6/04/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 7: In From The Storm




"Do you believe in God, Johnny?" Joey asked, staring up at the ceiling of Johnny's room.

"I believe in somethin'," Johnny replied as he leaned against the side of the bed, strumming through a few chords on the Night Bird.

"Seriously though."

"If you're askin' if I'm religious then no.  Religion is man-made.  I believe in a God, just not the one men created."

"So what's your vision of God?"

Johnny stopped playing to think.  "I guess he's some sort of celestial entity that watches over me, helps me on occasion when I ask for it, but mainly wants to see me do it on my own.  Kind of like a parent."

"So you believe in prayer?"

"To an extent.”  Johnny turned to look at him.  “What's with all of the religious questions?"

"Well, I don't know, I'm a Christian," Joey said, his hands behind his head as he lounged in the bed.  "But I'm having trouble with my faith.  I mean, Apricot is an atheist.  That's sort of a turn-off for me.  Plus my religion says she'll go to hell when she dies.  And I'm afraid that she might try to deter me from my Way."

"I don't think Apricot is like that.  She probably respects your faith.  I don't think she would get into talkin' about that unless you try to force your religion on her."

"I know, but that doesn't stop my thoughts about the situation.  Just being around her makes me subconsciously think about how her beliefs might be true.  Its like she's religious radiation, slowly deteriorating my beliefs when I'm around her.  The way I see it, I just want there to be a heaven, a place for me to go when I die.  I could give up believing in religion if I had to, but I won’t, because I want to believe that the people I know that have died have gone on to a better place and I will still see them one day.  That‘s all I want."

"Joey, if you're strong enough in your faith, you should be able to handle it.  But if it bothers you that much, you should talk to her about it."

"What if I'm just wasting my breath?" Joey asked, leaning up from the bed on one arm to look down at Johnny.

"The only breath wasted is the breath not taken," Johnny said simply.

"Where do you come up with this shit, dude?  Do you sit around all day thinking up philosophical shit to say when people have a problem?"

"Sometimes.  Mainly it comes from recycled song lyrics," Johnny said, going back to his guitar.  "Speakin' of, we need to get back to work on those riffs."

"Dude, I've got them down already," Joey complained, laying back on the bed.  "You don't have to drill sarge it out of me."

"Trust me, I do.  Let's get started."

Joey grabbed his bass guitar from the side of the bed and the two began to work on another repetitive composition in hopes of producing a better performance out of Joey than what was heard during their last practice.

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Many weeks passed and the band had successfully put together two songs with several others half-way through completion.  Neither of the first two were considered finished, as everyone seemed to have a new idea that they wanted to add to the song every practice.  Their primary goal at this point was having the songs ready for the Battle of the Bands.  The band had gotten the chance to perform “North Nicole” and a brand new song at the audition for a single judge, who was impressed and agreed to sign them up as part of the first night line-up.  After spending the entirety of November preparing, the show was set to go down in two days.

A few of the practices were held at school in the auditorium.  Unfortunately, soon after they started to practice, a security guard entered and told them that they couldn't be in there after hours as part of some new school rule.  They somberly left with all of their equipment and migrated to the cafeteria, which was completely empty.  They set up in a corner and started to practice.  In order to mask the amateuristic playing that came from Joey, they unplugged his amp when he wasn't looking, praying that he wouldn't notice.  Other than that, Ramsey's singing and memorization of the lyrics were exceptional, despite his tendency to be tardy or completely absent from several of the practices; Shelly found interesting ways to switch up the primary melodies; Apricot was able to add a diverse array of synthesized sounds to the selections giving it an authentic in-studio feel and Chase was able to adapt a catchy beat to whatever they played and kept it at perfect tempo.  Johnny led the crew with a different solo for every performance, letting the others judge each one and choose which would work better for each individual song.  Team effort was through the roof and most importantly, they were having fun doing it.

As they played, Johnny looked out of the corner of his eye and saw someone watching from outside the cafeteria.  After a few minutes, the guy entered and stood with his arms crossed, nodding his head to their current song, "Crossover," a piece they'd been working on recently which came together more impressively than expected and this was why they chose to work on it continuously until it was near completion.  "Crossover" and "North Nicole" were their two strongest songs at the moment and were also the songs they would be performing at the Battle of the Bands.  Johnny peered up and saw that the curious teen was average looking with shaggy, dirty-blonde hair that fell over his ears and a silk jacket zipped up to his neck which looked like it hadn't been worn in years and had been pulled out from deep within his closet fairly recently.  He smiled, obviously impressed with their work.  When the song was over, he clapped enthusiastically.

"Fantastic," he said, smiling brightly.  "Best stuff I've heard in a while.  Who the hell are you guys?"

"We're called Class of '70,” Johnny greeted, speaking up for them.

"'70?  Like 1970?  Cause that's kind of what your music sounds like.  Its got that retro vibe."

"Exactly.  My name is Johnny B. Goode, Lead Guitar," Johnny said, turning to introduce the others.  "This is our Singer: Ramsey Sharpa, Rhythm Guitar: Shelly Quartermaine, Bass: Joey Flits, Keyboard: Elizabeth Apricot, and Drums: Chase Walker."

"Cool, nice to meet you guys," the guy said, walking up to shake Johnny's hand.  "My name's Martin.  Martin McFly.  Friends call me Marty."

"Sounds familiar.  Are you famous or somethin'?  From a famous family?"

"Not really.  My father did a few interesting things back in the eighties but nothing too big.  What's the name of that song?"

"It's called 'Crossover'."

"Right, right.  Chorus was 'Crossover to the other side, there's nothing left here for you but the heat of the night.'  Very creative and catchy, plus its a light-hearted smooth track with the ironically dark twist in the lyrics.  I really like it, but I noticed that I couldn't hear your Bass at all."

"Really?  I could hear it just fine," Johnny said innocently, looking back at the band, who shrugged as well.  Joey was the only one who was genuinely confused.

"Are you sure the Bass Amp is plugged in right?”

Joey looked down at the amp and saw the cord from his guitar hanging out of it slightly.  "Oh, no wonder."

"Shit," Johnny whispered under his breath and noticed that the rest of the band were visibly upset as well.

"There you go," Marty said with a smile.  "Should sound much better now."

"Yeah, thanks," Johnny replied with a touch of sarcasm.

"Have you guys heard about the Battle of the Bands at the Park and Rec?  Its supposed to be the day after tomorrow."

"Yeah that's what we're preparin' for right now actually."

"Oh awesome, you guys are going to tear that place to pieces.  A friend of mine is hosting it so I'll put in a good word for you guys.  Maybe you can get signed from this."

"Maybe so," Johnny said, preparing to get the band back into work mode.  At that very moment, two janitors entered the cafeteria with a rolling trash can and a rack of equipment.

"You all can't be in here,” One of them said.  “We're about to clean up."

"We won't bother you."

"Rules say you can't be in here at all."

"Are you serious?" Johnny asked with annoyance.

"Yep."

"Son of a bitch...."  Johnny unplugged his amp, picked it up, and started off for the exit bitterly.  "Come on guys."

"Where do we go now?" Chase asked, distraught that he was going to have to haul his set across the school yet again.

"I don't know, we'll find somewhere to go.  Just leave the set here until we find a suitable place."  The band, accompanied by Marty, relocated to another part of the school.  They searched hallway after hallway, asking the teachers that were supervising vacant classrooms if they could possibly practice there.  All of them refused.  Johnny found a hallway where none of the teachers were still occupying their classrooms.  He spotted an outlet by a wall, one adjacent to it, and a few more leading down the corridor.  This will work, he thought.  He pointed them out to the band and they began to set up, while Chase and Ramsey ran back to get the drum set.

"How ghetto is this?" Shelly said, plugging in her amp.  "Setting up to play in the middle of a high school hallway.  This will make for a hell of a success story."

"Yeah, I can see that happenin‘," Johnny laughed as the other two came back with more equipment.

"Oh by the way, Johnny," Chase said, running up with a cymbal in his hand.  "My sister's going to be driving us to the Rec Center.  Our mom's letting us take our old Volkswagen van out.  Its legit shit, I'm telling you.  Its just like the kind of vans they had in the 60's and 70's, tie-dyed and everything.  I call it the Retrovan."

"Sounds epic, can't wait to see it," Johnny said with a smile.

"Hey, I’m just wondering, but do you guys have a manager?" Marty asked curiously as he watched the band set up.

"Nope," Joey said, sitting on his amp, strumming a few notes.  "Not unless you count Johnny, who founded the band."

"Well how about making me your personal manager?" Marty said hopefully.

"Eh, I don't know," Johnny said cautiously.  "How do we know you have what it takes to be our manager?"

"Well I'm passionate about you guys' music already and I can hook you guys up with some good gigs.  I'm talking legit venues.  I can also help promote you guys and my dad's pretty loaded so if he likes you, which I'm sure he will, he'll back you guys with a sponsorship."

"Mr. McFly!" screamed a male teacher from down the hallway.  "Are you going to return to my tutoring session or are you finally giving up all together?"

"All right, I'm coming!" Marty called to the teacher.  "Crap, I've got to go.  How 'bout it, guys?"

Johnny looked back at the band who shrugged uncertainly.  He turned back to Marty.  "We'll think about it and get back in touch with you.  Do you have a number or card?"

"Yeah, I do, actually," Marty said, reaching into his pocket.  He pulled out a few strips of torn pieces of paper and handed one to Johnny.  "Had them to give to some girls but uh....ran into a few snags in that department."  He rubbed the back of his head and chuckled lightly with an awkward smile.

"Mr. McFly!"

"All right, I'm coming, man!" Marty said, running in the teacher's direction.  He looked back at the band and waved as they waved back.

"Good kid," Johnny said, loud enough for the band to hear him although he was mainly thinking out loud.  "Might be able to actually help us out in the long run."

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Johnny sat on the stairs of Uncle Chuck's house in a leather jacket and fitted jeans with the Night Bird lying beside him in its case.  His leg was shaking up and down and he was staring off into space in anticipation for two reasons.  One was that the show was in an hour and this would be the first time anyone other than the rest of them, the judge at the audition, or Marty had heard them.  The response from this crowd would be where it all counts.  The second reason for his angst was the idea of seeing May again.  After their last encounter, things were “different” between them and if she was going to be around with the rest of the band, contact would have to be kept at a minimal.  Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that could only be described as awkward and unwanted excitement when he thought about her, so seeing her again would be an interesting experience to say the least.

Amidst his thought, he saw a light flash by the front window.  He looked curiously but didn't get up, as he'd gotten up for the last twelve lights that passed by as well.  It wasn't until he heard a retro-sounding car horn from the other side that he figured it was them.  Just to make sure, he checked the window and saw the tie-dyed Volkswagen pulling up by the driveway, which confirmed his speculations.  He walked back and grabbed the amp and his guitar case, swinging the latter over his shoulder.

Johnny walked past the living room and waved to his uncle.  "I'm out, Uncle Chuck."

"Where you think you going?" Uncle Chuck asked, turning to him from the couch where he sat.

"To the Park and Rec for the Battle of the Bands.  I've told you several times already."

"Oh right right," Uncle Chuck said, turning back to the television.  "I remember now.  Don't be long."

"It's till' 11.  You don't want to come?"

"Nah, I'll check out the next one.  If you're good enough, there'll be a next one.  Love you, boy."

"Yeah, yeah, Love you too.  I'll see you later," Johnny said as he headed towards the door and exited out onto the driveway.  From there, he could see May in the driver's seat and Joey in the passenger's.  The rest of the band sat in the two back rows.  The van itself was decorated with various psychedelic flower and bird decals and was topped off with a peace sign in the very front with an American flag designed within it.  Johnny walked up and Chase, who wore a straw hat, white t-shirt, and torn jeans, slid the door back for him to enter.  "Sup guys," Johnny greeted, settling himself in the middle of the van beside Chase.  In the back was Shelly (who had dyed part of her hair a shade of blue, spiked it up, applied a large amount of make-up on her face, and wore some earrings, as well as tight, black punk-styled clothing.  Her whole attire seemed to be much more feminine than usual) and Apricot (who was wearing a tie-dye shirt, bell bottom jeans, and a pair of circle-rimmed red-tinted sunglasses), who greeted them along with the rest of the group.

"Where's Ramsey?" he asked curiously.

"He said he'd meet us there," Joey said as he turned back to him, sporting a gray t-shirt with an array of different designs and some punk-styled fitted jeans with a chain wallet on the side.  "He didn't think there would be enough room for him to ride in the van, so he's driving to the place."

"As long as he gets there, I have no problem with that.  So the equipment's in the back, right?"

"Yep, everything is ready, although you don't need it," May informed, looking at him through her rearview mirror.  Johnny noticed that the dark-colored blouse she had on was slightly revealing.  He caught himself leaning forward trying to catch a glance, but realized that he was being dangerously obvious and sat back normally.  "They're supposed to supply the equipment for you guys.  No harm done though.  Better to have it and not need it."

"Alright cool, but I'm goin' to be playin' the Night Bird either way,” Johnny said, as they drove off.  “Let's do this.”

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The crew pulled into the parking lot of the Parks and Recreation Center about 30 minutes before Showtime.  A bright light show danced and lit up the area from inside the building, spilling out on the patrons that lined up outside, waiting to enter.  There were no good parking spaces up front so May dropped the band off at the entrance of the building and they exited.  Johnny walked over to the side of May's window.

"Are you comin' in to see the show?" he asked, cautious of how he spoke and gazed at her as he was still wondering whether they were still playing the game she'd forced on him.

"Yeah, I'm going to go park the van and I'll be in.  There's a $500 prize, so you guys better win."

"Wouldn't be here for nothin' less," Johnny said, winking and tapping on the top of the van as he walked off.  That was all the flirting he could do with May in such a short amount of time but it would do.  It felt weird.  He wasn't sure if he should continue to hate her or make a pass.  Because of the secrecy she'd forced on him, he wasn't even sure if the conversation they'd had in the mall had even been real.  He could have dreamed it; weirder things have happened.  It had been a long day and the shock was a bit disorienting as it was.  That didn't make any sense though.  She didn't completely shun him or give him dirty looks anymore so there had to have been something there.  Oh well.  Now isn't the time to ponder on it, he thought.

Johnny led the band to the back entrance of the building, where a line of musicians were having their names read off by a bouncer at the door.  When they reached the line, he turned back to the rest of the band.  "Somebody call Ramsey and see where he is."

Joey pulled out his phone and dialed his number as the line began to reduce in size.  Johnny looked back at Joey to see that he still had the phone to his ear.  Soon, he put it back down.

"No answer."

"Try him again.  Keep tryin' until you get a hold of him.  We need him here for the gig."

"Well if he doesn't show, we can just let you sing his parts," Apricot spoke up.  "I mean you can play guitar and sing at the same time, can't you?"

"Yeah but the rules say 'No sudden changes to the performance that we did for the audition'.  I put him on the list of band members and if he's not here to get checked off, I don't know if they'll let us in."

"I'll try him again," Joey said, dialing Ramsey's number once more.  The line was narrowing down and there were only a few people standing between Johnny and the bouncer.  Joey tried Ramsey two more times before they reached him.

"Band name," the Bouncer, a large black man with a deep voice, stated firmly.

"Class of '70.  I'm Johnny B. Goode.  This is Joey Flits, Shelly Quartermaine, Chase Walker, and Elizabeth Apricot."

The Bouncer gazed at his clipboard.  "List says you're missing one: Ramsey Sharpa?"

"Yeah he's not here yet, but he'll be here, I promise."

"Well rules say I'm not supposed to let you guys in if everybody's not here, but its nice to see a young black man like yourself doing more for music than just being a rapper.  I can tell by your accent that you're not just another Uncle Tom too, so you're good with me.  Come on in, but if that last member doesn't get here, we can't let you stay.  That's the rule."

"Alright, that's fair enough, thank you," Johnny smiled as he walked past the bouncer and into the building.  The band followed as they walked through a white-walled hallway and a female guide with short hair led them to the stage.

"You're Class of '70?  You guys are on in about 10 minutes.  Where's your singer?"

"He's comin'.  10 minutes, you said?"

"Yes."

"Try him again," Johnny said, turning back to Joey, who already had the phone on his ear as they walked.

"Nothing."

"Give me his number, maybe he'll answer mine."

Joey showed Ramsey's number to Johnny from his phone as he pulled out his own and dialed it, putting it to his ear.  He waited a few seconds.  There was a click.

"Hello?"

"Where the fuck are you?" Johnny asked aggressively.

"Who is this?"

"It's Johnny B, where the fuck are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You said you'd meet us at the Parks and Rec!"

"That was tonight?"

"Yes, it was tonight!!  DECEMBER 1ST!!  DECEMBER FUCKIN' 1ST!!  If you'd made it on time to any of our fuckin' practices, you'd hear that that was all we fuckin' started off talkin' about!!"

"Dude, its not my fault, how was I supposed to know?"

Johnny pinched the bridge of his nose, nearly overcome with stress.  "Joey called you seven or so times and you didn't pick up, that's how you were supposed to know!" Johnny yelled into the phone.  He was sweating at this point and the butterflies in his stomach had turned into hawks trying to claw their way out of his abdomen.  "Listen, you live closest to the Parks and Rec and we're on in ten minutes.  Get here.  They've got a mic and everything.  It only takes five minutes for you to make it here, if that.  Just get here.  Do you hear me?  Just get here."

Johnny hung up his phone abruptly as the band, who had walked ahead of him worriedly when the conversation grew heated, headed through the double doors that led to the stage.  Johnny followed them in and the atmosphere quickly changed as they heard loud metal music playing from the other side of the curtain.  Lights spilled through, painting everyone with colorful shades from the strobe lights while they watched the current band rock out on stage.  Johnny peeked past the edge of the curtain and saw people moshing in front.

"They sound like crap, how can anyone actually like this mess?" Shelly asked Johnny.

"Hey, respect the other performers," said the guide, pointing at Shelly threateningly.

Shelly held up her hands in defense.  "Sorry."

The selection was finished and the band bathed in the applause, which was considerably weak, and walked off-stage in their direction.

"We rocked that shit!" yelled the lead singer, a dark-looking guy who's long hair obscured his face.  He bumped past them obnoxiously.  "You guys don't stand a chance."

"I wonder how you can stand at all with those nuthuggers," Shelly responded, insulting his skinny jeans.  "Get the fuck out of here."

The 3-man set disregarded Shelly and the rest of them as they walked by, all except for the drummer, a wild-haired light-voiced teen, who turned back to them.  "Is that your guitarist?" he asked, pointing at Johnny.

"Yeah, he is," Joey said, locking eyes on him with a challenging look.

The teen looked back and forth between Johnny and Joey and burst into hysterical high-pitched laughter before walking away.  Johnny didn't let it bother him, not when the only chance for retaliation was no where to be found when they needed him there.  He pulled out his phone and called Ramsey again.  The guide tapped him on the shoulder.

"You're the next ones up, are you ready?"

"Yeah, we're ready."

"Where's your singer?"

At that very moment, Ramsey's voice mail was played and Johnny closed his phone.  "I'm singin'."

"I'm afraid you can't do that.  No changes to the performance you did for the audition."

"Why make a rule like that when there's a whole month between audition and performance?  Anythin' could change."

"That's why we held auxiliary auditions 5 days before today, in case of any changes.  It's too late now.  I'm going to have to ask you all to leave."

"Look, its the same performance," Johnny insisted.  "Its just gonna be me singin' instead.  Nothin' is changin'.  Just let me do the songs."

"Security!" the guide yelled, directing her voice behind them.

"Son of a bitch!" Johnny yelled, as someone grabbed him from behind.

"This doesn't make any sense!" Joey yelled as he was dragged off.

"Get your fucking hands off of me, Prick!" Shelly struggled.

"All we were trying to do was play music," Apricot said somberly, as she was escorted away without making a scene.

Out of all of them, Chase was making the most noise.  The security guard had trouble handling his small skinny body, as he wiggled out of his grip and ran towards the guide.  He was grabbed just before he was able to tackle her to the ground and the guard hauled him over his shoulder, carrying him off.

"You BITCH!" he screamed in a high-pitched screeching voice.  "YOU UNFAIR LITTLE BITCH.  YOU LET US PLAY!  YOU DIDN'T DO SHIT TO PREPARE FOR THIS BUT WE DID!  WE DID ALL THE WORK AND YOU GET ALL THE MONEY, YOU CAPITALISTIC WHORE!!"

The security guards tossed the band out aggressively into the alleyway behind the Center and closed the door behind them.  They all lay there for a second on the hard cement ground, taking in what had just happened.  Suddenly, Johnny got up, grabbed the chain-linked fence behind him and shook it violently, growling at the same time.

"This is unbelievable, un-fuckin'-believable!" he yelled into the night.  He ran over to a trash can and kicked it as hard as he could.  "FUCK!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs.  "I can't believe this shit!  All that work for fuckin' nothin'!!"

"Its not all for nothing, man," Joey said, trying to calm Johnny down.  "We don't need a stupid Battle of the Bands to get us noticed.  We can do other venues."

"Not if we can't rely on people!  I can't rely on Ramsey to make it to our first gig, how am I supposed to rely on you guys to be at every venue we get?!  You can't rely on anybody in this business, I swear!"

"Hey, don't take this out on us," Shelly said, stepping up.  "Ramsey has always been unreliable, that's not going to change, but we're dedicated to this.  We wouldn't have spent two months working on a few songs just to let it all end here at some lame Battle of the Bands.  We've been behind you from the very beginning and you could see from how Ramsey treated you, how he treated ALL of us tonight, that he wasn't.  Now I don't know about the rest of these guys, but I'm your friend, Johnny B.  And I can guarantee that we will all team up and beat your fucking ass if you give up on this right now.  Now pull yourself together."

Johnny had been on the verge of a mental breakdown before Shelly had stepped in.  He was calm now.  This just wasn't meant to be.  For a short time, he'd let his thirst for fame and getting noticed overcome his dreams of making music.  Their time would come and when it did, he'd look back on this day and laugh.  This was their origin story, after all, he thought.  If someone made a movie of their upbringing, this would only sweeten the experience.  That's how he had to treat the situation.  Let every obstacle they face hit them in stride and keep going, as if his life were one long ass movie.

"Chase, go get your sister and let's get out of here," he said in a near whisper.
"You okay, B?" Chase asked delicately, as he got up and started to walk by.

"As good I'll ever be."

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The Retrovan zoomed down the road in silence.  There was a bitter taste in everyone's mouths as the heat of the moment was still in the air.  They mostly felt emptiness at losing out on a great opportunity, but they weren't done.  Not by a long shot.  As a treat to cheer them up, May was driving them to a Zaxby's restaurant where they could, for the most part, celebrate and/or drown away their sorrows of a missed opportunity so that they could move on from it.  Even still, they were somber on the way there, so May tried to strike up a conversation to loosen the mood.

"So Johnny, what's with the hair, man?" she asked playfully.  "How long have you been growing it and how'd you get it curly like that?"

The question caught Johnny off-guard, who had been sitting in the back, listening to the MP3 he'd had in his pocket.  He pulled one headphone out of his ear so he could hear a bit better.

"Well, I've been growin' it since I was 14, so 3 years now, I guess.  I wash it and condition it every day.  I don't know how it came out curly.  My grandfather was biracial though.  Maybe that's why."

"Interesting," Shelly said.  "You know I have some black in my family."

"Really?" Johnny said, turning back to her.

"Don't say anything, Shelly!" Chase cut in.

"Why?"

"You're trying to make a racist joke!" Chase accused.

"No I'm not, I'm serious."

"You were going to say that they were still hanging there."

"What?" Shelly asked in confusion.

"The ‘joke’ is that the person says they have some black on their family tree and that they're still hanging there," Joey intervened nonchalantly.  "Shelly only said she had some black in her family, she said nothing about a tree, Chase."

"Oh," Chase said with a bit of embarrassment, realizing his mistake.  "Sorry."

There was a brief silence before Johnny spoke up again, chuckling.  "Here's a funny race joke.  A skinny white guy goes into an elevator, looks up and sees this huge black guy standin' beside him.  The big guy sees the little guy starin' at him and he says '7 feet tall, 350 pounds, 10 inch penis, 3 pound left testicle, 3 pound right testicle, Turner Brown.'  The white man faints and falls to the floor.  The big guy kneels down to wake him up and asks 'what's wrong with you?'  In a weak voice, the little guy asks 'what EXACTLY did you say to me?'  The big guy says 'I saw your curious look and figured I'd just give you the answers to the questions everyone always asks me.  I'm 7 feet tall, I weigh 350 pounds, I have a 10 inch penis, 3 pound left and right testicle, and my name is Turner Brown.'  The white guy sighs in relief and he says, 'Oh thank God.  You said Turner Brown, I thought you said Turn Around.'"

It took a few seconds, but everyone understood the joke after a while and soon the car was filled with laughter.

"You know that description is how I imagine Johnny's dad to be," Joey joked.

Johnny chuckled.  "Its close, but the part about the penis is spot on, I know from inheritance."

"Alright, no need to impress anybody here, Johnny."

"Hey, I'm black.  It comes with the race."

"I'm sure that's a popular misconception," Apricot said jokingly.

"No, its true....Nah, its not true for every black guy, I'm messin'...its true for me though."

Chase burst into laughter and gave Johnny a fist bump in acknowledgment as the band began to liven up a bit.  It was a nice experience for Johnny, seeing that these people that had been chosen to join him on the road to creating something new for the world to enjoy were cool and amusing folks that he could actually call his friends.  In that same respect, that night was a momentous occasion, marking the first time in his life when he had more than one friend to call his own.

They conversed for a few more minutes, before May suddenly spotted something out in the road.  No, it was someone.  She stopped the van abruptly, lurching everyone in the van forward.

"May, what the fuck?" Chase exclaimed.

"Sorry, there's somebody in the road."

Johnny leaned forward and recognized who it was.  The drummer with the crazy hair from the competition.  He stood in front of the van with his hands forward on the hood of it as soon as it stopped.  What was he doing?  Suddenly, the van began to shake and several shadows surrounded it.  They were holding weapons.  One was right by Joey's window yelling, "GET OUT OF THE CAR!!" and one broke in one of the backseat windows with a bat.  He unlocked the door and slid it open himself, pulling them out of the van and throwing them onto the pavement.  They were on a dark road, surrounded by trees on the left side and a large field on the right.  There was no light but from the moon above them.

Johnny was pulled out aggressively but he didn't fall to the ground like the others.  He turned around, swung a blow, and dug the middle finger of his fist into the back of the head of the assailant that manhandled him, instantly knocking him unconscious.  He slammed face first into the door of the van just as two other men, both band members that Johnny recognized, came at him from opposite sides.

He delivered a devastating blow to one of the shadowed figures and turned to deliver a kick to the one standing behind him, however the blow failed.  His foot was caught by the figure, who took it and flipped him onto his back.  He then swiftly picked up the fallen bat from the ground and clocked it across Johnny's head, knocking his lights out.

--------------------------------------------------
"Johnny!  Johnny!"

Voices were yelling at him in a psychedelic swirl of dream-like sounds swimming in his head.  He opened his eyes and was greeted with the sight of a group of people, huddled together as they hovered over him.  The voice that was yelling his name was a female.  It was May's.  With this realization, he blinked several times to get his blurred vision to clear and shook his head as he got up.

"Whoa, slow down, buddy," Joey said, leaning by his side.  "You're bleeding."

"I am?"  He reached up, feeling the corner of his head with his fingers and pressing at the spot where he'd taken the blow from the bat.  After feeling the sting on contact, he looked at his fingers and saw that they were soaked with blood.  After a while, he could feel it dripping down the side of his face.  "Shit, where'd they go?"

"They're gone," May said as she was closest to him, her face inches from his.  "Long gone.  We've been car jacked."

"No way," Johnny said in disbelief.  He could hear sobbing behind him.  He turned and saw Chase sitting on the gravel-covered sidewalk beside the white lane marker, his arms on his knees and his head down out of view.  "Chase, are you all right?"

"Everything," he sobbed.  "Everything's gone.  My drum set, the amps, the guitars...."

"No...." Johnny said, jumping up.

"Easy," May said, grabbing him.  He pulled away, grabbing his hair tightly in distress, staring down at the road, wishing to God that he could somehow force that van to come back around the corner from which it disappeared.

"The Night Bird....they took the Night Bird!!"

"Actually no," Shelly said.  He hadn't noticed her before, but she had also been standing over him along with Apricot.  "I saw it over there."  She pointed with her thumb over her shoulder and moved out of the way.  Johnny saw it's shape a little ways down the road.  He sprinted after it faster than he‘d ran before, moving off into the street to see it laying in the middle of it.

There were scratches all over it, including a jagged and unimpressive batman symbol, which looked to have been carved into the body with a sharp rock.  The strap was gone.  Johnny's heart was beating tremendously.  He checked the strings.  They all seemed to be intact.  He examined the volume knobs, whammy bar, and chord inputs, which all seemed to be unaffected.  He held it under his arm and strummed a few chords.  Aside from being horrible out of tune, it still felt and sounded the same.

"Still works....thank God," he whispered.

"Johnny," Joey shouted in his direction.  Johnny didn't turn to him but Joey continued anyway.  "There's a gas station about a mile from here.  They took our phones so we're going to have to call from there.  Maybe we can get Ramsey to pick us up since-"

"Fuck Ramsey," Johnny snapped harshly, turning to Joey.  "Its his fault we're in this mess.  He's out of the band."

The whole group turned to him with this declaration.  Johnny walked towards them sharply.  "We have no money, no equipment, nothin'.  How are we even supposed to do this?  Whatever, let's just go."

In From the Storm by Jimi Hendrix

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