Raven howled in delight as the house lights went down and the crowd around him began to roar. Rex took the stage in all his black finery, paint and feathers and Raven bounced up and down like an excited child. His heart thundering in his chest he waved his arms and screamed some more. Rex was his idol and this would be his tenth show. He had been following Rex for a while, watched all his videos and went to as many shows as he could, practically stalking him on social media. It was Rex’s own fault thou for being so accessible and nice to his fans he never turned down a chance to meet people. A and for the right price or some good drugs he might just hang with you after the show.
He wanted to head towards the front of the room, should have been up there from the start but he was waiting for his friend Sky to get there. They had a running bet on who could hook up with Rex the most. Of course Sky was always late so Raven tried to enjoy the show from his spot at the back. He was going to move into the crowd when someone handed him a beer. He grinned, taking it without looking too closely at the bottle or the person who handed it to him. The beer was cold and smelled like a lager. He didn’t drink lagers. The club was smoky and dark, making it hard for Raven to see who had given him the drink. He knew better than to take drinks from strangers but he wanted to save his money for Rex.
“ Thanks. “ He yelled over the music.
“ Don’t I know you? “
Raven looked over his shoulder and shrugged. The guy was tall and wore a hoodie that covered most of his face. He could be anyone. “ I don’t know. Do you? “ Raven smiled. “ Buy me another beer and I might remember.”
Two more drinks and he was feeling no pain. Rex sounded amazing and looked awesome. He must have gotten a new head piece that lit up in the dark. How he could wear all that and not fall over was beyond Raven. It looked like Sky was going to be a no show so he debated moving and When he took a step forward the room suddenly tilted and he felt sick. He was suddenly hot and wanted air.
Outside the warm air hit his face and he staggered off towards the alley. He bent down to puke into the trash, his hands clinging desperately to the wall of the club. He didn’t even see the guy come up behind him and grab his hair. His head hit the wall hard enough to make him see spots and when he reached up a shaking hand it came away bloody. Groaning he struggled to turn around and felt the cold steel against his throat. He didn’t even seen his face as the blood flowed easily down the front of his shirt, hitting the wall. The guy said nothing as Raven slowly sank to his dirty knees as panic took hold. He tried to crawl and got a few feet before collapsing onto the dirty concrete.
Hours later Golden rays of early morning sun were peeking over the rooftops as Rex stepped from the darkness of the club into the muggy street that held the promise of becoming a sweltering day. The street was empty except for a fat black stray cat who sometimes followed him home. There were no fans waiting this time, and for that he was glad. He loved and hated the ones that waited hours for him to come out. Didn't they have lives? Parents who worried what they might be up to? Of course he himself had done that exact same thing when he was too young to get into the clubs to see his favorite bands.
Checking his phone, he picked up his heavy duffel and began to walk the few short blocks to home, a tiny apartment close to the water. He was exhausted from the show yet still needed to do some edits so he could post his latest video. God forbid he was late on uploading new content. But when he turned the final corner he caught the blue and red flashes of light from a cop car. He was never surprised to see the lights as it speed past him. He never stopped to linger just in case they turned their attention onto him, with questions like why he was dressed like that and why his face was painted white. He had already told the world over and over again why he wore the leather and the head piece and painted himself. He certainly didn’t feel like explaining it to the police, although the last time he was stopped one of them recognized him and wanted to take a pic with him. After that he started undressing at the club before going home.
Without looking back he walked down the two blocks to home. He entered the alley and walked quickly to the old iron staircase that would take him up to the tiny one bedroom apartment. He wondered every time if this would be the time the stairs would collapse under his weight and send him plunging down to the cans below. He lived alone and was barely able to pay rent and fed himself with his channel earnings. If anyone thought his life was glamorous then they were wrong, but they only saw what they wanted to see. Reaching the top of the stairs, he noticed a vase of flowers that hadn't been there the evening before when he left. They sat nestled among the dead house plants. Roses, eleven black and one red, arranged in a stark black vase. He picked them up and took them in. He was used to getting things from random fans and thought nothing of it as he placed them on the kitchen table and promptly forgot about them. He wanted nothing more than to get the paint off and his black contacts out. He would do a quick video and then sleep until it was time to get ready for the next show.
It was full dark when Rex awoke to his phone blowing up. Everyone wanted to make sure he was OK and after texting back that he was fine he learned that the lights he'd seen on his way home weren't just another shooting. This was darker and closer to home. One of the club kids had been murdered, someone Rex had known both personally and online. He didn’t have time to film an "I’m alive" video, so he quickly texted a few people as he walked back to the club. The day's heat hadn't subsided and he was sticky and uncomfortable when he entered the back door to the dark little club he'd called home for too long. Zane, the manager, appeared with beer in hand as Rex set the duffel onto the counter.
“You shit! I’ve been trying to call you.” He looked harried as he ran hand though his thick black hair.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I am very much still alive.” Rex smiled and took the offered beer as he opened the bag and took out his stage gear.
“So you know about that little gutter rat. That hustler kid, what’s his name.”
“Raven. Yeah we hung out a few times.” Meaning Rex had let the kid suck him off after a few shows out back, except Raven had paid Rex and not the other way around.
“It was pretty gruesome from what I hear. Wasn’t he at last nights show?"
“I thought I saw him in the back. You know I can’t see much when I’m on stage. Besides, Raven wasn't choosy in who he tried to take home. It was only a matter of time." Although Rex thought that an OD would be Raven's fate.
“Well, I need to get ready you need anything? “
“Sure, you got it."
Rex went back to his preparations for another long night of making others happy. He would wear his mask and pretend to love everyone, as if he really cared about the nameless people that came to worship at the alter of Carnal Slime. Night after night he gave them his soul then went home and gave everyone else the rest until there was nothing left for himself. He pretty much was Carnal now. People expected him to be the freak who made funny videos and sang cover songs. It was what he did and no matter how much he desired to walk away from it, how could he truly stop? Who was Rex without Carnal, and vice versa?
A month went by and life was a blur of making videos and preforming and the occasional tryst out back. He didn’t realize he missed Raven until he was no longer there. Had it been quick? He head that having your throat cut was pretty painless. He himself had thought that he would down a bunch of pills and drink until he passed out in the tub but had yet to try it although he had filmed it many many times.
Coming off stage one night, he discovered another vase of roses. Ten black and one red. He set these on the scarred and pitted counter in the tiny dressing room. When he asked around no one had seen anything and he forgot about it until another club kid turned up dead. This one was a few blocks in the other direction and looked to be almost posed. People were starting to whisper, yet Rex didn’t feel one way or the other. Two more vases with missing roses and two more deaths came a few weeks apart and sent everyone into a panic. They dubbed him the Ripper and Rex found himself stopped and questioned.
The next three bouquets he used in videos. One he set on fire, the next he ate, and the last he shredded, scattering the petals into a hot tub and pretending to end his own life once again. That freaked people out, but Rex was more popular than ever. He was secretly happy about the gifts until his best friend Alli made the connection. They were at his apartment and she saw the first vase of dead roses on the table.
“Oh my god. Those match the ones you got at the club.” Her large Kohl lined eyes got even bigger under the clump of black and red hair that covered most of her face. “Why didn’t you tell me?" She looked scared as she walked around the table.
“Tell you what? That some demented fan sent me flowers? You know how much stuff I get.” Rex was unfazed. Not everyone who'd been killed was a club kid or connected to him and it seemed like they were getting farther apart and farther away. Of course he didn’t tell her about the shadowy figure he'd been seeing in the places Raven used to hang out either. He dressed in black and wore a Hood over his head to cover his eyes. Hell, it could be a ghost for all he knew.
“Are you crazy! You really need to watch your back. Maybe you should get out of town for a while. We could go to California and do collabs with people. I know you've gotten a ton of requests to come on other peoples shows.”
“You know I hate people, right?"
“You don’t hate me." Alli crossed the room and dropped down onto his stomach.
“You're OK." Rex grinned and poked her with a claw. He'd been too lazy to get out of his costume and knew he smelled bad but didn’t care. He cared less and less. It was like the more people loved him the less he loved himself. It was depressing because if he died the fans would move on to another freak. It was an endless cycle.
“Quit it." Alli stood up and pulled at his hands. “You need to eat. Let’s go out.”
“ Maybe I want to stop eating. I could get a ton of views for being too thin.”
“ No! Stop thinking about them and spend time with the people who really love you.”
“ Fine. “ He growled.
It felt weird to be someplace other than home or the club, doing something so completely normal, but Rex let her put him into her car and drive to a cheap food stand. They ate hot dogs and drank soda as the sun went down. He was about to throw away his trash when he spotted a man watching them. It looked like shadow man from the club but when Rex started to walk towards him the guy stepped behind a bathroom, vanishing from sight.
So now he knew he was being watched. Was shadow man the guy who sent the flowers? Was he the Ripper?
They returned to his apartment where he was glad to find no gifts and made a few videos. Later, after Alli went home and as the sun rose pink behind the buildings, he stood with a drink looking down at the empty city. His eyes were drawn to a figure standing on the other side of the street looking up at him. He was there for only a moment before crossing and disappearing from sight. Rex finished his drink, went to the door and unlocked it. Sighing heavily, he went to his bed and laid down. When he woke up the door was cracked open and the moon was just rising. He was starting to feel rejected.
“Hey man." Zane stuck his head into the dressing room doorway and pointed at the now almost empty vase of flowers. “This shit's getting weird. I told everyone to keep an eye out and no one sees shit. You want me to have Duff watch your back?" he asked, referring to the burly doorman that no one messed with.
“Naw. You worry too much.”
“You bet your ass I do. You need to be careful. They found another one.”
“I know." Rex glanced at the flowers. Three remained.
“Have you told the cops?"
“Have you?" Rex knew the last thing that Zane wanted was to have the police in his club and looking into his business. “I'll be fine. Don’t worry.”
“Maybe you should take a break. You look like shit and the kids, you know, they jump from one thing to the next like a hooker with a disease.”
“So you're booting me?" Rex set the eye liner pen down and reached for his feathered headpiece.
“No, I just think that you should take a break. Get some sun and call me in a month or so. You need to stop with that video crap and do some shit with real people."
“Yeah, thanks." Rex turned to the mirror and pulled on his gloves. So that was it then, his time at the Dark Spot was over. It seemed his whole life was starting to fall apart. He did his show, went home and made a video about it. He didn’t leave the apartment for the next week until Alli called him, frantic.
“I think someone's following me!” She sounded scared.
“Where are you?" Rex felt angry, and maybe a little betrayed.
“At the Dark Spot. I was hoping to talk to Zane and find out why he shit on you.”
“That was stupid. Where’s Zane and Duff?"
“I don’t know.” Alli whispered fiercely into her phone. “I was going to go out back when this guy in a hoodie blocked me. He didn’t say anything to me, but the look in his eyes scared me so I ducked into the Ladies. Maybe I’m just over reacting. Stupid, right?”
“No. Can you make some kind of noise?" He could clearly hear the band kick up over the phone and knew from experience that nothing could be heard in there once the band began to play. He told her to hang on, tossed on a shirt, and ran down the rusty stairs to the alley. He wanted to keep her on the phone but they got disconnected when he was halfway there. At the door he tried to go in and got Duff’s meaty hand in his chest.
“Hang on man. Zane said not to let you back in.”
“What? What the hell! My friends being harassed inside and you’re stopping me?”
“You gotta talk to Zane.”
“I don’t have time.” Rex pushed past Duff and shouldered his way though the crowd. He hit the Ladies room door full force and almost knocked over a heavyset woman putting on fresh lipstick. He apologized, backing out when he realized she was alone. and ran into Zane who was stalking towards him like an angry bull.
“What the fuck are you doing here Rex? I guess I wasn’t clear when I told you to take a break.”
“ Alli called me. She thought she was being followed. She was fucking scared! And said she was in the bathroom. Where is she?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I ain't seen any of your little friends. You really need to lay off the drugs.”
Rex hit the wall with his balled fists, trying to think. Where was she? Had she ditched her stalker and gone home? Why wouldn’t she try to call him back? He was going to get a beer and try calling her again when Zane grabbed his arm and hauled him towards the back door.
“Look, man, she was here. I heard the music!” Rex shouted over the din.
“Maybe she left.” Zane opened the back door and pushed Rex out. Rex slipped and went down the short steps, sprawling in a puddle. Lifting his hands, he saw that they weren’t coated with sticky mud as he expected, they were candied in crimson. He wasn’t sitting in water, he was sitting in a pool of blood. His mouth curled into a snarl as he turned his head and was frozen in place. Zane was swearing as he rushed down the steps and past Rex.
Alli sat against the dumpster, the flickering light over the back door making her open eyes seem to twinkle like they always had when she hit him with a good zinger. Her throat had been slit and she was covered in blood. Rex couldn’t breath as Zane took his phone out and dialed 911 as if that was going to help her now. Rex got slowly to his feet as the world swam away from him. He staggered into the dark alley and puked into the garbage bags. On his knees he looked though his hair and saw him quite clearly under the street lamp not to far from where Raven fell. Rex stood up and took a step forward. “ You want me! Well here I am.” He screamed as he locked eyes with the man they called the Ripper who was grinning at him, then the blue and red lights hit the alley wall. Ripper turned and causally walked away as the cops swarmed.
With tears in his eyes, Rex went back to Alli. She looked like a broken marionette, her dead eyes staring past him. He held her hand until Zane pulled him away and took him up to the office. He was put on a couch and grilled. Zane did all the talking as people came and went. The club was cleared and Zane tried to get Rex to stay, but all Rex wanted was to go home. He was numb and needed to shower. Zane refused to let him go alone and sent Duff to walk with him to his apartment. Rex sent Duff back with the promise to stay put and went up the steps without seeing the last vase with a single rose that was sitting among the dead plants on the small table.
Inside he showered the blood and paint off, took out his contacts, and fell into bed. He didn’t stay there long, going for his last bottle of Jack and doing some video edits. He knew now that it was Rex the Ripper really wanted, but who was to say that the killings wouldn’t just go on until he was stopped? The BTK killer had only been caught because he taunted the cops years later and he wasn’t the only one. Some of them were never caught.
Too drunk to sleep, he was about to go out when there was a knock on his door. It had to be close to three and the only ones that stopped at three were the groupies. Sighing, he cracked the door on a clump of bright blue hair. He opened the door and Sky almost bounced into the apartment. He talked so fast it was hard to understand him, but Rex didn’t really care what he was saying anyway.
“I heard that you found Alli. Aren’t you freaking out? I would have lost my mind man and not that far from where they found Raven! “ Sky should have been in a panic, not out trying to score at three AM. He had been friends with both Raven and Alli, but Rex didn’t say that. He went to the couch and took another drink.
“Alli told me about the flowers. She said she wanted you guys to leave town for a while.” Sky was looking at the dead flowers on the table much the same way Alli had. “Did you tell the cops about it?”
“Nope. I get shit all the time from people. And if I left town then what? People still die?”
“You think he’s after you? “
Rex let his gaze drift out the window. He knew Ripper was after him he just didn’t know why, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. A person could only give others so much of themselves before they were just an empty husk. He had wanted to end his own life for years now but didn’t have the guts.
Sky joined him on the couch, taking a drink from the bottle.
“So what are you going to do?”
“Forget.” Rex let his hand fall onto Sky’s leg.
Sky grinned and moved closer to Rex. They had done this dance before and he’d been with plenty of worse guys than Rex. Knowing the rule he reached into his pocket, and was surprised when Rex shook his head.
“Keep it, and don’t forget me.” He reached out to stroke Sky’s arm and pull him in for a long kiss. It didn’t take long to strip. Sky knew exactly what Rex liked and it was exactly what Rex needed even if Sky would be gone before morning.
They fucked on the cold floor until they fell into a restless sleep, and as he knew it would be Sky was gone when Rex woke up the following afternoon. The money he had refused was sitting on the wooden coffee table next to a cute paper drawing of Rex’s sleeping face. He smiled and ran his hand though his hair.
He spent the rest of the afternoon writing and filming a few cover songs before stopping to eat a quick meal. He felt like crap and took a long hot bath before getting ready. He charged his phone and did a “getting ready” video. He put on full makeup and gear before leaving the tiny sweltering apartment. It was even hotter outside, too hot for all the leather, but he wanted to be seen and it would be really hard to miss him in all his black finery, leather, feathers, paint and Black contacts.
He walked down the bustling street full of tourists and people going about their every day business. He loved this town and its vibrant nightlife. So many good memories of making funny videos in the square and getting shitfaced in the Quarter. He stopped to say hello to friends and shop owners he knew before going into his second favorite place to drink. Standing at the end of the bar he ordered a Dixie and it was the best beer he had ever tasted. He contemplated doing some karaoke up on the little stage and decided against it. He wanted to be close to the door and as visible as possible.
Hours went by. He passed the time talking to the pretty bartender and taking pics with the fans that came up to him. He was quite drunk by the time four rolled around and he said his goodbyes. He walked slowly down the street, not turning to look behind him once. Up the steps he went, dripping sweat and feeling sick. He let himself into the dark apartment as the sun began to lighten the eastern sky. He walked into the tiny bathroom and looked into the mirror. He was ready to become Rex once more perhaps for the last time. He reached up to take off the headpiece and wasn’t surprised to see a shadow behind him. In the light he looked so normal. Rex couldn’t help but smile. “What took you so long?”
“Masterpieces take time to create.” Ripper chuckled as he raised his arm, the razor blade catching the dim light in a blinding flash. He expected Rex to fight him, yet Rex did the opposite. He grabbed the edges of the sink with both hands and closed his eyes. Ripper didn’t hesitate. He quickly ran the edge of the razor over the painted skin of his throat,soaking Rex’s black shirt and painted the sink red. He watched Rex turn to smile at him as he sank down against the bathtub and pull out his phone. Rex hit livestream and Ripper ran as Rex’s phone fell into the blood between his legs. Around the world everyone watched in horror as their media darling died. Fake, they cried. Yet another of his fake death videos and Another ploy to get more views in a world obsessed with being famous. Or was it?
Three weeks later in Seattle, another vase of flowers arrived on a doorstep, at first unnoticed by a man who was too busy being a bully to people he didn’t know. Rex’s death was old news and a new face was about to make headlines. Picking up the vase, he watched two police cars go screaming down the block and around the corner. Shaking his head, he took the roses inside. He knew exactly who to give them too. After the fight they had the night before he was convinced his wife would love them.