georgia 3

The final part of the story is here!  Once again, I show my weakness for epilogues.  I just can’t help myself.

Finally, Horton spoke:

‘Will you again summon your band of demons, Georgia, or will your skill alone suffice?’

‘Oh, Johnny, darling, I wouldn’t dream of it! It’s your skill against my skill!’ She flashed a wicked grin before adding, ‘Though I have been practising.’

Horton flicked open the catch of the case constantly at his side.

‘I see you’re not using that golden fiddle I gave you.’

Horton slowly lifted the lid.

‘But no, you did use it once, didn’t you? I know you played one note, Johnny.’

Horton reached into the case and removed his tools. One fiddle: worn, stained, cracked and patched; one bow: warped, frayed, repaired with care; one block of rosin, wrapped in a handkerchief of deepest red.

‘I have many souls in my keeping, Johnny. I have teachers, doctors, businessmen – that particular lake of fire is rather crowded, actually… I also have craftsmen. Masters of their trade, they were, Johnny! Masters of their trade in life! In death, nothing more than shrieks and wails, the leitmotif of my endless night – until that day… Do you remember it, Johnny?’

Horton worked the rosin along the bow, slowly.

‘I collected the best of them – the best of the best, these were, Johnny – and I had them sculpt me a golden fiddle. But of course,’ she chuckled, ‘you know that. What you didn’t know – though I’d wager you might have had an inkling the day you tried to play it – what you didn’t know was how I repaid them for their hard work. Can you guess?’

The rosin stopped in its path. Horton’s head was bowed. He wiped one eye with his thumb and ran it along the horsehair.

‘Oh, shed no tears for them, Johnny! They’re the damned, remember? And they’re mine. Mine to do with as I please. So I told them to put their hearts and souls into the making of that instrument, and afterwards I was as good as my word.

‘You were expecting screams, weren’t you, Johnny? Screaming, wailing, that sort of thing? Nothing so clichéd, Johnny, dear. Not for you. Screaming and wailing, that’s just for me.’ She raised a slender hand to her mouth, as if sharing a secret. ‘To tell you the truth, it’s all rather jolly at my place. Someone screams over here, someone begs for mercy over there, we all learn each other’s voices and we do our best to keep each other entertained. You’d like it!’

Horton plucked a string. His fiddle was never out of tune, but the rituals never changed.

‘So, I suppose it’s only natural that you imagine screams. But when I sealed the souls of those young men into that instrument, I decided to partition them off from each other. Give them some privacy, my dear. Privacy for the master craftsmen. Forever.’

Horton plucked a string.

‘So, of course, there were no screams. To whom would they be screaming? Just themselves, alone with their thoughts in that white blank nothingness. But that’s just it, isn’t it, Johnny? It was their thoughts that scared you, wasn’t it?’

Horton plucked a string.

‘Don’t tell me you pitied them, Johnny? Do you know what they did in life? Of course you do, how silly of me. You knew everything about them as you played that first note. You knew every detail and nuance of their short and sordid lives, and you felt their loneliness, and you knew it was forever, and half of you pitied them, and half of you felt they deserved it, and it’s been eating you ever since, hasn’t it?’

Horton plucked a string.

‘I know you think you’re being very dignified by not talking to me, but you’re actually being very rude, considering our long history. It’s not as if you didn’t invite me here. “Y’all come on back if you ever want to try again”; I believe that’s what you said. Now tell me, when you played my violin, how long was it before you realised you’d never be happy again?’ Quickly she raised her hands, palms forward. ‘No, wait! Just tell me this: what was it like?’

Horton looked up. He held his fiddle in one hand and his bow in the other, his arms by his sides. He drew a long breath. Held it.

‘Your fiddle didn’t play for shit. Mine was better. I’m ready, let’s play.’

Epilogue

Georgia lifted her bow from the hissing strings. It was over.

Johnny lay on the cold earth where he had fallen.

Georgia looked at the instrument in her own hands, and back at the earth. She cast her violin over her shoulder; it burst into flame and was consumed before it landed.

Johnny’s fiddle lay on the ground at Georgia’s feet. She stooped to collect it, but it turned to ash and fell through her fingers.

Georgia reached for Johnny’s soul, but could not find it.

End

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