Zia had a singular passion, and she believed, a destiny, to play guitar. She began playing when she was twelve years old. She’d asked for a guitar for her birthday, hoping for an electric. Her father bought her a steel-stringed acoustic instead. Seven years later, she bought herself a blue electric guitar and named it Duke. Zia was a talented guitarist, but her talent didn’t hold a candle to that of her friend Edie, whose instrument of choice was the fiddle. Thick as thieves, peas in a pod, cosmic sisters were they, even after one of them sold her soul to the Devil.
“Everyone has heard about the Devil’s deal, right?” Zia asked. The music history class she was taking as an extension course had turned out to be more fascinating than she’d expected. She’d brought the class up at least a few times before, but this time Edie perked up. That was no surprise. History bored her. But horror and Halloween had always been her thing.
Since she could remember, Zia had heard the stories about the deals with the Devil. She paid especial attention the first time she heard the one about the blues guitarist who loved music more than anything. Some accounts say that he tried to learn. Some accounts say that he didn’t. Most agreed that he couldn’t play to save his life. And so he gave up his soul. He went to a crossroads on a clear moonless night with his beautiful red guitar. And he waited. And he waited.
At last a man appeared just walking along the road. He looked to be coming from a club. Dressed to the nines, but with his tie loosened and his coat tossed over a shoulder, he was obviously done for the night. He chatted a while with the blues guitarist and he admired the red guitar. He asked politely if he might play a bit on it. And the blues guitarist obliged. The man smiled as he gently lifted the guitar and played the sweetest most soulful music ever heard by mortal ears. When he stopped playing he laughed and declared that the guitar was a bit out of tune. So he tuned it and gave it back to the blues guitarist.
And from that moment on the blues guitarist was able to play anything, any kind of music, any piece of music, with perfect ability.
That story was well-known and oft-told in Zia’s circle. She even told it herself to her own class of young aspiring guitar-players. But she had learned in her music history class of a new legend, a rare one. The legend of the Glass Guitar. The Glass Guitar was said to have been crafted in heaven by the angels. There may have been more than one in heaven. But there was only one on earth. And it could only be found by a musician who was worthy. And one became worthy to find it with practice and dedication and love of music. Once found, the seeker had to be skilled enough to play at least one note on the guitar without shattering it. If the guitar played the note and remained unbroken, it belonged to the one who had played it thereafter until death or an act of evil.
By the time Zia finished her story, Edie had a bemused look on her face and a ready quip on her lips.
“So you can only find it if you practice and get good enough to play it? Sounds like a con that music teachers can use to encourage students to practice more often.”
Zia sighed. “The moral of the story is that the Glass Guitar is a reward, not the thing that gives you magical talent.”
“Like I said, a con.”
Zia sighed. “I’m not saying I believe the story. I just think it’s great that there’s a legend about an honest way to get amazing skills or earn a special instrument. Hasn’t it ever bothered you that the most popular supernatural story about how spectacular musicians get their talent has the person cheating by selling off their soul? How could your skills means anything if you just got them overnight with no effort?”
Edie frowned and flicked her hand dismissively. “If you’re selling your soul, I should hope it means something.”
She seemed distracted and annoyed with the conversation. Zia was disappointed that her friend wasn’t more intrigued. But Edie had a hectic schedule. She was a working musician and only in town for a few nights before she returned to her tour. Of the two of them, Edie had a better chance of finding the glass guitar, if such a thing actually existed.
She hurt her wrist and needed time to recover. That was the official story about why Edie had not re-joined her touring company. Zia had known no better when she dropped by Edie’s place with a pizza and boneless buffalo wings. Zia was prepared for her friend to be angry, frustrated, scared about losing her position. And for the most part, those were the emotions that met her at the door.
She became more concerned when it seemed as if Edie’s wrist was just fine, when Edie began to pace back and forth in her living room. She finally stopped and looked at Zia and the brave face shattered and Zia saw what was underneath.
“It’s real,” was the only thing Edie said before she burst into tears and collapsed to the floor. And for several minutes, all Zia could do was kneel down and hold and say nothing.
When she was done crying, Edie recovered herself quickly. Her face was raw and red. She looked Zia directly in the eyes. And without words, Zia knew it meant she should brace herself and she felt a sinking in the pit of her stomach. Something was wrong with her friend. Something was terribly wrong.
“You won’t believe me. Even though you know I wouldn’t go this far for a dumb joke. So just listen.”
Edie asked her to recall the day only weeks ago when Zia mentioned the supernatural stories about how musicians obtained their talents. Edie was bothered by the conversation, because she knew the Devil’s deal was real. Edie knew it was real because two years ago, she made that deal.
Edie had been struggling with her fiddle-playing and felt the pressure of expectation from everyone who thought she was such a marvel, such a wonder, so perfect. She was Eden after all, named after perfection, after paradise. She couldn’t even tell her best friend how desperate she was. Desperate enough to trust in tall tales.
And she found out those tales weren’t just stories after all. She read every account of the deal. She followed every instruction. She waited. And she waited. And sometime during the clear and moonless night, a man came walking by the road…
The deal worked.
Edie got through her hurdles. She made the breakthrough she needed to make. And she hid her true talent, for she had the gift of perfect performance. To allay suspicion, she only showed that gift a little at a time.
The terms of her deal seemed generous at the time. Twenty years. Twenty years of musical genius. And then it would be time for her to pay the Devil his due.
When Edie first began to speak, Zia had already begun to panic. Her friend was having delusions. Dangerous delusions. But by the time Edie finished her story, Zia believed every bit of it was true. She knew it was true. She must have been picking up on the signs subconsciously. But consciously…two years. Two years her friend had been in the Devil’s pocket and Zia had never suspected.
Edie would be claimed at the peak of her life. Edie had always seen her forties as the end. Edie had always thought all marks should be hit by forty. She never looked further than forty. But Zia always thought, always hoped, that would change as they aged, as they grew wiser. She hadn’t known her best friend well enough to see how deep into the pit of despair Eden had fallen.
She felt guilty. She felt betrayed. But most of all, she felt she had to do something.
So the first thing she said was, “There must be a way to revoke the deal.”
Edie shook her head. “There isn’t.”
“How do you know? You couldn’t have been in your right mind when you made that deal. I’m guessing you didn’t ask questions about the fine print.”
“I didn’t have to. He told me the deal was irrevocable. Whether or not I choose to use the gift he gave, I’m bound by the deal. I don’t want to be anymore. But I’ve made my bed”
“Well let’s see if we can find someone else to lie in it.”
Edie’s expression changed then. Her eyes widened. She began to smile. “You can make a deal too, Zi.” The tears were still shiny on her cheeks. “Then we can live like comets, blazing through the sky.”
“Then sinking into hell?”
Edie’s smile collapsed and her shoulders sunk.
“We need to do whatever it is you did and return to wherever it is you went, so we can find the man.”
Zia had a feeling that Edie went along with the idea because she hoped that Zia too would make a deal. And Zia was sure she would be tempted, even if she wasn’t foolish enough to bring Duke along with her. The Devil could not force her to do anything against her will. An iron will was proof against the Devil. But Zia’s will was already melted, for her will had a weakness, her feelings for her friend. And the Devil was clever, far cleverer than Zia. If she aimed to beat him, she would have to use something other than her wits.
It was a pleasant night, comfortably cool and fresh. It had rained during the day. Edie was shivering. And Zia was on edge. They stood by the car. Duke was in the back seat. She didn’t want to bring him, but Edie insisted that the Devil would not appear unless there was a chance to tempt Zia. And if she didn’t bring Duke, there would be no chance.
As the night wore on, Zia almost let herself start feeling relieved. It was less than three hours before sunrise. And for the first time since Edie made her confession, a seed of doubt sprouted in Zia’s mind.
But then she saw the man. Sure enough the fellow who met them claimed to be the Devil. He couldn’t see the guitar in her car from where he stood, but he seemed to know it was there. For sure enough, he tried to tempt Zia.
“How can I play music without a soul?” Zia asked.
“Oh, I won’t take your soul until after your time is done.”
Zia took a breath. She had to be careful in her speech. “If you take my soul, you’ll take it to hell. And there is no music in hell, is there?”
The Devil said nothing.
She wondered aloud to herself. “Would it be better to make mediocre music forever or to make ethereal music for a while? After all, nothing lasts forever.”
“Very true,” the Devil said. But he wasn’t fooled. Zia’s plan to use herself to find out if there were any loopholes in the demonic contract had already failed. But she had expected it might. She abandoned her pretense of wavering.
Zia refused him. She pointed to Edie and asked the Devil directly if he would revoke her contract and release her soul.
The Devil ignored Edie. He only had eyes for Zia and her unclaimed soul. “Now why would you bring that beautiful blue guitar with you if you didn’t want me to help you figure out just how to play him?”
Duke wasn’t just a guitar. And Zia felt disgusted that she had brought him to the Devil. The Devil had one of her friends already. She couldn’t let him have another. She had to control her temper. She calmed herself, but couldn’t help just a bit of sniping.
“If I wanted to play beautifully,” she said, “I would search for the Glass Guitar and play it.”
She had only meant it as an insult. But she saw the form of the man before her flicker.
“The Glass Guitar,” the Devil said, his eyes widening in what seemed like sincere awe. Suddenly he laughed. “If you could bring me that, darling, I’ll revoke your friend’s contract.”
Zia held her breath for a few seconds, unsure if she had truly heard what she thought she heard. She glanced at Edie, but Edie was looking down at her feet.
She looked at the Devil again. She should have made the deal and been on her way. Her curiosity got the better of her. “Why do you want the Glass Guitar?”
The Devil must have been in a humoring mood. He answered her question and seemed to answer it truthfully.
“I want to lock it away,” he said. “Its mere presence on earth, even if not played, is a balm to the souls of humanity. It fortifies you. It makes it difficult for me to do my work. If you really can find it and bring it to me, I will release your friend’s soul. She must live a generous and good life to avoid my claiming it by other means, but this particular contract will be broken.”
Zia couldn’t stop nodding. It seemed too good to be true. And so it was. The Devil probably knew he had set her an impossible task. “Won’t the Guitar refuse to be found by me because of the mere fact that I’m searching for it so I can give it to you?”
The Devil shrugged. “Perhaps.”
Zia thought for a moment.
“Do we have a deal?” the Devil asked. And now Zia discerned a touch of impatience.
She looked him in the eyes. “Is there music in hell?”
The Devil laughed. He probably knew what she was getting at. But he didn’t answer.
“There must be. You were an angel once. You still know how to play all the instruments.”
The Devil crossed his arms.
“If I don’t find the Glass Guitar, you’ll claim Edie’s soul.”
“Do you have to take her soul? Or will any soul do? Mine for instance.”
The Devil laughed again. It had sounded human before, sinister but human. Now Zia heard something more terrifying, a taste of what she might be hearing for all eternity.
“If you find the Glass Guitar, sweetness, your soul would be even more valuable to me than hers.”
Zia glanced at the car. Her haven was in there. She looked at the Devil again.
“If you take me to hell, can I bring and keep my guitar?”
The Devil chuckled deeply. “Agreed.”
Zia had a feeling that the Devil had only agreed to let her bring Duke to hell because she wouldn’t be able to play him. Or maybe the Devil could go against his word once they were in his realm and he would take Duke from her. He had added the condition that if she didn’t find the guitar, he wouldn’t wait to claim her soul. He would take it right away. He had given her sixty-six days to find it. She wasn’t sure why she had made the ultimate sacrifice to save a friend who hadn’t even been aware of everything that transpired between Zia and the Devil.
Maybe she felt more guilty than she thought for not having seen how bad Edie’s despair had gotten. Or maybe she needed the motivation to find the Glass Guitar. And what better motivation than the threat of burning in hell forever?
So Zia went searching for the Glass Guitar. She took a leave of absence from her job. She researched the few accounts of the legend that she could find. She played and played on Duke both to improve and be worthy and to escape into the haven of music for just a while. She wanted Edie to come with her and help. She still believed that Edie could be worthy of the Glass Guitar, even though she was a fiddler. But after that visit with the Devil, Edie became nihilistic and withdrawn. She didn’t return to her tour. She didn’t believe Zia’s quest would succeed.
Zia had doubts about her chances too, but she tried to stay as chipper as she could. She stopped by Edie’s place before leaving. Edie once again raised doubts about Zia’s chance of finding the Glass Guitar.
“I’ll be damned if I don’t try,” Zia said, raising her brows and grinning.
Edie just sighed. She surprised Zia with a suffocating hug. When she pulled away, she was crying.
Zia’s book research led her to a small town in the middle of nowhere. Nothing was in that town, including her quarry. None of her few leads panned out. They all indicated that the guitar was in the country. One night, as she contemplated the financial burden of searching overseas, she picked up Duke and played to clear her head.
That was the night that Duke began to speak to her. Not in words, but through the songs that popped into her head whenever she picked him up. She kept getting certain lyrics stuck in her head, the way one does. Her method of getting them out of her head was writing them down. She had always done that to assure she wouldn’t have any problems with unwanted lyrics creeping into the wrong song.
For a week this went on as she began to drive home. Then one night, as she was writing down another line that was irritating her, she scanned her notebook and realized that the lyrics she’d been writing down were directions. She looked up at Duke and wondered. She began to follow the directions, directions leading her to a specific diner, a tree on a road that was once struck by lightning, a longitude and latitude.
Almost a month later, she ended up in a guitar shop in the middle of Memphis. It was wondrous. Half museum, half store. But it was not quiet and mystical as she’d been expecting. As soon as she walked in, she noticed the five glass guitars in the case along one wall. Even if she knew for certain that one of them was the Heavenly Glass Guitar, and even if she knew which one, she wouldn’t be able to get to it.
She asked the manager whether or not she could earn a try at one of the glass guitars. He refused, as expected, but Zia persisted. She looked people up, made phone calls, and figured out who she needed to get to. One person owned all five glass guitars. And he was more than willing to meet with Zia when he found out she was interested in them.
The guitars’ owner, Lenny, was nice enough, but when Zia asked to play each guitar, he rightfully told her it was too much to ask. Through the glass case, she hadn’t been able to feel anything different about any of the guitars. It was possible she had hit another dead end. She had strummed many a glass guitar in search of the right one.
She asked him if he would consider letting her play his glass guitars if she showed him she was a serious musician herself. He said he’d be happy to hear her play. He loved live guitar music. But her playing would not balance the cost of the guitars. Three of them were in the hundreds of dollars and served as decoys for the two that were rare, whose cost was in the high tens of thousands of dollars. Zia considered telling the stranger the truth. But that would have likely made him ban her from even looking at his guitars.
She could think of only one solution. She had to figure out if one of the guitars was the Glass Guitar. And she had to buy it. Zia had a feeling the guitar she would need, if indeed it was there, would be one of the expensive ones. She proposed her offer to Lenny, hoping he didn’t have any sentimental attachments. She offered a payment plan if she should settle on getting one of the expensive ones. The owner agreed to the deal.
Zia never thought she’d end up in a bank applying for a loan during her paranormal quest. She got a loan and went to the store after closing to meet with the owner. She had brought Duke, and Lenny indulged her as she played. She had never played so well. Lenny gave her a one-person standing ovation and a discount on whichever guitar she chose. Playing Duke gave her a clue as to which guitar that should be. As Duke’s strings vibrated, she could hear in her mind the music she played coming from one of the glass guitars. It was indeed one of the expensive ones. She handed the check to the owner. She lifted the glass guitar. She took a deep breath and felt a trickle of sweat run down her temple.
She played a chord. The sound filled the store. It was lovely. It was ethereal. It was the Glass Guitar. She felt it. It vibrated with music and Lenny stood aghast. He looked at the guitar with wonder and a bit of new envy. But he honored the deal they had made. He asked Zia to return again with the guitar sometime.
“If I can,” Zia said.
The Glass Guitar guided her even as Duke had guided her. Once back in her hotel room, when Zia played the Glass Guitar, it sang to her soul. It told her it belonged to her now and she belonged to it. Only Duke could bind them together. So she placed the Glass Guitar over Duke, and the two seem to fuse. At first, Zia was happily amazed. But then she realizes she would have to give Duke up to the Devil. She didn’t want to. She was tempted to keep him.
“I’m sorry, Duke,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I have to choose Edie. Edie is alive.”
So is Duke, her conscience argued.
That decided it. Zia returned home, returned to the crossroads. She was met by the Devil. She brought Duke, heavenly blue Duke, with her. The guitar shimmered with glass and metal. The Devil frowned and accused her of trying to trick him. But Zia played the guitar. She noted the flickering of the Devil’s human form, the almost imperceptible wince in his otherwise steady expression.
She told the Devil that she wouldn’t give up the guitar, that he would have to claim her soul.
And he gladly did, for the way he saw it, he had all he wanted. Zia’s soul and the guitar. He promised to revoke his deal with Edie. She would lose the portion of her talent that he had provided. She would probably no longer be a superstar, but she would also no longer be damned.
The Devil tried to take Duke, but Zia reminded him of their deal. She could bring and keep her guitar. And Duke, whether imbued with the powers of heaven or not, was hers. The Devil was compelled by his own word to comply.
Zia fell into the pits of hell. And the guitar followed. Any earthly instrument would have burned and corroded the moment it reached hell. But Duke was the Glass Guitar now. And before any unearthly suffering could touch her, she made a shield of music for herself. She played and played. And that shield began to grow and encompass other souls. The music was a haven. It was an infection of good in the land of depravity. It was a taste of redemption for the eternally damned. It made hell unbearable for evil.
And the Devil saw. And the Devil raged. And the Devil cast her out of hell.
And the guitar followed.
She landed in a crossroads and she wasn’t alone. It was no man that joined her. She knew the Devil’s true form and he had no reason to hide it.
“Heaven won’t have you either,” the Devil said, gnashing his teeth, his lips dripping with blood and gore. “You made a deal with the Devil. It may have been to save a life, but you won’t ever make it to heaven now.
“We were never meant for heaven anyway,” Zia said, holding onto Duke.
The Devil tried to wrench the guitar from her, but he could not.
Duke was hers and she was Duke’s. He had guarded her so well from the powers of hell that the only hurt she suffered was the regret that she had left so many decent souls behind. She could remember little else.
Back on the earth, her home, Zia first checked on her friend and found Edie doing well. Playing the fiddle to reach joy not perfection. She next visited Lenny.
“Glass Guitar Girl!” he said by way of greeting. He remembered her well. And he remembered the guitar.
She played for him and watched as his spirits rose and his cares diminished. And she knew what to do. Fulfill her destiny. And Duke’s destiny. Play guitar. She traveled wide. And she traveled far. Making music. Healing souls.
And the Glass Guitar followed.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.