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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

THE LAST CONCERT by Brandon Layng
October 1, 2010  Short stories   Tags:   

The chords struck went out in a sonorous wave. Matt Stokes’ fingers bled, making the coarse strings slick like entrails. With so many of his audience fondling their exposed intestines, he could easily make the connection between the ribbed Markley’s and the twenty-eight feet of digestive tubing.

The sky was black with thunderheads, lightning flashing over the hard billows like sparklers on the fourth of July. Trees lining the field swayed and tossed their leaves, embers cast off from the Autumn torches. The weekend had been a somber celebration ignited by the rare bout of passion that burned quickly through the crowds. Some of the fans were survivors and some were untouched by the black swathe of death that cut through the continent. All of them hurt in one way or another knowing that at any moment the dead might come to take their children to join the unflagging parade as they marched on in hunger. It was meant to be a benefit concert to bring hope with a line up of thirty-six of the last bands.

They were an undulating mass of rotting flesh coming from the back of the crowd and leaving half-mangled bodies in their wake. And when they reached the stage, pushing the living into the wooden front, mashing broken ribs into toothpicks or trampling breathing bodies into the roan red muck, the dead stared expectantly at him, Matt Stokes, lead singer for The Rudes.

He’d stopped playing. Gazing out at them, his arms in goose flesh and his heart lurching, not up into his throat the way it did before a show but into his gut.

The bassist, Joe, leaned in his direction and joked without humor, “the Official Deadstock Welcoming Committee has arrived”.

Matt had not laughed. The crowd released a hungry moan. He still wasn’t laughing when he told the boys the zombies wanted them to play and ten hours later they kept playing, because every time his fingers slowed or Joe hit a wrong chord or Cass went offbeat on the drums, the dead rushed the stage. By the time Matt’s calluses broke there were at least twenty of them on stage swaying with the rest. Echoing the faltering trees that moved with the dying breaths of the wind and were near cleaned to bony branches.

The living fans that tried to find a way out of the mosh pit were plucked by the neck, scalps bitten into and peeled back like skin on a candy apple. They were popcorn eyeballs and taffy tongues for the decaying masses.

Fingering the frets, strumming the strings, Matt wondered how long the power would last. The lights of the town outside the concert grounds had gone dark. There wasn’t any crew left to ask how long the generators would last. No back up bands to give them a rest. The clouds broke with a crash that unleashed a lick of blue in the distance.

There was a thud on the stage from behind him and the drumming stopped. Matt heard the gurgle before he saw bony fingers pop into Cass’ windpipe, pulling it open like ventilation tubing. To keep from choking on his own bile, Matt focused on the burning in his own fingers with a renewed interest in life.

Joe couldn’t take it and out of the corner of Matt’s eye, he saw the bassist put down his instrument to push the dead off of Cass’ desiccated body. He smiled in the spirit of hysterics when Joe’s wail gave Janis Joplin a run for her money.

An hour later, he felt like a camp counselor playing lead for a sing-along around the fire. Puss dribbling and slack jawed they ringed him. A choir of moans gave him a backbeat and somewhere beyond the rustling of their bloodied clothing he heard the cough of the generator.

His next strum was muted. A deaf stroke that twanged in his ears as loud as a war cry. Then the only sound was a hollow thumping when something rolled near his feet.

It affected him little to see Joe gazing up at him with empty sockets. Matt had played his heart out and there was no room for sadness.

The sky was lit in a strobe as the stage shook with the clamor of an angry sky.

He had one last thing to do.

Since he was a boy he’d wanted to do it but never had the guts. He swung that Fender as if it were an axe, wielding it to lop heads off with the sheer force of momentum, the strings sung as they snapped and the neck cracked. The rotting head dangled from the guitar and he turned it around to plunge the jagged neck four frets deep into the gassy bowels of a bearded man, whose innards spilled out in a maggoty pile on the wood planks.

Fingers slipping in the writhing gore Matt raised the instrument high for its last song as the dead broke over the stage in a ravening tide. He was ready to bring it down in a skull-splitting arc aimed at a cataract-eyed woman with gossamer hair when the sky performed a cadence of thunderclaps. And when the lightning chased down the strings in a soprano-toned jolt… he danced.


  1. What ?

    Comment by FRANK on October 1, 2010 @ 10:41 am

  2. Rock On!

    Comment by J-mo on October 1, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  3. The Grateful Dead?

    Comment by Kagemusha on October 1, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  4. more like the ungrateful dead…

    Comment by not amused on October 1, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  5. The Ungrateful Dead!

    I love this. I so thought he was gonna stagedive at the end. I love the idea the live music makes them pause so the only thing to do is…keep playing. I would be happy to read that in an anthology as well. I would have liked it a bit longer building the tension even more but I really liked it.

    Comment by Pete Bevan on October 1, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

  6. I know nothing about music aside from what I like, don’t like and that I don’t posess the skill to make music unless I can press a Play button. However, this was a good story that I could follow along with, even though I have no idea what a “fret” is.
    Good Job. I especially like that lightning got him instead of his groupies.

    Comment by Barrett on October 1, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  7. Those are some awesome and funny comments. Thanks for reading. I had a great time writing it with Sevendust playing in the background.

    Comment by BrandonLayng on October 2, 2010 @ 12:32 am

  8. I love writing to music, but it tends to be the same track on repeat which may be a bit odd.

    Comment by Pete Bevan on October 2, 2010 @ 4:10 am

  9. Not odd at all Pete. I’m sure it helps with setting a certain mood to your work. I listened to BOC’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” hundreds of times whil writing my novel “Angel’s Crossing”.

    Comment by BrandonLayng on October 2, 2010 @ 10:58 am

  10. I like to put on Barneys Greatest Hits, fast forward to to the classic “I love you, you love me,” and get disturbingly ultra violent with my horror writing.

    Comment by Barrett on October 2, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  11. […] http://www.talesofworldwarz.com/stories/2010/10/01/the-last-concert-by-brandon-layng/ […]

    Pingback by Zombie Fic Fun « Brandon Layng on October 22, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

  12. Really enjoyed this.
    Was very original, and I felt genuine sympathy for the musicians, and a strange sort of pride in Matt, the lead guitarist. It felt incredibly appropriate that the lightning struck him before the undead could take him.

    As if Heaven was snatching him from the valley of death to play eternally….somewhere else.

    Great story.

    Comment by Shawn on October 25, 2010 @ 9:34 am

  13. Thanks Shawn, that’s a great comment. It’s wonderful to hear the kind of insights readers take away from a story.

    Comment by BrandonLayng on October 25, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  14. Aw, Brandon, loved it! A great combination of rock and zombies–you’ve just made me miss my old Fender 😀 (Now, I play an Epiphone…)

    Comment by Katey on October 26, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

  15. Thank you. I never could actually play much on guitar, just a few chords from some songs a buddy taught me. But I always wanted a Fender or Gibson to play around with, strumming the strings, like meditation.

    Comment by BrandonLayng on October 27, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

  16. The Grateful Undead… Deadstock…
    Keep playing ’til the power goes out or the zombies will rush the stage – an interesting idea: using the power of music to keep the masses under control…

    Not bad sir.

    Stay Alive

    Comment by Neil Colquhoun on November 4, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  17. […] “The Last Concert” http://www.talesofworldwarz.com/stories/2010/10/01/the-last-concert-by-brandon-layng/  […]

    Pingback by What’s a Happening « Brandon Layng on November 6, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  18. I believe this is the first story I’ve read that has made me wrinkle my nose, exclaim “Euw!” out loud and then grin with satisfaction at the end. Loved it!

    Comment by Emma Newman on January 13, 2011 @ 10:18 am

  19. Much to my surprise and delight, some kind reader has nominated “The Last Concert” in the P&E Reader’s Poll Best Horror Short Story category.

    After you’ve read the story, if you think it deserves your vote, you can do so at http://critters.org/predpoll/shortstoryh.shtml
    Polls are open until Jan. 26th, 2011. But most of all I just want to say thank you for taking the time to read it.

    Comment by Brandon Layng on January 15, 2011 @ 12:18 am

  20. I watched a film called ‘dance of the dead’ last night. At one point a band holds off a zombie horde by playing their instruments. Coincidence?

    Comment by wade cole on May 9, 2011 @ 3:01 am

  21. Perfect coincedence. One of those ideas that two unrelated people miles apart have at about the same time. Dance of the Dead was released in 2008, I didn’t see it until 2009 when I picked up a cheap used copy on DVD from the video store. I saw that part and said, “What the? Hey, that’s my idea!” But nobody stole my idea, of course.

    Back in 2008, Permuted Press asked for submissions to an anthology called, Bits of the Dead. They were asking for flash fiction with zombies that would be illustrated for the book. “The Last Concert” was one of two pieces I sent them. They were both rejected. This story has remained the same in content, though it did go through an edit before going back out to make the rounds, but it was only a word here or there that was changed. Matt holding off the horde with bloody-fingered guitar licks remained the same.

    Don’t believe in coincedences? That’s okay. I’m use to them. My life is a long string of them. So here are some links to show how quirky things get.
    Call for subs link http://www.fangirltastic.com/content/call-submissions-zombie-short-stories

    DotD IMBD page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0926063/

    First time I heard about the movie http://gravesidetales.com/forum/index.php/topic,1352.msg22955.html#msg22955

    Life is funny sometimes — especially when the dead are involved.

    Comment by Brandon Layng on June 24, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

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