I had to dig into my email archives to find what the criteria were for this one it was so long ago (relatively speaking, of course).
I’m not particularly happy with this story – it’s basically a vomit pass, not even a first draft of a story, because you only get 55 hours to enter from the time that they announce the criteria, and I apparently have no concept of time management.
Anyway, the criteria:
- Your story’s first word must be NEW.
- Your story must include the words NINETEEN, DESERT, and PRESENT.
- Your story must include SOME KIND OF LIST. (Interpret how you like – could be just a mention or an actual list.)
As always, the story was limited to 500 words. I came in at 483. So, here is the hot mess I entered for January 2019.
‘NEW is back and we have a searing hot lineup for you tonight!’
I close my eyes in the darkness behind the curtain, half-listening to the host run his intro. Breathe. Focus.
‘But first, put your hands together for Desert Rose!’
The audience obliges. The curtain parts. The band plays. I sing.
For 3 minutes and 16 seconds, I am a god. Creator of a million universes. Master of destinies. Flawless. Incandescent. I’m not just at the top of the world. I am the world.
And then the music stops and I fade back into myself. Into the studio with the clapping crowd.
I walk across the set to the host who is waiting to shake my hand. The charcoal suit, the pompadour, and the broad grin give him an impression of sharkishness. At any moment, he could devour me.
‘You’re here promoting your album, NINETEEN,’ he says once the greeting is out of the way and we’re both seated. ‘Why NINETEEN?’
Because there’s 19 tracks on the album, and I suck at thinking up names,’ I say. I giggle, like I haven’t already had this exchange a dozen times this week. Like we don’t both know it. ‘Seriously. My parents got me a dog for Christmas when I was 8, and I called him Present.’
The audience laughs.
‘But you are also 19?’ he asks.
‘Some people have accused you of ripping off Adele,’ he says. It’s not a question. Not an accusation. Just a statement.
‘Then they’ve either never heard Adele or they’ve never heard me,’ I reply.
The audience laughs again.
‘We may have the same album name, but we’re completely different. Different voices. Different styles.’
‘Chalk and cheese?’ he asks.
‘Not quite,’ I say. ‘More like camembert and cheddar. Equally delicious, but in different ways.’
‘So in this scenario are you the camembert or the cheddar?’
More laughter from the audience.
I open my mouth to reply but he cuts me off. I hope they don’t show that in the edit. I’ll look like a guppy.
‘Desert Rose, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.’
‘Thank you, Danny,’ I reply with the biggest smile I can muster, knowing he’s deep sixed this segment on purpose.
‘Stick around folks,’ he says to the camera. ‘Coming up, we’ve got appearances by country singer Kylene Ray, and celebrity tattooist Mega Angel. There’s a special shout out from the boys of Mars Panic. And we find out what Hogwarts house King Pink is in.’
I get off the stage as quickly as I can without humiliating myself. The sooner I get this mic off me, the sooner I can get out of here and never have to see him again.
‘Tough interview, kid,’ says a woman in a glittery stetson as I pass her.
I snort. ‘Never let your manager book you on a slot with your ex.’
I debated for a long time over posting this piece. I’m not happy with it. I’m not proud of it. And it is uncomfortably close to a scene in Back to Reality, which I was reading around the time of this competition. But I feel like it’s important to document the good and the bad on my journey, so that’s what I’ve done. I hope someone will enjoy it, or at least learn something from it.