Monday, 19 July 2021 11:44

The Guitar by Kat Heckenbach

The Guitar by Kat Heckenbach“Dude, please, you gotta take me with you this time.”

Kalek perched on a low branch of a Platinum Oak, his Elven ears poking through a massive mound of ragged curls. I cringed at the way his onyx eyes gleamed. He’d convince me, I was sure, but I wouldn’t go down without a fight.

“No way,” I said, “I’m going camping. Alone. That means without you, so forget it.”

He jumped down from the tree, lithe as a panther, and stood in front of me. “C’mon. I’ve never been off the island. Just this once.”

“Your father will be furious.”

“I know, dude, all the more reason.”

I should have known he’d say that. He’d never admitted it, not outright anyway, but that was pretty much the reason he’d befriended me. There wasn’t a person on the island his old man hated more than me. Why he’d stayed friends with me, I’ll never know. Tattooed Elven rockers and homebody farm boys generally have little in common, but somehow we’d become brothers. My camping trips were the only times I insisted he stay away.

“Uh-uh. Nope. Not a chance,” I said, shaking my head and turning to leave the clearing. As I walked across the carpet of grass and leaves, the forest trees surrounding us began to sway like sentinels.

I suddenly felt trapped by my own will to stay.

I spun around to find Kalek holding a long stick in front of him like a guitar. He’d left his real guitar at home, but that didn’t matter. Kalek played nature—wood, stone, metal—anything, no matter the shape, that connected him to Creation would help him bring out its music.

His eyes were closed as his fingers ran across the bark, and I could feel the energy like electricity in the air. Butterflies burst from the forest floor and the color of every plant and flower intensified. Vibration ran up through my feet, into my legs, and my heart picked up on the beat of the life dwelling around me. I fought to tune out the music that began to swell from the trees, grass, and sky.

“No!” I shouted, before Kalek could open his mouth to sing and really get his magic going. “That’s not gonna help. You can’t play the forest like that and change my mind. I’ve known you long enough. It isn’t going to work.”

But of course it did. He knew I’d been dying to see what his Talent would do in an ordinary forest, without the amplification of the magical plants and animals of our island.

We set up camp in an area I’d been to before. It was close to an ordinary town, but completely left alone by the people there. Kalek’s onyx eyes flashed with wonder when he saw the trees, vines, and scrubby plants.

“There’s magic here, you know,” he said, in a deep and reverent voice. “But, it’s been ignored for so long it’s suffocating.”

“Yeah, I can feel it, too.” Although I knew Kalek felt it more. “Do you, um…think you can bring it out?”

He smiled between curtains of curls, and adjusted the leather bands that encircled his forearms. Then he grabbed his guitar and began to play.

The music of the neglected forest was sweet and sad. It seemed reluctant to emerge. Leaves rustled as the treetops swayed no more than if a breeze were cutting through. I caught the sounds of scampering animals, but they remained hidden. The music just refused to lift, like a kite on a windless day.

Kalek dropped his hands in frustration.

“Something’s not right,” he said, looking down where I sat in front of the fire.

“Maybe there’s not enough magic out here,” I said, uncrossing my ankles so I could lean forward. I smiled and stifled a laugh. “Maybe you’re losing your touch.”

I braced myself for a maleficent glare from Kalek, but he just said, “Not me, but this old guitar. I think it’s time—” He clamped his mouth shut.

“What?” I asked.

He shook his head and then sat cross-legged on the ground in front of me.

“Dude, if I tell you this…no…” His hair fell into his face as he shook his head again. He peeked up, one eye glinting through the thin gap in his curls. That eye held more mischief than I’d ever seen, which was saying a lot when it comes to Kalek.

“Just say it!”

He smiled again, slyly, and scooted forward. “Ok.” His steel voice prickled the hairs on the back of my neck when he spoke in that hushed, conspiratorial tone. “I went to town the other day, to buy a new guitar, and Sir Benjamin stopped me on the way in. Said he’d gotten a magazine at the bookstore—it was a mistake—someone had wanted information on metal-working with non-magic metals. So, Sir B ordered a couple of ordinary magazines with the word metal in the titles. And…” His eyes widened and he leaned closer. “And there was this one, full of musicians. Guys like me, but not Elven, or even magic. With these guitars…”

My heart nearly stopped. I knew what he was going to say next. I had to force my jaw to unclench before I could speak.

“That’s why you wanted to come along with me! You want me to take you shopping. For an electric guitar. Are you crazy?” I realized my hands were balled into fists, and I uncurled my fingers. My hand instinctively shot toward my bangs and I yanked it back down.

“Gregor, dude, you have to help me. I just want to look at them. See how they’re constructed…maybe I can get someone to make me one from magical wood…”

“You’re full of it! If that was true, you could have shown the pictures to your father and he would have paid an Elven craftsman to make you one. You know how he is—he would freak if he found out I took you off the island, and then let you bring back something like that.” I stood up and headed into the tent. “Forget it! See you tomorrow.” I flipped the tent flap shut.

We stood in front of the store window, and I couldn’t keep still. I was sure Kalek would draw attention to us, with his leather pants and tunic. He refused to wear a t-shirt—his Elven pride couldn’t take it. At least he’d agreed to not strap his dagger to his thigh as usual. And he’d messed his hair up even more to hide his ears.

“That one right there,” he said, gawking at a sleek, black electric guitar displayed in the store window. The body curved like the arched back of a dragon, with neck and head outstretched. A sign mounted on the display said the guitar was hand-made with the finest maple. The color matched exactly the polished-stone of Kalek’s eyes, which gleamed with desire.

I looked over my shoulders for the fiftieth time. “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

He laughed. “Dude, I didn’t talk you into this. I bribed you, remember?”

I felt heat rise in my neck. “Don’t call Siophra a bribe. And you better tell her exactly what I said, exactly the way I said it.”

“Whatever.” He knelt down and looked at the guitar from another angle. “She’s gorgeous, dude. Absolutely perfect. I’m buying her.”

“You brought money?”

Kalek laughed harder this time. “Don’t need it. I have this.” He pulled a ring out of his pocket.

I nearly choked as the words flung from my mouth, “Your father gave you that. He’ll kill you! And me…”

“No, he won’t,” Kalek said calmly. “He found out the stone didn’t actually come from Mori Zede, so now he doesn’t care about it.” He shrugged and dropped the ring back in his pocket.

So, maybe his old man wouldn’t kill us, but Elven craftsmanship is always laced with some kind of magic, and letting it out into the ordinary world couldn’t be good.

As we entered the store, the salesman greeted us with a plastic grin. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah,” Kalek said. “ I want that guitar.” He pointed to the display in the window.

The salesman’s grin dropped. His gaze traveled up and down Kalek, and then darted to me. I could read his thoughts from the look in his eyes. There was no way two teenage boys would have the kind of cash it’d take to buy that guitar. He had no knowledge of the rare and expensive Elven fabric that made up Kalek’s tunic, and he had no idea that Kalek was the son of the richest and most influential man in Elven society. Mainly because he had no idea there even was an Elven society.

He forced a smile again and waved toward the back of the store. “Maybe I can interest you in—”

“No,” Kalek said, not moving except for the slight jerk of his head toward the black guitar. “Her. That one. No others.”

The salesman sighed, and walked resignedly to the display. He returned with the guitar lying flat across his bent arms, the price tag conspicuously resting on top of the strings.

Kalek snatched the price tag off, and shrugged into the guitar strap. His eyes hung at half-mast and he cooed, “Yes, perfect.” He dug into his pocket and tossed the ring at the salesman.

The man gaped at the enormous stone and intricate gold band. The diamond alone would have paid for every guitar in the store. No need to have it appraised either, the Elven magic would be enough to compel him of the value.

“W-wouldn’t you like t-to try it f-first?”

Kalek smirked. “Here? What would be the point?”

I narrowed my eyes and shot him a warning look. Shut up. Now.

“W-well, then, let me at least help you load up the other equipment.” His eyes remained glued to the enormous diamond in his hand. “I-I assume you want an amp, and—”

“Nope, just this and the case.” Kalek refused the cord, leaving the salesman beyond dumbfounded. “Thanks, dude,” he said as he tipped his head and walked out the door.

We reached the campsite and Kalek dropped to the ground, cross-legged, and lay the guitar across his lap. He ran his long fingers over every curve, and stared at his reflection in the glossy finish.

“Ah, she is so perfect, Gregor. So perfect.” He lifted his head and let his curls shimmy down and expose the tips of his ears.

“I don’t get it,” I said, squatting in front of the fire to relight it. “You could easily have one just like that made from magical wood.”

Kalek flicked his hand dismissively. “Not the same. It would feel like a copy.”

“But it’s not magic, it won’t be as powerful.”

He scrunched his eyes at me. “Oh, she’s magic alright.” The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “Time to play.”

This time the music fluttered to life like a kite first brushed by a breeze just enough to lift it off the ground, and then grabbed by a gust of wind. The trees around us grabbed the sunlight with their leaves, and then pulled it down their branches and finally wrapped it around their trunks. They glittered as if covered in metallic flecks, and I shielded my eyes with my hand. Leaves scuttled across the ground as tiny blossoms flared open on previously bare stems.

Several hawks took flight from the treetops, swooping past the opening in the canopy above our campsite. Their cries sent chills down my spine. Kalek joined them in song, his voice harmonizing with the calls of other birds and forest animals. The campfire crackled and popped, swelling like an orange fountain, and then snuffed out completely when Kalek played his final note.

I lowered my hand as the brightness lessened, and inhaled to steady my breathing. The drumming of my pulse subsided, until I could finally again hear the quiet stirrings around us.

Kalek’s face glowed, a grin stretching his cheeks wide. His onyx eyes sparkled with light that came more from within him than from the bright mid-day sun.

“Dude,” he said, and then seemed at a loss for words.

I swallowed, and forced myself to speak. “What do you think you’ll be able to do with that when we get back home? The magic in our forest is…” I couldn’t articulate the rest of my thoughts, but Kalek seemed to understand.

He caressed the edge of the guitar and then pulled the strap over his shoulder. We left the campsite in silence, both of us anticipating the show we knew was coming when we returned to our own, magic-filled forest. My guess was that Kalek wouldn’t just be playing the forest anymore. His music was going to reach to the heavens and bring us the songs of the stars.

Additional Info

AUTHOR BIO: Kat Heckenbach graduated from the University of Tampa with a bachelor's degree in biology, went on to teach math, and then homeschooled her son and daughter while writing and making sci-fi/fantasy art. Now that both kids have graduated, her writing and art time is constantly interrupted by her 80 lb. boxer mix. She is the author of YA fantasy series Toch Island Chronicles and urban fantasy Relent, as well as dozens of fantasy, science fiction, and horror short stories in magazines and anthologies. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.