Once More, With Feeling: Part Two
"Zombies," Stark cursed. "We're zombies."
The Draik sat down abruptly and buried his head in his hands.
"What are we going to do now?" he added. "No one's going to let zombies play! We're going to be stuck playing in the Haunted Woods for the rest of our lives!"
He paused, considering that they didn't really have lives anymore, and then started bawling loudly.
"Calm down!" Richard snapped. "It's not like zombies only live in the Haunted Woods anymore. They're everywhere, even in Neopia Central."
"And Altador?" Stark asked critically, glaring at the little Grundo. "You ever heard of a zombie living in Altador? We'll be lucky if they even let us play."
"I don't think we have to worry about that, guys," Marc pointed out.
The Krawk was stood near the wreckage of their carriage.
"There's no way this heap of junk is getting to Altador. It won't even get to Neovia," he added.
"We'll have to walk," Throw stated.
The other three Neopets stared incredulously at the Buzz.
"Walk all the way to Altador?" Stark asked. "In one night?"
"No," Throw explained. "Not in one night. We'll be late, of course. I don't know about you, but I'm not keen on sleeping rough in the Haunted Woods, even if we can't die anymore. There're still plenty of other things that ghosts, vampires, and Werelupes could do to us."
The location of their crash suddenly came to their attention. They were on the outskirts of the woods, but the noise of their plummet would surely have attracted anything in the area.
"Let's get back up to the road," Marc agreed. "It's Altador or bust."
"Might be both," Stark added sadly as he dragged himself up off the floor.
Slowly, the four of them scrabbled back up the mountainside to the small dirt path they had left only a few minutes before. When they were near the top, they heard a voice calling down to them.
"I say! Are you alright down there?"
Throw found a hand being offered to him, pulling him back up to the level of the track.
A green Quiggle with exceptionally thick glasses was staring down at him with a concerned expression.
"What happened?" he asked.
"The Whinnies broke free, and the carriage went right over the edge," Throw explained.
Richard, Stark, and Marc all reached the path.
"No one was hurt?" the Quiggle asked.
Throw stared at the Quiggle for a moment. Through his glasses, he clearly hadn't noticed the rapidly paling skin and glassed over eyes that the band now had.
"No," Throw lied. "No one hurt, thank the stars."
"Where's about you boys heading to then?" the Quiggle asked. "I can give you a lift back to civilisation, if you like?"
"Altador," Throw told him.
The Quiggle smiled, "Well then you're in luck! I'm heading to Altador myself! Climb aboard, boys, not much room I'm afraid, but it's better than freezing to death on this road!"
The Quiggle turned to his waiting cart and climbed up on the front. The four musicians didn't need telling twice and climbed on the back of the cart.
"You're a deliveryman?" Throw asked as they got settled amongst the packaged goods.
"The name's Gerry Ford," the Quiggle called back as the cart started moving. "Of Ford & Hallam Haulage. We specialise in next day deliveries for time sensitive goods. Why are you boys heading to Altador?"
"We're musicians," Throw told him. "We've got a gig to play in the city."
"Oh!" Gerry gasped. "Famous, are you?"
"Not really," Throw admitted. "You ever hear of Animated?"
"Can't say that I have," Gerry admitted. "I guess I've caught you before you hit it big then, eh?"
Throw gave a glance to the rest of the band, "Yeah, you could say that."
He didn't voice the silent communication that the band had just given each other. In truth, not one of them now believed they would make it to the big time. Between Juniper's repeated failures as a manager and their new status as members of the undead, it seemed unlikely they were going to go anywhere.
Thanks to the speedy delivery service of Gerry Ford, the band made it to Altador in time, soon after lunchtime. All he had demanded as payment were autographs from the band, under the assumption that when the band became famous, they would be worth far more than a ticket to Altador.
The land of the golden sun greeted them with a somewhat lukewarm reception. The sight of four zombies in a city of legends and excessive gilding drew more than a few concerned glares. Before long, the band were subconsciously sticking to the shadows to avoid the pressure of others staring. They sought out their destination as quickly as they could, hoping that being inside would make it better.
The place they were playing was called the Olive Leaf Club, a small venue in the park district of the city, dwarfed by the lavish buildings and statues that surrounded it.
The club's owner gave them a strange look when they arrived, but largely out of embarrassment didn't comment and instead showed them to their dressing rooms.
"What are we going to do?" Stark complained. "We can't go out there and play; we'll be laughed out of the place! Or worse, pelted with vegetables!"
"Well, we can't just leave!" Marc insisted.
"We just have to make the best of it," Throw agreed.
"The best of being dead?" Stark laughed. "Oh yes, I'm sure there're many perks, but somehow I don't think not needing to breathe underwater makes up for not having a pulse!"
"There's no need to be like that, Stark, it's not my fault," Throw pointed out.
"No," Stark agreed. "It's Richard's fault. He was driving."
"The Whinnies slipped their reins!" Richard told him. "There was nothing I could do!"
"Let's not blame each other," Marc shot across the two before an argument could start. "What happened happened, there's no changing it now. We're zombies and we'll just have to learn to live with it... er... die with it."
Richard and Stark quietened, agreeing to bury the hatchet for the time being. They passed the remaining time in silence, until Richard spoke up.
"What do you think Mr. Juniper is going to say?" he asked.
"I'll be surprised if he doesn't drop us," Stark said. "If it's been this hard to get us work as it is, he's got no hope of getting four zombies gigs."
"It hasn't been this hard," Throw snapped. "Juniper hasn't been trying; that's the problem. He just not a good manager, we all know that. If he hasn't dropped us by the end of tonight, we need to drop him."
"Oh yes, it'll be much easier for four zombies to get work if they get rid of their manager," Stark muttered.
"You might be surprised," Throw replied with optimism. "We'd be able to get work in the Haunted Woods if nothing else."
Stark remained silent, but it was clear he considered working in the Haunted Woods to be a poor substitute for success.
Stark had been wrong – they weren't laughed off stage, pelted with vegetables, or even booed at.
Though, from the band's perspective, what happened was far worse.
The night started with what was, for Animated at least, a sizable crowd. They even cheered as the band came onstage in the darkness. Though, when the spotlights came on the cheers abruptly died and were replaced by stunned silence until the band started playing. The white light accentuated their already grey skin, making their status as zombies even plainer than usual.
As the band proceeded to play, the crowd began to thin. Rather than booing or jeering, people were simply leaving in disgust. The zombies weren't even worth their insults, creating an even bigger and somehow more effective insult.
It got to the point where there was only a few Neopets gathered towards the back of the room that had remained. It was then that Mr. Juniper arrived. His face immediately fell when he saw the band, and the lack of occupants in the room. But strangely, as the band continued to play, a smile spread across his face.
"Good job, boys!" were the first words the Gnorbu managed when the band left the stage.
"Good job!?" Throw asked. "Everyone left! We're finished!"
"Finished?" Juniper questioned. "Boys, we're only just getting started!"
"Have you missed the fact that we're zombies?" Stark asked.
"No, I've seen it," Juniper told him. "And that's exactly why you're on the way to the top!"
The band was stunned into silence.
"Didn't you just see what happened?" Stark asked eventually.
"Yes!" Juniper answered. "Didn't you? Didn't you see who stayed?"
"A handful of people at the back," Throw said.
"A handful of zombies at the back," Juniper explained. "They stayed because zombies on stage aren't something bad to them. That's how we can get you boys to the big time!"
"From a few zombies in Altador?" Throw asked.
"Not in Altador!" Juniper sighed. "This city's about as backwards as... well, a very backwards thing. There are other cities out there, boys. I'm talking about the big lights – Neopia Central!"
Juniper took a small poster out of his pocket and unrolled it so they could see.
'SEARCH FOR A STAR'
"A talent contest?" Throw asked. "You're suggesting we enter a talent contest?"
"But, Mr. Juniper..." Richard said. "I thought you always said that talent contests only produced one hit wonders, that people needed to go through the hard slog in order to have proper careers?"
"Forget what I said, boys!" Juniper said quickly. "This is it! Your chance! The winner of this contest is going to play in the Tyrannian Concert Hall! This is your ticket to the big time!"
The four band members exchanged sceptical looks. They all doubted their chances at success, but now they were zombies, they didn't have any other choices.
To be continued...