by Arthur Sánchez ©2007
Jimmy Dean always knew he'd live to see the apocalypse. He'd known it since his eighth birthday when he accidentally wandered into a music store and spotted his first electric guitar. What was it? What did it do? By the time his mother found him the sales clerk had managed to teach Jimmy a couple of basic chords and the entire intro to Stairway to Heaven. But that had been in a simpler world, before the revolution.
"Hey Jimmy," Dweezer shouted as the mind-numbing drum solo of a late 21st century power trio blared from the hovercraft's internal speakers. "What are we playing tonight?" Dweezer always asked that question. It was like he never tired of hearing Jimmy's response.
Jimmy sat up from his perch among the amplifiers and took another hit from his pipe. He let the sweet tobacco fill his lungs and peaceful contentment fill his soul. "Dude, you have to let the spirit move you. Every night is different. Every night is . . .special."
Dweezer rolled his eyes till the whites glowed against his coal-black skin. He preferred the driving rhythms of reggae and acted as if life ought to be set to that frenetic beat. "Yeah, mon but I gotta set up the tracks. That takes time. I don't want you callin for sometin difficult just when we get hot."
Jimmy smiled. He was feeling classical tonight. "No worries, we stick to the fundamentals." Dweezer nodded his head, accepting the decision. He then retreated back into the tail of the craft and into his monitoring station.
"Yo, yo, yo," T-Bone's voice crackled over the intercom system. "We got coordinates. Showtime."
Jimmy jumped up and hit the switch on his console to acknowledge the pilot's message and kill the speakers. His heart was racing. It didn't matter how many assault drops he'd been on it was always the same: the calm preparation, the long dull flight, and then the near panic of the show. Not till he started playing did he feel right. Not till they began spreading their message did the battle seem justified.
"Target acquired," T-Bone announced over the sound of the decelerating engines. "We'll be down in ten, nine, . . . "
"Here ya go," Dweezer said as he stepped onto the stage handing Jimmy his favorite Fender.
Jimmy accepted the guitar. "How'd you know?"
Dweezer grinned. "You said fundamentals, mon, that means the Fender."
Jimmy clasped his sound technician's hand firmly. "Thanks man, I, I appreciate everything you do for me. Really."
Dweezer eyed him firmly. "Oh no you don't. You don't get serious on me. This is just another show. We do the set, liberate a few minds, and then we get out. Let the righteous sort out the damage in the morning. Our job is to inflict that damage."
Jimmy grinned. Leave it to Dweezer to keep it real. "Yeah, what was I thinking? Sorry, dude, I know I've been carrying you since we got paired up."
Dweezer's nodded. "Now that's the spoiled pampered bull crap I want to hear out of my lead guitarist." Then he stuck a finger in Jimmy's face. "Don't mess with me boy. I'll cut your mike right in the middle of your set and watch the crowd tear you to pieces." He held his glare for a second before giving Jimmy a wink and a nod. "Call 'em as you want 'em. I'll be ready." He then withdrew behind the bulletproof barrier.
Jimmy didn't even hear T-Bone announce that they'd landed. The assault craft's canopy just started to open up and he found himself scrambling to plug the guitar in. A bright light shown in through the crack and as Jimmy's eyes adjusted he began to make out their location. It was a park bandstand. They'd landed right in front of the shell so as to take advantage of the additional amplification.
In front of them was a full audience. Jimmy gasped. There had to be a couple of thousand people out there. Looking out over the edge of the stage he spotted several men dressed in white cotton pants, red striped jackets, and straw hats running away. Leave it to T-Bone to find a barbershop quartet to break up. That man hated barbershop quartets.
Jimmy tested the strings of his guitar. A painful wail emanated from their unfolding rack of portable speakers. The crowd, who up to now had been standing in stunned silence, screamed in horror as they realized what was happening. "Hellooooo Boulder!" Jimmy screamed into his mike. He ran through a set of chords and then strangled them for effect. Women in perky pink sweaters fainted. Men with respectable crew cuts glared. Jimmy, in his black leather pants, ripped t-shirt, and classic shoulder-length hair strutted.
"Yeah man," he muttered to himself, "time to rock your world." He turned to Dweezer. "#5!" He then launched into his own special rendition of 'Rock the Casbah.'
The crowd didn't know what to do. Ever since "The War of the Righteous" anything unclean was suppressed. But the Righteous couldn't get it all. Pockets of resistance existed everywhere: in Mexico, on the coasts, the city of Pittsburgh. Those who refused to bow down to the new world order struck back in the only way they knew how: with words, music, and images. Now strike teams scoured the North American continent looking for places to plant the seeds of dissension - for ways to disrupt the control. In another time Jimmy would have been a superstar. In this time some called him an advocate for freedom while others just called him a tool of the devil. All Jimmy knew was that he had to share the music. That's why he joined the Liberation Front. People had a right to choose.
As Jimmy played the last few notes of the song he saw that very few people had actually left the area. That always amazed him. People say the music is bad, they say it's evil, yet he always had some sort of audience -- even if that audience knew they'd have to confess their transgression in the morning. That's why Jimmy loved to play the classics. If they're gonna have to pay for their sins, he argued, let's make those sins worthwhile.
He was half way into his second set when he noticed the echo. Nothing horrendous but something was definitely out of synch. He glanced at Dweezer but he could see that the tech was already searching for the source of the feedback. Perhaps it was a sign. They'd gone longer than usual and the response was great. No need to over work the message.
"Well, folks," Jimmy said to the crowd, "looks like we're done for tonight. I thank you for your tolerance and would like to remind you that having an open mind doesn't make you sinful. Music can be good, or bad, and you have the right to make that determination for yourself. Even if you don't care for the messenger," he gave a wave at himself, "at least consider the message." More than a handful applauded. "And now, to end the show, I'd like to do one of my personal favorites: Imagine by one of the greatest composers of the late 20th century, Mr. John Lennon." It was a good choice: simple, sweet, and with some of the best damn lyrics known to man.
Almost from the moment Jimmy's pick touched the guitar strings things went wrong. He kept getting an echo that almost sounded like he was singing a duet. He might not have minded if it weren't for the fact that his phantom partner was getting the words wrong. “Imagine there's no heaven” became “Imagine there is a heaven.” And “No hell below us. Above us only sky” came out as “A fiery hell below us. Above us only God.”
Jimmy stopped singing and gave his throat mike a few hard taps. What was going - That's when Jimmy realized that though he might have stopped singing his echo hadn't.
"Dead Heads!" Dweezer shouted into his com. "I got multiple signals. Closing in on all sides. T-Bone, get us out of here. Immediate lift off. Move! Move! Move!"
Jimmy grabbed a hold of one of the floor speakers. A dust off with the canopy still open was not recommended but if the shock troops of the Unification Church were closing in on their position they had no choice. You didn't want to get caught by a Dead Head. Jimmy shuddered. Just the thought that a term once used to describe the peaceful followers of a long gone band being now used to describe these abominations made his stomach turn. Jimmy waited. Nothing happened. He turned to look at Dweezer.
"Dude, what's happening?"
Dweezer tapped his console. "Don't know man. T-Bone's not responding. It looks like the Com might be out.
Jimmy swallowed hard. "That's not good." Just then screams began erupting from the back of the amphitheater. The crowd began to surge forward. "Dweezer," Jimmy said with just a hint of fear, "they're here."
"I got eyes," Dweezer shot back. "I'm closing the canopy. We can hold out for a while if we seal ourselves up tight. Call for an extraction team. Hang on and watch your head." Dweezer hit some buttons. Nothing happened. "What the--"
The crowd ran down the aisles and headed for the side exits as a ragged line of figures appeared along the top of the amphitheater. Even at this distance Jimmy could see their hairless, sexless, faces looking down at him. Where their eyes should have been were the black soulless plastic of radar receptors. Protruding from their ears were the antenna of their echolocation devices. They lived in a world stripped of color, sound, and pleasure. In their desire to be free of temptation they had opted to live in a reality of wire frame trees and stick-figure people.
Jimmy let go of the speaker. If he was going to die then he wasn't going to die cowering. Staring up at his executioners he found himself wondering how it would end, if his music had made any difference, and finally - who the hell was singing? Cause the song, complete with guitar solo, was still going on.
Then, like a well-timed second encore, the answer appeared over the back of the theater. A man strode down the center aisle like a gunslinger risen from the ancient west. He was wearing a black cowboy hat and a long black leather duster. In his arms he cradled an electric guitar. Fire engine red it had the lines of a predator and the voice of an angel. The tall, blonde, stranger came down the first few steps of the aisle as he ended the song. Then, as those notes faded into the night air he thrust his guitar into its holster on his back, bowed his head, and held up his arms in a victory pose. "Thank you! Thank you! I love you Boulder!"
Of course, the only sound to greet the stranger in the now deserted theater was the hum of the lights and the unmistakable sound of crickets. The stranger, who must have been anticipating applause, cracked open one eye. "Dang, I didn't think it was that bad." He surveyed the empty theater. "Talk about clearing out a room." He looked at the stage. "It wasn't that bad, was it Jimmy? I mean, I thought I did it justice."
Jimmy stared at the man. "How do you know my name?"
The man stuck his thumbs in the pockets of his straight-legged jeans and gave Jimmy an affable smile. "Everybody knows your name. You're the best of the best. The outlaw with a song. The troubadour of truth. Women want you and men want to be you." He took a few more steps towards the stage.
"He's a Brother," Dweezer whispered from the open door of his sound booth. "Don't listen to him. Bad juju. They can hypnotize you with their eyes." Dweezer was as close to being panicked as Jimmy had ever seen him. A sheen of sweat covered his face.
"That's right, Jimmy," the man said in response. "My name is Brother Samuel. I apologize for not offering my name right off. Though, I'm a bit confused on how listening to my voice is supposed to hypnotize you with my eyes." He looked directly at Dweezer.
Dweezer ducked as if Brother Samuel had thrown something at him. The sound technician turned to Jimmy. "You got the power, mon. If it comes down to it, don be afraid to use it."
Brother Samuel took several more steps. He was a quarter of the way down the central aisle. "If you're talking about the failsafe device," he called out. "I wouldn't count on it. We fried your chips with an Electro-Magnetic Pulse. I really wanted to meet you. I'm a huge fan." He began walking towards the stage at a brisk pace. This time the Dead Heads that ringed the theater followed him. Some of them took to the aisles while others just climbed over the seats.
"Stay where you are!" Jimmy shouted as he leapt towards the nearest amplifier.
Brother Samuel stopped and held up his hands. The Dead Heads followed suit. "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy," he said with a grin, "I told you, your equipment is off line."
Jimmy placed his hand on the dial that would allow him to crank up the amplifier to its most lethal setting. "Our chips are shielded. An E.M. blast shouldn't have affected them."
Brother Samuel cocked his head to one side. "Ordinarily that would be true but we rigged this entire theater so that it would direct a single, super concentrated, blast at the stage. It's way more than you guys are used to." He gave Jimmy an embarrassed grin. "I'm afraid that besides suicide, having kids may not be in your imminent future either. But then, you never thought you had much of a future did you?" He began walking again.
"I said to stay where you are!" Jimmy cranked the amplifier up several notches. An annoying hum filled the theater causing Brother Samuel to stop. "I'm old school," Jimmy explained. "Your pulse may have wiped out the board but I doubt it had much affect on my copper wire."
Brother Samuel stuck his hands in his pockets. He looked completely unconcerned by the threat of imminent death. "An old school amp doesn't have the power necessary to be lethal."
Now it was Jimmy's turn to seem nonchalant. "Doesn't have to. All it needs to be is the trigger. Chips may be fried but the speakers aren't. With this, I can generate a sonic boom powerful enough to rupture your internal organs."
Brother Samuel took a moment before nodding his head. "Didn't think of that. But it doesn't matter. We don't want you dead, Jimmy. In fact, we don't even want you in prison."
Jimmy held his breath. "W-What do you want, then?"
"Why, isn't it obvious?" Brother Samuel said with a grin. "We want to recruit you. You, Jimmy Dean Mathews, are a bona fide star. The kids love you. Bootleg copies of your concerts are everywhere. And we, that being the Unification Church, can see the potential of such a natural talent and want to sign you to an exclusive contract - with God."
"Don't listen to him, Jimmy," Dweezer shouted from control both. "He'll tell you nothing but lies. He's the devil mon, the devil!"
Brother Samuel's eyes narrowed. He didn't appreciate the commentary. "Interesting you should mention lies, Dweezer."
Dweezer refused to look at him directly. "I don have to talk to you. I know my rights."
Brother Samuel chuckled. "No, of course you don't . . . Leroy?" Jimmy glanced over at Dweezer. The sound technician's jaw had dropped open. "It is Leroy, isn't it?" Brother Samuel took a step forward. "Leroy Dubois," he said as if reciting facts off of a piece of paper, "formerly of Baltimore, Maryland. Accountant. Married. Three children. You walked out one night to attend choir practice and never went back. Didn't even leave a note."
Jimmy stared at Dweezer. Soldiers in the Front often had sordid pasts but Jimmy always thought that Dweezer had killed a man or had run drugs. He'd never suspected him of being an accountant. "It wasn't like that," Dweezer said in his own defense. "Nadine," tears began to form in his eyes, "she wouldn't go into the free zone. She believed them when they said that we would all burn in hell for listening to that music. But I knew it wasn't evil. I knew that it could open your mind. When she told me no, I, I just couldn't keep living that way. I had to get out."
"Of course you did," Brother Samuel said with very little sympathy. "Never mind that you had an obligation. Never mind that it would have taken more courage to stand by her and the kids than to pursue a life as a . . . sound technician. You did what you had to." Then Brother Samuel's voice took on an edge that was as sharp as a knife. "No great tragedy, Nadine remarried and the children can hardly remember you so everyone won."
Dweezer placed a hand on his console to steady himself. "F. U."
Brother Samuel smiled again. "Guess that's why you're a tech. Not much for the speaking parts."
Dweezer reached for the door of his sound booth but Jimmy knew that was a mistake. "Dweezer, stay cool, don't go for the hate." Dweezer held himself in check but he couldn't look Jimmy in the eye. "Children need their mother. I, I had to respect her wishes." He closed the door to his booth and turned away. It was a huge admission.
"You didn't have to do that," Jimmy said to Brother Samuel. "He's a good man."
"Good men stick to their guns, Jimmy. They do what's right." He took another step forward.
"I told you to stay where you are," Jimmy warned him. His hand strayed by the amplifier switch.
"All right, all right," Brother Samuel said as he threw up his hands. "All I want to do is talk." He reached back and swept the guitar forward again. Then, he sat down on the concrete steps and began to strum the strings. "Beauty, ain't she?"
Jimmy didn't know what to do. Hopefully Dweezer got out a distress call. If he did a rescue team was already on its way. They just had to hang in there till they arrived. "I thought the church destroyed all the electric guitars," Jimmy said, wondering if he could keep the conversation going long enough. "Aren't acoustics the only guitars God allows?"
"Now see," Brother Samuel said with a scowl as he attempted a particularly tricky chord transition. Jimmy couldn't tell if it was his statement or the chord that had annoyed the Brother. "Who makes up that stuff? The Church does not condemn the use of electric instruments. It just advocates the natural sounds that come from instruments crafted from God's own creation but electrics, as we all know, have their place."
Jimmy stiffened. "Really? Cause I can remember the bon fires. As a kid I watched the music stores burn."
Brother Samuel's hand paused but he didn't look up. "Intolerance is a terrible thing. As people were swept up by the excitement of Unification they forgot to make allowances for those who needed more time." He looked up and gave Jimmy a genuine smile. It was as open and as hopeful as any Jimmy had ever seen. "But things change, Jimmy. Society matures. Your mother took you away too soon. Had she waited she would have seen cooler heads prevail."
"My mother," Jimmy spoke out in a clear voice, "was branded a heretic for believing that an artist should be true to his vision. The Church threatened to take me away from her."
"Wouldn't have happened," Brother Samuel said softly. "Your mother was a good woman who only wanted the best for you. Any fool could see that. The Church and your mother would, for your sake, have come to an agreement."
"He means she would have given in to them," Dweezer said as he emerged from his sound booth. He had an old fashion 9mm in his hand. "I'm ready for you now. You take any more steps towards this stage and I'll pop you. Come Babylon I will."
Jimmy jumped. He'd never seen Dweezer with a gun before. All of their defensive systems were non lethal. "Whoa, dude, where'd you find that thing?"
"Violence," Brother Samuel intoned from his seat, "is the last resort of a desperate man."
"Then consider me desperate," Dweezer said as he raised the gun towards the figures in the stands. "Cause I'm prepared to commit a whole lot of violence!" There was an audible growl as the Dead Heads in the seats reacted to the threat.
"Now, now," Brother Samuel said as he signaled them to keep their places, "let's not ruin the moment. Jimmy and I were engaged in an exciting bit of theological debate."
"No we weren't," Jimmy countered.
"Yes, we were," he said with deep sincerity. "You were asking me, in your own way, if the Church would have allowed you to reach your full potential as an artist. I was going to tell you that it would. In fact, the Church still wants to help you do that."
"By signing a contract with God?"
"Exactly. You see Jimmy, I'm an agent--"
"That's it, I'm gonna kill him!" Dweezer shouted.
"An agent of God," Brother Samuel added quickly. "I sing so that people can hear the glory of God's words. I want you to join me in that ministry."
Jimmy didn't know what to say. He was still confused by the fact they weren't trying to kill him. "But you don't sing the songs people want to hear. You change the words."
"No we don't."
"Yes, you do. I heard you. Those weren't the lyrics to Imagine."
Brother Samuel began nodding his head. "Ah, I see the problem. You're right. I wasn't singing the words as they were historically written. I was singing the words the writer would have written had he lived in our perfect world."
Brother Samuel took a moment to compose his response. "Mr. Lennon wrote that song before Unification; at a time when the world was filled with hatred, war, disease, and strife. As a result, he asked his audience to imagine a world without those things. Well, because of Unification, we do have a world without those things. So his song no longer has any relevance. Had Mr. Lennon lived in today's world, the lyrics I sing are the ones he would have written. So you see, I'm just singing the song the way he'd always hoped it would be sung."
Jimmy tried to follow Brother Samuel's logic but couldn't. "W-What?"
"I told you not to listen to him," Dweezer shouted. "He'll confuse you and drive you insane!"
"In other words," Brother Samuel said ignoring the agitated tech, "the unification of all the world's religions, factions, and nations has left us with a paradise. Why sing sappy songs about love in a world that embraces love? Why sing revolutionary songs when there's no revolution? Why rail against 'the man' when you are the man? Lennon asked his listeners to imagine such a world. We don't have to, we live in that world."
"I am not the man," Dweezer shouted. He tightened his grip on his gun. "I have never tried to force my beliefs on anyone."
"Oh, no?" Brother Samuel countered. "What do you call these raids? Who gave you the right to drop out of the sky and take over this venue? If you want to give a free concert all you have to do is apply for a permit."
Jimmy stepped forward. He wanted to stay between Brother Samuel and Dweezer. "The Church would never have given us one."
"Wrong," Brother Samuel corrected him. "Permits are a municipal decision. The city can issue permits to whomever it wants. If they don't issue you a permit then it's because they don't want you. And isn't that the point? Free choice? But if a community votes against you, you assume it's some sort of plot."
"Lies," Dweezer said as he stepped forward again. "I lived in his perfect world. If you're different, if you don't agree, you don't have a place here."
"Of course you don't," Brother Samuel agreed. "If you don't want to be here why should we keep you? That's why we have the free zones. It's a place for those who don't embrace Unification."
Jimmy felt his world shift. "You're saying the Church created the Free Zones?"
Brother Samuel shrugged. "Of course it did. Free will means nothing if you can't choose. You can't regulate faith, Jimmy, but you can inspire it. That's what we want you to do, inspire the faithful. I'm offering you the opportunity to reach a much larger audience than you ever have before and isn't that what you've always been after?"
Jimmy took a step forward. "But I'd have to sing the songs and words that you approve?"
Brother Samuel nodded. "Of course. I'd be lying if I said we didn't care what you played. But here's the thing, our approved list is a lot bigger than you suspect. There's a lot of room for artistic expression. We're also actively recruiting young songwriters who are penning phenomenal new songs. You'd be getting a chance to sing the classics of tomorrow. You'd even help mold many of those young songwriters since they'd be writing for you and you'd be assisting to develop their styles." Jimmy didn't know what to say. It was as if Brother Samuel had learned all his deepest fantasies.
"That's it," Dweezer's voice cut through the night. He stepped forward with his gun aimed right at Brother Samuel's head. "No more lies. Jimmy, get in the booth. We'll hold them off from there."
Brother Samuel turned to Dweezer. "The boy has the right to choose."
"And he's chosen," Dweezer shot back. "His momma didn't give up everything just so that he can fall into your trap. One day the masses will rise up and the oppression of the narrow-minded will be overthrown."
Brother Samuel glared at him. "Sounds like the narrow-minded are the ones advocating revolution. You don't want people to choose. You just want them to choose you."
"Excuse me," Jimmy cut in, getting angry with both of them, "but I believe I can speak for myself. And I'd like to say--"
That's when it happened. In the distraction of their debate a Dead Head had managed to sneak up behind the stage. As soon as Dweezer had stepped out far enough, the fanatic leapt from the rafters right onto his back. Jimmy saw it too late. "Look out!"
There was a crunching sound as the creature sunk its teeth into Dweezer's throat. Then the 9mm erupted and the air above the two squirming bodies exploded in pink puffs of flesh and sinew. The bullets tore through the Dead Head effortlessly. In the handful of seconds that it took Jimmy to cross the stage the battle had ended.
"Dweezer?" Jimmy looked down into the now terrified eyes of his tech. Dweezer was bleeding profusely. Jimmy ripped off his t-shirt and used it to staunch the flow of blood. Then he remembered that had only been one of the Dead Heads. The theater was full of them. Turning quickly he found that Brother Samuel had taken his place by the amplifier. He had his hand on the control knob.
"Nice piece of vintage equipment," he said as gazed down on it. "These use vacuum tubes. Don't they?"
"Please," Jimmy said, desperate, "he needs a doctor."
Brother Samuel nodded. "Your rescue ship will be here momentarily. It'll be allowed to land without problems. I suspect Dweezer will feel more comfortable if one of your doctors treated him as opposed to one of ours."
Jimmy gazed around the theater. The other dead heads had kept their positions. "Y-You're letting us go?"
Brother Samuel cocked an eyebrow. "We don't want you if you don't want to be here. Things are changing, Jimmy. The world is moving on and we need to choose if we are going to move with it or be left behind. I'm offering you a chance to embrace the future. Will you at least consider my offer?" Jimmy didn't know what else to do but to nod his head. Brother Samuel smiled.
"That's all I can ask." He turned to leave. "Oh, and Jimmy?" Jimmy looked at him again. "When you get back you may want to have your techs check out your amp." He reached over and cranked the amplifier up to the lethal setting of eleven. An ugly squelch erupted from the speakers. "Seems some of your tubes are burnt out. It's that darn EM pulse. Thing ruins everything." Brother Samuel turned and left the stage. With him went the Dead Heads.
Jimmy was speechless. Brother Samuel had known all along that they were defenseless. The world was changing and for the first time in his life Jimmy felt as if he needed to reconsider his place in it. As Brother Samuel climbed the stairs of the central aisle he began singing and the words of the song, all too familiar to Jimmy, had now taken on a whole new meaning.
“You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one”
x x x
One of two from Mr. Sanchez—a Beatles fan if ever I read one. As for me, my favorite of the Fab Four was always Ringo—especially after he created Thomas the Tank Engine. John, I thought, was too full of himself; talented, but not the god he thought himself. And that, I’m sure, will spark some comment to this fine story on our BBS.
::link source: http://www.anotherealm.com/2007/february.html