An excerpt from

#Zero

Neil McCormick

1.

Here goes nothing.

Sing, O Muse, of the fall of Zero, of the hollow king who outran his shadow in the last days of the crumbling empire of poop. Spare no details. We've heard the story before and know how it usually ends.

The Shitty Committee were up before I was, as per fucking usual, rapping a gavel on the inside of my skull. Rat-a-tat-tat, Retard. No order in the house. All speaking out of turn, a cacophony of common complaint. You’re nothing special. You can’t fool us. We want our money back. And a few fresh voices to twist the knife, make it really personal. See that porter you tipped a hundred dollars? He called you a cheap prick behind your back. The chef spat in your food. The waiter pissed in your drink. The coat check girl with the big bazookas you zapped in the cupboard? She faked her orgasm and now she’s telling all her Spacebook fiends you were a lousy lay. It’s all over Blogoslavakia. Top ten on U-Bend. Trending on Splatter. Beaming down the wire to a billion mobiles. Tomorrow it’ll be front page on The Daily Rage. Can’t sing. Can’t dance. Can’t even get it up. Take your punishment. You fake. You loser. You mother …

“Rise and shine, superstar,” sang a voice, not from my dreams, obviously, it was being far too nice.

“Fucker,” I groaned.

“Well, that's nice,” tutted the interloper. It was Kailash, known to one and all as Kilo (only not when passing through customs), management lapdog, brown-nosing lickspittle, personal assistant to the talent (that’s me), Mephistopheles’ little helper, can do candy man. I wasn't sure where I was or what time it was but I couldn’t help notice that Kilo had already arranged a neat line of pure white powder on a polished bedside table, mere millimetres from my slowly stirring nostrils, Satan bless his evil soul.

I hate drugs. OK, so I’m not exactly a poster boy for Just Say No. But when I was sweet sixteen (or was it sour seventeen? I don't know. Might have been twelve) I made a promise to myself that if I was going to amount to more than a hill of Heinz baked beans I had to stay away from bad shit. Mind you, that was probably while the universe was collapsing after a snakebite and hash binge. Or was it the time I gobbled my guitarist's pills before a Zero Sums gig only to lose all control of my limbs, with the sneaky fucker giggling about K-holes? Which is another very good reason why I fucking hate drugs. Really. It's just that sometimes, well, nothing else will do. Like first thing in the morning after a bad dream in a strange bed and your mouth is dry and your head is soggy and nausea is creeping up your gullet and it’s not being helped by your so-called assistant prattling away like it’s the first day of spring and all the chicks are hatching.

So I did what had to be done, lifting my head just high enough to snort through a tightly rolled hundred dollar bill. No one can accuse me of being a cheap junky. With a vertigo inducing lurch, I sat bolt upright, poison kick-starting my heart.

“Fuck,” I said. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

That’s how the day began. Pretty much like any other. Before I was ready for it. The last day of my so called life.

When I say I didn’t know where I was, I’m not joking. I didn’t know what city. I didn’t even know what country. Somewhere on planet Hotel, for sure. You fall asleep in Berlin and wake up in Beijing and the only thing that changes are the sheets, freshly laundered, air artificially cool and distilled, walls a sea of soothing beige. I’ve lived in and around hotels all my life. As a kid, I padded along behind the old man, buttoned up in his porter blues, hauling someone else's crap for a shitty tip, and that's if you're lucky. I've done my time with the cockroaches and bed bugs. These days I always got the best suite on the top floor of the finest establishments but chocolates on my pillow don't move me. A hotel is a hotel is a hotel.

“Where are we?” I asked Kilo.

“New York, New York, so good they named it twice: once for the night before and once for the morning after!” he replied in a sing song that made everything sound as if it’s supposed to be a joke.

“What time is it?” These are questions I increasingly found myself starting my day with.

“Six o’clock, so grab your cock!” he said, making a whole song and dance routine of drawing back the curtains. “You’ve got a couple of quick phoners with Dublin and London then we’ll get you fresh and funky for Breakfast In America over at FNY and back to MTV for the launch of Weekend Zero,” he trilled, as if this dreary round of publicity appearances should have me bouncing out of bed with a song in my heart and my dick in my hand.

Six o'fucking-clock. You're probably as sick as I am of celebrities moaning about their hard fucking lives but it really is a long day with no breaks. It was barely light outside. Surely the whole point of fame and fucking fortune was being able to sleep late? My old man used to have to practically drag me out of bed to get ready for school. We both understood it to be the natural order of things, the eternal struggle between parent and child, heaven and earth, moon and sun, old and new, played out daily in a rank teenage bedroom. The dust settled on that battleground when I left home, breaking out on my own for what exactly? So that an over-animated drama queen could waltz into my room without so much as a how-do-you-do and prance around my bed trilling wakey-wakey? I was actually beginning to get upset. Kilo had the curtains open now, infusing the air with fuzzy shafts and shadows of sunrise. “Ta ra!” he flounced, waving his arms like a magician’s assistant proclaiming her master’s latest wonder.

And there I was, outside the window, a hundred metres high, staring back at myself with deep, penetrating eyes. I was sort of impressed, despite myself. I stumbled out of bed and stood naked in the middle of the room, basking in the glory of my own personal Times Square electronic billboard. Look on my works ye mighty and despair.

My giant reflection was naked too, shot from torso up, lean and mean, a brown skinned, red headed, blue eyed idol. The eyes locked on and followed wherever you moved with a laser targeted gaze. YEAR ZERO said the legend, shimmering above my scrawny chest.

Cornelius, my photographer, had worked wonders as usual but I’ve never got it myself, not really, if I am going to be honest and I want to be honest, otherwise what is the point? I can fill myself up, puff my chest out, square my shoulders and walk the walk but when I look in the mirror I don’t see The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (American Vague), Top of the Hotties (Teanmeat), Pop's Sexiest Idol (Virus) or even The Irish Elvis (Rolling Stoned). I see the same skinny, fish-lip, half-breed ginger mulatto who's been staring me down in mirrors since self-consciousness erupted in my teenage brain like volcanic acne. I see a walking freakshow, a bully magnet, the playground weirdo still longing for eyes to look on me with something other than curiosity or revulsion. Any eyes. Even my own.

Oh what I would have given then for girls to look at me the way they look at me now, when it doesn’t mean anything, when all they see is an idea of me, a shining reflection of their own desire. I was so fucking angry back then, most girls I knew were probably afraid of me. All except for Eileen, of course, lovely Eileen. I tried not to think about her any more, cause just a glimpse of an out of focus photograph of us together in some tatty fan book made me want to sink to my knees and prostrate myself in shame. The only girl who ever loved me for myself and I dropped her like a stone, walked away without looking back, mesmerised by a future of silicone groupies with collagen chops. Gave her up for a thousand cheap lays and a shot at Penelope Nazareth.

And, with that, the wave of nausea broke inside me, and I just about made it into the pristine bathroom suite to chuck my guts up.

“You overcooked it last night,” said Kilo, not sounding remotely worried that his wake-up line may have tipped the scales. We had gone through variations of this scene too many times before. Kilo was an expert in the art of chemical balance, a man who had a compound for every occasion.

“I’m feeling better already,” I groaned.

Two little black rabbit pellets rolled onto the gleaming surface next to me. “These’ll clear your head,” said Kilo, “but wait till you’ve finished heaving.”

Sound advice. I retched again. “Did I do anything I’m going to regret?” I asked.

“You were magnificent,” said Kilo, almost as if he meant it.

“Was there something with a coat check girl?” Maybe it was just another bad dream. I would hate anything like that getting back to Penelope, my so-called soul mate, dearly beloved bride-to-be, who I hadn’t seen for over two months and she couldn’t even take the weekend off to come to my launch. So she was shooting some fucking Inca epic halfway up the Amazon in a location so remote they couldn’t even get a satellite signal but what kind of excuse was that?

“Beasley took care of it,” said Kilo. “All she wanted were tickets to the show.”

And the moral of that story is, if you are going to fuck around you’re much better off with a civilian than a stripper, model or groupie. Strippers always go to the press.

I hauled myself to my feet, well, almost all the way to my feet, popped the pills and gratefully accepted the miniature bottle of hotel branded mineral water that Kilo was holding out. It was coming back to me now. We rode in on a gunship, some fuck off military helicopter with my tag on the side, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ booming out front-mounted speakers as we buzzed the Manhattan skyline, trailing plumes of coloured smoke, descending like the wrath of God on the roof of the Illium tower at twilight in a stroboscopic blaze of paparazzi flash. That was Beasley’s idea, an apocalyptic vibe to tie in with the whole Year Zero branding, doomed youth, the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, everybody sing along now: “We were never young / We were born into a world you had already destroyed.” Don’t try and act like you don’t know it, biggest fucking hit of the 21st century, number one in 34 territories, most streamed track of all time. “Life has just begun / It’s the beginning of the end for all the girls and boys”.

Actually my idea, which was a much better idea, was to buy a battleship (I found one for sale on e-bay), get the hottest graffiti artists to tag it top to bottom then sail it up the mouth of the Hudson, come in under the statue of Liberty, dock it at Ground Zero and throw the launch party on the boat. What a fucking photo op that would have been. But, you know, budget, blah blah, permission to dock, blah blah, and this was the clincher - what are we going to do with the boat when the campaign is over, turn it into a floating museum of pop memorabilia? So the chopper was a compromise and not some stroke of genius from my so-called manager, if you really want the truth. But I guess it meant I didn’t have to set sail a week before from Southampton which, anyway, would have spoiled the surprise.

Plus, I get sea-sick.