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The four-seater Beechcraft Bonanza dropped from a gray sky to the cheerless winter runways of Fargo Airport. Tires touched pavement, screeched, and the single-engine plane taxied to a halt. It was seven o’clock in the morning, February 3,1959.

Buddy Holly duckwalked down the wing and hopped to the ground. It had been a long and grueling flight; his bones ached, his eyes were gritty behind the large, plastic-framed glasses, and he felt stale and curiously depressed. Overnight bag in one hand, laundry sack in the other, he stood beside Ritchie Valens for a moment, looking for their contact. White steam curled from their nostrils. Brown grass poked out of an old layer of snow beside the runway. Somewhere a dog barked, flat and far away.

Behind the hurricane fence edging the field, a stocky man waved both hands overhead. Valens nodded, and Holly hefted his bags. Behind them, J.P. Richardson grunted as he leaped down from the plane.

They walked towards the man across the tarmac, their feet crunching over patches of dirty ice.

“Jack Blemings,” the man rasped as he came up to meet them. “I manage the dancehall and the hotel in Moorhead.” Thin mustache, thin lips, cheeks going to jowl—Holly had met this man a thousand times before: the stogie in his mouth was inevitable; the sporty plaid hat nearly so. Blemings stuck out a hand and Holly shuffled his bags awkwardly, trying to free his own hand. “Real pleased to meet you, Buddy,” Blemings said. His hand was soggy and boneless. “Real pleased to meet a real artist.”

He gestured them into a showroom-new ‘59 Cadillac. It dipped on its springs as Richardson gingerly collapsed into the back seat. Starting the engine, Blemings leaned over the seat for more introductions. Richardson was blowing his nose, but hastily transferred the silk handkerchief into his other hand so that they could shake. His delighted-to-meet-you expression lasted as long as the handshake, then the animation went out of him, and his face slumped back into lines of dull fatigue.

The Cadillac jerked into motion with an ostentatious squeal of rubber. Once across the Red River, which still ran steaming with gunmetal pre-dawn mist, they were out of North Dakota and into Moorhead, Minnesota. The streets of Moorhead were empty—not so much as a garbage truck out yet. “Sleepy little burg,” Valens commented. No one responded. They pulled up to an undistinguished six-story brick hotel in the heart of town.

The hotel lobby was cavernous and gloomy, inhabited only by a few tired-looking potted rubber plants. As they walked past a grouping of battered armchairs and sagging sofas toward the shadowy information desk in the back, dust puffed at their feet from the faded gray carpet. An unmoving ceiling fan threw thin-armed shadows around the room, and everything smelled of old cigar butts and dead flies and trapped sunshine.

The front desk was as deserted as the rest of the lobby. Blemings slammed the bell angrily until a balding, bored-looking man appeared from the back, moving as though he were swimming through syrup. As the desk clerk doled out room keys, still moving like a somnambulist, Blemings took the cigar out of his mouth and said, “I spoke with your road manager, must’ve been right after you guys left the Surf Ballroom. Needed his okay for two acts I’m adding to the show.” He paused. “S’awright with you, hey?”

Holly shrugged. “It’s your show,” he said.


Holly unlaced one shoe, let it drop heavily to the floor. His back ached, and the long, sleepless flight had made his suit rumpled and sour-smelling. One last chore and he could sleep: he picked up the bedside telephone and dialed the hotel operator for an outside line so that he could call his wife Maria in New York and tell her that he had arrived safely.

The phone was dead; the switchboard must be closed down. He sighed and bent over to pick up his shoe again.


Eight or nine men were standing around the lobby when Holly stepped out of the elevator; husky fellows, Southern boys by the look of them. Two were at the front desk, making demands of the clerk, who responded by spreading his arms wide and rolling his eyes upward.

Waiting his turn for service, Holly leaned back against the counter, glanced about. He froze in disbelief. Against all logic, all possibility, Elvis Presley himself was standing not six yards away on the gray carpet. For an instant Holly struggled with amazement. Then a second glance told him the truth.

Last year, Elvis had been drafted into the army, depriving his fans of his presence, and creating a ready market for those who could imitate him. A legion of Presley impersonators had crowded into the welcoming spotlights of stages across the country, trying vainly to fill the gap left by the King of Rock and Roll.

This man, though—he stood out. At first glance, he was Elvis. An instant later you saw that he was twenty years too old and as much as forty pounds overweight. There were dissolute lines under his eyes, and a weary, dissipated expression on his face. The rigors of being on the road had undone his ducktail, so that his hair was an untidy mess, hanging down over his forehead, and curling over his ears. He wore a sequined shirt, now wrinkled and sweaty, and a suede jacket.

Holly went over to introduce himself. “Hi,” he said. “I guess you’re playing tonight’s show.”

The man ignored his outthrust hand. Dark, haunted eyes bored into Holly’s. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, son,” he said. A soft Tennessee accent underlaid his words. “But I’m packing a piece and I know how to use it.” His hand darted inside his jacket, emerged holding an ugly-looking .38.

Involuntarily, Holly sucked in his breath. He slowly raised his hands shoulder-high, and backed away. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said. “I was just trying to be friendly.” The man’s eyes followed his retreat suspiciously, and he didn’t reholster the gun until Holly was back at the front desk.

The desk clerk was free now. Holly slid three bills across the counter, said, “Change please.” From the corner of his eye, he saw the imitation Elvis getting into the elevator, surrounded by his entourage. They were solicitous, almost subservient. One patted the man’s back as he shakily recounted his close call. Poor old man, Holly thought pityingly. The man was really cracking under the pressures of the road. He’d be lucky to last out the tour.

In the wooden booth across the lobby, Holly dumped his change on the ledge below the phone. He dialed the operator for long distance.

The earpiece buzzed, made clicking noises. Then it filled with harsh, actinic static, and the clicking grew faster and louder. Holly jiggled the receiver, racked the phone angrily.

Another flood of musicians and crew coursed through the lobby. Stepping from the booth, ruefully glancing back at the phone, he collided with a small woman in a full-length mink. “Oof,” she said, then reached out and gave him a squeeze to show there were no hard feelings. A mobile, hoydenish face grinned up at him.

“Hey, Sport,” she said brightly. “I love that bow-tie and those glasses—! Jesus, you look just like Buddy Holly!”

“I know,” he said wryly. But she was gone. He trudged back to the elevators. Then something caught his eye, and he swung about, openly staring.

Was that a man she was talking to? My God, he had hair down to his shoulders!

Trying not to stare at his amazing apparition, he stepped into the elevator. Back in his room, he stopped only long enough to pick up his bag of laundry before heading out again. He was going to have to go outside the hotel to find a working phone anyway; he might as well fight down his weariness, hunt up a laundromat, and get his laundry done.

The lobby was empty when he returned through it, and he couldn’t even find the desk clerk to ask where the nearest laundromat was. Muttering under his breath, Holly trudged out of the hotel.

Outside, the sun was shining brilliantly but without warmth from out of a hard, high blue sky. There was still no traffic, no one about on the street, and Holly walked along through an early morning silence broken only by the squeaking of his sneakers, past closed-up shops and shuttered brownstone houses. He found a laundromat after a few more blocks, and although it was open, there was no one in there either, not even the inevitable elderly Negro attendant. The rows of unused washing machines glinted dully in the dim light cast by a flyspecked bulb. Shrugging, he clumped his clothes into a machine. The change machine didn’t work, of course, but you got used to dealing with things like that on the road, and he’d brought a handkerchief full of change with him. He got the machine going, and then went out to look for a phone.

The streets were still empty, and after a few more blocks it began to get on his nerves. He’d been in hick towns before—had grown up in one—but this was the sleepiest, deadest damn town he’d ever seen. There was still no traffic, although there were plenty of cars parked by the curbs, and he hadn’t seen another person since leaving the hotel. There weren’t even any pigeons, for goodness sake!

There was a five-and-dime on the corner, its doors standing open. Holly poked his head inside. The lights were on, but there were no customers, no floorwalkers, no salesgirls behind the counters. True, small-town people weren’t as suspicious as folk from the bigger cities—but still, this was a business, and it looked as if anyone could just walk in here and walk off with any of the unguarded merchandise. It was gloomy and close in the empty store, and the air was filled with dust. Holly backed out of the doorway, somehow not wanting to explore the depths of the store for the sales personnel who must be in there somewhere.

A slight wind had come up now, and it flicked grit against his face and blew bits of scrap paper down the empty street.

He found a phone on the next corner, hunted through his handkerchief for a dime while the wind snatched at the edges of the fabric. The phone buzzed and clicked at him again, and this time there was the faint high wailing of wind in the wires, an eerie, desolate sound that always made him think of ghosts wandering alone through the darkness. The next phone he found was also dead, and the next.

Uneasily, he picked up his laundry and headed back to the hotel.


The desk clerk was spreading his hands wide in a gesture of helpless abnegation of responsibility when the fat Southerner in the sequined shirt leaned forward, poked a hard finger into the clerk’s chest, and said softly, “You know who I am, son?”

“Why, of course I do, Mr. Presley,” the clerk said nervously. “Yessir, of course I do, sir.”

“You say you know who I am, son,” Elvis said in a cottony voice that slowly mounted in volume. “If you know who I am, then you know why I don’t have to stay in a goddamned flophouse like this! Isn’t that right? Would you give your mother a room like that, you know goddamned well you wouldn’t. Just what are you people thinking of? I’m Elvis Presley, and you’d give me a room like that!”

Elvis was bellowing now, his face grown red and mottled, his features assuming that look of sulky, sneering meanness that had thrilled millions. His eyes were hard and bright as glass. As the frightened clerk shrank back, his hands held up now as much in terror as in supplication, Elvis suddenly began to change. He looked at the clerk sadly, as if pitying him, and said, “Son, do you know who I am?”

“Yessir,” whispered the clerk.

“Then can’t you see it?” asked Elvis.

“See what, sir?”

“That I’m chosen! Are you an atheist, are you a goddamned atheist?” Elvis pounded on the desk and barked, “I’m the star, I’ve been given that, and you can’t soil it, you atheist bastard! You sonovabitch!” Now that was the worst thing he could call anyone, and he never, almost never used it, for his mother, may she rest in peace, was holy. She had believed in him, had told him that the Lord had chosen him, that as long as he sang and believed, the Lord would take care of him. Like this? Is this the way He was going to take care of me?

“I’m the star, and I could buy this hotel out of my spare change! Buy it, you hear that?” And even as he spoke, the incongruity of the whole situation hit him, really hit him hard for the first time. It was as though his mind had suddenly cleared after a long, foggy daze, as if the scales had fallen from his eyes.

Elvis stopped shouting and stumbled back from the desk, frightened now, fears and suspicions flooding in on him like the sea. What was he doing here? Dammit, he was the King! He’d made his comeback, and he’d played to capacity crowds at the biggest concert halls in the country. And now he couldn’t even remember how he’d gotten here—he’d been at Graceland, and then everything had gotten all foggy and confused, and the next thing he knew he was climbing out of the bus in front of this hotel with the roadies and the rest of the band. Even if he’d agreed to play this one-horse town, it would have to have been for charity. That’s it, it had to be for charity. But then where were the reporters, the TV crews? His coming here would be the biggest damn thing that had ever happened in Moorhead, Minnesota. Why weren’t there any screaming crowds being held back by police?

“What in hell’s going on here?” Elvis shouted. He snatched out his revolver, and gestured to his two bodyguards to close up on either side of him. His gaze darted wildly about the lobby as he tried to look into every corner at once. “Keep your eyes open! There’s something funny—”

At that moment, Jack Blemings stepped out of his office, shut the door smoothly behind him, and sauntered across the musty old carpet toward them. “Something wrong here, Mr. Presley?” he drawled.

“Damn right there is,” Elvis raged, taking a couple of steps toward Blemings and brandishing his gun. “You know how many years it’s been since I played a tank town like this? I don’t know what in hell the Colonel was thinking of to send me down here. I—”

Smiling blandly and ignoring the gun, Blemings reached out and touched Elvis on the chest.

Elvis shuddered and took a lurching step backward, his eyes glazing over. He shook his head, looked foggily around the lobby, glanced down at the gun in his hand as though noticing it for the first time, then holstered it absentmindedly. “Time’s the show tonight?” he mumbled.

“About eight, Mr. Presley,” Blemings answered, smiling. “You’ve got plenty of time to relax before then.”

Elvis looked around the lobby again, running a hand through his greased-back hair. “Anything to do around here?” he asked, a hint of the old sneer returning.

“We got a real nice bar right over there the other side of the lobby,” Blemings said.

“I don’t drink,” Elvis said sullenly.

“Well, then,” Blemings added brightly, “we got some real nice pinball machines in that bar, too.”

Shaking his head, Elvis turned and moved away across the lobby, taking his entourage with him.

Blemings went back to his office.


J.P. Richardson had unpacked the scotch and was going for ice when he saw the whore. There was no mistaking what she was. She was dressed in garish gypsy clothes with ungodly amounts of jewelry about her neck and wrists. Beneath a light blouse her breasts swayed freely—she wasn’t even wearing a bra. He didn’t have to be told how she had earned the mink coat draped over one arm.

“Hey, little sister,” Richardson said softly. He was still wearing the white suit that was his onstage trademark, his “Big Bopper” outfit. He looked good in it, and knew it. “Are you available?”

“You talking to me, honey?” She spoke defiantly, almost jeeringly, but something in her stance, her bold stare, told him she was ready for almost anything. He discreetly slid a twenty from a jacket pocket, smiled and nodded.

“I’d like to make an appointment,” he said, slipping the folded bill into her hand. “That is, if you are available now.”

She stared from him to the bill and back, a look of utter disbelief on her face. Then, suddenly, she grinned. “Why, ‘course I’m available, sugar. What’s your room number? Gimme ten minutes to stash my coat and I’ll be right there.”

“Room four-eleven.” Richardson watched her flounce down the hall, and, despite some embarrassment, was pleased. There was a certain tawdry charm to her. Probably ruts like a mink, he told himself. He went back to his room to wait.


The woman went straight to the hotel bar, slapped the bill down, and shouted, “Hey, kids, pony up! The drinks are on Janis!”

There was a vague stirring, and two or three lackluster men eddied toward the bar.

Janis looked about, saw that the place was almost empty. A single drunk sat wall-eyed at a table, holding onto its edges with clenched hands to keep from falling over. To the rear, almost lost in gloom, a big stud was playing pinball. Two unfriendly types, who looked like bodyguards, stood nearby, protecting him from the empty tables. Otherwise—nothing. “Shoulda taken the fat dude up on his offer,” she grumbled. “There’s nothing happening here.” Then, to the bartender, “Make mine a whiskey sour.”

She took a gulp of her drink, feeling sorry for herself. The clatter of pinball bells ceased briefly as the stud lost his ball. He slammed the side of the machine viciously with one hand. She swiveled on her stool to look at him.

“Damn,” she said to the bartender. “You know, from this angle that dude looks just like Elvis.”


Buddy Holly finished adjusting his bow-tie, reached for a comb, then stopped in mid-motion. He stared about the tiny dressing room, with its cracked mirror and bare light bulbs, and asked himself, How did I get here?

It was no idle, existential question. He really did not know. The last thing he remembered was entering his hotel room and collapsing on the bed. Then—here. There was nothing in between.

A rap at the door. Blemings stuck his head in, the stench of his cigar permeating the room. “Everything okay in here?”

“Well,” Holly began. But he went no further. What could he say? “How long before I go on?”

“Plenty of time. You might want to catch the opener, though—good act. On in ten.”


Blemings left, not quite shutting the door behind him. Holly studied his face in the mirror. It looked haggard and unresponsive. He flashed a toothy smile, but did not feel it. God, he was tired. Being on the road was going to kill him. There had to be a way off the treadmill.

The woman from the hotel leaned into his room. “Hey, Ace—you seen that Blemings motherfucker anywhere?”

Holly’s jaw dropped. To hear that kind of language from a woman—from a white woman. “He just went by,” he said weakly.

“Shit!” She was gone.

Her footsteps echoed in the hallway, were swallowed up by silence. And that was wrong. There should be the murmur and nervous bustle of acts preparing to go on, last-minute errands being run, equipment being tested. Holly peered into the corridor—empty.

To one side, the hall dead-ended into a metal door with a red EXIT sign overhead. Holly went the other way, toward the stage.

Just as he reached the wings, the audience burst into prolonged, almost frenzied applause. The Elvis impersonator was striding onstage. It was a great crowd.

But the wings were empty. No stagehands or gofers, no idlers, nobody preparing for the next set.

“Elvis” spread his legs wide and crouched low, his thick lips curling in a sensual sneer. He was wearing a gold lamb jumpsuit, white scarf about his neck. He moved his guitar loosely, adjusting the strap, then gave his band the downbeat.

Well it’s one for the money

Two for the show

Three to get ready

Now go cat go!

And he was off and running into a brilliant rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes.” Not an easy song to do because the lyrics were laughable. It relied entirely on the music, and it took a real entertainer to make it work.

This guy had it all, though. The jumps, gyrations, and forward thrusts of the groin were stock stuff—but somehow he made them look right. He played the audience, too, and his control was perfect. Holly could see shadowy shapes beyond the glare of the footlights, moving in a more than sexual frenzy, was astonished by their rapturous screams. All this in the first minutes of the set.

He’s good, Holly marveled. Why was he wasting that kind of talent on a novelty act? There was a tug at his arm, and he shrugged it off.

The tug came again. “Hey, man,” somebody said, and he turned to find himself again facing the woman. Their eyes met and her expression changed oddly, becoming a mixture of bewilderment and outright fear. “Jesus God,” she said in awe. “You are Buddy Holly!”

“You’ve already told me that,” he said, irritated. He wanted to watch the man on stage—who was he, anyway?—not be distracted by this foul-mouthed and probably not very clean woman.

“No, I mean it—you’re really Buddy Holly. And that dude on stage—” she pointed—“he’s Elvis Presley.”

“It’s a good act,” Holly admitted. “But it wouldn’t fool my grandmother. That good ol’ boy’s forty if he’s a day.”

“Look,” she said. “I’m Janis Joplin. I guess that don’t mean nothing to you, but—Hey, lemme show ya something.” She tried to tug him away from the stage.

“I want to see the man’s act,” he said mildly.

“It won’t take a minute, man. And it’s important, I swear it. It’s—you just gotta see it, is all.”

There was no denying her. She led him away, down the corridor to the metal door with its red EXIT sign, and threw it open. “Look!”

He squinted into a dull winter evening. Across a still, car-choked parking lot was a row of faded brick buildings. A featureless gray sky overhung all. “There used ta be a lot more out here,” Janis babbled. “All the rest of the town. It all went away. Can you dig it, man? It just all—went away.”

Holly shivered. This woman was crazy! “Look, Miss Joplin,” he began. Then the buildings winked out of existence.

He blinked. The buildings had not faded away—they had simply ceased to be. As crisply and sharply as if somebody had flipped a switch. He opened his mouth, shut it again.

Janis was talking quietly, fervently. “I don’t know what it is, man, but something very weird is going down here.” Everything beyond the parking lot was a smooth even gray. Janis started to speak again, stopped, moistened her hips. She looked suddenly hesitant and oddly embarrassed. “I mean, like, I don’t know how to break this to ya, Buddy, but you’re dead. You bought it in a plane crash way back in ‘59.”

“This is ‘59,” Holly said absently, looking out across the parking lot, still dazed, her words not really sinking in. As he watched, the cars snapped out of existence row by row, starting with the furthest row, working inward to the nearest. Only the asphalt lot itself remained, and a few bits of litter lying between the painted slots. Holly’s groin tightened and, as fear broke through astonishment, he registered Janis’s words and felt rage grow alongside fear.

“No, honey,” Janis was saying, “I hate to tell ya, but this is 1970.” She paused, looking uncertain. “Or maybe not. Ol’ Elvis looks a deal older than I remember him being. We must be in the future or something, huh? Some kinda sci-fi trip like that, like on Star Trek? You think maybe we—”

But Holly had swung around ferociously, cutting her off. “Stop it!” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on, what kind of trick you people are trying to play on me, or how you’re doing all these things, but I’m not going to put up with any more of—”

Janis put her hand on Holly’s shoulder; it felt hot and small and firm, like a child’s hand. “Hey, listen,” Janis said quietly, cutting him off. “I know this is hard for you to accept, and it is pretty heavy stuff . . . but Buddy, you’re dead. I mean, really you are . . . It was about ten years ago, you were on tour, right? And your plane crashed, spread you all over some farmer’s field. It was in all the goddamn papers, you and Ritchie Valens, and . . .” She paused, startled, and then grinned. “And that fat dude at the hotel, that must’ve been the Big Bopper. Wow! Man, if I’d known that I might’ve taken him up on it. You were all on your way to some diddlyshit hick town like . . .” She stopped, and when she started to speak again, she had gone pale. “. . . like Moorhead, Minnesota. Oh Christ, I think it was Moorhead. Oh boy, is that spooky . . .” She fell silent again.

Holly sighed. His anger had collapsed, leaving him hollow and confused and tired. He blinked away a memory that wasn’t a memory of torn-up black ground and twisted shards of metal. “I don’t feel dead,” he said. His stomach hurt.

“You don’t look dead, either,” Janis reassured him. “But honey, I mean, you really were.”

They stood staring out across the now-vacant parking lot, a cold, cinder-smelling wind tugging at their clothes and hair. At last, Janis said, her brassy voice gone curiously shy, “You got real famous, ya know, after . . . afterwards. You even influenced, like, the Beatles . . . Shit, I forgot—I guess you don’t even know who they are, do you?” She paused uncomfortably, then said, “Anyway, honey, you got real famous.”

“That’s nice,” Holly said dully.

The parking lot disappeared. Holly gasped and flinched back. Everything was gone. Three concrete steps with an iron pipe railing led down from the door into a vast, unmoving nothingness.

“What a trip,” Janis muttered. “What a trip”

They stared at the oozing gray nothingness until it seemed to Holly that it was creeping closer, and then, shuddering, he slammed the door shut.

Holly found himself walking down the corridor, going no place in particular, his flesh still crawling. Janis tagged along after him, talking anxiously. “Ya know, I can’t even really remember how I got to this burg. I was in L.A. the last I remember, but then everything gets all foggy. I thought it was the booze, but now I dunno.”

“Maybe you’re dead too,” Holly said, almost absentmindedly.

Janis paled, but a strange kind of excitement shot through her face, under the fear, and she began to talk faster and faster. “Yeah, honey, maybe I am. I thought of that too, man, once I saw you. Maybe whoever’s behind all this are magicians, man, black magicians, and they conjured us all up.” She laughed a slightly hysterical laugh. “And you wanna know another weird thing? I can’t find any of my sidemen here, or the roadies, or anybody, ya know? Valens and the Bopper don’t seem to be here either. All of ‘em were at the hotel, but backstage here it’s just you and me and Elvis, and that motherfucker Blemings. It’s like they’re not really interested in the rest of them, right? They were just window dressing, man, but now they don’t need ‘em anymore, and so they sent them back. We’re the headline acts, sweetie. Everybody else they vanished, just like they vanished the fucking parking lot, right? Right?”

“I don’t know,” Holly said. He needed time to think. Time alone.

“Or, hey—how about this? Maybe you’re not dead. Maybe we got nabbed by flying saucers, and these aliens faked our deaths, right? Snatched you out of your plane, maybe. And they put us together here—wherever here is—not because they dig Rock—shit, they probably can’t even understand it—but to study us and all that kinda shit. Or maybe it is 1959, maybe we got kidnapped by some time-traveler who’s a big Rock freak. Or maybe it’s a million years in the future, and they’ve got us all taped, see? And they want to hear us, so they put on the tape and we think we’re here, only we’re not. It’s all a recording. Hey?”

“I don’t know.”

Blemings came walking down the corridor, cigar trailing a thin plume of smoke behind him. “Janis, honey! I been beating the bushes for you, sweetie-pie. You’re on in two.”

“Listen, motherfuck,” Janis said angrily. “I want a few answers from you!” Blemings reached out and touched her hand. Her eyes went blank and she meekly allowed him to lead her away.

“A real trouper, hey?” Blemings said cheerfully.

“Hey!” Holly said. But they were already gone.


Elvis laid down his guitar, whipped the scarf from his neck, and mopped his brow with it. He kissed the scarf and threw it into the crowd. The screams reached crescendo pitch as the little girls fought over its possession. With a jaunty wave of one hand, he walked offstage.

In the wings, he doubled over, breathing heavily. Sweat ran out of every pore in his body. He reached out a hand and no one put a towel in it. He looked up angrily.

The wings were empty, save for a kid in big glasses. Elvis gestured weakly toward a nearby piece of terrycloth. “Towel,” he gasped, and the kid fetched it.

Toweling off his face, Elvis threw back his head, began to catch his breath. He let the cloth slip to his shoulders, and for the first time got a good look at the kid standing before him. “You’re Buddy Holly,” he said. He was proud of how calmly it came out.

“A lot of people have told me that today,” Holly said. The crowd roared, breaking off their conversation. They turned to look. Janis was dancing onstage from the opposite side. Shadowy musicians to the rear were laying down a hot, bluesy beat. She grabbed the microphone, laughed into it.

“Well! Ain’t this a kick in the ass? Yeah. Real nice, real nice.” There were anxious lines about her eyes, but most of the audience wouldn’t be able to see that. “Ya know, I been thinking a lot about life lately. ‘Deed I have. And I been thinkin’ how it’s like one a dem ole-time blues songs. Ya know? I mean, it hurts so bad and it feels so good!” The crowd screamed approval. The band kept laying down the rhythm. “So I got a song here that kind of proves my point.”

She swung an arm up and then down, giving the band the beat, and launched into “Heart and Soul.”

“Well?” Elvis said. “Give me the message.”

Holly was staring at the woman onstage. “I never heard anyone sing like that before,” he murmured. Then, “I’m sorry—I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Presley.”

“Call me Elvis,” he said automatically. He felt disappointed. There had been odd signs and omens, and now the spirits of departed Rock stars were appearing before him—there really ought to be a message. But it was clear the kid was telling the truth; he looked scared and confused.

Elvis turned on a winning smile, and impulsively plucked a ring from one of his fingers. It was a good ring; lots of diamonds and rubies. He thrust it into Holly’s hands. “Here, take this. I don’t want the goddamned thing anymore, anyway.”

Holly squinted at the ring quizzically. “Well, put it on,” Elvis snapped. When Holly had complied, he said, “Maybe you’d better tell me what you do know.”

Holly told his story. “I understand now,” Elvis said. “We’re caught in a snare and delusion of Satan.”

“You think so?” Holly looked doubtful.

“Squat down.” Elvis hunkered down on the floor, and after an instant’s hesitation, Holly followed suit. “I’ve got powers,” Elvis explained. “The power to heal—stuff like that. Now me and my momma, we were always close. Real close. So she’ll be able to help us, if we ask her.”

“Your mother?”

“She’s in Heaven,” Elvis said matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Holly said weakly.

“Now join hands, and concentrate real hard.”


Holly felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. As a good Baptist, which he certainly tried to be, the idea of a backstage séance seemed blasphemous. But Elvis, whether he was the real item or not, scared him. Elvis’s eyes were screwed shut and he was saying, “Momma. Can you hear me, Momma?” over and over in a fanatic drone.

The séance seemed to go on for hours, Holly suffering through it in mute misery, listening as well as he could to Janis, as she sung her way through number after amazing number. And finally, she was taking her last bows, crowing “Thank you, thank you,” at the crowd.

There was a cough at his shoulder, and a familiar stench of tobacco. Holly looked up. “You’re on,” Blemings said. He touched Holly’s shoulder.

Without transition, Holly found himself onstage. The audience was noisy and enthusiastic, a good bunch. A glance to the rear, and he saw that the backup musicians were not his regular sidemen. They stood in shadow, and he could not see their faces.

But the applause was long and loud and it crept up under his skin and into his veins, and he knew he had to play something. “Peggy Sue,” he called to the musicians, hoping they knew the number. When he started playing his guitar, they were right with him. Tight. It was a helluva good backup band; their playing had bone and sinew to it. The audience was on its feet now, bouncing to the beat.

He gave them “Rave On”, “Maybe Baby”, “Words of Love”, and “That’ll be the Day”, and the audience yelped and howled like wild beasts, but when he called out “Not Fade Away” to the musicians, the crowd quieted, and he felt a special, higher tension come into the hall. The band did a good, strong intro, and he began singing.

I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be

You’re gonna give your love to me

He had never felt the music take hold of him this immediately, this strongly, and he felt a surge of exhilaration that seemed to instantly communicate itself to the audience, and be reflected back at him redoubled, bringing them all up to a deliriously high level of intensity. Never had he performed better. He glanced offstage, saw that Janis was swaying to the beat, slapping a hand against her thigh. Even Elvis was following the music, caught up in it, grinning broadly and clapping his ring-studded hands.

For love is love and not fade away.

Somewhere to the rear, one of the ghostly backup musicians was blowing blues harmonica, as good as any he’d ever heard.

There was a flash of scarlet, and Janis had run onstage. She grabbed a free mike, and joined him in the chorus. When they reached the second verse, they turned to face each other and began trading off lines. Janis sang:

My love’s bigger than a Cadillac

and he responded. His voice was flat next to hers. He couldn’t give the words the emotional twist she could, but their voices synched, they meshed, they worked together perfectly.

When the musical break came, somebody threw Janis a tambourine, so she could stay onstage, and she nabbed it out of the air. Somebody else kicked a bottle of Southern Comfort across the stage, and she stopped it with her foot, lifted it, downed a big slug. Holly was leaping into the air, doing splits, using every trick of an old rocker’s repertoire, and miraculously he felt he could keep on doing so forever, could stretch the break out to infinity if he tried.

Janis beckoned widely toward the wings. “Come on out,” she cried into the microphone. “Come on.”

To a rolling avalanche of applause, Elvis strode onstage. He grabbed a guitar and strapped it on, taking a stance beside Holly. “You don’t mind?” he mumbled.

Holly grinned.

They went into the third verse in unison. Standing between the other two, Holly felt alive and holy and—better than either alive or holy—right. They were his brother and sister. They were in tune; he could not have sworn which body was his.

Well, love is love and not fade away

Elvis was wearing another scarf. He whipped it off, mopped his brow, and went to the footlights to dangle it into the crowd. Then he retreated as fast as if he’d been bitten by a snake.

Holly saw Elvis talking to Janis, frantically waving an arm at the crowd beyond the footlights. She ignored him, shrugging off his words. Holly squinted, could not make out a thing in the gloom.

Curious, he duckwalked to the edge of the stage, peered beyond.

Half the audience was gone. As he watched, the twenty people furthest from the stage snapped out of existence. Then another twenty. And another.

The crowd noise continued undiminished, the clapping and whooping and whistling, but the audience was gone now—except for Blemings, who sat alone in the exact center of the empty theater. He was smiling faintly at them, a smile that could have meant anything and, as Holly watched, he began softly, politely, to applaud.

Holly retreated backstage, pale, still playing automatically. Only Janis was singing now.

Not fade away

Holly glanced back at the musicians, saw first one, then another, cease to exist. Unreality was closing in on them. He stared into Elvis’s face, and for an instant saw mirrored there the fear he felt.

Then Elvis threw back his head and laughed, and was singing into his mike again. Holly gawked at him in disbelief.

But the music was right, and the music was good, and while all the rest—audience, applause, someplace to go when the show was over—was nice, it wasn’t necessary. Holly glanced both ways, and saw that he was not the only one to understand this. He rejoined the chorus.


Janis was squeezing the microphone tight, singing, when the last sideman blinked out. The only backup now came from Holly’s guitar—Elvis had discarded his. She knew it was only a matter of minutes before the nothingness reached them, but it didn’t really matter. The music’s all that matters, she thought. It’s all that made any of it tolerable, anyway. She sang.

Not fade away

Elvis snapped out. She and Holly kept on singing.

If anyone out there is listening, she thought. If you can read my mind, or some futuristic bullshit like that—I just want you to know that I’d do this again anytime. You want me, you got me.

Holly disappeared. Janis realized that she had only seconds to go herself, and she put everything she had into the last repetition of the line. She wailed out her soul, and a little bit more. Let it echo after I’m gone, she thought. Let it hang on thin air. And as the last fractional breath of music left her mouth, she felt something seize her, prepare to turn her off. Not fade away

It had been a good session.

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