Chapter 1:

A Voice Like a Flower

Purple Prose

Issei Haramoto tuned his guitar and gazed down the venue as the crowd jumped and cheered with the electrifying melodies, the thumping bass and drums, and the rising, defiant voice. Spotlights rose and fell with the beat, a temple paying tribute to the gods of music. Night may be the end of the day to society, but in the domain of The Montauk, the day just begun.

Issei was home.

“What do you think of Fire Eyes?” Takao called, grinning. He leaned back with his elbows on the counter while Issei, sitting on a wooden stool, moved onto the next string.

“They’re not too bad,” Issei said. He plucked the E string repeatedly with his thumb while twisting its paired knob. Finding the right pitch, Issei stopped and let the string ebb. “Don’t you think something’s missing, though?”

For some reason, time passed quicker with Fire Eyes than the other amateur bands, but he couldn’t figure out why.

Takao laughed, his black bangs falling over his eyes. “Something? The band is far too stiff. The drummer keeps changing tempo, the bass guitar is stumbling, and the vocalist is singing through his throat. No breath support!”

Issei waved his hand. “So what you’re saying is they need more practice?” He drew his head back and looked dismissively at Takao. “That’s what The Montauk is for.” Issei leaned forward.

Fire Eyes’ bridge was finished. Smoke billowed from below, and the spotlights pulsed as the drummer battered her snare. The guitar wailed as if its owner was taming a fierce beast, then the front man leaned into the mic: this was the part where everyone’s hearts beat as one.

Til' the end of days we’ll hold mountains,

Our eyes blaze like fire, your words spark our passion,

Where will I go when you are gone?

I will wait for the burning dawn,

Then, one day, we will meet again.

With one last riff and flash of light, the venue went dark, and the crowd cheered and whistled as Fire Eyes took a hasty bow before hurrying off-stage.

Takao laughed. “Did you see them hightail it outta there? They looked ready to puke! Am I right? Hey Issei.”

He felt Takao nudge him in the ribs. “That was actually pretty good. At least the crowd loved them.”

Issei stood up, hung his guitar on the wall of their waiting room, then slumped against it. Something about that song gripped him with an urge he hadn’t felt since he founded Secret Prose with Takao. Why did this song make him freeze up?

The door swung open with such force that it smacked the wall and Takao, realizing who came through, thrust a finger with an outstretched arm. “Kanka! You’re late!”

Kanka’s bald head shone so brightly with the industrial light above him, he appeared to have a halo around his ears. He pointed a drumstick back at Takao to where it and his finger nearly touched. “Late for being early,” Kanka said. “I know we’re playing last tonight.”

Issei cocked his head back. “Creation of Adam?” he said stone-faced.

They stopped pointing. “What’s up with Issei?” Kanka asked. Takao shrugged. “Ask him. Ever since Fire Eyes played he’s been in this funk.” Takao posed with his arms reaching the sky like he was in the opera. “Til' the end of days, we’ll hold mountains, our eyes blaze like fire–”

“–that’s it!” Issei jumped to his feet. There was a reason why the song was off, and it wasn’t from an awkward playing style: the style was strong, and his band had done it before.

“But then how to fix it?” he mumbled, his hand over his chin.

“Okay, you hit him over the head with his guitar,” Takao said, “and I’ll find us a new guitarist.”

Kanka glared. “I can’t drum while in prison, dumb-ass!”

Someone giggled to Issei’s right which made him turn his head. Another band had entered while he was deep in thought. They were a three-man group like his, but one he had never seen before. He found himself standing up.

“Oh, are you a new band?” Issei blurted. It would be embarrassing if they weren’t, but thankfully, the woman in the group nodded. She wore a black corset with purple laces, stockings, and combat boots that made her a good three inches taller. Her short black hair came just to her neck, her wavy bangs parting to one side.

“We’re Purple Lotus,” she said, pointing to herself, “as you can see.” She beamed. “I play bass and sing.”

“That’s cool,” Issei said, grinning. “We’re Secret Prose. I play guitar and sing.”

Her blue eyes blinked in shock. “Really? With that deep voice? You don’t hear too many bands with a baritone vocalist.”

Issei held up a finger. “And that’s my ticket to being unique.”

Kanka walked up to the tall, stocky member of Purple Lotus. “Drummer?”

He held out an arm. “Drummer.”

At once, the two shook hands, their beefy forearms like interlocked tree trunks as though they were long-lost siblings. They shouted in unison. “Drummer!”

The spotlights dimmed again--one more before they go on.

The bass guitarist gasped. “Oh no! We’re next!”

“Not to worry,” Issei said, “you still have a good five minutes to get ready. Still, aren’t you cutting it a little short?”

Purple Lotus’s guitarist stepped forward, his long brown hair covering most of his face. “We prepare, then we show up.” His voice was monotone. Thankfully for their band, he wasn’t the vocalist. He faced the door and motioned for his band. “It’s time.”

Issei and his band gathered around the glass partition as the whole venue streamed with sparkling starlights. The announcer--the manager--came on the intercom with his usual excited voice.

“Acolytes of Montauk! A new band has joined our flock. It’s time to chant out their name! Purple! Lotus!”

Kanka folded his arms. “Excellent--fresh meat! Let’s see what they got.”

Takao yawned. “Come on, has any newbie ever impressed us?”

Smoke filled the stage as the crowd obeyed. Nothing happened. Maybe they had some trouble getting ready, he thought.

Then the woman punched through the fog as she leapt to the front of the stage, her feet mere inches from the end, and, gazing into the crowd with a smile, she hoisted her bass guitar as she plucked the steel strings with a repeating stair-step rhythm.

The crowd went ballistic. For ten seconds, she played alone. For ten seconds, they were hers.

Takao dropped his jaw. “No way.”

As the fog cleared, the drummer arrived next, who battered the whole set in sync with her as though he had eight arms. But he was merely the harbinger of the true melody: the lead guitarist slid into position, the spotlights attacked the stage, and The Montauk rocked out to an immaculate first impression.

Kanka was astounded. “Hey, they’re pretty good! Especially that lady there, am I right?” He clapped Takao’s back, laughing. “Looks like you need more practice in you.”

Issei leaned forward, heart skipping as he waited for her to sing. Then the guitar and drums simmered their assault, and a single spotlight lit the mic. She jumped in its path and took a breath.

You don’t know me, but Baby I know you,

You thought you had me, but my heart is true,

I’m a cat, chasing prey, and you’re a rat I found today,

You played with my love, now you’re gonna pay!

Her voice was like a thick silk draped over Issei’s body. Chills snaked down his spine: he was utterly moved.

“No way,” he said, copying Takao.

Even their choreography was solid. The bass and lead guitarists paired up in the middle stage, both driving a rising arpeggio in perfect harmony. Then the drummer finished with a fiery breakdown, heralding the chorus everyone was waiting for.

Was it all just a promise

for us to live and die together?

Then someone came between us

and you tossed me to the river

Flooding my eyes, drowning my heart, only then I knew

it was just a promise

The crowd threw their hands in a thunderous cheer. They were enthralled. Even as the song came to an unfortunate end, they wanted more, and soon, the whole venue was shouting “encore!”

Kanka tossed his head back and sighed. “That was great. What power–what feeling! I know your pain, Sister.”

“Alright, look alive you two, we’re next,” Issei said, trying to put on a brave face.

For the first time since playing in the Montauk, the crowd had a ravenous craving for the band to continue, and their raucous applause turned to jeers. They were not happy, and somehow, Issei was supposed to placate them.

Pope Evaristus
Ana Fowl