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First Chapter of Warped

Since I’m feeling very productive lately, I thought I’d load the first chapter of Warped, a new thriller/mystery.

Synopsis: Great music, wine, and food have made the nation’s largest traveling music festival the place to be and be seen. Amidst the music, lights, and crowds, people are dying and a lone FBI investigator is in a race against the clock to find the killer

The Fairground

Boom, boom, boom! From the blackened stage, a bass guitar’s broad notes exploded from the subwoofers with sound so powerful it could be felt as much as heard. The deep tones, flowing through, around and over the writhing crowd, enraptured the audience. Entranced in the music and the moment, the audience swayed in time to the music. Amidst the sonic onslaught, a single spotlight illuminated the lead singer.
“The night,” the lead singer chanted into his microphone. “It calls as the dark deepens and the blackness falls.”
As the bass continued its sonic attack, a second spotlight illuminated the lead guitarist as he began a thunderous guitar riff. His fingers in constant motion, his left hand moved up the guitar neck as the other picked at the guitar strings. At first clean, the guitar notes were progressively distorted until the sound was almost a scream. With a smile and sneer directed to the audience, he dropped his head and focused on his guitar-work.
“The blackness calls…the blackness calls.”
The bass player, now illuminated with his own spot light, lunged forward to the edge of the stage, his fingers picking a consistent rhythm. A fourth spot lit an expansive drum set as the drummer beat a fast-paced rhythm that matched the bass. The notes of the guitar, bass and drums coalesced as the singer screamed the song’s hook.
“It calls…it calls to us all!”
Overhead three hundred thousand watts of lights were turned on illuminating every inch of the expansive stage in an almost blinding flash of white/orange light. As the light flashed, firework fountains that lined the rear of the stage roared to life spraying red, orange and white sparks twenty feet into the air. The spectacle of the lights and fireworks accompanying the band’s sound brought a responding roar from the crowd.
The audience, packed shoulder to shoulder, numbered over ten thousand. The crowd was men and women in about equivalent numbers and all dressed for comfort. As hot and humid as the Tennessee summer evening was, shorts and tee shirts ruled. Nothing too revealing; well, at least for most of the crowd. Of course, the most common feature in the crowd was the ubiquitous flip-flop sandals.
Over the swaying mass hung an odor of sweat mixed with both cheap cologne and expensive perfume. Adding to it, some concert goers hadn’t showered at all during the festival’s three days. Ripe and acrid, their smell would quickly have ostracized them elsewhere, but here they fit it in. Regardless, they were all too enraptured in the music to notice smells.
Hanging above the crowd was a light red cloud. Not born of pollution, this cloud originated from the audience as they unconsciously tapped their foot, or swayed and stepped in time to the music. With each movement, the fine red dust of the fairground became airborne billowing around the audience. As the dust circled, the particles shimmered an iridescent red as the multicolored lights of the stage played off specks.
Back on the stage, the singer started the next song in the band’s set. “Cuz’ there’s blood in our hands,” he continued. “Passion demands, scarring our faith with love’s dead embrace.”
The band’s singer, with his shirt now off, gripped the microphone as he twisted and writhed like a cobra stalking and hypnotizing its intended meal. Interestingly, he was even more bedraggled than some of the concert-goers: his long black hair, matted and covered with sweat hadn’t been washed in days.
“It’s rapture’s revenge,” he bellowed as he paced across the stage. “Your lifeless body lying cold in my hands.”
At the edge of the crowd nearest the stage, a young woman accompanied by two of her best girlfriends pressed up against the metal rail. Blonde, slender and glistening from sweat, the young woman swooned, her eyes locked on the lead singer.
“Taking revenge. Let’s take our revenge.” He ran to the edge of the stage looking down to the crowd and locked eyes with the blonde. “Our revenge.”
The girl danced, twisting and gyrating seductively, as she returned the gaze of the singer. For a long time she had followed this band, downloading their music, obsessing on all the details of their lives. Now, they were all here…including the oh-so-perfect lead singer. Right here—in front of her.
Ah, baby, she thought as she continued to dance. We can make beautiful music together.
With a smile, the singer finally broke eye contact and continued to work the rest of the audience, using both his stage presence and voice to enthrall the crowd. Mid-song, he climbed down from the platform, walking past the row of security that lined the edge of the stage. With his sound engineer struggling to pay out the microphone’s cord, and security following close by, the singer strutted his way towards the audience down to the waist-high metal railing that separated the concert goers from the musicians. With security steadying him at the waist, the singer climbed up onto the metal railing directly in front of the blonde girl.
With the song’s final lyrics at hand, the singer crooned into the night. Twisting and contorting as he sang, beads of his sweat flew from his head raining down on the nearby spectators.
“Johnny,…I love you,” the girl clutched him, pressing her face against his heavily tattooed abdomen.
“Of course you do.”
With a motioning gesture to a nearby security guard, the girl was untangled from the singer. He climbed back onto the stage to close the concert set with the band’s encore song. As he did, with a signal that consisted of a slight gesture of his hand, one of the band’s roadies was signaled.
“The band would like to invite you backstage.”
“A back stage pass–this is awesome!” she exclaimed as she took the plastic laminated card. With such a pass in hand, the bearer would have access anywhere backstage, and most importantly, access to the band. “Um,…what about my friends? They want to go too.”
“Sorry, only got one pass and that’s just for you, sweet thing. So,…do you want it or not?”
“Go ahead Rachel,” offered her friend.
“Yeah,” her other friend agreed. “We’ll meet you later. You know, go check out some other bands and maybe meet some musicians of our own.”
With a wave to her friends, the girl followed the roadie around metal railings past a somber security guard to the back of the stage.

Several hours later with the festival over and the crowds beginning to thin, the three girls met near the festival’s exit.
“How ya’ doin’,…slut?”
“I’m good,” the girl responded with a smile as she pulled her long blonde hair back, her deep blue eyes shining in the night air.
“So,…Rachel, did you get back stage? Meet the band? C’mon, ya’ gotta tell us everything.”
Talking and laughing all the while, details were shared as the girls walked from the festival grounds toward their car. It was a long hike: the car was parked several miles away.
After almost an hour, they approached their beat-up red Honda. Only steps away from the car, the blonde grew quiet as her smile retreated. Her slow steps became a staggering gait until she suddenly stopped. With a pleading look to her friends, she dropped to her knees as her stomach convulsed in a tearing agony.
“Rachel? Are you okay?”
The girl glanced up with wanting eyes saying nothing but answering in a torrent of vomit. For several long minutes the girl wretched with her friends only able to help by clutching her hair from dangling into the pooled vomit. When her stomach was finally emptied, dry heaves continued to rack her body. Her body shook as she continued to heave, her toes curling in her sandals.
“Geeze, she’s really sick. I’ve never seen anyone this bad. What should we do?”
“Rachel,…honey, what do you want us to do? Do you want to go to a hospital?”
Words beyond her, the sick girl could only shake her head. However, even that minimal effort pushed her body past its limits and with a shaking convulsion the girl collapsed unconscious onto the ground.
“Rachel?” the friend shook the girl’s shoulder but no response came. After several long seconds of indecision, they finally dialed 911 summoning help.
The paramedics arrived in fifteen minutes, slowed by the voluminous traffic leaving the music festival. The two medics struggled to stabilize the girl with both oxygen and intravenous fluids but to no avail–her condition continued to decline. With the girl unconscious and her heart racing, the medics gathered her on a stretcher and raced their ambulance towards the hospital’s emergency room. Only a few blocks from the hospital, her heart stopped.
“We’ve got a 19 year old female in code blue,” the ambulance’s driver shouted to the Emergency Room staff while the other paramedic continued chest compressions. After twenty minutes of struggle, just after midnight the emergency room physician ‘called it’. A thin white sheet was pulled over the body.
As the girl’s spirit passed from this world to the next, across town a legion of roadies and technicians almost a thousand strong quickly cleared the festival’s stages and packed the gear into several dozen semi-trucks ready to drive for eight hours to the traveling show’s next venue. This was festival season and there was always another city, another show. The members of the forty bands that had played at the festival climbed into their motorhomes, vans and cars and departed into black of night and the open road.
As the interstate’s signs faded behind the long procession of vehicles, one person look out of a tour bus window and smiled.

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