Death-Rock Zombie Massacre
Even from the start, I had a feeling that this gig would be trouble. On the way to the show, our van broke down. That was the first problem. We all stood on the side of the road nursing cigarettes while Bones, resident skilled motorist and bassist extraordinaire, attempted to fix the hunk of rust. I fished a small watch with a broken black band out of the breast pocket of my fashionably torn leather jacket. Unless Bones got things going quickly, we’d be late.
“Goddamned piece of shit,” Bones muttered from under the hood. He straightened up, and the tips of his green Mohawk were just visible above the rust-scarred metal. This wasn’t good. Bones knew more about cars than any of us. If the “Reaper” van stumped him, we were fucked. No van means no gig. No gig means no money. That’s the way it works for small-time bands like ours. We can’t just sit back and let some suits push our album for us. Word of mouth is just about the only way to survive on this level, and lately, even that’s been rather spotty. A lot of critics, (and a lot of fans, too, for that matter) have been saying that the whole death-rock scene is dead. The fuck do they know? Sure, we may not be living like kings, but we get by. The scene is dead, my ass. Go listen to the Top 40, damn poseurs.
Another problem comes when you realize that in order to do these shows; a certain amount of capita is required. When you add up the costs of basic transportation and touring needs, we’re usually lucky if we can afford a round of beers to celebrate a decent show with. Therefore, to save vast amounts of overhead, certain areas become combined or neglected. The muffler gets reattached with a metal coat-hanger; we pray that the engine holds; and high school drop-outs turned bass players get to try their hand at automotive repair.
Bones poked his head around the corner. In the gathering dusk, the skull make-up he wore looked startlingly realistic. His eyes were lost in massive, black circles. For a second, it was like being in one of our beloved zombie films, the dapper, young hero and narrator confronting the first of the undead horrors. Cue cheesy music and shock close-up.
“Lurch, you stupid bastard, when’s the last time you put oil in?” Bones demanded.
Lurch was crouched by the side of the van. His cigarette was nearly down to the filter. He cursed under his breath, snuffed it on the blacktop and drew himself up to his full height. He strode past me in slow, stiff movements, and I caught a hint of sweat under his cheap, Dollar Store cologne. He and Bones disappeared under the hood.
I stared out at the passing cars. The vast majority of them slowed considerably to gawk at the freaks with their broken van, but no one stopped to offer help. That was fine. None of us expected anyone to stop for a group of three young men and a woman with spikes, mohawks, faces painted up like corpses, and the band name, “Reaper” spray painted in dripping-blood letters on the side of the van.
I turned to Christina, who was flipping the bird to an elderly couple who had stared for a second too long. Shock and revulsion registered briefly on the old woman’s face before her husband sped them away. I smiled and slipped an arm around her trim, little waist. Her attention went to me, and she returned the smile.
“Getting along with the locals?” I asked; grinning like the skull I was painted up to resemble. My make-up wasn’t quite as good as Bones’, but hey, who gives a fuck? I’m a guitarist, not Tom Savini.
“Hey, that old bag flipped me off first,” she responded and leaned forward to kiss me.
We parted and I was once again struck by her beauty. Even though most of her face was hidden beneath layers of liquid latex and stage blood, she was still hot. Of course, being the sick and twisted pervert that I am, the stirring in my groin might not have been in spite of her gory appearance, but because of it. Her raven-black hair spilled down around her milky shoulders, ending just above the swell of her breasts, which looked amazing in the low-cut top that she was wearing. She caught me checking her out and blushed slightly while caressing my upper arm.
Christina was something of a walking paradox. She looked tough-as-nails, and in truth, she was. However, there was also a very sweet, innocent side to her that she desperately tried to hide, much to my mingled confusion and excitement. Perhaps she felt like it would make her fit in more with us guys. Understandable. That may have been true for Bones and Lurch, but not for me. I loved the softer side of leather and spikes Christina. I put my hand to her cheek.
“What’s this? Christina, the queen of the dead is blushing?!”
She batted my hand away, almost catching me with a spiked bracelet. “Oh, fuck off, Riggs.”
I smiled devilishly. “The way that those two are going, I may just have time for that. Want to give me a hand?”
She laughed and gave me a playful fist to the gut. “Maybe later,” she said with a flat, uncertain tone. Her eyes however, begged to differ.
She leaned close and whispered breathily into my ear, “But only if you refer to me as Christina, Queen of the Dead.” She bit down gently on my earlobe, bringing a flash of shivers starting at the base of my spine. She winked.
I bowed deeply. “Yes, your majesty.”
A bead of stage blood had begun to run down into the corner of her mouth. She dabbed at it gently and felt as it smeared sideways.
“Oh, fuck,” she muttered and turned for the mirror in the van. I forced back a giggle. Women and their damn make-up.
I turned back to the highway and lit a fresh smoke. A dirty pick-up truck rolled slowly past, a man with a tattered baseball cap leaning out of the passenger’s window.
“Freak!” he called, as he and his friend drove off laughing. I was about to show my new redneck friend where he could stick it, when something beyond the road caught my eye. I struggled to see more clearly, but light was fading fast. Past the highway was a large field, wheat or something, which stretched on for about three hundred yards. Beyond that was a small town called Pembry. It was a dirty, little dive. Trailer park and a few bars. A veritable breeding ground for incest and hypocrisy.
The shapes in the field moved again. They seemed to be getting closer. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that a lifetime of playing death-rock music about zombies, reading comic books about zombies, and watching low-budget films about zombies can have a sort of effect on you. Pretty soon, you start seeing the warning signs of imminent zombie invasion everywhere. Point in fact: To pass the time at the burger joint where I worked, I fantasized constantly about where I would go and what I would do if a horde of shambling corpses suddenly decided that take-out at Mr. Happy Burger sounded nice. I was getting rather good at it.
First off, grab the baseball bat from behind the desk in the manager’s office and head for the freezer. Why not the back door, you ask? Trust me, I’ve memorized every word and image of Dawn of the Dead, and I know my shit.
Once in the freezer, it’s out through the delivery hatch in the back wall. With any luck, I’d have a clear dash of less than 20 yards to my car. If any corpses got in the way? Batter up!
The next part is easy: Start car, get Christina from our apartment, and head for the coast. From there, we jack a boat and live out the rest of our days fucking like bunnies on the beach of some small island.
Pretty good, huh? I know it’s not exactly genius or anything, but it sure made my time assembling Happy Burgers go a lot more quickly.
Anyhow, here I’d devoted all this time to planning every step of what I would do if I suddenly found myself amidst a zombie panic, and here I was, seeing my first, honest-to-God walking corpse, and you know what? I couldn’t fucking move. I’m not even sure I was breathing for those first few seconds. Of course, at the time, I couldn’t be sure that they were actually zombies. It was getting pretty dark, and I’ve been known to have one hell of an active imagination. So, at the behest of my rational mind, I began to discount it. The second bad feeling of the night, the second bad omen, and I chose to forget about it.
Lurch’s hand fell on my shoulder, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Hey, van’s ready, Riggs.”
Apparently, Lurch hadn’t seen the figures in the field, or it hadn’t struck him as odd, because he immediately turned and climbed into the back of the van with our gear.
I stood for a moment, still trying to shake off the creepers I had inflicted upon myself. Maybe they’re workers, I thought. Those Mexicans are all over here this time of year, looking for work in fields and shit like that. Yeah. But at night?
Just as my imagination was preparing to kick into high gear, most likely resulting in my loudly alerting my friends of the flesh-eaters slowly approaching, my fear was laid to rest. One of the dark figures waved to me. Relief washed in so quickly and fiercely that I thought I’d faint. I smiled and chided myself under my breath for being such a dick.
“Too bad,” I said to no one in particular. “Cause I’d be ready for you bastards.” I waved back and climbed into the van. I slipped an arm around Christina’s bare shoulders and rode the rest of the way to the club in relative silence.
The club, called The Graveyard on Wednesday nights and The Bounce every other night, was larger than any of us had expected. Apparently, Madison had a larger audience of goths, death-rockers, and punks than we had previously thought.
I made my way through the crowd towards the bar while the others were relaxing in a small room backstage. The air was heavy with the smell of hairspray and pretension, the two big hallmarks of the goth scene. I ordered four beers and fetched my wallet. A quick inspection gave more dismal results than I had hoped. Just as I was about to apologize for my lack of funds and head back empty handed, the barkeep, a fit young man in a black silk shirt, waved his hand dismissively.
“It’s on the house, man,” he said and pushed the beers across the Formica counter-top.
“No, I can’t,” I protested. I never was much for charity. It always seemed low, or something.
“This is the biggest crowd we’ve had in months. Drinks are on us tonight. Within reason, of course.” He smiled. Must make one hell of a bartender, I thought. This is the kind of guy you’d want pouring your drinks if you’d had a rough day. I thanked him several times and made my way backstage.
I passed out the beers to everyone except Bones, who was busy changing a string on his bass. I set his on the table next to him instead. Christina motioned for me, and I sat down on a ratty sofa next to her.
“How’s it look out there?” she asked.
“Well, the bartender said that this is the biggest draw they’ve had in months. I think this might be even bigger than the Chicago show.”
Bones looked up, his mouth agape. “No shit!” He set back to work on his bass with renewed vigor. Christina stood and went to the doorway, peering out.
She usually ended up getting nervous before a show, and it looked like this would be a big one. I quickly fell into my role of comforting and reassuring her like a man who’d done it thousands of times before. Sometimes, it felt like I had.
I stood behind her, rubbing her shoulders. “Come on, no big deal. Just like every other show, right?” I turned her to face me. Her eyes had gone big as dinner plates.
“Okay. What are we opening with?” I knew, of course; this was just a nice way to help get her mind back where it needed to be.
“Corpse Central,” she said mechanically.
“And then, Blood Moon, then Brain Feast, and Slaughterhouse.”
I lifted her chin to look her in the eye. “Hey. Everything’s fine.” I kissed
her forehead, realizing too late, that I’d probably smear her make-up. It left a
bloody kiss imprint, but I don’t think she noticed.
A cute employee clad in fishnets popped her head backstage and informed us that we could go on whenever we were ready. Christina sighed deeply, looking a bit calmer. Bones and Lurch stood and joined us near the door.
“Let’s do this,” Bones said with a grin.
The first few songs went off without a hitch. Our playing was tight and Christina growled and purred the vocals exquisitely. The crowd reacted by turning into a swirling mass of leather and lace, each dancer’s frantic efforts to be noticed only added to the overall effect. It was punk in essence. It was chaos.
“Thank you,” Christina spoke to the crowd between songs. “The next song we’re going to do is called, Slaughterhouse.”
There were mingled cheers as I picked through the opening notes, and the whole place (save for the usual group of über-goths in the back, who refused to show any emotion, lest they betray their air of superiority) went nuts when Lurch and Bones came in with the driving, punk back-beat.
Somewhere near the end of the song, I happened to notice the door of the club swing open, allowing a large group entrance. They pushed their way into the back of the crowd, and melded in. Late arrivals.
I winked at a cute girl near the stage and pulled some flashy notes on my guitar. Everything was so fucking great; the crowd’s enthusiasm was a nearly visible wave. Christina smiled at me during my solo, and I dropped my gaze to concentrate on the fret-board. As I was about to drop back into the chorus riff, the screaming began.
We stopped playing in mid-song to see what was going on. The crowd still writhed and thrashed as if to music that we couldn’t hear. I was curious, but I didn’t really think anything was wrong until I got a good look at one of the faces in the mess. It was a young man, of that I’m fairly sure, but his skin was a pallid gray, and his eyes were lost in a swirl of milky cataracts. He dove forward, and sank his teeth into the soft area where the shoulder meets the neck of the girl who I’d winked at. Christina always goes nuts when I kiss her there, I thought as the young man pulled his head back, taking a fist-sized hunk of flesh with it. Blood sprayed in an amazing arc over the crowd, a few drops landing on our foremost amps. And here I always thought that those amazing blood-fountains in the movies were an exaggeration.
Christina stared down at the blood and staggered backwards, as if afraid that it was coming for her. She looked at me in panic. I stared back at her in shock; no comforts to offer this time. In a moment of relative clarity, I realized that all that we knew, all that we’d seen about situations like this in film or comics weren’t going to do shit for us. We were screwed, plain and simple.
The things had torn through the vast majority of the crowd, and the door was now propped open by the weight of an unending flow of shambling corpses, filling the club to capacity.
Bones’ eyes darted around the room like a small, frightened child. In one quick motion, he dropped his bass and tried to break through. He didn’t get more than ten feet from the stage before he went down screaming below five or six of the things.
The screaming was beginning to die down, replaced by the maddening sound of chewing, and still we stood like statues on the stage, ignored by the zombie horde. Before us, the scene had become a true massacre. The strobe and multi-colored lights continued, illuminating heaps of gristle and quivering pink flesh that were once our fans. Near the back, several of the corpses had stopped and appeared to be watching us, waiting. One of them held a severed arm, still draped in black lace, and gnawed on it thoughtfully.
One of the figures approached the stage. Its face had been gashed hideously. On the right side, its entire cheek was gone, revealing white teeth stained with blood and a black substance that I don’t even dare guess at. We stood still. This was it. It wasn’t until the thing picked up the bass guitar and slung it on that I realized I had been staring at my old friend Bones. He paused a moment to adjust the strap, and then plucked the top string, the note reverberating through the room.
The zombie crowd suddenly stopped what they were doing and their attention went to the stage. Bones motioned at the microphone that Christina had dropped. A kind of terrified understanding dawned in her eyes and she bent to retrieve it. It squealed with momentary feedback. The crowd didn’t seem too upset. Her tear-filled eyes went back to Bones; questioning. He nodded to the crowd.
“Um…the next song is called…Zombie Massacre,” she whispered into the microphone. She was crying. Anger rose in me, and I stepped forward to go to her aid, but a cold hand on my arm stopped me. Bones shook his head in disapproval and pointed to my guitar. I glanced out at the crowd. Christ, there must have been almost a hundred of them. We didn’t have a choice. I nodded to Lurch, and we began to play.
The music seemed to flow into the dead bodies before us, infusing them with a great vitality that had not been present before. They began to dance, slowly at first, gradually turning into an all-out, balls-to-the-wall punk show.
By now, most of our fans had risen up to join the legion. One girl, who’d had both of her legs gnawed off just above the knee was trying to get up, but kept falling back into a pool of blood below. A man with one of the largest mohawks I’ve ever seen pushed forward, his fists flying in time with the music. One heavy, black engineer’s boot came down onto the head of the unfortunate leg-less girl. Her skull flattened slightly, and then caved in with a sickening crack that I heard even over the music. Her body still twitched in her efforts to get up and dance.
I stopped playing and turned to the side, where I threw up most of what I had eaten for lunch at the Country Kitchen on Route 51. I stayed that way for a few moments, hunched over, trying to catch my breath, the image of the girl’s head rupturing onto the dance floor like a rotten melon burned into my mind, when I noticed Bones glaring at me. I straightened and went on playing.
After we had gone through our intended set for the night, we started over again. After the second time, we went into a third. Fatigue was beginning to take its toll, and my fingers were going numb, but I kept playing. In the crowd, I noticed several couples sitting at the tables in the back. One of the fresh-dead girls and a gray, bloated guy in a dark suit were trying to make out, but his limp, pale tongue kept falling out onto the table. He picked it up and tried again.
I caught the eye of the bartender, or rather, what was left of him. He held a glass that overflowed with black blood and chunks of meat. He raised it in salute to me. Drinks are on us tonight, buddy.
After our fourth set, and into our fifth, I noticed Christina motioning to the door. She meant to make a break for it. How far did she think she’d make it? Ten feet? Twenty?
A thought struck me suddenly, and the laughing fit that came with it was so intense that I dropped to my knees, my guitar cracking onto the wood floor. I laughed until tears flowed down my face, cutting little paths through the corpse make-up I wore.
I un-strapped the guitar and threw it aside. Christina dropped her mike and backed away, her hand over her mouth. A flash of hands from the crowd caught hold of her skirt and she was gone.
Our undead fans rushed the stage. Somewhere behind me, Lurch was screaming in pain.
I laughed harder. Abruptly, I was cut off as Bones’ icy fingers tightened around my throat.
The thought occurred to me again, and my head filled with echoing laughter that my crushed larynx could no longer produce. It followed me down, spinning round in the growing dark. In the end, I guess the critics were right: The death-rock scene is dead!
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