“Alto Saxophone” was the winning story in the thirty-fourth Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest, and was originally published on this site on November 19, 2013.
Devil Playing Man’s Head as a Saxophone
In a little town in Illinois, in a bar near the Wisconsin border, one man blew honey-dripping sounds from his saxophone. A woman’s body swayed in time with the sweetness emitting from that horn. She kept time with the beat and moved like melodic notes going up and down the scale. I imagined blowing musical sounds into her ear.
I crossed the wooden dance floor where she whirled, grabbed her hand and began to spin. Like musical notes, one black, one white, we danced all night. I softly sang into her ear, “Imagine how we’d dance in bed.”
She laughed in a low contralto voice, and changed it to a soprano when the high notes flowed.
Later when we were in bed and music played on her expensive speakers we continued our sensuous dance. Things couldn’t have been any better until I got knocked out cold.
When I came around I could hardly open my eyes and my head hurt so bad I thought it would explode. Music played, but it was different now. Chanting came from the speakers in a language that I thought was Creole. I smelled incense burning. My eyes began to focus about the time I realized I was tied spread eagle to her bed wearing nothing at all.
Then I saw the black man from the bar playing his saxophone, filling the room with mellow and foreboding music, as he and six black women danced in a circle around my bed. The women accompanying him chanted to mystifying sounds emanating from the speakers.
Addressing the lady I had danced with, I croaked, “Brown Sugar,” but I couldn’t speak loud enough to be heard over the chanting. God, I’d give anything for a dozen aspirins to relieve the headache from the blow and all the noise. What the hell was going on?
Brown Sugar pulled back a curtain exposing an altar that stood on four black marble pedestals, topped with an oblong piece of the same black marble. A large crucifix with Jesus on it turned upside down sat on top.
I’ve been captured by Satanists. What were they going to do to me? I struggled to free myself, but the ropes holding me were tied tight. I couldn’t move. Maybe they were only going to do a ceremonial ritual, and would set me free when it was over.
The sax player stood to one side of the altar and his instrument emitted a gruesome sound I never imagined a horn could make.
Brown Sugar wore a blood red robe, and stood in front of the altar. She raised her voice and said,
I hereby invoke the Prince of Darkness,
The great Dragon of the bottomless pit
Who is the Bringer of Light
And Lord of the Earth.
Hear me, o mighty God of Hell!
Come forth from the black Abyss,”
The chanting and music drowned out most of her prayer, but I did hear her conclusion,
“My Lord and Master, come forth from Hell
And greet me as your servant and friend.
Join me as I conduct this service in your honor
Out of love and thankfulness for you.
She turned with her arms raised and for the first time I saw the gleaming, jeweled dagger that she held with two hands. Her eyes lit with passion as she walked toward me, followed by the others who continued with their chanting.
I had been taught that goodness always overcomes evil, so I prayed, “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend me, be my protection against these wicked people and the Devil.”
A bright light filled the room. A man dressed in flowing white robes and wielding a shining sword appeared in front of the altar. One swipe of his sword severed the marble base. The altar crumbled to the floor, but not before he grabbed the crucifix, held it in front of him right side up and advanced toward the Satanists. The sax hit the floor as the man playing it ran out the door and all the others followed with screams of fear.
I waited for him to release me, but he set his sword and the crucifix on a table, picked up the saxophone thrown onto the floor, put it to his lips and started to blow. I expected to hear heavenly music from the lips of an angel. Instead, the piercing notes that rolled out made me shrivel up inside.
A brighter light almost blinded me. A man dressed in regal red robes appeared in the center of the room. He too carried a saxophone. He stood in front of Saint Michael and said, “I’ll challenge you to a duel.” He pointed at me. “Whoever plays the best gets to keep his soul.”
The man in red must be the Devil if he wanted to gamble for my soul. “Don’t do it,” I yelled to Saint Michael. “I know you want to save me, but I heard you play.”
“Ye of little faith, don’t you know if God wants your soul, I’ll play better than Satan?”
I didn’t have an answer for that. The Devil strode triumphantly around the room, bowed to Saint Michael and to me before he began to play. The sounds that came from his saxophone warmed my soul. I traveled through the beautiful universe on waves of heavenly music, until from the pleasurable sound, I began to cry. He finished and pointed to Saint Michael and said, “Your turn.”
Saint Michael began to play. I didn’t think that any music could top what Satan had played, but because it would be heaven sent, I expected it to be far superior. I prayed it would be anyway. Saint Michael fidgeted and fussed, put the sax to his lips, took a breath and blew into his instrument. The shrieking sound that came out sounded like it must have come straight from hell.
I knew then whose music I’d be hearing for eternity.
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