Andrew Packer’s The Band
Andrew Packer, the former guitarist for Gypsyhawk, is writing a serialized novel for GSA at present, about a fictionalized band and its travails. The first installment should be read before reading the following — the second chapter of Andrew’s “The Band.”
The van drove all night. Though the band had just experienced something of a life-changing event not one of them had said a word about it. Leo, Peter, Zack, and Roy were all dealing with it in their own ways: Leo had his hash pipe; Zack kept the lid off of his whiskey bottle; Roy slept; Peter drove until he ran out of cocaine. He pulled over and told Zack it was his turn to drive. You can drink in the van, but if your turn to drive comes up you better fucking well can. Zack was Irish. He could drive.
Leo was still sitting in the front navigating, always the vigilant one in the band. He was as high as a giant sequoia, but he wanted to keep his eye on the road. It could no longer be trusted.
“Where are we going?” asked Zack.
“Just keep driving,” responded Leo.
Dawn was appearing beyond the forest as a light bruise on the morning sky. They were just outside Pueblo, Colorado on their way to Denver, a city they knew well and weren’t expecting the kind of problems they experienced the night before.
“What do you think that was in the theater?” asked Zack.
“I don’t know,” said Leo. His stare slowly wandered back and forth from the side mirror to the road ahead. “We’ll talk about it when everyone’s awake.”
“Ok,” said Zack. “But I got to take a shit soon.”
“Stop at the next rest stop.”
Zack continued driving with nothing on the radio. The engine hummed in synch with the ups and downs and bends of the road ahead of him. It was a double yellow line winding on smooth black asphalt with dark green forest looming on all sides obstructing the view behind every turn. The skies were grey and the sun was dim, but it was there. It soon started to break through the cracks in the trees as an oppressive pink glare. Right about then is when Zack saw a sign for the rest stop.
“It’s a mile ahead,” Leo reassured. “Go ahead and pull over there.”
Zack drove the van on trying to stay out of the light. It reminded him of the crowd in the theater. He had never seen anyone burned alive before. Flames were everywhere. The screams penetrated a part of him he was never knew existed. One second he was lost in the banality of the maze and the next he had purpose: flight. A switch was hit and he was off toward the exit like a ruby lightning bolt. His adrenaline had been rushing through him, of course, but how could he have run that fast? If he knew he was capable of that he wouldn’t have let his size keep him off the football team and on a drum throne instead.
Once Zack parked the van he jumped out and left the engine running to ease her down and he began running again, though, not quite like the night before, as much as he felt he needed to this time.
The first stall was unoccupied so that’s the one he took. He plopped down sure of purpose ready to do what he drove all this way to do: play Fruit Ninja. He touched his pocket and realized he left his phone plugged into the charger of the van. Rule #2 of the road is never leave your phone behind, lest you disappear and can’t be found. Zack was the personification of why this rule needed to be enforced. But it was too late to turn back. He shrugged his shoulders and went about his business.
He looked around the stall to pass the time reading scribbles, carvings, and tags all over its inner walls. The first one to catch is his eye read Fuck Obama. Written just below it in blue was Your Mom Is Obama. Next, to Zack’s left was Slayer Rulez. Zack nodded in agreement.
There’s wisdom in these walls, he thought to himself.
He heard the door to the restroom open and the sounds of kids laughing and yelling and making fun of one another as they came in. Zack thought of family vacations he used to take as a kid. Driving around the Midwest with his mom, dad, and two sisters in their Chevy Astrovan. It might have been why he wanted to be in a touring band in the first place. Most kids hate being stuck for hours at a time with their families on road trips, but Zack always loved the road, especially with people he cared about.
He had found that feeling with this band. Despite all their problems and daily bouts of drama, they were still a family. They had each other’s backs, always, no matter what. Being out there with them helped keep that old wonder he had when he was young, and the fact that he was still doing it in a van made it all the better. Zack was the youngest member of the band and hadn’t been doing it nearly as long as the other guys. He wondered if he would always retain that love for the road, if he could keep doing this into his 30’s and 40’s and beyond. Leo, Peter, and Roy all still seemed to love it. Well, Leo and Peter, at least. Roy didn’t care much for the drives, scenic or not. Zack thought about that one time they were driving through…
Out of nowhere a boy of about 10 stuck his head underneath the stall and looked Zack squarely in the eye. Both boy and Zack’s eyes grew as big as they could. The kid did stare longer than anyone should, but he soon pulled his head back out. Zack was so taken aback there were no words that could come out of his mouth. The kid, however, had something to share with his companions.
“There’s a BIG kid in there!” he shouted with glee. “And he’s taking a POO!”
All the kids started laughing. “Eww, gross!” one of them roared. They all kept shouting and laughing at each other in a jumbled barrage of excitement Zack couldn’t extrapolate much from except awesome enjoyment of life. He couldn’t help but crack up, too.
Once Zack got all the laughs out of his system he looked up and noticed a more intricate and cryptic tag directly in front of him. Where Are You, it said. Zack heard the words as a whisper in his head. Was that a statement? These walls could be just as creepy as they could sage, Zack knew, and normally he would have laughed it off, but, still a bit drunk, and deprived of sleep, he was on edge. That’s when he heard one of the kids laugh again and turn off the lights as they all went out the door.
“Fucking kids!” Zack shouted, completely surrounded in darkness. “I haven’t even wiped yet!”
Zack was pissed but he figured if he waited a little longer one of the other guys would eventually come. They must have needed the facilities as well. It had been a long drive, after all.
A minute passed. No one entered.
Waiting, and nothing.
Waiting, still nothing.
“God damn it,” Zack muttered. “ROY!!”
The rest of the band was probably in the parking lot munching on cigarettes. They were already talking about what happened at the theater last night, he thought. Leo said they would wait until they were all together, but it wouldn’t be the first time they decided to have an important conversation about their situation without Zack.
He was shit out of luck. He was going to have to flounder his way out of this mess in the pitch black by himself. He stood, pulled up his pants, fumbled with his belt, and turned to find the toilet lever. He couldn’t see shit. He leaned forward and batted his hand about where he thought the lever might be. Nothing. His frustration grew and grew. He heard what sounded like the latch to his stall slowly slide out. The hairs on his neck rose and Zack stopped moving.
he thought to himself.
He listened for any more sounds. Footsteps, the creek of the door, anything. There was nothing. He slowly raised himself back up and turned around. His instinct was to bolt out the door and hope as he ran that the next thing he felt was the handle for the exit and plow through it.
But he couldn’t move. He was scared. His heart began to move faster. He reached his hand out slowly to find the latch, his heart thumping painfully in his throat.
It was nothing, he thought. What you heard was probably something in the ducts. How could this open on it’s own? Stop being a bitch.
Zack closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself. He raised his hand forward and pushed the door expecting the latch to catch it. It didn’t.
As the door slowly creaked open he had a fool’s hope that he might see some light, but of course there was nothing. It was dark black all around him. He took a step forward as quietly as he could. His boot made a loud clicking sound on the tile anyway.
Shit! Softer, Zack. His imagination was really beginning to get away from him.
As he eased himself forward he thought that maybe he should call for the guys again. He opened his mouth, but he couldn’t bring himself to shout anything.
NEVER leave your phone in the van. Absolutely God damn, right.
Zack slowly continued toward where he thought the door was. He kept one hand out to feel around the bathroom. Boot by boot he moved as carefully as he could. He dared not make any sound louder than he had to.
He couldn’t stand not knowing what was around him. He kept moving. Finally, he hit what felt like wood that had to be the door. He scraped his hand along it, trying to find the handle. When he thought he had his fingers on it he heard in his head, again, Where Are You.
In an immediate burst of fear he leapt backwards onto the ground and hit his head on the tile. A flash of light went off inside his head. It hurt like hell, but he immediately jumped back up, still in the dark, and ran forward straight for the door, but there was no wood there this time, no handle. Nothing. Only tile. Suddenly he heard the laughter of kids echoing through the bathroom.
Zack froze. He slowly turned his head around and looked up in each direction that the laughs were coming from, but he still couldn’t see anything. The laughter slowly diminished. He clawed his fingers against the wall but tile is all he could find. There was definitely no door. He dropped onto his chest to try and find the smallest crack of light but there was nothing. He jumped back up and started banging on the walls.
“LEEEOOOOO!!” he screamed. “PEEETTTEERRRRR!!!!” He continued to beat his hands, palms first, then fists, until it hurt so bad he couldn’t bare the pain. All he could hear was his own panting. And then the laughter of children again. Before it had sounded like it was coming from within the walls. Now it was coming from directly behind him.
What the fuck IS this????
He was so scared he felt like crying. But there was no crying on tour. That was another rule, although Zack wasn’t sure it was ever meant to be taken literally.
“What do you do, Zack?” he whispered to himself. “What do you do??” Zack was empty. He couldn’t think of anything. He had no idea what to do. He was helpless. He had to think outside of the box.
What would John Bonham do?
Zack reached to his back pocket. He may forget the band’s rules now and again, but he never forgot his own. He pulled the pint of Jim Beam from his rear, tore off the cap, devoured the rest of his bottle, put the cap back on, and let it fall from his grasp to shatter on the tile floor.
These turds know where I am now.
He exhaled heavily, took a step forward, and then remembered: the light switch. He flipped back around and ran to where the door once was. He felt around to the left this time, both his hands flailing aimlessly in the dark. He dropped to his knees and pressed both palms against the wall and slowly raised them up while moving them side-to-side in a feral panic. Nothing. He moved a step to the left and did it again. This time his hand did hit something.
A switch. He flicked it.
He heard the buzzing of the fluorescent lights as they came back on. They were brighter than he remembered, like an emergency room. And they were flickering now. His mind flashed with what might be behind him. The hair on the back of his neck rose again. He was petrified. He had light now, but that meant that he could see what was around him. That only caused more discomfort.
He felt eyes on him as he turned. His head dripped slowly with sweat. He moved slowly to the right seeing that, indeed, there was no more door. Only tile where it was. As he kept moving his head he saw the stalls, and all the dark, stained tiles surrounding them. His gaze narrowed and slowed. He sensed something truly horrible standing at the back of the restroom. He was terrified he might will it there on his own, but was even more concerned what would happen from behind if he didn’t confront it. As he moved his body following his eyes there was a flash in his head and the figures of four small boys and a woman cloaked in white were there, but only for that instant. There was actually nothing. He was alone.
As the lights above him fluttered and hummed Zack moved toward the other side of the restroom. It continued long and far, longer and farther than he remembered. He crept stealthily forward as if whatever it was didn’t already know he was there; the sound of the lights was unsettling enough. Drops fell from a faucet. He proceeded with what little courage he could scrounge together. The whiskey added some boldness, but not much.
His head darted to the left when all the stall doors flung open. He was ready for anything to leap out at him, but all that appeared was more of the children’s laughter, darker than before, and increasingly maniacal. He swallowed air into his stomach and kept moving, maintaining eye contact with each stall, alert, waiting.
The faucet continued to drip. Then faster. It finally got Zack’s attention when they all turned on and started gushing water. He saw it must have been scalding hot because steam was fuming from the sinks. Then the water turned brown and the restroom smelled more like shit than ever before. Horrible, putrid, sewage was spewing from the sinks faster than the drains could handle. The sinks filled up with hot stinking shit. And there was more laughter. Muffled, this time, as though it were coming from underwater.
Zack looked back at the toilets. Brown sludge started flowing up from out of their bowls over the top, down the sides, and splattering onto the floor. As the laughter got louder something else emerged from the bowl directly in front of him. It was wet, and round and rising. Then he saw that whatever it was, it had a face and the laughter didn’t sound like it was underwater anymore. It was the face he saw underneath the stall before, but there was no glee or wonder in it anymore, no more innocence or amusement. Now it was something horrible and it was completely covered in shit. Its eyes were sunken and black, collapsing back into its skull, brown offal spilling into the cavities. Its nose was shrewd and pointed, and its chin was extended outward expanding the mouth like a gaping, trembling siphon of doom.
The laughter was morphing into a shrieking, sucking sound, like tires stuck spinning furiously in the mud. The child was ferocious and hungry looking. As the brown sludge kept flowing over the top it continued on the floor straight for his feet. Then Zack saw that there were more heads coming out of other toilets.
He turned to run and got a flash of the white woman again. He popped back for a second then bolted towards the other side of the restroom with no clue of where he was going. There must be an exit somewhere. But the room just went on and on into a void of darkness, just like in the theater. He looked back at the sludge about to touch his feet. He’d take his chances with the dark.
Zack looked down as he ran. The sewage was catching up to him. It wasn’t much at first but it was outpacing him and more and more of it was coming. It filled up the floor of the restroom and was starting to engulf his feet.
He turned and looked behind him. Four kids, four horrendous little shit demons, slurping in sound, cackling with laughter, were running, and clinging to the ceiling, launching onto the stalls and the sinks and the walls like possessed brown toads chasing their prey. The children were gaining on him. He could smell all of their stenches compounded with the scent of his own fear, sweat, and desperation.
The end of the restroom was fixed at an impregnable distance, but the shit stream was reaching up over his ankles now. It was time to do what Bonham would do. It was time to make a stand.
He stopped in his tracks, slid on the soles of his boots, and crouched as one of the kids flew over his head. Its claws were stretched out and it was screaming something he wouldn’t soon forget. It found it’s footing when it landed and propelled itself right back into Zack’s rising knee.
The next child jumped from a few sinks back right toward Zack’s face but he bent all the way back and grabbed it by the wrists. He flung the turd goblin forward over himself into the darkness that was still there waiting for him.
Zack reached his left palm down into the muck to brace himself from falling all the way back to the ground. He pushed down on his palm and threw himself upward, still sliding on his toes, and swung himself around, his red hair flying up the peripheries of his face. He raised his fists and eyed the third doo doo baby with a determined and confident stare. The boy was running right at Zack, covered in feces, claws outstretched, and concave eye sockets staring straight into him. It smiled as it exploded for Zack’s face and Zack met its grin with a lightning fast left uppercut, propelling the kid up through the air, over a stall, and head first into a toilet, splashing sewage all over the place. The toilet flushed.
Zack slid to a stop. Where was the fourth boy? Zack scanned the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. He saw nothing. He swung himself around. Was it behind him? He saw nothing, just a slowing beige stream flowing past. There were more stalls, more sinks, the end of the tile, and nothing else. Zack caught his breath. He started gasping for air. He hadn’t realized that he hadn’t taken a breath for minutes. But he couldn’t relax yet. Somewhere, lost in the melee, was the fourth diaper stain. It was somewhere in there. Crawling, slithering it’s way toward Zack.
Then laughter. It was everywhere all at once. Louder than ever. Echoing off everything. It was so loud Zack covered his ears and closed his eyes. The rest room spun around him. Every bad feeling he’s ever had on the road blasted through him like layers of a forest obstructing the trajectory of an erupting volcano. Everything painful and intense about this life was set upon him as though someone was shoveling it into his head until his skull would crack. Something was trying to break him. The pain was so intense he wanted to let it snap him in two.
But he couldn’t. That was not going to happen.
He thought to himself:
Mellow is the man
Who knows what he’s been missing
Many Many men
Can’t see the open road
The world immediately stopped spinning and the restroom was silent. Every overflowing object that was deafening moments ago had stopped. He wanted to open his eyes, but when he tried he had a flash of his reflection in the mirror, alone, except for the stalls behind him that were filled with dozens of shit covered children and a women cloaked in white standing right behind him. He was lithified. He couldn’t move. All he could think of was terror, shit, and children. A Golgothan nursery.
Zack winced for a last time and opened his eyes. He was back in the original stall, the same yellowish lights welcoming him. He checked the floor. No shit ocean. He looked at his body for marks. Nothing. He scanned the inner sides of the stall and saw all the same graffiti. Except for the one in front of him. Where before there were those ominous words, now there was a black sticker with the band’s logo.
He stood, pulled up his pants, fumbled with his belt, and turned to find the toilet lever right in front of him. He triumphantly hit it and smiled to himself. He left the stall and exited the restroom.
But not before, Where Are You crashed through his head a last time.
Zack found the other guys in the parking lot next to the van. He ran right over to them.
“Dudes,” he said, pulling a cigarette from his pocket. “Where the fuck have you guys been?”
“What,” said Peter. “You need me to show you how to wipe front to back again?”
“I’m not going into the bathroom with you until you learn how to piss standing up without your pants around your ankles,” chuckled Roy.
“I was in there for, like, half an hour? What the fuck? You didn’t come check on me?”
Roy, Peter, and Leo looked at Zack like he just asked to put on a 311 CD.
“Check on you?” asked Leo, mockingly.
“I almost died in there! All these little kids came in, turned the lights off, left, and then came back through the toilets, and all this shit happened, and… what the fuck, I was in there for, like, a half hour, and you didn’t come to see what I was doing? After last night?!”
“Kids?” asked Peter.
“What kids?” said Roy.
Zack looked around. Theirs was the only vehicle in the parking lot. The sun was still struggling with the tree line just like when he had entered the restroom.
“You guys didn’t see a little kid run out here?”
“Dude, you’re the only person that’s gone in there since we’ve been here,” stated Roy.
“And you were only gone for, like, a minute,” insisted Leo. “So, shut the fuck up.”