Thousands of empty seats.
I shifted my eyes down, resting them on the empty floor. A floor too large to be empty.
For the first time in years I felt unnerved by the sheer size of it all. I felt… scared? Almost?
Why though? For over 20 years, we’ve performed at venues like this. Why am I feeling nervous about it now? What’s wrong with me?
A soft voice floated through my thoughts. “Listen… Richard, if you’re not feeling up to it, we should cancel tonight’s show.”
I jerked my head towards my guitar technician, who had positioned himself in front of me. I used to be slightly taller than him, but right now, he seemed to be looming over me. I felt myself glare at him. “What are you talking about?”
“You.” Lukas told me sharply, “If you can’t focus, it’s not safe for anyone to be up there tonight.” He jerked his head into the direction of the heavily pyro equipped stage.
I bristled in anger. How dare he suggest I’d put anyone in harm’s way?
“We’re not canceling anything.” I snapped back at him. “I’m perfectly capable of playing this show.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure.” I hissed, before stalking away. Somehow I knew he was rolling his eyes at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
My jaws tightened as I kept on walking, feeling a mixture of anger and fear swirl through me. I wasn’t even sure who I was mad at, nor what I was scared of, even. All I knew was that the feeling was there.
That stupid, useless fucking feeling.
I hated it.
Paul was the first one in the band who discovered it, after I warned him about some car. To this day, I still don’t know where that came from. The moment we bumped into each other, I felt something going on with a car, and Paul’s desire to own it. I just knew something was wrong with that combo. I just… knew.
Ever since then, he and the guys shared the belief that, on some strange level, I had physic abilities.
That is, until we started recording albums together.
With every string I touched, a deep sense of uncertainty drilled through me. It warned me I needed to do better. The band needed me to do better. The world needed me to do better.
The feeling was as clear as day. I knew I could trust it. After all, it couldn’t be that wrong, could it? The band waved it off as anxiety, but I knew better. Anxiety felt... different.
Before I realized what I was doing, I became obsessed with reaching the unreachable. That one perfect note. That one perfect pitch. I started buying more guitars. More pedals. More microphones. I needed to catch the sound dragon, I knew it was out there somewhere. I just… knew.
The band learned that, whenever I was in one of these ‘moods’ again, they just had to let me be. I couldn’t simply switch myself off.
On many occasions I wished I could.
When Lina told me about her plans to study abroad, I tried to keep her from going, because I had a bad feeling about it. No, let me rephrase that; I tried to stop her from following her dreams, because I had bad dreams. Bad dreams. I mean, come on, that’s just…
I huffed, before taking notice of the fact that I had stopped walking. Without being aware of it, I had wrapped my hands around something cold and sleek. The moment I realized it was a handle of an emergency exit, I jerked them back as if burned by it. Breathing harshly, I staggered back a few feet, staring at the red steel door in front of me. It carried the venue’s name, as well as a collection of large, neon yellow stickers, yelling; “ONLY OPEN IN CASE OF EMERGENCY!”, and “PRESS DOWN TO TRIGGER ALARM”, and “WARNING! NO EXIT!”. The longer I stared at them, the faster my heart started to jump up and down in my chest. I covered my face with my hands, breathing rapidly into my palms.
Get a fucking hold of yourself.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, but when a large hand descended on my shoulder, I resisted the urge to smack it away. Instead, I tensed up and confronted the impatient face of our drummer.
“I’ve been looking all over for you! It’s time! Let’s go!” Schneider stressed while striding further down the corridor, his coat flapping behind him dramatically. When he noticed I wasn’t following him, he beckoned me over with an annoyed growl. “Come on!” Forcing myself to move, I trailed after him with uncertain steps. I wanted to ask him where we were going, but… then I didn’t need to anymore. Everything was vibrating around me, which I recognized as the undeniable burst of energy only big audiences can summon. You feel it in the floor, in your body. Twenty five thousand people, screaming in joyful anticipation? Hell, you feel it everywhere.
I followed Schneider silently, wondering when the venue had opened its doors. It had been still empty the last time I looked. Before I could give it any more thought, we reached the end of the corridor. The rest of the band was there, all dressed up into their familiar costumes, make-up, and grime. Tiny glasses of strong-smelling tequila were passed around, which I accepted with shaking hands.
Wait a second.
We only took these shots right before hitting the stage, but that means… Crap, I need more time! I haven’t changed into my stage outfit yet! There’s no way I’ll perform in my red training suit! That’s just-
I looked down, my mouth sagging open when my eyes landed on the familiar black shirt, black pants, black coat, and red belts, tightly hugging my frame.
When the fuck did I-
“PROST!” The five guys in front of me exclaimed loudly, clinking their glasses with eager grins. Confused, I joined in. What other choice did I have? I downed the glass, feeling the familiar burn slide down my throat.
Time sped up after that.
Lukas handed me my guitar, and the others geared up as well. Right before we stepped on stage, Paul and I made eye-contact. It looked like he wanted to ask me something, but there was no time.
It was show time.
During the first few songs, I felt dazed. Thankfully, my performance wasn’t suffering from it; I could play these songs in my sleep, if I needed to.
A large group of fans at the barrier tried to get my attention by shouting my name, and waving their hands at me. Most of them were ladies, some of them nearly fainting when I finally looked down at them. I had forgotten how good that felt. Not the fainting part, obviously, but the attention I was getting. I wasn’t desperate for it, but I couldn’t deny it felt good.
I’ve always been a firm believer that attention equals energy. If you focus your attention on, let’s say, mastering a skill, you’ll give it energy. If you focus your attention on your lover, you’ll give this person your energy. If thousands of people focus their attention on six Germans on a stage, that’s where their energy will go.
It’s an amazing feeling.
Despite the crazy day I’ve had, I felt a smile tug at my lips at the sight of the crowd in front of me. They were beautiful.
A journalist once asked me how much of the audience I could actually see from my position on stage. He was surprised to hear we could actually see a lot. Not the people in the back, unfortunately, but the middle and front… yeah, that’s doable. I guess most people don’t realize the lights aren’t just trained on us, they’re also dancing over the sea of heads in front of us. I’ll never get tired of seeing people sing along to our songs, and how their eyes lit up whenever our stage erupts in flames. We’re entertainers. It’s our job to make these people feel good.
… Which made it all the more disturbing to see one woman weeping hysterically.
It’s not uncommon to see a fan in tears, but this… this was different. The woman was standing in the middle of the crowd, a bit at the back, but close enough for me to spot her. I couldn’t make out her facial features all that well, but I could tell she wasn’t just moved by something; she was darkly upset. Her behavior was unusual, and therefor noticeable.
The woman kept wiping away her tears, all the while looking down, fumbling with something. I kept my eyes trained on her while I played, wondering why she was so sad… and why she was here in the first place. Judging by the fact that no one was taking notice of her, let alone comfort her, I figured she came here alone. Strange… but not unheard of.
A few minutes passed before the woman realized I was watching her. The moment her eyes met mine, she stiffened, as if she had been caught on something. Shortly after, she moved. It took her some effort to push herself through the crowd, but managed to cross the floor from left to right in a slow, but steady pace. Simultaneously, I moved alongside her, across the stage. It was the only way to keep her within my line of vision. Something told me I had to.
Where was she going? What was she doing? Why was she in such a hurry all of a sudden?
At this point I started to wonder if I should be alerting security, but that thought fled from my mind when the woman halted and looked straight back at me. One of the stage lights moved over her, whitening her face for a second or so.
A chill ran down my spine.
All of a sudden, Paul appeared right in front of me with a grim expression on his face. “Richard! Hey!”
My entire body jerked in response, followed by a sharp jolt of pain. A small object slipped from my fingers, and I buried my throbbing head into my hand. I wanted to bury it in two hands, but… but…
“Oh my god…” I choked, doubling over. It felt like someone was pounding on my chest, making it harder for me to breathe with each passing second. Almost immediately, an arm wrapped itself around my back, rubbing it soothingly. “Come on, Richard… calm down… Focus on your breathing…”
A bout of dizziness made me sway where I sat, and I felt gentle hands pulling me back, until my head landed on a pillow. I dragged my hand over my clammy face, resting it over my mouth. I forced myself to look up. Paul looked back down at me, his brows furrowed in concern. “You okay?” He asked me softly.
Still breathing fast, I took in my surroundings. White walls, white floor, white sheets. How could I be lying in a hospital bed, when mere seconds ago, I was standing on a stage?
“I think you were remembering stuff.” Paul murmured at me, as if he read my mind.
“H-how? …Why?” I gasped.
Paul picked up something from my lap. It was a small, black object. A phone? I frowned at him. I didn’t understand…-
“I was showing you some footage of our last performance.” He explained quietly. “You kept rewinding it. Watching it over and over again. At first, I didn’t understand why, but then I had a hunch you were remembering things. I didn’t want to disturb you.” Paul had a stern look on his face while he talked. It was strange for me to see him this way. He used to smile, all the time. I never realized how much I’d miss seeing it.
Paul licked his lips nervously, before asking softly, “You kept pausing the video at the same minute and started to panic a little. What did you remember?”
Ignoring his question, I asked a question of my own. “Can I see it again?” My voice sounded thick, as if I could fall asleep any second. I was tired, yes. Exhausted, even. But there was no way in hell I was going to surrender to it. Not now. I had so many questions!
Paul shot me a skeptical look. “Richard, I don’t think-”
“Paul. Please show me. Please.” I reached out a hand, inwardly cursing it for trembling.
Paul searched my eyes for a moment, but couldn’t seem to find what he was looking for. “Fine.” He sighed in defeat, unlocking his phone. Before handing it over, he addressed me seriously, “Promise me you’ll rest after this one.”
I nodded, eagerly accepting his phone.
Apparently, I had watched this very same video more than once already, but it was still strange to see myself, performing on stage in some kind of trance-like state. The longer the video progressed, the stranger it became. I tracked myself crossing the stage, never feeling Till’s little nudge against my head when I passed him. I hadn’t noticed him at all. I hadn’t noticed Paul neither, other than him being in my way. With bleary eyes I watched my surreal, digital version pull the guitar strap over his head, letting the instrument dangle at his side. My lungs constricted at the part that came next. I hit the pause button… again, feeling my cheeks heat up in shame.
“What’s wrong?” Paul looked intently at me.
“I… I don’t remember doing…this.” I whispered at Paul, who rose an eyebrow in surprise. “You don’t remember jumping into a crowd?”
I shook my head, but somewhere, deep down, I started to doubt that statement. I did remember a burst of adrenaline, and an overwhelming blur of faces swarming around me.
Paul had seated himself on the chair that stood next to my bed. He leaned forward, and looked at me with an intensity I couldn’t quite place.
“Do you remember… the bomb?”
I stared at him.
I’m not sure how long I stared at him, but it must’ve been a while, since Paul started repeating himself. “Richard, please focus. The bomb. Do you remember taking it?”
Wha- taking it?
“What bomb?” I finally managed to whisper, my voice shaking slightly.
For a split second, Paul looked disappointed, but erased the expression from his face almost immediately. Rather than answering my question, he leaned forward and gave his phone a little tab. The video continued to play. I forced myself to focus on it, although my mind was still trying to wrap itself around that horrible word. A word that should never be associated with a public event. Ever.
Blinking furiously, I squinted at the screen clutched in my hand. I couldn’t spot myself in the massive crowd, but judging by the restlessness of each and every person, I was in there somewhere. I do remember the faces now, looking shocked and wide-eyed. The hands latching onto me with painful force. People trying to drag me back. The woman…
The woman. Sprawled on the floor, blood smeared across her face. My guitar lay next to her, crushed. Like a broken lover.
I was holding something else into my hands now. A black thing.
A device of some sort.
The world was spinning a bit too fast all of a sudden. I shuddered, shaking my head to try and gain a sense of what was left and right.
“Richard?” Paul’s voice sounded distant, as if he were in another room. Or dimension, maybe. I ignored him. I was so close. I could feel it.
The device had been heavier than it looked. I remember nearly dropping it, but something told me I really shouldn’t. Something told me to get out too. People tried to stop me from doing that, screaming at me, although I heard no sound coming from their mouths.
It’s not safe… I tried to reason with them.
Why does no one see??
GET OUT! YOU HAVE TO GET OUT!
I knew where to go. I knew which emergency exit was waiting for me. I just… knew.
I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, my feet nearly slipping from underneath me as I darted through the corridors. Gritting my teeth, I powered on. I needed to get to the red steel door. The parking lot.
Launching myself outside, I heard the door slam shut heavily behind me, leaving me panting on the asphalt, surrounded by black trucks and an eerie silence. A silence that was broken by a clicking sound, coming from the device in my hands.
Feeling my muscles protest with the sudden strength I was asking from them, I hurled the small, black thing away from me. Even though I knew…
It was too late already.
A sharp inhale jerked me back, stinging my right shoulder with a burning pain, as if my body was physically reminding me what it had been put through.
For a moment, all I could do was blink at the yellow lamp, and the bright, white ceiling above me, before blowing out a shaky breath. This memory-rollercoaster thing was exhausting as fuck! Judging by Paul’s face, he agreed with that assessment. He had grabbed onto my wrist for some reason, but wasn’t saying anything. He was just looking at me. His eyes were glistening, as if he was holding back tears.
“I’m sorry.” I breathed at him, assuming I was the source of his emotional state.
The grip around my wrist tightened slightly, but not painfully. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m the one who should be sorry.” Paul whispered solemnly. “We shouldn’t have kept you in the dark this whole time. We just… didn’t know how to tell you. How to make you remember.”
I nodded slowly, my thoughts racing.
Paul released my wrist. “Do you…remember now? The bomb? The explosion?”
After tracking some inner landscape, I could only recall flashes. Weird, bright flashes. And something about a movie…? Or something?
“I’m not sure.” I muttered with a frown. My mind was a total mess. I had to give it some credit for formulating the next question though.
“Is that what happened to my arm? Did the bomb…” I trailed off.
Paul’s face just went from white to a sickly shade of grey. After a while, he stuttered, “W-well, yeah. The bomb exploded after you… after you… threw it away. You ran outside with it, and threw it away.”
Fear crept up to me. “Did… did it hurt anyone? Oh god, Paul, did people die?”
“No! Richard, listen, you ran outside with the bomb. It detonated outside. Only you were there.”
“Okay… okay… that’s… good…” I muttered absent mindedly.
Silence filled the room again, although the heart monitor above my bed was beeping annoyingly. Faster than it should be. I forced myself to calm down. Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
“Can I get you anything?” Paul asked softly. Before I could even form a reply, he had already pushed himself out of his chair, muttering something about getting me some water.
While Paul busied himself in the corner of my room, which provided a small sink and mirror, I let my eyes roam around the place. There were gifts and cards everywhere. Almost every surface in the room was covered with them. Even the walls. It felt strange to see the trouble people went through to send me something, although I couldn’t really understand why it was bothering me. I dismissed it when Paul returned, placing a glass of water on the adjustable table next to my bed. “Thanks.” I muttered.
“Any time.” Were Paul’s words as he dropped himself back into his chair. He must’ve caught me looking at the colorful items that surrounded us. He was looking at it too, mumbling, “You’ve got a lot of admirers.”
“What else is new?” I smirked. Paul snapped surprised eyes at me, before bursting out in laughter. I smiled back at him, secretly relieved to see the old Paul emerge for a little while. It gave me hope that maybe… maybe, things would get back to normal one day.
“Bastard.” Paul chuckled, shaking his head.
“Just stating the obvious.” I said with a nonchalant shrug, which I regretted immediately afterwards. I stifled a groan, and glared down at the source of the pain. My right arm. Well… it wasn’t really an arm anymore, was it? With my left hand, I traced fingers over the bandages encircling it, before poking and prodding the area to see if it’d soften the pain a bit. It didn’t, really.
“Please don’t touch it.” Paul almost begged. I looked back at him, slowly withdrawing my hand. Paul looked tired. Worn down. Old. It was clear to me that whatever happened to me, also had a nasty effect on my family. It made my heart ache, but it also made me wonder…
“When did… all of this happen?” I asked softly, gesturing at the shape of my body.
This time, it was Paul who needed to breathe in and out for a moment. He was looking down, at his lap. After a few minutes of stubborn silence I wondered if he hadn’t heard my question, but then…
“It’s been… around three months now.” His voice was quiet, but I heard him. I heard every word. At my distressed look, Paul quickly added. “You were in a terrible shape, Richard. They put you in a coma during that time.”
I’ve been in a… coma for… three months…? Holy sh-
“You were caught in the blast.” Paul continued, his voice cracking slightly. “It must’ve send you flying and you landed wrong. You were cracked, and burned, and bleeding…” Paul finally looked up at me, his lips trembling. “We weren’t sure if we would ever talk to you again…”
I felt my chest constrict at his words. Even though it felt like I had been ran over by an army of trucks, I hadn’t expected it to be this bad.
“Well, I’m here... I’m okay…” I said shakily, before adding a barely audible, “I think…”
Paul smiled slightly. “Of course you are.”
We both kept quiet for a while, for which I was thankful. I had a lot to think about, after all. Sleep pulled at my vision, yet my mind was still racing by what Paul just told me.
“Richard? May I ask you something?”
Paul waited until I turned halfway eyes towards him.
“That woman… at our concert. Did you know her?”
I blinked away the sleep from my eyes. “No… of course not.”
“Then how…” Paul scratched his chin, deep in thought. “How did you know she was dangerous? What made you attack her?”
“… She stopped crying.” I mumbled drowsily. “She stopped crying, Paul.”
It had been a long day.
Visiting hours were long overdue, and the gift shops were closed. The hospital cafeteria was no longer serving food, and the last handful of employees had started their cleaning routine. Nevertheless, no one rushed the two remaining customers sitting in the corner, surrounded by the large bushy plants they loved to hide behind.
For the past two hours or so, the generous amount of Mac & Cheese on Till’s plate had been nudged back and forth, leaving a smear of supposedly melted cheese in their wake. Lina watched the broad man play with his food from where she was sitting across from him. Till had only taken two bites before his mind had started to drift. It was very unlike him to ignore a meal when it was right in front of him, but Lina couldn’t blame him for being mournfully absent.
This day sucked.
It started out fine – well, as fine as it could be. Lina had entered her father’s room as cheerfully as she could, surprising him with one of his favorite movies; Iron Man. She knew he had watched it many times already and could probably recite every single dialogue by now, but hoped it’d give him a feeling of familiarity. Safety. Something to pull him away from reality for a while.
She had pulled the adjustable table closer to her father’s bed, letting the tabletop hover above his stomach. After clearing it from a wide variety of medicine boxes – honestly, it resembled a pharmacy’s counter more than anything else– she had installed Matt’s laptop there. Her father had watched her work without saying much. Every time Lina glanced at him, he’d give her a small, but extremely tired smile. Lina had returned the smile, hoping that, if he couldn’t see it, he could at least feel it. Her father’s eyesight was still pretty terrible. He had turned his attention to the screen when the movie started playing, but Lina had a hunch he wasn’t really following it. His eyes had a dazed shine to them, and they seemed to be getting smaller with each passing minute. He was struggling to keep them open.
Fast forward a few minutes later, and there he was- flat on his back, eyes wide open, his lungs struggling for air, and his entire body coated in terror.
His arm was gone. The life he used to have was gone. His ability to play guitar; his biggest love of all. It was gone.
They all knew it, but worst of all: now he knew it too.
Richard had been out for the rest of the day, not once stirring. Till, Paul and Lina stayed with him, keeping a vigil watch in case he needed them. The rest of the band had been notified by phone, and were saddened to hear what had happened. They wanted to come on over, but the doctor put a halt to that. Richard needed a friendly face, not an entire room of them.
Around six in the afternoon, Till’s stomach had started to resemble a groaning boar, so Paul had kicked him out, ordering him to get some food into him. Paul kicked Lina out as well. Judging by her thousand yard stare, she could use a change of scenery.
And thus, Till and Lina ended up in the green little cafeteria in the entrance hall.
Lina did have to admit that it was nice to be out of her father’s room for a while, although she was craving to go back up again. She still felt uncomfortable leaving him behind for longer periods of time, even if Paul was still with him.
Till kept abusing his food with a fork. Lina sighed impatiently. “Are you going to eat that, or are you ready to go back?”
Till looked up at the unexpected question. “What? Uh…” He looked back down at his meal, frowning in disgust at the state of it. He pushed his plate towards Lina. “You want it?”
Lina released a laugh she didn’t know she had been holding in so far. “Ugh, no thanks!”
The corner of Till’s mouth twitched at her reaction, before rubbing his eyes. “Sorry about that. I must’ve zoned out.”
“It’s okay.” Lina chuckled, stifling back a yawn. “I’m tired too.”
“How about I give you a ride back to the motel? Paul and I will stay with your dad for the night.”
Lina smiled in wry amusement. “Yeah thanks, but no. I’m not going anywhere, not after what happened this morning.” Her smile faded.
Till watched her for a while. He already expected her to stay, but now, he had a feeling her father's state wasn’t the only reason she wasn’t willing to return to the motel.
“Do you blame Ed for what happened?”
Lina looked up in surprise, needing a moment to find an answer to that unexpected, abrupt question. “I… uh…”
Before she could formulate a response, Till continued calmly, “You do realize we couldn’t have protected your father from the truth much longer, do you?”
Lina frowned. “What- what do you mean?”
“He’s missing an arm. That’s a hard thing to hide from someone.” Till pointed out in a low voice. “Richard would’ve found out sooner or later. You know what he’s like. It’s not Ed’s or that other police officer’s fault.”
Lina looked down at the table top, flattening a napkin under her palm, before smoothing the folds. Deep down, she knew Till was right. It wasn’t really Ed’s fault, but the man had an unfortunate sense of timing and social manners. He did seem a little guilty when the doctor had send him and the other officer away, though.
Lina’s thoughts were interrupted when Till brushed off his lap and stood up, giving her a knowing smile. “I’m heading back up, you coming?”
Richard had dozed off. Paul had let him.
The silence was comforting after all the horrors that were relived in there. Paul hoped he made the right choice by helping Richard remember. Was it worth it?
Richard seemed calmer now, but that could also be plain exhaustion. It was hard to tell the difference at this point.
Paul whirled around in his seat when someone opened the door behind him without knocking. When Till and Lina entered the room, he visibly relaxed, before realizing something. Lina and Till were talking in hushed voices, but stopped when they saw Paul’s regretful stare.
“Pauul?” Till drawled suspiciously. “What’s going on?”
Dropping his shoulders and pointing his nose towards the air, Paul groaned. “I totally forgot to call you guys.”
“Well, the cafeteria is closed now, so if you wanted us to bring you anything to eat, you need to-“
“No, no. I meant Richard.” Paul interrupted sheepishly. “I promised to call you if anything changed. I forgot.”
Both Lina and Till watched him for a moment, stretching the silence to uncomfortable lengths. "Something changed?" Till muttered lowly.
Paul gave them a reassuring smile. “He remembers. He remembers everything.”