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fantasy by Keffy R. M. Kehrli

“You’re making me crazy,” Jonas said. “Can’t you play the fucking thing any quieter?”

I didn’t speak. I just kept playing the damn guitar while my cracked fingers bled rivulets that clung to the strings and dripped down the lacquered wood. Eventually I did say that I was sorry, that I couldn’t stop, but he’d already gone out for a smoke. He left the shed door cracked open, so the nicotine-laden winter air flooded in and froze my lungs.

Outside, Jonas’ phone trilled. He answered with a sharp, “Yeah?”

I thought that if I’d known how to play, if I was breaking out into a moving cover of a Simon and Garfunkel song or something, then it wouldn’t be as bad. But I’d never before picked up a guitar. I’d only ever played music in elementary school when we all had to buy plastic recorders and learn “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” So my fingers danced to the compulsion in a cacophonic jangle, caressed strings and frets and made nothing but noise with my pain. I tried to pick combinations of strings that sounded like chords and mostly failed.

“Yes, I realize we’re late. We’ve got problems.”

Catch a fox in a cold steel trap, and he’ll gnaw his foot off for freedom.

“Look, you’re the genius who hired him.”

I thought about biting through the thick flesh of my arms, of my teeth ripping through skin and fat and carpal tunnel, through ligaments and tendons, muscle and bone. Would I be free then? Or would I keep playing with the nubs of my wrists until I died of blood loss? My hands ached from the positioning, a deadening ache that seeped up my arms and through my shoulders to pool in the tense muscles of my back. I felt the small, unused muscles in my fingers tearing a little more with every note.

How long before the steel strings sawed into my fingerbones, leaving carved straight canyons that would never heal?

“I don’t do that kind of magic. I find paths. I get us in, I get us back out. I can’t lift a compulsion, or I would’ve done that before they heard us.”

In the real world, the real sky was a deep blue-black, dusk heading into night. But the sky in Faerie was always the golden red of an eternal sunrise. Sometimes when I hit the right chords I could see it through our sky, like reality was tissue paper, made transparent by grease.

Like I was calling Faerie to me.

“You’re fucking kidding me!”

I shouldn’t have picked up the guitar. I was the hired muscle, the pack animal, the stupid brute force just in case the Faerie creatures came with their limbs that went to sharpened points, and their eyes as big as moons.

Jonas came back in and slammed the door behind him, the smell of his cigarettes sharper. “They’re not coming for us,” he said. “So we’ve got nothing. No money, nothing to sell, and we’re somewhere in the middle of Alberta, God knows how far from real civilization.”

I just kept playing. “Sorry,” I said.

It was supposed to be a quick in-and-out job, like always. Jonas would slide us in using some kind of magical trigonometric blah-de-blah to figure out where we’d end up. I mean, we knew that Faerie stuff was trouble, but we’d never found anything that snared you just by touching it. Not until this guitar. I guess we’d just been lucky before.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m getting out of here.”

It took me a second to realize that he meant to leave me behind. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I thought about sitting all alone in this shed, playing until the pain made me pass out or I starved to death. And I wanted anything but that. Anything but dying alone. So I sang him a song while he gathered up his kit, about how he was a useless partner and I hoped he ended up just as stuck as me someday.

I’d just hit my wonderfully profane chorus about leaving your friends to die alone when his left foot twitched.

Then, he started to dance.

copyright April 2011 by Keffy R. M. Kehrli

Keffy R. M. Kehrli lives in Seattle. Keffy is a graduate of Clarion (UCSD) writers workshop.  His work has appeared in magazines such as Fantasy Magazine, InterGalactic Medicine Show and Apex.

[return to the April 2011 main page]

2 Responses

  1. Hahahaha! This story reminds me greatly of an Eric Flint work. Slightly offensive but hilarious and intelligent. This is one great piece of flash fiction! It was definitely worth the read!

  2. Mmm, nicely ominous. Snappy, effective– lovely example of flash doing what flash does.

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