The Guitar

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"The Guitar" by Kat Heckenbach

(originally published in While the Morning Stars Sing anthology)

“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.”

“You’re 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.

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