Jesse found a tree away from the crowd where he could exorcise his guitar.
He set the case down on the grass and lifted out his Gretsch hollow body, leaving the case open. He stared at the guitar with a mix of admiration, love and, just recently added, horror.
“I know you’re in there,” he muttered. “And I’m going to destroy you like you’ve tried to do to me.”
He strummed the strings, sliding his fingers between the frets, listening to the changes in the chords. He played no discernible tune, just listened for the music to find him first.
Jesse only played a few minutes before he saw the first signs of the apparition, rising from the guitar strings as if it were just steam. “I see you,” he whispered. “Even if no one else can.”
The shape hovered over the neck of his guitar, holding on to it with six little tendrils, one to each string. A face formed. “So you’ve found me, Jesse. I’ve loved all your music these last twenty-four years.” It mocked him.
“Shut up, monster,” Jesse growled. “Just what are you? A ghost? A demon? I thought musicians made deals with the devil to help their career.”
The shape definitely laughed this time. “Call me a hitchhiker. I’ve just been along for the ride.”
Jesse continued to strum, his fingers playing bits from actual songs now, everything he’d learned since he’d started as a boy. Familiar songs and artists, his oldest friends. Buddy Holly. Neil Young. Tom Waits. Classics and unknowns. The shape in front of him danced to the snippets.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” No answer. “All these years, all the bands I’ve been through, all the failures. You caused it all didn’t you?”
“Always looking to lay the blame somewhere else, aren’t you?” it said, then it hovered closer to him. “But I will destroy you. I will make you a miserable old man, playing on street corners for dollar bills and change, too attached to his guitar to let go and too stupid to realize no one’s listening to him anymore. And that’s really the worst part, isn’t it, Jesse? That no one will hear a word you sing.”
Jesse shook his head. He didn’t want to hear it. “Why?”
The shape’s ghostly mouth smiled. “Because I can, and you’re so easy. You’ve doubted yourself so much, I’ve barely had to do anything.”
Jesse watched the shape, saw how its tendrils were coiled around each string. Holding on. Anchoring it.
“What if I just force you to leave?”
The apparition said nothing.
“Maybe I’ll just smash the guitar. Then you’ll have to find a new ride, as you say.”
“I don’t think you’ll do that, Jesse. You love your Gretsch like it was your own child.”
“I don’t think I have to smash it.”
His fingers still played, longer pieces of songs. He wondered briefly if the monster was right, maybe he really was ruining his own career with bad choices, poor writing, horrible bands.
Didn’t really matter. In either case, this parasite had to go.
“I’ve got a song you haven’t heard, only play it on my electric. From a little band called Nirvana.”
The ghostly face looked worried a moment, and Jesse saw the tendrils tighten.
Jesse started in on the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” strumming away with a viciousness he’d never laid onto his acoustic before. The song didn’t sound right on the guitar—it was too bluesy—but that didn’t matter.
He played each chord harder than the last. He saw the apparition vibrating, and when the D string snapped and that tendril flew loose, he grinned.
One by one, the strings broke until he was down to just his two high strings left. He didn’t even bother with chords, he just hit the strings as hard as he could. They broke together with a twang, and the apparition screamed. The shape spun in the air like a balloon losing air, and then it was gone.
Jesse smiled. He’d done it. He’d freed himself from the monster.
He heard a clink. He looked into his guitar case and saw two quarters. The crowd had moved closer to him, and as he watched, a woman bent over to put a dollar bill on top of the quarters.
Rob Brooks enjoys writing speculative fiction of all kinds, and has had poetry published in Scifaikuest, Daikaijuzine, and Chimaera Serials, as well as fiction in A Thousand Faces, upcoming issues of Arkham Tales, Sonar 4, and NVF Magazine, and Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror.