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Sunday, June 18, 2023

A Reckoning of Souls

Sunday, June 18, 2023


Marcus Sherwood had a routine. He'd wake up, stumble into the bathroom, and catch a reflection of his sleep-deprived face in the mirror. His beard was a stubbly mess, his hair was unruly, and his once-shimmering blue eyes looked like unpolished marbles under the burden of his memories.

This was the glamorous world of a has-been solo artist, the world he thought he wanted for himself a painful lifetime ago. How he arrived here, and in this shambled state, however, was not the journey he expected to take.

But there was time enough to dwell on shattered dreams later. He was a busy man, after all, so back to it.

Marcus's current morning routine was simple enough these days – wake up, shake the piss out, lose a staring contest with the once-was in the mirror, then trudge to wherever he felt like sitting in sorrow for the day.

Sorted.

One morning, the radio decided to throw a spanner in the works. It spit out a new song that caught Marcus's attention. "A Soul Undone," it was called. As the melancholic notes wafted through his shabby flat, the style was unmistakable.

"Jacob…" His raspy voice echoed back from the blank walls around him.

But it was the lyrics that struck a chord with his struggling soul. They mirrored – no, mocked – his turmoil, his pain, and his regret. They talked about a fallen star, a lost friend, and a journey never began. It didn't take him long to realise the song was about him.

Marcus felt a bitter laugh escape his lips.

"How easy it is to sing about someone's suffering when you're not the one living it," he thought.

The song brought back a whirlwind of memories – the stardom, the glamour, the brotherhood, and then the betrayal. His old band, his friends, they had turned their backs on him.

And now they wrote a song about him?

He felt a sudden surge of resentment and promptly turned the radio off.

The next day, Marcus's mobile buzzed, displaying Lily's name, his long-standing agent.

He had left her a somewhat fiery voicemail the previous night, irked by the lyrics of "A Soul Undone," convinced that it was a slanderous portrayal of his downfall and an obvious bid to capitalise on his misfortunes.

"Marcus," Lily's voice came through, carrying a sombre tone he wasn't accustomed to, "I've listened to the song, and I've spoken to Jacob-"

"Jacob? What the hell does he have to do with it?" Marcus interjected, his bitterness seeping through.

Marcus's mind started to reel backward, back to the painful day when it had all fallen apart.

The band had called for a meeting, everyone looking unusually solemn. Jacob, always the quiet one, had been the one to speak up. Marcus remembered the nervous glint in Jacob's eyes, the way he had avoided direct eye contact.

"We've been thinking, Marcus," Jacob had started, his voice barely above a whisper, "and we've decided that it might be best for the band if... if you pursued your solo career."

A pang of hurt gouged at Marcus as the memory lingered. The pain of losing his place in 'Seeking Souls' had wounded him.

But what had cut the deepest, what overshadowed everything else, was the betrayal. Jacob, the lead guitarist, his best friend in the band, had been the one to oust him.

Marcus had recommended Jacob to the band when another member left to start a family. He opened his doors to Jacob when his boyfriend dumped him for an ex. Marcus even bought a PRS Santana II replica for Jacob’s birthday, knowing Carlos had been the reason he fell in love with playing guitar in the first place.

And the one deep secret Marcus dared to share with Jacob was his curiosity for where a solo career would take him.

"It's not what you think, Marcus," Lily's voice pulled him back to the present. "Jacob wrote 'A Soul Undone'. He's the one feeling the regret, feeling guilty about how everything fell apart. The song is not meant to slander you."

Marcus was silent for a moment, absorbing this new information. Then he scoffed, "An apology then, is it?"

"I don't know if it's an apology, Marcus," Lily admitted. "Maybe it's his way of expressing regret, trying to reach out in the only way he knows how – through music."

Marcus wanted to argue, to express his resentment, but Lily didn't give him the chance. She continued, her voice soft yet assertive, "Marcus, listen. You've got every right to feel bitter, but this bitterness is consuming you. Why not channel it? Put it into your music. It might help you, and who knows? It might even touch others who have been through the same."

Marcus was initially dismissive, but he couldn't shake the thought off.

After another couple of days spent in his dingy apartment with nothing but his thoughts and the constant playing of "A Soul Undone" on the radio, he decided to give it a shot. He picked up his guitar for the first time in months. His fingers felt stiff and foreign against the strings, but as he started strumming, it felt right.

It felt like home.

Every chord, every note he played echoed the emotions of the song. The melody brought back memories of rehearsing in the studio, performing in packed arenas, the camaraderie, the passion, the energy.

But it also brought back the hurt of being backstabbed and discarded.

Remembering what Lily had told him, Marcus tried to see the song not as a mockery but as an apology, a tribute, an ode to the good old days. He began writing, channelling all his pain, regret, and struggle into his lyrics.

Marcus had started his journey of introspection and self-discovery, but it was not without obstacles. Every day was a test of his resolve. Though some things hadn't changed – he obviously couldn't afford the comfortable life he once had, and making ends meet was still a constant struggle – Marcus found himself in a different routine, one focused on rebirth.

One such change was reconnecting with old acquaintances at the local studios. Marcus made visits to Resonance his new Saturday thing.

Sat outside waiting for a room to clear, Marcus struck up a conversation with a session drummer he remembered from the club circuit so many years ago. Standard small talk moved to deeper waters quickly, as they always do when old musicians chinwag.

"How do you do it, Billy?" Marcus finally asked. "I mean, honestly, your whole life has been beating skins, but it seems your biggest pay-outs are session cheques and an occasional honourable mention on the sleeve."

No sooner had Marcus said it when he felt the embarrassment of his words. People laughed at his downfall, and the media was unrelenting in their portrayal of him as a washed-up artist, and here he was, practically insulting one of the few peers who actually took time to act more than civil. He moved to apologise, but Billy spoke first.

"You know, Marc, I used to ask myself the same question. I was fighting upstream, constantly struggling to find my feet in this cutthroat industry we felt was our calling." Marcus nodded, then Billy beamed. "But then I went on a date."

Billy's smile became a soft chuckle at the confusion that washed over Marcus's face.

"She didn't know I was a musician. Maybe it was the embarrassment of not feeling I reached my full potential, or simply that I was tired of having the same conversation about not catching a break end in the same pity-filled stare from someone who wants to sympathise but never fully understands. I just let her believe I was climbing the slow corporate chain at Staples." Billy pushed out a sigh with his shrug.

"Anyway, she grabbed me one night and dragged me to a club to hear her new favourite band play. I knew who they were, had even sat a session or two with them, but I acted like this was all new to my ears. Then…" Billy looked past Marcus, and a grin born from the fondness of the memory touched his lips. He pointed a finger at nothing and poked the air. "…then, she had me close my eyes.

"It was in that moment, Marc, in a room surrounded by strangers, in the darkness of my mind, that I heard it. Not the song that I'd heard way more times than she realised, but the purpose. I heard the reason we play. I heard the people.

"We don't play for the fame – or at least we shouldn't – but for the soul, Marcus. We play because something inside has something to say, and so many other souls want to be part of that conversation."

Marcus sat, unsure of himself in this simple but oh-so-sage revelation.

"Something else happened that night. The band saw me in the crowd and invited me up. They showed me the next song on the set list, one that I recognised. As soon as I took the sticks, though, I closed my eyes again. There was that sound, all those familiar strangers out there waiting to have a conversation of souls. Marcus, it was the best damn gig I ever sat! And it was just for one bloody song!

"I now know, if I'm playing for the recognition, or even just for the payday, I'm not doing right by my soul." Then Billy nudged Marcus in the shoulder. "Do yourself a favour, Marc. Go to a concert. Go in disguise if you don't want the attention but go anyway. And at some point, close your eyes and listen to the real music – the fans."

That's where Marcus found himself a few weeks later, smashed into the masses at a concert, waiting for 'Seeking Souls' to grace the stage. Incognito, of course.

It was surreal, watching his former bandmates on stage, basking in the adoration of the crowd.

That was his world once, but now he was an outsider looking in.

When they started playing "A Soul Undone," he felt a lump in his throat. Surrounded by the roaring crowd, he felt a profound sense of loneliness. The song, his song, echoed around him, amplifying his pain and regret.

Yet, this is what he was here for, wasn't it? Marcus was choosing to confront his pain, his past, head-on. He closed his eyes and listened…

Back home, he now knew it was time to perform again, and opted on a small local pub which held open-mic nights.

He had played to sold out crowds in some of the world's largest arenas - The O2, Mount Smart, Madison Square Garden, Dalhalla - but he couldn't recall ever being as terrified of the stage as he was in this moment.

His hands trembled as he tuned his guitar, his heart pounded as he faced the small crowd. The first few chords were shaky, but then he found his rhythm. His voice, once the melody for thousands of fans, resonated in the confined room.

A mere two songs into his set, and just as he was getting comfortable, a voice from the crowd shouted out, "Play 'A Soul Undone'!"

The room fell silent.

The call was a mockery, a cheap shot meant to humiliate him. For a moment, Marcus was back at his lowest point, back in his apartment, alone and resentful.

But he shook off the feeling.

He took a deep breath and started strumming the familiar chords.

His rendition was raw, filled with unfiltered emotions. The room was captivated by his performance, his authenticity. By the end of the song, the room erupted in applause.

Marcus, the fallen star, had touched the hearts of more than a few that night.

A fan captured his performance and posted it online. To Marcus's surprise, it went viral. People began talking about him again, but this time, it was different.

They spoke about his emotional rendition of the song, about his authenticity, his courage.

His small victory ignited a spark of hope in his heart. He seized this opportunity and decided to work on a new album, a testament to his journey.

Marcus dove headfirst into the creative process. He poured his heart into his lyrics, addressing his pain, regret, resilience, and hope. His days were filled with relentless writing and composing. Each song was a piece of his journey, answering each stanza of Jacob's "A Soul Undone" in their unique way.

With each passing day, Marcus felt a change within himself. His bitterness was gradually being replaced with a newfound purpose.

The public, too, began noticing the change. Fuelled by the success of the fan video, he streamed his progress on YouTube. His music, raw and emotionally charged, resonated with many, and a following eagerly awaited the finished opus.

Marcus Sherwood, once the fallen star, was now viewed as the phoenix rising from the ashes.

From the moment it was released, Marcus's album was a hit. Critics lauded its profound honesty and depth, while fans appreciated its intensity and authentic self-reflection. His music was finally getting the recognition it deserved.

Yet amid the applauds and praises, the most impactful moment arrived in the form of an unexpected call.

Seeing Jacob's name flashing on his screen brought a flood of mixed emotions. He took a deep breath, swallowing his apprehensions, and answered.

"Marcus," Jacob's voice, familiar yet so distant, echoed through the speaker. There was an audible hesitance, a palpable guilt saturated in that one word.

Marcus responded with a guarded, "Jacob."

Silence hung in the air for a moment before Jacob broke it. "I heard your album, Marcus. It's... it's incredible."

The compliment was unexpected, but Marcus merely replied, "Thanks."

There was a pause before Jacob continued, his voice noticeably heavier, "Marcus, there's something else I need to say."

Marcus waited, his mind racing with the possibilities of what Jacob might say next.

"Back when we were all together," Jacob began, "I could sense you were restless. And when you told me you were curious about going solo, well... I mistook it, Marcus. I thought you were planning on leaving us, leaving me, leaving everything we'd built together."

There was a raw vulnerability in Jacob's voice, and it took Marcus by surprise.

Jacob sighed audibly before continuing, "I felt threatened, Marcus. I resented the thought of you leaving us for something better. And instead of talking about it, I... I recommended your departure. I betrayed our friendship, and for that, I'm truly sorry."

Marcus felt a surge of emotions, but he stayed silent, giving Jacob the space to continue. "And, 'A Soul Undone'… it was about you. I've wanted to say sorry for so long, but I didn't know how, and... it's just how I deal with things, through music."

Marcus was silent, absorbing Jacob's confession. He hadn't expected this level of honesty, especially not from Jacob, who had always been so reserved. His confession brought a new perspective to Marcus, and a wave of understanding washed over him.

The song he had initially perceived as slander was, in fact, a desperate attempt at reconciliation.

The realisation stirred a whirlpool of feelings within him.

"Jacob..." Marcus began, but words seemed to fail him. His mind was swimming with emotions, grappling with Jacob's unexpected honesty. After a pause, he finally found the strength to reply, "I never intended to abandon our friendship. You were... you are my friend, Jacob. And the band... it was never just a steppingstone for me."

Jacob's call was a bitter-sweet moment for Marcus, but it was significant, a closure he didn't realise he needed this badly.

The conversation was a revelation for both, an overdue heart-to-heart that started to mend the broken bridges of their past. It wasn't an immediate fix, but it was a step towards understanding, towards healing.

He didn't need to go back to 'Seeking Souls' to find his place in the world. He had carved a unique path for himself, a path that was fuelled by his struggle, his resilience, and his music.

Marcus Sherwood, the solo artist, had finally found his rhythm.

His story didn't end there. Marcus continued to inspire other artists facing their struggles through his music and journey. His experience served as a beacon of hope, demonstrating that downfall wasn't the end, but a new beginning.

Marcus found peace in his solo career and his renewed relationships. His journey was no longer defined by his ousting from 'Seeking Souls'. Instead, it was defined by his struggle, his resilience, and his triumphant return to music.

In the end, Marcus realised that the song, "A Soul Undone," was not just about him, but for him. It was a call to action, a catalyst that propelled him on a transformative journey.

And as he strummed the final chord of his latest song, "All as One," he knew that he was no longer the 'undone soul'.


Story By Topher Winters.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

What Families Do

Saturday, June 17, 2023

family holding hands in nature watching the sunset


“Where’ve you been?”

Hudson heard a familiar voice from across the foyer. He looked from his mailbox to see his brother, Christopher, sitting on the floor.

Hudson said, “Hey Bro! Long time nose-y! You know… Concert with friends. You lost? Whaddya want?”

Christopher ignored his brother’s question. “How many concerts you been to?”

“Fifteen. I think. So far. ‘Bout one per week.” Puzzled, Hudson asked, “Why are you here?”

He started up the stairs. His brother followed.

Christopher asked, “Local bands?”

“We follow the tour.” ‘What’s he want?’

“How you afford flying around the country?”

“We drive. You’re lucky to find me home. ‘Bout to hit the road.”

Hudson opened his apartment and made a show of letting his brother enter first.

Christopher sounded skeptical. “That’s a lot of music.”

“They’re great. Play my favorites. You interviewing me for Entertainment Tonight? Where are the cameras?”   

Christopher pressed on. “What bands?”

“Call to Order.” Hudson shut the door.

“Always the same band? Never mix it up?”

“Love their music. The best.”

“Yeah, I get going once, maybe twice. But every week?”

“It’s what I do. Why d’you care, Chris? You come all this way to ask about my musical tastes?”

“But really? Call to Order? Should be ‘Cult to Order.’ Hudson, that’s not being a fan. Addiction’s a disease.”

Hudson offered his brother a chair at the kitchen table, paused and took it himself. Christopher paced.

Hudson prodded, “Funny coming from the ultimate cultist. The folks send you?”

“What are you talking about?”

Hudson started humming theme music from the TV series. “‘Mission Im-parentable…’ You drank the folk’s Kool-Aid long as I can remember.”

“You remember even five minutes ago? Calling the folks a cult?”

“Forever, Chris. Always a suck up. You don’t even…”

“They’re our parents, Hudson. Call them once in a while.”

“…see what they’ve done to you.”

“Caring for them doesn’t make me a cult member. It’s called family. Ever hear of it?”

Hudson said, “I’ve got real family. Personally selected. Not an accident of birth… They care about me. We love our music and our lives.”

“Some family. More like vagabond group-think. Driving around the country like a bum… You call that making something of your life?”

“You wouldn’t understand a healthy relationship if…”

“Right... Bunch of degenerates. Given the chance, they’d roll you into a ditch and leave you.”

Hudson frowned. “That what you’re hoping for?”

“Talking about your so-called family, Hudson. Loyal till you run out of gas.”

Hudson regrouped. “So, you don’t have problems? Come here to lecture…”

“Deal with them. Don’t celebrate them.”

“Listen to yourself, Chris. Should see what I see. Wish you could hear what we hear.”

“Heard them. Kind of trashy, but okay.”

“My point. You tune in going to work and think you know their music. You don’t know squat.”

“That may be. But then I have a job. Different priorities, ‘bro.’” Christopher said ‘bro’ as ironically as possible. 

“I don’t pretend problems don’t exist. Do you see them? Or is your capacity for denial so gargantuan…”

“Said the clueless one.”

“Talking to yourself again?”

Feeling pity, Christopher shook his head at his brother. Each wanted the last word. Ever thus.

Hudson broke the silence. “So, again, what is this? You harassing me for fun? Or what?”

“You need to see the folks.”

“Because?”

“Let’s see… You haven’t seen them in years…”

“You saying they missed me?”

“Of course. They want to see you.”

Hudson laughed. “Right. Because?”

“You need a crisis to make a gesture? To give them a little time?”

“There a crisis? Or not?”

Christopher stammered. “Mom’s sick. You need to come home with me.”

“Now?”

Christopher looked at the spare apartment. “You have more pressing business?”

“Yeah! Hello? How about a little notice? Ever listen? I’m leaving town for a concert.”

“The band you’ve seen a dozen times this year?”

“So…?”

“Buy the CD. Let’s go.”

“I already have a ticket. Can’t not go.”

“Sell it.”

Hudson shook his head. “Not likely. You have no idea what it took… How sick is she? Sniffles?  Or dying?”

“It’s not a cold.” Their eyes locked. “Don’t know how serious.”

“But it’s serious.”

“I only know it’s not a cold. She asked me to get you to her. She’s not calling you to dinner, Hudson. You really going to refuse?”        

Hudson pulled a bulging duffel bag from a closet. He rummaged through it doing a quick inventory. He ran into the bathroom and came back carrying his shaving kit.

“The concert’s in two days. I’ll drop by, after.”

“Are you high?”

“On life, man. Try it sometime.”

“Well, sober up.”

“You need to lighten up, Chris. You get anxious in an empty room.”

“Grow up! Don’t you get it? This isn’t a request. It’s an order.”

“You’re not my boss.”

“It’s not my order. I’m delivering a message. Don’t be a dope.”

“If it’s so important, why aren’t you with her now? Sure that’d please her more than seeing me.”

Christopher threw up his hands. “What if two days from now is too late?”

“Of course. Suddenly face time is important. You know what they did, Golden Boy. And you carried water.”

“Yeah, I know all about your Mickey Mouse crap. Suck it up. Get real. Get over it. They treated you like a prince.”

“Family doesn’t abandon...”

“My guess about your deep family bond? You have a car… Tell me you still have the car the folks gave you…”

A young woman drifted in from the bedroom and curled up on the futon. Though barefoot, wearing sweats and a Call to Order t-shirt, she looked great. Cat like, she studied the brothers.

Seeing Christopher’s look, Hudson turned. “Hey, Stormy.” She made a little wave. “That’s Loraine.”

“What does she want?”

“Nothing. She has more rights here, than you. Your permission’s not required.” They eyed each other. “Chris, meet Loraine.”

“You can call me Stormy.”

“Hi Loraine.”

She turned away to hide her smile.

The energy in the room had changed. Christopher sensed he’d lost momentum.

“Look, Hudson. I’m not going to hog-tie you and haul you to see them. Do what you want. But please remember this may be a one-time thing. No do-overs.”

Buying time, Hudson stretched. He looked at Loraine.

“Stormy… I gotta do something with him… my brother… you know, Chris. I’ll catch up with you at the show.”

Christopher looked at the door. “Look, never mind. Do your thing. This is a bad idea. Shouldn’t have come.”

Imitating a police siren, Hudson began hopping around and flailing his arms. Loraine cracked up.

Adopting a haughty attitude, Hudson straightened up and spoke stiffly. “Make up your mind, mister. I just said I’d go.”

Christopher rolled his eyes. “No. You’re right. Your being there won’t be productive.”

Loraine said, “I’ll go with you.”

Hudson balked. “No, Stormy… You’ll miss the concert.”

“But I’ll miss you more.”

“I don’t know… It might get ugly.”

“It won’t get ugly. I’ll be there.”

“Really? You’d do that?”

“Of course. In a heartbeat.”

Christopher kept shaking his head. “What’re you doing, Hud…? Think... You’re not going to a rave. You can’t invite a bunch of…” He caught both their looks. “Look, Mom’s…”

“Earth to Chris… What? Now you don’t want me to go? Have you lost it?”

He didn’t answer.

“What if we randomly showed up to Mom’s? Without your dragging us?”

“As if…”

“You can’t control everything. If you could, you’d be fixing Mom. Right?”

Christopher looked down.

Loraine said, “I don’t know what you guys are doing, but I’m going.” She rose and walked into the bedroom.

The brothers exchanged looks.

Christopher said, “What now?”

“See? You’ve created a monster.”

“You taking her?”

“That’s always been the plan. Only question is, where?”

Christopher sighed and went to the door. “I’ve got a drive ahead of me. Expect you’ll figure it out.”

Hudson nodded. “Thanks, man.”

“Hope to see you.”

He turned and left.

Hudson dialed his phone and waited. “Hello, Ma…? Yeah, Hudson. You okay…? You want company? Cool. We’re leaving directly... See you tonight.” He disconnected.

Loraine brought her roll-away into the living room. “Ready?”

“I owe you, Stormy. Can’t believe you’re doing this.”

She embraced him. “It’s what families do, right?”

They kissed and laughed. He took the handle of her bag and picked up his duffle. They walked out together. She shut the door behind them.


Story By John K Adams.

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