BY HARRISON KIM
Copyright is held by the author.
LOGAN HELD the blue guitar neck and stroked the strings. Or did the neck rub against him, and the strings pull his fingers? Logan didn’t care, he simply played. Whatever music he thought up sourced out of the sound hole, guided by his fingers on the strings. No need to sleep, or eat, only necessary to hum a tune and press upon the frets.
The tips of his fingers sometimes bled, but they healed impossibly fast. The slinky strings seemed to salve the cuts. The acoustic playing sounded close to perfection. He stroked harmony, togetherness, love. He would let no one else touch this instrument. He called the guitar “Windega” after the way its sound blew through him like the wind.
He had found the guitar up on fire-burned Mt. Snauq. Each summer he hiked through burned over lands, in search of pine and morel mushrooms, expensive delicacies which only feed on the ashes of fire-destroyed mountains the first spring after a blaze. They’re the first new organisms to grow. The dirty, back breaking summer work gave Logan enough to live on for the rest of each year. His real passion was music, all winter he practiced and played at coffee houses and talent shows.
He found Windega by what seemed like random chance. On Mt. Snauq, stick trees stood black and burned over, the ground covered with ash and charcoal. Logan walked alone up a ridge. He hummed one of his original tunes “My Only One.” He lived in his imaginary world as he hiked, daydreaming what it would be like to play music in front of thousands. He glanced up and saw the outline of a man with long black hair standing on the far ridge.
“Must be another morel hunter,” he thought, then he peered closer at the bare patch directly in front of him.
He perceived two concentric rings of mushrooms, one within the other, the rings almost perfect circles. He crunched over the ashes in his big boots, squatted to pick up the morels, noticed a flash of blue at one corner of his eye. He turned his long-haired head and there it was, a turquoise and indigo guitar, lying against a white stump, uniquely alabaster among all the black charcoal ones around it.
On either side of the instrument’s bridge, painted on the guitar front, lay two matching green eyes, looming over the blues that dominated the rest of the instrument. The eyes appeared slanted and brilliant in the afternoon sun. They stared out at the sky and when Logan approached, they seemed to follow him. An illusion, he thought. “This whole guitar is an illusion.”
Then he picked it up, felt it. Solid maple wood, custom constructed. “Wonder who left it here?” He felt heat, and sun warmed veneer. The heat penetrated from the guitar into his hands. The green painted eyes shone in the sun, the turquoise and indigo swirled. He sat on the stump, lifted the guitar to his knee. As he touched the neck, a stroking went down the back of his own, like being touched by a giant hand. He gave the instrument one strum, and the tone penetrated, reverberated.
He played a few notes, hummed them in his head, leaned over, breathed in a smoke like cedar scent. “I’m going to get a good case for this thing,” he said, strumming, watching the valley view below, holding the guitar, its curves under his chest, feeling warmth and belonging, rooted to that place by the music.
“This is harmony,” he said to himself. “The nature, the music, and the dragonflies buzzing by.”
After a while, he picked up his sack of morels and the guitar and hiked down the mountain to his old van, lifting the instrument high to avoid scraping or bumping.
He saw his girlfriend Laura already at the vehicle. She stood willowy, and tall, black bangs all down in front of her eyes “Where have you been, it’s almost eight o clock?”
Logan hadn’t realized he’d been playing for five hours. It seemed like minutes.
Laura examined the guitar, “where did you find it?”
“It’s got to be coincidence,” Logan drove down the mountain, trying to explain everything. “It appeared just when I thought of performing.”
“You always think of performing,” said Laura. “You’re obsessed with becoming famous.”
“I’d give anything to have the world hear my songs,” he nodded.
“You’ve written some good ones,” Laura said. She reached round the back seat to feel the guitar, accidentally pushed it over.
“Don’t do that,” Logan braked and stopped, checked the instrument for nicks. “It’s very fragile.”
Logan stayed in Laura’s backyard, in the van, playing the blue guitar. New chords came to him right away, original note combinations, they flowed out of his mind through his fingers and into the instrument. Then, from the instrument out into the world, fast as the wind, “Windega,” he said the word for the first time. He’d never picked up music so fast. Before, his fingers rarely found the right notes playing in his head. Now he thought of an instrumental, and picked up the fingering after a couple of tries. The more he played, the faster he learned. He watched the sun go down in what seemed like seconds, then walked into the house.
“Maybe it’s a gift,” he told Laura.
“Gifts aren’t given for nothing,” she said. “Have you eaten anything today?”
“I’m not hungry.”
Laura shook her head. “You can’t live on music.”
The next morning Logan went down to a music store and bought a guitar case, an electric pickup, and an amplifier. Then he set up near the city park and began playing for passers-by. He’d never had this confidence before, but every note felt sure. Every note he held in his head, he was able to express. He sang, the intensity of the vocals matching that of the guitar, his chest and arm hugged the instrument close, at the end of the seven minutes of the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven.” The gathered crowd gave him a standing ovation. He collected almost eighty dollars to fill his empty case.
That night he went up to Laura’s, took the guitar with him to serenade her. The curves of the instrument fit snugly; the harmony exact. “Come on over here,” said Laura. With reluctance, Logan left the guitar on the couch. Over with Laura, in the dark, he could still sense those green eyes watching. He touched Laura, kissed her and it felt distant, he couldn’t caress through to the harmony. It wasn’t like true music. The guitar took what he sang inside and sent it out into the world and back to his ears again, perfectly.
“I need to go back to the van,” Logan said.
“What makes your guitar more important than us?” said Laura. She’d known him a month, she liked his easy-going manner and physical form. She fit him in as a summer partner, until she returned to college in the fall for the last year of a fine arts degree. “Those painted eyes are creepy” she said.
Logan jumped out of the bed. “I’ve got to go, Laura. Sorry. I’ve got a tune I’m working on.”
It was a tune with one big rhythm, about his relationship with the guitar, how he found it and first held it, and felt its curves and played it there on the mountain. He stayed in the van all night working on it, a long changing piece of many parts. As he played, he tried to understand the instrument, tried to pull out what was at its centre, because for now it was the guitar taking from him and sounding out his story.
What would it be like to reverse that, to discover what was inside the wood, what made it so resonant of his thoughts? “Because I’m not a selfish person,” he told himself “I want to know where its coming from, how it was born.” As he played, he sensed fire and the bush and forest burning, he smelled the cedars flaming but couldn’t go any further back than that.
He didn’t go to work the next day; he threw Laura the keys to the van as she stumbled out the front door. “I never got any sleep,” she said. “I felt stressed out all night.”
Logan nodded and went back to his strumming. He wanted to know so much. What was the history of this guitar? Who left it sitting on that white stump? Why hadn’t anyone else seen it? Laura walked away without speaking, her mouth tight and thin. After she slammed the van door and drove off he moved the guitar and himself to her living room.
He played all day absorbed with slides and arpeggios sounding within and without, writing the song of his life, moving backwards in time and memory, spinning through the teenage years. He reached age ten, that alone took two hours. He told the guitar childhood stories through his thoughts, and felt his fingers play them. From a childhood he barely knew well, indeed had forgotten, he transferred the memories to his fingers and to the guitar and out came the sound of it. As he heard the music, Logan understood how he became the way he was. He knew the unfolding song of his life.
He didn’t even hear the front door open. Laura stepped into the living room “Can you stop for a moment, I bought a visitor,” she said, and an old man strode in. Logan had seen a figure like him before, hiking on the mountain just before he found the guitar. This squat and solid fellow had the same long black hair and bright orange shirt.
“You play real good, real good,” said the visitor. He held out his huge veiny hand. “I’m Jesse. Jesse Purdaby.”
Logan reluctantly stopped playing. He clasped the guy’s offered fingers for a second, they felt cold and dry.
“Jesse has some interesting things to say about your guitar,” said Laura. “He’s one of the indigenous Salish people, and he’s got a theory about where it came from. I met him up on the mountain today and told him your story.”
“Yeah,” said Logan. “I think I saw Jesse up there myself.”
“I’m always wandering around,” said the Salish man. “Picking a few morels.”
The squat elder leaned over, peered closely at the guitar’s green eyes. Logan looked into Jesse’s face, then covered the front of his guitar with both hands.
“No need to be possessive,” the old man said. “My family’s lived here for thousands of years. We’ve seen the land and the spirits within it change shape many times.”
“What do you mean?” said Logan.
“I mean that’s not really a guitar,” Jesse said. “It only looks like a guitar because that’s what you want it to be.”
“No, it’s real,” Logan laughed. “Can’t you hear the music?” He gave the strings a strum.
“Yes, we can all hear the music,” Jesse nodded.
“Jesse says the forest fire set a lot of hidden forces free,” Laura talked excitedly. “He says the mountain spirits take the form of our desires and lead us towards them.”
Logan thought about that. Laura was really into the indigenous culture. She’d told him these people had all sorts of legends about changelings and transformations. But that’s what they were. Legends. “Well, I respect your point of view, Jesse.” he said, “But If your idea is true, what’s the point?”
“Eventually, our desires absorb us, and then the spirits return to the mountain.” Jesse traced his finger through the air. “But this time, they have our souls in their possession. They need our souls to rejuvenate, to help spread their essence into the grasses and the berry bushes and the trees.” He paused for a moment. “What do you call your guitar?”
“I call it Windega,” Logan said.
“Windega sounds like the word for cannibal in our language.” Jesse grabbed the glass of water Laura offered him. “Although we say ‘Wendigo.’ Don’t you think that’s more than coincidence?”
“He thinks you’re in danger, Logan,” Laura said. “He thinks that guitar’s going to consume you.”
Logan grinned. “So you bought this guy all the way down the mountain to tell me my musical instrument is a man munching demon?”
“The spirits are not unkind,” said Jesse. “They’re doing their duty as caretakers of the mountain. When your soul and desire are absorbed into the rocks, they use their essence to grow the land again.” He looked at Logan. “You seem very caught up.”
“Yes, he’s been playing almost continuously for three days now,” said Laura. “First it sounded good, but now the music’s starting to bug me. I can hear it going round and round in my head all day.”
“I’m fine,” said Logan. “I’ve never felt so fine.” He hugged the guitar to his side. “I just want to play an hour or two more. Can you give me some space?”
“I’ve never seen you so involved with anything,” Laura said. “I sure wish I could be as involved with my writing.”
“Please,” Logan repeated. “I need some space.”
That night in the van, he played back further in his life, back until age five, then age two, the whirling memories sounding out through the guitar. He understood the melody now and the rhythm of time. His life was just a drop, a crumb, a grain, in the vastness of what came before, and what would come after. The thought of it swallowed him up. To be able to explore that vastness through the music, that’s what came next. He sat the guitar across from him in the opposite chair and looked into its painted green eyes. He could see further and further in the more he looked. The more he looked in, the more he understood his own fleeting time on earth.
“We’re so alone here,” he said to the guitar. “The music we make brings us together, through time and space.”
The next day, he drove the van back up Mt. Snauq, the guitar beside him on the passenger seat. It was near sunset in the valley but as he ascended the logging road the light became brighter, and as he reached the level where he found the guitar the sun was only beginning to fall behind the Fly Hill Mountain beyond. Sunset light reflected off the painted eyes and the turquoise and indigo swirls of the guitar beside him. He parked the van at a clearing by the side of the road, took his instrument and began to walk, charcoal crunching beneath his feet, dust rising, covering his runners with fine ash. He scanned around, searching for the white stump. He kept the guitar in its case. He wanted it clean and perfect.
He passed the sticklike remains of forest-burned trees, branches black, bark crumbling. On the ground, the spark of new life, grass and morels here and there. He forgot about the stump for a moment as he spotted another circular ring of mushrooms. As he glanced up from this circle, he saw the thick white wood jutting out halfway up the hill. He hiked up to the stump, sat on it and took the blue guitar from its case.
He began to play a reprise of the life song that he sounded out in Laura’s living room. He tried again as he played to feel where the guitar and its sound were coming from. Jesse Purdaby could be right, it could be linked to a spirit, because again Logan sensed heat and burning, he felt cast back, to the heart of the forest fire the year before. He let his mind go, to allow the music spirit in. That connection, that unity, was what he always wanted.
Sure, he desired to play in front of crowds, and feed off their energy and cheers, but this wish was deeper and more subtle. It would be a unity spirit to spirit, his own individual one side by side with the soul of the living mountain. He felt penetration straight through the guitar body into the burned over land beneath him, and below that land into the rocks, hard and unyielding underneath, he let his fingers move and draw up the hum from below, a low growl, that became louder as he listened.
He sent his life story to the guitar, for the service of harmony and connection and now something sounded back. He felt vibrations pour out of the painted eyes up into his fingers through his arms and into his mind. He let himself go, into the immersion, he let it all go, and rose with the rhythm, gazed down upon his own body clutching the guitar, observed it alone on the mountain ridge.
He floated up above his physical self. Around him he sensed others rising too, many spirits released from the ground, as the sun entered its golden time, the shimmering yellow and red circle halfway behind the mountain range beyond pouring its last rays upon the burned over hill where Logan’s body sat clutching WIndega.
Night would arrive soon. Time to work and accomplish, rebuild the forest, be part of something bigger, something necessary. In the coming dark, morels would begin to burst through the ashes. They would flourish with his essence and his tending. As Logan flew along the mountain ground with the spirits, he watched his own body disappear into the earth, along with the blue guitar, its painted eyes open wide, pouring out vibrations of unity as they both melted through the surface of Mt. Snauq.
Laura and Jesse hiked up the mountain the next day, searched all over for Logan. They found the van, its door still open, off a side road.
“How much did he care for you?” Jesse asked.
“He liked me,” Laura bent down to pick up some new morels. “But he didn’t love. He was too much into his music, into his own ambition. He talked about being a rock star all the time.” She carefully placed the morels into her burlap sack. “There’s a huge patch of these shrooms over here. Must be a couple of hundred dollars’ worth. I know it seems callous, but I need to make my quota. It costs one hell of a lot to attend college.”
“I guess we’ll have to let his parents know he’s missing,” Jesse gazed out at the black sticklike trees all over the hill. “We’ll have to call he search and rescue.”
“I think he decided to stay up here overnight and play that weird guitar,” said Laura. “But I’ll phone if we don’t find him soon.”
Jesse scuffed up some ash, looked to one side and noticed an open guitar case next to a burned-out black hole in the ground. “I think I found what he left behind!” He yelled.
Laura had found something else, too, just as she finished picking the circle of morels. A very small turquoise painted object. As she rolled it between her fingers, she felt an odd warmth. She’d always wanted to be a writer, now it was quite a coincidence to discover such an expensive gold pen out here in the middle of a forest fire’s destruction.
As she felt the pen between her fingers, she felt an uncontrollable urge to write.
She ran over, showed the pen to Jesse, but wouldn’t let him touch it. He came closer, “I just want to take a detailed look,” and stated, “Well, sometimes a pen is just a pen.” Then he grabbed it from her fingers, threw it into the distance, and closed Logan’s guitar case. “And sometimes it’s not,” he concluded.
“Why did you do that?” Laura yelled. She dropped her morel sack and ran across the burned logs and the fingers of reappearing grass, frantically searching for the object of her desire.
Harrison Kim lives and writes out of Victoria, Canada. He grew up playing guitar under a mountain similar to the one in the story. His tales have been published in The Horror Zine, Spank The Carp, Blue Lake Review, Bewildering Stories, Grain, and others. His blogspot, with publications and original music videos, is here: https://harrisonkim1.blogspot.com