All around me, people jumped up and down, their hands in the air, their faces angry. I jumped up and down too, unable to stop myself from being swept up in the crowd's energy. It was like a runaway train—now that the crowd was worked up, there was no stopping them.
Jax fell to his knees, his mouth pulled into a snarl, his fingers whipping a blistering solo out of his guitar. His eyes were defiant as the notes screamed higher and higher.
The sound was hot enough to make my mind melt, but a guy next to me glared at Jax and howled, "Fuck you!"
Sweat poured off Jax's face as he got to his feet. Squeezing his eyes shut, he unleashed a roar of obscenities into the mic, his face contorted.
Chewie, Kev, and Sky exchanged puzzled looks, but continued playing. Then Jax swung into the final chorus, each word sharp and biting, seeming like a dagger aimed at the audience.
This is freaking amazing! My chest heaved as I danced up and down. If that didn't blow everyone's minds, nothing would.
But as the song screeched to a climactic finish, even more cat-calls and jeers filled the air.
I looked around, uneasy. Even though some people were clapping with excitement, the majority of the folks around me still wore frowns on their faces.
Jax wiped sweat off his forehead and grabbed the mic. "So this is Ventura, huh? It fucking sucks!"
The crowd howled in anger. As the band steered into their second song, a mosh pit started in front of the stage, with people kicking and flailing punches as they shoved each other around.
Even though they were far off, the violence rippled out into the rest of the crowd. People were being stepped on and shoved. A guy's bony elbow hit me on the back of the head. I glared at him, rubbing the sore spot, but he danced on, a one-man mosh pit of his own.
A shout grabbed my attention. A long-haired shirtless guy was trying to haul himself up onto the stage. He got one knee up, then paused to shake his fist. His angry eyes were locked on Jax.
My eyes widened. What the hell?
Yellow shirted security men swarmed. Yanking him up onstage, they hustled the guy off to the right and out of sight, with his heels dragging the whole way.
My heart thudded in my chest. This was getting really bad.
As the band continued to play, the mosh pit swarmed the stage. Now I could see lots of yellow shirts on the ground, mixing with the moshers. Security was busy busting heads. I wanted to move back, but the crowd behind me was too packed. I gulped. Wasn't this the way riots started?
A strange scent hit my nose and I sniffed the air. The acrid smell made my heart seize. It wasn't ganja.
It was wood smoke.
Sky's voice screamed out from onstage, clashing with the music of the guitars and drums.
Then I saw it. Fire laced the stage wall on the left, high above the band. The drums faltered and stopped. Chewie stood up, pointing and shouting.
A collective gasp went up from the crowd. All around me, people darted scared looks at each other.
But I couldn't take my eyes away. The fire moved fast, tearing at the wall. Flames licked at the ceiling.
The security team became frantic, yelling at the crowd as they motioned everyone back. I caught a glimpse of Sky's frightened face as Chewie hauled her offstage, Kev right behind them.
Tendrils of fire now twined over half the roof. The crowd surged, and a wave of people shoved into me. I stumbled. Yells and shouts filled my ears.
Then the haunting sound of a lone guitar carried over all the chaos.
My breath caught as I got squeezed in a thick clot of people struggling to flee. I craned my neck, struggling to catch sight of the stage again. A head shifted out of the way, and I saw him.
Jax. Standing alone, guitar in hand, sending note after wailing note into the atmosphere. Above, fire raged.
The tide of people swept me along, forcing me away from the stage. Tortured guitar notes hung in the air.
My stomach twisted in agony. What the hell was going on with him?
"Jax!" I yelled, waving my arms frantically. "You have to get away!"
Ten Days Ago
The nightmares had to stop. That shit had been eating away at me for so long, but after the night I had taken Riley to my old house, they had gotten worse.
A lot worse.
Earlier in the morning, I'd woken up on the deck chair with Riley only to see flames flickering on the ground. Heat singed my arms. Even worse, I'd seen Darrel, lurking in the bushes. The shock and terror didn't last long—just a few seconds—but it was enough. Six in the goddamn morning. I wasn't sleeping after that.
I couldn't stay cooped up on the bus, not after seeing that shit. Fortunately, I had somewhere to go. Reed's house was typical new money Malibu trash, but it had one great feature: it was designed top to bottom with incredible acoustics.
It should have been a perfect way to get through a shitty morning. Music was the only thing that had ever calmed me down when I felt like I was losing it.
A few hours and a pissed off band later, I was sitting alone in Reed's living room, surrounded by smashed guitars. A boiling anger writhed in my chest. The music still wouldn't fucking work.
Nobody else thought the instruments sounded messed up. Which probably meant it wasn't the instruments, it was my head. But that didn't make it any better. If I couldn't blow off some steam with my music, I didn't know what else to do. I was on a hair trigger, and the sour notes had me ready to explode.
Clenching my jaw, I sat in a chair in the practice room and took a fresh guitar from its stand, determined to try again. I tuned each of its strings. They didn't sound perfect, but it was a little better.
With a deep breath, I picked out the opening to "Glass Brick." Nothing. Just a bunch of notes slopped together. Amateur hour. I had a better sound when I was fifteen. Gritting my teeth, I went through the motions of the song, hoping for anything that sounded like fucking music.
It wouldn't happen. I played through the first verse, hoping, feeling like I was hitting every chord perfectly, but it still sounded awful. The notes were right, the sound was shit. The more I played, the hotter my anger boiled.
Finally, I got to the song's climax, the crescendo building as I played harder and harder just trying to get a few seconds of something that felt good, that felt like my music was supposed to feel. I built it up and poured my heart into every chord.
My jaw clenched as I wrestled out the last note.
Nothing. My stomach twisted. It was shit—all of it.
My anger boiled over and filled me with an unstoppable rage. I grabbed the guitar by its neck, whipped it around, and slammed it to the floor, severing its neck in two. Tossing it aside, I snatched another broken guitar off the floor and hurled it at the wall. Its jagged body snagged on a painting, and with a nasty sound of ripping canvas, fell to the floor.