They were probably the worst band in the world. To say that they played jazz was a gross over-exaggeration, along the lines of referring to a putrid, rotting heap of moldy newspapers as fine cuisine. They tried to play jazz, you could give them that much. People tried a lot of hopeless things.
“Smooth” Steve Gunn was on the saxophone. Currently the instrument was screaming like a dying goat, which “Smooth Steve” appeared to be strangling. Behind him. “Big D” plinked out a lackluster background on the keyboard. He looked more like a child poking at his cold leftovers and contemplating the impending doom of an early bedtime. Completing the ensemble was the infamous “Greasy Pete,” who appeared to be the only one enjoying himself. Unfortunately, despite his enthusiasm, his ambitious attempts to play the drums and horn at the same time proved fruitless. He probably thought of himself as a one man band, but in reality he sounded like a man directing a herd of iron-shod elephants onto a herd of irate ducks.
The patrons of the smoky inn studied the band with rapt attention, not out of pleasure, but for the same reason people rubberneck at car accidents. Some wept at the tragedy being committed in the name of music, others suffered from silent convulsions of laughter. Most watched in impassive, stoic silence. Most of them would later turn out to be in shock.
Anyone who had bothered to turn an eye from the catastrophe would have seen lines of insects and vermin fleeing the scene. Had anyone been mentally disturbed enough to record the performance, they would have had the most effective and dangerous extermination tool in history. Elsewhere in the city, dogs were heard howling in pain as Steve started his sax solo.
A vague and foreboding tension began to rise, indefinable but utterly clear in meaning. The band was approaching their crescendo like two continents approaching collison. Slowly, unstoppably, inevitably.
Finally, with a final death bleat on the saxophone and a jangle of keys, the song ended, as did a piece of everyone’s souls. Stunned silence filled the room like cotton balls, suffocating all present. One would normally be grateful for silence after such an assault, but here the silence held only echoes and memories of things not meant to be.
Suddenly a sound reverberated from the back of the building, an alien sound, one so far from anyone’s minds that the very thought nearly made some ill. The sound of applause. One man stood at the back of the room, dressed in a rumpled suit and still holding onto a glass with one hand.
With slow, measured steps, he sauntered up to the stage and addressed what we must technically refer to as musicians.
“Bravo!” he said. “Splendid!”
At this point everyone in the bar realized that this man had gone insane and decided to leave lest they followed suit. With a flurry of drained glasses and muttered farewells, the bar emptied.
Greasy Pete was lost in his own world, bobbing his head to an imaginary tune. Poor Pete had the rhythm of a drunken crab. He couldn’t keep time with his own thoughts. Big D slumped apathetically at his seat, like a discarded shirt hung on a bent and haphazard hanger, but he glanced sideways at their benefactor with interest. Smooth Steve fiddled idly with the keys on his saxophone. He had long believed his music to be beautiful, but nobody had ever complimented him before. He believed this to be due to his audience being overcome by emotion. Technically he was correct.
“Boys,” said their sole fan. “That was marvelous. Simply marvelous.”
“Well, thank you,” said Smooth Steve. His voice warbled like a fever-stricken moose. “Always great to hear from a fan.”
“Certainly, the pleasure was mine. My name is Johann Gunderson. Tell me, have you fellows ever considered putting together an album?”
That was enough to straighten even Big D out of his slouch. “We tried recording a couple of our songs to disc once, but something messed up.” The discs had examined their contents and committed suicide in order to save the rest of the world.
“Well, I own a recording studio, and I would simply love to have you and your band-”
“The Sugar Cats,” interjected Steve.
“-The Sugar Cats,” Johann corrected. “Record one of our new headlining albums.”
Pete interrupted his head-banging long enough to ask a question. “How much?”
“How does a million sound?” Big D let out a snort like a walrus with allergies, and Steven literally fainted, crumpling his cheap saxophone like a soda can. Pete just stopped moving entirely, except to blink over and over again as though clicking through a slideshow in his head.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Johann. “I’ll leave you my card, and we’ll hash out the paperwork first thing tomorrow morning. Cheers, gentlemen.” He drained the last of his whiskey and left, whistling a few bars from the song that just been played. He was uncannily accurate, and so his whistling sounded like a cat trying to gargle with hydrofluoric acid.
It would be some time before the members of Sugar Cat recovered enough to head home, but when they did, their feet barely touched the floor. They had big things ahead of them.
As Johann left the bar, it began to rain, and a huddled figure rushed up beside him, springing open an umbrella.
“They took it,” Johann said. “We’ll start tomorrow.”
“Are you sure about this, sir?” stammered the aide. “Surely the Geneva Convention…”
“I don’t have time to worry about that,” Johann snapped. “I’ve got a world to save and no budget to do it on. I can’t afford nukes or bombs, but I can afford CDs and boom boxes. “
“But General Gunderson, I heard them from outside. Is it really worth the cost? To unleash this on an unsuspecting world?”
The General lit a cigarette and took a long drag before stepping into a waiting car. “I don’t know, colonel. I don’t know. But even though I didn’t start this war, I intend to finish it.”
The car pulled off into the haze of downtown Chicago, leaving the colonel with only the macabre and foreboding sound of Sugar Cat tuning their instruments behind him.
The colonel stood there for some time, head bowed. “May God have mercy on our souls,” he muttered, then vanished into the night, grim business to tend to.
This short story inspired by listening to my brothers play Rock Band.