The following is the fourth and final excerpt from Hater, a new novel by David Moody, which hits stores on February 17. In the tradition of H. G. Wells and Richard Matheson, Hater is one man’s story of his place in a world gone mad— a world infected with fear, violence, and HATE. REMAIN CALM DO NOT PANIC TAKE SHELTER WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS THE SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL…
We’re out. We’ve escaped. For the first time in months Lizzie and I have managed to get away from the house together without any of the children in tow. I can’t remember the last time we were out together like this. The fact that we’re crammed into a small, dark, and sweaty concert hall with six or seven hundred other people doesn’t seem to matter. The gig hasn’t even started yet but the background music is already deafening and the lighting is virtually nonexistent. The chances of us actually managing to speak to each other are slim.
“Doesn’t feel right, does it?” Liz shouts at me. She has to lift herself on tiptoe to yell into my ear.
“What doesn’t?” I shout back.
“Not having the kids here. I’m not used to it. I keep looking around expecting to see at least one of them.”
“Make the most of it,” I tell her. “How long’s it been since we went out together on our own?”
“Months,” she screams, struggling to make herself heard over the noise.
The conversation is over quickly. The effort of having to yell at each other is already making my throat sore and the gig hasn’t even started yet. I watch the stage as roadies and other crew members check the lights, the sound, and the instruments. How long does it take them to get ready? They seem to have been setting things up for ages, there can’t be long left to wait now. Someone’s going around putting towels and drinks down and gaffer-taping set lists to the floor.
Christ, what was that? Something hit me from the side and I’m down on the floor before I know what’s happened. I try to stand up quickly, my heart thumping in my chest. Liz grabs my arm and pulls me to my feet. I don’t want any trouble tonight. I’m not good at dealing with confrontation. I really don’t want any trouble.
“Sorry, mate,” an overexcited and half-drunk fan shouts at me. He’s holding two (now) half-empty drinks in his hands and I can tell from his blurred and directionless eyes that he’s off his face on drugs or booze or both. We’re standing close to the mixing desk and there’s a carpet-covered bump running along the floor next to us which protects the power cables I think. Looks like this idiot has tripped up the step and gone flying. He mumbles something about being sorry again and then staggers off deeper into the crowd.
“You all right?” Liz asks, wiping splashes of drink from my shirt.
“Fine,” I answer quickly. My heart’s still beating at ten times its normal speed. Relieved, I pull Lizzie towards me and wrap my arms around her. Having her next to me makes me feel safe. It’s not often we’re able to be this close anymore. That’s the price you pay for having too many kids too quickly in a flat that’s too small. Funny how we can stand in a room with the best part of a thousand strangers and have less chance of being interrupted than at home with just three children.
Lizzie turns around and lifts herself on tiptoe to speak to me again.
“Think Dad’s okay?” she asks.
“Why shouldn’t he be?” I yell back.
“I worry that he thinks we’re taking advantage of him. He’s already there looking after Josh most days now and he’s there again tonight with all three of them. It’s a lot to ask. He’s not getting any younger and I think he’s starting to get fed up with it.”
“I know he is. He had a go at me before we left.”
“What did he say?”
How much do I tell her? Harry and I don’t get on but we try and stay civil for Lizzie’s sake. He was not at all happy tonight but I know he wouldn’t want Lizzie to worry about it.
“Nothing much,” I answer, shrugging my shoulders, “he just grumbled something about him seeing more of the kids than I do. He made some bad joke about Josh calling him Daddy instead of me.”
“He’s trying to aggravate you. Just ignore him.”
“He’s always trying to bug me.”
“It’s just his age.”
“That’s a crap excuse.”
“Just ignore him,” she says again.
“It doesn’t bother me,” I shout, lying and trying to save her feelings. The truth is Harry is seriously beginning to piss me off and it’s getting to the point where I can see us coming to blows.
“So what did you say to him?”
“I just told him how we appreciate what he does for us and reminded him that it’s been at least four months since you and I last went out together on our own.”
“He’s just trying to get you to react…” she starts to say. She stops speaking and turns around quickly when the lights suddenly fade. The crowd erupts into life as the members of the band walk through the shadows and step out onto the stage. After a few seconds delay the music starts and I forget about Harry and everything else.
This is the fourth time I’ve seen The Men They Couldn’t Hang. It’s been a couple of years since I last saw them and it’s great to see them again. I’ve been looking forward to tonight since I bought the tickets a couple of months ago. I never get enough of the adrenaline rush of hearing good music played live and played loud like this. Hearing these songs again snatches me out of the day-to-day and helps me forget all the things I usually waste my time worrying about. I hold Lizzie close. As long as the music’s playing I don’t have to do anything except listen, relax, and enjoy myself.
Six or seven songs in now—not sure exactly how many—and this place is really alive. The hall is packed and there’s a great atmosphere here. Swill plays the opening notes to one of my favorite tracks and I recognize it instantly, way ahead of most of the crowd. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I squeeze Lizzie tighter. She knows just how much I love this.
They’ve really hit their stride now and it’s like they’ve never been away. Hearing this music again brings back so many memories. I remember the first time I heard this song on the radio just after I passed my driving test. I’d just bought my first car. It was an old heap that cost more to insure than it did to buy, and me and a few mates had gone down to…
Swill has stopped playing.
Strange. He was strumming his guitar and singing but he’s just stopped. The rest of the band have carried on without him. It’s like he’s forgotten where he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s let go of his guitar and it’s hanging by the strap around his neck now, swinging from side to side. This guy has just spent the last forty minutes playing and singing his heart out but now he’s just standing completely still center stage, head bowed, and staring at the microphone in front of him. Has he forgotten the words? Bloody hell, he’s been doing this for long enough. Surely it can’t be stage fright or anything like that? Is there a technical problem? Maybe he’s ill? The rest of the music continues for a few bars longer. One by one the rest of the band realize that something’s wrong. The lead guitarist has stopped now, and he’s staring at Swill trying to work out what the hell’s going on. McGuire, the bass player, comes to a faltering stop just leaving the drummer to pound out a few more empty and unaccompanied beats before he stops too. Now Lizzie, me, the rest of the band, and the entire audience are staring at the slowly swaying figure of Swill standing awkwardly in the spotlight.
The crowd doesn’t like it. For a few seconds there’s been an uneasy quiet but now the audience is beginning to turn. People are shouting out insults and there’s a slow hand clap starting. I’ve got no idea what’s wrong. It makes me feel nervous. Just wish something would happen…
I think he’s about to walk off. Swill takes a couple of steps back and then stops. Now he’s taken hold of his guitar and he’s swung it around his head so that it’s no longer hanging around his neck. He’s standing still again now, looking around the stage, oblivious to the jeers and shouts from the hundreds of people who are staring at him and yelling at him to get on with it and start playing. Cush starts to approach him and now Swill moves. He suddenly bursts into life and moves quickly and unexpectedly to his left. Holding the guitar by its neck he swings it around again, now gripping it like a weapon. He lunges toward Simmonds, the lead guitarist, and swings the instrument round once more, catching him full on the side of his head. Simmonds tried to lift his hand to block the blow but the attack was so quick and unexpected that he wasn’t able to properly defend himself. The force of the impact has sent him reeling back into the drum kit, clutching his jaw. But that’s not the end of it. Swill is standing over him now and he’s started smashing the guitar down on him again and again. Bloody hell, he’s hitting him so hard that the wooden instrument has begun to splinter and smash. I don’t understand. Maybe they had an argument before they came on stage or something like that? This guy has always made a big deal out of the fact that he’s a pacifist. Now look at him! What the hell did Simmonds do to deserve this? McGuire is trying to separate them now…
The audience is starting to turn nasty. We’ve stood together and watched in disbelief but now people are starting to react to what they’re seeing. Many of the people right down at the front are trying to push their way out, a small minority are cheering on the violence and are trying to get closer, chanting “Swill, Swill…” and, egging him on. Most of us are just standing there staring at the stage. I look up again and I can hardly believe what I’m seeing. Swill is standing center stage again now, swinging a metal microphone stand around in a wide arc. Simmonds is flat on his back in what’s left of the drum kit and he’s not moving. McGuire’s crawling across the stage on his hands and knees, trying to get to him. Now two roadies have rushed Swill. One of them catches the full force of a swipe with the mike stand right across his chest, the other dives and wraps himself around the musician’s waist and tries to grapple him down. Swill’s having none of it. He kicks and punches him off and tries to scramble away. He trips over the monitors and disappears down into the dark pit between the stage and the security barriers. There’s a wail of feedback that sounds like a scream.
Can’t see him.
Suddenly he appears again. He’s pushed his way out through the barriers and is running into the crowd. His MAG Tshirt is ripped and now hangs around his neck like a rag. The audience reacts with a strange mixture of fear and adulation. Some people run away from him, others run toward him.
“Let’s go,” Lizzie shouts to me.
“I want to go,” she says again. “Now, Danny, please. I want to go.”
People are starting to try and move away from the stage area in large numbers. The houselights come up and everyone’s speed suddenly seems to increase now that they can see where they’re going. We’re pushed and jostled toward the exits by shocked and frightened people crisscrossing in every direction, trying to get away from the trouble before it gets any worse. In the middle of the hall the fighting starts to look like a full-fledged riot. I can’t see what’s happened to Swill but scores of fans who are either pissed or stoned or who just enjoy a good fight have dived into the middle of the chaos with their fists flying.
There’s already a bottleneck forming where the bulk of the crowd is struggling to get out of the venue. I grab Lizzie’s hand and pull her toward the nearest exit. We’re surrounded by people and our speed reduces to a painfully slow shuffle. A mass of huge, shaven-headed security guards push their way into the hall through another door to our left. I’m not sure whether they’re here to try and stop the fighting or just to join in. I don’t want to wait around to find out.
Through the double doors, down a short, steep, stone staircase, and we finally push our way out onto the street. It’s pouring with rain and there are people everywhere running in all directions.
I have no idea what just happened in there.
“You okay?” I ask Lizzie. She nods. She looks shocked and scared.
“I’m all right,” she answers. “I just want to go home.”
I grab her hand tighter still and pull her through the bemused crowds. Some people are hanging around the front of the venue but most seem to be leaving. I’m really fucking angry but I’m trying not to show it. That’s just typical of how things seem to be working out for me at the moment. Why does everything have to be so difficult? I just wanted to relax and switch off and enjoy myself for once, but what happens? A longtime musical hero loses all his credibility and fucks up my first night out with Liz in months. Fucking typical. Bloody prima donna.
We slip down a side street and run back to the car.