The Leader of the Band Has Died

Prompt Day #87: Transform a musical instrument into a device for torture

I hate to admit that this piece has some aspects of autobiography to it. I dedicate this one to my friend from high school–Clint, I think you’ll find some of this familiar.

As for yesterday’s prompt–I’m still working on it. I have indeed written on it every day but I’ve gotten more personally involved with it than I had wanted and it needs to be done right. You’ll understand when I post it. which will be soon, I swear.


The Leader of the Band Has Died


Terry awoke to find himself standing on his toes, hands tied behind his back and a rather tight rope around his neck. He looked up to see what the rope was attached to and gasped. An orchestra’s worth of instruments were affixed to the ceiling and the rope whose nearest end now wrapped his neck was attached at its far end to the slide—which incidentally was slid out as far as it would go–of a trombone. He stared into the horn of the instrument wondering how exactly he had gotten into this predicament.

He remembered getting to work that morning. He owned a music shop catering mostly to school students and the occasional adult trying to scratch learning to play an instrument off their bucket list. He recalled checking the cash register till to be sure he had an abundance of change—not that anyone paid with cash anymore but just in case. He wasn’t sure if he’d made it over to the front door to turn the sign to read OPEN before everything went black. Now, here he was, precariously attached to a slide trombone suspended from the ceiling of what looked like an otherwise empty soundstage.

“Hello? Is anybody there?” he found that he couldn’t scream too loudly as the rope kept his neck muscles from stretching. His wrists burned and his throat was getting sore.

“I’m here” said a voice from near the back of the stage “Drum Major, sir.” Drum Major? He hadn’t been called that since high school which had been almost twenty-five years ago.

“I think you might have me confused with someone else. My name is…”

“Terry Mechling and you were the drum major for two years at Mount Armstrong High. This would have been 1991 through 1993. DO you remember?” The voice said. Terry worked his brain to recognize the voice but could not place it.

“Ok, yes, that’s me. Who are you?” He said swaying on his toes. His calves were spasmed.

“As the drum major, you were supposed to set an example, you were supposed to treat us all equally, but you chose instead to behave like a juvenile prankster, didn’t you?” Terry could hear the man’s footsteps. He was getting closer now, soon, he would be out of the shadows and Terry would be able to place his face. He never forgot a face.

“Hey, listen, I don’t know what I did to you, man, but I was just a kid. We were all kids, right? So, if I wronged you in some way, I’m sorry. Ok? And I’m grown now, just like you and I have a family at home waiting for me so…” He was babbling, he knew it. But if this was some psycho holding a grudge from high school, he needed to keep him talking and not acting.

“You have no family. You never married. You never even finished college. Big shot drum major. You own a shitty little music store and live in a garage apartment that you rent from your aunt.” The voice said. This guy had obviously done his homework.

“Ok, you got me, but like I said. We were kids. I’m sorry if I…”

“If you ruined my life? My career? Embarrassed me in front of the entire school? All those things and more. You taunted me, called me names. Do you remember ‘The Cesspool Club’? Do you remember calling me ‘Cat Piss’? Yeah, I was poor and my house stunk. But I was a talented trumpet player and you ruined me.”

“Jeremy? Jeremy Patrick? Is that you? Hey, you know we never meant anything by it.” Terry said instantly remembering the kid who he and his friends relentlessly picked on all through high school. The man stepped out of the shadows. Still skinny and pale with a white boy’s afro just taller and older than the boy Terry remembered.

“Yes. It’s me. Do you like my band?” He swung his arm out and over his head. “It took me years to perfect it, just like the solo I’d prepared all year for that you ruined.”

“What are you talking about, Jeremy?” Terry said, immediately irritated with the kid who irritated him endlessly as a student.

“I’m talking about the Anbesol soaked mouthpiece you put in my case the night of my big solo. Homecoming, 1993. Our senior year. Remember that?” Jeremy said now just a few feet from Terry.

Terry chuckled, he couldn’t help it. He did remember that night. Jeremy’s big solo, at half-time. Homecoming 1993. Terry and a friend of his, a girl who Jeremy had made the mistake of trying to flirt with, came up with the idea of soaking the mouthpiece in Anbesol. They watched him prepare for the solo out on the field. Watched him lick his lips and blow into the mouthpiece, warming it up. They giggled quietly as they watched the Anbesol take effect and the kid’s lips go numb. When Jeremy’s solo came round, he blew it—literally. The thought of it, made Terry laugh out loud.

“Yeah, you remember that, I see. Well, what you and your friends didn’t realize was that my family was there that night and the orchestra professor from the State University. They were planning to offer me a full ride scholarship. I had invited them to the performance in the hopes that it would make up their minds. Well, it sure helped them decide what to do with their money. So, yeah, you’re little trick cost me my education, my future.” Jeremy was talking through his gritted teeth.

“Jeremy, look, I’m so sorry. I really am. I had no idea. We thought it was a funny prank, but it wasn’t and look, if it’s any consolation to you, my life hasn’t exactly been prosperous” Terry said and then “I think we could call it even and you let me go.” He tried not to sound so desperate but it came out as a whine.

“We will be even as soon as I have another chance at greatness. Only this time I’m playing an entire orchestra.” He again gestured to the ceiling. Terry looked up. It looked like the work of a madman. Instruments somehow affixed to beams in the configuration of a band. “You are going to choose the piece though, I want to impress my drum major, and I want you to see how far I’ve come. So choose a piece, classical, march, anything you want.” Terry looked at his captor, confused.

“Is it so hard to understand? Choose a piece for my orchestra to play for you…but if I were you, I’d give a lot of consideration to what the trombone parts are in that particular piece. I mean, you wouldn’t want to pick a piece where the trombones play too many high notes, you know what I mean?” He laughed. Terry shivered. Did Jeremy have some mechanical rigging that would allow the trombone to pull its slide up thereby hanging Terry? Surely not.

“Come on Drum Major, you better think of one or I’ll have to come up with something for you. Maybe Beethoven’s Fifth?” Jeremy walked over to a table and opened a laptop. He typed in a few codes and spot lights came on, shining onto the instruments. Terry saw that they were affixed in a much more complex way than he first assumed. Each piece was indeed attached to a number of intricate mechanics, pistons and the like. The first pounding notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony bounded out of the ceiling, reverberating in the room and vibrating through the rope around Terry’s neck.

“Oh Shit!” He yelled, realizing that this was much more serious than he had originally guessed. Jeremy meant to kill him.

“I can call up any song you want. Or if you really can’t choose, I could probably come up with something…maybe a musical soundtrack. Seventy-Six Trombones was always a crowd pleaser, don’t you agree?” He smiled at Terry, his hand hovering above the computer.

“No! No, give me a second, let me think.” Terry begged trying to mentally sort through all the songs he ever conducted with the band, trying to come up with one that used very little trombone. He just couldn’t think. He couldn’t remember. “If I come up with a song, and I survive it, will you let me go?” He asked Jeremy.

“Hmm, I guess that’s fair, isn’t it? But if you can’t pick one in the next five minutes, I’ll choose for you.” He said. Terry feverishly worked through marches, symphonies, musicals, everything he could think of. He had no idea, he couldn’t think his mind was a big trembling sheet of white.

“Mozart! I want a Mozart piece, an opera maybe.” Terry said. Thinking of all the piano and strings Mozart tended to use in his operas.

“You’ll need to name one…perhaps Requiem, seems appropriate. He never finished it, you know? He died before it was completed.

“Ok, sure, Requiem” Terry said, having no idea if any trombones were used in it. But if Mozart didn’t finish it, there was a chance it would be shorter than others and he might have a chance. Jeremy walked over to his laptop and typed it in. The lights slowly worked their way up the wall to the instruments again. The piece began with a soprano singer and higher pitched music, while the trombone pulled him up and down, Terry found he could manage to breathe each time his feet hit the floor. As the music flowed on, Jeremy appeared in front of him, conductor’s baton in hand, miming the movements that Terry himself had once used to lead the high school band.

“My very favorite part is coming up” Jeremy whispered conspiratorially to Terry “the Tuba Mirum.” Terry relaxed a bit, the tuba could play all it wanted, he needed a rest, he could hear his breath wheezing as it passed through the straw hole diameter left by the tightened rope around his neck. “It’s such a peppy little trombone solo.” Jeremy said and went immediately back to his faux conducting.

Terry panicked. Did he truly choose a song with a trombone solo? Before he could answer himself, the solo began and he was quickly lifted up by his neck a foot or two off the ground. He was lowered down again almost to wear his feet would touch and then back up again. He could no longer breathe at all, the noose tight against his throat. He bounced up and down with the slide of the trombone as Jeremy danced around in front of him conducting furiously. The edges of Terry’s sight began to first grey and then turn black, his chest felt ready to burst, still the trombone puppeted his body about like a marionette. He could barely make out more than the outline of Jeremy when he saw him pull out an instrument of his own. His trumpet. He lifted it to his lips and motioned for the other music to cease with his baton, somehow, it did. The trombone slide dropped and Terry came back down to the tips of his toes. Enough slack to allow him to exhale and draw a slow, painful breath.

“I wanted you to hear my solo played without any interference, then I will let you finish Requiem per our agreement.” He said. He lifted his trumpet and in the silence of the sound stage, began to play a crisp, clear, and mournful Taps. When he had finished, he bowed his head for a moment. It was still a blur to Terry who was only able to steal the smallest bit of oxygen from the air. Jeremy looked back up, smiled at Terry, winked and brought both arms up quickly with the conductor’s baton. The trombone snapped to attention, pulling its slide up and snapping Terry’s neck in the process. Like the writer of Requiem, he never heard the end.