Searching for Jimmy Page
Christy Alexander Hallberg

Publication October 20th, 2021!

 

 
Binding

Preorder Now!

252 pages  

ISBN 978-1-60489-291-8, Trade Paper, $19.95 Sale $15

ISBN 978-1-60489-292-5, Hard Cover, $29.95

Also available in Kindle and e-book!

Synopsis:

The unraveling of eighteen-year-old Luna Kane’s haunted past begins in the winter of 1988, when her great-grandfather, a self-proclaimed faith healer, claims he hears phantom owls crying in the night. “Them owls, like music. Can you hear the music?” His plea triggers Luna’s repressed memory of her dead mother’s obsession with Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s legendary guitar wizard, and sends her on a pilgrimage from North Carolina to England.  

About the Author:

Christy Alexander Hallberg teaches literature and writing online at East Carolina University. She serves as Senior Associate Editor of North Carolina Literary Review and editor of Friday Flash USA at Litro magazine. Her short fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and interviews have appeared in such journals as North Carolina Literary Review, storySouth, Main Street Rag, Fiction Southeast, Riggwelter, Deep South Magazine, Eclectica, Litro, STORGY Magazine, Entropy, and Concho River Review. Her flash story “Aperture” was chosen Story of the Month by Fiction Southeast for October 2020 and was selected by the editors of the annual Best Small Fictions anthology series for the 2021 edition. She lives near Asheville, NC.

 
 

Excerpt from Book:

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

 

 

The night my great-grandfather died, frigid air howled through the pines and swirled down the chimney of his shack near our fallow tobacco fields in eastern North Carolina. My grandmother and I kept vigil at his bedside, a battery-operated space heater oscillating at our feet, kerosene lamps lofting shadows on the walls. He’d refused to install electricity and insisted the fireplace remain unlit at night. He claimed spirits talked to him through the flue at the Witching Hour. So did birds, especially owls. He said they were good omens, unless they flew inside your house. Owl in the house means death’s coming, he’d say.

I lolled my head against the wall, bare like all the others, no family portraits or prosaic artwork or thumbtacked greeting cards with snapshots of my great-grandfather’s progeny tucked inside. The shack was cluttered with clothes and other debris from a fading life, but the walls were naked. He preferred it that way, no memories or illusions, except the ones that came to him at night.

At the stroke of twelve he wrapped his knotty fingers around my wrist and squeezed. “Can you hear it?” he asked, his voice like winter wind crackling through kindling. An icy shiver ran through me. He had not spoken since that balmy summer night when I was nine years old, when the river ran dry and the pines began to cry. The night my mother committed suicide—an abomination, he’d called it. A sin against Providence. He’d sat expressionless in his rocking chair while Grandma delivered the news, his face bathed in candlelight, then hobbled into the woods and chanted my mother’s name, like an incantation, a prayer for deliverance. Then he’d spoken no more.

I inched closer to him, close enough to smell the implacable stench of the dying. “Hear what?” I asked timorously.

“Owls,” he said. “Like music.”

My body fluttered as if I were falling out of oblivion, slowly, unwittingly, the air prickly and thin. Long ago, I’d heard a song about owls crying in the night, the singer’s wail primeval, in synch with marauding guitar licks, the beat like jungle drums. I felt them vibrating inside me just then, like a distant echo from another life, one that still included my mother.

“Can you hear the music?” he persisted, struggling to raise his head.

Grandma implored me with her eyes. “I can hear it, Granddaddy.”

He gave a shuddering laugh. “Ain’t in your head, girl.” “Where then?”

I waited, watching his chest rise and fall, his fitful breaths grow shallow—the caesura between life and death.

“It’s in your soul,” he finally said. He nudged his Bible beside him, giving voice to verse: “Ecclesiastes 6:10: That which hath been is named already.”

He dropped my arm and exhaled, his face pallid and drawn. Grandma and I stood over him, bearing witness, sleet pelting the windows, that song about the owls, its searing guitar, haunting me, like fragments of memory I’d buried with my childhood—grainy images of my mother in her yellow bedroom with her lavender incense and votive candles, her black and white photograph of a Rock star standing on a stage at Kezar Stadium in 1973, dressed all in white, lips pursed, unruly dark hair framing a beatific face, guitar strapped over his shoulder, arms spread wide, as if he were awaiting crucifixion. The two of them were intertwined in my mind’s eye, like ashes wafting in a summer wind, waiting for water to receive them. I was born of water and moonlight, and of her and of him.

Grandma stopped the clock on the mantle to mark the moment of my great-grandfather’s passing, as if halting time held power—then forever now.

She handed me a flashlight then draped her overcoat around me, the scent of Jergens lotion and Talcum Powder lingering in the fabric. “Go on home, honey,” she said. “I shouldn’t have brought you here.”

“You didn’t,” I said faintly.

I’d followed her from our farmhouse at dusk, trudged the quarter-mile past the barn and hog pen, through the woods, where the footpath ended, as if I’d heard my great- grandfather’s keening call.

“Go home,” Grandma said, prodding me toward the door. “I’ll be along directly.”

I wrenched away from her and stared at my great- grandfather, the withered shell that remained, searching for some part of him that still looked vital—the outline of his body beneath the quilt, legs splayed as if the cat he used to own were nestled between them, his arm dangling over the side of the bed. Grandma tucked it underneath the quilt her mother had made, tattered and yellowed with age, the same quilt that had covered her while she lay dying over half a century before, cancer ravaging her breast, flies swarming the window screens, attracted by the fetor of rotting flesh, all because her husband had believed he could heal her with ritual and prayer. I harbor a picture of that night in my mind’s eye—my great-grandmother’s bewildered stare, her mouth a perfect O—a last word half-spoken, an oracle undelivered. Now he was dead, his jaw unhinged, spittle on his grizzled chin, his only child by his side—the daughter whom he only recognized after she’d tell him her name, the name he’d given her seventy years ago.

“Do like I say,” Grandma said sternly.

I stood there breathless, my great-grandfather’s milky eyes—fixed and dilated, seeing nothing, seeing everything— boring into mine.

Grandma cupped my chin in her hand. “Don’t look back,” she said with urgency in her voice.

I never had before. Not after my mother died. Like my great-grandfather, I had not spoken her name since. I had not heard her voice in a brooding summer rain or felt her hand clasping mine in a sibylline dream or seen her face in the shadow of a stealthy Hunter’s Moon. I had erased her and the sainted sinner who conjured music and magic from an electric guitar, his photograph in my mother’s bedroom, her unfaithful talisman. I’d never looked back. Never. Until that winter’s night in February 1988, when I was eighteen years old, the past summoned like fire in my great-grandfather’s shack, phantom owls crying in the night.

It was inevitable. Perhaps it was even Providence.

Now would return me to then. The tale demanded to be told.