“Ahh, shit!” Gary growled.
The bitch’d taken his spot. He’d been eyeing it, even raced around the block to make sure he snatched it, after driving around for what felt like forever, and almost getting killed by a speeding SUV!
But she’d gotten there first. Just to sing karaoke.
“Fat fuck,” he said, as she got out of her car. She wasn’t that big, but it felt good thinking it.
Beats hurting, he thought, beats feeling like your heart is Swiss cheese.
The hurt had brought him to Sing-les, this karaoke bar out in Bumfucksville—on a blind date, yet, with a chick from GreatCatch.com, that site for lovesick losers.
I love walking on the beach, “Karaoke Queen” had written, with that special someone. Recalling it, Gary cringed. Is it you? she’d asked.
Yes! he’d written back. “Nope,” Gary had smugly told himself, “I just want my cock sucked.”
Oh! “KQ” had added (squealing, Gary bet). And I just love, love, LOVE singing karaoke!
There she had him. Like “KQ,” Gary was a karaoke freak. If she was the “queen,” he was the “king,” though he was no Elvis impersonator. To Gary, Elvis wannabes were the lowest forms of scum…along with Crystal, his ex-wife, who’d upped and split. Without a word, she’d just. . .vanished last Halloween, after humiliating both herself and him…
“But I won first prize!” The white, spangled jumpsuit killed Gary’s eyes. Where she’d hidden her tits was a mystery.
“I don’t …” he said through clenched teeth, “give a shit.”
“Annie Lenox did it!” Her voice was deeper, suddenly, and defiant. Around them, the party guests crept closer, hoping for trouble.
“Fuck Annie Lenox.” He hated how these people wanted them to fight.
Crystal had beautiful hair: long, and blonde. How it was squashed under the black pompadour wig made him lose it.
As he yanked off the wig, some blonde hair came with it…
“‘Karaoke Queen,’” he said sarcastically. “I’ll bet.”
Finally he’d parked, on a dead-end street. Least it’s still light out, he thought. The place had to be mobbed.
It was July. Who’d believe he’d been single since Halloween? A “great catch” like him!
“Stud4U” was his own screen name. And he was, too: forty, but looking younger, despite his thinning dark hair. He was short and lean, with almost no fat index (Beer bellies disgusted him.). His brown eyes melted chicks’ hearts, but he was damn picky. His last date had been cute, and kept pawing his silky goatee, but she’d bored him to tears.
Well, he thought, at least “KQ” is no beast. Her photo was of a curvy, dark-haired beauty. Maybe a little young for him, but what the hell?
He’d just turned the corner when it hit him.
Her yearbook pic.
It’d happened before—an old high school photo from when his date was fifty pounds slimmer—or, worse, one of somebody else…
Could “Karaoke Queen” be…that beast who’d stolen his spot?
Fists clenched, he glared up the block. From outside, Sing-les was a small, friendly-looking bar. How the street was jammed with cars told him it was “standing room only” inside. A male voice was singing—off-key, of course—but Gary couldn’t place the song till he got closer.
“Burning Love.” Elvis.
Figures, Gary thought.
As he reached the door, it flew open. Gary looked up nervously at the beefy biker who held it.
“Come in!” The biker’s grin looked moldy. “Bug out!”
Inside, it was mobbed. And the a/c was failing. Gary looked around for “KQ,” but with no luck. Fuck, he thought.
“Burning Love” ended, finally. “Put your hands together for Jeff!” the karaoke host said. To Gary’s disgust, the place went wild.
“Jeff” was an unsmiling guy with a grown-out buzz cut who stared back at Gary on their way to the bar.
But the host . . .
One look at the host, and Gary got chills. “Tony B.” was tiny and sixty-something, with skeletal features and the phoniest gray rug Gary had ever seen. Tony B’s jeans and “Hotel California” T-shirt bagged on him, like they would on a dug-up corpse.
There was just one empty seat at the bar. Gary grabbed it.
“Next up,” Tony B. announced, “Is…Valencia!”
Around Gary, people clapped wildly. He was too hot for a drink to look at Valencia. Or to search harder for his “Karaoke Queen.”
“Gloria,” this Valencia began singing. The crowd was clapping already. For that lame song, Gary thought, wearily—that 80s chicks’ anthem…but still not as obnoxious as “I Will Survive.”
When the barmaid turned to him, Gary’s mouth dropped. That’s how hot she was: tanned, with long, honey-brown hair and perfect features.
And that body… His pants felt skintight. He’d never seen such flat abs. In her navel a jewel seemed to shimmer. A mood stone, he guessed.
“I’m Ginger,” she said. That smile a goddess would smile. Gary pictured her in a toga, or…out of it. “What can I get you?” she asked him.
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He’d forgotten what he usually drank.
“Gloria” was going strong. Gary’s heart raced. He felt watched, like people were more “in tune” with him than with Valencia.
Still smiling, Ginger turned away.
When she returned with his drink—Grey Goose and cranberry—he didn’t remember ordering it. Maybe he’d lost time, somehow. Like when aliens abduct you. He almost kicked himself. No chick’s that hot, he thought. But she was.
And where was…? Gary swiveled around, looking for “KQ.”
As “Gloria” ended, his heart sunk. It was her. Valencia was “Karaoke Queen,” twenty pounds heavier and years older than her photo.
“Let’s hear it for Val-en-cia!” Tony B. yelled.
Valencia beamed at the standing ovation. Quickly Gary ducked, but she still saw him.
“‘Stud-4-U’!” she said from behind him. He gulped his drink, shoved his empty glass across to Ginger. His arm felt squashed in Valencia’s grip.
“You singing?” Tony B. asked Gary. Up close, he looked even spookier.
“Not yet,” Valencia said.
“Get drunk first!” someone said. “Gives you guts.”
Gary’s whole face—ears, too—felt hot. He hadn’t been this pissed since he’d attacked Crystal last Halloween. “I . . .” he began, turning slowly on his stool, “have guts.”
It was the beefy biker, still grinning. Huge as he was—fuzzy teeth and all—he seemed almost lovable. Retarded? Gary wondered, but couldn’t ask.
“I…” Gary added, “am a singer.”
“Then…sing,” Tony B. hissed. His hand on Gary’s shoulder was cold, claw-like. Gary cringed. Little Tony B. was scarier than…
“‘Bear.’” The biker held out his meaty paw.
“‘Greg,’” Gary lied, as he shook it.
“You look like a ‘Greg,’” Valencia told him.
“What’cha gonna sing?” Tony B. asked.
Gary smiled. “‘Unchained Melody.’” Around him, chicks squealed. “By the Righteous…
“I know who it’s by.” Tony B. winked. Gary wished the guy’d let go of him.
“From Ghost,” Bear said.
Suddenly, the place was dead-quiet…like Gary had gone deaf. Was he crazy? Hadn’t the intermission tape just been playing?
And everybody seemed so sad. Bear looked all teary-eyed. Valencia’s face was hidden in Gary’s shoulder. Behind the bar, Ginger looked grim. The mood stone in her navel had darkened.
“You’re up next,” Tony B. said quietly.
It was unreal, unlike anything he’d ever experienced. The best sound system, so Gary knew he’d never sung better. Crystal-clear were both his voice, and the music. He was the words, like he’d written them, himself, long ago, before there ever was a moon or blazing sun.
And outside, the sun streamed in, late as it was. Everybody was a surreal rose-pink. The lights, maybe, he thought.
But the lights couldn’t transform those faces: exaggerated smiles and baby tears, on both drinkers and dancers. In this tiny bar, guys of all ages had grabbed their girls and were slow-dancing by the stage. They were so close, Gary saw where one old guy’s piece was glued on.
Time seemed to stop. As he sang, Gary grieved. Above the twirling pink figures, he sang out his own agony, his loneliness. He sang for love of…
Crystal’s long blonde hair. How he got tangled in it, sometimes… He’d tie it into a knot when she was down on him…
Her contagious laugh… How she loved mayo on pastrami, ketchup on hot dogs… How she loved him, and forgave him every time he struck her… till last Halloween, when she’d vanished…
He’d been a nasty shit to her, and everyone else around him. He never deserved a chick like Crystal.
Am I crazy? he thought.
“Elvis” was in the house, but not “Buzz-Cut Jeff.” Jeff was on the dance floor, sobbing into his girlfriend’s hair. This Elvis wannabe was slim and feminine in a white, spangled jumpsuit. Even from the stage, Gary could see wisps of blonde hair trailing out of the black wig.
When the song ended, “Elvis” vanished.
He might’ve fainted. Somehow, Gary was back at the bar with no memory of leaving the stage.
Elvis, he thought, woozily, Crystal…
He was drenched with sweat. As he gulped his drink, he didn’t recall ordering that one, either. Was it his third…or tenth?
Ginger was smiling again. “Having a good time?” she asked him.
Feeling dizzy, he put down his drink. Was I drugged? he wondered.
Around him, people still watched him, slyly, but without malice. It was like they were all trapped here, waiting for the “new kid’s” reaction.
Anxiously, he looked away.
The place was still jumping. “Next up,” the host announced, “is…me… Tony B.!” The crowd went mad.
As “Hotel California” came on, Gary felt like his nasty self again. Figures, he thought, that long-ass, boring tune.
“Know what this song’s about?” Valencia asked Gary. He’d forgotten she was even there.
“Who doesn’t?” He slid his empty over to Ginger. “People go to this luxury resort for a spanking good time, and—”
Bear loomed over him. “We don’t spank nobody.”
“—realize they’re in hell.”
Bear clenched his fists. “Who says we’re in hell?”
“‘You can check out any time you like…’” Tony B. sang from the stage.
Gary swung around to face Bear. “They’re trapped, with no way out! That’s what hell is: never le—eaving!”
Gary looked back at Tony B., and gasped.
Where the host had only seemed ghoulish before, now his face was a skeleton’s. A mask, Gary thought. It had to be a mask.
But his hand…just bones. Clutching the mike, Tony B’s hand looked like a rotted corpse’s.
Gary covered his eyes. It had to be a trick, to go with the song. “Hell,” he said shakily, “is being trapped with people you’d never want…”
“So we’re scumbags?” Bear’s voice said. But it was coming from the bar.
Gary opened his eyes, and screamed.
Bear’s head was on the bar. Bloody neck-tendons suggested a sloppy decapitation, like from a motorcycle accident.
“Don’t freak him out,” Valencia said gently. “He’ll get used to us.”
Sobbing uncontrollably, Gary chewed his fingers. He jumped when Bear gripped his shoulder. That hand was connected to a headless body.
“We’re all friends here,” Valencia told Gary, “now.”
He looked, cringing. Valencia’s “fat” was mostly post-mortem bloat. Face, hair, body, were soaking wet. “I went night-swimming—and drowned—weeks back,” she told him, wringing out her hair, “right after we met online.”
Gary still couldn’t believe this. In horror, he looked around him. People who had simply looked plain or dumpy before now looked dead…in different degrees of decomposition, some showing how they’d died.
What Gary couldn’t see, he just knew.
Buzz-Cut Jeff had been a murder-suicide. There were bullet holes in his girlfriend’s and his foreheads. Another guy had hung himself. His face was eggplant-purple, and his stretched neck looked like a giraffe’s. Tony B. had been eaten up with cancer…long ago. They all smiled, almost tenderly, at Gary.
Except for the crater where her navel had been, Ginger still looked beautiful…and alive. Gary couldn’t stop staring, till she bent down for the ice.
He screamed. In the bar mirror was his mangled face. That’s when he knew.
He had been killed while trying to park, struck head-on by that crazed SUV. Glass had flown everywhere. In the midst of ugly thoughts about everyone he saw, he’d been killed instantly.
His sobs were so pitiful, his new friends tried to comfort him. Gary felt cushioned warmth from all directions. His heart swelled. He welcomed Valencia’s wet lips, and Bear’s tight, beefy hug.
“There’s time for one last song!” Tony B. announced.
“We want Greg!” Valencia yelled.
Gary wiped his eyes. “No,” he sniffled, “actually, it’s…Gary.”
“We know.” Bear was reattaching his head to his body.
“El-vis…” Tony B. said, “is in the house!”
The crowd roared.
For once, Gary didn’t groan. In the mirror, his face was flawless once again.
And behind him was “Elvis,” in the white jumpsuit, tucking blonde hairs back inside the wig. All around, people reached out, trying to grab a sleeve, or sneak a kiss from their idol.
How? Gary thought. When? He opened his mouth, but no words would come. More tears burned his eyes.
He would know very soon.
Gary bowed his head, as “Elvis” walked triumphantly past him and onto the stage.
Cindy Rosmus is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out a lot, so needs no excuse to do whatever she wants. She hates shopping and shoes, chick lit and chick flicks. She’s been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled; Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir; Beat to a Pulp; Pulp Metal; Thrillers, Killers, n’ Chillers; Mysterical-E; and Powder Burn Flash. She is the editor of the ezine, Yellow Mama. She’s also a Gemini, an animal rights activist, and a Christian.