So I think everyone saw this morning’s email; I figured you’d rather have results quickly and get on with the voting, and if Novak adds comments later, I’ll import them.
The prompt was to write about the backstage goings-on after a rock show.
Bill leaned back in his chair and flicked his lighter, the tiny orange flame casting shadows across the room. He set the burning cigarette between his lips and began rubbing his hands together. His knuckles ached badly.
He could hear feet shuffling outside, sometimes punctuated by voices rising in protest. Nobody would be allowed in, though; Bill had been very clear about that. It had to be at least a half an hour before anybody even thought of opening that door.
Bill exhaled, a long stream of smoking rising toward the ceiling. He stood slowly, gritting his teeth and pressing his palms against his lower back. He found a mini-fridge sitting in the corner of the room and pulled it open. Inside there were a dozen beers and a bottle of whisky.
“Fuckin A’. . .’
Bill rifled through the fridge, pushing the bottles aside. One beer tumbled off the shelf and fell onto the rug, rolling away. Bill finally found a single bottle of water and twisted off the cap. He walked steadily back toward the chair, nearly emptying the bottle on his way. He stopped for a moment and looked at a guitar case that lay on the floor, it’s cover lined with several decades worth of stickers. The newest one showed a large, black and white photo of Bill, standing tall and thrusting his two middle fingers in the air. The caption read 25 Years and Madder Than Hell.
Bill laughed and took another drag off the cigarette. He looked down at the bottle of beer that rolled across the floor.
“25 years. . .” he mumbled, kicking the bottle away. Flipping open the case, he grabbed the guitar and settled it on his lap. Someone knocked on the door.
“Hey, Bill! Bill! Time’s up man, there’s a few people I’d like you to meet!”
Bill closed his eyes and started strumming softly with his aching hands.
I set running but I’ll take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight
K: The mood is fitting enough, and I get the reference, but this doesn’t really go past establishing a mood. It’s a nice bit of scene-setting, but there’s no real scene to speak of.
folded soft on temple bell.
Then bronze gong rang!
“What happened out there?
Mikey shut down! Played nothing!”
Mike looked up, silent.
Fury is not new.
It washes over him; is gone.
The band looks to Mike.
“Do you know Buson?”
Mike asks, knowing the answer.
Setting up his friends.
“Who the fuck’s Buson?”
“They sound death metal, who cares?”
Band missing the point.
“I was out on stage.
I had a perfect vision
Val at home with Paige.
Mother and daughter
perfectly tranquil and safe.
I won’t destroy that.”
K: There’s an extra syllable in the middle line of the second non-Buson haiku, but since I didn’t ask you to write haikus, I won’t fret over that. Everyone knows that I get defensive when these gimmicks come up, and I worry they’ll cripple the writer’s ability to tell the story. This one may not have been the most seamless haiku I’ve ever read – when they’re really working, I forget what I’m reading – but it told an effective story. BRONZE
MN: —– SILVER
“…the blood was supposed to come from the ceiling above the auditorium only, right?” the wiry beanpole of a man asked. “I mean, obviously, that’s what was supposed to happen, but did anyone actually tell the stage hands?”
“Ah shit, Mal,” sighed Subsubhuman as he removed his corpse makeup, “I meant to remind them, but got busy tinkering with my kit.”
“Well, you owe me about four new effects pedals, then” piped up Corpsehammer, “I’m always ready for a bit of splatter, but I swear, there was honest to God VISCERA in there. I’m still pulling chunks out of my hair.”
He paused briefly, pulling a dangly intestine from his locks. “See what I mean? It’s disgusting, really. Don’t know who would go to a show to have buckets of gore dumped on them. Are they actually listening to the music?”
“I how they were, because you and Subsub were on fire tonight,” Malevostro beamed, “I don’t know how, but somehow you’ve gotten even more precise with your blast beats.”
“Thanks, man. I thought your shrieks were on point tonight, too. Good show all around, guys.”
A slight man in a business suit ones his head through the door.
“Yo guys aren’t out of your makeup yet, are you? You’ve got some fans with backstage passes.”
Gutbucket sighed slightly, “We’re fairly tired, you know?” He then reconsidered, “eh, what the hell, send them on in.”
“Can you send some tea with them?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Five minutes later, six scantily clad girls came tumbling drunkenly through the door. Giggling, each of them lady claim to a rocker.
“Did Bret send the tea with any of you?” inquired Corpsehammer. “No? Oh, no. That’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, I’m going to have to stop you there” said Gutbucket, pointing at his left hand “I’m afraid Lisa would prefer I stay in there straight and mostly narrow when I’m out on tour”
The girl stared incredulously at him.
“I’m sure you understand, right?”
“Actually” began Corpsehammer, extracting himself from his amorous companion, “that goes for the lot of us. Would any of you like to talk about your favorite Bludgeoned album? Any of you want a free guitar lesson?”
Just then, Bret came back, pushing a small service cart.
“ah! Right on!” exclaimed Malevostro, “tea’s here everyone.”
“World you ladies like some?” asked Gutbucket, “Bret finds the best tea. No? Okay, your loss.”
The ladies quickly and befuddledly left, leaving the band to their thoughts and their tea.
“You know,” mused Subsubhuman, “these backstage parties were a lot different before Marcus quit.”
The other members considered this for a moment, shrugged, and went on drinking their tea.
K: Even if I ignore the mountain of errors here (“ones” his head through the door?), this story wears thin quickly, as there’s really nothing beyond “metal band is actually pretty normal,” which isn’t enough of a revelation for this story to work without a stronger attack on the conventions of metal. If this had gone stronger with the absurdity, and the conversation was banal (perhaps not even relating to the gore, even as Corpsehammer pulls the intestine from his hair) it would work better. Good character names, though.
MN: —– GOLD
Frank drew his thumb across his throat, cancelling the last encore. Everyone looked relieved; Leif just shrugged and stomped off towards his solitary dressing room. The rest of FAZOR started breaking down their instruments.
Frank saw the People reporter headed his way. He caught Jayla and bent near her ear. “Go see if a snort brings Leif back into focus, huh?” She nodded and hurried after her boyfriend.
“Frank, let’s see if we can’t get this done tonight, okay?” The reporter smiled at Frank knowingly. He’d been trying to get an after-performance interview with Leif for several nights now.
“Sure. I’ll go see how he’s feeling tonight. That flu has really been taking it out of him.”
Blithely ignoring the scepticism in the man’s voice, Frank headed for Leif’s dressing room. Jayla was just coming out. The tightness around her mouth told him everything.
“Please, Jayla,” Frank hissed. “I know you’re mad, but please go convince the People guy that Leif is just too sick tonight.” Jayla paused but gave a tight nod and brightened. Smart girl, Frank thought, not for the first time. She may have been sucked in by Leif’s charm, but she remained for the money. She had been so helpful keeping Leif in check this tour, Frank had insisted the band pay her a salary. She earned every penny of it.
Frank slipped into Leif’s small dressing room. The girl on her knees looked to be about 12 and was clearly jittery high and in over her flushed face. Leif didn’t even bother covering himself.
“Get up, honey, gotta run now.” Frank pulled her up by her scrawny arm. “If you hurry, you can avoid the cops out back.”
“Hey!” Leif slurred unhappily.
Frank closed the door on the bewildered girl and rounded on Leif. “Fuck, Leif, she’s just a baby.”
“Nah, she’s 18 for sure.” Leif stuffed his flaccid penis back into his leather pants, not bothering to zip.”
“Did you give her coke? Never mind, of course you did.” Frank didn’t bother to hide his disgust; Leif wouldn’t remember any of this anyway.
“Fuck you, Frank. YOU’RE NUTHIN, don’t you forget that. I jesh let you stay round so you don starve ta death!”
“I know, Leif, so you’ve said.” But unlike you, buddy, I’ve saved the money I made and don’t need you as much as you probably need me. “Let’s go get you passed out on the bus, hmm?” Frank reached for Leif’s arm, to help him up off the tiny couch provided for him by contract in every venue. Leif yanked his arm away and threw his glass of Crown at Frank’s head. True to form, the drink glanced off Frank’s shoulder, spraying him with whiskey. He wiped his face on his sleeve.
Casually, he leaned down and placed one hand on the arm of the couch and leaned in, breathing in the fumes of alcohol and pissed-on leather. With his other hand, he slapped Leif forcefully across the face, and then again, with the back of his hand, and forward again. Leif threw out his hands but Frank knocked them aside and continued slapping him. Crack. Crack. Crack. Leif began crying and started to slide down the sofa, trying to escape. But Frank kept slapping, snapping Leif’s face back and forth, greasy hair swinging in his face. When Leif stopped struggling and collapsed in a sobbing puddle of tears and snot, Frank finally stopped.
He grabbed a towel from the counter and scrubbed Leif’s red face with it. “Now get up and get on the bus, or I will let you choke on your vomit tonight.”
Frank shut the door quietly behind him and heard the bitter “Mother fucker,” that followed him out.
“I hear he still has the flu.” The reporter was waiting in the hall.
“Yeah, well,” Frank hesitated and then saw Jayla’s stoney face. “He’s feeling much better now. He said for you to go on in.”
K: I thought this one was going to sputter without an ending as well, but we get the proper foreshadowing with Frank recognizing that he doesn’t really need Leif anymore, so this ending doesn’t come off as cheap. I’m guessing a few bands have broken up in manners close to this one. You know, a lot of the story beats here seem like obvious ones given the prompt, but the story was told with style, so it worked for me. GOLD
MN: —– BRONZE
“This is totally, like my first time going backstage after a show. And it’s perfect since ‘Crazy Bitch’ is like my favorite song, like, ever!”
Josh smiled at Joan. Joan? Jane? Jill? Alexa? It didn’t fucking matter. She was just another broad. For the last nine years his life had basically been one long, blurry string of pussies. It all ran together. He snorted a bump from his key as discretely as possible and mustered up the will to reply to her. “Yeah, well, you’re not the first lady I’ve ever brought back stage.”
Angie was too in awe to pick up on his disdain. “Is it true that, like, you bands can have like anything you want backstage?”
Josh replied. “Yeah, anything.” Well not anything really, but all Josh needed was enough fuel to get through his night on stage, and to stay awake long enough to get blown after the show.
They reached the door of his dressing room. There was his name on the huge gold star: JOSH TODD. Below it, his band’s name: Buck Cherry. Why did they always fucking put that space there? It pissed Josh off more than almost anything. He sighed and unlocked the door.
“Will you make me an Appletini while I, like, freshen up?” Angie asked. “Yeah, fuck, whatever you want, sugar tits,” Josh replied.
Angie giggled as she walked off to the bathroom. Josh did another bump, then walked over to the snack table. Everything from the post-show rider seemed to be in order: Six one liter bottles of Evian water. Six king size Butterfinger candy bars. Six bottles of Coors, the Banquet Beer. Six hot chicken wings, drumsticks only, with a cup of bleu cheese dressing. Six grams of local grass. One bowl of guacamole made from six avocados. And, most importantly, a 36 oz. bowl full of tiny twist…
Angie had just put her panties in her purse and was about to head out from the bathroom when she heard a gut-wrenching scream from the other room.
“WHAT THE FUCK!?”
When she opened the door, the first thing she noticed was the bulging vein on his forehead.
“YOU GET THAT COCKSUCKER ON THE PHONE FUCKING RIGHT NOW!”
“What’s… what’s wrong, baby?” Angie asked. Josh was far too wrapped up in his phone call to notice.
“THE RIDER IS EXTREMELY EXPLICIT. A 36 OZ. BOWL OF TINY TWIST PRETZELS. NOT ONLY ARE THESE REGULAR SIZE PRETZELS, THERE IS 38 OZ. IN THIS BOWL.”
Who would’ve known the guy who wrote “Crazy Bitch” could be such a jerk, Angie thought to herself.
“YEAH. YEAH YOU BETTER FIX IT, YOU FUCK!” Josh hung up his phone and threw it at the bowl of pretzels. He was panting. Sweating. The pretzels clattered against the wall and floor.
“Hey, babe. Sorry about that. All these months on the road, and you’d think that they could follow some simple fucking requests!” He laughed, and ran his hands through his hair. “You ready to fuck now?”
“I’m… I’m not so sure now.” Angie said with a frown.
“Fine, whatever, then get the fuck out. I don’t have time for a cock tease like you!”
Angie was already out the door. He didn’t hear it shut over her yelling. It didn’t matter. Tomorrow night was another show; there’d be some other broad itching to get his dick wet. Tonight won’t be a bust, as long as the promoter makes good on his promise of 36 oz. of tiny twist pretzels.
K: I think the fact that this was written around a real song and band kind of hurt it, because the situation and conversation came off as very contrived, but also predictable. Josh’s attitude toward Angie might make for a character that goes through a long-term change, but for him to just be an incorrigible dick all the way through…well, it doesn’t give the reader anything to cheer for, especially when the female lead is completely dense and subservient and doesn’t earn our respect either. If this was a little more harrowing and realistic, we might have something, but as it is, it’s just a couple of shitty people in what comes off as another day in their lives.
George landed hard on the concrete floor. He hadn’t thought about it in the moment, but he had tackled the young girl in such a way that she had landed directly on top of him. He was pretty sure he would have crushed the poor thing if he’d landed on top of her. Her screams were drowned out by the hard thumping of automatic weapons fire.
George had been extending a handshake to the young pop star from New Zealand when he saw a group of young men barge through the door with large rifles. Without thinking, he lunged for the girl. He’d always remember those aqua eyes atop her pale cheekbones widening in surprise as he jumped for her and pulled her behind a couch.
Security had been high as with all high profile events in this part of Mexico due to recent issues with cartel violence, and the multiple stationed guards returned fire. What had been a peaceful scene of people drinking and mingling backstage after a Lorde concert (her first visit to the area) had suddenly turned into a pitched battle between narcos and security forces. The young pop star would be worth an exorbitant ransom.
George Brett, star third baseman of the Kansas City Royals had been vacationing in Mazatlán. Due to his amount of hotel loyalty points, and a concierge that was an ex-pat from the Sunflower State, he received tickets to the Lorde concert that night. After he mentioned on social media that he was looking forward to seeing to the concert, Lorde’s people, aware of the tenuous tie-in between their client’s breakthrough hit and his former team, arranged for him to be given backstage passes. Would be a good photo op at least.
He chuckled in his mind at the light hearted invitation as tiny flecks of concrete from the ceiling rained down on his face.
Holding her head protectively to his chest, he quickly did a visual reconnaissance of the area. Both sides were firing from defensive positions, and based on manpower and firepower, it didn’t look like it was going to abate anytime soon. He did see a trapdoor behind some stacks of amps and gear, but there was at least five yards of dead open space between the couch and it.
He patted her head.
“Listen, honey, I’m going to need you to calm down a little, and we’re going to get out this.”
She looked up at him with wide, but perfectly calm eyes and nodded twice.
A scream to their right. A security guard crumpled unimportantly nearby, a quarter of his temple now missing, and his firearm clattered to the ground.
“I think we can make it to that trapdoor,” George said, “but we’re going to have to go fast.”
Lorde nodded twice. George was overtaken with the depth of her eyes.
George moved to a crouching stance and motioned for her to do the same.
“One…” he counted off. “Two… THREE!”
George lunged into to the open, pulling Lorde by the hand. His knees screamed back at him as he struggled to close the difference, then, the hammer strike of a bullet struck the meaty part of his bicep and he hit the ground. Lorde had made the trapdoor, and turned around wildly when she saw she’d made it alone. Her wide eyes sized up the situation, and she struck quickly.
She ripped open the trapdoor and pushed off of it behind her. After two quick steps, she slid across the polished concrete and retrieved the downed security guard’s semi-automatic. Completely the motioning, she grabbed George’s collar with one hand, and sprayed bullets with the other. He kicked with his feet, and with her momentum, they made it into the trapdoor, and closed it firmly shut.
They were found three hours later. Lorde had tied one of her scarfs around the bullet wound, which went clean through. George is expected to make a full recovery, and Lorde’s people got way more than the photo op they were hoping for.
K: Man, I wish this one hadn’t spent so much time setting the scene. Novak and I both know all parties involved as well as the connection, so the time spent on exposition could have been used getting straight to the action, because once I saw that this was George Brett and Lorde working together in a shootout, I was pretty psyched about it. If any other exposition is absolutely necessary, it can be peppered in throughout. Now, all this said, the prose was still strong, the backdrop was still properly ridiculous (but taken seriously) and I’ll remember it for a long time. SILVER
“A-co-lyte!” A-co-lyte! A-co-lyte!”
She could hear them screaming from the halls of the civic center. Two bruisers in black shirts parted the crowd as she tailed behind. A left, then another left. Then a door, vaguely labeled “Talent,” written in sharpie on masking tape.
“In there,” one of the bouncers signaled.
“Not so fast,” a woman barricaded the door, “I’ll need you to sign this.”
“What is it?”
“A nondisclosure agreement,” she pointed at a line, “by signing here you agree to divulge nothing of your night, subject to penalty under law.”
She scribbled quickly, the text didn’t even matter. All the years of dedication, the sacrifice, the dozens of shows, getting there hours early to be pressed against the barricade by the legion of followers behind. The tattoo. It all amounted to this.
She slowly opened the door and poked her head through the crack. They were all there– Presbyter, Vicar, Abbot, Canon—and they were looking at her.
“Hi guys,” she demurred, “I’m Kara.”
Abbot, dressed in his trademark studded black leather vest and black jeans rose from the couch to meet her.
“Hi Kara,” he looked her in the eye, “welcome to the sacristy.”
Abbot extended his hand, she shook it. They were real—all of this was real. It wasn’t another dream.
“So guys. Ohmygod. Like, ohmygod. Such…such big—a big fan.”
Presbyter chuckled, she was nervous just like the rest. He motioned to the couch. “How about you take a seat?”
An awkward silence filled the air. Finally, Abbot spoke.
“Kara, tell us a little about yourself.”
“Well,” Kara gushed, “I grew up in Topeka but got out of there for Omaha a few years ago. Right now I’m taking a break from school and working at Chipps’, it’s a late-night diner. And…and, I guess. Well, I really love your music, guys. Really, really, really love it. It’s everything. I’d…I’d do anything for you guys.”
“Anything?” Vicar piped up.
“Anything,” Kara was certain.
Abbot smiled and it warmed her inside. “Would you,” he said looking deeply into her eyes, “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
All four of them were staring intently at her.
“Wha—what?” she stammered, chuckling.
“Would you, today,” Abbot spoke with purpose, “accept the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart and love him as we do?”
“But…wait a second,” Kara reeled, “is this serious?”
“Nothing is more serious than your salvation,” Abbot pushed, “Kara, please accept this gift.”
Kara stood, looking down on the four sitting men.
“But…but what about your lyrics? The blood?”
“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood” Canon spoke up, “and without shedding of blood is no remission. Hebrews 9:22.”
“You..” she sputtered, “you wrote a song called ‘Killing my Enemy’!”
Abbot smiled, “Does Ezekiel 33:8 not say ‘When I say unto the wicked, O wicked, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand’?”
“Uh…I don’t know.”
“Kara,” Abbot rose to stand in front of her,” we are here for your salvation. For your life. We are an army of light that shrouds itself in darkness to better infiltrate and convert the most wretched of wretched. Today—this day, is your gift. I saw your lips move along with mine, I saw you say the words ‘and his justice is mine, his justice upon my enemy.’ You said the words, you’re ready.”
Kara thought she was going to pass out. She leaned against the wall and stared at the floor.
“Yeah,” she whispered, “but I thought you guys were talking about Satan.”
K: We already know what Kara thinks, so this last line doesn’t have the comedic punch it might otherwise. It might work better if it was delivered earlier. Furthermore, with the character names, we really get the sense that these are Bible-thumpers, so by the time the lyrics come up and we’re told Kara is surprised, we have to wonder why, because we’ve spent the whole story knowing what’s what. This isn’t more than one quick rewrite from being pretty funny, but as it is, it could be cleaned up some. BRONZE
MN: —– BRONZE
There it is, gang. If I had written this part last night I’d probably have something more prophetic to say, but after sleep and before work, I have nothing special to add. Annette Barron has won Immunity, and you should vote for anyone else by tonight at 9pm Central so we can get to the inevitable three-way write-off after the 2-2-2-1 vote.