Several years ago, the Freakingly Frightening rock-music group Kiff was touring in Eastern Europe. It had been a brutally busy schedule, but in Transylvania they finally had a break of a few days so they decided to head out for a stroll in the mountains.
Now, even if any one of them had ever been a Boy Scout, they surely would never even think of admitting that towards their egregiously fearsome colleagues! There was even a paragraph in their contract to the effect that should it come out that they had meddled with any non-scary thing at any point in their life, they would be thrown out immediately and sued their ass off. Of course none of them had ever read the thing (which was, of course, printed in blood-red gothic letters on black paper) but there wasn’t much in it that they weren’t already naturally disposed towards.
Nonetheless, the result was that, as the evening was falling, our Mega-Abhorrent Act found that they had absolutely no idea where in the Transylvanian outback they were, what direction they were going, where their hotel was, or even the nearest hamlet that could provide any accommodation for the night.
They rattled and clattered over a forest path, maintaining a brooding silence. The trees loomed large and gnarly, and the darkness between the stems was full of cobwebs, each one home to a giant, quietly giggling spider. This improved their mood somewhat, but it couldn’t stop them feeling hungry and tired. But then, after the path had made a turn, they suddenly emerged from the forest and looked out over a somber and desolate valley flanked by austere-looking mountains. Directly ahead stood a hill adorned with a glum-looking castle, its spires circled by ravens, vultures and leather-winged bats and, curiously, a small thundercloud hovering above it.
The path lead directly towards it.
The Bottomless Fear-inducing Band members surveyed the lugubrious landscape with their arms akimbo, nodding and making little approving guttural noises. The bass player turned towards the others: “What a gruesome coincidence! A scary castle! I say we go there and demand entry for the night. I can use some inspiration anyhow. What say y’all?”
And thus they headed towards that dark dwelling-place, over a path that led over a narrow ridge towards the top of the hill. As they approached, the croaking of the ravens wheeling above seemed to deepen the oppressive silence, thus improving the mood of our Improbably Badass Rock-Performers even further – so that one could almost say that they were in a cheerful mood when they finally arrived at the castle gate. Almost, but not quite, because they weren’t (1).
The gate, set in a gothic arc decorated with sculptures of improbably repulsive creatures having tentacles even on their tentacles, rose up grimly seven meters from where they stood.
“Lwblôbl”, the lead guitarist stated.
“Quite”, the bass player confirmed, “… though you must admit that their usage of skulls is very tasteful”, pointing out the skull-shaped heads on all the nails and bolts that fixed the heavy metal door fittings.
The lead guitarist stepped forward and tried the knocker, a massive ring over a yard across. It was too heavy, so he pulled it with both hands and let it go.
It hit the door with an improbably long-reverberating “BBOOOOMMMMMMMmmmmmm” that seemed to shake the very ground they stood on.
“I f***** want that $%#& as bass drum!” the drummer remarked.
They all waited, arms akimbo in case the door would open: after all, you get only one chance to make a first impression.
But nothing happened. The door remained shut. After a few minutes their posture sagged a little, and finally the lead guitarist stepped forward again and put his boot against the door.
To everyone’s surprise, the door gave way and slowly swung open, producing a most horrific, nerve-grating low-tuned creaking.
The Ominous Musical Scarers went inside, and the massive door swung shut behind them with a thunderous crash that would befit the very Doors of Hell.
Inside, the Frumious Foursome halted to let their eyes adapt to the gloom inside. The hall that they found themselves in was lit by torches. The yellow-reddish flickering light cast the kind of jet-black shadows that suggests all sorts of things might be lurking inside. Which was, of course, the case. The bass-player nodded approvingly: “better and better … this place has style!”
They halted once more, because it would seem logical that whomever lived here should definitely be aware of their presence after that apocalyptic door slammed shut. If not, they weren’t just deaf, but stone dead. So, after exchanging some glances, they again assumed their theatrical pose, arms akimbo and painted head held proudly high.
This time they didn’t wait in vain! Suddenly there sounded what could only be described as the Stalin Organ from The Church of Satan: a thundering augmented chord, piercing the whole audible spectrum and beyond with its ghastly screams: from a subsonic earthquake all the way to an enamel-shattering ultrasonic blast. Its pitch, modulated with a slow, wailing vibrato, seemed to descend forever, a Satanic Shepard scale-escalator that took the listener down into an abyss of despair; as the lowest note sank away shuddering into the underworld, another screeching ultrasonic tone descended from above to take its place.
The vibrations caused little bits of chalk, dried-out dead spiders, etcetera, to rain down all over the hall. And then, an arched door in the far side of the hall burst open, and immediately the chord died away as a fleeing army of ghosts that, loudly wailing, seeks refuge in the shadows, nooks and crannies at the creak of dawn.
Silhouetted against a ghastly pale grey sheen, there stood their host, well-dressed in black trousers, a white frock shirt and purple-lined cape. His black hair was combed steeply backwards, and his receding hairline was formed like an upturned letter W, lending his white, triangular-shaped face a distinctly demonic aura. With coal-black eyes he looked coldly at the Sagamores of Soul-chilling Showmanship.
During all this, the Ignominious Icons of Brutal Instrument-wielding hadn’t twitched a muscle, but from the corner of his mouth, the bass player muttered “Hah! A bit too classical for my taste!” to his Bleak Brethren.
“Lelhz hÂihd âlh hldee” the lead guitarist poppled.
The Vicious Foursome therefore maintained their pose.
Unfortunately, their host happened to be firmly conservative with regards to the local etiquette surrounding the topic of “visiting”, which required for the guests to make the first move in introducing themselves. Thus, a situation arose that is known as deadlock in the lingo of computer programming: two entities that are waiting for one another to make the first move.
And thus both parties stood there for some time, each one too proud to make the first move.
But their host had a few tricks up his sleeve to dislodge awkward and embarrassing stalemate situations such as this. The first was a sudden flurry of huge skull-bats that fluttered intimidatingly over the Quad of Evil Thunderrockers’s heads. This had no effect at all, in fact, they barely noticed it.
Then their host slowly spread his arms, and behold: from all the hidden shadows, there now shone uncountable evil, unblinking eyes, their gaze weighed down with the immeasurable, alien sense of despair coming out of all the assembled hells in a cold and desolate universe. They all stared straight at the Quartet of Harbingers of Eternal Fright – who stared right back: after all, they had earned their war wounds in the music industry of Planet Earth. After a minute of mounting tension, the four Generation Gap Excavators glanced at one another and then suddenly screamed “BOO!” while pulling the corners of their mouths with the index fingers and wriggling their tongues – and the eyes all scurried back to the insanity from which they were summoned.
The Fearsome Foursome now ogled their host more smug and arrogant then ever. He must have felt the initiative slipping from his control, so he decided to play his trump card. Once again he spread his arms, and started to cackle a truly phenomenally insane evil laugh.
“Mwhuhuhaha. Hmm. Mmhâhm. MwhahÂhahm.”
“Hmmhâh … Mwhuhuhahah.”
“MwuhuhUHUuhuhahÂHahahAHah …. ahahaha!!”
“AHAHAHA!!! MwuhuhuhUHUHUHUHUHUHUHUhahahahahaaaa!!! AhahAhaha!!! AHAHAHA!!! AhahAhahAha!!!!!”
The sheer volume was remarkable, as was his stamina: it went on and on and on, and eventually the four Horsemen of Amplified Electric Skullduggery started to glance at one another and roll their eyes in second-hand embarrassment.
As chance would have it, a possibly embarrassing breakthrough turned out to not be necessary, for there was someone else at the front door. The reverberating boom of the door knocker caused their host to prematurely cut off his Evil Laughter and, visibly annoyed, he paraded out of sight with his nose in the air, his purple-lined cape fluttering in a stylish manner, supposedly to go unlock the gate.
Several minutes passed, and then came, as expected, the thunderous crash of the front gate slamming shut. Their host was still nowhere to be seen, but he would undoubtably pop up soon enough to prevent losing even more initiative. So the No.1 Representatives of Nefarious Rock-Musicianship kept up their most impressive pose, just as the USS Enterprise was supposedly going to have preventively raised its shields when going to have been venturing into Klingon space.
Then they heard the unmistakable burble of space-age radio communication approaching, punctuated by NASA-beeps and squelch sounds:
“… [beep] (unintelligible talking) …chcht [beep] …. chcht (more unintelligible talking) … [beep] …”
Before too long, the sound had become so loud that the source seemed to be coming up directly behind them. However, for reasons associated with Engineering a Consistent Image, The Gothic Warlords of Rock didn’t want to turn around in case their caped host would re-appear.
By the sound of it, the source of the radio sounds had halted behind them:
“[BEEP] CHCHT hold on, Houston, will report back ASAP CHCHHHT [BEEP] CHCHT A-OK, Ye Olde Explorer CHT [BEEP]“
“[BEEP] Hey! Guys! [BEEP]“
Whomever it was there, he seemed no longer engrossed in his internal exchange of technicalities with that Houston person (“What would he be talking to that Whitney chick about?” the bass player had wondered) – but he seemed to be addressing the Pinnacle of Musical Frighteners themselves now. The bass player glanced sideways at the lead guitar player, as if to ask what to do.
But then, suddenly, there was a great gushing of musty wind, accompanied by the squeaky flopping sound of leather wings beating. It sounded as if a hundred leather-clad motor-bikers holding leather umbrella’s were wrestling on a giant leather sofa: they were assailed by a host of vampire biting bats! Luckily though, none of them could find their way through the tangle of armoured polyester plating, spikes and studs of the Frightful Outfits, so they had to retreat with bruised wings and tender fangs. Now the Lugubrious Quartet finally turned around, and saw that the unknown figure behind them was an astronaut dressed in a bulky moon EVA suit.
The largest vampire of all, roughly the size of a goat, tried to bite him but couldn’t get a grip, its claws slipping on the high-tech Teflon-coated SolarReflective (c) outer layer of the suit. Frantically beating its umbrella-sized leather wings, the tiny head with two furious red eyes jerking to and fro, it tried to find a tasty vein. Eventually it mistook a fold in the suit for one, opened its maw and attempted a bite – but then there was a crackle of magic in the air, a loud ZZAP! was heard and there their caped host sat on the floor, hand to his mouth, cursing:
“Fir-ar să fie! Cerule, mare! Dinții mei dragi!” (2)
In contrast with the gargantuan hollow bellowing of his Evil Laughter session earlier, his voice sounded thin, dry and nasal as from an aged bookkeeper.
The Abominable Daunting Squad now stood at ease like a dismissed exercising peloton, and the bass player turned towards the space-man, who had also turned to face them – although it was impossible to distinguish his face behind the reflecting glass of the helmet.
“Yes, what’s up? Haven’t we met before?”
“[BEEP] I think that must have been Alan [BEEP]”, the space-man replied, “[BEEP] he’s one of my colleagues-in-space [BEEP] He says he’s a huge fan of you guys [BEEP]”
The Summa Cum Laude of Pop-cultural Diabolical Evil-Flirtation reflexively sprang back in their theatrical PR pose, in proper formation, arms akimbo, a grim and determined expression on their faces. It was an automatic reflex triggered by hearing the word ‘fan’ – many years in show-business can do that to a person.
The space-man continued:
“[BEEP] At one time, he showed me those records you signed [BEEP] what was it again … I’m not so much into pop-music … [BEEP] CHCHHHHT Something with cheery garden gnomes, I think it was [BEEP]”
The Quadruple Megaphones of Doom’s proud posture sagged once again. The drummer snorted and spat on the ground and the lead guitarist curled his tongue in suppressed exasperation.
“[BEEP] But, anyhow [BEEP] my name is Greg … I’m a Space Station interior designer [BEEP] but in my spare time, I volunteer for the Eastern European branch of the Bat Conservation Trust [BEEP]”
He bent over a little to look affectionately at the Caped Vampire, who was still sitting on the floor next to him, now checking his teeth with a pocket mirror and a strange-looking implement while softly cursing in Rumanian:
*mumble* “Zic! Totală impertinență … *scratchi* … să vii așa neinvitat…cum întorci spatele…niște nemernici … *scratch* *tchic* … să zgărie ei ochii mei dragi cu așa-numitul lor manierism tragic … Curată nesimțire …*mumble* … Ș-apoi, să nu mă lase ei să-i mușc cum se cuvine … Ce vermuri … yuckkk … Tineretul de azi … poa’ să-ți pese! (3)
“[BEEP] I actually came over here to tag this fine specimen, but [BEEP] I forgot to bring my XXL Bat Tagging Kit [BEEP] so it seems I’ll have to come back some other day [BEEP]”
He turned towards the Supreme Performers of Roaring Ghoulishness.
“[BEEP] Whaddya say, guys? Wanna hitch a ride in a real LM? [BEEP]”
“GASP!!” the Quadruple Cynosures of Meretriciously Incommodious Stridency uttered in sync.
(1) to clarify this, consider the fact that cheerfulness is Kiff’s Kryptonite: anything that would depress a regular person will make them feel better. However, “feeling better” – being a movement towards cheerfulness – makes them feel worse again. Which, in turn, will improve their mood. Essentially, this is the “negative feedback” principle that drives anything that oscillates, undulates or wobbles. For the case at hand, the overall effect was that their mood showed fast, paradoxical swings, though mostly moving somewhere between annoyed, defiant, grumpy and spiteful.
(2) “Damn and blast! Thunder, Pestilence and Lightning! My precious teeth!”
(3) “I say! The absolute impertinence of it all …” *scratch* “that comes rushing in uninvited, and the moment you turn your back on them …” *mumble* “… the scoundrels … scaring my precious little evil eyes with their so-called scary mannerism … I call that rude!” *scratch* *tchic* “And then they wouldn’t even let me bite them properly! What times … yuck! The youth of today … you might as well not bother! … “