The Rhythmic Outlands
Every marching band will someday find itself in the Rhythmic Outlands--that blasted and arid country that is devoid of odor because an unreasonable sun has scorched all odors away. All odors except the pungent aroma of despair and off-time steps. Yes, despair and off-time steps have an aroma, very much so. It is a distinct and pungent aroma... and the sun cannot scorch it away, as I believe I have already stated.
A marching band enters the Outlands as a team, believing themselves united and strong. A harsh reality awaits: they are not a team, united and strong--they are simply a unit lulled into over-rehearsed complacency.
Latigo Flint has seen entire squads fall, shamed and weeping. He watches them wilt and die without emotion. Latigo Flint has no sympathy to spare, he must save it all for himself; Latigo Flint has his own tympanic demons to face. Out here in the Rhythmic Outlands folks fight their own battles. It is how it has always been.
"Aren't you exaggerating a bit?" (This is what a fool might say.) "Is it really quite that dire?"
At such a fool my eyes would squint. I'd stare at a point just above and to the left of their right shoulder. My upper lip curls and chest muscles tense. I'm gazing out at death, corpses no one has ever noticed. I grasp the fool's shirt front and snarl into his pale face.
"Dire?! If anything I've understated." I release his shirt and my voice lowers to a near whisper. It's clear I'm only going to say this once.
"Tumble off the back of a brakeless hickory carriage as it steadily crosses a barren plain and you'll know what dire is. How you react in the next second determines your fate. You recover and re-board or you die. Waste even a moment blaming carriage or driver and desert creatures scatter your bones.
The good carriage Tempo is cruel but without malice. Its path is predictable and it freely discloses its destination. It costs nothing to ride, everything to stay."
I fall into a spent, moody silence. The fool considers my words then speaks. "I'm sorry... are we talking about drumming?"
"Probably, maybe, I don't know."
The fool nods in sudden realization. "Don't you think calling me a fool is kinda like the fuckin' pot and the kettle calling each other black and stuff?"
"I don't know, maybe, probably."
"Right. Well, we're going to start the parade now. You're gonna have to go back to the grandstands, only performers are allowed down here."
So I headed back to the grandstand. On the way I decided I wanted some cotton candy but I couldn't find any vendors. I tried to dream up elaborate western death scenarios to explain the hazards faced by cotton candy vendors but by now I was too tired and morose and I simply went home.