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Story 2

John Bruni


Imagine you are the editor and the submitting writer does all the work for you.... That is John Bruni.

Imagine you are a rock star from the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies. Imagine that you move on to a bigger and better solo career. Imagine that everyone you knew and loved from those days is dead and gone, except for the one guy who went on to become a used car salesman in Decatur. Imagine that Rolling Stone recently named you the best old guy in the business. Then, imagine that you encounter a younger version of you and all of your old band mates and fellow rock stars, only instead of the ghosts you think they are, you discover that they come from another part of the galaxy, drawn to earth by rock ‘n’ roll, eager to throw a party before their parents destroy the planet for being subversive....

-- John Bruni

My work has appeared most notably in SHROUD, MORPHEUS TALES, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, PRODUCT OF SOCIETY, CTHULHU SEX MAGAZINE, TRAIL OF INDISCRETION, AOIFE’S KISS, TALES OF THE TALISMAN, THE BRACELET CHARM, HOURSE OF BIZARRO, and a number of other magazines including anthologies from Pill Hill Press (A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE), Comet Press (the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS), and Nightblade (LOST INNOCENCE). I also have stories that will appear in forthcoming issues of ALL HALLOWS and THE REALM BEYOND. My first novel will be published this year by MUSA. I was the poetry editor of MIDDLEWESTERN VOICE, and I was the editor of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE.





By John Bruni

I see the younger version of myself hanging out with all of my dead friends in the front yard of my building, and I think I’ve finally died. Then, I wonder how I died. Can’t be the drugs. Been off ‘em for years. And I remember getting home safely last night. No way I croaked in my sleep. Rock stars just don’t do that.

My knees feel a bit watery, so I sit on the steps and watch the 22-year-old me walking with my old band mates. Ronny, who died in a car wreck in ’82. Jeff, who got too drunk at a party and choked on his own puke in ’76. Freddy, who . . . as far as I know is still alive. I think he’s a used car salesman in Decatur. What the hell’s he doing here?

And why’s King James here in that stupid Sgt. Pepper get-up? He OD-ed in ’72. And Jenny, the lead singer of “Peace ‘Copter,” didn’t she get murdered in ’79? And there’s that moody acid freak, Timmy Franks, prancing around behind her. Poor bastard slipped in the tub and cracked his skull in ’86.

But here’s the thing: none of them looks like they did when they died. They all look like we did back in ’69. Hell, some of us still have pimples on our faces.

It’s got to be a prank. Even though I haven’t cut an album in five years, I’m still touring annually. Rolling Stone just named me the best old man in the biz. I have a few good years ahead of me. My point being, I usually have at least some fans or paparazzi camped out on my lawn.

Where are they today?

I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the window. Pitch black long hair. I have to dye it, but it’s all still mine. Skinny, craggy face from all the years of wear and tear, but I’m still swimming in chicks. Both People and Us magazines still think I’m sexy. I’m dressed in a fedora and leather jacket, tight jeans and boots. The feathered boa might be a bit much, but the fans expect it.

So, I’m really here. I’m not dead. I should take this as good news.

And then, Young Me approaches. “Guys! It’s really him! See? I told you so!”

Good. These are just fans. I can deal with this.

Jenny lifts a hairy eyebrow. “You sure? He looks kind of . . . old.”

That little barb digs in more than I’d care to admit. I’m about to retort when Young Me says, “Come on. It’s to be expected. We received the transmission years ago.”

I don’t quite know what to make of that one, so I ask if they want autographs. They exchange glances, and I wonder if they heard me. I open my mouth to repeat myself when King James says, “What’s an autograph?”

“Never mind that,” Timmy says. “What I want to know is, how did Vietnam end? It did end, right?”

Young Me slaps him on the chest. “Knock it off. If you’d watched their TV transmissions like I told you . . .“

“Hey, don’t hassle me, man. I had other things going on.”

They argue back and forth, and I get this cold, shuddering feeling in my belly. “Who are you guys?”

Young Me grins like a kid. “Sorry. We’re big fans of you, but we live so far away, it took decades to get here.”

“That’s, um, some trip.”

“No,” Timmy says, “we’re here for the trip. We saw, like, Woodstock, and we figured you guys knew how to have fun.”

“Well, some of us do.” I think back to my drunk and disorderly charge in Alabama, back in ’77. The sheriff of that county had a decidedly different idea of fun, and I still have the scars to prove it.

Young Me takes over again. “Look, we really like your music. We don’t have rock ‘n’ roll in our part of the galaxy. We’re just here for the party.”

“Galaxy?” Didn’t Timmy think he was a space cowboy back in ‘72?

“We know times have changed, sir. Like I said, we’ve come a long way. But we just want to hang out on this planet for a while. You know, party.”

I sigh. “There is no party, guys. It’s been over for years. The drugs aren’t even good anymore. You should go home.”

King James shook his head. “We’ve come too far.”

“But he’s old,” Jenny said. “He might break if we breathe on him wrong.”

“He practically looks the same!” Young Me says. “He’s almost sixty-five, and he’s not frail at all! He still tours!”

I must really be crazy, because I find myself thinking about letting these loonies into my condo. I think it’s boredom that makes up my mind for me. Too many people I meet on a day-to-day basis are the same these days. So what if these guys think they’re from outer space? This could be fun, and it’s been a while since I’ve hung out with fans. Besides, I want to know how they got their costumes done so well.

“Come inside for a bit,” I say. “We’ll talk about the old days, but then you have to go.”


Three years ago, I would have had a fridge full of beer for them, or a bunch of top-shelf liquor. Now, I give my visitors Sierra Mist. At my age—-and in this business-—good vices are hard to hold on to, especially if you have people who care about you. My daughters made me quit drinking. Probably for the best, but sobriety puts a crimp on being social.

I flop down in an easy chair and watch as my fans wander around my trophy room. They marvel at the platinum and gold. They finger the instruments. They gawk at my Grammy.

“Okay,” I say. “How did you get the costumes right?”

Young Me beams. “They’re holograms. We scanned them from the Woodstock footage.”

“Funny. But how’d you really do it?”

Timmy holds up a finger, both eyebrows raised. “Check it out, man.” He places the finger behind his ear, and his body shimmers. Timmy’s gone, replaced by a mass of yellow and green . . . things. I can see arms that aren’t really arms, not even tentacles, and there is a head with vague features. Gray veins seem to pulse all over the body.

Maybe it’s the strange life I’ve led, or maybe decades of drugs, but this doesn’t startle me as much as it should. Perhaps I actually find comfort in knowing these cats really are aliens. I nod my head. “Far out.”

Timmy switches back.

“What’s this?” Freddy touches a turntable.

I explain what it is, and then say, “It’s from the old days. No one uses them anymore, really. We have this now.” I pull my iPod from my pocket and tell them what it does.

Jenny grunts. “You guys are so primitive. Why don’t you have music that plays in your head?”

“Um.” Well, what can I say?

“Man,” Young Me says, “are those books?” He points to a corner shelf where I keep biographies about me and the band.

“Yep,” I say. After the thing with the turntable, I think it best to keep my mouth shut.

Young Me flips through some pages while Freddy peers over his shoulder. “What’s all this white stuff? I get the words, but what are they on?”

“Paper,” Young Me says. “Didn’t you pay any attention in school?”

Once again, Jenny scoffs. “What’s wrong? Didn’t kill enough trees?”

Contrary to the rumors, I never slept with Jenny. I wanted to, Lord knows, but we never got together. I always regretted this, but as much as the alien looks like her, she isn’t her. She’s pissing me off, so I defend our culture: “We have e-readers now. Most of us read books digitally.” I show her my Kindle.

She yawns. “A new novel comes out, we jack it into our heads. It’s fast and easy. How do you think we learned English?”

“Cool it, Jenny,” Young Me says.

“No wonder the Emperor marked this place for death.”

A hush falls over my visitors, and all I can hear is the beat of my own heart. “Emperor? Death?”

Young Me grimaces. “Sorry. You weren’t supposed to know that. Our version of your president also saw the TV transmissions. News stories about Vietnam. He thought you guys were too dangerous for the rest of the galaxy, and when you made it to your moon, that made up his mind to send warships here.”

This makes no sense, and I stammer for a moment. “That’s . . . that’s just stupid! Vietnam was decades ago! We’re not like that anymore! The technology I showed you means we’re getting better!”

Young Me nods. “You guys are a lot less violent, at least. And if given enough time, maybe you can work through the garbage your leaders feed you.”

“That’s why we rebelled,” Timmy says. “Just like you and Vietnam.”

“Most of these guys are related to me,” Young Me says, “and I’m the Emperor’s son. I came up with the plan to steal a starship and come here, mostly because I thought Father wouldn’t blow up a planet with us on it.”

“Boy, were we wrong,” Timmy says. “We received word that shortly after we left, he launched warships anyway.”

My heart savages my ribcage. I pray this is some kind of acid flashback. “They’re on their way here?!”

“Yeah,” Young Me says. “But don’t worry. You still have another year to go before they arrive.”

“But . . . .” I gag on my own words. It takes a moment to clear my throat. “You guys don’t have rock ‘n’ roll. We could export it. We’re valuable.”

“Not to everyone. Father thinks people like you are too subversive.”

“We like it, though,” Jenny says. She smiles for the first time, and all of a sudden, she’s my Jenny. I’m twenty-two again.

“I’m sorry we missed the party,” King James says. “But we can still make our own, right?”

I feel like I should tell someone, but who? My agent? I met the President once, but would he take a call from me? And would he listen to my crazy ramblings? What about the press? They’d crucify me. I’d be lucky if a tinfoil hat-wearing podcaster broadcasting from his mom’s basement would take me seriously.

I’ve been thinking about writing new songs. Maybe I can get an album out before the warships arrive. Get all the bile out of me. My swan song. I know the end is coming, and I know I can go out on top.

But we can save that for tomorrow. Tonight, I want to remember what fun is like. I send out for booze and coke and some weed to help chill us out later. I search around my studio for a stale pack of smokes, which I always kept around when I’d first quit . . . just in case.

I don’t invite anyone else, though. This is my party. My past.

I consider the iPod for a moment, and then I toss it out the window. I turn up the volume on one of my old records and dance with my dead friends. Even though the rush of youth floods my system, I feel like an outsider because there is Young Me, singing along and using all of my old moves, the ones my hamstrings can’t handle anymore.

My band mates surround me, and the illusion is banished. We all do shots, and the fear I feel for the end of the world dulls.

After decades of fantasies, I finally bang Jenny. I don’t know how we do it, since her body is an illusion, but we manage. With the party still roaring in my living room, I hold Jenny with one hand, a joint with the other, and stare up through my skylight, to the stars above.

One year to go, and there’s nothing I can do. Or is there? Maybe it’s just because I’m feeling younger, but optimism creeps back into the folds of my drug-addled, age-feebled brain.

When I was younger, a lot of people thought I was a waste, that I offered nothing to the world. But I do: rock ‘n’ roll. And now, I’m critically acclaimed.

HA! If only my high school music teacher, the one who told me I’d never amount to anything, could see me now. I wonder what Officer Carney, who arrested me at least a half-dozen times before I dropped out of school, would think of my unique position in this situation. Not even my own mother thought much of me.

I can save the world. Never underestimate the power of music. To top it all off, I have the Emperor’s son on my side. How can I lose?



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