This is a first draft of a short story. Feedback welcome.
Note: I wrote a much expanded and improved version of this concept as “Missing Intentional Manifestation Unit.” It is written as an epistolary in business correspondence.
This is a fictitious review of a product that does not exist, at least as far as I know. Last week, I was sweeping out the back, back room at Crazy Dan’s Pawn and Guitar, the room that has all of the old Les Pauls and vintage pre-CBS Fenders that he never lets anybody ever see, and in an old box of busted pedals I found something that looked brand new. Crazy Dan’s is one of those places that doesn’t quite fit in modern times. Oh, there are shiny cheap Chinese guitars out in front, and some chrome and brass covered accordions, and maybe even a shiny new drum kit, but the display cases are ancient, and some of the stuff in them might have been pawned a hundred years ago. Even the air smells old, and in the back, back room, it smells even older. Anyway, among all the junk Fuzz Faces and Uni-vibes and wires and stuff, I saw a flash of bright orange. I fished out a square box with no visible seams or openings, with a sort of protrusion on top that might be a stomp switch. It had some lettering that might have been Russian Cyrillic, but looked kind of Korean or Thai too. Whatever it was, it was a rarity. I was extremely curious about what it might sound like. I put it on the floor and stepped on the switch, and a red LED sort of thing appeared. I thought that was pretty trick, having the LED disappear when it wasn’t on, and I started to think that this must be a new pedal that somehow got in the junk box. I grabbed a Telecaster, turned on an old tweed bassman that happened to be there, and tried to plug in cables, but turning it all around, I couldn’t see any jacks. The light was pretty dim, so I guess I just didn’t see them at first because when I touched it with the plug, it just sort of went in. The jacks were really smooth, more of a squish than a click.
I tried a few blues licks and the sound was just awesome. It was exactly the sound I hear in my head when I think about playing the blues. It was like B.B. King and Albert King rolled into one, and I was getting it out of a Telecaster! Very cool. I really wanted to take this to the gig I had that night, so after I finished sweeping the room, I asked Dan if I could borrow one of the pedals from the junk box. Dan is timeless like the shop, but he looks middle-aged, with long grayish hair, bald on top and black glasses. He also has a parrot, an African gray named POTUS (for President of the United States), that says more than Dan does, and seems to participate in whatever conversation happens to be going on. I’ve known Dan since I was a kid, and he has always looked the same. Like I said, he doesn’t say much, but he has a lot of gravitas, I think they call it. He seems spiritual and important, and kind of intimidating, but I have known him so long, I am used to it.
“You found that where?”
“In the junk pedal box. The stuff you were going to fix, but haven’t gotten around to. ”
He gave me a long look, and said, “Maybe it found you. Well, ok, be careful, and don’t take it to a gig.”
As I left, POTUS said “No gig!”
When I got home I fed Ziggy the cat and started some laundry. I defrosted a tamale for an early dinner, and then I fired up my Deluxe Reverb. I wanted to test drive the mystery pedal some more. When I took it out of my backpack, Zig gave a yowl and went upstairs. That cat is a little weird, but it was odd for him to be afraid of a guitar pedal. Anyway, I plugged in and cranked up the volume a bit. This time, when I stepped on the switch, the LED emitted a flash that hit me right in the eyes. Ouch! That was weird. No damage though.
I realized that I could read the script on the pedal in better light. It said “Transdimensional Mogrifier.” The address of the company was weird though. It said, “Pocket Universe 93012, Portal 42, Array 4, Plane of Being 39.” It also said, “Transdimensional, You Like, You Get!” Well, some pedal companies have a strange sense of humor.
I started working through the setlist for the gig later that night. I realized that the Mogrifier didn’t have any controls, but I was still getting pretty much the tone I wanted, whatever the song. It nailed the lead guitar on everything from Foxtail Music to George Ford. I don’t know how it did it. Maybe there was a chip in it that recognized the song from the notes? But even on originals, it did what I wanted. It was spooky.
I had to shut down and pack up or I’d be late to the gig. I packed up my pedal board, but I was thinking that if I used the Mogrifier, I wouldn’t need it. The Mogrifier would put pedal manufacturers out of business, unless it cost thousands of dollars. I was beginning to think that maybe it did. I was going to hate having to give it back to Dan. Maybe he would forget. But no, he wouldn’t. Not Dan. He knew where every little thing in the whole dusty shop was. That means that he must know where he got this thing, and what it is. I’d ask him tomorrow. But in the mean time I had to get to the gig. Somehow, I forgot that Dan told me not to bring it.
We were playing every Thursday at a pub called the “Blotto.” It was sort of funky-trendy. When micro-brewed Belgian beer was a big fad, they had had 12 different rotating taps. Now that the big thing was local Japanese sake, they were doing that. They had barrels of the stuff. But the atmosphere remained friendly and low key. My band, the Sweet Raptors of Illusion, or just “The Raptors” for short, fit right in. We played, blues, jangly folk rock, funk, and even some J-pop. We were versatile. We had some originals. We even took requests.
When I opened the back door of the club, instead of the stale beer smell that used to be in the air, I was hit with the rice alcohol smell of sake. As I brought my stuff in from the back, Jeff, the bartender was saying that he thought there would be a good crowd because the Nemui Inc. employees down the street had gotten bonuses, and somebody was having a birthday. The house drum kit was all set up. Mickey just brought his cymbals and his kick pedal. The club had a bass amp too, a Mesa Boogie. Christine usually plugged into it. Jake, the singer, just showed up. It was a pretty sweet setup. I set up my pedal board and my Deluxe. I kept the Mogrifier to the side, with a piece of carpet over it. I wasn’t supposed to play it, but I really wanted to surprise my bandmates with my awesome tone. It was real tempting.
Christine was the first of my bandmates to show up. She is Japanese-American, tall and pretty, black jeans, black T-shirt, black Fender Jazz Bass and long black hair. I went out with her a couple of times before she joined the band, but since then, it has been strictly business. She is a very good player, and never makes a mistake. I guess she has an eye for detail too because she got right to the point.
“Hey, Chad, what’s under the carpet?”
“What? Oh that. It’s a new pedal. See?”
“Wow, it’s really orange!”
She looked at it without much interest. She usually doesn’t have anything between her guitar and her amp. I put the carpet over it again. Then Mickey came in and started setting up. Jake was always last. In fact, sometimes we started without him. We sometimes got on him for it, saying he shouldn’t get paid for the time he wasn’t there, but he was good. He had a good range, and could sing pear-shaped tones like a trained singer, but he could also sound like rock ‘n roll. Lots of people think they can sing, but Jake really could. We didn’t want to lose him. Like most every band, we liked playing, but we also wanted some success.
Jake showed up on time that night. We were set up and ready to go. Jenny, a mousy little waitress I’d had my eye on for a while, brought us each a bottle of water. Jenny was very efficient, remembered every drink order no matter how large the party, smiled a lot, but was quiet most of the time. When she did speak, she had an accent I could not quite place. Maybe Canadian or Australian, but not quite either. She’d been working there about six months. I’d been meaning to ask her out, but somehow never had the chance.
Jeff had been right. As Mickey started hitting his sticks together to start the first song, there was already a good crowd. It was going to be a good night.
The first set was great. The crowd was with us. People were dancing, and everybody was having a great time. I wanted something different though. I wanted to take it to the next level in the second set. I unplugged from my pedal board. I plugged into the Mogrifier.
The first song of the set was a new hit by the Firewine Dogs. The guitar part was complex, and normally I would use chorus, delay, and some distortion and boost on the lead part. I was the only guitar player, and we didn’t have a keyboard, so I had to juggle rhythm guitar and lead, and play a little of both. The Mogrifier nailed the tone, but it was also weirdly keeping the rhythm going while I was going for the lead, like I was using a looper. It was playing stuff I wasn’t playing. Mickey and Jake were not paying attention, but Christine was looking puzzled. I suppose I was too.
At the end of the song, the Mogrifier did its light flash thing. As near as I could tell, it hit every bandmember in the eyes. We were all stunned, but Mickey started hitting his sticks together, and we roared into the next song in the set. We were tighter than we had ever been. We were playing like we were mind readers. We were one. But I was in charge, and I understood the music like I never had before. I could see the harmonies, I could layer scales on top of scales and build towering overtone structures. We played complex counter rhythms that stretched into infinity. The audience stood aghast in incomprehension. It was like music for the gods.
Then the Mogrifier hit everyone in the audience with red beams. It looked like a disco ball display with red light. Now they were with us. The music pulsed and throbbed. The crowd moved in time. They adored us. They worshiped us. In front of Jake, a crowd of women danced in various stages of undress. Another group threw panties at Mickey. Men were on their knees in front of Christine, offering promises of unconditional love and everlasting devotion. I had a crowd in front of me watching every move on my fretboard. I guess we all had what we wanted.
Then I felt a ripple of disharmony. I turned and saw that Christine was kneeling next to me, trying to plug into the Mogrifier. I couldn’t have that! I stopped playing and struggled to push her away. As we struggled, my guitar came unplugged. Someone, I think it was Jenny, threw the carpet back over the Mogrifier and the red beams went out. Then the room went dark, and I must have passed out.
When I came to, Jenny was shaking me, and scolding me. The club was closed, and everyone was gone. Jenny was really angry.
“What were you thinking, bringing that to a gig! Those are illegal in most universes. This place is so backward and hard to get to that there aren’t any laws, but that was idiotic! What were you thinking?”
I looked at her blankly. I had no response.
“You don’t know what it is, do you? That means someone else is an idiot.”
“Well, Crazy Dan is hardly an idiot. He did tell me not to bring it to a gig. I sort of forgot that.”
“Bring it back to him. Don’t bring it here, and don’t keep it. And forget we had this conversation.”
“Where did everybody go? Are they ok?”
“They are ok. They will forget. So will you.”
She helped me gather up my stuff. She took the Mogrifier from under the carpet and put it in the backpack. She wouldn’t let me touch it.
“Give it back to Dan. Don’t plug into it. Don’t play it.”
“What is it really?”
“It doesn’t belong here. There are places where it is just a facilitator for greater accomplishments, a tweaker, a channeler, maybe a bit like a stomp box for mighty deeds. It’s not a guitar pedal, if that is what you mean, but if you want it to be, it will become one. Crazy Dan must have thought you were smarter, or wiser, or more reliable than you are.”
“Or maybe he doesn’t know.”
“He told me maybe it found me.”
“Maybe it did. That is a deeper game than I can consider. But tonight you were an idiot. Using it will attract powers that this backwater place has never met, and doesn’t want to. You were just projecting your own fantasies on innocents, using it like an evil toy.”
“Who are you really?”
“Just an illegal immigrant. You don’t want to know.”
“Will I see you again?”
“I haven’t decided.”
She let me out the back and stayed inside. I wanted to kiss her, but it seemed like the wrong moment. She was still pretty mad. When I got home, Ziggy was under the bed and wouldn’t come out. I fell asleep in my clothes.
The next morning when I walked into Pawn and Guitar, POTUS squawked and said “Bad Boy!” Dan was behind the counter polishing an old cymbal. He looked at me and said, “Well?”
“It didn’t work right. It don’t think it’s even a guitar pedal.”
“Is that so?”
“You should send it back.”
“Well, the shipping to where it came from is pretty steep.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
I took the Mogrifier out of the backpack and put it on the counter. It didn’t have any jacks, or LEDs. It wasn’t even orange anymore. Dan casually opened a drawer and dropped it in. He smiled. “Anything else?” he asked.
“No thanks. I’ll be seeing ya.”
As I left, POTUS said “Bad boy gets the girl.”
I was hoping that POTUS was right. Next Thursday night, The Sweet Raptors of Illusion didn’t seem to remember much, if anything, of the previous week’s gig, and I wouldn’t have either except that I wrote it all down. I did seem to have a deeper understanding of the music than before my encounter with the Mogrifier, and some of the same people were already at the club, anxious to hear us. I hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed with the un-Mogrified Raptors. I was a little worried about that, and the fact that Christine didn’t seem to be speaking to me. And then, as we were about to start the first set, Jenny the waitress showed up with a bottle of water for each of us. I guess she had decided to stay.