Abyss & Apex: September/November 2003: God’s Guitar

GODS GUITAR PART 1 Illustration

God’s Guitar (Part 1)

by Justin Stanchfield

 

The Angel of Rock appeared precisely at 7:14 A.M. on the second Sunday of November, and stood patiently beside Matt Torrence’s bed, his scuffed leather jacket hanging open, the tips of his billowy wings brushing the floor. Matt opened a blurry eye, willing to believe the strange creature with the neon blue eyes was a by-product of too much beer and too little sleep.

“You’ll find the guitar at Bruce’s Pawn on Arizona Street.” The angel’s voice was sweet as a Strat with the tone rolled off.

“Who are you?”

The angel plucked a rumpled soft-pack of Camels out of his pocket and knocked one loose, pulling the cigarette free with his mouth. It flared, the tip cherry-red as he took a long drag, letting the smoke roll out his nostrils in wispy curls, and the scent was of incense, sandalwood and Turkish tobacco. Matt sat up a little higher, his mouth dry as cathedral dust, and tried again.

“Who are you?”

“You’ll find the guitar,” the angel repeated, “on Arizona Street.”

He took a last drag off the Camel and snubbed it out against the night-stand. Butterflies rushed skyward where ashes might have been. The angel blew a smoke ring and stepped through it, fading out with just a trace of reverb. Matt lay in bed a long time, listening to the traffic and the church bells, wondering where in the hell he had dropped his mind.

halo

His kidneys drove him where no angel could, across the apartment to the bathroom, pretending the visitation had been nothing more than an odd dream. Relieved, he wandered into the living room and flopped to the sofa, fumbling for the remote amid the scattered text-books, food wrappers and loose papers. Norman Kroft, his roommate, was thankfully asleep, snores muffled by the radio playing in the other, smaller bedroom. Matt finally located the remote beneath an empty CD case, a crack running diagonally across it, held together only by the faded red sticker proudly displaying the words, ‘Bruce’s Pawn, Butte’s Best.’ He snorted at the coincidence and clicked the television on.

“Oh, wonderful.”

“If you need it,” the unseen speaker announced, “Bruce’s Pawn has it.” The camera swept past long rows of hunting rifles and snowboards, slipping past a dozen guitars hanging from the wall. Matt quickly flipped channels. A commercial popped on, already in progress.

“If you need it…”

He shut the television off and sat for a very long time staring at the blank screen. He barely felt the telephone in his hand. It rang twice before a very sleepy, very female voice answered.

“Is Lonnie there?” he asked, suddenly sheepish for whatever he might be disturbing.

“‘S for you,” the girl mumbled. A moment later a man’s voice picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Lon. Matt here. I was wondering if you wanted to hit a couple pawn shops today?”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Matt paused, feeling very foolish. “I was thinking about maybe buying a guitar. Maybe. Figured you’d be the person to take along if I did.”

“Who’s coming?”

Matt glanced at Norman’s door. “Just me.” He waited a second longer. “Promise.”

“All right. Pick me up around eleven, okay? Not ten. Eleven.”

“Sure. See you in a bit.” Matt hung up the phone, the scent of sandalwood and tobacco drifting in the morning air.

halo

The car wouldn’t start.

Battery dying, Matt surrendered and squirmed out of his battered Sentra and trudged back inside. He frowned, trying to place the ancient tune slowly demolishing his stereo. Norman nodded at the CD player.

“Cream, ‘Sunshine of Your Love.’ Great, isn’t it?” He seemed on the verge of genuflecting. “It’s from Disraeli Gears.”

“Oh,” Matt said, not wanting to pursue the topic. He checked his wristwatch, already hating himself. “How’d you like to give me a ride uptown?”

“Where to?”

“Well,” Matt chewed on his lower lip, feeling like a traitor. “I’m supposed to pick up Lonnie Schmidt at eleven. We’re going pawn-shopping.”

“Okay.” Norman popped the cd out of the tray and laid it gently in its paisley case. “What are you pawning?”

“Nothing.” Matt’s gaze drifting toward the flat-top Guild propped lovingly against the bookcase outside Norman’s door. “I was thinking of getting a guitar.”

“Cool!” Norman threw his coat on, an enormous blue parka, the quilted sides puffy as fresh marshmallows. “We can jam.”

“Sure.”

Norman had his coat on before Matt could change his mind, practically pushing him out the door into the brittle autumn wind. He glared at his traitorous Sentra, Norman’s ancient Chevy truck purring to life without a hitch, tires crunching as they pulled onto the street. It was a short drive uptown, and far sooner than Matt might have wished, they pulled up beside a one-story house shadowed by a gnarled cottonwood. Norman started to get out, but Matt stopped him.

“I’ll get Lonnie.”

He stuffed his hands in his pocket and walked up the broken sidewalk. A pretty blond in a long gray coat let him in, smiling. At least, Matt thought sourly, Lonnie should be in a good mood about something. A tall man in his early twenties, tousled brown-black hair hanging just above his collar, stuck his head out of the kitchen.

“Hey, Matthew. I’ll just be a second, okay?”

“No hurry.” The glorious aroma of hot bacon hung in the air as Matt shuffled into the kitchen, his stomach rumbling, reminding him how long it had been since breakfast was anything more enticing than Mountain Dew and Pop-Tarts. On the refrigerator hung a cardboard sign, cheerful blue and red lettering proclaiming ‘Albertson’s Food Store, employee of the Month.’ A Marshal amp with a torn vinyl case stood beside it.

“I’m running a little late, this morning,” Lonnie said, elbow deep in suds. “I didn’t go out to breakfast after the job last night.”

“So I gathered.” The girl’s perfume mingled with the scent of bacon and dishwater. “Good crowd?”

“Kind of dead.” Lonnie dried his hands. He had thick, crushing fingers, a workman’s hands, not a musician’s, but he was a wizard nonetheless, the sort of guitar player who could squeeze the strings until they screamed then turn around and coax notes from them gentle as a kitten searching for the tit. He threw on his faded Levi jacket. “Okay. Let’s go.”

His smile vanished at the first glimpse of Norman’s pick-up idling in his driveway. Matt shrugged sheepishly.

“My car wouldn’t start.”

“Great.” He glared at Matt “I knew things were going too fucking good today.”

Matt prudently kept his mouth shut and slid in, his head brushing the cab. Lonnie crawled in after him and slammed the door.

halo

The windows were filthy behind the steel bars, a layer of dust graying the crowded shelves while hand-printed price tags fluttered in the forced-air breeze. Bruce’s Pawn felt rusty, as if the gears of commerce had finely ground to a halt behind its creaking door. Stale cigarets, stale coffee, stale lives. A glowering man behind the counter glanced over his newspaper, grunted something that might have been a greeting, then forgot them. Lonnie blazed trail toward the far wall where a dozen guitars hung from pegs, a barricade of amplifiers and speaker cases standing sentinel beneath. Norman veered away, drawn irresistibly to the used cd bin.

“Eight pays ten he finds something awful,” Lonnie muttered. “So, what kind of ax are you looking for?”

“Well,” Matt admitted, “I’m really not sure. What’s best?”

“Depends.” Lonnie ran his fingers over the strings of a tobacco sunburst acoustic, the notes flat. “Can’t they tune these sons a bitches?”

Perhaps Matt had expected trumpets from above, or a heavenly light to part the roof beams and spill over the guitar he was destined to find, but if a sign from above waited for him, he was obviously missing it. He took down a jet black electric missing the high E string. Lonnie shook his head.

“You don’t want that one. It’s got a bad neck. See?” He took it from Matt and hit the strings, pulling back on the neck, the notes rising uncomfortably. “How serious are you about learning? No sense spending three hundred bucks on something you won’t play. But, you don’t want to piss away good money for a piece of crap that you’ll outgrow in a couple months, either.” He paused. “What made you decide to buy a guitar in the first place? You always told me you hated music.”

“I never said I hated it.” Matt shrugged, hating to reveal his real reason. “Maybe I want some of those babes you always seem to wind up with.”

“Yeah, like that’s going to happen.” Lonnie hung the guitar back on its peg, and moved down the line. He grabbed a bright red Strat copy. “Try this one. Ibanez builds knock-offs, but they’re good ones.” He played a fast riff, bending the last note with a flourish, then passed it into Matt’s outstretched hands.

It felt as cold and dead as the first one, nothing but wood and sweat-grimed metal. If Matt had expected magic, he was disappointed. He fumbled with the guitar as he put it back on the wall, banging it harder against its neighbors than he intended. The fat man behind the counter lowered his paper, menace in his glare. Embarrassed, Matt grabbed the instruments, stopping their pendulum swing. His left hand brushed a pale, hideous pink guitar, the body curved into a deep cut-out where it met the neck. An electric ripple ran up his arm. From far away he thought he heard an angel cough.

“What about this one?”

“A Les Paul?” Lonnie shrugged. “Gibson’s are nice. Damned nice. This one’s pretty beat up, though.” He fingered the price tag. “And, he’s asking way too much for it. I mean, look at the paint job? Somebody’s gone to a lot of trouble to hide the original color, and that usually means it’s been damaged. I’d give it a pass.”

“Oh.” Matt started to put the battered Gibson back on the wall. The guitar seemed to grow heavier, an unendurable weight forcing him to miss the pegs. He tried again and failed. Hating to look weak as well as untalented, he pretended to study the control knobs. Around the edge of the broad, uncovered pick-ups faint traces of the original color remained, a bright sunburst lurking beneath the pink veneer. Norman sauntered closer, a pair of cassette tapes in hand. They fell to the floor, forgotten, the moment he saw the guitar.

“Jesus H… do you know what that looks like?”

“Yeah,” Lonnie said. “It looks just like a piece of crap.” He took the Gibson and hung it on the wall. Norman immediately took it down, his hands shaking.

“Buy this one.”

“I don’t know…”

“I do.” Lonnie tried to take the guitar but Norman stopped him.

“Trust me on this, okay?” Norman stared in wonder at the Gibson, stroking it reverently. Tiny drops of sweat rolled down his face as he played the opening lick of ‘Wonderful Tonight.’

“Don’t do that,” Lonnie said. “You don’t know how.”

Matt took the guitar from his roommate. The neck settled comfortably into his hand, vibrant and warm. Something about the ugly Gibson spoke to him, a rightness tickling his nerves. It faded as he caught a glimpse of the price tag.

“Shit, I don’t have that much.” Sadly, Matt lifted the guitar toward the pegs. Norman blocked his hand.

“Trust me,” he repeated.

Lonnie rolled his eyes and looked away, disgusted. Norman edged closer, his eyes practically glowing. Feeling like a fool, Matt stumbled toward the counter. The fat man dropped the paper and raised an eyebrow. Matt set the Les Paul on the counter and cleared his throat, his chest suddenly tight. “Would you take three-fifty for this?”

The pawn-broker leaned closer. “Nope. Five hundred.”

“Oh come on.” Lonnie quietly pushed Matt aside. “Hell, it’s not worth three-seventy-five.”

The broker shrugged. “Five hundred.”

Norman crowded up to the counter. “It’s stolen you know?”

“Get the hell out of my store.”

“Look…” Matt pried Norman’s white knuckles of the counter and pushed him back. He took a deep breath. “How about four hundred?” The fat man scratched under his chin, looked at the guitar, then back at Matt. Finally, he nodded. Matt grabbed his wallet and started counting out the assorted bills inside. He turned toward Norman. “You got twenty bucks?”

Norman shook his head. Lonnie scowled. “Oh, for Christ’s sake.” He slapped a twenty on top of the pile. The pawn broker swept up the money, counted it, then slid the guitar toward them. Matt grabbed it by the neck and started toward the door, but Lonnie stopped him. “Hey? Isn’t there a case?”

“Not for four hundred there ain’t,” the fat man said.

The door banged shut behind them, sunlight pouring down on the horrible pink Gibson. Lonnie laughed sourly. “What a pair of newbies.”

Matt grabbed his roommate by the sleeve. “Mind telling me what the hell is so important about this guitar?” Norman nodded vigorously, grinning.

“That’s a 1960 Sunburst. I think it was stolen.”

“Oh, wonderful.” Lonnie said. “Nice work, Matthew. You just blew your rent on a hot guitar.”

“It was stolen,” Norman continued, ignoring the outburst, “from Eric Clapton.”

halo

The computer squealed onto the Internet, Norman’s face pallid blue in the monitor glare. Matt set an unopened beer in front of Lonnie, currently trying to tune the pink Les Paul, then slumped onto the couch, his own beer cold in his hand, icy as the realization that he probably couldn’t afford to drink another one until sometime next semester. Or the semester after that.

“How bad did I get screwed?”

“Not horribly. It’s had some rough treatment, but it’s not bad.” Lonnie played a few bars of slow blues. “Not bad at all.”

“It’s worth a fortune,” Norman muttered, his face pressed against the screen.

“This,” Lonnie tapped the fretboard, “is not a ’60’ Sunburst.”

“The serial number says it is. And it’s got Patent Applied For pick-ups.”

“Big deal. Show me a Gibson that doesn’t.”

“I mean real ones.” Norman clicked the mouse, the printer struggling sullenly to life. He snatched the paper out of the tray. “And look… The serial number isn’t accounted for.”

“Gee.” Lonnie shrugged, unimpressed. “What were there, like fifty thousand of ’em made that year?”

“Less than seventeen hundred.” Norman rushed to his neatly stacked collection of cd’s and plucked one from near the bottom of the pile. “Scrape off the pink paint, and this is just like the Mayall sunburst.”

Matt sat, beer in hand, lost in the unfamiliar language. “Somebody mind telling me what the hell you two are talking about?”

“Eric Clapton,” Lonnie passed the cd across, “played a Cherry Sunburst Les Paul when he was with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. It got swiped just after he joined Cream.” He pointed at Norman. “Numb nuts over there thinks this is the missing ax.”

The room wanted to spin. Matt dug his heels against the couch to stop it. “What… what do I do if this really is Eric Clapton’s guitar.”

“It isn’t,” Lonnie said. “But if it was, stick it on e-bay and start counting your money.”

“Are you insane?” Norman’s voice pitched higher. “That would be like… like selling the Holy Grail.”

“What else are you going to do with it?” Lonnie said. “You can’t prove it’s the guitar. And even if you could, can you trace how it got here? Sell the damned thing to the next poor sucker, I say.”

The beer in Matt’s can had somehow vanished. He stood up, leaving his two friends arguing in the living room, and stumbled to the kitchen in search of another. The refrigerator door popped open, the cold scent of bologna past its prime rushing out, the final beer awaiting its fate beneath the flickering light. Matt grabbed it and popped the tab, then turned around.

“She needs to go home.” The Angel took the beer from Matt’s hand and drank, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The Angel finished the can and crushed it into rose petals that drifted to the floor.

“I…” Matt stammered.

“She needs to go home,” the Angel said softly, fading into the cheap yellow wallpaper. He smiled as went, his words lingering. “Take her home.”

Matt stumbled back into the living room. Lonnie and Norman were still bickering, passing the pink Gibson back and forth between them. Lonnie shook the instrument for emphasis, his face growing redder.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what Guitar Player magazine says. You can’t prove it’s Clapton’s.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Norman was just as adamant. “But I know one person who could, and he’s in concert Tuesday night in Denver.”

“You have his tour dates memorized?”

“Only the close ones.”

“You’re pathetic.” Lonnie glanced up at Matt. “Jesus, man, you look like hell. You feeling all right?”

“She needs to go home,” Matt said.

“Who needs to go home?” Lonnie stared at the Les Paul. “The guitar?”

Matt nodded. “It needs to go home.” Gently, he took the battered Gibson. “Anybody know where Eric Clapton lives?”

“As a matter of fact,” Norman’s face lit up. “Day after tomorrow, he lives in Denver.”

halo

Flames raged in the dreamtime, pyrotechnic flashes of light and laser bursting in time to Ginger Baker’s thunder from on high. Matt woke in a cold sweat, the clock beside his bed declaring the stroke of midnight, the walls rattling from the stereo blaring in Norman’s room. He pulled on a pair of sweats and trudged through the darkness into the living room. Light poured out from under Norman’s door. Matt rapped against it.

“Mind turning it down?”

“What?”

“I said… oh hell, never mind.” He pushed the door open. Norman sat on the edge of his sagging mattress, a pair of headphones squeezing his temples white, the Les Paul perched on his knee. He saw Matt and blanched.

“Oh shit…” He quickly shut the stereo off then handed the guitar to Matt. “Sorry. I should have asked if I could play it.”

“That’s okay.” Matt plucked the strings, the notes chaotic and not in the least musical. He handed it back to Norman. “Play all you want. Just turn the music down, okay? I’ve got classes in the morning.”

“No problem.” Norman dubbed his toe against the matted carpet. “Does that mean you’re not going to Denver?”

“I don’t know.” Matt ran a hand through is hair. He needed a haircut. If he could afford one. “That’s almost a thousand miles, and I don’t know if my car is up to it. I don’t know if I am either.”

“But, this is the chance of a lifetime. You could be a part of rock and roll history.”

“I’d rather pass my chemistry mid-terms.” Matt looked around the cramped bedroom, open pipes and conduits running overhead, the single light nothing more than a porcelain fixture without the grace of either dome or shade. A poster dominated the wall behind the bed, a montage of Eric Clapton in concert, the words ‘Clapton is God’ across the top. “What is it with you and that guy?”

“I don’t know. Something in his music just speaks to me. It’s so pure, so intense.” Norman fumbled for words. “Look, when I was twelve my parents got divorced. Really screwed me up for a while. My older brother had a copy of ‘Derik and the Dominoes.’ God, that’s a great album. Eric Clapton, Duanne Allman. Ever hear a song called ‘Bell Bottom Blues?'”

Matt shook his head.

“It’s beautiful. Best song on the whole damn record. I used to play it over and over for hours. Guess it kind of pulled me through.” He played a clumsy lick then set the guitar down. “Lonnie’s right. There isn’t any way in hell to prove this is Clapton’s guitar, but, I know it is. Don’t ask me why, I just feel it. It’s like this is my chance to give something back. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”

“A little.” Matt started back to his room, then stopped. A cool breeze brushed his face, the distant sound of wings fluttering. He turned around. “Look, if you kick in for gas I’ll go to Denver.”

“Yeah?” Norman’s face brightened. “Hey, we can take my truck, if you want.”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning. I’m going to bed.”

He left the Les Paul with Norman, then, against his better judgement, grabbed the telephone and punched in Lonnie’s number.

“Hey, Lon. It’s Matt. Did I wake you up?”

“Oh shit no. Who the hell sleeps at twelve thirty at night.”

“Sorry. I just wanted to tell you we’re taking the guitar to Denver. Want to go?”

“I have to work all week,” Lonnie finally said.

“So take a couple sick days? I promise, it won’t cost you thing.”

“Like it didn’t cost me twenty bucks at the pawn shop?” Lonnie coughed, the noise loud in the receiver. “Look, I can’t. They’re breaking in a new assistant manager and need me to show him the ropes.”

“Let somebody else worry about it. How often do you get a chance to meet Eric Clapton?”

“You’re as crazy as your roommate.”

“Does that mean you’re going?”

“Good night, Matthew.”

Matt grinned, the phone still pressed against his ear. “So, are you going?”

“Call me in the me morning.” Lonnie hung up. Matt thumbed the phone off, crawled back to bed and fell asleep, blissfully dreamless.

halo

Snow fell in the night, dusting the barrow pits, hiding the collected trash of a hundred thousand faceless drivers. Matt drove slowly as they topped the pass, the Chevy pick-up sliding under a cement overpass. A faded green sign announced they had just crossed the Continental Divide. He let the truck accelerate gently as they drifted down the other side, swinging in and out of tractor-trailers and mini-vans, the steering wheel unfamiliar in his hands. His Sentra had refused to start, and with daylight burning, had resigned himself to a long trip in the crowded pick-up. Lonnie Schmidt leaned against the passenger door, scowling, while Norman sat in the middle, bobbing his head in time with the music.

“Jesus,” Lonnie said, “Don’t you have anything that isn’t Eric Clapton?”

“Uh, I’ve got some Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck’s Greatest Hits.”

“You know, there have been some guitar players since the fucking Yardbirds broke up.”

“Name one as good as Clapton.”

“Two words. Van Halen. No, wait, here’s two more. Steve Vai. No, here’s another…”

Matt grinned, tuning out the argument. The road leveled, mountains giving way to sage-brush hills, snow-capped peaks ringing the broad valley. Trucks passed them, hauling hay, hauling cattle, hauling crates and boxes and barrels, the lifeblood of the nation pouring down the snow-shrouded interstate. Matt checked the rearview mirror, craning his head to check the cargo. Lonnie had taken pity on him and stuffed the Les Paul inside a scuffed canvas gig-bag, refusing to let the guitar ride up front. It nestled between a beat up duffel bag and the spare tire, a fortune, if Norman could be trusted, covered in road-salt and slush from every passing vehicle. Matt clinked the turn indicator on at the next off-ramp.

“Anybody else have to piss? My teeth are floating.”

They swung into a small truck-stop. Matt shut off the engine and stepped out. Norman followed, zipped his coat higher, and took up a position next to the cinder block building. “I’ll stand guard until you guys get back.” He nodded at the guitar hidden in the back of the truck.

Lonnie rolled his eyes. Matt shrugged and headed for the broad glass doors. He stepped aside for a girl in a dingy purple coat, her hands stuffed deep inside the pockets. An electric tingle ran up Matt’s arm as they brushed. The girl turned and stared at him, her eyes wide. She was painfully thin, chestnut hair tucked under a knitted cap as ratty as her coat. Lonnie shoved Matt past the startled teenager.

“Forget it man. She’s jailbait.”

“Right.” Matt tried to put her out of his mind, but her dark eyes followed him as he wandered toward the Men’s Room. A bearded man in a brown canvas coat stood at the urinal. Matt hurried inside the nearest stall, not able to wait. He heard the trucker leave. Finished, he stepped toward the sink. His jaw dropped when he looked in the mirror.

“She’s in trouble.” The Angel lit a Camel and took a long, satisfying drag. “She needs to go home.”

Matt blinked. The Angel was gone, incense-laced smoke curling toward the ceiling fan. Lonnie stepped into the bathroom, sniffing the air. “What kind of air-freshener are they using? Smells like a fucking yoga class in here.”

“Yeah.” Matt hurried outside, shivering. The girl stood near the soda fountains, staring at the slowly rotating rack of hotdogs. The bearded man from the men’s room squeezed past her, managing to press his hand against her ass in passing. He whispering something in her ear. She smiled, but looked away. He wandered toward the counter, the girl, reluctantly, in tow.

“Here.” Lonnie pressed a Styrofoam cup into Matt’s hand, steam sifting out the tab in the plastic lid. Matt wrapped his fingers around the coffee cup, his eyes glued to the truck driver.

“Notice anything strange about that guy?”

“The one in the Carhart?” Lonnie took a cautious sip from his own cup. “What about him?”

“I don’t know,” Matt said. “That girl with him look okay to you?”

“As good as a meth head gets.” Lonnie’s eyebrows bunched together. “She did look a little young for the business, I’ll admit.”

“Business?” Matt stared. “She’s a hooker?”

“Duh.”

The bearded man pointed out the window at a bright blue Peterbuilt, then sauntered out the door. The girl loitered near the door, paper cup in hand. The angel’s words rumbling in his mind, Matt saw his opening and walked over, utterly unsure what to do.

“Hi,” Matt stammered.

“Hi.” Her voice was high and pretty. Without thinking, Matt said the first thing that popped into his mind.

“I saw that guy put something in your cup.”

“What?”

“That guy dropped something in your cup when you weren’t looking.” Matt felt his face redden, the lie already tangled in complications. “Uh, might have been like a powder or something. I don’t know what it was…” He shrugged. “Just thought I should tell you.”

The girl stared at her cup, then out the window. Without another word she walked away. Matt sighed, hoping the angel was listening. “Well, I tried.”

He left the building, the cold cutting through his Levi jacket. Lonnie was already outside, arguing with Norman. Matt took a long, slow sip from his cup. The bitter liquid warmed him as the Peterbuilt swung past, black smoke churning out chrome stacks. Matt watched it go, the bearded man from the men’s room behind the wheel. He tried to see the girl but couldn’t. Feeling like a fool, he walked around the truck.

“You guys ready?”

“I’ve got to piss.” Norman hurried into the store.

“How do you keep from killing that guy?” Lonnie asked.

“It’s not easy.” Matt watched the truck pull onto the blacktop, gears grinding as it gathered speed. He turned around. The girl in the purple coat stood outside the door, her knit cap pulled low, arms wrapped around her thin body. “Hang on a minute.”

She backed up at his approach, her eyes wary, the building blocking any retreat. Matt tried to look unthreatening. “You need a lift?”

She stared suspiciously at the battered pick-up. “How many of you are there?”

“Three,” Matt admitted.

“Going to be a little crowded, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Sorry.”

The door opened and Norman barged past, a bag of pork rinds crackling in his grip. He barely noticed the girl. “You ready? It’s a long way to Denver you know.” Matt shrugged and followed him to the truck, fumbling in his pocket for the keys. He set his coffee on the dashboard, steam fogging the windshield above it as a familiar figure stepped closer.

The girl tapped on the glass. “You guys are going to Denver?” She was shaking, her lips bright red against her pale skin. Matt rolled the window down.

“You guys are going to Denver?” she asked again, teeth chattering.

“Yeah,” Matt said.

“Mind if I catch that ride?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind sitting on a lap.”

“I don’t mind.” She hurried around the front of the truck, shuffling foot to foot, waiting for the door to open, and settled against Lonnie. She fanned her fingers above the defroster vents. “Thanks. Fuck, it’s cold.” She smiled. “My name’s Denise.”

Matt backed away, Lonnie grunting as they trundled over the pot-holes, Denice’s elbows jabbing him. Norman, perched in the middle, ripped the bag open with his teeth and smiled at the girl. “Pork rind?” The girl took one and bit down, crunching in time with the bass guitar blazing out the speakers.

Snow swirled in their wake as they headed east.

(“God’s Guitar” will conclude in the November 2003 issue of Abyss & Apex)

__________

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. 





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