Welcome to the grotto. Watch your head, it gets kind of cramped in here. Around here you can take a look at artistic works created by the HyperBole family and net dwellers such as you.
Rock and a Hard Place
Brian Skinner

Sneaking from his hotel room at half-past four in the morning struck him as something a free man ought not have to do, but Wolfy had learned to take his quiet moments when and where they presented themselves. His tiptoeing and cautious closing of doors were unnecessary. In fact, his care to be quiet was all but ridiculous. The rest of the band lay sprawled among their whiskey bottles and pill jars: on the floor, across the furniture, half-propped against one another. Even their own music, with one of the mega-amps right up to their ears, could not waken them.

Wolfy was never certain when it might be necessary in these incognito forays to assume an alternate persona just to keep from being mobbed. He took two extra wallets--complete with their phony IDs--from his luggage in one of the bedrooms. He pressed the door to their suite shut and descended the rear stairs of the hotel.

The alley entrance was rigged with an alarm. Wolfy did not want to call notice to himself--especially not from the police. The tabloids were waiting for just such a misstep. He lowered his head, as though reading the carpet, and stepped quickly across the lobby.

"Call you a cab, Mr. Blackmoon?" the desk clerk called out after him.

Wolfy shook his head and hurried out the revolving door, his long coat billowing out after him and nearly getting caught in it. "Mr. Blackmoon," he laughed to himself. The pairing of such a polite address with his name was an oxymoron akin to fresh-frozen strawberries, solid oak veneer, or genuine naugahyde. It wasn't even his real name.

Out on the street, Wallace Blackmun stood frozen for a moment, unable to decide which way to turn. He was a long way from the Iowa farm where he grew up. Abruptly, the city seemed strange to him all over again.

The streetlamps were beginning to flicker off. The cool air was a refreshment after the stuffy and smoky hotel room. It might clear his head and prevent a threatened headache. Wolfy turned down the street in the direction he thought he'd seen a park, on his way to the auditorium the night before.

He passed several clusters of people limping and shuffling down the sidewalks. They were not early risers, but left-overs from the previous night. With a disturbing frequency the passersby stopped for a moment and turned around to have another look at him. One group of teenage girls stared especially long and hard. Wolfy heard them arguing among themselves. "I think it really is him." "Are you sure?" "It's gotta be someone else. We're not that lucky."

After only a couple of wrong turns, Wolfy found the park. He was even more delighted to discover that it was on the shore of a large lake. A mist hung over the water and the sun struggled to burn through it, in the process causing the fog to glow as if on fire.

He settled on a bench near the water's edge and stretched his arms out across the upper slat of the back. Two small boats pierced the fog. The lapping of water mingled with the shrill keening of the gulls. It was so peaceful that, for a minute or two, he almost suceeded in forgetting who he was.

"Excuse me, but my friend over there," the girl said, pointing, "she wants to know if you're Wolfgang Blackmoon."

Wolfy shivered. He had been startled out of his reverie and was terrified of being discovered. "Naw," he said. "I just look like him."

"You see?" the other girl squealed. "It is him, because he says he isn't. If it wasn't him, he'd say he was just to impress us," she explained to her companions.

Such convoluted and intricate psychology baffled Wolfy. He again tried to deny who he was. Suddenly there was with the urchin a multitude of the fanatical host, praising their good luck and saying: "It's him! It's him!"

Wolfy was roused into a sweating panic. From out of the fog came wave upon wave of his admirers, slipping on the dew slickened grass and all but trampling one another in the stampede. Not thinking too clearly, Wolfy ran toward the water's edge and had nowhere to turn. He ran along the shore, the soft sand swallowing up his feet and erasing his progress as in a dream pursuit. He ran up the few steps of the long wooden fishing pier. He called out for help, hoping one of the small boats would pull alongside and rescue him. But the boats had disappeared into the mist and only the gulls answered his cry. He could hear and feel the rumble of many galloping feet upon the pier. He reached the end and could only turn around to face his admirers.

Whether he was pushed, had fallen, or had jumped in deperation, the result was the same. Wolfy fought off the engulfing waves, like so many outreached and clutching arms. He could not swim very well, and his boots, long canvas coat and tight jeans did nothing to enhance his skill. He struggled to get his coat off.

Soon there were splashes all around as several of his more devoted fans jumped into save him. They were followed by still others when, as everyone moved to one side, a section of the wooden pier collapsed and slid into the water.

Wolfy tried hiding beneath the murky gray water for as long as he could hold his breath. The pilings of the pier were slippery with seaweed and algae. One guy swam up beside him and asked, "You all right, man?" Wolfy sputtered and nodded his head. "You seen him?" the guy asked. Wolfy shook his head and tried to get a grip on one of the slimy wooden pilings.

One by one the swimmers made it back to shore or were hauled up onto what remained of the pier. The gel washed out of Wolfy's thick mane of hair which now hung about his head and shoulders like a tangle of water-logged hemp. Wolfy climbed up onto the muddy shore and poured the water out of his boots.

"He must be a terrific swimmer," one of the men said, wagging his head.

Wolfy smiled, content to be identified as just another nearly drowned rat among the pack. He noticed several of the young men huddled about at the end of the pier, every one of them in soaked shirt and jeans, and sloshing boots, their dripping mops of hair hanging in their faces. All of their tattered jeans--one of Wolfy's trademarks--were torn in nearly identical places. By being himself, Wolfy was perfectly camouflaged among them.

A canvas cattleman's coat was seen floating in the water. Someone retrieved it with an oar. The long coat was passed from hand to hand. Wolfy's real wallet--the one identifying him as Wolfgang Blackmoon--was found inside one of the pockets. The coat was declared to be the genuine touched that water. Wolfy would not have been surprised if they mistook the vague shape of a boat floating among the mists as him walking on the water. His dripping clothes were reminder enough to Wolfy of his common humanity, but such fanaticism amused him. He lay back as the sun shone in earnest, falling quickly asleep.

Wolfy awoke nearly two hours later. The front side of his clothes had dried in the sun, but the back side was still damp. Sitting up exposed his shirt to the breeze, and he shivered. He clamped his arms around his legs and rocked, trying to warm up.

In the distance, a young man and woman were going from person to person among the half-dried stragglers still scattered in the park and along the shore of the lake. They imparted some message. It did not s to it. When the pair approached Wolfy, they told him, "He's dead," nodding their heads sadly and slowly to confirm it. Their faces were wet with tears. "A couple of kids found his body down by the spillway."

"Gee, that's too bad," Wolfy said, wagging his head. The newsmongers moved wearily to the next outcrop of fans. Wolfy was in the unsettling position of knowing they were talking about him in the past tense, but as he was obviously quite hale, though a little chilled, it was likely to be what is called an "unconfirmed sighting". It was probably an old log or something. And, Wolfy mused, there were likely enough long canvas coats--also his trademark--cast off in the water that morning to lead to rumors of an entire boatload of Wolfies having drowned.

It was later that afternoon, when Wolfy had decided to return to his hotel room to get ready for the second evening concert, that the seriousness of the situation overtook him. It was no longer on the order of an amusing ruse or even an elaborate prank.

Now there were headlines. Below the bold typeface large enough to take up half the page--WOLFY'S DEAD--were two photographs: one of Wolfy as he appeared even to himself, and the other of a not dissimilar corpse being dragged from the lake. It was easy to see how the body might have been mistaken for Wolfy's. There was probably not a male rock fan under thirty--and a few wishful thinkers over that age--who had not adopted the various aspects of Wolfy's appearance as his own: from the carefully tangled mane of hair to the meticulously tattered jeans. This resulted in some pretty clonish behavior on the part of his fans, though few could get away with the clownish antics and bizarre pronouncements that were also Wolfy's.

There had been so many of these dopplegangers floundering in the choppy waters that morning that odds alone would have favored someone's drowning. Nevertheless, Wolfy felt very bad about it and, to a degree, even personally responsible for the young man's death. Wolfy was not thoroughly adolescent. In fact, most of his admirers would be shocked to Wolfy bought a newspaper from a street vendor. He wanted to read every detail of his untimely demise. On an inside page was a photo showing two of the band members, heads bowed, leaving the coroner's office after having identified Wolfy's body. "That explains everything," Wolfy told himself. Recalling the state he had left John and Snakey and the others in, Wolfy knew they wouldn't be able to recognize themselves in the bathroom mirror. That accounted for the mix-up, but now Wolfy had to decide what, if anything, he wanted to do to set matters right.

On the way back to the hotel, Wolfy noticed the vacant stares and pallid color on people's faces. They seemed to be wandering about in a state of shock. It reminded him of the shared sorrow following the assassinations and attempted assassinations of presidents, candidates, and civil rights leaders through which he himself had lived. In the back of everyone's mind As Wolfy passed his look-alikes upon the street, he became more than a little confused about his own identity. He hadn't slept much. Maybe Wolfy Blackmoon was, in fact, as dead as a drowned rat. Maybe he, whoever he was, had been such a devoted fan that he simply flipped out upon hearing of his idol's death and was now assuming his identity to fill the horrible void, shoving his own personality into the deepest recesses. It was plausible enough, Wolfy thought, though he doubted it was true. It would be just too convenient to be in anybody's but Wolfy Blackmoon's soggy boots.

Wolfy found himself standing before a door on the third floor of the hotel. He wondered how he had got past hotel security, then quickly realized that one more Wolfy wandering around the lobby would hardly be noticed. The brass key he found in his pocket matched the number on the door plaque. There was no time for further sleep-deprived ramblings. He needed to sort things out.

He came across Connie in one of the bedrooms. Connie had been his steady girlfriend for nearly a year already--something of a record for Wolfy. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, still dressed in a floral kimono. Her head rested in her hands. She didn't notice Wolfy. She sighed deeply, as though her lungs reached down to her pretty little toes.

"Not to worry love," Wolfy reassured her. "There's been a hell of a mistake," he said, placing his cold hand on her neck.

Connie shot to her feet as though spring-loaded. Her mouth opened wide in a loud scream that never got past her lips. Her eyelids fluttered daintily, and she fainted. Wolfy caught her, steering her collapse onto the bed. He propped her head on a pillow and went into the bath for a cold towel. She was coming around, but the sound of his voice seemed to make her swoon again. Wolfy folded over the bedspread and covered her. He went into the the living room to find her a good shot of whiskey or brandy--if the bank hadn't already sucked every bottle dry.

Stretched out on one of the sofas was Snakey, the drummer. He wore an old sweatshirt, but nothing else. Wolfy slapped one of his exposed thighs, and Snakey began to stir. The others were nowhere to be seen.

"Why aren't you watching after Connie?" Wolfy scolded him.

Snakey sat up and took a look around. Slowly, his eyes focused on Wolfy's face.

"She... kicked me out, man," Snakey sputtered.

"Good for her," Wolfy said. "Where're your shorts, Snake?"

The lanky drummer searched among the sofa cushions, found his shorts, and put them on.

"Not for me," Wolfy told him. "What the hell do I care? I just don't want you guys prancing around like this was a locker room when Connie's staying over."

"I was dressed then," Snakey protested. "She said she just wanted to be alone, so I came out here. You know I can't stand elastic when I'm sleeping. It cuts my wind."

"I could see that if you were a trumpeter," Wolfy said, laughing.

"You know, my staying power, man. I don't have to tell you about that. Hey! It's you!" Snakey said, jumping up from the sofa.

"Who did you think you were talking to?" Wolfy asked. "No, don't tell me."

"Wow. This stuff is some potent shit."

"You still messing with that crap, Snake? One day, twist by turn, you're gonna screw yourself right out of your brain."

"Do you got a message for me or something?" Snakey asked, leaning forward, his eyes bulging.

Wolfy realized what his friend thought was happening. He decided to play along. "My message is that you'd better get off that stuff," he said. "There's hell to pay on the other side for abusing yourself like that."

"No shit?" Snakey gasped.

"As sure as I'm sitting here talking to you," Wolfy said.

Snakey reached out his hand to touch Wolfy's face, but drew it back at the last instant. "I believe you, man," Snakey assured him. "But I thought up there it's a real blast and you get to do whatever you want all day long, forever."

"Nope. That's the other place you're thinking of, Snake. Down there, you get everything your heart desires, only it just won't turn off. It just keeps coming."

"My kind of place," Snakey said, laughing at his own joke.

"We'll see about that,' Wolfy said. "Like, if you like food, you get plenty to eat. You're forced to eat, in fact. Until your gut busts, for real. Then they patch you up and you start all over again. A whole truckload of eclairs. It gets to where you hate thinking about food. You'd rather starve."

Snakey gasped.

"And if screwing's your pleasure, you do it all day and all night. You do it until you poker's red-hot and blistered and you wish it'd fall off. Sometimes it does, but it always grows back."

Snakey shuddered.

"And if money's your thing, you get so much you're smothered in it, suffocated, buried under a mountain of gold. But they always dig you out and revive you. Then you gotta start counting it all over again, all the money in the world."

Snakey began cracking his knuckles. "What about dope?" he asked.

"That's the worst part of hell," Wolfy said. "Maybe I shouldn't even tell you."

But Snakey urged him on.

"Well, they give you all the dope you could want. You drink it, shoot it, pop it, snort it, and smoke all day long. Pretty much like you're doin' now," Wolfy said. "I mean, hell's a regular drug store--a pharmacopeia cornucopia."

"That don't sound too bad," Snakey said.

"Yeah, except that just when your high is at its mellowest, they stick you in some kind of situation where you really need a clear head."

"Like what, for instance?"

"Well, they let us watch from up there. I saw them do this to one guy. They put him in the cockpit of a jumbo. You're flyin' in every way. But your family and all your friends are aboard. There's one hell of a thunderstorm and one wing is fallin' off. You gotta land in midtown Manhattan. Everybody's counting on you. You mother brags to the lady next to her, 'My Snakey looked as if he were about to faint.

"Or," Wolfy continued, "you've had some really fine stuff, the best you ever had, and they throw you back in school..."

Snakey turned white.

"Final exam..."

Snakey turned whiter.

"English Lit... An oral."

Snakey went transparent. "That's enough, man," he said, nearly stuttering. "I get the picture."

Wolfy let him calm down a little. He was trying to figure out how to word his next request. He decided to come right out with it. He asked Snakey for some money, a loan as it were.

"How much?" Snakey asked. But the thought of hell loosened his tightly knotted pursestrings. "Whatever you want," he added.

"Maybe twenty, thirty thousand," Wolfy said. He knew Snakey would have the cash on hand. Snakey was distrustful of "them capitalist banker bastards" and kept most of his money in a strongbox under his bed. And, with seven of their records recently gone platinum, there would be plenty of it.

"Sure. Okay," Snakey said. "But what do you need money for? I thought you couldn't take it with you."

"That's true enough," Wolfy told him. "But a little bit under the golden table doesn't hurt. I haven't gotten through the pearly gates yet, well, not exactly anyway."

"A bribe?" Snakey asked.

"Of course not," Wolfy said. "It's a payoff."

Snakey puzzled over the distinction, but went to fetch the money nevertheless. He retired to the bathroom with his strongbox. He came out a short while later and handed the money to Wolfy. There was forty thousand.

"It's okay," Snakey told him. "But could you tell me how you're gonna pay it back? I don't really care, if you say you need it. I'm just kinda curious, that's all."

"I've been thinking about that," Wolfy said. "I decided, why don't you just consider it as having hired your own personal, full-time guardian angel?" ing out for you. And believe me, if I see you so much as touch a booze bottle, a pipe, or a bottle of pills, I'll give you a whack so hard you'll hear hi-hats for a week."

"Okay, I promise."

"And watch out for Connie for me. Tell her I'm okay and that I love her. And give her this," he said, pulling a golden key from the chain around his neck. "She'll know it's from me.

"And keep your pants on," Wolfy admonished. "She's only a woman, after all, not some angel's steady girlfriend."

Snakey nodded his assent.

"And take care of yourself and the others," Wolfy said. He opened the door and stepped into the hallway.

Wolfy's band had left town by the end of the week, on to the next city on the tour: Milwaukee, if Wolfy recalled. The concert given on the night he "died" became a candlelit memorial service. Wolfy obtained tickets from a scalper and was in the audience at his own send-off. He found it all quite funny, but he still worried about the poor schlemiel who had taken the rap for him--the burial wrap.

Wolfy used the money from Snakey to set himself up in a small apartment near the lake. Fortunately, he still had his bogus IDs with him. The landlord eyes his cash security deposit with some suspicion, but accepted it without further comment, except to add, "No loud music, no all-night parties, no having friends sleeping over for months at a time. Do I make myself clear?"

The tiny apartment made Wolfy a little claustrophobic and, for a time, he considered going back home to Iowa and becoming Wallace Blackmun again. He and his father had finally made peace over his father's second marriage, although this was possible only so far as they agreed to leave Wolfy's stepmother out of their conversations.

Wolfy's father had sold the farm some years back--before things got really bad--and, after trying to work for others for the first time in his life, finally gave up on it and moved to town, a booming metropolis of fifteen hundred souls. He opened up a small home-style restaurant and tavern on Main Street. Big city life went straight to his head. Within a month he was carrying on in broad daylight like a lecherous fool. Everyone in town--except Wolfy's mother--knew that his old man was having an affair with the barmaid he had hired.

One night after closing, Wolfy's mother had wondered what was taking her husband so long to tally up the day's few receipts. She found her husband and the barmaid going at it in the kitchen of the Canker Falls Fleur de Lis Bar & Grill. Poor Mrs. Blackmun put her hand to her breast and dropped dead of a heart attack on the spot. But what rankled Wolfy more than his old man's carrying on with the barmaid in the first place, was that he married her less than a month after laying Wolfy's mother in her grave. Wolfy chose to put most of this behind him--he still liked his old man--but he found it a difficult chore to be civil to the new Mrs. Blackmun.

These recollections slowly disabused Wolfy of his notion of going back home. He did promise himself, however, that when his life settled down, he'd call his father and let him know he was all right. Then he began to wonder whether his father had even bothered to attend the funeral. Maybe, he concluded, it was best to let sleeping dogs lie.

After his second week in his apartment, Wolfy was ready to climb the walls. His head was bursting with musical ideas he had never before found the time to explore, especially while on tour. Now he finally had the time, but no instruments.

He went out that afternoon and rented a Stratocaster, a synthesizer keyboard, tape recorder, and a modest amplifier. He wanted no trouble with his landlord, so he plugged into headphones most of the time. He was not used to music he could merely hear, Wolfy and his band played music that pounded their chests, reverberating within their bodies until their entire coporeal presences vibrated, resounding like kettle drums. He would just have to get used to this new way of hearing. It was still music, at least, and Wolfy was satisfied just to be in his element again.

Once his equipment had been set up, Wolfy barely remembered to eat or sleep for the next week. He hadn't shaved or showered in that time. He was beginning to look and smell like a wolf, offending even himself. Eventually, his project completed and recorded, Wolfy collapsed into bed and slept straight through the next twenty-four hours. He awoke shivering and ravenously, wolfishly hungry.

Wolfy stood under the shower until the water turned cold. After shaving, he rummaged through his suitcase in search of clean clothes. He simply had not concerned himself with furnishing his apartment; everything he owned was in bags and boxes and suitcases. He decided to go out for something to eat, for the only food he had on hand was either rotten or moldy.

He found an all-night all-you-can-eat buffet and thought that would spare some poor waitress miles of walking back and forth from the kitchen bringing him every item he had a craving for. He loaded up six plates in succession with as many kinds of food as he could pile on them. He was contemplating his seventh, but noticed the manager eyeing him nervously. Wolfy thought it best not to stretch his luck. He was afraid the manager might call the police and accuse him of concealing an immigrant family under his great, billowing coat. He left sated, but not stuffed.

He walked the long way back to his apartment and picked up a newspaper from the corner machine. He was still news, or at least his fans were. There had been scores of all-night candlelit vigils in his honor all over the world. He found it touching, but somehow annoying at the same time. He was getting tired of having to be cautious. Couldn't they leave a dead man alone?

Wolfy puttered at the keyboard for the next couple of days, tidying up some of the passages he had only raced through in the fever of inspiration. Then the Muse mounted another attack, assaulting him with everything in her Polymnian arsenal. A week later she had finished with him, leaving him exhausted, hungry, and dirty as before.

Something of a pattern began to be established: a week of frenzied work, burn-out and collapse, followed by a period of attention to his health and appearance during which his creative batteries recharged.

After six months, Wolfy had piled up quite a body of work, some of it making more than timid forays into uncharted musical territory. He'd received a year of classical training out East before the band had hit the big-time, but there was never an opportunity to use any of it. Once they had found a successful mode, there was no incentive to tamper with the formula. The recording contracts, concert tours, and expectant fans who knew what they expected to hear all militated against experimenting or setting off in new directions.

Wolfy was enjoying his new found artistic freedom too much to ever retreat into his former life with the band. He was pleased to be finally using some of his training and natural inclinations to good effect. He knew what he was doing was still rock-n-roll all right, but it wasn't harnessed to it. It was roaming free among the classical forms and devices. Those old guys had a whole bag of tricks, none of which were inimical to good hundred-thirty decibel rock. Most of all, though, Wolfy itched to find out how these changes would be received. While he had channeled his creative During one of his infrequent trips to the buffet restaurant, Wolfy decided to pick up a newspaper again. He pored over it while walking home. He was looking for ideas, especially among the employment ads. He knew that even as frugally and simply as he was living, his money would not last forever. He could always appear to Snakey again, but that struck him as underhanded, even though Snakey and the band had more money than they could ever dispose of - except foolishly.

Wolfy turned the page and wound up among the obituaries. He was reminded of the poor guy who now occupied Wolfy's grave, or rather, his shrine. He still puzzled over who the man might be. Half the reports of missing persons and runaways described themas being last seen in tattered jeans and a long canvas coat. Wolfy found that both sad and frightening. He himself could have filled the bill on a hundred such reports in the last month alone.

He turned the page again and was struck by an article suggesting the very sort of thing he'd been looking for. The article drew attention to the recent proliferation of Wolfy impersonators--although Wolfy called them "imposters" or "Imposers". Competition had become quite fierce, and there were charges and counter-charges as to who was the "original" or the "genuine" impersonator. More fresh-frozen strawberries, Wolfy thought. But he also realized that these impersonators craved new material. Their repertory of music was limited, fixed by his death. Wolfy had the very thing they required: new Wolfy songs. Whichever of them got his hands on on it first would blow the others right out of the arena. Besides, Wolfy told himself, it would be a riot to meet one of the impersonators face to face.

Wolfy's attempts to make an appointment to see Wolfy Ferguson--born Lyle Ferguson--met with considerable evasion and postponement. But Wolfy wanted to meet this particular impersonator because he was regarded by fans and critics alike as the closest approximation to the real thing.

Wolfy grew weary of trying to get in to see himself. On the following Monday, he simply barged into Mr. Ferguson's office. Wolfy had spent hours trying to get his hair to look casually disheveled. He wore his most precisely ripped jeans and had slept on his coat the previous night. The coat was wrinkled even on the molecular level. All in all, Wolfy was pleased with his appearance, although it seemed to him as though he was mimicking himself.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Ferguson blustered.

Wolfy thought the resemblance was uncanny, though a little sloppy in detail. Ferguson's secretary apologized for the interruption, but Ferguson waved it aside. He instructed her to call the police if Wolfy didn't explain himself adequately within the next five minutes.

"My name's Wally Lupus," Wolfy said, without blinking. He had the ID to prove it, too, if that became necessary. "I used to be a member of Wolfy Blackmoon's, uh, entourage, I guess you'd call it,"

"Go on," Ferguson said, motioning to Wolfy to take a seat. "You know, you could almost pass for Wolfy yourself."

"Yeah, well, there were times--especially when the fans get a little unruly--when I stood in for Mr. Blackmoon."

"I suppose the chaos helps," Ferguson remarked. "Nobody's paying very close attention in those kinds of situations."

"But now, since the accident," Wolfy went on, "well, the band's pretty aimless. There isn't much for me to do."

"I hear they might be breaking up," Ferguson said. "They're cancelling the rest of the tour."

That was definitely news to Wolfy. The shock registered on his face, and he was unable to conceal it.

"You didn't know?" Ferguson seemed surprised.

"Well, I've been kinda wandering aimlessly myself since the accident," Wolfy explained.

Ferguson leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Let me guess what you want," he said. "You think maybe you could offer me some coaching: some insider tips on what Wolfy was really like."

"The thought did occur to me," Wolfy admitted. "After all, I did enjoy a priveleged closeness to Wolfgang Blackmoon that even the other members of his band didn't share with him."

"I think you can save your breath," Ferguson said. "I don't think you could tell me anything about Wolfy Blackmoon I don't already know. I've got him down pretty pat," he said, smiling smugly. "I'm just not interested."

Ferguson stood up, indicating that their little chat was over. Wolfy got up and reached into the inner pocket of his wrinkled coat.

"You may, however, be interested in this," Wolfy said, producing a sheaf of crumpled papers. He dropped the loose pages on Ferguson's desk.

Ferguson leafed through them, turning the pages faster and faster. "Where did you get these?" he asked.

"Uh, well, I told you me and Wolfy... uh, Mr. Blackmoon and I... were, uh, pretty close."

"And the band?" Ferguson asked. "Do they know about these?"

"They never laid eyes on 'em," Wolfy replied, grinning.

Mr. Ferguson tapped his intercom. "Judy," he called. "Listen. I'm not to be disturbed. You got that? I don't care if Wolfy Blackmoon himself shows up with wings and a golden harp."

Wolfy smiled. Ferguson leaned across the enormous desk and shook Wolfy's hand. "I think we can do business, Mr. Lupus."

"Please call me Wally."

As he got to know him, Wolfy began to regard Ferguson in a more favorable light. The competition had been decimated by the introduction of new material into what had previously been a fixed repertoire. No one doubted the music was Wolfy's, however Wolfy Ferguson had managed to come by it. Ferguson was more relaxed, and maybe that was responsible for the more agreeable estimation of him in Wolfy's eyes.

A short time after Ferguson had hired Wolfy as a "technical consultant", Wolfy lost his lease on the small apartment. He had become even more upsetting to his neighbors after learning to work with headphones on. His neighbors could hear nothing of what Wolfy was composing. They heard only his loud muttering, humming, foot stomping, and singing over and over again the same passages to an inaudible accompaniment. This went on until Wolfy got it right. Every new song ended with his trademark howling and baying at the full moon--even in broad daylight. Wolfy's fellow tenants could tolertate a noisy and inconsiderate neighbor sooner than they could bear living next door to a psychopathic, or perhaps even a lycanthropic one.

Ferguson suggested that Wolfy move in with him--something which would be necessary anyhow, once they toured. Wolfy was reluctant at first, fearing cramped quarters, frayed nerves, and arguments--not to mention the loss of his creative privacy. But Ferguson's house was enormous and even had a small section of secluded woodlands on the property. Wolfy was surpised by how well the business of impersonating talent paid. He decided to accept the offer, especially after Ferguson promised to outfit Wolfy's quarters with a high-tech music studio.

Their new arrangement worked out reasonably well. Ferguson certainly didn't object to Wolfy's keeping him supplied with a constant stream of new material. But he was rather loathe at first to accept any advice or coaching from Wolfy, even though the impersonator had to admit that his new partner's proximity to the deceased and legendary hard-rocker made him an invaluable instructor on the finer points. Wolfy did not pressure Ferguson. He began wth mere suggestions, stepping lightly around Ferguson's huge and prickly ego. Slowly, even the impersonator himself The enthusiasm of the crowds became nearly uncontainable at times, and even Ferguson's harshest reviewers finally relented. One of them went so far as to admit, in print, that Ferguson could "out-Wolfy Wolfy". The result became noticeable on the music charts and at the box office. Before long, Wolfy found himself with the added duties of a "personal grooming consultant", instructing Ferguson upon all the finer points of applying gel and getting his mane to look statically charged at all times. Wolfy became his wardrober as well, teaching him how to rip and sandpaper his jeans so that the effect wouldn't appear contrived. Voice lessons followed, and the two of them practiced their lupine howls until they became hoarse.

Wolfy continued to provide Ferguson with new material. Wolfy suspected that Ferguson must have figured out by then where all this new music was coming from. Perhaps Ferguson simply considered it unwise to probe too deeply among the gift horse's golden fillings.

Wolfy advised doling out the "new releases" one at a time, thereby keeping the fans guessing and eagerly anticipating the next. "Let's not blow our wad all at once," he told Ferguson. "We don't want to flood the market and devalue the currency." His partner agreed.

They both sat around in the studio one night, brainstorming on how to answer questions about where all the new Wolfy-like music was coming from. They were laughing and drinking and coming up with one preposterous suggestion after another. They finally agreed that Ferguson would claim these new songs were given to him by Wolfy in his dreams. It was loony enough to appeal to the fans. It answered the unanswerable question about the source of musical inspiration, and it was bizarre enough to make the holders of Wolfy's previous copyrights shy away from considering any infringement contests in court when the case hung on such unarguable absurdities. The idea was screwy enough to satisfy everybody.

and asked him if he would consider joining them in re-forming Wolfy and the Howlers. "It'd be a dynamite combination," Wolfy said, but advised against it. "Let 'em stand on their own for a change."

Ferguson said he thought this was a little harsh, but he had come to trust Wolfy's judgement. Wolfy's real reasons had more to do with his fear of being found out, which was very likely if he was to be working closely with, or at least working around, his old band members.

A week later, after Ferguson had signed on with a different record company, the letter from the Howler's lawyer was less haughty and more conciliatory. The Howlers were now asking whether Ferguson might consider hiring them.. This became very tempting to Ferguson, but he anticipated what Wally Lupus had to say about it. Ferguson surmised that Wally must have been treated very badly by the band in the days when he was their go-for, and was now enjoying his revenge.

Before the band's complete collapse, Wolfy decided to go see them one last time. It was to be their farewell concert. Ferguson's connections came in handy for getting Wolfy a backstage pass. As he walked down the dark hallway behind the stage, he saw Snakey come out of the dressing room, his arms loaded with empty fried chicken boxes and clinking booze bottles.

"Excuse me," Snakey said, trying to make his way past yet another Wolfy clone.

Wolfy stopped him and stared into Snakey's face. The drummer's eyes shone clearly, but they were encircled by dark rings.

All at once Snakey recognized him. The bottles fell from his hands, spraying shards of glass up and down the corridor.

"Honest, Wolfy, these aren't mine. I've been clean as the driving rain." Snakey seemed close to stammering. "The room's full of 'em, and I was just cleaning up a little before the others get here. Believe me, I don't even want to look at another bottle. Honest, Wolfy."

"Okay, Snakey. I know you wouldn't lie to me. I'm glad to hear you're staying clean. So, how's it going otherwise, Snake?"

"Not so good, Wolfy," Snakey said, wagging his head. "They just cancelled a benefit concert we were gonna do. We can't even give ourselves away. I'm starting to dip into my cash stash in a big way, and there ain't nothing goin' back in. I thought we were gonna go work for that Ferguson guy--maybe you heard about him. But he's all set. I guess he just doesn't need us."

"Maybe he just doesn't need them--John and the others, I mean. But I happen to know Ferguson's drummer's not so hot. He's lookin' for a replacement. Hey, how'd you like the job, Snake?"

Snakey's lips moved, but nothing audible drifted past him.

"Gimme a week or so," Wolfy said. "Yeah, come by in a week. I'll have it all set up for you. I ain't your guardian angel for nothin'."

"A week?" Snake said.

"All right, gimme a couple of days. What's your hurry anyway, Snake?"

"Great," Wolfy said. "Well, come on. The others can clean up after themselves. They can get a new flunky. Let's go for a walk."

Wolfy put his arm around Snakey's shoulder. Snakey cringed at first. He appeared surprised at how substantial Wolfy was, but it seemed to reassure him.

Outside, in front of the entrance to the auditorium, a vendor was selling inch-long threads: relics of the reputed coat Wolfy wore when he had drowned. A young man was searching through his pockets, trying to turn up another couple of bucks.

"Save your dough, kid," Wolfy said, staying his hand. "A thread ain't gonna keep you warm or dry." He took off his own long canvass coat and draped it over the young man's shoulders.

Several of the other fans nearby made a dash and plunged after the coat. Wolfy collared one of them and stared him down. The others backed away.

"You lay a hand on that coat and I'll take you apart thread by thread," Wolfy warned him. "I gave it to him. Now buzz off."

Wolfy and Snakey resumed their walk and their conversation. Wolfy found it enjoyable talking to Snakey while the latter was in all of his right mind for a change. He had forgotten how chummy he and Snakey had been before the band's bad habits and craziness got to Snakey. He was delighting in their getting reacquainted. Wolfy left before the concert, however. He could not bear to witness the final plunge of their precipitous slide.

The next day, Wolfy was amused to learn that the appearance of his ghost at the Howlers' last gig had been duly noted by his fans and reported in the press. Meanwhile, the supermarket tabloids revealed that he had been spotted--simultaneously--working as a stock clerk in a grocery store in Austin, Texas.

Wolfy learned that the clerk had been hounded by the tabloids, the poor kid's denials only fueling their desire to report on every aspect of his life. Thanks to all these disruptions, the clerk was fired from the grocery store. Wolfy felt some responsibility for that, too, and sent the kid a couple of grand, with a note of advice attached: "Be yourself".

Snakey got the job as drummer with Ferguson's band without Wolfy's intercession. He again got used to Wolfy's more corporeal presence, laying his "ghost" and their former lives to rest.

Wolfy sat in Ferguson's dressing room one evening before a concert, watching with amusement as the star primped and preened and strutted before the mirrors, and exercised his vocal chords as if his intention were to shatter the mirror. Wolfy smiled, relaxing in chair off in a corner, enjoying the feel of his new, much looser jeans and much shorter, "You know, I've been thinking about a couple of things, Wally," Ferguson said. "Here I am, getting all duded up to go on stage, ready to soak up all the attention and acclaim, while here you are, doing all the work of coming up with new material, and managing things, and doing all the work. I've been thinking maybe it isn't fair: that you're getting the short end of the stick. I was wondering if you wouldn't maybe want to join us on stage. Of course, with that short hair and those baggy clothes I don't know how the fans would take to you. But I want to be fair with you."

"Thanks, Fergie. I appreciate the offer," Wolfy said. "But, no thanks. I'm happy doin' what I'm doin'. Bright lights bother me; fans make me nervous. As long as I get to compose and get in on all the recording sessions, and get to jam with you guys, I'm happy. I don't want any more than that. I'm having my cake and eating it, too. I'll leave the fame part of it up to you guys."

"Okay, have it your way. But you can't say I didn't offer. Hey, what're you working on? A new song?"

"Yeah," Wolfy said. "Wanna hear it?"

"Sure," Fergie said. "But I better get back to getting ready. Fire away, Wally."

Wolfy accompanied himself on an acoustic guitar and read the lyrics from the notebook he had been doodling in --

"I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll singer,
but I needed an agent and a lawyer,
a manager and a stage director,
and my own private tailor;
my personal cook, my very own baker,
and they all had a piece of me, so far,
except for my undertaker..."
"I like it," Ferguson said. "How about my hair? Too flat?"

"It's fine," Wolfy assured him. "You look more like Wolfy than Wolfy did," he said, repressing the urge to howl.


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Pages by Brett Wagner Updated 02/27/96Comments to webmaster@hyperbole.com
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