Out of Tune by Zaria Sloan

“Has anyone seen my damn pencil?”

Toby was frantic. His eyes darted up, down, left and right searching for the writing instrument was in the backstage area, while moving around picking up and tossing feverishly aside beer cans, snack food wrappers and discarded newspaper pages like the Tasmanian Devil after shot-gunning three Red Bulls.

Cuckoo, Bane and Melvin watched their band mate’s growing distress with suppressed amusement. After Toby’s seventh lap around the room, Cuckoo said in as serious voice as possible, “What does it look like?”

Toby stopped and faced Cuckoo. “What does what look like?”

“This thing?” Melvin chimed in.

Toby quickly pivoted. “The pencil?”

“Yeah. That thing,” Cuckoo answered.

“Seriously, dude?!?” Toby went back to his frenzied search.

“T, how are we going to help you if you don’t tell us what it looks like, dude?” Melvin said.

“OK, guys. It’s, it’s freakin’ yellow with a freakin’ eraser,” Toby replied not looking up.

“A yellow eraser? Wow, that should be easy to find.” Melvin said as put his hand above his eyes and mock scanned the room.

“The pencil is yellow, dicknose. Not the eraser,” Toby blew out exasperatedly.

“The eraser is not part of the pencil?” Cuckoo said.

“You lost a pencil AND an eraser?” piped in Melvin.

“No the pencil is, what I mean is, the body of it is yellow and on the other end is an erase…why am I explaining this?!? IT’S A FUCKING PENCIL!”

Cuckoo, Bane and Melvin fell over laughing. The four friends had been in a band together for almost three years. They called themselves The Babysitters (the only name they all could agree didn’t suck). Tonight was their biggest show. A sold out showcase crawling with music reps thirsting to score the next big thing. Crush it tonight and The Babysitters would be the new buzzword on every record label’s lips.

The band had started out as a reason to drink beer and make a noise in Cuckoo’s basement. Toby and Melvin played guitar, Cuckoo handled the bass and singing, and Bane was the quiet but violent one on drums.

In the beginning their practices began and ended the same: playing classic rock, metal and punk song covers that transitioned to hours of unharnessed riffing and distorted chaos. Playing together, time vanished and problems were held at bay, allowing them to ride a sonic stallion of pure exhilaration.

Toby soon booked them at a small club. The first time they hit the stage, they were like most bands destined for greatness: awful. Instruments painfully out of tune, rhythms mangled and every lyric seemed made up on the spot. Yet, for those 23 people there that Tuesday night, they witnessed a show they wouldn’t soon forget. The Babysitters played with unhinged madness, yet had such a swagger and assured menace that their mistakes seemed planned, as if a big inside joke you wanted to be let in on. The response and drink-buying adulation that followed signaled to Toby, Cuckoo, Melvin and Bane that they were now a real band.

Toby found his pencil beside his guitar case. Putting the pencil behind his ear, he quickly picked up his ’83 Gibson SG and started unwinding the strings. A show of this magnitude demanded a new set of Ernie Balls.

“Hey Mel, did you change your strings?”

“Nope. Like the set I have on,” Melvin said, not looking up from eating his Whiz burger.

“They might break.”

“And they may not. Let’s let The Rock Gods decide.”

Toby nodded and resumed restringing. He accepted his role as the uptight, responsible one of the group. For the most part this role never weighed on him. Until tonight. This was a chance for all the hard work to pay off. All the hours he spent cajoling venues to book his band, dealing with shifty t-shirt printers and badgering the other three that they were late to practice. Tonight all the toil and frustrations, endless mocking and pranks Toby endured silently would be rewarded.

Taking the pencil from behind his ear, he started painting the bend with graphite, applying a couple coats before finally turning the peg to tighten the string.

“Dat shit even work?” said Melvin.

“Hell yeah, it works. Pencil lead grips the string. Keeps it in tune. You should try it, dude” Toby replied.

“Naw,” Melvin said, “I just rock and let chips fall where they may. Rock more, think less. You should try it, dude.”

Toby threw the pencil into his guitar case. “You’re right, Mel. I do think too much. Seems like I’m the only fucking one…AND I’M SICK OF IT!”

The eruption jolted Cuckoo, Melvin and Bane, and the loose vibe they were enjoying was spit from the room.

“Whooooah! You sick of what? Us?” Cuckoo said.

“No, not you,” Toby said as he put his guitar down. “The band. It seems stuck. Feel like we’re a Mack truck with bald tires. Lotta spinning but going no-fucking-where. And no one but me seems to care. ”

“This showcase isn’t nowhere, dude,” said Melvin.

“True, but it’s a test,” Toby said. “And I feel I’m the only one who cares if we pass it or not.”

Toby stood up and moved towards his friends. “Look, I don’t want to work in an office, making spreadsheets or worried if my shirts are ironed enough. I want this to be more. The band to be more. Do you guys want it, too?“

They held each other’s gaze in a sustained silence that only true friends are comfortable sharing. Toby felt his nervousness drift. Sometimes asking the question is more important than hearing an answer.

The club manager came to the door. “You guys are up.”

Cuckoo jumped up. “Fuck the drama. Let’s just go out and kick some ass!”

Toby smiled and nodded. “Rock more, think less.” He grabbed his SG and followed his friends towards the stage…and whatever fate awaited.


One thought on “Out of Tune by Zaria Sloan

  1. Love that you went back to this ending! This is a great story and has been such a pleasure to watch the progression of it into this awesome finished work. Good luck in the contest. I think you’ll do well!


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