December 20, 2014
He remained perfectly still as the chains were wrapped around his body. The metal cooled the heated flesh of his bare chest. All around him echoed a cacophony of screams, bellows and stomping of feet that almost crushed him beneath its weight. The air tightened with the chains and a rush of collective exhilaration and nervousness swirled through his senses. He glanced quickly at the red-faced, muscular man standing beside him, who finished fastening the chains and stepped away.
He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. And then he waited, anxiety pounding in his breast. The air was thick with heat and sweat and smoke, but he'd grown accustomed to it through the years, as with the rest of the ritual. The one thing he could never get used to, however, was the flip-flop in the pit of his stomach that occurred as the platform he stood on slowly lifted into the air, revealing him to the anxiously awaiting crowd that crushed nearer. Starving animals before a feast. He looked straight out, refused to look down, lest the vertigo take him.
How he hated heights.
He listened for the eerie orchestration of strings and organ that marked the beginning of his leisurely descent back to earth. The notes began with a rhythmic resonance that was almost conquered by impatient bellows that quickly turned to a roar of frenzied excitement. As the platform lowered, a muzzy sensation circled Dane’s mind and his throat felt as though his stomach had been hoisted up into it.
He held his breath in anticipation.
An amplified voice echoed over the din. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Through the misty storm they come. Battles rage and blood is spilled and tonight you will feel…the rage of the... Dark Myst!”
The crescendo of notes rose with the screams and soon the vast crowd, shrouded in the mist of machine smoke and lighting from the trusses above, came into view. The platform touched the stage simultaneously with a deafening blast of canon fire, blinding light and searing heat from the pyrotechnics.
Dane thrust his arms outward in an ostentatious display of feigned strength and released his long held breath as the chains fell free of his body. As he leaped forward the crowd crushed against the stage, nearly 20,000 screaming fans all at once a serried mass swarming towards him.
Tingles of excitement clawed at his spine, a feeling that never waned with the years. He ran to the front of the stage and grabbed up the microphone as Bruce struck the first hard note on his Strat. The music pounded out its heavy rhythm and the audience's cries warred with its volume. Sharp beams of laser light cut a zigzag through the haze. Dane twirled around and his heart jumped.
Oh what fresh hell!
He was staring at himself!
The stage had been set up like a room in a lover's palace; giant mirrors everywhere—behind, to the sides, even above, stretching as high as the trusses. Due to a severe snow squall the truck carrying an important part of the band’s stage set had gone off the road and gotten stuck. No one was injured, but the set had not arrived in time to be set up in the sold-out Target Center. Someone had decided the light show would look better reflected. Dane, however, was aghast. Not only was their stage set designed to coincide with most of their songs, but the effects of the colored lights continuously bouncing from mirror to mirror would inevitably result in the whole band plagued with a throbbing headache by concert’s end.
Their manager had to have approved this—someone had to have approved it. No one had told Dane! The mirrors must have been erected last moment. Everyone associated with the band knew how Dane hated mirrors. But now, no matter which direction he turned, he saw himself in his black costume and ragged-edged cloak; which portrayed him as the yin to the band's yang. They were the mist, and he the dark storm.
To keep his attention from the mirrors, Dane fixed his gaze on the audience and the speckled glow from thousands of cell phone flashes, resembling a sparkling star-filled evening that stretched out before him. But he knew he would eventually have to turn around.
By the third song it became maddening, not able to dance around as he normally would for fear of what might be hidden in those mirrors. But, thankfully, half way through the song he spotted one of the girls he'd met the last time he was in town. At last, something to keep his mind and eyes busy. In the front row she stood, arms raised toward him. The bulldozing horde had her pressed against the stage, long auburn hair flittering about as she bobbed her head to the beat of the music. He smiled in her direction, despite his sudden dread at remembering the promise he'd made to her the year before. A promise—ashamedly—he had no intention of keeping.
He had never seen her before that night a year ago, so she hadn’t been a regular. Conquering new territory was always fun. She’d displayed the looks normally reserved by the group of girls who always seem to know just how to be chosen above others and handed backstage passes. This one, however, had taken a different approach. She had approached him on the floor of his hotel as he made his way to his room. Fortunately he had been alone—a rarity. He had invited her in. Ample breasts and a nice round bottom offset by a perfectly slender waist. Dane knew he would be having a good time that night.
She had wanted too much, however, a commitment he couldn't give. Teasing him and denying him her favors until he'd made the vow. What else was there to do? And so he had said exactly what she wanted to hear. And, as naïve as she was, she had believed him. He couldn’t, after all, say no. Not when she lay there in his hotel bed displaying all her luscious charms. But he couldn't keep his promise, either. There were plenty of women in countless towns, women the band’s crew knew were his type. Women who would be offered passes just so he could meet them, drink with them, bed them. And there would be more waiting in the next town after that.
Now, a pass with the name of a local radio as sponsor dangled around her neck. So, she had won backstage passes this time. There would be no avoiding her tonight. What would he say to her? He could not even recall her name. As her fiery glare burned through him, he absentmindedly turned away, catching Bruce’s smug grin as he looked from the girl to Dane. He mouthed the words “there she is,” as he switched guitars with an assistant for the next set of songs.
Dane smirked, shook his head at his friend, then strutted to the other side of the stage as the next song began—one of the band’s trademark tunes that he wrote about a medieval land of lords and knights. He wielded a sword, one of many from his collection, and proceeded to dance around in choreographed mock swordplay as the hired orchestra played their bit.
At this point, his disappointment surged that the integral element of their regular stage set had not arrived. The video wall depiction of a castle and rolling green hills was installed. However, mirrors now replaced the large faux-stone steps that were to lead to the balcony above the stage, giving Dane the appearance of riding atop one of two red-eyed dragons that should, at that moment, be gazing menacingly down at the crowd, smoke, laser and fire effects erupting from the eyes and fanged mouths. Those that came for the show would be fervently disappointed.
During Bruce’s brief guitar solo near mid-song, Dane closed his eyes for a moment and raised the sword high, drawing in the deep odor of sweat and heat. Machine-created fog crept along the stage and curled around his feet like a chill mist in a graveyard. The lights were so dim he could scarce see even the front row of the audience as the laser lights sliced through the stadium and across his body like sharp-edged blades.
In accordance with his routine, and without second thought, he twirled around—and was suddenly staring right into one of the tall mirrors that littered the stage. The lights brightened. His craggy-hemmed cloak billowed as he spun from the ghastly reflection of his own sweat-soaked face only to catch the same image in the mirror beside that one. His gut wrenched and he tried to turn away, back to the front of the stage, back to the audience. But he froze as movement caught his eye and when he turned his head, she was there—the “Mirror Lady.” His illusion. His own delusion.
As real to him as his own reflection.
No! Not here!
Her thigh-length ginger hair was loose, rather than pulled back in the usual braid. The shining tresses poured over her shoulders like a rushing waterfall and cascaded down a beautiful gown of burgundy velvet that hugged her slim form. The tears in her golden eyes told a tale of sadness that wrenched at his heart, and he felt himself take an involuntary step forward. More familiar to him than Martha or Lance or Sir Kori, the sight of the “Mirror Lady” twisted his gut, a tornado rampaging through him, a tangled enrapture of perplexity and fear, love and pain—as if he had known her for more years than his life was long. And that familiarity drove him somewhere beyond her presence in some glass.
His dilemma with the redhead in the front row disappeared. The girls he’d met in the past or would meet in the future no longer mattered. It was this stranger, this illusion. She alone meant everything—and she scared the hell out of him. But deeper than fear lie an unbearable urge to leap into the mirror and gather her into his arms.
Protective impulses tugged at him relentlessly and he was suddenly frightened not of her but for her. Terror seized his heart, and refused to let go, pounding through him harder than the music that continued to fill the stadium, confusing him profoundly. Passionate emotions thrashed at his brain and his head ached with the need to bring them to the surface. But he couldn’t. A mental barrier walled off the needs screaming for release. Why couldn’t he just go to her; feel for her the love he’d been missing his entire life?
Behind him, the glass’ surface reflected a flurry of activity; lambent light bounced from one mirror to the next, heightening the pain in his head. The small section of audience visible moved and swayed, their images like dancing ghosts in the dark mist of the stadium. Stephan’s long strawberry hair swayed as he bobbed his head up and down while he plucked away at his bass. He hadn’t seen her. At the time Dane didn’t think anyone else saw her, but her form was as solid in the mirror as was his own, as she had been in every mirror throughout his life.
Concentration became impossible. He faltered, his voice cracked and he missed the chorus altogether. Familiar with the music, the mistake must have been quite obvious to the crowd. But he couldn't turn from that damn mirror.
Dane tried to force his mind back to the song when a searing bolt of pain sliced through his head. The clank of the sword and the microphone sounded loud to his ears, even above the music, as they dropped from his hands and crashed to the stage. Feedback screeched from the monitors and the music stopped. The burden of emotion and conflict pressed him downward and, like Alice, he found himself falling. Down. Down. The spotlights swirled like shooting stars and agony screamed through his shoulder as he hit the hard stage floor.
The fog consumed him.
The stadium went dead silent. Bruce and Stephan rushed towards him. Adrian leapt from behind his drums. Road crew members and strangers circled above. The audience pressed closer to the stage, security guards frantically tried to hold them back. Their lips moved, their hands pounded the stage. He saw them all, yet he heard nothing. And then he was forced into a vacuum of darkness.