Work Header

Stop, Hey What's That Sound

Work Text:

Bangor, Maine, USA

Larry was feeling pretty good. A little guilty, too, over feeling good when Wayne Stukey had died a month ago, and right on the heels of their big break in the form of Ramsey Flash, agent-manager extraordinaire. But a couple reds from Dewey the Deck stifled the worst prickings of guilt, and after that he needed a couple uppers to balance out the reds, plus just a touch of coke to even it all out, and then he was back to pretty good.

That month had felt like forever, anyway. From bars to contracts to radio to hit single to platinum single to superstardom and the Tattered Remnants’ planned US tour expanded to a world tour. It felt like Wayne had died ages ago. They hadn’t been that close, really, and their last conversation (like biting on tin foil) hadn't endeared him to Larry. And Wayne had died doing what he loved, hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. Bad luck, a slip of the foot. (A lurch of the stomach, horrified realization, had Wayne had time to look down?) At least it had been quick.

But the concert had been a blast. Larry had absorbed the energy from the crowd as he’d played, like a hit of coke mixed with a little too much speed. He was high and jangling, edgy. It hadn’t surprised him when a fight had broken out in the audience, or when he was told backstage that a couple fans had been taken to the hospital.

“Let’s send them a signed poster,” Barry suggested.

Larry nodded absently. He was watching Flash move through the crowd, glad-handing the oddest people. Larry had never known an agent who didn’t rank people on a scale of money and power, and ignore anyone who fell below the “could help the band” line. But there Flash was, in earnest conversation with some old hayseed about veterinary bills, of all unlikely things.

“Vets are bloodsuckers,” Flash was saying. “All those shots—are they really necessary?”

“Necessary to line their pockets,” the hayseed replied, and they both laughed.

The Bangor rabies outbreak occurred three months later. An average of two people die of rabies in America every year, so an outbreak that killed twenty-seven people in a single state—eight of the disease itself, and nineteen mauled to death by infected dogs—would normally have been headline news. But by then so much else was happening that it only made the local papers. Larry never heard about it.


Detroit, Michigan, USA

After a fan knifed another to death at their Pittsburgh show, Ramsey Flash fired the security team and hired a biker gang—excuse me, a motorcycle club—to take their place. The Chaos Crows were a set of hulking, dead-eyed thugs that Larry reluctantly agreed would be good for intimidating belligerent fans out of starting anything. Al and Johnny sided with him, and so it was a done deal over Barry Grieg’s objections. Flash sent the Chaos Crows out in advance of the Detroit show, to case the venue for signs of trouble.

The show itself was completely peaceful. The bodies of three members of a rival biker gang, the Iron Slayers, were never found. The remaining Slayers blamed a local gang, the Vultures, and set off a gang war that was to claim the lives of most of both gangs, plus three innocent bystanders, over the course of the next two months.


Nashville, Tennessee, USA

The show was going great until the Chaos Crows went to break up a fight in the audience, and the fight became a riot. Flash and the Chaos Crows who weren’t busy brawling hustled the Tattered Remnants to safety, and then on to their plane.

Their plane. The Tattered Remnants had their very own plane. Look, Ma, top of the world!

Larry looked out the window to distract himself from thoughts of his mother, who had been decidedly ambivalent about his success. Fire bloomed in the darkness. He felt a presence behind him, and looked around to see Flash watching over his shoulder. Larry wanted him to go away, but reflected flames burned in Flash’s dark eyes and something told Larry it would not be a wise idea to tell the man who’d made his career to get lost, like he was a gofer or a groupie.

It occurred to Larry that he didn’t know a thing about Flash. His real name, for instance, or if Flash actually was his real name. How he was connected with the Chaos Crows—no, maybe Larry didn’t want to know that. But a good long story about something slightly more innocent would be just the thing for getting his mind off what was happening below.

“How’d you get into the music business?” Larry asked.

Flash frowned slightly. “Well, I was… I must have… You know, I really don’t remember. I suppose I was born into it.”

Weird answer. If Flash had been born into it like June Carter Cash, he’d know. Larry pushed down the window shade and waved his hand to summon a drink.

After they landed, he learned that someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at a gas station. The resulting fire burned down one-quarter of Nashville, including the Grand Ole Opry House.

Barry Grieg got in a confrontation with Flash, shouting that it was the Chaos Crows’ fault and they had to be fired. Larry agreed with him, but said nothing. He, like Al and Johnny, stood off to the side and just watched.

“We need the Crows,” Flash said.

“Why?” Barry demanded. “Exactly what do they do that can’t be done by professional security that won’t start fucking riots?”

“We need them,” Flash repeated. He put both his hands on Barry’s shoulders and leaned in close, whispering something in his ear. It was too soft to hear, and his face was shadowed. Barry gave a shudder, then walked off in silence.

That was last time anyone said anything about firing the Chaos Crows.

Later that night, Barry went to Dewey the Deck (you know you're a success in the music world when your drug dealer gets a seat on your plane) and asked for heroin. The Deck didn’t deal in it, but one of the Chaos Crows knew a guy.


Miami, Florida, USA

Eleven minutes after their plane took off from the Miami International Airport, two passenger planes collided in mid-air. Everyone onboard both planes—258 people on one, and 412 on the other—was killed.


Boulder, Colorado, USA

Larry first heard about the Fifth Horseman in Boulder. A giggling groupie whose lungs had enough suction power to be licensed to Hoover told him about it when her mouth wasn’t otherwise occupied.

“They say every city you play at gets hits by a disaster,” she said. But she didn’t seem bothered one bit. Excited, if anything. “Like the tornado at Oklahoma City and the plane crash over Miami and the measles outbreak in Chicago. They say the Tattered Remnants are the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.”

Larry hadn’t heard about any measles outbreak. Uneasy, he heard his voice come out harsh and sneering. “What, so there’s war, plague, famine, death, and… music?”

But the groupie dove back down for a second helping, and he never got an answer.

Sure, there was a horrible multi-vehicle fire that hit the news the day after they flew out, but Larry only heard about it because he obtained the Boulder paper specifically to calm—or feed—his paranoia. And yeah, it was an especially bad accident, involving a tanker truck of gasoline that ruptured, caught fire, and killed seventeen people, but crashes happen.

The blaze consumed all clues as to the cause of the accident, including the cassette tape of Pocket Savior that the tanker truck’s driver had dropped on the floor, then leaned over to pick up.


Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

It wasn’t a great show. Barry Grieg nodded off in the middle of a song, and the audience noticed and booed him. He woke up, panicked, and Al had to tell him where he was and what song they were playing.

After the show, Larry and Al and Johnny met in Larry’s hotel room.

“I’ll talk to him,” said Al. “Tell him he needs to stay off the dope before performances.”

“He always used to say he’d never use a needle,” said Johnny.

“Yeah, every junkie says that,” said Larry. Then, thinking about every junkie he’d ever known and what consummate professionals they'd all been, he said, “We could always replace him.”

Johnny and Al stared at him like he’d said something shocking, and Al said again, “I’ll talk to him.”

Like that ever made a difference to a junkie.

Larry kicked them out so he could get some sleep, but it didn’t come. He finally gave up and turned on the TV, just in time to catch a news report about some asshole in New Jersey who’d slaughtered a family and wrote “I dig my man” on the wall in blood.

“Fucking Jersey,” said Larry, and turned it off again.


Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Lloyd Henreid and Poke Freeman met at the concert the Tattered Remnants played in Phoenix. The rest, they say, is history.


Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

By the time the Tattered Remnants played Las Vegas, the Fifth Horseman thing had gone from an uneasy joke to a kind of cult. Some of the fans started showing up in hand-lettered Fifth Horseman T-shirts or holding up signs illustrated with five horsemen or chanting “War! Plague! Famine! Death! REMNANTS!”

Larry always seemed to be the one who got drawn on the horse, which he told himself was flattering, since it proved that he was the face of the band. But he didn’t like the looks of those fans. Their faces all seemed the same, regardless of race or age or gender. They had a look of cruel eagerness, like a child doing sadistic “scientific experiments” on ants, then protesting that they only wanted to see what would happen. Sure. Tell that to the ants.

It was eerie how disaster seemed to follow the band, no matter how often he told himself that disasters happen every day, and people saw patterns if they looked hard enough for them. And with the exception of some Chaos Crows-related incidents, none of them had anything to do with the Tattered Remnants. It made no sense to link them together.

In Las Vegas, for instance, the nightclub where they’d played burned down, killing eighty-nine people, at its very next show. It turned out that a janitor had mopped down the floors with a flammable chemical that had been mistakenly stored with the disinfectant, or put in the bottle of disinfectant, or something like that; Larry didn’t follow the story closely enough to know exactly what people decided had happened.

Anyway, it wasn’t something the Remnants possibly could have caused. At least, technically one of them could have done it, but why in the world would they? And it wasn’t as if any of them could have caused any of the other incidents.

If Larry could just get the perfect balance of coke and pills and booze and sex, he’d stop seeing patterns that weren’t there.


Los Angeles, California, USA

One of the Chaos Crows brought a live cobra to an outdoor show in the desert. It was later explained, though not by him, that he had thought it had been de-fanged.

The cobra had not been de-fanged. It bit him, the Chaos Crow who tried to grab it, and an audience member before slithering away, never to be seen again by any human being. It was, however, the last sight seen by a number of small desert animals.

None of the Tattered Remnants ever heard about this. Ramsey Flash was very good at covering up small accidents.


Seattle, Washington, USA

Barry Grieg overdosed after the concert. Flash found him in the bathroom of his hotel room the next morning, and broke the news to the rest of the band. Al cried. Johnny looked stunned.

Larry couldn’t help thinking, Al would’ve fought and fought if I’d tried to replace him. This makes it a lot easier.

He hated himself for that being his first thought, instead of being shocked or sad. And he was sad. But not shocked. The way Barry had been hitting the needle, it was bound to have happened sooner or later.

“Barry would want us to go on,” said Flash. “He’d hate it if the Tattered Remnants ended because of him.”

And that was true, probably, maybe, but Larry saw something in Flash’s expression, some twitch of his lips, that made Larry think he wasn’t the only one who was maybe not entirely heartbroken over this turn of events.

“I know a brilliant bass player,” said Flash.

Of course you do, Larry thought. He won’t do junk and he will play well, and he’ll have that ant-torturer gleam in his eye.


London, England

Dean Albright, their new bass player, met up with them in London. He was everything Larry had expected, but maybe that was okay. Maybe the curse or coincidence that was following them wouldn’t survive a trip overseas.

In a misguided attempt to connect with the London crowd, Dean shouted a cheer for a football team. Larry had only vaguely been aware of the existence of football hooligans, but apparently they made up the majority of their English fanbase. A brawl immediately broke out, resulting in multiple hospitalizations and four deaths.

On the news that night, the “I dig my man” killer struck again, this time in Long Island. American politicians were making noises about banning the single.

Larry took a handful of downers. He didn’t trust the stuff the Chaos Crows supplied, but the Deck always came through.


Pamplona, Spain

Larry expected an unusual number of people to be gored after the Tattered Remnants played Pamplona right before the running of the bulls.

He did not expect the wooden barricades to break, the bulls to rampage through the city, and for two hundred and forty-nine people to be crushed to death in the ensuing panic.


Berlin, Germany

The “I dig my man” killer was still at large and still killing, but had moved on from families to pretty young women living alone.

An American Senate vote to ban the sale of Tattered Remnants records was sparking riots across the country.

Some of the sausages sold outside the Berlin concert hall were infected with e. coli, hospitalizing ninety-six and killing twelve.

Al and Johnny came to Larry’s room that night. Al was near hysteria, raving that Flash was evil and the Fifth Horseman fans were right.

Larry was exhausted and couldn’t get his upper-downer-coke-booze balance right and he’d eaten a sausage and worried that it might have been one of those sausages. He snapped, “What do you want to do about it?”

“Cancel the tour,” said Al.

“You gonna tell Flash that?” Johnny asked.

Al backed up, as if he thought Johnny was going to grab him and frog-march him straight to Flash’s room. “I thought… Maybe if we all just left…”

“If you want to leave, you can leave,” Larry said. “We can find a replacement.”

“But everything will keep happening if you keep playing!” Al shouted. “All the death—the riots—the plane crash in Miami, my God—”

“This is crazy,” Larry said. “How could we cause two planes we weren’t even on to collide?”

“I don’t know,” said Al. “But if we stop touring, maybe it’ll stop happening.”

For a moment, everything came into focus. It was crazy, but so was everything that had been happening. And why had he wanted to succeed, anyway? He’d wanted money, fame, adoration, and to play his own songs. He’d gotten all that. Was it enough, to have had it for a while? Canceling the tour would get him sued to hell and back. It might wreck his entire career. It would make Flash angry, and some deep instinctual part of Larry knew that would be a very, very bad idea. But if Al was right…

Larry was abruptly drenched in cold sweat. The room swung around him, his stomach lurched, and he knew he’d gotten one of the bad sausages. He rushed for the bathroom, and barely made it.

He spent the night praying to the porcelain throne, and when he finally managed to leave the bathroom, weak and shaky and clammy, he found that Al had gotten on a plane and gone home, and Flash had already arranged for a replacement.

Flash told him all about it with great good cheer. Winking, he said, “Al wasn’t really made for this life. Not like you, Larry. You were born for it!”

“Did Al tell you—” Larry began, and was hit with another wave of nausea. He was stuck in the bathroom for another hour, and he spent the intervals between throwing up lying on the cold floor and thinking.

They only had three shows left. One in Russia, one in India, and the grand finale back in New York City. One way or another, the tour would be over soon. And if Larry quit now, Flash would find a replacement for him, so there was no point.

It wasn’t like three more bad things happening would make that much difference, anyway.


Moscow, Soviet Union

Lou Salem, Al’s replacement, was a consummate professional with a Chaos Crows dead-eyed stare. Larry was utterly unsurprised.

Larry sleepwalked through the Moscow show, drugged to the gills with everything Dewey and a doctor and a Chaos Crow could give him to keep him upright and more-or-less able to perform. In a haze, he heard that the Chaos Crows had intercepted an intruder backstage and thrown him out, which Larry supposed probably meant killed him if the incident was worth being discussed.

It did indeed mean killed. And the gentleman in question was not an intruder, but a very highly placed politician who had wanted an autograph for his son. The buzz was that it might cause an international incident.

Two more shows, Larry thought, and gulped down a handful of pills.


New Delhi, India

The show went fine. Better than fine. Larry was so glad to be closing in on the end that he sang with an enthusiasm he hadn’t felt since the tour had begun. The audience responded with wild glee. And nothing exploded or caught fire, no one dropped dead, and the Chaos Crows managed not to murder anyone.

Larry was feeling pretty good until Flash swooped in, along with the Chaos Crows, to hustle the tattered remnants of the Tattered Remnants into a van in double-quick time.

“What is it this time?” Larry asked. “End of the world?”

Flash turned on the radio, fiddling with it till he got an English station. As Larry listened, he felt abruptly very sober for the first time in months.

The Remnant riots, as they were called, had spread across America and taken on a life of their own. Half the country was in flames.

Tensions between America and the Soviet Union, long-standing but spurred by the Moscow murder, had reached a level where there was a 50-50 chance of thermonuclear war.

A worker at an Indian nuclear power plant had been refused leave to attend the Tattered Remnants concert. He’d given his brother his ID and instructions, and sent him to work in his stead. The plant had hired a number of new workers recently, and no one who’d interacted with the brother had noticed the switch. The plant was now going critical, with a cloud of radiation likely to spread as far as Australia.

One good thing, at least, Larry thought. There's no way in hell we're playing New York after this.


New York City, New York, USA

The concert had been advertised as the triumphant return to the US for a final show in that city of cities, New York, the Big Apple—a nickname that always made Larry picture a worm coiled around its core. Some triumph. The Fifth Horseman returns to Hell.

He’d said nothing. Sure, the concert would never happen, but he’d get a plane trip home out of it. He could take his money and go home to his mother. By then he was so scared and desperate that he wasn’t even ashamed to admit that it was because it would make him feel safe, even if nowhere was safe now.

But the concert did go on. Larry was expecting it to be canceled right up to the point when his limousine dropped him off backstage. He was still waiting for the announcement when he spotted Flash snapping his fingers, and a pair of Chaos Crows strong-arming the last person Larry would have ever expected to turn up backstage at a Tattered Remnants concert.

Mr. Freeman from his mother’s decaying brownstone was struggling in their grip, his bald head shining in the overhead lights and his usual expression of self-righteous indignation carving deep grooves in his face.

“Hey, hey, leave him alone. He’s my mother’s neighbor…” Larry’s voice trailed off. He knew, he knew something had happened to her. And his first thought, which was followed by a shame that nearly overwhelmed his waiting grief and horror, was Guess the show's canceled now.

He listened numbly to Mr. Freeman’s description of finding Alice Underwood’s body, of what had been done to it, and of the writing on the wall.

“It said ‘I dig my man,’ didn’t it,” Larry said flatly. “Didn’t it.”

Mr. Freeman nodded.

Ramsey Flash had the strangest expression. He was never worried, he was always confident and in control, but he looked almost… panicked. As if for the first time, after the impending war, after the nuclear meltdown, after everything, only now were things spinning out of his control.

His fingers dug into Larry’s arm. Larry instinctively jerked away. They were cold, like he’d been tickling trout out of a frozen river. “She’d want the show to go on, Larry. You know she was always so proud of your career.”

“I don’t know that,” Larry said. He finally managed to extract his forearm from Flash’s grip, but he could still feel the prints of his fingers, so cold that they burned. If he peeled off his jacket, he thought he’d find lines of frostbite.

“Johnny will be so disappointed,” Flash said. “And the audience is wound up, with everything that’s been happening. This might be the last concert anyone will get to go to in quite a while. If you cancel it, they'll riot.”

Larry had no doubt about that. Any excuse for a riot, nowadays.

Flash was pressing pills into his hand. “These will make it easier.”

But Larry’s fingers were cold, so cold that they’d gone numb. The pills fell to the floor and rolled away. Larry wanted to get away, so much that he thought of dropping down on his knees before Flash and scooping them up. But he had another means of escape, and he took it, stumbling onstage.

He was early. The rest of the Tattered Remnants made hurried entrances, and the lights were a beat late in changing.

Larry stepped forward, mike in hand. He could feel the pulse of the crowd, a barely restrained stew of rage and despair and defiance and manic energy. If he canceled the concert, they’d probably rush the stage and rip him to shreds. If he sang... something would happen. That, he knew in his bones.

What difference would it make, anyway? What could possibly happen that was worse than what had already happened?

Larry didn’t know. But he did know this: it was the last stop of the tour, the climax, the finale. And you always save the best for last.

Ramsey Flash was waiting in the wings, his face shadowed except for the white shine of his teeth. He was smiling. No, he was grinning.

Larry was probably out of his mind on grief and exhaustion and drugs to imagine that his manager extraordinaire had managed the end of the world, with the end of Alice Underwood thrown in as a special prize at the bottom of the cereal box.

But that grin. That fucking grin. What did the concert matter now? What did money and fame matter? Sure, the fans were partying like it was the end of the world, drowning their terror in a wall of sound. But Flash looked genuinely happy. What sort of person could be happy now?

“No person.” Larry hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud till the mike picked up his murmur. Then, his voice gaining in confidence, he said, “You’re not a person at all! Al knew your name. And I know it too, now.”

The white gleam vanished as Flash stopped grinning.

Larry’s voice rang out, as strong as it had ever been, drawing the words from boyhood memory and the truth that he supposed he’d always known. “Your name is Legion!”

A chambray shirt and a pair of blue jeans fell on top of two battered cowboy boots.

Flash was gone. But his works remained.

The crowd seemed to sway, murmuring like a restless ocean. Dean and Lou had taken off—not vanished, but slunk offstage to God knows where. Johnny was watching him like he was waiting for a cue. The Chaos Crows looked uncertain, hands hovering between their weapons and the air, like soldiers realizing that their general had up and left them.

It was probably too late to do anything. The time to have acted was months ago, in Los Angeles or Maine. Or maybe the only chance they'd ever had was to have never signed that damned contract.

Larry could taste his own fear, sharp and metallic in his mouth. Like biting down on tin foil.

And beneath the tin foil was steel, cold and slick and unyielding. Strong.

Larry stepped to the edge of the stage and sat down, dangling his legs like a boy on a fence. A snatch of music ran through his head: There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…

Raising the mike to his lips, he said, “Let me tell you what’s been going on.”