For those who had a hunch that the first short story collection from Wonderland Book Award-winning author/Freak Tension zine proprietor/Weirdpunk Books founder MP Johnson -- a deft writer who refracts extremely extreme weird horror fiction through a legit prism of punk-metal-hardcore culture and attack -- would be an exquisitely strange, beguiling, and brutal experience...well, Berzerkoids certainly does not disappoint.
If you've been waiting for a book with titles like "I Think I'll Donate this Severed Head to the Salvation Army," "Looking Fab and Fighting Scabs," and "I Summoned a Demon with a Vagina Mouth" littered throughout its "Table of Radness," someone finally done gone and wrote it. You're welcome.
Decibel caught up with Johnson as he was putting the final touches on the Misfits-themed follow-up to much-celebrated anthology Blood for You: A Literary Tribute to GG Allin -- check out the Kickstarter for Hybrid Moments here -- and he graciously agreed to give our readers a taste of the collection with this exclusive online reprint of the story "Record Collector Scum."
“['Record Collector Scum'] explores the world of aging punk rockers, particularly those with enough money to buy all those valuable old records," Johnson says. "I just like writing about punk rock and punk rockers. It’s a world that means a lot to me, and I’m constantly trying to capture the energy of punk rock shows in written form. It’s probably not possible, but I’ll keep trying.”
And now without further delay let's get the demon-festooned Crucifix Falsifier reunion gig underway...
Record Collector Scum
By MP Johnson
In 1983, Grum Records pressed three hundred copies of Crucifix Falsifier’s first and only EP. The band brought all three hundred to their show at the American Legion hall in Milwaukee. After a furious fifteen-minute set, most of the fifty people in the crowd bought a copy. Considering the night a success, Darbo, the singer, packed the rest into his station wagon and left with a girl to celebrate. She slit his throat and burned his car, along with the remaining records. Of the copies that survived that night and the decades that followed, Michael Panic now held one in his left hand.
In his right hand, he held an engagement ring.
He carefully lowered the record onto the turntable and placed the ring above it, around the spindle. When he heard the clicking of high heels outside the apartment door, he started second guessing himself. He hadn’t chosen the most traditionally romantic way of going about this. Then again, he and Jessica weren’t a traditionally romantic couple. They had matching tattoos of the Crucifix Falsifier shattered skull logo, his buried in a swirl of ink on his forearm and hers standing alone on her calf. Date nights happened in stuffy basements, rocking out to obscure hardcore bands. They judged the quality of these shows by how hard they drummed on the dash and how loud they sang the songs on the drive home, laughing together when they lost the lyrics or couldn’t sing fast enough. No, Michael realized, he had chosen the most romantic way to propose.
When Jessica entered the apartment, he dropped the needle and sat on the couch. The sound of one of the most coveted hardcore records of all time filled the room.
Jessica kicked her heels off. Squinting skeptically, she scrutinized the smile on Michael’s face. Pointing at the record player, she asked, “This is my bootleg copy, right?”
Michael shook his shaved head.
“No fucking way!” She sat beside him, smelling of crème brulee lotion, firewood brown hair pulled back in a perfect ponytail. “How much did it cost?”
“Don’t ask.” It wasn’t the more expensive of the two items on the record player.
The first side finished and he tried not to sound too excited when he asked, “Can you flip the record?”
“You do it. I’m all wound up. I don’t want to drop it.”
“I need you to do it,” he said. “I bought it for you.”
“Okay.” She stood in front of the stereo. “I can’t believe I’m going to be holding the Crucifix Falsifier EP in my hands!”
She reached for the record and stopped. Picking up the ring, she turned slowly toward Michael, mouth open wide.
“Will you marry me, Jessica Ann Sellica?” Michael asked.
She slid the ring onto her finger. “Nothing in this world could stop me.”
The next morning, after a sleepless night spent discussing ways to make their ceremony memorable, Michael stepped out of the apartment building to find a mess of a man leaning against his truck. The left side of the man’s face had been torn off, ripped apart and pasted back together using the cheapest of glue sticks. Scars parted his black hair. Obviously an old school punk, a fact given away by the four faded bars tattooed on his bony forearm and the patches on his sleeveless denim jacket. Michael didn’t recognize him, and Michael knew most of the old schoolers in the Twin Cities.
“You’re Michael Panic, right?” the man asked.
“What do you need?” Michael had disbanded Code 96 a decade earlier. Despite a few records floating around, the band had been forgotten. Fans didn’t stop by.
“The Crucifix Falsifier EP,” the man said.
Michael climbed into his truck, slammed the door and rolled down the window to wrap up the conversation. Having dealt with record collector scum before, he knew he needed to send a clear message. “No. And how did you get my address?”
“The guy you bought the record from. There was a mix up. He had agreed to sell the record to me. You probably don’t recognize me because of the shitty printing job on the EP sleeve, but I’m Sinz. I played bass. I don’t even have a copy of my own fucking record,” he said, as if trying frantically to communicate some great irony. Bits of spittle collected on the undifferentiated flaps of skin that should have been his lips.
“I don’t care.” Michael rolled up the window.
As he drove away, knowing his crew had beaten him to the construction site, he looked in the rearview mirror. Sinz stepped into the middle of the parking lot, pulled out a cigarette, positioned it between his teeth and lit it. Michael didn’t like the way the man made himself comfortable, as if he planned on sticking around.
At the site of an Indian restaurant he had been hired to build an addition to, Michael wanted to think about two things: work and Jessica. That man, Sinz, and his sideways face kept creeping in. Michael wondered if the guy would let the record slip away so easily, after traveling from who-knows-where to get it. Record collectors had the capacity to do fucked up things to get their hands on rare vinyl. Hell, Michael had done some of those things himself, and Sinz wasn’t an ordinary collector.
Jessica had taken the bus to work early, so at least she was out of harm’s way, but what about their collection? He imagined coming home to a busted window and finding the CF record stolen. Maybe Sinz would help himself to some of the other gems, maybe the Cough/Cool single or the first pressing of United Blood. He pushed the thought aside and tried to focus on the lumber in front of him.
When he arrived back at the apartment that evening, he parked his truck haphazardly and jumped out, so certain of what he would find his heart raced and he clenched his fists in preparation to pound something, preferably Sinz’s face. Catching him lingering would suit Michael just fine. Even at thirty-six, full days of physical labor kept him confident in his ability to kick ass. When he stepped inside and found everything the way he had left it, he laughed at himself for living up to his name.
In the kitchen, he found Jessica at the table with a plate full of flesh blueberry waffles, his favorite meal. He sat down next to her and said, “This morning, this guy was waiting outside. He wanted to buy the Crucifix Falsifier record.”
She smiled, blueberry between her teeth. “Record collector scum.”
Michael took a massive bite of waffle, too much for his mouth. Still chewing, he left the table. He grabbed the CF record and put it on the turntable.
“I can’t believe you’re playing it again,” Jessica said.
“I’ve got ‘Death Brigade’ in my head. I want to hear it off the original vinyl.”
“I know what you mean,” she said between bites. “I’ve been looking for this EP for so long. You know this was literally the first hardcore record I ever heard, right?”
He knew. During their six years together, he had stood beside her as they dirtied their fingers flipping through crates of records in stores from New York to Los Angeles. The CF EP held the number one spot on their want list.
She continued, “Of course, I heard it on a tenth generation bootleg tape that my friend Misa had. When I ran away to live with her, we played it over and over, running circle pits around her mom’s living room. It was the best. After that, things got bad.”
They nodded their heads in sync as “Death Brigade” played. When the record ended, Jessica said, “Maybe we shouldn’t play it anymore?”
The record collector in Michael wanted to seal the record up and never play it again, to file it away in the box on the top shelf where he kept the true classics, apart from all the regular records he had accumulated since he started picking them up as a teenager. But that wasn’t the point of this record. This record, like the engagement ring, would never be sold, so preserving its value wasn’t necessary. Besides, he had some fact checking to do. “That guy, Sinz, said he played bass on the record.”
“No,” Jessica replied. “Darbo played bass.”
Michael pulled out the flimsy sheet of paper that served as a sleeve. A picture of four people lined the inside. Other than Darbo and his curly blonde mohawk, the other three were blobs of black ink, four people with only three names below them: Gunz on Guitar, Sheen on Drums and, just as Jessica said, Darbo on vokills and bass.
“You’re right. That’s fucking weird.”
They let the record play out and went back to the dinner table, where they made the decision not to have Code 96 reform to play the wedding reception.
Unless maybe they covered Crucifix Falsifier songs.
Michael and Jessica sat close to each other on one side of the couch, hands intertwined. He wore the same black shorts and t-shirt he wore every night before bed and she, having just stepped out of the shower, wore the pink bathrobe her grandmother had given her years before they met. Moonlight pushed through the living room window. The chaos of Crucifix Falsifier blasted from the speakers again, forcing them to yell as they discussed vegan chocolate cake and the possibility of a green wedding dress. The chorus of “Death Brigade” worked its way into the cracks in their conversation:
This night, this night
Fires burning, burning bright
“If you get to wear a green wedding dress, I get to wear a purple tuxedo.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Jessica stuck her tongue out at him.
“Just flip the record,” Michael said, gently shoving her off the couch.
She froze in front of the turntable as the window shattered. A severed hand landed at her feet, shards of glass embedded in its cotton-candy blue skin. Those shards captured the moonlight, as if the light hadn’t come from the other side of the window, but from the window itself. Bigger than any human appendage by two times, the hand easily knotted its fingers around her ankles, digging in with its saw tooth nails.
Without thinking, Michael dove to the ground next to her. He tried in vain to pry the hand away. At work that day, he had pulled a stray nail out of a truss with just his pointer finger and thumb, but he couldn’t even work his fingertips between the hand’s cold digits and Jessica’s smooth skin. Where the hand had once connected to an arm, raw meat and sliced veins flapped around, as if moving faster increased the chances of putting itself back together. The spot looked soft, so Michael punched it. The blow sent Jessica to the floor, but didn’t dislodge the hand.
Two men appeared in the window. Looking up, Michael quickly realized they weren’t men at all. Men didn’t come quite so twisted, so dark. One stayed outside in the shadows. The other climbed in. As soon as its chalk-colored hooves hit the carpet, Michael ran at it, hoping to push it back outside before it could do whatever it intended to do. Instead, it knocked Michael across the room.
The demon had too many joints. Even its face looked like a pile of elbows and knuckles that had fused together, layered with midnight black eyeballs. It didn’t reach down to pick Jessica up. It folded down, unfolding back to standing position as it put her over its shoulder, the hand still binding her ankles. She pounded on its back. The blows sounded like baseball bats on sand. With long fingers, the demon lifted the record off the turntable before leaving through the window.
“Help me!” Jessica screamed as the demons shoved her into a black cargo van and drove off. Michael followed in his truck, knowing that’s exactly what they wanted.
Michael pursued the van onto I-94 out of Minneapolis, past St. Paul and into Wisconsin, barely edging over the sixty-five limit. The fucked-up nature of the whole scenario taunted him, but he tried not to think about it. He tried to keep his logic in check, because he had seen this with his own eyes. If he over-thought it, he would end up on the shoulder of the road, pounding on his skull, panicking. Now wasn’t the time. Calling the police didn’t seem like a good idea either. They wouldn’t believe him. Besides, punks didn’t call the cops. Punks policed themselves, even old punks.
Eventually, the van left the highway. After a few turns, blacktop gave way to gravel. The thickness of the trees blocked out the moon, creating darkness so solid it ate Michael’s headlight beams. When the van stopped in front of an old barn, Michael got out of his truck. He grabbed a two-by-four from the back and approached the van as its back doors swung open.
The demons climbed out. They didn’t notice him, despite his truck’s headlights glowing around him as if he was on stage back in his Code 96 days. He wished he was on stage, with a microphone in his hand instead of a bludgeon. He wished even harder after he took his first swing, hitting the demon with too many joints, shattering the board across what would be a knee cap if it hadn’t been on a neck. Michael might as well have blown it a kiss. The demon grabbed Jessica from the van, tossed her over its shoulder and entered the barn. As Jessica screamed and slapped, Michael took a running swing with his busted board, this time at the demon’s legs. Still nothing.
The other demon, with massive lumps of flesh that cascaded down its naked body like melted wax down the sides of a candle, grabbed Michael from behind. It pried the broken board from Michael’s hand, tossed it away and dragged Michael into the barn.
Generator-powered spotlights stood in every corner inside, all pointing toward the center. Out of the dirt rose dozens of human hands, each holding a copy of the Crucifix Falsifier record. They formed a pentagram. One hole hadn’t been filled.
At the back of the barn, where the spotlights didn’t reach, a stage had been built out of pallets and pieces of gray wood cannibalized from the barn itself. A drum set hid under a tarp. A guitar and bass leaned against pawnshop speakers. Sinz stood at the front of the stage. He gestured at the hands. “I knew you wouldn’t sell. None of them would. Record collector scum. That’s fine. Now I have them and their precious records.”
The demons held Michael and Jessica still in front of the stage. “You didn’t even play on that fucking record, you crusty piece of shit!” Michael yelled.
“I wrote those bass parts! My picture’s in the sleeve!” Sinz screamed. In his anger, the scarred part of his face seemed about to slip away, ready to slide down his neck and fall to the ground, maybe slither over the dirt to Michael’s feet. “I was sick the day they recorded. The studio time was paid for. They had to record without me.”
“Fuck you!” Jessica yelled.
“Sheen, drop him. Gunz, please bury the girl,” Sinz said to the demons.
Michael recognized the names from the inside of the CF record sleeve.
Sinz anticipated Michael’s question. “Yes, these two beauties are my old cohorts. Gunz is the bendy one, Sheen the big one. Would you believe that, even in their current condition, they’re capable of playing their instruments? It’s true. They may even be better now. I hope I’ll be able to say the same about Darbo.”
“Michael!” Jessica exploded as the demons dragged her to the empty hole.
Michael started to crawl backwards, only to be kicked in the face by the bass player. Blood poured from his nose and lips, dripping fast onto the dirt.
“You don’t want to crawl away yet. There’s a little bit of Darbo in each of these records, and with the help of all these souls, that might be enough to have the greatest comeback tour of the decade!” Sinz raised his fists in the air and laughed. Then he added, “You’ll be able to see our first rehearsal.”
Gunz and Sheen tried to lower Jessica into the narrow hole, but she spread her legs to prevent them from pushing her in. They grunted, trying different ways to squeeze her into the ground, short of shattering her hips.
Sinz sighed. “Don’t get delicate now. Knock her out.”
Michael tackled the bass player. With Sinz pinned beneath him, he dropped punch after punch on the scars, which split apart easily. Blood spat from hardened pink flesh.
“Get him off me!” Sinz yelled.
Michael hoped the demons would drop Jessica and come to their master’s rescue. They did, but only after Gunz elbowed her into unconsciousness. Michael kept punching Sinz with crimson-gloved hands, loosening teeth before Sheen pulled him away and tossed him to the ground. Before he could get to his feet, two severed hands scurried toward him. Acting as cuffs, one bound his ankles together and the other his wrists. They dug their nails into him. Ropey veins and strands of wet tendons wormed from severed wrists, wrapping around Michael’s arms and ankles, further tightening his bindings.
Gunz and Sheen easily slid Jessica’s unconscious body into the hole. As Sheen held her hand above the ground, Gunz used its long fingers to shovel dirt on top of her. When everything except her hand hid underground, the demons slid the copy of the CF record between her fingers.
“You’ll kill her!” Michael screamed, writhing desperately.
“As you can see, that’s all relative,” Sinz replied, wiping blood from his face.
The bass player grabbed a book from the drum set and stepped into the center of the pentagram. Beams of light set him aglow. He took off his jean vest, revealing more scarred skin and faded tattoos, only a hint of cobwebs and chains lingering behind. Sinz opened the book and particles of dust spread out in a cloud around him, scintillating in the intense brightness of the spotlights.
“Kragh ret riet e gha…” he said.
As the bass player read, his words picked up speed and became wind, whirling around the edge of the pentagram, threatening to blow the records out of the hands.
Just outside the circle, Michael couldn’t feel the wind. Then he realized there was no wind. The hands moved on their own, in sync, giving the illusion of wind moving in a circle. Knuckles went rigid as fingers struggled to pull away from records. They couldn’t do it. Even whipping their wrists back and forth, the records stuck.
“Kragh ret riet e arag,” Sinz finished, taking a deep breath. “Bring me my bass and grab your instruments, boys.”
The demons did as commanded. Sheen pulled the tarp off the drum set in the back of the barn. Mice scattered silently. Sliding onto the stool, the demon lifted a pair of drumsticks above its head. Gravity sent loose flesh running back down its arms. Gunz handed the bass to Sinz before picking up its guitar. Cords ran from the equipment to the same generator that powered the lights.
Sinz strapped on his bass, a mess of exposed wood, duct tape and faded stickers. Laughing, he hammered the strings with both fists before locking his fingers into place and playing the concrete-mixer rumble that opened “Pig Slaughter.” The sound grinded over Michael’s spine, holding him down, giving him goose bumps. He never thought he would hear this. Despite his current situation, he couldn’t help but want to hear more, not that he had a choice. No matter how hard he struggled, the hands that bound him wouldn’t budge.
The ground in the center of the pentagram erupted. A mohawk emerged, a thinly sliced cloud of blonde hair knocking the dirt aside. Next came a pair of hands, the letters H-A-R-D tattooed across the knuckles of one and C-O-R-E on the other. With these hands, Darbo pulled the rest of his body free. Under his mohawk, his face had lost its humanity. Death grayed the skin, shrunk it tight across his skull. Even in the spotlights, it cast too many shadows.
One of the demon hands scurried from under the makeshift stage. It placed a microphone near the hole before dragging itself back to the shadows. Darbo grabbed the microphone with both hands, raised it to his bared black gums and shattered teeth, and screamed, “We are Crucifix Falsifier! Go!” as the guitar and drums slashed the rest of the world away.
Michael knew Jessica didn’t have much air left. He needed to act now. He pulled his wrists to his mouth and took a bite of the hand that bound him. Toxic green blood filled the wound. He spit the cold hunk of flesh into the dirt. Even though he hadn’t eaten meat in years, he knew the taste of rot. The hand squeezed tighter, threatening to break his wrists. He took another bite nonetheless, and another, chewing and spitting, building a pile of gnawed meat beside him, ignoring what crept down his throat. After he had torn out more meat than most human hands had to offer, his cuffs loosened. He slipped free.
Green muck dripped from the sides of his mouth as he stretched to sink his teeth into the hand that bound his ankles. He moved faster this time. As soon as the band got through the initial rush of playing that song, they would see him. They sounded amazing, Darbo’s voice even more venomous than on the record. Michael chalked it up to demonic possession as he tore through his last meat shackle and crawled toward the only hand in the circle with fire red nails and a new engagement ring.
So frantically he shoveled that he cut his finger on one of Jessica’s incisors. He slowed down, carefully cleaning dirt from her mouth. Leaning in close, he felt her warm breath on his cheek. That breath found its way to his heart, engulfing it as he kissed her and her eyes opened. She spread her lips and inhaled before blowing cylinders of dirt out of her nostrils. Whatever gasping sound she made couldn’t be heard over the band, all of whom seemed to be in a trance as they pounded through their first song.
Michael continued digging until he got to her armpits. Then he reached in, put his hands under her arms and pulled her out of the hole. She sat up and tried to shake the CF EP from her hand. It wouldn’t come loose. The flesh at the tips of her fingers had melted through the plastic cover, through the paper sleeve and into the black wax of the record itself. She looked at him, panic in her eyes.
The band reached the chorus once again and Darbo yelled, “Everybody raise your fists and pound along!”
Hands came to life around Michael and Jessica, moving in time with the music. When they stopped, so did the band.
Michael didn’t wait for the demons to come after him. He charged, shoved Darbo aside and tackled Sinz. He pinned the bass player to the ground. With dirty hands, he grabbed the bass and pressed its neck against Sinz’s. The band surrounded him.
“Call them off!” Michael ordered.
“We have to finish our set!” Sinz choked each word out against the pressure.
“No you don’t!” Jessica kicked the man in the face. Her bathrobe hung open, revealing black panties, bra and tattooed flesh. “Reunion tours suck!”
Michael stood, gripping the bass like a baseball bat. Darbo came at him first. As Michael swung, he imagined the singer’s head shattering like the shattered skull of the band’s logo, shards of bone and teeth flying outward like an ever-expanding halo. It didn’t. The back of the bass flattened the demon’s head. It was like hitting a bean bag. The dead meat simply reshaped itself. Michael wound up for another blow, noticing the spots of flesh and mucus clinging to the back of the bass. Before he could swing, the singer’s misshapen head started to wobble. No longer able to hold the weight of the mohawk, it collapsed completely and Darbo sunk to the ground.
Michael felt surprised and remorseful, surprised the demon had been so easy to destroy and remorseful that he had effectively pulled the plug on the show before Crucifix Falsifier got to “Death Brigade.”
“Oh fuck,” Sinz groaned, his face looser from Jessica’s bare-footed kick.
Michael laughed. “Show’s over, huh?”
For a moment, he feared he had inadvertently aligned himself with the many mustache-wielding cops who had infiltrated Code 96 basement shows back in the day. He pushed the fear aside, reminding himself that those cops had shut down shows without reason, not because the band had gone demonic.
“Oh fuck,” Sinz repeated, and Michael realized the bass player wasn’t “oh fuck”ing about the aborted performance.
Amidst geysers of soil, the dead bodies that lined the pentagram sprung from the earth. Some looked fresh. Others had obviously been underground for a while, having left a portion of their skin in the dirt. One of the rotten ones opened its pierced lips, unleashing a waterfall of worms from between its teeth.
The corpses of the record collectors approached slowly, each with its dead fingers melted into a copy of the Crucifix Falsifier EP. They groaned and reached out with their free hands. Ears hung loose and knees wobbled under the exertion of walking after being buried so long.
Jessica put her fists up and Michael stood beside her. She looked tough in her bathrobe with her tattooed legs exposed, but no number of Thai boxing classes could have prepared her for a fight like this. He saw no point in trying to stop her though. Even if he begged, she wouldn’t simply stand aside while he took the corpses on. She wasn’t that type of girl, and that’s why he loved her. He felt comfortable with her beside him, and with the bass between his hands, already coated with the ooze of one dead demon.
“You can’t fight them all! We need to finish the fucking set!” Sinz screamed, pressing his back against the wall of the barn.
“So let’s finish the set.” Michael winked at Jessica and handed the bass to Sinz. He grabbed the microphone from the bubbling pile of punk meat that remained of Darbo’s hand. It felt good to clutch a microphone again. As he wrapped the cord tight around his fist, he turned to the demons and said, “Let’s go.”
Gunz slid behind the drum set again and cleared a path with firecracker blasts. Sinz poured the concrete and Sheen rode on top of it like a car with buzz saws for wheels, sparking as it sped forward. Michael sang the opening verse of “Death Brigade,” chasing the sparks with his shredded tenor. The pallets and boards beneath him shook as he stomped, loving the fuzz the speakers added to his voice.
Jessica wrapped her arm around his neck and added her spiked lemonade voice to the chorus. He got lost in the moment, hearing Jessica sing along to her favorite band beside him. Even with dirt stuck to her earlobes she looked perfect. He held the microphone out for the crowd to join in and got sucked back into reality the hard way.
The corpses spread their jaws wide, so wide some snapped and hung limp, but not to sing along. Their yellowed teeth reached out from dry, dirty gums, desperate for flesh. Michael threw the microphone. It sunk into a vacant eye socket, sending a snarl of feedback through the speakers.
He grabbed Jessica and pulled her close as the band stopped. Closing his eyes, he went stiff, waiting for the first set of teeth to close in on his neck. He felt Jessica torn out of his arms and he fell to the ground under the weight of the corpses. Cold feet stepped over him. Long toenails cut into his skin, but he felt no teeth.
When he smelled Jessica’s crème brulee body lotion through the stench of the rotten flesh, he opened his eyes to see her reaching down for him, a smile on her face.
“They don’t want us,” she said. “They want the man who put them in the ground.”
The dead record collectors hobbled past Michael, past Jessica, paying no attention to them. Sinz hid behind his demonic band mates, but the corpses poured over them. They hardly fought at all. Dead teeth sunk into demonic flesh. The hands that clung to records waved around in ecstasy, while the free fingers gripped pieces of meat. Thick blood the color of spring grass dripped through decomposing digits.
When the corpses got their gnarled fingers on Sinz, their legs turned to rubber and they fell to the ground, bringing the bass player with them. In the chaos, records shattered. The corpses used the jagged edges of the now worthless vinyl to dig into their target and spoon out meat and blood. They tore their own faces apart on those same edges as they fed.
Michael and Jessica clung together as they walked out of the barn. With the bass player’s screams and the wet sound of the corpses packing their dry mouths with food behind them, Jessica started humming, quietly at first. Michael joined in.
The humming turned to singing as they climbed into Michael’s truck. By the time they hit the highway, they were shouting the chorus of “Death Brigade” at the top of their lungs, drumming along on the dash, louder than ever.