40: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview

Nine months shy of hs 40th birthday, freelance music producer Tyler Harrison has started to experience horrific hallucinations. At first, he thinks it's just the stress of his job, but the hallucinations continue until they culminate at the three-day concert in Chicago, Lollapalloza, which he is covering for work. There he is approached by an older man who tells him that he's going to die on his fortieth birthday.
The man claims to be an angel named Matthew, and even though he ...
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40: A Novel

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Overview

Nine months shy of hs 40th birthday, freelance music producer Tyler Harrison has started to experience horrific hallucinations. At first, he thinks it's just the stress of his job, but the hallucinations continue until they culminate at the three-day concert in Chicago, Lollapalloza, which he is covering for work. There he is approached by an older man who tells him that he's going to die on his fortieth birthday.
The man claims to be an angel named Matthew, and even though he gives Tyler enough evidence to convince him he's telling the truth, he doesn't know what to do with the information.
Tyler's underlying doubt and confusion about Matthew's prediction turn to anger, both at God and those around him. As he begins to exhibit destructive behavior, he befriends Ellis, an internationally known DJ. Tyler is scared that he really is about to die. He's scared for his sanity. He's scared that if he does die, he's not going to Heaven. He also soon becomes scared of Ellis, who is wild and opens up a door of temptation to Tyler.
As Tyler begins falling in a downward spiral of fear and confusion, he reaches out to a pastor he met, Will, and tries to right his wrongs with some of the important people in his life in a desperate attempt to find peace before his 40th birthday.
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Editorial Reviews

May 2010
"In Broken, Travis Trasher improves again on his gifted ability to write severely flawed characters and place them in suspenseful situations that keep readers turning the pages."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446576185
  • Publisher: FaithWords
  • Publication date: 5/4/2011
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 944,963
  • File size: 914 KB

Meet the Author

Travis Thrasher
The author of twelve works of fiction, Travis Thrasher creates flawed characters and takes them on harrowing journeys of redemption. He and his wife, Sharon, live with their daughter in Chicago, IL. For more information about Travis, visit www.travisthrasher.com.
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Read an Excerpt

40

A Novel
By Thrasher, Travis

FaithWords

Copyright © 2011 Thrasher, Travis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446505512

PART ONE

Achtung Baby

1

An End Has a Start

He waits on the corner like a child at the bus stop in front of your home and his name is death.

I know his face and know it well. He likes to smile and show off bloodstained teeth. They’re sharp, ancient, and remain very busy.

He waits for everyone in the shadows. Unseen and unwanted and undercover. Yet he knows the exact place and the exact time and he only answers to one.

I can see him from the deck, peering around a tree in the forest below. Every day, his shadow grows longer, his head more apparent, his dark holes for eyes more visible.

He whispers all the things you could have done.

He laughs at all the things you should have done.

His middle name is regret, his last name finality.

When I see him again, I realize I’m back to where this all began, knowing every end has a start.

I also know I only have two more days to live.

2

What Difference Does It Make?

I feel watched when I turn onto the dirt road leading to the dead end. I can see this desolate strip in the dark of my dreams, the wild growth of untouched Appalachian wilderness, stifling on all sides. The hanging branches blocking the sun can’t block the gaze of God. His face has always shone on this small stretch of land. Why, I don’t know.

The house resembles an uncle I haven’t seen in years. A little more gray, a few more wrinkles. It would make a pretty picture on a postcard if I hadn’t lived here for a chunk of my life.

The shape by the window I park beside is surely Mom waiting for me. The front door of the quaint log cabin opens and she smiles. There is nothing rooted in that smile except love.

“Make it okay?” she asks after I hug her small frame.

“The plane had to crash land in Asheville. Otherwise I was headed to Aruba.”

“A little color might do you some good.”

“How’s Dad?”

“Come into the kitchen for a while. He’s fine—just went down for a nap. Want something to drink?”

“How about a shot of bourbon?”

“Stop it.”

Her accent is polite southern, sweet southern, the kind the movies never seem to get right. There’s more character in that tone than in a bottle of some outrageously expensive vintage wine. She makes me a glass of sweet tea and I’m once again reminded how there’s never a good substitute for the real thing.

“How’s work going?”

“I’d be fine if I didn’t have to deal with temperamental artists.” I stand at the kitchen table and look into the family room. “Good to see you got it replaced.”

Mom nods but doesn’t appear like she wants to bring it up. I sent them the check for the window. I guess I never really thought that the bookend I threw would actually go through two panes, but I wasn’t really thinking about much of anything when I threw it except how much I hated my father. I didn’t want to break glass; I wanted to break his face.

That was the last time I’d been here. The last thing I did before going out the door and driving away and vowing never to come back to this place.

Mom remembers but I’m sure Dad doesn’t.

I don’t even know if he remembers who he is anymore, much less the curses I hurled out as I chucked some big block that looked like a remnant of a Roman sculpture from the New Testament.

That was over a year ago.

The older I get, the more I discover how ruthless and uncaring time can be.

His eyes are see-through glass, his face curled up in a joker-like smile on only one side. I’m a moving picture to him, as meaningful as cable television or blowing rain.

I’m ready, and I stand and swallow.

“Hi, Dad.”

It’s easy to say those words with this tone and this security when there’s nobody looking back. When there’s nobody listening on the other side, demanding an apology or demanding anything.

I see him shift forward, then back, in the wheelchair. So slight, steady, like the twitching hand of a clock with a dying battery.

“It’s Tyler,” Mom says behind me, speaking in a way I’ve never heard her speak to my father.

She’s no longer a servant. She’s now his interpreter.

Hearing her words moves me more than seeing him here like this, here but not here, alive and breathing, but not really.

He looks feeble and frail. The heart attack might as well have killed him. It took that strong, seemingly unbreakable backbone and snapped it in half.

“Why don’t you sit down?”

I follow my mother’s advice and then watch as she slips away.

He coughs and sounds like an animal. I study the face.

Then I just sit there for a long time.

I hear myself take a breath. The things we take for granted.

It’s remarkable. Really. This life.

I want to ask God why He didn’t just take him. What purpose does this shell of a man in front of me have?

God’s timing, I hear Charles W. Harrison say.

You can’t speak to me, you’re a vegetable.

Want to know what Hell is, son?

Don’t ask me that question again.

I see you and hear you, TW.

My father’s the only one who’s ever called me TW, and only at selective moments. Teachable moments. The moments that count, Charles liked to say.

Every moment counts, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it, Dad?

I look at the library surrounding us. His fleet of battleships against the evil one, our own Sauron that wages war against us daily. My father chose to fight back with words.

The Word, Son.

Afternoon light slips through the blinds, casting my father’s shadow over the wall. I see several frames in its wake. Pictures of my mom, Kendra, Kendra’s boys. Nowhere do I see my face.

I wonder if he took down my mug before the incident or after.

It’s chilly in this room, the smell of cut wood in the air, perhaps just in my mind. Can memories contain scents?

“Everything okay?” Mom asks on her way to their bedroom, which is another door down.

I am ten or twenty-two or thirty-four years old and the answer is the same as always.

A wrong and a fake and a hollow yes.

Before I leave, I take hold of my father’s hand. It’s not cold and it’s not hard and it doesn’t shock me. I want to say something.

The moment calls for something to be said and I’m the only one here that can do it.

I can’t think of anything.

“How long did they give him?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“What did Kendra say?”

“She’s Kendra. Thinks she’s a surgeon and a scientist and Mother Teresa.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you hungry?”

“I was before the dinner you fixed an hour ago.”

“We never had dessert.”

“Mom, please.”

“You’re not around enough for me to fatten you up.”

“I have beer to do that for me.”

The sliding glass door facing the table we sit at opens onto a deck that overlooks the valley below. The sun floats like a bright beach ball in the distance.

“Remember that tree that used to block the view?” Mom nods toward the bright glow.

“I thought something was different. You can actually see the sunset.”

“Pretty, isn’t it?” Mom looks out behind the shield of her coffee, lost somewhere way out beyond the rays.

“I told him for years to cut it down.”

“He finally listened.”

“For once.”

“He wanted to cut it down himself. I told him, ‘over my dead body.’ He got one of the local workers around here to cut it down.”

“Probably would’ve killed him right then and there.”

“He listened to you more than you know.”

This is the part of being a son I’m not so good at.

The moment when I fail.

I have nothing to say.

I’m embarrassed by the stockpile of emotions in this room. Ashamed that I can’t find the combination to open the door and let a few of them come out. Just a few, like dusty tools in a forgotten shed somewhere. Maybe even just one.

“You know he loves you.”

I nod. Of course I know that. That isn’t the question. How he loved was.

I note that Mom isn’t using past tense like I am.

He’s not in the past tense, not yet.

Yet to me he’s always lived in the past tense. I am always and forever in fourth grade and can’t ever move on.

The voices sound stronger in the silence than they were when they were spoken.

“So what do you want out of life?”

It was a simple question my father asked last time I was here.

“I haven’t really had much time to think about it after being stuffed with your guilt and loathing of this life, Dad.

“Seems you’ve done a pretty good job of living your own life these past ten years.”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t bring her up.”

“You know my feelings on this.”

“Yeah, and every single time I see your face you bring her up.”

“Which seems to be less and less often.”

“People get divorced every day. Christians, even.”

“A man is known by the fruits of his spirit.”

“So what are you saying? Or what are you trying to say through these nice little quotes?”

“That a man is known by his actions, his life. Are you like the barren fig tree?”

“I don’t even know what a fig tree is.”

“The Bible says that if salt loses its flavor, how’s it supposed to be seasoned? That it’s good for nothing except being trampled upon.”

That’s what did it. I didn’t want to hear it anymore and I didn’t want him suggesting that I was still not quite right, like a car he brought in every week but that still had some strange and distant clinking that sounded every time he took it out for a drive.

I wasn’t a damned fig tree or some spreading salt for the sidewalk.

A son shouldn’t be talked about like something worthless, like something dying, like something that doesn’t matter.

What doesn’t matter is what I said then or what I might have said now.

In the pit of night when the noise is gone, all I can hear are voices.

His remains the loudest.

It’s here that I can’t lie.

I don’t question Heaven or Hell.

Yet I still sometimes question which one I’ll arrive at when my time has come.

3

The Killing Moon

The wind breathes through the open window. I hear the slight fluttering of the outside and shiver. This place continues to scare me.

Fear doesn’t have to come from terror. It can come from loneliness. From memories of confinement.

I always thought it was interesting that a man chosen by God to proclaim the gospel decided to live in one of the most isolated parts of the country, where neighbors were a thing you could only see in the brilliant lawns of slumberland. Sure, Dad had his business trips and speaking engagements and his books, but home is where the heart is, right? Dad kept his in hiding.

I’m in my old bedroom, which is now a guest room designed by Cracker Barrel. My iPhone doesn’t display any service, Internet or phone, but I’m trying anyway. I’m desperate for some kind of connection. Maybe Dad will send me a text from wherever his mind is hanging out.

I pull out a book, the book in fact, from a shelf. I wonder what it’s doing there, to be honest. If I were invited to Paul McCartney’s house, I doubt he’d have Abbey Road on display. Billy Graham probably wouldn’t have one of his books either. It feels like a partially eaten mint left on my pillow.

Maybe someone visiting put the book back on this shelf after reading it at night. Or maybe Dad put it there before his heart attacked the rest of his body.

The Grave After the Grave.

I know this book well.

The picture on the back is of my father from thirty years ago. He resembles Robert De Niro. The intense De Niro, the one that was able to make Taxi Driver and those early Scorsese movies, not the Meet the Parents guy, who seems to have mellowed and grown softer with age.

This version says “International Bestseller.”

Books don’t start out like that. It takes time to build a bestseller. Lots and lots of time. Time away from the family, time to promote, time to pontificate, time.

“Translated into 40 languages.”

I know the passages, some almost by heart.

Not by having read them, but by having sat and heard them recounted over and over and over.

A living and breathing sounding board. With pimples.

The simple black cover with the red inscription. An apocalyptic title in a font resembling scratched blood. The notable “Dr.” before my father’s name. I scan the pages but don’t read any of it. I’m almost waiting for it to starting humming, or maybe even begin heckling.

Dad had had only three books published while he worked on what felt to be another hundred. Maybe someone will discover them in storage one day.

It won’t be me. Unless I’m looking for kindling.

This book is his life’s work and his legacy about the Great Below. About the place people wonder about and joke about but seldom take seriously. The place of fire and brimstone and, my favorite: gnashing of teeth.

Seems like I spent a lot of time gnashing my teeth in this very room.

Dr. Charles William Harrison.

It’s a four-word brand I don’t want to buy. A bio I don’t want to be a part of.

Coming back here reminds me of things like this. These are a few of my not-so-favorite things, Julie Andrews. This place and this book and this feeling of complete and total inadequacy.

I wonder if there really is a whole host of them waiting in the dark. Beautiful creatures, wrecked with the weight of their eternal decision, their eternal damnation. Hideous harbingers who stand in wait, preying on every helpless feeling out there. I wonder if they wait outside this very door, watching in the shadows of night, sneaking in when I’m asleep to drip bloody drool on the floor by my bed.

I’m twelve again, petrified by the notion of death and Hell, by the pictures and portraits of demons delivered by the tongue of the man I call Dad. Fathers are supposed to give their sons the gift of baseball, of camp stories, of exploration and courage and light.

Mine gave me a window into the everlasting side of darkness.

Almost three decades later and I’m still haunted and hounded.

If they do stand outside watching and waiting, they’re surely laughing too.

Everything in me wants to reach and bash their ugly faces to obliteration.

I swallow, sigh. Restless. Haunted. Guilty.

The tension isn’t from whether I believe in these fallen angels out there. It’s my ambivalence toward it all.

When you believe something, you act on it. Right?

I haven’t gotten much further than I was when I lived under this roof under these rules under this regime.

Maybe I should have gone to Guam to be a missionary. Maybe I should’ve become a Christian music singer or a youth pastor or at least volunteered a little more at a children’s hospital. Maybe I should’ve done a lot of things.

Maybe the demons watch and laugh and know I haven’t done a damned thing since leaving here.

Something rolls. I can feel the floor outside my bedroom door vibrating. Something’s moving on the wood floor, the one my parents have still never bothered to carpet.

I get out of bed and open the door, turning on the light. My eyes take a moment to adjust, and after they do I still can’t quite make out what I’m looking at.

Blue and yellow.

It’s a blue and yellow roller skate.

“Mom?”

Nothing.

I’m about ready to say, “Hello anybody?” but then wonder if maybe Mom is playing a practical joke on me, so I don’t. Not that Mom would be doing this in the middle of the night.

Maybe it’s Dad, having one last laugh.

I pick up the roller skate to make sure I haven’t lost my mind. It’s lightweight and dusty.

I can hear the wind gust outside.

Yeah that’s outside, not in here, and you know that the wind didn’t just cause this thing to roll, and you know you heard it roll; it woke you up.

This used to be my roller skate a long time ago.

Not that I ever did much roller-skating in this house or on the roads around here.

So why is it in the middle of the hallway and where’s the other and why am I holding it as if I’ve found the missing piece to my childhood?

I think of the Talking Heads song I was jamming to on my iPod as my plane landed today.

The famous line that speaks to so many about so much.

“Same as it ever was.”

Exactly.

4

Fragile

Mom walks around like a frazzled woman late for a wake. She’s looking for the keys that are in her hand. I tell her to slow down, to relax.

“Thank you for coming.”

“This isn’t charity, Mom. I would’ve been down here earlier.”

“I know you’re busy.”

“I’m not busy at this very moment. I’m not going anywhere.”

“But I know you’re busy with your job.”

“He almost died,” I say.

“God answers prayers.”

“You think this is an answer to prayer?”

“He’s giving us a little more time to spend with your father.”

“That’s not my father. That’s like—that’s some kind of lab experiment. It’s a mannequin in the window. We’re looking, but nobody’s looking back out at us.”

“Don’t say things like that.” She looks down at the floor.

“I’m just being honest.”

“He can hear us when we talk to him.”

“You really think so?”

“I know.”

It’s Saturday and I’ve been here for three days and plan on leaving tomorrow. Mom is feeling guilty for leaving me here with Dad, and I’m telling her to stop being ridiculous. Even prisoners get a chance to take a walk outside and breathe in fresh air.

Mom touches my arm.

“Don’t,” she says.

“Don’t what?”

“Carry your anger around with you. It gets heavy after a while.”

“I don’t.”

“I know you haven’t always understood your father.”

“No, I understand him just fine. It is what it is.”

“You want to know something funny? He brought up the strangest thing to me not long ago, before the stroke. Something I hadn’t heard him mention in years. You probably don’t know this, but when you were a little boy he always spoke about wanting to take you canoeing on the French Broad River. He said he had a dream about it and he said it in a way like it was some deep regret.”

“Good.”

“Tyler.”

“I was around for eighteen years for him to carve out some time for a nice little canoe trip, Mom.”

“Your father didn’t control all the different—”

“Yeah yeah yeah—we’ve been down this road before.”

“Doesn’t mean we can’t go down it again. Maybe you’re missing something.”

I grit my teeth together. “I’m missing nothing.”

“It was his place in life. Your father knew his place.”

“Yeah? Well, it would’ve been a hell of a lot easier for me if he’d helped me find mine.”

“Maybe he still can.”

I walk away from her toward the kitchen and stare out the window by the sink. “This just pisses me off.”

“That he had a heart attack?”

“Yeah.” I turn and face her. “ ’Cause I never got to tell him what I really think.”

Mom is unruffled. After a lifetime spent carrying the baggage and playing the supporting role, this isn’t new. As my anger has intensified over the years, she has grown more mellow.

“I have my cell with me if you need anything,” she says.

“We’ll be fine. Take your time.”

“Thank you for coming down.”

She knows what I’m thinking simply by my look.

“I’m just saying—I know that last time—I wasn’t sure you’d come back.”

“Didn’t want it to have to be this way.”

I study her posture, her face, her eyes. They all feel weighed down. I wonder if I look the same.

“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“I’m fine.”

“Would you tell me if you weren’t?”

“Would you?”

I raise my eyebrows and smile.

The restless tides grow stronger as the years number. Sometimes I think it stems from age. Any chance I can get a 2.0 version? Steve Jobs, reinvent me, please. Other times I think it’s from here—from this place I’m visiting—this suffocating little burrow, this box full of memories. I never slew the dragon in my innermost cave, thus I’m stuck and always have it lurking in the recesses of my dreams.

Silence makes me suspect. I grow leery of the stillness because it’s here that I begin to hear them. Voices. Self-doubt. Whispers. Longings. Could-have-beens. Regrets. Questions.

Is this God’s spirit prompting me or Satan’s minions pricking?

No question why I have the job I do. It drowns out the void of silence.

I’m looking in the kitchen to see if I can find anything with caffeine or maybe a stash of vodka—Mom, I never knew!—when I hear the crash coming from my father’s study.

His office looks ransacked and he’s hunched over, looking dead. I pull Dad up and see a faint shadow of a grimace on his face.

Tears are in his eyes.

I look down in his lap at the soiled khaki pants.

“You okay?” I ask as I feel his forehead, hot and sticky.

How long was he wallowing around like this as I was having a woe-is-me jam session in the kitchen?

I curse, not at my father but at myself.

His body tenses and he seems to want to fight this, to fight me off.

He’s embarrassed. The man took a dump in his pants and reeks and he’s ashamed, and he was trying to clean it up himself.

“It’s all right. It’s okay. Mistakes happen. Come on—let me wheel you to the bathroom and get you cleaned up.”

He sits in the chair, unable to look in my direction. I unbuckle a belt and then pull off his pants and see white hairless legs, lined with veins and smeared with his mess. I hold my breath. Even his socks are stained. In trying to clean up after himself, he made things a lot worse. I guess this hasn’t happened before or else he’d be wearing diapers.

I put his clothes in a heap by the bathtub, then start it up.

I find some bubble bath that obviously belongs to Mom.

The stench is raw and unbearable.

I soon help him up and out of messy underwear that will never be worn again. Then I sit him down in the bath, thankful that the bubbles cover most of his bony body.

His bones shiver.

“It’s all right. The water will warm you up soon. It’ll be fine.”

Soon I’m wiping him down, no longer the boy bemoaning his lost youth, no longer Tyler William Harrison attending to Charles William Harrison.

I use a wet cloth and pat down his face.

“God answers prayers.”

I shampoo his hair and see my hands shaking as I rub the lather in.

“It gets heavy after a while.”

When he’s clean and the water is half gone, I help Dad stand up and then dry him off. I find some clothes and take a while putting them on. Soon he’s back in his wheelchair, his body shivering a bit, his eyes still remote, his spirit defeated.

I move past him to find a hair dryer and feel the grip of his hand on my arm.

I can’t believe how strong it is.

When I look down, there’s nothing there. He lets go.

Rubbing my wrist, I remember something else Mom said.

“He can hear us when we talk to him.”

That look in her eyes, the look of absolute belief.

“I know.”

I tap him on the shoulder.

“It’s gonna be all right, Dad. It’s gonna be fine.”

I leave my father resting in his bed and then make sure Mom isn’t somewhere in the house, and then I weep for a few moments. I’m in a dark corner of the house. I try to make it fast and forgettable.

But tears never forget.

5

Once Upon a Time

The world is a set of snapshots gathered together by Google. It’s a series of beautiful faces and beautiful bodies living a beautiful life, an unattainable life. The world lets you peek in like a passenger staring out of a plane at the glowing Earth below, but it doesn’t let you get out. The glowing, glistening allure soon vanishes, turning the world below to black, your seat belt still is strapped on, the turbulence still ahead.

Flying makes me melancholy. Always has. I once knew a guy I worked with in the studio who ended up dying in a 767 that went down in a Nebraska cornfield. The guy wasn’t even twenty-five years old, with his whole life ahead of him. Half the people on that flight ended up living, but not this guy. Even though that happened back in 2003, I still always think of him anytime I get on a plane.

What if I die today? What will I be leaving behind?

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m stuck in a seat and it’s an evening flight and I’m ready to be back home. Maybe it’s because coming back to see my parents always messes with my mind.

Maybe it’s because I’m still carrying the same fears I carried when I was a teenager.

I open my case to get out my laptop and do a little work. Nowadays you can work anywhere if you have your computer and some decent headphones. As my hand digs into the bag, I feel something peculiar.

It’s some kind of wire—a cable almost. It’s thick and heavy.

I examine it under the cone-shaped glare of the light above. It’s a small coil of white wire. And it’s covered with blood.

I slide it back into my bag, like a murderer hiding evidence. Thankfully, the guy next to me is sleeping, his mouth opened wide enough to see his gums.

I try and think where that could have come from.

I need a drink. Maybe a sleeping pill too.

I eventually order the former as my mind does handstands and flips but gets nowhere. The gin and tonic tastes good. Bigmouth next to me catches his tongue on his throat a few times, making me get my iPod and press play.

Music helps. It always has since I was a child.

If someone ever arrested me and went through my iPod, they’d probably have a few questions.

First, they might wonder why I have all those Pet Shop Boys and Erasure albums. Then they might ask me if I have a boyfriend.

Second, they would surely want to know why I have this assortment of photos on here.

Just like those fabulous synth-pop albums, the pictures are a guilty pleasure. They are something I know I should get rid of, but something that reminds me that I’m human. They mirror the reality of my life: that I am thirty-nine and single and pretty much alone.

Once upon a time I was that guy in that photo, with the 90210 hair and sideburns, holding the beautiful blonde bride. I was naïve, with unbridled passion and promise. I thought I was grown up, but I didn’t have a clue. I thought I could control where life was about to go, but I didn’t know I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I was that guy playing the keyboard on stage, dreaming of something I really had no talent to dream of. Thinking that I could be twenty-something all my life, rocking and rolling.

Once upon a time I was the guy working with that set of people at the record company, trying to sell something I wanted to create, trying to learn something I wanted to master.

The photos are in chronological order. Snapshots from another time.

There is the picture of me with Brian Eno, the man I wanted to be.

There is a picture of me with Laila, the woman I wanted to be with.

There are assorted shots of the life I have now, drunken laughter at some bar in the middle of nothing and nowhere.

A plus B plus C plus D doesn’t always end up getting you E.

Sometimes you go to Q with a big fat question mark over it and you wonder how you got there.

Compromise.

That’s not all, I think. I got there from a series of compromises and chance encounters and failed promises and selfish desires.

What if I die today?

I hear that voice again, and think of the guy named Simon who died in that plane crash.

What would they say at your funeral and who would show up?

I need to put on some Arcade Fire and crank it up and shut these voices out.

I’m almost through the photos when I see one last shot I don’t recognize.

At first all I see is the blurry image at the top. Then I notice the face. It’s a head shot of some guy—slightly out of focus, as if it was taken at night at some bar. The man is laughing, his face scruffy, his mouth slightly open.

But the eyes are clear.

They’re clear and looking straight ahead and they look red and angry.

The blurry gray smudges at the top of the image are his hands, as if he was trying to reach at the person taking the photo.

I’ve never seen this man before, but I know that face.

His eyes and the wrinkles underneath and the dark beard and dark eyes.

I feel nauseated with fear. Like I’m falling.

I shut off my iPod, but the image stays in my head.

In the parking lot at O’Hare, I put my bags in my car and then check to see if that wire was really in my bag.

It’s there. Still coiled up and splattered with something red.

6

Paranoid Android

I’ve spent a lifetime flirting around with things that aren’t so good for me.

Like Angie, for instance.

I think in her case, it’s because she knows me a little too much for my own good.

“Something’s up,” she says before the rest of the partygoers arrive at my place.

“What?”

“You.” Angie slides a not-so-subtle finger across my chest.

“I’m fine. Really.”

“It was going home, right?”

“It’s nothing.”

“You’ve got that—that look. That aura.”

I smile and shake my head. “So you’re an expert on me, huh?”

“I watch when others don’t.”

“Should I be frightened?”

“Only if you want to be.”

I stare at her round and fantastic lips as if they are still talking.

“Tyler!”

I’m not sure if the scream from the new arrivals saves or stifles, because I’m not sure exactly what I want with Angie. She smiles and slinks away, knowing I’m watching her. Men can’t play games like women do, because we’re so transparent. Especially after a few beers. We’re simple in what we want, even if we try hard not to show it. Women, however, don’t seem to know half the time what they want.

Angie looks back and I know exactly what she wants. I’ve known for some time.

Angie’s right. Something is up, though I don’t think it’s just the fact that I’m back to real life after my trip to memory lane with the folks. Something feels different and slightly off.

I feel this as I drink another beer and wonder when I’m going to start feeling a buzz.

I feel this as I glide through the people at my condo, both on the fourth floor studio and on the rooftop.

I feel this as I press play on one of three carefully constructed playlists on my iPod, my one source of pride at parties.

I even feel this after we run out of beer and I receive enough cash to buy ten cases. Guess that’s one of the hosting favors of a party like this.

Alone and away from the crowd, the uneasy feeling doesn’t go away. I walk down the sidewalk and think that this neighborhood used to be dangerous at night. It’s becoming trendy now, a bit overstated. I prefer the place I live to be misunderstood rather than discovered. Most of the time I tell people I live in Wicker Park, because they don’t know where East Village or East Ukranian Village actually is. It’s close enough to say Wicker Park, and East Ukranian Village sounds like somewhere in the Czech Republic.

Even though this place is safe and comfortable and cozy, there’s some deep part of me that says otherwise. That says everything is different now, that everything has changed.

I just don’t know how. Or why.

There is a guy holding a gun at my forehead, cursing in another language while he holds a six-pack in his other hand. I imagine it’s my first brush with death, but something inside tells me I’m soon going to learn how absolutely wrong I am.

People have been stabbed in this liquor store. Doesn’t mean I won’t buy beer when I need to, especially after running out at dusk on my July 4th party. Doesn’t mean I won’t wander in and pick up a couple of cases and ignore the commotion going on at the cash register.

I hold out the cases of beer and then the guy points the gun back at the clerk, who looks undaunted, like he’s seen it before. My cases fall to the floor as the door opens and someone comes inside and I bolt out.

Coward.

I run.

A glorious, ecstatic, horrifying kind of run, the kind that Tom Cruise does in every one of his movies. Sprinting as if I can outrun death, hauling and trying to avoid the sound of a gunshot cracking and the feel of my brain being blown out the front of my skull. I run and run and soon I’m leaning over, throwing up and spitting out the grilled cheddarwurst and the combination of snacks and beers that just turned over like a tornado in my stomach.

My eyes water.

Call someone do something be somebody.

I’m panting as I call 911.

Be all you can be, Ty.

The night can’t be over because it hasn’t even started yet.

When the voice comes on the other line, I tell them what happened. When they ask if I’m okay, I don’t really know how to answer.

Somehow after some amount of time, I begin to move forward to my condo. After my life-and-death experience buying cheap beer.

Should’ve gotten the Amstel Light.

When I get in, my buddy Cole asks where the beer is. I don’t answer, because I’m still in shock. I also know Cole well enough to know that he won’t be sympathetic, that he won’t believe me, that he’ll simply still wonder where the beer is.

Did that all really happen?

I know it did.

I make up some excuse and Cole acts like I’m hammered and not making any sense.

The gloves are off now, Tyler.

What happened to me feels as real as these ghosts surrounding me feel, these “friends,” half of whom I don’t recognize. A building full of strangers who say “nice place” and “beautiful night” and “where should I put this?” and “good to see you again” when I don’t ever remember seeing them in the first place. I see them through jaded glasses: the cluster. This is a tradition and something of legend, this party, and I’m not even the host, but more like the emcee and the party-favor guy.

When I reach the rooftop and see Angie as the sounds of the Editors float away into the clear evening sky, I tug her blouse and bring her lips to mine and kiss her out of need and fear and want and relief.

I taste her surprise and it feels real and reminds me that I’m not dreaming and I’m not dead.

Not yet.

Not yet.

PART TWO

Strangeways, Here We Come

7

Enjoy the Silence

The sound of laughter wakes me up.

I open my eyes to darkness and listen.

There it is again.

Sounds like one of my buddies sitting at the bar, reacting to a comment someone made about the Bears or the Cubs or maybe some chick walking past.

Maybe the television is still on.

My condo is on the fourth story of a brick building west of Ashland and south of Division. I’ve been here since 2004, a couple of years after becoming a full-time single man again, a couple of years after saving enough money to buy it. It’s got the vibe of a studio loft when you climb the steps and reach the living area, a large open and airy space with high ceilings. Stairs near the back take you down to a guest bedroom and office, while another set takes you up to my small bedroom. A third set brings you up to the roof, the key that sealed the deal for me.

It’s plenty of space for one. Sometimes, I think, too much space.

Sometimes I think of selling it, but after the market tanked a few years ago, those thoughts have lessened.

Especially since I haven’t gotten a check in, oh, half a year.

Being an independent producer comes with perks and quirks.

I walk down the short set of wooden stairs and reach the kitchen. No lights. No television. Nobody home.

Across the unlit room, I see the sliding glass door cracked open. I open it more and step out on the deck, leaning on the thick stone wall to look at the street below.

I listen for the laughter again.

Was I dreaming?

An SUV drives down the street below. In the distance, I hear the sound of more vehicles.

I love the city because it reminds me I’m not alone. There is always something to do, somewhere to go, somebody to be with. You’re a text away from hanging out with someone.

So you tell yourself.

The cool air against my bare chest feels good. It’s still humid, even this late at night.

I hear the cackle again.

Coming from inside.

Coming from my bedroom.

It sounds throaty, strained, almost sickly. Like a man laughing as he’s bleeding his guts out.

I’m suddenly wearing a coat of goosebumps. I go back inside and then turn on the lights. I turn on ones I normally don’t use. I check my bedroom and then the guest bedroom, the office, the bathrooms.

Nothing.

It would be easy for someone to slip inside a door I might have forgotten to lock one day and then stay in hiding until I decided to look around the place in the middle of the night. It would be easy for them to sneak up behind me and put one hand on my mouth as the other hand takes a ten-inch hunting knife and guts my throat like a dead fish.

These are the thoughts I have while looking around my house.

Maybe I need a dog.

Moments later, all silent and dark again, inside the thin security of my blanket covering me, I hear something.

Maybe I’m dreaming again. Maybe I’m half-asleep or half-awake.

I hear words.

“I’m watching you.”

They’re clear, but I don’t get up again.

I move under the covers to seek solace, but instead find myself lost in the vastness of this bed and this life that belongs only to me.

8

No New Tale to Tell

What we’re looking for is something that’s going to be a surprise like Blue and Bluer.

I nod at the A&R guy and can’t help watching the hands moving in the air like a symphony conductor, a pastor preaching away.

Got it, my face and body say.

Yeah right is what my mind thinks.

This is like someone saying in earnest business-art-soul-speak, “Let’s try and do Dark Side of the Moon again,” or Pet Sounds, or Joshua Tree, or Nevermind.

Never mind is right, because it’s never happening again.

Very few artists ever have a chance to take people’s breath away with something groundbreaking and surprising. If, and that’s a very big if, they ever do, that’s their one and only shot. Not in terms of sales or artistic growth, but in terms of excitement and expectation.

The rest will forever be after the fact.

They’ll be chasing the beast forever after.

Some will morph and change and evolve. Groups like U2. Others will cave under the pressure and the anticipation and the demand.

Rick MacLellan is the new A&R rep from the record label. His job is to manage the relationships, between both the artists and the producers. He’s my link to Jupiter Records. Which is big, but it’s bigger since they’re owned by Universal Music Group.

This is the fourth time I’ve met with Rick MacLellan, and once again I’m wishing that Lauren hadn’t left. She helped bring a lot of artists my way and helped my dreams become a little more of a reality.

Like all the women in my life that have meant something to me, Lauren moved on. Guess that’s part of the deal with me.

Now Rick MacLellan is trying to get his scent over anything and everything he can. He likes to utter clichés like, “This is OK Computer mixed with Exile on Main Street.” Things like, “He’s the new Bob Dylan of our day.” Things like, “We need the album out in a month, even though we don’t have any songs.”

He says them with such conviction that I almost wonder if he thinks he’s being original.

I nod at Rick MacLellan. I have to. That’s part of my job. The same way it is to listen to the strange babblings of some artist going on about their brother’s pet snake. That has nothing to do with recording a song, but then again maybe it has everything to do with it.

The guy in front of me, the one who is twenty-four years old but looks fourteen, just can’t help sounding so corny.

“Sean’s finally on board,” Rick MacLellan says.

I nod, glance at the other guy in the room. His name is Gavin, and he’s with me.

Sean Torrent, the artist, isn’t here.

He’s supposed to be here.

Rick MacLellan said he was going to be here. Rick MacLellan said that Sean was going to show up for this meeting in this fancy high-rise that overlooks Lake Michigan and probably is owned by UMG or someone that really, really likes UMG.

It’s Sean’s album that Rick MacLellan is talking about.

I like saying Rick MacLellan’s full name because he’s a full name kind of guy. A guy who takes himself and his work and his wardrobe way too seriously. A full name kind of guy like James Bond or Ralph Lauren. Me, I like one-word guys, like Sting and Bono.

“He’s wanting to energize the troops, you know? To give fans what they’ve been wanting ever since Blue and Bluer. He’s not going into any artistic crap, not on this one. That’s why he wants you to produce.”

I nod, not sure how to take his last comment, but not caring.

It’s a big job, even if it’s with Sean.

Maybe I should have the words BLUE and BLUER tattooed on my forehead, etched out on my tombstone. Is bluer even a word? I don’t know.

Right place and right time. That’s what I tell people wanting to make it in music, or really, in any kind of artistic endeavor.

A girl bouncing around in a disco just like any other girl happens to be at the right place at the right time in the right city in the right decade.

She goes for a one-word name and calls herself Madonna.

Yeah, that woman has talent, but she also has quite a lot of blonde ambition and a whole lot of good fortune.

The right place at the right time.

The way I was at the right studio at the right time, serving as a part-time engineer when Sean Torrent just happened to come out of nowhere and make his breakthrough record. I managed to help and will forever have those helping efforts attached to my résumé.

Rick MacLellan rambles on about the new album I’m supposed to produce, about the songs he hasn’t heard, about the artist he hasn’t seen. I’m on board and I shake my head and I watch his hands move and I take a sip of my water.

I don’t want to bring up the rumors, but they’re out there because they’re true.

I don’t bring them up for the same reason Rick MacLellan doesn’t bring them up.

I need this job. Rick MacLellan needs this job. A lot of people need this job.

They need the industry that is Sean Torrent.

Sean, he doesn’t have to worry about his industry and brand.

But we do.

After the meeting, after Rick MacLellan leaves me with an iron handshake and the scent of highbrow full-name cologne, I sit in this multi-room palace where we held the meeting. I look out the window and see the boats and wish I was on mine.

Gavin’s so quiet that I almost forget he’s behind me. He shuffles as if he’s ready to go.

“So when do we start again?”

He speaks quickly, the way most Brits do. I give him a look that probably says way too much. “Supposed to start after Labor Day.”

“Does Sean even know about that holiday?”

“He probably doesn’t know what planet he’s on.”

“So who’s going to babysit?”

I look at Gavin and laugh. “You’re looking at the day care right here.”

He rubs his red goatee and curses.

“One day, just think,” I tell him, urging him to look out the windows. “This place could be yours.”

“No way. Not me. Maybe people like Rick. Or Sean. Or you.

“Hey—that’s Rick MacLellan. Did you get his card?”

“What a little prat.”

“He’s going to help us get paid.”

“Can he help with drug addicts?”

“Let’s go get a drink,” I say.

Sometimes that’s the only good solution I can think of.

Gavin’s been working with me for almost ten years. We met at Component 4, a Chicago recording studio where I learned the craft by starting as a studio runner and working my way up. He was a geeky tech guy who’d migrated to Chicago from England because of some tragic Nick Hornby love-gone-bad story that I still don’t know all the details to. There is nothing in a studio that Gavin can’t do. He’s listed as the engineer on the albums we’ve worked on together and technically he’s the studio engineer. But Gavin does everything I need him to, especially those things a producer should be able to do but that Tyler Harrison unfortunately never learned.

He’s on his second pint of dark beer, which he’s miraculously figured out how to avoid transferring to his waist. We’re at the Clough, a place with cheap beer and cheap lighting and cheap women. They know us by name here, which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. This is the place we go after long days or nights to celebrate our successes or more likely drown our sorrows. It’s also somewhere between our two residences; Gavin doesn’t live too far from Electrical Audio, the studio we’ve done our last couple albums at. It takes ten minutes or maybe a little more from my place to the studio.

Even in the poor lighting I can make out Gavin’s short and spiked red hair.

“You look surprised,” he says.

“I’m not sure if I’m surprised by the studio wanting me to produce Sean’s album or surprised that I’m willing to do it.”

“It’s work, mate. These days it’s good to work on anything.”

“Yeah, guess you’re right. I’m still paying for our sessions with ABBA.”

“We finished a month ago.”

“Yeah, but going over meant that came out of my paycheck.”

ABBA is my nickname for a big pop band that acts like they’re the Beatles but sound a little more like Ace of Base. They’re wildly popular and the job was supposed to pay well, but it turned into a nightmare.

That’s exactly why I’m afraid of producing Sean Torrent.

“It all depends on which Sean shows up, you know?”

“Yeah. I know too well,” I say.

“We might have a lot of time on our mitts.”

“No. They’re not going to allow that. The heyday is over. They’ll let us sink with this one. I promise you. And I can’t sink any further.”

“The only thing worrying’s going to get you is wrinkles.”

I take a sip of beer. This place still has a jukebox, and it’s eclectic, playing everything from Irish songs, which it should play, to ones by the Human League. On some nights when there isn’t a game to watch, it goes on autopilot and comes up with the most random stuff. That’s part of the Clough’s charm. I laugh as a song comes on.

“Man it’s been a long time since I’ve heard them.”

“Who’s this?” Gavin asks.

“Love and Rockets. Great late ’80s stuff. The guys from Bauhaus. Brooding souls. Used to dance to their stuff at Medusas.”

“The underground club for teens?”

“Yep.”

“Anna used to talk about it. We’d go to these clubs after turning twenty-one and she’d always say how they never compared to Medusas.”

“They didn’t. That was when I still wanted to be Robert Smith of the Cure. Have my own band. Invest in hair product and makeup. Sing about the misery of life.”

“Ah, but alas, you found love,” Gavin says.

“I found love but love left me dry.”

“Sounds like a Sean Torrent lyric.”

“Maybe it is.”

“Write it down,” Gavin says. “We might need it.”

“What did you want to do when you were back in your homeland, speaking with fellow mates?”

“I’ve told you, don’t try and do the accent. You sound confused when you do it.”

“Confused.”

“Yes. It’s a bit English, a bit Pikey, a bit Japanese.”

I laugh and admit that he’s probably right.

“What do you mean, what I wanted to do?” he asks.

“When you were young? What did you dream of doing when you grew up?”

“I never thought of it.”

“Never? You never wanted to be a musician or a painter or someone famous?”

“Should I have?”

“I guess not.”

“Never thought much of it.”

“You’re my age.”

“I’m not that old.”

“Okay, a year younger,” I say.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know. It’s just—the older I get, the more I wonder if I chose the wrong path.”

“You think you had anything to do with it?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you’re dealing with everything you’ve got, you know? Some people are born beautiful. Their life is set.”

“You calling me ugly?”

Gavin laughs.

“A person’s life isn’t always set,” I say.

“Some people can play football. Some can act the part of Elton John and have the voice to match. Some people have fathers who work in construction.”

“So what about us?”

“We like beer and share a common history.”

Sometimes it’s hard to know when Gavin is being witty or when he’s simply being his normal analytical self.

“Our common history, huh?”

“Failed love.”

“Yeah. You can say that again.”

Gavin raises his glass to toast. “To marriage and to the ever after.”

I toast and drain my beer.

“Guess we’re married to Sean Torrent for the moment, aren’t we?” he says.

I’m not thinking about Sean. It’s easy to go back in time. Songs do that to you. So do other things, like toasts, or locales, or Chicago nights.

“Worried?” Gavin asks.

“Just thinking. Remembering.”

“Those are two things I try my best not to do.”

“I asked two people to marry me. One said yes, the other disappeared. Both broke my heart.”

Gavin gives me a reflective smile, then punches me in the arm. “Mate, if I was a girl, you’d have me at ‘both.’ But I’m not, so shut your piehole and get us some more beers.”

I laugh.

Empathy is for losers.

9

Darkness

That night, my daughter calls me.

This is strange, since I know how much she doesn’t like to talk on the phone.

This is even stranger since I wonder how I know something like that, considering that I don’t have a daughter.

“Daddy,” she says deliberately, with a toddler’s foreign tongue.

“Yeah,” I say back.

“I miss you, Daddy.”

“I miss you, too.”

I miss her even though I don’t know her name, even though I don’t know what she looks like, even though this is all just a dream caused by the hops of the beer I was drinking.

“Daddy.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t go by the scary man.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Can you tuck me into bed?”

“I will in a minute.”

“Now?”

“Okay.”

But I can’t see a thing in the darkness of my room.

“Are you scared, Daddy?”

“No.”

“Don’t be. I’ll be here. And so will they.”

“So will who?” I ask.

“They know, just like you. Just like Mommy. Just like all of us.”

“Sweetie?”

“They know and it’s okay.”

I move the phone next to my ear but find my balled-up fist instead.

It’s late and even though I’m awake now, realizing this was a dream, I feel irked.

I wish I had told the little girl on the other end goodbye.

10

Saw Something

One of the perks of my profession is the free stuff. I get a lot of freebies.

I can’t remember the last CD I purchased on the day of its release. The last ten concerts I went to were tickets given to me. Sure, I spend a lot of time adding to my record collection, a hobby that’s increasing, as the sale of vinyl is actually going up. But there’s an inevitable sadness when you work in an industry you love. It loses its mystique. You can’t listen to an album anymore and allow it to stand on its own merits. You study the sounds to learn and judge and sample. You don’t just listen anymore. Especially when that album was given to you for free.

It’s something that I have to fight daily. Especially when the business drags me down and talented artists like Sean Torrent force me to be reminded of the business and not the music.

But yeah, I can complain and then I have to be reminded by people like Cole that I get Lollapalooza tickets for free. A three-day premier pass.

“Yeah life is pretty rough, Ty,” I can hear Cole saying.

I’m heading toward the fleet of Porta-Johns tucked under trees that don’t really provide protection from getting wet. Somewhere behind me in the rain-soaked herd of cattle standing in the afternoon monsoon that doesn’t stop the music is Cole. He is my constant companion to things like this, to events where the masses mingle. It can be a Cubs game or a Bloc Party concert or a streetfest. Doesn’t matter to Cole.

As I move slowly toward the edge of Grant Park, I can’t help notice the kids surrounding me.

This generation doesn’t need a soundtrack. They’ve never known the silence and the still of a life. These twenty-somethings have a playlist full of tracks chosen for them. They spend more time looking for a connection to connect. The beat goes on for this group, hour after hour after hour.

This is my industry, but once a fan always a fan. I recall going to an early Lollapalooza when Ministry played. They’d just released their album Psalm 69 and we’d listened to it deep into the night and I’d been persuaded to try acid and the proceeding few hours were as hellish as the album we were listening to. I can still hear my friend’s words loud and clearly as he stood on the deck of his fifth-story porch saying “I can understand now how somebody could kill themselves.”

The next day, the metallic, empty aftertaste of that night remained with me. So did the loopy, twisting world I’d been in. I wondered if I might be permanently brain-damaged, some Syd Barrett vegetable left to wander concerts like this with a haze in my head.

I was a kid and I was stupid. First off stupid to try acid, then stupid to think a little drop might mess me up for life.

Or maybe you’re STILL brain-damaged, and that’s been your problem ever since, Tyler.

Staring at the mass of bodies around me, I assume that there are a few more brain-dead kids roaming about.

Lollapalooza has come a long way since 1992.

Yes, but have you, Tyler?

I see a young girl, probably a teenager, in tiny shorts and a top barely there, not an inch of her dry. She’s standing under a tree with a set of tall, awkward boys surrounding her. She’s smoking a cigarette, the center of attention.

Not a care in the world.

Not one care.

I bet she didn’t have to pay for her ticket either.

I open the door to exit the Porta-John and the rain squeezes down on me. I squint my eyes to see and then prop the hood of my rain parka back over my damp hair. Then I notice it.

The girl and her bodyguards are gone.

I sense something else.

The lack of movement.

The lack of anybody.

You’re wrong; they’re still here, they’re still all around you, just open your eyes.

A guttural pounding throbs in the distance, like an industrial symphony warming up. I’m wondering who’s playing and what happened to the last group that was just on the Budweiser stage we’re near.

I scan my rainy surroundings and see the heel of someone’s shoe. I follow it up to see a figure face down in mud. His entire face, including nose and mouth, are making an imprint in the ground.

I rush over toward him but then see a figure in yellow lying next to him. Another sprawled on the sidewalk. Another stopped in the middle of trying to do a snow angel in the grass.

Then I see the girl—the skinny clothes-barely-there teen I saw.

Her body is crumpled, her face resting on the edge of a grimy puddle, the dark liquid surfacing to her mouth and nose.

They’re all lying on the ground in a perverse and insane manner like the aftermath of a World War II battle. Some with eyes open, like that young girl with her dead gaze toward the tops of the trees she’s underneath, others with them shut.

I run to the girl and then step on a guy’s chest and don’t hear a whimper or moan or anything.

I touch the girl and she feels like a product, like a cold and bloated thing pulled out of the ocean.

She’s dead. They’re all dead.

The guy face-first in the mud.

The girl over there.

The kids over there.

They’re all dead.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on.

I’m surrounded by hundreds—

No, thousands, there’s thousands here, all dead, all exterminated, a genocide right in front of your face, Tyler.

All of these kids around me, these lifeless soulless bodies strewn about.

I feel woozy and sick.

Then I hear something—someone.

A figure walking not around but on top of the bodies, approaching me. A figure in boots and jeans and a T-shirt showing off the cover of Depeche Mode’s Violator. His arms are wet with blood—no, not blood, just dirt and grime.

This is not real.

He laughs. He’s maybe twenty yards away from me, but his laugh is right there in front of me.

I smell him and bite my lip.

That’s wrong.

It smells like something bad. Death bad. Sickness bad. Sewer bad.

“They’re all lost souls, Tyler. All of them. All graves before the grave.”

I shut my eyes and open them again.

Still there. All of it. The bodies, this man, those eyes.

His long, wavy hair is plastered to his cheek and he swats it back. He looks like a construction worker on a three-day binge.

I don’t recognize the bearded face that stares at me with glee.

“Look at you.”

I can’t say anything. It’s almost as if my vocal chords have been ripped from my throat.

“Look how scared you are.”

He spits something as he steps on someone’s face, then I hear him laugh.

It feels like someone pouring warm jelly down my ears and nose and mouth.

Then I feel a banging against my head and turn and see that I’m still in the Porta-John, someone knocking on the door behind me.

Once I’m out, things go from bad to worse.

I’m listening to some group I’ve never really paid much attention to when the lines of everything start to lean over. Everything starts to smear, like a kid playing with paints spreading it around with his hand. The music seems to do that as well, echoing with the wrong notes and off-key wails. I’m standing in the middle of the crowd with Cole and the others around us and I feel like passing out.

Someone slipped you something.

I’m trying to remember everything I put in my stomach today. Nothing stands out. I’m not dehydrated because it’s been raining all day. I’m not drunk either.

This is like that first Lollapalooza where you couldn’t get your head out of water, where you couldn’t stop the waves from wrapping around your cheeks.

I look at Cole and he’s in another world. Nonexpressive, oblivious. Everybody else looks the same.

It’s easy to lose yourself at these functions. Just one part of a seventy-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle of bodies crammed together to move and shout and sing and listen.

The girl in front of me has long brown hair that starts to move over her head and shoulders and back. It moves because it’s a hundred small snakes all biting into her skull with the blood spreading like a waterfall down her legs.

I shake my head, trying to get rid of the awful thought.

Lights play tricks.

It’s just dark wet hair and mud.

I’m staring at the stage and see a haze of smoke and then see the twirl of something dark, like a plume of birds festering over the crowd, coming at me.

They’re not birds.

They’re bats.

Hundreds of bats swarming like insects toward us, toward me.

They dart down and I fall to my knees, shielding my face and my head.

Nobody around me does the same.

Because of course nobody sees what I’m seeing.

Nobody is having a hallucinogenic nightmare like me.

Cole grabs my shirt from behind and yanks up. I’m wiping the mud—blood it’s blood we’re on, blood we’re soaked in—from my hands as he gives me a look.

“I’ll be back,” I tell him.

He nods and doesn’t ask. Before I’m gone, he shouts out for me to buy some more beer.

It’s nice to know I have such supportive friends.

As if a beer is the best thing for me right now.

11

Morning Glory

It’s amazing how much I love my iPhone yet how much I detest talking on it. It is a telephone, right? Yet I try my best to avoid talking on it and keep it to avoid interruptions, even though all it seems to do is assault me with e-mails and social network updates and app afflictions.

It’s mid-morning after the concert and I’m in my car, heading to the docks, cranking Elbow and trying to wake up, when I hear the tone go off. I answer it, hoping it’s Nate with some good news.

Instead it’s someone confirming the dates we have the studio time set up for Sean Torrent. It’s as if they need to hear my confirmation and get it recorded if they end up needing to sue me in court and send me to jail when it’s all said and done. I give a subdued affirmative even though I haven’t spoken to Sean yet in person. Some things you just need to have faith in.

As I park my car and head down to the boat, I realize that I’m not the best at putting my faith in others. People, religion, family, friends.

Sometimes I think that if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have to rely on anybody.

A few minutes later I’m staring at one of the reasons I was hoping that call would be Nate.

Nate’s my manager, the one who oversees contracts along with helping with project supervision. He also helps promote me, which is something I’m not particularly wonderful at.

The last year for Nate and me has been…

Well, let me just say that if we were a married couple, we’d probably be talking to our respective lawyers.

In my defense, I would tell about two jobs which have gone by the wayside.

The Sean Torrent job, that’s been a given for a couple of months now. Nate had nothing to do with Sean picking me either. I haven’t received any money for it so far, and prospects of reaping financial awards due to working with Sean are looking slimmer as each day passes.

The two jobs that fell apart are the ABBA job, the one with a pop band called Overdraft, and another job with the American indie group Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The former wasn’t that big of a deal since the band flaked out on me, but Nate should have seen that coming and helped out. The latter, however, was a backbreaker, a land mine in a career. All because Nate tried to overnegotiate with the record label.

Producing Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ next album after their breakthrough It’s Blitz! could have opened dozens of doors. Amazing doors.

Let’s just say I got caught up in the moment and the momentum a few years ago. Too bad there wasn’t a lot of money accompanying those two things. I assumed it would eventually start coming. I assumed that I could risk buying a 34-foot boat with the inheritance money I got after my grandmother passed.

Yeah, I know what they say about assumptions. I’m feeling like a big one.

Behind the wheel, I don’t have to rely on anybody or worry about anything.



Continues...

Excerpted from 40 by Thrasher, Travis Copyright © 2011 by Thrasher, Travis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Impressive...but something was missing for me!

    40 is a Christian spiritual fiction.

    Tyler Harrison is a music producer who has just been told that he will die on his 40th birthday. He was raised as a Christian in a religiously stern house, however, he no longer practices nor believes in God.

    Tyler has issues with his father, who believes his son is a failure. He has issues with work, his musicians never wish to show up for their sessions and his love life is void of life.

    After seeing some terrifying hallucinations, Tyler thinks he is going crazy. He tries to explain things to his friends and co-workers, but they don't get it and make light of the events that are occurring. When Tyler agrees to go to the Lollapalooza concert, as part of his work assignment, it is there that he meets Matthew.

    Matthew tells Tyler that in less than nine months he will be dead. It is now time to listen to the messages being shared and to learn from them. However, Tyler doesn't understand anything that is occurring and sends Matthew away. Before he leaves, he shows Tyler many ways in which he would have already been dead, if it wasn't for Matthew's interventions over the years.

    Tyler goes into denial over the message that he has been shared. He ignores the attempts at putting his life in order and teams up with a DJ named Ellis who takes Tyler on a whirlwind of temptations and immoral conducts. For a while Tyler is caught up in this wild freak ride until he meets Pastor Will, who helps Tyler come to terms with his fears, his confusion and his life.

    I thought this was a rather dull book. It started out great, caught my attention but then it pilfered out around the time that Tyler meets Matthew. Up to that point, there seemed to be meaning in the story and then the rest of the book drags on with mostly thoughts and ramblings of Tyler. I was hoping for more from this aspect of the book and expected a decent ending, but the ending was flat.

    I didn't like the fact that there were expletives involved with this book, for a Christian read, I'm sure another way could have been used for the characters to express themselves. It just didn't work for me. I was also unimpressed with the disjointed thoughts shared with Tyler and the reader. Some of them didn't make any sense nor did they ever tie in with the rest of the story.

    I didn't mind that it was written in first person, I kind of enjoy that and was impressed that it stayed in first person throughout the story, sometimes authors switch from first to third, but this wasn't the case. I found Travis likeable but I couldn't feel his plight, he didn't endear himself to me. As well, the editing was sufficient and didn't detract from the story.

    I did like the references to bands, musicians and such that Travis quite often discussed. I liked his music list and the reasons why the songs were there and the underlying message was okay, but not enough for this reader to say this was a great read.

    I had heard much on Travis Thrasher and was expecting a bit more from this.

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  • Posted June 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not your typical christian fiction

    What if you knew the exact date that you were going to die? Thats just what Tyler Harrison has revealed to him by an angel named Matthew.

    Tyler Harrison is a music producer who has a few regrets in his life, but when he is visited by an angel named Matthew, who is actually his guardian angel, and his guardian angel tells him that he will die on his 40th birthday, which is about nine months away. Well as you can imagine Tyler begins to wonder if perhaps he isn't loosing his mind. When Matthew reveals episodes throughout Tyler's life and allows him to see how his life has been spared through the years. As truths are revealed to Tyler, his emotions run the gambit, and he soon comes to the realization that money and things really aren't important when facing your own mortality. Will he change his life before its to late?

    This book really fascinated me. Not a quick read by any stretch of the imagination, it took me awhile to get into the feeling of the story, the emotions are intense, and often comes off as dark and brooding. As I read the story I found myself wondering what I might do if I knew when I would die. I enjoyed watching Tyler grow and chance throughout the story. The guardian angel Matthew was quite unlike any other guardian angel I have ever read about. I thought the parts where Matthew allowed Tyler those glimpses of how things might have been had he not been around were fantastic.
    While I would caution that there is a bit of foul language used in this story, it just adds another layer to the character of Tyler. If your looking for a story that will have you thinking about your own life, that isn't your run of the mill Christian fiction then give this book a try. I for one will be looking for more of Mr. Thrasher's work.

    A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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  • Posted May 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Time is slowly ticking away along with your life! What will you do ?

    How do you begin to live your life when you know when it will all end? Do you question whether what you've heard is real or wonder if this is some strange dream you are about to wake up from?

    Tyler Harrison is about to have a life changing encounter. An encounter with an man named Matthew that will tell him, just nine months shy of turning 40 that he will die on his birthday. Not one second more, not one second less.

    Tyler goes through what I believe we all would, confusion, doubt, denial, anger, and finally resolution. He begins to take each day and figure out a way to look back at the things he has done in his life to see where this may all wind up. He looks back at the way he saw his father raising him, all the anger he held inside, and how for so many years, he kept all his feelings bottled up just waiting for the opportunity to lay it on the line and be honest with his dad. How disappointed, how rejected and how he would never measure up in his father's eyes.

    When faced with his father being debilitated and unable to speak, he begins to wonder if his father hasn't received some form of righteous judgement after all. Yet what Tyler will begin to uncover is the lies that are woven in our life to prevent us from seeing the truth that lies within our reach. Lies that the enemy would love to hide from us and keep us in the darkness. In the end, Tyler will finally see it won't be about the things we wanted or needed to make us happy in this life but the opportunities within relationships that would define who we would become in the end.

    In the latest novel 40 by Travis Thrasher, we live through the eyes of record and music producer, Tyler Harrison and he fights the inner turmoil going on in coping with the reality of receiving the gift of knowledge over his own immortality and how he chooses to spend the precious moments he has left. I think Travis' portrayal of the conflict and emotions is perfect especially when considering what we ourselves would do if faced with the same news that we had only a few months left to live.

    I received this book compliments of Faith Words and Hachette Book Groups for my honest review and once again was not disappointed with Travis Thrashers ability to write from the heart and soul of his characters. What a wicked web he has woven in this timeless tale. Another 5 out of 5 stars!

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  • Posted May 18, 2011

    AN INTERESTING TWIST ON CHRISTIAN SUSPENSE! 40 A NOVEL BY TRAVIS THRASHER...

    40 A NOVEL by Travis Thrasher is a christian suspense.Music producer Tyler,starts to experience horrific hallucinations just shy of his fortieth birthday. He will be approached by Matthew,a man who claims to be an angel.Not knowing what to do with this information Matthew gives him,his begins to spiral out of control. He is afraid and confused.What would you do if you where told that would you die on your fortieth birthday,I wonder.Would you be like Tyler,and be afraid,angry,confused,turn from God,turn to destructive behavior or would you accept your fate without question and kept your faith.
    This is not only a suspense but also a story of faith.Finally,Tyler meets Will,a pastor who will help him find his way,restore his faith,find peace before his fortieth birthday. While "40 A Novel" has many questions it also has many of the answers to those seem questions about life and death. This story is written in first person,while I do not normally enjoy reading first person stories this one was interesting.If you enjoy a different sort of christian suspense than this is the one for you.You will find "40 A Novel" interesting and complex while it also has suspense.This book was received for the purpose of review from the publisher and details can be found at Faith Words,a division of Hachette Book Group,Inc.and My Book Addiction Reviews.

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  • Posted May 10, 2011

    Best. Thrasher. Novel. Yet!

    Hands down, this is Thrasher's best wtiting to date! As with Thrasher's more recent novels, Thrasher uses elements of the supernatural to build into a page-turning whirlwind of mystery and suspense that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Thrasher has also proven adept at creating and molding flawed characters that almost anyone who is honest with themselves can instantly relate to. While the story is all about Tyler Harrison's personal journey and introspection along the way, this story is written in such a way that the reader will most likely establish an association or connection with the story itself and relate to Tyler Harrison's thoughts, fears, and decisions. Personally speaking this book moved my heart and my mind to think about various aspects of my life that may or may not be quite the way that I had hoped or imagined that they would be. Reading it was like listening to that favorite song or album that shakes you to your core or moves you to tears. 40 is an excellent work of fiction, but it could also be the catalyst to prompt readers to take a hard look at their own life. It could prompt them to question their motives and priorities. It could spark their desire to change their world, and by extension, the world around them. Not bad for a work of fiction. Not bad at all!

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  • Posted May 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not for Grandma

    This is not your grandma's Christian fiction. The protagonist, Tyler Harrison, uses profanity and drinks to excess. In addition, he makes some foolish choices. The plot, set in Chicago and written in a disjointed fashion, demonstrate the confusion of Tyler, a thirty-nine year-old man who is told by an angel that he will die within the following year. He sets out to find out more about this prophecy. That's where confusion reigns.

    There are many references to music and today's world that I did not understand. I think that a thirty-something person would get these references much better than I. I must admit, I found myself totally confused, but then, I am a grandma.

    Note: contains profanity. Discussion questions included.

    Thank you to Sarah Reck at Hachette Book Group for my copy.

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  • Posted May 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    40 by Travis Thrasher

    Just nine months before his fortieth birthday, Tyler Harrison receives startling news: he is going to die on his fortieth birthday. He is told this by an angel named Matthew, and has no doubt that the information is valid, but he still does not know what to do with the information.

    Tyler is a music producer, and the crazy life of the job continues. Tyler is befriended by both an internationally-known DJ named Ellis, and a pastor called Will. Both confuse him. To add to this, Tyler is haunted and questions his own sanity. All of this is part of the countdown, to the day that Tyler Harrison turns 40.

    I am going to be honest and say that the first half of the book is very slow; being in the first person point of view of a man going through his mid life crisis and working through the knowledge of when he will die. I was able to push through though, to the second half of the book which is much more interesting. The story picks up speed and gets intense. The best part of this book, however, was the ending. It had a fabulous twist that I never saw coming and never even considered. The ending was the redemption for reading it, and is one of my favorite endings of all books.

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  • Posted May 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Profound

    A few months ago, music producer Tyler Harrison turned thirty-nine. However, recently he has suffered from frightening visions, which he assumes is a byproduct of all work and no play. . Thus he ignores the hallucinations until he attends a three-day concert at the Lollapalooza in Chicago.

    An older person introduces himself to Tyler as Matthew the angel and insists that the lad will die on his fortieth birthday; less than nine months away. Tyler initially thinks he has met a druggy lunatic until Matthew provides him powerful proof otherwise. He goes through the stages of grief leading to rage at God and hostile behavior towards friends and family. Renowned D.J. Ellis becomes Tyler's friend, leading him to the urban wilderness. Finally filled with regrets for his failures and remorse for not being there for loved ones, he turns to Pastor Will to help him atone with people and God, and hopefully find peace with himself.

    This insightful character study uses the premise of someone knowing when they will die to look deeply at how that condemned person spends their remaining aptly nine months on earth. Tyler goes through the stages of grief with his early anger targets being the Lord and the surviving flock until he finally begins to accept. Profound, readers who appreciate a powerful emotional tale with little action will appreciate Travis Thrasher's taut tale of Travis' end of days as he slowly adapts to his last refrain.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted April 25, 2011

    Packs a Punch at the End

    I've been following Travis Thrasher on Facebook and Twitter ever since reading his book, Solitary (can't wait for the sequel, by the way!). He frequently has quick contests for book giveaways and I was happy to win an ARC for his latest book, 40. The premise of the book sounded interesting and the fact that I am 40 made it slightly creepy. Once the book arrived, I grabbed the first free afternoon I had available and sat down to devour it.

    I soon discovered that this is not that kind of book. While I enjoyed it, I found it to be quite introspective and I read it more as I would a non-fiction book; in sections. Lucky for me, the book is already divided into ten parts and I chose to read them as such. For me, the story had the same flavor as the book of Ecclesiastes. There was a sense of hopelessness throughout and I could identify with the main character's struggles, despite his own life being so far removed from my own. It's one of those books that "speak to the human condition" and he does it rather well. While there are fantastical elements in the story, it feels real. By the time you reach the end and everything is tied together, it packs the same punch that I feel when I reach the end of Ecclesiastes. Well worth reading, generates a lot of thought and gives perspective, but not always a "fun read".

    If you're a music fan, nearing 40, questioning life and its purpose, or simply looking for a good read that'll take you through your week (or next ten days), you may want to check this one out. Although I prefer my stories move a bit more quickly, I still find myself thinking of this storyline and that's a pretty good recommendation right there.

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