The park was filled with kids running and playing. Zwain liked to come out here while he worked on his song because the song was a connection to his past. The guitar solo he was working on felt important, pivotal in some way. It wasn’t something that he could just improvise during the show. There was a real magic to him trying to perfect this one specific bar. Yet the tone always seemed kind of off, or least it felt as such.
How could he know what was off if he couldn’t remember where the inspiration even came from?
The laughter of the children slowly faded away as Zwain slipped off into The Zone. The Zone was a sterile room in the back of his mind that Zwain always escaped into. There he could focus on his art and avoid interuptions. The world around him melted away to stark white walls, while the noises of the outside world became muffle and distant. That was when Zwain brought out his acoustic guitar, a gift from Tony shortly after arriving here.
To get a proper feel for the solo, Zwain always played through the full song. Random people would stop and watch him mutter this mysterious song under his breath. Some would move on after not recognizing it as something they heard on the radio, but most were actually enthralled enough to stay and hear the whole thing. Even joggers would slow their pace so that they could hear the song for just a little longer. To them it could be the next big hit for A Flock of Cows, but to Zwain it was far from perfect.
Today was a weekday, so there was a lot fewer people walking the paved pathways. The odd elderly couple would walk past, but their interest in rock music was pretty dated. Not many were into the hard rock stuff most youths played these days.
Zwain was so focused on the song that he did not notice the stranger limp his way up to the bench and sit right beside him. The pants of his leg leg flapped slightly in the breeze indicating that it was somewhat thinner than his right. Probably prosthetic. A hooded sweatshirt was pulled over short blonde hair, almost entirely lacking in pigment. From any sort of distance he would appear bald. You had to get a much closer look just to even see the hair. It nearly matched the colour of his pale, ill looking skin.
“Oh wow, that solo is amazing! I haven’t heard that in a while!”
Zwain snapped back from the zone and looked at the man sitting beside him. His first instinct was that this guy was another senior, but once he had a good look at him Zwain could see his youth; probably 5-6 years younger than he was.
“Excuse me?” asked Zwain, not sure if he heard the comment correctly.
“Oh, that song you’re playing. That’s a classic, right?”
“No. Actually, I’m still working on it.” Zwain gave a sweeping gesture over the whole park. “This is roughly the extent of the public consumption of this song. I’ve been toiling away at it for months.”
The man straightened his back and glanced around frantically. Trying to search for another excuse. He came off as someone who was shy and out of their element.”That must be what it is. Sometimes my days get so busy that I forget what I hear in the park versus what I hear on the radio. My wife says that I’ll forget where we even live before too long.”
Zwain smiled at this. He knew what it was like to get lost in the day. Mandy was always on his case for his absentmindedness. “Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m not sure if I’ve seen your face around here before,” Zwain said as he eyed the man, “It would be pretty hard to forget, mister..?”
The man stood up and turn to face Zwain. He almost buckled on his fake leg, staggered to the left, and Zwain had to catch him. “Oh, sorry about that. It’s this bum leg of mine. I lost it when I was younger and it’s been a pain in my ass ever since. If you weren’t here, my ass would surely be in pain right now. The name’s Chris, but my friends call me Christopher.”
Zwain almost dropped him. Chris? With a missing leg? The coincidence was astounding. “Did you just say, Chris? Did you know a James? When did you lose your leg? How did that happen?”
“Whoa, there buddy? Can I get your name first?”
“It’s me! It’s Zwain!” Zwain held out his arms as if pleading for the man to remember him.
In spite of Zwain’s immediate excitement, Chris managed to keep himself somewhat collected. He needed to make sure he didn’t lose sight of the plan. “Of course it’s you… Zwain? Unless you just made up that name on the spot. Anyhow, to answer your questions. Yes, I said Chris. I know a lot of James, is there one in particular? I lost my leg when I was still a kid, and as to how, I don’t wish to recall that at this time.” Chris’s face took a saddened expression as he remembered that day.
Zwain’s smile faltered. “Sorry, it’s all just too coincidental. You reminded me of another Chris I once knew. He was also a little sickly looking and lost his leg.”
“You would be surprised at how often coincidences turn out to be true.”
Chris moved on to change the subject before Zwain could linger too long on that statement. “Aww, wicked guitar. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good old fashioned acoustic. They’re locked away in museums. Only the richest of the rich would have them, and Chelsea would not let me hear the end of it if I blew all sorts of money on antiquated instruments.”
“Oh, that’s my… wife. We’ve been together for years. She kind of runs the financials of things. She’s really, um, quick with numbers.”
Slowly, Zwain nodded his approval at the statement. Something didn’t sit quite right with him about it, but this man was a stranger. After all that Zwain had been through, he would forever be on his toes while meeting new people. At least until he knew them better.
Chris held out a hand and asked, “Do you mind if I give it a whirl? It’s been a while since I’ve jammed.”
Zwain looked into the eyes of the strange man. In spite his other oddities, the man’s eyes were sincere. It made Chris look even more youthful, so full of wonder. Zwain shrugged off the strap and handed the guitar over to Chris who took it onto his lap without bothering to throw the straps over his shoulders. “Whoa, these are a fair bit heavier than the ones I’m used to. Real wood?”
Before Zwain had a chance to even answer Chris’s fingers started melodically running all over the neck of the guitar. He was fast, light years beyond how fast Zwain could hope to become. Zwain was so blown away by the show before him that it took him a while recognize the song. It was the one he was just playing. Chris wasn’t singing the words, he didn’t hear enough of them from Zwain’s muttering, but he was playing the entire song; just by ear.
This man just continued to impress Zwain with his accuracy to the song. The solo was approaching and Zwain braced himself for the awkwardness of that one section that he could not get quite right. Then Zwain’s quick eyes caught something, Chris’s fingers dropped 2 frets further down the neck of the guitar and played through the problematic section. It clicked, it was seamless. It was perfect.
Zwain fell off the side of the bench and landed on his butt with a thump. Chris stopped playing immediately, stood up and leaned the guitar against the bench before helping Zwain get up. Zwain kept looking at his guitar, unable to believe that what he sought for months, what had eluded him for so long, was just solved by this stranger. He played it over and over again in his head, barely hearing Chris explain what he had done.
Chris started, “You see, the atmospheric pressure of the air here is different than where you came from. You need to hit the notes a little higher for them to cut through the air at the correct frequency. Now the acoustic isn’t big enough to open one up, but if you have an entire speaker system hooked up, you just might be going places, my friend.”
Zwain was lucky if he heard half of that. He continued to stare at his guitar, entranced. Zwain couldn’t wait to tell the others that he finished. They were going to flip their lids. The future had just been opened wide.
“One more thing, Zwain. It closes faster when the person who opens it passes through. It may close on its own eventually, but if it were to remain open for too long, who knows what could come through.”
Zwain double blinked and looked at Chris, shaking the cobwebs from his head. “Wait, what? I think I just misunderstood you. Passing through?”
“Sorry man, I gotta fly. There’s a lot to do and not a whole of time to do it in, ” Chris said while he was looking at his watch, “Ah shit, even less time than I figured!”
Chris turned and limped back down the trail muttering something that Zwain couldn’t quite make out, leaving him wondering what in the hell just happened. Far too many questions just started popping up in his mind. Zwain hurried back to The Zone to escape from them, he didn’t want them overtaking his mind before he had a chance to try that solo for himself.
In the mid-afternoon sun, sitting on the same bench as he had for months, Zwain played the completed version of his song for the very first time.