by Martin Maenza
Presently, in an indoor arena venue that seated over thirty thousand, the crowd of the packed house murmured a few minutes before showtime. On this night, six rather unusual attendees to a rock concert sat three and three about fifteen rows up on one of the side sections.
“This stuff is driving me nuts!” said a lanky fellow with a long nose and chin as he tugged at his face.
The fellow next to him, a round-faced, athletically built man with friendly eyes, grabbed at the first guy’s hands. “Stop it, Merc,” he said. “Leave the ‘skin’ be. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself, do you?”
“Look, golden boy,” the lanky one said, “this wasn’t my idea to put on this stuff and clothes! I only went along with it out of coercion! I blame Miss Tina, here, for this!”
The one woman in the group, a fresh-faced attractive one with shoulder-length hair, pouted slightly. “Don’t you go ruining this for me,” Tina said. “I thought that us going out in public, mingling with the people, would be a good experience. The extras allow us to blend in and just take in a social event.”
The guy in the middle between the two turned back to her. “Now, this wouldn’t have anything to do with you thinking Michael Bretts, the lead singer, is cute, does it?” Gold kidded her with a smile.
“Well,” Tina said, and she would have blushed if the material over the surface of her body could allow it, “I never said that.”
“I thought you had a thing for Doc Magnus,” Mercury interjected.
“No one said a girl can’t look at other men,” Tina said with a wink. “Besides, rock stars are just fantasy. Doc’s more attainable.”
“Bah!” said Mercury. “Fantasies are for humans!”
In the row behind these three sat another trio of guys, two larger and one shorter. “Why’d you pick those things up?” the more muscular of the two big guys asked.
The heavier-set guy held in his hands some popcorn and nachos. “Uh… just trying to uh… take in the whole experience,” he said. “You know, like, uh… Tina said we should.”
“Are y-you actually g-g-gonna eat th-them?” asked the smaller guy nervously.
“Nah,” the dimwitted Lead said. “Just wanted to uh… blend in.”
“Ha-ha,” the muscular Iron said. “If you wanted to do that, you should have gotten one of these.” He reached between his seat and tossed a black T-shirt, the largest size available, across the way. It hit the smaller guy accidentally. “Sorry about that, Tin.”
“I-it’s OK,” he said, fumbling to pull the garment off his head. He then stretched it out to read the writing. “Ratt Poison. That’s k-kind of s-scary.”
“Oh, please, squirt!” said Mercury from the row in front of them as he craned his neck back. “That’s the name of the band, you simpleton.”
“Don’t pick on him,” Iron said.
“Yeah,” Lead said, also coming to Tin’s defense. He then leaned forward and tapped on Tina’s shoulder. She turned around. “Uh… Tina? Can you, uh… explain this again? I get the, uh… metal part, but not the, uh… hair part.”
Tina chuckled and went into a brief dissertation on the genre of music dominated by the so-called hair metal bands, so named because of large volumes of hair on their heads. Before she could finish, though, the lights in the arena started to dim, signifying the start of the show.
The opening act was on stage, belting through its fourth number with raw power and thunderous guitars. From the sidelines, two members of the headlining act watched with great interest. From the back and with the outlandish clothes they wore, one might easily mistake them for women. But despite their use of makeup to add to their androgynous looks, the boys in this band were all about chasing women. Their reputation for backstage and after-hours antics were all over the tabloids. And that suited them just fine; any publicity was good publicity.
The taller of the two men pulled off his dark cap and ran his fingers through his long, bleached blonde hair to tease it out. “They’re really rocking the house tonight, D.D.!” Michael Bretts said as he replaced his hat on his head.
The other man also had bleached blonde hair, long and kept out wild with tons of hairspray. “Hell, yeah!” D.D. Ceville agreed. “They’ve been on fire the last few months! Opening for us must be really helping their record sales, too. Did you see their debut’s about to crack the top ten?”
Michael shook his head. “I honestly didn’t think our core audience would get into them,” he said, glancing out across the arena to see the heads bouncing and lighter glows waving. “But they seem to be getting better and better every night. Perhaps we better watch it! We could be replaced in the charts.”
“Nah,” D.D. said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Ain’t never gonna happen! Ratt Poison’ll always be the biggest metal band out there!”
Michael pushed the smaller guy on the shoulders. “Go check on Robby and Dicky!” the leader of the band said. “We go on when their set is done.” Like the rat he resembled, D.D. Ceville scurried off to find his buddies and to get in a bit more partying before it was time to work. The attractive lead singer of Ratt Poison, meanwhile, continued to watch the performance.
On stage, Scott and Sean finished their dueling guitar battle, only to turn it over to the pounding solo of their drummer, Danny. The black-haired Sean gestured to his friend to lean back from the mikes; the brown-haired Scott did so. “Do you feel it?” Sean asked. “We are so in the pocket!”
“Yeah,” Scott agreed. “The crowd’s really into it, too!”
“We should launch into Chant for the Devil next!” Sean suggested.
Scott nodded in agreement. That was their big number, with pyrotechnics and all. It would be a great way to close out the set and give the headliners something to top.
In row sixteen of Section D, the smaller of three guys clasped his hands to his ears. Even the polymer skin-like material they wore over their robotic bodies wasn’t helping keep the sound of the loud music out. “W-w-will this b-b-be over soon?” Tin asked.
Iron chuckled. “Yep,” he said, “then we get a brief break before the main act comes on, and it starts all over again.”
“Oh, n-no!” Tin groaned.
“What’s the, uh… matter?” Lead asked. “You don’t, uh… like these guys?”
Mercury poked his head into the conversation. “I sure don’t!” he snapped. “This Hell’s Pawn band belongs in Hades with all their caterwauling!”
“Stop it, guys,” Gold said, playing the peacemaker. “Can’t you just sit back and enjoy the show, like everyone else is doing?”
Mercury did a quick look around at the crowd, who had been singing along with the band during their current number. “Sorry,” he said, “I forgot to bring my Bunsen burner.” The hothead shook his head. “I don’t get these humans. They’re like dumb cattle. Just listen to them chanting when the band tells them to!”
Gold hadn’t noticed it until Mercury said something. He, too, started to look around and saw that the entire arena was full of an audience who were chanting back the song’s refrain, over and over. In fact, there was something else even more odd. He turned to Platinum. “Tina, do me a favor,” he said, and explained what he wanted her to do.
Reluctantly, the female member of the Metal Men obliged, turned to the guy sitting next to her, and waved her hand in front of his face. No response. “That’s weird,” she said.
“No, it’s not,” Gold said with some urgency in his voice. “Check their eyes! They’re all glassed over. Everyone in this audience is under some kind of trance!”
“Everyone but the six of us!” Tina exclaimed.
“Right,” Gold said. “I can guess why we’re immune, but why are they all under a trance?”
Suddenly, as if on cue, there was a loud explosion of lights and flames from the stage. All six of the Metal Men turned quickly. “Maybe that’s your answer!” Mercury snapped.
In the air above the stage about twenty feet, what appeared to be a red laser beam shot across the way. It began to grow brighter and wider, only to be joined by another beam, and another and still more. In a few seconds, the crossing lights seemed to form a five sided star, followed by a circle connecting all the points.
“Is this, uh… part of the, uh… show?” asked Lead.
“I don’t think so,” Iron said with a concerned look.
There was another flash from the sides of the stage, and smoke began to rise up to pour from the platform. The air within the laser symbol began to shimmer. Within the symbol a pair of large sinister eyes formed, followed by a huge, toothy jaw.