Article: 261406 of talk.bizarre
From: (Meredith Tanner)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: repost:  thunderbird guitars
Date: 1 Dec 1995 11:47:09 -0800
Organization: Best Internet Communications
Lines: 1008
Message-ID: <49nm3t$>
Status: O

this is a short story i wrote several years ago and posted to
talk.bizarre.  recently i've done a little editing, but the
climax still sucks because i can't write a plot to save my life.

sue me.

     I couldn't believe it.  I just couldn't believe it.
     I sat on my favorite stool behind the counter and drank my 
coffee and listened to whatever CD it was blasting screaming 
heavy metal guitars in my ears at top volume and contemplated 
the incredible depth and breadth of my inability to believe it.  
That was a damn big hole in my credulity.  Almost beyond my 
comprehension.  My sanity was at risk; I could almost feel it 
slipping away from me.
     Oh, get a fucking grip, Jo.
     I reluctantly got to my feet and pointed myself in the 
direction of the door.  Found it.  Unlocked it.  Let the 
customer in.  It WAS time to open the shop, after all.  What I 
couldn't quite believe was that an actual guitarist was AWAKE, 
and had come HERE, to MY SHOP,  this early in the morning, on a 
day when I was THIS hung over.  There is no justice in the
universe, I thought darkly.  
     "'Morning," I mumbled.  "What can I do for you?"
     I knew what he was going to say before the dreaded words 
left his mouth.  I knew the type.  I had known the type for some 
time.  I had even known the type in the biblical sense on a few 
occasions in the mercifully hazy past.  He was about nineteen, 
his hair was long and bleached blonde, and his T-shirt said 
"Hendrix Rules."  It was all I could do not to mouth the words, 
"I just wanna look around," as he made a beeline for the row of 
Strats hanging on one wall.  
     "Ask me if you want to play any of them," I said 
mechanically.  I hoped he wouldn't.  I went back to my coffee, 
exhausted by the effort it had taken to make it to the door and 
back.  I should have known better.  As soon as I sat down, he 
said, "Can I take a look at this one?"
     I didn't have to look.  I got up and pulled down the white 
one with the maple fingerboard.  He took it from me and grinned 
foolishly as I plugged it into the Marshall amp and turned the 
distortion all the way up.  He hit a note.  He grinned wider.  I 
sat in my usual place on the Fender Twin and watched, keeping a 
straight face from long practice as he mangled the opening riff 
to "Purple Haze."  He jammed awkwardly for a few minutes, made 
some clumsy sounds vaguely reminiscent of constipated geese, and 
handed the guitar back to me.
     "Shit, that's really great.  I wish I could afford it," he 
said.  This time I think I may have mouthed it involuntarily.
     "Yeah, the Strat's a nice instrument," I said 
unenthusiastically.  "You can do better for the price these 
days, though.  Might want to look at a low-end Yamaha."
     I should know better, but I can't help trying.  Every once 
in a while I manage to convert one.  He looked worshipfully at 
the Strats and chanted the sacred mantra of the true Hendrix 
fanatic: "Yeah, but there's nothing 
like a real Strat."  I KNOW I mouthed it that time.  I nodded 
sagely and  forced a smile.  
     "Nope, you're right.  Nothing like a real Strat."
     He gave a cursory glance at the other guitars, dismissing 
everything else in the store as "some other kind of guitar," and 
shuffled out.  I turned the stereo back up and went back to my 
coffee.  It was cold. 
     There is no justice in the universe.

     Randy showed up about ten minutes later.  He wore his usual 
slightly spaced expression.  He always looked as if he wasn't 
quite all here, and wherever the rest of him was was much more 
amusing.  He was almost smiling almost all the time.  When I had 
first hired him I had wondered what it was he was always 
thinking  about.  Finally one day, right on the brink of bashing 
his head in with the first guitar that came to hand, just so I 
could wipe that goddamn infuriating little grin off his face, I 
asked him.  Well, okay, so I didn't so much ask as DEMAND.
     Later he told me my face had turned a really INTERESTING 
shade of purple, but he was smart enough not to mention it at 
the time.  "Guitars," he said imperturbably.
     Of course.  How silly of me. 
     It was unusual for Randy to be late.  I suddenly realised 
why it was that I had had so much trouble believing that this 
morning had really happened -- I had hired Randy specifically to 
KEEP this sort of thing from happening to me anymore.  And he 
hadn't been here.  For the first time since I had hired him.  
     I looked at him really hard as he wandered past me and 
poured himself a cup of coffee.  His hair was unkempt and 
falling in his face, and the brown roots were showing.  His 
clothes were wrinkled.  His shirt was hanging out.  His shoes 
were untied.  His hands were covered with Band-Aids.  He looked 
exactly the same as usual.  
     "Randy.  Hi," I said.  
     "Mmm, he said.  A perfectly normal response.  I decided to 
try a more daring approach.
     "You're late," I observed casually.  
     "Yeah.  Sorry."  He tossed down his entire cup of coffee 
and peered at me through his hair.  His pale green eyes appeared 
to be mildly amused by something behind my head.  "You mad?" 
     "No.  I didn't realise what was missing until you showed 
up," I admitted, watching as he poured himself another cup of 
black coffee.  Another normal response.  There had to be 
something wrong -- Randy was reliable like Swiss clockwork.  
That was why I kept him around.  That, and I liked his hair.  So 
far, neither had let me down; he had neither cut his hair nor 
been late until this morning.  It was driving me wild with 
curiosity.  I knew better than to think I was going to get an 
explanation, but just for consistency, I tried it anyway.
     "So what happened?" I asked.  He shrugged and started on 
his second cup of coffee.
     "Nothing," he said, and brushed past me into the workshop, 
where he perched on a stool and picked up where he had left off 
refretting a neck the night before.  He whistled cheerfully, 
punctuating the melody at random intervals with the mallet.  All 
of this was perfectly normal behavior for Randy.  Maybe I was 
just being paranoid, reading too much into his lateness.   Maybe 
the reason I was getting so nervous was a subconscious fear that 
he would cut his hair, now that he had been late.  
Unfortunately, I couldn't convince myself of it.  I was sure 
that some dire thing was about to happen.  I fixed myself 
another cup of coffee and thought seriously about all the holes 
Randy was poking in my credulity this morning.  
     Finally I couldn't stand it anymore.  I reached under the 
counter and pulled out my guitar.  There's something about a 
three-pickup Les Paul Custom that drives everything else right 
out of my mind.  

     Things were pretty much normal for the rest of the day.  
When I left for the night Randy was off on one of his favorite 
subjects -- Why Gibson Makes Better Frets.  I felt no pity for 
his hapless victim.  I had heard that particular rant more times 
than he would ever have to.  Once you get Randy started on one 
of his pet subjects, you'd better plan on being there for a 
couple of hours.  There's no way to make him stop, unless you 
know the Secret Word.  The word is "chocolate."  If you say this 
word in his presence, that's it, he's gone.  He will reappear 
ten minutes later with a Hershey bar, and you better not try to 
talk to him while he's eating it.  It's sinful how much 
enjoyment that boy can get out of a piece of chocolate.  I don't 
claim to understand Randy, but he's very predictable.
     The next morning when I came in Randy was leaning against 
the counter, drinking his coffee.  The phone was ringing.  He 
was ignoring it.  Things were shaping up to be normal today, 
obviously.  I reached across him and got the phone.
     "Thunderbird Guitars," I said.  
     "Hi.  Does Randy Ghiardi work there?" a female voice asked.  
I kissed my hopes for a normal day goodbye.  Randy had never, 
ever gotten a personal call here.  As far as I knew he didn't 
have any friends.  I knew nothing about him other than what I 
had observed in the shop.  I looked at him strangely.  He 
blinked at me innocently.
     "Yes, he does."
     "Can I talk to him?" 
     "You can try, I guess."  I held the phone out to him.  
"It's for you."
     He looked startled.  Suddenly, for the first time since I 
had met him, he looked as if he was all here.  He grabbed the 
receiver and slammed it down into the cradle and stood there 
staring at it as if it had just come to life and attempted to 
strangle him with its handset cord.  I was sure I could hear his 
heart pounding from  here I was standing several feet away.
     "Randy, why did you do that?" I asked calmly.  Everything 
was just fine.  There was a perfectly reasonable explanation for 
this, and Randy was going to tell me what it was.  Or so I told 
myself.  Naturally, I was completely wrong.
     "Look, if anyone calls for me I'm not here.  I left.  You 
don't know where I am."  He looked at me pleadingly.  I poured 
him a cup of coffee and handed it to him.  "Please."
     "Okay," I said, against my better judgement.  He breathed a 
sigh of relief.  
     "Thanks."  He poured a liberal amount of sugar and cream 
into his coffee.  I watched, speechless.  
     "Randy..."  I began, and gave up.  He wasn't going to tell 
me.  I knew he wasn't going to tell me.  There was no point in 
asking.  He was just going to drink his coffee with cream and 
sugar and refuse to answer the phone, and I was going to have to 
pretend everything was the same way it always was.     
     I reached under the counter, and my guitar wasn't there.
     "Randy --"
     "I restrung her.  She's in the workshop."  He reached into 
the other room and handed me my guitar.  "Relax.  Have some 
     Apparently, in Randy's mind everything was back to normal.  
I accepted the cup of coffee he poured me and sat on my favorite 
stool.  Normal.  Yes.  Everything was normal.  Really, nothing 
all that strange had occurred.  It was perfectly reasonable for 
Randy to put sugar and cream in his coffee.  And I had been 
dodging the phone for years.  Sure.  No problem.
     I still didn't believe myself.  My credulity had sustained 
several serious blows and crawled into a dark hole in my psyche 
to lick its wounds.  I wondered, if I could find it, would it 
let me come in too?
     The phone rang.  We both froze and stared at it.  It didn't 
come to life.  It did, however, continue to ring.  I swallowed 
hard and answered it.
     "Thunderbird guitars."
     "Do you have any Fender Stratocasters?" a young male voice 
I shrieked, and slammed the receiver down.  Randy looked at me 
curiously.  "Oh, shut up," I growled, and grabbed my jacket.  
"If you don't want to answer the phone turn on the goddamn 
     He stood there with a bemused expression on his face and 
watched me storm out without a word.  I went to the 7-11, bought 
six Hershey bars, and sat in my car eating them, one after the 
other.  It didn't help.

     After a couple of hours stretched out in the back seat of 
the junked '66 T-Bird that served as a sign for the shop, I felt 
a lot better.  I lay there for a while, contemplating the 
universe and my navel, and finally came to the conclusion that 
the world was playing with me, and there was absolutely no 
significance to Randy's behaviour.  So he had been late once.  
It wasn't a big deal.  Obviously the reason he didn't want to 
take phone calls was that there was someone he was trying to 
avoid, most likely the very girl who had called.  She was 
probably an old girlfriend.  My logic hit a block for a moment 
here, as I tried, and failed, to imagine Randy with a woman.  It 
couldn't be done.  I tried imagining him with a man, just on 
general principles, but that didn't work either.  I finally 
dismissed that train of thought as irrelevant and went back to 
the original point.  So he didn't want to talk to this woman and 
the thought of it upset him so much that his blood sugar had 
crashed and he had put sugar and cream in his coffee, 
consciously or otherwise, in order to level out his metabolism.  
     For once I couldn't argue with my reasoning.  It was 
exactly the sort of thing I would have done.  I felt much 
better.  I went back into the shop, collected and confident that 
everything was going to be Just Fine.  Randy glanced up at me, 
his usual spaced expression firmly in place.  
     "Someone called," he said, and went back to the latest 
issue of Guitar Player.  I smiled.  I couldn't even get annoyed.  
It was so comfortingly  normal.
     "I don't suppose you remember WHO."
     He looked up at me as if I had just asked him to part the 
Red Sea.  "I didn't answer it," he said.
     I shook my head sadly and poured myself some coffee.  "Of 
course you didn't.  How silly of me," I murmured, and went into 
the workshop, grinning to myself.  What a spamhead, I thought.  
Life would be SO boring without him.

     I should have known better.  I really should have known.
     As I walked past the T-Bird out front on my way to the 
shop, I saw a pair of feet sticking out of one of the 
nonexistent rear windows.  I knew whose feet they were.  I 
couldn't imagine anyone else wearing two completely unrelated 
high-top sneakers with the designs from stomp-box pedals 
permanently impressed into the soles.  I wandered over and stuck 
my head in the passenger side window.
     He didn't look nearly as airheaded when he was asleep, I 
observed, as I went over all the most obnoxious possible ways to 
wake someone up in my head.  I patted myself down and discovered 
that my only tools were a large assortment of loose change and 
guitar picks.  That would never do.  Just as I was wondering if 
I had time to go make a bowl of Jell-O, his hand reached out and 
grabbed me by the collar.
     "Don't even THINK about it," he said, and opened his eyes. 
I was too startled to do anything but stare at him.  He let go 
of me and managed to achieve a fairly upright position.  It 
looked painful.  He's considerably taller than I am, and '66 
Thunderbirds have curved back seats, for some reason that shall 
undoubtedly remain shrouded in deepest mystery for time 
immemorial.  I retreated to let him out of the car.  He shoved 
the door open and fell out onto the grass, where he lay for a 
moment, gazing at the sky, wearing a pained expression.  He 
slowly turned his head in my direction.
     "HOW," he intoned, "the HELL am I supposed to sleep in that 
     This was perhaps the stupidest question he had ever asked 
me.  I was speechless with mirth.  I considered kicking him in 
the head in the vain hope that it would knock some sense into 
him and laughed myself silly.  He got stiffly to his feet, 
looking indignant.  I couldn't stop laughing.  He just stood 
there, glaring unconvincingly at me for a moment, and then 
turned around and walked off toward the front door.  I followed 
him, still laughing hysterically.  He slammed the door of the 
shop behind him, and I had a terrible time trying to get the key 
into the lock; I was laughing so hard I couldn't see the 
     By the time I managed to get into the store my laughter had 
subsided to an occasional giggle.  I propped the door open and 
turned to Randy.  I suppressed a giggle, took a deep breath, and 
let it out.  "WHY were you sleeping in the Thunderbird?" I 
asked.  He glowered.
     "I couldn't get the door open."
     "Why not?  Never mind," I said, deciding that I probably 
didn't want to know.  "Let me rephrase that.  Why didn't you 
sleep at home?" I tried, hoping vainly for an answer that made 
some kind of sense.
     "There was a woman in my room," he said darkly.
     "Oh, well, that explains everything," I lied.  He sighed.
     "I didn't want to see her."
     "Why didn't you throw her out?" 
     "I didn't want her to see me."  He started the coffeemaker 
and looked at it hopefully.  I was silent.  He sighed again, 
apparently realising that staring at the machine wouldn't get 
him coffee any sooner, and looked at me warily.
     "Randy, I'm not going to ask.  I probably don't want to 
know.  But the next time you need a place to stay, come to my 
place, okay?  There's a key on top of the doorframe."  I looked 
up at him solemnly.  "And if you DO want to talk about it, I'm 
willing to listen."
     He looked more uncomfortable than anything else.  "Thanks," 
he said.  I turned on the stereo and started straightening 
things up, to save him any more discomfort.  He was going to 
uncomfortable enough, after sleeping in that car all night.

     Several hours later, I was in the workroom, frozen in the 
midst of replacing the nut on someone's beautiful Martin 12-
string, listening to Randy playing in the other room.  He's an 
incredible musician.  He just closes his eyes and loses himself 
and throws everything he's got into whatever he's playing, which 
is usually something he's making up off the top of his head.  
Later, if you ask him what it was, he probably won't remember,  
if he ever even knew at all.  I just love to listen.  Guitars 
have always done something to me, but Randy can squeeze every 
last ounce of a guitar's incredible expressiveness out and it 
just melts my brain.  
     So I was standing there with my eyes half-closed, not 
really conscious of reality, and suddenly there was this screech 
that must have split people's ears for a block and a half, and a 
crash, and Randy burst into the workroom looking completely 
terrified and slammed the door behind him.
     My first response was "What the HELL?!?"  He just stood 
there looking haunted.  I slid past him and slipped out the 
door, closing it behind me.  There was a woman in the shop.  She 
was tiny, skeletally thin, blonde, and blue-eyed.  I hated her 
on sight.  
     There was also a Les Paul lying on the floor.  I picked it 
up and looked at her expectantly.  She looked me over and seemed 
to disapprove.  I turned my attention briefly to the Les Paul, 
wondering what it was about this girl that had made him upset 
enough to drop a Les Paul, of all things.  It was okay.  The 
shop has thick wall-to-wall carpeting for a very good reason.  I 
unplugged it and hung it back on the wall.
     "So you're the one who was in Randy's room last night," I 
said conversationally.  She looked irritated.
     "I waited for him, but he never came home."  She looked up 
at me appraisingly.  "It's okay, I don't want to steal him from 
you or anything.  He's just got something I want."
     I decided not to correct her impression.  "What's your 
name?" I asked.
     "Tamara," she said airily, turning her back and looking 
around the shop casually.
     It figures, I thought.  "I'm Jo," I said.  She looked 
significantly at the door Randy was undoubtedly no longer 
cowering behind. "He's not back there anymore.  Last I saw he 
was taking off out the back," I lied, knowing that this was 
almost certainly not the case.  I was willing to bet I would 
find him locked in the basement studio, clutching a guitar and 
oblivious to everything.  And when I did find him I was going to 
beat an explanation out of him if necessary.
     "Oh."  she looked disappointed.
     "I don't suppose you have any idea why he's so afraid of 
you?" I asked, not really expecting an answer.  I was pleasantly 
     "I'm a witch," she said.  I laughed.  She glared at me, and 
I have never seen someone so innocently blonde look so 
malevolent.  I stood my ground. I don't believe in witchcraft 
and space aliens.  I found it difficult to believe that Randy 
did either.
     "So, he thinks you're a dangerous lunatic," I answered 
cheerfully.  "Well, that's very comforting.  I thought maybe you 
were with the KGB or something serious."
     She didn't seem to appreciate my lack of appropriate 
respect.  She murmured something unintelligible under her breath 
and smirked nastily.  "I'll find him, you know.  You should tell 
him to just give me the book -- if you want to keep him around."  
With this she flounced out of the shop, slamming the door behind 
her.  I spent the next five minutes giggling sporadically.  'If 
you want to keep him around,' indeed!  I felt like I was in a 
bad movie.  Witch, my ass.  
     Eventually I decided Randy had had long enough to recover 
and went downstairs.  Sure enough, I could hear his guitar 
wailing like a cat in heat being swung at a high velocity.  He 
had locked the door.  I debated briefly and decided that my 
lockpicking skills probably weren't up to it.  I turned off the 
circuit breaker instead, and stood outside the door with my 
lighter lit.  
     Presently the door opened.  Randy looked extremely 
sheepish.  It had apparently dawned on him just how silly it had 
looked for him to have run from the Tamara manifestation.  
     "Sorry about that," he muttered.  I blocked the hallway.
     "You are going to tell me what's going on," I said firmly.  
"I have just had my shop cursed by a woman who claims to be a 
witch and tells me that I should tell you to give her some book 
if I want to keep you around. What the HELL is all of this 
     "Ah, SHIT," he sighed heavily.  "Yeah, okay, I guess I owe 
you an explanation.  Let's go upstairs.  I need some coffee.  Is 
she gone?"
     "Yes."  I turned the power back on on my way up the stairs.  
Randy poured himself a cup of coffee and added several spoons of 
sugar, drank about a third of it, and refilled the cup with 
cream.  He looked older when he actually had an expression on 
his face.  It occurred to me that I had no idea how old he was.  
I had hired him without asking any questions, once I had heard 
him play.  I decided that now was not the time to ask.  I 
refilled my own cup and sat down to listen.
     "Okay," he said, sighing.  "Okay.  Uh.  A few years ago I 
was," he looked up from under his hair and grinned wryly, "Er, 
in grad school.  Studying molecular biology."  I stared at him 
in  astonishment as he continued.  "Anyway, I met Tamara at a 
party.  She was gorgeous, and I was drinking, and I took her 
upstairs and somehow she just stayed.
     "She was really into psychic phenomena, and witchcraft, and 
stuff like that.  So one night there were a bunch of people over 
and she was looking through all these old books my grandmother 
had left me and she found a book of spells.  It was really old, 
and it was in Latin.     "She got this idea in her head that we 
could try some of the spells, and since I was the only one there 
who knew enough Latin I got to recite the incantations.
     "I figured it was pretty harmless.  I mean, we were all 
kind of tripping and it seemed like as good a way as any to kill 
some time.  So we lit us up a bunch of candles and set some 
stuff up like it said in the book and I recited this spell that 
was supposed to summon a succubus.  And this woman appeared."
     His expression became doubtful.  "I mean, it must've been a 
hallucination, but we all saw it."  He stared into his coffee 
thoughtfully.  "And there was this -- well, never mind."  He 
seemed to be blushing.  I didn't say anything.
     "Uh, anyway, we all thought it was really great... and we 
would meet about once a week and get high and do rituals and 
cast spells and shit." He sighed.  "I mean, we were all 
hallucinating.  That's the only explanation. Things got really 
weird.  My grades were dropping, and my research grant went 
away, and my thesis died, and I didn't care.  And things just 
kept getting weirder and weirder, and I woke up one morning and 
everyone was lying all over my floor in various states of mental 
modification and there were week-old dishes in the sink and 
garbage all over the floor and I looked around and I couldn't 
deal with it anymore.  I grabbed my guitar and a bunch of my 
clothes and some of the books because I didn't feel right about 
leaving them behind, and I got in my car and left."
     He got up at this point and poured another cup of coffee.  
     "Go on.  What happened next?" I asked, trying to absorb the 
whole thing. He laughed softly under his breath.
     "Well, I just drove around spending all my money and living 
in my car for about three months.  Went to Chicago, because it 
seemed like a good place to be.  Hated it.  Ran out of money and 
had to stay at least long enough to save up a little.  Got a job 
as a bouncer in a bar.  Grew my hair.  Sold my car.  Hung around 
a couple of years, running on inertia.  Then I got sick of it, 
climbed on a bus to California, and got off at the station down 
the road.  As we were driving by I saw the shop and I noticed 
the 'HELP WANTED' sign.  So I got off and hiked back here, 
dumped my stuff under the porch, and wandered in.  And you 
handed me a guitar and told me to play it."  He grinned.  "So I 
did.  And you hired me.  Didn't even get around to asking my 
name for two days.  You're a psycho.  You know that, don't you?"
     "I have often contemplated that possibility," I admitted.  
"Especially on days when you don't answer the phone."
     "So anyway," he continued, seeming eager to get the whole 
thing out in the open now that he had begun, "I started having 
dreams about her a few weeks ago.  She appeared and told me she 
wanted the spellbook.  Every night. I couldn't get any sleep.  
That's why I was late the other day."  He sighed. "I dunno, I 
thought I was flashing back or something.  And then the phone 
rang.  And I don't know anyone around here, and no one who knows 
me knows where I am, and all of a sudden I thought it had to be 
her.  I got kinda spooked.  But I was right, wasn't I?"
     I nodded agreement.
     "I knew it."  He nodded.  "Anyway, last night I was walking 
home and I saw her standing in my window.  I don't know how the 
hell she got in there. So I went down to the Starlight Inn and 
had a few beers.  Went home a couple hours later and she was 
still there.  So I went back.  Had a few more.  Went home again, 
and she was still there.  By that time I could hardly stand  up.  
So I came here, figured I'd crash on the couch in the studio -- 
only I couldn't get the door open.  So I climbed into the T-
Bird, figuring if you could do it I could do it.  Didn't ever 
occur to me that I'm a lot taller than you."  He looked 
embarassed.  "Which is where you came in."
     I just sat there and looked at him for a minute.  "That's 
one hell of a story," I observed.  He nodded.
     "Sounds like a bad novel."
     I poured some more coffee and frowned into it.  "So what 
are you going to do?"
     "Don't know."  He paced restlessly.  "I guess I have to 
talk to her."
     "It's probably best."
     "Yeah, yeah, I know."  He leaned on the counter and rested 
his head in his hands.  "But it won't do any good, I mean, I 
know her, she's used to getting what she wants, and I'm not 
going to give her the book.  It was my grandmother's, for 
chrissakes.  And it's worth a lot of money."
     I didn't know what to tell him.  There was no reason in the 
world why he should have to give Tamara the book, and he was 
probably right that she wasn't going to give up easily.  On the 
other hand, if it had been MY book, I would have handed it to 
her in a minute, just to get rid of her.  It was interesting to 
know that keeping something his grandmother had given him was 
more important to him than his own privacy.  I wasn't quite sure 
what to make of it.  Then again, he probably wasn't either.
     "Well, look, if you need any help or a place to stay or 
anything, just let me know," I said, for lack of any other 
useful advice.  "And if you want to go home this afternoon, or 
take some time off, go right ahead."  Fortunately, I had a long 
list of local guitarists who would gladly work for me for a few 
hours or a few days in exchange for strings, parts, and repairs.  
He nodded.
     "Yeah.  I'm gonna go home and talk to her.  She's probably 
back there waiting for me anyway."  He cocked his head to one 
side and looked at me curiously, seemed to consider saying 
something, and then shook his head.  "See you tomorrow."
     "Unless she turns you into a frog."
     "No problem.  There's got to be a princess around here 
somewhere," he grinned.  "All I have to do is get her to kiss 
     "Oh, you've done this before?"  I gazed up at him 
innocently.  "What happened?"
     He looked exaggeratedly hurt. "You better just hope she 
doesn't turn me into an INVISIBLE frog," he observed, turning to 
     "Best kind," I shouted at his back as he shut the door 
behind him.
     I stood there for a moment grinning foolishly.  Then I 
caught myself.  There had to be something wrong with me.  A 
couple of minutes of word-play and here I was being charmed by 
someone I'd known for two years.  "Jo, you're an idiot," I told 
myself sternly, and put the "OPEN" sign back in the window.

     I didn't bother getting myself a Randy stand-in for the 
afternoon.  I wasn't expecting much business, and I felt the 
need to be alone for a while.  I stuck Zeppelin's first album 
into the CD player and sat down to read the latest issue of 
Guitar Player magazine.  They were interviewing Steve Vai for 
the eighty-kazillionth time.  Steve Vai is one subject I never 
get tired of.  They had included a schematic of the new guitar 
he had had Ibanez build him, which I found highly  educational.  
I decided to build one after I closed the store and marked the 
page.  I read all about the collection of guitars he had 
accumulated over the years with finishes to match the decor in 
each room of his house and was amused.  Now, if he would only 
play a 3-pickup Les Paul, I thought -- then he'd be perfect.  
     I spent the next several hours cutting out an Ibanez body 
in the workshop and sitting behind the counter sanding it while 
I let my imagination play with the idea of Steve Vai and a Les 
Paul.  No one came into the store, which suited me just fine.  
It got dark outside.  I considered what color to paint the body 
when I was finished and decided that a navy blue business-suit 
pinstripe was NOT what I wanted, although the same pinstripe in 
lime green and purple might be just the ticket.  
     Suddenly the music stopped.
     I turned in the direction of the CD player just in time to 
see ten Strats fall off the wall one at a time, like dominoes.  
I put my hands over my ears to block out the sound of guitars 
hitting each other.  Tears sprang to my eyes, not for the 
guitars -- they could be replaced -- but because the sound of it 
was so unpleasant.  I could have sworn I heard someone laughing, 
but then I was distracted by the pounding noise directly behind 
me.  I jumped about ten feet in the air and spun around to see 
Randy beating frantically on the other side of the door.  I let 
him in.
     "Jo, she --"  He broke off as he saw the Strats on the 
floor in an untidy pile.  He was silent for a long moment.  Then 
he looked at me apprehensively.  "Did you do that?"
     I shook my head wordlessly.  His expression mutated 
slightly from apprehension to resignation.
     "What happened?"
     "They just fell."
     "Just now."
     "Jesus fucking Christ."  He closed his eyes and turned his 
back, leaning his forehead against the door.  I knew what he was 
     "It could have been anything, Randy.  Relax.  It was only 
the Strats."
     He chuckled and turned his head to look at me through his 
hair.  "Why did I know you were going to say that?"  
     "Because."  I picked my way through the wreckage of the 
guitars and peered at the wall they had been hanging on.  The 
pegboard that had held the guitar hangers had cracked.  I showed 
Randy.  "Look.  The weight of the guitars probably pulled them 
all out once the crack spread far enough.  Nothing strange about 
it.  We should probably check all of the racks."
     He looked relieved.  He had been hoping for a reasonable 
explanation, and, provided with one, had obviously been glad to 
dismiss the possibility of magical interference.  He looked at 
the guitars on the floor and sighed.  "Most of them look okay," 
he observed unenthusiastically.  I knew what was going through 
his head.  He wanted to take them apart and modify them beyond 
recognition.  I had to admit it seemed like a good idea.  I 
decided that improving his mood was also a good idea.
     "Why don't you look them over and decide what to do with 
them?  If they look really bad you can take them apart."
     He grinned at me knowingly.  "Roger," he said, and crouched 
in the wreckage.  I reached under the counter for Marilyn, slung 
her over my shoulder, and left Randy to his own devices.  

     I poked through my mail on my way up the front walk.  It 
was mostly junk mail, but I was pleased to see a letter from a 
friend in California and the new Carvin catalog.  I went into 
the kitchen and started a pot of water for hot chocolate and 
wandered back into the living room, reading the letter as I 
went.  According to Kevin, being a cop was as boring as ever and 
he STILL hadn't gotten to kill anyone, which he was three 
paragraphs worth of disgusted about.  His loathing for humanity 
grew daily and he had taken the statue of King Amenhotep of 
Egypt that had once adorned his table out back and shot its head 
off a week before after a particularly bad day, leaving him with 
one fewer piece of furniture.  He had used his 9mm Beretta 92F, 
which, he informed me, was currently his  favorite gun.  
     I drafted a reply in my head in which I once again put 
forth an offer of employment that I knew he wouldn't accept and 
suggested that His Majesty King Amenhotep's remains might make a 
good hat rack while I fed  the fish.  I wasn't paying a whole 
lot of attention, so it took several minutes of staring at the 
tank before I realised that the fish were floating in a 
disconcertingly unlifelike manner.  I poked them with one finger 
and ascertained that they were, in fact, dead.
     This really ruined my mood.  I swore loudly and often as I 
fished them out of the tank and tossed them out into the garden, 
where they would hopefully serve some sort of useful purpose by 
decomposing into elements that might revive the azaleas, which 
had been hovering at the edge of death's door ever since I had 
moved in here.  As far as I could tell they didn't like my 
karma.  That suited me fine.  I have never been particularly 
fond of azaleas anyway.  I had recently gotten into the habit of 
telling them so every time I passed them on the walk.  It had 
made no visible difference in their condition, which didn't 
surprise me in the least.
     I brooded over the injustice of the universe while I 
stirred my cocoa, undressed, and crawled into bed with the 
Carvin catalog.  I read for a while, but I couldn't keep my eyes 
open.  I slept, and dreamed of Celestion G12M-70's and Randy.  

     It was drizzling dismally when I woke up.  I dragged myself 
out of bed, dressed with all the energy of the average sloth, 
and by some miracle made it down the stairs without killing 
myself.  The empty fishtank didn't improve my mood.  I decided 
to forgo breakfast and go to the shop, where Randy would 
hopefully have started the coffee machine by now.  I was 
thoroughly wet by the time I got there, but I was heartened by 
the smell of coffee  brewing.  I poured myself a cup and looked 
around for Randy.
     He was, of course, in the workshop.  There were Strat parts 
everywhere.  He had stacked all the bodies in one corner and 
spread all the other parts all over the room.  At the moment he 
was attaching a Strat neck to a body he must have made the night 
before, judging from the amount of sawdust underfoot.  I went 
back into the other room and hit the play button on the CD 
player, then stuck my head around the edge of the door to watch 
his reaction.
     I wasn't at all surprised to hear Boston at top volume.  It 
was his favourite music to work to.  Randy, on the other hand, 
was entirely unprepared for the unexpected onslaught of 100 dB's 
of guitars where there had previously been virtual silence.  He 
came about as close as I've ever seen a person to actually 
hitting the ceiling and spun around with a murderous expression, 
brandishing a neck at me. 
     "Don't DO that!" he exclaimed.  I grinned at him and 
reduced the volume to a level more acceptable to human ears.
     "'Morning," I said airily, as if nothing was out of the 
ordinary.  He sighed resignedly and lowered his weapon.
     "Three of the Strats were fine. Four of them needed a 
little work, but I took care of it.  Three more had the bodies 
cracked, so I took them apart and cannibalised them for parts. 
I've been playing with this neck for a while."  He turned back 
to the table.  "So.  Anything else weird happen?"
     "My fish died.  Nothing all that strange about dead fish."
     He looked over his shoulder thoughtfully, shook his head, 
and turned back.  "You're right.  Nothing all that strange about 
dead fish."
     I decided to abandon the conversation and get something 
done, so I checked the stability of all the remaining guitar 
racks.  They all seemed okay.  I refused to consider the 
implications.  I was not about to believe that this Tamara 
flake's "witchcraft" was responsible for something as obvious 
and reasonable as a piece of broken pegboard.  I tore down the 
old piece and replaced it.
     I heard the door open and turned to see who had come in.  
"Oh, no.  Not YOU again."
     Tamara smirked at me briefly and turned her attention 
immediately to Randy.  "So.  Randy.  How are things going?"
     He looked at her, his expression totally blank, and said, 
"Fine. Why do you ask?  Been experimenting?"
     "Oh, just curious."  Her expression was bland, but her eyes 
were hard.  She smoothed her hair back with one hand.  Her 
bracelets rang musically.  I thought unkindly that the effect 
would have been better if they had been tuned.  "I had a vision 
last night.  I thought something might have happened here."
     His expression became condescending.  "You know I think all 
of that stuff is bullshit, Tam.  As you can see for yourself, 
everything is fine here.  I appreciate your, er..."  He paused 
and one corner of his mouth turned up, "...concern.  Now, if you 
don't mind, I'm very busy."  He turned his back to her and 
busied himself straightening guitars.
     Tamara's expression mutated from patronising to annoyed.  
Then the hardness in her eyes seemed to radiate outward until it 
had spread to her entire body.  "Don't turn your back on me, 
Randy," she said quietly.  I saw his shoulders tense.
     "Leave me alone, Tam.  I'm not going to give you the 
goddamn book and you can't make me do it."
     "Can't I?"  She made a sharp gesture with one hand.  I saw 
him wince.  "Randy, don't be a fool."
     "Fuck you," he said, his tone of voice as pleasant as ever.  
She hissed.  
     "You'll be sorry for that."
     He turned around.  He looked mildly annoyed, but his eyes 
seemed much greener than usual for some reason.  "Tam, you're so 
goddamn trite.  Get out of here before I throw you out."
     She made an incoherent sound and lunged at him.  He caught 
her effortlessly and threw her over his shoulder.  
     "Right, then.  Out you go."  He carried her outside and 
deposited  her on the doorstep.
     She stood there in the rain for a moment looking stunned.  
Then she turned her face toward him, her eyes looking huge and 
dark now that her mascara was running.  I suppressed a chuckle.  
She looked like a raccoon.
     The lights went out.  Randy looked around and a sudden gust 
of wind, heavily laden with rain, threw him halfway across the 
shop, dripping wet.  Tamara stood there looking triumphant.  He 
shook the water out of his eyes and looked at her bemusedly.  
     "You don't really think YOU did that, do you, Tam?" he 
asked mildly.  I wondered how he could stay so calm.  She 
apparently had similar thoughts.  She stepped back into the shop 
and gestured  sharply.  An iridescent lavender custom guitar 
Randy had only finished a few days ago fell out of its stand and 
hit the floor loudly.  I heard him swear under his breath 
suddenly.  There was a deafening crash of thunder and he said, 
"That's enough."  He pointed at the door.  "Get out.  Now.  I 
mean it."  His eyes were even harder than hers at that moment.  
Her defiant expression and all her presence crumbled.  She 
looked surprised more than anything else.  Then she turned and 
walked out of the shop without a word.
     I just stared at Randy for a moment.  He looked even more 
faraway than usual.  He turned, looked at me strangely as if he 
didn't even recognise me, and walked into the workshop.  I let 
him go.  I didn't expect there was anything I could do for him -
- I never do know what to say to people.  I closed the door 
against the rain and bent to pick up the lavender guitar.  
     It had a fine network of cracks all through the finish.  I 
sighed and laid it on the counter and sat on my stool looking at 
it for a long time.

     I didn't see Randy for several hours.  I spent the time 
straightening up the shop and drying off the many things that 
had gotten wet during Randy and Tamara's confrontation.  As I 
had expected, no one was willing to brave the weather to buy 
guitars that day, so I once again had the shop to myself.  It 
was nice.  I played through my Led Zeppelin CD's a few times and 
got all kinds of useful and overdue things done.  When time to 
close the shop came around, Randy was still downstairs, so I 
just locked up and left.  The walk home left me soaked to the 
skin, which I decided was as good an excuse as any to make hot 
chocolate.  I changed into dry clothes while the water boiled 
and then curled up in front of the TV set with my guitar and 
played along with MTV for a while.  
     I was really getting into a brilliant duet with Steve Clark 
of Def Leppard when the doorbell rang.  I reluctantly got up and 
answered it.  Randy was standing there, looking more bedraggled 
than I had believed possible.  Rain dripped off the tip of his 
     "Hi," he said miserably.  "Can I come in?"  Before I could 
react he stepped in the door and wrapped his arms around me.  He 
was not only wet, but cold.  He was also apparently doing his 
best to crush the life out of me.  I managed to kick the door 
shut behind him.  Then, foolishly assuming that there had to be 
a good reason for this, I hugged him tightly.  He didn't move, 
he didn't say anything -- he just hung on as if rigor mortis had 
set in.  I endured it for as long as humanly possible, then 
attempted a small protest.  It took a surprising amount of 
     "Randy, I can't breathe."  My voice came out as a squeak.  
He loosened his stranglehold slightly. 
     "Sorry," he muttered, but didn't let go.  I held him and 
felt water drip out of his hair and down my neck.  
     Eventually he let go and stepped back, a sheepish 
expression on his face.  He brushed a lock of dripping hair out 
of his eyes.
     "You're wet," he observed.  Our eyes met and we both burst 
out laughing.  It went on for quite a while.  Finally, when I 
had caught my breath, I aimed him at the bathroom and told him 
to go dry himself off while I changed my clothes yet again.  He 
emerged shirtless and barefoot, looked at me blankly for a 
moment, and wrapped himself around me again.  I was definitely 
fighting a losing battle against water today, I thought wryly.  
     "I'm sorry," he said.  "I'm getting you wet again." 
     "It's okay," I said helplessly.  I'm always at a loss for 
what to do in situations like this one.  He let go of me and 
sprawled himself on the couch, looking anxious.  I decided it 
was best to keep quiet and wait for him to talk, so I climbed 
into my favorite chair and tried to look more interested and 
less befuddled.
     "It's all like a gigantic flashback.  I don't believe in 
this witchcraft bullshit, you know that, but everything's been 
so goddamn WEIRD lately!"  He ran his fingers through his hair 
nervously.  "I don't know... the shit that's happened... what do 
you think?"  He looked up at me hopefully.  I knew what he 
wanted to hear, and since it was what I thought, I said it.
     "It's all coincidence, Randy.  I mean, if you think about 
it, there's not a single thing that's happened that we couldn't 
explain some other way."  I met his eyes evenly.  He nodded and 
leaned his head back, seeming suddenly to find the ceiling 
especially interesting.  
     "You're right."
     Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took this 
opportunity to admire his physique.  He really was gorgeous, I 
thought.  Gorgeous, half-naked, and sitting in my living room.  
Now, if there was truly any justice in the universe, we would be 
talking about something other than the paranormal -- but, as I 
have said so many times before, there is no justice.  And no joy 
in Mudville.  So I just sat there, hoping he wouldn't look and 
see the steam coming out of my ears.  
     Naturally, he looked.  Apparently oblivious to the 
condensation that must have been collecting on the ceiling 
overhead, he just looked hopefully at me and patted the place 
next to him on the couch.  "C'mere?" he said.
     Self-consciousness almost got me for a moment.  I had that 
horse's head in my hands and I was trying like hell to pry its 
jaws apart.  I had this vague idea of sticking my entire head, 
and both feet, in its mouth.  Then I got hold of myself.  It 
took a monumental effort to make it the three feet from the 
chair to the couch.  I collapsed into it as if I had just run a 
marathon.  He laughed and draped his arm around me, pulling me 
     I think right about there was when I lost my voluntary 
motor skills.  I leaned against him and suppressed a sigh.  He 
felt at least as good as a Les Paul.  The image I got of a six-
foot Les Paul with bleached  blonde hair was highly comical.  I 
laughed under my breath.  
     "What's so funny?" he asked.  I shook my head.
     "Oh, that," he said, and kissed me.  
     For someone who didn't believe in fireworks I saw some 
pretty amazing stuff there for a minute.  I think there was a 
triple-burst in there  somewhere -- but I'm not sure.  I wasn't 
really paying attention to the scenery.  After what must have 
been two or three hundred years he pulled away and looked at me 
     "You're not going to kill me, then?"
     "No," was about the limit of my intelligible vocabulary.  
Fortunately, it was enough.  
     "Oh, good," he said, and kissed me again.
     Maybe there's just a LITTLE bit of justice after all.

     I woke up feeling like I really HAD run a marathon the 
night before.  Well, not too far off the mark, actually.  I 
stretched, turned my head, and saw a folded piece of paper where 
I had expected to see Randy.  I made a couple of grabs for it 
before I finally managed to get hold of it and read it.
     "Inspiration hit.  See you at the shop," it said.  
     My primary reaction was relief that he wasn't going to see 
what I looked like in the morning.  I could deal with the note.  
I know artists.  Inspiration waits for no mere woman.  I dragged 
myself out of bed and looked disgustedly at myself in the 
mirror.  Randy wasn't the only one with brown roots, I observed.  
I was getting a little tired of black with red streaks.  I 
considered the possibilities while I took a shower and got 
     By the time I had downed a box of Apple Jacks and two 
liters of Diet Coke I had settled on black with violet streaks.  
I had had good luck with the black.  I wrote a note to remind 
myself to buy hair dye on the blackboard next to the phone and 
headed out to the shop, wondering what evil thing Randy had been 
inspired to do between four and nine A.M.  I had to give him 
credit for endurance.  After four A.M. I wouldn't have been 
inspired by Steve Vai playing a three-pickup Les Paul, nude 
except for a thick coating of Godiva chocolate.  
     I could hear Boston's second album a block from the shop.  
It must have been one hell of an idea -- the more inspired he 
is, the louder he is.  I was nearly bursting with curiosity.  So 
I was terribly disappointed when I walked in and he was 
vacuuming the carpet.  
     I felt somewhat better when he grinned at me, dropped the 
vacuum cleaner, and kissed me good morning.  There were those 
pesky fireworks again.  I decided that they were probably a 
hallucination, but as there was at least a small amount of 
doubt, more research was indicated.  I held on to him for 
several minutes before I couldn't stand the suspense anymore.
     "So what was the big inspiration?" I asked, pouring myself 
a cup of coffee.  He smiled mysteriously.  
     "You'll see," he said cheerfully, and went back to 
vacuuming.  I knew better than to try to get anything out of 
him.  It had taken me two years to get as far as I had.  I 
reckoned the next couple of years would be even more 

     Surprisingly, today we were nearly overrun with customers.  
It was as if they had all realised simultaneously that they had 
been away too long, and now they couldn't bear to stay away 
another minute.  They descended like a swarm of locusts and 
stayed, making noise and destroying crops,  until closing time.  
We spent another 45 minutes chasing people out and shooting each 
other significant glances between the Jacksons and the Kramers.  
     I guess I was right about justice the first time, because 
just as we shooed the last one out Tamara showed up.  She looked 
ready to kill.  I felt like she looked.  I was about ready to 
rend her in twain and get rid of her once and for all, but Randy 
put a hand on my shoulder, apparently having seen me twitching 
     "Hello, Tamara," he said calmly.  She looked at him 
     "You want a fight, Randy?  Well, you've GOT one!" she 
declared, and braced herself as if she were expecting to be hit 
by a truck.  Randy looked ominous.
     "You don't really want the book, you know," he said 
quietly.  The tone in his voice sent a chill down my spine.  
Tamara looked confused. "You want the power, don't you?  Well, 
the power doesn't come from the book.  The book is useless 
without the power."  He pulled an ornately tooled leatherbound 
book out from under the counter and laid it reverently on the 
glass top.  Fixing her with a piercing gaze, he stalked around 
to  face her.  She was still looking up at him, a half-
disbelieving expression on her face.  He laughed nastily.  I 
shuddered.  He was too damn good at that.  I wondered what in 
hell he was up to and how it related to his late-night 
     "Do you want power, Tamara?  Do you really want the power?"  
The lights dimmed somehow as his mocking words hung in the air, 
daring her to take the bait.  I watched her expression go 
through several changes as skepticism apparently battled greed 
and lost.  A feral smile slowly  spread across her face.
     "Yes," she said breathlessly.  
     "I thought as much."  He nodded approvingly and made a 
theatrical gesture.  There was an extremely trite puff of smoke 
and a flash of light, and a scroll unrolled from his hand.  His 
grin put me in mind of some bloodsucking creature that had just 
cornered its victim, and knew it.
     "Sign on the dotted line, Tamara.  It'll only take a drop 
of blood."  Suddenly she looked just a little bit nervous.  I 
certainly didn't blame  her in the least.  I was nervous as hell 
     "What is it?" she asked apprehensively. 
     "A simple contract.  Go ahead.  Read it.  It's quite 
legal."  He pushed it unceremoniously into her face.  "Hey, 
we're BOTH getting a good deal here, Tam.  You get the power, 
and I get off the hook."
     "Off the hook?" she said uncertainly.  His smile was 
calculating now.
     "Off the hook.  I get to keep my soul.  In exchange for 
yours."  He suddenly looked entreating.  "Sign it, Tamara.  Sign 
it.  You want the power, don't you?"
      She looked like a trapped animal.  "Uh, Randy, I think 
I've changed my mind," she said, and began backing away.  The 
lights dimmed further and smoke seemed to rise from the floor 
beneath him.
     "But you want the power, Tamara.  I know you do.  Come 
on... what do you need your soul for, anyway?  You never use 
     She turned and ran headfirst into the door, wrestled with 
it for a moment, finally got it open and disappeared headlong 
into the night.  Randy dropped the contract and burst into a 
long string of fluent curses, alternating with shrieks of 
demonic laughter.  I just stared at him, dumbfounded.  I was 
utterly speechless.     "Goddamn flash powder," he muttered 
unconvincingly, failing miserably to suppress a manic grin.  
"Burned my goddamn hand!"
     I burst out laughing.  Flash powder?  This had to have been 
his inspiration -- he had staged this whole thing, special 
effects and all, just to chase Tamara away!  And from the looks 
of it, it had worked.  I doubted she'd be back anytime soon.  I 
sat down on the floor and laughed so hard I couldn't breathe.  
He sat next to me, blowing uselessly on his hand and chuckling.  
     "How was I?" he asked.  I couldn't tell him -- I couldn't 
catch my breath.  My chest burned.  My sides ached.  I just put 
my arms around him and laughed until I couldn't laugh anymore.
     "Jesus Christ, Randy, that was really fucking CRUEL!  
You're a complete BASTARD!  I LOVE it!"
     "Spine-tingling special effects!" he said cheerfully.  "I 
don't expect we'll be hearing from her again."
     We got up from the floor and I wandered over and picked up 
the "contract."  It was a major effort not to start laughing 
again.  It was a xerox of an article in Guitar Player with a 
schematic of Steve Vai's guitar.
     "Randy, you're amazing," I told him.
     "I am, aren't I?" he observed, and grinned at me.

     I couldn't believe it.  I just couldn't believe it.
     I threw the empty Apple Jacks box on the floor and stomped 
on it repeatedly and with surprising enthusiasm for this hour of 
the morning.  It only made me feel a little bit better.  I 
kicked it into the living room, across the floor, and out the 
front door.  I left it where it landed in the azaleas and walked 
the quarter mile from the house to the shop with more than my 
usual energy.  "Randy!" I exclaimed as I burst in the door.  
"You ate all the Apple Jacks again!"
     "Someone called," he said calmly, ignoring my outburst 
completely.  I sighed and poured a cup of coffee on my way into 
the back room.  
     "I don't suppose you remember who it was," I said, 
following the
script through force of habit.  
     "I didn't answer it," he said.  I sighed, kissed him, and 
went into the workshop, grinning to myself.  What a spamhead, I 
thought fondly. Life would be SO boring without him.
     I drank my coffee and read the latest issue of Guitar 
Player.  From the other room I heard sounds vaguely reminiscent 
of constipated geese and Randy's voice saying, "You're right.  
Nothin' like a real Strat."
     I sighed happily.  I like it when things are normal.  
Normal for here is strange enough for anyone.  There's no magic, 
no self-destructing guitars, and no spine-tingling special 
effects -- just a surprising number of pyrotechics that 
stubbornly refuse to believe that they don't exist.  And -- 
don't let anyone tell you otherwise -- there's justice.
     Not much, mind you.  But enough for now.


(c) copyright 1995 meredith tanner.  all rights reserved.  this work
may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without permission
of the author.
Fertile in naught but faking/Futile each season passes;
And scrutiny discloses/Thy most prodigious Roses
Are really Horse's Asses. -- Don Marquis