Lola

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The first time I met Lola my dog Barney had just died. I was angry, angry with my parents for not saving Barney and angry with Barney for getting old. I loved Barney. Barney slept on my bed even though it wasn’t allowed. And now what? No dog on my bed. I had been as horrible as my 7 year old self knew how to be. I had shouted at my mom and called her stupid. I had stomped all the way to the front door and slammed it behind me. And then, I ran. As fast as my feet could take me, I ran for blocks and then veered off to the park. I was absolutely not allowed to go as far as the park all by myself. I was literally on forbidden ground and I should have been exhilarated with my daring, but instead I could not stop the tears from falling. It was the worst. A seven (and a half!) year old boy was not supposed to cry.

I climbed up the slide and sat, legs dangling over the side. I threw my head back and looked at the upside-down tree tops against the sky. It didn’t help. I was still really sad about Barney. I kept my head back until I felt kind of dizzy, then I sat up and slid down the slide. At the bottom I looked around to choose what to play on next. I couldn’t teeter-totter by myself. Merry-go-rounds were boring with one person. I ran to the swings and took the best one–right in the middle. I was pumping my legs as hard as I could when a girl came into view. I ignored her even though she was walking right at me.

“Hi, my name is Lola” she said and plopped herself on the swing next to me. “What’s your name?”

Couldn’t she see I didn’t want to talk? “Jordy.” Rudely. More pumping.

“I love to swing. Do you Jordy?”

I didn’t answer.

“It looks like you are sad.”

“I’M NOT!” If I yelled it, I would sound tough, not like a crybaby. I looked sideways at Lola. She didn’t look mad. She was just kind of looking at me. It was kind of weird. I drew my eyebrows together and looked forward. Not at Lola.

“Oh. I know what it’s like to be sad. It’s ok to be sad you know. ‘Specially if something really sad happened.”

Lola was right. It was really sad. Anyone would be sad.

“My dog Barney died.” The words barely came out.I wasn’t even sure I had said them out loud. But Lola heard them.

“That’s really REALLY sad. Dogs are the best. I bet your dog was your best friend.” Lola was swinging and not really looking at me anymore. That made me feel better. If I had to look at her, I might get more upset.

“Barney was my best friend and I’m really sad and mad that he died. And I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.”

“Oh” Lola said. “OK.”

For a little bit we both pumped our legs and were quiet. I was thinking about Barney and about how empty it was going to feel in my room. I started pumping my legs as hard as I could, making the swing go as far and as fast as I could make it go.

“Wanna see who can jump the farthest Jordy?” I looked over at Lola; she was pumping her legs hard too, her head flung back eyes wide open, dark hair streaming behind her. She had a hole in the left knee of her Toughskins jeans. She grinned at me, eyes bright and full of mischief.

“Come on Jordy–it’ll be so fun! It’ll be like flying. Let’s just jump. I bet I can go as far as that bush there” Lola nodded at a plant almost to the merry-go-round.

“No way.” Interest was creeping into my voice, even though I didn’t want it to.

“No way you won’t jump or no way I can go that far?” Lola’s expression taunted me.

I snorted. “No way you can jump that far.”

“Watch this!” Lola shouted as she flung herself out of the swing as it reached it’s apex. Her arms stretched as wide as she could make them, legs gyrating wildly as if she could pedal the air. She landed in a heap. Not quite to the bush, but she went really far. Triumphant, she turned, hands on her hips, chin raised and smile enormous.

“Now you go Jordy!”

I was still pumping my  legs hard, but the anger had gone from my muscles. Still, I wanted to fly. And, I wanted to fly farther than Lola had. I dug deep in my swinging and counted backwards “3!!….. 2!… 1!” and on the one I let go, expecting to launch myself into space, and fly, ever so briefly.

But it didn’t happen. I had forgotten that I had wrapped my other arm in the chain and instead of flying, I crashed. Hard. Did I scream? I don’t know. I remember mom being there looking scared. I remember dad driving really fast to the hospital. And I remember hearing mom telling the doctors I was really sad about Barney which I didn’t think was any of their business.

My arm broke in three places. I had ripped most of the skin off of my knees, nose and chin. I had a really bad headache. I don’t remember much about the next few days, but the scars on my hands, knees and face remain. After a few weeks at home, I remembered Lola and asked if she had been there. My mom and dad didn’t remember seeing her. I guess she had run off.

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When I was twelve, my lack of athletic ability made me a target for the jocks. My lack of trying academically kept me out of the limited protection of the nerds. I was the invisible boy, unless a jock needed to make his entourage laugh. Then I wore a neon target. Apparently. It had been a neon target kind of day. My shirt was torn and my head bruised from a ‘noogy’ gone awry. When Mr. Jansen, a history teacher, had come out to see what the noise was in the hallway, all the jocks had vanished. I replied with a sullen “Nothing.” when Mr. Jansen asked me what was going on. It wasn’t worth the effort to try to explain. Nobody would take on the popular kids, and it would just get worse for me if I did.

Somehow I made it through the day. I wouldn’t go back to my locker because the dumb guys might be waiting for me. So instead I got zeroes in three classes for not bringing my books to class. It was  worth it. I didn’t really care about zeroes. Or class.

Walking home that day, I kept my head down. There was no gaze I needed to meet. That’s how I collided with Lola at the corner of Third and Young.

“Oh!” she exclaimed as her bag fell amidst my books.

“I’m sorry” I stammered, failing miserably in my attempt to neatly gather everything up. She knelt beside me stuffing her belongings into her bag and then paused, looking at me. “Hey. Do I know you?” She was studying me far too closely for my comfort.
“Doubt it.” I stole a glance at her. She was familiar too. Unbidden, my brain racked through female faces and landed on “Lola?”

She tilted her head, questioning, and then recognition lit her eyes. “Jordy! From the playground!” She stood, her bag reassembled. I stood also, my books in an untidy pile. Lola laughed and smiled, insisted on walking with me–she grabbed my hand and pulled me along, chattering nonstop about her friends, her classes and how she still liked to jump off swings. I listened, not wanting to like her, but I did. She was easy to listen to, and even cared what I had to say. We got to my house and Lola wanted to come in. I wasn’t sure how my parents would take to me suddenly bringing over a smart, pretty girl. In all honesty, I didn’t want to have to explain Lola. So I said no. Lola shrugged and waved merrily as she half-skipped down the street.

The next day, though, Lola knocked on my door after I was home from school. I was alone, and I let her in. I even let her come up to my bedroom and we talked and listened to the radio. She looked at my books and had even read a lot of them. She snuck out when I was called to dinner, understanding that I didn’t want to explain her presence.

Lola came over every day after school for several months. It was like having a best friend. She went through my clothes, picking out the ones she thought were good colors for me. I showed her my collection of knives, terrified she would think I was a freak for liking them. But she didn’t! She thought they were cool–even came outside to throw them at the tree like I did. I also showed her the scar on my arm from the playground jump. She wasn’t really concerned about that; called it a ‘battle scar’ and said it was a sign of being a man. She made me feel good about myself and like I actually mattered in the world. She was always there. But then one day, she didn’t knock on my door. Not the next day either. Nor the one after that. I thought I should be more sad about not talking to her, but weirdly I just wasn’t. And soon, I exiled her to memory.

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I didn’t see Lola again until my last year of college. Walking across campus, late as usual, I noticed a woman–a pretty woman–watching me from a bench. She had no books or backpack, a quizzical look on her face as she tracked me across the quad. I recognized her, but couldn’t place where I knew her from–I figured it was one of my classes.

I was mistaken.

Several days later, after midterms, I went to a local cheesy dive bar to mull over how I thought I had done on my exams and papers–not well. The pretty woman was there. I noticed her right away, but women like that don’t pay attention to guys like me. Still, she seemed kind of familiar, and this tugged at my brain as I pulled up a bar stool and ordered a drink.

I thought I was being subtle, watching her in the mirror behind the bar. She knew it though,  she knew I was watching every move she made, from the casual flip of her sleek, black hair, down the length of the lustrous onyx dress that hugged her curves in a most dangerous manner along her stockingless, muscular leg, to her shapely foot, upon which dangled a black stiletto pump. She knew. The slight upward curve of her lips let me know she was aware of my gaze and it amused her.

She pointed her toes and snapped the shoe back into place, slid off her stool and walked over. No. Walking is not the right word. She…sashayed. Her eyes were fixed on mine as if I were her prey. And I was. Willingly. I stared. Her lips were moving. I frowned slightly. I couldn’t hear what she said.

“Jordy?” Her voice rang clearly now. How did she know my name? My befuddlement must have been plain on my face. “It’s me, Lola!”

As recognition dawned on my face, a smile lit up hers. She laughed, a warm, musical sound that echoed across the years, bringing back memories of afternoons in my room, and that one afternoon on the playground. She sat on the stool next to me. I asked if she wanted a drink, but she only wanted ice water. We sat there for about an hour, just catching up. Mostly me talking, answering her questions. She was still a really great listener. And I still really loved having her listen.

When we left the bar, Lola walked next to me, as naturally as if she had done so for years. She tucked her hand into the crook of my elbow. It was like we were a real couple! I wanted to walk her home, but when we got to my apartment she asked if she could come up. I shuffled my feet and tried to think of what to say. I did not have guests and I certainly did not have beautiful women over. I tried to view my place through the eyes of a stranger. I couldn’t figure out how to tell her no without sounding like a hateful troll. Lola squeezed my arm and said “I swear, I don’t care what your place is like. I’m just glad we found each other again.”

I relaxed. Well, as much as I relax. I had to admit it was amazing having Lola around again. She made me feel as if all my crazy thoughts were normal. She didn’t judge. We sat up for hours talking, and when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, we crawled into bed together as if it were perfectly normal. She wrapped her arms around me and I succumbed to her hug. The tears began-I was ashamed for a moment, but Lola just gently stroked my forehead and whispered “It’s okay” over and over. Then I gave myself over to her, I allowed her to see my deepest self, the person I hid from the world, embarrassed by my own existence. She was not repulsed. She was not shocked. She simply held me closer. When I let Lola have control, I no longer felt awkward and stupid. I felt as if all were right in my world. My self-contained and secret world.

Staying in Lola’s embrace, I reached over to my nightstand and slid the drawer open. I reached in and pulled out my protection. Lola gasped and smiled, she knew I would do whatever she asked. She took my hand and together, we prepared. Her touch was firm, yet gentle. I was fully loaded.

“Give yourself to me” she whispered and pressed her lips to my temple.

“Lola” I breathed as I put my 9 mm under my jaw, angled back towards my brain. I pulled the trigger.

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The chapel was empty save a woman in her forties sobbing. Despite her grief, she remained in control. The priest approached her from behind, hesitating slightly before placing a hand on her shoulder in comfort. The woman half-turned her head.

“Thank you Father” the woman spoke, vestiges of tears in her voice. “Jordy was always so troubled, you know? When he was just a boy, remember when our dog died? He threw himself off the swingset–I saw him. It was a miracle he didn’t break his neck. And then later, when he stayed in his room and refused to leave for two months? I thought when he made it through high school his depression was behind him. I was wrong.”

The priest nodded as the woman spoke. “Depression is a terrible thing. I don’t think any of us who loved Jordy knew he had a gun. Or that he was fretting so much over his grades.  Did you ever find this Lola he wrote about?”

The woman shook her head. “No. Perhaps we never will.” She collapsed into tears, the priest held her, whispering prayers.

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Author’s note: Depression affects some 15 million adult Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If you or a loved one suspects you have depression, please contact a doctor or mental health provider for help.

This is a story inspired by the songs “The Wolf is At Your Door” and “The Girl With Golden Eyes” by Sixx A.M. “Wolf” can be found on “Prayers For The Blessed” and “Girl” on “The Heroin Diaries”. I was taken with the line “I met my assassin, I even held her hand” in ‘Wolf’ and merged that idea with the anthropomorphization of heroin in ‘Girl’. I did the same thing here, anthropomorphizing depression as the character Lola. (Lola means ‘lady of sorrow’).

 

Human Resistance

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I am a huge fan of the music of Sixx AM–and I am thoroughly enamored with their most recent release Prayers for the Blessed Vol. 2. A line in the song “Wolf at Your Door”–a song about depression–caught my attention and I spent numerous commutes thinking about different ways that line could play out. I decided to challenge myself to write three completely different stories based on that line. This is the first. –Laura Ducolon

“I’ve Seen My Assassin, I’ve Even Held Her Hand”–Sixx AM 

I almost missed the emergency signal, so subtle were the two quick taps on my left shoulder followed by a squeeze on my right elbow. By the time my brain registered the message, I could not tell who had delivered it.

Per protocol, I stepped back from my position on the production line. My supervisor, Daciana, approached, her gray neck fur bristling slightly at my unexpected action. I kept my eyes downcast and respectfully requested emergency leave permission. I was a good worker, never late or absent, so it shouldn’t be a problem, but I was also a harassment target because of my family’s legacy in the resistance. But, after a moment, sniffing no fear or deception, Daciana growled her consent. I expressed my gratitude and, per protocol, covered my head with the hood on my red jacket. The red signified my status as an undomesticated human.

i went to the nearest Elimination Station, entered the cubby, locked the door and sat on the pot. Inside the roll of cleansing paper I found the coded message and deciphered it in my head. “Thumbs up for family.” All of our messages were at a minimum triple encoded. The thumb alone meant human, and thumbs up meant the opposite. So the whole message was “Human Family in danger”. Nonni. My Nonni was in danger.

Exiting the Elimination Station, I looked around to get my bearings and see if i was being observed. Foot traffic on this street was neither heavy nor light. I joined the pedestrians, eyes downcast as my rank-status required. I walked for two blocks, then turned down a side street and headed to a park. This park was open to all, so my red jacket was not out of place. I strolled on the path, eyes down when appropriate, but otherwise appearing to admire nature should anyone be watching. I rounded a bend in the path and approached a stand of firs. I knelt and feigned adjusting the buckles on my boots, glancing around to be sure I was alone. Seeing nothing alarming, I slipped the red jacket off and reversed it to black, then stepped off the path and into the trees. The hush and scent both soothed and exhilarated my senses. I consciously slowed my breathing and heart rate and began a deliberate count to thirty as i had been taught. This would ensure I had not been seen, and if I had been, allowed sufficient time to be confronted for my forbidden steps off the path.

Confident I was unobserved, I strode to the largest tree in the stand. At it’s base sat an imposing boulder. This boulder concealed an entry to The Labyrinth. A last look around and I activated the boulder’s hydraulics. As the boulder slid aside to reveal a staircase, I felt an urge to look around one last time. A quick scan revealed nothing, but then I glanced up. A crow. Known spy. I ducked into the staircase and pressed the closure handle. I knew the crow had seen and would report. The entrance was blown. I searched and found the crevice for the emergency klaxon. Fumbling, I pulled the lever sounding the alarm. I should have stayed to assist with walling up and sealing the entrance, but I couldn’t. I ran. Nonni was in danger.

Thoughts raced through my head as my feet raced through the Labyrinth. I didn’t know how the wolves had learned of me and at this point it didn’t matter. I ran through the underground corridors, eyes flicking to the walls and the path marked with a red hand, the sigil of my people. I didn’t really need to check–The Labyrinth was home to me, I had played for hours down here as a child, holding hands and skipping through the corridors and hidey-holes with my best friend, Karinah. Countless times I had followed the route to my Nonni’s house. As a leader of the Human Resistance, Nonni had an entrance to The Labyrinth secreted behind a cupboard in her kitchen. I loved entering the secret world with friends, oblivious to the importance of the subterranean world. We played hide and seek among the crates of food, water, blasters, candles. I was always sad when a playmate stopped coming, but did not understand that meant they had either died or been domesticated.

As a teenager, the system of tunnels provided lots of places to make out with boyfriends, or sit and talk for hours with Karinah, about who we would be mated with, as if we had a choice. Human Resistance was no longer resistance, but a preservation movement. Humans were now an endangered species. My parents had been killed during the Lupine Wars when I was an infant. My Nonni would be making the decision as to who would be my mate, and Nonni wanted the best. She favored Pavel, a strong, intelligent boy–a leader in the youth movement. Pavel was okay, but I liked Jem. Jem wasn’t as smart or as strong as Pavel, but he was kind and gentle and those were qualities I admired.

None of this mattered now. I needed to get to Nonni. My boots thudded in time with my heartbeat as I swiftly maneuvered corridors. I ticked off landmarks as I passed–hall to the planning room, the blanket storage, the dead end that used to have an entrance to a bank before the bank was rubbleized. I reached the corridor that hid Nonni’s entrance and froze. What if there were intruders in Nonni’s house and I blew her entrance? What if I didn’t use it and wasted precious time? My brain raced through scenarios, my feet refusing to move. I decided that one blown entrance was enough damage for the day, and raced to the next nearest portal outside. This entrance had a viewer, and I scoured the area high and low but saw no watchers of any species. I emerged and stood, shadowed, in an alley near a dump. I needed to get to Nonni’s. I also needed to not be noticed. Again, I put on the jacket, red side out, and put the hood up. I walked swiftly on the sidewalk, just a law-abiding worker hurrying home before curfew. As I neared Nonni’s house, I slowed my pace and paid attention to all around me. None of Nonni’s neighbors knew her true identity. To them, she was the sweet lady who sold flowers at the market. Fortunately, other dwellings on the street seemed quiet. I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Nonni’s front yard was neat. Her porch light was on, welcoming visitors. Normal.  Heart pounding in my chest, I clambered up the steps, and opened the front door. Unlocked. Not normal.

Inside, I slipped out of my boots and closed the front door noiselessly. I crossed the empty living room in my socks. I peeked into the kitchen–a loaf of bread, plate, stick of butter and jar of jam sat on the counter. No sign of Nonni. I slunk down the hallway towards the bedroom. The bedroom door stood ajar–I inched forward, craning for a view without being seen. Ducking my head in awkward positions, I realized I was able to see the mirror on Nonni’s dresser. I moved my head around trying to see all corners of the room, and nearly gasped aloud. Nonni was in her bed, pillows propped up behind her back, blankets tucked in around her. Her features were carefully arranged in a calm expression–Nonni never wore a calm expression. And over near the window, I could see wolf paws. Nonni was indeed in grave danger.

I slid back towards the kitchen, mind racing. I had to assume the wolf had intelligence from the network of crows that I had been alerted and was on the move. Judging from Nonni’s expression, I was expected shortly. I may have been seen entering the house. I had to think quickly. Entering the kitchen I stifled a shriek as a form appeared–but breathed calmly as I recognized Karinah. She opened her mouth, but I stopped her with a finger to my lips. She nodded her understanding and clamped her lips closed. I went to Nonni’s drawer and pulled out a notepad and pencil she kept on hand for creating recipes. I wrote “wolf” on the pad and Karinah’s eyes widened. She took the pencil and wrote “youth know… on their way.” This should have comforted me, but it did not. I was concerned that wolven backup was on it’s way.

I decided that I needed to be in Nonni’s bedroom to protect her. Although she was a legendary revolutionary, she was also elderly. And, a high value target. I was in no mood to lose my Nonni. I grabbed her shopping basket, and lined it with a kitchen towel. Grabbing food items, I filled the basket with bread, apples, jam, some cheese, and bottle of juice. I put my shoes back on and opened the front door, then slammed it shut.

“Nonni??” I shouted, hoping to disarm the wolven interloper with my brazenness.

“Scarletta?” Nonni answered!! My heart lept with joy. “Scarletta, darling, I am unwell. In my bed.”

I walked back to her bedroom, thrusting the basket of her own food towards her. “Nonni… I bring you food. You should eat!” I plopped the basket on her bed, pretending to completely not see the paws behind the curtains. Nonni cut her eyes towards the window and I gave a slight nod to let her know I knew. I pulled out the bread and ripped off a chunk. “Some good bread, Nonni, will return your health. Let me put some jam on for you–your appetite is important.”

“Hi Scarletta,” Karinah spoke from the doorway. I turned and gave her a puzzled glare. “Karinah! How nice to see you… what brings you to Nonni’s house?” I tried to send Karinah a message with my eyes, but she was oblivious.

“Oh, I always love coming to Nonni’s” Karinah said as she took Nonni’s hand. Nonni did not look happy with this development. I thought it was because she now had two human youth in danger. I was wrong.

At that point, everything began to happen at once, and I remember it in frozen frames of real memory.  The wolf sprang out from behind the curtain–no normal she-wolf, this was Ula, head of the Security Forces and responsible for co-opting all domesticated dogs to the Wolves side during the Lupine War and for developing the plan for domesticating humans. Nonni screamed, and rolled off the bed at the sight of the blasters Ula wielded. Simultaneously, I registered a tremendous clatter in the kitchen. My brain could not sort out the sounds. I struggled to stay focused on Nonni. Karinah was behind me. Ula snarled and rushed towards me; I threw the only thing I had available–the jar of jam. It smacked into her forehead, then fell and shattered on the floor, splattering sticky goodness into her leg fur, but also causing her to freeze in place, fearful of stepping on broken glass.

“Nonni! Let’s go!” I whirled to run out of the bedroom as Nonni rolled towards me, but Karinah blocked my path. She stood firm; I turned questioning eyes to Nonni who was pulling herself to standing.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Scarletta…. can you not see Karinah has been turned? She is… domesticated.” Nonni’s voice was weary, exhausted with years of rebellion.

“Karinah?” I almost whimpered the sense of betrayal was so great. My best friend. Domesticated. An informant.

Karinah smiled, a smile I had never seen before. She stepped into Nonni’s bedroom. The next thing I remember is Karinah tumbling to the ground, felled like a tree, a blaster flashing green and Ula crumbling into ashes, and Jem appearing in the doorway, blaster smoking, eyes focused with an intensity I had not known he possessed.

I collapsed into Jem, overwhelmed with all that had occurred in the last three minutes. Karinah rose from where she had fallen and ran. Jem started after her, but stopped when I tugged on his hand. Nonni pulled her nightgown off over her head revealing her camoflauge t-shirt and pants tucked into boots. Elderly she might be, but she was still a revolutionary. She took control. “Scarletta, Jem. Let’s go.” We all trooped into the kitchen, where the source of the previous noise became apparent as the entrance to The Labyrinth stood open, dishes from the cupboards smashed onto the floor.

“Well, this entrance is blown.” Nonni’s tone was matter-of-fact, but I knew she had taken pride in how long this entrance had been viable. We all entered the Labyrinth. Nonni located the closing lever and pulled it. She nodded to me, and I sounded the emergency klaxon. This time, we all stayed to wall up and seal the entrance. Nearby humans who heard the klaxon came to assist, somber realization that one of the oldest and most longstanding safe houses was no longer.

After, Nonni, Jem and I walked through the corridors as I told of how I had been alerted, the crow, and my run through the Labyrinth. Nonni decided that we should wall up and seal the other entrance I had utilized. Jem nodded his agreement. We were unsure of the depth of deception Karinah had managed–her turning was the most damaging in at least a decade. She had long resided in The Labyrinth and was familiar with many entrances.

Nonni gathered supplies and settled into her underground quarters. She hadn’t used them for more than long weekends of meetings in quite some time. I helped her store some goods and make up a cot. I looked around questioningly as to where I should set up my own cot. Nonni took my hand and smiled. “I think you and Jem should get your own quarters. It’s time. He’s proven his worth. He was first to come running when he heard you were in danger.” Jem looked down at me and I looked into his eyes. It was time. Time for us to stand by each other. Time to refocus and revitalize the Human Resistance.

Jem had quarters, the rest of his family long deceased. We made our way there, silent with the heaviness of the day. I was unprepared to move forward in the Resistance. Too long I had stayed in Nonni’s shadow and I now realized and understood that my reluctance caused danger to others. I needed to rectify my lack of seriousness.

Entering the spare but homey quarters, Jem’s shoulders relaxed. Safe. I stood in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do next. Jem smiled and asked if I was hungry. I hadn’t thought about it, but I was. He went over to his cupboard of provisions to make a selection. A movement from the back room caught the corner of my eye, and I turned. Karinah came out from the bedroom, a blaster in her hand. Jem froze.

“Do you know there is a price on your head Scarletta?” Karinah nearly slavered with greed. “It has been so difficult to pretend to remain your friend.” The blaster was leveled at my eyes.  Jem remained frozen in my peripheral vision. As far as I knew, he had no options.

In a fluid motion, Jem slammed the cupboard door and hurled a tin of rations at Karinah. Her lupine reflexes were too fast–she fired the blaster and ducked. I saw the blaster flash…

Review: ‘Prayers for the Damned’ Sixx AM

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The opinions expressed below are mine and mine alone.–LKD

I love music. I can’t even fathom a day without music. I believe that music (like all art) either touches you, or it doesn’t. I’m no longer the kind of person who will say that music that I don’t personally care for sucks. (I did in my 20s, but me in my 20s was rather judgmental. what can i say.) I am a rock fan–typically leaning towards alternative or songs heavy metal tinge. I ‘discovered’ Sixx AM after reading Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries” and began listening to his radio show Sixx Sense. I bought the book several years before I read it, scared to read what I knew would be a horrible, terrible, honest description of life as a heroin addict. My brother is a heroin addict and I wanted to read this to gain an understanding. When I did finally screw up the courage to read it, I read it in 2 days, 2 days of crying and searing pain for me. But it has helped me heal as well. Then I bought the album “The Heroin Diaries”. And then I was hooked on Sixx AM.

I really like ‘Prayers for the Damned’. I think that overall this is Sixx AM’s best total work. Nikki Sixx, James Michael, and DJ Ashba are gelling nicely as artists together and putting out high quality melodic rock with lyrics that are insightful. (Disclaimer: I was a so-so fan of Motley Crue–always loved the music but never the lyrics. Sorry Nikki.) ‘Prayers for the Damned’ begins with the single ‘Rise’ which is definitely the most radio-friendly song on the album. This is a fist-pumping get-you-going kind of song and sets an expectation that the album will be filled with Sixx AM’s signature hard-charging rock with positive energy. This expectation does not really come to fruition–the next several songs are fairly dark, setting up a relationship but with an undertone of impending doom due to personal demon wrestling. I have issues with “I’m Sick”–not lyrically, but for the section where the singing stops and the talk/rap?/sing section starts. I hit the next button almost every time. Just doesn’t do it for me. My first few times through “Can’t Stop” were difficult as well–the frenetic sound and pace were stressful. Then I realized that was intentional and was able to listen more closely. Overall, the first six songs are good, solid entries.

The tone shifts further into the darkness with “When We Were Gods” and “Belly of the Beast”. Nikki Sixx answered a tweet about ‘Gods’ saying it was a love song. OK. I can see that. But it is a wistful, reminiscing of love, not a current celebration. And then ‘Beast’ comes along and we are wrestling demons full-on and simultaneously facing betrayal. Ouch.

In my opinion, the great thing about rock–and what separates it from pop–is the rawness–the unpolished emotion and energy. Sixx AM is at their best when they allow that raw energy to stay raw. Nikki Sixx’s driving bass line coupled with Dustin Steinke’s drums anchor several songs on this album (which is definitely an album to be listened to front to back–you can hear the storyline arcing throughout). Raw and real are songs 9 and 10 — ‘Everything Went to Hell’ and ‘The Last Time’- respectively. The righteous anger in ‘Everything’ snarls in brutal lyrics “I watched you fucking him, Right then your life was over, Thought you were heaven sent, then everything went to hell. I watched you take him then (note: I originally thought this said take him in, which is more graphic, but I think more suitable to the nastiness of this song) and I just stood there frozen, You killed what could have been, Then Everything Went To Hell”. Who but the most callous and jaded amongst us could fail to feel that? (side note: I am dying to know if the telephone message played was real — can you imagine having your begging displayed for the world? Or the sweet taste of such a public revenge?)  Determination and grit mark “The Last Time” as Michael vows “I’ve been broken, I’ve been beaten down, this is the last time my heart will ever hit the ground”. To me, this is the triumph, the phoenix rising from the ashes. That line is the Rise promised in song one. I desperately wanted ‘Rise of the Melancholy Empire’–the last song–to be a triumphal slash in the face of a horribly failed relationship, but it just misses. I think it is too produced, too much of the naked, exposed humanity polished. I wanted it to be either a giant middle finger extended at the world for another betrayal or a quiet strength and certainty facing down yet another maelstrom. ‘Rise of the Melancholy Empire’ tries to be both, I think, and manages neither.

Buy this album. Buy every Sixx AM album. This band is on a journey and it is musically documented splendidly. To date, their best song is “Skin” on 2011’s “This is Gonna Hurt”. This is a song that perfectly encapsulates raw emotion and showcases the best of what Sixx AM can offer. Prayers for the Damned is to be the first of two albums released this year–I have not yet seen a release date for album 2, and the band has an intense tour schedule. I hope that they resist the urge to polish their musical gems too much, just let their edges and imperfections shine.