A very surprising audience suggestion round leads to an equally surprising new story direction.
The Traveling Wilburys fight for their lives and learn the secrets of the molten lava key.
The clown loomed over Tom Petty. In one hand the clown held a silver record, sharp edges gleaming, but what really stopped Tom’s breath was what he held in the other. It was an oversized golden key, like what you might give to a deserving citizen. Yet while most novelty keys had old fashioned, simplistic teeth, that if real would certainly fit a lock that practically picked itself, this one had modern rows of jagged edges, irregularly spaced and shaped.
Perhaps even more noticeable that it’s comically large size was the word “Netherworld” emblazoned on the shaft in glowing red letters, and giving off an enormous amount of heat.
Tom Petty worked his jaw, unable to speak, staggering, stumbling, collapsing on his back, crawling away while the clown expressionlessly shuffled closer. Tom’s eyes darted from the key to the clown’s face, to the sharpened silver record now held aloft.
“No, no, you can’t be!”
He finally choked out as the record was brought down.
Instinct kicked in, and he hopped frog-like to one side, the record blade taking off his cowboy hat, landing in the fetid water of the dunk tank, which was also frog-like.
Petty thrashed in the water as the clown turned toward him; he wouldn’t be able to hop again, but the clown could raise his record blade again, which he did.
Before any could do anything, we cut away to focus on someone else.
George and Roy craned their necks to take in the entirety of the rusted ferris wheel. The hinges creaked as the cars swung gently in the dead air. The top of the wheel seemed to nearly scrape the cave ceiling many stories above, although it was hard to tell for sure as the top disappeared in shadow.
A ticket booth clung together seemingly by dumb luck, it’s foundation shifted at an alarming angle. The line for the ride was still marked with velvet ropes, although the material was almost completely decayed and almost certainly not real velvet.
“This takes me back to when I was a boy in Liverpool. There used to be a ferris wheel just like this that we were too poor to afford. Of course, once the money came I was too busy with music and seeking the meaning of life to ride it. Then, it was torn down and replaced with a tilta-whirl, which I did ride, but it wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. I never did get to ride that ferris wheel.”
Roy glanced at George out of the corner of his eye, a look that George caught. He raised his hands defensively.
“Look, I know what you’re saying. My generation is starting to wallow in nostalgia so much that we can’t move forward, or even see what’s right in front of us. But I’m telling you, it’s all just a phase, and it’ll be over in a few years at most. I think the best way to hurry that along is to experience that nostalgia full force. Only then will we be truly able to let it go. Then no one will every harp on the past ever again.”
Roy cocked an eyebrow. George looked around the ground, pointed.
Indeed, there were comically large footprints in the soft dirt, leading perfectly to the ferris wheel. George grinned.
“And they lead right to the ferris wheel! Perfect.”
Roy rolled his eyes as George skipped to the ticket booth, then hobbled oddly, stretching his aging leg.
“We have to have the full experience. Two tickets please,” he shouted joyously as he fished out two shillings and slapped them on the ticket booth counter.
The ticket booth collapsed in a crash of shattered glass and splintered wood, coughing an asbestos-speckled plume of dust to slowly settle on the surrounding everywhere.
Roy Orbison’s eyes popped in surprise. George’s mouth hung open.
“Look at that, Roy, it’s our lucky day. Free admission.”
George scooped up his shillings from the ground, and giggling, carefully pranced into a ferris wheel car, Roy reluctantly following. As soon as they were both seated, George yanked down the restraining bar, which Roy immediately clutched.
A low rumble vibrated the seats, followed by the screech of complaining gears. The car jerked, sending it swinging back and forth. Roy yelped, George hooted, and the ferris wheel began to turn, sending the two legendary musicians, whose music had touched so many, higher and higher into the dark cavern.
“Here we go!” Shouted George, over the noise.
“This is incredible! Better than I ever imagined!”
Roy gripped the restraining bar, face drained of all color. He stared at George with a look of sweaty anxiety, both attributes steadily rising. George laughed, then paused, a wave of insight crinkling his features. His eyes now widening to match Roy’s, he grabbed the older musician’s shoulders.
“Wait a minute, how did this thing turn on?” He yelled.
The engine died, and the ferris wheel ground to a halt. The newfound silence overlapped with George’s last words, underscoring them. The car had stopped at the apex of the wheel. Still carried by momentum, it rocked nauseatingly back and forth, giving an intermittent view of the distressingly far-off ground below. The musicians held each other, too afraid to move.
Eventually, the car’s rocking became less violent, and George worked up the courage to peer out. The entire sunken fair ground was laid out below them, pulsing neon points of light marking areas of murk as attractions. The continued motion and dizzying height made George’s stomach lurch, and he sat back in his seat, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Come to think of it, how is anything in this place powered? And how did this thing know to go exactly when we got in? Ouch!”
A sharp pain shot through George’s arm, popping his eyes wateringly open. Roy Orbison was pinching him. Roy pulled a pressure plate from under George, the device protruding wiring woven into the spine of the ferris wheel.
“Roy, you beautiful bastard, you figured one of those things out!” Cried George.
“Someone must have laid a trap for us, but now that we know the secret, we’ll be out of this lickety-split.”
George pressed the pressure plate. Nothing happened. He pressed it again. Again, nothing. He held the device between his knees and banged on it with his fists as hard as he could. Still, nothing.
“Okay, let’s just both of us breathe, and center ourselves,” said George, closing his eyes serenely. Hardly a moment later his eyes snapped open and with a cry of anger he yanked the plate repeatedly, the wires straining taught until there was a loud twanging sound and the plate shot up and out of George’s hands, trailing a stream of wires, the exposed ends sparking as they flew by, first up through the car, the snapping like a whip above it, then arching down after the plate.
There was a moment of silence. Then, the entire ferris wheel groaned and wobbled. The sound of metal bending and giving way bored into their ear drums, bits of structural integrity springing off the wheel.
It shuddered. George howled.
“The wheel is going to break away! It will snap off and roll like a tire and we’ll be crushed!”
Roy slapped George across the mouth. Instantly, George sobered, lowering his head.
“Thank you, I deserved that. You’re right, as always, Roy. We can still make it out of this one. There’s enough of a roof and floor on these cars to act as a roll cage when the wheel starts rolling. As long as we stay tucked inside, we should be protected.”
The ferris wheel made one last shuddering lurch, then started falling on it’s side. The thin pipe of the restraining bar was now their only protection. Before the ferris wheel’s quickly increasing speed and angle made it impossible, Roy slapped George again.
Elsewhere, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynn stood at the entrance to the mirror maze, the light bulbs comprising the name flashing on and off in a rolling, hypnotic pattern. The light from the sign illuminated the entry arch, along with the hallway leading from it, until it disappeared around a sharp right angle.
Beside the entrance was a floor-length mirror. A face was painted over the top, where a person looking at the mirror’s face would go. The painted face sported a too-wide smile, ruby red lips, and an old fashioned hair cut. A sign next to the mirror read, “If you can see your face, you’re too short to experience the mirror maze.” Spaced well below that and in smaller lettering read, “What’s it like to have a face sitting on top of your face, short stack?”
Jeff Lynn whimpered.
“I don’t like this place, Bob. Not one bit. You and me got the worst place to look for this killer clown. Actually, this may come as a shock, but I wouldn’t want to look for a killer clown anywhere, but this place is the worst.”
An automated voice box, it’s aged tape artificially slowed, blared to life, exploring Bob and Jeff to “Face your face in this place post haste! Be amazed at the mirror maze.”
“No way, no how! I’m outta here!”
Jeff turned tail and ran as fast as he could, but Bob Dylan caught him by the seat of his pants, and with surprising strength for his short frame, dragged him back towards the mirror maze.
“No! Stop that! Down, Bob, down!” Yelled Jeff Lynn, swotting at the voice of a generation’s nose.
“********!” Barked Bob Dylan, dragging Jeff over the maze entrance threshold, spinning to gain momentum, then whirling them both around the corner and fully into the maze.
Immediately, Jeff turned to run out again, but a heavy steel door slammed shut, blocking the exit. He pounded on the door with his fists to no avail. Bob pulled him away, forcing him to around.
The two men were reflected back on every surface, sometimes squished, sometimes squashed, sometimes twisted, but always distorted.
“Oh my God, do I really look like that?”
Jeff rubbed his shoulders, as if fighting off an imaginary chill.
“I guess the only way out is through,” he whined.
They crept cautiously along the path, their reflections growing and shrinking, rolling and turning like a crowd of doppelgänger phantasms. After a few minutes of walking, Jeff stopped.
“Did we miss a turn? I feel like we should have been out by now.”
“********,” shrugged Bob Dylan.
“I guess,” replied Jeff, then suddenly grabbed Bob.
“Did you see that?”
“********,” said Bob, rolling his eyes.
“No, it wasn’t my reflection and it wasn’t your reflection, and before you even ask, no, it wasn’t Martin Scorsese sniffing around for another Last Waltz. It was something…did you see that!” He yelped, cutting himself off.
Bob Dylan turned his tired, bushy brows to where Jeff was pointing. Two reflections stared back.
“********,” said Bob Dylan, sensibly.
Jeff Lynn frowned.
“I could have sworn…”
Bob turned and moved away, but Jeff grabbed his shoulder again.
“Wait a minute, somethings not right. Turn around, look at my reflection, and then look at me. We’re different. I’m me now, but my reflection is me during my country phase. Wait a minute, I never had a country phase…you did.”
Bob and Jeff’s eyes grew wide.
“We have each other’s reflections!”
Bob and Jeff looked at each other.
“And we’re not looking at each other!” screeched Jeff.
“Dagnabbit,” said Jeff’s reflection, who was really Bob’s, from the past.
Blinded by fear, they turned and ran full bore into the wall, crashing through the mirrored glass. Bruised, bloodied, and slowed, but no less determined, they kept running, smashing through every glass wall that stood in their way. Which was a lot.
Tom Petty scrambled in the water, trying to find his footing. The blank-faced clown trudged inexorably towards him, stepping over the lip of the tank and setting one oversized foot into the frothing water.
Desperate, Tom grabbed at the platform above – missed! – grabbed again and caught the edge with the tips of his fingers. All that guitar practice finally paid off, aside from the hugely successful music career that is, and he pulled himself up onto the platform.
“If only I had learned Flamenco, I would have been able to pull myself up fast enough to avoid getting my leg sliced by that sharp record,” thought Tom through his own cry of pain, as the leg slicing had definitely happened.
He crawled away from the edge, pressing against the platform’s back panel. Hearing a loud hissing, he turned to see the clown right below him, arms hanging limp at his sides, the gold key half submerged in the shallow water. The heat coming off the key was boiling the water around it, creating a cloud of hissing steam.
The clown’s hands, still carrying their respective payloads, appeared on the edge of the platform, accompanied by the unmistakable grunts of a large man hauling up his body weight, along with the weight of a bulky, mostly soaked clown suit.
Frantic, Tom climbed the back panel, his injured leg swinging limply, crouching on all fours to balance on top of the thin, two-by-four beam. He glanced over the other edge, sizing up a jump. The drop was only about fifteen feet, but onto a ruin of jagged rocks. He glanced back towards the clown – how much time did he have? If he could just reach the dunk button, the little target everyone threw bean bags at, the platform would collapse and the clown wouldn’t be able to get him. He turned and reached for the button. Too late!
The clown stood erect on the platform, sharp silver record raised high.
Suddenly, the ground began to violently shake. Tom Petty clutched the panel for dear life, and the clown had to stagger to keep his balance.
The ferris wheel had fully toppled, shaking the cavern and sending George and Roy flying. They landed hard in a bouncy castle, depressing the cushions so much they almost touched the ground, then rocketed back into the air, barely missing the ferris wheel collapsing around them. They crashed directly into clown, sending him, his silver record, golden key, and green wig flying in all directions. George and Roy themselves landed heavily in the dunk tank.
Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynn smashed through the window of a nearby building, still screaming and covered in glass and cuts. An unbroken line of human-sized holes in windows stretched all the way across the fair back to the shattered remnants of the mirror maze. The two ran into the lip of the tank and, lever-like, splashed head first into the water, instantly silencing their screams.
Tom Petty still clung to the top of the tank platform’s back panel, his eyes tightly closed. Slowly opening them in the sudden stillness, he looked around and could see no one.
“Whoa, I really thought…”
He lost his balance and fell into the dunk tank.
The stillness extended for several moments.
Then, Roy Orbison breached the surface, gasping for breath, immediately followed by George Harrison. Water and hair cream running down his face from his ruined pompadour, Roy wound up and slapped George Harrison across the mouth. Or, he would have, except Jeff Lynn surfaced in between them and took the slap to the side of his head.
“Ahh, my glass abrasions!”
Jeff power-slapped Roy back, except his mullet fro was wet enough to hang over his eyes, so what he didn’t know was that he was actually facing George, who he slapped hard. George, who couldn’t tell the difference between Roy and Jeff with their wet hair, spluttered in rage.
“Okay, I deserved two for sure, but not three!” He yelled, windmill slapping all around him.
This technique landed sideways slaps on Jeff Lynn, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan, who had just then entered a new musical phase where he was obsessed with the music and choreography of synchronized swimming, both aspects he was just then practicing.
“**********” [Dylan gargle-sing, then ooph-spit]
Exacting revenge for his creativity being interrupted, he slapped the first thing he saw, which happened to be Tom Petty’s backside, who, in the excitement, had forgotten about it and was doing a handstand.
He came gurgling to the surface.
“Hey, that rattled my prostate, you salty dog, you.”
The round-robin mutually retributive slapping continued for some time, until finally George Harrison had enough.
“Enough!” He yelled. “I haven’t seen so much grab ass since I didn’t go to that boy’s school my parents couldn’t afford.”
Said Tom Petty, who hadn’t been listening, and instead had imagined a cocktail waitress had just said, “Zarglebargle.”
Asked Jeff Lynn, pointing to the rock pile behind the dunk tank. The ferris wheel’s collapse had shaken free a false rock, revealing a melon-sized keyhole encased in ice, a cloud of ground-hugging fog pouring gently from it. Jeff shook his head in wonder.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen a lot of locks, from back in my cat burglar days. Seems like a very modern lock, but what key would possibly fit it?”
Said Tom Petty, holding up a severed clown arm. The Wilburys screamed in horror.
“Oh, sorry, I threw away the wrong thing. This one.”
He said, rummaging around on the ground for, then holding up the large golden key.
Just then, the earth shaking rumble from before started up again. Bits of rock began to fall from the ceiling, and the cement pilings holding up the roof sprouted thick spidering cracks.
“What’s happening?” Wailed Jeff Lynn.
George Harrison quickly assessed the situation.
“The whole cavern is collapsing! The ferris wheel must have been crucial for structural integrity. Ouch!”
Roy Orbison had slapped him again.
“Enough of that for real! We’ve got to find a way out of here!”
“The key!” Tom yelled, who rushed to the freezing key hole.
As he brought the key to it, the red hot letters spelling “Underworld” melted the ice, allowing it to fit smoothly in the lock. Rocks where falling everywhere. A particularly large one smashed the dunk tank, burying it under it’s weight so completely it could have never existed.
“Hurry!” Shouted George, and Tom turned the key.
The floor fell out from under them, sending the whole band down a smooth chute.
“Not again!” Cried Jeff, as the opening was buried beneath falling earth.
Far below the sunken fairground, the band untangled themselves from the pile they inevitably found themselves in. They dusted themselves off, and one by one, took in their new surroundings.
They were in another natural cavern, this one clearly formed through aquatic calcification, as evidenced by the numerous stalactites and stalagmites dotting the floor and ceiling. Regularly placed torches provided dancing light, but still obscuring much in shadow. Across the chamber was a large stone alter, a woman tied to it with leather straps. In between was a sea of people in red hooded robes, holding silver goblets, facing the alter, and chanting in an unknown language.
Another, unmistakable sound came from right next to the group. Slowly, they turned. Eddie Money stood beside them, also clad in a red hooded robe, brushing his teeth. He spat into his goblet.
“Hey fellas, how’s it going?”
Elsewhere, Connie, Yuna, and Belinda crawled from wreckage, helping each other stand. The collapse of the sunken fairground had caused considerable damage to the stadium, and whole swaths had been swallowed by the earth. The trio of groupies had been unlucky enough to be in one of those areas, and had fallen through to an unfamiliar place.
As they collected themselves, they heard a voice behind them.
“Hi y’all ladies, can I lend a hand?”
Turning, they saw Jeff Lynn and Bob Dylan, hands outstretched, both in their country phase. Taking their hands and taking in their surroundings, they stared in wonder. They were in…
Just talking about feelings on the state of the union. Story episode next Friday.
Chris talks about the new year and magical implications of the audience suggestion.
We find out what happens to The Traveling Wilburys after they fell into a stuffed animal basement, what the groupies are up to, and how Eddie Money figures into all of this.
Follow @youtmwig on Twitter to participate.
“Nah, man, that’s not a killer clown or a stuffed lion.” Said Tom Petty. “I’d know that face anywhere. That’s my old nemesis, Eddie Money!”
The whole band sighed with relief. Eddie was a generation younger than most of the band, and while he plied a glossier music than the group, he could still hang. As for being Tom’s nemesis, they weren’t worried. Tom was notorious for racking up countless beefs across the music industry – Brian May, Steve Perry, a teenage Mariah Carey – so another nemesis was pretty unremarkable. George smiled and patted Eddie on the back.
“Thank My Sweet Lord it’s you, Eddie. We thought you were a killer stuffed animal clown.”
The band laughed, except for Tom, who glowered, and Eddie, who remained deadly serious.
“Drugs are no laughing matter, guys,” croaked Eddie, “You really have to be careful with that stuff, especially blow. One bad line and you’re in serious trouble. Trust me, I would know,” he finished, limping towards the band.
Tom Petty had already heard just about enough out of his nemesis as he could take, and it was all that he could do to stop himself from yelling at him. In fact, it was less than he could do, since he didn’t stop himself and started yelling.
“You’re one to get on your high horse and lecture about drugs. You overdosed on a line of bad cocaine, damaging your sciatic nerve, and now you walk with a limp!”
Eddie nodded soberly.
“That’s exactly what I was referring to. Boy, did I learn my lesson. Drugs are really dangerous. Just promise me to always make sure your supply is clean before you snort up.”
The band nodded in agreement with Eddie’s sage advice. Tom, deflated by Eddie’s non-antagonism, stamped huffily to a corner, re-lit his joint, took a drag, kicked a stuffed animal, activating it’s speech box.
“Be like me, Happy Horse, and love everybody!”
“Shut up, drugs! You’re supposed to tell me what I want to hear.”
“Should we be worried about him?” Asked Eddie Money.
“Nah, he’ll snap out of it soon enough,” replied George Harrison. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“And where is here?” chimed in Jeff Lynn.
“It all started when I played a gig at the stadium upstairs last year. After the show, I naturally made a bee-line for the Zamboni locker. Like most people, my primary way to relax, is smoothing ice rinks. I was going to have the staff freeze the stadium, as if for a hockey game, get an Olympic figure skating team to use it a bunch to scuff it up, and then let me ride a Zamboni over it to sweet, smooth, pristine ice perfection. But I had barely gotten to the Zamboni locker door when the floor dropped out and I ended up here.”
“The same exact thing happened to us!” Exclaimed Jeff Lynn. “Minus all the stuff about smoothing ice rinks.”
Eddie’s brow furrowed in genuine concern.
“You guys aren’t part of Nice Ice Nation? Hold on, I have some pamphlets…”
“*********,” interjected Bob Dylan, gracefully maneuvering the topic elsewhere without hurting Eddie’s feelings. Jeff Lynn capitalized on the moment.
“How have you survived down here for a whole year? All I see is stuffed animals.”
Eddie closed his eyes, nodded slightly, as if patiently dealing with ignorant minds.
“Yes, there are many stuffed animals in this place, but that is only the surface. There are things beyond. Open your eyes, Wilburys. If you look past the stuffed animals, you will also see…this door.”
A plain gun-metal gray door sat undisguised along the far wall, next to Tom Petty. The band murmured their admiration for Eddie’s mystical sight.
“There’s an entire sunken fairground down here,” said Eddie, throwing open the door.
Pale neon light flooded in through the opening.
“Follow me, gentlemen,” said Eddie Money, beckoning through the door.
Before anyone could move, Tom Petty turned on Eddie Money.
“No way, man! I’m not following you, not here, there, or anywhere! Not after I followed you back in ’77 at the Pantages!”
“Tom, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Eddie.
“Forked-tongue lies,” shouted Tom, crushing his joint in anger.
“You know exactly what you did, mister Edward Joseph Mahoney, if that is your real name.”
“Yeah, it is,” replied Eddie, confused.
“Edward Joseph Mahoney is my birth name, Eddie Money is my stage name.”
“Ah ha, so you admit it!” Crowed Tom, triumphantly.
“Enough!” Shouted George Harrison.
“Tom, I know you’re famous for your beefs, but I think I speak for everyone when I say, we all want to see the sunken fairground, and your tirade is holding us all up. Now, I can’t tell you how to feel, only Krishna can do that, but you’ve got to bring it down a notch, alright mate?”
“Alright, fine,” he said in simmering defeat, whipping his crushed joint into the stuffed animals.
Not wanting to accidentally say something that would set Tom off, Eddie motioned to the door, and the group stepped through.
Meanwhile, far above, Connie, Belinda, and Yuna, stood in shocked silence. Before them, the door to the Zamboni locker hung ajar, revealing a totally empty room. Not even a Zamboni, which you’d think would be a give in. Also, no Traveling Wilburys.
“Okay, is my prescription off, or did all the Traveling Wilburys vanish?” Asked Yuna.
Connie looked at Yuna in surprise.
“Prescription? I didn’t know you wore contacts.”
“I don’t, the prescription is for my hyperthyroidism, and one of the side effects is ‘occasional non-perception of persons’.”
“Far out,” said Belinda.
“How did you get there?”
Connie shook her head.
“But you’re right, Yuna; the Wilburys did vanish.”
Belinda licked her lips, nervously.
“Do you think the clown got them?”
Connie shook her head again.
“Nah, there’d be more of a mess.”
Belinda wasn’t convinced.
“But what if that clown is more than human…or less. What if he’s an evil spirit, like the legend says, and he snatched the band off to the netherworld?”
Connie rolled her eyes.
“Oh come on, Belinda, keep your feet on the ground. I bet this is a rich rock star trick; they must have figured out some new way to get out of dodge instantly. They’re using it get out of their promise! Now which one seems more likely?”
Yuna nodded, her hoop earrings swinging back and forth.
“Yes, as much as the supernatural is always in play, how many times has one of these big shots ghosted you?”
“Literally every time.”
Connie gave Belinda a squeeze.
“Same. Boy this riles me up. Almost makes me want to run around with Guns n’ Roses. Almost.”
Yuna joined the hug.
“I guess we’re on our own finding Dixie.”
Connie broke the hug, clearing her throat, resolve calcifying.
“Right. The stadium is big, but if we stick together, keep our eyes peeled, and take it step by step, we’ll find our friend.”
Distracted, Yuna stooped and picked up a small plastic figurine.
“Hello, what’s this?”
The figure was roughly made, the seams where the mold was used clearly visible. The face was partially melted, as if it had been held too close to an open flame. Otherwise, it looked like a non-descript Caucasian man.
Belinda wiped her eyes.
“Wow, you’re pretty perceptive for someone who occasionally can’t perceive people.”
Yuna frowned with concentration.
“This is a facsimile of a person, not an actual person; the medication can tell the difference. I wonder what it means…”
“It means some kid lost their toy.”
“What kind of weird kid would have this toy?”
While they pondered this, far below, The Traveling Wilburys entered the sunken fairground.
What they saw took their breath away.
Or maybe it was the smell that did that. The place reeked of fossilized soft serve, permanently damp rubber, impossibly stale popcorn, oxidized iron, and swamp gas. The fairgrounds stretched out before them, rusted and crumbling, a duct-taped money patch away from collapse, which seemed remarkably intact for an abandoned, underground amusement park.
Untouched by the sun, the grounds were illuminated by light from somehow still powered neon signs, advertising games, rides, and refreshments, casting their subjects in ghostly, multi-colored hues. The skitter and squeak of small, unseen animals blended with an automated voice box, occasionally triggered, imploring the empty grounds to “Step right up,” it’s pitch slowed to demonic tones. Large cement pylons faded away into darkness above, along with a large, creaking ferris wheel.
The group stood next to a corroded water gun game, the room they had just exited presumably being the prize store room. Eddie shook his head, still amazed, even after being trapped down there for a year.
“Incredible, isn’t it? It sunk into the Meadowlands after Carmine Sanzari, the land developer, shut the place down because he kept losing at the games. It must have broke through to a natural cavern, and they just built the stadium right on top.”
“How did you survive down here all this time?” asked Jeff Lynn, who was already regretting having thrown more food at the wall than he ate.
“Living down here can be tough, but once you get used to it, it’s not half bad.”
Eddie walked to a smoking trash can, opened the lid to reveal a low fire and a makeshift grill rack inside. He extracted a foul-smelling skewer spearing two small bats, half a large mole, several phosphorescent mushrooms, and a wad of cotton candy.
“Who knew cotton candy doesn’t expire?” Laughed Eddie.
No one was. Eddie shrugged.
“More for me. Well, Ozzy’s up.”
Eddie toasted the air with his skewer, made the heavy metal sign with his fingers, and bit the head off one of the bats, chewing thoughtfully as he gazed around the fairgrounds.
“What a crazy place. Amazing. You know, in it’s own way, it’s kind of beautiful.”
The demoniacally slow voice said “Step right up” again, and Jeff Lynn shivered.
“I don’t like this place; it gives me the creeps. Come on fellas, let’s get out of here.”
“That’s just the problem, Jeff,” replied Eddie, sliding the remainder of the bat off the end of the skewer, crunching into it with heavy, practiced bites.
“We can’t leave. There’s no way out.”
“Ah ha, another lie!” Cried Tom, pointing accusingly at Eddie.
“Oh come on Tom, give it a rest,” said George, exasperated.
“No man, listen! There’s got to be a way back, because that killer clown has been here. Look!”
Tom pointed to some curly green strands of hair stuck in the door jam.
“That creep fits right in down here,” he said, looking pointedly at Eddie, who shifted uncomfortably.
“Yeah, that’s right,” whined Jeff Lynn, looking around furtively.
“Yuna said the clown was a vengeful spirit of the fair, so maybe he can move around with his ghost powers, but we’re s-s-s-stuck!”
“Calm down, you scardy cat,” admonished George.
“With the six of us together, I’m sure we’ll be able to find a way out of here. But first we need to find that clown.”
“Forget the clown!” Cried Jeff, like a major wuss.
“Let’s just focus on getting outta here!”
The band nodded in wussy agreement.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing, lads,” said George, pained.
“What is the Traveling Wilburys code?”
After a moment’s pause, Tom Petty reluctantly piped up.
“Back to basics roots rock n’ roll,” he said.
“Of course, that’s number one,” said George, “And?”
“*********,” Added Bob Dylan.
“Always,” confirmed George, “Everyone would do well to remember that one. And?”
“Oh, Pretty Woman,” said Roy, softly.
“Absolutely, can’t forget that,” said George. “And?”
Jeff Lynn sighed.
“And we always follow a case to the end, no matter what,” he said, glumly.
“That’s right. Glad that’s settled. Now Eddie, over the year you’ve been stuck down here, have you seen a creepy looking clown with a green curly wig that looks like he would attack a groupie?”
Eddie stroked his chin, squinting, as if he was trying to excavate his memories with the crease of his brow.
“It’s not ringing a bell,” he replied.
“Have you seen anyone while you were trapped down here?” asked George.
“No, not at all,” replied Eddie immediately.
“Why did you have to think about having seen a clown when you knew you didn’t see anyone?” screamed Tom Petty.
“Something fishy is going on here. I’m watching you, Eddie.”
“Alright Tom, you’ll get your wish,” said George.
“There’s a lot of ground to cover. We only have a few hours before the tour bus leaves, and you know they don’t wait for anyone, so we’ve got to find and apprehend that clown, figure out what happened to Dixie, escape this underground carnival, and be back on the bus before Early-Bird Earl gets behind the wheel. To pull that off, we’re going to have to split up. Me and Roy will check out the ferris wheel. Bob? Jeff? Scope out the mirror maze. Tom and Eddie, you seem like you have a lot to work out, so you guys team up.”
“What!” shouted Tom.
“No ifs ands or whats,” said George.
“It’s a long shot, but I want you both to look around the Rock n’ Roll Super Death Dunk The Clown pavilion.”
“Fine,” muttered Tom angrily. He kicked a rock, which ricochetted off a corrugated steel running board, dinged off the smoldering trash can, whizzed through the top of Bob Dylan’s ’fro, nicked the edge of the door jam, and bounced into the stuffed animals in the store room.
“Be like me, Happy Horse, and love everybody.”
Tom Petty clutched his head.
“Enough with the wholesome family messaging, drugs!”
A short time later, Tom and Eddie walked in awkward silence, Tom hunching his shoulders and glaring at the ground, Eddie closely studying the dilapidated fairgrounds he’d seen hundreds of times already.
Finally, Eddie spoke.
“Tom, if this is about that thing at the Pantages, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t even playing arenas that big in ’77.”
“Oh, really?” said Tom.
“Is that so? Because your memory has been awfully shaky lately.”
“Okay, well, care to enlighten me?”
Tom Petty scoffed.
“You’re telling me you have no memory whatsoever of you doing your show for an extra half hour, because yeah, I had dropped acid and temporarily thought I was a street food vendor in Honduras? But when I came back mentally, and went to get my gear to go on stage, you were taking vengeance on me for being late by peeing on my guitar? And not just the SG, but all of them? And you wouldn’t lend me any of yours, so I had to play the whole show with wee wee instruments? And the entire front row was crinkling their noses and waving their hands in front of their faces? And I kept getting little shocks because the urine was shorting the electric current in my guitar until my hair was standing on end so it stuck out of the sides of my cowboy hat like a half crushed dandelion puff? And then when I got off stage I found you in the green room peeing into my bowl of weed nuggets and flipping me off? And then I almost tackled you and beat you to a pulp, but instead I had a fast-acting acid flashback and I was in Honduras again making Tortas? And then you peed on those? Ringing any bells?”
“No memory of that whatsoever.”
“Oh, wait, I’m thinking of Linda Ronstadt,” said Tom sheepishly.
“Sorry man, no hard feelings?”
“None at all. People confuse me and Linda all the time,” he lied.
By this point, they had arrived at the Rock n’ Roll Super Death Dunk The Clown pavilion.
“I guess we should have a look around,” said Tom.
“Yeah, about that,” said Eddie, suddenly seeming nervous.
“I hate to do this, but I actually need to go. I forgot I have to…brush my teeth. Yeah. Hygiene, you know, so important. Later!”
Before Tom could react, Eddie was gone, melted away into the tangle of subterranean amusements. Tom scowled, all his anger towards Eddie instantly coming back.
“What’s the big idea running off like that. Seems mighty fishy. I bet he did pee on my gear, even though now I recall clearly that it was Ronstadt. Surprised I managed to forget that image.”
Tom grabbed an ancient bean bag and whipped it at the Dunk The Clown target, but missed by a few feet. The bag plunked sullenly into the murky tank. Petty’s grumbling escalated when he found there was nothing else to throw, so he stalked over to the tank to retrieve the bag so he could re-throw it. As he reached for it, he caught a dim reflection of someone behind him in the mud and algae clouded dunk tank water.
“Eddie, that brush could not have been for the dentist recommended two minutes,” he said, turning, but the words caught in his throat.
Towering over him was not Eddie Money, but the clown. Sallow complexion, sunken eyes, blank expression, and bright green, curly hair. In one hand the clown held a silver record, sharp edges gleaming, but what really stopped Tom’s breath was what he held in the other. It was…
Chris discusses the trials of writing about Eddie Money in this bonus author update.
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…”