She was beautiful. Scratched all over, all the strings were gone, and somebody had carved a big letter “D” on the headstock… but she was still beautiful.
Slowly, almost reverently, the young boy stretched his hand to pick up the old electric guitar. He didn’t know how to play, but once he handled it all he knew was it felt good in his hands.
He rummaged thru the contents of his pockets, searching for every last bit of money he had. Doubtfully, he headed to the back of the pawn shop and placed his whole capital on the counter. The fat man behind it looked down on an old fiver, a one dollar bill, two quarters, a rusty dime, a nickel, and a penny so tarnished that it looked practically black. He was about to say something when he met the pleading eyes. Without a word he took the money and motioned for the boy to leave.
She was his now.
The crowd was still roaring. He could hear them even thru the thick door of the changing room, all the way backstage. It had been a glorious gig. The band had played like men possessed… but then again, they always did. They lived and breathed to hear the crowds go wild before them. It was their altar, their communion, their soul… and he was getting tired of it. The fire was gone. He wanted out.
Jezebel was on her stand beside him. He ran his fingers gently over her body, like a lover, feeling every curve. She was shiny and black, you could hardly have recognized her from that first day at the pawn shop, so many years ago. Except, perhaps, for the huge letter “D” carved on her headstock.
He had taken care of her himself for many years and then, as soon as he could afford it, hired the best craftsmen and luthiers to keep her as brand new. But he always asked them to leave that scar in place.
He gently placed her back into her case, and made his way towards the exit.
He was surprised to find the loading dock empty. It should have been teeming with roadies and technicians loading the trucks for the next city. The crew, the vans, even the people from the arena should have been there. The street was strangely quiet. Even the sounds from the city, which should have been bustling all around the arena, were gone. Everything was quiet. The silence was so imposing that felt like a huge granite wall around him.
Just then, he began to hear a distant noise, it was slowly getting louder. It was a deep and low sound, not exactly a roar. It was more like purring. Only this was not a household cat’s purr. This was the purring of a very big cat, digesting something very fast that was just not fast enough. It was the sound of a motorbike approaching.
He saw it cross the gate towards him. A low chopped Harley with a tall handle bar, all black, and mean, and chrome. The rider, a tall man in a black cavalry hat, got off the saddle like the sheriff in an old western movie and stood before him. He could see his own face reflected on the mirrored aviators that covered the stranger’s eyes.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as tales of forbidden pacts signed in blood on some deserted crossroad filled his mind. He suddenly understood why he had fallen so deeply in love with that guitar, why he had Learned to play so good so fast, why a cutthroat industry that usually chewed up bands and spit their bones had so easily opened every door to him… He felt himself turning very, very pale.
“Hi Johnny, I’ve come to ask something from you.”
The voice was deep and hoarse.
He held Jezebel’s case against his body, clutching it with all his strength.
“No! You can’t take her away from me!”
Even behind the mirrored glasses you could feel the stranger blinking with surprise.
“What would I want your old guitar for? I can’t even play the blasted thing.”
He opened his mouth, closed it again, swallowed deep, and finally managed to ask meekly?
“You’ve come to take my soul then?”
The stranger burst out laughing.
“Heck, no… You’ve seen too many movies dude. Chill out, I’m not here to take your soul.”
The stranger put a foot on the bikes saddle to wipe the road dust from his snakeskin boots.
“What I want is for you to keep playing. You’re the kind of thing that helps keep this tiny ball of mud and rock hurling thru space a hell of a lot more interesting than it was originally designed to be.”
He tried to think of something to say… but he couldn’t find any words.
The stranger tipped his hat, got on his bike, and revved the engine. He turned again and yelled over the noise.
“By the way… All that stuff about crossroads? That’s just a load of marketing crap. That guitar’s got magic all right, but I sure ain’t got nothing to do with it. All I did was give you people the power to decide, you always make your own choices.”
He lowered his mirrored glasses and winked at the dumbfounded Johnny.
“The magic she’s got? It’s all yours.”
And with a roar and a cloud of dust, he drove off into the night.
“Johnny? You ok man?”
The voice of his guitar tech startled him. The loading dock was busy with an army of roadies and technicians loading all the gear in the lorries for the trip to the next gig, yelling at each other over the busy city’s noise. The band was already waiting for him on the van.
“Yeah Phill, I’m ok. Just thinking about… some stuff. Don’t worry about me, man.”
He climbed into the van smiling like a little boy and clutched Jezebel’s case a little tighter.
He was much more than ok…
He was on fire.