Through the Woods to See the Blackness Between the Stars

Angelica Whateley drove her brown beater of a car through the narrow backroads of Kingsport. The trees were full and green, curling over what could barely be called a paved road and making the early evening’s twilight all the darker.

She thought to herself that the beauty of the scene could easily be an opening scene to a horror film, or the closing scene of a romance. She reached back and gave herself a pat for the depth of the observation, then fumbled for her phone, swerving a bit as she struggled to wake it. She fumbled again to find the record button leading to another swerve, then tapped it and clumsily tossed the phone onto the passenger seat.

“The beauty of it could easily be an opening scene to a horror film or the closing scene of a romance,” she said loudly while leaning the upper half of her body towards the phone.

“Gotta remember that one,” She continued out loud to herself, “okay, so I’m driving to see some new hot indie band called Ivan Rocket… through God knows where? Somewhere off to the side of the middle of nowhere in Kingsport. What am I expecting?” she rhetorically asked herself. She paused.

“What am I expecting?” she monotonously inquired aloud as she glanced up at the rearview mirror and caught her own eye.

She talked aloud towards the phone. “Okay, so this guy is known for his spiritual kinda performances and I know that I am here due to my fucking dad and that my last name being Whateley… the paper thinks that will sell the article to readers. If I want out of this shadow, I need to take those readers’ eyes and change them from looking at the name to looking at the music. I will change their minds. This will happen.”

She cynically repeated the phrase in a chant as though a mantra to herself. She repeated it again with purpose.

“I will change their minds. This will happen.”

Ahead she saw some balloons and a sign on a fence post that said, “ONE MORE MILE – TURN RIGHT AT OLD HAY FLAT ROAD – LOOK FOR THE TENT”.

As she sped by the balloons she heard the percussive hollow slapping of inflated rubber versus rubber and decided to slow down before she pissed off the locals.

She spent a moment staring ahead admiring the beauty.

“My god, how long does it take to drive one stupid mile at 30 miles an hour?” she thought to herself. She contemplated doing the math, then decided that it wasn’t worth it, then did it anyway. “If 60 miles an hour is one minute a mile, then 30 is…”

“Two minutes!” She shouted. “This is either the longest two minutes ever or I seriously need to learn to just relax for a sec.”

Ahead she saw a splash of color; more balloons.

As Angelica approached, she saw the signs. First the street sign, “Old Hayflat Rd”. Then another flyer amiably stating: “GO RIGHT AND YOU HAVE ARRIVED”.

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She turned right down the road as instructed while wondering if there was a deeper message to the sign. The road dipped down as the asphalt quickly gave way to a dirt drive. Ahead of her, the fencing opened up into a dreamlike quaint meadow with a large, white canvas tent. Around the guy ropes and pegs, impossible amounts of white Christmas light strands of round bulbs were slung over the entrance and spread out to the trees. “It was as if someone took a child’s dream fort and made it real life.”

As she looked for a spot in the dirt lot she noticed there was an odd assortment of vehicles., some nice and fancy, some beaters like hers, a minivan, a pair of choppers with ape hangers, a cherry classic Beetle parked next to a new Bug that looked like it had been salvaged from a flood. “I guess the weirdos in the wild drive whatever they can get their hands on.”

After she found a spot between a “work guy’s white big truck thing” and a Prius, she grabbed her phone and purse and started making her way toward the opening of the tent.

There were a few people standing outside. A farmer drank from a beer can with possibly the most generic label she’s ever seen, a woman and her teenage son who appeared to be sick, and what might possibly have been a frat boy from an 80’s John Hughes movie, among a few others.

As she entered the tent the audience became even more oddly diverse. “It’s like the parking lot was full of clique-specific clown cars that threw up their inhabitants in here.” Everything from cowboys to b-boys, from shirts to skins, and beyond. The place was packed, but none of the cliques and casts seemed to be intermixing. “They don’t seem to have problems, just each existing in their own personal bubbles.”

As patchwork as the crowd was, there were similarities. Angelica noted two types of groups. The first were groups of friends. People who obviously know each other and seem to be having a good time, laughing and behaving as one would expect friend groups to do at a concert. The second she assumed were families. Many of them consisted of what appeared to be caregivers and a beneficiary. Several seemed to be older parents standing with a sick child and some appeared to be grown children with an ailing parent. She noted the oddest thing about this second group. In each case, the caregiving side wore scowls or concern on their faces and the sick seemed happy. Happy to the point where the bags under their eyes were practically washed away from the twinkle within.

She looked up at the stage. Most of the shined wood flooring was behind a large red curtain with gold roping. Above the curtain hung a huge banner that said “Ivan Rocket and the Blackness Between the Stars.”

Beneath the banner, to the side of the curtain, she spied a neat, well-tailored man in a black suit waving to her.

“This must be Nicolas, Ivan Rocket’s Manager.” Angelica physically felt her eyebrow raise as she watched his approach. “If one can glide masculine-ly?” That is how she would describe it. He fluidly ebbed over to a folding table with red cups on it, grabbed two of them, then effortlessly flowed over to her. As he approached her impression switched from deified awe to nostalgic “ahhh” as she noticed his warm smile and outreached hands with what she assumed to be alcohol. “No wonder this guy’s a great manager”.

“Are you excited about the show Ms. Whateley?” Nicolas asked through his distinguished yet childlike grin.

Angelica viewed Nicolas to be charismatic, yet odd. His suit was black. All black. Black tie, black shirt, black jacket, and pants. He appeared to be about 50 with a post-war-era-actor way of carrying on in a way the girls at the time would have found “terribly interesting” as if the Greatest Generation found the fountain of youth and stayed great forever. He was disturbingly perfect.

“Nicolas I assume?” Angelica asked, reaching out her hand to take the offered drink. Nicolas winked in acknowledgment. “I am excited,” she answered. “But, I’m looking more forward to meeting and having a chance to interview… The band? Is it a band or a man? Will I be interviewing Mr. Rocket?”

Nicolas chuckled. “Ivan, Ms. Wateley. Just call him Ivan, and no need to be all business. This show is an experience!” he proudly exclaimed with a wave of his hand accentuating the tent and stage. “How can you write about an experience without experiencing it?”

“What’s in this red cup Nicolas?” she asked flatly noticing a level of retro-verve in him that made her question his sobriety.

“Sierra Nevada I think,” he responded, oblivious to her implication. He took a sip, then nodded with a smile of assurance.

Angelica took a drink while wondering if Rohypnol tasted like anything?

“Weird setup you have going here; weird crowd too,” Angelica said.

He leaned over and inquired over the chatter, “How So?”

“Just appears to be people from all walks of life,” she noted.

“Oh yes. Ivan helps people with his music. All kinds of people.”

“What, like a faith healer? Cuz that’s what this place looks like. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show or something like that,” she quipped, proud of her music-writer Neil Diamond reference.

“I guess you could say that?” he said as Angelica realized that her coolness has landed on deaf ears. “He is a healer,” he continued over the din in the room. “But faith is irrelevant. Like most things in life, it just depends on what exactly it is that ails you. For those with the right sickness, Ivan has the right cure.”

“OK then, if rock n’ roll is the cure, what’s the sickness? Or is it more like a rock n’ roll deficiency?” she asked.

“The latter… Would you like another drink before we go meet him?” he said, again waving his arm and opened hand out in guidance.

She chugged the cup and flatly said, “Yes please.”

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