“That was bad. What little talent you have appears to be wasted on how you dress, it certainly isn’t in your playing. You, my boy, lose.”
I watched his face as the full import of what I said registered. The swagger drained out of him and he held his guitar in front of him like a shield.
“Please, just let me walk away. I don’t get nothing, you don’t take nothing. That seems fair to me.”
“That’s not the deal. I invested time and attention and you weren’t worth it. I warned you I’m not easy to please but you insisted on playing for me. Now your soul is mine.”
“That’s not how the crossroads is supposed to work!”
“That’s how this crossroads works, and you know it. You wanted the bigger reward so you took the bigger risk.” I snapped my fingers and the young man popped out of existence. I leaned forward and caught the guitar before it hit the ground. I strummed a chord or two and realized he hadn’t even tuned the instrument properly. Idiot.
I look up and see someone else approaching out of the mist to my crossroad. All crossroads everywhere connect to here, if they want it bad enough. This time it’s a girl, barely into puberty, carrying an oblong case.
“Hello, young miss.”
“Hello. I wasn’t sure you’d really be here.”
“Who is it you think I am?”
“You – you’re the man at the crossroads, the one who only helps musicians.” She was holding her case so tightly her knuckles were white.
“Very good. What is it you want?” She looked confused. “I know,I should be able to infer since you made it here but you have to ask for something or this doesn’t work. Once you’ve asked, I’ll tell you the rules and you decide.”
“If you want to take the deal, or just walk away.”
She nodded, and set the case down by her feet. She took a deep breath and looked me in the eye saying, “My name is Kathy, and I want to be able to play any notes in any order people think to write down. I want to be able to play all the music that already is and all the music that is still coming. Can you do that?”
I liked her, Kathy. I always prefer when people ask big.
“I can do that. But before we go any further here are the terms. I’m not going to waste a gift of this magnitude on someone without enough innate talent to appreciate it. So an audition is required. If you’re good enough you get expertise and flair and the capacity for greatness, and I get your soul when you die. If you’re not good enough, I get your soul immediately for wasting my time. Play or sing one note, and it counts as acceptance just as saying yes would. Take a few moments to think about it.”
I turn and add the un-tuned guitar I’m still holding to the pile of abandoned instruments. I don’t want to pressure Kathy so I stay turned away and mentally flip through the selection of souls currently pledged to me: a man busking on a busy sidewalk, a band playing too early for the crowd to have gotten there yet, a church choir rehearsing (that one still amuses me, but oh she could sing), until I came to an old man at a blues club. He wasn’t performing yet, just strumming in the corner to himself. I listened in until -
“Uh – Mister?” Kathy had unpacked her instrument; it was a battery powered mini-keyboard. “Do you have a place I can put this?”
“We can do better than that Kathy.” I conjured a baby grand piano in the center of the crossroad. “I’d hate for your audition to go poorly because of a shoddy instrument.”
Kathy walked to the piano and ran her hand along the body of it. “I’ve never played anything this fancy.” Then she set her mini-keyboard down on top of it and powered it up. “But this isn’t the time for an instrument I’ve never played. Thank you all the same, but I’ll play what I brought. I’m taking your deal, Mister.” She looked at me and I gestured to her to start. She began to play that sad little toy.
It started out thin and tinny but the melody was strong. Then she relaxed into her playing and the music grew. She was coaxing something stunning into being, playing a tune I vaguely recognized but not quite because she had made it her own. Kathy’s skill transcended the quality of her instrument, and I knew I would send her back with everything she asked for.
Nothing and no one else anywhere makes music like people do, and the people with talent and a desire so strong they’d sell their soul to get at the music, those are the ones I want to hear. The ones I collect. The dirty secret is that the really great ones don’t need me or my deal. A little more time and effort and they’d have what they want and keep their souls.
Really, the souls aren’t the point, never have been.
The music is.
***This is my latest entry for LJ Idol, you can find the other entries on this topic here.***