'You'll never be good enough' was the sentence that played over and over like it was on a loop in Fraser Autumn's mind. He was only 25 but felt as if his life was wasting away in his remaining years. Ever since returning from war with new material attached to his body, he believed his time alive was meaningless.
"Hey metal hands! The tip!" The taxi driver called as Autumn grabbed his jacket, a step away from the winding, stone road.
Fraser sighed and raised his glasses. Slender, polished, metal fingers skimmed the lenses that reflected his artificial, silver replacement of human hands. The metal was like a permanent scar, attached to Autumn for the rest of his life. Every time he glanced down, he remembered the gunshots of a fearful battlefield and the feeling of his new synthetic touch.
"Metal hands!" The driver requested again. Fraser winced and grabbed a few dollars from his pocket- not wanting to tip such a rude driver anyway. He hopped out of the taxi as it quickly drove away, leaving smoke behind its crooked trail. Autumn clenched his drumsticks in his quivering, numb, robotic hands and gulped. He stared at the three-story building covered in Christmas ornaments and wreaths.
The holiday season was something that could bring harmony to his sorrowful, strayed spirit. Ever since he was a child, he knew the loving and nostalgic warmth of being with your family on Christmas morning. However, after returning from the war, Fraser had grown independent and detached himself from others. He had forgotten that feeling of Christmas.
Walking into the bar, Fraser wanted one thing, to see his friend and relax by himself. The holiday party he was attending played music so loud you could hear it from the bustling streets of New Cashire. It was a festival where bands would share their merry greetings through music and drink their sorrows away.
Autumn was a remarkably talented guitarist in his youth, but ever since he returned from war with a pair of new hands, he gave up on that gift. The career Fraser wanted to pursue didn't suit his stiff metal fingers. The misunderstood boy turned to playing drums, a passion that didn't need such organic precision.
The inside of the bar was more festive than he thought. Holiday decors such as lights, wreaths, trees, and banners illuminated the dusky area. Fraser stood awkwardly, gripping his drumsticks, and looking around. A band played on the stage to his left. They played holiday songs that brought familiarity to the scary atmosphere. A few stared at his strange hands, while others didn't bother looking at him at all. Metal parts weren't as common in that small town but weren't necessarily unusual in their world.
"Autumn!" Fraser turned his head to see his childhood friend Viktor. The man wore a cyber bomber jacket and had a funky pattern shaved in his platinum hair. "About time you showed!"
Autumn wrapped his alloy hands around his friend for a hug. "Long time no see."
Viktor released his grip and pointed to the stage, "did you finally decide if you were going to play tonight?"
Autumn shifted his emerald eyes to the ground, "I don't know, drums alone aren't really captivating for an audience like this. I'll just watch other bands for now."
"Alright, if you change your mind just tell me. Everyone here is a musician so maybe you can chat with them and see if they have an open spot in a band for you!"
"Well- I don't really like music as much-"
"What?" Viktor switched his attention to the bar where a man was signalling him over. "Be right there!" He spun back to Fraser and patted his shoulder. "Sorry, more people showed up to this party than expected. We'll catch up later, just enjoy the holiday spirit and drink the eggnog, it's really tasty!"
After countless dead-end conversations with the strangest musicians that always resulted in them asking about his hands, Fraser sat at a table in the crowd and pondered as a singer performed. What would his life be like if he wasn't given to the war and continued as a guitarist? Would he be happy? Who would he be? These thoughts rushed through his troubled mind as a woman sang a french carol on stage. They were lyrics he didn't understand, but yet a melody that made him reminisce. His forest green eyes passed to the bassist accompanying her. The man's fingers were clasping the strings, shifting positions and changing the notes, the tune, the harmony. It was a beauty in his mind, a beauty he could no longer perform.
"More eggnog?" A woman asked. She carried a tray of drinks and wore an apron over her dress.
"Oh- no thank-"
"Wow!" The lady's eyes glistened with sparkles as she gazed at his hands. "Are those real?"
Fraser was surprised at her interest in his robotic parts. "Well, yeah."
"My father used to have hands just like yours!" She put down the tray and stared.
"Yes! Where I come from, it's not that rare to see others with metal components." her human finger pointed at his alloy hands. "Can you feel anything? Can you move your fingers?"
"Well, I can move my fingers as easily as you, maybe a little bit slower. However, the feeling isn't quite there."
"Oh? You can't feel?"
"I can, this technology connects with my skin, but- it's just not the same. Slightly off- unfulfilling, i guess."
The lady suddenly sat next to him on the free seat. "How did you get them? Was it intentional? I'm Nancy by the way."
"Fraser Autumn." He smiled. "I was sent to the atomic war at 18, and I lost them in a bombing. The colonel was nice enough to offer me surgery to get these robotic hands attached to my arms- as a replacement and a thank you for my service. I've been like this ever since."
"I'm really sorry that happened. But, I couldn't help notice that you're a drummer now?" Nancy rolled over a drumstick that was resting on the table.
"I picked it up as a hobby to forget about the war, after the guitar-"
"Guitar?" Her ears peered up.
"See, I was a gifted guitarist before the war. Once I came home with my new hands, they wouldn't play the instrument like they used to. They were slow, it took me too long to adjust to them. I ended up by giving up on that passion, and tried a different approach to music. I fled to the next best thing, drumming."
"Are you passionate about drumming?"
"No, not as much as the guitar."
"So then why do you play?"
"What do you mean, why do I play? Because I can't play the guitar!"
"You don't know that."
Autumn refused to say anything. His mind was scattered when it came to discussing the guitar. He wasn't considered as a 'people person' anyway.
"You know, Fraser, Christmas is the time of sharing and giving, connecting and bonding- with people or with yourself- with your heart or with your new life."
"Christmas is nothing but a holiday. It can't change my mind about my dumb hands. You wouldn't understand. Just let me listen to the music in peace. I've spent the past five years alone with this repulsive metal."
"Well, I was going to tell you that a random guitarist of some random band bailed on them, they're performing tonight and are looking for an experienced musician to take the guitarist's place."
Autumn remained silent. He convinced himself he would never play the guitar again, too afraid of what lies ahead. It was a mere coincidence that the band was looking for someone to sub in for that musician.
"Follow me. I know you know you want to play guitar again."
Autumn relinquished to that intuition of pursuing his gut feeling and followed Nancy through the crowd, entering backstage.
There, Fraser found a unique bunch of musicians arguing loudly. The moment Autumn stepped in, they turned their eyes over to him. There were two women and two men who seemed to be around his age. They looked to be outcasts, for they were dressed like rebels and wore countless piercings and tattoos.
"You play guitar?" A man wearing a trench coat asked in a deep, raspy voice.
"What's with your hands?" A woman with purple hair asked.
"He was in the war," Nancy stepped in. "He used to be a guitarist before he lost his hands, and he's the only one I found that's available right now. So take it or leave it."
The man in the trench coat crossed his arms and eyed Fraser. The other woman grabbed an electric, cherry red guitar lying on the leather sofa behind her and pushed it into Autumn's chest. His fragile hands stroked the neck of the instrument.
"No time to debate. We're on stage in a half an hour, are you in or out?" The woman asked, releasing the guitar for it to drop into Fraser's arms.
Autumn glanced at Nancy and at the instrument he held. It felt warm and more natural than he remembered. It felt real- like he could truly grasp the strings and play it thoroughly.
"Well?" She interrupted his thoughts.
Autumn looked up and grinned. "In."
A gleaming light shined down onto Autumn's glasses. He gulped, staring at the chatty audience ahead. His mind couldn't apprehend how he was suddenly performing with a guitar in front of an entire bar. He continued gripping the guitar tighter and tighter with fear. He hadn't played for years, and if he did, he wouldn't play as fast as the melody went- he would fall behind.
The band would perform a remix of jingle bells. Autumn had the chords of that Christmas carol memorized for years. It was one of the simplest melodies that any experienced guitarist like him could pick up instantly. His robotic hands were programmed to have excellent muscle memory anyway. Along with his sheer talent, memorization wouldn't be the problem. It was his fear that was the obstacle. The principal responsibility stressing him out was the guitar solo in the middle of the song- a whole thirty seconds with the spotlight shining down on his fidgeting, firm fingers.
"Thank you, everyone!" Ralph, the lead singer, hollered and grabbed the microphone. "This song is a special remix of jingle bells! Enjoy!"
Ralph glanced at Fraser and nodded. The lights dimmed, leaving only the radiance on the stage, on Autumn- he took a deep breath. At last, the metal fingers shifted positions to a note on the strings. Fraser started the symphony. It was slow- it was easy at first. A thrill rushed through his blood, the thrill of playing the guitar again, a thrill he forgot existed.
As the rhythm picked up, so did his fear. Would his hands work the same as they used to? Or would he mess up and ruin the evening for his mutuals and the audience? Autumn's hands started to shake through the notes and movements. Suddenly, a singular finger twitched the wrong way, resulting in a spasm that played the wrong pitch. A few people in the crowd started whispering. Fraser's anxiety worsened with every passing moment- until the lead singer started singing.
"Jingle bells, Jingle bells!"
Then played lyrics that brought Fraser back to childhood. Fraser revived the memory of Christmas dinner that used to make his heart rise with comfort. Remembering the feeling of running his hands through wreaths and Christmas tree pine put him at ease. His fingers started moving more lightly as he focused on the lyrics singing about holiday delight rather than his panic.
Thinking about that nostalgic sensation made him realize what he was feeling at that moment- the strings. Autumn's hands plucked and shifted positions at the strands, making his dense, worthless metal understand what he had been missing. Fraser could truly feel the guitar.
At last, it was time for his solo. To Autumn's surprise, his fingers moved fluently. The rush of joy and free feeling of standing on stage elevated his soul. It dazzled his spirit, giving him passage to happiness. The notes went fast and were quite challenging to play. His fingers underwent dozens of positions at higher speeds, but he could play perfectly.
Snap! A gear from his left pinky finger fell loose, making his entire finger vulnerable, risking it falling off in the middle of the song. His fluttering hands were moving too swiftly for his sprockets to manage. Thankfully, the remaining notes in his solo didn't require his pinky. Autumn could finish the song with a finger loose and play it cool, or he could lose that feeling of delight at any given moment and replace it with embarrassment.
But he didn't care.
Autumn had been so focused on that dread of messing up, on that worry of losing respect- that he had lost respect for himself. And he was determined to gain it back by finishing that song with a perfect cadence.
Finally, the solo was over, and Fraser was relaxed again. The lyrics continued until the end that finished the melody with a roar. Autumn could unwind as the crowd stood up and applaud. It was over, he did astounding, and he finally conquered his fear.
Fraser got his gears fixed a few days later. Viktor called and told him that the band and everyone watching were incredibly impressed by his talent. The employees at the bar named him the alloy guitarist and told his story every holiday season.
Autumn decided to leave his fear behind and pursue what he always wanted to play, the guitar. He promised that the whole world would know one day, the sound of metal.