Song Without a Name
Conjured by Lady Yate-xel
She’s been in there for days. How much longer could she stand it? How much more food did she have? How much food could be jammed into a CD case?
Tenna knew it wouldn’t be good. Johnny talking about killing everyone in the room was more than enough warning for her to try to get Devi out, but Devi had to hear it. Perhaps she thought she was just too special to Johnny to have been one of his statistics.
True, Tenna thought, she hadn’t been, but instead Devi found out that he’d tried to make her one.
There wasn’t anything Tenna could do, really. She slid things under the door, but short of camping in front of Devi’s door, or taking an ax to it, she simply had to wait until Devi recovered.
Devi once said it scared her how similarly she and Tenna thought. Tenna told her she needed to get out more. How could they even remotely be on the same wavelength?
She’d been there for days. How much longer could she hold out? How much more was there to eat in the house? Would Tenna put bologna in a CD case again?
Devi really had thought that Johnny was hiding something when he wouldn’t talk about her after he woke up. Somewhere inside, she thought for sure that she was spared Johnny’s memories of being crazy, but when she heard that he didn’t have quite the memory of her fate that he had of everyone else because she had escaped the one he meant to give her, something snapped inside. And maybe then, it stopped being his and Edgar’s little game, and more a surreal reality.
Fuck, she thought, next I’ll be remembering my escape.
Tenna had been scuffling around outside the door for several days, but there really was nothing she could do. She had been sliding things under the door, but other than setting up camp, or busting the door to pieces, she was just going to have to wait for Devi to feel better.
In the past, she felt that Tenna thought so much like her that it was frightening. Tenna’s response to that was the same as always. God, now that she looked at it again, how could she have thought that she and Tenna had any similar thoughts?
Edgar felt some horrible tension in the air with all these new developments. Not only was he unsure of how Devi was reacting to knowing she hadn’t been immune to her best friend’s madness, he was unsure of what kind of madness said best friend was now experiencing. The sleeping on the roof had thrown Edgar off guard entirely, when he had really thought everything couldn’t get any stranger.
They hadn’t been to the choir room in a few days, heading into a week. (Or at least he and Johnny hadn’t – he could only assume the others weren’t spending any time there either.) The food appearing in Edgar’s kitchen came at an accelerated rate now that Johnny was there daily. Edgar was going about things on auto-pilot – making eggs and cherry Kool-Aid for most meals, with the occasional quick chicken thrown in for variety. He and Johnny didn’t discuss the sleeping on the roof, and Edgar wasn’t sure if they were both avoiding it, or if it was only the proverbial elephant on the couch to him and not affecting Johnny in the slightest.
When he finished throwing the eggs on plates, Edgar took them out to the living room, where Johnny was tightly curled up in the ugly pink chair, watching some infomercials.
Johnny looked up and accepted the eggs with a nod when Edgar presented them. There was no ‘thank you,’ but there had never been any real verbal gratitude in all the time they’d known each other. Edgar knew the nod was even out of Johnny’s usual brand of niceties and accepted it as Johnny’s highest expression of thanks.
Edgar let himself fall into the cushions of the couch, managing to keep eggs intact on the plate at the same time. He poked at the eggs a while, but was thinking too much to really feel hungry. Again, Johnny continued, unaffected by everything and anything. Edgar stuffed some eggs in his mouth and attempted to eat, but he simply couldn’t. While he was worried, the eggs tasted like rubber, and no amount of Diablo Sauce was changing it.
Edgar slammed his plate onto the coffee table. He had really intended to casually set it there, but the noise had already startled Johnny, and Edgar found himself on the receiving end of a stare. He stared back.
“Nny, look, this-“
Johnny had said something too.
“What?” At the same time again.
“You first.” One more.
“Alright, that’s ridiculous. Seriously, you go.” Johnny was at least laughing. Good start.
“Okay, okay. Basically, I just... I want to know what’s happening,” Edgar started. Johnny didn’t seem to know where that was going as evidenced by the raised eyebrow. “Well, okay, we’ve got you, and the keys, and the...,” Edgar made the ‘conjuring’ gesture with his hands, trying to find the best word, “stuff you’re remembering. We haven’t seen anyone in days, the most you’ve eaten is eggs, cherry Kool-Aid and lime Jell-O.”
“And, really, I- What?”
“Green. The proper name is ‘Green Jell-O.’ There is no lime here.”
If Johnny had been anyone else, Edgar would have accused him of not listening, of not focusing on what was most important, of something, but instead, he chuckled to himself, replied with an ‘Of course,’ and continued. “I’m just not sure what’s happening now. I mean, is this it? You remembered some scary shit and now we’re done messing around in this stuff, let’s go be domestic?” It felt nice to be the one accusing after all the freaking out Johnny had done recently.
Johnny looked focused on a knot in the wood on the coffee table, and his expression became harder to read with glazed over eyes. He sighed and put his head on the arm of the pink chair. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think it might be better just to pretend that book upstairs doesn’t know I’m here. Or that my keys aren’t going to try to tear their way out of my bag every time I talk to myself.” He was still staring at the table. “And sometimes, I wonder why I didn’t just listen to you, even though I know exactly why I didn’t.” There was a pause. “But I think what I should be thinking about most times,” he stood up, suddenly favoring Edgar to the coffee table, and Edgar felt something inside himself jump.
“...is Pepito,” Johnny finished.
And felt that same something die a little.
“Um,” Edgar swallowed once, “what?”
“Pepito,” Johnny began to pace around the room, as though reasoning a tactical invasion, “is the one who gave me the keys. Pepito is the one who owns the house the keys lead to. Pepito is the one who lives with Squee... who I think remembered me. And Pepito is the one who said he’d see me in a few years. He has to know everything. And I plan to go and get that everything.”
“And when were you planning on telling me that? After I made enough eggs for the four of us?”
“I wasn’t sure I was going to.”
“Then what were you going to say earlier, when we were talking over each other?”
“What time is it?”
“Six-thirty. Nny, what were you going to say?”
Johnny got up, slid into some old sneakers of Edgar’s, and grabbed his bag. “Coming?”
“Nny, come on!”
“A secret. Now come on, or I’m leaving you here.”
It was chilly and grey outside, and the few blocks to Pepito’s house were even shorter than they should have been with Edgar processing ‘a secret’ in his head the entire way. He has just barely begun to grasp that Johnny was actually going to tell him said secret when they turned the corner onto Wolverine Way - Pepito’s street. Apparently, Wolverine had been the school mascot of the old high school before some horrible fire that Edgar didn’t remember, and they never changed the name of the street the school had been on.
There were some strange mechanical devices in the grass near the sidewalk in front of Pepito’s house. Before Edgar had a chance to determine if they were satellites or GPS units, Johnny bent over and waved into one.
“How’s the research, Dib?”
The machines returned a static-ridden Trenchcoat’s voice.
“You’re in the way of the cameras, Johnny.”
“Good to hear. Carry on.” Johnny saluted the camera.
In all likelihood, Johnny hadn’t understood a word Trenchcoat had said. He and Edgar approached the porch, and Johnny rang the doorbell while beating on the door and yelling for Pepito. Edgar cringed, but kept quiet. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to meet these people anyway.
About the time when Edgar thought Johnny would bash the door in with a crow bar, the knob turned, and a skinny guy with stringy black hair and a long t-shirt answered the door, at first looking ready to tell off whoever had been beating his door to death. One look at Johnny, and he attempted to slam it, but Johnny had already crammed his foot inside.
“Squee, you have to let me in!”
“I don’t have to let you do anything!”
A few minutes of struggling later, the door opened fully, and Johnny tumbled into the entry way. A sickly-colored man with even stringier black hair than the first guy was smiling in the doorway, holding the door open. He had keys locks and chains hanging from him, and Edgar noticed his eyes seemed to be a little off balance.
“It’s alright, Squee,” he was saying to his disturbed housemate. “I think we’ve been expecting him long enough.”
“Pepito,” Squee started, “I’ve already told you about this, you can’t possibly-“
“Shhh. Let’s talk to him.”
Johnny looked quite pleased with himself, and Edgar wasn’t sure how Johnny wasn’t hearing the ‘right where I want him’ tone in Pepito’s voice. Suddenly, Edgar was grateful that he had come along.
Squee vanished into the kitchen, mumbling something about cookies, and Pepito led Johnny and Edgar into the living room, where a video game was paused on the television. It looked like a first person shooter of some type. One character was named ‘gOd_Of_HeLl’ and the other ‘dontshoot.’ The latter seemed to be winning.
The floor was warm. Not just ‘we have shaggy carpet’ warm, but ‘we have a hell of a heating system under our house’ warm. There was some loud music pounding away in the background, and Edgar thought he smelled something burning.
“Saved the cookies!” Squee exclaimed from the kitchen.
Something not cookies.
“So,” Pepito said, smiling that same smile from the moment he opened the door, “What brings you back, hmm? More cookies?”
“No. I don’t want your cookies. I want some answers.”
“And I believe we went through this a few years ago, yes?”
“Yes,” Johnny smiled, “but then, I didn’t remember.”
Pepito didn’t say anything, but the smile went away. Squee, who had just come in with cookies, looked like he may be sick. Johnny looked shocked that the information had had such an impact, before looking pleased with himself again.
Edgar finally spoke up. “Look, can someone just give us some information? We know something funny is going on, and that it has something to do with one or both of you.”
Pepito suddenly looked very worried, and nodded. “It’s alright. It’s looking like I have no choice now.” It was Edgar’s turn to be surprised that what he was saying was so effective. “But,” Pepito continued, “you,” he pointed to Edgar, “have to leave.”
“What?!” Edgar and Johnny again spoke at the same time.
“I will tell you what I can, but I can’t have him here. He is not involved.”
Edgar looked at Johnny, who stared at the paused video game for a moment, before looking at Edgar. He said nothing for a while. “I’ll meet you in the choir room,” he said finally . “It’s cold in there. If you want, there’s a trench coat in the band room.”
For a second, Edgar thought there had been something in the cookies, or in the music. But no, Johnny meant Dib. Dib set up his base of operations in the band room and Edgar could keep watch on the house from there.
“Okay. I’ll see you over there.” Edgar stood up, and Squee showed him to the door and Edgar made his way down the stairs.
“Edgar, right?” Squee’s voice from behind him.
“Um... I can’t quite explain this,” Squee said, closing the door behind him, “but, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s alright, it’s not like I’m not going to hear all about it anyway.” Edgar rubbed his arm, smiling weakly.
“No, not about this. About what’s going to happen to you. I tried to tell Pepito a long time ago that this wasn’t a good idea. He’s gotten himself in too far, and I think you’re – no, you are going to suffer for it.” Edgar found himself struck dumb, and he stared silently at the nervous man in the doorway. “You’d better get going; it looks like it’s going to rain. You know what happens when it rains.”
He retreated into the house, and shut the door.
Johnny felt a little strange that Edgar had been thrown out, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t going to share everything with him as soon as they got home anyway. He shifted his weight on the couch a few times before Pepito stopped pacing and started talking.
“First, ‘cuz I heard Squee do it, I’m saying sorry. This is not going to be without some pain. And I – fuck, no matter how I do this...”
“I remember things now,” Johnny offered, hoping that would make it easier for him to talk. “I know what Squee was so afraid of. I’m not wild about it either.”
“Do you know what those are, Johnny?” Pepito motioned to Johnny’s bag, inside of which his keys could be seen and heard as they lunged towards Pepito’s kitchen.
“Yes. Keys, but...” He held out his hand and Johnny tossed them to him. He began selecting a few at random, just barely holding them between long fingernails. “This,” he pulled a key out, “is the key to my old house. This is the key to the lock on a barn I once stayed in, this is the key to my old neighbor’s house, and-”
“Pepito, this is lovely, but I didn’t come here to listen to you reminisce.”
“And this is the most important key, and the reason I gave these to you.” Pepito held a small skeleton key with a simple loop at the top, and the simplest of notches at its end.
“That? I’ve jammed that thing everywhere I can possibly think of, and it –“
“Doesn’t go anywhere,” Pepito finished. “This key was given to me a long time ago, by my father. He thought the safest place for it was with his son.” Pepito glared at the key for a moment, and then clenched it in a fist. “He was wrong.”
Johnny wasn’t sure if this was a cue to ask some sort of question or not, but he felt like this was finally getting somewhere that was relevant to him, at the very least.
“The first time you lived," Pepito continued, "you died because of this key. Everyone did. Because of me and this key. At the time, I wore one lock on my necklace, and this key was its match. They weren’t supposed to have been opened at random, nor by someone with inexperience. I did it anyway. Squee was over one day, and we were tired of playing with the dog. I thought I’d find something he’d like.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Pepito snapped. “You know it’s not any different with you and mild-mannered-glasses-boy outside.”
Johnny felt a little disturbed, but decided again that it wasn’t time to say anything.
“Anyway... we weren’t the most well liked kids on the blacktop, so I thought Squee would be happy to see some of the others punished. He was nervous and upset about it, like he was everything else. The first time had been a little graphic for him apparently. And I told him, ‘Amigo, this will be great, don’t worry, I’ve got it.’ I told him I could keep everything under control. No, I couldn’t. Have you ever seen a cartoon on TV where someone spills an ink well, and it blots out everything? Everything but the whites of the main character’s eyes?”
Johnny was rather worried that he thought he knew where this was going. “Yeah... it wipes out everything, everything runs from it, and crams into one little corner before the episode ends or something...”
“There’s no episode end card when that happens in real life. When everything around you is swallowed up by black, there’s no giant hand to fix it. I ended up just resetting it all. Everything before me, everything before you, everything before ‘before.’ This key is the key to Hell.”
“Then... then it responds with my name to...”
“To Hell. It’s in my basement. The lock is somewhere in all this,” Pepito rattled the chains and keys strung around his neck and waist. “It makes the floor hot, and there are people screaming down there. We carpeted the place to have some excuse for the warmth and we play that music to drown out the noise. I gave you the keys to keep everything away. If you had what got me into trouble the first time, and you went everywhere with it, there was no way it would be repeated. When you and that band of yours get noticed, and disappear somewhere, they’ll be nothing more to worry about.”
“Wait a minute,” Johnny held up his hands in a ‘hold it’ position. “You’re telling me that not only are you the son of SATAN, but you gave me a key to Hell, so you wouldn’t have to be responsible for it anymore?”
Johnny felt himself shake with a rage that had been growing since sometime at the start of Pepito’s explanation. “You... you... filthy, conniving bastard, you disgusting, you... FUCK. You FUCKER. What’s wrong with you?!” Johnny’s rage really could have done much better, but he was still so full of questions that the rage wasn’t sure if it needed to be rage for too long.
Pepito looked blankly at him. “Right. All that. Son of Satan, yes? Are you really surprised?” Pepito rolled his eyes. “Hell figured you were a good candidate to be our gate keeper, and our bid for control of Earth’s lock system. My father was never sure who ran the damn thing, and I'm not either, but the guys upstairs had a candiate, so we needed one, too. You were already an experienced part of the system, and had everything Hell was looking for. You were assigned to this for a long time. Originally, you were going to die, and be ours, and that was the end of it.”
“And then what? You thought it would be fun to fuck around with me?” Johnny grumbled.
“No, Heaven did. More specifically, their bid for control of the system did; their parallel to you - your Edgar. His wish to have you brought back messed with everything. Heaven thought it was a riot - they let it happen. I figured if I didn’t need to be bothered with anything Hell related ever again, I would be happy, so I sent you off with the key. It's sort of a loan situation, though I'm not sure who is loaning to who anymore. ”
Johnny’s head spun. Edgar was the reason he had to go through all of this? Well, yes, he knew that, really, but it had never quite been put to him that way. Before he could finish thinking, Pepito cut back in.
“Look," he said, gesturing with a half-eaten cookie, "this all comes down to this: You need to stay away from him.” Pepito seemed to finally be out of the department of back story, and back to something that Johnny could effect. However, it was not exactly favorable, and Johnny wasn’t planning on listening.
“Fuck you," Johnny spat. "Edgar’s about all that makes any sense in this shit you’ve conjured up for us, there’s no way I’m just going to waltz away because some loser who can’t take care of his own shit says so.” He held out his hand, waiting for Pepito to return the keys.
“But you want them back now?”
“Damn right, I do. My whole life’s on that key ring, I don’t care if yours is stuck in there, too. If all that’s going to happen because I have it is just that it doesn’t open Hell, then fine, let me go, and no one will say anything more about it.” Johnny was growing impatient with Pepito who still had a death grip on the keys.
“And that’s it, is it?” Pepito asked, “That’s all? No ‘who, what, where, when, why?’ No ‘Do you remember blank?’ Nothing? You’re quite a ways from the nosy kid who came in here a few years ago.”
Johnny sat back against the couch, and let out a sigh. All he really wanted was just to break out of here, take his keys, and never come back. He almost regretted coming, but now that he knew what his problems were, they didn’t seem like problems anymore. What did he have to do now? He knew what the key wanted, he knew why the psycho had given him the keys, and as much as it pissed him off, what else was there to do? Give it back and risk him losing it? Not happening. ‘Ink Well Syndrome’ wasn’t looking appealing – cartoon or not.
The heat from the floor was almost soothing now that it was getting to be later in the evening, and he almost found himself falling asleep reclined on Pepito’s couch. Squee was standing in the doorway to the living room, still looking pretty uneasy, but by now Johnny assumed that to be his default state.
“...Black tongues speak faster than the car can crash
You supply the rumors
And I'll provide the wrath”
The music pounding in the background caught his attention for the first time. He actually had this song on his CD player, and had covertly played it for Edgar the night they slept on the roof. He wondered if the other song he had heard in this house years ago was one he could find. He didn’t really remember it, but he felt confident he could retrieve it.
“Alright," Johnny said through yet another sigh, "there is something else I want to know. You said the first time I lived, that it was your fault I died. What happened that I’m here, and not in the second life? Did I fall off a bridge or something?”
Pepito dropped the keys into Johnny’s lap.
“We deleted you,” he said as the keys clinked against each other.
“Oh. So someone up there said, ‘Boy, Johnny,” the keys lurched at Pepito, “sure does suck at life, let’s just pretend that didn’t happen’?”
“Yes. You need to go now.”
“...Fate changes faster than the death of light
You supply the envy
And I'll provide the spite”
And with that Pepito grabbed Johnny’s shoddily sewn sleeve and shoved him towards the door. Johnny stumbled out on the porch, and Pepito thrust Johnny’s bag onto the porch with him.
“Stay away from him, I’m serious,” Pepito warned.
The door slammed before ‘Fuck you’ escaped Johnny’s lips, and he was left standing there, unsure of whether he wanted to break back in or break into a run in the other direction. He turned and looked at the cameras in the grass. He smiled weakly at them, waving, and told them he’d be over shortly.
“I’m not watching you, Johnny,” the static Trenchcoat voice replied. Edgar's voice cracked through as well.
Johnny didn’t hear it.
Edgar met Johnny outside as soon as he saw him leave the house through the cameras in the band room. Dib had been a little weird, but didn’t mind Edgar keeping surveillance as well. Johnny looked like he had been effected by the visit somehow, but Edgar really couldn’t tell how.
“Well?” Edgar asked, as soon as he was close enough.
“I don’t know.” Johnny was staring somewhere in the vicinity of Edgar’s wrist and sounded like he had been asleep for some time.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Didn’t he tell you anything? I heard you yelling at him, for God’s- for Pete’s sake, there had to be something!”
“I’ll tell you later, alright? For now I just want to go home.”
Edgar turned to the choir room, grabbing Johnny’s wrist to lead him back there. Johnny wasn’t moving. “Nny? Come on, I’ll help you unlock.”
“No. I want to go home.”
“But thi- Oh.” Edgar smiled to himself, and felt as though he had accomplished something. “Okay.” A quiet laugh. “Let’s get going then. It’s getting dark and it smells like rain.”
They were silent for the trip back to the house, which felt so much longer than it should have. Not a word between them but the sound of Johnny’s headphones – always at max volume.
“...here with me
To count the times
The days turned into years”
A few streets from the house, it started to rain. Edgar tried to speed up, but Johnny wasn’t altering his pace for anything in the world. They continued slowly, and the rain picked up.
Soaked by the time he and Johnny made it to the porch, thunder threatening above them, Edgar was ready to tear the door down to get into some dry clothes, a blanket, and perhaps the pink chair. He turned to take out his key, but Johnny caught his hand. Edgar looked up to find Johnny looking determined - finally a reaction beyond the glazed expression he had assumed for the prior part of the trip.
Johnny’s grip on Edgar’s hand tightened, and Edgar felt one of his fingers bend some way it really shouldn’t have. “Before we left,” Johnny said, “I was going to tell you something.”
The secret from before. Edgar had almost forgotten. “And...?”
“I’m not leaving.”
“That’s it, that’s the secret. I’m not leaving.”
“I... Okay. Thanks, I... won’t leave either.”
With that, Johnny released his hand, and turned to go inside. He opened the door, and disappeared beyond the doorway, leaving Edgar baffled in the rain.
“...next time the rain comes this way
And I find myself braving the storm
I will hear my heart beat...”
And again, like the first time,
“...over the thunder.”
...his hand burned.