By Daryl Keith Middlebrook

Shadow Sims is the only man to beat Satan at his own game, but the cost was higher than he anticipated. Is he desperate enough to make another deal with the devil? 


  It was strange seeing Shadow Sims sporting anything other than his signature black tux, but there he was, the next "Ellington," draped in nothing more than a blue denim shirt and jeans. It was also surreal for the man Miles nicknamed "Mr. Ultra Cool," to be pacing nervously and sweating like a marathon runner. Blame it on three months of sobriety, Shadow's longest dry spell in a decade. Instinctively he reached for the bottle of scotch, which had always been his companion before a gig, only to find a pitcher of ice water in its stead. 

            His breathing was labored, his legs felt rubbery. "You don't need no drink Shadow," he said to his trembling brown fingers. "All you need are these ten sweethearts here to do what they always do."

            Shadow slumped in the rickety old chair. His eyelids felt heavy, and he closed them. However, his daydreams brought no comfort; they were always about Sheila, how mesmerizingly beautiful she looked as they danced at the Tiki Club, her butterscotch skin glowed under the soft lights.  And then came the darkness; the altercations, Sheila crashing to the floor, blood draining from her nose, her hazel eyes glaring up at him filled with fear and hatred. Shadow forced his eyes open. He moved away from the mirror, unable to look at his reflection. 

            Suddenly, the lights flickered then the room went pitch black. "Yeah Shadow," a familiar voice cut through the darkness, "you showed that bitch who was boss." 

            The lights fluttered back on again. Shadow turns to find Blue, a lean dark figure standing in a hazy cloud of smoke. Dapper in his customary black suit and fedora, the brim dipped just enough to conceal his eyes. Blue extended his hand for some dap, Shadow left him hanging.

            "Our business deal is complete Blue." Shadow declared. "You promised to take me straight to the top, but you failed to school me on what fame would really cost. I lucked up and found a loophole out of the deal, so you broke me like a cowboy bust a bronco. I say we’re even.” 

            A sly smile spread across Blue’s face. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a silver flask. "You seem tense old man, scotch still your drink?"

            Shadow lustfully eyed the flask as Blue took a swig. "Why are you here Blue? The money's gone, I lost Sheila, no more Palladium, no more Ed Sullivan Show, all I got is this place here. Crawl back into your hole and let me be.”

Blue poured scotch into a cup.  "Hey, I'm willing to let bygones be bygones baby. So you crashed, hell Sinatra crashed. That idiot even tried to kill himself; I could've cash in right then."

Shadow's eye twitched nervously; the powerful aroma of scotch was nearly as intoxicating as the taste.

"But I'm an old softie; I redid his contract, put him back on top for another twenty years. I can do the same thing for you too."

Blue grabbed a photo of Shadow shaking hands with President John Kennedy that was taped to the mirror. He flipped it over, "October 29, 1963" was written on the back.

"You never know when your number's gonna' be punched." Blue set the flask on top of the picture. "Very few get a second chance."

            Droplets of sweat dripped from Shadow's brow, the back of his throat was parched, anticipating the sweet, musky flavor. Suddenly he glanced up at Blue's reflection in the mirror. He gasped as he caught a glimpse of Blue's true demonic visage; his skin, scaly, reptilian, his eyes burned from the thousands of souls he owned. Shadow whirled around, only to see Blue smiling in his suave human form.

Alarmed, Shadow turned back to the mirror. He studied his own face, he realized how much older he looked than his thirty-three years, a legacy courtesy of his romance with the bottle. His time in this wasteland had also given him time to reevaluate his life, the selfishness, and narcissism, which led him to this lonely existence.

Blue quickly wearied of Shadow's internal moral contemplations. "Damn them all Shadow. It's all about you baby. Sheila, all of them; they left you, dropped a dime on you."

Blue's words rang loudly in Shadow's ears. He reached for the flask; his trembling fingers nearly dropped it. He lifted the container to his lips, closed his eyes then stood to his feet, facing Blue.

He abruptly snatched the cigarette from Blue's grinning mouth and dropped it in the flask. "Sorry, I don't drink anymore."

Suddenly a gruff voice from outside the door barked, "Sims, you're on in one minute."

Shadow dropped the flask on the floor, and turned towards the door. A furious Blue burst into white hellish flame, which melted away his human facade.

" "I made you Shadow! You're nothing without me. It'll only be a matter of time before I got you lock, stock and barrel."

Shadow left the makeshift dressing room, trekking down the dark corridor, past a cadre of uniformed armed guards. Just ahead, he spots the tall, balding figure of Mike Brown, his manager.

"Thanks for bringing the boys Mike." He said as they embraced.

Mike smiled, "That's what managers do."

"How's Sheila?" Shadow guiltily asked

Mike hesitated momentarily then nodded, "Okay."

Mike then turned and walked on stage. "Gentlemen, a living legend, Shadow Sims!" Enthusiastic applause followed.

After a quick prayer, Shadow took the stage. He waved, and bowed to the standing, applauding all-male crowd, like him, they were all dressed in blue shirts and jeans. Shadow hugged each member of his band, their white tuxes clashing with his prison garb.

Finally, the Master took his seat at the ivory baby grand. He placed his trembling fingers on the keys. His face still dripped with sweat.  He looked offstage and saw Blue in full demon mode, the contract in his hand, slowly began to burn.

Shadow closed his eyes and thought of a more peaceful time, when he was a small boy, when music was his only joy. Suddenly, his fingers began to move, he played like only Shadow Sims could, not for accolades, but for contentment. 

 As the piece ended, the entire cellblock erupted in raucous applause. Reborn, Shadow looked up with tear-filled eyes. He glanced offstage; Blue had vanished. He smiled at the irony of finding freedom behind prison bars.

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