Finding my favourite singer hunched outside the stage doors devouring a dead rat was not the ideal end to an otherwise enjoyable gig.
Two thoughts occurred to me as I was standing there, tied down by my own horrified curiosity. The second of those two thoughts was that I should have listened to the venue staff and not waited at the stage doors after the gig. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have had my perfect mental image of Magnus Claymore stained with great globs of rat blood and a drizzly, dingy alleyway.
Of course, my first thought was to lift my phone and snap a photo. In truth, it was less a thought and more an instinctive reaction.
One that I would soon regret.
The auto-flash kicked in, blasting away the night-time gloom and painting looming silhouettes up the narrow walls of the alleyway that lead to the stage doors. I was left to stare at my idol as his head twitched up, that beautifully chiselled jaw smeared with crimson and gristle. A cold ball of sheer dread dropped into my stomach.
“Shit, shit!” I hissed, cramming the offending phone back into the small red satchel hanging at my side, taking a step back.
“Fuck!” Magnus echoed back, his voice a leap, jump, and a recently-deceased rodent away from the velvet bass-baritone that had cradled a crowd a short time prior.
He threw the half-eaten rat to the rain-dampened ground, blood reaching out across the shallow puddle it had flopped into.
If I had been in my right mind, I would have run. Hell, I should have bolted as soon as I had clapped eyes on the lead singer of the Silent Swansong, European rock star sweethearts of the world, chomping down on vermin. But the soft buzz of one too many arena-warm beers and the residual thunder of noise thrumming through my bones warped my senses. All I could do was gawk.
Until Magnus moved.
“Wait, it’s not—“ Magnus started to say, staggering down the alleyway with one crimson-speckled hand reaching out to me. If he had hoped to talk me out of believing what I had just seen, coming at me like an extra from a zombie movie really wasn’t a great move.
All at once, my limbs reignited. Any thought of a cheeky selfie with my favourite singer or a hasty autograph on the back of my gig ticket flew out of the window.
I turned and ran.
To start with, I didn’t even know where I was going. I wasn’t from Newcastle, and I hadn’t visited the city frequently enough to have any vague idea of landmarks to guide me.
My breath burned in my chest, dark hair already set free by the carefree jumping and dancing at the gig, sweat and drizzle plastering it down the sides of my face. Surrounded by the blurred patchwork of Georgian grandeur studded with sleek, modern buildings, my tangled mess tore down the path. I earned little more than the occasional tut as I narrowly avoided colliding with night-time revellers sharing the narrow streets.
Heavy boots crashed into concrete underfoot, and only once I felt I had put a good distance between me and my hero did I risk skidding to a halt to get my bearings.
I chanced a look behind me, pressing my back against the wall of the shop I’d elected to stop outside of. The scalding yellow lights spilt out onto the street and made it look like it was open at least. I hoped this would be a deterrent if the mad rat-eater tried to come after me.
Panting, I sniffed and rubbed my nose with my baggy sleeve, fumbling to get my phone out of my bag. Clicking it awake, my heart splattered into my gut at the sight of the lock screen—of course, it was a band photo. I had, until approximately five minutes ago, been utterly obsessed with the Silent Swansong. It would be a treacherous process to peel that hyperfixation out of my brain.
Stealing nervous looks over my shoulder, I pulled up Google Maps and tapped the postcode to my hotel in. I had deliberately picked one not too far from the venue—the travel costs and accommodation had pretty much cleared out my student wallet, leaving nothing for an eye-watering city cab fare.
I sighed in relief to see I hadn’t run in completely the opposite direction. Five minutes and I would be safe and dry in an overly-plush bed, nursing a cup of a two-star hotel’s finest instant coffee and sending this bizarre photo to my best friend to ask him what precisely the ever-loving fuck I had just witnessed.
One last glance behind and I had set off again, the lingering sting of unfit lungs scolding me for the unusual exertion.
Part of me wanted to bring up the photo to clarify what I had seen. Another part of me wanted to cling to the safe comfort of who I had been just half an hour before: just normal old Stella, one of a million Magnus Claymore fangirls. For the time being, the latter half won out, and I stuffed my phone into the front pocket of my hoodie as I turned a corner, heading back to my hotel with a whirlwind of thoughts trailing after me.
Catching sight of a dark red building sporting a garish purple sign, I couldn’t help the weary smile that tugged over my face. For the last few minutes of my walk, I could fool myself into thinking all my problems would be solved by modern hotel comforts.