F3: We’re Never Going Home!

As promised, here’s this week’s Friday flash fiction. It’s unusually long; about 70 words over the 1k limit. I considered trimming a few sentences but, in the spirit of the subject matter, decided “fuck it”.

The title, fact fans, is lifted from the best live/tour film you’ll ever see: Against Me!’s 2004 DVD We’re Never Going Home. It sums up most of the reasons why they were so special in the first half of the decade (for the record I think they’re still pretty special now, but they’re different people in a different band because of the success they’ve experienced – something the band spends a lot of time grappling with in the film).

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WE’RE NEVER GOING HOME!

Life on the road: good times for all time. The drink flows forever, the girls are easy to find and easy and always young. So long as the van gets you from state to state, town to town, show to show, and the band stays together, we’re never going home.

The names of the towns all blend into meaningless syllables, stumbling from slurring lips. The driver must know but never tells; who’d remember? The roadies are blacked out and we’re feeling spaced out. We’ve made a game of the towns, marking them with arbitrary measures. This one has four Burger Dumps down the same horizon-linking stretch of road. That one has unhealthy and plastic-green trees unevenly spaced between places where trees shouldn’t be. This one had the prettiest girls. That one had the loudest fans. We sold the most t-shirts back there. One dive had too much neon strip-lighting. Dan threw up behind his drumkit – twice – in the town where we met the rich promoter who took us all out for steak. Raz, still clinging to his vegetarianism by a few delicate threads, had some kind of quiche. God bless the improbable American millionaire.

I remember city lights in the rain the best. They lose focus and the glare stretches diagonally across my vision. I grin like an idiot every time I see that, every time I hear the rain pattering or hammering on the roof of the van. We have a routine when this happens: Dan jams a sock in the hole in the roof, and I replace whatever’s playing with the mixtape for rainy days.

Yeah, the van’s got a tape deck. We’re old-school guys in an old-school band in an old-school van, playing to old-school fans and living the old-school life. We’ve never been assholes to anyone who didn’t deserve it, and we’ve always helped out the bands we play with. It’s not exactly ‘do no evil’ if the devil has all the best tunes, but for the scene we circulate in we’re the good guys.

But that was then, and this is today. We’ve been on the road for what must be half a year now, playing a new town every night, or every other night – America’s a big place in a small van. And it’s been no surprise that the towns all began to look the same, but tonight is different. I’m standing in the tiny corridor between the backstage area – a big cupboard for stashing gear – and the venue’s tiny stage. I’m ringing out a t-shirt soaked in sweat and blocking C’s path.

‘Did you see them?’ I ask. ‘The kids from the last town.’

‘Out of the way, dude,’ C says. He rubs a sweat-slick hand over his forehead, brushing sodden hair out of his face. ‘I have seriously got to hit the bar.’

‘This is important, man. Tell me, you recognise those three kids right at the front? Big girl in yellow, two skinny kids in denim and This Bike shirts?’

‘They were just kids. Shift, asshole, I need a beer.’

‘They were at the front of our last show. And the one before that. And not just them. I recognised a whole lot of people in the crowd.’

‘So we’ve got kids following us. That’s pretty cool, man. Listen, I still-‘

‘You ever see anyone following us on the roads? Ever?’

That shuts him up.

‘Seriously, dude, this shit is fucked. Something seriously weird is going on. You remember the last time we saw anything, like… the fucking news? Read a paper? Heard a band we hadn’t heard before?’

‘We always watch the support acts,’ says Dan, walking up behind me. I hear the sharp pop of a can being cracked, and C catches a second thrown beer. Dan hands one to me, too.

‘You remember what any of them were called?’

‘They were all just local kids. Who remembers? They were okay; nothing amazing. What’s with the paranoia?’

‘I’m just sayin’… it seems like we’re literally playing the same towns, to the same people, with the same bands… and nothing’s changing. No matter how far we drive.’

C shakes his head and smiles. ‘Sounds like Groundhog Day, and you’re no Bill Murray. Listen, I seriously gotta get some fresh air.’

He pushes past me and walks off. Dan raises his beer to me in mock salute and winks before ambling away to find a drinking buddy or an easy lay.

I feel suddenly woozy like I stood up too fast and I sink to the ground, leaning back against the wall. I crack open the warm can of beer and swig. For a few moments I feel better, until I look down the corridor and catch the eyes of a girl I realise I’ve seen at least half a dozen times before. Her eyes shine in the low light and she smiles invitingly to me, but I feel suddenly sick and lurch away toward the exit.

I spend a sleepless night in the van, waking up only when we’re already en route to the next show. My friends laugh when I stir, drop a bag on my chest with a cold burger and chips inside. I fake a smile and try to force down a few mouthfuls. I withdrawing into myself and soon enough the others decide I’m not feeling well, so conversation flows comfortably away from me.

When we reach the next town I don’t dare look from the windows, afraid I’ll see the landmarks of a place we’ve been before. When we find where we’re playing – a basement party – I shiver because I’ve seen the boarded-up windows of this squat before.

I’m moving mutely as my bandmates laugh and joke and swig from cans. I take the cases I’m handed unquestioningly, carry them inside, looking around me at the familiar faces that smile or and glance shyly away. The posters on the walls all display designs that seem simultaneously old and new. I can’t make out any of the dates. And when we take the stage, I know with a chilling certainty that I’ve been here before.

Always the same faces, always the same venues, always the same town. If this keeps up it’ll always be the same songs, too, because this rut in which we’re trapped is sapping our creativity clean away. Why write something new when there’s nothing left to you? Wherever we go, whatever we do, we’re never going home.

Comments
13 Responses to “F3: We’re Never Going Home!”
  1. GLP says:

    The tone, the incidental details and the dialogue are all very convincing and the growing sense of unreality and isolation is skillfully handled (you don’t allow it to drift into emo mawkishness). A nice piece. Congratulations.

  2. Justin says:

    What Gareth said. It’s with stuff like this that your voice really comes through.

    (And now I’m visualising a paperback anthology; Band on the Run: The Best New British Weird Music Short Fiction…)

  3. Shaun CG says:

    Thanks very much, chaps. :)

    I knew there had to be some some of artistic benefit to be gleaned from going to all those hundreds of gigs!

    Btw Justin, I’d read that but I reckon it’d be a pretty short book… although I do have another story cooking called ‘D is the Key to Open Heart Surgery’ which is also pretty rocksome.

  4. Ben says:

    I liked this a lot, dude. :)

  5. Shaun CG says:

    Thanks man – glad you dug it!

  6. ben says:

    Swell read — like the others have said, the key is the growing unease as the looping prison makes itself known. Isolation, what’s really real — nice.

    And: “God bless the improbable American millionaire.” I love this line, seriously, very much.

  7. Shaun CG says:

    Thanks, Ben!

    That particular line is kind of a reference to Erik from Dillinger 4, who according to a BCSU tour diary I read is a millionnaire who owns a mansion and occasionally puts touring bands up for the night. :)

  8. neil says:

    Sorry: I’m a bit behind.

    I really liked this. As GLP says, I think you’ve created that strange sense of unreality well and there’s a nice build all rooted in a very real feeling that arises from lots of travel.

    Nice one.

  9. Shaun CG says:

    No worries Neil, as you’ve no doubt seen from my own comments I’m not the speediest either. ;)

    Thanks for your comments. I’m looking forward to your next story!

  10. Sarah (in Scunthorpe) says:

    One of my NY resolutions is to stop being an ass and actually comment on blogs etc of my friends ;) So despite being a few months behind… I genuinely really like this and could happily read it in book form. I won’t attempt to know what I’m talking about but to me it seemed really well written, convincing, and flowed well.

  11. Shaun CG says:

    Heh, nothing ass-ish about not commenting – I’m happy that people are reading, and thanks to WordPress stats I can see that they are. ;) But comments are always appreciated as well, and I’m glad that you liked this story.

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