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Crossroads Rock and Roll

by Bradley Ramsey (He/Him) about a year ago in Short Story
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Wish I Didn't Need it, but Feel Like I Do

Image: Francisco Moreno via Unsplash

Verse

I once met a man with no eyes, sharp teeth, and a forked tongue

Promised me fame and riches once the deal was done.

Eat of the fruit, taste sweet inspiration in your mind

Infinite success steals all reason, the contract was signed.

***

I couldn't look directly at him, whatever he was. His pale skin reflected the light of the moon as his claw-like hands danced across the wooden box I buried in the center of the crossroad.

"So, do we have a deal?" The demon asked.

I saw his forked tongue slide across a mouth full of fangs. I closed my eyes, tried to let judgement take hold, but it had fled long ago.

"Yeah, we do," I said.

The wooden box in the demon's hands caught ablaze and burned to ash in mere seconds. The demon let the ashes scatter beneath his hands and produced a single seed.

"Plant the tree, nurture it, and it will bear fruit. Eat the fruit, and taste infinite inspiration," the demon said.

"And people will love the new tracks? I'll finally get what I deserve?" I asked.

"Money, power, fame, all delivered to you in due course."

I took the seed from the demon and gripped it tightly in my palm.

"When the tree falters, and the fruit becomes sour, know that this will be the bell's toll of your final hour."

The demon grinned before exploding into a cloud of black smoke that soaked into the ground like water.

I took the seed home, back to my shitty one bedroom apartment. I planted it, and it grew into a dwarf pear tree within weeks. Ten feet tall, seven feet wide, a bitch to move, but soon fruit began to dangle from its branches.

It wasn't like any other pear I'd seen before. It had pale flesh and bled a crimson juice when you bit into it. The flavor was sweet, but the inspiration was sweeter. Within hours of eating the first one, the notes flowed out of my fingers and onto the sheet.

The lyrics had an almost prophetic hue to them, but they came crashing out of my mind like a tidal wave, carried by melodies both haunting and profound.

The best part? People fucking loved it.

I kept the tree with me wherever I went, had it set up in posh hotels and penthouse suites. I kept it locked away in its own room, guarded by a fingerprint scanner. I paid for this fruit with my eternal soul, and I'd be damned if anyone else got a taste of it.

So, you could imagine my surprise when I went back to the tree for more fruit and found someone waiting for me.

She had velvet black hair that flowed like the night sky across her shoulders, and glinted in the light as if dusted with stars.

She turned to face me as I walked through the locked door. Porcelain skin, cherry red lipstick, and steel blue eyes that cut right through me.

"How did you get in here?" I asked.

"I have my ways. So, tell me about this fruit. Where did you get it?"

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Varla. And yours?" she asked.

"Damian. Listen, I don't know how you got in here, but you need to leave."

Varla reached up and plucked one of the pears from the tree.

"Hey, put that down!" I shouted.

Varla looked me right in the eyes as she brought the pale flesh of the pear to her lips and took a bite. The juice ran down her chin like blood.

"Delicious."

"That's it, I'm calling security!" I said, turning back to the door.

"No need, I'll show myself out," Varla said.

I spun back around and she was gone.

Chorus

Here I am, side by side, yet miles away from you.

Shaking, sweating, sobbing, wish I didn’t need it, but feel like I do.

Hold me and tell me it will be alright, help me break this chain,

Dragging me down, deeper and deeper, into my pain.

***

It wasn't long before I noticed the side effects. If I didn't eat the fruit every morning, the next day would hit me like the world's worst fucking hangover.

Cold sweats, shaky hands, brain fog so thick I couldn't finish a thought, it was miserable. I needed the fruit, had to have it just to function, let alone play on tour. It's didn't matter though, I was living on borrowed time anyway.

The fame, the money, the sex, it all kept coming just as the demon promised, but I couldn't shake my encounter with Varla. I kept thinking I saw her in the crowd at sold out shows, kept seeing her out the corner of my eye wherever I went.

Years went by and I cranked out one platinum selling album after another. I was on top of the world.

Then came the day when I sliced into my morning pear and watched a black ichor ooze out from within it. Maggots writhed in the gunk, and I felt my blood run cold.

When the tree falters, and the fruit becomes sour, know that this will be the bell's toll of your final hour.

"Guess everyone's luck runs out eventually."

I leapt out of my chair and turned to see Varla standing behind me. All these years and she looked like she hadn't aged a day.

"Varla? Where have you been all these years?"

Varla walked slowly over to the tree beside my dining room table and ran a painted fingernail across the surface.

"Oh, I've been around. I'm guessing you know what this means?" she asked.

"So, you know about my deal?"

Varla nodded. "I do, but I'm here to help."

"Help me? Why? I knew what I was getting into."

Varla pushed aside the plate with the sliced pear and sat on the table, crossing her legs as she regarded me with her cold steel eyes.

"Those fuckers always prey on the creative types. The artists, the writers, the rockstars. I've seen how your work affects people, seen the way it inspires people to be better, to be stronger. You put more into the world than you take. I'm no God, but I think you deserve another shot."

My heart was racing, my hands were already starting to quake. The fruit was rotten, but my junkie ass wanted it anyway.

"I appreciate you saying that, but I'm only here because of the fruit," I said.

"Are you?" Varla asked.

"Of course. Without this shit I'm nothing. I can't write hits the way I can when I have the fruit."

"Well, then why don't we make a deal? Judging by the tree, you've got a week left. You'll try to eat around the rotten parts, but soon even those will stop growing. Kick the fruit, write a new track without it, and I'll get you out of your deal."

"You can do that?" I asked.

"I can, but I'm going to tell you now, the next week is going to feel like you've already been taken to hell. You'll want to lick that plate clean, maggots and all, by the end of it. Can you handle it?" Varla asked.

"I've got no choice, do I?"

Varla smiled. "No, I suppose you don't."

Bridge

From on high, an angel descends, taking pity on man

She rewrites the contract, changes the devil's plan

Divine intervention, one last chance to break through

But without the fruit, can true inspiration rise anew?

***

She wasn't lying. That week felt like an eternity. My body was on fire, my mind was a black hole that devoured any and all inspiration the moment it sparked, and my hands were too clammy to even hold a pen.

Varla took care of me, for reasons I couldn't fathom. She pitied me as I lay on silk sheets, curled into a fetal position, sobbing and screaming in equal measure.

I had a show coming up, one where Varla said I would have to debut this new track, free of the fruit's influence. After several days, things started to get better, but in breaking the fruit's hold on me, I broke myself in all manner of ways.

Through it all, Varla was there. She encouraged me, pushed me to put thoughts to paper and notes onto the sheets. Despite all my attempts, the day finally came, and I looked down at the sheet.

"Crossroads Rock and Roll. I guess it's ready," I said.

The door to my backstage room flew open. The foul stench of sulfur filled the air, a scent not unlike rotten eggs.

The demon sauntered into the room, grinning from ear-to-ear.

"The tree falters, but the show must go on! One last show, then your soul is mine!"

Varla emerged from the shadows, waving a single finger at the demon.

"Azathoth, you haven't changed one bit," she said.

The demon hissed. "Lilith? You dare show your face here?"

"I go by Varla now, honey, and I'm here representing this human."

The demon shook his head. "No, we had a deal!"

"What if I sweeten the pot?" Varla asked.

The demon turned its hollow gaze to me, and then back to Varla.

"I'm listening."

"Damian has been off the fruit for a week now, and he wrote a new track to debut tonight. If the crowd loves it, you tear up the contract."

"And if his precious fans hate his work, then what?" The demon asked.

"Then you can take me too. I know how much you fuckers want me back. Think how much daddy dearest would love you if you brought back the traitor Lilith?" Varla asked.

The demon licked his lips and nodded excitedly.

"Oh yes, you have a deal."

Outro

My hands could barely grip the guitar. My lips trembled as I spoke into the mic.

"This last one is something new," I said.

The crowd erupted with cries of excitement. I looked down and saw the demon staring up at me from the front row.

"I hope you like it," I said, strumming the first note across the guitar strings.

I love the money, love the fame, love the rock and roll

But years of leaning on vices has taken its toll

The devil wants his due, the cost is my soul

Now, the only thing that can save me is Crossroads Rock and Roll...

The crowd remained silent as the song went on, but a surge of energy shot through me as the words flowed through the microphone and rode along sound waves into the crowd.

If felt right, it felt true, but best of all I knew it came from a place of real passion, genuine inspiration. This was a feeling unknown to me. My first sober performance ever.

The song came to an end and the last note reverberated through the stadium. I held my breath, my heart paused in my chest.

It started with a clap and crescendoed into a roaring applause. The cheers of fans and the cries of excitement washed over me like a cleansing wave. I looked down to the front row and the demon was nowhere to be found.

Varla waved to me in his place, and with a wink, she was gone. I felt a cosmic weight lift from my shoulders. A second chance, to do things right. I wasn't going to mess it up, but one thing was certain:

I was never going to eat a fucking pear ever agin.

Short Story

About the author

Bradley Ramsey (He/Him)

Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.

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