"...everybody knows it's coming apart."
"Look, it's fucking weird is all I'm saying," Frank said, throwing up his hands. The others were just sitting there on the couches looking up at him like bored school children, even after he told them about the kid with blood in his teeth.
"Dude, have you met our fans?" Ray asked.
"No." Frank shook his head. "It's more weird than that. This isn't some chick coming up and asking Gerard to bite her neck. This is kids that have actually been bitten. Like, there are tooth marks. This girl had a bite mark on her boob!" He flapped his hands at his chest, frustrated. They didn't get it. They thought he was insane. "There's blood," he said, finally.
"Frank," Bob said in a very reasonable voice that made Frank want to strangle him. "I know you're freaked out by what happened to you --"
"What about Jer?" Frank asked. "He lost a chunk of his arm."
"That was an accident," Ray said. "You know that."
"Ray, man, at this point, all I know is that two different kids came up to me today with bite marks on them and asked me to sign my 'real name,' whatever the fuck that means, and some kid tried to gnaw on my neck and some other kid practically bit a guy's arm off and it's freaking me the fuck out."
"Vampires," Gerard said. He hadn't said much the whole time Frankie was trying to describe what had happened in the signing booth, the creepy kid and his bloody teeth and his horrible breath, and Gerard just sat there and let everybody else basically tell Frank he was nuts.
"Wait, what?" Ray said.
"It's from comics or Anne Rice or something," Gerard said. "Some secondary source. A vampire asks for your real name to get power over you. They use it to charm you. They think they're vampires."
"Jesus," Frank said. He felt something in his chest loosen. Vampires. Their fans were fucking insane, sometimes. "Fucking nutcases."
"Really," Mikey said, nodding. "I saw, like, a thing about it on Dateline, how kids are pretending to be vampires and biting each other and shit." He shook his head. "It's sick, man."
Frankie folded his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. It was still fucked up, kids biting people, but he still felt better, like some weight had been lifted, like one word from Gerard had fixed things. Of course these silly kids thought they were vampires. They read too much bad vampire fiction and watched too many crappy videos and they were stupid kids who were looking for something to believe in. Stupid, but Frankie could sort of understand it. It wasn't so long ago that he'd been looking for the same thing.
Gerard smiled. "Well, yeah."
"Were the bite marks, like." Mikey made fangs with his fingers and tapped them against his neck. "You know. Vampirey?"
Frank rolled his eyes at him. Mikey was seriously too much. "No, dude. They were not."
"Okay, so what are we going to do about it?" Bob asked. "We can't just have kids, like, biting each other --"
"Or biting me," Frank interjected.
"Right." Bob nodded. "Or biting Frank. Should we say something?"
Gerard shrugged. "We could. We could, like, put out some sort of public service announcement or something about how biting people is dangerous because of blood-borne diseases or something."
"This is all your fucking fault," Frank said. He collapsed into the bean bag chair on the floor, shoving his fingers into his hair. They were still totally insane, these fans, but at least they were totally insane in the way that all teenagers were insane. That was something. "I blame you."
"Hey," Gerard said, holding up one hand. "You're the one that has 'tasty' written on his ass, apparently. No one's been asking me for my real name."
Frank blinked. It hadn't occurred to him that it was only him. "Really?" he asked, looking around. Everyone else shrugged.
"Just you, man," Ray said.
"You're vampire bait," Mikey said. He wasn't smiling, exactly, but his face was all scrunched up like he was trying to keep it inside.
"Shut the fuck up," Frank said, sighing.
The next day they called Chris and got him on the public service message thing and reminded him about the extra security detail because, Frank told him, "I don't want to be a teeny snack," and then Mikey gave him a new t-shirt, a red one that said "Vampire Bait" across the front in Gerard's careful handwriting, and Gerard gave him boxers that said "tasty" across the ass and groped him on the bus in front of everyone.
"This explains a lot," Bob said, grabbing his water and heading out the door.
That afternoon, Jer died.
Frank found out about it from Ray, who was always getting news updates on his Treo. It was annoying, usually, Ray bounding into the room and shouting, "oh my god!" like something important was happening, and then telling them the NASDAQ was up six points and laughing hysterically, but this time when Ray unclipped the phone from his belt and said "oh my god," his voice was very soft and uncertain, much the way he had sounded in the hours after Gerard's grandmother had died. Frank, who'd been reading on the floor in a patch of air-conditioned sunshine, looked up.
"What," he said.
Ray glanced at him. "Where's Gee?" he asked.
Frank shrugged. He pushed himself up to a sitting position praying that it wasn't something with Gerard's mom. There was just no way they could handle that at the moment, not when Gerard was already semi-off the wagon. It just couldn't happen. "What, Ray? What happened?" he asked.
Ray sighed. "Frank," he said.
Kurt Loder was doing the announcement when they turned on the television, his face solemn and older-looking than Frank remembered seeing it. "...guitarist Jeremiah Rangel has died of an unknown illness. Rangel was hospitalized last month after a fan attacked and bit him, but it is not known whether that attack contributed to his untimely death. His attack is only one of several biting incidents reported across the United States in recent months, including the violent attack on Representative John Adamson, a congressman from Illinois, and an incident involving My Chemical Romance guitarist and fellow Warped Tour participant Frank Iero. Once again, Mtv is sad to report that Mest guitarist Jer Rangel has died at the young age of twenty-seven. We now return..."
Ray clicked off the television. "I'm calling Dr. Steve," he said. Frank, who had flinched when he'd heard his name, just nodded.
Dr. Steve didn't seem quite so relaxed about the whole thing once he heard about Jer, but there was nothing he could do except draw blood and pat Frank on the knee reassuringly. "I'll have some tests done," he said. Frank nodded again. He couldn't say anything. He couldn't remember ever wanting to say anything. Steve stood up and almost got creamed by Gerard, who came flying through the door, black boots clambering up the bus stairs, face flushed from exertion.
"Holy shit, Frank!" he said and grabbed him up and hugged him close. His breath rasped and heaved in Frank's ear, sort of like it did when they were having sex. Frank patted his waist. "Are you okay?"
Frank nodded again, against Gerard's shoulder. "Dr. Steve's doing tests," he said.
"Tests," Gerard said. He pulled back a little, his eyes wide with concern. Frank shrugged. "God," Gerard said, kissing him on the mouth and then pulling him back into a hug. "What the fuck is going on?"
They were still going on. Tour management had called Chris and demanded that the show go on and pointed out some nasty provision in the contract about cancellation and penalties, so they were going on at 4:35, just like they were supposed to. Frank felt like an astronaut getting strapped in to a space suit when the guitar tech hung his guitar around his neck. He stepped up to the microphone and took a deep breath and waited for the monster inside him to take over and eventually, halfway through the third song, it did and he forgot everything for a while.
Afterwards, he wandered around backstage for a little while, watching the other bands, idly curious about how they were holding up. Some of them either didn't know or didn't care -- guys who were still piss drunk and laughing, guys shoving each other around, smiling into the afternoon sun. Frank decided that they didn't know. The other option was too depressing.
He headed back to the buses at six or so, hungry and sad and ready to go to bed and wake up and have everything be normal again, instead of hazy and weird. There were fans by the gate, a cluster of girls and a few guys, all in their teens, dressed in black hoodies and jeans despite the heat, sunglasses hiding their eyes. "Frank!" they shouted when they saw him. "Frankie!"
He looked at them for a minute, considering, but it wasn't their fault that someone had died, and it wasn't like they had known the guy. They were just kids trying to meet someone semi-famous. Frank walked over.
"Hey," he said. "Hi. Um, there's been a sort of accident, so I'm not --"
"Oh, Jer," a girl said, nodding sympathetically. "Were you a friend of his?"
"Sort of," Frank said. "So, um, I'm not going to stay for pictures or --"
"It's real sad," a guy said, shoving his hand through his dark hair. "Did you see it happen?"
"Well," Frank said. "I was there, but--"
"I was there," another girl said, a tiny girl with black and white striped socks on her arms and red red lipstick. "I was there and I saw the whole thing. It was awesome." The other kids laughed, nodding, their teeth flashing in the afternoon sun. They were all around him, Frank realized. While he'd been distracted by their questions they had circled around him, the way a wolf pack would a wounded deer. He fought back the rush of adrenaline. They were just kids. Just stupid unfeeling kids.
"It wasn't awesome, you little freaks," Frank said, raising his voice over their laughter.
They stopped laughing and looked at him. He could feel their eyes through the dark plastic of their sunglasses. One kid had on mirrored lenses and he could see himself in them, warped and small.
"You didn't just call me a name, did you?" a tall kid asked. "Cause that's fuckin' rude, man."
"Seriously!" the little girl said. "Some people get famous and think they can say any shit they want! God!"
"That's bullshit," someone said. "You're lucky you're who you are and not just some normal guy or we'd tear you to pieces."
"Yeah, that's about it," Frank said. He shoved the tall kid, trying to get him out of the way.
"Fuck you!" someone yelled, and then they were on him, all seven or eight of them, grabbing at his clothes, punching him, yanking his hair so that his head jerked back. Someone got him in the stomach, low, just above the waistband of his jeans and his breath whooshed out of him in a wave. He could barely hear them anymore, but he could see them, their merry faces, their black-shaded eyes, the reflection of his neck in the mirrors above his head. They were above him, holding his arms, pressing against him, and he felt someone's warm breath on his throat, the prick of hairspray-stiffened hair against his cheek, and there it was, the hard red pain he'd felt before, the pain of teeth.
And then it was gone, and the girl who'd bitten him was flat on her ass on the pavement. The kids who'd had his arms dropped them. The one who'd punched him stepped back. Frank staggered backwards, pressing his palm to the side of his neck, but there was nothing, no blood.
"It's true," the girl said. "It's him."
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Frank screamed at them. "What the fuck is your problem?"
"You leave us alone!" the tall kid shouted, standing in front of his fallen friend. "Don't come near us."
"ME?" Frank shouted. "Fuck you and your fucking psycho blood sports, you little assholes! Don't come near me!"
"Come on," the tall kid said, helping the girl to her feet, one eye on Frank. "He's nothing. Forget about him. We'll find someone else."
"Fuck off!" Frank shouted. He grabbed some gravel from the ground with his free hand and threw it at their retreating backs. It bounced off the shoulders of their hoodies, but none of them turned around. "Fuck off, you little freaks!"
He stood and watched them go, chest heaving. His neck throbbed. They wandered back out toward the crowds like a murder of black crows, blending easily in with the crowd.
"Fuck," Frank muttered, when they were finally out of sight. "Motherfucker." Then he fainted.
When he came to, he was lying on the bench seat of a van, his head in Gerard's lap. "He's awake," Gerard said. Pete, Mikey's friend from Fall Out Boy, leaned his head over the seat in front of them. His face was swollen and red, like he'd been beaten or crying.
"Hey," Pete said, weakly. "How's it going, man?"
"They attacked me," Frank mumbled. "There were a bunch of them."
Pete blinked and retreated and a minute later Frank heard soft sobs over the hum of the wheels on the road. He pushed himself up, falling against Gerard. Pete was in the seat in front of them with Mikey and some other guy that Frank recognized, but couldn't name. He was slumped over, his head in his hands, Mikey's arm around his shoulders. Frank looked at Gerard.
"They got on stage," Gerard whispered. "They got Joe and Patrick. They killed them."
"Who?" Frank asked. Gerard sighed and squeezed him tight. His breath was hot on Frank's neck, hot and jagged.
"Vampires," Gerard whispered. "Vampires."