Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
 
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Caught in the Excess Zone

by Charles E.J. Moulton





Xavier Michael Angelo wasn't on stage anymore. Not in his own mind, anyway. The rock star traveled toward his own hell, slowly but surely drifting off deeper and deeper beyond the feedback loop of his drug addiction into what had to be internal terror.

Standing front stage, screaming his renowned high C flats, his entire persona had the intensity of volcanic lava, the microphone touching the tip of his tongue, slimy saliva trickling down his hand, sweat running down his back, the smell of pheromones and adrenaline kicking his erupting lust even deeper into orbit around his own prospective demise.

The soul that lived in Xavier's brain, however, grew more confused by the minute, the sound of his lead guitarist's squealing 120 decibel solo sending the rocking soul into that tunnel again, the overdose kicking the feedback loop into a wanton lust for wallop.

What prompted the light to catch him again, for a second only, was logic.

"I am eternal," Xavier thought to himself. "Protected."

That single clear thought lingered in his mind, reality chasing him like a leaf in the wind. He looked up at the ceiling during that squeal, sensing that spirit, that protecting awareness, warmth surrounding him like a blanket.

He blinked, feeling the protective soul, wondering, and looking around, eyes wide open.

"Am I too terrified to trust my guardian angel?"

The audience wondered why the star gazed in such manic manner.

"Am I afraid of myself?"

Caught in a downward surge toward his own underworld, prompted by an overdose, something dark possessed his troubled soul. He heard the pork-like squeal of Jimmy's guitar blasting through the speakers and was gone, gone, gone--disappearing into the maze of death.

Xavier didn't even have the time to wail the lead text of his last refrain from the concept album before he vanished. Despite what the critics had written, "Labyrinth" was still his best album ever. That didn't matter, though. The only thing that mattered was that Xavier remembered the most important song from the album and felt drawn to discover the land of a thousand nightmares, a land that might have been illusion to anyone else--but Xavier.

"If I wrote about it, I have to discover it, again and again."

Angels have a hard time coping with drug addicts, and so it became harder and harder for me, Xavier Michael Angelo's angel, to save him from his oncoming on-stage coma.

So, the high note ended in a strangled sounding croak, suddenly cut-off, reverberating like a turned off recording or the string on a broken violin. In this case, the music was as destroyed as Pete Townsend's guitar after an early The Who-concert.

I saw the crowd gasping, some of them screaming as Xavier fell to his doom. The music ended, the drummer ending his terrible fills, the hands of the bass player dropping to his wicked thighs, Jimmy's shouting guitar dropping from his hands, the ribbon around his neck unclasping off the guitar hook onto a star studded floor, creating an immense squeal, louder than any previous feedback.

The concert hall fell into a poignant silence. A troubled cough could be heard, a few mutters and moans and a soft-spoken: "Oh, my God, what happened?"

The band members looked around, trying to find the answer in each other's eyes, setting their instruments aside and taking a few indecisive steps forward in order to help up their chief musical leader.

The bass player wore a troubled expression. It was the fear of having to go back to the unemployment office. He cleared his throat, his head twitching like that of a budgy.

Behind his drum set, the drummer held his sticks in his hands like rosaries, thumbing them, fingering them, his lips trembling, happy, after all, that he had stopped taking drugs. Unhappy, after all, that he might lose his best friend.

When the young, blond doctor, a legal prerequisite for famous rocking drug addicts, ran in, there was a worried murmur amongst the people in the crowd. Rock-fans, who had been head banging themselves silly a minute ago, now stood still, their hands folded, looking like a congregation of sweaty sinners at a Baptist's convention. The medic plucked out a few things out of a large leather bag that lay clenched in his grasp.

There was something Renaissance-like to this tragedy: inquisition-witnesses to the excessive downfall of Lucifer.

"Is he dead?" Jimmy asked the doctor.

The doctor measured pulse and blood pressure, brain activity and then shook his head slowly. Two guys in the front row tried standing on their toes, even trying to climb over the fence, in order to look beyond the security guard, but were shoved back by the staff in a friendly but strict manner. Another female whimper could be heard, along with worried chitchat and two comments beginning with: "I heard that he washed down his drugs with booze..." and "He's been overdosing a lot lately..."

Whispers, moans, weird sounds, crazy sniggers, weeping, the clearing of throats.

The drummer, who, by now, had learned to control his temper, felt a surge erupting from his belly telling him to throw his drumsticks on these unknown fans, but that wouldn't be so good for business, would it? The Rolling Stone would have a field day with that one.

"Coma. Negative feedback loop, Jimmy," the doctor mumbled, the audience watching this scene with shocked anticipation. "His nerves are so used to amphetamines and cocaine that he hasn't been able to go without it for more than an hour. That's my assessment."

Jimmy trembled, nodding, uttering a chilling sigh. "Damn it ... yeah."

The doctor took an electric gadget out of his bag, a thing Jimmy recognized but didn't know the name of. I, the guardian angel, had seen it loads of times in my time with Xavier. I couldn't tell them, though, that it was a heart revival machine, for I remained unseen by everyone. Anyone had to feel me first or suffer their own consequences.

Xavier's soul now hovered over his own body, unwilling to turn toward me.

"Xavier," I whispered. "I'm over here."

He felt me, but how does a guardian angel influence his child to turn toward the light? Xavier's soul was asleep, so I poured light over Xavier's spirit, but Xavier just blinked into the light and swooned, pulled toward the darkness.

The doc rubbed his electric gadgets together, pushed a few buttons on his machine, setting the two holders on Xavier's chest, a warning bleep issued from the machinery. The girl in the audience that had cried before, cried again. Me? I prayed. Yes, angels pray, too.

"What about my concert, man? I want my concert."

The inarticulate drawl spurred a chilling reaction of muffled screams from about fifteen female fans.

"Get lost, maggot!"

"He's dying, you asshole!"

"Oh, God. No!"

The subsequent disorder soon subsided, followed by terrified moans.

"What's happening up there?"

"Xavier," a male voice shouted. "We love you!"

"Don't leave us, Xavier," a not before heard female fan sobbed, probably in order to compensate for drawling stupid comment. "Please."

"He's drifting in and out of consciousness a lot, Doc," Jimmy repeated.

"Hold on," the doc said, setting two paddles of a mobile heart revival machine against Xavier's chest. The machine bleeped, and...

Bang. Xavier's body jumped, prompted by the electric impulse.

"If he's not dead," Jimmy croaked, "why are you giving him electric shocks?"

"He's close to losing it, Jim," the doc spat, "or we're losing him."

The doctor sighed.

Another bang.

No reaction.

The doc gestured out toward the back stage area, prompting two colleagues to rush in.

"Have you noticed any changes in his behavior lately?" the doc asked, looking up.

"Excess."

The young, blond doctor took a long look at the beloved lead singer of the heavy metal band "The Angelos" and shook his head. One moment of silence presided before the doctor spoke again. "More than usual?"

Jimmy nodded. "More groupies, more alcohol."

The guitarist laughed, cynically.

"More of everything, actually," he added.

"Breakdown," the doctor whispered, two men in white uniforms entering the stage, picking the star up off the floor and laying him down on a long, white, hard, bed-like thing. "Burnout, whatever. Hope we can fix him."

Xavier lay there, immobile, strains of hair hanging down toward the floor as he was carried out, looking like a sculpture of the crucified Jesus by a Renaissance namesake painter. Xavier looked like Michelangelo's Pieta.

The word "breakdown" was my cue. I didn't even have the time to listen to Xavier's manager's apologies to the worried crowd.

"Will I get my money back?" came the same drawling voice from the audience, followed by a regular rebellion and a soothing, balding manager's assurance of a full refund to every spectator's money.

Soon enough, my troubled angelic soul chased Xavier through the tunnel he had created for himself out of the loop between drug consumption and addiction. Xavier raced at a breakneck speed toward his own labyrinth. The spiritual replica of himself seemed set on reaching the end of that strange tunnel. I knew, however, that if he entered that labyrinth it would be almost impossible for him to find a way out.

Unless... unless...

No, I shook my angelic head, my black locks so similar to Xavier's.

I couldn't go in there again.

This had to stop.

I was becoming Xavier.

A lost angel. Jesus Christ.

Oh, no. I was using foul language.

"Xavier," I hollered. "Come back, boy. Don't go in there. Please don't go in there. That's the wrong way."

Xavier turned around toward me, his bloodshot eyes flickering back and forth between what could have been Schylla and Charybdis, or rock 'n roll and a hard place to the laymen. This time, I knew he had heard me. He wasn't really completely aware of me, but I was more than a sensation. I was a presence. He realized his entrapment.

Caught in a time loop, Xavier's body slept while his soul had lost itself in the twilight zone between life and death. Again. Why had he created this labyrinth for himself?

"The light's over here. I don't know if I can save you again."

Xavier looked for the voice that had uttered these words.

"It's safe," I spoke. "I'm your guardian angel. I won't hurt you. The demons will."

He upnodded what he thought was my unknown voice. "I wrote a song about this place," he yelled back at me. "The only way out toward the other world is through the labyrinth."

"No, Xavier, that's not what you wrote in your song," I answered. "You're in a coma, God... bless you. If you go in to that labyrinth, you'll be lost again and I will have to..."

"You're the devil," he screamed, interrupting me. "Leave me be. Go away."

"Xavier," I said, slowly drifting into panic. "How does the song end?"

For one moment, he stood there thinking, stalling, waiting, trembling, hoping, crying, hating me, needing me, screaming at me. I saw that he tried hard to remember his own lyrics. Hard when you're in limbo, I thought to myself, to trigger your terrestrial memory.

Damn hard.

"I don't know," he shouted. "Damn, I don't even know my own lyrics."

"Yes, you do. Think, Xavier. Think."

Xavier shook his head, frenetically now, literally backing into the light, disappearing into the peril of the labyrinth.

"Xavier, no!" I shouted. "Don't."

Too late.

I had to do what I feared most: end the schizophrenia and lift Xavier out of his illusions into the real world again, or into mine. Into the future. Somewhere.

Anywhere but here.

The first thing I saw when I got into the labyrinth again, the maze he had created for himself, were injection needles. Now, though, there were more of them: mountains of needles, syringes, mirrors, white heaps of what had to be more cocaine.

A whole lot of other stuff lay about here now. Mind you, I had drifted about in the labyrinth of forgetfulness before, where the souls, even angels like me, completely imbued themselves in the insomnia of this gateway into Hades. The wide pathway was aligned on each side with high hedges that ended in another realm. It swung elegantly to the right into doom. Music, probably Speed Metal, emanated from what I assumed were large loudspeakers.

Oh, no, I thought to myself, he's caught in the excess zone. Thumping, bumping, jumping, grinding, thriving, itching, the music digging itself deeper and deeper into its own demise, smelling like a thousand corpses, sounding like a million sledgehammers.

I walked across the stony sea of this glass covered hell of needles with great care, my eyes slowly getting used to this darkness. Now I saw the dead people, the remains of the souls that used to be men and women, now vanished into hell's oblivion, not because of sin. They came to hell, because they thought there was no way out.

Bodies without legs, skulls without chins, stomachs ripped out, and bones of legs stuck into the heads of dead people. Heroin needles injected into dead eyes.

When I turned the corner, though, the bump and grind of the music had disappeared, exchanged for... what was this? Staring faces, rows upon rows of lost souls, all of them staring at me. Bloodshot eyes staring right at me, heads down, claws out, long hair, screaming high C flats accompanied by the squealing feedback of a 120 decibel guitar.

It happened again.

Xavier and I morphed, we intertwined and became one.

I don't know why, but when I was pulled into believing there was just one of me, neither angel nor demon, neither lost nor found, neither healthy nor sick, I--we--screamed, running through the masses of replicas of rock. Now the demons pulled at the leather jackets we wore, dragging us down. I smelled the dirty sweat of demons in my nostrils, felt their rotting skin on my shoulders, saw their feet taking aim at my stomach, heard them growl.

All the while, I sensed what I had remembered all along: that I was stuck in the feedback loop between my own hatred and my own shame.

I had become Xavier. The guardian was lost, unable to protect his child.

My rotting carcass dropped through the mud beneath that labyrinth, through layers of screaming skulls in white robes jumping out of the shadows. Soon enough, I landed flat face down in what I knew to be the real labyrinth. The floor was soft, gushy, muddy, and slippery. The walls were dark. The aisles and paths twisted and turned. Soon, I felt like a mouse trapped in a maze. Trapped, squealing for his life.

"Help me," I squealed. "Help me."

That was when I realized I was dreaming a drug induced fever dream, creating my own hell from bits and peaces of my own life and things I knew, even bits of previous lives.

One moment, I was a criminal hung, drawn, and quartered by the Borgia Inquisition in Rome. I felt the saw cutting through my groin and reaching my living, breathing stomach. The next I knew, I was on my million-dollar bed, shooting drugs.

"Xavier!"

The voice was familiar, sounded like a thousand rehearsals, a million concerts, shared groupies, and late night beers.

I slowly blinked into the light of what seemed to be the lights in a hospital room.

When I came to, my head felt like almost splitting in two halves, a sensation I had never ever felt before, at least not since my last incarnation. The pain made me buzz and grind at the same time.

Wincing, I turned my head to the right, only badly recognizing Jimmy's aging, sarcastic face. "Hey, road map," the face croaked, sounding like a broken old tape recorder.

"Jimmy!" I whispered back, looking around at the white walls, the big window overlooking a park. First then, I noticed the large amount of cards, flowers, teddy bears, photos, and even a bra or two, spread across the left corner of the room on tables and chairs.

"Did I die?" I mused.

Jimmy laughed, his typical bounce of a chuckle sending memories of dirty jokes in large hotel rooms up my brainstem.

"We thought you would, dude," Jimmy grinned. "The press have talked about you for over a week. There are crews of reporters working night and day to report about your health. They call it Xavier-Gate. The press are saying we have a very dramatic drummer."

I sniggered.

"He's chasing the press away again?"

Jimmy nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "Again. He and our bass-player. They scared Time magazine out of their wits by throwing drumsticks at them."

"Holy crap," I laughed.

Even though smiling hurt my face a bit, I didn't know what they had done to me while I was gone. If this was hell, I was lucky to be here, alive and smiling like a crazy man.

"Presents," I chatted.

Jimmy half-smiled, lots of joy in his voice.

"The other patients are complaining," he said, "this hospital is turning into the Casa Rosada.., or ... the Vatican ... so many fans, man."

The slight intermission in our conversation caused us to smile, for I looked into Jimmy's eyes and saw a friend. My best friend.

"Glad to have you back," he said slowly.

"What do the doctors say?"

Jimmy raised his eyebrows.

"You have to quit?" Jimmy answered, half in a question mark, half hoping I would actually follow some good advice.

I nodded. "Yeah, maybe I do have to quit messing up my brain."

"The fans love our last album, by the way," Jimmy said.

"Yeah?" I chuckled, my heart warming up to feel joy again. "Love and success. Good stuff. Good, good stuff."

"People are singing 'Labyrinth' all over the world. Heck, even classical composers are writing arrangements for philharmonic orchestras out of the tune."

"You're frigging kidding me, man!"

"Am not," Jimmy cackled.

"Me, the guy who hates the establishment, accepted by the established?"

"Yo, bro," Jimmy joked.

I threw my head to the side, hit by another gust of pain, wincing, causing Jimmy to put his hand on my shoulder, asking me to lay still.

Then it hit me. The lyrics I had forgotten. It came as a revelation. The end of the song the angelic part of me had told me I knew by heart. Yes, the song was about giving in to the seducing powers of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

"Driving into the maze of seduction is shooting into the labyrinth of excess."

It was a sexy and relentless refrain. The end of the song, however, had been a jibe at the expense of my dad, who had argued with me endlessly about my ferocious lifestyle. In the light of my new experiences, though, the final lyrics gave me a hint that I did have angels and that the heavenly part of me somehow had saved me from myself.

"Dear boy," the last lyrics read. "The way out of the labyrinth is not going in there at all. Stay away from the maze, boy."

The anger I had felt against my father subsided. I saw his tired, sad face when he visited me in the rehabilitation centre for drug addicts the first time, too long ago. I saw my own sad face when he died of malignant cancer three years later.

Then I looked at Jimmy, smiling again and realizing that some things are better left unsaid. Okay, I could have told him about the labyrinth, the demons, the feedback loop, and the two parts of myself that chased themselves through the maze.

"I have a headache, Jim," I said, "and I am hungry."

"Should I fetch some food?"

I nodded slowly. "Yeah. Pizza."

Jimmy stood up, grinning.

"You wanna talk about work?"

I shrugged, sighing. "I think..."

I paused, trying to remember the ideas I'd had before I fell into my coma.

It was a coma, right?

"Did I ... fall into ... a coma?" I hesitated.

Jimmy shrugged, shaking his head faster now.

"I don't what the doctors are calling it, man," he chuckled. "Main thing is: you're back, and..."

"What?"

"No drugs, no alcohol," Jimmy said, holding up his index finger. "Ever."

I held up my middle finger.

"They said, if you continue taking that stuff, you're gonna die," Jimmy croaked, sounding like Joe Cocker on a bad day. "It's rehab, man, or Mortale Infinitum."

I laughed. "Okay. We haven't played that song for a bit. The title came from Latin class in Junior High."

"And when you're out of rehab," Jimmy suggested, "we turn some old adventure stories with angels chasing demons and winning into hit songs."

I looked into Jimmy eyes, for the first time realizing where I was.

"Jimmy," I spat. "An angel saved me."

Jimmy scratched his tousled hair. "You better frigging believe it."

I forgot about the angel when another angelic looking presence entered the room, now physical in nature. The adorable blonde nurse, with the very becoming derriere, approached me, prompting us rockers to wave our eyebrows. She said nothing, just gave me a shot, left the room, half-smiled, and was called back by Jimmy.

"Could we have two pepperoni pizzas?"

The nurse nodded.

"See what I can do."

I don't know if it was the medication, the pretty nurse gave me or what it was, because I saw shadows of hedges and needles and corpses and mountains of cocaine floating around the room. When I woke up, I told Jimmy not to worry, though. Man, I mean, I had collapsed on stage last week. That was pretty bad, right? I was alive now, right? Going to rehab, right? But something was in me, right? My guardian angel? He was still here. In me, but where?

My thoughts circled around finding my angel. I kept laughing and chatting, even as my manager and the band arrived, pretending I was God. I laughed. I sang. I joked. I cackled. We ate pizzas and I belched and pretended to be happy.

Something worried me, though.

I had no idea what it was at first.

After they left me, I stopped hallucinating. At least, I thought I did.

"Pulled toward the darkness," I whispered to myself, kicking the angel out of my soul.

When I fell asleep, I dreamt about running through a maze.

I now remembered being Xavier's guardian angel and the dream became a nightmare, finally turning into reality.

I ran through the maze again, but it turned into the backstage area of the concert hall. Subsequently, before I could stop him, Xavier forced me to watch him travel back into the demonic time loop, prompted by an unwillingness to let go.

I had tried my best to pull him back into the future, his future, by slipping into his soul for a bit. It hadn't worked, but I would be damned if I'd stop trying to save him.

He was my child.

Xavier Michael Angelo wasn't on stage at all. He was in on his way to hell again. This time, there were even more needles in it. He screamed his high C flats, falling toward his own doom, running toward the maze for one last time.

"Son!" I called out, my voice echoing into the maze behind him. "Don't go in to the labyrinth, boy!"

This time, Xavier turned around and faced me before going in, one last time.

"Father?"

He smiled at me, beaming, recognizing the heartwarming face that had tickled the baby he had been to sleep. I could feel his joy now, really, really feel it.

"Dad," he sang, making me realize what a beautiful voice my son had. "You're not dead?"

I shook my angelic head.

"No, my soul is very much alive, but you, son," I sighed, "need a break."

Behind Xavier were demons trying to grab him into the maze, but Xavier just strolled over toward me, grinning, beaming, and ignoring them. "I love you, Dad!"

"I know you do," I answered. "That's why I volunteered to work as your angel after I died. You gotta shape up, though. Quit taking that... stuff."

"Do you love me, too, father?"

Interesting. He didn't even react to my plea. Was he actually searching for love inside the adrenaline kick of unnatural satisfaction?

Even the angel I had become had never told him the words: "I love you."

"You're the best fun I've ever had, boy," I answered.

I had been assigned as his angel, but had I actually really thought of my own mistakes. What had I done wrong?

"I never really accepted your music, Xavier," I said, feeling this warmth spreading through my being. "I just..."

I looked at my son, his open and childish gaze inspiring me, and realized that he now had gone back to being the pure soul he had been as a child.

"... never understood rock music."

Xavier walked up to me and embraced me. Such a fine embrace. Such bliss.

"That's okay, Dad," Xavier said, throwing one of his famous black locks off his forehead with a twitching of his head.

"But I love you," I chuckled. "Man, I really do love you."

My child's sensitive smile had me weeping. Well, the equivalent of weeping. When angels weep joyous tears, there's a glittering of stars in the sky.

Xavier raised his right hand, trying to touch my semi-transparent appearance.

"I've missed you, Papa," he said.

"Missed you, too," I whispered. "Now go back, boy."

I touched his cheek.

"Rock the socks off those people. Just don't die on me. Not yet."

"You'll be there when my body dies?" Xavier said.

I nodded, a tear of joy rolling down my proverbial cheek.

"Yep," I said. "I will."

And I watched the kid walking into the spotlight of his own concert stage, leaving the maze behind him. I saw my dear kid perform. I saw him rock and roll.

Man, that felt good.

What surprised me most was that I, the established old-timer, started understanding--no, loving--his music first after becoming an angel.

"I love you, boy!"

He didn't hear me saying those words. While singing for the masses about the dangers of entering that labyrinth, though, he grinned. That's when I knew that I could catch my son whenever he fell. We had gone through hell, just to learn that love really does conquer all.

A light came shining down from above.

It was my wife, Xavier's mother, her aura beaming at me like the sunshine.

"We're a family again," she giggled.

I nodded. "So we are."

That would give me eternal strength to catch my child whenever he fell.


THE END


2016 Charles E.J. Moulton

Bio: Mr. Moulton grew up in a trilingual and artistic family and spent his childhood on stage. He played his first role at age 11 and has since then acted and sung in over 100 stage productions. His publication credits include horror stories for SNM Magazine and Aphelion, historical articles for Socrates and Skirmish and literary fiction for Idea Gems and Pill Hill Press. Mr. Moulton enjoys versatile creativity, is married and has a daughter. His last Aphelion appearance was Wolf Cult in our July, 2015 issue.

E-mail: Charles E.J. Moulton

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