Author's Note: Greetings, everyone! This is the first time, in a long time, that I have written anything original. There is one point I would like to mention. When a character "is talking like this," it means that these are thoughts inside the character's head. Other than that, I ask you to give me some critical reviews.
Sleep with the Devil,
and then you must pay.
Sleep with the Devil,
the Devil will take you away.
Oh, gates of Babylon—
"Gates of Babylon"—Rainbow
Tsar: A Twenty-First Century American at the Court of Nicholas II
The time was ten minutes after one in the morning in early October 2008, and the band, Dark Stairway, was finishing their final song—a cover of Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon"—at the southwest Missouri rock club, The Outland. On this night about 150 people were listening to Dark Stairway surrounded by the familiar smells of cigarette smoke and alcohol. As it can be suggested, Dark Stairway was a hard rock/heavy metal club band and often did covers. Yet the band had also composed its own music. However, the band's lead singer and founding member, James Michael Larkin, had placed his own original material to the side, to perform covers of well-known bands. James was 23, and was moderately tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was also a graduate student at southwest Missouri's largest college in the discipline of religion. When people learned what James studied, they asked him if he was going to become a priest—James was Catholic. His response was to laugh, and tell the individual that he liked "girls too much to become a priest." Still, the field of Religious Studies fascinated him. He decided that if he could never make it as a musician, he could as an instructor. What made James unique from the other members of his band was that he was the only member who did not have long hair. James cut his 'golden locks' one year ago.
"The Devil is me, and I'm holding the key, to the gates of sweet Hell, Baby—LON!!" thus sang James. As the final notes of "Gates of Babylon" were being played, James extended his arms into the air—like a priest celebrating mass—and shook them with each note, until finally he extended his arms out, and presented the crowd with a pair of 'headbanger gestures,' or as conservative critics—and even jokingly, a few metal heads—called them, 'the devil horns.' The crowd screamed. Some raised their beer bottles into the air and returned the gesture, while a few others flashed their lighters. After the final note concluded, The Outland lights came back on.
"You know what that means, my friends," James said with a smile. "That's right, it's 'last call for alcohol.' So either get another drink quick, or finish up what you got and go home—and don't forget to tip your bartender. Because, like they say, 'You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.' Good night!"
On James' instructions, patrons either finished their drinks, or flooded the bar, trying to secure one final drink from Jason and Jerrod—the two bartenders. James, however, turned to his band mates, and wiped his brow. "Damn, it's hot in here!" He turned briefly to the patrons, before he turned back to his mates. "I'm obviously not going to get rid of the crowd, but I need to ask them about these lights," he added, pointing the ceiling. "Damn, they're hot!"
"Hey, James," a male voice said.
James turned to the voice. It belonged to Dan, a well-known patron of The Outland. Dan was a short, thin man in his middle twenties with brown eyes and hair. In each ear, he wore an earring, and his nose was pierced as well. Among southwest Missouri's conservative society, Dan was a 'freak of nature.' But in The Outland, he was just one of the regular guys, who liked to party and get high. "Oh, hey, Dan, what's up?"
"You did good tonight," Dan said with a smile. And turning to the other members of the band, he added, "All of you."
Dark Stairway's four other members raised their fists in a gesture of thanks.
"Just wanted to tell you," Dan continued, "we're having an afterhour's party at my place. You guys up for coming?"
"Got some good beer?"
Dan smiled. "Of course! I've got good beer, pot, and women. Of course, you guys might want to bring your own, if you have any."
James turned to the other members of his band. "So, what do you guys think?"
Next to James, Andrew Jacobvich Stanislov was the most prominent member of the band. Andrew, like James, was 23, and was Dark Stairway's guitarist. He had known James since childhood, and had founded the band with him. Andrew was tall, with blue eyes and long blonde hair that curled at the tips. Besides being childhood friends, James and Andrew shared an interest not only in music but in Russian culture—particularly the life of the last Tsar of Russia and his family. Andrew's great-grandmother was born in Russia, and fled that country for America in 1917—the year of the Russian Revolution. Despite Andrew's great-grandmother being born of peasant origins, she was a monarchist—most of Russia's peasants hated the tsar. In fact, Andrew's grandfather was named 'Nicholas,' in honor of the last tsar, and whenever James visited Andrew's great-grandmother he could remember seeing Serov's famous portrait of Tsar Nicholas II and an icon of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. "Yeah, I'm up for it," Andrew said. "It's been a while, since I've been to a good party."
The other three members of the band did not have the bond, at least in historic terms, that James and Andrew had, but they had grown to be close friends due to their relationship in the band, and their love for rock music and parties. The first of these members was Christopher Blackmore Wingate. Christopher, or 'Chris,' as he preferred to go by, was 22. Chris' father was a huge Deep Purple and Rainbow fan, and his son's middle name reflected this, by being named after Deep Purple's and Rainbow's guitarist—Ritchie Blackmore. Yet despite having the middle name of a world famous guitarist, Chris was Dark Stairway's bass player. He often joked about this, saying why his parents could not have named him 'Terry,' after Black Sabbath's bass player, Terry 'Geezer' Butler; or 'John Paul,' after Led Zeppelin's bass player, John Paul Jones. Chris was aware that bass players often do not receive the attention that they deserve, and because of this, he often looked up musically to Iron Maiden's founder and bassist, Steve Harris—mostly to show that a bass player can be the most important person in a band. "I'm down with that," Chris said. "Now that I think about it, I've got close to a case of Bud Light at home. Probably after we get out of here, I'll run home and get some, and then stop by your place."
Dan nodded. "All right, sounds good." And turning to the drummer, Dan added, "What about you, Johnny? You in the mood to party?"
Johnny Ward Adams, as it has already been shown, was Dark Stairway's drummer. As the 'backbone of the band,' Johnny was also its shortest member. He stood about 5'5" with long dark curly hair, eyes, and a goatee. Like Chris, Johnny realized that drummers do not often get the attention that they deserve. Therefore, Johnny often musically tried to emulate the late drummer Cozy Powell, who lived life hard and fast. Plus, in Johnny's words, Cozy Powell had 'the most kick ass drum set.' "Yeah, I'll go," Johnny said. "But I've got some stuff from home, I've got to bring. So I'll probably see you guys over there later."
Now only one member of the band was left, Adam Windsor Kenneth. Adam was moderately tall with green eyes and brown hair. He was the band's keyboardist—a position that for some would not seem to 'stand out much.' Yet, Adam knew how to make himself known to the crowd. He took Jon Lord of Deep Purple as his musical hero, and his keyboards were often the dominate instrument in the many songs that Dark Stairway performed. In fact, one of his favorites was to do a cover of Rainbow's 'Difficult to Cure,' which incorporated Beethoven's 'Ninth Symphony.' And besides playing Beethoven into that song, Adam would add classical music from Bach, Mozart, and Schubert. "Yeah, I'm up for it," Adam said. "Wouldn't mind finding me a cute girl at the party too."
At Adam's statement, 'Wouldn't mind finding me a cute girl at the party too,' James smiled. It was a 'sad smile.' While James was the front man of a band, and, therefore, it would seem likely that girls would just 'flaunt over him,' he had no such luck. He never really understood why, and neither did anyone else. James was often told that he was very good looking and had a good personality, but girls just did not seem to be interested in him. People told him for years that 'one day a girl would come to him,' but James wondered how long this 'one day' was going to be? He had heard the same rhetoric for close to ten years, and was, quite frankly, tired of that being a person's only response to his lack of a female partner. It can be said, therefore, that James has never dated a woman. Yet, he had taken girls out, and had kissed them. He had even had sex before, but he did not find the experience to be pleasant for him—perhaps because he felt forced into the situation. Nevertheless, James could drink his way through anything—including loneliness.
In the city that Dark Stairway called home, Dan rented a house that was on the edge between the 'good' and the 'bad' part of town. If one went in one direction, he or she would be entering the bad part of town, while if one went the other direction, he or she would be entering the good part of town. At this moment, however, only two members of Dark Stairway had arrived—James and Andrew. The other members were either collecting beer or weed. For James' pleasure, Dan played Iron Maiden's Powerslave, and James gave Dan his appreciation by awarding him the 'big thumbs up.'
As they drank Bud Light, James and Andrew chatted about some girls who were fixing vodka and 7-UP—especially this one girl. She had blonde hair, and her underwear was noticeably visible—a white-lacy thong. James could hardly keep his eyes off of her. Only through the power of music could James turn his attention away from the girl and change the conversation. The second track from Iron Maiden's Powerslave,'Two Minutes to Midnight,' began to play. "This song is about right now," James said.
Andrew gave him a look. "What are you talking about? The song is about the doomsday clock, about how we can all nuke each other at any moment."
"No, not that shit!" James said with a gesture, as though he was swatting away everything Andrew had said before. "I'm talking about how when it gets about midnight at this time of year the temperature just drops."
Andrew paused. "Oh, yeah, that."
James smiled. "Want to step outside and have a beer with me? There's some stuff I want to ask you."
Andrew nodded. "Okay, sure."
James grabbed a beer, and followed Andrew outside to Dan's deck-patio. While he did so, James took a moment to watch the sky. A number of stars were out, but what really caught James' attention was the moon. "Look at the moon," he said, gesturing to it. On this October night, the moon was a crescent moon with an orange glow.
"Yeah, it sure is pretty," Andrew said. And turning back to James, he added, "So what did you want to talk to me about?"
James took a gulp of his beer, and gestured for Andrew to wait. "By the power of YouTube, I have discovered something interesting."
"And what's that?"
"You ever heard of the band Axenstar?"
"…No, can't say that I have."
"Well, they're a band out of Sweden, and they released this song a couple of years called 'Final Requiem.' I think that would be a cool song to incorporate into our act."
Andrew looked at the ground and smiled. "More covers."
"Something wrong, man?"
"Let me ask you a question, James?"
"How many songs did we play tonight?"
"Oh," James began, as he rapped his fingers on the deck rail, "I don't know exactly. I could name each one of them, but to guess, I'm going to guess about twelve."
Andrew nodded. "Correct. We did twelve songs."
James chuckled. "Well, what do you know."
"We did two Iron Maiden songs, three from Rainbow, one from Dio, two from Sabbath, one from Deep Purple, one from Manowar, and two from Bruce Dickinson. Everything we did was a cover."
James gestured for Andrew to wait, while he took another gulp of his beer. "Yeah, but think of it this way. The songs that we played, most of the crowd hasn't even heard—except for the diehard fans. I mean, the two Sabbath songs we played, 'Heaven and Hell' and 'Children of the Sea,' are two songs from the Dio years. A lot of these so-called Black Sabbath fans, only know the shit from the Ozzy era, and that's limited to the four songs they hear on corporate radio."
Andrew smiled, sighed, and shook his head. He wanted to place his hands on his head, as a sign of disgust. "You're not getting it, man. It's still all covers. How many bands across the nation haven't been playing that same stuff for the last twenty years? Dude, we can't make a living off of playing Iron Maiden or Dio. We've got to play our own stuff, and, quite frankly, why haven't we?"
"…I'm not fond of some of the stuff that we wrote some time ago."
"Well, if you don't like it, then let's write some new stuff."
James sighed, and looked to the heavens. "I've got to get motivated first…"
"Well, then get fucking motivated!"
James turned to Andrew. He could tell by his tone that he was upset at him. "You pissed off at me for some reason?"
"I wouldn't say, I'm pissed off at you. I'm just sick and tired of doing solely covers. And to be quite honest, so is everybody else."
"Everybody else?" James said with a look.
Andrew nodded. "Chris, Johnny, and Adam all feel the same way."
"Well, this is great—just fucking great!" James said, while he raised his arms in the air. "My entire band has turned against me!"
Andrew chuckled. "Relax, man. No one has turned against you."
"You just said so yourself," James said, gesturing to Andrew. "My entire band is against me. Well," James began with another gesture, "they need to realize who started this band."
"Yeah, it was you and I. But I keep noticing that you keep using the word 'my' to describe this band, when it should be 'our.'"
James sighed. He looked down at his can of beer. It was nearly empty. An additional characteristic about James was that he was a very sensitive person. He could hurt someone when he had to, but when he felt that something was his fault, it always bothered him. James did his best to make everyone happy, and he hated it when he failed. "Yeah, you're right," he said, still looking into his beer, before turning back to Andrew. "Sorry, man, I didn't mean to offend you."
Andrew chuckled. "Don't worry about it. Come on, let's drink a couple more."
James shook his head. "Nah, man. I think I'm going to have maybe one more and then take off."
"What?! Come on, man, the party's just started! We've got a shit load of booze and everything. We've got that girl with the white thong…"
And Andrew returned the smile. "Yeah, I saw that, man. Come one, dude, let's party!"
"A couple more and I'm out of here."
"What?! You're not going to try and hook up with that one girl…"
"What's the point?"
"What's the point?! …The hell's wrong with you, man?"
Even if James did fear rejection, normally he would at least try. But because of the revelation Andrew gave him about the band, all his interest in having a good time tonight simply vanished. "Nothing's wrong. But I guarantee you, I could spend all night out here on this deck, and the results would probably be about the same as they would be, if I went inside, and tried to chat with her."
"You shouldn't talk that way, James."
"Well, Andrew, after you get rejected so many times, sometimes you just start to feel that way." James turned to the fence that wrapped around Dan's property, and the gate, which provided the exit. Turning back to Andrew, he added, "Look, man, call me in the morning. I just want to take off." And with that, James leapt off the deck, and left the party—ignoring all of Andrew's calls for him to come back.
James' apartment building was a three-story red brick building, and the only light James provided inside his apartment, when he went out, was his computer. James left it on, mostly to see if someone had emailed him, but he also thought it was interesting to see his computer screen's wall paper—an image of Iron Maiden's mascot, Eddie, in 'Tailgunner' mode—the cover art from their song of the same name. In this image, Eddie was destroying one of Adolf Hitler's airplanes from the Second World War. Above James' computer was an icon of Tsar Nicholas II and his family that Andrew used to joke about, because it reminded him of the icon that his great-grandmother had, and a crucifix he received from his parish, when he graduated high school. Along the white painted walls were tapestries of various rock bands—particularly Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Dio. However, there was one unique feature—a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II that he placed in a picture frame. Reclining on his couch, James looked up at the ceiling and said, "God, I'm so tired of the way I live life." And with that, he closed his eyes.
A jolt on the shoulder was enough to rouse James from his slumber. But when he opened his eyes, he discovered that he was not in his apartment. "What the fuck?" he muttered. Instead, he was on the sidewalk—a very chilly sidewalk. Certainly, it got cold at night, but it seemed to be even colder tonight than usual. The jolt on his shoulder belonged to a person's boot. The person was a man, who looked to be about James' age, and James could tell that this man was a policeman. However, this policeman wore a different uniform from what James was used to—it almost did not even look American. Still, a cop was a cop. "Oh, great, a young cop. Another guy just trying to show his 'authority' over us." And to make matters even worse, whenever the cop spoke to James, he could not understand him. "What the hell? Can't he speak English?" However, James could tell by the cop's body language that he was asking him to move. Like most people, James would have asked the cop how he got from his apartment to the sidewalk. But due to the cop's aggressive tactics, and James' general dislike of cops, all of his attention focused on the cop. "Hey, man, you could have tapped me on the shoulder, and I would have moved! You didn't have to fucking kick me!"
The cop said something back, but it was again in a language that James could not understand. The language sounded European. Yet James could not figure it out.
"The hell's your problem, man?! This is an English speaking country, so speak English!"
The word 'English' seemed to connect with the cop. "English?" he said in a foreign accent.
"Yeah, 'English,'" James replied, obviously annoyed.
The policeman said something back to James, but he was still unable to understand it. Still, James was able to understand that the policeman was gesturing for James to follow him.
James sighed. "Hey, man, are you at least going to talk to me?"
The cop did respond, but it was once again in the language James could not understand. But his gesture was the same—requesting James to follow him. A part of James wanted to say 'to hell with this cop' and leave, but he also worried what the consequences might be if he did so. "If I disobey, he'll probably shoot me, so I guess I'd better follow."
As James followed the cop he gazed at his surroundings. Many of the buildings looked like those that had been built in the 1800s. But this was nothing new. The city that James called home had similar looking buildings. Yet as James continued to look around, he could tell that he was not in his hometown. To his left, James noticed a river. There was nothing like it where he was from. "What in God's name is going on? Where in the hell am I?" Then James noticed another distinct figure, or figures to be exact—antique cars. They looked to be 1910 or 1915 model cars that he had seen in books. Yet these cars looked relatively new. "They must be having a car show, I guess."
Eventually, the officer directed James to a building where he could see other men dressed in a similar uniforms. "Must be the police station, I wonder if I can sue these bastards?" he said with a smirk. "Considering that they're stupid enough to put a cop out on the street that can't speak English." But in the police station, James noticed something interesting—the lighting. The lights looked as though they were from the early twentieth century. James chuckled. "Considering how poor this place is, if I sue them, I'll probably put the entire police department out of business."
The officer that led James to the station now addressed what appeared to be a 'senior officer.' This officer looked to be in his 50s. He had a bald head, but he wore a mustache that reminded James of some of the 'old hillbillies from the Ozarks.' This older officer approached James and said, in a distinct accent, "Hello there."
James smiled. "Thank, God, someone who speaks English."
The officer returned the smile, and gestured James to a table with a pair of chairs. "Please, sit down."
James did as the officer requested, but as he did so, he asked the officer, "Is there any reason why you have a cop that can't speak English?"
The officer gave James a look, as he took a seat on the other side of the table. "Well, where do you think you are?"
"I'm pretty sure that I'm in the United States of America. At least I was, when I went to sleep a few hours ago."
"On the sidewalk?"
"No, I wasn't sleeping on the sidewalk. I went to sleep on my couch. How I got from my couch to the sidewalk is something that I'd like to know."
"So would I. Have you been doing any hallucinogens today?"
The officer nodded. "Yes."
James was stunned. He had done drugs before, yes, but that was only marijuana. He had never done anything that would be considered a 'hallucinogen.' "No, I haven't done any hallucinogens."
The veteran cop gave James a look. "Are you sure? You just told me that you went to sleep on a couch, when you were in fact found in the sidewalk. And you told me that you're in the United States of America, when in fact you're in Petrograd, Russia."
The officer nodded.
"Well, how in the hell did I get here?!"
The officer laughed. "That's what we're trying to figure out."
"And why are you calling the place 'Petrograd'? I thought it was just St. Petersburg again?"
"What makes you think that? We changed the name a few years ago to get rid of its Germanic sound."
"A few years ago?"
"Yes," the officer said with a nod.
Because James had read extensively on the life of the last tsar and his family, he knew that St. Petersburg was changed to Petrograd in 1914 at the start of the First World War. It was done so to drop the Germanic references to the name. "I'm curious, what year was it that you changed the name?"
James could not believe what he was hearing. 1914? That simply was not possible. When he went to sleep, it was the year 2008. But he had to confess, he was not in his hometown—that was for certain. "I know this is going to come across as a stupid question, but…what year is it now?"
"1916?! This is royally fucked up!" But as James looked around the police station, he discovered something interesting—a calendar. The letters were certainly Cyrillic—the letters of the Russian alphabet. He had seen letters like this before—in books on Russia and the letters above Lenin's tomb. James could not read the letters, but he could certainly read the numbers. And the date did indeed read '1916.' "If this really is 1916, I'm going to milk it for all it's worth…Very well, then. I'd like to see the empress."
James nodded. "Yeah, the empress—Empress Alexandra. She can talk to me in English. That's how she talks to the tsar and everyone around her."
The officer was flabbergasted. "Are you mad?! Do you really think that anyone just off the street—particularly a foreigner—can see the empress, especially in a time of war?! You'd be better off seeing someone from the American embassy."
"Well, you're probably right, but I'm not really sure how many people off the street, be they American or Russian, would know that sometime after Alexandra married the tsar, she wrote in his diary, in English: 'No more separations. You and I are bound together. And when we leave, and go to the next world, we will be together forever—yours, yours!' Or something like that."
"And how do you know that?" the officer asked with a look.
"Now how should I answer this one? It probably wouldn't be in my best interest to say that I've read through the tsar's diary. Plus, it wouldn't be true. I've never seen the tsar's actual diary, and I wouldn't be able to read it anyway, since I can't read Russian. However, since I do know a lot of the Russian History that is going to unfold, perhaps I could say…I guess you could say that I'm something of a prophet."
The officer smirked. "A prophet? Well then, Prophet, give me another prophecy?"
James placed his chin between his thumb and first finger. "Hmm, what is something else that I know? …You remember the incident on Khodynka Field?"
"You mean when people were killed trying to get food and beer?"
James nodded. "Right. Well, on the day that, that happened, Nicholas wrote in his diary: 'The crowd the spent the night on Khodynka Field waiting for the food and mugs began to push on the structure and there was a terrible crush. I have to report with great sadness that 1000 people were trampled.'"
The veteran officer could not believe what he had just heard. What James said came across as someone who had actually read the tsar's diary—even though he did not know, if what James reported to him was true or not.
"Send those messages to Tsarskoye Selo, and have Count Fredricks give them to the empress. And please add that I am no enemy."
While the veteran officer was still not one hundred percent convinced that James was some type of prophet, he was still intrigued by him. "I'm not sure what to think about all of this," the officer said. "This man, who is an American, speaks as though he has read the tsar's diary, but that's not possible. No one, especially a foreigner, could have access to the tsar's private chambers! And this Count Fredricks that he mentioned. Who is that? I suppose that it couldn't hurt me to have the chief of police telegraph Tsarskoye Selo with what this man said. At least we will know then whether or not this man is a fraud…Very well. I'll have the Chief of Police send a message to the Alexander Palace. But until then, you stay here."
James nodded. "No problem."