No Requests (flash fiction)

There was a hum, like a certain kind of feedback, when the crowd grew restless.  Daniel set up as he always did, aware of the hum, but no longer afraid of it.  His large hands and long, tapered fingers organized the cords as if the drunks were sober and aware of why they came.

“Hey!”  One of the drunks pushed forward through the crowd.  “You gonna play something?”

“No, we’re just gonna stand here all night,” the bassist muttered just low enough and near enough for Daniel to hear.  It almost made him smile.

“Hey!”  Same drunk.  “My buddy in Union said the crowd loved you.”

“I think he’s talking to you,” Daniel said, too tired for a grin.

The bassist snorted in reply.  His eyes narrowed in concern.  “We can just leave, you know.  If things get ugly.”

“It’s no big deal.”

The drunk yelled louder, and the hum increased.  “He said you did sumpthin’ weird.  You gonna do sumpthin’ weird!”

“You don’t think that’s why–” the bassist began, looking at the crowd.

“People are wound tight all over.  It’s the times.”  Daniel adjusted one of the settings on the amp, plucking the strings on his guitar.  The hum from the crowd changed pitch.  “I do what I can.”

“You don’t have to.  It’s not like they deserve it.”

“I want to.”  And a rare smile lit his amber-colored eyes.

“Heeeeeeeeey! Guitar dude! I gotta request!”

“No requests tonight,” Daniel said, tuning one of the strings.

“Whazzat?”

Louder, he said, “No requests.”  He gazed at the people who’d come to watch tonight, shrouded in darkness.  All of us, he tried to remember.  We’re all in darkness of one kind or another. All of us hungry, like abandoned dogs around a pile of trash.

He looked over his shoulder at the drummer, who knew the song Daniel wanted without being asked.  It was the same song he played every time the crowd got like this.  He counted out the time with his drumsticks.  With each resounding clack, Daniel focused on the magic that had never failed him.

Pick between his knuckles, he touched the strings, eyes closed, a warm glow dancing between his fingers and the metal.  The crowd grew quiet, even the guy who had a request.  He felt the light they sought spreading outward from him.  Not just me, he reminded himself, I’m not the only one with the gift.  But, as more than one friend had pointed out, no one tried to channel magic like he did.  No one tried to feed the crowd like he did.

He opened his eyes to slits and watched as the crowd soaked up the light he offered, their eyes looking less desperate the more he played, the strings that played their life, for a moment anyway, going slack.  They’d go home afterward and rest.

After the show, he felt tired. Sleep wouldn’t help. It never did.  Rest and meditation might, if he had enough.  And there was always another show.  People were wound tight these days and watched, hungry, from the darkness.  But he’d seen the good a little light could do.  He moved on.

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