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"Damnit boy, you quit makin' a god awful ruckus with that thing or I'm gonna whup your ass but good," the elder man scolded as he yanked his guitar away from the young wannabe.


The young man walked away hurt and angry. He wasn't gonna work in no white man's field. He planned to escape that fate by becoming a working musician, but nobody would teach him to play the guitar, and he didn't have a natural talent for the instrument. He had tried practicing but he didn't know where to begin, and although he had the drive, he didn't necessarily have the discipline to stick with it when he got frustrated. The old timers had no patience for him and would sooner shoo him off like a pesky gnat than teach him even a single chord.


There was only one choice left and he decided it was now or never. The legends had said that anybody who wanted to become great at something could go out to the crossroads at midnight and he would be offered a deal by some otherworldly agent. Rumor was you had to trade the fella your soul, but the young man figured he wouldn't have much use for a soul if he ended up in the fields like some damn zombi, so he accepted the price and headed out to the infamous intersection to barter for his fate.


It was fifteen minutes until midnight when he arrived and he lit up a cigarette and stood waiting, not sure exactly how this was gonna work. His eyes darted back and forth between his watch and the roads heading off in five directions. At exactly the appointed time he saw a pair of headlights racing towards him, and stood off to the side of the road so as not to get hit. The car came to a screeching halt in front of him and a voice called out to him.


"I ain't got all night, boy, so you better git yer ass over here ask for what you came to ask for." the big man inside pulled from a bottle of whiskey and took long puffs from a cigar.


"I wanna be able to play the guitar, sir. Not just play it, but play the hell out of it. I wanna be the best goddamn guitar player in the whole Mississippi delta." he spoke more confidently than he expected he would.


"Ah hell, that ain't nothing. That it?"


"Yessir. That's it."


"Alright then, well you know what they say, practice makes perfect," and without clarifying a single thing the car sped off.


The young man wondered if that was it, just some stupid advice to practice, as though he hadn't thought of that himself. He wiggled his fingers to see if they felt transformed in any way, but they still felt like the tangle of clumsy twitches he was used to. After the long walk back home, alternately curious and furious, he fell asleep and had vivid dreams of himself as a famous bluesman commanding the stage at some juke joint while the women went wild over his playing and the older players looked on jealously.


The next day he woke to the sound of screaming children outside his window and wiggled his fingers again, still not noticing any change. Before he made his way to the outhouse he grabbed his beat up old guitar and started playing, hoping some sort of magic would guide his fingers, but he sounded just as dissonant and arrhythmic as ever. He tossed the instrument on his bed and went about his daily business, frustrated and disappointed.


Was the man in the car just some prankster who got off on fooling people who believed the legends? Would somebody really drive out there every night at midnight just to see if some poor sucker had showed up? It was certainly possible, but didn't seem very likely. His cousin's wife's brother had allegedly made the deal and became a genius with watercolors, then moved to New York to show his art in the finest galleries. There was other evidence the legends were true. Maybe he just had to wait for it, but he was tired of being patient, which is why he made the deal in the first place


After lunch he decided to pick the guitar back up and practice. Maybe if he fiddled with it for an hour or so his newly acquired talents would emerge, but after two hours his fingers were raw and he hadn't made a single speck of progress. It was so maddening that he smashed the guitar against the hearth and then cried as he picked the splinters up off the floor. He decided it was time to stop trying to avoid the inevitable, and went out and bought a bottle. Though he had drank on a few occasions, he was not a regular, but he planned to go on a bender until he stopped caring about everything, then he would tuck his tail and go look for work in the fields. It didn't take long before he was passed out on the porch, still clutching the bottle, which was 3/4ths full despite his best efforts.


The next morning he woke to the sound of children screaming outside his window, and wondered how he had gotten to his bed, as he vaguely remembered briefly coming to and realizing he had passed out on the porch, before falling right back to sleep. He looked around and saw his guitar, the one he had smashed the day before in a fit of rage, sitting where he usually kept it, completely unharmed. A voice rang out, seeming to emanate from the instrument:


"Practice makes perfect."


After a few more days he accepted that he was stuck inside some kind of strange loop where he kept repeating the same day over and over. Every morning started with the screaming children and the talking guitar, and ended with him getting piss drunk, smashing the guitar and passing out in various places, only to wake up back in his bed and start the whole thing over. This went on for two or three weeks worth of days, he had lost count, before he finally decided to take his instrument's advice.


The would-be bluesman played for hours every day, no matter how much his fingers hurt, but he never seemed to improve much. It wasn't like he lost all progress in each new iteration, as he had definitely gained some ground in his skills, but at this rate he would have to relive this day a million times before he could compete with the older pickers at the juke joints. He decided that he would start going to watch them at night, and he would study them playing until he understood what he was doing wrong.


Every night the men teased him and warned him to stay away from their guitars when they took their whiskey and cigarette breaks, and he complied without sassing back. The next day he would attempt to imitate specific riffs he studied the night before, and practice them until he could play them almost perfectly. Slowly he began to notice real improvement, but at the same time he was getting bored and lonely.


One night he drank a few shots of whiskey and tried asking a few of the attractive women to dance, but they laughed at him and in his embarrassment he drank more. Since he never worried about waking up with a hangover, he kept at it. Each night at the juke joint he would drink and try to get a pretty girl or two to dance with him. His guitar studies and practice became secondary as he studied drinking and flirting. Through trial and error he eventually got much better at the flirting, but his drinking never improved, and he resigned himself to being a lightweight. But now that he could charm the ladies, and was getting more from his efforts than just a dance on a regular basis, his confidence began to improve. That led to him doubling back down on practicing his guitar, which was sped along nicely by the newfound bravado he now brought to the act.


This had been going on now for what was, to his mind, a couple of years. He had sporadic bursts of practice and progress interspersed by periods of debauchery and hedonism, which he supposed were just as important skills for a bluesman to have as guitar playing.


Recently he had started to bring his guitar to the juke joint and join the men on stage, who would protest at first, but then watch curiously as he played along somewhat skillfully. It was almost like they were watching a miracle, since to their mind he had been hopeless at the instrument just the night before. It piqued their interest enough that they became open to showing him some tips and tricks for guitar, and even harmonica, after everyone else had left for the night. He improved even more rapidly as a result and soon he set his sites on a new goal - writing his own song.


There were a dozen attempts at writing and refining memorable tunes, which he would perform at the juke joint to gauge the reaction from the players and crowd. His first few songs were complete flops, but as he got better, the responses got more and more positive. Yet he knew he had not fixed on the proper formula yet. He did not want to write good songs, he wanted to write the greatest songs ever, so he kept at it.


One day he was sitting on the porch and his fingers glided around the fretboard looking for the perfect melody as he watched the same minor thunderstorm pass overhead like it did every day at this time. Instead of looking at his fingers he kept his eyes on the sky, and tried to pick out notes that accompanied the rolling clouds and flashes of lightning and thunder. Suddenly he was aware that what he was playing sounded like nothing he had ever heard. It was, like the storm, haunting, menacing and beautiful. This was what he had been looking for. The key was not to write the songs, but to let the songs emerge from his experiences of the world around him. He strummed out a few other noteworthy riffs that he would return to later, then arranged the original melodies and wrote some lyrics to accompany his masterpiece.


Later at the juke joint he played the song, and everyone stood staring at him like he was a genius or a demon, or some combination thereof. They had never heard anything like it, and it was so stirring they had no idea how to react. After an awkward pause of stunned silence, they began to applaud, which soon escalated into full blown hooting and hollering.


At the end of the night he took a gorgeous pair of twins home and drank deeply from their carnal delights. Despite the whiskey, he was invigorated by the day's events, and was able to go back and forth, savoring the minute differences between the nearly identical women. He didn't even care if he would ever escape this strange time loop, as long as each day ended somewhat like this.


The next morning he woke up with the twins laying on either side of him. There were no screaming children and his guitar, though unbroken, was not in its usual place.


Over the next few years he toured the juke joint circuit, leaving amazed crowds wherever he went. He quickly became the most popular musician in the entire Mississippi delta, and men from the north traveled to record his almost otherworldly music. 


However his time in the loop had grown more than just his musical skills, it had given root to appetites he could no longer control. His desire for whiskey and women had become larger than life, and he indulged these pleasures without any thought to the dangers they might lead him to, which they eventually did. One night the bluesman, the greatest of all time, was given a bottle of whiskey by a man whose wife he had slept with the last time he was in town. It had been poisoned, and he died a few miserable days later, with no fanfare to mark his passing. As quickly as he had ascended he was forgotten, and it would take years before the bluesman's music would reach a wider audience and create an enduring legacy that he would never get to be proud of.


And as for his soul, well that turned out to not be a thing. There was no hell waiting for him and no hounds to harass and torment him for eternity. Just an unending dream in which he played guitar for adoring crowds, made love to beautiful women and never drank whiskey he didn't pay for.

August 11, 2020 16:16

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8 comments

נιмму 🤎
16:44 Aug 11, 2020

Great attention to detail. The vocabulary in this is very advanced (or maybe I am just slow-witted) "progress interspersed by periods of debauchery and hedonism" description is everything and you defiantly have that down without needing me to tell you that. The man's perseverance is inspiring. I would've given up. The ending is a wild turn of events, his death, but I rather like it. It fits the flow of the story very well. Sad yet poetic, and I mean he had it coming if he slept with the guy's girl. Intriguing read.

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It is a retelling of the myth of Robert Johnson, a pioneering bluesman who became the prototype for rock stars, and who allegedly gained his skills by selling his sould to the devil. I liked the idea of using a more sci-fi-ish explanation to give the story more depth. I am glad you enjoyed it and really appreciate your reading and feedback!

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Ali Anthony Bell
09:20 Aug 21, 2020

I was amused. It was entertaining and fun, and the twist at the end was nice. The readers expect for the protagonist to have to pay a high price...and then the twist. Your voice sounds natural and not forced or false. I've just started using these prompts as well to practice, after writing several books from real life experience, so I completely understand where you're coming from. Keep up the good work.

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Thank you! I have been writing for twenty years. The past five I got hung up on non-fiction articles and more recently screenwriting. The prompts have been a nice way to get back into the fiction game. Writing can be a great escape. Write on!

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Lily Kingston
20:05 Aug 12, 2020

Oh my gosh, I love the concept of using a time loop to perfect your skills instead of a magical being just instantly granting them. Keep up the good work and keep writing!

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Honestly I would be surprised if the idea has never been used, but it seemed like a pretty good one to me. And since I love Robert Johnson I thought it was a good way to retell his story. Thank you!

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Charles Stucker
21:21 Aug 11, 2020

"He wasn't gonna work in no white man's field." Makes the protagonist sound colored. But his two speaking lines fail to match your Boss Hogg big man voice or even the slightly off elder guitarist. You have snippets of scenes interspersed with a lot of telling. If you had a stronger voice for the protagonist, I might suggest first person, but without it, you must remain third. Drop the telling and use scenes instead. You have around a thousand words before you hit limit. If you pay attention, you can expand to avoid just dumping a recital...

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Thank you for the tips and advice. I generally do not rewrite these prompted stories, as the goal for me is just to keep writing, but I will take it into consideration in the future. Until recently I was writing/filming scripts, so I was perhaps a bit eager to return to telling from a medium that is almost all showing. But for that reason I also understand why your advice is solid.

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