it would be so easy to simply give excerpts from my existing tales for this challenge. Too easy, and counterproductive. I’m a writer, so WRITE, dammit! So… going the way untraveled, a scrabbling scribbling doodle in prose. I don’t know where this will go, or why, or how. Bear with me, and hopefully we’ll enjoy the ride…
It was an odd day. Odd, and boring.
Frustrated, restless, Steve Perry leaned against a stack of amps, watching the roadies wheeling equipment up the stage. The day was overcast, warm and sticky, the sky an odd tint of yellow-green. Steve stared at it, at the roadies scurrying and cursing, at the empty stands, at nothing, the sounds and sky and colors all blending into the yellow-green overcast, undistinguished, muddy. It was always this way before a show, nothing to do but watch and wait. There was no anticipation, not anymore, not after four month of shows without any break. Perform, eat, sleep, wakeup, catch the ride to the next show, eat….
He heard laughter, somewhere behind him, recognized Ross’s voice, and stared resolutely at the sky, his jaw tight. Journey was an old band, a tight group. Steve had only joined this year, coaxed and prodded and forced into the group by their manager, Herbie. They hadn’t been sure of him, still weren’t sure, even after four months on the road. He was the new guy, the outsider, the one they didn’t want…
And out here, while they’re in there…
Startled, Steve jumped, blinked. Neal stood to his right, uncertain, his stance uneasy. He was a young man, long, lean, and hairy, his tumbleweed afro frizzed out around him in a shadowy halo.
For a moment, the two only stared at each other. Then Neal relaxed, settled into his own lean against the amps, next to Steve. There was silence; Steve could smell the sour-sweetness of pot. He waited, silent.
Neal slanted a glance at him, grinned. He brought up the joint he’d been holding, took a long hit, then passed it to Steve. Steve looked it over, letting the smell sink in; for the past couple months, they’d only been able to afford bargain-basement cheap weed cut with sweetgrass or worse. He’d gotten a major headache the last time he’d tried that crap. But this…
He took a long hit of his own, savoring it. Good stuff, this time. He handed the joint back to Neal. “Thanks.”
Neal took another hit, holding the joint up to watch the smoke. “We’re gonna send out for pizza. You in?”
The good feeling Steve had suddenly evaporated. Translation, we’re short on funds. Again. “And if I say no?” It came out sharper than he wanted.
Neal only shrugged. “Fine. That’s more for us.” He pushed away from the amps.
Caught, Steve stood still for a moment, then turned. “Neal…”
The guitarist stopped, waited, his back to Steve.
Steve pushed away from the amps, caught up with him. “Um…yeah, sure. Pizza sounds good.”
He wasn’t sure, at this angle; something like a grin stretched Neal’s face, briefly. “Great. That’ll take care of the tip.”
“Tip?” Steve stopped again, feeling his chest tighten. “I don’t have that much, man. I thought we were splitting –”
“Oh yeah,” Neal said. “We are. We’re gonna ask for a delivery chick. Me and Gregg figured it ain’t prostitution if we’re paid in pizza.”
It was sudden, breathless shock. “You…what?” Then he saw Neal’s face, saw the brief something stretch into a true, wide grin, and Steve burst into laughter, hard, relieved, hysterical. He couldn’t stop, couldn’t move, then couldn’t breathe, leaning helplessly against Neal —
An explosion of sound more felt than heard, the force was enough to knock Steve flat and send Neal sprawling. Both scrambled back up, to stare back at the rising, billowing cloud of black and grey smoke and brown-yellow dust from the front of the stage. Steve’s chest was tight and pounding, as he stared, and stared, unaware that he was gripping Neal’s shoulder tightly, or that Neal was gripping him back, each leaning on the other for support, their breath short and gasping. Roadies were scrambling, screaming, yelling, running towards and into the dust and smoke, the cloud billowing towards Steve and Neal as they stood there.
Light, bright, yellow, blinding. Steve yelled, spun away, his hands over his eyes, seeing bright lines and shadows even through his eyelids, even as he felt the second whump of sound slam into his chest. He heard cursing, felt Neal grab him and pull him forward, around, down, until both of them were huddling against something that felt solid and metal.
Steve blinked away tears, squinting against the pain to get his bearings. Amps. They were behind another stack of amps and crates, some distance from the stage. He could still hear screams, smell thick, oily smoke and burnt ozone. Beside him, Neal was still breathing curses, his hands rubbing at his eyes. For a long moment, the two only huddled there, listening, breathing, unable to move or think…
…until there was a whisperly, slithering noise in front of them, and Steve saw movement, looked up, staring at the tall grey shape that had coalesced in front of them, stepping out of the smoke and dust to stop and stare down at the huddled pair…