Roll and Rock: Another Short Story.

“You’re here for the auditions?” I was greeted with the standard perplexed expression I was so familiar with.

“What bothers you?” I said sharply, impatient with yet another judgemental face, “The wheels or the tits?” I pushed through the double doors on my own, drum stick bag balanced on my knees, and headed towards the small crowd gathered in front of a stage where they were being addressed by the bands’ lead singer, Josh.

“Welcome to the auditions to become the new drummer for The Avalanche. We’re looking for someone to come on our UK tour with us after Sam quit the band last month, and perhaps to record future music with if all goes well.

“The auditions will work like this; you will be called onto the stage in alphabetical order, where you will be asked to perform snippets of three of our songs, randomly selected by us. If we think you have potential, you will be asked to stay. Those who have potential will perform again after everyone else has left; you will be asked to do a randomly selected song in full.

“Good luck,” Josh stepped off the stage to sit with Danny and Adrienne, the other members of the band.

My surname meant that I would be one of the last to audition, so I sat back and tried to relax as I watched a stream of white men climb onto the stage and drum clumsily along to the backing tracks provided. Only a few were requested to stay behind and I could see the band growing impatient and bored. It was only when my name was called that I realised that I was the only woman to be auditioning, let alone the only wheelchair user.

As expected the stage had steps to ascend. I rolled up to them and looked over at the band, who were mortified. Adrienne stood up.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, “There’s a wheelchair ramp in the store room at the back. We didn’t think to bring it through. I’ll go get it now, and we’re so sorry!” She dashed out of the room and a few minutes later returned with a metal ramp. Josh and Danny fitted it securely to the stage with some difficulty, requiring a little direction from me as the only one with experience using them. They were all apologising profusely, although I could feel the hostile glares I was receiving from the other drummers in the hall. I repeatedly assured them that it was OK and that what mattered to me was that they dealt with the problem.

I rolled up the ramp, moved the drum stool out of my way, and pulled my drum sticks from their bag. Flustered from the flurry of activity I forgot to put my brakes on and the second I started to play the requested song, my wheelchair rolled backwards and off the stage. Now it was my turn to look mortified as I heard footsteps running to my side. Adrienne helped me upright and checked I was alright, and then I returned to the drum kit. This time I made sure the brakes were securely on, trying not to blush as the other drummers sniggered at me.

Certain that I had screwed up the audition so badly as to destroy any chance of being chosen, my nerves disappeared, and I could fully focus on the music. I hit every beat cleanly and crisply and even added my own technical flourishes where I felt they were needed. By the time I had completed my three song excerpts I was almost disappointed that it was over, especially as the band had been gracious enough not to “randomly select” the three easiest songs for me to perform out of misguided sympathy. When Josh requested me to stay behind I was so surprised that I almost fell off the stage a second time.

A little less than an hour later the band had come to their decision and were addressing me and the other four drummers who had been asked to perform a second time.

“You all did extremely well,” Josh said as he took to the stage once more. I had the feeling that he was simply trying to be nice to the unsuccessful drummers, particularly me.

“However, the decision was unanimous. We all agreed that our new drummer should be Lily Thorpe.”

There was a moment of silence while all of us sat there, stunned. There must have been some mistake. However, before I had the chance to express my disbelief, the four men around me started shouting loudly.

“Rigged!”

“This is ridiculous. You just feel sorry for her!”

“You’re only doing it to improve your social status by being all liberal and inclusive!”

“She couldn’t even get on the stage without your help; how the hell do you think she’ll manage on tour?”

Secretly, I think I agreed with them.

Josh raised his hand and their complaints died down to a murmur.

“Actually, she was the most technically proficient, she was able to insert her own distinctive flair into the music, and she clearly knows our music well. She was also the nicest, which given the amount of time we will spend together over the next few months counts for more than you could imagine,” Adrienne chipped in.

“Precisely,” Josh said, “and even if that wasn’t the case, you’ve all just proved that you’re not the type of people we want to spend time with.”

“You may take your leave,” Danny added firmly.

The others filed out of the room, chuntering unhappily among themselves. As the doors swung shut behind them, a quiet settled over the room.

“Congratulations!” Adrienne said, a big grin lighting up her face.

“Are you sure?” I practically whispered, “You don’t have to do this out of sympathy, you know.”

“We are sure, and this isn’t sympathy,” Josh said, “I’m sorry the others were like that.”

The man who had greeted me at the door now wandered into the room. His eyes settled on me and he frowned slightly.

“No luck then, I take it?” he said. To my great surprise Adrienne marched across the room and punched him on the nose.

“I’ve been waiting all day for the perfect excuse to do that,” she muttered between clenched teeth, then turned to me “I don’t know how you cope.”

“By drumming,” I replied, a small smile spreading across my face, “So, when do I start?”

***

We had filled a minivan with our instruments, wires, and amps, with Josh and Adrienne crushed together in the front while Danny took the wheel. I had bought a ramp for the van, allowing me to park in the back of it surrounded by our equipment. Every time we went over a speed bump the ramp clashed one of the cymbals right next to my head, leaving me with an intense ringing sound in my ear before we had even started.

After a two hour drive we reached our first venue, a community centre that had been converted into a bar and club the year before. We parked up using my disabled parking badge to obtain a nice, wide space. Josh and Danny, now experts at handling the ramp, had me out of the van within a minute and we began unloading our equipment. I carried wires, accessories, and small amps on my knees, relying on the others to carry the larger pieces.

The community centre had been a relatively old building, and although the conversion into a club had made it accessible, the makeshift ramps that had been bought wobbled worryingly every time I traversed them. The doorways were very narrow and I bumped my elbows and knuckles countless times as I propelled myself forwards, an act which had my arms stuck out at odd angles. The backstage corridors were narrow and maze-like and the stage where we were performing had no ramp at all, with the owners of the club having to provide an old sheet of thin plywood at a very steep angle as a poor substitute. With nothing to hold it in place at either end, I had to rely on my bandmates to hold it still while one of them helped push me up the ramp. The disabled toilet was also being used to store cleaning materials, and I had to slalom around mops and brushes.

We had finished setting up, including our sound check, about 15 minutes before the doors were due to open. Now, with nothing to take my mind off the task, I started to grow nervous. This was the first live gig I had had with any band and I knew that as the newest member of The Avalanche I would be subjected to great scrutiny. I had already been the hot topic for discussion on our social media, with everyone wondering whether I had simply been selected out of sympathy. These comments seemed to irritate Adrienne more than me, who had dealt with many sexist comments when she joined The Avalanche as it was. I didn’t mind. I had decided to prove those who doubted my abilities wrong by proving my own capability.

Once the doors had opened one of the first spectators who entered was a wheelchair-bound girl, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, proudly sporting one of our new band t-shirts. She smiled at me broadly, as did the woman with her who I assumed was her mother, and I returned the compliment. Adrienne turned round to speak to me.

“Well, you have one fan already,” she smiled.

The room slowly filled up, and the buzz of anticipation grew with the crowd. Lots of people wanted to get a good look at new drummer, and I blushed slightly. Half an hour after the doors had opened Josh leapt up to his microphone, gave a warm welcome to our spectators, and played the opening chords of our first song on his battered electric guitar. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let myself become immersed in the music. As I opened with my first drum break a round of applause swept through the crowd, some of whom were beginning to accept that I was no sympathy vote.

Image description: a black and white pencil sketch of Lily behind the drum kit.

We played for over an hour before taking a break while a stand-up comedian took to the stage for his half-time show. As I reached the disabled bathroom the young girl I had spotted before the show opened the door and rolled outwards. When she saw me I thought she was going to leap straight out of her wheelchair.

“Oh my god, mum, it’s Lily!” she looked up at her mum who was stood behind her.

“Hi,” I smiled, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Lily too,” she grinned enthusiastically, “and I want to play the drums like you!”

“Nice name and nice choice,” I laughed, “Do you want to be the first person to receive my autograph?”

Her mum rummaged around in her handbag for a notepad and pen, and then I wrote my message.

To Lily,

You are the first person to receive my autograph!

A piece of advice; don’t let those who doubt you stop you from doing what you want to do,

Lily Thorpe.

She grinned and bellowed an enthusiastic thank you before heading back into the club with her mum, chatting excitedly the whole time.

I was grateful for a drink and a rest with Josh, Adrienne, and Danny in the green room before returning to the stage half an hour later for an even longer set. We got an excellent reception from the crowd and by the end of the gig I was too exhilarated to be tired. Slowly the crowd dispersed, a few stopping to speak to us and get our autographs or a selfie. I lost count of the people who told me I was a great drummer, very deserving of my place in the band, but the best encounter of the night remained the young girl that I had inspired. It felt good to set a good example for people like her to follow.

The van was loaded up again, myself included, and then we headed off to our motel around the corner. The van was locked securely in the garage and we all filed into reception looking sweaty and dishevelled. The receptionist did not appear to be phased and provided us with the keys to our rooms. I was sharing with Adrienne, who was able to hold open doors for me as I used all my strength to push myself along the thick carpet.

I was tired beyond belief and in desperate need of a shower, and my ears were still ringing loudly, but despite all this and a hard, lumpy mattress I managed to sleep the whole night through. The next morning I got up, washed and dressed, and by 10 am we were ready to set off and do it all over again.

The TARDOW: Another Short Story.

Matt steered his wheelchair into the rickety lift that looked as if it couldn’t take the weight of a child in a pram, let alone a fully grown man in a powered wheelchair who was soaked to the skin due to the torrential rain outside. As the lift door jerked closed behind him he pressed the button for the 3rd floor, and was relieved to feel the lift start to move upwards despite the button failing to light up. The walls of the lift scraped and screeched against the walls of the shaft as it made its painfully slow ascent.

Even from inside the lift Matt could hear the thunder storm rumbling away outside, the eye of the storm almost directly overhead. He tried not to think about the fact that he was riding a metal contraption inside a metal box inside a metal lift shaft, telling himself that he was being ridiculous. However, as the lift finally stopped at the third floor and the doors began to open, lightning struck the building. Matt was aware of a blinding flash of light and a searing heat, and then nothing more.

Image description: a black and white pencil sketch of Matt as the lift doors open, just as the lightning strikes.

***

“Oh my God, this is awful.”

“As if he doesn’t have enough to deal with.”

“Poor man.”

“Shhh, he’s coming to.”

Matt was aware of whispering voices coming from all around him. He opened his eyes but it seemed as if lightning had been burned across his eyeballs, for all he could see was an intense, bright light. He turned his head from side to side, trying to gain some idea of where he was as his vision gradually returned. He was lying flat on his back on thin, hard carpet tiles, and was surrounded by smartly dressed men and women.

“Coming through, give us room to see the patient please,” a stern voice came from the stairwell as the doors opened to reveal two paramedics in their dark green uniforms, lugging huge and heavy-looking bags towards Matt. They quickly made their way over to Matt, crouching down beside him and placing their bags alongside his wheelchair, which seemed to be steaming gently.

“Now then Mr, can you tell us your name?” one of the paramedics said as she took a finger-prick blood sample.

“Matt, Matt Mills,” he replied hoarsely.

“And can you tell us what happened?” the other paramedic was recording his blood pressure readings.

“Well, I was in the lift and then I think, maybe, it must have got hit by lightning because there was a bright flash and intense heat, but that’s all I remember,” Matt struggled to make sense of his jumbled thoughts and fully expected to be laughed at for his unlikely theory.

“He still has his wits about him then,” one paramedic said to the other.

“You mean, that’s really what happened?” Matt asked.

“Apparently so,” the paramedic replied.

“You seem to be OK but I’d be happier if we could take you to the hospital and have you checked out by a doctor,” the other paramedic said, lifting supplies back into the bulky bags.

“Sure, my wheelchair-“

“We can’t take it in the ambulance I’m afraid,” one paramedic said as she helped Matt to slowly sit up, “but given that the hospital is just around the corner we’d be happy to walk with you to the A&E department if you want to keep your wheelchair with you.”

“OK, sounds good,” Matt allowed the paramedics to gently manoeuvre him into his wheelchair, which had stopped steaming.

“We’ll have to attend to our business another time,” Matt caught the eye of the person he had been supposed to meet.

“That’s perfectly understandable. I hope you feel better soon.”

Matt switched on his wheelchair, and was somewhat surprised to see that it appeared to be working correctly. Still feeling shaky he decided that his best bet would be to lower the speed and drive carefully, but as soon as he pressed the relevant button the world around him disappeared. Once again he was surrounded by a bright light, where all dimensions in space and time were meaningless. Almost as soon as the light had sprung up it disappeared again, and Matt found himself perched on the foothills of a mountain surrounded by dense forest.

Matt gazed around him in amazement. The trees were so dense that almost no light penetrated through the canopy above him, and the only thing he could see beyond the woodland was the steep mountain-side soaring upwards, illuminated by the suns’ light. What could be seen of the sky was clear, with no signs of a storm in the vicinity, and the air was cleaner and fresher than Matt had ever imagined it could be.

Suddenly a giant feline emerged from the woods to his left, running at full pelt on strong, muscular legs. It looked like some kind of prehistoric tiger. The giant fangs protruding from its mouth seemed to suggest that this was, in fact, a sabre-tooth tiger.

Matt froze in fear as the beast stared back at him, equally bemused. Then, behind the creature came the sound of running footsteps disturbing the ground, and without a second glance in Matts’ direction the tiger bounded away again.

Seconds later a group of dirty, hairy men burst out from the undergrowth. They halted their progress almost immediately in surprise and stared with intense curiosity at the spectacle before them. Matt returned the compliment, gazing at the rough spears they clutched in their grubby hands, and the way they could not quite stand upright. Their unkempt hair was as wild as the look in their eyes. Save for the carefully placed loincloths in the picture books these men looked almost exactly like the cavemen he had read about as a child.

“Where am I?” all Matt could think was that he must somehow have stumbled across a historical re-enactment group, and a very realistic one at that.

“Huh?” one of the men, who seemed to be the leader, grunted.

“Where am I?” Matt repeated, “this façade is very good but I’ve had a difficult day and I simply wish to find my way home.”

“Man,” the leader said.

“Yes, I’m a man,” Matt tried not to sound too exasperated as he considered playing along with their game, “Now can someone please help me out here?”

“Men,” the leader pointed to himself and his companions.

“I know,” Matt said between gritted teeth.

One of the men from the back of the group pushed forward, and knelt down in the dirt by Matt’s wheelchair. He seemed completely entranced by the wheels.

“Ah yes, the invention of the wheel, perhaps the most significant invention of mankind ever,” Matt smiled encouragingly.

“Eel,” the man tried to repeat what Matt said.

“Look, you don’t have to keep acting. Wheels or not, I’m not stupid,” Matt began to grow impatient. Slowly he started to move his wheelchair towards the men. They all leapt backwards suspiciously, except the one knelt by the wheels.

“Eel!” the man proclaimed more excitedly.

A flicker of doubt crossed Matts’ mind.

“Erm, you really don’t know what this is do you? I don’t think you even understand most of what I’m saying,” Matt said. He was met with blank stares.

“Although I think I just helped invent the wheel,” he muttered to himself.

He looked around him to find a suitable path, desperate to try and find a way home. Finally, he picked out a gap between the trees just wide enough to accommodate him and slowly he made his way towards it. Bored with his slow pace and wanting nothing more than to get home, Matt decided to increase his speed setting. Almost immediately, he was once again surrounded by the bright light that he had experienced before.

This time when the light faded, Matt found himself in the middle of a busy street bustling with activity. On each side of him were market stalls laden with products, vendors all shouting over one another amidst the clamour to attract customers. The women wore heavy skirts and dresses in plain, dull colours, with only the skin on their faces and hands showing, their hair wrapped beneath small, lace headdresses and caps. The men behind the market stalls were grubby and unkempt and no men other than vendors could be seen at all. Children ran screeching up and down the street with iron hoops and wooden toys, clattering and yelling all the while. Many were barefoot.

A horse and cart turned onto the street and clattered forwards through the crowd, people stepping out of the way at the very last second. Matt tried to move backwards likewise, but found that his wheels were trapped on the uneven cobbles. The driver of the coach fixed him with an impatient glare as he drew the carriage to a halt, and shouted down to him.

“Make way!” he yelled.

“I’m stuck,” Matt called back, “I’m sorry, but I think I need some help.”

“Just get out of whatever it is you are in,” the man returned, “and move out of my way.”

“I can’t,” Matt replied, “I can’t walk. I’m an, an- invalid.”

Everyone around him stopped what they were doing immediately, and gawped at the scene before them. Matt was aware of a red flush creeping across his face.

“An invalid? Out of bed? Why does your wife or mother not take care of you?”

Thinking quickly on his feet, or wheels as may be more appropriate, Matt said, “I have no wife and my mother died giving birth to me. I am alone and must care for myself.”

“I think you’ll find that’s what workhouses are for,” the man in the carriage uttered with deep contempt, “now stop interrupting everybody’s business, we have more important things to do than interact with an invalid.”

Matt could feel his blood boiling in his veins.

“I cannot help being an invalid with no wife or mother,” Matt retorted.

“Clearly the Lord has cursed you for some terrible sin, now move!” the man roared.

Matt pulled backwards on the joy stick, feeling the wheels slipping against the damp, muddy cobbles as he desperately tried to move backwards. He twisted around to look over his shoulder and discovered a particularly uneven slab that seemed to be impeding his movement. Given that no one around him was about to help, Matt did the only thing he could think to do. He increased the speed up to full and this time anticipated the white light that surrounded him.

This time when the light cleared Matt found himself on another wide street, with tall buildings of glass and concrete rising up on either side of him, seemingly touching the sky. Along one side of the street, maybe three metres off the ground, was a metal rail, and there seemed to be some sort of bus stop half way along the pavement. As he watched a long, metal cabin with no apparent driver glided around the corner rapidly, hanging from the metal rail. It slowed to a halt by the bus stop and some people clambered off before others got on, and then it moved off again. It was only then that Matt noticed the absence of any other vehicles on the ground, although there was something akin to an aeroplane trail drawn across the sky.

The pavement of the street was smooth and even much to Matts’ delight, and men and women scurried back and forth across the street carrying important-looking briefcases. Their clothes were brightly coloured and it appeared that both men and women paid equal attention to their appearances, with many men sporting overt make-up and glamourous hairstyles alongside their female compatriots. Few children were visible, but Matt suspected that as it appeared to be the middle of the day, most would be at school.

Many of the adults appeared to be talking to themselves until Matt spotted a small device tucked into the left ear of every person that passed him, a glowing image of an apple just visible. The ear pieces were seemingly linked to the watches they wore on their wrists and almost no one appeared to be carrying a phone at all.

Most people completely ignored Matt as they passed him, so wrapped up in their personal business that they seemed almost unaware of the world around them. However, one by one, more and more people noticed his presence. Everyone who looked at him seemed perplexed judging by the double takes, sideways glances, and raised eyebrows that Matt could see. Some avoided going near him at all while others simply walked past without a word.

It took Matt longer than he cared to admit before the idea occurred to him that he was no longer in a past that he had failed to learn of in history but was, in fact, in the future. How far in the future was virtually impossible to tell, there being no signs of newspaper stands in the vicinity.

After much gazing around him, trying to take in and understand his surroundings, a little girl ran up to him and tapped him on the knee.

“Why do you use a wheelchair?” she asked, “My mummy’s a doctor and she says that no one uses wheelchairs any more now that there are medi-frames.”

“Medi-frames?” Matt asked, confused.

The little girl opened her mouth to reply, but a woman who appeared to be her mother came running towards her.

“Marissa!” she said loudly, “You know not to run off like that.” She was all set to continue reprimanding the child until she noticed my presence.

“God, I’ve not seen a wheelchair since I finished my training ten years ago!” she exclaimed.

“Your daughter was telling me that no one uses them anymore, they use something called a medi-frame?” Matt asked.

“Yes, yes,” she replied, “we can treat most diseases nowadays, replace some damaged sections of the nervous system even. But for the few things we cannot treat we make medi-frames. They are specially designed robotic exoskeletons, built exactly to an individual’s parameters, that integrates with their nervous system. Have you not come across them before? I didn’t realise anyone lived like this still.”

Matt decided not to tell the truth, certain that even in this futuristic society, the idea of time travel would seem preposterous.

“I’m not from round here,” he said meekly.

“Well, what is it you suffer from?” she asked.

“Cerebal palsy,” Matt replied.

“Goodness, we’ve all but eradicated the condition by taking extra measures to prevent it occurring in the first place. The few who do suffer from the condition are treated soon after birth, most never experiencing symptoms for their whole life. I’m afraid for the few whose condition still persists, a medi-frame is all we can offer.”

Before Matt could stop himself, he said, “Well, it sounds as if great progress has been made since my time.”

“Your time?” the doctor asked.

Once again Matt was forced to improvise, “Oh, this isn’t a wheelchair, it’s a TARDOW. A Time and Relativity Device on Wheels.”

“There was time travel in the past? There is no record of this,” the doctor frowned.

“Ah, this was a bit of a one-off accident,” Matt explained.

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah, when this baby hits 8 mph, you’re gonna see some serious sh-,” just in time Matt remembered the presence of Marissa.

The doctor frowned slightly and then broke into a grin.

“Considered a great work of cinematic literature nowadays, they study it in school,” she said.

“What year is it?” Matt asked.

“2123,” she replied, “and what year are you from?”

“2018,” Matt returned.

“Ah, the Trumpian era. A troubled time for society if I remember correctly,” she said. Matt couldn’t help but laugh.

“Just a bit. And lovely as this world is I think it’s high time for me to return to the Trumpian era, where I belong,” Matt lined up his wheelchair for a run down the street, unable to resist the temptation to re-enact great cinematic literature for his compatriot. He set off at full speed down the pavement and just as he was about to return the speed to the middle setting, he yelled “8 mph” as loudly as he could. What he couldn’t have known was that his wheels left two trails of fire blazing in his wake.

As Matt had anticipated, when he returned his speed to the middle setting, he was surrounded by the white light. He was relieved to see that, as the light faded, he was sat in the office he had left his own time in, having predicted that since slow speeds sent him to the past and fast speeds to the future, the middle would return him to his own time. The paramedics were collecting their materials and making their way over to the lift, clearly unaware that Matt had ever been away. Everyone else in the office seemed to be losing interest. Aware that nobody would ever believe him if he tried to divulge his ventures, putting it down to some undocumented side effect of being struck by lightning or just putting it down to his disability altogether, he kept his story to himself. The only sign of his adventure was the small grin that was just visible in the upturned corners of his mouth, assumed by those around him to be a muscular spasm.