An essay by Tony Russo, as provided by Darren Ridgley
Art by Justine McGreevy
Never thought I’d say it, but one day I’d like to come out to an empty room. But tonight ain’t the night. Tonight it’s a full house. Standing room only. Every single one of ’em here to see me, Tony Russo, in the flesh. Just not alive.
Three tours in and the buzz hasn’t faded, they still buy tickets months in advance, they line up around the block all day, wanting to get a good seat. Close enough to get a real good eyeful, not close enough to catch my scent. My arms hang limp at my sides while I wait for Neal, my “manager,” to bid me to step out into the spotlight. My legs have been commanded just enough to hold me up, but they buckle inward at the knees, my rotten ankles leaving my feet crunched up underneath my shins, half-sideways.
C’mon, Neal. Let’s just get it over with. I can’t move my eyes–though both are pretty cloudy anyhow–but I think he can sense I want to be staring him down. A warm-up guy comes out and gives me a grand introduction. Neal waves his thick little fingers, and off I go, top hat and tails and a jawbone held on by a thread. The speech is penned by Neal, and my mouth moves along with his backstage whispering.
“Thanks folks, it’s me, Tony Russo, bringing the American Songbook to life–make that unlife–” A titter from the crowd. “In the most spectacular jazz show in the history of the world. Come one, come all, come watch a reanimated corpse sing Moon River to ya for twice the cost of a Hamilton ticket–”
I don’t know what Hamilton even is. Neal’s never told me. Folks today sure seem to like it, though, and it sounds expensive.
“I don’t see a dime, of course–fifty years in the grave and show business hasn’t changed a whole lot, if you ask me.”
Bigger laugh this time. Never figured out why, but people who spend a lot of money to see you always think it’s a gas when you admit a lot of it doesn’t go to you. Maybe Neal will surprise me with a slightly nicer coffin, once this is all over and done with. Or maybe he plans to keep me at this until I literally turn to dust, in which case, maybe a jeweled urn. I won’t hold my breath.
The pleasantries dealt with, I start right in at Neal’s beckoning. Neal determines the set list, and he commands me what to sing. Songs are all in the ol’ noggin, of course–or, given my lack of a brain pan, maybe my soul–so I don’t need to know ahead of time. The skittish band starts to play, and off I go. We’re starting with Alright, Okay, You Win, and I think of the time sweet, kind Peggy Lee gave me a ride back to my hotel after my manager refused to give me a lift. Hate to do this to one of Peggy’s tunes, but I have no choice. The man says what to sing, and I sing it as well as a dead man can.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2018 collection.
Tony Russo is a professional vocalist who has toured the continental United States seven times–four while alive, three while undead. He released four studio albums during his brief career as a living performer, all of which received tepid reviews. He was murdered in 1964 and passed into obscurity until his re-animation at the hands of a die-hard fan in the late 2010s. He has resumed touring, against his will, though a part of him still wants to knock ’em dead.
Darren Ridgley is a journalist and speculative fiction writer residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His work has previously appeared in the Fitting In: Historical Accounts of Paranormal Subcultures anthology published by Mad Scientist Journal, as well as magazines including Polar Borealis, Fantasia Divinity, and Empyreome.
Justine McGreevy is a slowly recovering perfectionist, writer, and artist. She creates realities to make our own seem slightly less terrifying. Her work can be viewed at http://www.behance.net/Fickle_Muse and you can follow her on Twitter @Fickle_Muse.
“There Will Be No Encore” is © 2017 Darren Ridgley
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Justine McGreevy