanked me on both sides, grabbing a hold of my arms in a firm grip. They let me pull up my pants before putting the handcuffs on, then marched me out of the terminal into the brilliant Colorado sunshine. Depression settled over me like the haze of smoke hanging in the air from the distant wildfires: I was finally going to have to give up and go home like the prodigal fucking son.


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