CHAPTER TWO: HELL FREEZES OVER
In the snowy climes of Thunder Bay, two friends sat in the basement of Deke’s Palace listening to records. The name of the establishment was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that this place was most certainly not anything resembling a palace. Those that had the dubious honour of visiting the place would often claim that the only thing holding up the walls were the cockroaches. Legend even has it that Sloan actually refused to play there.
Of course, this was all in service of a very deliberate attempt to keep prying eyes away, because underneath this dilapidated structure was the well-equipped basement these two friends operated from.
As the Scotch flowed and the needle hit wax, their discussion continued. They had just defeated a mighty sasquatch, saving some new friends from utter doom in the process. Not usually normal conversation topics for a pair of Canadian buddies, but these were not ordinary individuals.
“You know, from a distance that sasquatch kinda looked like my brother Rugg,” said the first man, the spandex-clad superhero Tee Bone Man. A devil on the guitar, he was a champion of arena rock, fine alcohol and Canadian hospitality.
“That’s true, the resemblance was uncanny,” said the second man, the reliable gentleman and (currently) regular hero known as Superdekes who assisted Tee Bone in his heroic endeavours. “But back to the tunes. I don’t care what that Brainiac from Southern Ontario thinks. 5150 is killer. Sammy Hagar was no Roth, but comparisons are silly.”
Tee Bone took a moment to think.
“True, his friend, that meaty guy, seems to agree with you though.” He paused to sip his drink. “Drop the needle, let’s play it again.”
Superdekes leaned over the turntable. “Just like old times man,” he proclaimed as the needle fell.
“Hellllllllllo baby!” screamed Sammy Hagar as the record started playing.
Then came a strange noise that was definitely not the opening guitar squeal to “Good Enough”. While it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that the noise the two men were hearing was indeed Eddie Van Halen, it would have taken some interesting hand positions to pull it off.
Then a skip. And the record seemed to start again. “Hellllllo…Hell…Hell…Hell…”
“Uh oh” proclaimed Superdekes. “That’s not a good sign. That’s the danger vibes again! Someone needs our help.”
Tee Bone turned to the nearest computer. “You’re right. Something’s wrong. And it’s global this time. It seems… earthquakes everywhere!”
Suddenly Superdekes had a hunch.
“My metal senses are tingling,” he said. He placed AC/DC on the turntable. Dropping the needle on “Highway to Hell”, the skipping was far more pronounced. The danger signs were clear.
“Australia is the epicenter,” said Superdekes. “Looks like you’re on your own this time. I’ll monitor from here and do what I can. Why is it again that you’re the only one who can fly?”
Tee Bone grabbed the nearest guitar and donned his cape. “You know the origin story as well as anyone, let’s not rehash it. You’re my roadie, remember?” he said with a wry smile, motioning towards the motorbike leaning against the wall. “Quite literally”.
“Har har,” came Superdekes’s reply. “You know that’s not how it goes”.
“I know, and I’m still looking for another one for you, but they don’t sell spares Dekes over at Canadian Tire. So where in Australia am I heading? It’s not a small country you know.”
Superdekes listened carefully to the skipping record. “I can’t pinpoint it,” he said in frustration. “But you’re gonna need to find the Highway to Hell.”
Then he had an idea.
“Give me that guitar a minute. I think I can help narrow it down”
Tee Bone handed his guitar across, and Superdekes began tuning it. After a short time, he handed it back.
“I’ve put it in the same tuning as the danger vibes. It should react the closer you get,” Superdekes explained.
“Thanks, Super Roadie” Tee Bone replied with a smile, flying off into the sky with the guitar.
Tee Bone Flight 666 direct to Australia was pretty uneventful, other than the guitar occasionally humming as he approached the country, and soon enough he was hovering above the western city of Perth.
And he was sweating like never before. This place gave a new meaning to the word hot, and if Tee Bone didn’t know better, he’d have said that it was hotter than hell in this place. Heck, it was even hot in the shade! He was at least somewhat pleased, however, that the inhabitants hadn’t been literal when they said that everything here was trying to kill you.
Then the world began to shake underneath him. He knew it must have been another earthquake because he hadn’t had enough Scotch to affect his vision yet.
The tremor passed quickly, and he flew down to see if anyone needed his assistance. He was relieved to find that no one appeared to be hurt. But then something caught his attention. It was the sound of music. He didn’t recognise the baritone singer, but he knew good riffs whenever he heard them.
He followed it to its source: a house occupied by a moustache-clad young Australian. To go with his shoulder-length hair and moustache was a small tuft on his lower lip that completed the look.
Tee Bone silently remarked that the man’s facial hair was arranged in the shape of an arrow. He wasn’t really sure who needed directions to this man’s nostrils, but whoever they were, they had them.
Needless to say, the moustachioed man was taken rather aback by this sudden development. He was not in the habit of inviting spandex-clad superheroes into his backyard, not that he’d really had the chance too before.
But there was a sense of familiarity about the man hovering before him. Perhaps it was the Van Halen logo on his mask and enjoyment of the music, but the Australian felt like he was in the presence of a friend.
“Hey, uh, Mr. Van Halen. Can I…help you with anything by any chance?” He cautiously asked.
“Call me Tee Bone Man, and, actually, I think you can,” Tee Bone replied “I need to stop these earthquakes, and to do that I need a return ticket to hell. I’ve been told the only way to get that is through the Highway to Hell, which I’m going to need some directions to.”
The moustachioed man thought for a second.
“I know the place. There are a few slight wrinkles though,” he said. “One does not simply drive into hell. There’s a specific ritual that needs to be done”.
“Well, what is it?” came Tee Bone’s reply.
“That’s the other wrinkle,” the Australian sheepishly replied. “The ritual is said to be written on the vinyl sleeve for the AC/DC album Highway to Hell, and I…err…don’t own that album.”
Tee Bone smiled.
“Well lucky for you, I know someone who does,” and he pulled out his phone “Hey Deke, I need you to do something you’re not going to like.”
Superdekes most certainly did not like that suggestion.
“You want me to do what!? Submerge the sleeve for Highway to Hell in the vintage ’66 Scotch? Are you out of your mind?”
“It’s the only way to read the ritual process,” Tee Bone countered “We need it. I’m in Australia, I’ll buy a new copy”
This perked Deke up a little.
“Well now that you mention it, you are indeed in Australia. How’s about you pick up an original Aussie pressing for me.”
“That’s pretty rare you know, they don’t exactly grow on trees. Not that I see many trees around here anyway.”
Deke stood his ground like a bass player on stage.
“Alright, you win. We’ll get that LP for you.”
“Excellent” he said, with a slight grin “You’ll want the Albert Productions vinyl. Shouldn’t be too hard for a man of your abilities.”
“Not at all. We’ll get on it as soon as we finish up here.”
Mollified, Superdekes went to work grudgingly defacing the vinyl sleeve. Sure enough, bright red text appeared on it and, soon enough, he had the answer the two men needed.
“Alright, here it is: You need to drive down the Highway to Hell at 142 kilometres per hour*, in the chariot of death, to the tune of pure rock.”
“Great, that’s going to be a hassle”, Tee Bone grumbled. “Thanks Deke, we’ll figure it out somehow.”
He hung up and turned back to his new Australian acquaintance.
“I’m guessing it’s been a while since there’s been any chariots around here, so I reckon we’ll need to find a regular old car that suits the criteria.”
It was the moustachioed man’s turn to smile.
“Well lucky for you, I know somewhere that will have what we’re after.”
The Clairemont car show was quite the spectacle. There were certainly vehicles that caught the notice of the two men. Shiny, chromed muscle cars abounded, but none of them had the presence the men required. Until one did, towards the very end of the building, tucked away in the back. The way it caught the attention of both men was ironic, given its black-on-black paint job, but they knew this was the machine they were after. It was difficult persuading the owner to lend it to them, but an unending bottle of Scotch courtesy of Tee Bone and a mobius strip of a guitar solo did the trick.
And so the two men drove their new ride to the site of the ritual: Canning Highway. When they arrived, Tee Bone noticed an immediate problem.
“It’s too crowded now. It would be too dangerous to try and reach those speeds with all these other cars around. We’ll have to wait until night-time.”
The moustachioed man agreed, and decided to kill the time with the Canadian man inside one of the legendary Bon Scott’s favourite haunts along the road, the Raffles Hotel.
Over the next couple of hours Tee Bone found himself treated to some of Australia’s finest Scotch, a revelation about the actual number of people called Bruce in the land, and a particularly amusing crowd interaction with one of the songs on the jukebox.
“No way. Get fucked. Fuck off!” came the crowd’s reply every time the singer asked a seemingly sincere question about seeing someone’s face again.
Tee Bone raised an eyebrow in the direction of the Australian beside him.
“Australian tradition since 1977. We can be an odd bunch sometimes.”
Tee Bone silently wondered if the heat might have had some sort of effect on the people living here, and then went back to his drink.
Eventually nightfall finally came, and the two men left the respectable drinking establishment, more than a little hydrated. As they returned to their new vehicle, Tee Bone put his hand on the moustachioed man’s shoulder.
“Hey, I’ve got something to help this baby hit the speeds we need.”
Resting a bottle of Scotch on the bonnet, Tee Bone played a fiery guitar solo, imbuing the alcohol with an orangey glow.
“Put this in the fuel tank to give it an extra kick” he said, handing the, now very warm, bottle of Scotch to the moustachioed man, who obliged.
Tee Bone breathed in the cool night air and casually observed the road to make sure there weren’t any cars nearby. Satisfied, he turned back to his partner.
Now having finished adding the Scotch mixture to the fuel, the moustachioed man instinctively reached for the driver’s side door, but paused, looking at the Canadian superhero next to him.
“You’d better take the wheel,” Tee Bone assured him. “You’re familiar with the road rules here, and which side of the road to drive on.”
“Right. Good point” came the Australian’s reply.
“And you haven’t just drank a tonne of Scotch,” Tee Bone continued, mounting the car, guitar in hand.
With no rear window, Tee Bone was able to situate himself atop the car, looking forward. Not only did this cut a much cooler image for anyone lucky enough to witness the coming proceedings, but it also allowed him to see any hazards as they came and react to them in time.
The Australian, meanwhile, had taken his seat on the right side of the car and took a brief moment to gather himself for the coming task. It was not going to be easy, but that wasn’t going to stop him from giving it his all. There was no turning back now. He quickly adjusted his moustache, tuned the radio to rock and keyed the ignition. The familiar hum of an internal combustion engine filled him with some warmth.
His nerves somewhat settled, he turned his head back towards the man he might end up spending the rest of his life with, if things went south here.
“As I’ll ever be” came Tee Bone’s reply. “Let’s do this”
The Australian pressed the accelerator, and with the roar of the eight-cylinder engine, the car lurched forward and began its journey towards hell. The needle climbed with every passing second, but even with the power of Tee Bone’s Scotch coursing through it, the old Ford was not what it used to be.
The Australian began to worry. They were not going fast enough, and they would run into a turn or, worse, another car soon. He threw his head back towards the direction of Tee Bone
“I don’t think we’re gonna make it!”
“Hold on!” Tee Bone yelled back. Then he began to wind his arm around a couple times, gathering air. The supercharger roared with delight. Then he hit the loudest power chord he had ever played, and the car surged forward as the world seemed to disappear in a flash of white.
For several seconds the only sound either of the men heard was the engine in front of them. Then colour returned to their vision. The colour red.
They had made it to hell. Now they just needed to find the source of these disturbances, stop them and get back to the real world without dying. Somehow.
To be continued in Chapter 3: Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
* 88 miles per hour