Three days, three nights Robert Johnson heard the hellhounds outside his window before he died. Robert howled himself, he barked, sweated and twisted in his bed, until the poisoned whiskey finally brought him down. In the moment of stillness that was his death, he saw coming in at the door the man from the crossroads.
“Come to find me, boss?” asked Robert.
“Come to take you, Bob,” said the other.
Every hell is private and particular to the soul it is meant to torment. In hell, they stole Robert’s hands and stole his tongue, and chained him there. But the music they were not permitted to take; it was part of the bargain which allowed hell to claim him.
In hell, Robert Johnson still heard the music. In the flames. Amongst the cries. The music infused the spaces between. His chest was hollow without a heart, but he struck his arms against it and made it beat. He angled his face into hell’s tempests until his wide hollow mouth produced a tone, and he turned his head and ducked and dived it among the tempest winds until he found another and another tone, and then a song. And the song grew and he melded it with hell itself and threatened a deeper melody.
A little bit around him, cacophony dissolving to melody, hell began here and there to crack.
And souls turned towards the music and listened, and heard in Robert’s strange song the shadow of a joy that they had long forgotten.
But joy does not belong in hell.
So the man from the crossroads came to Robert Johnson once again. He undid Robert’s chains, sewed back his tongue and hands, and led him to a low door. Robert would have to stoop and twist a bit to go through.
“You must get out,” said the man from the crossroads, impatiently. “You can’t stay here.”
And Robert stooped, twisted, and went out through the door, and the man from the crossroads shut it firmly behind him.