David Sandner and Jacob Weisman
The Prophet wore an old plastic shower curtain with a hole in the middle, hand-painted green with blue stars and crescent moons, draped over his head like a poncho. Most of his band had left the stage, except for a drummer pounding a deep, simple beat and a guitar player wearing a wedding dress and dark glasses. Early on their had been about 15 guys on stage, some horns, keyboards sampling ocean surf or planes landing, a bass, a group of drummers, and a bunch of guys trading off guitar riffs and back up vocals. Others just stood around wearing gold-spangled turbans and purple robes. An eight-year-old boy, brought out by a group of dancers, stood amid the chaos blowing bubbles.
They had played some good, loud dance beats early on, but with weird lyrics about outer space, the Egyptian pyramids, and the Bermuda triangle, then the Prophet had motioned members of the band off piece by piece until the loud dance beats dwindled to a pulse, and the Prophet, who had been dancing and waving his arms, sat cross-legged, then curled up in a ball at the far edge of the stage, whispering into his microphone. A dim red spotlight reflected on his thigh-high mirrored-silver boots and day-glo black laces. Sweat glistened off his face and arms and, shirtless beneath the shower curtain, on the fat rolled up over the waist of his black stretch pants. Orange feathers tied into his dreads fell forward onto his thin gray beard. He wore dark sunglasses even in the thick smoky blackness of the club. I had never seen anything like him before in my life.
The music was called Funk, which my brother said had died about 15 years ago. The band was called Egyptian Motherlode, at least that’s what they were called now. They had a bunch of names, rotating members, and a couple of regional hits along the Eastern Seaboard back in the 70’s. That’s what their bass player told me anyhow. His name was Eric. He wore a brown trenchcoat, T-shirt, spandex shorts, and bright, pink hightops.
I stood off-stage with Eric and my brother A.J. watching the Prophet. My brother and I were half a rap group, Crushed Ice, which was supposed to have been on stage an hour and a half ago, except Egyptian Motherlode wouldn’t get off, their dance numbers extending through chorus after chorus, and now the Prophet droned on unintelligibly. Suddenly straightening the microphone, the Prophet’s voice became clear in a harsh, amplified whisper.
“The Time has come to speak of something far more deeply interfused,” the Prophet said. “A Funk Sublime—a motion and a spirit that impels and rolls through all things—where every groove belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
My brother groaned and shook his head. Toward the back of the club patrons were starting to get up and walk away.
“The time has come,” the Prophet said, “to speak of all unspoken things—why the darkness is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings.”
He vocalized low, pulsing hums, sometimes crying out, sometimes falling silent. I cold see Rat, part of the other half of Crushed Ice, at the back of the club, outlined in the doorway, trying to chase customers back to their seats. I had known him only about a week and a half. Our agent back in Oakland, Bobby Times, had put my brother and me with rat and Desmond just for the tour. None of us was happy with it. Now, opening night, by the time we got up on stage at all, there wouldn’t be anybody left to play to. I didn’t know where Desmond was, probably talking to the manger, trying to make sure we got paid whether we played or not, whether there were customers or not.
The Prophet made a low hum or growl that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
“Funk is the sweet voice—Funk the luminous cloud—all melodies the echoes of that voice—all colors a suffusion of that light.”
“Tell it like it is,” Eric shouted. Although the way he said it, dull and flat, I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. When I talked to Eric before the show he’d been in awe of the Prophet. Now he didn’t seem so sure.
“Nobody wants to hear this shit anymore,” Desmond said, coming up behind us. “Get him off the stage. It’s embarrassing.”
I didn’t like his tone. He was desperate. A bead of sweat ran down his temple. He wore a black beret, a tan button-down shirt, green fatigues, and black boots. He towered over Eric and me.
“Look, man, people are leaving. The manager isn’t going to pay us if everybody leaves.”
I looked out at the audience. A minuet ago there had been around 20 people, now there were six. Rat joined us. He had his hair tied up into stubby tails of red and green rubber bands. He put his hand on Desmond’s shoulder. Desmond’s face was red. He was blinking rapidly and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
“This is our shot,” Desmond said. “This is it.”
“Shit,” Rat said.
“I have touched the fire flowering from the sun,” the Prophet said, sitting up “and felt the Martian darkening wave pass beneath my feet—and I have swum the gaseous sea of Jupiter—but it meant nothing to me—for I have been where Alph, the sacred river ran down to a sunless sea—where gardens bright with sinuous rills blossom many an incense-bearing tree—and seen the Red King asleep and dreaming of me.”
The room burst with white glare and we had to shut our eyes. When we opened them again the Prophet stood there on the stage, the microphone limp in his hands. He let the mike drop to the floor and walked off-stage on our direction.
Desmond stepped in front of him as he passed. Eric grabbed Desmond’s wrist but he shook him off. Rat and A.J. had to hold Desmond back. I stood between them and the Prophet, my hands up, warding, wondering what I would do if Desmond got loose. He was the biggest of us and right now the veins in his neck stretched out in long purple tracks from the top of his chin to below the line of his shirt. A.J. whispered, harsh and quick, in Desmond’s ear, but he shook his head, no.
“Let him go,” said the Prophet. We all turned in surprise as if we’d forgotten he was there. Rat and A,J, loosened their grip and Desmond leaned forward, menacing. The Prophet touched his hand. Desmond started as if shocked by static electricity. His face, first surprised, drooped.
“It’s my fault,“ the Prophet said. “We played too long.”
“This is our shot,” Desmond said. “All we get.”
The Prophet turned and walked off, followed by the guitarist in the wedding dress, and then Eric. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
“All we get,” Desmond repeated, more to himself than to any of us. A.J. nodded, but Desmond didn’t look up. He put his face in his hands and started to cry.
That night I dreamed of waking, crouched beside a man laid out on a table. I thought it was a hospital and the man an etherized patient, but he was dead and the table was made of stone. The white-haired man was laid out in ceremony with silver pitchers full of amber fluid and gold platters piled up with molding bread. I dreamed of a rive, a great black river, slow-moving and inexorable, overflowing the banks of my imagination.
(end excerpt…want more? Let us know! There is the rest of this story, published in Realms of Fantasy, and a novel currently in process…let us know there is an audience!)