By Kim Curran
Chapter one: The road keeps on callin’
“Thank you, Illinois!”
With a last strum of guitar and an explosion of lights, the show ended. Thousands of voices called out for more. Girls screamed, sobbing and broken-hearted, wanting the show to go on for ever. Boys cried out too, wanting to hear another of their favourite songs. But the show had to end.
JD scanned the audience one last time. Thousands of faces illuminated by the glowing screens of phones gazed back at him. The face he was looking for wasn’t there. It never was.
He waved, then followed the rest of the boys offstage. The huge Slay logo lit his way, not that he needed it. He’d know his way through the viper’s nest of black cables with his eyes closed.
Gail, the band’s manager, watched from the wings, her hands folded over the silver tip of her cane. “Now that, JD,” she said as he approached, her diamond-encrusted eyepatch flashing as bright as her one dark eye, “is what I meant about making a connection. Could you feel it?” She gripped his shoulder and gave him a small shake.
It was almost annoying how Gail was always right about these things. She’d gone on and on about how he had to open himself up to the audience. Be vulnerable. Be exposed. Something JD didn’t do with people he’d known for years, let alone with thousands of strangers. But tonight, something had happened. He’d let his guard down and the crowd in. Their love had poured into him, filling a hole in his soul he’d never realized was there.
“Yeah,” he said with a half shrug. “It was kinda cool.”
“Kinda cool? You muppet,” Tom said, jumping on JD’s shoulders. Tom was the only one who could insult JD without getting at least a punch on the arm for it. He smiled, his round cheeks, which had whole forum threads dedicated to them, creasing beneath sparkling green eyes. Tom was a few months older than JD, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. “Cute” and “baby-faced” were used to describe Tom in almost every article about the band, much to his irritation. But it was true. That bundle of strawberry-blond curls with that fresh, freckled face made Tom look angelically youthful. “It was more than ‘kinda cool’, it was amazing!”
“You know what was amazing?” JD said. “That sweet keyboard solo on ‘Bring It Home’. Where did that come from?”
Tom turned his palms up to the sky. “What can I say, I’m a natural talent.”
“A natural something.” JD wrapped his arm around his bandmate’s neck and knuckled his hair, which he knew would annoy their stylist. But he didn’t care. The show was over for tonight. He and Tom jostled each other as they headed down the stairs backstage, laughing and revelling in the post-show high.
Connor jumped around, whooping and drumming his sticks off everything in sight. He was like a living, breathing wind-up toy. JD wondered if the day would come when Connor would run out of energy. He’d known him for two years now and there was no sign of it yet. Connor grabbed a can of cola off a passing roadie and shook it before opening it.
“Watch the threads!” Zek dodged the spray of liquid and checked his clothes for any stains. They were, as ever, impeccable. Everything about the band’s bassist was sharp. Including his tongue. “Which reminds me, Con, a scarecrow called earlier, he wants his trousers back,” Zek said, returning to his phone to put the finishing touches to his post.
Zek was constantly documenting their lives on social media. Well, some of their lives. Slay got up to so many things that the public could never, ever know about.
Connor drained the can in one long gulp, crushed it and threw it at Zek. Zek snatched it out of the air one-handed without even looking up from his phone.
“Show-off,” Connor muttered.
“You know the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?” Zek said. “You only have to punch the information into a drum machine once.”
Niv stretched out his slender hands and slapped both his twin and Connor around the back of the head, knocking Connor’s cap to the floor and making both boys laugh.
Always the peacekeeper, JD thought. Niv didn’t need to say a word to bring an end to Connor and Zek’s frequent squabbles. A look was normally enough. Unlike his twin brother, who never shut up, Niv hadn’t spoken a single word in over eight years, not since their parents had tragically died. His angular face was uniquely expressive though: with the raise of an eyebrow or the twist of his mouth, Niv could speak volumes.
JD looked around the band, the familiar glow of respect and warmth filling him. That had been a show to remember. The five boys had been more in sync than ever before. Zek on bass and Connor on drums laying down tight rhythms that allowed Niv on guitar and Tom on keyboards to play it loose. And all the time, JD sang his heart out.
They were coming to the end of their first world tour after nearly five months on the road. And while JD couldn’t deny the kick he got out of playing to packed stadiums,
he loved these smaller gigs the most. They’d played a lot of surprise shows at venues like tonight’s: a run-down baseball field in a middle-of-nowhere town, announced last-minute on social media. It was one of their things. The media thought it was a gimmick, orchestrated to build hype – never knowing where the next Slay gig would be until a day before kept the fans speculating wildly online. The fans themselves loved it. They thought it was all because the boys wanted to give something back, that it was proof of how much Slay cared about them. And they were right. But for the wrong reasons.
“Er, ’scuse me, JD.” One of their roadies waited at the bottom of the stairs, twisting a small leather cap in his huge tattooed hands.
“Hey, Carl,” JD said. The roadie’s bearded face lit up at the lead singer knowing his name. JD didn’t have the heart to tell him he knew it only because the man had Carl loves Betty tattooed across his arm.
“I’m sorry to bother you, only…” The giant man stepped aside, revealing a small blonde girl standing behind him. She wore a miniature version of Carl’s leather jacket and, under it, a Slay T-shirt. “This is my daughter, Daisy, and she really wanted to meet you.”
The girl’s eyes were the size of ping-pong balls and she shook in her mini biker boots. She couldn’t have been much older than eight.
JD kneeled down and stretched out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Daisy.” The girl held up a tiny hand and JD shook it. “Did you enjoy the show?”
Daisy nodded frantically and said in a wobbling voice, “It was the best…night…of my life.”
“Can I let you in on a secret?” JD said. He looked left and right, then beckoned the little girl forward with a finger and whispered in her ear. “It was one of the best nights of my
The girl’s smile was so big JD worried it might split her face in half. He straightened up and gave her a gentle half hug. The emotion was too much. Tears started flowing and she buried her face in her father’s leg, bawling.
Carl scooped his daughter up. “I haven’t seen her this happy since before we lost her mum,” he said, casting a meaningful look at JD.
JD knew what losing someone was like. Everyone in Slay did, from the band to the roadies. It was why they had been chosen. “Take care of each other.”
Carl muttered his thanks and carried the girl away.
“What is it with you and making girls cry?” Tom said.
“It’s his face,” Zek said, without looking up from his phone. “It makes everyone cry. Kids. Old ladies. That statue in New Orleans.”
“Ah, now, that was a miracle,” Connor said, tapping his forehead, chest and shoulders with the tip of his drumstick to make the sign of the cross.
“You’re not joking,” Zek said, holding his phone up and snapping a picture of JD. “A face that ugly? Doesn’t happen by accident.”
“Don’t post that!” JD said.
“Too late. Oh and look, twenty views already.”
JD punched Zek playfully on the arm. Some days Zek’s endless attempts to wind him up worked, but not today.
Connor slammed open the dressing-room door with a scissor kick and they all piled in. Gail closed the door behind them, locking the publicists and stylists, journalists and bloggers out on the other side.
JD inhaled deeply, taking in the smell of the room. The chemical tang of hairspray and aftershave still lingered from when they were primped before going onstage. And there was the sweet waft of the warm pizzas cooling in the corner – the only rider the boys asked for.
Gail propped herself up on the dressing table, leaning her silver-tipped cane against the wall, and reached out her arms. Her mass of bracelets jangled. “My boys. My brilliant boys.” A tear glistened in the corner of her heavily-kohled eye, out of character for the usually no-nonsense woman. But then it had been a long week.
The five huddled together, their arms reaching around each other’s shoulders, their heads bowed. They always gave thanks after every show. Connor and the twins to their separate gods, Tom and JD to fate or destiny or whatever had brought them together. JD didn’t know what Gail gave thanks for, but he sure gave thanks for her.
She’d been a lead singer herself, so she knew the pressure and privilege that came with being the frontman. Her band – a British all-girl rock band called The Cyclones – were at the height of their global success when there had been a tragic accident. Gail had been the sole survivor, and she still bore the scars: a shattered leg and a missing eye. And they were only the physical ones.
“A performance like that after what happened in Nebraska,” Gail said. “I’m so proud. However…” She straightened up and broke the circle as the boys groaned. They knew what that However meant. “It’s back to business.” She clapped her hands together.
Connor rolled his eyes. “Sure, can’t we have one night off? There’s this deadly fairground on the other side of town.”
“Wait! You don’t mean where spooky old man Jones lives?” Zek said in a fake eerie voice.
“And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” Tom added, his creepy-old-man voice somewhat ruined by a mouthful of pizza. “Come to think
of it,” he said, swallowing and dropping back into his soft London accent, “we are just like the Scooby-Doo gang!”
“Yes, and Connor is Shaggy,” Zek said, and the rest of the boys hooted in agreement.
“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up,” Connor said, spinning his snapback cap around on his messy hair. “Anyway, how do you even know about Scooby-Doo?”
Zek gazed dramatically into the far distance. “When Niv and I were small children growing up in the mountains outside of Marrakech an old storyteller would come to our village and re-enact the great tales of the Mystery Gang and their battle against the forces of evil. We didn’t have any dogs so the role of Scooby-Doo was played by a goat.”
Niv wiped away a fake tear.
“Good days,” Zek said, resting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Happy days.”
Connor stood open-mouthed. “For real?”
Zek and Tom burst out laughing. Connor was sweet and a great drummer, but he was such a sucker.
JD took pity on him. “They have cable TV in Morocco you know, Connor?”
Connor blinked, taking a full minute before he got the joke. He threw his sticks at Zek’s head. “Shove off the lot of ya. Sure, I knew you were having me on. I knew.”
Niv hooked a finger in his mouth, like a fish caught on a line, and dangled his tongue out.
“And you can shut your gob too, Niv,” Connor said, shoving the bassist.
Gail pulled Connor off Niv. “Maybe we can go see who’s haunting the fairground tomorrow. After your radio interview with Jack Caroll.”
JD groaned. He sucked at interviews. He never knew what to say and always managed to put his foot in it. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” Gail said. “It’s all part of the job, boys. But…” She smiled. “You know what else is part of the job?”
JD grinned in anticipation. They hadn’t come to Illinois just to play a gig. “Sending unwelcome visitors back to hell?”
Gail nodded. “We’ve tracked three black-eyed scumbags to a motel just outside of town. So, tool up.”
The boys cheered. Slay did two things. And they did them well. Play killer music and kick demon butt.
Music done. It was butt-kicking time.
You have 0 of these in your Basket.
Every fangirl's daydream is about to become Milly's nightmare.
When Milly arrives home to discover that her mum has been taken over by something very evil, she finds herself in mortal danger. But the last people she expects to rescue her are the boys in the hottest band on the planet!
Enter SLAY – playing killer gigs, and slaying killer demons. Suddenly Milly's on the road with JD, Tom, Niv, Zek and Connor, helping save the world, one gig at a time...
“Boys as swoon-worthy as One Direction saving the world from evil? Sign me up!”
Amy Alward, author of The Potion Diaries
Kim Curran is an author and creative director based in London. Specializing in youth marketing she’s worked on some of the world’s largest brands and charities, from EA to UNICEF.
“It's so much fun! Remember when YA was fun and it wasn't just people like me preaching at you about things you already agree with? Slay is boyband fights evil and it's going to be huge and you're going to love it.”
Patrick Ness, author of A Monster Calls
“This unlikely concept (a boy band battling an Aztec priestess seeking vengeance on the mortal world) makes for a pacy, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read. It is a high-action drama with its fair share of blood and gore, but also plenty of humour and heart... Featuring a diverse cast (including one member of the band who is a selective mute) and with genuine cross-gender appeal.”