Moonlight singing down through early autumn leaves.
An aroma of dirt, dead wood, and moss fills the air. Creeks burble in the dark.
Twenty-year-old Colton Holiday rambled onto the scene strumming a guitar and singing Hell Hound on My Trail.
“I got to keep on movin’,” Colton crooned. “Blues falling’ down like hail…blues falling down like hail.”
He was a scarecrow of a man, tall and lean in overalls and tee-shirt, like something carved by dull tools straight out of the Kentucky countryside.
Colton had heard Hell Hound two weeks earlier while passing through the Mississippi Delta. It’d been played by a feller by the name of Robert Johnson. The moment Colton heard Johnson’s voice, he’d decided he was the greatest musician to ever live — and the one that Colton would aspire to.
Legend was that Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil for that musical ability.
“I’ll die penniless and soulless, Lord,” Colton belted out, “long as I can lay some long-time music down…long as I lay some long-time music down.”
The year was 1937. A sugar-spray of stars filled the sky, undiminished by artificial light.
Colon looked up at those stars and smiled. “If I can see them,” he sang to the tune of Hell Hound Blues, “then they can see me, Lord…then they can see me.”
Colton stopped dead in his tracks.
Where had that strange thought come from? It’d popped into his mind as though thrown there from outside of it.
“What does ‘they can see me’ mean?” Colton sang low to himself. “Lord, what does ‘they can see me’ mean?”
He absently strummed a couple chords and gazed at the stars. A slick chill tap-danced up his backbone and jarred loose a block in his mind. All at once, the reality of his situation hit him full force in the face.
He was ten miles away from the nearest habitation. He’d run off from home months earlier to become a great musician, and now he was preparing to sell his soul for it, same as the great Robert Johnson had done.
Colton sat down on a log on the roadside and strummed some more Hell Hound, listened to how distant and haunted it sounded out there in the wilds. He didn’t sing. He just strummed.
It occurred to him that he’d been so driven by his ambition that a clear-thinking brain seemed new and fresh. It was like a moment of sobriety for a drunk.
“A soul’s a mighty potent thing to sell,” he whisper-sang. “A might potent thing to sell.”
Yet, he loved music. It was the only thing that ever gave him a shred of happiness in this big blue world, and the only thing he wanted to do with his life.
That’s what his people back home understood. Colton didn’t want to get rich and famous off music because he cared about material things. He just wanted to be able to devote all his time to the craft, unbothered by any other labor.
If the Devil could give him those things, then so be it. He realized there had been no turning back for him since the very moment he first heard Johnson sing. That voice had harrowed Colton’s brain and churned up his soul.
Colton looked up at the sugar-spray of stars and strummed. “I just want to live inside the music,” he sang. “Live inside the music forever.”
One star grew brighter — then brighter yet, and brighter again.
It wasn’t just getting brighter, though, Colton realized. It was coming closer to him.
Colton jumped to his feet and stumbled backwards along the road, but it was too late and he was too slow.
The light sped down the skyway and stopped just a few feet above the road and no more than twenty yards away from Colton.
The Kentuckian would have fled in terror if not for the music. Very soft, it was still unmistakably there. It was coming from the illuminated craft.
Without even realizing what he was doing, at first, Colton strummed his guitar in tune with the ship’s music.
The craft inched closer, like a nervous animal sniffing food in his hand.
Up close, Colton could see that the saucer-like craft was silvery and wet, like mercury. It was spinning so fast that at first it didn’t seem to be spinning at all. Colton reach out his hand to touch it.
The moment Colton’s fingertips touched the craft, an electrical shot up his arm and through his body, trapping him rigidly in place.
Colton screamed as his hand burned. He couldn’t pull his hand away. It was magnetized to the craft.
As the painful trial unfolded, the craft’s music shot directly into Colton brain. Not only could the Kentuckian hear it, but he could see the music’s structure. It was fantastically complex, with alien chord progressions unlike anything he’d ever seen before.
Colton felt as if the song was being taught to him, but at a rate so fast his conscious mind couldn’t pick it up. When it was done, just as suddenly and violently as it had started, the craft “let go” of him.
It shot straight up into the sky and disappeared into the stars.
Colton had no time to wonder at what just happened. The song in his head was growing in volume, like a living thing demanding to be played. So, he played.
With his first strum of the guitar, blinding pain ripped through Colton’s hand. He cried out, but he kept on playing.
His guitar had never sounded better. When he sang, he knew, he had never sounded better, either. He’d not only been given a song, but also the power to play unlike he or anyone had ever played before — except, perhaps, for Robert Johnson.
Colton walked briskly back to town, playing and singing as he went. The gifted song was titled Talking Gravitational Distortion Blues. It was going to be a bona fide hit. Colton knew that fact in the fiber of his bones.
The part of him that just knew this was true also knew that he’d never lose the abilities he’d just gained, just as he knew he’d never be released of the agony it caused him to play.
That blinding, searing pain was the price he’d pay for the gift he’d received.
Elated and terrified at the same time, Colton walked home strumming, singing, fighting back tears, wondering if it had been angels that guided that light-ship down to him — or if, perhaps, the Devil had decided to walk down from the crossroads and meet him halfway.
Note: This story was more than loosely inspired by a story found in the 1955 edition of the Bear Family’s Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music. It involves the tale of an extraterrestrial inspiration for the song “A Satisfied Mind” — a song bearing so much simple wisdom I can’t help but think it’d do a lot of people good to listen to close and hard today (including myself). Regardless, the Bear Family’s archives are absolute treasures for fans of American history and music. I have no affiliation with them. I’m not a content marketer. I’m just a music historian that loves what they do. Check them out at https://www.bear-family.de/various-country-und-western-hit-parade-1955-dim-lights-thick-smoke-and-hillbilly-music.html.