by David Sokolowski
Tendrils of mist slither scentless through night’s darkened streets; shushing, slinking, caressing black asphalt and blue mailboxes under yellow lamps. A dog’s bark echoes as the thick, gray air overruns the day’s colorful soul; quiet with sleep the night nestles slightly — for a moment dangling slowly in its own presence. A great sigh passes as evening’s confident slumber releases thieves to escape…
Rain fell on Darryn as he jogged up brick steps, fumbled for keys, then unlocked the front door of his new life. A halogen bulb warmed white, blank walls; glimmering wood floors echoed when he dropped his box and bag. Darryn spun to see the bathroom, kitchen and closet. It was all he needed.
He stepped out onto the back porch, lit a cigarette, looked across the puddling brick courtyard. From a white, Spanish-styled bungalow an open window released the countered time of a metronome; tinklings of a piano skirted the rhythm as Darryn moved down the back staircase into the rain.
He passed a shadowed, soaked, stone fountain; toga-clad women pouring water from vases depicted Ulysses’ anonymous return home, to his palace, where the party continued without him. Even Ulysses’ wife hadn’t recognized him.
Darryn peered in the window and saw a man with manic yellow hair sitting behind a dull gray grand piano; young, wild eyes lit upon darkened bags. The piano stopped as the man turned his head toward Darryn, said, “Do you drum?”
A pounding begins far below a ruin — a deep, steady rhythm knocks for centuries, through long dynasties and generations of ladies in waiting. No one to hear it, the sound resonates against yellowing skeletons of kings and fools; together their bones crumble to dust. A rhythm rumbling the foundation until one day a crack appears…
Before Darryn could shake his head the man said, “No matter. Come — I must show you something.” Darryn raised an eyebrow and followed the man past the metal piano through a doorway. They moved down a short, dark hallway into a room cramped with over-stuffed wood crates, birdcages holding snakes and hamster wheels, other artifacts and antiques Darryn did not recognize.
“It’s taken me so long!” The man continued, “But my timing this round was impeccable — you must see it,” rummaging his hands through the air, the man lead Darryn quickly past ceremonial masks of gold and feathers, piles of yellowed and brittle folios, even a life-size cardboard figure of Pol Pot.
Toward the back of the museum the men approached a sheet-covered mound. Next to it stood a suit of red European plate armor accented by a shining, red battle axe, and a large clay vase painted with bright colors and hieroglyphics depicting tentacle-headed dogs battling fishmen.
The man whipped the sheet away with a flourish revealing a collection of wood, metal, and leather drums; jewel-speckled bands, barbed-wire, leather thongs, silk scarves, and knots of hair connected the drums. The batter-sides of the drums extended to every direction; a three-foot high brass stand supported the sphere.
The drums shifted size and shape as Darryn stared. A slight pulse — perhaps his heart quickening — began at the back of his head and continued to his eyes as the drums melted together, shifting slightly, altering their space until the heads moved of their own accord. Darryn blinked hard and turned to the man, whose eyes twitched and darted. The pulse in Darryn’s head quickened.
“They are the Drummz Zygha,” the man whispered as a final beat rattled a chasm in Darryn’s soul. “And I will play them soon…”
Air thick; breathing hard. Instantly, incessant sounds of life succumb, drowned, to a distant drum beat. Over thickly scaled and writhing jungle the sound carries, then returns from a distant valley. Living squeals and squawks silence as the doubled and redoubled echoes independently coordinate into the thundering chorus of a thousand war drums. They call for death…
Darryn’s hand wandered behind him over the cluttered, wooden desk as the man poured drinks. They stood in a small, book-filled study adjacent to the museum. Darryn slid a book into his jacket before the man turned, hands over his head, holding two small glasses of dark crimson liquid.
“Here,” the man said as Darryn took the glass and held it up to the light. He couldn’t see through it. The man held his glass up to toast Darryn’s.
“To that which was hidden, but now can be seen.” The man swallowed the liquid at once. Saying a silent prayer Darryn drank.
An exciting spice coated and expanded Darryn’s throat, and he suddenly sucked in a large breath of air, exhaled, felt his head spin with the sudden grant of oxygen. The man smiled with his hand extended.
“Davis Davids, creator and … collector. Welcome to my home.” Darryn shook his hand, felt deep crevasses, rooted calluses, molded, firm flesh.
“Darryn Jeffereys,” said Darryn as he eyed old books, faded pictures, and dozens of digital clocks blinking 12:00. He set his glass on the desk, took a step toward the door.
“You must be my new neighbor — have you settled yet?” Davis propped himself up on a barstool, twirled his finger through his hair, stared at Darryn’s forehead.
Darryn brushed a dark strand from his face, looked away. “No, not quite, but, then, I guess I really don’t have much to settle.”
Davis scanned Darryn’s face. Davis squinted, then smiled slightly and nodded. “You are in a period of transition, then, moving from one life to another. You have left much behind.”
The lines between Darryn and Davis fuzzed, blurred their colors into one. Darryn felt faint and his stomach grumbled.
“Yeah,” Darryn turned away to scan books on a large bookshelf. The book in Darryn’s jacket felt heavy.
“But you’d rather not talk about it?” Davis appeared at Darryn’s side. Darryn turned back toward the door.
“Not right now,” Darryn stepped back from Davis. “Look, I had a long drive today. I appreciate you showing me your new … acquisition, but I’ve really got to be going.”
Davis smiled at Darryn’s forehead.
Darryn touched his head again, “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to talk, Davis. It was good meeting you.”
Darryn moved rapidly out of the house, into the night.
Men beat each other in a dirt churchyard. Orange dust clogs throats; spit blood coagulates in dust clumps under orange leather boots; teeth, fingernails and torn knuckles disappear in a mist of thumping, crashing, knocking flesh until the churchbell rings. The men stop and stare at the brass, sun-reflecting bell. It rings five times: everyone dies.
Dust settles and the men stare at each other silently until a bright orange man with glowing orange curls plunges a knife into the back of a darker orange man. The dying man’s scream sets the men into motion…
The scent of ammonia crept into Darryn when he stepped back inside his dark room. He shook himself dry, switched on the overhead lamp, then noticed his watch had stopped. He rooted through his bag until he found his cellular phone, which rang in his hand.
“Darryn, it’s Cindy.” Her strong Southern accent conjured images of dirt-splattered Confederate flag mud flaps.
“Hey. How’d you track me down?” Darryn sat on the floor, lit a cigarette, and pulled the book from his jacket.
“Oh, you’re easy enough. If you don’t want people to find you, don’t answer your phone.” She giggled. “Hey, now that you’re done with this whole divorce thing, I was wondering if you needed company…”
Darryn turned the book over in his hands, eyed the cover from different angles, “Do you know who Davis Davids is?” The book’s cover depicted the long view of a well; someone at the bottom looking up. The well’s moss-covered stone sides were cracked and visibly decaying, but there was no light at the far end.
“You mean Davis Davids the composer? The guy whose symphony causes riots? He’s a fucking lunatic! I love his stuff. Why? Thinking of going to see one of his shows? He’s been banned from almost thirty states, you know…”
The cover’s perspective twisted when turned upside down; now the well’s view was from the top looking down.
“Well, he’s my neighbor. You know he’s also a collector of strange stuff — a lot like you, actually, but with the kind of money you need to-”
“Holy shit! You live next to Davis Davids? That’s the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” Darryn could hear Cindy dancing around her apartment, footsteps banging on floors, chairs, maybe even the table. Probably naked, he figured, or at least half naked. She continued, “You have to get an autograph for me. That dude’s a freak show!”
The book was a hard-cover magazine a few hundred pages thick. Flipping through it, Darryn saw tightly-cramped, hand-written, black text covering marginless pages. Stopping half-way through, he saw that the script had no chapter or paragraph breaks and completely lacked pictures or page numbers.
“Sorry? What was that?” Darryn closed the book.
“I said, have you met him yet?”
“Um, yeah, actually, I was just down at his place -”
“God dammit,” Cindy interrupted, “I can’t believe your luck…”
“Settle down. I got this book from him. Have you ever heard of The Well’s Bottom? It was written by a guy named Phel T. Morrow — that’s P, H, E, L — and I think it’s another one of those cryptic cult books you love so much.”
“He gave you a book?”
Darryn coughed, “Well, no. Actually, I just took it from his desk when he wasn’t looking. He’s got so much shit lying around, I figured he wouldn’t notice…” Darryn stood and walked to the back door. The rain continued to pour, and the night’s embrace had extinguished all of Darryn’s neighbors lights — even Davis’ place was dark.
“You stole a book from Davis Davids?” Cindy scoffed. “I can’t believe you! You’re getting off to a good start in your new life — stealing from your neighbors. What if he catches you? That guy’s done some pretty crazy stuff in his life — there’s no telling what he’ll do if he finds out.”
Darryn turned his own light out, submersing himself in the calming darkness. He took a deep breath and suddenly felt very tired.
“Anyway, can you find out about this book for me? Do me a favor, huh?”
“Yeah, sure, Darryn. I’ve got it written down. Look, I’m glad you’re here. When can I see you? Tomorrow?”
Darryn dropped his cigarette on the floor, stepped it out, looked out into the dark, wet night. “Why don’t I give you a call in a couple days — see if you’ve found anything, maybe get lunch or something. Cool?”
Cindy might have said something more, but Darryn had already hung up.
Moisture drips from a cell’s concrete ceiling, collecting in a cool, sticky puddle. A sudden vibration, a direct shock, rocks the cell and dust fills the air. The walls crack, crumble as the vibration strengthens instantly, mobilizing into a deafening roar; a thousand beating hearts synchronize …
Darryn sat up, unable to see in the dark. A cacophony of disjointed sounds, heinous in their coupling, vibrated the floor. He stood, moved across the room until he caught the city’s faint glow through the window.
He opened the door and was slammed by disastrous screeching and crashing. Darryn ducked back inside, pulled on sweatpants, shirt, and shoes, then stepped back out into the rain where he was again bombarded by the Sound.
A hooded figure moved slowly ahead of Darryn as he crossed the courtyard. He glanced at the statue; the women shook. The Sound was: shrieking like a million shattering windows; screeching like a nest full of abandon birds; dull booming like a volcano’s deafening eruption — the orchestrated chaos mixed and melted into one horrible symphony.
Rain soaked through Darryn’s clothes; the figure ahead knelt as it neared Davids’ house; the Sound moved through stucco and glass into the courtyard, growing as it echoed between buildings. Darryn squinted against the Sound, plugged his fingers in his ears. The Sound echoed loudly in his head.
Darryn grabbed the figure’s arm; Darryn’s landlord, Johnny Chan, turned quickly to face Darryn. Johnny’s eyes danced and darted.
“Darryn Jeffreys — what the Hell is going on here?” Johnny yelled and turned his head away from the Sound toward Darryn, who shrugged and pointed at Davids’ house.
“Have you tried the door?” yelled Darryn, motioning toward the glass door before them. Johnny nodded, “It’s locked.”
The two men stepped back when a new sound entered the mix; a buzzing now wove the other sounds into an ear-shattering pitch. Metal saws bone. Darryn looked around, then picked up a nearby chair and threw it through the door, shattering glass and wood.
The Sound instantly encompassed the men and the courtyard, flooding forward into the night; as the remnants of glass and wood bounced on brick more lights appeared in the courtyard; the Sound entered the city’s night. Johnny backed up toward the fountain, knelt down on the stone, threw up in the water, stumbled again then sat hard.
Darryn’s head throbbed as he ran through the broken door. He covered his ears, then noticed blood on his hands. He thrust himself into Davids’ house as the pain burrowed into the center of his head. Whip cracks flesh. Sheet music scattered, drifted across the piano room floor, away from the Sound pulsing from the back room.
Halfway across the room Darryn slipped, stumbled, felt a sharp pain begin in his chest and quickly dig into his entire body; the Sound spun Darryn around, he saw spots before his eyes, fell to his knees as his teeth chattered his fillings loose.
He spit the metal onto the floor, slowly stood and continued toward the back door. He saw tight ropes stretch a hairless, dark-skinned man’s limbs above a taut, white skin; black leather gloves flash as a curved, etched blade opens a red ravine from chin to groin; blood and entrails burst from the man’s body, over and out onto the taut skin.
The man screams; the skin pulses.
Lights danced out from the other room as Darryn crawled toward the doorway. Before his eyes glorious, forbidden colors of another spectrum danced and entranced, melded and moved before him, sparking forth unrefined beauty. He reached out and pulled his head and shoulders into the room, just as the colors began ringing in his head, and the Sound stopped.
Only silence and darkness remained as Darryn pulled himself slowly to his feet. He stepped carefully into the room until he saw the sheeted figure in the corner. Darryn was alone with the exotic wanderings of a madman; shadows cast themselves about in the dimly-lit room. A dark liquid coagulated and collected under the sheet-covered drumset.
A hand grasp Darryn’s shoulder, and he turned quickly to see the flashlight of a police officer. The lights turned on and another officer joined the first as they approached Darryn with their lips moving without sound. Darryn’s head rang, then stopped.
All went black as he collapsed to the floor.