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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 28, 2008
Cosmic Music
by Jason L. Corner

        "That's a dead man's guitar," Morphy said. "Don't buy it."
        Manny looked at him sideways, frowned, then turned back to the guitar. "Everything's a dead man's something here, Morphy. It's a pawnshop."
        It was an odd-looking guitar, like a zebra with broad black and white stripes roaming across its body. Manny slung it over his shoulders, pulled his long hair out of the way, withdrew one of the many picks he kept in the back pocket of his jeans, and strummed a chord: c-sharp minor. It sang sweetly and hung in the air like the dust illuminated by a sunbeam.
        "Hey," Manny said. "It's in tune. Can you believe it?"
       "Probably Jimmy Chesterton's ghost plays it at night."
        Manny's eyes widened. "You're not serious. Do you really think . . . ?"
        "You don't remember Phreakfest 2003? Dude, if he hasn't reached up from the grave and pulled it out of your hands, the only reason is that he's a junkie ghost."
        Manny ignored Morphy and went to the counter, where a surly-looking pierced girl was leafing through the free city weekly, The Other Paper, and chewing gum. "Excuse me," Manny said. "Can you tell me -"
       "Thirty dollars," she said without looking up.
       Manny stopped. "Only thirty? This - I mean, I'm not trying to convince you to push the price up - is a really nice instrument. Why is -"
        The girl behind the counter looked up with an expression that suggested that saying anything to anyone was like being put in an iron maiden, and deliberately blew a bubble and popped it. "It's fucking Jimmy Chesterton's guitar, man. His buddies brought it in when they found him with it. Got fucking dead guy on it. Shit, man." With a look of queenly boredom, she returned to The Other Paper.
        That took Manny back. Jimmy Chesterton: he had played with the Tyrannosaurus Lake Band, one of the hottest jam-band acts on the Columbus, Ohio circuit. He thought about the last time he saw Jimmy, outside in a light rain at Phreakfest 2003. Manny stood in the mud, his face and arms tingling with his last joint and the press of a thousand filthy hippies, and Jimmy, gaunt and pale, not in the middle of a blazing twenty-minute workout, but leaning against the bass drum, strumming softly and singing almost inaudibly, his beard stringy and glittering with pearls of sweat, his eyes looking like they were a mile behind his head. He was only singing "Happy Birthday." But he played it in a minor key, and he sang it without love and without irony but merely as a kind of bitter lament -- one more birthday, one more step to death. Two weeks later he was dead and nobody knew why, though people in the know said it was Colonel Heroin in the parlor with a needle.
       Manny's first impulse was to put it back. But then he played another chord, a-major. His hands felt warm and the sounds were crisp and thin.
        "I'll take it," Manny said, handing the guitar over. The girl shifted over to the cash register, pain all over her face like Chinese writing.

Read the rest of the story:
        Cosmic Music (pdf)
        Cosmic Music (prc)
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