Song Without A Name
Von Lady Yate-xel
They’d sat for some time. Some very long time. Edgar still felt damp, no matter how many times he put his clothes through the dryer. He’d been busy trying to find some way of getting Johnny to talk that didn’t involve cooking more eggs and Kool-Aid. He didn’t make eggs, but he also didn’t get much better than that.
“So, it’s been ‘later’,” Edgar said. “Can you tell me about what happened yet?”
Johnny looked up from his ramen, a few stray noodles sucked into his mouth as he made a questioning noise in Edgar’s general direction.
“About Pepito, Nny. What did he say?”
Johnny swallowed the noodles, and stared into the bowl for a bit. “Alright. Hang on,” he said, setting the bowl aside.
Johnny walked over to his bag, and pulled out his keys. He sat down on the couch beside Edgar, and dangled the ring in front of him, thin fingers pinching a single simple skeleton key. He shook it in Edgar’s face until Edgar took the key himself.
“That’s the one,” Johnny said as Edgar focused on the key, “The one that caused all this to happen. Guess what he told me about it?”
Edgar blinked. “Uh... what did he tell you about it?”
Johnny reclined against the back of the couch, and closed his eyes. He smiled. A smile that was more a ‘Wow, look at the shit I’m in, isn’t this hilarious’ smile than one of pleasure. “It’s the key to Hell.”
“The key to Hell. Pepito and company wanted to make me their new Cerberus. And you threw the wrench in it. You. By wishing me back here.”
“I... I’m sorry?” Edgar offered. His thoughts mutated into mindless babbling.
“I don’t blame you. You were doing something you thought would help.” Still eyes closed.
“Would you… rather I hadn’t done it?”
Johnny smiled at the ceiling. “I don’t think so. Some version of me agreed to it, didn’t he? I just… can’t believe how fucked up this is.” He sighed and sunk into the cushions.
Edgar stared, baffled, at the key in his hand. It was entirely unassuming – just an old skeleton key, with only a single tooth. It could easily open the simplest children’s toys, and maybe even some cheap journals from the dollar store. Grayish brown with rust and grime, this was the last thing Edgar would have pegged to be the root of all his and Johnny’s problems.
“I can’t believe this,” Edgar mumbled, examining the key. “It just seems so common…”
Johnny laughed. “You’d think there’d be a few more sixes and pentagrams on there, right?” he joked.
“Or at least some flames and horns,” Edgar said, grinning.
Johnny snickered to himself.
“Nothing, nothing,” Johnny said, waving his hand dismissively.
“Oh, come on, what?” Edgar prodded.
“No, seriously. It’s pretty bad, I’ll tell you later.”
Edgar shrugged and rolled his eyes. “Fine, have it your way,” he said, setting the keys aside.
“Thanks, I think I will,” Johnny grinned.
“So… was that it?” Edgar asked, “That couldn’t have been all he told you, I mean, you were pretty up-“
“No. Just no.”
“Nny, come on, you’ve been eating ramen for hours! Don’t you think-“
“No, no, fucking no. I’ll tell you fucking later.” Johnny was the only person Edgar knew who had such drastic mood swings. Edgar then tried to ignore the fact that he only actually knew four people.
“Alright, Nny. Look, I’m just going to go bed. Sleep on it or something.”
Johnny didn’t reply, and Edgar took to the staircase.
“And take your bowl back to the kitchen,” Edgar added from the top. He heard a clink of acknowledgement from the living room and, satisfied yet uncomfortable, he went to his room, shutting the door behind him.
Edgar now in bed, and well into sleep, Johnny curled into his usual spot on the pink chair, late night infomercials in his very immediate future.
Late night, and the walls flickered a calming blue, no matter what was on screen. The voices were so excited and so fake, yet somehow they were almost calming. It was about the time that late night television was going to work its sleep inducing magic when Pepito showed up.
Showed up. Not at the door, knocking, not called ahead to say he’d be bringing Squee’s cookies - just standing there, beside the couch, near where Edgar had been sitting earlier.
“Don’t scream,” Pepito said as Johnny opened his mouth, “you don’t need to wake him, I’m not staying long.”
“What the fuck are you doing here? Aren’t you done bestowing little revelations on me yet?” Johnny snapped.
“I’m here to tell you to stay away from him. This is-“
“Shut up. I’m not listening to this shit again. You already did this once today, and I don’t know what you’re trying to get me to do, but it’s not going to work.” Johnny began to sit up, and fully intended to escort Pepito to the door, neglecting the fact that Pepito hadn’t needed a door to get in.
“I am trying,” Pepito said, annoyed, “to prevent him from getting hurt.”
Johnny stopped part way to the door, and looked back at Pepito, who was still firmly beside the couch. “What are you saying?” Not entirely convinced, but at least intrigued, Johnny tilted his head, listening.
“I am saying,” the chain-covered man continued, “that this is all going to hurt him. That you would both do better to stop talking to each other. Just stay away.”
Johnny clenched a fist. “HOW? How am I am going to supposedly hurt, or be hurt? Why the fuck are you so vague?!”
“Because I have to be. The conditions are not mine to rewrite, affect, or disclose. Your other half,” Pepito nodded towards the top of the stairs, “made the deal long ago, and affairs of his kind are not to concern me. I shouldn’t even be here now - I won’t be able to stay under the radar for too long.”
“You think Edgar is watching you?”
“No, but his book is.”
There was a brief silence as Johnny and Pepito paused at the absurdity of the conversation that had just transpired, and the sadder truth that it was not even slightly absurd given their current circumstances.
“Listen,” Pepito spoke up, “if you stay here with him, if you keep associating with him, he will end up in more pain than he’s ever been in before, and-“
“I’ll kill him?”
“-and you won’t kill him, no. That will well be what he wishes for at the end, if things continue as they are.”
Johnny crossed his arms and leaned back against the recliner. “Why do you even care?” he asked. “Why does what happens to me, or to Edgar, matter at all to you? You are fucking Satan.”
“My dad was Satan,” Pepito corrected.
“Then you’re Satan-In-Training, I don’t care. You’re supposed to be Hell’s big shot now, right? Then why aren’t you toasting some guy over a volcano, or beating old ladies with their own canes? What the shit are you doing in my living room warning me to stay away from Edgar?”
“Because I made a mistake. That is all. Think about it. Incredible pain, okay? I have to go -they’ll know I’m here if I stay any longer.”
And with that, Pepito faded, or vanished, or maybe just jumped out of the window. Johnny found he couldn’t process it as it happened, nor recall after it ended.
“F-fuck you,” Johnny choked to the air. He wasn’t sure if Pepito had heard him, but it felt good pretending.
Incredible pain. Edgar would be in pain if he stayed near Johnny. This certainly made forming a band difficult.
Debate raged in Johnny’s head for hours about whether to believe, and what to believe and what he should be doing depending on if he did or didn’t believe. He tried several times to simplify it – “Do you think this shit is true?” but he always got ahead of himself. He’d end up asking, “What does that mean for Edgar?” or “Then what happens?” before answering any of the first questions.
“How do I read the situation?” never got the attention it deserved when “Will Edgar die?” was still unanswered.
After some time, the best he could come up with was that someone who could materialize into your living room deserved to be given a little credibility when they start spouting life and death kind of shit. Before he was completely able to determine whether sleeping in his house would cause Edgar the first waves of that ‘incredible pain,’ Johnny fell asleep sprawled over the pink recliner under the flash of infomercial blue, where Edgar found him the following morning.
“…n’t that hurt?”
Edgar was doing that talking thing again. He had done that more and more as the years had passed. He’d grown that little mini beard thing too. Johnny had thought it was funny at first that Edgar had done it just because Johnny had remembered it, but he then remembered his own blue hair dye and tried to think about something else.
“Sleeping like that, doesn’t your back hurt?”
Johnny picked his head up from the arm of the chair, and looked around. Edgar wasn’t bleeding yet. Johnny was twisted into a pretzel shape that even he thought should be uncomfortable. He unfolded his legs and untwisted his spine, sitting up. He tucked a piece of hair that had been getting too long lately behind his ear as he debated how much about Pepito’s visit Edgar should be aware of. It was Edgar’s living room after all.
“It feels fine,” Johnny said, answering Edgar’s question with his customary delay.
“If you say so.”
“So,” Johnny said to nothing.
Edgar raised an eyebrow. “So what?”
“So Pepito was here last night,” Johnny said casually.
“What?! Why didn’t you say something? I didn’t hear anything!”
“I can take care of myself, mother. Besides,” Johnny let out a breath, “he didn’t stay long, and he didn’t need to talk to you. It boils down to me leaving to make sure you don’t spontaneously combust.” Johnny stood up and headed toward the stairs.
“W-whoa,” Edgar stammered, “woah, woah, hold on.” He scrambled to his feet and grabbed Johnny’s arm as he hit the first step. “What are you talking about? What are you doing?”
“I’m getting my stuff, and getting the fuck away, so I don’t cause you to go nuclear or accidentally murder you. It’s not a hard concept to grasp.” Johnny attempted to pull Edgar’s hand away, but the grip was tight.
“Let go,” Johnny said.
“Nny, stop it! Tell me what’s going on. You can’t just walk off because of what he said, of all people.”
Johnny backed off the step, and Edgar loosened his hold on Johnny’s arm. “He said if I stay near you, I’m going to cause you pain. I’m trying to do you a fucking favor here, now let go.” Johnny's voice was calm.
“And you’re just going to say, ‘Okay, sure Pepito!’ when he says shit like that?” Edgar released Johnny’s arm to wave his own around dramatically, “’Oh, Nny, please go jump off a cliff after you’re done smiting that fanboy!’ ‘Yes, Master! I don’t question you at all!’”
Johnny punched Edgar across the jaw.
“Oh FUCK YOU!” Johnny yelled, “I told you I’m trying to do you some good and you fucking mock me?! Well, GEE, look at me causing you pain already!”
Edgar stood up from his half-crouched position, and after rubbing his jaw, took his turn.
Johnny fell into against the stairs with the force of the blow, and after he regained the air in his lungs, cursed Edgar yet again. After a burst of “fuck you’s” from both sides, there was a silence - silence with the exception of some heavy breathing.
“You fucking bastard, I can’t believe you hit me,” Johnny growled.
“Fuck you, you hit me first.”
“You deserved it.”
“So did you.”
“Maybe I did,” Johnny said, sniffing what he hoped wasn’t blood back into his nose, “but you’re still a fucking bastard.”
“And you’re still my selfish best friend. Charming.” Edgar’s eye looked like it was already turning purple. Johnny felt a twinge of satisfaction looking at the mark and knowing it was his handiwork.
“I’m still leaving.”
“No you’re not.”
“Do I have to hit you again?”
“Do you have to be a complete dick?”
Edgar stood up, and held out his hand. Johnny took it, and allowed Edgar to help him to his feet. “You need a better insult, Nny. ‘Fuck you’ is only effective every so often.” Edgar walked Johnny into the kitchen where he started running some water in the sink.
“You also just can’t leave,” Edgar said, wringing out a washcloth, “because you told me yesterday that you weren’t.”
“I have some more information today,” Johnny grumbled.
“What information? That you’d hurt me?” Edgar spoke as he handed the washcloth to Johnny. “Put it on your face, it’ll keep the swelling to a minimum.”
“I don’t need-“
“Don’t make me hit you again.”
“Fine,” Johnny said, grudgingly ramming the washcloth against his jaw. “And yes, the hurting you thing is sort of pivotal.”
“I’m not worried about it,” Edgar said rather cheerily.
“I am. I don’t wan-“
“Keep it on. And I don’t care. I imagine I’d be a lot more hurt if you were off avoiding me somewhere than if you stayed here with the possibility of hurting me.” He went on to busy himself with getting a washcloth for his own eye.
And they stood there for a few minutes, holding washcloths to their faces, blinking at each other.
“What do you think they’re doing?”
“Oh, relax, that’s the last thing you need to be thinking about.”
“I can’t help it, I just-“
“So do you think you can tell me more about this now?” Edgar asked. He probably sounded far too cheery for someone holding ice to his bruising face, but he felt that it was getting him somewhere.
Johnny moved to a half-sitting position on the table in the corner, the washcloth still on his jaw, glaring at nothing – or maybe everything.
“Come on, Nny, this is ridiculous. Stop acting like a three-year old and just talk.”
“Fucking fine,” Johnny replied, picking his head up from the washcloth in his hand. “What do you want?”
“What do I want?”
“What do you fucking want?”
Edgar didn’t like how many answers to that he had. “…to know what he told you.”
“Well, lemme see here… I’m Hell’s favorite toy, you bringing me back is all a sick joke, and everyone up there thought I was such a riot, they just hauled off and DELETED me in my last life, that’s all.”
“Yeah, and apparently, you’re Heaven’s special something or other and I should most definitely be leaving now.” Johnny started to stand.
“Sit,” Edgar interrupted. “We’ve gone through this already. You’re not going anywhere.”
“Fucking…fine,” Johnny muttered, “but if something starts going all… all…,” he waved his hand around in circles, “bad or fucked up or whatever, I’m leaving. You’re not going to become a casualty of Pepito’s complete failure at life too.”
“I like that ‘failing at life’ here refers to ‘failing at Satan.’”
Johnny smiled. “Wish we all had that problem,” he said.
“I think Jimmy would probably do pretty well,” Edgar said, watching the ceiling fan. Why was it even running?
“Nah, you’re thinking of Devi. Jimmy couldn’t Satan his way out of a wet paper bag.”
“You just made Satan a verb.”
“Fuck yeah, I did,” Johnny said proudly. “I’d like to see you beat that.”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
“Says the guy with the nosebleed,” Edgar smirked. “I just can’t take your extreme vocabulary skills.”
“Oh, fuck you. You think you’re so cool. I should call the battered spouse people on you.”
“Will you now? You know I only do it because I lo-“
“Oh, shut up!” Johnny threw the washcloth at him.
“You were asking for it,” Edgar said, quite satisfied with himself. Johnny clearly thought everything was hilarious, and no one was dead or bleed- well, okay, Johnny was bleeding, but not because of the battered spouse comment, so it was still a victory. He threw the washcloth back at Johnny who protested that he didn’t need it.
“It’ll be fine,” Johnny said, waving the cloth away, “besides, my face is seriously cold now.”
“I’m sure that it’s alright now, then.” Edgar tossed Johnny’s washcloth into the sink. He watched it slide down to the center of the sink, and fill the drain.
“So, did Pepito say how you would hurt me?” Edgar asked, glancing up from the sink.
“No. He just said ‘INCREDIBLE PAIN,’” Johnny made some ridiculous face and twitched his fingers, “over and over.”
“Oh, just that? That’s not so bad. Here I thought you’d murder me with Kool-Aid or something.”
“He said I wouldn’t. Kill you, I mean. But that you would wish I could.”
Johnny fiddled with something on the table for a few moments, then looked up at Edgar.
“He’s the son of Satan,” Johnny said.
“He does sound like more and more of an evil fucker every time we talk to him, yeah.”
“No, Edgar, I mean really.”
Tenna dodged the last pillow and grinned at Devi.
“Jesus, Ten, what the fuck would make you say that?” Devi demanded, still armed with a cushion.
“Oh, come on, Devi, you can’t tell me you don’t think th-“
“I don’t think that!”
“I’m fucking serious!” Devi hissed, launching the cushion.
“Nah, you’re not fucking anything, it’s those two who’re-“
“JESUS CHRIST, TENNA!”
“Alright, alright, alright,” Tenna said, hoping to avoid the pelting rain of more furniture. Devi had finally let her into the apartment after a bologna CD proved to have gone bad and stunk up the entire floor. Probably, Tenna thought, not the freshest “meat” to begin with.
“God…,” Devi breathed, running a hand over her head, and brushing a purple pony tail off of her shoulder. “Okay, Tenna, we’re going to try this again,” she said, repositioning herself on the couch. She straightened her spine, and faced Tenna, putting her hands out in front of her to ‘box’ things out.
“So,” she started, “I worry about Nny and the whole killing thing.” She mocked setting a box down over her left leg.
“So you put rancid meat under my door.” Another box.
“And then I, against my better judgment, all common rationality, and everything that is holy, let you in.”
“I – and here’s the part where I get confused – worry again.”
“And you scream ‘buttsex’.”
“It wasn’t like that at all!”
“Then what was it like?”
“You were just so blah lookin’,” Tenna said. “Thought I’d give you a boost or something.”
Devi slouched into her remaining cushions. “You don’t really think so,” she said. Not a question.
“Eh, let’s say I might be a bit disturbed, but not surprised? Yeah, we’ll go with that. Do you want some Chinese? I know a great place where the delivery boy should get spooked enough to give us the stuff for free.”
“Don’t change the subject, Tenna. And no, I don’t want Chinese. It looks too much like your bologna.”
Tenna let out an exasperated breath. “Aren’t we done with the whole buttsex thing now?” she asked, standing up, “What more do you want? Chinese, Devi. Food. It’s good for you.”
“I don’t know, it’s just… I don’t know, I can’t decide if that’s fucking creepy or … just creepy, I guess.”
“Or maybe,” Tenna said, hands on her hips, “you’re just jealous?”
“I don’t want to screw either of them, Tenna.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Tenna said, resigning herself to the couch again. Devi clearly wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “I meant,” Tenna continued, “that you just feel replaced or something.”
“Can we get Chinese now?”
“Okay, Tenna, sure.”
“And here I thought the horns were fake.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “You’re taking that awfully well.”
“Nny, there’s a book in my house that knows how many bananas I have, and when you come to visit – the fact that a scary looking man with horns who previously owned the key to Hell is Satan doesn’t really surprise me.”
“The son of Satan, actually,” Johnny corrected.
“In training then, still…”
“What?” Edgar tilted his head.
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Alright, sure. So… what now?”
“I don’t know,” Johnny sighed, “it’s just…so…like, do we go over there and kick his door in or burn his house and eat his children or something?”
“Shouldn’t he be doing that to us?”
“Point. You see why I really just want to get up and go now?”
“Nny, seriously, let it go. I don’t want you to just disappear.”
“Just what exactly,” Johnny said slowly, “is the big deal?
“God, I don’t know,” Edgar said, frustrated, “the idea of my best friend wanting to avoid me for the rest of our lives is kind of a big deal to me. Maybe it’s that.”
“Get a new best friend.”
Johnny let out a puff of air. “Why the fuck not?” he asked. “I’m replaceable.”
If only being mocked, insulted and hurt could be solidified, then Edgar could justify feeling hit by a brick of them. ‘Replaceable’? Johnny actually thought he was replaceable?
“Holy…,” Edgar breathed, running fingers over his forehead. “You actually think that? That I can just conjure up a new one?”
Johnny evidently took this as a real cue to answer. “I do, I’m just-“
“Are you fucking KIDDING me?” Edgar snapped. “You really don’t get this, do you? You were dead, and I was there, saving you from Hell and you actually… You actually think I’ll do this for anyone. That it’s okay for me to have spent all that effort on someone who will just abandon me.”
“That the most important thing in the world to me is worthless.”
“I- I’m not… impo-“
“Don’t you even dare.”
“Edgar, what the fuck?! Are you out of your goddamned mind?!” Johnny gripped the collar of Edgar’s shirt. “I KILLED you once! Why doesn’t this register with you?”
“Because you won’t,” Edgar said.
“Because even if it happened once before… it happened to different people,” Edgar said quietly. “The lines between you and the person I used to know are blurred. I’m not even the same. You might have killed me once, but you didn’t kill me.”
Johnny’s eyes looked frantic as they seemed to search Edgar for something else to lash out at. It was almost a look of horror, but it was closer to “holy-fucking-fuck-Edgar-is-smoking-crack.” He took several short breaths, but didn’t say anything, though he clearly wanted to.
“Fucking…why would you…what the hell…why?” Johnny finally managed. “Why would you be so stubborn?”
“Why would you?”
Johnny let go of Edgar’s shirt, and shoved him. “Because I give a damn about you, that’s why!”
“Me too,” Edgar said.
Edgar slightly disliked the way this was going. He’d spent so long being unable to let himself analyze anything about how he related to Johnny too deeply that this conversation was feeling a bit like going backwards. He really felt there was something fascinating about Johnny – something that he was drawn to since he’d agreed to come back to Earth, and life, to ensure Johnny’s happiness. He’d been thinking about the small group of friends he really had - if they were the only people who would notice him for the rest of his life, it didn’t seem so odd that Johnny would be the focus of his attention, past commitment or not.
So long ago, he’d had a hard time even thinking of Johnny as something more special than anyone else, though he still wasn’t sure what it really meant. He knew for certain that the person standing before him was important. He knew that he even admired Johnny to an extent. Johnny was different; he’d been brilliant and talented before, and just happened to cross paths with incurably insane at some point along the way. Now he was still brilliant and talented, but the feeling was not the same.
“Okay, Edgar. Okay. How do we avoid it then?”
Edgar shook his head, and snapped out of internal monologue mode. “Avoid what? ‘Incredible pain’?”
Johnny shrugged. “Yeah, that.”
“Keep giving a damn, I think.”
“‘Friendship saves the day?’” Johnny asked, rolling his eyes.
“We’ll figure something out,” Edgar said, tugging the collar of his shirt back into shape. “We shouldn’t focus every fiber of our being on it.”
“If you look for something, you’re likely to find it,” Johnny said, gazing blankly over Edgar’s shoulder.
“You also shouldn’t be unaware,” Edgar countered. “Don’t actively look for things that will get us both killed, but notice when they may show up. That kind of thing.”
“It’ll be alright,” Johnny said, grinning. “I’m quite skilled at vigilant, and I’m equally versed in baseball bat.”
“Oh thank god, we’re all saved now.”
“Go to Hell, Edgar.”
“I think that’s your job, actually,” Edgar replied, smiling.
“One day, that’s going to come back and kick you in the face, and if I am not dead, I will laugh at you. Loudly.”
Edgar’s smile disappeared. “You think you will be?” he asked quietly.
“Laughing? Fucking yes.”
“No, no,” Edgar said, shaking his head. “I mean, you think you’ll die?”
“I think we all might, Einstein.”
“No, I mean, during this? With Pepito and everything?”
Johnny sighed and rubbed his arm. “This is how I see it, Edgar,” he said, turning and walking out of the kitchen. “Either I stay and get you horribly mangled, or I disappear somehow. Pepito wanted me to do something. I was going to be useful to him before you brought me back. So…” He turned to face Edgar. “So there’s something hellish about me that I can use.”
“You’re not hellish, Nny.”
“Maybe not, but you’ve got to be marginally evil for Hell to want you this badly, don’t you?”
“But I came here to save you from all that!” Edgar protested. “I volunteered to live again so that you’d be happy!”
Johnny looked at the stereo. “Who said evil was the same as unhappy?”
Pepito stood outside the house, staring into the windows, away from the detection of the book. He watched an entire day go by in silence for the two inside the house after the incident in the morning. He felt sure that he had seen something change, and he wasn’t sure if the change was in his favor.
When evening fell, the only sound the house had seen in hours leaked out of the stereo and into every room.
“Taking photographs, speaking slowly through the permanent waves
the taste in her mouth that she read about earlier today
This is happening for your pleasure
At your leisure
Use your evil
When you want”
Although he had been trying so hard to prevent any sort of agony on anyone’s part, Pepito admitted to himself that he enjoyed Edgar’s scream over the lyrics of the song.
“When the night becomes automatic sequence joining the day
singing something new, someone else is sliding into your way…
when a menthol hit, hooks a spatial girl in her summer clothes
like a transmission on an empty channel – all lines are closed
this is happening for your pleasure
at your leisure…”
For the first time, Pepito genuinely enjoyed the job he inherited from his father, and wondered if Johnny would enjoy inheriting it from him.
“use your evil
when you want…”