In the winter of oh-six, the fortune cookie plant in town closed down after a communion wafer company from North Carolina bought it out and it left everyone in town pressed for a job. Everyone still drank as much as they did when they'd had work to blame their drinking on, that didn't change. What changed was how people got a hold of money to pay for their fixes, which made the town buzz a bit more. Smith, Thompson and I were sixteen then, with the usual thoughts that boys have slinking and smiling on their way from their brains down to the most southern tips of their extremities. We had those thoughts every second of every minute and we always thought they'd stay thoughts because between the three of us, the best our combined physical features could have made if put together would have resembled something similar to a deer's ass. So we did the most logical thing we could think of to turn those sticky thoughts into action. We started a band. I played bass, Smith played drums, and Thompson sang. We got a gig at The Nose Job a few miles away in Glamadis because Smith's sister knew one of the sound guys, and we told him we could play the first half of some record I can't remember.
We couldn't afford to rent a van to drive to the show so we had to get a little creative: there was a guy who lived in the hills a mile outside of Broadville. Everyone called him Dig. For a while, sometime in oh-six, our town had a feral dog problem and Dig was the man our parents would call if they saw a dog acting funny. He'd come out with a twenty-two and take care of it. Everyone appreciated him until one night he shot the Franklin's Labradoodle during a bender, and we didn't see him much after that. We needed money and Dig knew how to help so I got his number and called him up. His latest venture at that time involved copper: “I get it from the dumpyard, mainly,” he told me over the phone, “T.V.'s, radios, shit like that...” I remember I could hear him spit after every sentence. “I'll tell you what, I've been setting my sights a bit higher. Power lines. You boys help me out and we'll split the take down the middle.” I agreed and Dig told us to meet him halfway to Beaumont, in an old left-for shit tee ball stadium.
For the next week, me and the boys practiced every night in a little shed behind Thompson's grandma's house. We were working our way up to having five songs, each a little over two-and-a-half minutes long, and each sounding a bit better each night. We had to rig the microphone from a two-by-four rafter beam because we didn't have a mic stand. We would plug the mic into our little PA that Smith stole from his church, then throw it over the beam so it hung right in front of Thompson's face. Every time he sang, once he really started to get into it, his lips would touch the swaying mic and he'd get little shocks of electricity sent though him. He would lick his lips every time it happened, which would prime them nicely for the next time he made contact, but when he'd get shocked his body would tense for half a second and he'd make a face that creased with tiny little angles that measured a feeling we hadn't known yet, that existed between pain and pleasure. Smith and I tried to think of ways we could shock Thompson on stage at The Nose Job, but never really figured it out.
That week, after a Sunday night practice, I called up Dig to make sure we were still on. He told me the when and where and we all piled into Thompson's mom's station wagon, into which we'd finessed an extension ladder running half the length of the car and a few feet out of the back window. I tied a piece of red electrical tape to the feet of the ladder before we pulled out of the driveway so a cop wouldn't pull us over and find our sweet tea & bourbons.
After we got a mile-and-a-half outside Broadville the sun was already down and the sky was turning the late summer night purple and milky like a giant cataract. We took a left at the stop sign by McCuther's catfish pond, a mile past the bullet pocked stop sign that had streetlight running through the holes our dads and granddads had put in it. Thompson was in the front seat tapping his knees as he tried to write lyrics for a song we'd been working on. “It's going to be about drinking,” he said, as he started to sing through mumbles: “something, something your backseat / something something Vomit Street.” From where I was sitting, I could see his face as he sang, and worked through the lyrics; I watched his face tense while it waited to get shocked. We drove the rest of the way listening to Thompson squeak out lyrics.
When we finally got to the tee ball fields, we were all half lit and dangerous, the ball fields spread outward from a tall concession building, bone grey bricks breathing through a multicolor weave of what seemed like a hundred years worth of graffiti. Smithy and Thompson were whipping each other with fistfuls of horseweed that had taken over the outfields of the diamonds. We looked everywhere for Dig and found him sitting in a recessed dugout. He stood up, spitting and I told him we'd brought a ladder, and we followed him towards the edge of the fields where the power lines and poles stood.
“You boys are playing music upstate?” he said, scratching his head, little pieces of dried dirt flaking from his hair. “That's what you need the money for?” A hock of spit followed.
“Yessir,” Smithy burped out. “We’re playing at The Nose Job.”
“Huh. Yeah. You know I think I've been there before. They've got like a fucked up back patio thing there, like a wooden thing out back?”
“We haven't been yet,” Thompson said, wiping his mouth from a bottle he'd stuck in the waistline of his pants.
“Huh. Well, nose job, tit job, whatever, all you boys need to do is hold that ladder for me while I climb. Dirt's too loose at the base of these poles.” Dig slapped and humped the pole. “Making money tonight, boys.”
We propped the ladder up against one of the poles while Dig tied on a yellow leather tool belt. He made his way up the ladder, pausing for a moment at each step to slide the tool belt back up his waist.
“Alright, listen to this one,” Thompson keeping the ladder propped up, “I'm thinking this'll be in the second verse of the new one.” Thompson grunted out something like “That vinyl seat you're making squeak / I think it's asking for another drink.”
"Jesus Christ," Smithy laughed out. "You're a fucking moron."
"I don't hear you two offering up lyrics," Thompson said. His breath smelled like chewed raisins.
I looked at the highway that arched over the train tracks that ran the edge of the ball fields. The road was atop a hill that blended in in the sky at night, near invisible; you could see headlights small as stars coming at you in the distance. Then they'd disappear as they drove up the hill. A car had disappeared for about five seconds, that's when the POP happened. Then the celestial flash from ten feet up. And then the thud. Dig landed on his back about eight feet away from us, his eyes still open. Smithy and Thompson and I looked at each other, our mouths all open a bit. Smithy and I walked over to Dig. We smelled the shit first, then felt the nose pinch from burned hair; Thompson was a few steps off, throwing up his swallows of sweet tea & bourbon. Smithy kicked at Dig's ribs with his shoe but there was nothing left: a red-skinned man lying in red dirt, surrounded by charged air. We decided to leave the ball fields to let someone else find him. No one said anything on the ride home until Smithy suggested we take the station wagon into town, and tie the bass drum to the roof with a blanket over it; Thompson and I nodded.
We played at The Nose Job a few weeks later in front of five people out on the floor and an older couple playing grab-ass in a half-moon booth. After the show, on our way home, we tried to write a song about Dig, but we couldn't think of a word that rhymed with “electrocuted.” Halfway back to Broadville, we stopped at a diner and watched the sun come up as we dipped toast in broken yolks.
Dylan Smeak is currently an MFA candidate at the Writer's Foundry in Brooklyn, N.Y. His fiction has appeared in CheapPop, New World Writing, and is forthcoming in Deep South Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.