“Man, do you ever do anythin’ besides play that droning monstrosity?” Everett asked, his heavy drawl standing out in stark contrast to the lazy notes Davis played. Everett plodded up the steps, the thonk of his boots punctuating the one count of Davis’ strumming. An irritated creak arose from the rocking chair next to him as Everett settled into the loved wood.
“What else is there to do in this town, Ev?” Davis responded, his own drawl unperturbed by his friends razzing. “Besides, I like to play the banjo. It was my—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Everett flopped an idle hand in his direction. “I got it the first time the story was told. Your grandfather was ‘the greatest banjo player this county’s ever seen…and a lot of people thought he was strange…and crazy.”
Davis rolled his eyes and continued to strum, playing through a series of elaborate blues scales, coaxing the strings to sound melodious despite using three-finger picking. Davis liked the Earl Skuggs method, which often gave the banjo a tinny sound some considered grating on the ears, and that was why Everett was currently complaining, but sometimes Davis dropped the picks altogether to use the clawhammer method, giving the banjo a softer sound, and it better suited his favored way of playing. He practiced both styles since he was in the local bluegrass and folk band and the older men preferred the bright resonance the picks provided.
Davis paused long enough to remove his finger picks before playing a melodious version of Rainbow Connection. Everett would never admit it was one of his favorite songs. Little did he know that the song could also calm his nerves and lower his blood pressure when Davis intended. Everett wanted everyone to know him for his brawn and strength. As a ranch-hand-for-hire he needed to be seen as such, it took a strong-willed person to keep at back-breaking work day after day.
“What brings you into town?” Davis asked, his fingers still coaxing out melodies
“The Mason’s needed more dog food and cat treats. Ol’ Rattlesnake was givin’ us the ‘puppy eyes’ and I swear Lone Ranger only sticks around that ranch for the catnip. The little monster tries to take off my heels anytime I get near him.”
Davis crooked a sideways grin at his friend’s story. He came to the end of his rendition of Rainbow Connection and stood to stretch the kinks out of his neck.
“I’d love to sit and chat, Ev, but I’m takin’ a turn at the clinic soon,” Davis said as he leaned against the post guarding the entrance of the stairs. He studied the happy flowers colorizing the front of his porch. His mother loved to garden and she kept the greenery healthy, but every once in a while he would play the banjo with the intention of brightening the petals to bring his mama a little more joy. She came by every other day, dedicated to the proper care of the property, stipulating his grandparent’s home be well-maintained on the outside and the inside. He didn’t relish that she just let herself into the house to clean everything, but his mother had refused to give up the key to the house no matter how many times he asked. Davis kept things tidy, but his mother insisted everything be spotless. He supposed he couldn’t blame her obsession, his grandparent’s house was an 1890 Victorian-inspired home. The two-story residence, set against a picturesque background of trees and a man-made lake, was a sight to behold.
Everett snorted. “Why do you go there, Davis? That place is so depressing.”
Davis shrugged, “My dad appreciates it.” He added, “And music has the power to heal people.” If only his friend knew how true that statement was. It was an ability that he had kept hidden from his friend. His grandfather had handed Davis the banjo as a child and let him in on the family secret. His great-grandfather had picked up the banjo from a gypsy, and the instrument had been spelled to heal people and things, however, it depended on the intention of the musician. If the player didn’t wish it, then nothing would happen. As a child, he hadn’t believed the stories until he witnessed his grandfather heal his father after a particularly nasty fall from a ladder.
After that incident, Davis studied the playing of the banjo like a man possessed. He wanted to see people healed, so he went to the clinic once a week to help the sick feel better. Sometimes he would play for individuals and other times he would just play generally. It all depended on the business of the clinic. None were the wiser of his abilities, they just attributed the rapid healing to the strength of their bodies and good medicine. That was fine with him. Most people in the town were superstitious, he didn’t need their ideals to come down on him.
“I still think it’s cause yer dad twists your arm.” Everett stood and meandered closer to lean against the post opposite, hands shoved into his pockets.
“My dad doesn’t twist my arm, Ev, I like playing at the clinic.”
Everett nodded, but it was more a gesture of conceding than actually agreeing with him. After a moment he removed his cowboy hat to wipe at the sweat building on his forehead. “Well, can I give ya’ a ride to town?”
“That’s alright, Ev. I got practice after the clinic.”
Everett tipped his hat and did a little skip-hop down the three steps before strolling along the brick path toward his 1957 Chevy Pickup. “See ya around, Davis,” Everett called over his shoulder.
Davis allowed his eyes to follow Everett’s progress toward his friend’s pride and joy. Everett had spent years restoring the rusted and forgotten Chevy, but now it shone in a beautiful apple red with hints of silver flecks. The wooden boards running along the top of the bed were branded with the name of Everett’s business, Apple Red Ranch Hands. It wasn’t the most creative name, but everyone knew the truck and knew his business, so it served its purpose.
Davis waited until his friend roared the engine to life before turning into the house to stow his banjo and grab his car keys. He looked at his appearance in the hall mirror. His blue-checked shirt enhanced the color of his cerulean eyes and punctuated his dark brown hair. Davis also inspected the rest of his outfit to ensure his blue jeans and brown cowboy boots with a classy pointed toe were in order. His dad would be displeased if he walked into his clinic looking like he’d just wrestled a calf to the ground. Satisfied, he snatched his banjo and keys and strode toward his own vintage restoration, a 1965 Dodge Power Wagon, painted eye-catching emerald green. An easy smile touched his lips as the engine roared to life. Davis liked that he took something broken and made it new, just like he did with his music.
The small bell dinged as Davis strode into the town’s clinic. He smiled at the nurse receptionist. “Howdy, Miss Julie.”
She beamed at him. “Hey there, cowboy.” Her smooth words flowing like water over her tongue. She was one of the few people in town that did not have an accent. Miss Julie had followed his dad from their shared medical school. She had grown up in a busy city and wanted nothing more than to get away from the constant hustle. She had lived in their small town all of six months before getting married to the now mayor and had been happily married for the last twenty years.
“How’s Jordan?” Davis asked, referring to the couple’s youngest daughter. She had just left for college last fall and was studying to be a veterinarian.
“She’s just fine, started her midterms a few days ago and spring break is next week.”
“Have you talked to Whitney?” Miss Julie usually asked after his sister, despite working with his father day after day.
“Nope still haven’t talked to her. She’s bogged down with her last year at med school, then she’s gotta do her residency.”
“Well, you tell her I said ‘hi’ the next time you talk, and that she needs to drag back someone from her school in need of fresh air so I can retire.”
Davis chuckled. “Will do, will do. Anything special today?” He nodded his head toward the back where the sick rooms were stationed.
Miss Julie frowned slightly. “Just Willow Collins, she came in this morning with a nasty fever and flu-like symptoms. Your dad thinks it has to do with the mosquito bites all over her. The poor thing has been tossing and turning all day in pain.”
Davis mirrored Miss Julie’s displeasure at the news. He’d been friends with Willow for as long as he had been friends with Everett. They had even dated sporadically as teenagers. “Hmmm, well, hopefully, I can soothe some of the aches,” he said, lifting the banjo case.
He made his way back to the room indicated and sat down outside the door. His dad was a stickler for medical regulations, so he couldn’t go into the room, but he could sit outside with the door cracked to play.
Clicking open the clasps, Davis eased into a chair, getting comfortable with the instrument. The banjo was visually old, but nothing had ever been repaired on the instrument due to the spell the gypsy has placed. Not even the strings, which should have worn out years ago. Once a month, Davis would play the instrument with the intention of ‘reviving’ the banjo, which kept it in chaste condition.
Davis pondered what he could play for Willow. He had recently stumbled across a tune on YouTube written by another banjo player called the Sunflower Dance. It was a light and fun piece that could be played without the picks. Since Willow really liked sunflowers, the one feminine aspect of her otherwise brash nature, he decided to start with his own rendition of the piece. Miss Julie had said that Willow had a fever, joint pain, and a severe headache. He focused on all of those symptoms so he could help facilitate her healing.
He strummed a few measures and saw the flash of a white doctor's coat as his dad came around the corner. “Hi, Dad,” he said without stopping the music.
“Hi, son. Miss Julie told you who was in there?”
He nodded in response.
“I wish she hadn’t. She knows it’s against regulation,” his father admonished.
“That’s the first time she’s given me a patient name. You know she’s only ever given me the symptoms.”
His father sighed. “I suppose that’s true.” After a moment of listening to the tune, he asked, “You think you can help?”
Davis nodded. Already he could tell that the instrument was doing as he intended, it was a special connection he had with the banjo, but he wouldn’t know the results of his efforts until later.
“Well, be careful,” his dad cautioned before going back to his office.
“Always am,” Davis muttered.
His dad was only looking out for him, but it was a needless warning. Davis had never completely healed a person or fixed something all the way. It was a caution that he had heard multiple times. The miraculous transformations would have been too obvious. Instead, he always played with the intention that he would heal seventy-five to eighty percent so that the body could heal the rest of the way. When he finished the first piece, Davis decided to just play what he felt in his soul and began a random string of notes, closing his eyes and focusing on healing Willow.
Shaken vigorously was not Davis’ ideal way to be brought from slumber, yet someone felt it urgent enough to do so. He opened his eyes to see the glaring ones of his father’s. He glanced to the corner of the room to find his mother worrying her lip.
“Davis, I told you to be careful!” His dad’s voice echoed around the simple wooden room.
“What are you talkin’ about, dad?” He managed, his speech as wooly as his vision.
“I’m talking about your playing!”
Davis furrowed his brow. “I don’t understand.”
“Son,” his mother’s soft voice cut in, “did you play yesterday without a written piece to guide you?”
“Yes, but I do that all the time,” he answered.
Davis shook his head slowly as realization widened his eyes like a barn owl. His tanned skinned paled in the faint light of the room. “What happened to Willow?”
“You completely healed her,” his father interjected into the conversation. “Not just the fever, but every blemish on her skin, everything. When I did my check-up, her blood test results had her as healthy as a newborn.”
Davis scrubbed his face. “Dad, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry is not going to cut it this time, Davis. Willow’s thrilled, but Harold is fervid beyond reason. He’s going to rally the town against you. It’s clear this wasn’t my medicine that healed her and he’s blaming witchcraft.”
“How did they connect this to me?”
“Willow,” his mother said.
“Willow wouldn’t have ratted me out,” Davis declared.
“She did inadvertently. She remembers hearing banjo music and now miraculously she’s better. You know the rumors that surrounded your grandfather, Davis,” his mother said.
“This is why we told you to be careful with your composing.”
“No one ever gave me the specifics!”
His mother turned her eyes to his father. “Is that true, James? Did Cyrus never explain?”
His dad raked a hand through silvering hair. “I guess. I never really wanted to play the instrument, so I left dad to explain everything to Davis.”
“Pop just said to be careful of your intention when composing,” Davis admitted. “I wanted Willow to be healed, but I always make sure that it’s not all the way.”
His dad sighed. “Composing amplifies the intention.” His dad paced for a few tense moments. “Color me stupid…I shouldn’t have trusted dad to get all of the information across. He was so obsessed with the instrument being passed down to someone in the family…I think it made him careless.”
“Dad, I really am—”
A pounding at the front door cut off anything else. A muffled voice filtered through. “I know you’re in there. Bring the boy out Dr. Harben! A menace like that can’t be free to roam.”
His dad gave Davis an apologetic look before traversing the noisy stairs. Davis remained rooted in bed. The door creaked open and his dad said, “Sheriff Collins, what can I do for you?”
“That boy of yours has done some sort of witchcraft on my daughter and I won’t stand for it. Look at her, she’s healthy and glowin’, nothing like the mangy mutt she was before. He needs to be locked up!”
“Dad,” Willow objected, “I told you to let off. Davis didn’t harm me—he made me better!”
Davis looked to his mother as he imagined Sheriff Collins whipping around to give Willow a vicious glare. The man had a mean streak, especially with his rambunctious daughter. “You shut your mouth child. You’re in enough trouble!”
“What did I do?” She squawked.
“Sheriff Collins,” his dad said, bringing the attention back to him. “Davis has done nothing illegal, there is no need for this.” The sound of crunching paper being shoved into something filtered its way up the stairs. Silence expanded, making Davis’ heart roll like fingers across the strings of his banjo. “Sheriff this law was passed in 1875. We’re in the year 2018, and you’re going to use this outdated statute to try and convict my son?”
“Apparently, it ain’t so outdated. There was always a rumor in this town about your family and magic,” the Sheriff replied.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Harold,” James said.
Davis could only imagine the Sheriff’s face turning beet red. “It is not your place to tell me what to do! This ain’t over Harben, I will be back for your son.”
The loud clomping of boots punctuated muffled protests from Willow as she was likely dragged down the sidewalk. The door clicked shut and a few moments later his dad appeared.
In a quiet voice, Davis asked, “Is he really going to enforce that law?”
His dad handed him the paper before sitting on the edge of the bed. Davis took a moment to look it over. “What should I do?”
“I hate to say it, Son, but you need to leave.”
A frightened sob escaped his mother’s lips.
“I guess I could stay with Whitney until I get on my feet?” Davis didn’t like the prospect of living with his older sister, he liked his space as much as she liked hers, but he also didn’t want to be locked up in a cell for something so narrow-minded.
After calling his sister—she would take him in, but in true sibling fashion demanded that he not become a squatter; she didn’t have time to deal with his problems amongst her own—Davis attempted to sleep the rest of the night. A glance at the alarm clock helped him decide that now was as good of a time as any to get up and make coffee. He would need to leave soon if he was to skip town before the sheriff came back.
Tiptoeing downstairs so as to not wake his parents, Davis flicked on the kitchen light, flooding the space with a soft yellow. He shielded his eyes as he shuffled his way to the coffee pot. He had just started the machine when a light tap came from the kitchen door.
Cautious, Davis peeled back the curtain to get a view of his nocturnal visitor. Willow stood on the porch, hopeful eyes peering at him as she bit her lower lip. He sighed and swung open the door.
Willow came crashing in, as much as was possible in her efforts to remain quiet. She dropped her bag on the ground and threw herself into Davis’ arms. “I’m so sorry. I never meant this to happen! Davis, if I knew about this I wouldn’t have ratted on you. My did is an idiot. Can I come with you, wherever you’re going?” The stream of words muffled by his shirt she tried to bury her family’s shame amongst the fabric.
Instinctively, Davis wrapped his arms around her. When she paused for a breath, he said, “Willow, it’s alright. This is really my fault. I should have been more careful.”
She tilted her head to look at him, rarely seen tears watering her eyes. “My dad doesn’t have to be such a zealot. You shouldn’t have to run in fear.”
“How do you know I’m runnin’?”
“You’d be stupid not to.”
He sighed. Nodding he said, “I’m going to stay with Whitney until I can find a job and a place to live. I’ve got enough savings to get me by for now. You probably shouldn’t come, she’s only just toleratin’ me.”
Willow snorted. “Your sister is all bark.”
A small smile curled his lips. “Yeah.”
The last loud gurgle of water from the coffee machine broke them apart. Davis shuffled to the cabinet to pull down two coffee mugs. Handing the hot steaming liquid to Willow, he sat down at the table to add a couple of measures of sugar to the black brew, Willow imitating him but added a splash of cream.
“What kind of job do you think you’ll get.”
Davis shrugged. “All I know is farming, ranching, and helping my dad.”
“You’ve basically been running the hardware store for the last two years, maybe you could be a manager somewhere,” Willow said.
Unsettled silence lingered between them.
Finally, Whitney said, “When are you leavin’?”
She nodded before a loud knock rattled the windows of the front door. Willow gave Davis an anxious look. He could only guess that she hoped it wasn’t her father. Davis rose to answer the door, but the noise had awoken his father and he gestured for him to stay back. Willow came to stand next to Davis in the enveloping shadows.
As soon as Sheriff Collins’ face appeared he began shouting how Davis had now magicked his girl and stolen her. Davis’ father, placid as usual, took the angry words with the unperturbed placidity of a thick bog.
“Harold, yelling at me won’t make me produce my son. If Willow is here, she’s here by her own motivations,” his father said. “Now, if you’re not here on official business that means you’re trespassing. Get off my property.”
Davis raised his brows at the threat of his father’s words. Red splotches colored Sheriff Collins’ cheeks before he stormed for the second time down the brick path. His father turned and smiled at Willow as she stepped out of the shadows.
“Brave of you to come here, my dear. Did your father hurt you earlier?”
“No, sir. Maybe some bruisin’,” Willow replied.
His father nodded. “Davis, you better leave right now and go to my sister’s place. It’s less obvious than going to Whitney.”
“Yeah, Bonnie has been all but forgotten around here, and you’ll be safe for a while.”
Davis nodded and trudged upstairs to retrieve his things.
Willow took a long sip of the cold sweet tea as she stared at the weeping trees for which she has been named. “How long do you think it will be before we can go back?”
“Until there is a new Sheriff.” Davis plucked a few chords from Rainbow Connection. Something he had done a lot of the last couple of days to calm his and Willow’s nerves. His aunt had been kind enough to let them rent the guest house at the back of the property. A few days after leaving, Davis and Willow married, the most recent ordeal reminding them what they cared for in one another.
The easy wind rustled the long trellises of the trees creating a whispering sound. “I still think my dad is ten kinds of stupid,” Willow griped. “I’m glad that you used the banjo to heal me like you did, even if you didn’t mean to. At least my mother is more forgiving.”
Davis was quiet for a span before responding. “I should have been more careful when playing, but I don’t disrespect your father’s opinion or those he’s swayed to his side. I am just sad. Different can be good, especially what I do, but not everyone likes different.”
As he finished, the soft sound of someone walking over the grass could be heard above the wind. A timid woman rounded the corner, holding the hand of a very sick little boy. Davis leaned forward, giving the woman his attention.
“Pardon me, but are you, Davis Harben?”
Davis glanced at Willow. “Depends who’s asking.”
The woman gave him a small smile. “My cousin told me of an unexplainable healing in his town and thought maybe my son could be helped.” She hurriedly continued with, “Your father told me where you lived after I visited his clinic.”
Davis raised his brows in Willow’s direction. It was the first time his father had actively pushed to have him use the magic imbued in the banjo. Standing, instrument in hand, he said, “Well then, ma’am, my name is Davis Harben, and I may be able to help.”