Carl Percival (Percy) VanNess inherits a guitar from his father. He’s intent on learning to play and wants to use it as a roadway to fame and riches. But this guitar is not as benign as it appears. In fact, the music produced when it is played incites anyone within earshot to murder whomever is in sight.
Troubles escalate when Carl lets his buddy Peyton borrow the Gibson. Next, Mat, Peyton’s older brother, gets caught up in the same diabolical intrigues surrounding the instrument.
Only Stacey, Carl’s enduring sweetheart, is aware and seems immune to the Gibson’s evil persuasion. Is this due to some latent magic she holds within, dumb luck, or something else entirely?
Can she, with the help of her loyal Lab, Diva, convince her friends to let go of something they cherish before it tears their friendship apart? Might two Djinn token seekers who are after the guitar to fulfill their own agenda put the brakes on her efforts?
“Carl, this is dope. You got some sick strings right here. I’m serious, bro.” Peyton said, picking up the guitar to admire it up close and test its weight.
“Well, duh. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying?” Carl replied, feeling almost giddy with pride.
“I heard. Didn’t get it, though.” Peyton improvised a few notes. “But I do now.”
“You can’t help but to.” Watching his peer strum a few more chords caused a possessive anxiety to rise within Carl and he ran his hand through his hair. It wasn’t long before he felt impelled to intervene. “Enough, newbie. Hand it over. Let the pro show you how it’s done.”
“Hold on, bro. I’m rippin’ some sweet sounds.”
Carl took a deep breath in an attempt to ease the tension that resulted from seeing his precious Charlene perform so sweetly for another. “You’re not too bad. H-how’d you learn to play?”
“My big brother had a guitar for a while. We used to take turns foolin’ around with it. Then, he lost it over a stupid bet,” Peyton said, pausing for only the few seconds it took to say the words.
“Aw, tough luck, Man.”
“Right. Fine. Now hand her over. It’s my turn.”
Peyton played on as if he didn’t hear. With eyes closed, he reveled in the sumptuous notes coming from the guitar. Shoulders dancing, his head bobbed in time with the rhythm.
Indignant over being ignored and at the way Peyton’s fingers seemed to grope his precious girl, Carl raised his voice in a near growl. “I’m warning you, Peyton. Better not try me. For the last time, hand her over.”
“Just hold on, bro. I’m ‘bout to throw it dowwnn!”
Unwilling to bear or listen to what that meant, Carl turned, scanning his room for a more assertive means of getting his demand across. A sturdy desk used for homework and other projects offered a mess of school work paraphernalia, among this lay an opened box of pre-sharpened writing pencils.
Without sparing a thought about his next move, Carl stepped over to the desk and pulled a pencil from the package. Holding the pencil like a crazed butcher, he pivoted while lifting the pointed end high. His eyes zeroed in on Peyton’s jugular.
Peyton kept playing, his eyes closed in blissful ignorance of imminent and fatal assault.
Carl drew the uncommon weapon in his hand back and up high as he could, making no sound or alarming movement.
In the next second, the door swung wide and Stacey burst in, coming close to hitting Carl with the door. Startling from his violent mission he dropped the pencil. He deftly shoved it somewhere out of sight with his foot.
“Okay. Where’s this guitar you–Oh, right here. Wow! Carl, you weren’t kidding. This is sooo nice.’”
Peyton jarred from his plucking revelry. “Yeah, uh, ain’t it though? And it sounds amazin’.” Turning to Carl he begged, “Dude, you gotta let me borrow it for a few days.”
“Nope, I don’t gotta. And I won’t.” Carl said reaching and grasping the neck in one hand. “You can let go of it now.”
Instead of conceding, Peyton tightened his grip on the instrument and replied. “What’s the big deal? I promise I’ll bring it back.”
“You don’t need to promise ’cause I’m not lending it.”
“How ’bout if I pay you? A buck a day.”
“No way, man. She’s not for hire.”
“Oh, so it’s like that, then.”
“Yep. Take it or leave it.”
“I thought you was my bro. But, I guess yer nothing but anotha punk.”
Instead of responding, Carl simply jerked the Gibson free of Peyton’s grasp.
Peyton protested. “Heeey! What the hell? What’s yer problem, fool? Somebody need to show you what it means to share?”
“Yeah? And I guess you think you’re the guy for it.”
“Maybe I am.”
“Bring it, then.” Carl quickly set the guitar aside and turned back to Peyton. He clinched his hands into two stumps of rage and raised them up to punching level. “We’ll see who can teach who.”
They faced-off and moved in a tight, threatening circle.
Stacey rolled her eyes as she broke between them. “Before the two of you throw any punches, I think you should know I’m not impressed.”
Carl and Peyton both let down their guards at the statement. Each looked at Stacey with questioning expressions.
Stacey explained. “I mean if you want to impress a girl with your beat-down skills, at least let the fight be over the girl. Am I right?”
Carl scoffed. But he did move away from Peyton. He picked up the Gibson, slung the strap over a shoulder so she could hang comfortably at his front and sat down on his bed.
Peyton stood grumbling and staring at his feet a few seconds before plunking down onto the small chair beside the desk.
Stacey parked herself on the bed next to Carl. “There. This is good. Way better than getting all to’e up over a guitar. A pretty awesome one, for sure. But it’s still only wood, strings and a few metal knobs—that’s all.”
Carl rushed to correct her viewpoint. “Carlotte’s not just any ol’ guitar. She’s way better.”
Stacey scoffed. “Charlene?”
“Yes, Charlene,” Carl said. “What’s funny ‘bout that?”
“Yeah, Stacey lots of guys who play guitars name ‘em. Mat named his Maxine,” Peyton said.
“And Mat is?” “Who’s Mat?” Stacey and Carl both asked at the same time.
“My brother.” Peyton cleared his throat and made a show of not looking at Carl. “Who knows how to share things.”
Stacey cut off Carl’s low growl. “Whatever, Peyton.” She looked at Carl. “But what makes you say this guitar—I refuse to call it any name—‘better’ than any other one?” She held up a hand. “Wait. I know. Your plan is to use it as a babe magnet, huh? I know how you boys think,” she said, narrowing her eyes in a reproving glare.
“It might be a tired ol’ plan but…Sure. Why not?” Carl teased, giving Stacey a mischievous nudge. “Besides, it gave you enough reason came by today, didn’t it?”
Crossing his arms, Peyton said, “Yeah. Well, havin’ a guitar to catch a girl’s attention is one thing. It’s another to really know how to play? That’s what the honeys go for.”
Stacey said, “I hate to be a…uh, ‘honey.’ But, Carl, can you play something for me? Please?”
Foregoing a verbal response, Carl stood and faced her, purposefully presenting his backside to Peyton.
After making a show of loosening his arms, his shoulders and flexing his fingers, Carl launched into the captivating tune he’d mastered that morning in the garage.
Within seconds, the ambience of the room shifted as he progressed through the melody. Though the light coming through the lone window in the wall behind him did not dim, a cold, sinister presence invaded the air.
Stacey hugged her body and rubbed her hands over her arms against the chill as she tried to listen to Carl’s playing. Movement at the edge of sight caused her to look across at Peyton. She watched with a perplexed frown as he pulled out a drawer to retrieve a pair of heavy-duty scissors meant for cutting poster board or thin plastic sheets. Her frown deepened as she surmise the sleepless, nightmarish parody developing before her eyes.
Peyton pushed up from the chair and took a step in Carl’s direction, holding the scissors ready for effective spiking.
At last determining what she saw was legit instead of crazed illusion, Stacey flung her arms out in alarm. She gesticulated a frantic warning and yelled, “Stop! What do you think you’re doing?” But the frigid, melodious aura swallowed her voice.
Carl, intent on performing as he was, misinterpreted her actions as encouragement. He played with more vigor.
Stacey reached the point of leaping from the bed to tackle Peyton when bone-cracking thumps sounded against the window.
Carl stopped playing the song mid-refrain.
Peyton jolted and stepped back as though hit by some invisible stun gun. His attention went to the scissors he held in his hand. For a brief moment, he stood staring down at the now deadly-weapon-turned-crafting-tool and then twisted around to lay it on the desk. He turned back, wiping the palm of his hand on his clothes as though to clean away something vile.
Stacey sat on the edge of the bed huffing and puffing in relief when their gazes locked and she sensed the passing of his moment of murderous insanity.
Oblivious because he’d turned his attention towards searching out the source of the thumping noise, Carl said, “Oh, my dreamcatcher fell.” Then he stepped over to retrieve it from the floor and hang it back on the nail in the wall.
“Uh-huh.” Stacey said. “But…no. It couldn’t have made such a loud sound by landing on the floor.”
“What are you talking about?” Carl asked.
Stacey said, “I think the noise came from the….” Her words trailed off when she noticed the window.
She gasped at the splatter of blood already drying on the sun-drenched pane.
Billie Brunson enjoys writing novels that don’t necessarily fit in any genre “box.” Six Strings, is her second published book, the first of which is Heart of Malice (2015) and she has a number of other manuscripts in the pipelines.
Born in Chicago, IL, C Billie Brunson lived for several years in Indiana and, later, Iowa before moving to Arizona in the 1990s where she has settled in Scottsdale. She’s the mother of two and loves all animals, especially cats.
If you want to connect, you’ll catch her on Twitter more so than any other social media platform.