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Guest art by Angie Hoffmeister
Episode 7: For One Night Only
Hana sometimes had trouble waking up in the morning. On these days her mother acted as her alarm clock, continuously calling to her until she finally crawled out of bed. The morning after the lizard attack at the school’s baseball diamond was one such morning. Hana’s process for waking up was similar in appearance to a chart showing the different stages of evolution: she started as a fish, writhing under her covers as though she did not have any limbs, then became a lizard as she crawled down from the edge of her bed to the floor; from there she pushed herself up into a knuckle-dragging monkey, stood with a caveman’s hump and then finally, holding the handle of her door, yawned the yawn of a young human being. By the time she reached the kitchen, where her breakfast was already prepared and set for her, she regained the personality that made her Hana.
‘Why does Sara have more toast than me?’ she asked as she sat herself down across from her sister. On the table were four plates: one – their father’s – was already empty with the exception of a few stray crumbs, while the others were covered in a layer of bacon and eggs with pieces of toast dangling on the sides. Sara did in fact have an extra piece of toast.
‘She stole it from your father and refused to eat it until you came down and saw it,’ her mother explained.
While not once letting her eyes stray from Hana’s, Sara picked up the extra piece of toast and began eating it with unashamedly voracious bites. Hana sighed, thanked her mother for breakfast and began dipping a piece of toast into her egg.
‘If your goal is to turn into a pig, consider the mission accomplished,’ she said to her sister.
‘Nothing wrong with being a pig,’ her sister said.
Hana wanted to counter with a threat to have Pitaya sing to her, which would actually turn her into one, but such a threat would be considered absolutely bizarre by everyone within hearing range. Instead she switched her attention to the folded newspaper by her father’s plate and grabbed it, hoping to read the comics section before school.
She rifled through the newspaper’s many pages before finally finding the entertainment section. While quickly flipping through the pages she saw a flash of something that made her suddenly stop; it was an image she had seen before but never thought she would see again, especially not in a newspaper. She flipped back to the page with the image to see if it was just her eyes playing tricks on her. It was not.
The image was a photo of Jack’s animal band performing in a nightclub. The headline confirmed this: ‘Las Chapaletas Bring House Down’. The rest of the article consisted of a single paragraph praising the band’s performance, followed by a listing of venues they would be playing in within the city. Hana stared dumbly at the article as a piece of egg-covered toast hung from her lips.
‘What did you find?’ her mother asked as she sat down to her own meal.
Hana quickly obscured the page by pulling the previous one on top of it. ‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I just zoned out for a moment. Can you please pass the ketchup?’
She accepted the bottle of ketchup from her mother but simply set it back down onto the table. There was no need to put ketchup anywhere on her plate; she had asked for the bottle as a way of further distracting her mother from the absurdity she had stumbled upon in the paper.
After finishing what was left of her breakfast, Hana scooted her chair back and smoothly picked up the entertainment section as she rose from the table. She kissed her mother on the cheek and said goodbye to both her and her sister, who was now shovelling the rest of her food into her mouth so she could join Hana for the walk to school.
‘You’ll have to eat faster than that if you want to catch up with me,’ Hana said to her sister while shoving the entertainment section into her backpack.
Sara responded with a few words of Foodish, which is a language that can only be spoken by talking and eating at the same time. It is also a language that cannot be understood by anyone except for the person speaking it.
‘Swallow before you speak or you’ll choke,’ their mother advised Sara.
Sara nodded obediently while discreetly pounding her chest to make the food flow down more smoothly. She left the table still chewing on the last of her meal, a long strip of bacon poking out of her lips like a burnt tongue. The tongue was still lingering when Sara arrived at the front of the house, where Hana had already put her shoes on and was in the process of opening the front door. When Hana turned to look at her sister, her face scrunched up in disgust.
‘Ugh, that looks horrible,’ Hana said, shuddering.
Sara sucked the last bit of bacon tongue into her mouth and chewed it thoroughly as she put her own shoes on.
‘Did you know that the things that look the worst actually taste the best?’ Sara asked her sister. ‘It’s true – I read about it in my plate.’
‘That’s because you’re too young to read the newspaper,’ Hana said, closing the door behind them once Sara had hopped onto the front porch. ‘In the newspaper it explicitly states that only food that looks really good will taste really good. Haven’t you noticed how good the food always looks in newspapers and magazines?’
‘Dad says that that food is made out of plastic. I guess you like eating food made out of plastic. Because you’re strange.’
‘I could make a case about you being the strange one and use this entire morning as evidence.’
‘Oh yeah? Well, I still had more toast than you, so there,’ her sister said, sticking her real tongue out.
The trek to school was uneventful until they turned the final corner. There Hana noticed a concert flyer stapled to a telephone pole, and as they came closer to passing it she saw that, yes, it was for a Las Chapaletas concert, and yes, the rat with a tiny trombone tied to it in the black and white band photo was indeed wearing tiny sunglasses.
Hana wondered if Jack’s family was really so wealthy and powerful that they could completely manufacture city-wide popularity for the band, all just to make their son happy. That was the only explanation she could think of for their sudden fame; the memory of the band’s pure, cacophonous noise-making and painful caterwauls was still far too vivid in her mind for her to think of anything else.
She wondered if it meant she would soon be hearing the animal band on the radio. If her ears had tear ducts, they would be weeping at the thought.
‘Seeya at home,’ Sara said when they reached the school, and Hana waved goodbye to her as they headed to their respective areas of the building.
Henri was already sitting at his desk when Hana arrived at their classroom. There was enough time before class started for them to compare their homework papers, and while they made some necessary corrections Hana asked Henri if he had seen the paper that morning.
‘I did, but I only read through the sports section,’ he said. ‘Why?’
‘Because of this,’ Hana said, trying to pull the entertainment section out of her backpack. One of the pages got caught on the zipper, and she found herself carefully detaching it while Henri watched on in minor confusion. ‘Wait, I almost have it.’
‘What is it?’
‘This,’ Hana said, having finally freed the section from her backpack. She opened the section on Henri’s desk and pointed at the photo of Jack’s animal band.
‘You have to be kidding me,’ Henri said flatly.
‘I wish I was. I even saw a flyer for an upcoming concert on my way here.’
‘Really? This is definitely odd. Either the animals actually learned how to play their instruments or something really fishy is going on, and with Jack’s recent friendship with Kohlrabi I have to vote for the latter. Perhaps we should pay Jack a visit after school.’
‘Maybe you’re right. I was only thinking that Jack’s parents paid for the band’s success.’
The teacher came into the room and Hana put the section of newspaper away. Class officially started and James, as always, came right after. He would have to wait until recess to learn why his friends looked so disturbed.
During recess they walked around the school while discussing the recent events in which Kohlrabi and Brussel revealed themselves to be more dangerous than they had originally let on. This led into a discussion of Las Chapaletas and how the band could be yet another villainous attack on the city. Speculation could only take them so far, however, so they decided to wait until after school, when they could ask Jack about it directly. They just hoped that they did not walk in on the band practicing their unique brand of music.
The bell rang and the trio returned to school, each going to their specialised classes: Hana changed into her gym clothes, James picked up his guitar and Henri collected his notes for baseball history. These classes, more advanced than last year’s, were moved closer to the beginning of the day for reasons unknown to them.
In gym class Hana played basketball with five other girls, the six girls forming two teams of three. The teams were selected by the coach and so Hana found herself pitted against Pitaya, who maintained a friendly demeanour despite putting her all into the game. Hana remembered just how much better Pitaya was at sports as they faced off against each other: once, when Hana was on defence, Pitaya charged directly for the net, and Hana was so uncertain of whether or not Pitaya was actually about to crash into her that she leapt out of the way, inadvertently ensuring a point for her friend.
‘Sorry,’ Hana apologised to her fuming teammates as she nursed a battered elbow.
When their positions were reversed, Hana attempted the same tactic, but this only resulted in Pitaya effortlessly taking the ball from her and scoring yet another point. To prevent any further embarrassment, Hana faked an injury and sat out for the rest of the game.
‘Hey, that was fun, even if we only got to play together for a little while,’ Pitaya said to Hana when the game was finished. ‘I hope your elbow’s feeling better now.’
Hana’s teammates made a point of walking past the pair so that she could hear their grumbling as they passed. She sighed but her mood could not remain darkened with Pitaya’s cheerful presence around.
‘Yeah, it’s okay now, thanks,’ she said, smiling. ‘You must be practicing a lot.’
Pitaya beamed. ‘You think so? I’m actually kind of glad you say that, because practicing is pretty much all I do. I still run laps nearly every day, you know?’
‘I do. It’s impressive. I know Henri thinks so, too. Sometimes he watches you run around the track before heading home after school.’
At this Pitaya blushed, which was a reaction Hana always loved to see from her when Henri was brought up. ‘I didn’t know that,’ she said.
The coach then blew her whistle and had the students switch up their activities. With Pitaya now distracted with thoughts of Henri, Hana managed to beat her in volleyball.
In guitar class James was learning how to play a rendition of Vivaldi’s Winter. His class was being taught the piece because it was a chilly song to play on a particularly hot day. James, however, was not playing it for its cooling effect but rather because each imaginary snowflake brought on by the notes he played reminded him of Hana’s dandruff. By the time he had finished running through the sheet music, his teacher and all of his fellow students had ceased playing and were gazing at him with wide-eyed awe.
‘That . . . was incredible,’ his teacher told him, nearly disbelieving of the performance he had just witnessed. ‘I’ve never seen anyone play like that in my class before.’
‘You hadn’t picked a song this good before.’
‘That may very well be true. Once more from the top, class, but this time I want all of you to play as well as James.’
The students looked at each other uncertainly before picking up their guitars. After a few nervous notes Winter came again.
In baseball history class Henri was learning more about ghosts. By dying, the old, original greats became legends, and by inventing the techniques that became standardised they lived forever. That was how Henri saw it, anyway. The actual class consisted of learning their stats and all of the moves that made them unique. Henri imagined that if he ever became a great, which was not something he actively thought about, it would be for doing something that no one else had ever done before.
He jotted down notes as the sun warmed his back through the window.
After school the trio gathered together so they could head down to Jack’s mansion in the forest and ask him about his animal band. The prospect of hearing even a faint echo of Las Chapaletas in the middle of a performance unnerved them greatly, but they pressed on through the forest regardless, hoping to put an end to their questions, suspicions and fears. Luckily all they heard on their trek was the tuneful singing of birds and the rhythmic rustling of leaves, music they could appreciate at once.
About halfway down the path to Jack’s place they came across Gorey, who was trying to pad by them unnoticed. The cool cat had some added difficulty in doing so, however, due to the weight he had gained since the last time the trio had seen him. As the plump cat nonchalantly passed by Hana and Henri, James walked up alongside him and bent down, grabbing onto his orange afro.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ James asked. The cat froze under his hand.
‘Lemme go, dude. I haven’t done anything wrong.’
‘I hope you haven’t stolen anything again,’ Hana said, glaring at Gorey with her arms crossed.
‘I have no reason to steal anymore. Jack feeds me better than my dad.’
‘Still, you do look kind of suspicious,’ noted Henri.
‘And fat,’ Hana added accusingly.
‘Hey, doll, I’m only fat because I eat my own weight three times a day. You try doing that and keeping your trim figure. Anyway, I gotta get going. I got a hot date tonight.’
‘With who?’ Hana asked, dropping her arms.
‘I, uh, kind of don’t want to say in front of the jay, if that’s all cool with you.’
Hana blinked in confusion. ‘“The jay”?’
‘You know, the one that starts with it,’ Gorey said, his attention not once wavering from her. This let her know that he wanted to be looking at someone else.
‘He means James,’ Henri said, who had figured it out as soon as the letter had escaped from Gorey’s lips.
‘So you’re going out with Agnacious,’ James stated flatly. ‘That’s . . . good.’
Gorey, Hana and Henri all stood absolutely still, in absolute silence, waiting for a meltdown to occur. When one did not, Gorey coughed.
‘So, uh, I guess this means you’re cool with it?’ Gorey asked, finally looking up at James.
‘She’s a free cat,’ James said, finally letting go of Gorey’s afro. ‘I realised I didn’t actually own her when she ran away. Just don’t hurt her, all right? If you do then I’ll have no choice but to make you my new favourite baseball. You don’t want to see what happened to my old favourite baseball.’
Gorey bowed so low to James that his sunglasses fell off. ‘I won’t forget your kindness, dude. I’ll treat Agnacious right, and that’s a promise that can’t be beat.’
James put the sunglasses back onto the cat and then nodded to him. ‘All right, all right. Tell her I say “hi”, okay?’
‘I will, dude. And now I’m outta here!’ Gorey started padding away again, but it was only slightly faster than before. The weight he had put on prevented him from being anywhere near as speedy as he wanted to be.
He paused for a moment further down the path and turned his head to the side. ‘You guys can, uh, go now,’ he told them with the hint of a pleading tone in his voice.
Respecting his wish, the trio stopped staring at him and continued along the path. They followed Gorey’s reversed footprints until they reached Jack’s mansion.
James was put in charge of buzzing the mansion using the intercom beside the front gate. He swallowed down his nervousness when Hana and Henri were not looking and pressed the button, feeling like the wooden horse that was presented as a gift to an enemy castle, only to reveal its true intentions once it was safely inside. They stood around awkwardly for a couple minutes before Jack’s voice came amidst a burst of static.
‘Hey, pal,’ James said into the tiny speaker. ‘We came over to visit you.’
There was a short pause and then Jack’s staticy voice returned. ‘Gorey?’
‘No, it’s James. Hana and Henri are here as well. We thought it might be fun to hang out with you today.’
There was another pause, only this time Jack’s voice did not come back. Instead the front door to the mansion opened and Jack came out, already dressed in his casual clothes, a burgundy suit similar to the one he had worn when they had first met him. He nodded to the trio and then strolled over to the gate, where he gazed at them questioningly between the bars.
‘It’s not often you guys hang out with me, you know,’ he said, his voice casting a suspicious shadow over them. ‘Sorry, I mean “never”. What business do you have at my palace?’
‘Well, to put it bluntly, we had a few questions to ask about Las Chapaletas, if that’s okay,’ Hana said, trying to load kindness into her words.
‘Ah! That’s different. Would you like to see them perform?’
‘Well . . .’
‘Here, I have free tickets to a show they’re putting on tonight. It’s an all-ages show and they won’t sell nasty drinks. It’s at a place called Party House. It’s on the ticket.’
The trio looked down at the tickets that Jack passed through the gate and quickly noticed the price. Each one originally cost twenty dollars, which meant people had actually paid twenty dollars to see Jack’s animal band try to pry their instruments off of their bodies. Hana, James and Henri felt their brains catch on fire.
‘These are very nice, and we’ll definitely go, but we have a few things we’d like to ask you before we head home,’ Hana said.
‘Hm? Sorry, I have to go help Las Chapaletas practice. I’m not allowed to head outside after five, so I need to prepare them for Kohlrabi. Kohlrabi is taking them to Party House.’
‘Is Kohlrabi the one who is getting Las Chapaletas into clubs?’ Henri asked.
Jack scratched his head as if he had to think about it. ‘I have to go,’ he ended up saying instead. ‘These questions aren’t all that interesting. Goodbye.’
The trio watched his blonde head bob as he scurried back into the mansion and slammed the door behind him.
‘So that answers that,’ James said.
‘Another of Kohlrabi’s schemes,’ Henri said thoughtfully. ‘Or is it Brussel’s?’
‘It seems like more of a Kohlrabi thing to do,’ Hana said.
They stood in thought for a moment and then the intercom suddenly burst into life.
‘Go away,’ it said in Jack’s voice.
They looked at each other and then Hana shrugged.
‘Might as well do what it says,’ she said, and then they headed back to school via the forest path, looking at their tickets as they walked.
As the tickets stated that the show started at six, it was not terribly hard for the trio to obtain permission from their parents to go. That was only after Hana’s parents looked into the club online, though, and found that the Party House was an extension of a children’s theatre, completely diminishing any sense of danger that may have been lingering around the whole affair.
Hana dressed into a stylish orange and white shirt, hoping to look at least somewhat cool at her first concert. James and Henri arrived at the Party House still wearing their school uniforms, however, as they had both felt there was not enough time to change after immediately eating dinner when they made it home from school. Hana attributed it to laziness, while James attributed her dressing-up to girliness.
All three were surprised to see a line-up outside of the club. Many of those in line were children that they had never seen before, but there were a few that they recognised from their school: the one that stood out the most was Pitaya, who was not wearing her glasses and looked somewhat lost. The trio went up to her.
‘I didn’t know you were planning on seeing Las Chapaletas,’ Hana said. After a beat, she worriedly asked: ‘Are you . . . a fan?’
‘A fan?’ Pitaya asked back. ‘I came out to pick up some bread. I thought this was the line for the convenience store.’
‘No, this is the line for the most insane thing ever,’ James told her.
‘What happened to your glasses?’ Hana asked.
‘I left them at home,’ Pitaya explained. ‘I didn’t think I’d need them. What’s Las Chapaletas?’
‘A band of animals put together by Jack. They have little instruments tied to them and make something related to music when they try to scratch them off.’
‘It’s nice to see you, by the way,’ Henri added chivalrously.
‘You too,’ Pitaya said, looking at her feet as if it could mask her blushing. ‘I didn’t expect to see anyone tonight. Now I sort of wish I could see the strange animal band so I could hang out with you guys. I really should get some bread and head home, though.’
‘Will you be all right by yourself?’ Hana asked.
‘Yeah, just point me in the direction of the store and I can make my way home from there.’
Hana looked around. ‘Um, I’m not seeing one. I think you might be a long way from home.’
Pitaya sighed. ‘I wondered why it took so long to get here.’
Henri suddenly stepped forward, his heart pounding audibly from within his chest. ‘I’ll take you home,’ he said with determination.
Pitaya’s eyes shone. ‘Really? But what about the Lost Chappalappas?’
‘I’ll just have to make that sacrifice,’ he said, and both Hana and James found themselves rolling their eyes at this.
‘Thanks, Henri. I guess I’ll just have to follow the sound of your voice.’
Henri took her hand instead. ‘What if we do it this way?’
Hana gasped and then had to force herself to stop from clapping.
‘That should be fine,’ Pitaya said, her pink skin turning red. She then turned back to Hana and James. ‘I guess I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Enjoy your show!’
Hana and James nodded. Both Pitaya and Henri waved farewell and then they were off, with Henri leading Pitaya by the hand. Hana’s heart sang while James’ blackened with jealousy at seeing Henri’s smooth escape from the concert. He was starting to kick himself for willingly showing up when he felt Hana’s elbow accidentally bump into him and realised they were alone.
‘Even if it’s a bad one – the worst one ever, most likely – I guess this is our first concert together,’ he said, more to himself than to Hana.
‘Yeah,’ Hana said, smiling despite the impending sonic pain. ‘My first one in general, too.’
‘Let’s just hope the band is kicked off stage before they can do too much damage,’ James said. ‘Maybe they’ll replace them with a real band. I wouldn’t mind seeing a real band.’
‘That would be cool,’ Hana agreed, smiling at the thoughts her imagination gave her. ‘I hope we can see one together when we’re older. A good one.’
By the time they had gone through a short list of all of the bands they would like to see, the pair had reached the entrance of the club and were having their tickets punched. They took deep breaths and entered the brightly-coloured main room, which, with its murals of scenes from children’s plays, seemed a very safe and friendly place. They let out their breaths and stepped onto the dance floor as electro-pop played over the PA.
Around them were kids dancing awkwardly, kids chewing and popping bubblegum, and kids huddled together and conspiring. It made Hana think of recess if recess was more of a celebration than it already was. James took Hana’s hand and threatened to dance with her but she quickly declined by shaking her head. If there was something that embarrassed Hana more than her dandruff, it was dancing. Instead they looked around and tried to spot anyone else they recognised.
Just as their eyes began searching for familiar faces, however, the music suddenly stopped and a spotlight hit the stage. That was when Las Chapaletas were ushered onto the stage, forced onto it by the rough hands of their roadies – all of whom wore green school uniforms. Las Chapaletas were already trying to climb off the stage as soon as they made it onto it, but the roadies were quick to plug their instruments into the amps, essentially tethering them.
The audience was cheering the whole time, and their cheers only became more enthusiastic when the amps were turned on. A burst of excruciating, piercing noise assaulted Hana and James, who covered their ears and winced as the animals mindlessly made it through their first improvised number. Everyone else was completely into it.
By the time the show was over, one of the amps had caught on fire and a chicken had flown into the crowd, pecking wildly as it landed and popping bubblegum bubbles left and right. The audience demanded an encore but the animals had already been placed back into their cages. Most of the equipment had been wrecked during the show, anyway.
‘Man, that was the greatest concert I’ve ever seen in my life,’ said a boy to his friend as he walked past Hana and James, who were standing in a daze.
‘That was greater than the greatest concert ever,’ said the boy’s friend. ‘I’ll have to see them when they play here again.’
Hana scratched her head as she stared at the empty, damaged stage. ‘I’m not sure that really explained anything,’ she said to James. ‘I have a sense that Kohlrabi set a trap but finally caught us this time. If he’s backstage then I’m sure he’s laughing at us right now.’
‘I can’t hear a word you’re saying,’ James replied as he plunged a high-pitched noise out of his ear with his finger.
Hana sighed. ‘I can’t hear a word you’re saying,’ she said. ‘Let’s just get out of here and pray our eardrums haven’t exploded.’
James looked at her for a moment, trying to piece together what it was she had just told him. ‘Yes, I do like pie,’ he finally said, and then they left the club.
To Be Continued In Episode Eight: Caught Between Trains