The Biggest Fans
John J. Dillon
God, he loved speed metal, the overdrive, high gain, fuzzed
up guitar solos and chugging power chords.
Even after years of crappo gigs and dismal paydays, he couldn’t imagine
anything better, from corporate soft rock to unfathomable jazz, robotic classical
to—worst of all—pop piano. Nothing else
mattered. It had to be speed, speed, the
faster, the louder, the crunchier the better.
Viktor shouted a lyric and hit another screeching high E up
at fret twelve, blasting the distorted hundred-watt note from his amplifier at
the headbangers. He held onto the soaring
sustain, then slid into a chunky progression as Fry and Matz, bass and drums, thundered
like a jackhammer duet. A chickenfeed roadhouse,
Blaine's Wreck Room at least offered a pumped audience craving rampage-grade thrash.
They'd paid their cash to see the Steel
Rulers and wanted their faces blown off.
Viktor unleashed his lightning.
Two more squalling songs into the set, he looked out over the
bobbing heads and flying arms, spotted Trask at the far rear wall. Bathed in
eerie gray light, he was sweeping his
arms sideways left and right, as if playing an invisible keyboard. With a gnarlacious
rush Viktor felt his
fingers thicken, threatening his command of the fretboard. He shot a freaked
glance over at Fry and Matz
strutting around hurling their own barrage of sound. They were oblivious that
Trask was out there stalking
the Rulers from concert to concert, emanating brain havoc like an evil radio beacon.
How many times had Trask appeared? A
defensive compulsion welled up demanding Viktor
end this assault before his talent and career were dead. Demolished by Trask,
back from the dirt.
He had to
attack now, or Trask would escape again and return another night. Viktor unstrapped
his guitar and stepped off
the stage, tanking the song and leaving Fry and Matz to fend for themselves. He'd
deal with them later. The hall was suddenly full of shouts and
boos. Viktor shoved his way through the moshers
to the wall where he managed to catch Trask, bring him down, and beat until his
shifted in the hard chair as he regained awareness. He didn’t know how
he'd gotten here, the tiny
baloney-pink room behind the stage. His
shoulders, neck, and arms throbbed and the floor seemed slightly tilted. He
remembered shrieking people pulling him
off Trask, who'd broken free and scrambled away in the chaos. Then he'd gone
Fry and Matz
sat across the table, eyes glaring in hi-def.
In a corner stood Mr. Blaine, stress disfiguring his face.
blown your seals this time," Matz was saying, shaking an oversized head
populated with pins and studs. "You
can't melt down onstage and attack members of the paying public. Do I even have
to say this?"
fingers tipped with obsidian black nail polish through his obsidian black
hair. "What sort of road dope are
you into, anyway? You seem… spaced.
More than usual."
laughed. Spaced. Yes, that was
it. How he wanted to reveal what he'd been going
through, seeing Trask these past weeks. Trask,
the ex-fourth member of the Rulers.
Trask, the buried one.
too much to drink. Some wimp gave me the
finger and I lost it. Sorry."
forward. "We had to beg Mr. Blaine to
pay off the kid you clobbered. That
means we get nothing for tonight. And this
might not even be the last of it. There were
a lot of witnesses."
at how Trask had managed to break away and flee the Wreck, leaving some brainless
doper in his place. "So shoot
me. I said I was sorry."
see that." Mr. Blaine shook his
head, peeled himself from the wall, and left the room.
when the door slammed.
"Wonderful. How to make
Viktor resented how they were treating him like some third-string
member of the Rulers instead of the exalted lead guitarist. In their arrogance,
they couldn't even
conceive that his priceless talent was in jeopardy and he was fighting for his
life. "It was just a simple bar
fight in an east Texas redneck club. Not
exactly Albert Hall. No one's going to complain.
You ask me, it'll probably add to our badass reputation."
at Matz, stood up. "Viktor, you
either get a grip on yourself, end the ultra-fists, or we'll find another
shredder. There are plenty around. We
survived after Trask split, we can survive
without you, too. You know the music
biz: here today, gone later this
afternoon." He smiled with a weird,
asymmetrical contraction of the muscles around his mouth. "One more chance."
his sputtering old ATV into the bayou's thick forest as far as the scaly brown yaupon
trees and soft soil allowed. He parked
and left the vehicle behind, began his hike into the marshy interior of the
remote forgotten property two hours outside Beaumont, near the Louisiana border. As
he climbed over a sagging barbed wire
fence and trudged into the woods, he continued to analyze the threat as he saw
Trask, alive? Viktor
had done a lot of research and didn't necessarily believe in ghosts, as his
rational mind told him that a living Trask, no matter how far-fetched, was the best
explanation. Or was it? Hadn't
Trask once mentioned a long-lost
brother? Maybe this brother was a
twin. Theoretically, that could explain "Trask's"
appearances. He had to consider it.
But why would this theoretical brother torture Viktor—and
with an air piano? It was past Pluto impossible
that he, or anyone, could know that Viktor had killed Trask a year ago. Or that
a piano had anything to do with
He needed to pull this mystery apart and solve it. The most logical answer was that Trask had actually
survived their fight, dragged himself free from the grave, then spent months
recuperating and planning his revenge. He'd
seen things like that happen in beaucoup awesome movies, so he knew it was
possible. What he needed was to start at
the beginning, at the gravesite. To see with
his own eyes, first and foremost, if Trask had managed to unbury himself.
An hour along the faint path through the woods, he came to the
unnamed hidden creek he'd often visited over the years. He turned north along
the mushy narrow bank, watching
his steps, pushing branches, heading for his secret fishing spot. The foliage
had thickened since the last time
he'd been here, alone with Trask, on a break from touring for a private relaxing
day of catfish, tequila, and chemicals. The
path was a little different now, compliments of the flooding common in this
region. But a half-mile on, the yellowish
rock still jutted inches above the ground cover.
He knelt to the stone, brushed away moss and dirt, found
the X he'd scratched with his knife a year ago.
Viktor crossed himself. Seeing it
brought back what had once existed between Trask and him, their plans and
hopes, and he felt a minor jab of sadness.
Despite their fight, Trask had been a fellow musician, deserved more
than a raw pit in the ground. So, Viktor
had marked his passing, one artist to another, the decent thing to do.
"We need to add a piano to the band," Trask had
declared, once fortified. "Face
it. Speed metal's over. The Rulers
need to adapt, get out of this dead-end
swamp circuit. A guitar, bass, drums, with
me on piano instead of rhythm guitar."
The very thought was a painful loud-hailer blaring inside
Viktor's head. A piano? The instrument
forced down his throat as a
kid, day after day, by his wannabe concert pianist parents. The unmasterable
instrument that had sent him
fleeing to the spectacular alternate universe of simple three-chord thrash,
distortion, volume. The instrument that could
never in this eon mix with metal. A piano.
And Trask had even crazier Dutch uncle ideas:
"I'm the musical genius in this band,"
he'd boasted. "I should be the
leader, not you. I'll get Fry and Matz
to vote with me. We'll rename ourselves
and head to LA with a more commercial sound.
I have contacts. You don't like
Viktor felt his
nerves catch fire with rage. Abandon the
band for which he'd suffered years of bloody fingertips, sleepless nights,
screaming dreams of suffocating crowds?
The resulting explosive brawl hadn't gone well for Trask. He'd been no match for Viktor's fists—and his
At first, Viktor had been panicked by the inert body at his
feet and the trouble he'd faced. But later
that afternoon, as he'd sobered up while putting Trask into the ground, he'd worked
out a plan to handle Fry and Matz: "I
don't know where Trask's gone. Maybe to
La La Land. Forget him. We've
got a gig to do and we'll do it as a power
No one had known they'd been fishing together, and no one ever
wondered too hard about the sudden disappearance of yet another whacky loner
itinerant metal-rocker for greener pastures.
Three paces from the rock, Viktor plunged his shovel into
It was difficult labor.
He chopped his way down, ripping vines, scooping heavy, soggy clots only
to have the sludge run back into the hole, refilling it halfway. Viktor bore
down, digging deeper. He lost himself in the effort, unaware of dripping
sweat or muggy air.
Soon, the shovel tapped a solid object.
Viktor probed with the point of the blade, worked it around
carefully, alarmed that there was something down there. He straightened, drank
from his canteen, grappling. A rock?
A tree root? He hadn't expected
this. He'd been sure.
He gripped the shovel and leaned in, leveraged up until a human
skull emerged with a sucking sound from the soupy brown water. Staring, could
feel the air clawing in and
out of his lungs, tried to grasp what this—
There was something else down there too, sloshing. Bright red flashed in wavelets, churning
creatures breaking the surface.
Viktor forced himself to retreat. Crawfish.
Hundreds, splashing, swarming on and about the remains, picking, tearing,
nesting in their muck—
"What the hell are you doing on my property?" a
voice behind him bellowed.
Viktor spun to confront a tall, bearded man dressed in hip
waders and overalls. He held a big white
plastic bucket in one hand and a long pole net in the other. Muscles bulged
from his arms and his furious eyes
"Did you hear me?
You poaching my crawfish? Are you
a poacher?" The cloddish man
stomped closer, craned his neck, gaped into the hole.
"I'm not stealing," Viktor said, knowing it was
too late, words weren't going to help. The
muscular bearded man's eyes were as big as beanbags, fixed on the skull.
The man dropped the bucket and crawfish gushed out onto the
ground, escaping frantically in all directions, around Viktor's ankles and into
the hole. "That's… human," he
said. “You killed someone!"
"I swear, I had nothing—"
But the man had already pulled a cell phone from his pocket
and was tapping.
Viktor had only a second to decide, act, prevent. There was no time to weigh the right course
of action, the smart thing to do. Instead,
he lunged, shovel swinging. The sharp blade
opened a serious neck gash, sending the man to the ground. Viktor swung again
and landed with a ringing blow
that left him very still.
He stood over the body for a long time, listening to the
stream, feeling the heat of the day, watching the crawfish scuttle, twitch, and
probe, until he was sure the bearded guy would never move again.
Eventually Viktor saw no choice but to dig.
Heaving into the job, he enlarged the grave,
By sundown Viktor had smashed and scattered the man's phone
and was racing in his bucking ATV back to his pickup truck parked miles away.
Someone might one day find the double grave, but it would
be a long way down the road with nothing to link him to it.
The hicks would scratch their heads forever.
The Caveman's Club was halfway between Houston and Lufkin, yet
the Steel Rulers played as if it were some metal Mecca on the LA strip. Viktor
bent the notes to roaring highs, Fry's
bass boomed in counterpoint, Matz's drums were louder than the king's cannons defending
the castle. The bangers jerked to the sound
blowing off the stage. They'd paid their
money to get their brains cauterized. Viktor
was happy to oblige with a ripping torrent of speed metal.
Howling into the set, Viktor saw Trask at the back of the
hall in hazy gray clothes, hands palms-down and floating back and forth in the
air, as if over a piano. Viktor
struggled to keep his fingers moving across the guitar neck but his notes were already
Trask was still alive, right here in front of him, tracking,
torturing, trying to drive him schitzi. But
this time Viktor had a better grip, had figured out the whole picture. Trask
had dragged himself from his grave a
year ago, spent months convalescing, then killed someone else and buried him
there. Just in case Viktor came back,
searching. It was all an elaborate
setup. Trask was the murderer, not
Viktor. It was as obvious as the surface
of the sun.
From the shadows another figure appeared and joined Trask,
a tall, bearded guy in overalls carrying a big white bucket. While Trask worked
his piano, the man flipped
the bucket upside down and began to beat the bottom in time to the music.
So, the goon was alive too, in partnership with Trask. Viktor cursed himself for not making
absolutely sure he was dead. Now he was unearthed
too, and they were ganging up on him. But
Viktor stayed cool, because it didn't matter.
He wasn't afraid. The truth made
him strong. They didn't know who they
were dealing with, his determination to protect what he owned.
He felt his fingers returning to normal.
This time, it'd be different. He'd end it.
He looked over at Fry and Matz, gave them a leader's nod, then shrugged off
his guitar, hopped down to the floor, and with iron in his fists shouldered through
Before long Viktor got used to the home, more or less. At least that's what the others in the group,
and the heavies in white shoes, called it.
The home. So Viktor decided to
just go with the flow. But secretly he'd
come to the conclusion that despite the serene, drowsy days and long, deeply groggy
nights, it wasn't really a home in the normal meaning of the word. It was someplace
else, a place where they
didn’t want you to leave, where they kept track of your movements, where things
were very regimented and well-guarded.
But why let it bother him?
Really, when it came right down to it, he had practically everything he
wanted. He had friends. He had
classic television and movies that
never got stale no matter how many times they ran. He had decent food, though
and peaceful walks around the rolling green grounds twice a day.
Sometimes, though, he craved a thrash metal guitar at a jet
engine volume. Something loud and
piercing enough to crack granite. He
could feel his fingers squirming, as if they were little animals with primitive
hungers of their own.
He'd asked once, very nicely, if that could be arranged, and
the heavy in white shoes had offered up something more tranquil and balanced,
something that wasn't so extreme, so aggressive. Something soothing that the
whole group could
sing along with.
Could Viktor play piano?
So each Saturday night Viktor clenched his jaws until he
saw red, red sparkles, but played the house piano anyway, living for the brief
chance to slip an interesting off-scale note or semblance of a power chord into
the oatmeal of old showtunes and schmaltzy lullabies the shoes permitted him.
It wasn't much, but it would have to do, until the crawfish
came scratching at his bedroom door.
They were, after all, his biggest fans.
John J. Dillon has
worked for many years in the computer software industry and his most
interesting job was at an atom smasher laboratory. Over the years he’s had
several publishing credits, one of his earliest being as co-author of a
hardcover spy thriller published by Cliffhanger Press, titled The Druze Document.
He lives in Dallas, Texas but loves snowboarding in Utah beyond all reason.
If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka
sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing
strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved
with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only
ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at
his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If
you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him
on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.