WARNING: These short stories contain horrific images and extreme violence. For every action, there is a reaction, and because music has reached such an unprecedented level of artistry, the evil in the belly of the world has crept to the surface. Please read with extreme caution. Each month, a different super-star band will be cursed, haunted, stalked, and terrorized by vicious serial killers, demented miscreants, blood-sucking zombies, and hideous demon-spirits. Fear is a disease. You will be infected.
Danny Worsnop – lead vocal, keys, programming
Ben Bruce – lead guitar, vocal, keys, programming
James Cassells – drums
Cameron Liddell – rhythm and lead guitar
Sam Bettley – bass
Before you delve into Volume 3 of MUSIC HELL, we strongly encourage you to enhance your reading experience by streaming Asking Alexandria’s self-titled fifth full-length album, Asking Alexandria, released on December 15th, 2017, via Sumerian Records.
Danny Worsnop and Ben Bruce skidded to a halt beneath the EXIT sign with the burned-out lamp head. Before them was a dim stairwell leading to the basement level of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“Can this be right?” Ben asked, breathless from the run.
“Seems so,” Danny whispered.
“Save your pipes,” Ben said, “I mean, I get it. This is supposed to feel weird, like a wrong turn or something, but that’s the point, right?”
They pushed through and clapped down the stairs to the dark cement landing. Danny was in the lead and he came on so hard he had to put his hands up to brace himself before banging against the steel door. He took a moment to cup his hands and peer through the small window with the diamond wire in it, his breath making misted ovals at the bottom. Parking garage, empty except for a space halfway down to the right. It was a Pennsylvania Convention CenterCamaro as promised. Vintage. But the part about it being in mint condition was a bold-faced, mother fucking lie.
Danny shoved the door open and they rushed through the archway. It smelled like an old viaduct. The concrete in here was darkened with street grime, and there were watermarks shadowed up the walls in the creases.
Backed in to slot #53 was the Camaro, 1981 – Z28, just like the parade creature had promised, but the roof was bashed in as if a boulder had fallen on it. The front end was mangled, the grille bashed flat, and the hood was tent-pitched up, blocking most of the shattered windshield area. The front fender hung off it like an arm in a sling. The side panels were scarred and scorched with black streaks and most of the paint had bubbled and flaked.
“So, what’s so special about this piece of shit,” Danny grunted. He strode over to the driver’s side door and reached for it.
“Don’t, man,” Ben said. “It’s not worth the risk. There’s too much here we don’t know.”
Danny looked back at his best friend since grade school, and choked out the words in a gravely rasp.
“I’ve got to get my voice back and sing tonight, Ben. No matter what. And I can’t keep running away from the dark shit.”
It was the mascot, the stalker, the freak in the parade outfit that caused this whole mess. Of course, they hadn’t seen him at first. The band had just walked out of the Hampton Inn and gathered there to nail down their plans for the day. The morning sky was gray and there was steam coming up from the street grates. Sam and James were stamping their feet. Ben blew on his hands. Danny almost had to shout over a passing commuter bus, and he wished he’d worn a heavier jacket.
“Right then,” he said. “Meet back here at 4:00 PM, yeah?”
“Which room again?” Cameron said offhandedly. He was looking over Sam’s shoulder, thinking he saw their Uber with its hazards flashing in the valet parking area.
“Mezzanine 7,” Danny said, “first on the right off the elevator. They have a big conference table in there and a smart board.”
“Don’t know how to work those,” Ben said, grinning.
“Don’t need it,” Danny said, “just a note pad and a pen is all. I want to review the light cues, making sure we’ve all got the pattern and sequence.”
No one joked about that one. Last night at the Rams Head Live! in Baltimore, there were a couple of times that they’d been caught out of position during the climactic breaks in “Someone, Somewhere” and “Killing You.” Didn’t really taint the overall effect of their show, already hailed by critics as “magnificent and massive,” but it made the changes come off with less of a kick. Danny had come to a place where he was working on the little things, the small imperfections. Was it a bit of a pain in the ass? Sure, but he hadn’t lashed out. It was good, it was fair, and everyone was in agreement that welcoming him back into the fold was the best thing they’d done in their careers. No offense to Denis or anything, but no one sang like Danny Worsnop. Period. And he didn’t have to go to a scream vocal all the time to stay heavy.
Their new music proved it.
Their fifth album from Sumerian Records was self-titled for a reason. It was like a second chance to debut, to open themselves to the world with something fresh, adrenaline-charged, and above all, authentic.
Cameron strode off with Sam and James to catch their ride to Dirty Franks down South 13th Street where they were meeting up with some old Jersey friends for a few shots and beers, and Danny suddenly gripped Ben by the shoulder.
“What? Fuckin’ hell.”
“Look,” Danny said. He pointed across Race Street to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. There was a figure there dressed in what looked like a parade costume: a huge light brown teddy bear wearing oversized reading glasses and dancing around like a circus creature.
“Who?” Ben said.
“Clutch,” Danny said, starting across Race Street. “He’s the mascot for the Philadelphia Auto Show. I thought it closed February 4th, but maybe I was wrong.”
Ben laughed, jogging next to his friend. Since making the “Into the Fire” video with the old-school black Mustang, Danny had become somewhat of a muscle car junkie. He’d mentioned the Auto Show a week ago actually, and though Ben couldn’t have really cared less about stuff like that, approaching some street performer in a bear suit was far better than asking concert audiences to help them work out Danny’s issues with alcoholism, right?
Still…if this was the official mascot for the show, then where was his sign board, the table with tickets and coupons, the rack with the merch and cheap giveaways?
Check out the music video for the single “Into The Fire.”
Oh no; something was wrong here for sure. When they got closer it seemed the costume the figure was wearing had come straight from a dumpster…filthy, threadbare at the elbows, and there was a hardened patch up by his tail that looked like dried shit. The bear turned to them, staggered, and fell down to the concrete flat on his back. Danny rushed up and loomed over him.
“You all right, mate?” he said, and the voice that barked back up at him didn’t sound like some college theater major doing a gig to fatten his resume. It was a tone of hard grit and sandpaper, more like a weathered dock worker who’d just found some hesitant new gopher to fuck with.
“I’m Danny Worsnop,” it rasped sarcastically from inside the head piece. “This is how I sing in Seattle. This is how I tore my vocal cord. This is how I fucked my friends to start some lame-ass country band, and this is why I’ll never break out of the tar-pit at the bottom of my spoiled, corroded, black twisted soul.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Ben said, pulling hard on his friend’s elbow. Danny shook free, eyes narrowed, blood boiling. Somehow this hater had found their tour schedule and anticipated what hotel they’d be staying at, next guessing the timetable they’d be committed to the day of a show, and finally planting himself across the street with inside information somehow that Danny Worsnop would have been interested in the Philadelphia Auto Show in the first place. It was odd, unlikely, creepy, and strange. But impossible? Hell no. Danny had seen some crazy shit from fans through the years, and he’d come to believe in just about anything.
A few nights before at The NorVa, this bony brunette with a neck choker and dark-green underscored cat’s eye mascara, literally tore out her tongue piercing and tossed it up onto the stage during the intro to “Rise Up.” Glistening there in the light by a stage monitor, you could see the meat still clinging to the stem under the ball bead, and out in the second row she kept right on moving her hips and cheering, her mouth a dark bloody smear.
Danny reached down to pull the headpiece off this fucker and look him straight in the face, but before he could touch him, the guy croaked,
“My voice for yours.”
Something changed, Danny could feel it. He straightened, bringing his hands to his neck. It felt as if he’d swallowed broken glass. Then the creature at his feet started singing. In Danny’s voice. A perfect rendition of the first verse in “Eve,” cut number nine off the new record.
“Bloody fucking bastard!” Danny wheezed. “What the hell have you done to me?”
The thing laughed coldly. Then he spoke back to Danny with Danny’s own specific inflective tonality.
“Here’s the deal, Danny-boy. You wanted to go to the Auto Show so bad, well then, enter the Convention Center here, make your first left, go to the end of the hall at the back of the atrium to the EXIT sign, and follow the stairs down a level. There you’ll see a vintage Camaro, mint condition. You open the door and sit in the driver’s seat.”
“To get his voice back?” Ben said, still in disbelief that this was actually happening.
“To see the whole picture,” it said, “the one the both of you haven’t yet realized. See, I’m your biggest fan, and ‘Into the Fire’ is the best music video I’ve seen in ten years. But it’s incomplete.”
“It’s supposed to be.”
“What, with the representation of the one and only Ben Bruce’s possible death, lying in the street on his back with his mouth bleeding? That’s not a cliff hanger, my friend, it’s a launching pad. The metaphor has to evolve. You showed us desire can kill, but it’s more about empathy and healing…not just the sun and the moon, but the trees and the oceans, the wind and the storm clouds.”
Danny reached down and grabbed the thing by its furry chest, shaking him.
“Speak English,” he croaked.
“Fine,” it spat back, “I’ll spell it out for you, Danny. When you kill him and yourself in the video, it’s nothing but an empty catharsis. This has to be about completion. You can’t have a Mustang without a Camaro, and you can’t make your comeback less the heartache of loyalty.”
“What’s that fucking mean?”
“Answer’s in the Camaro. Ford-boy.”
The fur deflated right there in Danny Worsnop’s hands, and he almost fell over. There was no one in the parade costume. And if Ben hadn’t seen and heard it as well, Danny might have been able to convince himself that there never actually was.
The dope new cover artwork for Asking Alexandria’s latest recording, Asking Alexandria.
They were both still panting from bolting down here so quickly, and Ben made a last-ditch effort to stop his friend from engaging this absolute madness. He tried to block the way, but Danny was quicker, pushing him as hard as he could in the chest and sending him tumbling face-first to the garage floor. Before he could recover, Danny turned and hauled open the door of the demolished Camaro. The hinges squawked loud, and when he got inside it the world changed.
The interior around him wasn’t crimped-in with bent, twisted steel and splintered factory plastic, but form-fitted in a sleek and bold presentation featuring a concentration of inset circular gauges in perfect symmetry along the facing of the jet-black instrument panel. Scent of fine leather. There was a steering wheel cover made of soft buckskin, and a white rabbit’s foot hanging off the rearview along with a set of rosary beads.
“Like it?” a strange voice said from the back. Danny jerked so hard his head almost banged up on the roof. He made to look in the mirror and the figure dodged to the side.
“No,” she said. “Not yet, you’re not ready.”
“Who are you?” he rasped.
“Save your voice.”
“Am I getting it back?”
“That depends, Danny, just for now, stop your croaking. You have to hear the truth, and I want to tell you my story. Look out the front windshield and know me.”
He looked. Outside the car there was no longer a parking garage, but a dark open highway with shadows of raucous fans lining both sides, all of them jammed along the guardrail to the left and packed along the shoulder to the right as far as the eye could see. They were cheering, holding up plastic cups filled with beer, raising their fists in the air like a rock concert.
Danny’s Camaro was rumbling, and he revved the engine making it roar. The vibrations were vicious, and he’d never felt so powerful in all of his life. Then suddenly, somehow, he knew that this was a Z28, sun-drenched yellow with sleek black racing detail, 4 barrel carb with a jury-rigged 375 HP, big block V8, dual exhaust, and 15 x 7 inch rally wheels. He squinted. People in the crowd looked off kilter somehow, with a lot of slogan tees, washed jean jackets, fanny packs, and side ponies…perms and parachute pants, rat tails, Dookie chains, silk shirts, and mullets. Of course. This was history in the present tense, the early 80’s, and he was right there in old-real time, with a jacked up hot rod, advanced for its day, but bare boned by modern standards, making it seem like you were straddling a 747 with a pair of horse reins. And this was no rock concert. It was a midnight road race, and through the driver’s side window he saw the black Mustang he was going to try and leave in the dust.
The strange guy looked back with sharp angry eyes. He had his hair greased behind his ears, deep jaw lines, and the type of goatee with the disconnected moustache.
“That’s Hunter Barnes,” the voice said from the back. “And out front now, that’s me, the way I used to look.”
Danny peered out through the windshield again. There about twenty feet up the road standing on the double yellow line was a silhouette shaped like the kind of girl you typically saw working at Hooters or posing for warehouse calendar pictures with power tools, motorcycles, and jet skis. She had big hair in long ringlets cascading down past her shoulders, a brazen chest, flat stomach, hourglass hips, and long, athletic, heartbreaking legs. She was poised on spiked heels, and she had a starter’s flag raised up into the night wind.
She stepped forward a pace and for a moment she flashed in the headlights.
A goddess she was, as if her face had been cut deep from some rare precious diamond. She had clever eyes, severe cheekbones, wide lips, and a smooth chin, but it was the look in those eyes that did it to you, the spark, the pure joy, like she’d talk to you, like she’d give you a chance.
The vision was a wink in the night and she vanished, everything frozen out there now in a still shot.
“My name was Misty McGovern,” she said from the back. “I liked pretty things, but I never shamed anyone, Danny. I just liked looking nice, feeling special. My daddy was a mechanic at a shop down by the airport, and I grew up here in South Philly. I had friends. Even after my teens when I started modeling, I liked girly-girl stuff like Bedazzle rhinestones, multi-colored Scrunchies, and jumbo white sunglasses. I was giggly to a fault, and I liked to read trashy romances. I was flirty, and I liked to bury my face in your chest if you took me to a horror movie. But above all, Danny, I freakin’ loved cars. Race cars, fast cars, muscle cars, monster trucks, I was addicted for real. I mean, it was cool that a guy studied hard, aced his SATs, and went on to Yale for a law degree, but the one who loaded trucks after school and drove a forklift at the Navy Yard on weekends just to save up for a clunker he could fix up and get to go over 100 on the Schuylkill Expressway at 3 in the morning, well, that’s what made my knees buckle.”
“You were pretty…” Danny whispered emphasizing the word “were,” his voice so hoarse it was all he could manage.
“Yes, past tense,” she said, “and it all had to do with the guy over there in that Mustang and the fact I was dating him the night that it happened. I’d met Hunter at a gig earlier that summer where I checker-flagged over at the Atco Raceway in Jersey. I didn’t give him my number, but he called the agency, he was persistent. At first, he was nice to me, comic book nice, like a tough guy imitating a prince he saw on TV or something, half fake and half real, but the effort was there, like working that fork lift, you know? So, we drove around, drank wine coolers, laughed a lot, the whole thing, but all along he kept talking about this “Brandon Getz,” the guy with the yellow Camaro, the rich kid from the burbs who liked to go slumming. There was construction up on 95 North by the Woodhaven exit, and they’d closed off part of the road, so my beau and that Brandon arranged a midnight road race, winner-take-chassis.”
“The loser had to give up his car. It was the riskiest bet possible, the one the most personal.”
“And you flagged for it?”
“Save your voice, I was a bystander, or at least I sure as heck should have been. Hunter had a pre-race ritual where he went off by himself in the dark. His best friend Louie Rutledge used to say he was using his straight razor, cutting himself to get mad. Others thought he was doing meth, but I’d never believed it. All I knew was that it was a dimly lit road with a drunk crowd at the edge of an abandoned jobsite in the middle of nowhere, and I was going to have my fun if he was going to leave me on my own so he could go play around behind the Porta-Potties. Thing is, Brandon Getz had his own rituals, and for a few minutes both cars were empty.” She sighed. “So, I snuck into this one, right here in the back.”
Danny looked in the rearview, but she was lost in the shadows, off to the left.
“Why?” he said.
“For the rush, for the fun. I also wanted my Hunter to win, and my hundred and fourteen pounds were going to alter Getz’s power-weight ratio. He’d lose five to ten horsepower minimum.”
“You tried to fix the race.”
“I didn’t want my boyfriend to lose his black Mustang.”
“But it didn’t work, did it?”
“Well, give that boy a Kewpie doll. Of course it didn’t work, Getz rolled it, just like the stunt car in your new video. You see, a second cousin to a friend of a friend that somehow knew both of them scoped the course, but he didn’t realize PENDOT had put in a detour, a dogleg just poured the day before yesterday. In spite of the weight differential, Getz was ahead and when he hit the curve he couldn’t adjust, overcompensating and flipping over five times, blasting through the temporary fencing and saw-horses, turning mid-air and smashing head first into a length of ribbed concrete piping. His seat rammed forward and put the steering wheel half through his neck. That’s when the engine caught fire.”
A slick shot of the band live in 2016.
Suddenly, Danny wasn’t in the driver’s seat anymore, but outside on the jobsite after pulling up to the accident. He was a passive passenger inside the consciousness of Hunter Barnes now, walking toward the wreck of his enemy, feeling the heat of the flames on his face.
“I was alive,” Misty’s said, her voice echoing like a film voice-over. “And I tried so hard, Danny. I tried to pull down that window.”
Through Hunter’s eyes, Danny saw Misty’s lovely face through the glass, saw her trying desperately to get to the driver’s side window partially blocked by the seat and Brandon Getz’s bloody corpse crammed underneath it. She stretched out her arms. She was screaming. The window had been left open half of an inch, and through Hunter’s eyes, Danny saw her fingers come through, trying to pull the glass inward, her fingernails shining with a sweet French manicure reflecting the flames rising from beneath the crushed tent-pitched hood.
Hunter halted six feet from the vehicle, bunching his fists. From within him, Danny was trying to shout at the top of his lungs, “For God’s sake help her!” but the cold-hearted bastard just stood there watching. From within the compartment there was a burst, and the blaze roiled in. Her screams went nuclear. Through the window, Danny saw the flames contour an outline around her like some holy blue aureole, and she thrashed and scratched out as if she was fighting off a swarm of African hornets. Then her hair torched up and she was a burning scarecrow shaking on a stick. She clawed at the headrest as if to pull herself over it into the front, but all too soon she seemed to surrender against the back of the driver’s seat, lying there in convulsion then spasm, then flicker and twitch. She peeled and curled, those beautiful big brown eyes liquified to runners making their way down her cheeks, bubbling run-off to tar and bare bone. Hungry flames then licked clean all Misty McGovern’s openings, snaking the voids, combing the edges, leaving a blackened, grinning skeleton face, smoke coming off her in wisps that danced before the window like spirits.
Suddenly, Danny was back in the car in the dark, in the place he’d just seen Brandon Getz crushed by the seat and halfway decapitated. Worse, it smelled like burned flesh now, spoiled pork soaked in bad hickory and gasoline. His wide eyes were tearing with terror and revulsion, and he tried his best not to vomit, his head still ringing from the echoes of her screams.
“Why?” he choked out, bashing the steering wheel hard with his palms. “Why the fuck would he just watch you burn?” The figure in the back seat came into full view of the rearview, a bald skull with frayed tendons and patches of spotted flesh fused to the bone. He gasped. Cursed. Tried the door. No dice.
“Sit still, “she said simply. “Hunter watched me die because he thought Brandon and I had been fucking in the back seat. Why else would have I been in there, right?”
She was up at Danny’s ear now, whispering into it, breath cold as ice.
“But it couldn’t have been, because Getz had removed the back seats. Power-weight ratios, right? Ever try making love on a Camaro’s bare floor panel, with the exposed front leaf mounts, the bald center hump, and the backside bracing? It wouldn’t just be uncomfortable, Danny. It was more like impossible, we’d have hurt ourselves, and I was innocent of the crime of passion Hunter let me die me for.”
“What do you want?” Danny said through clenched teeth.
“Chassis for chassis.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Your voice for my eyes, Danny. I can’t strip you like I was cannibalizing a wreck in the junk yard leaving nothing but the frame, but if I can get guys like you, guys with talent, guys with gifts they’d do anything to hang onto, I might just be able to reinvent myself. One body part at a time, like . Oh Danny, you’ll sing tonight! You’re going to go into The Electric Factory and absolutely blow its doors down. It’ll be the best performance you’ve ever given, and without your eyes, the cheers will seem even louder, richer, more soulfully satisfying. See, like the ghost of Brandon Getz told you out there in his bear suit on Race Street, you can’t just run over your best friend in your video, admit you have demons, and think you’ve come clean. I mean, we all get it, you killed your friend metaphorically with your past wayward plunge and all that, and now through your art you get purged. But real healing isn’t a metaphor, sweetheart. And guilt isn’t just burned off through confession. It’s a life sentence, and it’s about time you lived it.”
By protective instinct, Danny Worsnop covered his eyes, pressing as hard as he could with the heels of his palms.
But he felt nothing, and when he took his hands off he realized he was back in the parking garage of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Thank fucking GOD!
He scratched hard at the door, wrenching the latch, putting his shoulder into it. This time it burst open, those old rusted hinges squawking just like before, and he pulled himself out through the portal as if the seat had been crawling with driver ants. A few short paces away from the vehicle he stopped and bent over, hands to the knees, out of breath and covered with a film of sweat that felt like cold grease. He was still nauseous and he fought it. Breathed deep. More steadily now. There on the concrete between his boots was an old oil-stain that looked in a weird way like the long shape of Florida.
“I can see it!” he thought.
He straightened, blinked hard, and rubbed his eyes to make sure it was real. Yes, he could see! He raised a tight fist of triumph before his face, gritting his teeth with angry vindication. He’d tricked her somehow, he’d gotten away! Then, he looked over to the left and saw Ben lying face down on the cement in the middle of the lane, his body sprawled across a faded directional traffic arrow. Shit. He must have shoved him too hard.
Stream the band’s single “Alone In A Room” right here.
“Hey,” Danny said, stumbling over. “Ben, talk to me, mate, what the fuck.”
Ben didn’t move. He looked like a chalk-line sketch.
“Ben!” Danny cried, kneeling down to him. In the back of his mind he registered that his voice had come back, time to thank God again, but instead of excitement and relief, his mind was black with despair. Had he broken his best friend’s neck or something? Danny gave him a gentle prod, then took fistfuls of leather, yanked up, and shook him. No movement. Deadweight, a sack of old meal.
“It wasn’t worth it!” he thought, pushing to his feet. He thought about it for a bald second, tightened his jaw, and turned back toward the car. He stalked over to it, committed now, ready to jump in to bring Misty McGovern back from the dead again, ready to get some answers here even if it killed him.
“Your voice is back,” Ben said tonelessly from behind him. Danny turned, heart pounding, half-smile creeping up the side of his face. But his friend still hadn’t moved, he was still face down there, his voice muffled against the close concrete.
“You know,” Ben droned, “the widow was cracked the whole time.”
“What?” Danny whispered. He took a step closer.
“It was open,” Ben continued, slowly pushing up to all fours. “The window, it was open about half an inch, same space she stuck her pretty little manicured nails through thirty-seven years ago. I heard the whole thing, Danny, word for word, the history, the burning, the way she remixed our metaphor, even the explanation of that fucking parade bear acting as Misty McGovern’s stooge for eternity, picking on singers, luring them to the Camaro by threatening to steal their voices, the thing most important to them, the thing he first lost when he got that steering wheel rammed half way through his neck.” He slowly drew his feet through his hands and sat Indian-style, still facing away. “The thing that got me was the stuff about guilt,” he went on. “See, I have my own, Danny, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I let the lead singer of Asking Alexandria go blind.”
Danny got behind him, just over his shoulder and the nausea came back in a rush. He could smell something now, something smoky and sickly sweet like spoiled pork swimming in gasoline. Fingers clawed, Ben started scratching at the cement.
“See, I’m the one who made the deal, Danny. And it was a rough operation, man. I mean, it’s not like Misty McGovern was a surgeon in life, right? Sometimes you go to remove something and it’s…connected…like pulling the thread on a sweater. But I did it for friendship, I did it for pain. And I can play without looking, I swear that I can.”
He turned and tilted up what was left of his face. It was the hair that made it worse somehow, falling down to his shoulders in a picturesque framing effect that was almost angelic. But cheek to cheek and forehead to chin, there was nothing but a gray oval mask of raw bone, marred with the stubborn strings and ribbons of flesh that had stayed furrowed in the grooves, the clefts and indentations, in the nasal labial fold-lines arcing down to the corners of his mouth. His eyes were gone, leaving black smoking craters.
And lipless now, it seemed he was smiling.
Also in MUSIC HELL:
Novelette 1: “The Shadows of the Asylum” featuring Anthrax
Volume 3: “The Ghost of the Hot Checkered Flag Girl” featuring Asking Alexandria
Volume 2: “The Hiss of the Eliminator” featuring Electric Wizard
Volume 1: “The Sculptor” featuring Trivium