By: Roger A Wilbanks
The din of the audience was still ringing in Johnny's ears when he finally got to sit alone in his dressing room. This was his most memorable show to date, his resurrection. He had performed before larger crowds, but the 3000 screaming fans here had paid in excess of $200 a piece for the sake of seeing his first public concert in 15 years. He was lucky enough to score back to back nights at the Bijou Theater in his hometown of Birmingham, AL. He couldn't bring himself to look at the case that held the Golden Fiddle, but he could most definitely feel its presence. He always felt the presence. When the knock came at his door, he was almost expecting it.
'Come on in and get it over with." He said.
The door slid open and Johnny's visitor walked in, smiling.
"Haven't had a room THIS big in quite some time, eh Johnny? Return Performances always make the public pull out all the stops. Sure beats that backwater shit-hole you crashed into in Billings that one time. What was that place called?"
"The Whistle Stop." Johnny answered.
"AH Yes…The Whistle Stop. Man was that place a dump. That's where you caught that case of crotch rot from that lot lizard, wasn't it? Your manager warned you about them, didn't he? What is old Vern doing these days, anyhow?"
"He's dead. Cancer in 02." Johnny said.
"Riiiiight." The words leaked out through a barely concealable grin. "Old Vern always tried to look out after you. You really have to hand it to him on that one. You just shoulda paid him better."
"That ain't the reason he stole from me!" Defiance flashed in Johnny's eyes. "You got to him some how. I KNOW you did!"
"Johnny….Johnny. Ever since you 'beat' me in our little contest at that hickory stump I have been getting to you and everyone around you. You have been quite a source of entertainment for me for some time. To laugh."
The Devil looked longingly into Johnny's eyes, searching for something.
"To think that I could actually lose at something to…well, to YOU. That goes down as one of my finer moments there. In THIS corner, you have Johnny Tucker, hard working fiddle player, practicing for the time when he finally gets his big break, spending all his time waiting to be discovered…and in THIS corner, you have Old Scratch himself…meanest, evilest sumbitch on the block with a little contest for ya. And you take the bait." All of the light in the room was drawn into the cold blackness of the Devil's eyes. "Hook." His eyes bored a hole into Johnny. "Line." He opened the case holding the Golden Fiddle with a snap of his fingers. "And Sinker."
"I was better than you." Johnny said. "I worked my ass off every day on my music. I was the best there ever been. Then you come along and lose this fiddle to me, proving I was right in the process and just walk away with your pointy tail tucked between your legs like a whipped dog." The Devil stopped smiling. "I pick up this fiddle you lost to me and I play it, just to see what it sounds like and start playing music I never heard before. Effortlessly. Like it was coming outta the fiddle itself. I stopped practicing, stopped writing altogether. The fiddle wrote all my songs for me. Ten number one hits it give me. But all along you was just sitting back watching me. Waiting and laughing."
"Of course I was laughing at you, Johnny. When I wagered with you for your soul…it was already mine. You were willing to do whatever it took to succeed and I was more than willing to help you along your way. All you had to do to save yourself was to just walk away from me. Tell me 'No'. Say 'Mr Devil, sir, you ARE better than me.' And go about your business and keep practicing. But Pride is a bitch, ain't it Johnny? You allowed me in through that crack in your door and you have been mine ever since."
The devil sat down across from Johnny and looked around the room.
"Those people out there tonight? Your adoring fans? How did they like your performance? 'Not like it used to be.' I heard them saying. 'Lost a step.'" With a twitch of his finger, he summoned the Golden Fiddle to his lap. "I bet THIS woulda come in handy, ya reckon?"
Johnny looked away, still holding the shabby fiddle he had used onstage that evening.
"Gold spray paint, Johnny? I'm the Prince of lies and you just topped me, boy! You don't think they noticed the difference?" The Golden Fiddle floated in the air and started playing a soft, slow tune. "You don't think they feel cheated?"
Johnny didn't answer. Instead he placed the fiddle he held on the dressing room table before him. Compared to the Golden Fiddle playing in midair before him, it DID look shabby. It was a sad imposter.
"These people here came tonight to be entertained by MY fiddle, Johnny, and how did you thank them? By trotting on out there with some spray-painted shoebox with strings? Shame on you. You realize you were never the star of the show here, don't you?" The Devil's words tickled Johnny's ears and the fiddle started playing a faster song.
The Devil rose quickly and began to dance across the room, leaving black oily footprints wherever he trod. The music stopped abruptly as the Devil wheeled around to face Johnny one last time.
"Now that you have proven who is the Star here, Johnny, here's what I want you to do for me. Take this fiddle you've been masturbating with and toss it into a slag furnace somewhere. Then I want you to grab Lulu here (Yes that's right, she has a name. You wrote a song about her and never even knew it.) Take old Lulu here and get back out there tomorrow night and tear that audience a new hole. Lulu's got songs in her you never heard before and tomorrow night she's gonna share them with you. Then when you get done with the audience, you and I got some unfinished business. I can't have your soul on accounting of you 'winning' and all, but you bet your bottom dollar your ass is one hundred percent mine." With that the Devil turned on his heel and left Johnny alone. Lulu flew into her case and remained quiet.
Johnny opened the bottle of Old Crow he started on before the show and downed it in one drink. He remained in his dressing room until morning when the manager of the Bijou awoke him for his breakfast.
"Gonna be one Hell of a show tonight, sir. You're going to need your strength."
Johnny laughed at the irony and ate his eggs. "Yeah. A helluva show indeed."
That night Johnny and Lulu made their final appearance. True to the Devil's word, songs never heard before came crying from Lulu. Music so diabolical and evil that over half of the audience was driven insane Seventy three people died from the fighting that erupted in the crowd. People were hung, stabbed, beaten, strangled and smothered as the audience absorbed the music. When the show was over and the police were able to break their way past the suddenly unlocked doors the scene that greeted them would forever be etched into their memories as simply the 'Most Evil." Writhing insanity gripped the hall. Johnny had been impaled on his own microphone stand and parts of his road crew dangled from the rafters. Of the three thousand fans at the show, none left without a scar or stitches. The county hospital psychiatric ward opened up its doors to hundreds of cases of dementia and psychotic behavior.
Lulu was never recovered, but at Johnny's funeral she was rumored to be heard playing "Welcome Home Johnny" from off in the distance.
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