SPECIAL FEATURE – A Short Story by Benjamin Langley

Hey kids, Goat Leader here! Benjamin Langley graciously provided this story for you – our loyal and fearless readers – so enjoy! We did.

If you’d like to check out his other works afterwards, you can find him here:


NOTE: Please excuse the un-bookish formatting – this is nothing to do with Ben, who sent us the story in its perfect final form. It’s one of the joys of trying to format things on a web page.

BENJAMIN: This short story was first published by HorrorAddicts.net in their collection, Crescendo of Darkness in 2018. It’s one of my favourite stories, because I had so much fun writing it. I’d been shopping it around for a while, with some very near misses with all sorts of anthologies, but when I saw the call for music-based horror, I knew the story had found its home.

While My Guitar Gently Bleeds

Bursts of incoherent chatter, like the babbling of demon tongues, interrupted the hiss of static from the radio in the corner of the recording studio, causing Dallas McCann to stir in his leather recliner. More asleep than awake, his hand crept to his face and smeared drool from the corner of his mouth into his bushy beard.

He glanced at the framed platinum disc on the wall as the fugue in his head cleared. The frame had been knocked askew, so his younger face stared back from the cover of the Dark Disciples debut album at a slight angle. That was when there were still four of them. He was on the left, posing with his first guitar, a turquoise Charvel Surfcaster. Woodstock was at the back, holding his drumsticks aloft. On the opposite side was Gerry, wielding his guitar like a weapon, his mop of hair covering his face. Dead centre was Tyler, his face half-hidden by the smoke billowing from his mouth.

Dallas jumped at a crack of thunder and turned his chair toward the window where lightning illuminated his modified, metallic black Porsche sitting alone in the parking lot. Another rumble followed a second later and then a high-pitched whine came from the radio. It was as if someone had set off a siren inside Dallas’s skull. He massaged his temples for a second and pushed himself out of his seat, stumbling toward the radio, oblivious to the empty bottle of Vintage Vodka he’d discarded on the floor. With his alcohol-addled brain, he had no chance when his foot rolled on the bottle. He crashed onto his back.

The radio’s static morphed into a laugh, and then the voice of the DJ: “We’ve got more killer hits right after these messages.”

Dallas yanked the plug from the socket to kill the sound mid-jingle. Relieved by the silence, he stretched out the stiffness in his body. He stretched from side to side, cracking his neck and setting his spinal column aflame. He muttered under his breath and eyeballed the radio. Maybe it was time to call it a night. The mixing could wait until Gerry and Woodstock were available. He rubbed his neck and glanced at the platinum disc on the wall.

The young Dallas McCann never used to get aches and pains. When did he get so old? He looked down at the empty vodka bottle. Had the drink made it impossible to charge around the stage without fearing his heart would batter a hole through his rib cage? He picked up the bottle, placed it in the wastebasket, and cursed.

Dallas headed for the door, reaching into his pocket to pluck a cigarette from his pack. They hadn’t helped either, but he wasn’t about to give them up.

As he sparked his lighter, something wet and fleshy squeaked on glass behind him. Dallas spun to the window separating the control-room from the live-room. He flicked the switch to light up the room on the other side of the glass.

On the window was a fingerprint.

A burning sensation passed through his chest. He reached toward the print, unable to stop himself from pushing his own finger against the mark. It was warm and smeared when he touched it.

As Dallas looked at his finger, bloodied from the mark on the glass, static burst from the radio. Every muscle in his body clenched. He turned and glared at the plug dangling far from the socket.

“We have some awful, breaking news.” The DJ’s voice quavered.

Dallas stomped across the room, grabbed the radio, and shook it. The rear compartment flapped open and batteries tumbled out. Again, there was silence.

He gawked at the faint, red smear on the glass.

Static buzzed from the radio and with it, a shock of electricity. Cursing, Dallas dropped it to the floor. The casing cracked on impact, and the distorted voice of the DJ returned: “To repeat Dallas McCann has been found dead in his recording studio.”

Dallas kicked the radio. It struck the wall and the speaker unit fell forward, muffling its output.

The distortion on the DJ’s voice made him sound inhuman. “This comes a year to the day after the death of fellow Dark Disciple member and lead singer, Tyler Gunn. The band had been working on a new album with Dallas on vocals.”

Dallas strode across the room and stomped on the speaker, panting heavily.

After a second of silence—during which he could only hear his heart thumping—the lights went out. A sizzle came from the darkness. Or was it a hiss? A laugh? A shower of sparks rained out of the darkness at the back of the live-room. He was transfixed until the sparks stopped dazzled by the afterglow. He reached for the familiarity of the control deck and held on until he could see again.

“Too much booze, too little sleep,” he muttered. Whatever had malfunctioned could wait until morning. He was done.

A cymbal crashed in the gloom behind him.

“Who’s there?”

A series of taps on the glass mimicked the opening riff of the last Dark Disciples hit, Better Off Dead.

Woodstock’s drum kit was on the far side of the room, far from the glass. The lights flashed and came back brighter than before. Once his eyes adjusted, Dallas spotted large, red letters on the glass spelling out DEAD. Every instinct in his body screamed for him to run.

As he dug his keys from his pocket, not caring about the loose change cascading to the floor, glass erupted from the window. Dallas shielded his face with his forearm, wincing from the sting of pierced skin. Several pieces of glass embedded in his flesh. He gritted his teeth and yanked out the biggest shard. The metallic blood stink turned his stomach.

Seeing what had smashed through the window hit him like a storm of bottles from a hostile crowd. On the desk before him, a vintage, 1962 Fender Stratocaster, flame burst guitar rocked. Other than new scratches, it looked the same as when placed in Tyler Gunn’s coffin, complete with the dent in the body above the bridge from the time the crowd at Glastonbury pelted them with rocks when the power failed.

Dallas reached into the wastebasket and grabbed the vodka bottle by the neck. Someone was messing with him, and he wouldn’t take it. He crept toward the live-room door, pushed it open, and edged inside.

Behind him, the parking lot door flew open and crashed into the wall. He turned, and as the door swung back, he caught sight of something swooping in. The lights flared and as his eyes adjusted, he tried to identify it and figure out where it had gone. Dallas slammed the live-room door. An amp crackled into life and the squeal of feedback pierced the air. He sped across the room, keeping his eyes on the door, and kicked the amp over. The squeal became a crackle and then died. The cymbal crashed again. Dallas turned around and a drumstick struck him on the forehead. A cackle filled the room as Dallas looked around.

“What do you want?” Dallas called.

He coughed and something landed on the end of his tongue along with an acrid, earthy taste. He spat dirt onto his hand. A force surged from his gut and up his oesophagus. He spluttered more dirt.

“That’s what it’s like to be underground, Dallas.”

Dallas’s eyes darted to all corners of the room to locate the voice he knew, but couldn’t accept. There was a drum-roll, but when he turned to the drum kit, no one was there. The control-room door burst open and a figure swaggered through.

“Tyler?” The stench of decaying meat made Dallas gag.

“Who else?” Tyler stepped forward, posing as he always did on stage, one foot further forward, knee bent, hands on hips.

“You’re dead!”

“You thought that could stop me?” Greying skin hung from Tyler’s face. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot. Between his tufts of hair his scalp showed. He opened his mouth and a cluster of maggots tumbled out and writhed on the floorboards. Tyler stepped forward, their soft bodies crushed underfoot. With each stride, loose earth dropped from his black boots and embers drifted from his charred overcoat. For every one of Tyler’s slow steps forward, Dallas took two back until he was against the wall. He flung the vodka bottle. Tyler grabbed it from the air and crushed. Glass rained to the floor at his feet.

“What… do you want?”

Tyler chuckled.

“You want to re-join the band?”

“Afraid not.” He laughed, displaying a row of yellowing teeth. “The boss downstairs says this gig is for one night only. I have to right some wrongs.” Tyler clicked his fingers and the solo from their 1987 hit Hell Yeah burst from the control-deck speakers, followed by the familiar whistled fast-food jingle.

“I had nothing to do with that,” said Dallas. “It was the record company.”

“There’s always someone else to blame. But I know they need your approval.”

“I needed the money.”

“You think I didn’t notice the Porsche?”

“You would have done the same thing.”

“McDonald’s? I ’m vegan!” Tyler shook his head. Smoke drifted from his nostrils as he exhaled. He swooped forward and grabbed Dallas by the throat, lifting him from the floor. “You sold out.” Tyler flung him to the opposite wall.

Dallas crashed beside his cherry red, Gibson Flying-V guitar. As Tyler stomped toward him, Dallas grasped his guitar by the neck and swung it. Tyler ducked, but his decaying muscles worked too slowly. The guitar sliced a chunk of hairy flesh from his scalp and send it flying to the studio-floor with a wet plop.

“The acoustics have always been good in here.” Tyler snatched the guitar from Dallas’s hands. “So, why does your new material sound like shit?”

Tyler swung the guitar.

Dallas jumped back. He dashed to Tyler’s left, toward the door, but trod on the chunk of flesh. His foot skidded and he landed on his back. A burning sensation filled his chest. He took a deep breath, but it was almost impossible to take in enough oxygen.

Tyler reached through the broken window and grabbed his own guitar from the mixing-desk. He dusted off fragments of glass and then strummed a single power chord.

Hearing the first note was always a call to action for Dallas. Time to play! He scrambled to his knees, ready to spring up and fly for the exit, but as Tyler played another chord, Dallas’s legs turned to stone. His muscles convulsed, wanting to propel him forward, but he was unable. Each throb of his heart caused pain as if glass pumped through his veins instead of blood. He couldn’t look away from Tyler’s dead fingers on his guitar neck, blurring as he threw together a three power-chord combo.

Dallas’s mullet quivered. He cupped his hands over his ears and screamed as Tyler unleashed another chunky riff. A trickle of blood ran from Dallas’s nose, onto his lip, and into his mouth. He struggled onto one foot, his muscles feeling as if they would burst, before Tyler’s solo captivated him. The dancing fingers hypnotised him. Dallas’s hands shook so violently he could barely keep them over his ears. His temples pulsed, the veins in his neck grew large, and a single bloody tear rolled down his face.

“You know,” Tyler’s last note died and he stroked his guitar. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is the devil’s music, and crimes against it are punishable by death.”

Dallas shook his head.

“And selling out is the worst crime of all.” Tyler aimed the guitar head at Dallas and strummed again. Blood leaked from Dallas’s nose and he slumped to the ground.

Tyler slung his guitar over his shoulder and snapped his fingers. Hell Yeah played again, with no McDonald’s whistle to spoil it.

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