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2006 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
2006 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
Blow that sax, man. Blow it 'til it talks. Blow it 'til it bleeds. Go all the way. Play it like there ain't no tomorrow.
"What is this thing you call sax? Is it some sort of weather device on your home planet of Earth?"
"Weather device? No man, it's a horn. You know, a musical instrument."
"I want to know more about this sax. Can I explore further?"
"Go for it, man. It don't hurt."
Bodies swayed in the close, humid air at Sloppy Joe's. The band was in a tight groove pocket, righteous as rain. Al pounded out the back beat on the drums while Saxman stood on a table and wailed, sending pure soul careening around the walls and out through the open windows into the Key West night. The jam went on forever; people came from blocks away to listen, strolling up to the windows and moving their hips and feet without even being aware that they were doing it.
The crowd in Sloppy's gathered around Saxman, looking up in adoration to where he was standing, their heads at the level of his crotch. It was a sensual thing and people raised their fists and shouted "Go! Go! Go!" A girl in black silk reached out her hand and caressed Saxman's knee. Her dress was soaked with sweat; it clung to her body like syrup. She swayed to Saxman's groove and it seemed that she was floating up off the floor. Her lips parted as if the music was making love to her, throbbing its relentless beat. She moved her hand higher on Saxman's leg and Saxman could feel her fingers digging in, trembling on his thigh. He played the hell out of the next riff, and the next. He bent over and wailed on his horn, practically melting it down. And all the while the girl's hand moved higher and higher, building to a frenzy.
"That was very intense. Is it always that way with this sax?"
"Well, it ain't always as good as that. I mean, it's not always Sloppy Joe's. Sometimes it's the Holiday Inn in Toledo. But yeah, it's pretty hot most of the time."
"With such intense feelings available to you on your home planet of Earth, why did you leave it and travel so far?"
"Oh man, you're askin' the tough questions here. There wasn't any work there no more. The whole club scene just dried up. They got holograms of Boots Randolph now, just like the real thing, complete with sweat. How can I compete with that?"
Saxman looked beyond the creature and out the porthole of the space station. Earth was just passing from view. The creature reached out its hand again.
After the show at Sloppy's, Saxman waited out by the street for the girl in the syrup dress. She had stuck a small piece of paper in the pocket of his jeans when he was coming off the stage. It said she wanted to meet him and told him to wait for her. She came around the corner and his heart leaped. She was unbelievable. She was also accompanied by three redneck-looking dudes with brass knuckles. She looked on and laughed as they smashed him bloody and called him 'nigger.' He wondered as he passed out if his lip would ever be worth anything again.
"Did this sort of barbarism happen often?"
"Too often, I guess. Every time I thought I was getting somewhere, some jerk made me feel like an outsider, you know?
"And that is why you left?"
"Nah, well, I don't know."
Saxman was back in his motel room, trying to squeak out some sad notes through his swollen lips. He wasn't going to let them win. The song came, hesitantly at first, and then he played stronger through the pain. The lyrics of the song ran through his head as he played.
don't ya wanna go
Back to that same old place
Sweet Home Chicago"
"You miss your home planet, then?"
"Not really, although another six months of playin' janitor to these space jockeys might just send me out the airlock without a suit. I thought it would be okay out here, you know? Fun and adventure and all that. And no hassles. But it's so cold. All hard steel and ice."
He looked at the creature again. God, they were plug-ugly. Kind of like pale, green lumps of seaweed with arms and legs and big kangaroo pouches in the middle, filled up with pulsating lumps. But they could do some amazing things. They could touch your forehead with their clammy fingers and know your language, know your feelings, know things about you.
"Does it bother you that I can experience these things of yours?"
"Oh no, not really. I'm kind of flattered, I guess. It's just that I wonder why you should care. Compared to what you can do, we're cavemen. Why did you come here? What's it to you?"
"We are simple historians. There is a great demand for knowledge of alien species. We will be moving on soon. Shall we try again?"
"Okay, man. Go for it."
The creature's seaweed-stuff wobbled and swayed as a pale, blue hand reached out to touch Saxman's forehead.
Saxman was ten years old. He sat on his bed and wept hot tears. Some kids
had chased him all the way home from school again, taunting and jeering, their curses echoing around the projects. He wasn't a fighter! He didn't want no brawl with nobody. Why wouldn't they just leave him alone?
He picked up the cheap little sax his mom had rented him and did the scales one more time, followed by 'Mary Had A Little Lamb.' He began to add little things here and there, little licks and riffs, playing through his fear and anger. There was something down inside him that the music set free; it welled up and rode the notes out through the sax and off the ceiling. When he played music he belonged to something. He wasn't an outsider anymore. He had soul.
"What is this thing called soul?"
"Oh man, now you really put your finger on a tough one. How can I describe that? I guess all I can do is show you. Can you float my sax over?"
The creature looked towards the corner of the room to where a saxophone was leaning against a dresser. It lifted off the ground and floated in a straight line two feet off the floor, right into Saxman's waiting hands.
"Man, I wish I could do that," Saxman said with a chuckle. "Now watch this."
Saxman played 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' straight, just like he had done in that long-ago time when he was only ten years old. The notes were clean and even.
"See man, that's the song like it was written. Now here's the same song with something added."
Saxman reached down deep and played the notes again, feeling it this time, using his loneliness. Now it wasn't a children's nursery song anymore; it was an anthem to Earth and to all the poor suckers stuck on terra firma but feeling like they were aliens floating around in space. He looked towards the porthole as he played, and by the end of the song a tear touched the corner of his eye.
"This soul is coming from the cerebral cortex section of your brain, precisely here," said the creature, as he reached over and touched Saxman's forehead.
"Oh no, man, soul don't come from there; it comes from here." Saxman pointed to his chest.
"But that is only your heart, which pumps the blood throughout your system."
"But there's something else there, man. I'll bet you can't even measure it, but it's what separates one man from another. I can't explain it, I can just show you with my sax. Here, listen to this." He broke into a riff from 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow,' bending the high notes around the melody.
The creature interrupted the song and declared, "We have no more time for this. We must be moving on. I will now need to take your brain for further study of this soul."
"You're gonna what?"
"I must take your brain. There is no room on our ship for equipment which will keep your body alive in our atmosphere, so we will simply take your brain and store it here. He pointed to his kangaroo pouch and suddenly the pulsating lumps there took on a whole new meaning. "And then we will take it back to our home planet where this soul can be studied more thoroughly."
The door to the room opened and two more creatures entered. Behind them in the next room, Saxman could see Commander LaMarche lying on the floor. The top of his head had been neatly sliced off, like you would open a can, and the cavity inside was empty. The creature in front of Saxman reached out its blue hand and there was a humming sound.
"Now wait just a second! I told you that I had something you just can't measure. If you take my brain, you'll lose it forever!" Saxman was sweating bullets now, and he had recovered enough of his wits to know that he had better talk real fast.
"Look," he said. "This is a real opportunity for you. I bet you never ran across soul before in all your travels. Am I right?"
The creature pulled its hand back and Saxman took a breath. He had an opening and he knew he had better take it. "Why don't you try to play the saxophone? You've been doin' your thing with my thoughts all day, so you should be able to play like I play by now. I mean, it's just notes, right? You should know how to blow on that thing just fine. And then I'll play, and these other dudes here can decide if it's the same. If it is, you can take my brain. If it's not, then you got yourself a problem."
The creature turned its head and made some chattering noises towards the other two in the room. Saxman suddenly hoped the creatures had some sort of lip.
The creature turned back and picked up the saxophone. Saxman took a deep breath. He could only hope this would work. If not...
The creature raised the saxophone to its mouth and blew. A squeaky, farting sound came out. The creature shook its bulky head and reached out to touch Saxman's forehead once again. Then it raised the sax to its mouth, and the clear, clean notes of 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' rang out in the musty air of the room, hesitantly at first, then with more confidence. The creature bent a few of the notes and tried a few riffs. It wasn't too bad, but it reminded Saxman of the Boots Randolph hologram down on Earth. It had all the notes right, but there was something missing. He hoped the other two seaweed lumps thought so too.
Saxman took the horn, wiped off the mouthpiece and began to play. He gave it everything he had. He was at Sloppy Joe's again. He was in the pocket, ridin' the groove. He was blastin'.
Actually, he was scared out of his mind and when he finished playing he half-expected to feel the top of his head coming off. The creatures stood in a little group and made a bunch of mumbling sounds. Their seaweed stuff rustled and mottled, and they chattered away for a few minutes. They seemed to be having an argument. Finally one of the creatures said, "We will have to study this more. We must leave now, but on our way back we will stop again. We will have our ship altered so that you can come back with us to our world and demonstrate this soul to our species. Please wait for us here."
The creatures shimmered and disappeared. Saxman felt a rumble as their ship pulled away from the space station and streaked out towards the stars.
Saxman stood up slowly and noticed he was shaking all over. He hugged his arms tightly to his chest and stepped unsteadily to the porthole. Earth was out there hanging among the stars, blue and inviting, looking like home. He began to weep, softly at first and then building to a gut-wrenching wail that came from somewhere deep inside of him. Finally he got himself under control again and walked unsteadily over to the radio. He slowly and deliberately sent out a distress signal on all channels. Somebody was gonna have to come and get him out of here. It was time to go home.
He went back to his room and picked up the saxophone. He caressed it for a moment, and soon the gutsy strains of 'Sweet Home Chicago' wailed out around the space station as Saxman stood bent over in silhouette against the glittering stars and the floating, blue Earth.
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