Poetry-Thing Thursday: Distraction

Yellow. Orange. Black. White.
A rubber ducky in my sight.
I promise to speak of only right.
But I’m sure you’d like to fight.
Sorry, I don’t. Go fly a kite.
And while you’re at it, don’t be so uptight.

Smoke. Mirrors. Lights. Action.
You only go where you can gain traction.
With those whom form but a minuscule fraction,
of that which we call the “sub-human” faction.
The same kinds of folks that would caption.
Michelangelo’s David “distraction.”

What. Why. Who. Where.
That. ‘Cause. Them. There.
A fat man. A small man. An Au-paire.
A bald man. A shaved man. A man with long hair.
If only. If only. A blind-man could stare,
more men would take a lover, not a brood mare.

But tick. But Tock. But money. But mock.
I jest with the best whom can take a knock.
As meant to be, for even thee, must sometimes feel stock,
and believe in life as naught but a clock,
that’s ticking and flicking for a lone moment of shock,
but you know what I think– it’s all a crock.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Infinite Shore

On and on,
the song is long,
and it’s clear to my ears,
that the tune is all wrong.

The notes don’t quite fit,
and the rhythm is off,
the melody’s rigid,
and the percussions all cough.

But in the end,
its better than nothing,
for silence is golden,
but music platinum.

Page after page,
the book fails and stumbles,
and its obvious to my mind,
that the author’s voice rumbles.

The pace is too jagged,
with words too verbose,
like a dammed river not flowing,
and characters too close.

But in the end it’s better,
than no imagination,
for silence is gold,
but the mind is soothed by libation.

Scene after scene,
the play must go on,
but even to my uncultured eyes,
the director’s a moron.

The stagehands aren’t ready,
and no-one’s on cue,
and the sound guys are sleeping–
the lighting team too.

But it’s better than nothing,
I’ll say it once more,
for silence is golden,
but art an infinite shore.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Stardust

Pen my eulogy on a blank sheet of papyrus,
in Indian ink with a feather quill,
then when it is spoken and over,
set me afire on a funeral pyre.

For life is short,
and death long,
and I’d rather be remembered in song.

Etch my face into Marble,
as Michelangelo did for David,
then recall my words as I have writ them,
and heed my warnings spawned from history’s archives.

For reality is thin,
but hindsight thick as steel,
and I’d rather be heard than made to feel.

Turn my body into dust,
and let it drift evermore on the breeze,
so that when I am gone,
I may return to the void where I belong.

For entropy is building,
as the universe begins to fade,
and I’d rather be stardust than human-made.

And when the time has come and gone,
don’t linger too long,
for I am moved on,
Back in the endless void of nothingness,
from which I have spawned.

For life is short,
but love eternal,
and I’d rather be part of the nothing and loved,
than part of a lonely revival.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: A Neutral Hue

Overrate.
Impregnate.
This soil you hate,
can’t relate,
to the tedious fate,
that you berate.

Incense.
Commence.
My sixth sense,
your offense.
Pitching tents,
or paying rents?

It’s not for us,
this world of green and blue.
If not for us,
you’d know what to do.
Fighting in a fuss,
you and your eponymous crew.
We all just turn to dust,
all become one neutral hue.

Infinity.
Obscenity.
a holy trinity,
no divinity.
Closing off my affinity,
for a dose of your virginity.

Morphine.
Caffeine.
My Queen,
in a summer scene.
Sit and preen,
in your blue-jeans.

It’s not for us,
this world that I’ve left you.
If not for us,
I’d never be on cue.
Fighting in a fuss,
the little ones know more’n we do.
We’ll just turn to dust,
all become a neutral hue.

Transistor.
Tongue twister.
A step-sister,
could’a missed ‘er,
but gotta’ blister
from her glister.

Survival.
Denial.
Darwin’s rival.
They hid a bible,
with a tribal,
she raged at Cybele.

I wish I could say,
what more you should take away,
from life and love, it’ll be okay,
but only if you stay,
wait awhile, let come what may.

Gray-matter.
Mad hatter.
A blood splatter,
in your batter.
I’ll come to shatter,
your love-latter.

Upstaged.
Uncaged.
Sickened rage,
at my blank page.
Backstage,
a space-age.

It’s not for us,
this time and place won’t do.
If not for us,
you wouldn’t need the glue.
Fighting in a fuss,
with a heart that knew,
we’d just turn to dust
all become a neutral hue.
You and me and the stars too.

Bonus Short Story: The Legend

The curved fingers of his left hand formed quarter-notes in andante while his right hand thrummed eighth-note cut-time against it. Ebony and ivory gleamed between shadows thrown from the spotlight in the rafters. His eyes were closed while he crooned a painful symphony of blues-like harmonies. They rumbled from his throat to tell a story of love won, lost, emptiness without it, and finally the love’s return. All the while, the empty opera hall filled with a phantom audience to his side behind his closed eyes.

The sound men readied their mix while their board-lights spiked red. Someone cut the gain on a mic and the mix was perfect. The Legend played on, oblivious to the technical orchestrations. He’d become too enamored with the crowd streaming in through the doors in his mind. His vocals were crisp, clear, perfectly overlaid beneath the piano that accompanied it. Breaks in verses were accented with hard dynamics that would bring even the hardest of heart to tears.

The sound crew gathered near the curtain to watch The Legend, lost in his world. Across the hall, the lighting crew gathered on a cat-walk. They hung in half-hunches on the railing or else dangled their feet through it, heads and eyes fixed as they watched along either side of spot-lights.

As if with the fade of one falling into sleep, the stage-lights dimmed. The lighting guys thought to get up but something held them in place. The Legend launched into the first chorus, his throat rumbling and crooning the highest notes as even his younger-self could have never done. The phantoms suddenly appeared below. Silhouette people streamed in from the doors, shuffled to their seats; a faceless audience that didn’t exist.

The crews wished to look to one another, express some disbelief, but the Legend had captivated them. Instead, they merely listened, mouths half-open and drying against open air.

The Legend’s gray hair began to darken to its youthful chestnut. His wrinkled face tightened, its smatter of salt-and-pepper five-o’-clock shadow darkened too. He unripened from the old, grizzled troubadour to the young, boyish song-poet he’d been. He almost shriveled in place from the change. The room merely watched in awe.

He started the first verse over inexplicably, crooned with less gravel, though its presence was undeniable. All the same, it was the least of the crowd’s focus– phantom or otherwise. The stage had darkened to a lone spot-light across he and his piano. His rhythmic melody thrummed and sustained with ear-warming vibrations, filled the audiences’ hearts with a curious, sharp pain.

Beside him, the Legend felt his thoughts and memories project across the black curtains. The heat of the light dissipated and the spot-light died out.

He sang of love won: the projection shone like an eight-millimeter reel. It even shook and bucked with the same, hand-held framing and fast-motion movement of the era’s film quality. He stood before a woman on a platform, their unceremonious wedding officiated beneath a banner that said “Cinco De Mayo” in a dingy looking bar. They wore day-old street clothes, her hair golden as it cascaded down her shoulders with fatigue.

He sang of love lost: The projection jumped through time with the eight-note thrum as its beat. The two people aged a decade in half a phrase. Through the verse, his hair and face grew heavier, longer, her more angry, fierce. At the second half of the verse, he stood alone on a road, began to walk it toward a setting sun. The wandering continued over the rise and fall of more suns. The city he’d left turned to woods, plains, then more city until he hunched over a scotch in another bar.

A man approached from one side, a cigarette in his mouth, put a hand to the Legend’s shoulder to impose for a match. A short conversation took place. The Legend began sang of desolation, sadness. He and the other man took off in a truck. The sun gleamed off its dirty windshield while he stared off at the road, his mind elsewhere. The scenery turned colder, became filled with snow while canyons encompassed the truck. He gave a pained wince, his eyes telling of an obvious longing for the woman.

When he sang of emptiness, the cold truck turned to the cold innards of a darkened cabin. He and the other man were now beneath piles of blankets on chairs before a roaring fire. The man gave a few hacking coughs into his clenched fist. His body heaved. There was a hesitation in the young Legend before he rose from to help his comrade. The emptiness in the elder Legend’s voice apexed as his younger self stood before a filled grave, his face pale and body hunched against cold.

He muttered something beneath his breath, then turned away. The cold scenery wandered past again, the Legend ambling along snow-laden streets. He stumbled drunk most times. It was obvious in the sad droop of his eyes, but bleak grays and drab blacks suddenly began to recolor as the roads turned rural once more. The weather visibly warmed, his posture straightened. Trees budded with beauty that fanned out in stop motion across the road. It lined the edges of an asphalt horizon as the eight-millimeter film shook and bucked more than ever.

He wandered almost endlessly, aimless until he sang of love’s return. The younger visage of himself watched his feet as he walked through a verdant forest. His downcast eyes were prompted upward by a shadow and the face of the woman he’d long ago married and left. They were older now, both more slacked and their eyes heavier than before.

He approached with a cautious, slow gait. She dangled her feet off the edge of a dock, her arms locked behind her to prop herself up. He stopped a few feet away. She seemed to sense his presence, but made no protest. He continued and sank into place beside her.

The last verse cried out over the two once more falling in love. Time passed while the Legend and his wife were hobbled by age. Until at last he stood over her bedside, as weathered as he had first been on stage. She held his hand with a smile, then closed her eyes. The Legend’s last lyrics were echoes. The piano faded out. The crews watched the lights fade up and the phantom crowd disappear. With them, the Legend had gone too, the piano now vacant in the spotlight’s center as its last chords echoed into silence.

No-one was quite sure what to make of it, but neither were they willing to speak toward speculation– or anything really. The Legend had given his final performance to an empty room– yet somehow it was more full than any over-sold stadium. Whatever had happened, the Legend had not died, merely faded out, and that much would forever be certain.

Bonus Short Story: The God Damned Human Element

A deep subwoofer thumped a beat that rattled the crowd’s teeth. It made them all but deaf to the world around them. Combined with the pulsing lights and erratic muscle spasms most called dancing, it wasn’t difficult to understand why sharks and adrenaline junkies sought the type of places like this. The entire crowd undulated with a hypnotic, sexual rhythm, as though some lustful creature in a different universe altogether. The X and coke didn’t hurt the xenoic aspirations either. It was as much a given that spaced-out face-fucking was taking place as it was that someone would wake up regretting it the next morning.

In the middle of it all was Hailey Russell, part-time drug-dealer, full-time club owner. She’d been one of the first to carve herself a place from the Awakening’s rubble. Once a Sleeper, she’d run net-casinos through countless shifting proxies. They racked up all forms into online chips and credits from poker tourneys to slot machines. If it weren’t for the damned Awakening, Hailey would still be one of the richest people in the world– or at least Tokyo.

Instead, she was middle of the food-chain. Those that had brought about the Awakening, a nameless group of vigilantes with more swords and balls than brains, were undoubtedly at the top. Even fewer people realized that than knew of their existence, but it remained true all the same. They’d set themselves up right before the fall of civilization, and their elimination of the so-called Collective; a group who’d supposedly run the world.

To Hailey, it was a bullshit line from bullshit liars.

Like most Awakened ex-pats, she knew the world outside ran differently than the one inside. That knowledge alone had given her the club, the connections, even her take-no-shit attitude. The net though, had been a godsend. People like her didn’t fit into “normal society.” They made their own rules, were ruthless in pursuit of credits. After the Awakening, the flux-state forced upon the world had there wasn’t a society so much as tribal cliques. With most cliques’ home’s– the net– gone, society was forced remold itself– was still doing so.

So Hailey and others like her did what they did best; set up shop, and catered to clientele looking for whatever they could provide. In most cases, the best sellers were escapes from reality. In Tokyo especially, it was drugs and sex. The city was rampant with destitution, and most people in the club owned only one set of clothes more than they were wearing, and were certain to lose half their wardrobe over the night. Hailey’s job was to ensure that happened and she was damned good at it.

She leaned over a cat-walk railing on the club’s second floor. Somewhere to her left, one of the girls whoring for money was just barely audible over the thumping bass. She’d been fucking her brains out for near-on three hours. Everyone in the VIP section had taken her for a ride, one right after the other. Hailey wasn’t any different– or at least, wouldn’t have been given she were lower on the food chain. Money was power, and selling her body was the easiest dollar a girl’d make nowadays.

Hailey’s eyes scanned the crowd that ground and writhed against one another. Peaking X so prevalent it tainted the sweaty air. Ushers passed out free bottles of water as they palmed cred-chips in exchange for X-tabs, nitrous-poppers, and eight-balls. A few men and women looked ready to spaz out completely. A few more straight-edged wall-flowers huddled in shadows, probably drug in by their girlfriends or boyfriends looking for a fix. No doubt the poor shits would be single again in the morning, or swapping spit from mouths that had been sucking strange cocks or tonguing foreign muff– maybe both.

Hailey smiled at the thought; it was pure anarchy. There was no room for the “human element.” At least not the one that people thought of usually. Instead it was the reptilian brain that lusted for every known drug, synthetic or otherwise, that allowed for greater pleasure. She hated the other human element– the touchy-feely bullshit about honor and love and school-girls that weren’t being actively sodomized. That bullshit had cost her the net, and more money and power than most dreamed of. Everything she owned now was physical, credits a worthless means to an end. Money was a middle man between her and the things she’d use to rebuild her power’s foundation. Whether formed of X-tabs, sound systems, synth-ahol, or old-fashioned whores, she wasn’t going to let even the smallest iota of power slip past.

She turned from the anarchy of the dance-floor and the VIP-whore’s latest orgasm, for her sound-proofed office. It sat along the club’s rear-wall, shades drawn closed on a window that watched lines of minors with fake-ids.

The office was a quiet refuge in a haven of chaos. Only the lowest thumps made any ingress, barely audible as her heels clicked for the seat behind her desk. She snorted a line off a sterling-silver tray. Her heart skipped beats from the rush while her groin tingled. She loose a heavy sigh, laid her head back against the chair-back, and entertained the idea of heading down stairs to pick up one of the wallflowers and popping their cherry.

She resolved to think on it, opened her eyes to a small movement ahead. Her reflexes snapped her upright. The scarred face of a man she knew and loathed appeared.Yang-Lee’s dual katanas were sheathed, a better sign than his presence alone. Unlike her, he was a Tokyo native, one of the few directly responsible for the Awakening. Apart from being one of the nameless order, he was also a cut-throat bastard with delusions of authority. Everything from his rigid spine to the slight stretch of his scarred face said he held himself above Hailey and her club.

She blinked hard to keep the coke at bay, “The fuck d’you want, Lee?”

His jaw was tighter than usual, not a good sign. “Rachel told you to close up shop, Hailey.”

Hailey cocked a smug grin, “Dahl can slurp on my cunt if she thinks she’s gonna’ take anymore of my money.” She fingered a button on the arm of her chair, “And you can tell her I said that yourself.”

Two large men appeared behind Yang-Lee, wider than brick shit-houses and thick as steel. One of them put a hand to Yang’s shoulder.

He cocked his head slightly to one side, “If you wish to retain use of that hand, I would remove it. Now.” Hailey’s eye twitched. She gave a nod and the man backed off. “Wise.”

Hailey’s eyes sharped with ice, “If Dahl wants a war, I’m more than willing to commit to it. Otherwise, fuck off and don’t come back.”

Yang-Lee remained in place, his posture unaffected, “A war suits no-one’s agenda.”

“Says a coward that know’s he’ll lose,” Hailey said. She pushed up from her chair, crossed the room to lean in on him at nose-length, “If you thought the Yakuza’s remnants were hard, you’re not even prepared for me.”

A lone corner of a scarred eye tightened, “You do recall, Hailey, the Yakuza no longer exist because we will it so.” A corner of her mouth lifted in a snarl. “We lost not a single man in that war. Think. Accept that you only remain here because we do not will it otherwise. Do not give us reason to feel differently.”

She grit her teeth, “Get. The fuck. Out of my club.”

Yang-Lee didn’t flinch. There was a flash of hands and steel. Hailey stumbled back, fell to her ass, back against her desk. Her vision focused in time to see Lee’s dual Katanas withdraw from her dead guards. He rounded, approached her with shadowy features. He put the bloody tip of a blade beneath her chin, lifted it gently.

His voice was calm, quiet, “There is no need for war when our only conflict is with you. We will simply eliminate the problem. Consider this your final warning; stop poisoning our city, or we will ensure your end is swifter than theirs.”

Yang-Lee stepped away, blades whirling. They threw droplets of blood across the room, returned to their sheathes. The door opened to the momentary sounds of sex-driven rhythms then went quiet again. Hailey heaved a terrified breath. She’d have pissed herself were it not for the thousand-cred pants she wore. She pulled herself up along the desk’s edge with shaky hands.

The god damned human element had won out again. It always did in the end; fight or flight, terror and fear– the manifestations of that stupid reptilian brain she so heavily relied on. She hated the fucking thing, both her greatest asset and worst enemy. She stamped a foot against the floor with a loud “fuck” that cresendoed into a growl. The god damned human element always won.

Short Story: The Power

The Power

Harlan Mackie was the thirty-five year old front-man for Twisted Ballistix, a band that had already seen its hay-day and obligatory fifteen minutes of fame. Like Most, Harlan and the rest of the group had squandered their fame in their youthful lust for money, drugs, and women. Now, pushing forty, they’d done and seen more than most, and tired of the scene. But none of Ballistix was quite so burnt out as “Mac” Mackie.

He’d done all of the things the others had and then some; blown cash, toured foreign countries and waters, and soiled his share of women. Through it all, he’d aged each day with more weariness than the last. Long before Ballistix was featured in No Moss, the counter-culture music rag that dribbled on everyone’s reputation, he’d seen their decline on the horizon. Only Mac predicted their shift from 80’s glam-rock to blues-inspired jams and graveled crooning would see their popularity wane. Even when it did, he was the only one to mind– maybe, to notice.

While Shift (the drummer), John, and Jake, (bass-guitarist and guitarist respectively) had taken to the change with ease, Mac still clung to the delusions of the high vocals of the Glam-era. His voice begged to differ, had dropped octaves since his youth. He knew what was happening, couldn’t stop it with all the fame in the world; he was getting old, washed up.

He sat in the green room of the Tower-Blade theater in Chicago, hometown of the Blues. The others of the group had already left for the side-stage, there gear waiting for them on-stage. Mac knew the way there without having to be directed. They’d played Tower-Blade twice before, once during the glam-era, and once immediately following Ballistix’s reincarnation. He’d been left to his warm-ups, as usual, given privacy to psych himself up.

Instead, he psyched himself out. He hunched over the lighted bureau back-stage to stare at himself in the mirror. His eyes were deep purple, baggy. His long-hair, already peppered gray, was ratty from more restless nights than he cared to recall. There was nothing more to be done about it, he was finished, through– not even willing to finish out the Tower-Blade gig. Don Mclean had been right; there was a day when the music died, even if Mac couldn’t quite place it anymore.

He tore a scrap of paper from a pad, scrawled over it. The words themselves weren’t important, but the gist was that he was finished, gone. He grabbed a roll of duct-tape from a road-kit, tore off a strip, slapped it atop the note and smacked them both against the mirror. He grabbed his leather jacket, long a staple of his life– even before the Glam-era of eye-liner and finger-less gloves that had accompanied it and helped to make him a star.

He hesitated. He wasn’t a star anymore. He was a has-been, a burnt-out caricature of himself that he doubted anyone would miss. The music was gone. What else could matter to him?

He tossed the jacket over the back of a chair, turned away. He made it to the door before a deep baritone called out to him.

“’Ey Mac, you forgot your jacket.”

Mac whirled ’round, petrified at the lanky figure of a black man, roughly his age. Mac blinked twice. His mind swam. If he’d been stoned, he’d’ve sworn he was hallucinating the legend of John Robertson, Blues-God of Chicago that’d been one of the tour-de-force performers during the genre’s creation.

He took a few steps over room, his black suit-jacket and tie pressed and loose beneath black fedora. He had the deep-set eyes of Robertson, even the gravelly baritone, but it couldn’t have been him– Robertson’d been dead for thirty years, maybe more. He’d had a mishap with an especially potent strand of Heroin, made it to the hospital just in time to die in the ER. Everyone one that’d played the Tower-Blade– indeed, anyone that played the Blues– knew of Robertson’s death. The OD’d started in this very room, at an after-party for one of Robertson’s “Welcome Home” performances. It was the last time Tower-Blade had let anyone throw after-parties in the building.

Even so, the very reflection of Robertson in his prime seemed to make its way toward Mac. The latter’s jaw was slacked above his stony muscles and bones. Robertson extended a hand to the leather jacket, lifted it off the chair, presented it to Mac.

“Can’ go on without’cha your threads, man,” he said. The Robertson look-alike– as it had to have been– met Mac’s eyes, “You ain’t lookin’ so hot, Mac-Knife. What’s the digs?”

Mac’s mouth closed just enough for him to shake his head, “You… You’re…”

“Dead?” He asked under the brim of his fedora. He laid the jacket back over the chair, “Yeah, I s’pose I am ’bout now. What is this, ninety-eight?”

“Oh-three,” Mac said.

“Damn,” Robertson said as he removed his fedora, began to traipse the room with an upward gaze. “The new millennium. Never thought I’d see it.”

Mac blinked, “You didn’t. You were dead in seventy-three. OD’d in…”

Robertson met his eyes again. His words were slow, a serious rise to one of his brows, “In this very room.”

“You’re a… a ghost then, right?” Mac said, in disbelief of his own words.

Robertson’s signature, crooked grin appeared for a moment. He put a long, chocolate finger to his lip, looked to the floor as he stepped over to Mac’s chair. His hand fell to the chair-back, and he crossed his feet in a lean, began to gesture widely, then in small sweeps, with the hat in his other hand.

“Whad’ya know about science, Mac-Knife? Physics, Biology, space-time ‘n all that?”

Mac shrugged, shook his head, too torn between disbelief and utter shock. Robertson straightened enough to step past the chair, set his hat at the bureau in front of it, then lean against its side with a hand in the pocket of chinos, the jacket draped around it.

His other hand illustrated as he explained, “Ya’ see Mac, there’re these moments in time, in our lives, where we just sorta’ fit into place. Physicists call this a Nexus, it’s a point where a bunch of things coalesce– sort’a snow-ball together, to roll down hill in one big conglomeration together.”

Mac blinked, swallowed, “Uh… okay.”

“I can see your confused, but I’ll simplify it for ya’,” he drew the other hand from his pocket, gestured wide to the room. “There’s three events in my life that occurred in this room, that changed its course forever. Bein’ the man that I was, it also changed history. At each’a those events, you can trace that snowball’s path through history to the present, through all the people that were effected through me– My death was one’uv ’em.” He dropped the extra hand again, “Now, the other two, were quite a bit more subtle. They weren’t the kind of thing you see too easily, ‘less you know what to look for.”

Robertson hesitated, slid his other hand in his pocket, scratched at a heel with the opposite foot.

“Now listen close, Mac-Knife, ’cause one’a these concerns you directly, and the other’ll make you understand why. The first, is somethin’ that’s brought me here to ‘ya today.” Mac gave a small blink as if prepared for Robertson to continue. He drew his left hand from his pocket, began to gesture between them, “Good. You’ll be needin’ that curiosity.”

He went silent, sank into memory that brought on an old vernacular that immediately swept Mac into the past with it. Robertson began, “Ya’ see, I was a Blues-man, one’a the first. I knew all the other boys when they were the firsts too. Me ‘n the Kings, Muddy, and John Lee, and more than you could name; we was the soul– the heart of a poor-folk taught all their lives they wasn’t worth nothin more’n the sweat on their brow. But ya’ see, we disagreed with that notion, ‘n like the ancient troubadours, we didn’t know nothin’ more than to sing about it with screams ‘n cries from the only instruments that knew it better than us.”

Mac suddenly felt the sweat bead on his brow, heard the distant sounds of wailing guitars that cried out over the throaty shouts of young blues-men trying to find their place in the world.

As if Robertson felt it too, he commented to the effect, “Ya’ see, thing is, back in them days, we didn’t have a place. Nobody’d heard’a the blues, and no-one gave a thought to the poor-folk ‘less they’d had to step over ’em in the street. ‘N all of sudden, here we were– ‘fore the Brits and their invasion, the rock-pop scene, hell, even ol’ Chuck ‘n his duck-walkin’– screamin’ for someone to help us find our place in the world.”

Mac finally found his words over the sounds of past Blues-men that wailed in his head, “But you’re a legend, John. You always were.”

Robertson gave a giggly laugh, his pearly whites bright as ever in his brown mug, “Maybe I was, but no one starts out that way, Mac-Knife. Hell, you know that better’n anyone. Me ‘n the boys? We was trash, not fit to shine the shoes’a the folks we made rich with our suff’rin’.” He nodded to himself with a look at his feet, “Hmm… yeah. Yeah. That’s what we was. ‘N you see, that’s where the first of the events’a my life comes to play. Year was… uh.. ’63, I believe,” he did a mental calculation. “Forty-years to the day, if I’m not mistaken.”

Mac knew the year, “’63? That was right before all the marches and protests.”

Robertson was pleased, “Tha’s right. One’a the first times black-folk rose together, said they wasn’t gonna’ take it anymore. ‘N you know what happened here, that night?”

Max shook his head, “I know you were here.”

Robertson’s brow gave a buck, “I was. ‘N I wasn’t.” He removed both hands from his pocket, “Ya’ see, we was just workin’ on carvin’ ourselves out a spot in the world when it went ‘n got crazy on us. All’uva sudden, people were risin’ in the streets, throwin’ their own cries and pleas. We didn’ think they needed us no more. Or at least… I didn’t.” He put a finger to his mouth again, waggled it outward for a few turns, “Nah, I was wrong ’bout that. ‘N I knew it then. Ya’ see, me ‘n one’a my guys– cat by the name of Tempo-Jones– called ‘im Jonesy in those days– had a sit before the show. ‘N all we could hear in the background was the roarin’a the crowd.”

Mac heard it too. It wasn’t in his head this time, it was the audience waiting for Ballistix to take the stage, start a night of screaming blues. Mac shuddered, ready to bolt.

Robertson held him in place with a smile, “Yeah, that was how I felt. See, I didn’ think then, what I know now: It takes a legend to lead a crowd, be their… their representative. ‘N the best man to do that’s the one that can be heard over their own roar to scream for ’em.”

Mac’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t understand.”

Robertson nodded, “I ‘spect not, but you will.” He slid his hands back into his pockets, wiggled a foot along the heel of his wayfarer, “It was ten years to the day that I shot-up a dose a dope that made me soar so high I didn’t come back down. Thirty-years to the day, as it is now. Those are two’a three events that I was talkin’ about. The first, ‘case you missed it, was me realizin’ that the people needed me to cry out for ’em. The last, was me havin’ done my job. The Brits’d already invaded. Chicago was a Blues town. ‘N the poor, black-folk’d had their say ‘n now people were listenin.’ They didn’ need me no more, ‘n I didn’ need to be creatin’ what me ‘n the boy’s’d created anymore. I was finished with the world, and it in turn’d finished with me.”

Mac shook his head, “That’s not true, John. People still love you. You’re still a legend. Your work still affects people, it changed the world.”

Robertson waggled his finger at Mac with a smile, “See, now you’re catchin’ on, boy. You’re getting’ there, but you’re not there yet. Ya’ see, cats like me, we got somethin’ more in our veins– more’n blood, more’n soul, more than anything you can think to name. I always called it “The Power.” The power to get up on that stage, ‘n wail the blues with my git-box, ‘n echo the cries’a of the people for them– ‘n I did it louder’n meaner than any other man could’a.”

Mac nodded, “That’s what I mean. You are a legend. The people still need you.”

“As an icon, a legend,” Robertson agreed. “That’s how they need me now.” He scratched at a cheek, presented a few fingers through the air as he explained, “’Ya see, that third event that I was tellin’ ya ’bout? That’s what’s happenin’ right now, right here.” Mac squinted at him. Robertson cocked his head to one side, examined him for a minute. “Lem’me ask you somethin’ Mac-Knife; in all the years you been performin’ how many times you lost time? Been so in the groove you ain’t sure where it ends and you begin? I’d wager it’s more’n you know.”

Mac looked to the floor, thought about it. His eyes returned to Robertson’s with a shake of his head and a shrug, “Yeah, so? That’s what we do, innit? We try to get lost in that groove, take everyone with us?”

Robertson’s smiled weighted his cocked head further to the side, “Yep. You’re right.”

“So, what’s your point?”

Robertson’s head kept its tilt, but his arms crossed and his eyes gleamed, “You know the power I was talkin’ about. I know you do. We all do. That’s why we’re in this business.” Mac made a half nod, as if to affirm Robertson’s words. “And you know, that power, it’s somethin’ none of us can explain. Somethin’ we don’t quite control. It just works through us. Works us over sometimes, right?” Again, Mac nodded. Robertson’s head straightened, “It was ’71, two years before I collapsed from that shot’a dope, that I was leanin’ in the very spot I’m in now. I was ramped up for a gig, ready to scream the blues, when the power overtook me. It was better’n any dope I’d ever had, ‘n I suddenly found myself here, with you, with all’a the knowledge I’d ever need to make my point– like I’d lived more’n forty years in seconds.”

Mac shook his head, confounded, “No, that can’t be. You’ve been dead … and this… I just, I don’t understand.”

Robertson smiled, “This is one’a them Nexus points, Mac.” He finally straightened from the bureau, “Ya’ see, I’m bound to give up my power at some point. No man on this earth can defeat death. He’s a miserable bastard that hunts us down no matter how long it takes ‘im. But the kind’a power I got, the kind you’re gonna’ have; it can’t just appear. It’s gotta’ be handed over.”

Robertson stepped over to Mac. He stepped back on instinct, “No, I’m done. I’m leaving.”

The old blues man met his eyes, “Tell me what’s happening in your world. War, right? Lot’s’a poverty? The sick ‘n dying screamin’ out for someone to listen? Someone to echo, loud as they can, so the others can hear? To use their power for good? Isn’t that why you got in this game? To be the Tom-Cat, loved by all ’cause’a the screamin’ you did for ’em while they were screamin’ for you?”

Mac grit his teeth. He wasn’t sure why he’d gotten into it anymore. For that matter, he wasn’t sure of much, except that he couldn’t keep living as husk, a has-been, a burn out.

Robertson lifted his hand, placed it on Mac’s shoulder, “All you been lookin’ for’s a way outta’ your predicament. ‘N now you have it. Sing the blues, ‘n feel it.” He jabbed a finger into Mac’s chest, “Feel it. If not for you, then for the people that need to be heard. You’ll be a legend. One the world needs. You’ll change history, just like I did. Like the boys did with me. All you gotta’ do’s accept the offer.”

Mac steeled himself with a deep breath; everything Robertson had said, everything he’d felt himself, all of his worries and cares seemed to hinge on his answer now. It was as though he’d been shown the way to revival, all he had to do was take the steps along its path. He wasn’t sure he could. But he wasn’t sure he could turn it down either.

He bit at his lips, took a deep breath, “What do I do?”

Robertson smiled, lowered his hand, “Well, that’s the question, ain’t it?” He turned around slowly to grab his hat, “We all asked it then; what do we do to find our place, our way? Truth is, we had to carve it out. ‘N we did.” He lifted Mac’s jacket from the chair, “I expect, like we did, you’ll figure it out. You just gotta’ get there.” He handed it over, “Don’t forget your jacket, Mac.”

He extended an apprehensive hand, retrieved the jacket from Robertson, their eyes locked, “Wh-what if I can’t do it?”

“My momma’ always said, ya’ never know ’til ‘ya try.” He glanced sideways with a bittersweet look, returned his eyes to Mac’s, “I kept that in my heart, followed it all my life. Who knows– maybe you can too.”

He lifted his hat to Mac’s chest, handed it over, and stepped away. Mac whirled to follow him, “Wait! John! How do I do it?”

Robertson was halfway across the room, smoky and transparent looking. He glanced back with a crooked smile, tipped an invisible hat forward, and disappeared.

“Mac?” A voice called behind him; it was the equally aged figure of Jake, his Paul around his neck, waiting to be plugged into scream. He gripped it in one hand beneath a plectrum, “You warmed up?”

Mac stared for a second, then looked to the hat, “Y-Yeah. I’m coming.”

Jake squinted at him, “Where’d you get the hat?”

Mac was breathless, “John Robertson.”

Jake snorted, “Pft, yeah, alright joker. C’mon, we gotta’ show to play.”

Mac slipped into the leather jacket, took a deep breath, then set the hat atop his head. A rush of power floored him, coursed through his veins as his ears honed in on the sounds of the distant crowd. He suddenly understood. He reached forward, tore the note off the mirror, balled it up, and tossed it away. He turned for the stage, disappeared from Tower-Blade’s green room.