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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Music · #2314625
A drummer's last gig.
Rude Awakening

This is going to be the last one, thought Terry Hanley, as he listened to the chanting of the crowd. I’m getting old and I’ve done everything I wanted to do. Get out now and spend me last days on a tropical island somewhere. It’s all downhill from here.

The crowd noise faded as the announcer’s amplified voice boomed out. “Alright, folks, the moment has come. Put your hands together for the greatest band of all time, give ‘em a mighty big hand cos it’s…” He paused there, then shouted the final words. “RUDE AWAKENING!”

This was followed by the sound of footsteps hurrying towards the band waiting in the dark beyond the stage. The man appeared and motioned them onward. “You’re on, lads!”

George went first, his long, lanky form striding into the lights as the crowd noise reached a crescendo of deafening approval. Then came Mick, waving at the crowd and eliciting an impossible surge in the racket. The keyboard players, Frank and Whizzo, almost identical in vest and jeans, scurried on together and dispersed to their positions.

Then it was Terry’s turn and he gave Jim a friendly pat on the back as he moved past and out on to the stage. A few quick strides brought him to the dais and he leapt upward to take his seat behind the massed drum kit.

For a moment the roar of the crowd lessened in uncertainty as the final member of the band failed to appear. And then he stepped out into the light, Jim Grady, magician of the lead guitar and the man everyone had been waiting for. They screamed and yelled their delight as he strolled nonchalantly toward his waiting guitars.

Terry reached for a pair of his sticks as the sound beat at his ears, a familiar but still awe inspiring assault on the senses. They’re in good voice tonight, he thought.

He sat still and patient as the noise abated in deference to Jim, still quietly slinging his chosen guitar and plugging it in. A few tentative chords brushed from the strings and Jim strode to the microphone.

“Are you ready for this?” he shouted at the massed audience.

As the crowd’s thunderous answer swept over the band, Terry thought, Yes I am, Jim, and I hope I’ve saved the best till last. Then, as silence fell in hushed expectation across the arena, he clicked the sticks together to set the beat, the pianist chimed in, and they were off. It was straight into one of their earliest hits, Arcade Bandit, always a crowd pleaser and a good bet to start the evening with. Playing it safe, hey, Jim, thought Terry, but the music was getting to him as it always did and he was beating his heart out on those drums.

Jim was really in sync with the keyboard players and his lead breaks were better than Terry had ever heard before, blending incredibly well with what they followed and what was to come, a true master class of how it’s done. The crowd were swaying and clapping in time with him, rapt in their concentration on Jim’s talent.

Terry kept at it, pounding out the beat and his little fills behind the others, never obtrusive but essential even so. They called him the Metronome, so faithful was he in keeping the beat and so allowing them to ride it as they improvised their beautiful sounds.

Well, tonight I’ll be the Metronome of all metronomes and we’ll have a party like no others. This one’s on me, boys.

He bent forward into the roll that signified the end, with the final crash that brought silence to the arena again. The crowd erupted. Jim turned to grin at the keyboard players. This was to be a great night, it seemed.

Then they were into the next one, a quieter song this one, with Terry holding back and letting the others build the gentler emotions elicited by the piece. The air was still electric with the audience’s appreciation of the experience, however.

And so it went, from one song to the next, building in pace and excitement as it went, all of them in sync as never before and driving on toward perfection. Terry was more to the fore now, letting himself go occasionally with great, shattering ripples of sound and rhythm that dragged the songs along in their wake.

The bassist, George, was the first to notice that something special was happening in Terry that night. As the link between beat and melody, it was natural that he should. He glanced at Terry with something like a new respect in his eyes.

Yeah, George, thought Terry, it’ll never happen again so make the most of it. He mouthed the words of the song as he hammered away, sweat leaping from his hair and brow, skin glistening under the lights. George went back to his task, his usual awkward, ungainly dance a little more energised now. The bass boomed its approval.

The others began to notice about halfway through the set. Terry had been subtly increasing the pace and energy in the latest songs, pushing the band to new heights and achievement, unconsciously at first, until they found themselves in a new wor;d of expression, cracking on at a pace never before attempted. The Metronome had ambitions, it seemed.

Jim turned to look at Terry, the famous grin spread across his face. “You bastard,” he mouthed. “You wanna lead, you go right ahead.” Then he turned and began a solo that shook the arena to its core.

Impossibly, Terry stayed with him, filling in where a gap appeared, driving ever onward when Jim entered one of his thoughtful periods. Even the crowd noticed now and the arena hushed as, for the first time, their attention focused on the drummer.

As song followed song now, the atmosphere thickened with the sheer force of humanity breathing, rocking and swaying in unity with the event being created onstage. It was no longer a matter of performers and audience; the common concentration was purely on the music and the wonder of it. Raised above it all, the figure of Terry pounding away at the drumkit, his arms a blur of speed and accuracy, eyes focused far away as he allowed his body to repeat the actions of a thousand prior gigs, herded them onwards with his insistent and forceful beat toward the goal.

In this state of euphoria, they reached the moment when the last song was due. It was customary that the band save the best for last and so everyone knew that the one they had been waiting for was about to have its moment. Their first hit and most loved song, Time for the Night, never failed to deliver its promise, no matter how well it was known.

This night it seemed particularly portentous, coming as it did after a concert so elevated above the norm. The band stood in silence for a while, sweat streaming down their faces as they drew breath for the final effort.

Then, as the Hammond organ began the first quiet and plaintive sounds that heralded the song, Terry closed his eyes in concentration. Right, here we go. I’ll never play like this again.

Down below him, Jim added the sounds of his guitar to the gathering volume of the organ, each note a voice singing in agreement, the others joined in, and with Terry’s sudden statement of the beat with the thump, thump of the bass drum, they were into the song and running.

It was unprecedented. Each member seemed to know exactly what was required at every moment and they supplied their licks and touches in perfect precision. It was a masterful performance, beyond anything even they had achieved before, and the audience stood still in quiet awe as they were lifted with the band to another place where time did not exist beyond the assertive beat of Terry’s drums.

In the quieter moments, quick glances shot between the players as they marvelled at each other’s ability. But the smiles were reserved for Terry, an unspoken token of appreciation apparent in their looks at the unexpected master of the night, so confident and powerful in his moment of greatness.

And then it was done, the song ending in the long drum roll and jangling guitars brought to a crashing end with Terry’s final thrash of everything he could reach. The crowd went wild, filling the arena with cheering, whistles and frenzied clapping. On stage, the band members turned as one, left their instruments, and headed for the drummer’s dais, where Terry sat, slumped and exhausted upon his little stool.

Without a word, they dragged Terry upright and hoisted him to their shoulders, standing way above the watching crowd and waving their approval of the part the audience had played. And the crowd began the chant, echoing off the rear of the stage to rebound into a crescendo of sound, “Terry, Terry, Terry!”

Then he was lofted forwards to centre stage where the band took their customary bow. And the applause continued as though intending to keep them there forever.

Terry, arms draped around the shoulders of George and Jim, barely able to stand on his own, grinned like a manic skull between them. Well, that decides it, he thought. I can’t live without this. There’s no way I can stop now.

A sudden thought struck him and he laughed. Just as well that I didn’t tell Jim that I was leaving.


Word count: 1,596
For Journey Through Genres, February 2024
Prompt: Write a short story that prominently features music, sports, or both.
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