27 by Daniel Shifflett

It was a summery evening that I discovered my love for guitar and music. I was watching old reruns of Headbangers Ball when I got the idea to start playing. I don’t know what it was that compelled me to pick up a guitar, but when I did it felt right- like it was my destiny to play an instrument. It didn’t take long for me to make my own music; albeit, not very good music, I still continued to play and perfect my playing. People would often comment on how fast I started to improve. I watched countless videos on guitar and how to compose music. I had no clue of the note or chord names, but played them like they were a first language. It was like something had been hidden within me and on that night, my hidden potential was freed from its cage and blossomed into something greater than what I could have ever imagined.

As my talent grew, my confidence grew. I could do anything- That’s what I thought until I found the first hurdle of any guitarist or musician; That there will always be someone better. My humbling experience came at my expense when I discovered my close friend’s cousin was in a band, and that he too, was a guitar savant. I at first took this as a challenge as I was filled with pride and couldn’t stand to have a better rival. He then crushed my pride with his extraordinary playing style that even I entertained. This humbling experience caused me to hang my head in shame of my ignorance. I was disappointed in myself but I didn’t let it stop me. I stayed in my room for three days, with no sleep; I was determined to improve. My fingers were raw and my hands ached, but still I played on without a care in the world.

On the fourth day of my solitude, I was still unhappy with how much I had improved. I didn’t want to give up, but my hands said otherwise; I could hardly move my fingers as if they’d gone on strike. I felt like my body had given up on me; my brain was the only thing blind to the fact that I had overstrained my body and doing so had made me deteriorate drastically. “How could I stop now?” I would often ask myself, but finally I gave in. I needed to rest and recuperate my strength. I then spent the next few days researching ways to get better, ways to improve in only a short amount of time. It felt impossible but I was determined and my determination propelled me further than what I could have known. 

A week had passed and when I finally picked up my guitar, my hopes had fallen short. I was disappointed in myself and I decided to take a walk to clear my mind. The fog had encapsulated me on my path, blinding me from all my surroundings. I saw only the road and the path forward, eventually I found myself at an intersecting crossroads that I didn’t recognize. An old man, whom I mistook for death himself, stepped into my view. He was draped in black and carried himself with such fragility that I thought he’d collapse at any minute. I called out to him, but his voice was too quiet for me to hear, so I stepped closer to him. He was hunched over his cane and when I got close enough to see his features, he was gazing up at me.

His eyes reminded me of coal, and they peered deep into my soul. I was taken aback by this, it felt as if he had ignited a fire deep within me and it was burning my soul. 

“I can give you all that you desire; fame and fortune, wine and women. It could all be yours for merely a price.” He said, starting towards me.

“What price?” I asked, humoring the madman.

“Your soul!” He cackled as he put out his hand, suggesting that I should shake his hand. I took him up on his offer in ignorance, I shook his hand and the deal was finalized. I was desperate and a chance encounter like that comes once in a lifetime. I also had my doubts about the man, there were plenty of madmen in this town spouting incoherent lies and vexes on many of the populace. 

I woke up with an unexplainable energy, my determination had been rekindled and my hands felt anew. I bolted out of bed and immediately picked up my guitar, every chord had been mapped out in my mind; Every note resonated within me, filling me up with a new hope to continue my dreams. I played for hours and never once got tired. I promptly invited my friends over to show them my new skills; I was too excited to notice that the deal had been finalized. I didn’t have a care in the world though, and soon everyone knew of my skills. First it was my friends, then it was their friends, and then it was their families. I was a show pony, but I didn’t mind- I liked the publicity; It’s what got me my first gig. 

I needed to come up with a band to help me perform for my first gig. I knew it wouldn’t be too hard since I’d be able to bring in a handful of other musicians who were eager to play in their first gig too. The first gig went well, we brought in more people than I had expected; After the gig however, our band quickly fell apart- me being the main cause of the band falling out. They said I was a “conceited prick” and that I “hogged most of the spotlight.” I shrugged this off as I knew this was only the start of my career, and eventually, I was a one man show with my own record deals and multi-million dollar mansion. I had more money than I had ever hoped for; everyone around me was set for life. 

A couple years later, after my twenty-seventh birthday, I had started to feel weaker. My chest had an unexplainable burning sensation as if my soul was in the pits of hell. I had looked into my mirror and saw that my hair was turning grey, and skin started to wrinkle. The old man whom I had met long ago, appeared in the reflection behind me. His bone-chilling cackle filled me with dread as I felt his cold hand touch my shoulder. I turned around and he was gone, I was marked with the kiss of death, but I was not prepared to face my fate just yet. I had one last show, and I was determined to give them the best show of their lives. I stood up on top of the stage- the roar of the crowd felt like lightning bolts striking me down. I picked up my guitar and I began to play the very lick that made me famous. Maybe my heart couldn’t handle the performer’s life, or maybe death came knocking on my door- condemning me to my fate. My sin was greed, and for that my death came early at the age of twenty-seven.

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