Steven Jobbs thumbed the seek switch on his car radio. He had never quite figured out the presets, so he had to hold the button down to go from 88.3 to 104.1 without landing on anything else. Those were the two stations in town that were talk radio and only talk radio. As long as no music was to be heard in his car, he was happy.
Steven was on his way to work, though he could hardly call it that. He had a generally cushy job at the local ISP station. It was a desk job, but it paid well enough for him to live a comfortable, albeit simple life.
Uh oh. Red light. The one next to the music store. Not again. Not again. This happens almost rhythmically. No! On a schedule! Not rhythmic. Not rhythmic. There's a vague beat of music coming from the opened doors. It's a 6/3 time signature with a tempo of 35 beats. That's a genius combination. I remember from our second album we experimented- No! Don't. Think. About. That. Good the light's green. Go, go, go!
"Say Steve, you happen to know about that meeting at 6:20? It doesn't have anything to do with layoffs does it?"
"Nah, that's just for the accounting department. Why're you worried anyway? You've been here for, what? Fifteen years? Who on earth would wanna fire you?"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. I just wanna keep a lookout, ya know?"
"I understand. See ya later."
"Yeah, seeya, Steve."
Norris shuffled away in is irritatingly slow way. Funnily enough, because of this little trait, he managed to shock himself on every piece of metal he touched and had no idea why. Steven giggled at this thought and went back to work.
His keystrokes sounded strangely familiar. The sound gave him a sort of déjà vu feeling. He continued to type, wondering what was the matter. He began to drift off into a daydream about the pleasantly calming sounds of the keystrokes. They reminded him of cascading drops of water falling from a waterfall. Its subtle sound in the background of his mind.
There was something different, though. It elicited feelings of exhilaration and excitement that seemed to pulsate though his entire being. Its solid beat that kept consistent throughout his entire workday was so familiar, so trusted, and so calming and exciting at the same time.
It was almost like drums.
Steven immediately stopped typing and, with a look of horror on his face, buried his face in his hands.
It's all behind you now. He thought. It's not real, it's not real, it's not real…
He repeated this statement until his nerves had calmed and he was able to regain control of himself. He stared at his computer screen, looking without seeing the bright light that emanated from within the gray box.
Maybe I'll call in sick today. No. Wait. I'm already here. Crap.
Steven took another deep breath and began to type again. Immediately, the sound of drums and bass guitar resonated though his head. He stopped, breathing heavily.
It's no use. Just one of those days, I guess. I'll take one of those sick days. God knows I've been needing it.
He got up from his desk and sluggishly made his way to his boss' office, chuckling to himself as he watched Norris curse at the metal doorknob that had suddenly bitten him.
This wasn't the first time he had a day like this. He knew what to do. He just had to go home and curl up with a book. It didn't matter which. He just needed to get his mind off everything.
To his dismay, the radio station was on a commercial when he turned the key to his car. He tried to block it out as he reached toward the knob to turn it off. Unfortunately, a single thought became an avalanche.
What is that? A G sharp played on a drop D tuning? That sounds like an elephant giving birth to a sack of bricks. What they should have done is- No! Not again.
He banged his head on the steering wheel. He moved down until there was a steady beat of his head against the horn. He stopped as this brought back thoughts of metronomes and time signatures.
Maybe I'll go see Randy. He'll know what I should do.
It was already getting late. Steven was angry that he had wasted his sick day when the day was almost over to begin with. He instead drove home in silence and went to bed early.
Steven awoke to the rhythmic sound of his oscillating ceiling fan. Melodies floated in and out of his dreams and became waking nightmares when his eyes were opened. He felt guilty and thought he should see a shrink before the end of the month.
He couldn't get his mind off of the dreams, so he called in another sick day. Since he had taken it so late in the day yesterday, Steven's boss gave it to him today instead. He was a nice guy.
He decided today would be a good day to see Randy. Steven decided to call first, to make sure he wasn't in the middle of something when he did come over.
"Hey, Randy. It's Steve. What're you doing today?"
"Not much, man. Not much. I just plan to, y' know, get things flowin again. Takin' a leave of absence, if ya' get my meaning."
"Sure. Hey, you mind if I come over? I need to talk to you."
"Hey, mi casa es su casa, man. Come on over whenever. I'm cool."
"Thanks. Seeya in a bit."
Steven hung up the phone.
It was near agony stepping in through Randy's front door for Steven, a mile obsessive compulsive. Besides the obvious mess, such as the half full liter bottles of Vault and Pizza boxes piled up to make a doorstop, there was a lingering smell of BO and Iodine.
"Hay Steve! That you? C'mon in the kitchen!"
"Why can't you just come out here?"
"I can't, man! I'm zoned! Can't move from this spot 'till I'm done."
"Fine. I'm coming." Steven was worried. Randy was an artist, so zoned could mean one of two things; One, he was stoned out of his mind or two, he was painting.
It thankfully turned out to be the latter. Steven held his nose as his stepped over a stained couch cushion and a trash bag that was leaking something orange. He stopped and looked around the cramped kitchen, apparently alone.
"Yeah, man! Over here," called out the refrigerator. Steven circled around a table and stopped.
"Randy, what are you doing?"
Randy was cramped in the almost three-foot space between the refrigerator and the wall, standing before a blank canvas with a pencil in one hand and a corn dog in the other.
"I'm in the zone, man. I told ya." He took a bite of the corn dog and, with a look of disgust, spat it out and dropped the remainders on the floor. "So what's up, man? Wha'd you wanna talk ta' me for?"
"Well, it's about those…feelings. Their…their coming back." Steven fingered his keys nervously; embarrassed at admitting he had a problem.
"Man, I don't remember that much about yer life. Whaddaya mean 'feelins?'"
"Well…what about music?"
"I can't…keep myself from thinking about it. Sometimes it's worse on some days and sometimes it's better."
"I still don't get ya, man. Do ya mean, like, bad feelins?"
"No, no….not BAD really. Just…feelings I don't want to have anymore."
Randy stopped his sketching of a woman's head on the canvas and put his free hand on his temples.
"Man, you realize I have NO idea what yer talkin bout."
"I'm talking about the zone! I keep finding myself in the zone when I try to stay out! That's what I mean!"
"OOooooohhhh…. I get it now." Randy continued to sketch. "It's simple what ya do, man. You embrace it. Ya stop fightin what your mind wants ya ta' do and just go with it, man."
"It's not that simple. Last time I was living in the zone, it was when…"
"When we first met."
"Yeah. I couldn't control myself. The fame got to me and I wound up almost killing myself. I had to get a spinal tap! Do you know how painful that is?!"
"I don' know what else t' tell ya, man. Ya can't beat that impulse, n' matter how hard ya try. 'Sides, it's about time the world had Stevie Jobbs back anyway."
"I mean… I've tried to leave that life behind me. Start a new one and just drift back into the world, but I can't block it completely."
"All I'm gonna tell ya, man, is don't. You'll give in eventually, an' that won't be a bad thing."
"All right. Thanks for helping, Randy. I gotta go now."
Steven sulked back to his car. Why had he gone to Randy for help? He knew he was just going to say what his instincts said to do every day, and he was not about to relive that road again. No way.
Randy was just the only one he knew who would understand and maybe not look at him like he was nuts. Steven secretly hated his friends. They bored and irritated him to no end, but he repressed these feelings for what he believed was for his own good. Randy was the only link to the life he once had and the only one he wasn't willing to give up so easily.
Steven then got in his mediocre car, cranked the insignificant engine, drove back to his mundane little neighborhood, pulled into his dull apartment complex, climbed the drooping stairs, opened his miserable door, ate his dinner alone in silence, drifted into his pathetic bedroom, and fell asleep while wondering why the world only felt right when it was wrong.
Steven awoke the next morning feeling oddly cheery. It wasn't different than any other morning. Why did he suddenly feel grea-
He sat up quickly and rubbed the sleep from his eyes and ears. It was music. Someone was playing opera on the floor above him. Steven ran into the next room and grabbed a broom. He proceeded to beat the ceiling with the wooden end until he could hear plaster falling down in the walls.
"WILL YOU TURN THAT OFF!?" Not only did this statement fail to elicit results, but the music also seemed to get louder.
"Forget it!" Steven dropped the broom, put on a jacket, and stepped out the front door with full intent to give this person a piece of his mind or fist, whichever came first.
As soon as he stepped outside, the music stopped.
He paused, listening for any muffled beats, but there were none.
"Great. Now I can go back to-"
The music started again at full blast as he put his foot in the door frame. What's more, it sounded like the song had skipped the few seconds of which he was outside his apartment.
Steven pulled his foot back and the music stopped once more. He then stuck a finger through the door frame. Again, the music blasted to his eardrums and made his eyes water through either the vibrations of the incredibly loud song hammering its way into his brain or at the sheer beauty that only he had the knowledge to comprehend.
Whatever the case, he ran up the stairs as fast as his legs could throw themselves up and over the steps. He ran across the catwalk until he came to an apartment door that he believed to be directly over his own.
"Hey! Is anyone home?!" Steven shouted. He swung his fist to knock on the door.
As soon as knuckle met wood, the force of sound slammed its way through the door and knocked Steven down. It was the same song that had been playing before. He knocked again and the song changed to that of a singer-songwriter croon of the 1960's.
Steven panted, confused beyond all belief. He knocked a few more times and the music changed each time, like he was pressing a strange "shuffle" button.
"What the… I can't handle this," Steven said. As he moved out of the way of the door, the music stopped, but Steven was hardly in a mood to be surprised. He ran down back to his room and stopped in front of his door.
"Alright…you can do this. One…two…three!" Steven bolted and tackled the door open. The music once again thundered throughout his apartment and created lightning strikes in his head. He got dressed in record speed and darted out of the room, barely having time to lock the door. He decided that work might take his mind off of this strange incident and didn't realize until he got there that it was Saturday.
Without the white noise of the office to distract him, Steven was content to drive around until his mind was clear. The talk radio blurred into a pleasant hum that calmed his nerves more than anything.
By sheer bad luck, he wound up at a red light on the street next to the music store. A bead of sweat tickled Steven's forehead as it ran down to his white collar. He turned up the radio and faced straight ahead. He thought of other things. He thought of all that he had to do on Sunday to get back up to quota. Nothing was ever difficult at work for him. Steven always managed to There's a lady who's sure scrape by with minimal effort. Even the simplest of management probAll that glitters is goldlems could be solved by him And she's buying a Stairway with the push of a to Heaven button.
Steven suddenly gasped in horror as his head snapped back to his radio. The gentle hum of the talk radio had become a solid buzz of white noise before transitioning into Led Zeppelin. He immediately hit his second preset that he had just figured out how to use the other day.
Why is this light taking so long? He thought to himself. He caught the music store out of the corner of his eye and snapped back to the road.
Again, he kept his mind on other things. He kept his mind on the other coworkers in the office and how they always seemed to show up at the least opportune times. Hey Jude! He thought about the many dozens of times Charlie from accounting has asked where his Christmas presents were with a presumptuous laugh that revealed the fact that he wasn't joking. Don't make it bad! He thought about the shrill, incessant laughs of the interns as they came back from their group meetings in the women's restroom. Take a sad song and make it be-e-etter! He thought about how his boss's toupee always seemed to wind up in the trashcan along with his clip on tie whenever he felt the need to take a nap. Remember..to let her into your heart..then you can sta-art..to make i-it..be-etter!
Steven jumped with a start again and turned the radio off. He noticed that for the past seven minutes, the light had yet to change and he had see no other human being, on foot or otherwise. He looked down either street and around his car to make sure no police were around, and accelerated down the street. A few blocks down, Steven hit another red light. He looked out the window.
He was next to the music store again.
Steven blinked and rubbed his eyes, making sure they weren't fooling him.
No tricks. It was the same music store he had been next to three blocks ago. He was sure that he hadn't turned or gone any other direction than straight ahead.
Steven flicked his blinker and turned to the right, keeping his eye on the store in case it got up to run down the street. He sped up to well past the speed limit and hit another red light. Sure enough, he was next to the music store again.
A flutter of panic coupled with light-headedness filled Steven. He drove straight though the light and down the road at easily seventy-five miles per hour and had yet to see a single person.
After his panic had subsided, along with the never-ending stream of music stores, Steven spotted a Wendy's in the distance. Dealing with his deteriorating sanity and constant fear of inanimate object had worked up a mean hunger.
He pulled up to the drive-thru kiosk and rubbed his head in his palms with his eyes closed.
"Yeah, hi. Can I get a number three with a Sprite?"
"Umm… Sir? This isn't a restaurant."
Steven looked up, confused.
He was parked beside the front door of the music store.
There was a dark-haired youth with a baseball cap standing in the doorway. He squinted and looked through the window. His eyes suddenly widened when they rested on Steven's face?
"Oh…Oh my God! Are you Stevie Jobbs?!"
"Yeah. Yeah, I was."
"Dude! You don't understand, man! You're, like, my idol! You're the person who made me want to get into music in the first place!"
"Well, I'm glad I…could be of some…help?"
"No kiddn! Hey, I was told you were gonna come by today. That's why I signed up for this shift. So I might get to meet you!"
"But- I wasn't planning on coming by today."
"Sure you were! A friend called a reserved something for you and said that you were gonna come by later to pick it up."
"What did he reserve?"
"He told me not to tell you 'till you got inside."
"Alright then. Fine. I'm coming."
The first thing he thought about the store was that he had never been inside before. Sure, he'd been in music stores before, but this one was different. It took him a minute to put his finger on it.
"Where are all the instruments?" The store was completely empty.
"What?" The youth didn't turn around.
"The instruments! Where is all of the music equipment?"
"Oh yeah! Yeah, the store is starting to shut down. Not many people care about making music these days, I guess.
Somewhere deep down, this statement gave Stevie Jobbs a spurt of gut-wrenching pain. Steven Jobbs didn't bat an eyebrow.
He was led into a back room. Like the front, this part of the room was empty. Empty except for a gilded guitar case.
"No! No way! I can't take that! Keep it! Sell it for the store, I don't care! Just get that thing away from me!" Steven clutched the doorframe as if he were about to be sucked into a vacuum. His eyes matched his stance.
"I-..I… I just can't!"
"You don't wanna make music anymore, dude?! How come! Like I said, you're my idol! You can't just quit!"
"You don't understand. Being a musician was the worst decision of my life. I was led to drugs and drinking to the point where I almost died. I OD'd on coke when I was twenty-five. Twenty-five! I almost died at age twenty-five, and do you know what it feels like to OD on anything!?"
"Dude…. What are you talking about? You don't decide to become a musician. It just, like, chooses you." The youth looked sadly at the guitar and then back at Steven. He sighed.
"Look, just take the guitar and go, alright?"
"No! I. Don't. Want. It."
"Fine, then just leave it here then! I don't care. I'mma go get a drink." The youth shoved past Steven, the shadow of a tear on his face.
Steven watched him leave and was appalled at what he had inadvertently done to one of the few fans he had left. He told himself he didn't care, but lying didn't sit well with him right now.
Steven headed for the door. For a few minutes, the store was silent. This silence was broken when Steven concisely marched through the entrance and left with the guitar, mumbling indiscriminate and undecipherable curses under his breath.
With a lack of malfunctioning red lights and magic music stores, Steven made it home it record time. He walk-ran up the stairs and to his room, keeping his head down at the thought of anyone seeing him with a guitar.
There was a man in a brown jumpsuit outside his apartment, leaning on the railing and writing on a clipboard.
"Hey," Steven said as a formality rather than a greeting.
"Hey." The man didn't look up.
Steven unlocked his door and slammed the door open in his haste to get inside. Unfortunately, it only opened halfway because of the heavy boxes that piled themselves to his ceiling inside.
He set down his reluctant package and whirled around to the man with the clipboard whom he just realized was the mailman.
"What is all this?!"
"What is all this stuff?!"
"Ya mean ya didn't owada it?"
"I didn't order anything!"
"Well, Ah don' know exactly what's in 'em, but they'a from some kinda...a..a..moosic company owa somptin."
Steven forced his way inside. He grabbed the nearest package to him and pulled it open. He followed suit with each successive box until he had opened enough to get to his bedroom. He found that, in fact, each one held an assortment of recording equipment.
He bolted back outside as fast as he could with the boxes in the way and stopped the mailman as he was descending the stairs.
"Who sent me all this stuff? The only return address is 'The Man Upstairs.'"
The mailman checked his clipboard. His brow furrowed as he looked at the sheet.
"Well, this guy mus' be pretty secret, cuz it says 'Da Man Upsteas' on hea' too. Eh, some people are wead like that. Ave' a good one!"
Steven had to spend all day long trying to ignore the boxes. He had watched a few of the movies he had lying around to keep his mind off things. This didn't work, however, as he was distracted by the piles of microphones constantly falling on his lap.
Seven finally had his fill of his crazy day and decided to go to bed. In his normal routine, he bathed, brushed and got into bed.
But the burning feeling stayed.
Ever since he picked up that guitar at the music store, he had been feeling a burning in his chest.
A familiar burning.
Steven made a decision.
He silently stood up from his bed and switched the light on. He opened his brand new guitar for the first time and sat with it on the bed. He caressed her strings. It had been so long since this feeling had been shared with one of her kind.
He plucked the low E string. A beautiful sound of rocks, mountains and earth cemented him to the ground in an almost euphoric state.
He plucked the A string. The sound of love and passion excited every nerve in his body.
He plucked the D string. Its was the sound of rivers and flowing water that passed through all living things.
He plucked the G string. Flowers seemed to grow larger and more beautiful in its wake.
He plucked the B string. It made the sound of air. Flying through the clouds with hair billowing at your neck.
He plucked the high E string. Its sound was that of pure happiness. It raised the very soul with its simple and charming melody of singular song and raised Steven into the heavens as high as he could go where he experienced unequivocal happiness the likes of which he had never felt before.
And he played.
He played a song of rocks, love, water, flowers and green things, flying, and heaven.
And he played.
He played a song of loss and regret and how much better it made a reunion.
And he played.
He played his song. The song that personified his very soul into that of pure joy that resonated throughout time and space and would drift away into the depths of space and continue to spread his joy throughout the entire universe as it saw fit as there was more than enough to give around. The song that came from him and would stay with him until the day he died. And on that day he would sing his song on his deathbed and look towards Heaven and smile at the thought of possibly meeting this strange Man from Upstairs in that wondrous place where the happiness he felt the first time he played his song would flow like water.
And he played.