For the up-and-coming rock band Vagabond, buying a house together turned out to be a real trip.
“That’s it?” Tommy Doyle asked as Steve pulled the moving van into a sprawling, two-story house’s wide circular driveway. “I thought a house with a reputation like this one would be…I don’t know…creepier or something.”
“What were you expecting?” Steve threw the van into park and looked over at his friend and bandmate. “The Psycho mansion or something out of a Halloween movie?”
“Well, it sure doesn’t look haunted.” Tommy not only sounded disappointed, he actually pouted.
Steve shook his head. Tommy was overly dramatic, but a killer guitar player, and he did have a point. Steve wasn’t sure what he’d expected, either. In all honesty, he hadn’t believed the online photos to be accurate. So far, he was pleasantly surprised.
Tommy bounded out of the van like a kid visiting an amusement park. What he lacked in height—he was only about five feet seven inches—he made up for in energy like it was concentrated in his slight frame. Steve chose to approach more cautiously, but that was sort of his role as the lead singer and front man for Vagabond. He was the “responsible“ one.
As he closed the driver’s-side door, the other two band members pulled in behind them in their old tour van and trailer. In moments, all four stood in a clump staring at the huge house with columns.
White stone gleamed in the twilight. The Los Angeles skyline glittered behind and below the house as darkness fell in a blue-violet drape. Solar-powered security lights winked on within the unruly landscaping. Not a lot of gardening had been done while the house stood vacant—just enough to pass ordinance regulations and to keep the ground neat while it was on sale.
“Sure doesn’t look haunted,” Tommy said again.
Michael Fowler elbowed Tommy in the bicep—aiming for his ribs; but at just over six feet, he overshot. “And you would know…how? Come on, Tommy, how many real haunted houses have you seen? Has anyone really seen?”
Michael’s sarcastic tone echoed Steve’s sentiments. Bret Harris sniggered behind Tommy. Still he brought it on himself, acting like he was twelve.
“Well…” Tommy didn’t have an answer.
“Maybe the stories are true,” Michael said. “Don’t judge. Something had the guy back at the store spooked. Maybe he knows something you don’t.”
“You really believe that, Michael?” Bret asked, incredulous. “Dude, you’re as bad as Tommy. He’s supposed to be the gullible one, not you.”
“Hey!” Tommy turned on Bret and jabbed at his chest with an index finger, pushing Bret back a bit despite the other man’s being a few inches taller and more sturdily built. “Cheap shot.”
Steve sighed. Yeah, buying a house together had been a great idea. This was going to be fun.
He steeled himself to step into the fight about to erupt. Sometimes being the “Designated Adult“ wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He wasn’t ever sure how that had happened, but it made sense to have one contact person to run band business. Steve not only was the “front man“, he’d earned a law degree before chucking it all to be a musician. So, the role had fallen to him.
Michael bristled first, but Steve could almost see his hackles lower as he shrugged and said, “Well, maybe not the actual ghost part. But the dude who lived here before us did disappear without a trace. There’ve been strange occurrences since. Those are documented facts.”
Steve smacked the back of Michael’s head, easy enough since they were about the same height. “Are you trying to scare us?”
Michael shrugged. “Just saying maybe we should be careful. This place may not be haunted, but something weird happened here.”
“Can we move on, please?” Bret said. “It’s not like we’re all a hundred-percent sure of this move as it is without having to deal with bickering over whether or not the place is haunted. Let’s all grow up and go inside.”
Steve sighed as he saw Tommy and Michael about to turn on Bret. It was time to step in. “Everyone just take a breath. We all need to knock it off. We don’t need to be going at it before we even get in the door.”
Tommy, who never stayed angry long, grinned. “So, what are we still hanging around out here for? It’s getting dark.”
“Steve, you have the keys, right?” Bret asked.
“Yeah, I’ve got ’em.”
Steve searched the pockets of his brown leather bomber jacket while he fought to control his face. He didn’t want the others to see a troubled expression when his questing fingers failed to come up with the keys right away. He also hid his sigh of relief when he found the ring in his pants pocket.
He held them up. “Who wants to do the honors?”
Tommy threw Michael a dirty look. “If no one believes in ghost stories, there’s nothing to worry about, right?”
“The warehouse looked okay, too,” Bret finally weighed in. “From the outside.”
The warehouse. Steve wasn’t the only one to shudder at that vivid shared memory. The warehouse was their common nightmare.
In the beginning, they’d taken over the rundown industrial building as a rehearsal space. When early gigs dried up and times were tough, they’d ended up crashing there as well. They’d fled at the first opportunity—along with the cockroaches.
Bret butted Steve in the back with an elbow. “You have the keys, just open the door. We can’t stand out here forever.”
Steve shot the drummer a venomous look but took the first step on their new adventure. He approached the door cautiously with the rest of the band clustered around him. He didn’t know if it was for moral support or to keep him from retreating. Not that it mattered—he was thankful not to be facing the unknown alone.
He fumbled the keys once more getting the right one into the lock. Fortunately, the tumblers turned easily. He pushed the heavy wooden door. It swung open easily on well-oiled hinges.
No one made the move to step across the threshold.
“Now we’re just being silly.” Bret pushed past Steve. “Let’s go.”
With Bret taking the first step, the others seemed to move in a single mass; Steve felt himself caught up along with the others. They all but tumbled into the entry in a physical-comedy parody.
Steve’s mind raced. He couldn’t have made a coherent thought if someone put a gun to his head. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but what greeted him wasn’t it. If his bandmates’ expressions were any indication, they felt the same way.
The main room was huge. The floor was tiled in three gigantic intricate mosaics in hues of blue, pink, and purple inlaid with gold and Cambrian Black granite. Each mosaic marked a period of time—Past, Present, and Future. The Past end of the room boasted a floor-to-ceiling picture window overlooking the countryside around the property. The Future end contained nothing but a small, round window facing the driveway. Present lay squarely in the center of the room.
There were two exits and a staircase. The doors included the one the band had just come in and another presumably—according to photos—leading to the kitchen, utility room, and garage. He turned to see a magnificent curving stairway leading up to the second floor. He wasn’t the only one craning his neck to look up.
“This is wild!” Tommy’s excited voice bounced and echoed off bare walls. “Let’s see what else it’s got!”
His comment broke the spell rooting the band to the foyer floor. Like shot, they scattered—Bret heading straight for the kitchen door, Tommy and Michael bolting up the stairs. Steve gave the great room one more look before hustling upstairs himself.
“How many bedrooms does this place have again?” Tommy asked as they hit the landing.
Steve did a quick count in his head from memory. “Six.”
“Cool. Rooms to spare. Who’d’ve thought.” Tommy sounded positively giddy.
“But more importantly,” Michael said, “how many bathrooms does it have?”
Steve fought hard not to roll his eyes. “Didn’t any of you read the specs?”
Neither answered him. Michael, though, had the grace to look guilty. He broke eye contact with Steve. Tommy came off as simply oblivious.
The lead singer sighed. “Each bedroom has its own full bathroom. There are half-baths downstairs under the stairs and off the utility room.”
Steve could all but feel the joy radiating off his friends. Having a bathroom all his own hadn’t been a reality for any of them since they’d formed the band, and for some probably longer than that. Bathroom time and space was a big deal, considering none of them could be considered low-maintenance when it came to grooming.
“Who decided who gets which room?” Tommy asked as they stood in the hallway, nearly dumbfounded by the possibilities.
“Does it matter?” Steve asked.
A piercing screech from the kitchen downstairs interrupted further discussion. The guys all exchanged wide-eyed looks then broke and ran back down the stairs. Steve had the horrible feeling they were going to find a broken body and/or a blood pool. As one they barreled toward the kitchen door, only to be met by Bret coming back through, grinning wickedly.
“Ha! I gotcha!” Bret pointed and laughed. “You should see your faces! That’s the best!”
“I’m going to kill him!” Michael lunged toward Bret, only to be held back by Tommy. Steve stepped between them.
“Michael! No! Stop.” Steve put his hand on Michael’s chest. “We don’t need a fight on our first night here.”
“Oh, it won’t be a fight,” Michael said through gritted teeth.
Bret rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. It was a joke. What’s the big deal? Where’s your sense of humor?”
“It wasn’t funny, Bret.” Steve jabbed at him with a finger. “This is all new and weird. We’re all on edge.”
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you’d just let me kill him,” Michael said.
Steve put a hand on his shoulder. “I can’t let you do it.”
“Why not?” Michael’s voice rose to a whine.
“We don’t have time to replace him before the tour.”
Steve laughed. “Maybe next time, okay? When we’re not in a time crunch.”
The tension broke with laughter. Steve caught sight of Tommy drifting toward the picture window as the other two wandered off in other directions. He didn’t want that to happen. They had work to do.
“Come on, guys, let’s get the important stuff unloaded. A lot of it can wait until tomorrow, but we should get the equipment and our personal stuff inside.”
As the other three trooped for the front door, Tommy stood transfixed by the window. Beyond the treeline, the lights of Los Angeles twinkled in the darkness.
“Take a look at this view.”
“Yeah, yeah, Tommy, it’s great. The best.” Bret crossed the room in long strides to pull the small blond man away from the window. “Let’s go. Didn’t you hear Steve? We’ve got work to do. We’ll appreciate the view later. It’s not like it’s going anywhere.”
They joined the others, who stood outside staring at the vans.
“Where do we start?” Tommy asked.
Steve shrugged. “With the equipment. Definitely don’t want to leave that outside. Then let’s concentrate on our van. The truck doesn’t have to be back until tomorrow, and we all have important stuff in the van. We can leave most of the truck stuff until morning.”
“Where do we put everything?” Michael asked. “After all we’ve been through, please don’t say the garage.”
“Why would we use the garage?” Tommy asked with a dismissive note in his voice. “We have that huge room on the first floor.”
“Okay.” Steve rattled the keys. “Let’s do this thing.”
They moved forward as a group., then hauled out anvil cases, instrument cases, suitcases and duffle bags until it seemed like an impossibly large amount of stuff had come out of the small space.
“Man, I miss the crew,” Tommy said, stretching a kink out of his back. “We haven’t done this on our own for a long time.”
“It’s good for us,” Michael said. “Let’s get this stuff inside, it’s getting late.”
They shouldered the first load and headed inside.
“Which end do we want to set up in?” Tommy asked, stopping just inside the door, causing a bottleneck.
Bret craned to see over the load. “This end. It’s closer.”
Tommy followed Bret’s head tilt. “Future. That’s appropriate, don’t you think?”
“I think I’m going to dump this thing on your head if you don’t get out of the way.” Michael bumped a hip into Tommy. “This is heavy!”
Tommy jumped out of Bret’s and Michael’s way to land squarely in Steve’s path as he guided a rolling platform in with monitors stacked on it.
“Out of the way, Tommy!”
“I guess I’m not wanted.”
“Oh, we want you,” Steve said. “We want you out of the way. Then we want you out at the van to hand stuff out. You’re the one who fits.”
Tommy made a face but jumped out of the way. Steve dumped his load and hooked an arm around Tommy’s neck.
“Come on, bro. The sooner we get the van unloaded, the sooner we can call it a night.”
Tommy blew a raspberry as he stormed out of the house and stomped toward the van. Steve tried not to laugh as he followed, but Tommy was a small guy and actually fit inside the van. He was also a master packer, even though he’d never admit it. Every band had a “van guy“, and Tommy was theirs.
The bandmates took several trips back and forth from van to house. All four were hot, tired, and ready to be done. Bret shoved sweaty, sticky bangs off his forehead as he leaned against the bumper.
“How much is left?”
Tommy threw a duffel bag to him. Considering he was a drummer, Bret barely got his hands up in time to catch the bag before it smacked him in the face.
“How much more is there?” he asked again.
Tommy ducked back inside. “Only a couple of things, and I think they’re mine. You guys can go in. I got this.”
A ragged cheer went up from the others as they hurried back inside. Steve held back as Tommy grabbed a guitar case and a suitcase; then he slammed the back doors closed and checked the locks to make sure everything was secure. He waved Tommy ahead of him.
“You didn’t have to wait,” Tommy said.
Steve threw his free arm around the guitar player’s shoulders in a mock headlock.
“Come on, let’s go start our new adventure.”
After a brief debate of who got which room, they called it a night. Darkness and quiet descended over the house.
Steve was the last one to retire. As he started to close his door, he thought he saw a pulse of light downstairs. He went to the railing overlooking the main floor. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Whatever he thought he’d seen was gone. He chalked it up to exhaustion as he went back to his room and closed the door behind him.
COMING IN JANUARY FROM ZUMAYA OTHERWORLDS