Alexander stood off to the side of the bar's stage, waiting for his band's turn in lights while a screamcore band named "Cellars and Chains" mangled its way through another song. Cellars and Chains gradually disbanded as they worked through their three-song set. The guitarist quit after the singer bounced on her toes too many times, the bassist had the head of his instrument knocked off after the singer body-slammed him into an amp, and the drummer only kept his equipment intact by ending rolls on the singer's face.
"BUT YOU KNOW WHAT'S CHEAPEST OF ALL? JUST ONE LITTLE BULLET TO PUT IN YOUR HEAAADDDD!" the singer screamed, then jumped at the drummer and ricocheted off of his enormous chest. After the bouncers finished booting what was left of the singer out of the club, the MC of the battle of the bands took the stage.
Alexander's hands sweated. He flashed a moist thumbs-up at his bandmates, Carolyn and Tommy.
"That was a great performance for all of the wrong reasons. Please welcome the next band: While I Bleed Alone."
Alexander shuffled on stage with his bandmates. After Carolyn finished her stretches and sat down with her sticks ready, and after Tommy had finished standing there and looking cool, Alexander approached the microphone and they began their first song, "Glass Heart."
"Open up your chest, and pull out your glass heart, and break it apart so that I can cut myself, and then you forget about me while I bleed alone," Alexander sang.
The entire crowd was bawling by the end of the first song, and the MC came back on to put an end to it. His cheeks were tear-stained.
"We've been told by the owner that the battle of the bands is over," the MC sobbed, "please go home. Or just go pass out in an alley. It doesn't really matter." The MC shuffled off the stage.
Alexander's vision returned as the blinding stage lights went dark and the bar began to empty.
The trio stood on stage until Tommy amplified the little voice in all three of them.
"What the fuck was that?"
"I guess we won, though, right? We're the last band standing," Carolyn said.
"But there's a cash prize," Alexander said. He approached the MC, who was sitting at the bar with a box of tissues and sobbing into his beer.
"Excuse me, sir, but who won?"
"It doesn't matter," the MC said.
Alexander didn't reply until Tommy poked him in the back.
"But it matters to us," Alexander said. "We're all students and we need the cash."
"You want some cash? Fine. Al, give them some cash," the MC said to the man behind the bar, who proceeded to empty the register and hand it all to them in bills and coins damp with his tears.
"We can't take all of this," Alexander said, while having his back pummeled by Tommy. Carolyn had also joined in.
"I need new cymbals!" she hissed in his ear.
"Why not? Did we insult you with how little it is?" the MC asked. He took out his wallet and shoved a few more bills at Alexander. "Sorry about that."
Carolyn and Tommy dragged Alexander back towards the stage.
"That was amazing!" Tommy said. "Split three ways thats...holy shit, that's enough for my trip to see Eurocred in concert!"
"And almost enough for the set of badass cymbals that I want!" Carolyn added.
"But we made all those people sad," Alexander said, watching the little clusters of twos and threes sighing and crying at each other.
"The band is named 'While I Bleed Alone.' We're not named 'Buck Up There, Champ, Everything Is Fine,'" Carolyn said.
The band booked many more shows and every time was given thousands of dollars from crying promoters and bar owners. They eventually secured a record deal with a representative from one of the major labels. Judas, their contact, flew them out to Los Angeles.
"Hey, bro, I love your tracks," Judas the representative said. "Mind-blowing. Ear-popping. I'm very excited for this venture and looking forward to this opportunity."
"Totally," Tommy said.
"This contract seems fair," Carolyn said, reading it over.
"Which track is your favorite?" Alexander asked while Judas' pen hovered over the paper, prepared to sign the million-dollar deal.
Judas' face blanked into a very carefully sculpted look of amiable confusion. "Maybe number five," he replied.
"Okay, let's put it on," Alexander said, taking their demo CD and popping it into the CD player before his bandmates could stop him.
Before the track was halfway over Judas was lying on the floor beneath the table, sobbing into the sleeve of his suit. No effort by Carolyn or Tommy could get him to pick up a pen to sign the contract. Carolyn shoved Alexander into a fern in the corner.
"Fuck you! Why'd you do that?"
"Do you want to sell out?" Alexander asked. "He'd never even heard a song of ours!"
"We can't get a deal from someone who's actually listened to our music!" Carolyn said. "A sobbing, heaving wreck can't sign a contract."
"And I can't do this anymore," Alexander said, "this is horrible!"
"You can't walk out on this band," Tommy said. "This is how I'm getting my message out."
"You don't have a message. You have a haircut and a pair of tight jeans wrapped around an empty shell. Fuck your haircut and fuck your jeans."
"An empty shell?" Tommy said. "Not quite."
Tommy peeled off his skin to reveal a blackened horror resembling a six-foot-tall charred hot dog covered in faces. Each face was twisted in grief. The gossamer wings of a wasp stuck out of its back. In his eight hands he carried eight guitars.
"My message is infinite sadness," the Tommy-fiend said, "my message is the chords of these guitars. My message is the futility of life itself! Each riff shakes the heart strings of the human heart and vibrates the dirt off of buried sorrows, allowing each sorrowful memory to sprout like seeds of despair."
"I'll fucking eat you if you leave," Tommy said.
"Okay, I'll stay," Alexander said.
They got a record deal the following week. Carolyn had her cymbals ordered. It took them until the first show of their label-backed tour to arrive. Carolyn fitted them onto their stands and could barely contain her excitement.
"And now!" came the announcer, "While I Bleed Alone!"
Alexander heard the crowd roar as they took the stage. With a heavy sigh Alexander nodded at Tommy to start the guitar riff of their first single, "Glass Heart." Alexander waited for Carolyn's drums to begin.
Then he heard the crash of the cymbals, but instead of the harsh clash that he was used to, the cymbal rang like a clear bell carrying through a valley on a winter's morning. Alexander wondered where the hell that vision came from. He turned around to look at Carolyn and saw that she was no longer sitting on her drummer's stool. She had become a tall, glowing figure in ice blue robes with snow falling around her, and she held a silver hammer with which she struck the cymbal that hung from a silver cord.
Timmy reeled and fell off the stage. When he returned, he was in the form of the Tommy-fiend.
"The Cymbal of Joy! You wretched monster!" the Tommy-fiend yelled, his wasp wings a blur with a buzz. They knocked over cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and ruffled carefully coiffed hair.
"And I will use it to drown out your wretched guitars!" the Carolyn-muse said, banging her hammer on the Cymbal of Joy.
Alexander turned to watch the crowd. They were exultantly punching each other in the face.
"Hang on, hang on!" Alexander yelled to his bandmates. "Look at them! Your guitars bring them sorrow and your cymbals bring them joy! Why do you need to fight?"
Tommy and Carolyn looked out over the crowd, and then looked at each other, and then looked at Alexander.
"You're right. We've realized something. We don't have to fight. We can play together!" Tommy said.
"We also realized that we don't need a singer. You're out of the band," Carolyn said.
The Moral: you'll never bleed alone if you're friends with a leech