8/08/2015

Shaky Knees (Short Story)

Shaky Knees

    Blue lights on the outdoor stage fade to a single spotlight on the singer as he slowly walks out and over to a microphone at front and center. Funeral flowers on all three microphones set this band apart from the rest of the artists at this three-day music festival. The flowers are red and white and wrapped around the stands like holiday lights. The crowd pulses toward the stage when the singer grabs his microphone. Somebody throws a beer can and foamy beer flies out over the people. You look to your friend standing next to you and some stray droplets fall on his head. He stares back at you with enlarged pupils, probably from the mushrooms you both ate earlier.
    “That’s a shame,” the singer says. “Beer is for drinking, not for throwing.”
    The guitarist cranks up his amp and you can feel the screaming distortion in your temples. The singer grabs his guitar and steps to the microphone. “You don’t want to hear this,” he says, teasing the first song. He takes a step back and strikes hard against the strings of his guitar. It sounds like smashing your face against a brick wall, and you love it. It runs in your veins like an electric pulse. You make eye contact with your friend and he nods, but something in the nod suggests that he isn’t enjoying himself nearly as much as you are.
    You are pushed forward by people compressing toward the stage. The singer beckons, and the masses gladly oblige. The lights flash red and white and a projector screen flickers between static and a cryptic overlay of the band bouncing around the stage. The flashing lights suggest something sinister, but you shrug it off as minor paranoia. A spotlight highlights the guitarist with his guitar behind his head as he drifts into a demonic solo. A bead of sweat drips down your forehead like melted candle wax, scented with the sweet lotus flower.
    Your friend grabs your shoulder, alarmed. “I need to get out of here, dude,” he says. “I’m not ready for this.” Before leaving, he glances at the stage and mutters, “It can’t be true.” You know you should go with him, but this is your favorite band and you didn’t eat mushrooms in a port-a-potty for nothing. He pushes his way through the crowd and leaves you standing there alone in a sea of strangers.As soon as he’s gone you are instantly haunted by the presence of the other people in the crowd. You torture yourself with negativity, sensing glares from those around you. You try to think that it’s all in your head; that the girl behind you did not just turn to her friend and say that you were creeping her out. How could you be creeping her out? You’re just standing there, minding your own business.
    The bass earthquake-shakes the ground and you realize that you haven’t payed a cent of attention to the music since your friend left. The lights onstage are red now, and a fog machine pumps on full blast behind the singer who is tightly gripping the microphone. He looks at you and for a moment he seems familiar, like a figure from your dreams. His eyes pierce your veil of  sanity. Fog continues to exude from a hidden machine as the music mellows down to a quiet rumble. Silence creeps over the crowd, and you once again feel the nonexistent gaze of the surrounding concertgoers as they boom with excitement.
    “This one is more of a quiet singalong,” the singer says. He approaches the microphone, and his guitar emits a gentle melody. “Hope you like it.”
    The tune soothes you to the core, his calm voice a temporary shield for your insecure soul. You pull the pack of cigarettes from your pocket and light one. Exhaling smoke, you look to the sky. The clouds have cleared around the setting sun, and the sky is painted a brilliant shade of orange. You hear yourself say, “He is Satan,” and the dude in front of you turns around to give you a weird look, but turns back around without saying a word. The girl on his arm does the same. “Well, he looks like Satan,” you say.
    At this, the dude turns back around and says, “I think he looks like God.”
    “What’s the difference?” you ask, your heart pumping adrenaline.
    The dude just stares at you for a moment. “You know man, I’m not sure I can answer that,” he says. He turns back toward the stage and pulls his girlfriend closer. He kisses her cheek, and she gives him a nervous look.
    The slow song ends and the next one hits like the drop on a rollercoaster, the loudest yet. Your face goes numb as if injected with anesthetic rhythm. The band drags the song out for as long as possible, the guitar shrieking with distorted noise as the singer shouts poetics at full volume with a  heavy echo. Like all good things, the last song ends and a horde of people begin their march to the next stage for the final act. The true fans in the crowd are wild for one more song, but the band has already cleared the stage, and the fog machine has turned off. The lights are no longer for entertainment, but rather to signal that the show is over. You swim like a headless chicken through the horde of people trying to get out of there. Twenty yards ahead you notice the same dude and his girlfriend from earlier, now holding hands and walking. You light another cigarette and wonder what happened to your friend; if he saw the band, or at least heard them play. You find him at the medical tent, sitting in a metal chair, sweating profusely. A male nurse with dreadlocks pats his shoulders and tells him that everything will be alright, but he doesn’t seem to believe it.
    “Psychedelic drugs,” the nurse says. “Seen it a dozen times.”
    You wave your hands in front of your friend’s face and shout his name, but he says nothing. “Looks like he’s seen the Devil,” you say.
    “No,” the nurse says. “You look like you’ve seen the devil.”
     Your friend silently rises to his feet and tries to walk away from the medical tent. He is able to take a few shuffling steps before the dreaded nurse stops him from going any further.
    “He is not yet cleared to leave my supervision,” the nurse says.
    Just then, your friend snaps out of it. “Supervision, my ass,” he says, and shoves the nurse. “Only God has supervision.” The nurse stumbles backward and your friend jolts off toward the exit. You hear the nurse shout something inaudible as you run off after your friend, and you don’t stop until you reach the city street. An officer working the crosswalk glances at you questioningly, but he is too busy directing traffic to say anything. You try to act natural, but after tonight you aren’t quite sure what that means.
    The officer’s badge shines in the streetlight when you stroll across the street.When you reach the next block, you hear echoes of music and people cheering coming from the venue. “We’re missing out, man,” you say. “We should go back.”
    Your friend stops walking and turns to face you with a look of disgust. “God talked to me tonight, man,” he says. “God was on that stage, and he spoke to me.”
    “Do you not remember eating those mushrooms?” you ask.
    “I couldn’t keep them down,” he says. “They came right back up and into the port-a-potty. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to freak out. But when the band started playing, I swear to you I saw God on that stage.”
    “What did he say?” you ask.
    “He told me to get my shit together,” your friend says. “Sorry,” he says and winces. Then he makes the sign of the cross on his chest, looks deep into the sky, and says, “Not in those exact words.”
    “You sound crazy,” you say. But you’re the one who feels crazy.
    “I know you don’t believe in God,” your friend says. “But please tell me you didn’t see Satan up there.”
    “Let’s just get back to the hotel,” you say. “I can’t think right now.”
    Your friend agrees, but you don’t speak another word to each other for the rest of the walk. He marches behind you in silence, and the light from his eyes burns a hole in your shirt. You listen to the sizzling cotton between the sounds of passing cars and know that from now on, you’ll be different.

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