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Contemporary Drama Fiction

It was a bustling Saturday market in the town centre as shoppers shuffled from one makeshift stall to another, hurriedly scooping up summer delights, food specials, and recently fresh produce that conflictingly looked like it was on its last days of edibility. Time was limited. Not because of the early closing hours but due to the approaching war knocking at the gates of their small and peaceful village.

The threat of a stray bullet or missile striking the marketplace was high on the agenda of the defiant cautious crowds of hungry citizens hoping to see the dawn of the next day. Feet moved quickly; haggling was kept to a minimum, and bartering was an additional currency employed by those in the need. A bag of apples for a few eggs, a loaf of bread for some corned beef. Pay any price was the sentiment. The war had already begun to produce food shortages.

“What else can one get for a piece of blue cheese?” A rickety old man asked one of the many fruit sellers.

Starvation was an unapologetic auguring threat on the horizon of a war with no end in sight, so stocking up with the right food groups was essential to survival. That, and avoiding getting killed were the top two priorities on their minds.

Transactions completed, a handful of worried persons, quickly headed back to their choice of shelter. A moving target was harder to hit, so they adopted a brisk cadence to their short steps, comically zigzagging in the style of an old Hollywood war film - in case they were the next target in the crosshairs of a sniper’s powerful telescope.

For those still driving a hard bargain and those still short of the required necessities, trading continued at a surprisingly casual pace, helped with the melodic sounds of a young female violinist playing Brahm’s Adagio in D Minor. The skill and passion wonderfully effused in her playing, drew a small crowd, hungry for any form of escapism in their torn-apart world. Here were the beautiful tones of a violin stirring emotions of moodiness, passion, and a rudimentary epicum sensation of fleeting gratification to an audience impotent of simple pleasures. The young woman’s cadence of playing expertly stayed true to the composer’s mastery of tempo and controlled energy. Here was an impromptu concert for the masses played out to a small collective group of fearful innocent bystanders, some with tears streaming down their faces, some with closed eyes raised to the sky in a display of silent prayer; hoping beyond all conscious expectation that normality would return to their small corner of the world. Wishing that time would turn back the ravages of war that many of their fellow citizens already found themselves embroiled in, they listened intently to one of the most emotionally-provoking of all instruments. They soared with its crescendos, were magically energised by its allegro, then returned to their harsh existential reality at the climax of its diminuendo.

For several lost minutes, the growing crowd had been hypnotised by a masterful piece played by a virtuoso musician, who in keeping with Brahm’s intention of the end of the movement – the cadenza, the young performer added her own style of playing and movement to bring the captivating piece to a dreamy, lighter-than-air ending.

Wiping tears from their eyes, several listeners rewarded the woman with fruit, cheese, eggs, bread, and whatever they could by placing them in a basket sat on the ground at her feet. In mutual appreciation, she thanked them one by one for their generosity. Her story was of secondary importance to those kindly applauding her talent. In the eyes of her appreciators, she was an angel sent to comfort them in their turmoiled lives. The music was a welcome distraction to lives hanging in the balance of aggression. War had uninvitingly burst through the doors and windows of their unprepared lives. Those that could, joined the brave and effective resistance against the invading hordes. Those that couldn’t either became refugees seeking safety in neighbouring countries or barricaded themselves into makeshift shelters, praying the missiles, shells, and bullets of destruction passed them by and let them live to forage another day.

As calls for an encore echoed through the marketplace, the appreciative musical crowd were silenced by the screech of a guitar amp wailing through the air, assaulting their newly discovered love of Brahms’ classical music. The very loud and grunge sound of an electric guitar blasted out the key of D – an important musical chord forming the basis of countless Rock tunes since the creation of Rock N’ Roll. This Perpetrator of Loud. This Interloper of Pensivity adorned with a top hat, sunglasses, and long hair was an instant, unwelcome interrupter plying for a piece of the food donation action as he let the heavily strummed chord ring to its electrically cycled end. Before anyone could object to the rude interruption, he moved his left hand up towards the higher sounding notes of the guitar’s frets and launched straight into a theatrical rendition of the opening riff of the Guns N’ Roses’ song, Sweet Child O Mine. Several repetitions of his alternate concert phrase ended as abruptly as it started. Silence ensued as the market audience repugnantly reeled from being brought back to Earth. The alien noise to the older ears in the audience, was as offensive to them as the sound of the enemy’s ordnance exploding daily to a neighbourhood near them. A few silent and nervous moments worried the guitarist before a lone silence-piercing cry of ‘Dude!’ rang through the air. Slash had a fan, so taking it as an invitation to continue, he once more launched into the recognisable riff. Almost immediately, his impressive fingering of his Gibson-style guitar fret was silenced by a disgruntled old woman furiously yanking his guitar lead from its connection to the battery-powered amp. This prompted many of the crowd to smother him with foulmouthed insults hurled at him like live hand grenades intending to incur massive damage on him and his instruments of interference. One old man angrily accused him of being worse than the enemy at their gates – a confidence destroying slur, if ever there was one. However, all Slash could do was shrug his crest-fallen shoulders and dejectedly sit back on his amp.

Whether it was a distant call for calm or a reminder that there was more to life than hatred, the romantic sound of the young woman’s violin rose above the angry din and permeated the outraged mob, instantly grabbing their attention. Walking slowly amongst them while playing the exact riff that Slash had unsuccessfully tried to win over the mob with, the young woman created a temporary air of confusion within the ranks of the noise-hating geriatric Fuddy-duddys. Recognising the pattern of notes, they watched powerlessly as the woman crouched next to Slash and plugged his guitar back into the amp. Adjusting Slash’s microphone stand, she positioned the microphone at head height to pick up the sound emanating from her violin, then with a nod of her head, she prompted Slash to start his opening riff again. Hesitating, he studied the faces of the silenced crowd. Consisting mostly of an older generation, they reluctantly waited for something to happen. To them, music was a distraction from the worry of enemy intentions – even though their patience was wearing thin forcing a few to disperse.

Counting off, the young woman once more launched into the opening riff of the song, nodding for Slash to join in. The violin’s sound had an immediate effect on Slash. Its notes were evocative but inspirational, causing him to immediately mirror the violin’s riff note for note. An impressive start launched them both into playing in sync. This was something different but wonderful. The crowd looked on in dispassionate silence. The electric guitar was not so piercing when played alongside the violin. In fact, the music was almost toe-tapping enjoyable. Surprised eyes raise as the girl shifted her violin to mimic a guitar-playing stance and began to strum the chords to the song as Slash seamlessly continued playing the melody. The combination of the two instruments playing different styles of the song, had an entertaining effect on the crowd, resulting in a couple of older women wriggling their hips in response to the music’s rhythm; triggering others to clap along with the tempo.

As the crowd settled into enjoying the sound, the two musicians swapped roles with the violin picking up the melody while Slash took over the lead notes. No longer an affront to their ears, the crowd appreciatively applauded the change-over, then a few delighted chuckles rang out as the two musicians reached the bridge of the song. Plucking at her strings in a staccato style caused Slash to respond with a softer playing style – a move that reflected expressive admiration on some faces amongst the crowd. Pleasurably, this was no longer noise. This was music. This was art and deserved to be appreciated for its existence. With the song’s ending in sight, both musicians upped the volume and intensity, instinctively swapping their roles back and forth like they had been rehearsing it for so long, it was second nature to their playing. Melody, chords, riffs, and strumming reached a crescendo before the violin played a long, final harmonious note stretching over several strings, while the electric guitar gradually slowed its riff to a crawl.

Silenced enveloped the market. With a slight pant, the violinist smiled at Slash, who returned a nod of his head towards her, both acknowledging the realisation that they had just created a moment of magic.

“DUDES,” screamed the same voice from earlier. The momentary silence broken; the crowd erupted in appreciative applause. This was a first for them. An instrument associated with grace, emotion, and love had partnered with an instrument linked to egregious youth and rebellion to create a moment of purity and togetherness. The swayed crowd wanted more. They demanded the two newly formed duo to play one more song. The two strangers – now connected through a improvised rock song, searched each other’s expressions for acceptance. Smiling in unison, they nodded to each other. No longer two individuals of differing styles of music, they were now – in the scheme of all-things-music – considered by the crowd as a band, and their newly won-over fans shouted a desire for more.

Beginning as a distant, faint wailing sound that grew closer and louder as the crowd abruptly hushed then scattered in panic to the town square’s speakers picking up the delayed broadcast of an air raid siren. Stark reality suddenly returned to the lives of the market dwellers replacing their temporary, musically induced dementia with a violent reminder of life now lived in a war zone. Several hundred meters east of them, an explosion so intense, shook the ground beneath their scrambling feet. Before Slash or the violinist had time to gather all their belongings, several mortar shells began explosively walking their way towards the recent concertgoers. Hurriedly retreating from the square, Slash was violently thrown through the air as a mortar round followed by several heavier ordnance obliterated everything around him. The only sound resonating in his ears was a high-pitched buzz and the muffled cries of the injured. Checking himself for any wounds, Slash was relieved to find none; however, the dust and smoke hampered his vision as he searched wildly for the young woman, he now shared a lasting connection to. Stumbling over rubble and debris, he repeatedly called out for her, but without knowing her name, he could only call for “Violin Girl,” before the cries of the wounded and dying overpowered his shouts.

Dust covered his being from head to toe. The shock of the attack disoriented Slash, resulting in him aimlessly wandering in circles. Despair had edged him toward his breaking point when a familiar sound cut distinctly through the aftermath of the fog of war. His rapidly returning sense of hearing recognised the unmistakable riff from the song played only minutes ago but to Slash, it felt like days of despair had passed since its last note had rung. A haunting, almost eerie playing of a violin beckoned him towards it, like a foghorn alerting lost ships that a danger of foundering lay ahead. However, it was clear to Slash that this was not a warning but a sounded beacon of invitation filtering through the haze, guiding the blind, the confused, the lost, to its ostensibly safe location. Taking short, cautious steps toward the music, Slash edged his way through the dissipating haze – all the while closing on the beautiful, comforting sound of the violin’s skilfully-played strings. A reunion awaited his arrival, possessing the chance to rekindle an impromptu duet. An opportunity to explore a new introduction – not only of music, but of peaceful harmony. As Slash emerged from the haze, he had to defensively hold a hand over his brow, shielding his eyes from a bright sunlight saturating his senses. Still guiding him forward, the violin’s dulcet tones grew louder, surrounding him with varying degrees of euphoric excitement, bordering on nirvanic blissfulness. If indeed music was the food of love, he thought, then he was most certainly and eternally, lost in its endearing and heavenly power.

Continuing to fantasise in his altered state of semi-consciousness, Slash suddenly found himself being grabbed by several sets of hands, pulling him down a set of burning wooden steps into a dark, echoing chamber. His adrenalin at empty, he dropped to his knees as the sound of further explosions seemed to surround him. Any euphoric fantasies of heavenly bliss were replaced with foreboding blaring trumpets of doom. The enclosed tomb he now found himself in was void of substantial light to identify the several huddled shadows angrily grumbling in the dimly lit chamber. Assuming a pleading posture, Slash knelt with arms reaching for something unseen in a silent scream reminiscent of the Rock God he once wished to be. His silent cry for mercy went unnoticed by the huddled mass, their attention now drawn to the top of the staircase as the door flew open, permitting a lone figure to delicately descend the wobbly steps. Silhouetted against the almost blinding light rushing through the doorway behind them, the figure approached Slash – who, still kneeling, was dramatically posed with his arms outstretched like an Ancient Roman gladiator from the army of Spartacus about to be crucified for the crime of wanting to be free. As the silhouette halted directly in front of him, an artificial beam of light from a propane powered lantern lit up his personal space. Looking up, Slash saw the smiling face of the old woman that had unplugged his guitar earlier, standing with extended arms as if making an offering. Darting his inquisitive eyes toward her apparent gift, he recognised his Gibson guitar. A few scratches had not broken it or any of its tuned strings. It was a miracle that it survived the bombs, but that was of little consequence to him. He had his prized possession back in his grasp. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, he thought. His guitar would scream once again with life. However, one thing was missing from his regenerative philosophy.

“My amp?”

The question caused the old woman to shrug her shoulders, then chuckle as she mimed a silent explosion.

“Kaboom!” She smilingly answered.

Immediately, from an unlit corner of the cellar, the violin struck up the opening riff of their song as the smiling face of the young woman emerged from the shadows.

“DUDE!” Came the cry from another gloomy corner. “YOU ROCK!”

As the thumping sounds of mortars and shells above ground blasted away a version of the noise of war, the sheltering, huddled group of this battle’s survivors, listened appreciatively to an acoustic version of Sweet Child O mine, engrossing themselves in the escape that good music provides when needed. The duo’s blossoming comradery repeated its highs and lows of the amplified concert from earlier, exciting the captive throng who warmed the room with their enthusiastic – albeit, congested presence. Throughout the orchestral cacophony of warfare raining molten steel upon their town, the cave rave venue rocked on towards the approaching night. Chanting music lovers punched the air with silhouetted arms – not only as a gesture of defiance to the directors of destruction - but also demonstrating gratitude to the sounds that the unlikely duo produced. A comforting few musical hours would help them forget the imminent danger an unseen enemy threatened them with. Through the long sheltering night, they would laugh and sing to tunes old and new, and before the rising calm of dawn, their resolve would strengthen, their rested psyche would renew their weathered patriotism, and joined by the calming influence of music, a seed of hope would sprout tall with the message that one day soon, peace would return to their village. In growing optimistic belief, they talked about how they would rejoice in the celebrated achievement of surviving the reviled madness of a war that once threatened their existence… A war forever a bloodstain on the doorstep of their wounded lives…

June 07, 2022 02:12

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4 comments

Mike Panasitti
03:22 Jun 16, 2022

Chris, I enjoyed this story. I appreciated the harmonious interaction between Slash and Violin Girl, the relief the townspeople experience resulting from the bridge the musicians construct between contemporary and classical, modern and traditional. The repetition of the anonymously uttered refrain of "DUDE, YOU ROCK" made me laugh out loud, and you deserve hearing it from readers for writing this allegorical tale. BTW, I saw Slash perform in Hollywood clubs during the late 80s when he played with Guns and Roses.

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Chris Campbell
05:41 Jun 16, 2022

Thanks Mike, "You Rock!" Coincidentally, I grew up in the same neighbourhood in London as Slash. Never met him, but I certainly like his guitar playing. I appreciate your kind comments. Thank you for reading my story.

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Allen Learst
15:31 Jun 12, 2022

Lots of great detail about music in the midst of war, with a good dose of dire straights, but I wondered if it takes too long to get to the character, Slash, which may present a point of view problem. Also, the language seems too elevated for the situation and uses a lot of unnecessary adverbs, but this is just one person's opinion which, of course, you can take with a grain of salt. You are a good writer.

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Chris Campbell
06:38 Jun 13, 2022

Allen, Thanks for your constructive comments. Admittedly, I got a little too involved with this story. Each week, I select the prompt I would like to write about then set myself a task to either write dialogue only, or narrative only, or a combination of both. I chose narrative only for this story; however, I also challenged myself to attempt to describe the sound of the music to the reader without them actually hearing it. Not sure if it worked as even my partner said this story was not her favourite, so I added a second story this week cal...

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