Void Tales #1: Banjo Country

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Banjo Country. That’s what they called it. A quaint little town in the middle of nowhere. One of those “Lost in Time” kind of places. Main Street was the only street. Small dirt roads branched off through the fields to the smattering of houses that made up the population. Each house contained a family of four and all of them played the banjo.

It was customary for a parent to impart the knowledge of this most sacred instrument to their children. It was considered the highest honor to be among the legends of the town. Names that went down in history for playing the best music their entire lives. Sparking life and energy into the populace.

The town itself had little in the way of tourist attractions. The allure of ye olden shoppes and architecture wasn’t all that exciting. But there was one thing Banjo Country had that drew the attention of music lovers far and wide.

The Maestro.

The Maestro was someone who was said to have played the banjo from the day of their birth and would continue to play it nonstop into eternity. People would ask the Maestro if they needed anything, or if they ever slept, or if they ever rested their fingers. The Maestro would always shake their head in silence and continue playing their spirited song.

People would gather around and dance and sing and enjoy life. Through it all, the Maestro would never cease playing.

Was the Maestro some mystical eternal being? They were always there. Day and night. Strumming along through the ages. There was never a day that the Maestro’s tunes didn’t fill the streets and every home in between. The young and the old would play along to practice their skill in hopes of one day being half as good as the one who plays the eternal tune.

The Maestro was an ambiguous being. A wide-brimmed hat hid their face and loose-fitting clothes obscured the shape of their body. As far as any outsider could tell, the Maestro never changed. They always sat there in that wooden rocking chair out in the open strumming along.

An enigma. An oddity. A thing of interest to curious outsiders.

But to the town… The Maestro was everything.

A small cable came down from the power lines above and hooked into the Maestro’s banjo. To the uninitiated, it was just more to the oddity. Was it an electric banjo? It didn’t sound like one… Little did they know that power wasn’t flowing into the banjo, but out of it.

Banjo Country. Out in the middle of nowhere. A strange little town of unknown origin powered by the music of an eternal being. Or… Or were they just as mortal as everyone else?

A boy sat out on his front porch, strumming along to the tune of the Maestro when the power in the town went out. Lights dimmed and darkened. All the music in the town stopped. Only the sounds of crickets and a soft breeze blowing through the trees filled the emptiness. The silence was deafening. But it wasn’t the first time this happened in Banjo Country. Oh no. Far from the first and far from the last. Silence was rare, but its occurrence was a sign of change. They knew what this meant. Every heart and soul in the town knew what was to come. 

Two men in suits approached the house. The boy stopped his strumming and looked up to them. They simply looked down at him. His mother appeared in the doorway with a barely audible gasp.

“He’s only twelve,” she whispered as she opened the screen door.

“Young. Talented…” one of the men replied.

“Very talented,” the other added.

The boy stood up, turning to his mother.

“He has been chosen. His notes touched the Maestro’s soul. His name was given. He will be preserved for eternity as the greatness we all seek to achieve,” the first man spoke again as if he’d said it a million times before.

“Is this what you want?” she said to her son.

The boy looked at the instrument in his hand. Did he really have a choice? With a sigh, he turned to the men with a nod. His mother ran down the porch steps and embraced him one last time.

“You’re going to be great,” she whispered.

“I love you mom,” his voice shook.

“I love you, too, baby,” she sobbed before releasing him.

The men handed him a suitcase. Inside was a set of clothes. The Maestro’s Attire.

“Get changed.”

“Oh, and you won’t be needing that,” the other pointed to his banjo.

With a nod, he made his way inside his home one last time, handing his instrument to his mother. Sher joined him and doted on his every need until the ill-fitting clothes were finally draped over his tiny body.

“Go forth,” his mother breathed as they stepped outside once more, clinging to his banjo, “And be great.”

With a silent nod, the boy was led away by the men.

People had begun gathering on Main Street, waiting to see who the chosen one would be. When a boy who barely fit the Maestro’s Attire pressed through their ranks flanked by the suited men, their mutterings turned to hushed whispers. The Maestro? So young?

The men escorted him just outside of town where the rocking chair sat holding only the Maestro’s instrument. A cable going from the bottom of the banjo and up into the power lines. The boy followed the line, craning his neck upwards.

“Once you sit,” one of them began, “You will never stand again. You will never need to. You will want for nothing. You will live your life playing for these people. They will play for you in return. And it will be from their notes of love and gratitude that you will, in time, choose your successor.”

“What if I get bored?” the boy turned to them.

“You won’t. The song will be your everything,” the other man replied.

The boy stared at the chair. With a deep breath, he took up the banjo and sat down on the simple piece of wooden furniture. Without a thought, his fingers began working the strings with the deftness of lifetimes of practice. He felt his mind become consumed by every strum of his fingers. Each note, an instance in time. Each chord a memory of those before him. His mind was no longer his own. It was opened to the knowledge and experience of every Maestro before him. Whoever he once was, was no more. He was the Maestro. And so he would be for the rest of his days.

The people of the town took out their own banjos and began playing along. Lights began turning on once more. The town was alight with exuberant jubilation. A new Maestro, a young one at that, had been chosen. It would be years before they saw darkness and endured silence again. For that, they played through the night and into the day. It was the celebration of a lifetime.

And so, Banjo Country was full of life once more. Just as it always would be. Lost to time and reality, the people would forever strum on.

 

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