Abyss & Apex: November/December 2003: God’s Guitar Part II

GODS GUITAR PART II Illustration

God’s Guitar (Part 2)

by Justin Stanchfield

 

The road followed the river, the Yellowstone low, gravel banks and uprooted cottonwoods lining the banks. Limestone bluffs gave way to eroded hillsides as they crossed into Wyoming, long curtains of white hiding the Powder River Mountains. Matt drove, Lonnie and Norman argued, the girl dozed, her head against the door, snoring softly as the miles drifted past. Ahead, just visible around a long, sweeping curve, red and blue lights flashed, a wrecker flanked by patrol cars blocking the right lane. He slowed to a stop as a State Trooper waved them down.

“We’ll just be a minute folks,” the trooper said, bending low for a better look inside the cab. “You know you’re supposed to have seat-belts on, right?”

“Yeah,” Matt said, fumbling to find the belt-ends stuffed under the cushions. “Sorry.”

The trooper waved them around the wreck, Matt’s stomach dropping at the sight of the mangled semi trailer. Long sheets of twisted aluminum flapped in the wind, snow already covering the ruined boxes littering the ground. He coasted past the tractor, the once gleaming blue cab twisted past recognition, the chrome stacks snapped off. Broken bits of glass and plastic covered the road, a small red oval lying along the margin, ‘Peterbuilt’ still legible. Beside it lay a body shrouded in a green blanket, dark blood pooling beneath. He had no doubt it was the bearded man from the truck-stop. Denise gaped as they drove past, her face deathly white. Matt cleared the accident and sped up, anxious to put miles between them, certain he heard an angel whisper over his shoulder, ‘I told you so.’

tire

Highway song. Asphalt kisses rubber. Miles roll away, roll away while the sun traces westward, a bright spot in the snake gray clouds as morning bled into afternoon, dusk not far on the horizon. Matt leaned against the passenger door, eyes shut, trying to sleep before his next turn at the wheel. The girl, for her part, had not shut up since they passed the accident hours earlier, chattering incessantly, barely taking time to breathe before launching into another improbable subject.

“I’ve got a sister in Denver,” she said for at least the tenth time. “She’s got a job lined up for me. Like a receptionist or something, I’m not sure. But it beats McDonald’s, right?”

His eyes drifted shut, her sweet voice blending into the endless stream of classic rock, trapped in a world forever spinning through abandoned airwaves. Matt slipped across the lonely border between awake and dead-ass exhausted, dreaming a Pentatonic dream in the key of A. Somewhere in the far distance he heard a man singing. Sang about the crossroads, and the devils waiting there.

Matt moaned softly, enjoying the floating, drifting motion. The song drifted across him, thick as the red dust that hung in the air. A flatbox guitar added counterpoint, and the notes slid serpentine beneath the bottleneck. It was a song of wanting and despair. A song of deals gone bad and hell holding the ticket.

Wyoming prairie shifted to Mississippi delta, hot as a potter’s kiln, swirling with the ghosts of share-croppers and Model A’s. The roads ran straight and true and vanished in the heat waves. Matt stood in the middle of the crossroad, feet chained, the shackles around his wrists chafing him to the bone. A figure walked through the haze, whistling off-key, a heavy Carhart jacket slung over his left shoulder. The bearded man stopped in front of Matt, grinning like a fool while sticky flies buzzed around his eyes. He laughed, his breath road-kill sour.

“They never tell you the price if you fail, do they kid?”

Matt bolted awake, shivering, cold air blowing through the gap in the weather-seal. The girl was still talking, the stereo still playing, snow still swirling across the interstate, ghostly snakes slithering towards the drifts on the shoulder. He sat up and punched the eject button. “Can’t we listen to something besides Clapton for a while?”

“Yeah,” the girl who called herself Denise chimed in. “What is it with you guys and all this old crap?”

Lonnie nearly choked laughing. Norman sputtered, torn between his devotion to the blues and his growing attraction to the girl whose ass was currently pressed warm against his thigh. Matt rubbed the sleep from his eyes, squinting into the gathering whiteness. “Where are we?”

“About twenty miles out of Caspar.” Lonnie slowed down for a herd of antelope dashing across the blacktop. “You want my opinion, we should stop for the night.”

“But, we’re not even halfway,” Norman protested.

“So what? The concert isn’t until tomorrow night.” Another trio of antelope darted across the highway. Lonnie tapped the brakes, the rear tires sliding. “Let’s get a room and wait for the storm to blow out. These roads suck.”

“No way.” Norman’s voice rose, sounding as if he might break into tears. “I can’t afford a room.”

Matt stared at the road ahead, the dead trucker’s warning rumbling in the background. He felt the girl stiffen each time they mentioned stopping, no doubt wary about traveling with three strange men. Off to their left the lights of a distant ranch burned star-bright above the undulating ground blizzard. Matt made his decision.

“I’ll pay for the room. Let’s spend the night in Caspar.”

The storm thickened as Lonnie pulled into a parking lot and shut off the truck, the engine back-firing. Denise sat in the truck, arms wrapped around herself while Matt jogged toward the office, head bent against the wind, Norman dogging in his tracks. The lobby was warm and dry, a blast-furnace compared to the November blizzard outside. He stomped the snow off his tennis shoes and walked to the desk. A mousy woman in a cheerful green vest looked up.

“You have any rooms left?”

“A few.” She pulled an invoice up and started filling in the blanks. “How many of you are there?”

Before Matt could lie, Norman blurted, “Four of us.”

“Okay.” The girl spun the invoice around. “That will be ninety-six dollars.”

Sick to his stomach, Matt counted out the last of his money, barely scraping enough to cover the charge. The woman behind the counter raised her eyebrows, but started counting. “I’ll need a credit card number, too.”

“I…”

Lonnie stepped inside, stomped his feet and pulled a visa card out of his wallet. “Put it on this.”

“Thanks.” Matt swept the cash off the counter and handed it to Lonnie. “I maxed my card out at the cash machine this morning.”

“So I noticed.” Lonnie stuffed the bills in his pocket then signed the invoice. Snow covered the sad luggage in the back of the truck by the time they found a parking spot, the guitar a pitiful lump of white. Cold, tired and hungry, they walked up the narrow stairs to the second floor hallway. Matt turned around, waiting for Denise. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, uncertainty in every movement.

“Look, I don’t know what you’re expecting, but I promise, nothing’s going to happen, okay?”

She shrugged. “Maybe I’ll just take off and see if I can get another ride.”

“Suit yourself.” He glanced out the glass door at the snow piling up against the rows of parked vehicles. “I don’t think you’re going to have much luck though.” He waited, but she said nothing. Frustrated, he turned around. “If you change your mind, look us up.”

Out the corner of his eye he saw her hesitate, glance once more at the storm, then start up the stairs behind him.

tire

The ghost of pizza past hung in the air, the television tuned to an unremarkable football game. Matt sat on the edge of the bed nearest the door, bored, the guitar behind him. Lonnie stood up and stretched.

“Anybody up for a beer?”

“Sure.” Matt grinned. “As long as you’re buying. I’m broke.”

Norman hesitated, staring covetously at Denise. “I think I’ll pass.”

She glanced at Matt, imploring him to do something. He grabbed Norman by the collar and herded him toward the door. “Come on. I don’t trust you around my guitar.”

The lobby was nearly empty, a handful of people clustered around the television, bored with the game. In the corner, a husband and wife duo was tuning up, programming their drum machine, waiting for a lull in the game before starting their first set. Lonnie stared at them.

“I can’t believe they have music on a Monday night.”

“Hey, not everyplace is as dead as Butte.” Matt nodded at the band stand. “You going to sit in with them?”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Why not?” Norman said. “I was thinking about asking them if I could sit in for a while, myself.”

“I don’t think the world’s quite ready for that.” Lonnie drained his beer, his eyes drifting again toward the tiny dance floor. The pair was playing an Eagles cover, the amps barely audible above the television, not caring if anyone listened. Matt grinned as Lonnie’s fingers played the solo note for note on his empty bottle. He pushed away from the table.

“Where are you going?” Lonnie asked.

“To get the guitar before you explode. I’ll be back in a minute.” He left the lobby, taking his time getting back to the room. He stopped beside a picture window, the fresh snow green-gold in the streetlight glare, the last lazy flakes sifting down. It was peaceful, a scene from a snowglobe. He smiled, happy for the first time in days, satisfied that he was, for once, doing the right thing. His footsteps echoed as trudged up the stairs and found the room. The door popped open, the hinges sighing over the cheap beige carpet.

“What the hell?”

Denise spun around, coat and hat on, Lonnie’s credit card in her palm. Quickly, she stuffed the card inside her pocket.

“You stinking little thief.”

“I didn’t take anything.” She tried to brush past him, but he caught her arm and spun her around. She gasped, but he didn’t loosen his grip.

“Let go of me or I’ll scream.”

“Go ahead. I’ll knock you on your ass. If you’re going to get the cops I’ll give them a damn good reason.” He shook with rage, angry at letting himself be tricked so easily. He wanted to hit her, wanted an excuse to do something awful. “This is how you pay somebody back for saving your life?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You saw that truck. If you’d stayed with that guy you’d be as dead as he is right now.”

“Is that how you see it?” Denise’s eyes narrowed. “That makes up for lying about him spiking my pop, right? I don’t know what kind of games you weirdos are playing, but I don’t want any part of them. I’m out of here.”

“Not before you dump your pockets.”

“Fine!” Denise emptied her coat pockets, throwing the credit card and the assorted change she had stolen on top of the nearest bed, then stormed out the door. Matt waited a few seconds, letting himself calm down. As mad as he was, he hated to see her run away again. He opened the door and stepped into the hallway, but the girl in the dirty purple coat was long, long gone.

tire

Morning broke crystal bright, sharpened by knife-edged shadows cutting across the still white snow. Matt nursed his third cup of strong, black coffee, waiting for his head to clear. What had seemed so simple yesterday had become hopelessly tangled, the girl’s departure casting a sour spell over everything. Finally ready, they set out, stopping for fuel at a gas station on the edge of town.

A familiar figure stood outside by the payphone, hands stuffed deep in her pocket, puffs of breath hiding her face.

“She’s like a stray cat,” Lonnie muttered. “You just can’t get rid of her.” He stepped out of the truck. Matt shut the engine off, leaving Norman to fill the tank, and walked toward her.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Denise looked away.

“Thought you’d left last night?”

She shrugged, her boots stained by snow and road salt. “Thought I’d hang out here for a while.”

He looked over his shoulder, making sure no one was within earshot. “I never said anything to the others, if that’s what you were wondering.”

“Thanks.” Her lips trembled, slurring her speech.

“You still want that ride to Denver?”

She nodded and followed him back to the truck and climbed inside, no one saying a word about where she might have spent the night.

tire

High prairie bled to grain fields, bled to suburbs, Wyoming gone, Colorado a reality. Ahead, the Denver skyline rose like watchtowers against the hazy blue sky, a mythical kingdom filled with cars hurtling breakneck in an unending parade of rubber and steel. Matt fought to keep up, knuckles white around the wheel. It had been ages since he had driven in real traffic and he had forgotten how much he hated it.

“Anybody know where the hell we’re going?”

“The Filmore Theater,” Norman said with authority.

“Nice.” Matt swerved to avoid a blue sedan. “And where exactly is the Filmore Theater?”

Norman’s face fell. “I don’t know.”

“Maybe,” Lonnie said, “we should call Denise’s sister and ask directions.” If she caught the sarcasm in his voice, she said nothing, her face pressed to the window, hypnotized by the city’s swirl and buzz. Matt dodged across lanes toward the nearest exit.

“This is crazy. I’m going to get some directions.” A dingy convenience store waited in the shadow of the off-ramp. Matt opened the door, a gray-black chunk of ice breaking off the wheel-well, splattering against the oily rivulets running over the parking lot. Stepping through the slush, he headed toward the door, Norman and Lonnie following. Matt turned around, checking on Denise. “Keep an eye on the truck, okay?”

She nodded.

The bored attendant had no more idea where the Fillmore was than they did. Annoyed, he gave them a poorly printed street map and turned back to the television, leaving them to sort out a route to the concert. Matt wandered to the restroom, discovered it was locked, and went back outside, desperately needing to take a leak. He glanced at the truck, satisfied that Denise hadn’t bolted, then walked around the corner of the flat-roofed building.

The snow was melting, slushy puddles shimmering in the breeze. Matt relieved himself behind an overfilled dumpster, and started back toward the truck, turning the corner in time to see a man in a gray sweatshirt grab the guitar.

“Why didn’t you stop him!”

“Stop who?” Denise looked up, startled. Matt charged across the slick asphalt, gaining ground, the man in the sweatshirt hampered by the guitar. He turned around, saw Matt and ran harder, water splaying out as he crossed the street. Matt’s right foot shot out from under him, dumping him face first in a ripe puddle.

“Shit!”

Soaking wet, he watched the man in the gray hood run away. Without warning, a lanky blur speed past him, Norman’s skinny legs driving hard. Matt stared in utter amazement as Norman overtook the thief and grabbed him by the collar. Together, they careened into a lamppost, fell to the ground and rolled in the wet, dirty snow. By the time Lonnie and Matt arrived, the fight was over, the would-be thief vanishing into an alley. A trickle of blood seeped from the corner of Norman’s lip. Beside him lay the gig-bag, the Les Paul nestled safely within.

Lonnie handed him a wad of Kleenex. “Remind me never to steal your guitar.”

“Come on,” Matt helped him to his feet. “Sooner we get out of this place, the better.”

No one disagreed.

tire

They wandered blind, precious time slipping away, the map in Lonnie’s hand all but worthless. Pedestrians gawked, sullen people all, feet mired in the melting snow, their faces gray as the leafless trees. Matt drove on, wet and dejected, hating a universe that dropped a man like him in a city like this without so much as a star to steer by. Suddenly, Norman poked him in the shoulder and pointed left.

“There it is.”

An ornate building stood across the street, an enormous billboard proudly displaying the magical letters ‘Fillmore Theater.’ They pulled around back, anxious to find a parking place, a crowd already gathered. A mud encrusted semi blocked the alley, tired roadies dragging heavy black cases through the open the stage doors as the sun vanished behind the uneven rows of buildings, twilight choking the last color from a cold gray world.

“So, this is it.”

“Yep.” Norman stared at the semi, eyes glazed, his glasses bent from the fight. No pilgrim had ever stared with such piety. “This is it.”

“Come on.” Lonnie opened his door. “Let’s get this over with.”

The guitar felt impossibly heavy in Matt’s hand, the weight of years clinging to it. If it had burst into unearthly flame and told him to cast off his tennis shoes he wouldn’t have been surprised. Across the lot they walked, four abreast, three men, a guitar and a half-grown girl, stragglers all, the journey come to an end. The roadies barely glanced at them, the chain of equipment slowing, the truck nearly empty, the thick double doors swinging shut. Matt took a deep breath and crossed the threshold.

“Hold on, buddy.”

A tall man, broad shouldered and lean with a neatly trimmed beard put his hand on Matt’s shoulder. An ominous bulge rested under the left armpit of his tour jacket, a plastic ID badge dangling over his pocket. Death swam in his eyes, an elemental power potent as the wind and twice as cold. “Nobody through this door.”

“But,” Norman stammered, “we have Eric Clapton’s guitar.”

The angel of death seemed unmoved. “You want to see E.C., buy a ticket.” He tried to close the door, but Norman held his ground, too crushed to realize the danger he faced.

Struggling to stay calm, Matt unzipped the case, exposing the neck and the hideous pink paint-job. “He’s not lying. We think this guitar was stolen from Mr. Clapton.”

“Yeah? Send a letter to his manager.” The security man tried again to close the door, but Norman jammed his foot inside. “Look, asshole, I’m trying real hard to be polite. No admittance, understand?”

“There a problem?” Another man appeared at the door, dapper in a gray silk suit and charcoal black shirt. He stared out at the guitar.

“No, sir. These people were just leaving.”

“Look,” Matt said, desperate to grab the man’s attention. “I don’t care if we go inside or not. But, I think we have one of Eric Clapton’s guitars and thought he might want it back.”

“When was it stolen?”

“It’s the cherry sunburst he used with Mayall.” Lonnie pulled Norman away from the door, then carefully took the guitar and let the bag fall open. “At least we think it might be.” He offered it to the man in the suit.

“Hang on a minute.” The man gave the guitar back to Lonnie and walked into the shadows while the security man blocked the entrance. A flock of pigeons fluttered overhead, turned and sped away, feathers drifting in the icy breeze. After a few minutes, the man in the suit returned. “Where did you get it?”

“A pawn shop in Montana.”

The security man coughed, the corner of his grim lips curling up. The man in the suit nodded at the pink Les Paul. “Mind if I let one of the guitar techs have a look?”

“Go ahead.” Matt passed the guitar back into his hands, the doors finally swinging shut. Norman seemed on the verge of fainting.

“What if he doesn’t come back?”

“Get a life,” Lonnie muttered. He turned his collar against the biting wind.

They huddled self-consciously near the door, the long line of concert goers moving, the gates open at last. Now and again the walls would shake, a fast drum roll or a sinewy blues lick, the sound-check thundering within. Lonnie stared at the bricks, his eyes far-away, a look of undeniable longing on his face. Matt nodded at the impenetrable wall.

“That should be you in there.”

“Yeah, right.”

“I’m serious.” Matt moved closer. “You’re wasting yourself back home.”

“Easy for you to say.” Lonnie kicked a snow clod away. It broke into a dozen grit stained pieces. “Trust me, it’s harder than it looks to break in.”

“Maybe. But I know one thing for damn sure… it’s impossible if you don’t try.”

A sharp, metallic click ended the conversation as the stage doors swung open. Cigarette smoke and the heavenly aroma of hot food drifted out. The angel of death stood inside, the man in silk beside him. He nodded at Matt. “Eric’s guitar guy said it might be the one.” He scratched his nose, stalling. “Tell you what. I’m going to let one of you come backstage and talk to Eric.” Again he paused. “Just one of you, understand?”

Nothing moved but the traffic and the split-splat of snow melting off the roof. Norman swallowed, the disappointment bitter. He stepped back from the door and smiled at his roommate. “It’s your guitar.”

Matt took a step forward, an electric tingle running over his body as he started through the door. He stopped in mid-step and turned around. “You go, Norm. You know more about this shit than I do.”

“Are you sure?”

“Go.”

“And don’t leave us standing out here all night, huh?” Lonnie grinned. “It’s colder than a witch’s tit.” The doors swung shut. Lonnie blew on his hands to warm them. “I’ll give even odds he pisses his pants.”

The door opened again, the man in the gray silk suit framed in smoke and shadow.

“Eric wants to know how much you’re asking?”

Matt glanced at Lonnie, but he only shrugged. Denise slid behind him, hiding. He shut his eyes, visions of riches exploding in his mind, throwing him skyward. Just as quickly, he came back to the cold, sodden ground. “Four hundred, I guess. That’s what I gave for it.”

The man stared at him, head tipped down, deep gray eyes piercing to the bone. “You know what the guitar is worth?”

“Yeah.” Matt said before he changed his mind. “I have a pretty good idea. We didn’t come here to make a buck, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

The man shook his head, pulled out a gleaning black wallet and counted four crisp bills into Matt’s hand. He paused and counted out three more. “Call it a finder’s fee, okay?” He started to close the door. “You guys might as well go. Your friend’s going to hang out until after the show.”

The door closed, leaving them alone in the alley.

“Now what?” Denise asked, her teeth chattering.

“Don’t know about you guys, but I’m hungry.” Matt pulled the first hundred off the top and gave it to Lonnie. “I still owe you twenty from the other day, okay?”

“You’re crazy. You realize that, don’t you?” Lonnie tucked the bill in his pocket. “I still think we should have put it up on eBay.” They crawled into the truck, waited a few minutes for the heater to kick in, then drove off, looking for food and light and the thousand things that make life worth living.

tire

The diner was quiet, the waitress slow, the burgers several degrees past wonderful. They lingered at the table, killing time until the concert would let out.. Lonnie studied a local ad-paper, folded open to ‘Musicians Wanted.’ He caught Matt watching him and flipped the flimsy newsprint shut.

“Got you thinking about it, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, and thanks for nothing.” Lonnie reached for his coffee and discovered it was empty. “Just what I want to do. Quit a good job and move down here to starve to death.” He flipped the paper back open and circled several ads with a felt-tip pen. “I’m getting as crazy as you are.”

Still grinning, Matt pushed away from the table and threaded toward the counter. He waited for the cashier. Absently, he reached toward a bowl of mints. A strong hand grabbed his wrist and pinned it to the counter.

“You’re not there yet.”

Matt spun around, recognizing the angel’s voice, but he was alone at the counter. The hair along the back of his neck rose, the flesh around his wrist dented by fingertips that never were. His gaze drifted toward the table, Lonnie bent over his paper, Denise across from him, looking lost as she nursed her third Coke, a frightened teenager trying to bullshit her way through a world gone cold. Her hair was combed but greasy, the same blue blouse she had worn since they found her the day before still on her back. She could have been somebody’s little sister. Too late, he realized, she probably was. Matt paid for the burgers then walked back to the table. “You okay here for a while?”

Lonnie glanced up, confused. “Sure. What’s up?”

“I’ll give Denise a ride to her sister’s place.” Matt watched her. Her face paled, but she said nothing as she followed him into the night. She sat, hands folded in her lap as they pulled into traffic. Matt drove left, vaguely recalling his destination as they had searched for the theater. A long, high set of doors beckoned ahead, the bays inside brightly lit. A flock of blue and silver buses rumbled inside the cavernous building. He parked across from the depot and shut off the engine.

“Time for the truth. Where are you from?”

“Why do you care?”

“Because I’m sending you back there.”

Resolution far beyond her years roiled in her dark eyes. “No, you’re not.”

Matt recoiled, shocked by her grim determination. Whatever horrors had driven her away from home still waited for her if she went back. “Fine. So you don’t go home. But, I’m not leaving you here. Not like this.” He grasped for a resolution. “You said you have a sister. Is that bullshit, too?”

“No.” Denise stared at the floorboard, her voice once again soft and small. “I have a sister.”

“Where?.”

“She lives in Cedar Rapids.”

“Good enough.” He opened the door and stepped out. Diesel fumes drifted hellfire strong as he took her by the wrist. “Let’s go.”

“Just give me the money and I’ll buy my own ticket.”

“Yeah, right.” Together, they marched across the slushy street into the depot. Matt spotted a row of payphones, and dragged Denise toward them. “What’s her number?”

“You’re going to call her?”

“Damn straight I am.” Resigned, she picked up a pencil stub lying under the dented phone and scrawled a number on the wall. Matt fed a string of quarters into the hungry phone and dialed, the buttons beeping off-key in the receiver. “What’s her name?”

“Ginger. Ginger Alverez,” Denise said sullenly. “Promise.”

Someone answered on the fourth ring. “Hello?”

“Hi. Is this Ginger Alverez?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Matthew Torrence, and I’m calling from Denver, Colorado. Do you have a sister named Denise?”

“Yes…” The woman was slow in answering, obviously suspicious. Matt took a deep breath and pressed on.

“Is she missing?”

“Oh, God. What’s wrong? Please don’t tell me she’s dead.”

“No,” Matt said quickly, trying to reassure the woman. “She’s right next to me, and she wants to go home. Is that okay? Can she come stay with you a while?”

“Oh, Jesus, yes.” She sounded like she was crying. “Please tell her yes. Can I talk to her?” Matt handed the phone to Denise and backed away, giving her as much privacy as he dared. Denise was crying too by the time she put the phone back in his hand. Quickly, before the two minutes expired, Matt pressed the receiver to his ear.

“So, you’ll be there to pick her up if I put her on a bus tonight?”

“Yes, oh God, yes. Thank you.” The connection went dead, the quarters spent. Matt hung the phone up and started toward the ticket window. The man took his money, passed him a ticket and some change, and pointed at a bus three stalls down.

“Better hurry,” he said. “It leaves in five minutes.”

“Thanks.” Ticket in one hand, Denise in the other, he led her to the idling bus. Blank, empty faces stared down from the dirty windows as they waited to board. He handed the ticket up to the driver, then turned to Denise. “The rest is up to you.” He pressed two tens into her hand. “Should be enough to eat on until Iowa.”

She stared up at him, the anger and resentment gone. “Why are you doing this?”

“To be honest, I haven’t got a clue.”

Matt waited until the Greyhound pulled out, then wandered back outside, hands stuffed in his pockets. The night was unusually quiet, not a single car in sight, nothing but the wind as it whistled down the long, empty street. He looked up, amazed to see stars shining brightly despite the city’s glare. Far overhead a flight of wild geese passed southbound, honking mournfully on their endless journey. He turned around, not at all surprised to see a familiar figure leaned against a lamppost, wings brushing the dirty sidewalk. A Camel smouldered between his fingers.

“So, now what?” Matt asked.

The angel shrugged. “Now you go home.”

“That’s it?”

“What did you expect?” The angel took a long last drag off the butt and flicked it away. “A gold star for doing the right thing?”

Matt laughed softly and shook his head. When he turned back to the street lamp, the angel was gone. A silver Caddy with blacked out windows, rap music blaring, sped past. Slush sprayed his legs. Still laughing, Matt walked to Norman’s truck, crawled in and turned the key.

It was going to be a long ride home.


Full-time rancher, part-time snowplow driver, occasional musician and struggling writer, Justin Stanchfield’s fiction has appeared in various publications including Boys’ Life, Ideomancer and NFG, as well as anthologies such as Beyond the Last Star and Extremes 4, Darkest Africa. He lives with his wife and kids on a Montana cattle ranch a stone’s throw from the Continental Divide.


Story © 2003 Justin Stanchfield. All other content copyright © 2003 Abyss & Apex 





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