VI. Plague
"...everybody knows that the plague is coming.
Everybody knows that it's moving fast."

They went down to breakfast at the hotel restaurant the next morning, all seven of them, looking out of place in their black t-shirts and tight jeans. Frank kept twisting around in his chair, surveying the whole dining room, but no one seemed to care who they were and finally Bob asked him to "please, hold still for one fucking minute," and Frank stopped looking. No one really stared at them except an old guy in a trucker looking hat at the counter and that was probably because he thought they were fags.

They went back up to the rooms and took showers, one by one, the others watching cartoons and not news on television. Frank skipped his, since he'd just had one last night, and sat cross legged in front of the television. After a little while, Pete came and sat next to him, his hair wet and dripping onto the collar of his t-shirt.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," Frank said. Then, because it seemed to require something more, "how're you doing?"

Pete shrugged, staring at the television. He looked haggard and thin and sick. Even the stubble on his chin seemed pale against Pete's normally swarthy skin. "I dunno," he said.

"Oh. Okay." Frank turned back to the television. It was one of those kid's cartoons, where there was a card game to go along with it and you had to play the card game for the show to make any fucking sense, but it was better than the news or another chick movie. It was mind numbing, at least.

When the commercial came on, Pete cleared his throat. "Mikey saved me," he said.

Frank turned his head, but Pete was still faced straight ahead, his hands in his lap, his eyes unblinking. "Oh yeah?" Frank said softly.

Pete nodded. His voice, when he spoke, was strangely flat and affectless, like a robot's voice, full of strange pauses and swallowed words. "I saw it come out of the crowd and grab Patrick and I was going over there, and then I saw its teeth and 'rick was screaming out and. You know. Had his hands out. And I was going over there to, you know. Save him. Or something. And Mikey grabbed me and we ran. We ran."

"What did it look like, Pete?" Frank asked softly.

Pete blinked three, four times in rapid succession, but his voice was still the same dead voice when he answered. "A kid," he said. "But it wasn't. It wasn't a normal kid. This cartoon sucks."

Frank bit his tongue to keep from laughing or crying out. "Yeah," he said. "It does."

The drive was just like every other road trip they'd been on except that Pete and Hurley were there. The road passed under them endlessly. They stopped to piss or eat or stretch their legs or change drivers and then they moved on. Frank dozed or listened to his iPod, his feet in Gerard's lap.

"Hey," he said softly to Gerard, just before lunch. Everyone else except Bob, who was driving, was asleep. Gerard looked over.

Frank scootched across the bench seat until he was next to Gerard. "I have a question."

"Shoot," Gerard said.

"Is there something about, like, birds and vampires? That you know of?"

Gerard sighed. "They aren't vampires, man."

"No, I know that," Frank said. "But if they think they are, what's the difference?"

Gerard shrugged, admitting the point. "Birds?" He thought for a minute. "Maybe. I dunno. I think I remember something, but not really, you know? There could be. Why?"

"I just thought I remembered something about birds," Frank said. "That's all."

"You want to stop and get some holy water or something?" Gerard murmured. He meant it affectionately, Frank could tell that by the soft smile on his face, but Frank remembered the man's voice outside the Holiday Inn door and shivered.

"Maybe," he said.

They didn't stop for holy water, although, in Frank's mind, they stopped for everything else. Gas, food, bathroom breaks, Twizzlers, Doritos, beer. That was the one problem with riding in a van again after the luxury of the tour buses. On the buses, there were distractions. Video games, television, art, other people, and Gerard had been able to resist the siren song of alcohol. On the van, with nothing to do but lean up against one another and try to sleep and look out the window, Frank could hardly blame Gerard when he cracked open his fourth beer. Frank was on number two himself, but that was only because they'd gotten Miller Lite, which he hated, but had been the only thing cold. Still, he found himself looking up over the bench seat at Mikey, who stared back miserably.

So they drank -- Gerard, who never drove, and Pete and Hurley, who, by some silent consensus of the group weren't asked to drive -- and Frank and Mikey and Ray and Bob switched off, sipping beers in between turns and watching the road unfold beneath the wheels.

They got into Chicago after midnight, cruising down the mostly deserted side streets in response to Hurley's murmured directions. They were going to his mother's house, a little apartment above the neighborhood bar that she owned. "It's, um," Hurley said. His hand waved sadly. Frank didn't know Hurley very well, just to say hi to around the keg in the parking lot during the afterparties, and he hadn't said much in the van since they'd left the tour, just sat quietly in his seat and looked out the window and sometimes patted Pete's shoulder. He answered questions when he was asked things, but he didn't cry and and he didn't laugh. Frank thought that maybe Hurley was what shock looked like. "She's," he started again. "We didn't have much money."

"Oh!" Frank said, suddenly understanding. "That's cool, man," he said. "None of us did."

Hurley nodded and turned back to the front, directing Ray to turn left down a narrow street. For Frank, Chicago had always been a big city, the biggest in his mind after New York and L.A., teeming and full and streaked with bright lights, but the streets they were driving down now didn't fit into that idea of Chicago at all. They were small and narrow and crowded with houses and older cars parked in front of the yards, their rusted spots absorbing the street light instead of reflecting it. The trees were strangely large and loomed over the street, branches brushing the top of the van as they drove by.

The bar was on a corner next to a gas station, a two story building, brick on the bottom and white siding on the top. It didn't have a sign or anything, just a Miller Lite neon sign in the small window and a wide open screen door. A bunch of cars were parked out front, the same kind that were parked along the streets -- older, big, dented -- and a few motorcycles. There was no place for the van, though, so Ray said he'd just stay where he was and wait for them in case a cop came.

They all clambered out of the van, Frank's hand on Gerard's back, and stood out in the street for a minute, not knowing what to do. Then Pete took a step forward and hugged Hurley tight, wrapping his arms around Hurley's neck and murmuring something that Frank couldn't make out. He looked away, down the sleeping street.

After a second, Pete and Hurley separated and they all went in, following Hurley, who smiled wanly at the big guy sitting by the front door and said "hey, George, they're with me."

The bar was like a hundred other dives Frank had been in over the course of his musical career, small and cramped, a high counter on one side of the room, a pool table on the other, low tables clustered around. There were maybe twenty people milling around, mostly men in jeans and t-shirts and motorcycle vests, although there had been only two or three motorcycles outside at most, and a couple of girls. Women, really. Older women with raggedy blond hair. A lot of them looked up when they heard people coming in.

" Hurley!" one older guy with a full beard shouted. He looked like the owner of one of the motorcycles. "Hey, motherfuckers! It's Andy Hurley! Jeanie's kid!"

" Hurley!" some of the other guys shouted and Hurley smiled and went over and got grabbed and swung around and slapped on the back. The other bar patrons sort of smiled and nodded at them, acknowledging the right of Hurley's friends to stand in the doorway like idiots.

"Well, I don't know about you motherfuckers, but I'm getting a drink," Gerard said.

"Gee," Frank said. Gerard turned. Frank sighed. He wanted to say "don't. You quit," but what was the fucking point? They'd left their tour and Patrick was dead and Gerard had been drinking all day and it wasn't like another one was even going to make a difference at this point. Frank could say something, maybe, when they dropped off Pete at his --

Someone tapped his shoulder.

It was one of the women, a short brunette, her hair teased up a good three inches off her forehead in a perfect arch. Jersey hair, in Chicago. "You guys friends of Andy?" she asked.

Frank nodded. Gerard, he saw, was at the bar already, along with Bob. "Yeah," he said.

"You play in a band, too?" She blew cigarette smoke out of side of her mouth.

Frank sighed. He so did not want to get picked up by some barfly old enough to be his mother. But there was nothing to do but wait until everyone was ready to say their goodbyes to Hurley and it wasn't like it would take very long since Ray was waiting out in the van. "Yeah," he said again. "We're not in Hurley's band. A different one."

"Oh, yeah?" she asked. "What's the name? Would I have heard of it?"

"Um, maybe," Frank said. "We're called My Chemical Romance."

The brunette thought for a minute, her palm on her forehead, her cigarette dangerously close to the hairsprayed shelf of her hair. "Nah," she said. "I don't think so. Maybe you can play us something before you go."

Frank was about to answer her, to explain how they had someone waiting in the car, when he saw it, the angry rust-colored circle on the inside of her elbow, practically black in the dim neon light from over the bar. "What happened to your arm?" he asked.

"Nothing," she said, smiling a slow easy smile. "You gotta name, sweetie?"

Frank took a step back. Gerard and Bob were at the bar, drinking beers and talking to some guys on stools over there. Hurley was still near the back tables, the bearded guy's arm over his shoulder. Mikey and Pete were closer, to his left, still near the door, hanging back the way Mikey always did. "What happened to your arm?" Frank asked again.

The woman smiled, sucking a drag on her cigarette and puffing out the smoke, trailing one finger down the front of Frank's t-shirt before answering. "I dunno," she said, eyes glinting, red and blue in the neon lights. "I think something bit me."

"Run!" Frankie screamed to no one in particular. "Run!"

It happened fast, the whole bar shifting into action. Frank leapt for the pool table, past Mikey and Pete, and snatched up a pool cue, lifting his eyes just in time to see the bearded guy sink his teeth (his normal teeth, Frank saw) into Hurley's neck. The scream was horrible, full-throated and terrified.

"Run!" Frank shouted, pushing Mikey and Pete, who still stood by the door, mouths hanging open. "Get out!" He shoved Mikey hard, just as the big guy by the door, George, stood up from his seat behind them.

"Shit," Mikey said, and grabbed Pete's hand and bolted. Frank turned away, hoping they got by, got to Ray. Hurley's screams had an awful liquid quality to them, now, high pitched and barely human.

"Gerard!" Frank screamed and suddenly they were beside him, Gerard and Bob, shoving the shocked brunette out of the way. Gerard grabbed Frank's arm.

"What the fuck!," he shouted. "Come on!"

But George was behind them, all three hundred pounds of him, looming in the doorway. There was no sign of Mikey or Pete. "Sorry, fellas," George said. He grabbed Frank by the back of the t-shirt and lifted him off his feet. Frank couldn't see, could hardly breath, the cotton of his t-shirt compressing his wind pipe, the pool cue swinging wildly. He got one whack, maybe two in, his vision dimming, Gerard's screams of his name mingling with Hurley's fading and incoherent voice, and then there was an incredible sound like the world was tearing apart, right next to his ear and he was on his knees on the floor, his t-shirt still in George's massive hand above his head.

He pushed himself up, feeling Gerard's hands on his shoulders. "Get back," he shouted at the bar patrons inching up on them, swing the pool cue. "Get the fuck back!" But there were maybe fifteen of them, not counting the ones gathered around the pool table, Hurley's feet kicking out weakly between their bodies, stuttered across the green felt. At least he's not screaming anymore, Frank thought crazily.

"Where the fuck you think you're going?" George asked, throwing the shirt to the ground. "You think you're getting out of here?"

"Fuck off, asshole," Bob said. "We'll fucking go through you."

"Yeah?" George looked supremely amused. "I'd like to see you try."

The others, the ones in the room, were closing in, starting to circle around, the way those kids in the parking lot had. Frank swung the pool cue, which made them back up a step or two, smiling. It was only a matter of time, Frank knew. Those kids had circled him in the same way and held him down and. And.

And it hit him.

"You don't know who I am, do you?" he asked the closest one. It was a guy, thin, wiry, like Frankie himself although maybe five or ten years older, his tattooed arms dark against his white t-shirt.

"I don't give a fuck who you are," the guy said. "You're dead, kid."

"Yeah?" Frank stood up to his full height. His heart banged against his ribs. The implications of what he was about to do. God. "Here," he said, tossing the pool cue to Bob, who caught it with one hand.

"What the fuck, Frankie?" Gerard hissed, but Frank couldn't answer because he didn't know the answer. He didn't know what the fuck was about to happen, he just hoped he was right.

"Yeah," he said again to the guy. "Then let's go, you fucking freak. Let's fucking go."

The guy crouched down, like he was going to lunge at Frank, and Frank would swear later that he actually snarled, but before the guy could do anything the brunette threw herself at him, grabbing him around the waist and practically pulling him over. "John!" she screamed. "Don't, John! He's one of them!"

John paused in his struggle to get free of the brunette's arms to stare at Frank.

"Yeah, that's what I fuckin' thought," Frank said. "You're not such hot shit now, are you John?"

"He's not," John muttered.

"Come take a bite, motherfucker, and find out," Frank said, smiling. His blood had turned, and was racing at them, now, John, the brunette, the others stepping back away from him.

"He is," the brunette cried, almost wailing in pain. "He is!"

"I am, you fucking motherfucker." The smile on his face felt like poison and steel. "Come on."

"Frank," Gerard said. His hand was cold on Frank's shoulder. "Let's go."

Frank twitched. He looked around the room, considering. There were still too many of them. Still so many that one could get by him and get to Gerard or Bob. "Okay," he said. They backed out carefully, sliding past George, who grimaced at Frank, but stepped aside.

"You watch yourselves, you little fucks," he said as they passed. "The bird can't protect you from everything."

"Fuck off," Frank said, shoving his middle finger into the guy's fat face. He walked backward, watching them until he was away from the door, then he turned and ran, scrambling after Gerard and Bob into the van and slamming the door behind him. "Go! Go!" he shouted at Ray, joining in the chorus of the other guys shouting and pounding on the seats.

He clambered to the back window, tripping over Mikey's feet, knocking his head on the ceiling of the van, and pressed himself to the glass as Ray peeled out. They poured through the narrow doorway, shoving the screen door aside and gathering on the corner, their faces blank and smeared with blood. He fell into the seat after the van turned the corner, shoving his hands to his eye sockets. "jesus," he whispered to himself.

"What the fuck was that, Frank?" Gerard asked, clutching at his hand. "What the fuck just happened?"

"I don't know," Frank said. "I don't know, Gerard." He didn't -- couldn't -- explain it, not now, with everyone still shouting and someone crying and his stomach still roiling with the adrenaline.

"Frank, jesus! Did you see -- what the fuck?" Gerard clawed at his arm, his fingernails digging furrows that Frank would feel the next day.

"Guys, GUYS," Ray shouted, waving his hand to shut them up. "Guys! Where's Hurley?"

[ Fight ]