Submitted by Cate Morgan.
Wayne Zalewski—failed musician, pizza delivery boy, eternal optimist—shouldered a shovel slightly too long for him and stomped through the small cemetery with bright, determined purpose. Following along behind like a gaggle of geese rejected from their respective nests for lack of effort, were his band.
Well, most of his band. Bass, keyboards, and drums all present and accounted for.
Well, not his band, exactly. But the band he managed, certainly. It had taken the better part of three years, but they had finally booked their first paying gig.
There was just one problem.
"Dude," his drummer called from the end of the line. Buddy "Bag o' bones" Johnson called everyone "dude", regardless of class, creed, sexual orientation, or religion. He was an equal opportunity dudeist. "Is this cool?"
"Of course it's cool." Wayne flipped his hair, streaked purple to show willing, from his still vaguely acne-plagued face. The streak changed color about as often as the band changed names, which was, on average, every other week or so. "We're finally in at Zombie Bowl. We're getting paid. Chaz would want to be there. He has to be there. He's the best front man-slash-lead guitar we've got."
"He's the only front man-slash-lead guitar we've got." Lydia, lackluster keyboardist, lit a clove. Fragrant smoke billowed from behind him in romantic swirls, her voice going muffled. "And he's dead, Wayne." She sounded bored. She always sounded bored.
Wayne had been trying to impress Lydia since they were twelve and in music lessons together. He hadn't managed it yet, but he felt he was on the right track. "Not for long."
"What about 'Infectious Snakebite'?" Aaron "The Ooze" Peters was nose deep in the thesaurus he used to write song lyrics and bad poetry, often one and the same. Somehow he managed not to stumble.
They reached Chaz's grave, off in the bracken among the cheap plots. His headstone wasn't so much granite as it was chalk. It was already crumbling. Wayne stuck his shovel spade-first in Chaz's next-to-final resting place like a mountaineer sticking his flag of choice at the peak of the Mount Everest. "Right, let's get to it."
Lydia leaned against the headstone and checked her nails. Electric blue today. The others began digging.
All went well for some time. Three or so feet under the others, not accustomed to so much activity, began to grumble. Four feet, and Lydia lit another clove. Five, and Wayne was soaked in as much niggling self doubt as he was sweat. Six—thunk.
Wayne donned his face mask and used his shovel as a crowbar to wedge open the lid of the rather cheap coffin.
Chaz was right where they left him, clad in cheap dress shirt and an oversized, rented tux circa 1978 or so. They would definitely lose the deposit on it. Chaz's favorite guitar lay in his grip like a knight's sword, ruined hands clasping the neck of the instrument to his heart.
"It doesn't look like him, does it?" Lydia observed.
"Well, it's been a year." The face mask was thin and, unfortunately, not much help against the smell. "Get the candles."
Buddy rummaged in the black duffel he'd been carrying. "Dude. This isn't cool."
Wayne sighed wearily. "We've forgotten the candles, haven't we? Right. Get the Zippos, then."
It was sort of poetic: open flames flickering in the damp, misty breeze.
"How about 'Incoherent Slaughter'?" Aaron contributed.
"Tell me you're not going to play 'Free Bird'." Lydia's cigarette smoke joined the general haze.
"Okay, Buddy. Whenever you're ready."
Buddy showered Chaz with a variety of ingredients. One or two Wayne wasn't so sure about. Finger bones had been replaced with chicken bones, remnants of that night's bucket of KFC. Unable to locate some of the herbs on the list, Aaron had opted for his Gran's Allspice, figuring it would cover all bases.
Wayne girded his loins, his courage, and his doubts. And in a voice that barely shook at all, said the Words.
They all gazed down at Chaz, and waited.
Wayne consulted the folded and refolded paper in his hands. You really could find anything on the internet. "Give him a bit more grave dust, Buddy."
Buddy did, and lost his grip on the mason jar. It bonked Chaz in the head, knocking it to the side.
More waiting. More Nothing.
"We could always go back to being 'Muscular Junction'," Aaron offered.
Lydia lit her last clove. "Whatever."
"Wait. Something's happening." Wayne's heart pounded like Buddy's drums when he'd forgotten what song they were playing.
And it was.
Dirt and dust and fried chicken bones shifted. Chaz's head straightened on its putty gray neck to grin at them. One long-fingered hand unclenched from the guitar's neck and raised slowly as though asking for assistance after an all-night carouse. Wayne, not the most in-tune string on the guitar, took his front man's hand and helped him up.
Chaz lurched and, in gratitude for his new lease on life, or perhaps in return for the mason jar, chomped his manager on the arm clear to the bone. Wayne shrieked. He snatched the guitar in his free hand, and banged the axe over Chaz's head. Repeatedly.
"Dude," Buddy pronounced over the tortured sounds of a vintage guitar being inflicted as a blunt instrument. "Cool."
"I've got it," Aaron added, eyes gleaming over the top of the thesaurus. "'Biting Rigor'."
Lydia flicked her cherry lit stub into the screaming, growling, discordant fray six feet below her Doc Martens. "I knew I should have gone to college."