A Taste of “The Acid That Dissolves Images”
by Loren Rhoads
This story was initially published in Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect in 1994. It was republished in the Ashes & Rust chapbook.
You throw the magazine into the jumble of makeup heaped beneath the mirror. “Pretentious gory poseur,” the critic called you, “bastard love-child of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and the whole 20th-century shock-rock scene.” You draw a (hopefully) calming breath. The critic obviously hadn’t stayed for the whole show.
Obviously. Medusa is an angry itch inside you, mixed in the bile that creeps up the back of your throat. You suck miserably on a beer, but the bitter taste won’t go away. How long can this sane front hold?
Your hands shake as you load the gun. The first bullet shatters the mirror, your reflection; the second silences the digiplayer. As Medusa rises, you feel the hardness returning. It feels good.
Medusa wonders: if she shot the body you share in the shoulder, could you still go on stage — despite the pain, despite your arm hanging incarnadine against the shiny black latex bodysuit? You wish there were some way to shoot her. Instead, you hold the magazine at arm’s length and blow it to confetti. It snows down around you, smelling of cordite.
Over the dressing room intercom, Carl asks, “Are you ready, Rachel?”
In response, Medusa laughs. Her low, cruel cackle has become your trademark.
To invite him in, you promise, “I won’t shoot you.” Still, the creature inside you might, just to see how Carl would meet death. He is one of the few young men you know, a conscientious objector. A couple of months ago, he claimed he would rather report to prison — with all that entailed — than join the Army. But the night his draft notice came, Medusa plucked out his eyes on stage. Carl fainted before she finished the first one.
He can’t afford cybernetic replacements, of course, and the Army won’t lay out that kind of cash for a grunt they don’t expect to see again once they dump him in the desert.
You’ve been wondering why Carl stayed in the band. Maybe, in a twisted way, he is grateful to Medusa. He’s as friendly to you as anyone dares to be these days.
Carl opens the dressing room door. He seems to regard you through the gauze that covers his empty sockets. “Did you read the review in Modern Image?” he asks.
You decide to be honest. “Why did our first national publicity have to be a slam?”
“Any mention is better than no mention at all.” Carl crosses his arms on his chest and leans against the doorframe. “Sounded to me like she made up her mind about us before the show started, then left after the first song. They call the magazine Image, not Substance.” He smiled. “It hasn’t affected the size of tonight’s crowd. Maybe it helped.”
You wish he hadn’t told you that. Medusa has gotten really wild on the nights she’s had a big audience. Last time it was Carl. How can she top that? Feigning calm, you jab the pointed nail of your little finger at your eyelashes, forcing the mascara to spike still more. Finally you say screwit and pull the bone-white shock of bangs into your face. These normal gestures do not faze Medusa. She shows you white hair clotted with crimson. Behind it, your shattered reflection wears Medusa’s smile.
You follow Carl from the dressing room. The cinderblocks of the hall are covered with the graffiti of a hundred bands. Most of the names are unfamiliar. When you reach the wings, the effluvia of spilled beer and hair mousse washes over you. You envision the crowd: witch bitches in their black gowns and silver talismans, knots of mohawked punks, a tourist or two in bondage gear. Desperate women, wanting a spectacle to make them forget how lonely they are, how long ago their men disappeared into the desert. Carl gets laid every night. So does the computer jockey, Ann. It seems forever since you’ve had anybody but Medusa for company.
The band stands in a clump, passing a joint of Lydia’s one-hit weed. Though excluded, you bask in their camaraderie. Again you are glad to have answered their ad for a singer. The performances allow you respite from Medusa, when you don’t need to clutch her leash so tightly. Now that she’s grown abusive of this freedom, perhaps you should quit.
“Poseur,” Medusa murmurs. “You would quit after one scathing review. I don’t need you holding me back any longer.”
You realize Medusa still holds the gun. You thrust it through the back of your belt and hope she will forget about it. How likely is that? Still, she can’t kill you. She needs you to move around in. And she needs the band, to do whatever it is she’s come to do. You promise yourself that they’ll be safe.
The houselights dim. The audience rustles, a thousand-eyed beast whose attention is suddenly focused. Your fingertips are icy as you slip the microphone over your head, switch on the box of effects at your hip. “I’ll show you gore,” Medusa teases. You wish you knew what she has planned, but you never do.
The machines kick on, spewing pale smoke that smells like myrrh. In the gloom, Ann’s computer lights glow a malevolent red. Lydia leads Carl to his drums, waits solicitously for him to find the controls. Then she lifts her bass from its cradle and turns up the volume.
A moan begins, like a graveyard wind. Lydia weaves in a rapid bass melody.
When the fog reaches your knees, you pace slowly to downstage middle. Thus ends the rehearsed part of the show.
“Is ecstasy possible in destruction?” Medusa whispers through the effects box. The reverse reverb repeats each word, clarifying it before biting it off. “Can one grow young in cruelty?”
Fear becomes a chill rock in your stomach.
“Do you desire to see the Truth?” Medusa asks.
A stark white spotlight pierces the smoke to strike harsh reflections off the shiny latex bodysuit. With one hand, Medusa forces your head back, caresses your throat, cups one breast, hugs your bony ribs. Yes, she is killing you. You shiver, though not altogether in fear.
“Do you desire essential satisfaction?” Medusa purrs. “I do.”
With a savage tug, she rips an earring from your left ear, throws it to the stage, and mashes the silver nude beneath her boot. Blood drips on your neck, warm, sensual. Medusa touches her fingers to it, brushes it across your lips. Delicious.
“Let us enjoy ourselves to the full. ’Tis Nature’s law.”
Medusa steals lyrics from Rimbaud, Crowley, Huysmans, everyone you’ve read. She has an incredible memory for cruelty.
Women crowd around the stage. Someone thrusts a black-gloved fist into the spotlight. You wonder what they derive from Medusa, why her fury attracts and binds them, mothlike, as it does you. Medusa only smiles.
A flashbulb dazzles your eyes.
Medusa stalks toward the flash, hissing lines from The Torture Garden into the microphone. The crowd washes after her, waves against the breakwater of the stage.
She halts, swaying on stiletto boot heels. Anger pounds like a bass drum inside your skull. You have to fight her to see.
The fortyish woman holds a camera at arm’s length over her head and snaps another picture. Trendy gold fans shield her ears. Her painstakingly ratted hair glows plum in the lights. You recognize her as the critic from Modern Image. Why could she be here, Medusa demands, unless to see if she has destroyed you?
Now that she has your attention, the critic shouts something. Sandwiched chest-high against the stage by the crowd, she is white-faced. You can’t hear her over the Berlioz melody Ann’s computer is generating. As you bend close to the footlights, Medusa switches on the flanger.
“I can’t breathe,” the critic gasps. Your microphone Doppler-shifts the words, giving them a ghostly echo.
Like a bird of prey, Medusa’s laugh spirals up over the effects. She strides across the stage to Carl, drapes her arms over his shoulders, pinches his nipples through his black T-shirt. He freezes, rigid against your chest. “Count yourself lucky, bitch,” Medusa snarls. “Some people can’t see.”
To be continued!
Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect: http://www.charnel.com/automatism/lend.html
Ashes & Rust for the kindle: http://amzn.to/2fAZD00
Both are available on my bookshop: https://lorenrhoads.com/bookshop/