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Authors: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Tags: #demon, #fantasy, #devil, #devils, #demons, #music, #ghost, #musician, #haunted, #folk music, #musicians, #gypsy shadow, #folk song, #banjo, #phantom, #elizabeth ann scarborough, #songkiller, #folk songs, #folk singer, #folksingers

Phantom Banjo

BOOK: Phantom Banjo
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THE SONGKILLER SAGA #1

PHANTOM BANJO

ELIZABETH SCARBOROUGH

 

PHANTOM BANJO (Songkiller Saga #1) Original
Copyright © 1991 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.

 

All rights reserved

Copyright © October, 2010, Elizabeth Ann
Scarborough

Cover Art Copyright © 2010, Karen
Gillmore

 

 

Gypsy Shadow Publishing

Manchaca, TX

www.gypsyshadow.com

 

 

Names, characters and incidents depicted in
this eBook are products of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

 

No part of this eBook may be reproduced or
shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not
limited to printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written
permission.

 

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you
share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it,
or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return
to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

DEDICATION

 

This book is fondly and gratefully dedicated
to Tania Opland, Keith Todd and Tory, Kat Eggleston, Steve Guthe,
Danna and Bennie Garcia, Rittie Ward, Bob Crowley, Janice Endresen,
Allen Damron, Bill Moss, Tim Henderson, Mack Partain, Emilie
Aronson, Ruthstrom and Robertson, the Kerrverts, Joyce Constant,
the Baileys, Mark Simmons, the SMAGS in Fairbanks, Rob Folsom,
William and Felicia, Victory. Music, the Berrys, the Farrans,
Suzette Haden Elgin, Valerie and Al Rogers, Eileen McGann and in
general for all singers and pickers of traditional and
not-so-traditional "folk" songs, for the singer/songwriters who
make sure the folk of these times don't go unsung, and for the
interpreters and performers everywhere who make the songs live, and
the fans who (like me) love them for it.

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

Thanks to Bill Staines for the use of a
portion of "Louisiana Storm" and to K. W. Todd for "The Oregon
Trail." All other songs were authored by trad, or anon, or me.

 

* * * *

 

 

A WORD FROM A WAYFARING STRANGER

 

A good storyteller, I have learned, does not
make the whole entire story center around herself, as if she was
the most important thing about the story. I've seen many a fine
songwriter who once wrote and sang wonderfully understanding songs
about the lives of ordinary people fall flat on his ass when he
gets a little famous, gets away from regular folks, and pretty soon
all he's able to write are songs about how god-awful it is to be on
the road and how he is so a-lo-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-own.

So I want to make it clear that though I'm in
it and I have a little part of it, this story is not about me. It's
about me telling about what happened when certain parties decided
to deprive the world and these United States of America in
particular of what is broadly, inaccurately, and disputedly called
folk music.

About these certain parties; lawyers would
probably call them the parties of the first part, but I call them
devils. For one thing, they are, as you will see in this story and
the other two parts of it that follow, mighty powerful and also
mighty evil. That fits devils down to the ground. More than that,
they're mysterious and magical and we—my friends and I—only learned
what happened on their end in little bitty pieces here and there
most of the time and had to fit it all together as we went along.
Because to begin with, I would say the common attitude among us was
that we all were inclined to like magic without exactly believing
in it, which was different from later when we were forced to
believe in it but didn't like it much at all.

It wasn't your little Tinkerbell fairies or
nice old bats with magic wands, none of that stuff. Not even wise
magicians like Merlin or witches like that woman with the twitchy
nose who used to be on television. So though I could tell you they
were goblins or gremlins or all-powerful wicked wizards, I think
I'll just call 'em what my grandma from back in the Carolina
mountains would have called them: devils. Not necessarily the
hellfire-and-brimstone kind that get you if you don't believe a
certain way. Buddhists have devils same as Christians, same as a
lot of folks. Most everyone has something like that. So just say
these were basic, generic, all-around-ornery devils who were
opposed to anybody having any kind of belief or good feelings in
themselves that helped them get by. That was why they hated the
music so, you see. That was why they set out to destroy it.

And that is why it's been up to me, who never
has been able to carry a tune in a bucket, to go before the others,
back into where just about all the music has been pulled out by the
roots. My job is to tell how it happened, to fertilize the soil, to
make the people ready for when the songs come back, fresh cuttings
transplanted from the old soil where my friends and I have spent
these last harrowing years harvesting the songs from their own
history, trying to save them from the oblivion where the devils
sent so many of our own songs.

I don't go on the radio or TV talk shows, now
that I'm home, or anywhere the devils can find me and keep me from
talking to people. I use my gift of gab I got from bartending and
the performance training I got from dancing plus what I learned
from hanging around all those musicians lately, and I travel around
among the ordinary people, the kids, the bums, the working
folks—anyone who is bored or lonely enough to have time to listen.
I turn myself into someone else, someone as fascinating as a snake
charmer, someone who is a worthy enemy of all those devils, and I
make myself heard.

What follows, written down, is the important
part of what's been happening since I've been back, staying with a
friend and with an audience as long as it seems safe, then moving
on to carry the story farther, to break just a little more ground.
It's not in my voice because mostly it's not about me except as I'm
reflected in the eyes of other people. It's about them, what they
say, what they do, what can be guessed from the things that happen
and from the lifting of an eyebrow or a quirk of a mouth. And of
course it's about the songs, which, when you hear them, speak for
themselves.

So think of me, and of yourself, as if we
were birds on a branch or flies buzzing in the air around that
first schoolyard, where a funny old woman is talking to a bunch of
kids, telling them about something that happened a few years
before.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

"One time all the devils in the world had a
meeting to decide what it was they could do to make folks even more
miserable than they already were.

"First thing happened was the Chairdevil
stood up and allowed as how they all ought to be congratulated for
doing such a fine job so far." The woman paused to heighten
suspense while the children who were huddled around her in the
noisy schoolyard strained so that they wouldn't miss anything she
might say next.

The children were fascinated by the woman,
not only because of what she said, but because of how she said it.
When she talked, she moved her face more than people usually did
and she moved her body too, so that she seemed to be the Chairdevil
calling a meeting to order. This was the second story—she'd told
another, a short one, at morning recess, a silly one about animals,
just to whet their appetites. The boy had been impressed then too
by the way she spoke different voices with each character, seeming
to turn into a new person as she spoke in each new voice. She never
left out important words, even if they weren't suitable for
children, and somehow, all of this combined to make her words come
as alive in his mind as anything he had seen on TV. She moved more
than he would have thought possible for such a small person, and
all without shifting from her sheltered position in the middle of
the group.

And she was funny-looking. Oh, you could tell
she had once been pretty enough to be a corporate executive
herself, but she'd let lines get in her face, though her eyes were
still snapping bright and her cheeks red as apples after the grocer
sprayed them with a hose. Her legs were still fine and shapely, the
boy noticed that too, right off, but her waist was too thick. And
her hair was a mop of gray, not white, not silver, not violet or
blond, but plain old elderly gray curls. Nor was her voice quite
what he was used to. When she wasn't pretending to be someone else,
it had a snap and a twang and sometimes a sugary drawl. She didn't
call them children, she called them kids, and instead of trying to
learn their names, she carelessly addressed them all as hon or
darlin' or kiddo. His mom would have a fit if she knew he was
listening to someone like that. Everybody knew better than to talk
like that these days. You learned better just listening to the
educational shows on your TV. This crazy old woman might as well
have been a spaceperson for all the similarity she bore to the
women even his grandmother knew. He couldn't wait to hear what she
was going to say next.

" 'We've made great strides in this century,
fellow devils,' the Chairdevil said.'Why, our nuclear bomb, nuclear
reactors, and all our other nuclear knickknacks by themselves can
not only blow up the world and melt down into mass catastrophe but
can make those greedy, hysterical suckers out there square off
against each other like nothing has since the apple Our Founder
sold First Couple.' A round of polite applause greeted this, but it
was pretty much old stuff. The Chairdevil was a fairly conservative
fellow in his way, and liked to stick with the tried and true.

"After a bit he waved his hands for the
others to stop clapping and continued, 'And for those who have
their heads too stuck in the mud to notice a little thing like
world destruction, some of you enterprising souls have added teensy
little wars in miserable little places. I'd mention them
individually, but I can't keep track of them myself. Just let me
say that just because the war you promote isn't a big budget job
between major powers doesn't mean it isn't important. The little
stuff adds up and I want you to know it is by no means overlooked.'
The Doom and Destruction Devil and the Stupidity and Ignorance
Devil exchanged knowing glances and settled back with sighs full of
long-suffering and neglect. The Chairdevil theoretically did know
that the cumulative effect of their very successful efforts to see
hunger and hostility clamp down on one regime in one little country
after another regime in another little country made all the
difference—all the difference—in the world, but the Chairdevil just
naturally went for the flamboyant. Simple things like astronomical
death tolls didn't impress him. He liked things to go boom. In some
ways, he was surprisingly democratic. He enjoyed seeing great
civilizations crumbling, the rich and privileged, the sheltered and
pampered, dying just as miserably as poor folks. It was one of his
more endearingly infuriating characteristics.

"He departed from his notes then, laying them
down and saying in a casual, off-the-cuff way, 'And I really like
what y'all have been doing with the terrorism thing too. Very
clever. Very tricky. Pick off the civilians. Pick off the so-called
innocents. Why should they be left out? Keep reminding our minions
that it's up to us to set the example. If our people commit one
little suggestive atrocity, our lead will be followed and amplified
tenfold.' He looked kind of humble and grateful after that and
everyone else tried to look the same way.

" 'On the domestic front, I think the
pestilence department should be congratulated on all those diseases
that have made it more dangerous than ever for the livestock out
there to reach out and touch anyone. I like the sanctimonious thing
S&I has been promoting to go with it too.' The Stupidity and
Ignorance Devil held up both huge hands and made them shake each
other in the air like a prize fighter. Now he was one that always
got a lot of pleasure out of the little things. 'And by the way,
S&I should continue to be congratulated for inspiring all those
enterprising people out there who even when there are no nearby
minority groups of any sort for them to hate never forget to hate
them anyway on general principle and continue to foster generations
of hatred by never failing to beat their kids, their parents, and
each other with enthusiastic ferocity.'

BOOK: Phantom Banjo
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