Authors: D. J. Butler
Heaven doesn't want them. Do they stand a chance in Hell?
Bass player Mike Archuleta is down on his luck in a major way. The shattered survivor of a misspent youth, he is haunted by the ghost of his dead brother, and is now driven to planning his suicide. Halfway through the show that's supposed to be his last, a hellhound bursts into the club and attacks the band. The band members pull out karate moves, guns, and even a sword … and then things start to get strange.
Can Mike survive the show? What can he do about his brother’s ghost? And what kind of band is this, anyway?
Hellhound on My Trail
is the first installment of Rock Band Fights Evil, a pulp fiction serial by D.J. Butler. Read more about D.J. Butler’s books at
Smashwords Edition –2015
Copyright © 2011 D.J. Butler
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Cover painting by Carter Reid
Cover design by Janet McDonald
Art Director Kevin J. Anderson
Book Design by RuneWright, LLC
Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Publishers
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Wah wah, ch-ch-chang!
The guitar crunched out the end of the chorus with a cymbal crash.
Across the room, the bouncer of Butcher’s looked like he was having a bad night. He leaned against the slightly lopsided bar and scanned the thin crowd with contempt, arms crossed over his denim jacket and a semi-automatic pistol visible in his belt. He shook his scarred, buzz-cut head every minute or so like he was trying to knock the sound of the music out.
Mike didn’t care what the bouncer thought of the music. He hadn’t seen his brother’s ghost all day, and he needed a drink to keep things that way. The only reason Mike even noticed the bouncer was that the man was between him and the alcohol. The booze would keep his brother at bay for a little while. Also, after the set, Mike planned to shoot himself, and he preferred to die drunk.
Mike launched into the break, his memory guiding him through the changes. He’d arrived minutes before the show and Eddie had barked at him through the first part of the set, scrawling some notes on a greasy paper bag. It had been enough. After getting his marching orders, Mike had headed straight for the bar—and Eddie had corralled him back onto the stage before he could get his hands on even so much as a warm beer.
The drummer rode with Mike into the break while everyone else fell quiet.
, that was the drummer’s name, and he hit the skins with a light touch, but perfect timing. Mike nodded and grinned at Twitch and he grinned back as they held down the groove together, Mike boogying with a chromatic run that was probably more jazz than this shabby little blues-rock band was used to, up to the fifth over and over. Maybe he was showing off, just a bit, but it was his last gig. Ever.
The drum kit was a little minimalist, just a kick, snare, one tom, and a high hat. The drummer played with thick sticks that looked more like cudgels than something you’d buy at Guitar Barn. Twitch wore shiny black leathers from head to foot, the kind with studs in all the impossible places, so that he looked like some kind of black and silver sex porcupine. Mike thought of him as a guy, but actually, looking at the drummer now, he wasn’t so sure. Twitch could have been a woman with a slightly strong jaw line or a man with a thin nose and eyebrows. Man or woman, the worst thing about Twitch’s get-up was that it had a tail, a full horse’s tail, silver-colored like the drummer’s own long hair, that came right out of Twitch’s backside and brushed the floor as he drummed. Twitch looked like he’d whip you, if you paid him.
Then Eddie jumped in, workmanlike power chords chomping over the beat, with the occasional blues flourish curling in the treble. Eddie was a slight black man with short curly hair, in a green military-style jacket with lots of pockets and jeans that had too many holes for any thrift store to take them. Mike had played with lots of guitarists who swanned and clowned and danced, but Eddie shrank back from the edge of the stage. He huddled over his instrument and carefully watched his fingering, which was good, because his playing was okay, at best. The axe Eddie worked on was a crummy red Toronado, a Fender like Mike’s P-Bass, but made in Mexico. And discontinued, he thought, because nobody wanted to buy the things. It was red and worn to the wood where Eddie’s forearm rubbed it, but the sound, running through a small bank of pedals at Eddie’s feet, was crisp.
Eddie had some kind of manager role, too. It had been Eddie who had called him that morning, woken him from a scratchy, uncomfortable sleep into throbbing, painful wakefulness. Eddie had said he’d gotten Mike’s card off the bulletin board in a guitar shop in San Antonio, and that there was gig for him tonight, if he could find a crappy little bar outside a crappy little town that wasn’t on most maps, on a road that might or might not be indicated as a lumber trail. Bass and amp could both be provided.
That was good, because Mike’s amp was in hock.
The crowd mostly ignored Eddie. Hard roadside drinkers that they were, they kept to their seats under the buzzing fluorescent tubes nailed to two-by-fours undergirding the tin-sheet ceiling, sucked their beer and spirits and watched Jim—the singer—like at any moment he might collapse to the floor or take flight. Some of them sent shots up to fortify or reward him, which made Mike lick his lips in anticipation of the first break.
Except there was this one guy, at the little round table nearest the stage, who stared at Eddie the whole time. He was a short guy in a polo shirt and a sport coat and a straw Panama hat, and his shoes were way too shiny for rural New Mexico. He gripped the little table with both hands like he had fallen off the
and it was his raft, and he talked the whole time, though he was alone. After staring at the guy long enough, Mike thought he could read his lips.
he was saying.
Tambourine, Mr. Marlowe, please play the Tambourine.
His face shone with sweat, though Butcher’s was, if anything, a little cool.
was Eddie’s name, Mike remembered. Eddie didn’t have a tambourine, he didn’t look at the guy who stared at him, and as Mike looked at Eddie, the guitar player spat on the floor.
Then the organ player piled in like a Mac truck. He was loud and had a big sound, like he was playing with all ten fingers and both feet simultaneously, but Mike thought he could hear dropped notes, and the guy’s timing was off. Adrian was short and square and dressed in something that looked like a sharkskin suit, but much cheaper. He was dwarfed by his Hammond electric organ, with upper and lower manuals. Other electronic gadgets were piled up around the Hammond, effects pedals and a MIDI controller and a drum machine and other stuff that Mike didn’t recognize. Mike was strictly a bass man, really, and didn’t go in for toys.
Adrian hit the big climax, flatted sevenths blaring like a rock-and-roll thumb in the eye, and then Jim jumped in with the last choruses.
“Keep your head down,”
“Sleep between shows, and watch out
For the punches love throws!”
Jim’s voice boomed and echoed surprisingly loud in the small bar. It sounded like it had reverb in it, but Mike couldn’t figure out where that might be coming from. It wasn’t the mic—that was a plain vanilla SM58, standard issue for bar bands the world over. Mike didn’t think it could be the PA, either; he’d watched Harry the bartender set the faders before the show started and then shuffle back behind the bar, and no one had touched the PA system since. The mixer was some eight-channel piece of junk from Malaysia, anyway.
Jim was a tall, broad-shouldered Viking, with long black hair and the kind of pale skin that you got if you never went out in the sun. He looked so rugged and handsome in his long white prairie-style shirt and blue jeans, even Mike noticed, and he was not a man who looked at other men. Women probably loved Jim, Mike thought bitterly. He probably had no trouble at all with the ladies.
Mike amped up the last chorus with the rest of the band, picking up the tempo slightly and then sustaining as Jim belted out the last lines—
“Keeps your eyes on the waves, boy,
Thar she blows!
And watch out for the punches love throws!—”
and then Mike dove into one last round of tonic-sub-dominant-tonic to close out the song, hammering on all cylinders with the rest of the band. He hit his last note short and sweet, then stepped back and ignored the hoots and applause of the crowd, gripping his lovingly polished P-Bass with both hands and staring at the bar.
Butcher’s was a real dive, a roadhouse made of concrete with the rebar showing in middle of nowhere, and had a crowd to suit it. Neon spangled the plywood over the bar, advertising mostly low-end beer and tequila, though there was a glowing Bacardi clock in the middle of it all, to add a little class and to warn the drinkers when closing hour drew near. Mostly the place smelled of sour alcohol and cold air breathed way too many times, but there was a distinct note of piss buried in the stink. Mike hoped it was just because the stage was too close to the restroom.
He was a little bummed to be about to shoot himself in a place that reeked, but not bummed enough to make him change his plans. The gun was in his Impala in the parking lot, anyway. He could just shoot himself out there, or get nice and hammered and walk out into the sand somewhere where no one would notice and the coyotes would eat his body.
In the rowdy crowd were truckers in baseball caps and flannel shirts, Indians wearing cowboy hats from the reservation Mike dimly knew was out in the hills somewhere north of the bar, Mexicans, and two or three hard-bitten, sand-blasted people who might have been local ranchers or farmers, or whatever it was people did to make a living out here in Hell-and-Gone, New Mexico. They were clapping with at least half a heart now, and a slab-faced woman with forearms like whole hams sent another beer up to Jim.
His vision swam, just a little. He needed a drink. After years of boozing to keep his brother away, he needed the alcohol not only for Chuy, but for himself, too. He hadn’t had a drink since that morning. His throat itched and his belly hurt and he was sweating like a pig in a parka, though the bar was only warmed by a couple of battered space heaters in the corners. He badly wanted to open up a bottle of Jack Daniels.
The bouncer caught Mike’s gaze and snarled at him.
Or, Mike thought, he could just go out into the parking lot and shoot himself sober.
It was hard to be sure, because of the tangle of neon that hung there anyway, announcing Miller Light and Budweiser and Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, but Mike thought there was something red and flashing, hanging over the bar. He was pretty certain that, whatever it was, he hadn’t seen it there before.
Red and flashing and pouring out smoke.
“Is that a fire?” he stepped sideways and muttered out of the corner of his mouth to Adrian, the guy at the organ, just loud enough for the rhythm section to hear over the buzz of the crowd and Eddie’s first choppy chords for the next song. His mouth felt like sandpaper as he spoke.
Adrian shrugged and scowled. “I wouldn’t know, there’s a light in my face. The blind leading the blind, et cetera.”
Mike looked at Twitch; the drummer made a pouty face and air-kissed Mike. Mike tried to smile back, but he was pretty sure it came out as a grimace.
Eddie shambled half a step forward, chunking out a basic rock riff that he half-muted with the palm of his right hand.
“Tambourine!” Shiny Shoes bellowed from the front row. “Please!”
“This next song is called ‘Falling Rocks,’” Eddie announced gruffly over his chords. Jim stared at his guitarist while he made the announcement and said nothing; Mike wondered why the singer didn’t announce the song himself. “It doesn’t have a tambourine in it.”
,” Adrian reminded Mike as Eddie squeezed out the first gnarled riff.
“I remember,” Mike said. “Also, I’m not deaf.”
The bar exploded into red light and fire.
“Duck!” Eddie yelled, and then he and Jim threw themselves left and right, clearing the path between Mike and the lights—
that burst out of the red smear in the air, crashing onto the floor in an explosion of flame. The creature landed front legs first—it was built like a lion in size and shape, but smoke and fire, red and blue and black, licked up from its scaly skin—onto a table beside the bar and shattered it instantly into toothpicks. Drinkers flailed backwards, shouting and spilling their glasses.
The thing snapped open enormous jaws and let out a bellow like a police siren and a train wreck mixed together and overdriven into snarling distortion. Mike felt his own jaw drop open.
The beast swung its head and sent two more tables flying across the room. A man in a checked and yoked shirt with pearl buttons shrieked like a little girl as his shirt burst into flame on contact with the creature’s snout.
Mike couldn’t think, and he couldn’t look away. He stared.
The bouncer lurched into the center of the room, pulling his pistol. The man was brave, anyway. Maybe his buzz cut meant he used to be a Marine or something. He fired,
bang! bang! bang!
and the creature took no notice. Its head, like a dog’s, but hairless and scaly, wreathed in multi-colored flame, snapped open. Its jaws were too long, Mike noticed, transfixed and unable to look away. They were like the jaws of a crocodile.
They snapped on the bouncer’s neck and decapitated him in a single swift
The switchblade in Mike’s pocket had never felt more useless.
Mike finally found his voice again.
“Get down!” Adrian shouted, and then a spray of bullets snapped past Mike. He threw himself sideways and found Eddie grabbing him by the front of his cracked leather jacket, dragging him off the stage to one side. A gout of flame ripped through the air behind him, singeing the back of his neck.
Mike struggled to break free, out of reflex more than anything else. Eddie knocked his hands aside like he was a child, though Mike had six inches and easily a hundred pounds on the guy, and slapped his face. “Get out of here!” the black guitarist shouted, and shoved Mike off the stage, through the swinging door under the tilted sign that read
The last thing Mike saw before the hallway door swung shut again was Adrian, standing at his Hammond and holding something that looked no bigger than a pistol, but had a really long clip and was firing like a machine gun. And for a split second, he thought he could make out Jim,
forward off the front of the stage with a
in his hand. He looked like Errol Flynn in the old black and white movies, if Flynn were six-and-a-half feet tall and had rock-and-roll hair.
“Die, beasty!” Adrian howled, and then Mike was alone in the hall, with a bathroom door, a payphone missing its handset, and the mixed stink of roadhouse piss and his own fearful sweat.
He staggered to lean against the wall, needing the feel of the cold concrete against his forehead and the solidity of the wall under his arm. The concrete was real. He clutched at the knot of charms around his neck—a cross that had meant a lot to his grandfather, a rabbit’s foot, an ankh—he knew it was all junk, it had never helped him before, but it made him feel better to touch it. He pulled out the switchblade and flicked it open. The knife was useless—he’d stabbed other people more than once as a kid, but he knew it wouldn’t do anything to the monster rampaging in the bar, and he knew that he didn’t have the guts to slit his own throat with it, either.