Once More, With Feeling: Part Four
Re:Animated and the other three finalists were sent off to Tyrannia for the grand final a few days after. After the bright lights of the city, the prehistoric locale was a little bit of a let down, but the Concert Hall more than made up for that. Normally a prestigious venue on any occasion, the Hall had even more people than usual packed in as music lovers from all over the planet travelled to the event. As they arrived, Throw noticed a sizable number of zombies amongst the crowd, in enough numbers so that the non-zombies were a little apprehensive to give distasteful looks.
The Concert Hall's backstage area had been annexed by an additional large tent that housed makeup rooms, green rooms, and room for much of the technomagical equipment that would allow the global Neovision broadcast of the final.
The band were shown to a dressing room within the large tent – it was far bigger than any dressing room they had ever previously had, but then most of the time it had been the toilets of whichever tavern they were playing in.
"It's a big crowd, isn't it?" Richard said nervously only a few moments after they sat down.
"Very big," Stark agreed.
"We'll be fine, just don't let the nerves get to you," Throw told them, but in truth his legs felt like jelly.
"Did I tell you? I saw Tony before we left Neopia Central," Marc told them. "He said he can't come."
Silence filled the dressing room as the band stared at him in disbelief.
"What?" Throw asked. "Tony's never missed anything! Even when we were busking!"
"I know," Marc agreed. "But apparently the tickets for this show have been really popular, and he couldn't get one from the ticket stall, so he had to get one second hand. They're selling for a lot, and he spent most of his remaining savings on one – turns out he got a fake. Now he's stuck in Neopia Central with almost no money to his name. He was really cut up about it."
"It won't be the same, without him in the audience," Stark said.
"There are hundreds of thousands of people here, Stark," Marc told him. "Even if he was here, we'd never know."
Behind them, the door to the dressing room opened, "Boys!"
"Hello, Mr. Juniper," Richard greeted him with less enthusiasm than he meant to.
"I've just heard, you're on second!" the Gnorbu explained. "This is it! This is where you go big time! Now just remember who got you here, alright?"
"Yeah, we will," Throw replied, before pushing past Juniper. "I'm going for a walk."
He may have given the impression that he was angry, but in truth he was just nervous. Being cooped up in a room with four other nervous people wasn't going to help the situation. Instead Throw wandered through the corridors of the backstage area, trying to get some air. The place was so much like a maze that he was soon lost, but he eventually came across the green room.
There he found some of the other acts waiting, along with several celebrities, high ranking politicians, and leading businessmen.
"You're Throw Beret, aren't you?" an elderly zombie Cybunny asked him.
"I knew your mother, Myra, before she left the city," she told him. "A lovely lady. What's she doing these days?"
"Living in a tipi," Throw told her.
The old lady let out a laugh, "Just like her as well! Sit down for a little while, Throw, I'd like to talk to you. The name's Shirley Franklin."
Throw hesitated as he sat, "The Shirley Franklin?"
Throw had never seen any pictures of her, but his parents had owned practically all of her back catalogue. According to his parents, she had been a successful singer back in the day, playing in the very early days of the Tyrannian Concert Hall. Throw had effectively grown up listening to her music.
"Something the matter dear?" she asked.
"Nothing," Throw replied. "I just... didn't know you were a zombie, that's all."
The old lady smiled politely, "That happens sometimes. I'm hearing great things about you and your band, Throw."
"Really?" Throw asked. "About the band? Or about the music?"
Shirley nodded, "Both, as a matter of fact. I take it you're not too happy about the way you're being marketed?"
"Not really, no," Throw told her. "We're here to play music, not to bring equal rights to zombies."
"You're never going to do that," Shirley chuckled. "Trust me, I've been around for my fair share of years... equality, it's just a word people use to say they want to be on top, not equal. Young zombies today, they're angry, but most of the time I think what they're really angry about is the fact that they're dead, not that they don't get a pension. There are even a few in the movement whose entire reason for being here is to be in the movement."
"Reason for being here?"
"Every zombie has one," Shirley explained. "A reason why they stayed behind, why their spirit didn't move on when they died. Most zombies simply accomplish whenever it is and move on, just like a ghost – but if their reason for existing is simply to exist, well, then they never stop."
"What's your reason for being here?"
"If I knew that, I wouldn't still be here, dear."
"You don't believe in the Zombie Rights movement?" Throw asked.
"Don't get me wrong, it's done wonders," Shirley replied. "Back when I first became a zombie, we couldn't even walk down the street like a living person. Why, whenever I performed I had to wear stage makeup to hide who I was – we have it so much better now, but young zombies just don't seem to understand that. It's not enough for them, and nothing ever will be. Throw, if you don't want to be the poster boy for zombies for the rest of your life, you'd best make a stand now."
Throw nodded slowly, "Thank you."
Re:Animated were called to the stage soon afterwards, and Throw was allowed only a brief conversation with the rest of the band before they were thrust onto the stage. The crowd that had been waiting in the afternoon sun erupted into cheers as soon as they saw who had come on stage – the zombies were the ones they had come to see. From his position to the side of the stage Juniper could see everything. To him, the crowd's reaction meant only one thing. Re:Animated would win, he knew it. He rubbed his hands together expectantly.
Out on stage, the four members of the band took their positions. Throw stared out into the crowd. There were thousands of people all cheering madly at him, and Neovision cameras were focused on him, beaming his image across the world. There were more zombies in the crowd than Throw had originally seen when he had arrived, and the ones inside the Concert Hall had banners which they had unfurled. Throw stood there for a few moments taking in the different slogans.
Zombie Rights Now!
Long live zombies!
Throw was suddenly struck by something – there wasn't a single banner about the band. They were all about zombies instead. In that moment, he understood. No one had come to see them play. They had just come to see zombies play.
Throw turned to look at his friends. He saw the looks on their faces, the same look that was on his face. They all understood. This wasn't why they were there – it was all wrong.
Slowly, Marc nodded at Throw. Then Stark, and finally Richard. Throw nodded back, and turned to the waiting audience.
"We didn't come here for this," he said clearly into the microphone that carried his voice across the planet. "We didn't come here to promote zombie rights or change the world, nothing like that. We just came to play some music. This isn't right, it's not why we're here. I'm sorry. We're sorry."
With that, he stepped back from the microphone. Together, the four of them left the stage to the stunned silence of the crowd.
"What are you doing!?" Juniper shouted at them as they reached the side.
"Leaving," Throw replied simply.
"You can't do that!" Juniper shouted. "If you leave now then we're finished!"
"Then we're finished," Throw told him, walking right past him.
On a quiet morning in Neopia Central, four zombies emerged onto a rooftop in the middle of the city. Quietly, unnoticed by the travellers below, they set up their instruments and then slowly they began to play.
The people below reacted at first with surprise, continuing on their way. But soon enough, one person stopped to listen. Then another. Then more. A blue Skeith who had been begging nearby was drawn by the noise, and a broad smile spread across his face as he realised who was playing. He took off his jacket, revealing an Animated T-shirt underneath.
Eventually, there was a sizable crowd below, and even a few Neovision cameras from the local news stations. The band smiled to each other as they played. Everyone there had stayed because they wanted to hear the music – not because they were zombies or anything else.
This was what the four zombies who were playing were waiting for. That was why they were there – that was why they had remained.
Eventually, the music stopped, and below the crowd applauded. The Buzz leaned close to the microphone.
"Thank you, Neopia!" he shouted. "We've been Animated. Good night!"
With that, the four zombies fell forwards abruptly, now nothing more than lifeless corpses.
They had done what they needed to do; it was time for their spirits to move on.
In the street below, the crowd began to thin. Though they left the location, the memory would remain with them forever.
The songs had ended, but the music would go on.