Hi guys, just a quick note: the semester started up and I am in way over my head. I have so much work to do, hoo boy... So from now until June, I might not be able to update much (if at all), so if you don't see updates for a while, I haven't abandoned this story; I'm just up to my neck in papers, reading assignments, the works. But I will try to update anytime I can! Just might be sporadic.
Thank you for your patience and continued support!
Ray stared at the young woman before him. She must have been around his age because her very aura screamed youth. She was familiar but Ray couldn't think of where he'd met her... She looked so much like that lovely brunette he'd met all those years ago, the girl who he'd wanted to see one last time and thank for giving him that temporary relief from his hellish life. Could it be that this girl was actually...?
Her eyes widened slightly at the name but her gaze shifted to something behind him quickly, her lips parting slightly. Ray could've sworn he saw fear in her eyes but she lowered them before he could see for sure.
"I'm sorry, b-but I h-have to go," she stammered, and before he could say anything more, she bounded off towards the stage. He watched as she met with the vampire bartender and both women entered a room backstage.
That chocolate-brown, doe-eyed gaze, the plump pink lips, the smooth creamy skin... She looked so much like Amanda, but her face was slightly different; swirly black markings littered the space around her eyes and nose, stopping just above her rosy cheeks. Not to mention that this girl was so much older than the shy brunette he'd met all those years ago. He had no idea how much time had passed between the Benson family moving into Dark Falls and the present so he had no idea if this truly was Amanda or if he'd just run into Amanda Benson's older doppelganger.
As soon as he had gotten to his feet and the woman had offered a hand to help him up, the first thought that crossed his mind was that Amanda was here, with him, somehow coexisting in the same dimension as he was. Her hand was warm and he could sense a familiarity about her that mirrored Amanda's aura. Realistically, however, there was no way a human girl like her would be here in this club; he was sure Amanda and her family were—if they weren't dead, that is—living average, ordinary lives free of any and all monsters. Besides, even if the Bensons still had some involvement with monster-kind, there was no possible way they'd know about Horrorland. That woman wasn't Amanda; she had to be a doppelganger or something.
Satisfied with his own reasoning, Ray waded through the crowd towards where Karen and the rest of the zombies were hanging out. He'd heard that the singer would be performing tonight but apparently she was running late. He had no idea what she looked like or when she was going to arrive; all he could think about was that beautiful woman he'd bumped into.
Eve hummed as she worked on straightening Amanda's hair. She'd done her makeup already and Amanda had changed into a classy black cocktail dress, black pumps adorning her feet. Though she was physically prepared for the stage, mentally she was anything but ready for tonight's show.
Why is he here? Amanda thought, heart still pumping adrenaline through her veins. Why here, of all places? How did he get here, how did he leave Dark Falls? And if he's here, then how many of the others are with him?
"I don't mean to sound creepy," Eve commented, drawing the girl from her thoughts. "But your heart is racing more than usual. I've been listening to it beat extremely hard for the past ten minutes. Is everything okay?"
Amanda knew she couldn't tell Eve what had happened. Eve, while a wonderful and supportive friend, was a monster; the brunette doubted that the vampire would take kindly to hearing that Amanda (well, technically Josh, but still) had had a run-in with a zombie, AKA a fellow monster, and wound up killing him when she was twelve. Said zombie was currently in this club and Amanda was petrified of having to interact with him again. Ray had said her name, indicating he recognized her even with her mask on. If he wanted to, he could spread all sorts of rumors about her and then she'd lose her job, and then she wouldn't be able to help her family or cover college costs if another student invoice came up—
The girl snapped out of her frantic thinking to see Eve staring at her worriedly through the mirror. She swallowed thickly.
"Oh, uh, I-I'm just nervous. There's a lot of monsters out there tonight, a lot more than the past few weeks. I'm not used to such a huge crowd."
Eve grinned. "A bigger audience is a good thing! That means you're becoming a star, sugar. Don't sweat the bigger crowds, just focus on the music like you've been doing. You're one hell of a singer and they're just here to hear that beautiful voice of yours."
Amanda forced a smile and Eve clapped a reassuring hand on the shoulder.
"It's that time. Are you ready?"
She didn't have a choice. It was either get up and face the crowds and possibly him, or lose her job.
"Y-yeah." Amanda rose from the vanity and made her way out onto the stage. She was greeted with excited cheers and that actually made her smile; at least right now, in this moment, she had her crowd of regulars rooting for her. The new folks in the club watched her curiously, probably waiting to see for themselves just how amazing this new singer was.
The band handed her a mic and she nodded her thanks. They readied their instruments and Amanda took her place at the center of the stage. The song started up and she internally groaned at the song choice; she loved this song, but it was too powerful for her frayed nerves. Amanda forced herself to look out over the crowd and she was met with nothing but admiration, something that helped soothe her nerves a smidgen. Just before her cue came, she locked eyes with a familiar pair of blue eyes belonging to a handsome blonde sitting in the back with other gray-faced people. Ray's gaze remained on her, occasionally sweeping over the full length of her figure before returning to her face. Something in those blue eyes sparked a fire within her.
Ray Thurston may have showed up here and she might have a past with him, but dammit, this was her scene. Amanda had one hell of a singing voice and she was beautiful, and she was damned if she let some past experience have power over her. She'd beaten him once and she could do it again.
Her cue came and Amanda put all of her fear, all of her apprehension into her voice, forgetting all about Dark Falls and the negative experience that came with it. She forgot about the blonde boy she'd watched melt into a puddle of bone and clothing in the cemetery after Josh shined his flashlight in the boy's face, as well as the odd but sweet girl with braids who had put it into her head to burn her mother's wreath. Amanda Benson was terrified of Dark Falls, but the girl currently on stage wasn't afraid of anything, let alone some zombie guy.
She hit every note perfectly, her voice shaking with vibrato at all the right parts, and Amanda noticed a few jaws drop when she hit particularly high notes and held them with ease. When the song finished, the audience was already going wild with applause and cheers. Amanda grinned and took a bow.
The second song started up and she dominated the stage again, not even registering that a certain zombie's hungry gaze remained on her.
Amanda ran her fingers through her hair and made a face. She'd danced so much that she'd started to sweat a little; her hair was no longer perfectly sleek and straight, but curling up anywhere it could. Her hair felt frizzy and she couldn't wait to go home and shower.
Slappy had handed her a check that, as promised, was a little lighter than her previous paychecks. He hadn't said much other than 'don't be late again' before disappearing in that mysterious way he always had. Eve had given her a hug and offered to make her a cup of tea for her sore throat. Amanda had originally planned to bolt out of here after finishing her shift, but fire was still running through her veins; Horrorland was her stage and she was safely disguised. Though Ray had said her name, she knew if he truly recognized her, things would have gone differently; he was obviously thrown off by the mask, so for now, she was safe.
She followed Eve out to the bar and waited patiently for the vampire to finish brewing her tea. It was only when the strange blue beverage was placed in front of her that another group of fans approached her.
"Oh my gosh, it's her! We love your voice!"
"You're so beautiful!"
"You were amazing up there!"
Amanda blushed and uttered a few 'thank you's before Eve shooed the crowd away. When the monsters had all shambled away, Eve winked at the brunette.
"See? You're a star, girly. Speaking of which, would you be comfortable doing a Q and A session soon? I can't tell you how many monsters have asked me about you lately and the only thing I can tell them is that you're Horrorland's newest singer."
Amanda, who had been taking a sip of her tea, nearly choked on the liquid. She coughed a few times to clear her throat.
"You didn't tell them my name, did you?" she asked, and Eve shook her head.
"I haven't told anyone anything about you. You're the star, so you get to decide your stage name and it's totally your call if you want to give more information about yourself. I just run blocker for any rabid fans that are too pushy."
Amanda heaved a sigh of relief. At least Eve kept things confidential... If her real name got out there, then Ray would know who the girl on stage was. She wanted to keep a low profile now more than ever, lest a repeat of Dark Falls were to happen...
"A cold glass of water, please."
The brunette nearly had a heart attack at the voice that spoke up next to her. Ray had taken a seat at the bar just two seats away from her and his closeness was giving her major anxiety. Amanda didn't think she'd ever felt her heart thump so hard in her life.
As if he felt her eyes on him, he looked over and she quickly looked down, instead focusing on the blue hues of her drink. She wanted to take another sip and ease the soreness of her throat, but she really didn't feel like consuming anything with him so close by.
To Amanda's surprise, however, Ray didn't try to speak to her. He simply received his water and sat quietly at the bar, minding his own business. A few times Amanda managed to glance over at him without his knowledge; he truly was a handsome young man. That hat and trench coat suited him perfectly; even in the lively buzz of a dance club, he looked good in his usual getup. His eyes remained on the drink in front of him and Amanda wondered what he was thinking about.
She didn't realize she'd been full-on staring at him until he looked up and their eyes met. Blue met brown and Amanda felt herself growing calmer. She remembered in her youth that she'd been drawn in by those eyes countless times, drowning in waves of ocean-colored calmness. Ray had always been level-headed and mature and she had liked that about him; as a kid, she'd always been more mature than her age and thus found it difficult to make friends. While all the other kids wanted to do stupid stuff and get into all kinds of trouble, Amanda always hung back and did her own thing. From the moment she'd met him, Amanda had felt drawn to Ray due to their being kindred spirits.
It was such a simple word, yet it had enough power to snap Amanda from the calm trance she'd been in. Her body returned to being in fight-or-flight mode and she managed a weak smile.
"You're Horrorland's singer, aren't you?"
She could only nod.
Ray offered a smile of his own. "You have an incredible voice. I don't usually come here on Friday nights, but I'm glad I came here tonight. Hearing you sing was worth the trip."
Amanda swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. Relax; he doesn't recognize you and he's just being friendly. Relax.
"T-thank you. Where are you from?" A stupid question, of course; she was well aware of where Ray was from, but it would be suspicious (not to mention totally rude) if she just decided to brush him off or ignore him.
"A town called Dark Falls. It's a long way from here and it isn't much, but it's home." Another smile. "How about you?"
"O-oh, uh... I move from place to place," she lied, managing a dry laugh that sounded lame even to herself. "I'm, uh.. I'm a bit of a drifter. I like it here, though."
If Ray noticed her anxiety, he didn't make any indications. "How long have you been singing? Did you ever take lessons?"
Amanda relaxed slightly. Those were easier questions to deal with.
"Actually, um.. I never took lessons. I just sing whenever I can and I guess over time, my voice just kind of developed into what it is now. Practice really does make perfect."
"Wow." Ray grinned. "Well, I know I said it before, but you have an incredible voice."
"Thank you." They both returned to their drinks. Amanda was itching to say more and it looked like Ray was, too. She was about to break the silence and ask Ray if he ever sang, but Eve chose that moment to intervene.
"Honey, can you come here for a minute? I need to talk to you."
Amanda nodded and hopped off the bar stool. She followed Eve to the dressing room and the vampire smiled apologetically.
"Sorry, I know you're relaxing after a long shift, but Slappy just texted me and wanted to know if you were comfortable doing a Q and A session next time you're here."
Amanda chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. "How exactly would that work?"
"It's easy; instead of singing the entire night, you'd maybe sing one or two songs. Before you even start singing, though, you would just hang out on stage and answer a few questions the audience may have for you. We'd give you a chair, of course, so you don't have to be on your feet the whole time and you would probably just spent twenty minutes, maybe more if you're up for it. Would you be interested in that?"
Amanda had always been the shy quiet type and speaking in public had never been her strong suit… And yet, here she was, a rising pop star in a world full of monsters, a young woman who had enough courage to get up on stage and sing her heart out for a good couple of hours. Tonight she'd faced her fear—well, somewhat anyway—and if she could sing, she knew she could stand sitting and talking in front of her audience.
"Okay, I'm in," she gave a short nod and Eve clasped her hands together.
"Wonderful! I'll let the boss know right away. You can go back to relaxing, I just needed to clear that idea with you."
When Amanda returned to her seat, Ray was still sitting there. He was staring into his glass of water rather intensely; Amanda wondered what he was thinking about. She had turned back to her own drink when he spoke up, surprising her.
"I hope it's not weird, but you remind me of someone I used to know."
She looked up and he was staring at her again, though this time almost wistfully.
"Oh." Amanda gave a nervous smile. "Hopefully someone good?"
Ray returned his gaze to the water in front of him. He ran the pad of his thumb over a drop of condensation that was sliding down the glass. Amanda wasn't quite sure how to interpret the simple action.
"She was.. interesting, I guess you could say."
Interesting how? Amanda was itching to know more, to ask him more, but before she could give into her curiosity, a group of kids came bounding over towards Ray and practically started dragging him elsewhere. He shot an apologetic glance in Amanda's direction, to which she gave a soft laugh and waved him off. Uneasiness continued to sit in the pit of her stomach for the rest of the evening and, although she didn't see Ray again and although the evening had gone a lot better than she had expected it to, Amanda couldn't get her mind off of him.
Right before the club shut down, Amanda hung back at the bar and finished her tea while she watched the stragglers finally make their way towards the exit. It was only when she caught sight of a familiar hat and trench coat that she craned her neck around a particularly big monster that she saw the other kids of Dark Falls following Ray to the exit.
...Except they weren't exactly kids anymore. Most of them had aged so that they were around Amanda's age now, give or take a few years younger. She noticed a few new faces and shuddered when she realized that they must have been kids from other, more recent families that had been duped into moving to Dark Falls. She felt bile rise up in her throat when she saw Karen skipping towards the exit, the girl's wheat-colored hair pulled back into the signature braids Amanda remembered from their youth.
"Hey, Eve?" The vampire looked up from wiping down the bar. "How often do those kids come in here?"
Eve looked to where Amanda was staring and gave a crooked smile. "Oh, them? They're usually here every Saturday night but I think they came here tonight because they heard about your legendary performances."
Amanda felt her stomach drop; she was afraid of that. What if the next time she wasn't so lucky? What if the other kids decided to corner her and finish what they started once they realized her true identity?
"Are you absolutely sure I have to do the Q and A session next shift?"
Eve chuckled nervously. "Well, here's the thing.. The boss kind of already put up advertisements so... Yeah. You need to be here next time."
"Oh... Okay. I'll be there then."
When Amanda got to her car, she didn't start it up right away; instead she leaned her forehead against the steering wheel, negative scenarios of next week's shift flitting through her mind so quickly that she felt a headache coming on. So many 'what if's ran through her brain that she was starting to wonder if she could actually go without this job. She knew that her parents still had bills to pay, but would this really be worth it if it meant running into those bloodthirsty townsfolk again? Was money more important than her comfort zone or, on a higher level, her life?
It was only when she began to fall asleep that she realized she needed to get home. Whatever decisions she was going to make regarding this job could be made later after catching up on sleep.
So she started up her car and drove down the familiar path to get back to Riverview, for once leaving Horrorland with a sense of anxiety instead of a feeling of triumph.