The crowds were getting sparser, even for weeknight residency shows at a second-rate Atlantic City casino. In 1989, Hellspawn had played its final show at Madison Square Garden to a packed house of frenzied leather-clad metal heads. They had four platinum albums under their belt and when Billy screamed out the last verse of “The Deal”, the noise from the crowd nearly drowned out his impassioned delivery:
When all is said and done
This life was just for fun
The women and the fame
were the spoils of the game
I will thank you, Lucifer
when I meet you in the flames
of HELL, HELL, HELL!
20,000 upraised fists had punctuated his words while the gratuitous pyrotechnic display shot red and yellow sparks the length of the arena.
Here in the ballroom of the Claridge Casino, the largely disinterested crowd of middle-aged nostalgia seekers had to settle for a cloth backdrop bearing the word Hellspawn and the band’s trademark pentagram. They didn’t give a fuck anyway and Billy guessed that most of them were just looking for an excuse to put their feet up and decompress between rounds of blackjack. Tonight, the band played “The Deal” as the final song in their set, but no one sang along, pumped their fists, or raised a lighter and Billy wasn’t even sure that they were listening. They used to reserve this song for the encore, but no one cheered them back to the stage anymore. Billy half-heartedly thanked the remaining people in the seats and trudged back to his dressing room.
Closing the door behind him, Billy sat down at the make-up table and stared at himself in the mirror. He looked pathetic. A 54 year old man with a coat of foundation and white powder barely concealing his age lines beneath a ridiculous edifice of hair held in place by copious applications of hairspray. Washed up. He was a divorced former rock star whose only talent hadn’t been in demand since the days that MTV played videos.
A knock on the door jarred him out of his depressing reverie and he opened it to find a note laying on the faded brown carpet of the hallway. Billy picked it up and sat back down at the table. He unfolded the small piece of stationery and read two words written in exquisitely archaic penmanship: TIME’S UP.
There was no greeting, no signature, just the puzzlingly succinct message. He got up and peered down the hallway, but no one was about, not even his band mates. With a shrug, he closed the door again.
Ignoring the advice of his cardiologist, Billy grabbed a bottle of Jack from the shelf and took a few generous swigs. As the warmth of the liquor began to spread throughout his body, he looked up and was startled at what he saw staring back at him from the makeup mirror.
His reflection was featureless, like a styrofoam wig head. Billy squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds and looked again, but the bizarre image remained. He’d done more than his share of drugs, but this was unlike anything he’d experienced before. As he continued to stare mesmerized at his reflection, he noticed a burning sensation running up and down both of his arms and legs. From the pentagram tattoo on his right bicep, tiny white dots were emerging and scampering up his arm and over his entire body. They didn’t seem to have legs or any other common biological features, but they were clearly alive. Billy jumped up from the chair and began swatting at himself, spinning in frantic circles and letting out involuntary gasps. He dropped to the floor and rolled back and forth, trying to crush the creatures that were invading his body.
Then, as suddenly as they appeared, the burning stopped and the tiny white creatures were gone. He rose slowly from the floor and leaned on the vanity in front of the mirror trying to catch his breath. Finally composed, he looked up and let out a blood-curdling scream that reverberated throughout the entire ground floor of the hotel. His reflection was still faceless and white as bone, but now every inch of exposed skin was equally white and foam-like. Billy tore off his shirt and found that his torso was also a smooth, bleached landscape, like an alabaster mannequin. There were no nipples, no hair, no tattoos. Just a white, featureless bilaterally symmetrical form.
Overcome with panic, Billy raced for the door but it wouldn’t budge. He fell to the floor and wrapped his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth, emitting desperate moans that had no mouth from which to escape. The carpet fibers began to undulate and bunch in around his supine body. The floor opened up and the living fibers arched over his torso, pushing him through the crevice until he found himself free-falling through pitch blackness.
He was in a never-ending, gut-churning blind plummet. Visions of scantily-clad groupies, debauched coke-fueled orgies and arenas full of adoring fans flashed across his mind like a rapid-fire slide show, then abruptly ceased. His mind would only fix on three words for the rest of eternity as he fell through the bottomless darkness: Thank you, Lucifer.
Hellspawn had played its final show and despite all appearances, it had been fucking momentous.