Meet Me in the Strange is an intoxicating adventure set in a glittery, retro-futuristic world of glam rock, spectral aliens, and gender-bendy teens. Davi is mesmerized by a girl at a concert, who appears to lose herself in the power of the otherworldy music of Django Conn. Later, through a chance meeting, Davi becomes friends with the girl, Anna Z. She is like no one Davi has ever met: she loves to talk, talk, talk and has grandiose theories of the next evolution of humans and a strange phenomenon she calls the “Alien Drift.”
But danger lurks around every corner, because Anna Z is on the run, and her cruel and controlling older brother is determined to find her, at any cost. Davi faces a daunting decision, go on living a safe existence at the magical Angelus Hotel, which has been in the family for generations, or help Anna Z escape her troubled past. When the two take off to follow the concert tour of their glam-rock idol, Django Conn, Davi and Anna Z will face the biggest threat of their young lives.
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|Publisher:||Meerkat Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 18 Years|
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It was like she'd lost everything. Her name, her voice, any idea who she was or what she looked like, who the people were around her. The only thing that mattered was right there in front of her on the stage.
We were up close — masses of glam-girls and glister-boys all reaching out at the air like we could feel the music in our hands and pull it into ourselves. Wild kids pushing and pulsing with the music. Not really dancing. But it was music and bodies, so what else could you call it?
And it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen because the girl was gone — not just freaked or blissed-out. She'd let go, totally, of everything.
I got that first glimpse of her about halfway through the show, and it was like I was split right down the middle of my skull. One half was still there with the rest of the crowd, the band like the Horses of Apollo carrying me upward with the fiery sound. And one half of me was zapped by seeing this girl, like a knife juiced with electricity cutting into my brain. She was gone, vanished, disappeared inside herself.
I was cranked up like all the other five thousand fan-kids who'd come to hear Django Conn, and see him and feel him. Some of them had dyed orange, cockatoo haircuts just like Django. Some — boys and girls — had eye makeup, silvery mascara, and big, shiny slashes of lipstick, dangly earrings and platform shoes, feathers and fishnets, and the whole glam look. But this girl was different.
She had glasses, ordinary eyeglasses. They were steamed over and caught the spotlights from the stage, oozy reds and liquid purples. Her hair was black, long and damp in snaky-sexy locks that clung to her face and her neck. And just for a second, I thought she looked like somebody who was shipwrecked, drowning in a sea, dying almost but okay with that, or more than okay, letting the waves sweep her up and away.
I don't remember what she had on. Doesn't matter. Was she pretty? Maybe. Beautiful? Doubtful. Amazing? Absolutely.
She wasn't one of them, not exactly, trying to look like, trying to be Django. And neither was I, even though I'd been waiting months for this show, and I loved Man in the Moon in the Man more than just about anything in the world. I'd been listening to the new album nonstop for weeks, my new diamond needle wearing out the grooves.
For the song "She's the Hype," the lights went into a wild black and white strobe. Off and on and off and on, pulsing, slamming, stuttering. And the girl kept appearing and disappearing. Not like a ghost all wispy and see-through. In flashes, for a second or two, she was solid, real, realer than anything. It was like the light itself was a drum, pounding light hitting the crowd in sudden bursts. I got a glimpse, and then she was gone. Then back again, broken up into frames like an old film, flickering in and out of reality.
Nobody was paying attention to other people. Nobody but me. All eyes were on Django, and all ears were blasted by the band. So when the girl lost it, when she totally lost it, I was the only one who saw and got it. Private, secret, just me and her alone, even though we were surrounded by five thousand others at the Maxima. Just me and her in that secret place.
The band got hotter, and the crowd got wilder. Django got fiercer, jumping into "I Asked for Water but She Gave me Gasoline." And I lost sight of the girl, like the tidal waves pushed us apart, a couple of pieces of broken driftwood in a blackwater storm.
Django did all my faves: "I Fear No Venom," "Girls Will Be Boys," "Empire of Light," "Pavlov's Daughters." They finished up with "Flash Bang Baby." And then Django vanished in a sudden cloud, like a puff ball when it bursts and shoots that cloud of dust-spores into the air. It was like he blew up right there in front of five thousand fans. One second he was singing the last line from the last song on Man in the Moon in the Man, over and over again: "You're all I've ever had!" Then the band crashed to the end of the song, and it looked as if he'd exploded. It was just a stage trick of course, lights and smoke like a magician uses to cover up his best illusion. But Django blew up and the dust spores whooshed out over us, a cloud of powder pink and velvety violet, and that was the end of the show.
Everybody hung around as the lights came up. Music got piped in through the P.A. system — a Vivaldi concerto played on a Moog. And it was like waking up from the best dream I'd ever had. I looked for the girl. I wasn't even sure any more if she'd been real, because how much had I really seen of her? She was just a blur, one girl as the strobe- light hit her then a crash of blackness, then maybe another girl, a cloudy flash of faces that blended into one, making that look of pure surrender. When there are five thousand kids and most of them are dressed in glam Django-drag, how could I be sure who was who and what was what?
I stood there, woozy and weak-kneed. Sweet, pearly-blue smoke swirled overhead, like spirits trying to escape back to heaven. Thousands of bodies surrounded me. And voices too: laughter, blurry moans, strained whispers, brain-warped babbling. There was movement in the crowd, but no one wanted to leave. Not yet. We all wanted to soak in the last of Django's shimmery vibe.
It was useless, but still I looked around for the girl. What would I say if I found her? Maybe something stupido like, "Great show. He's the best." Or would I dive right in and ask her what she been feeling, what was really going on inside her? She'd been lost. Totally lost and — I know this is the part that doesn't make sense — found too. Saved by the sound. Only how can you be empty and filled up to overflowing at the same time? Possessed maybe, giving up everything then filled back up because the music was so huge, and Django Conn had been right there in front of us.
I didn't move, at first, and I didn't say a word. I'd gone to the Maxima alone, and I'd go back home alone too. So I held onto the moment. For a little while longer, with Django's voice still echoing inside my skull, I scanned the crowd.
It was obvious now that lots of kids were buzzed on fly-spell. I think some of them had been hitting the white gong too — bleary-eyed, tongue-tied, and wobbly on their feet.
A boy bumped into me, giggling and chattering. He had about a dozen rhinestone chokers around his neck and fingernails painted with flames. "I love him!" he said to me, and nobody, and everybody. "Best show of the tour. I saw him last week, twice. This was better than the best." He grabbed my arm and kept on talking. "Django is god! I love-love-love him!"
He realized suddenly that he didn't know me and spun around, looking for the friends he'd come to the show with.
Others were saying the same thing. Nothing could beat what we'd just seen and heard. Django had been on tour for a month with The Reptiles, so the band was at their peak, absolutely together and into it. That night Django went further, deeper, higher than he'd ever gone before. He'd never been so beyond.
My ears were ringing, and my feet hurt from standing so long. The skin on my knuckles was rubbed raw, and it felt like the bones of my skull were still vibrating. And that feel kept on going all the way home, on my moonless walk along the canals, back to the Angelus.
The city at that hour was closed up tight: shuttered, locked, and dark as the cathedral crypts. Another night, I might've enjoyed being out alone, sneaking through the shadows. But my mind kept swinging back to the Maxima.
On the way home, I barely saw the dim streets and alleyways where I walked. I kept thinking, of course, about the show. About the girl, the band, and Django. But how much, I wondered, had been real, and how much had I imagined? Everything about Django was unreal, which doesn't mean it was fake or stupido or a bore. Just the opposite: Django was unreal the way lightning is — amazing, loud, dangerous, freaky. He was unreal like the best dream I ever had, or that picture of Earth that the Apollonauts sent back when they walked on the Moon, or the feeling you get when somebody looks you right in the eyes, and it's like she can see all the way through you, or down deep into the deepest part of who you are.
He was — as the kids with the rhinestones had said — like a god. He'd come down to earth and then gone back to the heavenly realms of stars. But the girl, I kept telling myself, was more like me. We had at least one thing in common — fan-madness. And she might not have come from out of town for the show. I might, somehow, find her.
Up ahead the Angelus loomed. It had slender spires like a medieval church, massive turrets like a fortress, and a thousand windows. At that hour, most were dark. But in a hotel that vast — and it was the biggest in the city — someone is always awake. The Angelus took up an entire block, on one side the balconies hanging over the Great Canal, and on the other, hundreds of rooms facing the grandest boulevard in the city. The main entrance would've served well at a baron's or prince's palace. I went around the side, not wanting the desk staff to see me come in that late.
The buzzing, dreamy concert feel kept going as I snuck through the southwest servants' entrance and into the main kitchen.
"What are you doing up this late, Davi?" Maria-Claire's voice was soft and low. She was sitting in the shadow, waiting I supposed, for an important late night order to come in on the hotel intercom. I wouldn't call her pretty, and her hair had a few streaks of gray. Still, she was the most graceful person I knew. She served food day and night, night and day, yet there was a charm, almost an elegance about her.
"I was hungry. I thought I'd get some ..." I didn't bother finishing my lie.
She knew me too well to be fooled. I could trust her though, and that night she didn't press me for the truth. She'd been a maid, then a waitress, and now worked room service for the most costly suites in the northwest wing. The guest rooms there were the best in the hotel and so, usually, were the tips that Maria-Claire got. She'd worked there since before I was born and, of all the staff at the Angelus, was the one person I could count on the most.
So we sat a little while, picking at a slice of cold pizza caccia nanza. We didn't say much that night. We never did, really. And that was one of the reasons I liked being with her. No gossip, no small talk. She was sort of like a mother to me, but without the prying questions and annoying suggestions. I suppose that made her the best mother in the world: giving me great food, covering for me when I got in trouble, and never once giving me a look of disapproval.
"It's late," I said. "I really should be in bed."
"That's for sure. It's almost two," she said. "Good night, Davi." I'm not sure why, but there was always a little sadness in her voice.
I went up three stories on the staff elevator then got off and climbed a spiral stairway to the seventh floor. Mine was a long corridor with threadbare carpets. Once, long before, the pattern had shown tangled vines, palm trees, flowers of paradise, and birds with human faces. Now the carpets were so thin the wooden floor underneath showed through, and the pattern was barely visible, like figures seen in a fog.
The knobs sticking up from the banister posts were carved in the shape of spiky fruit. The light fixtures, too, had forms from nature: finger-like leaves, pine cones, swollen branches. There was an elevator in the old days, but the shaft had been empty for years. When I was little, I would sometimes look into the shaft, through the pebbled glass of the door, through the crisscross folding metal screen, and see the dim daylight falling like drizzle from above.
Waking up after the show, I was still in a daze, unsure, unclear, woozy, and weak. I heard the bells of Saint Florian's, first at noon, then one o'clock, before I got out of bed. My rooms were in the oldest wing of the Angelus, on the seventh floor. Being that far up, and having windows that faced out to the east, I could see the sun rise over the city if I wanted to. If I got up early enough, I could see dawn break over Saint Florian's with its twin steeples, then the Duce's Dome, the Bridge of Tears, and even a little glimpse of the Maxima, down by the Great Canal.
That afternoon I didn't listen to any of the albums. I knew it wouldn't be as good as live, or it would blur what I remembered of the sound and the feel. Of course, I knew that soon enough I'd go back and listen another thousand times. But for a day or two, I wanted to hold onto what I had, in my brain and in my hands and the bones of my skull.
So I got out my stack of Creedos and went through them, looking at all the pictures. There was one cover story that showed the whole band: Rudy Lasher on gamba, Simon Faruk on baryton, Mick St. Clair on drums. And Django clutching the mike stand like he was getting electrocuted. He had carrot-orange, fuzz-spike hair and wore a see- through shirt and tight snakeskin pants. Even though he was definitely a guy, there was something pretty — almost beautiful — about him. Lighter than air, hot and cool, above and beyond. He was a gorgeous, first-class freak, but he was my freak, even if there'd been five thousand fans screaming his name the night before. He was mine — when I had my door closed and a towel under it to block out the light, and when I had the headphones clamped tight on my ears and the Reptiles' riffs were coming hard and fast, bright as mirror-shine.
That year, I'd read all I could find about Django, in fanzines and music papers. Creedo did a cover story about him when the "Moon" tour started. I bought two copies, one to keep and one to cut up for the pictures. And there was Django, taped up on the back of my bedroom door, when I woke the next day with the noon sun making a fever glow on the backs of my amber silk curtains. He'd watched all night as I slept, and he was there when I got up.
Django Conn wasn't his real name. According to Creedo, it was something normal. But he made the true mutation and turned himself into Django Conn, and it was like there'd never been the other, normal guy. He'd vanished, or maybe the day the Apollonauts walked on the moon, the world he came from had vanished. Django invented himself with his new name and did some records solo. Then he formed the band, The Albino Reptiles From Dimension X, though everybody just called them The Reptiles. They put out Gimme Back My Phantom Limbs then Man in the Moon in the Man. And that's when it all started to happen: the write-ups in Creedo, radio play, and the tour.
Lying there in bed, half in and half out of sleep, I had an uneasy thought. What if the girl hadn't really existed until I saw her at the show? What if she wasn't really there until I noticed her? I don't mean that I dreamed her out of nothing. But what if I somehow called her up, conjured her to be there? Not exactly like a black magic conjuration, but just because I wanted her to be there, she'd appeared. Or maybe another way of seeing it would be like alchemy. A pinch of white powder into the flask, a glug of sour-smelling yellowy goo, some milky stuff, and a handful of black, crumbled crystals. Then turn on the flame underneath. Maybe it would boil over all frothy or suddenly turn perfectly clear and calm. And there she was, conjured up.
It doesn't quite make sense any more, but that was the way my mind was working the morning after the show. Django was the alchemist. The music and the lights were the heat, and his lyrics were the spells. And all the fans packed into the Maxima were the secret ingredients to make something that had never been before.
Excerpted from "Meet Me in the Strange"
Copyright © 2018 Leander Watts.
Excerpted by permission of Meerkat Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“Meet Me In The Strange. Indeed. Leander Watts renders this strange world, this exotic, futuristic, dangerous world, brilliantly. You can feel the power of the glister rock, the music that surges through the story, through the bodies and lives of Davi and Anna Z, transforming the pair and compelling them to take the biggest risk of their young lives. It is a story, richly detailed, where the real and the supernatural dance close. What secrets lie in the hidden corridors and back rooms of the majestic Angelus Hotel? What mysterious force in Django’s raw music captures and transforms Anna Z in spirit if not body? Davi must find out. Davi will find out. But threat bites at his heels around every turn.”