Prologue: Night Bird Flying

"I'm done!" Johnny shouted, bursting through the screen door, sweat pouring down his young face as he sprinted into his house, stumbling a few times when his feet got ahead of him.  He reached for the front of his shirt-tail and wiped his face with it, leaving a large dirt mark on his T-Shirt.  His short stature kept him balanced as he eagerly stepped through the cabin and entered the kitchen where his father sat at the table, his newspaper hiding his face as he held it up with his large rough caramel-colored hands.  "I'm done, dad....Where's momma?"

"At work," Johnny's father muttered, straightening the newspaper firmly in his grip.  "So you said you're finished?"

"Yep," Johnny smiled, nodding his head earnestly.

"All of it has been cut?”

"Trimmed to perfection."

The newspaper came down, revealing an older man of the same skin complexion as Johnny, only his face was matured with a slim hawk-like structure and a fairly grown beard around his jaw.  Johnny's eyes twinkled at the sight of his smirk as he stood up, leaving the newspaper on the table, and walked past Johnny, heading toward the front door and out onto the porch.  He gazed out on the front lawn and examined it as Johnny crept beside him patiently, waiting for him to judge his work.

Johnny's father jerked his head up with recognition as his eyes zeroed in on something in the yard.  Johnny's attention perked at the sudden movement and he watched his father step off the porch, walk onto the grass, and stop at a specific spot on the right side of the lawn.  He looked down intently, slowly lifted his hand, and motioned for Johnny to accompany him.  Johnny hesitated but stepped off the porch and followed his father to the spot on the lawn where he stood.  When he reached him, his father pointed down at an uneven position where the grass stood several inches taller than the rest of the trimmed blades that occupied the lawn.

"What's that?" Johnny's father asked, looking back at him.

Johnny swallowed hard as his eyes locked onto the spot.  "Its....Its a part I missed."

"Right.  You can forget about those lessons for this week then."

Johnny's heart sank as he watched his father walk back into the house, shaking his head with disappointment.  A lump formed in his throat as he realized that he was now missing out on the very opportunity he'd worked all afternoon for.  He couldn't let it slide this easily.  He'd worked too hard for it.

As soon as Johnny's father stepped back into the kitchen and grabbed his newspaper, he could hear his lawnmower revving up again in the back.  The boy probably thinks he can redeem himself by fixing it, his father thought.  It won't be that easy.

An hour and a half passed when Johnny returned to the kitchen, holding a pair of hedge trimmers in his hand tightly, twice the sweat pouring down his face.  Johnny's expression was stern and full of determination.  He threw the hedges down onto the wooden floor to get his father's attention.  His father pulled down the newspaper once again and looked at Johnny curiously.

"I fixed that spot," Johnny muttered, breathing heavily.  "And I trimmed the hedges that you were going to take care of tomorrow.  I also watered the grass for good measure.  I didn't know if you usually do that, but I felt like it would help, since it hasn't rained in a while.  So....Can I get those guitar lessons now?"

Johnny's father scoffed softly laying the newspaper down.  He stood up and walked past Johnny slowly.  "No," he said forcefully, bumping into him as he passed through the doorway.  Johnny stared off into space in disbelief as his father retired to his room.  He was devastated.  As he heard the door close behind him, he began to shake his head in frustration.  His fist was clenched and he felt the impulse to break something or punch the nearest wall, but held his ground, for fear of further upsetting his father.  He couldn't believe he missed out on an opportunity because of his one simple mistake.  He was disappointed in himself more than he was angry at his father.

Seconds passed and Johnny's father stepped out of his room with his car keys in hand.  "Johnny," he said loudly to get his attention.  Johnny turned to him slowly.  "Let's go."

"Where are we going?" Johnny asked curiously.

"Out.  Lets go."

Johnny followed his father to the front door, letting him lead the way.  As they walked outside back onto the porch, his father walked to the side of the house where his green classic oldsmobile sat in between the cabin and the shrubbery that separated it from the rest of the forest surrounding the cabin.  Johnny's father unlocked the door and the two entered, taking the car along the pathway across the grass in front of them until it turned onto the dirt road.  The ride was silent and Johnny grew increasingly anxious as he fiddled about in frustration.  His father was probably bringing him along to handle some business in town for something specific.  He was only twelve after all, not old enough to be left home alone while his mother was at work.  Not in a place like Louisiana.

When the two reached the popular strip mall that ran along Main Street, they parked in the crowded lot across from the stores and Johnny's father turned off the car.

"Come on," he said securely.  Johnny turned to him in confusion as he exited the vehicle.  He followed suit and let his father lead the way up to the strip mall.  On one side of the strip was the Music Store that his father would frequently visit to purchase new equipment for his own personal guitar, which Johnny used to sneak out of his father's room and play when he was at work and his mother took care of the home duties.  When Johnny's father found out, he forbade him from using it without his permission, but promised that if he completed his chores accordingly each week, he would tutor Johnny with bi-weekly lessons to help him improve.  That couldn't be their destination for today though, unless his father simply wanted to torture him with the sight of all of the guitar-related equipment he was going to be surrounded by.  Johnny examined the rest of the stores on the strip and saw an H&R Block two stores to the right of the Music Store.  That seemed like the most feasible location for him to be headed, as his father had spoken about going there to handle their tax preparation for the year.

Johnny's father began to diverge from the position Johnny had anticipated and he could see that his path was, in fact, leading toward the Music Store.  As soon as they reached the entrance, Johnny's father held the door open for him.  Johnny looked him in the face to see that he was void of any detectable emotion, which made it difficult to interpret.  Maybe he was still disappointed in him for earlier but declined to show it.  Johnny entered and kept his eyes forward, avoiding his surroundings for fear of making himself feel even worse about being in his version of a candy store with no funds and a powerful sweet tooth.

"Johnny," his father called, as he turned back to him.  "Don't take long.  Pick out what you want and lets get out of here."

Johnny's ears perked curiously.  "What do you mean?"

"Pick your guitar."

Johnny's eyes widened in surprise.  "You mean-"

"You've earned it," his father said with a smirk.  "You asked me if you could get lessons.  I told you no, because today, you're purchasing your own guitar."

Johnny grinned widely.  "Dad...."

"Hurry up, Johnny, your Ma is already going to be pissed at me for doing this.  Lets try to make this happen before she gets home at least."

"Okay," he said excitedly, making his way to the guitar section near the back of the store.  His eyes darted back and forth across the rack of guitars of different shapes and sizes that were hung in several rows along the wall.  "Does it matter which one?"

"Nope," Johnny's father replied, following him to the wall of guitars.

Johnny smiled even brighter as his eyes scanned across each of them.  Soon, his gaze immediately fell on a large black Gibson Les Paul that hung on the far side on the bottom right.  He pointed it out quickly.

"That one."

His father walked over and examined it.  "Its kind of pricey.  If I get this one, you better stick to it for a long time, son."

Johnny chuckled.  "I will, dad, I promise.  I've always wanted one like that.  I'll play it for the rest of my life."

Johnny's father smiled.  "That's good enough for me."  He picked it up and handed it to Johnny delicately.  Johnny took it as if he was being given the sword of Excalibur.  He held on to it firmly, but switched it over to a left handed position.  "Does it feel right to you?"

"Yeah," he said, strumming his thumb across the strings lightly.  His hands shook with excitement as he held it in pure ecstasy.  "Definitely.  Can you ask them to fix the nut to the other side, so I can play it left-handed?"

"If they do that, I probably won't be able to give you any lessons.  Not unless you have them restring it and that in itself costs almost more than the guitar."

"Well...I've already gotten so used to the string pattern backwards already from your guitar.  Do you think you can still give me some tips or something?  I mean, I just really want this one and I can't play it right-handed or get it restrung."

Johnny's father shrugged.  "I can do my best.  I'm sure you're good enough to start teaching yourself.  I can guide you, but you're going on a route that you'll have to take on your own.  Not many people play this way; it'll be unique to say the least, but because of that, you're going to pioneer this way of playing all by yourself.  You ready for that?"

Johnny looked up at his father and thought for a moment before he answered.  "Yeah, dad.  I think I am."

“All right, well let’s take it up front then,” his father replied, turning and heading for the front desk.  Johnny held tightly to the guitar and followed him to the front.  Before they reached the register, his father pulled out his wallet and handed a couple of hundred dollar bills to Johnny for him to make the purchase before he walked past the front desk and began to head out of the door.

“Dad?” Johnny asked questionably.

His father turned around.  “I’ll be right back, I’ve got to get something out of the car.  Just go ahead and pay for it,” he reassured him.

“Okay,” Johnny nodded.  As his father left the store, Johnny lifted the guitar onto the transparent counter where the man at the register had been lounging lazily.  He leaned up and lifted the tag from around the strap screw, scanning it with the price scanner until the total came up on the register’s screen.

“Nice choice,” the store clerk complimented.

“Thanks,” Johnny replied excitedly.

“Do you have a membership card?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

The clerk gave him the total and Johnny handed him all of the bills in his hand.  But just as the clerk counted out the bills and began to retire them into the register, an ear-splitting shrill rang out from tires screeching just outside of the store.  A woman suddenly screamed out and Johnny’s ears perked at the sound, causing him to turn to the entrance of the store where he saw a figure lying on his back in the middle of the street.

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