By Jay St John Knight.
Autumn had finally awoken. Somewhere in the scrub nearby a meadowlark chirped as it plucked fat bees out of the air, and the snarls of coyotes in the low valley slipped through the gaps in the workshop. The alluring scent of wet prairie grass mixed with varnish as the old man finished stringing a guitar on his lap. Each string was threaded into the headstock and wound until tight. So acute was his ear that it took only a few plucks for him to find each note perfectly. The guitar had a sparkling tone; the notes dancing with each other through the air. His hands were made to shape wood that made beautiful music.
He spent the remainder of the afternoon checking the instrument over. His fingertips ran over every millimetre of the instrument, feeling for tiny hairline fractures in the woodwork and varnish. Finally, as the bullcrickets took up their nocturnal chorus and the night-birds stirred in the bush, he hung the instrument amongst the others on the wall. He was done. It was done. He shuffled slowly out of the workshop and locked the door.
Night had the world firmly in its grasp. A wind howled through the trees and battered against the log cabin. He was sat in a padded armchair pulled close to the fire. In the corner of the room a phonograph played a Willie Brown record, the fuzzing of its surface noise blurring with the crackles of the fire as he sipped whisky. The evenings had been quiet recently. His apprentice had been sent back home before the snows made travel impossible. He’d return in the spring, along with the prairie violets and the frogspawn in pools of freshly melted snow. The boy was eager to learn.
The bottle of whiskey was running dry. He’d gained a stockpile of it from the store owner down in New Creek, in exchange for fixing a mandolin. It was good stuff, keeping him warm each night when the cold crept in. As he sunk back into the armchair, he noticed the wind had stopped howling. There was no rustling of the trees outside, no creaking of their branches. The midnight calls of the nocturnal birds had ceased too. The world outside of the cabin had fallen silent. The final notes of Willie Brown’s guitar faded and the record player joined the empty orchestra. All that remained was the gentle purring of the fire and the sound of his breathing. He cocked his head, straining to hear. Then, there was a knock. He froze, heart pounding. Three sharp taps on the door to his cabin. The old man rose and moved towards the door, running his hands over the furniture, feeling for the gun that was propped up against the wall.
‘Who is it?’ he called.