Speculative Funny Romance

This story contains sensitive content

WARNING: Contains profanity and mentions of narcotic substances

The record was called "Blue White Scars," the fifth by the American Wraiths. It went platinum in 1977, their one and only, and produced four hit singles that cracked the top twenty of the US Billboard charts. Raw, beautiful, devastating. Magical stuff. Four of the greatest songs in the history of rock n' roll, which undoubtedly meant four of the greatest songs in the history of America, because rock n' roll was America and America was rock n' roll, and those were four of the greatest rockers to ever roll.

And Steve Brooks couldn't put the chorus together for a single one of 'em. 

"When I go…(strum) this way…(strum)...you…me? You? Shit." He stopped strumming and put his hands on his head, trying to rip his hair out. "It's gone. The song's gone! They're all gone!" 

"You don't say," murmured Lindsey, arms crossed.


"You just yelled at me for no reason. I told you the words were gone. Gone like cherry blossoms." She raised one arm, slightly, and flitted her fingers.  

"Whatever," Steve said, shaking his head. "The words, the melodies, the meanings, the feelings. I've lost it all." It had been nothing but creeping despair the whole way here, and now a whole pit of it opened up in his chest. 

"You said my mother's dementia had caught up with me. Remember that, Steve?" 

He sighed. It was one of those things that just came out, barfed out by anger. "I'm sorry." 

"End of rehearsal!" 

The massive cocoon of sand before them hissed, collapsed and shifted into the shape of a grotesque man-creature with four chins and black beads for eyes. "I hunger!" 

"Yes, my liege," whispered the gaunt man next to him. He turned and began to drift away. 

"Hey!" Steve pulled the strap over his head and drew his Stratocaster toward him like a mighty sword. "What have you done with our music?" 

He moved his pallid lips. Ran his fingers across the strings of the lyre raised to his chest. 


Barely audible, now: "The music is gone, traveler. You came in search of it, and that search led you here." He made a sweeping gesture with one gaunt arm. "As it did many others." Then he vanished. 

Orbs of amber light were affixed to a circle of lean columns around them, like giant candles; the energy within the orbs billowed out and crackled in the air. Sandwiched in between some of the columns were human skeletons. Perfect skeletons; exhibits of the world's tidiest vulture.  

This one over here had a pair of shades over its eyes and a harmonica clutched in its fingers. That one there had its face covered with a fedora, the neck of a Gibson through the ribs. 

Lindsey Vonnick, one half of the American Wraiths—some retrospective critics argued the one half that carried all the soul—clutched her tambourine tightly and stared down at the remains of a woman with night-black hair, who had once played the Shakuhachi flute. Lindsey would have liked to listen to her play it. Just once. 

An ornamental tray containing several roasted canaries was held in the gaunt man's hands when he reappeared. The sand creature leaned back and opened its mouth wide. It sucked all the grease and fat before wolfing each bird down, the man plopping them in, one after the other. 

Steve gulped, said to Lindsey, "Hey—"

"Don't touch me." 

His hand froze. He brought it back down. Looked around at the brown and orange walls of earth surrounding them. The way in had twisted and turned so many times that he didn't have the foggiest clue how to get back. How the hell did they find themselves in this place? How the hell, indeed. 

One of Steve's teenage heroes had been Rex Johnson, whose first couple of records Steve's dad had done the drumming for. By the time Steve and Lindsey formed the American Wraiths in 1972, no one knew his name, but in the American folk rock scene of the early 60's, he'd been a genius. The natural progression for most artistic geniuses is to eventually go crazy, fair enough, but fast forward a few decades and Rex Johnson had well and truly vaulted over the deep end. It was before going completely insane that he had told the story (to whoever was listening) about that summer night in 1968, when he wandered inside a cave in the desert and came across some kinda kooky seance with a bunch of glowing balls. 

Interesting thing about that story was the fact that, between late '67 and early '69, Rex Johnson couldn't have gone anywhere. Because he was in rehab in Minnesota. 

"Lin," croaked Steve, "I can't remember any of our songs. I'm freaking out, real bad." 

"Good. Have an aneurysm, why don't you?" And she made a fart noise with her tongue between her lips.

"You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do." 

"No, you fucking don't. Just like I didn't mean what I said." 

"Could you shut up, Steve?" 

"Could you look at me, Lin?" 


Black beads stared at them. Lifeless fingers plucked at the strings of the lyre. 

"My liege has just been fed. You may now begin. Thrill him."


"Entertain him."


"Move him." 


"But songbirds make him sleepy. Do not let him sleep." 


"For if he sleeps…" He plucked at the strings and finished, sadly, "...forever lost will be the music."

"It's already fucking lost, man!" 

Then Lindsey started whacking her palm against the tambourine, zills jingling, and before he knew it Steve had reworn the strap and was playing the guitar. 

It was instinctual. 

When she played, he played, time or place be damned. If she got the tambourine out in the car, he'd forget the steering wheel. If she got it out at his old man's funeral, he'd forget the casket. 

Lindsey slapped, swatted, slapped, swatted, creating slow quintuplets; from there, Steve played a E B G D A E on pentatonic, picking alternately at the A and E strings, down and up. 

Man, oh man, this woman. She was his muse, his spark, his everything. 

Oh yeah. 

He heard her inhale, then sing: 

"Parrot loves to talk

Boa hugs it warm and tight

Parrot can't talk now"

Say what?

"I drift out to sea

Flawless tranquility

Then choke on the salt"


"I recall her voice

She was young and lovely then

Now time sucks her dry"

No, no, no. 

Steve stopped playing. Lindsey kept going, sobbing, tears in her eyes. He reached out and grabbed both her wrists. 

"Stop it. Hey, you gotta stop it. Look at me." 

So she did, and he stared at her. Hazel eyes and golden waves, still young, with the kind of face that could never age because God just wouldn't allow it. 

This wasn't true, of course, because if that was the case, God wouldn't have made cocaine. 

"Enough with the poems!" 

"Haikus, not poems." 

They were scribbled all over her notebooks. She'd stopped writing songs altogether, just haikus, and they were of the sort that made you want to tie a rock to your ankles and jump in the ocean after you read them. 

Steve turned his head and saw that the black beads had vanished. Horrified, he pushed his fingers into his mouth and let out a whistle. They opened. He looked at Lindsey again. 

"I think we bored him…it." 

"Bored! No more of this woman!" 

She glanced at it, and she felt defeated and depleted. "Well, that's that then. I think I'll sign off now." 

Sniffling, she dropped to the ground and sat down. Her arms were outstretched, because Steve was still holding on to her wrists. 

"Come on, up you get." 

She didn't move nor speak. 

"Up, up."


They did this sad dance for a minute before he let go, frustrated. When he saw that the beads were closed once more, he became enraged. 

"Hey!" Another whistle. "You want entertainment?" Steve produced his trusty 6.3mm cable, stuck one end to his guitar, marched over and stuck the other end into the Pandora's-Box-looking gizmo a few feet behind them. It was time for the big guns. The showstopper. 

The album closer. 

This usually came at the very end of a long set, the knockout blow after a barrage of hits, but it seemed like the curtains would close on them pretty soon. 

"Amplified blues," muttered Steve. 


He gave her a look, gesturing. "You wanna..?"

Silence. Just gonna sit there and pout? Fine by me, he thought, jaw clenched tight. Directed his attention to this heap of sand they apparently needed to keep awake. 

"Ok, big fella, I'm gonna play you a song. A song—" And he jabbed vigorously at his belly—"straight from here. Hold on to your hats! I call this song…'Hurricane.'" 

It was a hurricane of shit. 

For the next few minutes, Lindsey watched him stomp his feet and twirl his hips, shouting out "baby" and "mama" when he ran out of platitudes about "blue skies" and "cherry lips" and "wild flowers." 

Steve Brooks couldn't write a song to save his life—but holy heck, could that boy play guitar. 

"Hey!" he sang. "C'mon!" 

Lindsey Vonnick was the songwriter. Or had been, anyway. Now…she wasn't so sure. The haikus, she wrote mostly for herself, as a way to seize those little trinkets of abstraction that popped in her head every now and then. The songs were garbage. The well was dried up. 

While Lindsey tried to think of another metaphor (preferably less lame), Steve belted out one more dizzying solo on top of the three others he had already concocted. He was approaching eight minutes, but had lost sense of time and meaning. Considered doing a turnaround but then just held on to the D with vibrato and listened to the garble of feedback. Then it was over. 

And half his audience was falling asleep. Again. 

"Thank you and good night!" He yelled, face flushed red, and—

"Hey, hey! Don't get crazy now, Steve." 

Lindsey was a little dumbfounded, staring at him over there with his guitar hoisted above his head. 

"Oh, now you can talk?!" 

"Put it down."

"This is me signing off."

"You'll regret it later."

Steve lowered it. "There ain't going to be a 'later,' Lindsey." 

"Ok. So why smash it?" She motioned toward the skeleton impaled by the Gibson. "This guy didn't." Her eyes moved to the woman with the flute. "Neither did she." 

Steve scratched his beard. "You're right. I'll hold onto this, and you can take the jingles off that thing, since you ain't gonna use it." 

Lindsey was quiet, looking down at her instrument. 

"We're at the end here, Lin. Tell me you realize that." 

Music was her savior; only fitting that it should be her destroyer. She thought about learning the tambourine at thirteen, writing her first full song at sixteen (guess who it was about) and drawing water from that well for the first time. 

Steve, meanwhile, thought about that time they played the Checkerdome; the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium; The Forum; the Coliseums of Richfield, Kemper and Kansas. That was their US tour from '77 to '78. 

Then came the UK in '79. Wembley. If only he could remember those damn songs...just one of those damn gorgeous tunes. 

Up until "Blue White Scars," the Wraiths had been prolific, 1974 being the only year they didn't put out an album. But they didn't begin work on the follow-up to their big platinum hit until the end of touring. "Serenade" came out in 1980, had one song that charted pretty well, and it wasn't quite the same. Two more albums and it wasn't the same at all. 

The fucking 1980s.  

"I realize it, Steve," said Lindsey. "I guess I'm just trying not to think about it." 

"What else is there to think about?" He demanded. 

"I dunno," she shrugged and responded. "You." 

After a moment's pause, he wondered why she needed to think about him when he was right here with her. 

"So when he sleeps, we lose, right?" She asked, looking up. 

The fingers played the lyre. "Yes." 

"How do we win?" 

"You shall be told." 

"Oh, shit," Steve said as he realized the son of a bitch was dozing again. He played a quick riff, D and E. "Blank walked into a bar. Lindsey?" 


"Fill the blank, Lin. Who walked into a bar?"

Then, for the first time in a long while, a smile broke across her face, an unexpected one for the both of them. "Who?" 

"I don't know, that's why I'm asking you!" 

"Uh…erm…a concubine." 

"A concubine walks in the bar" 

She could see the cogs turning in his head, and it was hilarious. 

"Bartender says what'll it be?" 

Repeated the riff. 

"She says I'll have me a whiskey and rye" 

One more time. 

"He says do this shot then do me tonight" 

And then he raised the tempo, got the groove going…until a bellow of "Rotten!" brought it to an end. Steve sighed with one hand still on the fretboard. 

"I take it you're not a fan of the blues. Well, you oughta know, we're only a blues duo on those very particular days, those very particular moments. We're really rock n' rollers at heart. Although…hey, we should've brought a drummer. We should've called up Nicky Norris. And you folks should consider setting up some drums right over there. A microphone or two wouldn't hurt either, you know."

Lindsey shook her tambourine in the air. "Can you play the sticks, Apollo?" 

No response, just a gentle pluck. 

Steve got the guitar off him and wandered over. He plopped himself down with a grunt next to Lindsey. 

"Well, well." 

She angled her head toward him, looking at his blue eyes, his beard, his lips. 

"Isn't this something?" He laughed.

In shared silence, Steve and Lindsey regarded the skeletons. Lindsey was somewhat tempted to reach out for that flute. Not just to hold it, but to put it to her lips and play it. But that felt obscenely wrong, like scribbling your own poetry on someone else's headstone. 

"You still thinking about me?"


"You wanna just talk with me instead? You know I'm here, right?"

"I know." Lindsey's hair obscured the side of her face. She toyed with the zills around her tambourine. "You wanna know what I was thinking about?" 

"If it means you'll talk with me, sure." 

But she did not talk. Steve waited and waited, watching her sit there in total silence. Forget it, he then thought. He whistled again. 

"Hey, listen to this." He pulled the cable off the guitar and played around with a lick in A minor. "Or don't, whatever." 

And, in fact, it didn't listen; it finally went into a deep, deep slumber that was well away from the reach of any whistle, haiku or solo. 

Lindsey, however, did listen. That was really nice, what he was playing. The opening lick which he kept going back to, in particular, allowing his fingers to wander some before they traced back to it. She felt herself shiver a little. 

"What's that from?" 

His eyes moved up to meet hers. "I'm not sure." 

"It's yours, isn't it?" 

He hesitated and answered, "You think it could be?"

"I…just keep playing." 

And so Lindsey Vonnick listened to Steve Brooks play guitar, while he watched her listen to him, both their fates already sealed. 

The reason that tune felt familiar was that it was a guitar fill Steve had played for a song Lindsey had written in the summer of 1971, placed as the side one closer of their first record. It was called "Tucson." 

Ran out of Tucson like coyotes in the night

I follow you, you follow me 

See the hilltops losing light

Take fire higher up the trees 

Did you see the changes coming 

In visions or in dreams?

What did you envision, baby

Come the end of January 

We see but we are unseen 

You know what I can't know 

I won't move on from you

And in change we'll go where we go 

Ran out of Tuscon with nothing in our sights 

I'll see things when you see 

Take it easy, oh I might 

I don't mind you reminding me 

Did you see the changes coming 

In your visions or in your dreams?

What did you envision, baby

Come the end of January 

We see but we are unseen 

You know what I can't know 

I won't move on from you

And in change we'll go where we go 

No I won't move on from you

And in change we'll go where we go

Lindsey had begun to hum now, her eyes opening and closing in intervals. Not yet singing the words, even though they were more or less there. 

Steve moved closer to her. 

"We doing this?" 

She turned and smiled at him, their foreheads touching. "You know what?"


"I could write a million songs about you." 

"Yeah? Well I'll play them all. For you." 

As Steve continued on and on with his guitar, the two of them noticed sand slowly but surely pooling around them where they sat. 

They sat there and grew thinner and thinner and thinner—until finally, before the gaunt man with the lyre and the dozing entity of sand, Steve and Lindsey signed off for the night. 

March 17, 2023 20:18

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Keith Maynard Jr
10:01 Mar 23, 2023

A nice tale of making a deal with the devil (in essence) and having to pay it back later in life. If I'm going to nitpick, I'd say the way you mentioned the songs in the first paragraph lost me slightly. "US Billboard charts. Raw, beautiful, devastating. Magical stuff" I think it might have worked better if done "US Billboard charts: Raw, Beautiful, Devastating, Magical stuff" and each song name in quotes. It also felt off that you referred to the characters by their full names even after having them call each other by their first names o...


Rake Silva
10:25 Mar 23, 2023

Thanks for the comment. A few things: those weren't the song titles, just words to describe the songs, hence why they aren't in quotes. As for the lack of the colon, that's just a choice I went with to make those sentences stand out more. Secondly, the reason the full names are used sometimes is because the story is written in third person omniscient, which is why the POV is constantly shifting between Steve and Lindsey. I picked this up from omniscient writers like Stephen King, who will often repeat the character's full name in their p...


Keith Maynard Jr
11:42 Mar 23, 2023

The colon as I suggested makes no sense since you pointed out that those aren't song names. I see your point about the names.


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Josephine Harris
20:37 Mar 20, 2023

This is excellent writing. You really had me in that cave with the sand creature. You’re obviously a dedicated musician. Well done.


Rake Silva
21:18 Mar 20, 2023

Appreciate that, Josephine. Best of luck with your writing.


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Josephine Harris
13:34 Oct 12, 2023

Rake: Where are you? Was waiting to read more of yours. Hope you're okay and just procrastinating. Cheers Jo


Rake Silva
07:47 Oct 13, 2023

Hehe, I've just been really busy with work the last few months. Also found myself out of ideas for some of the recent prompts to get any writing done. Hopefully yours is going smoother lol. Anyways, hoping to get back soon.


Josephine Harris
12:52 Oct 18, 2023

Get back in there! I've only come back to it recently as I was missing the challenge. When I think I can't make anything from the prompt I force myself to think about each one until something shows up like aliens, which can explain anything away. That or humor, when you can take explanations to ridiculous extremes. I have a feeling you have stories in you.


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Michał Przywara
01:58 Mar 19, 2023

This is wild! Two aging rockers find each other - but it's at the end of their lives, when they are destroyed by their bizarre patron. Taken at face value, this is a rock fantasy tale, reminiscent of a deal with the devil - who perhaps has come to collect his due, in entertainment. The music he granted them, he has withdrawn. And the protagonists fail, like all the others before them. Taken less literally - what is the sand man? He's voracious, as fans can be. He's capricious, as tastes change between generations. He's made of sand, which ...


Rake Silva
05:58 Mar 19, 2023

Hey Michal, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. That's a pretty comprehensive take and beautifully articulated. In a way, this story is also about change, and one of the most drastic turns in mainstream music happened when the 70s transitioned to the 80s, and monolithic acts that ruled that decade like Gods very quickly fell into obscurity—while other had to transform themselves completely. Steve and Lindsey were not willing to do that, and paid the price for it. Which is why, even their best work falls upon deaf ears. E...


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