Kitty and Cadaver: Not the Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter 3; Part 2

by Narrelle M Harris

Chapter One: Pt 1 | Pt 2 | Pt 3
Chapter Two: Pt 1| Pt 2
Chapter Three: Pt 1 |

Sleep after rehearsals proved a challenge. Sal kept them awake again with his nightmares. He’d had them almost every night since they lost Alex and Kurt to the vampires. Since he’d had to finish the job on Alex, to keep his best friend dead.

Since he’d had to behead him. Cut out his dead heart. Stuff his mouth and heart cavity with garlic. Burn the body.

It was four days before Sal had even been able to sleep at all. He wasn’t convinced that the nightmares were better than the hallucinatory craziness of the severe insomnia, except that the hallucinations had seemed so real. At least he knew the nightmares were just nightmares.

So even when it made them fractious, nobody complained to Sal about the whimpering and the cries. They all politely pretended not to have noticed anything the next morning. Sal seemed to prefer it that way. Nobody really knew how to make him feel better, anyway. Everyone felt terrible. That was just that.

Breakfast – toast and butter cadged from the ‘take this leftover food’ shelf in the hostel’s communal kitchen – led to rehearsals. Laszlo was getting the hang of things, and Sal was more confident with Alex’s old part in the lead, but just as he was hitting his stride, he’d falter, stumble and end in a jarring mess of notes.

Steve called time out just before Sal began to smash his guitar to splinters.

“Gonna get some air,” said Steve, “You might want to go get your sticks now, Yuka. Then we better go check out the hotel’s set-up, see what we might need. Meet you there in a few hours. Then we’ll try rehearsing here again tonight,” and he stalked outside.

Once outside, he pulled his phone from his pocket and checked his messages.

Of course we will, said the email from his nephew Angus, Nothing could make us happier. We’ll sort out tickets and meet you and Kelly soon.

Well, that was something. Gretel would be cared for, just the way Alex and Kurt would have liked. And if Steve hadn’t told the rest of the band yet, well, it was partly that he didn’t want to say anything until it had all been confirmed. Yuka and Sal had made it perfectly clear from the start how they felt about Alex and Kurt becoming parents, and they’d turned out to be right, which didn’t make it easier. But that little girl was the closest Steve would ever get to grandkids, and he was going to do right by her, no matter what it cost him.

It was high time he retired, anyway. Sometimes he couldn’t believe he’d made it this far without being killed or losing a limb. He’d been with this band – under three names now – since he was fifteen years told. The idea that he might make it out alive had never occurred to him before Budapest.

Now, though. Now. He was starting to see the appeal in it. Sitting on a porch, in a rocking chair, singing to Gretel as she grew up. Dying twenty or thirty years hence in his own bed, of some nice old people’s condition, not bitten in half by a dragon (Anna, his first band leader) or poisoned by an enraged witch (Rodrigo, his second) or killed by vampires (his third, Alex, and Kurt).

Steve stabbed at the text pad on his phone, squinting at the letters, until he finally sent: Good. See you then.

That done, he jammed the phone in his pocket, hooked his thumbs in his belt, and ambled towards the centre of Melbourne to see what, if anything, was going down. All these years travelling the world, and he’d never made it to Australia before. It had to have more going for it than simply being a very long way away from a defeated nest of Hungarian vampires.

The stretch of road along which he walked wasn’t giving him much to go on, though. Perhaps its charms were more of the hidden type, Steve considered. Some cities were like that – and he’d seen enough of them – garden variety on the surface and all buried treasure once you started poking into the spaces in alleys and old buildings. Of course, those were the cities that frequently held nasty surprises. Made ‘em interesting, he supposed.

Today, Steve Borman was not in the mood for interesting. He was very much in the mood for garden variety.

His feet led him finally past an elegant Victorian era building, colonnade sheltering a café and the scent of coffee beans and toasted sandwiches. The building ended where a traffic-free plaza began, split in two by tram tracks down its middle. Steve paused, looking at the collection of tall posts bearing narrow flags advertising a recent art exhibition. At their feet was what looked like a giant, pink, narrow, naked backside. A few steps took him to the front of the thing, which showed it to actually be a giant marble coin purse.

Well, okay Melbourne, thought Steve, I kinda like your big pink ass-purse. What else you got for me?

That’s when he heard the music. Steve lifted his head and peered down the length of the plaza. Half way down, a small band was playing, and playing well. One of that little band was playing better than well. Even half a city block away, Steve could feel that special something humming through the notes.

Steve squared his shoulders and strode towards the sound.

The four-piece was set up in front of a department store. The lead vocalist was growling into a mic while to his right a drummer sat on a stool and thumped away at a djembe drum, slapping out a rhythm that the lead guitarist to the left of the singer matched. The singer was fine: not brilliant, but competent, and those two musicians were, well, fine. But Steve had heard from the other end of the street that it was the thrum and soul coming from the bass player that was keeping them together, lifting their game. It was the bass player’s low undercurrent keeping that sense of lurking danger in the song.

Turn to face the sun
Blazing bright
Everything warm and light
But there’s something colder
at your shoulder
Behind you, you know
There is a shadow

A young man stood bent over his bass guitar, fingers arched and flying across the neck and the strings, his feet braced wide and steady. From the throbbing low notes to the counter-melody that wove through the higher register, that boy was the one weaving the players into a whole, keeping the drumbeat in line, keeping the lead guitar from wavering off into blurry fingering, tugging the singer back into key and rhythm. His was the power bringing out the inherent threat of the lyric and also keeping it at bay, a careful balance.

Keep your eyes on the light
Keep your back to the shadow,
dark as night
And maybe you won’t see it
And maybe
it won’t see into you

Steve folded his arms and watched that young man, hardly more than a boy it seemed, though the world was increasingly peopled with just kids, he’d started to think lately. This kid was dark-skinned and dark-eyed, with strong and graceful hands, his focus entirely on his instrument. He seemed to be unaware that he was guiding the others to be better than they would have been alone.

That shadow
Eclipses your better self
There’s strength in that darkness
When you need it
You’d better, you’d better
Hope to god you won’t need it

Steve Borman was fifty eight. He had been playing guitar since he was nine. He had been imbued with music and magic combined since he was fifteen. He could see power with his naked eye. And this boy? This boy had power, both musical and magical.

And it does not forget
And it will not forgive
Fight it, fight it|
For as long as you live

Steve waited until the band had finished their set and, while a flurry of onlookers went to buy a CD from the drummer, he sidled up to the bass player. The kid stood a little apart from the others, plucking at a string and listening to its vibration.

“Sounds in tune to me,” Steve said.

“Hmmm,” said the kid.

“Pitch perfect, in fact.”

“That so?”

“That is indeed a fact,” Steve said, smiling at the other’s dryness. “Though I guess that string gives you a bit of trouble, sometimes. Mine used to. Turned out to be the peg.” Steve forbore to mention that this was because the offending peg had been a last minute fix whittled out of a fingerbone found in a Dresden graveyard. Much too early for that much detail.

“Thanks for the tip.”

“Any time, kid.”

The kid looked up then. “I appreciate the advice and everything,” said the kid, “But I’m kind of busy.”

“I can see you’re plenty busy. You carry this band.”

That made the boy’s eyes flash. So: he knew it after all.

“Is there something you’re after?” asked the kid.

“Matter of fact, yes,” Steve said, “Do you have a passport?”

The kid laughed as though finally seeing the disappointing purpose of this conversation.

“Yeah, but you’ll never pass for me, so I’m not selling.”

Steve liked this kid. A lot. “No, seriously. I’ve got a feeling you’ll be going places soon.”

The kid gave him a sardonic look. “That’s a terrible pick-up line and dude, you look deadly, okay, but you’re not my type.”

Steve grinned at the boy, pleased at being thought ‘deadly’, even while suspecting it meant more like… wicked cool rather than actually deadly. He was certainly the latter when required.

“Ain’t like that at all, kid. This ain’t a proposition. Well,” he laughed, “It is, but not the one you think it is. I’m what you might call a talent scout. No, not like that.” Annoyance had crept into his tone.

The annoyance prompted a sudden laugh from the kid. “Hey, all right, calm down, mate.” The boy’s grin was infectious. “You’re not queer, fine.”

“Never said I wasn’t queer,” said Steve, “I said I wasn’t propositioning you in that manner.”

“So you are queer then?”

“You are missing the point of this conversation.”

The kid, still with a grin on his face, folded his arms across the top of his guitar. “And the point is?”

Steve leaned towards the boy, closing the gap between them, hazel eyes fixed on brown.

“Have you ever,” said Steve, low and earnest, “Made things change with your music.”

The boy’s grin faltered.

Steve continued, voice too soft for the nearby crowd or the other band members to hear. “Have you ever played to the dry ground and made it rain? Sung a baby to sleep and the whole house went quiet? Played so angry you broke every glass in your house, or cracked a paving stone outside? You ever made a fire with your fingers on those strings, kid?”

The boy’s whole body was tense as an overwound spring. His jaw clenched shut. His eyes were wide.

“What do you know about that?” His voice was a whisper forced out like a confession over vocal cords tight with fear.

“I know all there is to know about it,” Steve promised him, “Including what it’s for.”

The boy swallowed so hard the sound of it swelled in the air between them.

“Come with me when you’re done here,” Steve said, “I’ll tell you a story.”

The kid looked like he was going to refuse, but Steve had been in his place before. When he was fifteen and wandering the streets, playing for dimes and quarters and hoping he could find a safe place to sleep without having to fight to keep his guitar, the only thing left of his old life, and knowing he’d have to fight anyway. This kid didn’t look so homeless, but right now he looked exactly as lost as Steve had been when Anna had found him. When she had heard him play, and promised him a story that would explain it all.

“Fine,” said the boy suddenly, “Fine. I’ll go with you and you can tell me a story. But that’s it. No promises from me.”

“Ain’t asked you for any yet,” said Steve.

“The name’s Stephen. Stephen Maclean,” said the kid.

“How about that,” said the Texan named Steve, and wondered if it was a sign.

That’s all for now, as I work with an agent to find a publisher for the book and the proposed series. Subscribe to the blog to keep track of what’s happening with the project!

(Please feel free to post your responses to the story here: thoughts, speculation, whatever strikes you, good or bad.)

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.

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Kitty and Cadaver: Not the Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter 3; Part 1

by Narrelle M Harris

Chapter One: Pt 1 | Pt 2 | Pt 3
Chapter Two: Pt 1| Pt 2

Despite its desperately humble origins, the evening meal was well received. At least, nobody actively complained and nobody was sick later. With Yuka’s history of sourcing meals, this was considered a terrific success.

After the meal, Yuka laid her damaged sticks on the table. “I need new ones,” she said.

Sal brushed a finger over the abrasions on the tips and gave her a questioning look.

Yuka shrugged. “Last century’s dead under the market were waking. Something older too, annoyed at the disturbance. I sent them all back to sleep.” At Sal’s raised eyebrow, Yuka scowled. “If I thought it was serious, I would have got you. It’s not a problem. I just need more sticks.”

Sal frowned, but before he could disagree with Yuka, Steve leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, and drawled. “Sure thing, Yuka.” He nodded at Sal. “You know what those old burial places are like. Folks shift a few bones, build a car park or a shopping centre right over the rest and think that’s it. They don’t hear the dead turning in their graves.”

“It’s not funny,” said Sal darkly.

“Naw, ain’t funny,” Steve agreed, “Ain’t nothing too serious either. Some bones are just bones remembering flesh for a space. No evil in it. Just hush ‘em down, like Yuka said, and it’s fine. You know it, Sal. You’re just on edge. Let it be.”

Sal closed his eyes. “I can’t be the only one on edge, Steve. How can you…?” His throat closed up before he could finish the accusation.

Steve leaned forward, dropping his hand over Sal’s fingers, splayed on the tabletop. “I’ve been with this band since before Alex and Kurt. I’ve seen people I love die. I’ve seen ‘em be eaten by the dark, and by monsters, and you know I’m not being merely poetical when I say that. But I keep going because if I give up, I watched people I love die for nothing.”

Sal’s chest rose and fell in a shuddering sigh, and he nodded. “I know,” he said, “I’m trying.”

“I know you are. Just… try to breathe. The world’s full of restless things, but it don’t mean they’re all trying to eat us. Let’s just get our heads around the new gig, sort out our rehearsal schedule. Tomorrow, we’ll get Yuka’s sticks and we’ll start looking for new talent.”

Not replacement talent. Never replacements.  Whoever they found to join them – if anyone – it would change the band and make them something new. That was how this worked, whether they liked it or not.

After the meal, Steve drafted a potential set list and a rehearsal schedule.

Laszlo sat, cradling the violin Steve had handed to him that afternoon, listening to Steve, Sal and Yuka play and sing through the set selection. He’d spent hours polishing and tuning the instrument, and played a few notes on it, wondering what he’d done to be worthy of it.

It was old, the ‘fiddle’ that Steve had retrieved from the trunk. Very old, with an elaborate carving on its back, of birds and vines. Whoever had made it – and it wasn’t a Micheli or Amati or any of the other early known luthiers – had been a genius with both wood and music. The violin was beautifully balanced and modulated. Laszlo had been lucky enough to hold and play a Stradivarius in his time, an exquisite instrument. This old, faded, battered, beautiful thing was ten times the instrument that Stradivarius had been.

Well, for a start, it was unlikely the Stradivarius had ever been used to sing the walls down on a nest of killers; to make harmonies while the band, fighting for their lives, sang up the roots of trees, and sang down branches, and taught the plants themselves to stake vampires.

Laszlo ran his finger gently over the fretboard, and wondered if the violin knew it had been used to help kill Alex Torni and Kurt Stefan: two men who had loved each other as fiercely as they had loved their now orphaned daughter; as much as they had loved their mission and their band. Their not-famous yet somehow infamous band.

The others paused in their singing and Laszlo paused in his caressing of the strings. “What did that man Malone mean,” he asked into the hush, “About what they say about you?”

Sal’s hands rested on his guitar, glad for a moment’s respite from learning the lead part. He glanced at Yuka.

“A band like ours,” said Yuka, a little stiffly, like it was a lecture she’d only ever heard before, not given, “There is magic in the music, even when we are not singing spells. If you sing enough magic into the instrument, it will seep out no matter what you are doing.”  She nodded at the violin. “That instrument has almost four hundred years of music and spellwork in it. That is why it’s lasted so long, and why we needed it in Budapest.”

“No offence to your playing, Laszlo,” interrupted Steve, “But a six year old could’ve played that day and it would’ve helped.”

Laszlo believed it. He remembered too well the power of the song swelling out of the violin that day, and how he’d struggled to control it.

“So,” Yuka continued, “Our band has a reputation. When we play support, the tour always goes very well, no matter who the headline act is, or how bad they are. We play, and the audiences are always in a great mood, the gigs are always the best they’ve ever done, the most merchandise they’ve ever sold.  When our band plays, it’s a golden ticket for the band we support.”

“This is why we only play shows when we need the money,” Sal added, then dredged up a faint smile, like this was an old joke. “Even though we always need the money. Don’t want to help too many sucky bands make it big, eh?” Then the expression dissolved, because the person who used to tell that tired old joke was dead. He rubbed a hand over his face and then left it there, trying to hide his sadness. Laszlo wondered if he should say something – something comforting, or something to change the topic – but Sal scrubbed at his face again and then looked up.

“You know we have to send half of what we make for Gretel.”

Steve shifted his bass from his knee to the floor. “You don’t need to worry about Gretel. We’re going to look after her.”

“How? Where’s she going to end up? Your niece can’t babysit her forever, her birth mother disappeared the minute she handed Gretel over to Alex, and we can’t look after her. We can’t take her on the road with us. We couldn’t keep either of her dads alive, we certainly can’t keep a baby safe. I told them…”

“I said,” said Steve with sharp emphasis, “She’s gonna be fine. I got it under control.” He met Yuka’s glare. “And don’t you start with me, Yuka. We heard all you and Sal had to say about the irresponsibility of Kurt and Alex wanting kids way back then. It’s done. A hundred told you so’s don’t fix the problem.”

Yuka blinked slowly, her challenging glare not faltering. “Being right does not make me happy, Steve. At least Alex had the sense to leave her with Kelly before we had to go to Hungary. But I don’t see why Kelly can’t…”

“Kelly’s just fine,” said Steve, “She can take care of Gretel as long as we need…” He grit his teeth on the rest of the sentence. “Don’t fret it.”

Steve pulled the bass back onto his knee. “So given that, and given that we have six days to pull a show together, I suggest we get on with rehearsing these songs. Laszlo, you heard enough to start working out harmony lines yet? Sheet music’s right there on the table. Sal, you get to forgetting the rhythm part and get to remembering the lead part, that’ll be a whole lot more help here.”

A brittle silence followed, then Sal swallowed and started picking out the notes of the first song. He stopped again. Without looking up from the strings, he said: “I didn’t think they should have had Gretel. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to do what’s best for her.”

Steve released a hissing breath. “I know that, Sal. I know Yuka loves her too, even though she don’t say.”

Yuka narrowed her eyes at him, but didn’t deny it.

Slowly, Sal plucked out a simple melody on the strings. “She’s going to need protection,” he said.

“She’ll have it.”

“From us, I mean.”

Yuka scowled at Laszlo’s startled expression. “From those who would use her to get to us,” she explained impatiently.

The melody Sal was playing remained gentle but strong. Steve began to play a bass line through it.

“She’ll be protected,” said Steve.

“Will this have any effect from this far away?” Yuka asked, beginning a quiet beat anyway, her hands against the skin of the smallest drum, marking a sweet-sounding rhythm.

“It’s her song,” said Steve, “They wrote it for her, and we’ve been singing it to her since she was born. It’ll find her.”

Laszlo listened to them, and to the words that the three of them began to sing.

Heave a sigh, baby girl,
Don’t you cry, baby girl
Your daddies are guarding the door

He lifted the violin to his chin and raised the bow. The melody was simple, and he knew this old instrument was full of magic. It couldn’t hurt; and he was one of them now.

Laugh out loud, baby girl
Be strong and proud, baby girl
Keeping you safe is what your daddies are for

Laszlo drew the bow across the strings, adding a harmony. The song was uncomplicated, as lullabies should be, and sweet. It reminded him of his own long estranged children, and he poured his heart into the next two stanzas. He didn’t know if he had any music magic of his own, but the violin had enough for both of them.

Listen to me sing the whole lullaby, a capella.

Chapter Three Part Two

(Please feel free to post your responses to the story here: thoughts, speculation, whatever strikes you, good or bad.)

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.