The pictures didn’t fit together in Tommy’s mind. He looked around his workstation, the clamor of industry engulfing him, and wondered, Am I really here? Something felt off, something inside and outside of him.
He felt the tips of his fingers. Solid flesh. Mortal. Alive. That was real. He focused on his breathing, trying to steady himself at the sheet metal cutter. A bead of sweat fell into his eye. He squinted and rubbed his forearm over his mop of black curls and his wet forehead, wiping away the perspiration.
Tommy shook his head and took a deep breath. Gotta work, the foreman will be making his rounds…
He slid the sheet metal into the cutter and when the circling blade dug into the metal and the grinding of metal on metal and the showering of sparks began, the harsh factory world around him came to a dead and sudden halt. Tommy stared at the sheet of metal and the machinery and saw that it was at a standstill, frozen in an angry, sparking moment. In between fractions of a second, between thoughts, he stood, unable to breathe until he remembered that he could. And then, an ancient, cloaked figure appeared to him in that in-between space of maybe or possibly or what if and said, “Would you like to make a deal?”
“A deal for what?” Tommy returned, question for question.
“Your dreams,” the figure replied, rolling out an open, skeletal hand.
A vision of Tommy, on stage, playing his guitar in front of thousands of adoring fans, rose from the creature’s palm, flickering luminescent like an ancient film reel.
Tommy was transfixed by the vision of himself.
“Give me a bit of flesh and a splash of blood and I will grant your dreams to you. For a small sacrifice, all can be yours, unless you prefer…this,” the figure said, sweeping his arm out toward the factory floor.
“A bit of my flesh?” Tommy repeated.
The figure nodded.
Tommy considered the offer. He gulped down the lump in his throat and muttered, “Alright.”
In an instant, the cloaked merchant of destiny was gone, the machines were roaring all around Tommy, and his left hand was being pulled under the hungry blade. As if in a dream, he watched the blade shred off the tips of his first and forefinger. Blood spurted over the gleaming metal, then his world went black.
15 Years Later
People milled around the backstage area of the heavy metal concert, laughing, drinking, and smoking. Tommy had his guitar slung over his shoulder, waiting to go on, feeling the anticipation inside him building. He wandered past a trio of chattering women and stopped next to a man who was dressed in simple athletic attire and was missing his left arm, leaving a vacant spot in the left sleeve of his t-shirt. Tommy looked at the prosthetic fingertips on his left hand, the professionally manufactured ones that had replaced the tips he’d made himself out of wax and leather so many years ago.
The one-armed man turned to Tommy. He held a pair of drum sticks in his right hand. Catching Tommy gazing at his fingers, he said, “A bit of flesh, a splash of blood, eh?”
Tommy met the drummer’s eyes and recognized a familiar pain.
“There’s always a sacrifice,” Tommy said.
“Indeed, there always is, and some have to give more than others,” the drummer said with a sideways grin before he excused himself and crossed the room, leaving Tommy alone to wonder who among artists and poets, writers, or musicians, had met the cloaked figure and what they’d given to get what they wanted. An ear, an eye, their voice, their life? Everyone eventually got their turn at the crossroads, he supposed.
The roar of the stadium crowd seeped through the backstage area walls. Again Tommy looked at his disfigurement, smiled, and thought, Well, what’s a bit of flesh anyway?