He fucking hated Halloween. He hated the cheesy decorations and the ridiculous movies and the asinine costumes. But most of all, he hated that fucking song.
Zed gritted his teeth and adjusted his shades.
Stuck in an elevator with a cheesy instrumental version of that song was guaranteed to put him in a foul mood.
Yes, in his natural form he had wings. Not feathery angel-type wings, but immense, leathery wings meant to allow him extreme maneuverability. And, yes, he had one eye. He’d lost the other to a serial killer–along with one of his horns–when he’d stepped in to save a human. Did that make it into the song? No. Just the one eyed, one horned, flying thing.
And he wasn’t purple. There might be a slight…tinge to his skin, but purple was just a bridge too far.
To make the whole of it worse, the campy portrayal in popular culture had stuck, so that none of the majesty or power of the incubi made it through. The whole thing was infuriating.
The second there was enough space, he slid sideways through the ornate elevator doors. His boots didn’t make a sound as he made his way across the marble floors, ignoring the looks from the older couple in the lobby. His spiky dark hair and thrift store jeans weren’t standard fare for the Beverly Wilshire. Add to that the scar extending from below the frames of his shades through his eyebrow and up into his hairline, the piercings in his ears and the banded black tats on corded arms bared by his black G Dragon Coup d’Etat tee, and he looked more punk than posh. He’d never cared much for convention, and he did love his comfort.
Amused, Zed nodded politely to the doorman and stepped out the front doors. The city opened up, a sea of noise and emotion. He breathed in deeply, enjoying the smells and tastes on the early morning air. A tease for someone like him. Rodeo Drive hadn’t yet woken up, and foot traffic was limited. It didn’t matter. Someone, somewhere, was always having sex. And he needed that sexual energy to survive. Humans leaked so much sexual energy it perfumed the air in larger cities. His mouth watered, his groin tightened in a pleasurable, low-level hunger. The best thing about his job was the ease with which he could feed. Which, contrary to the song, did not involve him eating people. Ridiculous, really.
“Good morning, Mr. Long.”
“Hey, Cyrus,” Zed replied, stopping in front of the rail-thin young man in a perfectly tailored steel gray suit and narrow black tie. “Is everything loaded?”
“Perfect.” He slid into the back seat of the Range Rover, sighing his relief at seeing the travel case that contained his gear. Two laptops, four controllers, a mixer, and a quartet of CDJs. Headphones, backup files, all the connectors and cables. He didn’t use them all, but years of work had convinced him that backup equipment was never a bad plan.
Cyrus closed the door firmly and Zed leaned back against the soft leather of the seats, relaxing in the quiet as Cyrus eased the SUV into the stream of morning commuter traffic. The smells and sounds of the city were muffled by metal and thick glass, so he floated along on a cushion of peace. Bliss.
He needed the sex, but he found the majority of humanity wearing. His kind did best when they found their mate, but that often took centuries. He was young, not even a century and a half old.
“Straight to the grounds?”
“I’d like to get settled before people start moving around, but we aren’t in a rush. How long will it take?”
“Two and a half hours is my best guess, possibly more depending on traffic getting out of town.”
“Keep me posted. Thanks for getting me.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Long.”
Zed closed his eye and ran his play list through his mind. He’d gotten about half-way through when Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry interrupted him. The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement as he answered his phone.
“Hey, Aaron. Yes, I’m in the Rover and on my way to the festival. Yes, my equipment is here. No, I don’t anticipate problems. Yes, I’m supremely grateful to have you to organize this for me.”
“Asshole,” his agent muttered. “All that’s good, but it’s not why I called.”
“You’re going to bug me about the song again, aren’t you?”
“Yes. It’s a good business hook. Mash the Mash was your biggest seller last year. It’s still selling, picked up with Halloween, so the novelty association is still strong. This would be better. Springboard off the Mash.”
“I fucking hate the song, Aaron.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t care. I hate dubstep, doesn’t stop it from selling. Someone’s going to do it, then you’ll have to listen to it and you won’t even be making money.”
“You just don’t give up.”
“If I did, I’d be useless to you.”
“True.” Zed rubbed the back of his neck. Aaron had a point. A video with cats dressed in costumes and set to Purple People Eater had gone viral over the last week. It was too hot. Someone was going to pick it up. Some dick would loop it into an extended mix and stutter the chorus. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the teeth. Just thinking about it made him want to punch someone in the throat. “Fine. I’ll do it. Clear the rights.”
“Already done. Optioned it when the video started to blow up. Cleared a window. They agreed to exclusive rights through the end of the year in exchange for a percentage.”
“You know it. Gotta earn my percentage.”
“I assume I now have a clean copy of the recording.”
“You assume correctly,” he confirmed. Now that he’d gotten what he wanted, he was all easy joviality. “Also, I arranged for you to have a trailer away from the artist colony. Actually two trailers. One’s a studio.”
“Of course it is.”
“Don’t be snide, Long. Harris will meet you at the studio trailer. Get it done and I’ll have it up when you drop it in your set.”
“Shit. You don’t give me much time. I’ll have to rework the set, too.”
“That’s your department,” Aaron said complacently.
“Can you let the visuals lab know we’re doing a new track? Harris can connect with them as we lay down the track.”
“Can do. Later.”
Zed contemplated his phone sourly. Dammit. He hit the intercom button. “Cyrus, I need to move up the time table. Get us there as fast as you can.”
There was a minute pause. “Yes, sir.”
Cyrus wedged the SUV into a too-small space to gain a few feet in the LA traffic. Even through the thick glass, Zed could hear the blaring horns.
Cyrus pulled up to the gates in just under two hours, which Zed classed as a not-so-minor miracle.
Zed closed his eye, concentrating on the beats in his head, moving and discarding, shuffling them around in preparation for the studio. He needed to figure out his approach.
Yanked out of his head space, he winced. “Yes, Cyrus?”
“Sorry, sir, but this…gentleman is asking for your ID.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You have the cards and the wristbands.”
“Yes, sir. They still insist on seeing ID.”
“For fuck’s sake,” he repeated.
Zed shook his head and rolled down the window, shifting to remove the passport from his back pocket. One of the guards stepped up to the window. His military-short hair and opaque shades were intended to be intimidating. Zed wasn’t impressed.
“ID,” the guard barked.
Zed felt his muscles tense. He didn’t deal well with authority in the best of circumstances, and this was someone playing at authority they didn’t have, abusing the position simply to make him jump through hoops. He didn’t like it one bit, but fighting it in this case would slow him down and simply wasn’t worth the effort. Instead, he noted the name on the name plate and held up his passport.
The guard made a show of examining it, but when he reached for it, Zed pulled back.
“I need you to remove the sunglasses and hand me the passport.”
Bullshit. “You have seen it. You’ve also seen our passes. Feel free to examine it as much as you like, but I’ll not hand it over to you.”
Oh, he didn’t like that one bit, but Zed didn’t care.
The guard reached for the passport again. “Failure to cooperate will delay your entry into the grounds.”
That was it. He’d had enough.
“Cyrus, please get Mr. York on the phone and inform him of this situation.”
“Yes, sir,” Cyrus answered promptly. There was only the tiniest hint of amusement in his voice. Cyrus was nothing if not professional.
“You’re being difficult,” the guard said, leaning in and placing a hand on the door handle.
Zed knew the doors were locked, so the move didn’t worry him. He was very clear on who was more important to the festival in this situation.
“Mr. York is on the line, sir.”
“Put him on speaker, Cyrus.”
A tiny click, and Aaron’s voice filled the Rover, loud enough for the guard to hear.
“Zed? What’s the deal?”
“We’re having some trouble at the gate. Even with the credentials, they don’t want to let us through. The guard actually wants me to hand over my passport.”
“You’re shitting me. Not cool.”
“No shit.” Zed continued to look directly at the guard. “The privacy clause in my contract is clear, is it not?”
“Yeah, it’s clear. Shit. Yeah. I’ll call Kissa. She’ll straighten this out.”
“That would be helpful. I can’t get your track in time if I’m sitting at the gate.”
Aaron made an exasperated noise. “Let me talk to Kissa and smooth it out, but she’ll come by and do the dance with you.”
“She’d better do the dance with security. If they’re giving me shit, imagine how that goes over with the cabana crowd.”
“Not my monkeys, but I’ll point it out.”
“I don’t need more annoyances. Thanks to you, I have a shit ton to do in the next few hours.”
“I know, I know. I’ll deal with it.”
The guard gave him a very nasty look before stepping back and nodding to his partner. The gate opened slowly, the wheels bumping over the uneven ground. Zed rolled up his window and put his passport away as Cyrus drove the Rover through the gate.
Zed didn’t so much as crack a smile. The victory held no joy for him. He’d much rather have the few minutes back. “They’re letting us through now.”
“I’m still calling Kissa. That’s shit.”
“Agreed. I have ideas about the track. I’ll get with Harris.”
Cyrus veered right at the first fork in the drive. The VIP area and artist area fell off to the left. A low line of scrubby trees and landscaping shielded a collection of trailers. Cyrus pulled to a stop in front of a pair of trailers tucked back under eucalyptus trees and away from the others.
“Seriously. Do you think you can have a track for me by eight?”
“Hell if I know. I’ll do my best. I’m going to try to scaffold it onto a track I was already working, but my set is at ten.”
“I’m aware. I know it’s a lot.”
“What?” His irritation was clear in the way he bit off the word.
“Nice job on the trailers. Thanks.”
“Dammit. Yeah, sure. Get the track done.”
By the time he disconnected the call, Cyrus was already out of the Rover and pulling bags from the back. As part of the privacy clause, Zed had specifically requested no event staff to assist with his stuff. The fewer people who saw him, the better. He liked not having people recognize him, and the scars made recognition all too easy. That was the entire point behind the face-guard deal that was as much part of his stage persona as the music. Half way between Daft Punk and shades, the modified shield covered the scar entirely, along with the entire top half of his face. His anonymity was as much a part of his fees as the cash.
Zed grabbed the equipment case and pulled it out. With more-than-human strength, he carried it easily into the trailer.
Trailer was accurate, but it seemed inadequate for the luxuriously equipped space. Dark wood and slick finishes combined with every amenity possible.
“Cyrus, where are you hanging?”
“Staff trailers, sir.”
“You want the sleeper here?”
Cyrus paused in the door before shaking his head. “Nah. I might get lucky.”
Likely. Zed merely nodded before flipping open his case. He’d need his files if he had any hope of meeting Aaron’s timeline.
Time to work.
There wasn’t enough vodka. Concentrating on producing this track was killing him, burning through his reserves. Having to listen to that song over and over was torture. The more energy he spent trying to keep his temper in check, the more the low-level itch of hunger had grown in his belly. Discomfort passed into a hollow ache, worsening steadily through the afternoon, exacerbated as the festival grounds came to life and the first acts took the stage. He could hear the echoes of bass and knew the energy was starting to crank up. Just knowing the sex was so close cranked him up, sliding under his skin and slicing his subconscious. He’d started downing vodka to dull the edge. By the time they’d eaten an early dinner, his control was fraying badly.
Zed ripped his headphones off and rubbed his temples.
“Why the fuck did I agree to this?”
“Because Aaron is right? This needs to be yours. Also, this is going to be fucking amazing. It’s already amazing.”
“Don’t use logic on me, Harris. Is there any more vodka?”
“How can you be conscious?”
“Fast metabolism. Is that a no?”
“That’s a no. You’ve drunk everything in both trailers. We’ve almost got this.”
“I fucking hate this song.”
“Yeah. I got that the twentieth or thirtieth time you said it.”
Grinding his teeth against the twisting pain in his gut and the stabbing behind his eyes, he put his headphones back on.
Pain in the ass to beat match this song. Session drummers, no matter how good, never kept the same steady beat of a drum track. Because of the variation, it had taken far longer than it might have to mesh the song into the bass track. Once that was done, the process was much faster. He’d only had to listen to the song about a billion times today.
It took another hour before he was satisfied with the track. Harris was a brilliant technician, and while Zed could have put down the track on his own, it had undoubtedly gone much faster with Harris on the board.
Since he had zero desire to have to mess with it during his set, he backed it up – twice – before giving Harris the okay to send it to Aaron. With almost a half hour to spare before the 8pm deadline. Now he had a bit more than two hours to alter his set to include the new track, hunt down some more vodka, and get his shit together.
Harris had taken off, more interested in joining the crowd than sticking with a clearly pissy DJ. Zed could hardly blame him.
Zed steeled himself to leave the metal shell of the trailer. Gritting his teeth, he opened the door and hopped down to the ground. The wave of heat and sex hit him in the chest like a blow. His cock went rock hard and he felt his incubus nature raise up, trying to push him into his natural form. In human form, he could feed only directly, drinking the energy from his partner’s body through his own. In his natural form, he could drink ambient energy. It wasn’t as concentrated, as intense, but it kept his kind from starvation in lean times.
He flung himself into the other trailer, intent on a cold shower and a change of clothes. He sent a silent thanks to Harris when he saw the bottles lined up on the counter next to the sink. Harris might think he was insane, but he’d put in the call for a restock.
Zed cracked a bottle and walked into the bedroom. He took a swig and set the bottle down on the bedside table. He stripped off, leaving his clothes where they fell, and stepped into the shower. He washed off the thin sheen of sweat and enjoyed Aaron’s attention to detail in making sure Zed’s favorite shampoo and soap were stocked in the trailer. Unfortunately, the stimulation of the water against his skin, the slick feel of lather, did nothing to tamp down his hunger. Right now he needed the control the music gave him, needed to lose himself in the math and the beauty of the beat.
He toweled off and zipped open the suitcase on the bed. Jeans and a vintage Radiohead concert t-shirt. Taking a health swig from the open bottle of vodka, he propped himself up on the bed with his headphones and one of the laptops. With an eye on the time, he fiddled with his set. He pulled out the Mash remix and reordered the tracks in the second half of his set. The new track was longer, and much faster, so Zed pushed it to the end. Finally satisfied with is set, he tagged it into both laptops.
He scrubbed some gel through his hair, letting it stick up randomly. He liked the messy spikes his naturally ink-black hair made.
He took a moment to look over the visors he had with him. Mirrored, each was silvered with a different tint. This festival was a circus with a Halloween theme, a haven for the creepy and the fantastic. Sometimes simple was best. He grabbed the black tint shield out of its case and fitted it over his head. They were custom made to sit over his ears and circle his head while leaving the top open.
Time to head out to the stage.
The energy was fierce. His cock throbbed in his jeans, covered by the hem of the shirt.
Damn, he needed a hit.
He locked it down. There wasn’t time for him to find a partner and feed, he was cutting his timing too close. Even so, he noticed the performers on stilts, the costumed attendees, the staff in their distinctive shirts. He noticed the skimpy skirts and the smell of sweat and sex.
A muscle in his jaw twitched and he knew his lips were a grim line. People got out of his way, and it didn’t take long to get where he was going.
This festival was a well-run machine, notwithstanding the incident at the gate.
The bass thumped through the very ground, vibrating through the soles of his boots. The music was a clashing mess of sound, dampened by the fact that the speakers were pointed away from the backstage area. His energy started to pick up a bit. He loved the music, and the combination of music and sex was like a drug for him. It was the reason he did what he did.
After checking with a sharp-faced staffer behind the main stage, Zed found Aaron’s Kissa. Or, rather, she found him.
“Mr. Long. I’m very sorry for your experience at the gate.” She was a trim woman, currently sporting sugar skull makeup, a long electric-blue ponytail, black and white vertically striped tights, a black tutu with black suspenders that ran over her nipples and a tight white cropped t-shirt. She stood easily on black platform heels. In order to be heard, she leaned in close. He could smell make-up and musk. “I would have come by to see you, but Mr. York said you preferred to be left alone.”
Zed blew out a breath before nodding. “Yeah, I was finishing a new track. Do I need to do anything before the set? Aaron didn’t mention anything.”
She shook her head, sending the ponytail swinging. Some of the blue strands clung to his sleeve for a moment before falling away. “You’re set. I’d rather you hang backstage for the next bit. There’s a lounge for artists over there. It has a full bar.”
“I think I’ll go up, if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine. One of my staff will radio me if you need anything.”
She looked at him critically for a moment before smiling. “I like the shirt. Purple is one of my favorite colors.”
Zed blinked. He wasn’t wearing purple. “It’s blue.”
She tipped her head to the side. “If you say so.”
He forced himself to ignore the urgent messages his body was sending as she swished past him. Instead bounding up the steps leading to the rear areas of the main stage.
The festival staff here wore black shirts and pants, an unobtrusive combination that made them virtually invisible as they scrambled to do whatever they were doing.
The music resolved into a heavy bass line under a dirty mix. Nice.
Zed let the beat take him, his body moving in something just less than dancing. His head bobbed and dipped with the beat, his walk taking on the rhythm of the music.
He stepped into the wings and nearly reeled back. The crowd was pumped, and the music had them primed. So much sex, so much heat, it was impossible to ignore it. So much that even in his human form, some of the energy trickled in. Not enough to assuage the hunger, not even enough to take off the edge. Just enough to sharpen the pain. He slammed his shields down, but they weren’t enough to block the level of energy pouring off this crowd.
He let the music take him.
Zed completely zoned out, sinking into the music. He vaguely noted movement around him, but the music helped push back the need.
He was deep when one of the staffers put a hand on his arm. Zed barely stopped his arm from swinging. A full-power blow would kill most humans. Certainly this skinny college kid.
Zed frowned, and the staffer leaned in, his hand cupped around his mouth. “Ten minutes until you’re on.”
Nodding, Zed gathered himself and followed the staffer. The techs were setting his equipment up on the stage, hidden by the low platform that doubled as a wall across the front of the stage. Go-go dancers, clad mostly in glow paint and sequins, gyrated on the platform in tall white boots, the lights from the giant LED screen painting their skin.
He tuned it out, focusing on getting into the flow. The hunger would bleed into the set, an aphrodisiac to humans. The hungrier he was, the more stoked the crowd would become. The music was the only thing that might keep him in check.
The lights came up, flooding the stage. Zed shook himself. He had moments to get himself together and put on a show. The techs finished with his equipment and he stepped out, hidden by the shadows of the lights focused on the DJ waving his exit.
He put the specialized earbud in his left ear, leaving his right free to listen to the stage speaker. He jacked in and cued up the first track, double checking his file lists. The time he’d spent zoning before coming on stage had helped him read the crowd. No human could read a crowd better than he, and this crowd was primed. They didn’t want mellow, they wanted to pump and spew. He was in a mood to oblige them.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the previous DJ bounce offstage. That was his cue. He didn’t need the hint from the stage manager.
He brought the track in slowly, letting the bass build under their feet, in their bodies, before their ears even heard the thump. He looped the snare and brought it up with the bass. By the time the melody topped, the crowd was his, but he was theirs, too.
This stage was geared to house, and he played the crowd. His brain raced ahead, picking tracks from the possible set lists he’d developed, moving the beat steadily up.
Nearly an hour in, and he ramped them to the edge of hardcore. He needed that speed to drop the new track, but every time he pushed the tempo up, the energy of the crowd ratcheted up with it. The sex was thick, a pulse of heat and sweat that lapped over him. He wanted it so bad.
One more track, and he’d be free. Free to find a way to blow off the steam, to feed. The way he was feeling, he knew he’d need multiple partners. His skin burned with need, and he could feel his natural form just under his skin, pushing to get out and slake the thirst on the energy of the crowd.
He dropped the new track.
The heavy, fast bass was a heartbeat under the melody. He hadn’t used all the vocals, stripping out the instrumental and leaving the surfer vibe. He was eight bars in before the melody topped. His fingers danced over the controller, using the effects to cut the track up. The crowd was with him, but only just starting to recognize the sample. He felt the moment when more knew what was coming than didn’t. He dropped the chorus.
A primal roar of approval rose from the crowd. The wave of energy crashed into his shields, shattering them.
He stripped off his shirt. Another blast of energy. His control creaked, bending under the strain.
One of the dancers spun just to his right, her legs striped with paint. The smell of sex and sweat was thick enough to taste.
His control snapped clean.
The ear bud bounced off the controller as he roared his need to the crowd, throwing both fists in the air and arching his back.
The crowd roared back, primed and ready.
Zed’s chest expanded, his skin darkened, and the face shield landed on a speaker. His wings pushed out, stretching free as his remaining horn emerged from his hairline.
He could hear the shock in the stage crew, but their scrambling wasn’t important.
The crowd paused, took a collective breath, and went wild.
Zed pushed his power over the crowd, a sexual invitation that found fertile ground. They pushed a wave of energy back to him that fed his incubus cravings.
He curled his talons, cupping his hands, then flattened his palms against the air, slowly flapping his wings to help push his power out again. Out. Back. Out, back. He thrust, they thrust back. Metaphysical sex with physical manifestation.
The crowd broke. Moans, shouts, shrieks. The sounds of release as the climax rolled through the crowd, gathering and speeding until it crashed into Zed.
Even with his superhuman strength, he staggered back. The energy filled him up, pouring into him. He gorged himself, drinking it all down, feeling his wings flex, feeling his cock throb. He drank it all, drank until his own release boiled up, and he shot in the stiff confines of his jeans.
We’re announcing the announcement: We’ll have news about a new project with Elise in November, so stay tuned!