By Dylan Sepulveda
(THIS IS NOT THE TITLE) A FIRST IMPRESSION
The opening. Yes, I suppose a story has to open somehow and somewhere, but not yet. We’re not starting yet. Why, everyone isn’t ready yet! Soon though, very soon. We just have some points of business to carry out because the last thing I’d want to do is deceive you. That’s why we’re not starting yet until everyone is ready, including you.
I’ve been told that a hook is important, and everyone knows you can’t have a hook without bait. The wisdom goes that as a storyteller I must be an angler and you, a wild tuna. Or perhaps a salmon if you’re into that sort of thing. The expectation is that I have to have some wild opening line of immaculate quality or even start the story right in the middle in order to keep you reading. That I must lure you in and form a sort of compulsion in you to continue reading, dig the hook right into your cheek and drag you along until you confuse my reeling for you swimming. How Machiavellian! Enticing you with a strong opening line with no guarantee that the rest of the story will be of any quality. I’m here to tell you a story, not sell you a used car. I refuse to take part in any sort of opening line extortion. In fact, I want to remove all compulsion for you to continue reading. I’ve attached a brief paragraph of plot synopsis at the end of this story. Yes that’s right, you don’t even have to read if you don’t want to! You can tap out at any time and read the plot summary and know the end without slogging through a story you may have absolutely no interest in! I’ve consulted with everyone and they’ve all agreed that they’re more than fine with this arrangement. By removing the compulsion for you to read, or rather, by you choosing to continue on I hope that this will be a more pure experience. Yes, something that will actually be occurring rather than something that was forced to occur. Everyone must come to the Applecore willingly, especially you. The title will be here momentarily. Please get comfortable.
(THIS IS THE TITLE)
KARAOKE NIGHT AT THE APPLECORE CLUB FOR BUGS
In a square flyover state. In a suburb where all the houses have lawns as green as a poker table. In a strip mall parking lot. There lies an apple.
This apple is several years old, but still as red as the day it was picked. A pen was jammed through the top and the side of the apple to form a makeshift pipe presumably by some ragtag group of high school theatre kids to get high next to a Dollar General. It is here, in this hallowed out Gala apple, that we find the Applecore club for bugs.
A night at the Applecore demands that you leave reality at the door and your sanity with the coat check. There isn’t a coat check at the Applecore, so just toss it somewhere, I’m sure you’ll find it on your way out.
In line to get into the Applecore are two flies, dressed far too plainly for a club such as this. Their starched shiny polyester dress shirts and chino slacks oozing all of the charm of an outfit cobbled together by a high school boy for a homecoming dance. A mid 2000’s coming-of-age movie prom scene pastiche that makes them stick out like sore thumbs amongst the line of bugs dressed in far more evocative outfits.
“It just makes me so nervous.”
“We’re gonna get in, it’s fine.”
“Not about that, do you think I’d care about something like that, I’m not the type.”
“I’m six days old. That’s today, six days old. That’s nearly a quarter done with my life!”
“And? And I haven’t done anything!”
“Can you not do this tonight? This isn’t the time for an existential crisis.”
A spider, wearing a leather catsuit, with a bullwhip strapped to her side, overhears this conversation and interjects.
“I think tonight is the perfect time for an existential crisis.”
She lets the s on the end of “crisis” trail off a bit and linger in the air, like an automatic air freshener going off as you pass it. Before either fly can interject, she walks off, cutting the entirety of the line. The other bugs in line in their lace and funny hats seem to pay no attention to this. The bouncer, a burly roly-poly with a fat stogie hanging loosely in his lips, immediately pulls aside the red velvet rope for the spider and lets her in.
“What kind of club is this?”
“My friend told me about it.”
“Can you relax? She’s probably like the club owner’s mistress or something. I think Benny would have clarified if this was some weird sex club okay?”
“Benny? Oh fuck, of course it was Benny.”
“Benny knows how to have a good time.”
“Benny knows how to get kicked out of Olive Garden for doing key bumps in the bathroom.”
“I think everyone should get kicked out of a casual chain restaurant at some point in their life.”
“Is this line ever going to fucking move?”
Of course, the line to get into the Applecore is long, especially tonight. Tonight is karaoke night at the Applecore, already a major crowd pleaser, but more importantly tonight Mr. Barnabas T. Silverfish, yes, the Mr. Silverfish was rumored to be coming out of retirement and reclaiming his crown as karaoke king. You can’t spend a single night at the Applecore without hearing about Mr. Silverfish. If you were to go around the Applecore on any given night and ask around, everyone would have something to say about him.
The worker ants and worker bees on the dance floor would scream over the music, in a way that almost becomes whispering in the context of how loud everything else is, “I hear his trademark silver suit is made out of tuna fish scales, and that his earrings are made out of pure caviar!”
The praying mantis working the bar would tell you while pouring out a tequila sunrise, “He finishes everything he says with a grin and his teeth yellow from decades of Camels. He’s a fantastic tipper though. When he was here on karaoke nights he would always start the night with a double appletini and end it with a negroni. In between he peppers in shots that the crowd has bought for him. Personally, I think his drink choices are gross, I mean an appletini? C’mon.”
And the dusty old moths in the back of the club, nursing their sazeracs, the ones who claim that everyone else is lying and that only they have actually seen Mr. Silverfish perform at one point or another will tell you, “I remember how he would strut onto that stage. His body was like mercury flowing hot out of a shattered thermometer. His red latex boots like two cardinals gliding across that stage. He was a disco ball come alive with rapturous intent, the beating pulsing glittering heart of the Applecore.”
“I don’t even think we’re going to get in, we should head home.”
“You can head home if you want, I’m in this for the long haul.”
“I just don’t know if this place is for me is all I’m concerned about, I mean.” The fly gestures to a centipede wearing a Dolly Parton wig and accompanying makeup.
“They’re here to have fun, that’s what we’re all here for. Do you even want to be here?”
“I guess I guess.”
The funny thing about arguing in line, is that it does not stop the line from moving, and soon enough the two flies found themselves at the front of the line without fully realizing the gravity of the situation. The roly-poly clears his throat, the sound loud and phlegmy.
“Gentlemen, are you going in or not?”
The two flies look up from each other and see the red velvet rope being pulled to the side for them. The sounds of the Applecore could be heard more vividly from here. The pulsating disco music that got caught in their lungs and rattled around their diaphragms. Sure, you could hear these sounds from practically anywhere in the line, but they were always muffled, like being underwater at some snobby party you don’t quite want to be at so you see drowning as a formal solution. Unable to make words form as they’re not quite sure how the line moved just so quickly, the less anxious of the two flies drags the other into the hollowed-out apple.
The Applecore club is a paradise for bugs. More akin to a house party like atmosphere than a traditional club, you could find bugs dancing under a sparkling disco ball, bugs smoking on couches, bugs drinking at the bar, bugs sneaking away into bathrooms together. All manner of bugs were mixing and mingling, raucously celebrating the very aspects of being alive that make the chore worth doing in the first place. As the two cautious flies stumbled and maneuvered their way through the menagerie of bodies they could hear snippets of conversations not meant for them.
“Tempurpedic mattresses are definitive proof that wealthy suburbanites do not care about good sex. My rule of thumb is that if a mattress has been advertised on a podcast, I do not want to fuck on it. Give me a creaky futon, a mattress from craigslist, a queen from a flea market, or better yet a queen on a queen, any day of the week.”
“Oh, I would love to be a little cart shopper. Someone who goes to a hip grocery store where they only have those little tiny carts, oh how I’d love to just fill it with plantain chips and dragonfruit and have everyone in line think that, yes, this is all I came here for, and if you were to open my cabinets at home this is all you would see.”
They even came across the spider they had met while in line, currently talking to some shy looking young beetle, “Oh no, this isn’t a weird sex club, don’t you worry darling. That’s downstairs. The Trapdoor, that’s my personal domain. Silverfish? Oh that’s all anyone wants to talk about!”
And it was true, walking through the Applecore you could hear Silverfish’s name being dropped left and right, as if he was some religious leader about to step out and speak to his flock. It was clear that tonight everyone was here for Silverfish. Those who had seen him in his glory days wanted to see him make his triumphant return and those who were too young to ever see Silverfish careering across the stage in drag were excited to take part in something that was considered formalistic for bugs.
On stage was a butterfly dress in a sparkly sequin purple suit on the tail end of a set of all Prince songs. The two flies couldn’t help but take notice of this.
“They really go all out for karaoke, huh?”
“Yeah, yeah it’s kinda neat I guess.”
“Eric, I’m tired of you not being here for these sorts of things.”
The more anxious fly, Eric, looks up from the cosmopolitan he has ordered, looks into the compound eyes of his friends. A water strider and a dragonfly, fervently making out, slam into the side of the bar, bucking over rickety barstools and bumping Eric’s cosmo with a loose elbow. Neither bug seems to notice, nor does the praying mantis working the bar. Eric is just happy that his drink spilled away from his newly ironed shirt. He grabs some dinky napkins, the type you’d find in a pizzeria napkin dispenser, and starts the sisyphean task of mopping up such a sticky drink with such paltry napkins.
“I’m here aren’t I?”
“Yes but you’re not here, you’re thinking about your commute on Tuesday, or what bagel you’ll have on bagel Friday. I need you to be here. I’m going to go dance, come find me when you’ve arrived.”
At this moment Eric is joined by the spider who passed by him in line. Her leather catsuit catches the light of the discoball in such a way that she appears like an oil spill on eight legs.
“Klaus darling, I need a cosmopolitan over here.” Her voice is sing-songy with an almost transatlantic accent. Her poise and posture befitting of an old silver screen movie star, with the unabashedly long bullwhip strapped to her thigh betraying her radio drama voice.
“Oh you don’t have to do that.”
“I know. Relax, if I was hitting on you you’d know it. Not really my type anyhow.”
“Yeah well, I’m not really into leather either so we’re fine there…out of curiosity what is your type?”
“WASPs. Wasps are my favorite to break. You’re pretty close, but a fly is not a wasp.”
“No, I guess I’m not.”
“So how’s your first night at the Applecore treating you?”
“It’s not my first night.”
“You’re wearing khaki pants.” she gestures around the room, a mosquito in a full ball gown and a blonde beehive wig is sprawled out on a couch smoking, he passes the joint to a bumblebee in a red sequin corset.
She rolls all eight of her eyes.
“Right well, at least now you know for the next karaoke night.”
“I don’t think I’ll be coming back anytime soon.”
“Oh you can’t be so sure of that. You mustn’t be so certain about where and how you’ll be at any given time.”
“I know I won’t be back.”
The butterfly on stage finishes up Purple Rain, the bugs on the couches and on the dancefloor all applaud and whoop and holler. The MC comes out, says a single inaudible word into the mic, and then leaves. The stage is now empty. The bugs are still cheering but also anxiously looking at one another trying to gauge if anyone heard what was said.
“Darling it’s adorable how sure you are, but I can assure you, there’s no real way of you knowing where you might be tomorrow. Maybe even back here. Maybe even on my web.”
The lights on stage start to move, a mechanical whirring sound can be heard in the rafters. There is a shift. A change. The once rapturous Applecore club for bugs starts to slowly quiet down.
“I’m not, that’s not really my thing. This whole place really isn’t my thing.”
The opening notes of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” start to play over the long since blown out Applecore speakers. The patrons all murmuring amongst each other, heads all turning the barren stage.
“Not your thing. And what is your thing? Worrying? Wearing starchy shirts? I know there might just be a pair of silver underwear beneath those khakis.”
The stage blacks out. A figure appears in the inky shadows. Faint glimmers of his costume being caught by the still spinning disco ball. The patrons are now in a frenzy, nudging passed out friends to snap to attention.
And at that very instant, the stage lights flash back on in a glorious illuminating burst. There standing triumphantly on stage, Live for one night only. The headliner at the Applecore Club for bugs. Five time karaoke night champion.
Loosely clutching the microphone, he takes one last drag on a Camel, and then proceeds to belt the opening to Ms. Houston’s 1987 smash hit. Let me tell you, Mr. Silverfish cannot sing.
There are way better singers at karaoke night at the Applecore, hell, some would even say Mr. Silverfish is flat out bad. Mr. Silverfish won’t ever be on MTV. He’s not gonna strip on Oprah. He’s not gonna kiss Conan O’Brien. But when he’s leaping off the stage, forgoing the mic and letting his creaky floorboard voice just work its magic, bouncing from the couches and cavalcading across the barstools, you forget the broken notes and botched pitch changes. You forget the yellow teeth and fake gemstones. You forget the outside world. All you see is a disco ball come alive with rapturous intent, the beating pulsing glittering heart of the Applecore.
Eric was unable to keep his eyes off of Mr. Silverfish. His awful dance moves, his terrible singing, his garishly cheesy silver sequin coat. He was a trainwreck. A singing and dancing trainwreck. Sweat glistening on his tabloid ready face, coiffed hair slick with gel now out slightly out of place, Silverfish looked like a Vegas lounge singer far past their prime. And yet the patrons at the Applecore could not get enough of him. They knew all the idiosyncrasies of Mr. Silverfish’s dance moves, knew when he was due to climb onto a table or chair, knew when he was going to switch to a different song, and more interestingly, they mirrored him. Dancing along with him and singing just as terribly and simply not caring. Why would there be any reason to care when there was no audience. Mr. Silverfish was not a singular performer, he was the Applecore itself, able to turn the entire club into one singular throbbing entity.
At any point a raccoon or a large bird could snatch up the Applecore. A 2006 Buick Lucerne could run over the Applecore. Time could catch up and start the due process of rotting the Applecore. And while these thoughts may have been on Eric or anyone else’s mind in the Applecore, but they were absent now. Eric did not think of his Tuesday commute, did not consider the bagel he would have on bagel Friday. He was too busy getting caught up in the raucous display of life.
It was very clear that Mr. Silverfish’s standing ovations and unwavering audience participation should have ended years ago. He was creaky and showing signs of pure dilapidation. No longer the groundbreaking iconic figure he once was. No longer a central core part of the Applecore’s identity. And yet, in this eternal moment, this unwavering full bodied movement of the entire club, there was a feeling in the bug’s hearts. They all knew what it meant to be an Eric. Mr. Silverfish reminds them that they were all once Eric. All once at the Applecore but never fully here. That it took a bit of coaxing, a gentle nudge from a friendly bug to get them up on their feet and to arrive. Eric had arrived. Mr. Silverfish had swept him from his spot at the bar and moved him into the great giddy swarm, so aware of the necessity of this ritual, so aware of the necessity of being here.
Soon enough Eric would be doing his Tuesday commute. He would be standing around on Friday morning wondering what bagel to take. He would be dead soon. Flies don’t live long.
Eric screamed at the top of his little fly lungs. Mr. Silverfish passed out on the stage.
“Encore! Encore! Another dance Mr. Silverfish! Please! Oh God please!”
PLOT SYNOPSIS TO ELIMINATE READING COMPULSION
Two flies are waiting in line to get into a nightclub called the Applecore club for bugs. One of the flies, Eric, is particularly anxious about how they feel like their life is going nowhere, while the other fly is just looking to have a good time. Tonight is karaoke night at the Applecore and it’s rumored that the former reigning champ, and icon of the club, Mr. Silverfish will be coming out of retirement to perform tonight. Eventually the flies make it in, and Eric has a conversation about how he feels his life is going with a spider dominatrix. Mr. Silverfish comes on stage and looks terrible. His singing is even worse. Yet, the crowd absolutely loves it. There is an understanding that the importance of what Mr. Silverfish has done for the Applecore community supersedes his faltering ability to sing. Eric stops caring so much about what will happen tomorrow and finally arrives.