Lethbridge,Alberta, Canada. The late 1990s—
Black Metal. DeathMetal. Nu¨-metal. Hardcore.
Lance Armstrong in, Wayne Gretzkyout.
Economic psychosis. Terrorism.
Grungeout, rave in.
Quiffs and buzz cuts.
Afreak autumn blizzard blowing off a frozen moon. North winds rattlingstreetlights, howling glassy streets, air cold enough to crack its ownmolecules.
Kenneth “Lor” Kowalski sat wreathed with chill inan otherwise warm Marquis Hotel room, head tilted forward, eyes wide andunblinking, breath delicate. Snow crystals wove up the window at his elbow, iceknitting itself against glass, collecting shadow and spinning out twinklingpatterns of light.
His guitarbegan to ring with overtones, light strumming its harmonics. Lor sat, saltstinging tonsils, tears on his lip and tongue. He let them sting. Just sat bythe window in the darkened room, a universe pocked with a thousandstars.
“Damn freezing out there,” a whisper from the shadowsin the corner, the clink of ice cubes in a glass. “Supposed to be El Niño thisyear. Get you a drink, sir, something to chase thecold?”
“No. ” Lor wiped a tear. “Thank you. ”
“Justclear away the dishes then?”
Lor paused a moment. He scrapeda fingernail across the window, shaving off curls of frost, squinted at theshapes melting on his knuckle.
“Something troubling you, sir?Maybe a woman, lost love, lost time? An unwanted birthday,perhaps?”
Lor started, but ignored thequestion.
“Birthdays are the time for communion andcommunity. Family, sir. ”
Lor touched the frosted glass. “Didyou hear that?”
“Theovertones. The music. Do you see the stars?”
A sniff from theshadows. “I don’t hear anything. And I can’t see the stars fromhere. ”
“Not … thosestars. The ones in this room. ”
“No, sir. Sure about thatdrink?”
From the shadows a manemerged, cloaked in baggy black uniform and brimmed hat, like a priest orcunning witch hunter. He stopped his cart near the window and bent forward,eyes hidden beneath the brim, remaining features speckled withmoonlight.
“Sometimes a birthday is a dangerous thing,” hesaid.