A country singer meets an unexpected fan during the apocalypse.
|Tommy Lee didn't give himself a chance to think too hard; if he did, he might just plumb give up. He set his guitar case down by his feet. The dust on the road swirled around his worn brown boots, and he tilted his hat forward to keep the sand out of his eyes. His hair had been long prior to the apocalypse, but it was longer and dirtier now, some dark strands caked to his face with old sweat.
The last few days didn't go so well. He lost his shotgun two days prior to a zombie girl, who he thought he had recognized from his past-- blond curls and a dress with faded flowers. Maybe an old fan? Maybe, but he couldn't recognize any features when she turned around, with her face half rotten off with visible gums and teeth from the hole in her cheek. She took him by surprise, and when she lurched towards him with gnarled, moldy fingers, he took his guitar and ran... and left the gun sitting where he had been sunning himself. It was obvious what his priorities were. And as he knew from experience, he was good at running away.
He figured playing and singing kept him sane, kept him human. Kept him different than the lumbering ghouls that followed his every step. He was used to followers running after him. But they usually didn't want to eat him. Usually.
He had been an alcoholic—he could admit that now, now that he couldn’t drink booze anymore, since dulling one’s senses increased the likelihood of being caught by a zombie. He hadn’t been the nicest guy either—he cringed when he remembered how he treated some of his most devout fans. He almost fell on one in a drunken stupor, threw up on another, and shouted expletives to yet another. At the time, he had rationalized, telling himself, “This is the life of a country star.” What would he do to get another chance to make up for past mistakes? But now, there were no stadiums of fans chanting his name. There were no chances for him to shine in the spotlight. Now, it was surviving by the edge of his teeth.
He had been on his own for a long time, and was hoping one day to find someone else in this barren wasteland. Plenty of empty houses with cupboards to plunder; plenty of houses with zombies that never escaped. Apparently, they weren’t so good at turning door knobs. He had a nasty surprise when he opened a closet a week ago.
He stuck a blade of grass in the corner of his mouth. There were benefits to the end of the world. Instead of writing songs about dead dogs, pickup trucks, or a wife that left him, he could sing verses about losing a limb, escaping death at every turn, or a relative or ex-wife that became a zombie. He was in the middle of the unfortunate observation that the most obvious rhyme with "zombie" was his own name "Tommy," when he heard an excited little whisper.
"Mister? Mister? Are you him? Are you really the famous Tommy Lee?"
Tommy turned around and saw a young boy wearing tattered rags and no shoes, streaks of soot on his cheeks. At first he was shocked, because he had not seen another human being in days, maybe months. He was losing track of time. “Who are you?” The words came out harsher than he intended.
The boy took a step back. “Artie. I’m a huge fan. My dad--“ he stuttered. “My dad used to play your music all the time on our stereo system. That is, when he was still alive.”
Tommy couldn’t believe this kid had survived this whole time. Who was taking care of him? He was skin and bones. Then he realized. This was his chance. His chance to make up for a lifetime of mistakes and disappointments.
He knelt down in front of the boy. “Do you have a favorite song?”
The boy gave him a shy smile. “I really like It’s a Honky Tonk Life.”
Tommy had to laugh. That was his least original song, but probably his most well-known. And the irony of singing that particular song now was not lost on him.
He flattened the case, popped the latches, and took out his guitar. He would have to break into another music store soon—he only had one set of strings left in his case. “For my biggest fan,” he said to Artie, who was clapping his hands gleefully. “I’ll sing this song.”
He started strumming with his worn pick. Chord after chord swelled from the well-loved instrument. He had been through everything with his guitar—the highs and lows. And now, it was helping him earn his redemption.