Axelle Carolyn has been a horror fan for as long as she can remember. Brought up on a steady diet of scary movies and Stephen King and Clive Barker novels, she started out as a film journalist and contributed, amongst others, to Fangoria and IGN. Her first published book, It Lives Again! Horror Movies in the New Millennium (2009), came out in 2009 to rave reviews.
Axelle is also an actress and her credits include Psychosis, with Charisma Carpenter, and Neil Marshall's Centurion, alongside Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko.
The band was raising hell tonight.
Half blinded by the spotlights, the star looked at his audience. The crowd sprawled over the entire hall and the seating blocks above. Who said rock’n’roll was dead? Their smiling faces glowing, basking in his unabashed genius, his fans demonstrated their admiration with each word they screamed, each song they sang, each fist they threw in the air. Every date of the tour had sold out. Sure, he wasn’t exactly playing stadiums these days, but gathering 2,000 people each night was no small feat. His fans had stuck with him through thick and thin over the years, from the days he got so drunk he could barely finish a gig to the times in rehab; from the critically lambasted albums to the minor mainstream successes. They loved him, and he loved them back.
Especially the pretty ones.
He turned to his musicians: two glammed-up, hairy guitar players, a bassist in leather pants and motorcycle boots, and a drummer with arms like tree trunks. His band. They may not have been as loyal as his fans throughout the course of his career, but those who’d remained knew him inside out and he regarded them as brothers. Between them stood three women in angel outfits, complete with feather wings and halos. His backup singers. If they were sisters, their relationship was certainly incestuous.
End of the song.
Lights out. The crowd went wild.
In the few seconds of darkness after the spotlights faded, he ran to the back of the stage, picked up his coat, put it on and dashed back to the front, where he stood still, unseen, for a moment. In the quasi-silence, the screech of the guitars still rang in his ears. Blood pumped against his sweat-soaked temples. It was almost the end of the set, and he felt queasy and exhausted. The shots of vodka before the show hadn’t help.
On the first notes of “Redemption”, a single white light fell on him, making the sequins of his coat sparkle, and the applause redoubled. It was his iconic look, the one he’d sported on every album cover: a long red coat with large plastic wings in the back. Cheap but effective. Just look at the expression on these chicks’ faces in the front row… He winked at one of them, whose tiny tank top struggled to contain her ample cleavage. The girl blushed and turned to her friends, giggling like a teenager in love.
“Redemption! Or burn in the fires of hell!” On the last word, two huge flames appeared on either side of him. On stage, the heat was unbearable. Sweat dripped from his hair down to his neck and forehead. The collar of his dark suit felt too tight.
In the great tradition of shock rock, he’d created himself a character, a fantastic personality he adopted on stage. With his red horn and make-up, he looked like a demon, but his legions of adoring fans saw him as a living god. The Devil, as he called his evil alter ego, allowed him to sing outrageous lyrics and to adopt a brash and aggressive behavior he would never have gotten away with otherwise. It had grown over the years, developing, extending, sometimes overshadowing him. Fans could rarely tell them apart, and he liked that. He’d always taken his persona very seriously.
And if some of his old so-called friends claimed it had turned him into a heartless bastard, well, boo-hoo. They simply couldn’t take the heat, or they were just plain jealous of his success. Either way, he could live without them.
The flames on each side of the stage were burning again.
“In the fires of hell! In the fires of hell!”
He swept his hair back, beads of sweat flying off around him. Showmanship at its finest. Down in the mosh pit, the girls screamed, and the men shook their fists and sang along.
The fires of hell. Who was he kidding? The whole demonic shtick had appealed to him when he first started, but in truth, he gave it as much credence as he would Dracula or Little Red Riding Hood. If he’d ever had faith, it had been lost long ago, washed away by floods of alcohol, money and easy women. Who cared anyway if it was all an act? His followers were just along for the ride. And what a hell of a ride he was giving them tonight!
Guitar solo. Strobing lights.
His head throbbed.
He picked up a bright plastic pitchfork by the side of the stage and waved it at the crowd, rolling his eyes and wagging his tongue wildly.
Of course, he’d stolen from his peers. He’d used Kiss’s stage work, Marilyn Manson’s white contact lenses, Dee Snider’s bleached hair; he’d turned into a wolf like Ozzy Osbourne, and was now experimenting with on-stage deaths, like Alice Cooper. They say you should only copy from the best, and that’s what he had done. The last tour’s electric chair had worked a treat and the audience had asked for more. This year’s guillotine would be an even bigger hit.
“Redemption” ended. The audience cheered. He used the interval to take off the coat, throw it underneath the drums, and drink a sip of water. Lord, it was so hot under these lights tonight. The Devil’s costume was now sticking to him like a second skin.
The fans chanted his name, loud as they could. Looking at them, you’d think the whole world loved him. But of course, he had made enemies along the way. He’d pushed and shoved anyone who stood on his path to the top. Who hadn’t? In this jungle, only the strong-willed survived. He may not have been the best, but he had always known how to get rid of his competitors. From spreading rumors to sabotaging tour buses, from getting into bar brawls to hiring thugs, he had done all he could to be the number one. The horns and pitchforks didn’t lie: he was no angel. At least there, he was honest.
The guitars played the first chords of “Hell Hath No Fury”. The rhythm for this one was tribal, almost hypnotic; it mirrored Haitian voodoo drums. The backup singers, who’d vanished backstage at the end of the previous song, appeared dressed in skimpy leopard-skin gowns.
“Hell hath no fury!”, they sang. “Hell hath no fury!”
He reached out to touch the hand of a brunette in the front row. The girl’s face lit up. Pretty thing, shame about the spiky hair and pierced lip. What was wrong with those kids these days? Oh well, never mind. At the end of the day, if she showed up at the stage door, he wouldn’t let her freeze on the sidewalk. When it came to pussy, he wasn’t picky.
That was the one part of his life he had not taken cue from his idols. Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Alice and Sheryl Cooper: strong couples, with holy men who never strayed. How did they do it? Were they not human? Did they not notice the hordes of groupies throwing themselves at them everywhere they went? Some rock stars were in it for the money, some were in it for the fame: his interest had always been women. It should have stopped when he got married, but what could he say? He wasn’t perfect.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…”
He thought of his wife, waiting somewhere in the wings. She had been scorned more than once... Took it all in her stride. She’d found out recently about the Brazilian girls, the 19-year-old twins who had accompanied him on his North American tour last year. No wife should have to put up with these kinds of news. He knew it, and he loved her, but he couldn’t help himself. The temptation was too great.
Yet when she confronted him, she never even raised her voice. All she had demanded was to tour with him from now on. “Last chance”, she’d said. Last chance for what? “Last chance for you”. How dramatic did that sound? He agreed, and she’d followed him around ever since, from their London home to Poland, Germany and Bulgaria; from the South of Spain to the North of Norway.
He wondered if she knew about the redhead he’d picked up in Holland last week. If she did, she’d obviously chosen to ignore it. He’d gotten away with it once again.
Hell hath no fury? What a joke.
Black dancers in leopard skin clothes wheeled in the guillotine, a giant wooden device whose sharp blade towered above the stage. The drums beat louder. The men crept towards him.
Come to think of it, he hadn’t felt that great about his Amsterdam one-night stand. With his wife waiting for him at the hotel, he had felt strangely guilty. He told her he’d been out drinking with the boys, and when she asked him to look her in the eyes, he really thought she would see the truth. But he said he loved her, and she had accepted it. She hadn’t asked any more questions. Just smiled strangely, turned to her side and fallen asleep.
He winked at the front-row brunette as the leopard-clad dancers grabbed his arms and dragged him towards the guillotine. In the middle of the voodoo number? Had there been a last-minute change no one had bothered warning him about? Maybe he’d made the decision himself when he was drunk last night?
The stage was flooded in a bleak, white light. The dancers pushed him to the ground and he let himself fall on the mat, as he’d learned to do in rehearsals. A movement in his peripheral vision caught his eye just as they pressed his head down onto the wooden board. His wife by the side of the stage. Smiling gently as she waved at him.
Of all the people he had wronged…
The men locked his head between the posts. The device was designed to allow him to release the lower board and let his entire body drop at the moment the blade would have struck his neck. A rubber head awaited in the wicker basket in front of him. The resemblance was striking.
Something wasn’t right. He tested the switch by the side of the boards, but the board didn’t budge. He was stuck. He pressed again. Nothing.
All around him, the men were frenetically dancing to the beat of the drums. The crowd shouted; the guitars played louder. The singers repeated the chorus again and again.
“Hell hath no fury! Hell hath no fury!”
Panic rose in him. Try as he may, the board wouldn’t move. He was trapped! His eyes darted left and right as he tried to catch the attention of his dancers. He pleaded and screamed, but his microphone had been taken away and the sound of his voice got lost in the deafening music around.
He looked up at the sea of faces crashing against the stage, but couldn’t find the love and admiration he was used to seeing. In his feverish, panic-stricken mind, his fans’ features now seemed twisted with rage and bloodlust.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman… Hell hath no fury like a woman…”
The flames burned again on both sides of the stage.
He struggled against the lock, hoping to catch someone’s attention. But if anyone noticed his distress, they must have thought it was part of the act. He turned to the side and his eyes met his wife’s, still watching from the wings. She grinned. He screamed.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!”
The men released the blade.
A few red drops sprinkled the front row. In the brief seconds before the fans realised it really was blood, the moments before consciousness left his severed head, he caught a last glimpse of his wife, leaving without a look back.
The head rolled into the basket and softly knocked against its rubber replica.
(C) Axelle Carolyn, 2010
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.