logo When he woke, he was troubled, and his wife sensed something was wrong. He chewed his artificial scrambled eggs in silence while browsing the morning's Official News release, and didn't even say a word when she accidentally spilled some of the Florida Citrus Substitute onto the surface of the table. He merely stood up and walked quietly into the bathroom to brush and floss his teeth, while she dammed the pool of orange fluid with a brawny batch of TamFlux brand paper towelettes. A few minutes later, carrying the laundry down the hall, she was startled by a strange sound coming from within. She opened the door quickly.

carousel horses "What was that?" she asked, her eyes flashing.

"What?" He looked at her blankly.

"I thought I heard... humming."

He held up his electric toothbrush that buzzed and foamed with ToothBrite Quality ToothSparkler Suds.

She eyed him carefully. "Well, just don't forget to tune in before you go," she warned. He nodded his assent and she closed the door.

A short time later he stood ready to leave, and she handed him his overcoat and briefcase and kissed him on the cheek before plugging the small wire into the socket in the back of his head. She opened a container and selected a small pill-shaped metal piece and slid it into the device connected to the other end of the wire and pressed a button. He felt a slight twinge of electricity in his head before she removed the cord and opened the door.

"Don't forget Jason has Dimensional Jai Alai practice tonight," she said.

He nodded and as he turned and walked to his car he heard a familiar man's voice inside his head: "Good morning, John - it's a beautiful day isn't it!"

John looked at the cloudy, gray sky numbly and climbed into his car as the voice continued: "Let's start off our day with one of your favorites - Elton John!"

The piano chords clanked. "Not 'Bennie and the Jets'," he thought, but it was too late - Elton's smooth crooning would soon veer into a hair-raising falsetto. "To think this used to be one of my favorite songs, before it became required listening," he thought sadly. That was at least 4,017 repetitions ago - he had started counting when the Music for the People Ordinance was passed a few years ago.

The car moved into traffic where it came to an immediate standstill amidst a snarl of other vehicles. Elton faded into Bachman Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" and John felt sick. His hand made an involuntary motion toward where the volume knob on a radio in the car should've been located. Instead a tray designed to hold cell phones, coffee, food and/or makeup stood where radios had once been.

Since the discovery that radio waves caused a particularly gruesome form of brain cancer, radios in cars had been banned. (Cell phones, a contributing carcinogen, were still allowed since they supposedly were of use in "emergencies" and primarily due to the fact that their makers had paid the government to look the other way). This figured to be a boon for manufacturers of cd players, and cassette decks, but that went by the wayside when in a minor incident relating to the island of Taiwan, the entire Far East had been "accidentally" nuked. Thus the permanent gray skies.

The government took the opportunity of wartime to ban all forms of music as counterproductive to victory, but widespread protests and a burgeoning black market for music forced the government to reintroduce music back into everyday life slowly. With the help of private industry, who supplied the audience specific advertising which was included, the personal music implant was devised and the initially expensive operation for the wealthy became a standard modification performed shortly after birth, not unlike a circumcision. A caste system, based on music tastes was devised and people were provided with a one-time choice. John had chosen "Classic Rock" as the lesser of all evils and all had been fine for a time. His choice allowed him to work most blue collar, and some low-level white-collar jobs. Those that did not choose were provided a choice for them. Housewives and young women were usually given pop music - which it was thought prepared them for motherhood. Young men were given heavy metal or rap music - music designed to maximize violent tendencies that would be utilized to full effect in the armed forces. The mentally ill and those on the fringes of society were given jazz or punk (such idiosyncrasies would enable the government to easily keep close tabs on them); the poor whites and blacks were naturally given country or rap to keep them divided and in a manageable state of hostility toward one another. Crossing over and listening to other genres once assigned was not allowed and punishable by imprisonment and hard labor.

John noticed the women in the car next to him. Well dressed, in an attractive suit, and with an empty look on her face as she applied her cosmetics. Obviously a smooth jazz listener. Deep Purple's "My Woman From Tokyo" blasted in his ears, but John felt no desire to air guitar as he once had. "This was once a great song," he thought sadly as he ran his hand through his thinning hair.

The usual route to his high-rise workplace was on John's left. Therefore, it was quite sudden and surprising that he broke ranks with the stream of cars and headed his car right into a neighborhood of derelict cars and shabby concrete buildings. He had thought about this for a long time, ever since IT came into his head. He hadn't wanted to be different. He wanted to fit in. But there it was - something from his childhood. He longed for it - it wasn't something he could tell anyone about - not even his wife.

He drove the narrow streets, shaking in fear at what he had done, and in anticipation of the high he would soon encounter. All along the streets, he saw unusually dressed people waving at cars that drove by slowly. A scantily clad woman sashayed down the sidewalk, carrying a banjo. One man in a Hawaiian shirt held a ukulele aloft. A man in lieder-hosen carried an accordion over to where a Hummer had parked. In a dirty section of the area - in the place he had learned from reading news reports he might be - he suddenly saw a man with a straggly beard, wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt, standing nervously on a corner. John excitedly pulled to a stop in front of the man rather more quickly than he had hoped - squealing his brakes. The man started as if to run. John rolled out the window and called quickly.

"You got any... rarities?" he asked.

"Who wants to know?" the man asked while sizing him up.

"I'm just a music fan," he responded, smiling while trying to block the Eagles out of his brain. "I'm not a Music Cop, I swear."

The bearded man edged closer. "I got bootlegs - The Dead in Santa Monica in 78, Dave Matthews, Phish..."

"No, no," John said, "I'm interested in..." and he whispered into the man's ear.

The man staggered backwards and gave John a look of disgust. "Naw, man - I don't deal in that kind of stuff. Try Haydn Sikh - he might be able to help you."

A few minutes later, following the directions he had obtained from the bearded man, John knocked on the backdoor of a garage in an alley a few blocks away and was allowed entrance. Inside, a tall, elderly man, wearing a turban looked down at John through his half-glasses from behind a counter, as his visitor stammered out his story:

"I have this song in my head - I haven't heard it since I was very young - I want... I need to hear it again. Can you help me?"

"Perhaps," the old man said. "Don't be afraid," he added kindly, "You are not the only one, by any means. What is the song you wish to hear again?"

"Stewball," John said quietly.

"Stewball... Stewball... Stewball..." the man muttered, thinking. "Yes - I remember - a traditional folk tune. I presume you want the Peter, Paul and Mary version?"

"Yes please," John moaned and shuddered with delight.

The tall man disappeared through a door. John waited and waited for what seemed an hour, before he reappeared holding a small metal pill shaped object in his hand.

"You are lucky," he said, "I only had one left. I'm afraid it will be rather expensive."

John held out the bundle of bills he had been saving to pay for the trip to the African Casinos his wife had been begging for. The old man smiled and took the money. "May I?" he asked and pointed to the player. John nodded, and the man plugged the wire into John's socket and dropped the metal "pill" into the slot of the machine.

The advertisement for cell phones in John's head cut off abruptly, and suddenly the acoustic guitars twinkled, and the voices rang out in harmony:

Oh Stewball was a racehorse
And I wish he were mine
He never drank water
He always drank wine...

John was transported away. He was a child again sitting on his mother's lap on a picnic blanket on a clear summer's day. The birds flew a blue sky into green trees and a few white, puffy clouds floated high above. He felt happiness like he had not felt in so many years.

The song ended and began again. John smiled, his eyes full of tears.

Suddenly, there was a loud banging and the sound of glass breaking. The old man disconnected the wire and pushed John toward the door before turning to run. Three armed men rushed through the doorway and threw the old man to the ground. "Stop!" they shouted as John ran out of the door and down the alley.

As John ran breathlessly, the men in pursuit, while the song in his head played on in delicious old time harmony:

Oh the fairgrounds were crowded
And Stewball was there
But the betting was heavy
On the bay and the mare

He rounded the corner and saw a full contingent of police coming toward him. He spun around and saw the men advancing rapidly behind him. He was surrounded. He would be arrested, lose his job, his wife and son, be thrown into prison, and worse yet - be publicly humiliated as a folk music listener. He tried not to panic. Then he did the only thing he could do.

He smashed the back of his head full force against the corner of the brick wall. He hit it again and again and could feel the blood running down his shoulders and back. Again and again, until he felt the socket break and crumble - it's tiny metal pieces tinkling as they hit the pavement just before he collapsed and his body fell onto the ground and he went into blackness.

The months went by and the doctors at the asylum had decided to give up and declare their patient a non-recoverable catatonic. The man said nothing and responded to no outside stimuli. He sat and smiled the same idiotic smile day after day. An attempt to repair the damage he had done to his own skull and insert a new music device was not determined to be cost-effective or necessary as he would never again be a productive member of society.

John sat day after day, night after night, and his blue eyes sparkled like the long gone blue sky, as the loop inside his mind played ever after for eternity:

I bet on the gray mare
I bet on the bay
If I'd a bet on ol' Stewball
I'd be a free man today.


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