Terri Muldoon

Summer Fiction

Your 2020 Summer Reading List: Kimberly King Parson’s ‘The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton’

The Mountain Goats' 2002 standout becomes the foundation for a short.

Words are my job—words and drums. Cyrus is bass and merch and inviting people to gigs, or that will be one of his jobs once we get a gig, which we definitely will, probably soon. Drastus used to be guitar, but his mom made him quit. Now nobody is guitar. 

I’m words because sometimes these dark phrases stick with me for no reason. Like, I’ll wake up with “arsenal of striking tuna” growling in my head. I’m brushing my teeth and it’s an arsenal of striking tuna. Striking tuna on the bus, in algebra, in PE, when I’m mowing lawns. I used to worry that something was wrong with me, but now I know it’s just metal, that the only way to shake a sick thought is to bring it to Cyrus so he can put a savage bassline to it. Sometimes I’ll worry that what my brain has come up with is stupid, but Cy always seems impressed. 

“Dude,” he’ll say. “This works on two levels. Maybe three.”

Cyrus could write lyrics, too, if he wanted, because he says the sickest, funniest, most screwed-up stuff to anyone, even his stepdad and our teachers, even his shrink. I frontman from the back—I’m shy unless I’m behind my drums, doing murder voice. Once, this girl Amy P. came over to where I was sitting at lunch and handed me a bunch of ketchup packets just to see what I’d say. What I said was, “Uh, thanks,” and she and all her friends died laughing because none of them had ever heard me talk, not once, not all year. 

Cyrus and I share the flyers. I can’t look at a thing and draw it, not like Cyrus can, so he does the art. He put together this maggoty, full-color skull, the sun in the background like a big orange ball of hate. He likes me to do the lettering because my handwriting is very neat. 

“What’s the point of a badass demon spewing stuff if nobody can read it?” he says. 

We have a template ready to go, with the time and date and venue left blank. Once we get booked for a show, I know exactly what kind of satanic script I’ll use, tiny and uniformly spaced, serial-killer style. The band name is blank for now, too, because we haven’t decided on one yet—it’s kind of a sore subject.

So far, merch is just a box of black t-shirts my grandma picked up for us at Costco. Cyrus set each one a little bit on fire in this very strategic way, then drew on the maggot skulls in red. It’ll be hard to scale up once we need thousands of them, because he puts a lot into making every shirt. He spreads them out on the grass in the sun and really thinks about where the burns should go. He knows how to destroy a thing just the right amount. 

I think it’s maybe more metal that we don’t have a name yet, that maybe not having a name is our best thing, what makes us unique, like not having a guitarist or not playing separate songs so much as one long, awful groan. For now, the band is mostly just a feeling Cyrus and I share, but sometimes I lie in my bed and think about how sometime soon, people’s minds will be blown: girls at school, our families, neighbors, everybody. 

I have this dream of drumming onstage, covered in sweat, totally possessed, Cyrus’ wicked bass thumping along. We’ll look out at the crowd and all the people who hate us will be looking back, stunned. Suddenly Amy P. and her friends are tossing their hair, pumping their fists. They’re wearing our t-shirts—you can see little flashes of soft skin showing through Cyrus’ burned-out patterns, or maybe they’ve even got the shirts knotted up at the stomach the way girls sometimes do. I’ll see that dudes are wearing our shirts, too—guys who just bought them from the merch table and can’t wait, so they’ve got on two shirts at once, not even caring how hot it is. Poor Drastus will be there, too, headbanging in the front row, no hard feelings. I’ll make sounds like a wild creature with its throat ripped out. Cyrus will be seizing on his back, fingers bleeding. Everybody will be shocked—they’ve never seen us like this. Even before the money starts pouring in, before the fame and travel take us away from this dead town, everyone will know they’re in the presence of something demonic and terrible and true. It’ll be this huge wall of doom, black and all-consuming—and the two of us, me and Cy, the last guys anyone would have expected, will be behind it all. 


Kimberly King Parsons is the author of the short story collection Black Light, which was longlisted for both the 2019 National Book Award and the 2019 Story Prize, and is a finalist for the 2020 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, the 2020 Texas Institute of Letters Sergio Troncoso Award for Best Work of First Fiction, and the 2020 Oregon Book Award for Fiction. Her fiction has been published in The Paris Review, Best Small Fictions 2017, Black Warrior Review, No Tokens, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She is completing a novel (forthcoming from Knopf) about Texas, motherhood, and LSD.

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