The Performer

© 2013 Rogue

It was through the power of the internet that the one known to the world only as "The Fox" became an international superstar without ever signing a recording contract. His music was described by excited bloggers with words like "mesmerizing," "stupefying," and "like nothing you've ever fucking heard before." It began with just a simple piano tune that went viral in the course of eight hours and was quickly followed by soaring symphonies produced, it was said, by a single pair of hands and so bursting with emotion that one noted critic proclaimed that The Fox's instrument was "the human heart itself, played with the aplomb of a grand master." Radio programs downloaded and broadcast each masterpiece within days of its appearance and happily raked in the advertising dollars; doubtless they felt it easier to obtain forgiveness than permission, or perhaps they had sought permission but had been stymied in their efforts to contact the musician himself.

That, after all, was the question on the fingertips of every fan: just who was The Fox? There was never any video to accompany the melodies, or at least none that would hint at the face behind the notes or even at his geographic location. The only words that came from the person behind the music was a modest little stream in which he would place such postings as, "You can find my newest work here," or "Thank you for your nice reviews." Internet gurus who tried to decipher his location proclaimed first that he was in Bulgaria, but hours later he would post from Scotland and just a few minutes afterward from the south of France. Clearly the shy musician was not eager to be found, and to all of the promises of riches and glory from talk show hosts around the world his only answer was, "Thank you. You're very kind. I'll have something new for everyone in a week or two."

Naturally, the internet being what it is, there was no shortage of people who claimed to know exactly who The Fox was. He was best friends with approximately twenty-five thousand claimants, and was married to the sister (or niece, or neighbor, of cousin) of another fifty-seven thousand five hundred, give or take a few. Pretenders were everywhere and a few even managed to worm their way onto late-night television, but for each one of them the flicker of fame died in disgrace when they were challenged to perform. Most were chased off of the stage by angry fans. One man managed to make a name for himself by claiming to be The Fox but producing such horrible noise that the human ear could not take more than a few seconds. He did it with great flair though and had his own small fan-following, and even The Fox himself posted a little note that said, "Keep practicing. You're almost there."

The very fact that the identity of the musician was unknown fed The Fox's fame and elevated him to the level of a legend. Imagine the explosive excitement when one day, clear out of the blue, The Fox posted a modest announcement: "I would like to hold a public concert soon." Many servers around the world creaked under the weight of replies and a few of them went offline for a few hours while their owners fanned away the smoke. Perhaps The Fox himself was unprepared for the response because he went silent for a few days, until he returned with a series of brief announcements:

"The concert will be free for anyone who wants to come, but to keep it free, I want to ask just one humble favor."

"Please, no cameras and no cell phones, nowhere on site. No radios, nothing of the sort."

"I do not want any distractions, not for me, and not for you."

"The music will surround you and fill you, if you pay attention. This I promise. I want you to be completely consumed while you are there."

Another pause of a few days, and then the announcement of the time and place, followed by a worldwide groan. The Fox intended to perform quite literally in the middle of nowhere, high in the mountains and far from any large city, and in a land not known for its well-maintained roadways. "This is just my first concert," he assured his followers. "Don't worry if you can't get there. I'll be playing near you sometime soon, I promise. In the meantime, click here for my newest work."

Despite the remoteness of the concert site, more than fifty thousand people made the trek, all of them lured by the promise of an incomparable performance and of the chance to be one of the first to see the face of the elusive Fox. They were met with signs hand-painted in a flowing script and in several languages: "Leave the cell phones and recorders behind. The concert will stop immediately at the first sign of either." Most complied willingly, while those who did not were soon discovered by those around them and quickly corrected.

Beyond the signs was a vast bowl-shaped clearing, an earthen amphitheater surrounded by a high wooden fence. At the lower end was a rustic stage set with a little electronic keyboard that was dwarfed by the towers of speakers beside it, and by a towering projection screen behind.

When the last of the spectators were inside the gates were closed. A melodious and disembodied voice floated from the speakers, urging everyone to note the locations of the exits and to remind them again that the concert would end at the first sign of a cell phone or recording device of any kind. "In order to fully experience this performance, you must let it absorb you completely." Then the lights mounted atop the fence dimmed to a warm glow, and the spotlights blazed, and The Fox took the stage.

The crowd's roar would have been heard miles away, had there been any appreciable civilization in range to hear it. The jumbo screen gave even those in the back row a fine view of The Fox, and everyone marveled at how cleverly he had fashioned his costume. The fur shifted and flowed with every one of his movements as though it were actually a part of him, none of it bunching or wrinkling anywhere, and the big bushy tail that flicked and danced behind him was nothing short of a marvel of engineering. As The Fox sat at his keyboard and laid his black-clad fingers on the keys, a few cell phones appeared in sneaky hands but were quickly snatched away by bystanders and smashed before they could broadcast any images.

Then the music began, and from the very first chord the audience was entranced. Every virtuoso note found its way straight to the heart-strings and plucked masterfully at them. The listeners were lulled into silence, then broke into another roar of delight when The Fox picked up the tempo. Here he was a little jazzy, there more bluesy, now somber and mournful, then gleeful and frenetic.

The audience was his. From the stage The Fox watched them sway and dance and cry, all in answer to his music. They were such an appreciative crowd that it seemed almost a shame to do such a thing to them.

Almost. The Fox finished his final tune with a flourish and waited for the applause to fade before he leaned into a microphone. "Thank you," he said in that same smooth and mellow voice, and when he smiled his long teeth caught the light and gleamed. "I'll ask you now to kindly stay in your places for the grand finale." The audience roared its approval, and just then the lights went out, all of them.

In the silence that followed the people milled about and muttered nervously to one another. They could see nothing in the darkness, but with his keen eyes The Fox could see them all quite clearly. So, too, could the colossal figures that loomed overhead. They peered downward, licking their chops, and then all at once they dove into the crowd like children into a pile of candy. Great claws raked up dozens at a time, cramming them, alive and squealing, into fearsome muzzles high above. The nervous rumble was replaced by terrified wails that rose to a deafening crescendo, and then slowly, very slowly faded as their numbers grew thinner and thinner.

The Fox lounged at his keyboard, his tail flicking languidly as he watched his audience disappear, one handful at a time. His reward would come later. For the time being, he was content simply to relax in his front row seat and savor the performance.

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