Short Story: “Stage Fright” By C. A. Brown

With a soul-shuddering screech, the guitars kicked in. Not even pausing to draw breath, Skull almost crushed the mic in his hand and let rip: ‘Thundering steel, electric eel. Skies darken, rise the electro-kraken!

Below him, the crowd went frigging wild. Against the blood red glare of the stage lights, he saw a thousand black T-shirts and a thousand faces twisted in frantic ecstasy. Somehow, it never quite got old. Beside him, Razor raised his obsidian guitar and let out a volley of crunching chords. Taking his cue, Skull ducked towards the crowd and screamed: ‘Crushing jaws, lock your doors! Bladed tendrils, slashing claws.

The crowd roared back. A hundred horned hands saluted him. The bass throbbed through his body. As the drums let off another salvo and Razor launched into a machine-gun guitar solo, Skull raised his arms and shouted to the crowd: ‘I wanna hear you scream! Raise the roof, you mean metal mother…

He paused. For a second, he didn’t know why. Then it hit him. Two of the stage lights were in the wrong place! At the back of the crowd, two red points of light stared back at him from ground level. A hundred thoughts raced through his head. What if someone had got crushed? What if one of the roadies screwed up the safety checks? How the hell are those lights still working if they’ve just fallen from the ceiling?

Then, he noticed that Razor’s guitar solo was almost over. He glanced at the rest of the band, none of them had noticed the lights. He stared at the crowd again, they weren’t screaming in agony or fleeing in panic. Maybe it was just a reflection of some kind?

Letting out a silent sigh, Skull went into autopilot and belted out the chorus: ‘Fear the seas, ancient prophecies! Deep evil, deep evil! Primeval creature!

When he glanced at the cavorting crowd again, the two lights seemed brighter. They were larger. They were getting closer. For a second, he was frozen like the proverbial deer in the headlights until a crashing cymbal from the back of the stage shook him back into action. Leaning towards Razor, Skull pointed at the lights. Not even pausing, Razor just raised his eyebrows and mouthed: ‘Wanna stop?

Skull shook his head. The song was almost over. The show must go on.

But, a few seconds later, the red lights had reached the mosh pit and the crowd had started to notice. Like the seas from some stern sermon, the crowd parted. The music fell silent. Even the drummer had noticed that something was wrong. The only sound that filled the air was slow, thudding footsteps. The two red lights glowed like suns.

And then, as it walked under the scarlet stage lights, Skull saw it. It looked like something from the record covers of his youth. A great, hulking horned demon with skin as scaly as a crocodile and teeth like twenty knives. What Skull didn’t expect were the clothes. The hellish monster was wearing a three-piece suit! As the apparition drew even closer to the stage, he even noticed a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles around the creature’s fiery eyes.

When the creature opened his fearsome maw, Skull had expected a deep growl from the pits of hell. Instead, the creature’s voice sounded thin, severe and sharp. ‘Will you turn that racket down?! Can’t you play some nice music instead? Something that everyone can enjoy?

Skull was dumbfounded. Razor’s mouth fell open. Ignoring them, the demon levelled a bony claw at the crowd: ‘And, all of you, why are you staying up late? Don’t you have work tomorrow? You know, I’d bet that some of you are still in school. You don’t get good grades by going to dismal dives like this and listening to music that is clearly unsuitable for people your age.

Everyone remained silent, unsure whether to laugh or scream. The demon growled menacingly and opened his fearsome maw. Amidst the confusion, Skull knew one thing. He was on stage. Everyone looked up to him. He was the closest thing to a real authority figure in the room. Shuddering at the implications of this, he realised that he had to do something. Then it struck him. When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Standing to attention, he turned to Razor and barked: ‘Start “Crypt Of The Corpses”! Don’t question me, just bloody do it!

Shocked into action, Razor reached down to his guitar and launched into the blistering opening riff. The noise cut through the air like a katana. The demon winced. A second later, the drums kicked in and Skull heard the bass thrum loudly. The demon recoiled. Grabbing the mic like the hilt of a sword, Skull took a deep breath and then let the words explode from his throat: ‘Crushed skulls, evil rituals! Vestal virgins, sacrificial surgeons!

The demon let out an unholy screech. A second later, it was drowned out by the roaring of the crowd. As Skull watched with stunned fascination, the pulsing mass of humanity in front of him converged on the demon. The swarming mass undulated and jumped. A sickening squelch filled the air. For a second, Skull felt like he was in a terrifying freefall. Without even noticing it, he began to mutter “oh shi….

But then he saw her. Below the red lights, a cheering woman with raven hair held a long, twisted horn above her head. Dark ichor dripped from the base of it. A second later, something flew through the air and landed near the drummer with a loud splat. Skull didn’t turn around, but he heard the drummer shout: ‘That was pretty… heartless… of you all!‘ The crowd laughed. A smile crossed Skull’s lips and he launched into the next verse.

Later, the band sat around backstage. The adrenaline rush had faded and they were on their fifth beer, unsure whether they were drinking to celebrate or to forget or both. Finally, Skull picked up the remote and turned on the TV.

On the evening news, pictures of police officers milling around an old stone building splashed across the screen. In received pronunciation, the newsreader said: ‘Following reports of several lost pets, police visited the offices of the local conservative club. They found what can only be described as some form of ritual sacrifice...’

Beside him, Razor raised his bottle and said: ‘Makes sense, you know.

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