Wild Card Wednesday is a challenge between us. Each will provide a prompt to the other. That prompt will allow us 1000 words or so to complete the challenge.
Today Steve Beaulieu prompted me with: broken record
“I appreciate it, Chicago. This next one goes out to an old pal of mine, ain’t seen in a long long time now.”
“I appreciate it, Dallas. This next one goes out to an old pal of mine, ain’t seen in a long long time now.”
“I appreciate it, Minneapolis. This next one goes out to an old pal of mine, ain’t seen in a long long time now.”
Tate Montgomery had said it so many times that he barely even remembered the meaning. Sometimes he had to ask his longtime manager who the old pal was that he was referencing. Even when reminded, Tate still struggled to recall why the man had been important enough to mention at a concert. But the moment had stuck, and now the touching comment between songs was automatic. Just another part of the show, another part of the act. Another part of an image that had been carefully cultivated over the course of nearly thirty years on the road.
He realized he should focus, that there were twenty thousand people staring at him, expecting to hear him start the first line of “See You Again.” But did he even care? After all these years of pouring himself out on these stages he had nothing left to give. He’d given them his heart and he’d given them his soul and in return they’d made him a millionaire. They got the better end of the deal. His body was done. Not even his manager knew, but this was his last tour. His last everything.
The crowd was getting restless now. So was he. His throat burned, had burned for a decade now. It felt like a hot gravel road, and swallowing a swig of water just seemed to agitate it. It pissed him off. He’d given them his gift, and they just never stopped taking. As he stared out at the arena he couldn’t really see much. The glare of the spotlights in his eye made the crowd little more than an idea to him, a collection of ghostly shapes.
Tate laughed bitterly. Maybe they were ghosts. As soon as he thought it the idea stuck right in the center of his mind and refused to leave. For a moment he enjoyed toying with the idea, but a deep unease settled upon him as he kept thinking about it. He shielded his eyes and tried to focus, wanting to get a good look at the very human, very alive crowd. But there were lights everywhere, and no matter how hard he tried to shield his eyes there was always a glare, always just that collection of ghostly shapes.
He leaned away from the microphone and turned to his band.
“You boys seein’ this?”
But the lights were out on the stage, and all he saw was darkness. Part of him wanted to panic, but he reminded himself that this was always how it went between these two songs. Arena dark, stage dark, spotlights all on him. Yet he still strained his eyes, wanting badly to glimpse even just one of his bandmates. He could sense them there, in the dark, anxiously waiting on him to get the song going. Could sense them but couldn’t see them.
Tate shook his head and turned back to the microphone. It was just the result of too much time spent on the road, too little willpower to say no to whatever was offered in whatever city they happened to be in. He’d toured clean for over ten years now, but it didn’t matter. There were some things introduced into the human body that never left a man, and he’d been broken for a long long time now.
The faceless crowd was getting angry. It started as muttering and confusion, but then there were yells.
“Let’s go already!”
“You forget the words, old man?”
They could speak, which seemed to suggest they weren’t ghosts after all. He could’ve done what they were asking. The song was his most popular, he’d performed it at least a thousand times. Finding the chords on the guitar was the same as breathing, the lyrics a part of his DNA. Giving them what they wanted one last time would’ve been simple.
But that was when he felt it. Like an old lover walking into the room, a reminder of his past. Past wrongs, sure, but that was pretty much all Tate could remember at this point in his life anyway. He smiled as this feeling spread. He held his hands up in front of his face, almost surprised to see how normal they looked. There was nothing normal about this feeling.
He used to chase it, used to hunger for it, devour it when he found it. But he’d given up the pursuit when he went clean. If only he’d remembered sooner, maybe things would’ve been different. Maybe this was what kept his body going, what kept those ghosts at bay.
It didn’t matter. Tate slowly lifted the acoustic guitar over his head. He went to place it on the guitar stand nearby, but had a change of heart. Instead he slammed it into the stage as hard as he could. It cracked and splintered, sending shards of wood flying all over. He kept slamming it, as hard as he could. The neck cracked beneath his hands, cutting him. He kept going, breaking it until there was nothing left to break.
This was it. A fury.
He laughed as he dropped the remains and picked up his electric guitar. Blood poured from his hands, but he didn’t mind the pain. It was the first time he’d felt even a hint of life in himself for years. He didn’t care about the ghostly crowd, didn’t care about his band. They could follow along or not, but there was only one thing a man could do when he had a fury.
Tate Montgomery had no idea how long he played that night, no idea if the audience was real or not, no idea if he’d just made noise or actually created something that mattered. He simply walked offstage, the last bit of what he had given up. There would be no more shows. No more fury, but he didn’t mind, not really. He’d used up more than his fair share of them, and his old bones were tired anyhow.