When you're writing stories about someone else's art, sometimes you get a nice landscape or a really moving scene. And sometimes you get this:
When Dave Grohl woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed. Before he even opened his eyes, he tried to scratch an itch on his cheek. But his hand had no fingernails and, in fact, he had no hand. Instead, he had a sort of nub. A nub covered in slime, he discovered when he made contact with his cheek — which was also covered in slime.
He opened his eyes to find that his vision seemed different. Elevated, somehow. He reached with his nubs and discovered not eyes, but stalks, upon which his eyes were mounted.
“What the holy hell?” he muttered, and the sound he heard was not his voice but a sort of thick, gravelly garble.
He tried to raise himself onto his feet, but of course he had no feet, and instead slid out of bed into a gelatinous puddle. At first, he merely quivered where he was, unable to stop himself from trembling, a great mound of lime jello with nubs and eye stalks. Once he had calmed himself, though, he found that by concentrating very hard, he could inch forward. He pulled himself toward the full-length mirror on the wall and beheld what he had become.
“A slug?!” he garbled. “This can’t be!”
“Oh, but it is.”
The voice, smooth as silk, came from the corner of his room. Dave swiveled his head as fast as it would swivel, a motion that more accurately resembled the final movements of a wound-down wind-up toy.
“You recognize me, Dave?” asked the well-dressed man who sat regarding him.
Dave’s mind reeled. The man was familiar, he realized. He remembered a summer day, the year he turned twelve. He’d gotten a guitar for his birthday and his mother had signed him up for lessons. But he’d hated them. He hated the lessons, but he loved the guitar. He loved the music he heard over the radio from the nearby college station, and he loved the idea of standing on stage, rocking out to an auditorium full of screaming fans.
That summer day, he’d been walking home from his most recent lesson — a debacle, he had absolutely no instinct for chords or rhythm, and his fingers were thick as sausages, and about as graceful. He’d dragged the guitar behind him in the dirt, no longer caring if it got broken. If he couldn’t play it, he didn’t even want to look at it.
“Oh, dear, that’s a terrible way to treat such a fine instrument.”
It was the well-dressed man. He wore an elegant linen suit and shoes that somehow had not a speck of dust on them despite the dirt road and the clear fact that the man must have walked to this spot, since there was no car in sight and the bus didn’t run this far out of town.
“You want it?” Dave asked the man. “I can’t play for shit.”
“Would you like to change that?”
Dave frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what if you could play that guitar like a god?”
And then the well-dressed man told him what was possible. The gift of music, flowing freely from his fingertips. The success of a rock star. Auditoriums full of screaming fans.
“You can have it all,” the well-dressed man said.
Dave scoffed. “In exchange for what? My soul?”
It was the well-dressed man’s turn to scoff. “Please. Souls are passé. I’m interested in something more…entertaining. Let’s just say that when your bill is due, I will collect.”
Now Dave regarded the well-dressed man and remembered what day it was. He was to be honored tonight at the Billboard Music Awards with a lifetime achievement award.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” he said. The well-dressed man seemed able to understand him, despite his strange voice. “My bill is due now?”
“Like I said.” The well-dressed man stood and straightened his tie. His suit was silk this time. “I love entertainment. So entertain me, Dave Grohl.”
The well-dressed man doffed his cap, revealing a pair of small, jet-black horns that complemented his pointed goatee. He bowed, returned his hat, and vanished in a puff of smoke.
“What the devil?” said Dave, then realized what was happening. “Oh. Duh.”
It had been a long afternoon. And he wasn’t sure it had been worth the effort. But there was only one way to find out.
It wasn’t hard to convince the limousine company that was sent to pick him up to instead take the large box on his doorstep and put it in the back of the limo. After all, he was the third-richest drummer in the country; if he wanted to parachute into the venue, someone would have made it happen for him. And it mustn’t have seemed terribly irrational to event coordinator when Dave requested, over the phone, that the box be placed on stage just before he was to go on. Rock stars were always making strange requests, and famous people always got what they wanted in situations like this.
Still, he wasn’t sure what would happen.
He trembled slightly as he listened to the announcer list his many achievements: drummer for Nirvana, founder and front man of the Foo Fighters, member of Queens of the Stone Age, numerous awards. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been nervous to play the guitar. That summer day, perhaps.
“Ladies and gentlemen…Dave Grohl!”
The audience screamed and, with all his strength, Dave slipped the lid off the box and raised himself onto his gelatinous belly, then wobbled at his full height, his guitar around what approximated his neck.
The audience screamed.
He’d practiced all afternoon. His nubs flew across the strings as he began to play. And was it him, or was he playing better than ever?
The audience gasped.
The were terrified, he could see, but he kept playing, and slowly he began to win them over. They swayed and sang and danced. He still had it. He was still the greatest guitar player in the world. He played the two songs he’d been scheduled to play, and then he played an encore. And then he should have stopped, but he kept playing.
Five songs. Ten. Twenty.
His nubs began to bleed.
The other musicians left the stage. The audience began to filter out of the room.
Someone shut the lights off, save one spotlight that shone directly on Dave.
They weren’t even songs anymore — just one endless guitar riff. His nubs moved so fast, they were a blur. Could slugs sweat? He felt something pouring down his forehead. He gasped for breath. His soft limbs ached and he longed to stop. But he couldn’t.
He looked into the audience, hoping there was someone there, someone who could help him, stop him, tackle him to the ground and make him stop playing.
There was a figure. Seated in the front row. Dapper in his silk suit, still wearing his hat.
“Please!” Dave howled. “Let me stop!”
“Now, Dave, why would I do that?” the well-dressed man said over the music. “I told you I love to be entertained.”
Dave’s whole jelled body began to quake. He had no control, yet he kept playing. He never would, he realized. There had been no concert, no award. He’d never spoken to anyone at the venue. When he’d gotten into that limo, it had transported him, but not to the auditorium.
“Entertain me, Dave,” the well-dressed man said. He smiled. “I want one hell of a show, you hear?”