Friday, December 7, 2012

A World without Heroes: Chapters 14 & 15

Here we are finally with some chapters that some of you may not have seen in a while.  These chapters occurred after the end of the run in Strange Ways and several years later, back when I decided to finish the novel just to say I finished it more than anything.

From here on out, the chapters appearing originally appeared on the KISS Asylum webpage, but when the novel came out in 2000 we asked that the last few chapters be pulled so that there would be interest by fans to actually buy the book isntead of just reading it online.  Of course, that was 12 years ago now; on a book that probably will never be reproduced; so here we go!


            It was either he or the tuna fish.
            That was the way he saw it as he stepped away from the kitchen counter and surveyed the can sitting in front of him.  So far, the can of tuna was winning.
            Getting home from his job early that day, he had managed to find a can of tuna to snack on, but no can-opener.  He had, however, found a mallet and a screwdriver and was busy trying to puncture a series of slots into the rim of the can so that he could at least bend the lid back far enough to scoop out the tuna inside.
            That was the idea at least.  Instead he had managed four uneven holes in the can; two divots in the kitchen; a small, upturned piece of metal on the can that he had pried open earlier; and a sliced finger, from where his hand had met the small, upturned piece of metal earlier in the battle.
            He was just about to test out his theory of smashing the can open with several hard blows directly from the mallet when the phone rang.
            Putting down the mallet that he had raised over his head with both hands, he reached for the phone in the kitchen and talked into the receiver.
            “Hello,” he responded in a smooth, robotic method.  “You have reached me.  I am unable to come to the phone right now as I am in the middle of committing hara-kiri with a mangled tuna-fish can.  Please leave your message after the scream.”
            There was silence on the other end of the line for a split-second and he was about to put the receiver back on the hook when someone began speaking on the other end of the line.
            “Uh . . . hello.  This is Paul.  Paul Stanley.  Listen, we’ve talked about your tryout and we would like to give you the job in the band.  Come by around 10 tomorrow morning and we’ll talk about the costume and how you want the drums' set-up.  Good luck with the suicide.  Talk to you later!”
            The line went dead.
            Eric pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the receiver in his hand.  The words he heard began to sink in as a smile crept over his face and he placed the receiver back on the hook.  After a brief pause, he stood in the middle of the kitchen and started shouting.
            “All right!  Yee-ahh!”
            Looking at the damaged can of tuna on the counter, he picked it up and, after hovering it over the sink, dropped it.  It made a dull clunking sound as it hit.
            “Won’t have to eat this junk anymore,” Eric said with a laugh as the can hit the sink with a clunk.  “Time I got myself some REAL lunch.  I need to celebrate!”
            Eric strutted out of the kitchen and went straight to the front door.  With a swift turn of the knob, he opened the door, glided out and slammed the door behind him.
            Within thirty seconds the door opened again and Eric walked back into the front room.  With a touch of guilt on his face, he continued from the front room to the kitchen and looked at the can of tuna in the sink.  Picking it up, he sat it back down on the counter and, with the screwdriver, managed to open up the lid enough to poke a fork inside and pull out some of the tuna.
            “Well,” he said, looking at the tuna with a sigh.  “Waste not, want not.”
            With those words, Eric Carr began eating his lunch.

            Eric tried to keep his enthusiasm in mind two weeks later as he walked from the dressing-room area to the stage where the others were waiting.
            At least, he was trying to walk.  Even though he had worn platform shoes for years, he suddenly had trouble walking in the new ones he was wearing.  They just felt wrong.  Better yet, Eric thought to himself, the whole costume felt wrong.
            “Yellow,” he muttered under his breath as he held onto the wall for support.  “Why does it have to be yellow?”
            It was an ugly costume and when Paul had seen him put in on the other day, Eric thought that was the last he would have to see of it.  After all Paul just walked out of the room dazed and without uttering a word.
            Still, Paul had told Gene and Ace about the costumes and both wanted to see what it looked like for himself.  Gene, at least, wanted to know precisely what they had wasted the money on; Ace, however, seemed to fledged interest while at the same time trying to keep from laughing.  At least Eric thought so.  He knew Ace just wanted to see how stupid he looked in the thing and it further embarrassed and upset Eric as he stumbled in the hall.
            That mattered little now, though, as he had reached the door leading to the stage.  Eric took a couple of deep breaths, then pushed on the door and walked into the hall.
            To make matters worse, Gene, Paul and Ace were all in their normal street clothes and sitting in some of the seats of the halls about five rows back from the stage.  As he got to the footlights of the stage and stopped, Eric felt like he should start doing a circus act; after all, he was just seconds away from being a full-fledged clown.
            “Well,” Eric spoke in a monotone.  “What do you think?”
            The three sat motionlessly for several seconds.  Finally, Ace got up, walked up the small flight of steps to the stage and circled Eric a couple of times to study his costume.  After doing so, he turned to Gene and Paul in the seats below.
            “I give up, Paul.  What’s it supposed to be?”
            “It is supposed to be a hawk,” Gene said is a slow, even tone while pressing the fingertips of both hands together.  Gene’s elbows were wedged into the soft vinyl arms of the seat.  His emphasis on the word “supposed” actually cheered Eric up, as he could see that Gene was not happy with the outfit.
            Ace shook his head in agreement as if finally catching onto the joke.  “Seriously, what’s it supposed to be?”
            “It’s stupid, that’s what it is,” Paul quickly chimed in.  “We can’t go with that thing.  They’ll kill us the second Eric shows up on stage.”
            “Unless we change his name to Tweety Bird,” Gene joked, although his face was of stone.  “Whose bright idea was it to make it yellow?”
            “I thought you did, Gene” Ace smirked.
            “No,” Gene cut in very quickly.  “It should be brown . . . maybe a little bit of yellowish-brown, but not Screamin’-Yellow-Zonkers Yellow.”
            There was a pause and Gene spoke again.  “It just won’t do.  We’ll have to come up with something else.”
            “ -- And fast,” Paul said.  “The first show is only in two weeks.  We need to have time to show off Eric as well for promotion, so that cuts it down to about a week, really.”
            “Don’t worry, Paul,” Ace raised his hand as if to get a word in edgewise.  “We’ll figure something out before then.  How about a dog?  Better yet, a goldfish.  That way we could still use the yellow costume!”
            Ace laughed at his joke.  He laughed alone.
            Feeling left out, Eric spoke for the second time since he hit the stage.  “I’ll try to come up with a few ideas of my own.  I’m sure I can come up with something.  But I have to tell you, that hawk makeup was just not working out anyway, so I’m glad we’ll have to can the costume.”
            Everyone shook their heads in agreement, but no one spoke.
            “Uh . . .” Eric coughed up after the silence went on for a bit too long.  “If you guys are done staring at me, I’m going to change.”
            “Yeah, sure,” Paul said, with a wave of his hand as if to make the costumes disappear.
            “Fine,” Gene quipped absentmindedly.
            “Wait, let me get my camera out!”  Ace shouted as he raced down the stairs to his seat where he had a briefcase that he had brought with him that day.  It was a briefcase he had purchased after seeing Gene walking around with one in the previous year of being together as a group.  The only difference was, while Gene had kept his briefcase full of business paperwork, Ace had crammed anything he wanted into his briefcase, from sandwiches to cameras to toys.
            With grunts of disapproval from the others, Ace slowed, smiled and waved Eric onto the dressing room as well.
            Although Eric found the platforms awkward to walk in, he moved in a quick, confident manner back to the dressing room.
            “Yellow,” he mumbled as the door from the stage was closing shut behind him.  “Can you believe it?  Yellow.”
            The door closed with a loud click and Paul blew out a long breath of air as he hung his head down.
            “Well, that was a lot of money down the drain,” he said, closing his eyes.
            “Happens.”  Gene did not look at Paul, but instead kept staring at the stage.  “We’ve blown that kind of money before on things that didn’t work, and we’ve always come up with something to replace it.”
            “Maybe we can make him a buzzard?”
            Gene and Paul turned in unison to Ace.  Ace had sat back down and was busying himself with the briefcase, then stopped as he felt the eyes of the others on him.  He looked up and saw the disagreement on their faces.
            “Well, buzzards are real big on the radio stations.  What about that station in Cleveland?”
            “Forget it, Ace.  We’ll think of something, but I think a bird is going to be the last thing we will attempt again.”  Gene crossed his arms and turned his head back to the stage.
            “Okay,” Ace knew he was licked on the issue.  “Okay.”
            “While we’re waiting for Eric to get out of that thing,” Paul began, hoping to change the subject, “we really should talk a bit about this upcoming tour and what we want to do with it.  You know, the DYNASTY album did great for us, but the tour didn’t quite live up to what we thought it was going to be.”
            “I think we’ll do fine.”  Gene spoke quietly.  “It’s been awhile since Europe has seen us and the buzz we’re getting about Australia sounds like it’ll be a cakewalk.  How’s that guitar shaped like a star working for you, Paul?”
            “It’s about as good as Eric’s costume.  I’ve been working on it, and I’ll take it with me, but if it doesn’t give me a good sound on even a semi-regular basis, I’ll probably break it in half during a show.”
            “Guys,” Ace asked, his voice etched with seriousness for the first time that day.  “If you want to talk about something that will affect the group, I do have a question for you.”
            “What?”  The other two said in unison.
            “If Eric is going to be a regular member of the band, when do you think we should tell him about the Talismans?  When do you think he will be ready?”
            The hall was quiet.  Ace had thought that the others had just seen Eric’s costume again when they finally responded to his question.
            Gene’s reaction was to let out a soft groan and he placed his head in his hands.  Paul quickly reacted with first a sigh, then a smirk and finally a bit of anger on his face as he looked at the inquisitive Ace.
            “Why the hell would you want to do that?”
            Ace was taken aback.
            “What do you mean, why the -- Morpheus told us that another would come along to replace Peter and now we have someone.  I think the sooner we tell Eric about the Talismans and have Morpheus give him Peter’s, the sooner we will be ready in case Blackwell strikes at the band again.”
            Gene shook his head.  “Blackwell?  We haven’t heard anything about him since Morpheus told us about him.  When we had a chance to check in and see what he was doing at his management company, he was gone.  Everything was gone.  There was not even a clue that he had even ever been there.  Even his employees fell off the face of the earth.”
            Paul continued where Gene left off.
            “Morpheus and his pals probably figured out where he was and finished him off.  Period.  As it stands now, there’s no need to do anything about Blackwell, the Talismans or any other bits of this mumbo-jumbo.”
            “How do you know that,” Ace snapped back in bewilderment.  “He probably found out we figured out who he was and went into hiding.  Probably just waiting for the right time to strike back at us.  When we’re fat and lazy and thinking we’re so sure of ourselves.”
            “Why even bother with us, Ace?”  Gene said, trying to steady his tone a bit lower so that the other two would calm down a bit and back off of each other.  “He obviously knows about us, knows that we know about him and about the Talismans.  It’s also obvious that he may not even need the Talismans anyway.  Remember what he did to Deveraux and Robinson?  I think he’s got bigger fish to fry before he would worry again about us.”
            “Besides, Ace,” Paul continued, “we’re just a rock and roll band.  How much harm can we do to anyone anyway?  Even with those powers we never accomplished much.  I mean, c’mon, it’s been seven, eight months and we haven’t heard anything from Blackwell or Morpheus.  And we sure haven’t been able to get the powers to work again, even after what Morpheus told us.  I say it’s probably over with.”
            “What’s wrong with --” Ace cut himself short as he saw from the corner of his eyes that Eric was back in his street clothes and had reentered the hall. 
            Gene saw Eric as well.  “Boy,” Gene whispered, “Eric must have hated that costume even more than we did.  It took him all of two minutes to change.”
            Eric walked toward the others, his hands behind his back and a smile on his face.
            “Hey, Eric,” Paul shouted to the approaching band member, “Come on down, we’re talking about what’s going to happen during the next tour.”
            Eric did not speak.  He just kept walking until he reached the footlights of the stage and stared down at the threesome below.
            “That’s funny,” Eric said in slow, measured beats.  “I was just about to tell you about what’s going to happen right now.”
            “What’s that, Eric?”  Ace asked.
            “Take a guess.”
            As the words were spoken, Eric swung his arms around to reveal a revolver in his left hand.  Without another word, Eric aimed it at the quickly frowning Ace and pulled the trigger.
            In reflex, Ace swung his right hand up into a hitchhiker’s pose and disappeared.  Less than a split-second later he was across the hall and near the exit.  Because he had been in a sitting position, he promptly fell on the floor behind the last remaining seats in the hall.
            Paul and Gene, however, merely sat in stunned surprise.
            Eric, unfazed by Ace’s abrupt departure from the chair, slowly turned his body toward the shocked twosome to the right of his vision.  He again brought the gun up to take in his new targets.
            With those movements, Gene and Paul sprung into action and dived to the floor.  In doing so, their bodies were stretched out in opposite direction and their heads almost crashed together as they felt the hard concrete floor below them.
            “What the hell?”  Gene said more out of reflex than as a genuine question.
            “You were right, Gene,” Paul said without looking at Gene.  “He really did hate that costume more than we did.”
            Gene ignored Paul’s comment.  “Where did he get the gun?”
            “I don’t know!  Why don’t you ask him?”  Paul responded, rather indignant.
            “Just shut up for a minute,” Gene raised his head slightly to listen for more gunfire.
            All he heard was the sound of footsteps leading to the stage, and then the quick, hollow sound of running on the stage.  The next thing he heard was Ace.
            “Hey,” Ace shouted from somewhere in the distance.  “He’s got my stuff!”
            Both Gene and Paul poked their heads up from behind the seats to see Eric running up the stage toward an exit, Ace’s briefcase tucked neatly under his right arm and the gun still in his left hand.
            Ace began running down the aisle way toward the stage.  Gene and Paul straighten themselves and stood near their seats as they watch Ace race by. 
            Ace turned long enough while running to shout at Gene and Paul.  “My Talisman’s in there!”
            Without breaking his stride, Ace ran up the stairs to the stage, crashed into an anvil-case, did a somersault, and hit the fire-exit door just moments after Eric had gone through it.
            It was just as Ace ran out the exit that the door from the dressing-room area opened and Eric appeared.  He seemed a bit startled, although not as much as Gene and Paul were in seeing him.
            “Hey, guys,” Eric ran to the foot of the stage.  “Did you hear something like a gun going off just a minute ago?”
            Paul tried to take a step back and bumped into the row of seats.
            “You should know, Eric.  You just shot at us!”
            “What?”  Eric was confused.
            “Wait a minute,” Gene held both his hands up in a stopping-motion.  “Where were you just a minute ago, Eric?”
            “Backstage.  I was just getting the rest of the costume off when I heard something like a gunshot.”
            “Where is Ace’s briefcase?”  Paul asked.
            “Where is what?”
            Gene looked at Paul.  “Don’t you get it, Paul?  There is no way that Eric could have come out of that other door when we saw him just a second before head out the fire-exit.  It couldn’t have been Eric.”
            Realization dawned on Paul.  “You mean it was someone pretending to be Eric?”
            They stood looking at each other for a split-second. 
            “Blackwell,” they said in unison.
            Without another word, the two began to move: Gene by running out to the aisle; Paul by leaping over the rows of seats.  Both reached the stairs at the same time.
            Eric watched, then began to follow.  “What are you guys talking about?”
            Paul was the first to hit the fire-exit door and immediately shut his eyes while adjusting to the bright sunlight outside the hall.  Gene nearly ran into him as Paul looked out over the alleyway, then up the fire-escape stairs.  He could see Ace several stories above just about to step off the fire-escape in onto the roof of the building.
            “They’re on the roof,” Paul said as he began his ascent up the stairs.
            “Oh, great,” Gene muttered.  “Couldn’t they have picked the nice easy-to-get-to alley for this?”  With a grunt, he started up the stairs as well.
            By the time they had reached the top of the fire escape, Ace and “Eric” had squared off on the roof.  “Eric” was holding the briefcase by the handle in one hand, while pointing the gun at Ace with the other.  He stood at the far-end of the roof.  Ace was near the ladder that led to the fire escape and he saw Gene and Paul scrambling over the edge to join him, never once completely taking his eyes off of “Eric.”
            Gene gasped a bit for breath.  He took little notice of the makeup that now covered Ace’s face, but was surprised to see that Ace was no longer wearing his street clothes.  Instead, Ace was wearing his DYNASTY costume.  Gene had expected the makeup, although he had never seen the Talismans effect the clothing as well as the faces.  Nevertheless, it was a matter for another time.
            “What does he want, Ace?”
            “I don’t know.  He’s just standing there with the briefcase.”  Ace kept staring at “Eric,” his cape whipping in the hot breeze.
            “Well, why don’t you zap him or something, Ace?”  Paul asked.
            “I can’t do that.  If I send him to limbo, he’ll take the briefcase right with him,” Ace tried to whisper the words as best as he could above the roar of the hot, midsummer wind that blew across the rooftop.  “Why don’t you use your ‘psychic-eye’ to put him down, Paul?”
            “What?”  Paul looked at Ace.  “Um . . . I don’t have my Talisman with me so I can’t use my powers.  Besides I just told you I haven’t been able to get them to work since forever.”
            Ace grimaced.  “Why don’t you have the Talisman with you?”
            “Why would I need it?  Nothing has happened for months.”
            “Gene? Can you help?”  Ace asked, although he felt he knew the answer.
            “Uh, Ace, I don’t carry that thing around all the time either.”  Gene was almost hesitant to admit saying what he did, although he kept some of the truth out of his words as he spoke.
            “The Talismans don’t have to be on you to use some of their powers,” Ace was mad enough now that he spoke quite clearly and above the wind.  “They remain within you, you just have to call on them and at least a portion of the powers you have should come to you.”
            “Exactly, Mr. Frehley,” the man with the gun finally entered the conversation.  “But then again, how often have they had the chance to use their powers?  Or are you the only one that knows anything about them?”
            Gene found the man’s words curious, but was even more surprised when the man’s image began to change in front of their eyes.  Within seconds, instead of Eric holding the briefcase, a larger man appeared before them.  He was about a foot taller than Eric, with a balding scalp and a huge scar over the right eye.  He wore only a blue, skintight jumpsuit of some type.  The only thing that did not change about the band was the briefcase and the gun.
            “Well,” the man said, smiling.  “Here I am.  If you want the briefcase -- if you want to make sure your little Talisman is safe -- if you want to know how I know about your Talismans -- come and get it.”
            Paul spoke, “That’s not Blackwell.”
            “Must be one of his henchmen, like Robinson or Deveraux,” Gene replied.  “Blackwell must have given him some type of suit to change his appearance, like the Chameleon in Spider-Man.”
            “Gene, this is the worst time to be bringing up comic book trivia.”
            “Okay, Paul.  Never mind.  Ace, do you think you can get behind him and grab him with your transportation powers?”
            “Possibly, but he could still have time to shoot at one of you guys.  Splitting up might help.”
            “Okay,” Gene turned to Ace and Paul slightly, “let’s split off.  Ace, you stay here.  Paul, take the left and I’ll take the right.”
            With a shake of his head in agreement, Paul began to move to the left of Ace and circle the roof, while Gene did the same in the opposite direction.  Ace remained where he was, his face fixed upon the still-smiling man in the other corner of the roof.
            From the ladder of the fire escape, Eric watched.  It was the only thing he could do.
            As Gene and Paul reached the other corners of the roof, the man turned and fired the gun at Paul.  Paul tucked, rolled and somersaulted into the ledge of the roof.  Gene stopped in his tracks, while Ace began to move into his familiar “hitchhike” position when the man brought the gun back around and pointed it at Ace’s head.
            “ That’s far enough.  And, no, Mr. Frehley.  Not yet.”
            After the shot rang out, Eric ducked his head back down and slid down the ladder to the top landing of the fire escape.  He could hear the man saying something, but he was too far around to make out the comment.
            Eric strained to hear what was being said, but to no use.  In anger, he kicked at the brick wall of the building.  It was frustrating enough that he had no idea what was going on, but more importantly, he felt frustrated because he knew he wanted to help the guys.  And what was this talk about Talismans and powers?
            He also did not like how the man kept smiling as if it was a big joke to be shooting out people.  If only there was some way to get the better of him.  To beat him.  To --
            “Mr. Carr?”
            If Eric could have jumped back ten feet he would have.  Instead he twisted his body around to see an old man wearing jeans and a T-shirt.  In his hands he held a package toward Eric.
            “Who are you,” Eric asked, grabbing at his chest as if he had just suffered a heart attack.
            “That matters little right now, Mr. Carr.  The only thing that matters is what is happening on the rooftop as we speak.  Mr. Carr, in this package is a power.  A symbol that will give you a chance to not only turn the tide of events up there, but also created a power within you that could be for the benefit of all mankind.  Will you take it to be used for the betterment of your race?”
            “You mean, if I take this package I will be able to help them?
            “Yes,” Morpheus said.”
            “Of course I will,” Eric grabbed at the package and immediately began opening it.  As he worked on opening the package, a glow began to move not only around it, but around him as well.
            “Look,” Gene spoke every word in an even tone, “you may have the briefcase, but you know we can’t let you get away with the Talisman.  And Blackwell probably would not be entirely pleased if you end up killing one of us.”
            The man almost laughed.  “He doesn’t need all of you.  Besides, I have my mission.  I’ve never failed.”
            Gene was about to continue with his line of reasoning when someone bounced onto the rooftop behind Ace.  The figure pushed Ace out of the way and cried out to the man across the roof.
            “Hey, man, you want to play games, how about a little target-practice.”
            With that, the person began moving toward the gunman.  The person wore clothes that all of the other recognized by now, but his face was now cover in black and white makeup, much like the others would wear.  The shape was somewhat different, but it was definitely supposed to be some type of animal. 
            The voice, as well, was known by all.
            “Eric?”  Paul questioned the figure as it sidestepped a bullet from the gun.
            Eric ignored Paul as he advanced upon the man with the briefcase.  “You see, I’m not quite so easy to hit, am I?  Pretty tough stuff with a gun when you can’t hit a target, huh, buddy?”
            The man once again fired the weapon at Eric, who rolled to one side, sprung up and leaped within five feet of the man.  The man pulled the gun up to chest-level on Eric and was about to pull the trigger, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
            Surprised, he twisted around to see Ace there.  Ace grabbed at the briefcase and pulled it away from the man.
            “I believe that belongs to me,” Ace said calmly.
            The man felt another tug, only this time from his left hand.  Looking down at his hand, he saw that the gun was no longer there.  Fearing the worst, he raised his head to see Eric holding the gun with the barrel pointing down.  With his free hand, Eric pulled back his fist.
            “And I believe you used something that belonged to me a few minutes ago.”
            After the impact of his fist, the man hit the ground in a large clump.  He did not move, but his steady breathing conveyed that he was only unconscious.
            Eric had a smile on his face as he looked up from the man to Ace.
            “Well, whadayaknow?  It worked!”
            “What worked?”  Gene said as he came up to Eric and Ace.
            “I thought if I distracted him long enough, you or Paul or Ace would have a chance to get at him.  If he spent all of his time on me, he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the rest of you guys.”
            “Well, it worked,” Paul said, joining in the group.  “But that was crazy.”
            “Yeah,” Ace laughed as he pointed at the makeup on Eric’s face.  “Crazy like a fox.”
            “What do you mean?”  Eric was confused by Ace’s laughter.
            Gene showed a bit more concern.  “Have you seen your face?  You’ve got makeup on it and it looks kinda like a fox.”
            “Well . . .” Eric scratched the back of his neck and chuckled.  “I was thinking about outfoxing the guy when this old guy appeared on the fire-escape with me and handing me this object.”
            Eric held up what was once Peter’s Talisman.  Only now, it had changed its shape to that of a fox’s head instead of that of a cat.
            “Morpheus!  He was here?”  Ace darted over to the fire escape as he spoke, but he found no one there.
            “I guess that’s what his name is.  But he gave me this and then I felt like something was increasing inside of me.  Like I was suddenly stronger and my mind was thinking a bit clearer.”
            “It’s the Talisman from the Elders,” Gene said as he looked at the object.
            “The what from the what?”
            “Never mind,” Paul said.  “We’ll explain it later.  The thing to do now is to get this guy off of this rooftop and find out what he knows.”
            Paul pointed to the man, only there was a problem.  He was no longer there.  The three standing there spread apart slightly and looked around, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Ace came running back when he saw the others moved in this manner.
            “What’s the matter?”
            “That guy!  The Eric clone!  He’s gone!” 
            “Was it another case of Blackwell sending someone to limbo, Ace?”  Gene asked.
            Ace shook his head.  “Negative, Gene.  I would have felt that type of presence.  He sends them away in a violent kind of action in limbo.  To me it would be like activating an earthquake under your feet.  The only other way is if he really could move someone like the way I do, but why let this guy live?  He didn’t succeed in getting what Blackwell wanted.”
            All four members were silent as the hot wind blew their hair around.
            From across the street they were being watched.  In the window of another building stood the man they had just fought.  On his face was a smile.
            He was smiling because he had pleased his master.  The teleportation had worked exactly as he was told it would work and he was safe.  More importantly, he had gotten exactly what was wanted.
            He looked at Eric.
            Yes.  Exactly what was wanted.


            Ace was rolling over the events in his head, as the four band members silently climbed down the fire escape.  Falling on his backside when he teleported earlier was embarrassing enough, but Ace also wondered why Morpheus had chosen to show himself only to Eric.  He had felt that his relationship with Morpheus had grown over the years after gaining confidence over his emerging powers.  Now he was getting the cold shoulder from Morpheus in favor of the new member.  Almost like –
            Jealousy?  Nah, Ace laughed inwardly as he thought of it.  It was just something disturbing about the notion of how Morpheus came and went.  As if it was not quite right.       
            Eric, on the other hand, kept silent more due to confusion than anything else.  He spent most of the time watching Ace’s makeup disappear and his costume revert back to his normal attire.  That was enough to keep anyone quiet.  More so, he was reluctant to push for information immediately after what had happened, especially as all the other members seemed preoccupied.
            Gene and Paul both said nothing, nor could their thoughts be read from their movements.  Instead, as they walked back into the hall and across the stage, they reached for their instruments and began to tune up for the rehearsal they had planned after Eric showed off the costume.
            Eric and Ace stopped short of the instruments and watch Gene and Paul going through the motions without any hesitation.  Ace looked at Eric, who had a questioning look on his face.  Feeling Ace’s stare, he turned to see Ace had the same expression.  Shrugging his shoulders, he moved toward the drums and sat behind the kit.
            Ace moved in front of the others and put his hands on his hips.  After there was no response, Ace just threw his hands up in the air.
            “What’s the matter with you guys?  I nearly get my head blown off and all you can think about is practicing?”
            The noise from the instruments stopped.  Paul just let his head drop and stared at the floor.  Gene moved forward slightly toward the red-faced Ace, as Eric watched the events unfolding as if it were all some type of dream.
            “What do you want us to do, Ace?  Huh?  What can we possibly do?  We don’t have the Talismans with us.  We don’t know where Blackwell is.  We’re not even sure why that guy was so easy to catch up on the roof or why he wanted your Talisman.”
            “If you and Paul would have had your Talismans and had been working on using them, we could have stopped him before we ended up on the roof!”
            “Okay,” Gene agreed.  “You got us on that one.  Maybe we should have been more wary of Blackwell trying to get the jump on us.  Still, there’s nothing we can do about it now.  On the other hand, we have two weeks to get this show ready for the next tour, and if we don’t pull this off with Eric, we might as well pack it in.  If that happens, you can forget about the band.  And if we split up, you can definitely forget about us working as a unit with the Talismans.  You got me?”
            “Hmmph,” Ace was reluctant, but he could see what Gene was saying.  “Look, all I’m asking is that you and Paul try to spend more time with these powers.  It’s really important.”
            “Why?”  Paul raised his head as he spoke, the flash of anger on his face coming through in his words as well.  “Do these powers help us?  All they’ve done is make our lives dangerous.   We haven’t been able to do much with them anyway and what do we get for our troubles?  Guys shooting at us, that’s what.  Who needs this?”
            “Paul, we were given these powers to help shape the destiny of humans,” Ace walked toward Paul as he spoke.
            “No,” Paul stepped back slightly as he spoke, with a bit of a laugh in his voice.  “Don’t feed me that garbage.  Don’t give me that junk about ‘shaping mankind’ like Morpheus did in the past.  So far, we’ve had these powers for, what?  Five years?  And what have we achieved with them?  Nothing, expect almost get Peter killed.  Now we’ve managed to drag Eric into this as well.”
            Eric said nothing.  It was almost like watching the people in front of him interact in a movie instead of in reality.  It was the only way to rationalize what they were even talking about.
            “We need Eric.  The Talismans must have four individuals in their use in order for them to work properly.  Otherwise, the balance is less than normal.”
            “What’s that mean, Ace?”  Gene said from behind him.  “What do you mean, ‘four individuals in their use?’  Shouldn’t that be ‘four individuals using the Talismans?’”
            Ace knew he had worded himself incorrectly.  “I just said it wrong.  I meant what you said.  Just forget it.”
            “No, I won’t forget it, Ace.”  Gene whipped off the bass and leaned it up against a speaker as he came face to face with Ace.  When Gene stopped, his nose was just centimeters away from Ace’s.  “You seem to know a whole lot more about these Talismans then you’re letting on about.  I’ve noticed it for a while and I’ve seen you do things that none of us other can do.  Why is that, Ace?  How did you know how to contact Morpheus?  How were you able change your clothes into your stage costume?  None of us have ever been able to do that?  Now you’re letting on that the Talismans control us and not the other way around.  What do you know that we don’t?  Even this Eric-clone seemed to know more than we did.  And he gave me the impression that you knew something you don’t have the guts to tell us.  What is it, Ace?  What are you afraid of?”
            “Hey,” Ace moved his head forward so that Gene had no choice but to back up slightly.  “First off, get out of my face!  Secondly, if you would bother learning about your powers and the Talismans, you wouldn’t have to be asking me questions now.  Not my fault that I bothered to do something with my powers.”
            “Well, you know something, Ace?”  Paul unbuckled the strap of his guitar as he spoke.  “Maybe that’s the lesson we’re supposed to learn about these powers -- that we don’t want them.  Maybe we want to just get on with our lives.  Maybe you should just get Morpheus down here right now and tell him for us where to stick those shiny, neat Talismans of yours.”
            Ace stared at Paul, who returned the look.  Neither could read the emotions on each other’s face as both were fixed hard into each other’s eyes.
            After a full minute, Ace finally blinked his eyes.  Without a word, he turned to the stairs at the front of the stage and, still clutching the briefcase that he had carried with him from the rooftop, began moving towards the doors at the top of the aisle way.
            Ace was almost near the doorway when Eric finally took a breath.  Moving from behind the drums, he rose and ran after the departing Ace.
            Paul did not move.  It was as if he had turned to granite and was forever to be positioned on the stage in the manner he had last looked at Ace.  Gene had watched Eric chase after Ace and once he had heard the doors to the hall slam shut, he moved over to Paul.
            “Um . . . are you okay?”  Gene studied Paul’s face.  With his words, Paul folded his left arm and rested his right arm against it so that his right hand covered his face.
            “Aw . . . ,” Paul said, then fell silent for a second before continuing.  “I didn’t mean to say things the way I said them.  Last thing I wanted to do was make Ace leave.”
            “Well, it happens.  It’s just a fight.  He’ll be back.”
            “It’s just these Talismans.  I mean, what’s the point of even having them?  We don’t do anything with them.  Why can’t we just get Morpheus to take them and give them to someone else?  Why do they bother even letting us keep them when we are just failing to even use them?”
            “You know, Paul.  I don’t think we’ve ever actually spent time really talking about the Talismans.  I mean, you and me.”
            Paul dropped his hand and looked at Gene.  “Maybe because I really don’t think there is anything to talk about.  When we first got them, I was a little hesitant, but I finally decided to go in with you guys on it.  But after that incident with Deveraux a couple of years ago, I realized that this was not just going to be a little show we were going to put on.  I mean, Peter could have been really hurt then.  And then, people started disappearing and having their memories wiped out . . . It’s scary stuff, and I just don’t think I really want to have to deal with the idea that I might be involved in someone’s death someday because of it.”
            “ I can understand what you mean, Paul.  More than you know.”  Gene turned away and was looking at the hall.  “I sometimes wonder if the Talismans have more of an effect on us than we even realize.  When we were fighting with Robinson with Peter, I could really feel that Demon side of me coming through.  I could have killed that scumbag if I really wanted to.”
            Gene saw Paul’s look of surprise on his face then shifted his head back toward Paul.  “I didn’t lose control.  I was on top of it.  But I could feel the impulse to go ahead and end her life right there.  It would have been so simple.  No reason to ever have to worry about her hurting us again.”
            Gene’s voice trailed off.  He took a deep breath and exhaled.
            “I felt it was the Talisman.  It was controlling me.  That’s why when Ace said that stuff just now about the Talismans, I wanted to find out more.”
            Gene looked Paul in the eye.
            “I don’t know for sure, but I have a strong feeling they’re using us.”
            “The Talismans?”  Paul almost laughed at the idea of the objects controlling them.
            Gene frowned.  “Maybe not the Talismans themselves, but Morpheus’ people.  If that is the case, then I don’t want it.  I’m not just a puppet on a string that they can experiment on to see what a human can do with these powers.  None of us are.  And while I don’t think Blackwell should have them, I certainly don’t think we should have them either.  One of us could get killed over it, and now they’ve dragged Eric into this mess as well.”
            “Well, what can we do, Gene?”  Paul said it more as a statement than a question.  “It’s obvious that we can’t just stick them in a drawer and forget about them.  Today proved that.”
            Gene agreed with the shake of his head.  “I know, but the only option right now is to treat it as the nuisance it is.  If we reject it long enough, Morpheus is bound to see that it no longer has an influence on us and will have to find others to take on the powers.  Otherwise, he’s failing in his mission.  In the meantime, we just have to keep an eye out of Blackwell.  If we can get rid of him, then that might be the end of all this as well.”
            “Yeah,” Paul said.  “But you’re forgetting one thing, Gene.”
            “What’s that?”
            “This thing will end just as quickly once Blackwell gets rid of us.”
            Then there was silence in the hall.

            “Hey, Ace,” Eric shouted as he slammed the door to the hall shut and ran after Ace.
            Ace kept moving.  Not looking back at the frantic figure coming up from behind.
            “Hey, c’mon, Ace.  Stop.”  Eric said in between gasps of air as he came closer to Ace.
            “Okay,” Eric came to a halt in order to help get more air into his lungs.  “Tell you what.  I’ll have a heart attack right here and you just keep on moving.  Let’s see how that’s going to look in the papers.  ‘New member of KISS dies on New York City’s pavement while guitarist walks on by.’”
            Ace kept moving.
            “Okay, that’s it,” Eric got down on all fours and positioned himself to fall on his back.  “Here comes the heart attack.”
            Ace slowed a bit, but continued walking.
            Eric rolled over on his back and straightened out his legs on the sidewalk. 
            “Here I am, Eric Carr,” Eric shouted into the hot summer air.  “New drummer in KISS.  I’m dying of a heart attack.  Somebody save me.  Ohhhh.  Argh.   I can’t believe that Ace would leave me like this.  Ohhhh.  I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth.”
            Ace stopped in his tracks and his head bobbed as he replayed the words in his head.  Eric could not see Ace’s face, but knew from his body language that he had gotten Ace’s attention.  Finally, Ace turned around and walked back to Eric with a small grin on his face.
            “Okay, Eric, you got me.  What do you want?”
            “I, uh, I . . .” Eric laughed.  “Uh, now that I got you, I don’t know what to tell you.”
            Ace did not respond.
            “Uh . . .” Eric continued.  “It’s just that I didn’t want to see you walk out like that over something that seems to be as important as these Talisman things.  I mean, I’ve just had something really weird happen to me because of it and you seem to know the most about them.”
            “Well, why you get off the ground and talk to me.”
            Eric pulled himself off the sidewalk and stood up next to Ace.
            “Well,” Eric brushed at his pants, then pulled at the Talisman in his pant pocket.  “What exactly are these things?  How does it give us these powers?  Why do we have them?”
            “Man, Eric, that’s a lot of questions.  I don’t know if I can answer them just like that.”
            “Well, Ace, it seems like practice is over for today.”  Eric said with a grin.  “How’s about we get something to eat and talk about it.”
            Ace laughed.  “I don’t know.  I’m not sure if after what Paul said that I’m in the mood to really talk about this stuff right now.”
            “Oh, c’mon, Ace.  I’ve never seen anything like this before, and now I’m apart of it.  I need to know about it if I’m going to be part of KISS.  I need to learn about these Talismans.”
            Ace kicked at the ground a bit, looking at his shoes.
            “I need you to teach me,” Eric said.
            Ace looked at the sky.  “I just don’t know.  Gene and Paul seemed to be a bit hung-up about this stuff.  I don’t want you to get any hassle from them about this.  Maybe it would be better like Paul said to just hang it up and let Morpheus find some other guys to do it.  Might be best for everyone.”
            “You know, Ace.  Maybe if the two of us can go to Gene and Paul about this, we might be able to swing them back into doing this.  But I will need to know more about this stuff if we’re going to do it.”
            “I don’t know --” Ace began once again.
            “I’m buying lunch,” Eric leapt into the middle of Ace’s statement.
            “Okay,” Ace said, just as quickly.
            After the laughter died down, Eric starting walking back to the hall.  He walked sideways in order to keep his eyes on Ace.
            “Okay, let me get some stuff from the dressing-room and I’ll be right back.”
            “Okay, Eric.”
            “You’ll wait right here, right?”
            “Yeah, Eric.  Don’t worry.  I never turn down a free meal.” 
            Ace laughed as Eric started off in a trot back to the hall.  Ace watched as Eric opened the doors to the hall and went inside. 
            With nothing to do while waiting for Eric, Ace walked across the sidewalk and leaned up against the wall of a building.  Looking around, Ace did not notice the panhandler that came up to him from his left.
            “Spare change, mister?”  The man looked to be in his early-fifties, with a mangy coat, a plaid shirt and dirty pants that were once the in-style for business suits back in the 1960s.  Ace looked down at the man as he was about a foot shorter than Ace.  As he did so, the man looked up and smiled, his few remaining teeth beaming yellow.
            “What?”  Ace said in surprise, as he did not see the man approach.  He then began digging through his pockets and pulled out a couple of dollars.  “Uh, here.”
            “Thanks, mister.”  The man said in a jittery manner.  He started to wander off, and Ace shifted his eyes to look at the sidewalk. 
            “Oh, mister?” the panhandler said as he stopped and turned back to Ace.
            Being bothered by the man was annoying Ace.  He looked up.
            “Yeah, what . . .”
            Ace’s voice trailed off as he saw now that the person standing where the panhandler had been was now the man he had seen less than an hour ago on top of the building.  The man smiled and the sunlight almost seemed to gleam off of his white teeth.
            “Keep it up, Mr. Frehley.  With every thing you do, you’re leading the Talismans right into our hands.  Mr. Carr was the first step.  That’s good.  Soon, the Talismans will belong to Blackwell, and the fall of the Elders will not be far behind.”
            “What?  What’s that supposed to mean?”  Ace began moving towards the man as anger once again swept over him.
            The man merely smiled even broader.  “Don’t worry.  You’ll find out.  Until we meet again, Mr. Frehley.”
            With that, the man disappeared in a flash of blue light.
            Ace looked around in all directions, hoping for some sign of the man, but instead, all he saw was Eric walking back from the hall.  Eric saw Ace and waved at him as he approached him.
            Ace did not wave back.  All he could think about was what the man had said about Eric.
            “I’m ready, Ace.”
            Ace did not respond.
            “Hey, are you okay?”
            “Wha?” Ace motioned his head so that he was looking directly at Eric.  “Uh, yeah, yeah.  I’m fine.  Are you ready?”
            “Ready as I’ll ever be,” Eric said.
            “Okay, let’s go.  My car’s around the corner.”
            So the two began to walk down the street.  Yet, instead of the conversation about the Talismans that Eric thought would begin, there was silence between the two. 
            Eric decided to wait until Ace brought up the topic.  There was plenty of time, he felt.  Plenty of time to learn about the Talismans on the upcoming tour.  All he could think about was the adventure that lay ahead.
            Ace kept thinking also.  About the Talismans.  About the man.  About the Elders, Morpheus and Blackwell.
            Mostly, however, he kept thinking about Eric.  About how he was the “first step” to the destruction of the Elders. 
And how Ace was going to lead them all to the inevitable end.