Once More, With Feeling: Part Three
Mr. Juniper had kindly arranged for a new carriage to take all five of them back over the mountains to Neopia Central, the place where the auditions for the talent show were being held. None of the band voiced their concerns about where Juniper had got the money for the second carriage, given that they had only taken the first because they couldn't afford passage via a Shenkuu ship.
"I met Tony in Altador before we left," Juniper informed the band members. "He seemed very exited about this new opportunity – said he'd try and find a wizard to teleport him to Neopia Central in time."
Throw laughed; their most loyal fan would do anything in his power to reach the city. He hadn't missed them play once since they formed.
"So who's this Mr. Childer?" Marc asked.
"Mr. Martin Childer, he's a record company bigwig, responsible for signing some of the biggest names of the century. He personally recruited Yes Boy Ice Cream, you know? He's the man you'll be playing to. He's going to decide the finalists at the auditions, and then, if... that is when you get through, you'll be sent off to the Concert Hall where a live final will take place. It'll be broadcast the world over through Neovision, and people will vote for who they like best – you'll be real people's winners."
"Who's going to vote for a zombie, though?" Stark asked.
"Zombies, for one," Juniper said confidently. "You'd be surprised how many of them there are, Stark. And they have high disposable incomes as well, practically a licence to print money!"
"This Mr. Childer, he's a tough nut to crack?" Marc asked.
"Oh, he has a reputation as being a bit harsh," Juniper agreed. "But you boys have nothing to worry about – he'll love you!"
The shadow Wocky looked critically over his desk at the two Kacheeks who had just stopped singing.
"So, what do you think?" one asked timidly.
"Honestly?" the Wocky replied, a cruel smirk forming on his face. "That was the single worst performance I have ever heard in my life. I've heard banshees sing better."
As the faces of the Kacheeks crumpled, he added, "And really, 'Kacheek Beats' is the best name you could come up with?"
The duo was led out of the audition room by a burly Jetsam, and the next hopefuls were brought in.
Four zombies trooped into the room and set themselves up with the instruments that were waiting.
"And who are you?" the Wocky asked.
"Animated, sir," a skunk Buzz replied.
"Tell me a little bit about yourselves."
"Well, Mr. Childer, we've been in the music business for years, but we've just never been able to get our big break. Then yesterday, we were in an accident in the Haunted Woods, and well... you can see the result for yourself, sir."
"Well, take it away," the Wocky instructed.
The band began to play one of their best songs, and the Wocky let the music wash over him as he considered them carefully. From the sidelines, a brown Gnorbu watched on anxiously.
When the music ended, the Wocky leaned back.
"Well, vocally, you're pretty average," he said, cutting right into Throw's heart. "And your backing instruments aren't much better."
There was a long pause before he added, "But there's something about you that works. You boys have a really solid angle, and I like it – you fill a hole in the market, and I'm willing to put you through. With one condition."
"What's that?" Throw asked.
"Just a small name change," Childer told him. "From Animated to Re:Animated."
"Reanimated?" Throw asked.
"No, Re:Animated, with a colon," Childer insisted. "It's like reanimated, referencing that you're zombies. But it's also like a reply to a Neomail, almost like you're a new band, replying to the message of the old. It's a double meaning. Clever, you see? The public will like that."
"Oh," Throw said, glancing around at the rest of the band. "Alright then, sir, we'll change the name."
"Excellent!" Childer said. "Then you're through to the next stage, boys!"
The grins that spread across their faces were unmistakable, and they were soon joined by Juniper who congratulated them all.
The next few days were like a dream to the band. They hadn't considered just how popular the talent contest was in the city, or just how many zombies there were living there. There were four finalists, but the press had seized upon Re:Animated, making it seem as if there was only one.
With the notoriety granted to them from media coverage, the band found a whole new world opening up to them. They stayed in the best rooms the Neolodge had to offer, dined in the city's finest restaurants, and attended the finest parties – all paid for by Mr. Childer, who was keen to keep his finalists pampered ahead of their trip to the final in Tyrannia.
Mr. Childer had met an immediate obstacle in the form of Mr. Juniper, who had introduced himself as their manager and insisted all contracts went through him. The dislike the two held for each other had been immediately plain – Childer viewed Juniper as an annoying busybody to be done away with at a later date, and Juniper quite rightly viewed Childer as a threat, steadily moving in to replace him. It wasn't long before Juniper was regretting introducing the band to the talent competition.
But that wasn't anything more than a minor concern to the band. After all, Juniper had messed them around for so many years, it almost seemed like he was getting his comeuppance. To them, he deserved to be left out in the cold as they were catapulted to the top.
The band meanwhile had become the poster boys for the Zombie Rights movement within the city, which already had a growing list of achievements under their belt in the fight for equality.
They were invited as guests of honour to a gathering arranged by the head of the movement, Arthur Munroe. Before the Chomby's death, and indeed after it, he had been the successful head of Neopia Central Insurance, Inc.
"I'm so glad you could all come!" the Chomby bellowed to them as they arrived in the great ballroom of his Hills mansion. "Everyone's been abuzz with talk of you four these past few days!"
"Thank you for inviting us, Mr. Munroe," Throw replied. "I don't think I've ever been in a room with so many zombies before."
"Well, get used to it, dear boy!" Munroe laughed, and then suddenly quietened his voice. "A lot of the younger folk in the movement have been becoming increasingly agitated lately – we're hoping that your example will be able to calm them all down, between you and me."
"What do you mean?" Throw asked.
He didn't get a reply. Munroe was already focused on a figure across the room.
"Oh, there's Mr. Jennings, our patron!" he told the band. "I must go and say hello, would you excuse me?"
Whether or not they'd excuse him was largely irrelevant, as he did so regardless before they could say anything to stop him.
"He's certainly a character," Richard laughed.
"No buffet," Stark said distantly.
"What?" Richard asked.
"No buffet," Stark repeated. "Have you ever been to a party where there wasn't a buffet? Or at least nibbles? I've never been anywhere with more than three people where nibbles weren't involved at some point."
"Well, we are all zombies," Richard pointed out. "Aside from Mr. Jennings. We don't really need to eat."
"Yet another one of life's pleasures we have to do without now that we're zombies," Stark said glumly. "Sometimes I wish I was dead."
Richard opened his mouth to tell him that he already was dead, but Throw shook his head to silence him.
"I'm worried about what he said," Throw told them. "He thinks we're here to set an example for other zombies – and, well, you heard what Childer called us at the audition – average."
"So?" Marc asked.
"Well, are we here because we're musicians, or because we're musicians who happen to be zombies?" Throw asked. "I wanted to succeed because we're good, Marc, not because we're part of a demographic."
"Don't listen to what people here say," Marc replied dismissively. "All these people care about are zombie rights this and zombie rights that, but the public – they care about the music. You'll see once we get to Tyrannia, everything will be different."
"You sound like Juniper," Stark told him. "Tomorrow everything will be different – how many times have we heard that before?"
"Just trust me," Marc repeated. "You'll see. These guys are extremists, half of them were probably part of a revolution before they died, they don't represent everyone."
"Let's just enjoy the party," Richard said optimistically. "If we don't win in Tyrannia then this might be the last time we're in such an expensive room, so we might as well make the most of it."
The four of them agreed, and they began to mingle on the dance floor. Throw's mind was elsewhere though, he was worried. The way things were happening, it just didn't seem right – he was there to play music, not enter into politics, and Childer seemed to want to fuse the two together to sell more records.
With a little regret, he thought of he parents in the tipi on the Endless Plains. They'd rejected the city's system completely, and Throw was becoming just another cog in the machine. He hoped they'd still be proud of him, even if he had just sold his soul.
To be continued...