Chris introduces the concept of a collaborative fiction podcast, and shares the first two chapters of his story about an imagined past involving crime, carnivals, and The Traveling Wilburys.
Follow @youtmwig on Twitter to participate.
New Brunswick New Jersey, 1988.
George Harrison held up his hands triumphantly, grinning at the cheering crowd. The other members of the rock ’n roll super group The Traveling Wilburys unslung their instruments, sauntering off stage to thunderous applause.
Artificial fog swirled around their statement boots, curling over the edge of the stage, tumbling below it, over thick black wires and impenetrable support beams, collecting in a dark subterranean backstage ally.
The woman’s voice echoed strangely – too much reverberation for the size of the place. The fog completely covered her high heels, leaving the only trace of their presence the clack of her footfalls which mixed with the dull sound of the crowd above. She sighed, stretched her back, rolled her gum to one side.
“Rodney told me this is where to get back stage passes. Is anyone there?” She called a little louder, peering ahead, “Or maybe it wasn’t Rodney…” She continued, fishing in her hand bag and retrieving a crumpled piece of paper. She squinted at it, pulling reading glasses from her low cut top. “Yeah, I was right, Rodney. Rodney Greenfield sent me. I don’t know if I’m talking to anyone.” She looked up.
A figure shrouded in smoke and shadow stood at the opposite end of the hall. The woman took off her glasses, let them dangle from their chain. The only thing she could make out at this distance was his curly mop of green hair.
She suppressed a grimace, hoping the weird hair didn’t foretell weird requests; weird requests were always very specific, and that took a while. She really wanted to catch the one thirty bus home. If she could, she could squeeze in five hours of sleep before work tomorrow. She pushed up a smile.
“You must be Sidney,” she said, making sure to cross her legs one over the other as she advanced, even though it made her back twinge. “I’m Dixie,” she lied, “And I’m interested in backstage passes, so if you wanna drop those drawers,” she cracked her gum, stopping in front of him, “We can get started.”
The figure didn’t move for a moment. Then a moment longer, the only sound the occasional snap of Dixie’s gum. Her smile slowly wilted into a frown of impatience.
“Hello?” She asked.
“Hi there,” the figure replied in a high voice, then stepped into ghost light filtered from the stage. His face was pale and round, tight lips drooping in a bow, ice blue pinholes staring from sunken eye sockets. He raised a silver-plated record, light glinting off it’s sharpened edge, reflecting off Dixie’s unworn glasses. She squinted. “Wait, are you the merch guy?”
She barely had time to register surprise as the figure brought the record down, cutting off her last syllables. The fog wrapped around, tucking her away, the thud of her fall drowned out by the steady beat of convert-goers marching out far above.
All five members of the Traveling Wilburys charged into the brightly lit green room, patting each other on the back, talking loudly, and grabbing mini pizzas, sandwich halfs, and handfuls of pretzels and M&Ms.
George Harrison popped a battered cauliflower into his mouth, talking through his chews.
“Great show lads, we were really in the pocket. Those harmonies were tight.”
Jeff Lynn replied from under a cocked eyebrow.
“I love a tight harmony, but right now I’m looking for a tight something else, if you sniff my wiff.”
The band guffawed and nudged each other proudly – these guys got sex humor.
“Man, I know we’re all getting up there,” said Tom Petty, “And none of us draw like we used to. Our fans have aged with us. But the album’s a smash hit, and tonight the audience was young, man. Young. We’re gonna make out good tonight.”
The band cheered. Just then, their roadie, Hank, popped his head in.
“I heard the back half of that conversation fellas,” he said, “and I’ve got a little surprise I think you’re gonna like. There’s a very young fan here who would do anything to meet you all.”
The band’s collective eyebrows waggled as they crowded around the door.
“May I present…” Hank said with a flourish, throwing open the door, “Little eight year old Timmy Johnson!”
A small boy wearing thick glasses and smeared in prepubescent acne stood in the doorway. “Wow!” he cried, “The Traveling Wilburys!” The whole band sagged.
“Hi,” said George Harrison, shooting a dirty look at Hank, who confidently misinterpreted it, touching the side of his nose. Roy Orbison wistfully buckled his pants.. Roy Orbison wistfully buckled his pants.
“I can’t believe I’m in a room with The Traveling Wilburys.” Cried Timmy. “You guys are the best super group ever! You’re all amazing solo, but together you’re somehow more than the sum of your parts. Except, each part is a music legend. Like you! You’re George Harrison! You’re my favorite Beatle. I listen to your music all the time. My favorite album of yours is Dark Horse.”
“Really?” asked George, impressed, “Nobody bought that record.”
“Oh, I did.” Timmy continued, “That song Ding dong ding dong is poetry. And you!” He shouted, pointing, “You’re Tom Petty, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!”
Petty scowled unconvincingly from under his black, wide-brimmed hat.
“Hey kid,” he croaked, coughing.
“You’re song Refugee, it’s like it was written for me.” Timmy fawned.
“Oh, cool,” Tom replied, bemused. “How old did you say you were again?”
Timmy ploughed on, not hearing. “You! You must be Roy Orbison! I mean, what can you say? Your voice moves me to my core. And honestly, I know it was written long before I was born, but the story arc of Oh, Pretty Woman! Could have been about my last Thursday.” The raven-haired crooner sat expressionless behind his dark sunglasses, staring down Timmy. A slack-jawed Timmy stared back.
A moment passed.
“I also like Cannibal Corpse,” Timmy admitted, blinking furiously. Roy nodded, satisfied.
“Well, Timmy, I am very impressed,” said Jeff Lynn, jumping in, “You sure know you’re rock history.” He grinned, expectantly.
“Thanks!” shouted Timmy cheerfully. “I have no idea who you are.”
Jeff’s grin vanished. “Seriously? I’m Jeff Lynn. From The Electric Light Orchestra? We had a bunch of hits. Living Thing? Xanadu? Don’t Bring Me Down?” Timmy stared blankly. “Oh come on, you knew Dark Horse but not me? I do a lot of producing!” He yelled, whipping a tomato and olive tapenade smothered cracker at the wall.
Unperturbed, Timmy broke into a wide smile. “Hey, what’s your dog’s name?” The band gaped wide-eyed at Timmy. Timmy shifted uncomfortably, “What?” He asked.
“That’s not our dog,” screeched Tom Petty, “That’s Bob Dylan!”
The poetry and music legend lifted his head, staring out from droopy eyebrows and thick matted hair.
“************,” said Bob, wryly.
“You said it, Bob,” said George.
“Alright, Timmy, I think it’s time to go,” interjected Hank, ushering Timmy out.
“Okay, catch you all later. I’ll be following you the whole tour!” Yelped a happy Timmy as he was removed sternly from the room.
While the door was open for Hank to extract the youth, he noticed three women in skin tight outfits, heels in hand, running down the corridor towards him.
“Hold the door! We need to see the band!” Screamed the fastest, frantically waving her red stiletto heels. Hank rolled his eyes, shooing Timmy away.
“Sorry ladies,” Hank sounded bored, “But the fellas aren’t interested.” He slammed the door.
“Who was that?” Demanded Jeff Lynn. Hank shook his head, amused.
“Just some desperate-looking groupies, but don’t worry guys, I told them to get lost,” said Hank, giving everyone a thumbs up.
“What!” The entire band cried in unison. Tom Petty threw open the door, the three women outside practically falling into the room.
“My apologies,” said George Harrison, bowing slightly, “Please, come in.”
“Thank you,” said the women who had spoken before, dusting herself off.
“It is an absolute pleasure to meet you ladies. What are y’alls names?” Asked Tom.
“We’ve actually met before. Connie, from Fort Worth. We had a few passionate nights back in ’74. And this is Belinda and Yuna. George, Belinda is one of the few people to hook up with you on the set of Life of Brian, and Bob, back in Greenwich Village you and Yuna…”
“************” said Bob Dylan, enthusiastically.
“You remembered!” Laughed Yuna, “I’ll never look at pastrami the same way again.”
“Well ladies?” Tom Petty said, “Shall we party?” Everyone giggled flirtatiously, until Connie shook her head, like she was shaking off a spell.
“No!” She yelled, “We’re not doing anything until we find our friend.”
“God damn it!” Screamed Jeff Lynn, flinging a seven layer dip into the air conditioner. Roy Orbison pulled up his pants, a tear welling in his eye.
“Who is you friend, maybe we know her?” Asked George.
“She goes by Dixie, but that’s not her real name,” replied Yuna, “We’re really worried about her. She went off to get us backstage passes, and never came back. We investigated where we saw her go, and found what we’re sure is a blood stain.”
“Even if it was blood,” said Tom Petty, skeptical, “how do you know anything bad happened? Maybe a crew guy cut himself and Dixie’s off with him now.”
“No way,” said Connie forcefully, “Dixie – not her real name – would never leave us like that without saying where she’s going. Besides, we also found this.”
She pulled a clump of bright green hair from her handbag.
“So what?” Scoffed Jeff Lynn, scowling.
“So what? So what?” Cried Yuna. “So this stadium was built on an ancient circus fairground! It was built over when a wealthy real-estate developer got angry that he wasn’t winning at the games. They say the ghost of the dunk tank clown still haunts the place, seeking vengeance on the living!” She waved the green hair, “Please, you have to help us!”
“I don’t know,” said Tom Petty, “This all sounds like a bunch of malarkey. We’re a band of science, you know.”
“Yeah, exactly,” agreed Jeff Lynn, “There’s no way I’m getting mixed up in this.”
George Harrison looked around the room, amazed. “Come on lads, malarkey or no, these are people who need our help! Ask yourselves, what would the Maharishi do?”
The others groaned, muttering unkind accuracies under their breath.
“**************” Piped up Bob Dylan. George Harrison sighed with relief.
“Thank you, Bob, very well said. Well, it looks like it’s two and two. You’re the tie breaker Roy, as usual.”
All eyes turned to Roy Orbison.
Slowly, he lifted his head, pulled off his signature dark sunglasses, and opened his eyes. Softly, so everyone had to lean forward to hear it, he said, “Only the lonely,” and replaced his sunglasses.
The group sat in appreciative silence, soaking in his wisdom. Roy’s meaning was clear, and the whole band respected his decisions, even if they were on the opposing side.
“Alright, it’s decided,” said Tom Petty, “We’ll take the case!”
The groupies cheered.
“Well what now? We don’t have any other leads,” grumped Jeff Lynn, “Other than the hair, how do we even know what this guy looks like?”
“He looks like that!” Shouted Connie, pointing out the window. The band rushed to look, and saw a loping green-haired man darting across the empty stage below.
“After him!” Yelled George.
The band sprinted out the door, and after a muddled confusion navigating the staircase, they burst onto the stadium floor below just in time to see the clown disappear behind a black staff door.
“We’ve got him now!” said Tom Petty, “That’s the Zamboni storage locker; it’s a dead end!”
The group ran over, arriving out of breath in front of the door. Grinning with a wildness that verged on blood-lust, Jeff Lynn flung open the door. Or, tried to. As his hand turned the knob, the floor fell out from under them, and they plummeted into darkness.
They landed on something surprisingly soft, but irregularly shaped. The band groaned, catching their breath. They couldn’t see a thing.
“Where are we?” asked Jeff Lynn, shook up.
“Anyone got a light?” asked Tom Petty, sounding fine.
A lighter sparked, followed by a steady yellow flame, framing the five musicians faces against the darkness.
“Far out,” said Tom, and the light went out.
“Where’d the light go?” George cried, panic rising.
“I put it out, I already lit my joint,” Tom replied, sounding sensible.
“**************!” Yelled Bob Dylan.
“Alright, fine, fine, don’t have a cow. Lite it again.”
The room was once more dimly illuminated, and as their eyes adjusted they could make out that they had fallen into a pile of stuffed animals.
“Whoa, what’s with the plushy zoo?” Asked Tom.
“I don’t know lads,” said George, “But one of those stuffed lions is walking toward us.”
“That’s not a stuffed lion!” cried Jeff Lynn, “That’s a killer c-c-c-clown!”
“Nah, man, that’s not a killer clown or a stuffed lion. I’d know that face anywhere. That’s…”