Mary and I spent at least an hour and a half getting ready for the concert. We were seniors in high school, finally old enough to drive into Vegas unsupervised. We waited months for our favorite band to come to town. We begged for weeks to use the car, a glamorous, blue, 1985 station wagon. Then we promised on our lives we would not drink, smoke, hook up with strange guys, and that we would come straight home after the show. I probably would have promised to wear nothing but cords and sweater vests for the rest of the school year if it would have meant having this night with my best friend.
The drive was uneventful; loud music, much giggling, gossip about boys, and plans for the coming summer and college beyond. Mary was gorgeous. Her naturally platinum hair was bobbed and framed her cherubic facial features like a Bouguereau painting. Her bright red
pouting lips and huge blue eyes always looked better without make up, but every time I told her that she waved me away with her hand and acted bored. She always had a boyfriend. She always had the best clothes and shoes, and yet she wasn’t one of those popular girls who was just as nasty on the inside as she was pretty on the outside.
I was just along for the ride. My chubby frame, dishwater hair and thrift store clothes never attracted anything. The only thing I could figure I added to our relationship (because I certainly wasn’t dragging any boys into the picture) was a quick wit and street smarts to help sort out the losers from the legit.
The concert was in a small, old fashioned hall just off the strip. We parked outside and drank in the warm autumn air as we skipped up to the doors like little kids headed for the park. We were early. All the house lights were up and people were milling around, nervous, excited, hungry for the lights to drop so their joints could light up the dark corners behind their seats.
We found our row, just past the orchestra section, center stage. We settled in, wondering who the opening band would be. Eventually, two lanky, older looking boys walked up and entered our row on Mary’s side. Typical. The tallest of the duo tossed his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes and cast a confident smile her way. She ignored him, forcing him to speak and earn her attention.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Up close, his face and voice betrayed his age a bit more, despite his obvious attempt at dressing younger. My money was on him being at least late twenties, early thirties.
“Fine.” Mary said without looking again. I was checking out his friend, hoping for someone devastatingly handsome who liked chunky, smart girls. No luck. He was tall and old too. Nothing devastating about it except that they were planting themselves next to us for the long haul. I thought about asking him for his ticket stub to make sure those were their seats, but decided against it when I realized sidekick noticed me staring and grinned that shy sort of I’m-not-really-interested-in-you-but-I-like-your-friend smile at me. What did he think, Mary was up for both of them? Ugh.
Annoyed, I joined Mary and stared straight at the stage, willing the show to start. The leader of the old boys didn’t take the hint. He kept jabbering at Mary and she kept feeding him one word answers until the music started. My mood grew darker, but there was nothing I could do. I
watched people file in the doors as the place filled up, willing one or more of them (preferably good looking guys our age or at least some cool girls) to come with an usher and oust the lerpy old perves.
No such luck. We were stuck in our seats and they were stuck next to us. A few times she referred to me to answer his inane questions like…”So do you like Pearl Jam?” Duh. It’s 1994. Are we breathing?
Finally the lights went down and the music blasted us out of our seats. Relief at last! The only thing worse than watching an old dude hit on your best friend is watching a young hot dude hit on your best friend. Either way.. an ear splitting rock concert was much better.
But old dude kept talking. He was shouting over the music now. And Mary was actually shouting back. Incredulous, I felt myself getting more and more aggravated. This was not how our first concert as big girls was supposed to go. I couldn’t even enjoy the music.
Eventually I hear the lerp ask Mary how old she was and I heard her reply with a bouncy and much too loud, “Twenty-one!” Time to intervene.
“You are not!” I yelled.
She promptly stomped on my foot.
“What?” The loser was straining to hear what I said. I gave Mary a death glare that demanded: what are you doing?! I didn’t care if she hooked up with a guy tonight, but surely not this child molester.
“Just shut up!” She leaned close to my ear so I could hear her over the music but he couldn’t, “I know what I’m doing.”
Whatever. I was so pissed by this point I sat down. Concert ruined.
I put my head in my hands and leaned forward, trying to take a deep breath that didn’t include someone else’s drugs.
Thoughts of the past few hours came back to me. Especially the moments when we talked about our futures and what we wanted. As the music slammed into me on all sides and Mary’s hip occasionally bumped my head, I let my anger melt into melancholy and I wondered what I was really going to do with my life.
My parents insisted I go to college but were not going to help at all. I knew I didn’t want to stay at home, that was the last place I wanted to be after everyone else moved on, but I was honestly terrified to leave. I also knew I was losing Mary. We were going in very different directions and tonight was just another blatant reminder. No matter what she said, she was heading down her own path.
A somber feeling, like a blanket fell over me. I was completely removed from the moment, the experience. The smells, music, and romping bodies couldn’t pull me back. I was a million years old in a sea of babies who had no idea what they were doing either.
The song changed to a slower rhythm. It was one I knew well from the cd I played over and over again, never taking it out of the stereo for fear of it being scratched and never getting the money to buy another one.
Random arms went up into the air holding lighters and swaying to the beat. A few people sat down to catch their breath or light another joint. The lights on stage came on behind the band, twinkling like a sky full of stars, and the stage beams swept up and down over the crowd in a slow rhythm, following the drummer’s lead.
That’s when I saw them.
I knew what I was seeing as soon as my vision shifted. They were dark and thick, but not completely solid. They hovered in masses around the people in front of me, just a foot or so off of the debris littered floor. They had no real features but conveyed a definite hunger at the bodies in front of me swaying and rocking to the beat. They huddled in the aisles next to those resting in their seats. Two of them followed a guard down the aisle that divided the $90 seats from the $30 seats.
They were hungry and relentless. They watched with baited breath like a stay at home mom wrapped up in a soap opera. They craved our every action for themselves. They oozed jealousy. But even worse than that, they were patience manifested in its darkest form – they were waiting.
I had seen them before. They came to me at night when I woke suddenly from the throes of a nightmare. They followed me when I walked home alone after a dance. They filled my neighbors house in droves while he beat his wife and children before he drank himself into oblivion.
Never in a million years would I have asked for the ability to see them. There seemed to be no purpose to my gift. If you could call it a gift. More often than not I could feel them before I could see them. I pushed these feelings away. I was never terrified, but the fact that I couldn’t control when or where my sight would clear and the other side would become visible to me was unnerving.
That night was more than unnerving. It was overwhelming. I’d never seen this many at once before. I felt completely surrounded and helpless. The music I loved turned sinister in my ears. I felt surges of pity for the living who had no idea how close they were to paranormal danger – and there was danger in the air. I had heard stories before of evil spirits craving a body to inhabit more than anything, an eternal hunger only satisfied by a foolish human unwilling to guard and care for his body. I read a book once by someone else who could see the other side, that as a
person loses consciousness their bodies become fair game. Here before me was proof. Dark, sinister forms were watching for the weakest ones, stalking the persons closest to losing the one advantage we have over them.
I forced myself to stand up. This was more than I could black out by closing my eyes and whispering a scripture or a child’s song. I had to get away from this place.
“I need some air,” I shouted to Mary.
She gave me an annoyed look, thinking I was mad about the old man hitting on her. In truth I had completely forgotten about them.
“I’m just going out to the car for a minute.” I tried to speaking kindly, I knew she would follow me and I was glad. Mary and I had never been into drugs or drinking even though our friends were. I was certain she wasn’t in any danger from the unliving, but I didn’t like the idea of leaving her there alone, surrounded by demons and old creepy guys.
She sighed and grabbed her stuff.
“Hey! Where are you going?” The loser was a bit panicked.
“We need some air.” I said simply, trying to shoot him down without being too rude.
I turned and raced for the exit, trying to breath normally, trying not to look like a freak. I guess I went too fast because Mary was practically sprinting to catch up with me in the parking lot.
“What is your problem?” She was mad, very mad.
“I just couldn’t stand to be in there another minute.” This was not a lie.
“Why? Because he liked me and not YOU?” Her pale blue eyes dug into me for the truth, her cheeks were flushed and her hair was sweaty from dancing in place.
“No! You don’t understand. I just couldn’t…” That’s when I saw him behind her.
“Why did you leave?” It was old dude and he looked even OLDER in the street light, if that was possible.
“Nowhere, my friend just has a headache.” Mary’s tone was slightly annoyed with him as well.
“Oh, ok. What are you girls doing now?”
“We’re going home.” I tried to make my voice threatening without bluntly telling him to go find a hooker on D street. I still couldn’t believe they followed us.
Mary looked at me with beseeching eyes. She wanted to hang out with these guys? I couldn’t understand her at all.
“I’m going home Mary. You’re supposed to be staying at my house tonight. Is he going to give you a ride back?” Trying to reason with her was like telling a two year old they couldn’t have candy at the checkout. But she sighed, exchanged phone numbers with the loser and we were gone.
I felt the heavy fog leaving me slowly the farther we got from the strip. So much relief, like being unable to walk then learning you can fly. I didn’t even care that Mary was chewing me out royally from the passenger seat. I sat silently taking every word of it in without caring. I knew tonight had changed everything. I knew I couldn’t tell her the truth. She would think I was completely crazy. We weren’t going to be best friends like this for much longer. How could you be best friends and not share everything?
A thought occurred to me then, “Did you give him your real phone number?” I could just see her dad freaking out royally when someone his age called and asked to speak to his 17 year old daughter.
“HA!” I laughed out loud, a long hard laugh, banishing the rest of the
residue from the concert.
After a pause, Mary joined in and we laughed together.
“He was kinda gross huh?” She asked sheepishly.
“You think?” I answered.
We were going to be just fine. I was going to be just fine.