7/11/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 15: Spanish Castle Magic




Johnny held the Night Bird firmly, his mind blank.  He was standing in the middle of his bedroom, strumming the guitar lightly, trying to think of how to slip his conscience into the fabled spiritual mindset of Electric Church but found it to be difficult without a foundation.  He started playing and entered a solo, closing his eyes to try and intensify the moment.  He strummed with definition and let his fingers do the work but with the thought of the concept of Electric Church in his mind, it was much harder to consciously enter it.  It was a lot easier when it was natural, happening unconsciously like it did when he played for the band for the first time in the auditorium last year.

Johnny stopped when he realized that he wasn't getting anywhere.  He moved towards the volume of the guitar and turned it up a few notches, doing the same with the amp beside him.  When he strummed again, it was even more defined, hammering on with more intensity, hoping it'd make a difference.  Usually, there would be a certain point in the solo that would subtly notify him when he was about to switch over into a more spiritual state of mind, possibly a shiver down his spine or goosebumps rising, but that was back when he was unconsciously doing it.  He was not feeling that subtle notification and soon he stopped playing all together.  What am I doing wrong? Johnny thought.  He turned the volume to maximum and went at it again.  He was definitely feeling something now that the volume was louder but it wasn't Electric Church.  It was more like irritation at the loud volume.

A knock came at the door but the guitar was so loud that he couldn't hear it.  The knock soon turned to banging and Johnny finally got the picture.  He turned down the Night Bird and went to open the door, where Uncle Chuck was standing.

"What the hell are you doin' blastin' that thing so loud for?" Chuck shouted, bumping past him and entering the room.  "People are tryin' to sleep!"

"It's noon," Johnny said plainly.  "And I'm tryin' to get into this thing called Electric Church.  You know of it?"

Uncle Chuck turned to him slowly, a smirk appearing on his face.  "What do you know about Electric Church?"

"I met up with my Step-Uncle a few days ago and he told me about it.  He said I need to figure out how to master it if I want to change people with my music."

"What a dumb ass," Chuck muttered under his breath.  "Listen, Johnny, you ain't gonna change people's lives if you don't know what the hell you're doin' with the guitar.  You need to find your center and just go at it, all right?"

"That doesn't help at all," Johnny said, sitting down on his bed with frustration.  "What is it that I need to do specifically?  Why can't anybody tell me?"

"Because it varies from person to person.  Otherwise everyone in the world would know about it and how to do it and then the world would turn into a huge musical.  Tell you what, hand me the guitar and let me show you."

Johnny removed the Night Bird from around his torso and handed it to Uncle Chuck, who turned it for his right hand, switched the strap to its opposite side, wrapped it around his shoulder, and held it firmly.

"This is how I do it," Uncle Chuck said.  "I find my center."  Chuck gripped the guitar tightly and stood shoulder length apart, the guitar's nose pointed at a 2 O' Clock angle from Johnny's view.  "Instead of immediately startin' with high frets, I start with low.  By doin' that, it doesn't just get the Electric Church out of you, it scrapes the bottom of your soul and gets the extra stuff out too.  I start with a lower volume and gradually get higher to amplify that.  Check it out."

Uncle Chuck began with a smooth blues-like riff that remained the same for the entire solo.  He eventually got higher but never switched the tempo, proving to Johnny that playing faster or louder didn't have any effect on inducing Electric Church.  Johnny closed his eyes and listened to the riff intently, taking in every note and pitch change.  In his mind, he could see his own fingers moving across the guitar and playing each melody pricisely.  Heat was rising within him like it did when he played in the auditorium.  He realized where his center had been when he'd done that.  He'd felt comfortable with the stage and felt the glory of the Night Bird just before playing.  He made note of that; his center had to be somewhere he was comfortable with.

Uncle Chuck snapped in his face.  Johnny opened his eyes to see Chuck smirking at him vibrantly.  "It's over, kid."  He pulled the Night Bird off and handed it back to Johnny.  "You don't ever wake up early enough to hear me practicin' in my room, do you?"

Johnny smiled and took the guitar.  "Is there anythin' else I should know?"

"Yeah," Uncle Chuck said, heading for the door.  "One thing you should know is that, like I said, I've been practicin' by myself every day like exercise.  That's why I can put you in Electric Church easy.  You've only been playin' for what, five years?  You're better than I was at your age, but you still got a lot to learn.  It's good that you're learnin' it now, I didn't learn about Electric Church till I was in my 20's, maybe 30's.  The only thing I can tell you, is that you can't get to it on your own, not unless you practice for another ten or twenty years."

"Well, I need to be able to do it in the next few months.  Is there any possible way?"

"Yeah.  Your band.  It reflects off of you and you reflect off of it, so all of you together need to be able to master Electric Church to get it from a crowd.  'Strength in numbers' and all that."

"Is that what you did with Guardian Avenue?" Johnny asked quickly, just before Uncle Chuck exited the room.  He stopped at the door and Johnny continued.  "What'd you play?  What'd my dad play?"

Uncle Chuck was hesitating and Johnny could tell.  He turned over his shoulder slightly, not making eye contact with him.  "I sung and I played rhythm.  My brother played lead."

Chuck left the room, closing the door behind him.  Johnny was still confused, especially when he heard Chuck address Johnny's father as his brother.  It was true obviously, but he'd said it as if it wasn't even Johnny's father he was talking about.  It had to have been deliberate.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, Johnny thought.  Maybe it wasn't a falling out, since Chuck was all right with addressing him as his brother.  Maybe Chuck just wasn't over his death yet and refused to speak much about him.  It was strange, the way he acted when Johnny's father was mentioned, but it was obvious at this point that he wasn't going to get an answer from him any time soon.  With that realization, Johnny, laid back on his bed and strummed away at his guitar, losing himself in thought.

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Another venue had been set up for the band by Paul, this time at a club called the Spanish Castle.  It was located a fair distance from Ladyland and was nearly an hour or so away if traveled by car but it was one of the most popular destinations for the local night scene, which meant performing there would lead the band one step closer to making an established name for themselves.  They had to bring their all once again, especially this time, as May, Uncle Chuck, and Caitlin promised to see this performance.

After the pre-performance practice, Johnny treated the band, along with May, to dinner using the money he'd saved from their last performance at Shire Village.  They went to an all-you-can eat restaurant at midday and stayed until mid-afternoon.

The lot of them sat at a table by the window, eating and conversing about different topics.  They were making the most noise in the restaurant and every so often, people would look their way in annoyance, but none of them cared.  They were all enjoying themselves.

Johnny got up after finishing his seconds to get desert while Chase accompanied them.  As they picked out their food, they were conversating about a variety of different bands that the two had been exposed to over the course of their musical career and what influence it had on them.

"I'm telling you man, that album was absolutely amazing," Chase stressed as they moved along the line.  "Totally underrated."

"I don't know," Johnny shrugged.  "I mean, I listened to their first and second album and they were amazin', but the third was kind of eh."

"I know, it was pretty lackluster, but the fourth is where they dominate, seriously.  All of the fans want to act like dicks and abandon them after one mediocre album.  The true fans get to reap the benefits."

"All right, I'll take a listen then if you think its that good," Johnny said, taking his plate of sweets back to their table.

"It is, man.  It's not better than our stuff, but it's good."

Johnny chuckled and took his seat by the window, noticing that there were a few spots empty.

"Where did Oliver and May go?" he asked curiously as he sat down.

"I saw May go outside, I'm guessing Oliver went with her," Shelly replied, sipping her sweet tea delicately.

Johnny leaned out of the window and saw May talking to Oliver.  He was about to disregard it until he saw Oliver slip his arm around her shoulder.  She immediately maneuvered out of his grip, but Oliver moved in closer, his face closing in for a kiss.

"Oh, hell no," Johnny said, hopping up and running to the restaurant's exit.

"Hey, where are you going?" Chase called out.

Johnny kept on and pushed the door open, walking toward the two of them at full speed.  He approached Oliver and pushed him to the ground aggressively.

"Get your fuckin' hands off my girl," Johnny growled, looking down on Oliver menacingly.

"Johnny, it's okay, really," May said, putting a hand on his shoulder to calm him down.

"Tell your girl to stop giving me mixed signals," Oliver said angrily, getting to his feet.

"May already cut you loose so back off."

"Is that what she told you?" Oliver said chuckling humorlessly.  "She told you she broke things off with me?  Because she didn't.  She was still with me before I went into the coma, Johnny.  So I'm sorry if I haven't quite gotten over her.  It's like I went to sleep one night and I wake up three years later to find out that my girlfriend is with someone else and half my friends are gone.  The fact is that I woke up several months ago, I've just been in depression for too long to actually give Chase a call and come back here.  But I did.  I had the courage to return to a world that turned its fucking back on me.  I honestly don't know what to tell you right now.  I'm a fucking wreck and you're just going to have to deal with it, man."

Johnny took a breath and relaxed, looking back at May then back at Oliver.  "We're both goin' to have to deal with this.  You have to deal with the way things have changed and I have to deal with the way things are.  As long as we do that, we should be good.  We got a deal?"

"Yeah, I'm all for it," Oliver said with a sigh, holding out a hand to shake, which Johnny took.  After he did, Johnny turned to May.

"Why did you lie to me?" he asked plainly.

"I didn't want you to worry"-

"About you cheatin' on me with Oliver?  Did you not want me to worry so that you could?"

"No, what do you take me for?" May said in surprise, sizing Johnny up as if they had just met.

Johnny turned and looked back at Oliver, who remained silent, then back at May.  "Maybe we need to take a little break to see where you heart really lies."

"What?" the two of them said in unison.  May stepped up to him.

"Why would you want to do that?  I already told him I'm with you now."

"Yeah, Johnny, I'm not going to compromise the band for my own personal gain," Oliver said sincerely.  "I'm not selfish.  If you want me to back off, I will, I'm sure she doesn't want me anyhow."

"I'm not goin' to be the one to come between you two," Johnny said, walking back towards the entrance to the restaurant.  "If you guys are really meant for each other, go for it.  I want you two to be happy.  Better productivity that way."

Johnny re-entered the restaurant with Oliver and May staring at him in shock.  His conscious was completely clear.  He had no animosity towards Oliver and no anger towards May.  He meant what he said and because of it, he was not sad nor happy.  In fact, his mind was no longer on the relationship itself, it was back on the task at hand: Getting to the Spanish Castle.  He couldn't let the band's performance be compromised for his own personal gain either and as the leader, he had to be the one to make the sacrifice for the good of the others.  Johnny went back to the table and started eating again.  Chase, Shelly, and Lorenzo looked at him curiously.

"Everything okay, bro?" Chase asked sincerely.

"Oh yeah," Johnny said, taking a bite of the cake on his plate.  "Everythin' is just fine."

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Immediately after leaving the restaurant, they hit the road again, this time headed straight for the Spanish Castle.  Everyone was silent, aware that things had gotten awkward towards the end of the dinner, although Johnny was all business and had come close to forgetting what had even happened.  For some reason, Johnny's reaction to a break up wouldn't set in for a matter of days, sometimes weeks or months.  It was the same with Rebecca.  Johnny was grateful for this endurance as it wouldn't distract him from his more important ventures like the band.

May was driving again this time and it had begun to rain on their way to the club, but subsided after a while.  They were traveling on a vacant road surrounded by a forestation when the van suddenly began to slow down.

"Come on, come on," May muttered, increasing the pressure on the gas with no avail.  She pressed the hazard lights and pulled over to the side of the road.

"What's going on?" Lorenzo asked, looking up from a thick novel he had in his possession.

"Car's breaking down," May said, opening her door.  "I don't suppose anybody's got any auto expertise?"

"No," the majority of them said in unison.

"We've got to get this thing goin' in the next hour or so," Johnny said, getting out of the van and looking down at his watch.  "Paul said we need to be there to set up before the club opens at six."

"I doubt that's going to happen," May said, popping the hood of the car and looking into the engine.  "Unless we get some help soon, none of us are going anywhere."

Johnny sighed heavily and pulled out his phone to notify Paul but saw that he had no reception.  He consulted the others to find that they were in the same predicament with their phones.  Instead of getting flustered, Johnny decided to pull out his MP3, sticking the headphones in both ears and pulling out the Night Bird.  No use standing around with nothing to do when I could be practicing, he thought.  Apparently the others were thinking something relatively similar and minutes later they were all hanging outside of the van, periodically checking on May as she fooled around with the engine.  It went like this for nearly an hour and Johnny was beginning to get anxious.

Everyone was fooling around as they waited for a miracle and though they were having fun, a growing feeling of panic was beginning to set in as they realized how late it was getting.  Johnny looked down at his watch again.  It was 6:45.  Where the hell did all of the time go?  They were more than 40 minutes late.  Johnny climbed to the top of the van and immediately after settling himself on top, he felt his phone ring at his side and pulled it out, answering it.  It was Paul.  Getting on the roof must have given the phone enough bars to receive the call.

"Where are you guys?" Paul asked anxiously.

"Our van broke down about 30 minutes from the place.  We don't know what's wrong with it.  I was goin' to call you earlier but my phone had no bars."

"Son of a bitch," Paul said, trying to speak it under his breath but it came out louder than he expected.  "You couldn't flag anyone down?"

"If there was anyone to flag.  We haven't seen a car go by since we broke down."

Do you want me to send someone out to help you?"

"That would be nice, but I don't think we'll be able to get there any time soon even if you do.  It'd be like another hour."

"Crap, that's way too long.  I don't know what we're going to do, Johnny.  I guess you're just going to have to skip out on this one."

Johnny winced at these words.  Missing a venue, especially one as important as this would be a big snag in their plans but he had to take it all in stride.  "Yeah I guess you're right," he said somberly.  "I'll call you back if anything changes."

"Same here.  I'll send somebody out anyway to help you guys get home.  Later, Johnny."

"Yeah," Johnny replied before hanging up his phone.  He jumped off the roof of the van and walked with a rusty posture, as if he'd awoken for the first time that day.  "Looks like we're not gonna make this one guys.  Sorry."

Everyone groaned in disappointment and the mood died down.  May was getting frustrated.

"Stupid piece of shit," she exclaimed kicking the front bumper and slamming the hood down with force.  Johnny could tell that part of it was the frustration from what had happened between them.  Plus, they were stranded virtually in the middle of no where, which was slowly frustrating the lot of them.  However, in the distance, sound could be heard swirling up from around the corner and they all looked to see a vehicle emerging from the other side of the forest.  Everyone moved behind the van and started waving their arms to get the vehicle's attention.  It was a black van, a bit bigger than theirs, with a pair of soft fuzzy dye tied and hanging down from the rear view mirror.  The van slowed to a stop right in front of them and shut off its lights.

The side door slid open and a man, who looked to be in his early 20's, stepped out.  He was white with curly brown hair on top of his head, a goatee, and a pair of glasses.  His clothing was a mix between urban and punk and he was just as tall, if not taller than Johnny.  Following him out of the van was a young woman around the same age with pink hair curled over the top of her head, allowing long bangs to block off one side of her face.  Her wardrobe resembled the first guy in style only they were much more form fitting and worked for her feminine figure.

"What's going on here?" the guy said with a smirk surveying the group intently.

"Uh, we're a band and we were headed for a venue when our van broke down," Johnny said, speaking for them.  "You think you could help us out?"

"We'll see.  What're you called?"

"Class of - I mean Electric Church," Chase spoke up.

"Nice name," the girl said, nodding her head.  "We happen to be a band too, headed for a gig ourselves.  Spanish Castle?"

"Yeah that's where we were headed," Shelly said with hope.

"Oh," the guy said slowly, cringing as if he were feeling pain though his attitude was still charismatic.  "I'm afraid that's going to be a problem.  Spanish Castle’s performances are a competitive band showcase and you not being there will be better for us, so we're just going to go now."

The guy turned around to leave.  The band began to argue as he walked away but he soon turned back around in laughter.

"I'm just kidding, you guys, of course we'll help you," the guy said chuckling as he approached them again.  "It's a regular band showcase, but we're good sports, we'd help you out anyway.  What do you take us for?"

"We've had a few run-ins with some pricks in the past," Johnny said smiling.  "What do you call yourselves?"

"We're called Dragonfly," the girl said as the guy walked to the front of the Retrovan, May following behind him.  "My name is Lesley Strokes and that's Dino Bradly going to fix your car."

"There's only two of you?" Oliver asked curiously.

"No, our lead guitarist is in the back of our van, asleep.  I sing and play bass and Dino is on drums."

"We really appreciate you helpin' us out with this," Johnny said with gratitude.  "Its already taken about half the day to get there but I'm glad you guys showed up when you did."

"Hey, you're trying to make it out here just as bad as we are.  We're on the same page so we have to support each other."

"Yo, what's going on?" said a voice coming from the Dragonfly's van.  Emerging from it was someone that no one in the band but Johnny knew.  It wasn't who he expected to see in the least either.  Hal.  He and Johnny made instant eye contact before he even got to step out of the van.  They were about to speak when Lesley cut them off.

"Oh guys, this is Hal McGill, our lead guitarist.  Hal, this is a local band, Electric Church.  They're headed to the same venue tonight."

Hal walked up to Johnny, who stood vigilantly, ready for anything.  The only people who were aware the feud they'd had with each other were Joey and Apricot, who were not with them anymore.  Chase was there to witness their fight in the rain last month, but when the subject was brought up later, Chase couldn't even recall who Johnny had even been fighting, so he was just as clueless to their history as the rest of the band.

As Hal approached Johnny, he held out a hand to shake.  "Nice to meet you," he said with an obvious intensity that Johnny could sense.  He took it firmly.

"Likewise," he muttered as he heard noise coming from the front of the van and soon Dino returned to the back of it.

"You guys' reactor overheated.  You just need a bit of cold water to cool it down and you should be good.  We've got some in the back."

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After the car was restarted, Johnny called Paul to inform him that the band was still on their way and since it would be two bands missing from the venue, those time slots would have to be filled, so the club's owner decided not to penalize either of them for it.  When they had arrived, the Dragonfly and Electric Church players helped each other set up their equipment.  Paul informed them that this time, they would be performing three songs per set with two sets per band, so they decided to do the songs from their demo as well as "Heavy Blow."

Electric Church was scheduled to go after Dragonfly, so they were all treated to a free performance to watch the 3-man blues rock set.  Their performance was fantastic, nearly rivaling the energy put forth by Johnny and his band.  He watched as Hal moved across his frets with ease, the difference being that he was right-handed and played normally.  Johnny was looking at him with pride, rather than envy.  He was enjoying the chance to be proven wrong about the true nature of this guy, especially in how it led to something positive.  He didn't care for Hal as a person but he enjoyed the way he played.

When their set was over, they received a hefty applause from the large audience that made up the population of the club.  The Spanish Castle was a fancy place, complete with a South American Conquistador theme and its sombrero-wearing waiters, who sold liquor by the shot glass to its appropriately-aged patrons.  There were vibrant colors surrounding the rooms but the lights dimmed to darkness when a band would perform, casting a spotlight on them only.

Next up was Electric Church, which was introduced as being Class of '70 with a changed name.  With little effort, the band performed at their absolute best.  The crowd was receiving them wholeheartedly and the band was loving it.  Johnny was feeling the nature of Electric Church before he could even realize it and he found that he couldn't stop.  The solo at the end of their third song, "Landscape" was sending chills down his spine and he kept going well beyond the song's usual length.  Fortunately, the band anticipated this and continued playing until they got the signal from Johnny to wrap up the selection.  He was impressed with Lorenzo's memorization of their work and was even more impressed with Oliver's ability to adapt the keys played by Apricot into legitimate sounding synthesizers.

When the band hit the final note, Johnny exited the electric feeling deep within his soul and turned to the crowd with a large smile as they erupted ino applause.  He saw the members of Dragonfly joining them.  He also spotted May and Caitlin in the crowd, but he didn't see Uncle Chuck anywhere.  Johnny knew he'd be greatly disappointed if his uncle missed out on such a perfect performance like this.  There would be others, but this was meant to be a special occasion.  It wasn't like he had anything better to do.  He didn't have a job other than his internet investments and the residual salary accumulated from his time with Guardian Avenue.  But if Chuck wasn't there to see even one performance, Johnny knew he would find himself at odds with him.

The set break started and the band went backstage to prepare for their next set, which would consist of them performing the last two songs from the Demo and "Heavy Blow."  Johnny sat on an unused speaker backstage by himself, strumming away at his guitar, hoping that he'd be accompanied by Uncle Chuck eventually who would congratulate him on the performance so far.  He saw May emerge from the audience and hug Oliver, who was a few feet away from him.  When he saw her give him an awkward on the cheek, Johnny turned back to his guitar casually and continued to practice riffs for the next set.  A few minutes later, May walked up to him with a smile on her face.

"Epic job, dude," she said, holding up her hand for a high five which Johnny returned with enthusiasm but without a response.  He just as quickly went back to his guitar, leaving her standing there uncomfortably waiting for another reaction.  When she saw that he was completely dismissive, she walked away with a bit of an attitude.

Paul emerged backstage and began to shout at the rest of the band.  "You're on again in 5, guys!"

Johnny got up and walked to a mirror set up along a wall by the speaker he'd been sitting on checking himself out in it.  After a while, he spotted Hal walking up behind him.  He turned around in alert, still on edge around the guy, though he didn’t seem like he was about to antagonize him in any way.  At most, he looked relatively harmless now.  He had his hands in his pockets with a grin on his face.

"I'm impressed," he said smoothly.  "To say the least."

"Yeah, you were pretty good too," Johnny said with a smirk.

"Listen.  I wanted to say I'm sorry, you know, about all the shit I put you through this year.  I was being a dumb ass; I let pride get to me and let those other kids at that school fill my head with bullshit.  It wasn't until Lesley and Dino who are childhood friends of mine got at me and asked me to join their band that I actually started to see how different the world is outside of that shithole.  I wouldn't have been able to even get in touch with them if I hadn't gotten suspended for fighting you.  I wanted to go and find you somewhere around the school and thank you, but we don't have any classes together and I never see in the hallways anymore.  I felt it'd be kind of weird thanking somebody for fighting me anyway."

"Don't worry, it's cool," Johnny said, holding out his own hand to shake this time, which Hal grasped firmly.  "Everything happens for a reason.  You're a cool guy, man.  Sorry I underestimated you."

"Same here.  Maybe we can get together and exchange licks some time.  I'm always trying to learn something new about this music business."

"That's good man, you're goin' somewhere.  We can collaborate in the future or somethin'."

"Sounds like a plan, man," Hal said with a smile.  It was at that time that Johnny realized what the power of music could do to a person.  It had turned an abrasive jerk like Hal into a talented guitarist with an open mind.  Could this be the ending result of Electric Church?  Tapping into a person's soul and transforming them for the better?

Unfortunately, Johnny would never be able to find out.  Someone called Hal's name from behind causing him to turn.  As soon as he did, a metal bat swung with an unbelievable amount of force, striking him in the head and sending him to the floor.  He was done.  His life was taken that quickly.  No one could survive that kind of blow.

Johnny looked down at Hal's body as it collapsed to the floor, blood gushing from his cranium.  He darted quickly back at the assailant and saw Salem wielding the bat in his direction.  He swung down vertically and Johnny jerked to his side as the bat narrowly missed him.  It smashed onto the dresser that held the mirror with so much force that the mirror itself shattered without making direct contact with the bat.  Salem tried to follow up with a strike to Johnny's head, which he ducked and countered with a punch to his face, sending him flying back.  And just that fast, chaos had erupted backstage.

Chase and Oliver were fighting Ramsey and Lorenzo was manhandling Eugene, the skin-headed bassist of Calypsis, with ease.  In seconds, it seemed like everyone backstage had entered the fight, some being security trying to apprehend the wrong person, some being confused workers or band members that wanted in on the action.

Johnny quickly noticed that Salem was regaining his composure and decided to go back on the offensive.  Johnny leaned forward and kicked him directly in the face, sending him sprawling to the ground, where he dropped the metal bat.  Johnny ran forward and grabbed it, raising it above his head, preparing to strike Salem.  He was tired of the bullshit.  He wanted this to end once and for all.

Suddenly, someone collided with him from his side, causing Johnny to lose his balance and collapse onto the dented dresser, dropping the bat in the process.  Johnny turned and saw Chase lying on the floor beside him, unconscious.  He quickly felt Chase's pulse to make sure he was okay and when he realized he was, he let his guard down slightly.  Immediately, Salem grasped Johnny by the shirt and pulled him up.

He struck him in the face several times before throwing him away, causing him to collide with another dresser across from them.  Salem tugged him by his locks and kneed him in the stomach, groin, and face several times, before proceeding to slam his head onto the dresser continuously.  Johnny was growing disoriented with each blow and he felt himself losing consciousness as well.  He tried desperately to find a weak spot on Salem and incapacitate him but there was nothing that could stop him.

Except for Uncle Chuck, who carried a shot glass he'd brought with him from the audience, walked casually through the chaos of fighting teenagers, lit the liquor in the glass on fire with a lighter from his pocket, and approached Salem.

"Hey boy!" he shouted and immediately shoved the flaming liquor into his mouth.  As soon as Salem turned around, Uncle Chuck blew out a magnificent mixture of liquid and fire, blazing directly into Salem's face.  His hair immediately burst into flames and Salem began to scream at the top of his lungs, patting on to his head, trying desperately to put it out.  His screams turned to shrieks as he tumbled around the room aimlessly until he tripped and fell to the ground.  As he began to roll on the floor, Johnny ran up, grabbed the bat that had rolled by him, and approached Salem, the same anger and fiery passion from the Brooks High incident stirring within him with gasoline being pissed on it simultaneously.

Johnny raised the bat and struck Salem with it several times, speaking with each swing.  "You...stupid...cunt...don't...ever....fuck....with....my...band...again!!"  With the last swing, Salem was beaten to immobility but he was still conscious.  He raised his hand in a surrender but Johnny wasn't going to let up.  "This is for Hal!" The final strike knocked Salem on his inflamed head and he collapsed completely.  He dropped the bat on Salem's broken body.  "Candy-assed bitch."

"Johnny!" Uncle Chuck yelled from farther backstage.  "Come on!"

Johnny looked back briefly at the band and shouted, "Everybody run!"  He turned, took hold of his guitar and amp, and followed his own advice, running after Uncle Chuck, who was holding the door open to the emergency exit in the back.  The two of them ran out of the building, emerging into the rain that had started to fall once again.  They circled around the building with Chuck leading, and they eventually found the Honda that he had arrived in.  Diving into the car, Chuck burned out of the parking lot with Johnny in the passenger seat and headed down the road.

They were completely silent as they continued down the street at full speed.  Johnny was a mess.  He had been beaten to the point where his eye was nearly swollen over and he was bleeding from almost every orifice on his head except for his ears and pores.  Yet, he wasn't really feeling pain.  In fact, he began to laugh.  It began with a soft chuckle that grew into full genuine laughter.  Uncle Chuck turned to him in confusion.

"The hell is wrong with you, boy?" he asked, trying to keep his eyes on the road.  "That kid knock the sense outta you?"

Johnny turned to Chuck with a large bloody smile.  "You saved my life."

Johnny burst into even more laughter at the thought and soon Chuck started to snicker, eventually growing into a high pitched guffaw that was louder than Johnny's.  Chuck had to pull the car over because he was laughing so hard and the two of them continued to relish in the joy of the moment, in the fact that they were both still alive, until the laughter faded away.

Spanish Castle Magic by Jimi Hendrix

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