"A Cog in The Wheel"

By Anna Clay

"I don't care, I'm going anyway," said Lilly decisively, as she picked up her backpack and begin packing.

"Young lady, you are not going to that Grateful Dead concert tonight, and you are certainly NOT going to Memphis or any other town, following some silly band around." Susan said, as she walked into Lilly's room.

"Mom, why are you doing this to me?" pouted Lilly. "I've wanted to do this for years, and now I finally have the chance, and you have to pull this stuff on me!"

"Look, Honey, you know why." Susan said, putting her hand on Lilly's arm. "All kinds of things go on at those concerts. Things you haven't even heard of yet. You're just too young. Anything could happen. Margie's daughter went on one of those tours, and hasn't been heard from since."

"Well, I am not Margie's daughter, and I am not letting this chance slip by." Lilly stopped packing and looked at her mom. "If you had your way, I would never get to do anything. I mean, geez, Mom, don't you ever just want to experience something different? Don't you ever get tired of just being a cog in the wheel? Living in the same routine, day after day?"

"I happen to like my routine," said Susan firmly. She backed away from Lilly and put her hands on her hips. "And I am telling you, Miss Lilly, that you are absolutely not leaving this house tonight."

"And I am telling you, Mother, that I am leaving this house this instant." And with that, Lilly zipped her bag shut and pushed her way past Susan and out the bedroom door. Susan followed Lilly down the hall, shouting "Don't come back!' as the front door slammed shut.

Lilly stormed down the sidewalk to the driveway and threw open the door to her car. Speeding out of the driveway and down the suburban avenue lined with oak trees, she lit a cigarette and jammed a CD into the stereo. Keeping one eye on the road, she rummaged around in her oversized purse, making sure she had the tickets for tonight's show. Merging onto the expressway, she headed downtown, her anticipation building with every passing mile. This was going to be the best night of her life. She was finally going to a Dead show and she had finally gotten together with Tommy, the guy of her dreams. And tomorrow they were headed to Memphis, following the band for the entire summer.

Taking the downtown exit, Lilly maneuvered her way to the auditorium parking lot. Before getting out of her car, she pulled her favorite tie-dyed T-shirt and long cotton skirt out of her backpack and changed her clothes. She had been waiting by her car for only a few minutes when Tommy pulled up in the van. Jumping out, he swept Lilly up, planting a big kiss on her lips. Together they walked through the parking lot toward the auditorium. There were Deadheads everywhere, flying their colors and selling their handmade wares. The syncopated sound of drums, wind chimes, wooden flutes and acoustic guitars blended together and floated through the evening air, along with the delicious aromas of refried beans and stir fried vegetables. Lilly sighed contentedly. There was nothing like a Dead show.

As Lilly and Tommy worked their way through the crowd toward the auditorium, she could feel the hum of excitement in the air, like walking under high voltage power lines. The hum danced through her, tying her stomach into knots. It rippled through the crowd, infecting more and more people until suddenly they all became The Crowd.

Lilly handed Tommy his ticket and they went into the auditorium and headed down to the dance floor. They found their spot near the front of the stage. Lilly was so excited by how close they were, she couldn't believe she was actually here. Someone handed her a cup of Kool-Aid, as she drank greedily before passing it to Tommy. Suddenly the lights went out. A roar spread through The Crowd, as one by one, the members of the band came on stage. First came the drummers, Mickey and Billy, bringing in the beat, then Phil on the bass and Keith on the keyboards, followed by Bob and Jerry on lead guitar. At first it sounded as if they were tuning up, like an orchestra, then slowly the melody began to take shape, wrapping itself around the beat, fading away into space, and dancing back again. It was as if the music itself was in control, the band members merely instruments, until at last the music became the song.

By now Lilly was dancing along with all the other Deadheads, her hips swaying, her arms weaving through the air, spinning the melody with her hands. She could feel nothing but the music, sense nothing but the music. She closed her eyes and surrendered herself to it, dancing harder and harder. The band was really jamming now, the music becoming more and more intense. The band hit the crescendo and the walls of the auditorium literally vibrated. At that point, Jerry sang out the next line:

"Inspiration, move me brightly!" Lilly felt the words coming toward her. Like shards of light, they pierced her forehead and exploded into millions of microscopic slivers, lodging themselves into her consciousness, into her very being. She began to feel as if she had no body. She had no sense of time or space. All she could do was feel the music, and dance.

After a while, she began to grow tired, and yet she could not stop dancing. As if her spirit was unwilling to come back down to earth. She continued to dance, but she was becoming exhausted. How long had it been? Was she even still in the auditorium? The last thing she remembered was drinking Kool-Aid. And yet she still could not stop dancing. She felt like a puppet on a string. She willed herself to stop but her muscles would not oblige her. What was going on here? She begged her feet to be still, but they continued spinning her around and around.

She was getting hysterical now. She could not catch her breath. She reached up to loosen her necklace, and remembered she was not wearing one. "What on earth is going on?" she thought. What was this metal band around her neck? She realized with horror that there were metal bands around her ankles and wrists as well. She struggled to free herself, to no avail.

Finally, her vision began to clear, and she felt her consciousness return. She found herself in a large circular room. She saw a man directly in front of her; he also had bands around his neck, wrists and ankles. He was looking around, confused. She managed to turn her head and saw a girl behind her, struggling to free herself. She was in a large circle of people, each one of them bound as she was. They all had wires inserted into their foreheads. In the center of the circle there was a large tower, obsidian black, completely smooth. The wires were connected to the tower. The tower began to hum. The music began again. The dancers began to move in a circle, slowly at first, then faster and faster.

And with a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach, Lilly realized what she had become, as Jerry sang: "The Wheel is turning and you can't slow down."

The large circular room began to fade as the house lights came on. Lilly blinked and stared blankly in front of her. Her ears were ringing with the absence of music. She looked around and saw Tommy next to her, jumping up and down and yelling, and she suddenly realized that he looked like a complete idiot. She sank to the floor, feeling empty and drained.

"What's the matter, baby?" Tommy asked, as he squatted down next to her and shook her gently. "Didn't you have a good time? Come on, we've got to get moving if we want to make it to Memphis in time for the next show."

She couldn't answer him. She just stared at him. Slowly she got up and walked out of the auditorium, leaving Tommy standing there with his hands on his hips and a bewildered look on his face. Dazed and confused, she threaded her way through the parking lot, got in her car, and headed for home.

Copyright 2005 Anna Clay

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