The Blues Harmonica Player

Returning from a Halloween party, I pass a large cemetery. My home is opposite the stone arch and iron gates. About to cross the road, the haunting notes from a harmonica reverberate on the cold night air.

I play guitar and harmonica for a blues band—the traditional Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker blues, yet I stand, mesmerized by the music until the last haunting notes die away. I would give anything to play half as well. I can bend notes producing the blues wail and play a haunting reverb, but a decent player, like this one tonight, can play a full chromatic scale on a ten-note harp.

Thus inspired, I practice every night for a full year, to improve my technique while listening at the open widow for a repeat performance from this mysterious musician. There is only the silence of the tombs backed by the hum of traffic…

…until the last night in October.

At around midnight, the quavering strains of sound, again, send shivers down my spine raising hairs on my neck.

Entering the cemetery, howling tones drift on the swirling autumn breeze, first to my left, then to my right. I follow the sound along winding paths between sepulchers, tombs and graves, past stone angels and ancient sarcophagi. Closer until, I know, around the next bend I will see my mysterious musician.

Then the notes stop. The final chord fades, leaving only the rustling whisper of falling leaves. I look all around, but not a soul can I see.

Re-invigorated to achieve perfection, I practice harder and longer throughout the following days. Another year passes while I yearn to hear again my musical mentor. I believe my playing becomes almost passable during this time.

All Hallows Eve, I am waiting, listening, expectant. Then I hear—music. Taking my blues harp, I again cross the road into the cemetery, raise the instrument to my lips and play the opening notes of a haunting riff I composed a few weeks ago. The mystery musician pauses, listening. Then he returns an answering riff. I follow his notes with an answer of my own, while moving among the tombs and graves. Closer I approach as we exchange arpeggios. My rendition reaches its climax; I wait for his answer. He responds.

I step into a small, moonlit clearing among willow and yew trees. No one is there. Confused, I wait as the last notes die away. The only thing I see is a grave marked with a wooden cross.

There is a name engraved in the wood. Unable to read, I stoop and then kneel to stare at the letters. I cannot believe my eyes. It is a name I know so well. The engraved letters are the same as those I use when writing my own. The date of birth is also the same as mine. I am horrified. I read on to the date of the mysterious harmonica player’s death—31 October, three years ago to this very day.

©2012 Robert A. Read.