A hot, glistening bead of sweat emerged from a pore; it slowly began making its descent, tracing the hairline of Anton as it ran over hairs and pimples. At last it reached his jawline, where it hung precariously for a moment, quivered, then broke contact from, splashing right onto the neck of his guitar.
It was a regular Texas summer, and Anton and Skyler were allowed to spend it in a cramped backstage are, at least what the local restaurant venue hosting Battle of the Bands called a backstage. It consisted of a smelly, stained couch, a stool, a small Line 6 amp (no cables) and a tuner nailed to the wall at eye-level. The air was hot with their perspiration, and if the room did have any windows, they would be fogged. But there was shade, which could be said of the stage.
"Do they have to schedule this on the hottest day of the year?" His question was directed at Skyler, who hummed quietly as he picked out a Leadbelly tune on his mandolin and munched on a wad of chew.
"You sound like someone that aint even lived here his whole life." He took out a plastic bottle and spit his wad of his chewing tobacco out. "Know this our big night."
Anton scoffed, "Yeah, playing our local Battle of the Bands for a bunch of drunk hicks for a hundred dollar prize. Real frickin' glamorous." As he said this, he tuned his high E string sharply. The string gave a shriek and snapped, the recoil sending the end back and scratching his eyelid.
"F--k!" He clutched his eye for a minute, before opening it again. "Well, I can see, I guess thats good." Skyler chuckled, and Anton punched him in the arm. He leapt off the coach. "More importantly, wheres that SON of a B-TCH THATS SPOSE TO PLAY BANJO!?"
Skyler shook his head solemnly. "I have no idea. But if he aint here soon, were gonna be shit out of luck. And the Flyboys will probably take home the prize." Anton shuddered at the idea of the prestige going to Grayson Nancy and his pack of elitist douchebags; one synthesizer, a guitar, a bass, a drum kit, and a poor sense of irony rolled into one clusterf--k of indie musical creation. Still, they had a big, flashy sound to make up for a lack of talent, and the judges might be swayed if they thought them better than the acoustic two-piece severely lacking complete harmonies.
Anton sat back down and grabbed his backup pack of strings from his gig bag, sighing as he pulled out a virgin E string and slid it into the guitar. "My moms out there... along with half the school... not like it matters."
The door of the little hellhole opened, and a man with a clipboard and a cheap tweed jacket poked his chest around it. "You guys are on in ten. Isnt there one more of you supposed to be here?" A light breeze lifted his comb over up ever so slightly, as his sh-t-eating remained unflinchingly defiant on his face.
"Hell be here," Skyler said. "He f--king better be."
"Hey, yall best not be using that kinda language here! At least not up on MY stage!" The man gave a weak look of disdain as he exited.
"Man, f--k that guy." Anton was pacing the floor now and biting his thumb, considering changing songs and changing harmonies and other last minute arrangements that would detract from their performance no matter what. As he was about to suggest simplifying the solo, the door opened again and Andy burst in, reeking of vodka and in stained blue overalls. Skyler tried to hold him back, but Anton was quickly on him, pinning his friend to the wall.
"Where in gods name have you been, motherf--ker? We were thinking of canceling!" It was at this close distance Anton noticed the overall disheveled look of his band mate; hair rustled, face unshaven, eyebrows limp and to top it all off, a black eye. He pushed Anton off weakly with both hands.
"Forget it. Lets just play the f--kin show."
Skyler stared at him before shrugging and picking up his mandolin. "We should really go through that last chorus again, fellas." The boys obliged and picked up their instruments when the man in the comb over came through the door again.
"Hey, youre all here! Just in time. You guys better get out there; the crowds a bit restless!"
The boys looked at each other, and the look they shared was a common one among friends when they realize there is nothing they can do but go out and kick as much ass as possible. Smiled crept to their faces, and they walked out the door.
The stage was set in front of a small outdoor pavilion, where plastic chairs and tables had been arranged for viewing and eating. They arranged their six microphones on their instruments and their faces and plucked benignly at the strings until the sound guy in the back gave them a thumbs up. Andy stepped to the microphone and coughed.
"Howdy, everybody. We are Scuttlebutt, and were here to play yall some music." The crowd cheered excitedly. Anton looked into the crowd and felt nervous for the first time. He looked at his friends, mouthing the count in: one, two, three, go!
Anton struck the opening chords. They didnt quite sound like he had hoped, but he knew that it was the sound guys doing (who was actually just filling in for his brother). He smiled at Skyler and Andy as he belted his first line.
"Well I'm-a running down the road, tryin' to loosen my load, I got seven women on my mind." He looked over and watched as Skylar sang his part, then Andy finishing the verse. When they hit their harmony in the chorus, he could hear a few cheers erupt from the crowd. He smiled. They all sounded female.
The song went on into the solo, which Anton had been nervous about. He and Skyler stepped back as Andy stood in the front and made his banjo sing like an Appalachian wind rolling down the mountain. He hit each note perfectly, and Anton realized just how good of a musician he was. They stepped back up to their microphones and the rest of the song went as planned. Skyler struck his last chord, and they took a bow. The crowd seemed to be crazy over them, and the boys looked at each other with grins bigger than their egos. They exited the stage and went to the backstage room.
Anton kicked over the amp and yelled, "Holy SH-T that was one hell of a performance guys!" Skyler went and hugged Andy, who promptly pushed him away, smiling all the while. After their hollering died down, they all stood motionless, each wondering what would happen next.
"How long do you think itll take for them to decide?" Andy asked as he fell into the couch.
"Not long, considering were the last band to play."
There was a knock on the door. Surprised, Anton walked over and gripped the handle, turning back to his friends with a look of hopeful speculation. It crashed into a grimace as he opened the door and saw none other than Grayson Nancy standing with his bandmates.
"Hey guys, dont mind if we come in. Do ya?" Without hesitation he intruded into the already small room with his band. He wore a leather jacket, white pants, a red t-shirt, and what appeared to be a very thin line of eyeliner. "You p-ssies put on a pretty decent show. I knew inbreds could play banjo, but yall just went and exceeded expectations!" He laughed and turned to his bandmates, slapping them on their chests, enticing them to laugh with him. They did, though sounding somewhat forced.
Skyler approached him, "You got a reason for being in here, you stupid fat f--k? Isnt your momma gonna be wanting her makeup kit back?"
Anton and Andy hooted and laughed, while Grayson and his bandmates looked personally offended.
"Yeah, well, well see who the judges pick, and if they aint a bunch of retards-"
Andy drew a knife from his front pocket and charged him, putting the hot blade on his throat and his other hand on his hair, pulling it back and fully exposing his neck.
"What did you f--king say?"
Before he could answer, the bands had separated the two. Grayson stumbled back and stroked the back of his head.
"Youre... youre just a f--king psycho, man! Were out of here." The band exited like rats through a mouse hole.
Andy walked slowly across the room, his hands on his hips, exhaling slowly. He yelled, and threw the stool down on the ground, breaking it.
"Hey... hey man, he doesnt know. He didnt know." Anton pat him on the back, trying to reassure him.
"No. He doesnt. No one really does."
There was another knock on the door. The boys tensed up, until they saw the comb over man open the door.
"Hey fellas, the judges are about to make their call! Come on out!"
The boys looked at each other once more, and headed out the door.
It was cooler outside, and the sun was setting, shooting red and yellow across the sky like a beautiful halucination. They stood on the side of the stage, while the comb over man addressed the tired, lackluster cword.
"Hellooooooo everybody! Let's have one more round of applause for our wonderful bands, huh?" The crowd forced the enthusiasm to put their hands together.
"Now let me just say, this has not been an easy year! Never have there been so many bands with so many different... Styles..." Skyler looked over at the metal band, who featured among them an accordion and bagpipe player. Their name was Celts of Sodom, and they were terrible.
"But there can only be one winner! So put your hands together, for... THE FLYBOYS!"
The crowd barely managed an applause, so stifled with confusion over the outcome. The f--klords of indie pop took the stage and accepted the award, which featured a bass guitar crossed by two drum sticks. Andy thrust his face into his hands, while Anton muttered curses under his breathe.
Grayson grabbed the mic. "I would just like to thank all of our parents for getting us involved in music, and pinching in for occasional new instruments! I'd also like to thank our other bands, for the competition they gave us! And I'd-"
The combover man, sensing the dissent among the crowd, took the mic from his hands. "Ah-ha-halrighty then fellas! Thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming, and let's have one more round of applause for our other bands!" The crowd began to clap, but there was a more powerful sound: a chanting that grew louder and louder... "Scutt-le-butt... Scutt-le-butt... SCUTT-LE-BUTT..."
The boys looked at each other and approached the stage, overcome with the purest type of joy imaginable, ready to do an encore. The comb over man stopped them, and with a malicious face none of them had expected, threatened: "If you boys take another step, I'll see to it you never play another show in this town. Understood?" None of them shook their heads or acknowledged it in any way, except with gaping jaws. "Excellent. Now go home boys, and try better next year."