This Week’s Prompt:39. Sounds—possibly musical—heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being.
The Research: Sing Me A Song
It started with a funeral. Jack was taken up into Abraham’s bosom, perhaps too soon. He was young, by the standards of the dead, having just crossed his third decade when he was taken from us. I didn’t know it, as I sat beside Ms. Yuri then and there, watching the pallbearers lower him down into the earth as the wind whistled and the clouds formed overhead, that this was the start. But really, it should have been apparent.
Ms. Yuri got up to make a speech for the man who’s name she would now never take. I don’t remember it’s words as much as it’s emotions and themes. It’s the curse of emotion, to obliterate the finer details. Passion cares little for the proper use of a comma, as long as the sounds stir the soul.
Ms. Yuri gave the same speech as I think every funeral speech gives. Nothing exceptional. He was a lover, a friend, he knew how to make you laugh. He loved children and music for their subtle complexities beneath a veneer of simple understanding. And how tragic, how tragic it was that he died.
The priest gave last rites, mumbled and muffled. He clearly had forgotten most of the words, teetering over as he was. He tried his best to seem somber and sober, but failed to convince me that he was either. And with that, Jack was sent below. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust.
As he was lowered, I saw Ms. Yuri sit suddenly upright, as if struck with inspiration. She settled after a second, staring ahead with steely determination. I didn’t ask about it. I assumed it was a deep resolve that people get when they see death.
I wasn’t entirely wrong.
The first time I was sent in uniform back home. It was a black, with silver buttons. It had the Pinkerton badge at the side of the coat, and silver trim to the pants. The call had taken me out to an old hill on the edge of town, where a farmer insisted that something was stealing his cattle. I sat watching the area with my headlights on, waiting for someone to lead them astray. What I saw was…not exactly that.
The wind carried the sounds of a pipe organ through the air. I watched as the grounds began to slip and shake almost soundlessly, bending the gates aside. And almost aimlessly, the cattle wandered out.
I pulled forward slowly, honking my horn at them. The ground, despite the apparent changes, was still there and still steady. My car bent with it, making a grinding noise as it entered the sinking section. The cattle backed away from the loud metal monster with me inside. One or two seemed unconvinced, so I honked louder. The second noise seemed to shake off the pipe organ. The warping the music made came to a sudden and somewhat violent halt, the ground snapping back with sharp spikes.
The bottom of my car looked awful, beyond even the best mechanic. When I explained to the home office what had happened, I got a simple business as usual response. The cattle hadn’t gotten away, and I suggested the farmer use some ear plugs to keep them inside. Whatever cattle thief was trying to pull them back seemed to be doing so by accident.
“It was the weirdest thing. Have there been sink holes like that?” I asked Lea Yuri over the phone.
“A few, yeah. They think there’s some limestone caves breaking down around the edge of town. Excess sewer water or something.” She replied over the static connection. “But you heard piping?”
“You can’t tell me that’s caused by the sink hole?” I said irritably as I got my shoe off, muddy from the walk back into town.
“In it of itself? No, but it might have pulled down some pipes or something, you know. Like a bunch of bottles.” She replied. “ But yeah, its a bit freaky. Cows aren’t worth that much either. Must have been an opportunist. Did you ever find them?”
“The stolen ones? No, not a bit of them.” I said, placing the phone on the counter as I went to make coffee.
“Huh. Well, I’m sure they’ll turn up.”
“Who cares, job’s done. I’m going to read a bit and try and forget all this.”
“All what? You sound fine. After all, you didn’t fall into the sink hole.”
“Wasn’t a sinkhole, and my car took a hammering. Hoping company is fine with replacing it.” I said, adding my Irish to the coffee with a shaking hand.
“Well, good luck with that, and good night.” Ms. Yuri said, before the click hit.
There were, in the newspaper, other sinkholes that night. A few had suddenly filled, damaging cars and livestock and people at times. Most were around the outskirts of town, and had made a piping sound as the wind went over them. In the face of overwhelming evidence that I couldn’t be to blame this time, the company repaired the car. It made a creaking noise every time I used it.
A creaking clacking noise that was great for making me unsubtle as I drove along the coastline. It had been a while on the Pinkerton team, and I’d been bumped to some of the less savory work. I had my badge read, and a gun at hand. There was a strike by the shore that we had decided was going to grow violent. I had my black and silver on, as I pulled up to the docks. The same company car as the other thirty or so. The cars made a barricade from the strikers, a wall of steel we could stand behind.
“Ronald, looking sharp as ever.” One of my fellows said as I got out of my car. “Still wearing the ribbon I see.”
The ribbon was a small purple piece of fabric around my badge. Made it look a bit better, feel a bit better.
“Get rid of it.” he followed up, staring over the strikers. “We need one face, one motion unbroken if we’re going to stem this tide. If they smell a fracture, they’ll surge.”
Cursing a little, I took off the ribbon, stuffing it beneath the jacket. The strikers didn’t look eager for blood yet, but a quick toss would fix all that. I scanned for the cap, for Robinson. He would start getting them riled up and then it would be a matter of –
A violin string cut across my thoughts, suddenly and shrilly. Plugging my ears, I looked back and saw Robinson shouting something and a flaming bottle go flying. I fell to my knees as the violin chords rang up and down, ranging as best they could. When I managed to stand, I saw the barricade burst, as a car went flying.
I crawled quickly as the car was carried into the warehouse, shattering wood. I grabbed a billy club and turned to see utter chaos. They hadn’t broken before a wall of black coats. No, I saw teamster and Pinkerton hurling stones, breathing fire. I saw crimson eyed men taking clubs to scaly strikers. There was a rushed, blood pumping music in the air, the sounds of a whole orchestra declaring battle and blood. The wind ran through the rafters, the sea churned and in the distance I saw lightining crackle.
And above the mess, I saw it. A form like a man, with a sword and shield, eyes of fire and wings covered in blades. It was a blazing red angel of death, staring down at me with black eyes that bled white. Like a conductor, it gestured over the blood shed and brought the flames to crescendo before turning to me. And then he pointed his sword at me.
The rest of that day is a crimson blur. When it was over, the hope for a more peaceful solution was stomped out. A fire roared to life, after the Molotov, sweeping through most of the harbor. Emergency crews tried their best, but were beset constantly by delays, by set backs that made no sense. Rides that should have taken seconds took hours. Streets seemed to shrink and grow, or run in circles. Engines would send out water, only to have it fall short by ten feet, and move sluggishly as they brought it closer. In the end, the fire burned itself out, and the flooding ended the ashes.
We lost any contracts with the city after that fiasco. It wouldn’t be long until there weren’t anymore Pinkertons, just the left overs doing independent work anyway. Some of us, me included, still wore the black uniform and silver shield though.
The independent route wasn’t much different then before. When you wear the tattered remains of a uniform, the people that higher you are the kind who respect the effort. Even if it wasn’t all the same black anymore, with patches of dark grey and blue sewn on, it carried the same weight as before. The uniform filtered jobs, kept them to what would have been expected. Old standbys would hire me for the old jobs. When they passed on, their sons and daughters might ask me to look into some rabble rousing or missing goods. None of the new bloods were much intreasted, not for a long time. The occasional exception was the rare man or woman who was of means but wasn’t satisified until they looked like proper elder statesman of the town.
And it was one of these that bought my attention one late rainy night. It wasn’t proper rain, not yet, but the occasional dripping down from the sky, kisses from heaven they would say. It was annoying, yes, a rhythm at the back of the mind, but not to unbearable. Not yet anyway.
The young man who answered the door looked like he would die of even that little bit of rain. He was a scrawny man, with round bags under his eyes like an overworked racoon. Looked an absolute mess, even in a button up. The loosely hanging red tie didn’t help matters.
After we went through the pleseantries of trading names, Louis Howell lead me to his study. A large map of town was against the wall, with pinned newspaper clippings covering a good third of it. Red and blue lines ran between them, making an sort of spider web going out. Star charts were sitting beside them, noted with quickly scribbled dates. Howell lead me over to it, where a centeral gold pin sat in the middle.
“So, here it is.”
“Here what is?” I asked, looking it over. I had met a few crazies before. They weren’t the kind you wanted to do regular business with. Unstable.
“What I need you to look into. See, these occurrences? Pot holes, flooding, fires?” he said, pointing at the newspaper clippings and photos. “Their echoing out from this spot, or echoing to it. They go out one way,” he continued, tracing a ride line out of the city, stopping at the farm, “and come in another.”
He traced a set of pot holes in and out along the red-blue line, then a flood, then a riot. First, a mugging. Then, down the street, a day later, a murder. At the end? A pair of riots, that trickled back towards his gold pin as thieves and murderers.
“And? There’s plenty of problems these days. What’s specially about these?” I asked, leaning over the star charts.
“They line up, they line up you see, with not only the dates, but some odd phenomenon. Each occurred roughly contemporaneous with the alignment of a star over a specific spot. Further, witnesses all reported strange distortions or an in ability to remember the incidents.” He said, turning with a manic look.
How do you tell a man that we call that being drunk?
“Anyway, the circumstances aside, I don’t know what exactly is happening. But it’s getting worse. The amount coming towards the spot has increased over the years, three fold. And the events are accelearting.”
“Oh really? Well, alright, you want me to poke around the place?” I ask, checking the address. Yuri’s house. An oddity, but she’d been quite a while. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t know if it was hers anymore.
“Exactly! Find out if there’s anything suspicious there, you know, machines or noises or something?”
“Hmph, and how do you expect me to do that without breaking and entering?” I said, looking at a photo that had a clear condemned sign over the house in question. That answered the Yuri question nicely.
“I’ll pay triple your hourly for breaking and entering.” He said quickly.
And so I drove down the road with some tools to engage in the highly legal practice of breaking into a house condemned by the state. The rain had gotten to the point of real, proper rain by now, to the point of clouding up my windows.
It was after I flicked on the washers that I first felt the earth shake. For a moment I thought it was the busted bottom of the old thing, caught on a rock again. But now, the rising and falling of the ground was definite, if slow at first. I brought the car to a stop when the road broke apart in front of me.
As I stepped outside, I felt a warm wind coming from the great crevasses, like ovens opened beneath the earth. There was a sound of trumpets and organ horns ringing in the street. In the light of the cracks, I saw people running. Assuring myself I had my piece, I kept going on foot, no matter what happened.
The crazy was onto something and now a sense of civic pride compelled me to find out what. I tried to walk along the roads, but the fog was growing thicker and thicker. The invisible symphony continued as I got closer to the iron gate, forms rising out of the ground with limp limbs and glowing eyes. The heavens seemed to glow with a dim green haze.
The door was open, but I had to duck to avoid the bending and swaying frame. The door frame was piping and whistling like steam as it moved and appeared to rend. I got through with only a sharp whack to the back.
The inside walls of the old Yuri house had all been torn down. There were still some structural supports, but the entire place was open to the eye to see. Strings ran up and down the entire structure, attached to a bows that sawed across them. Great bellows across the sides pushed wind over flutes and through trumpets. A dozen hammers whacked piano strings, a forge of unearthly music. A small phalanx of record players played recorded voices into a heavenly choir. And in the center, at a small panel with switches and knobs, was Ms. Yuri.
“Ma’am, what are you doing?” I shouted over the orchestration. The waves of sound were near deafening, the whole place shaking and heaving with even the most delicate of notes. Ms Yuri didn’t notice.
I grabbed a billy club and turned to one of the strings. If she wasn’t going to listen, I’d need to stop this. It was tearing everything apart. And hey, maybe we could get some answers. But when I brought the club down on the string, it bent backwards and snapped. My hands, so close, felt numb just being that close, the blood painfully resuming it’s flow when I yanked it away.
“That’s not going to stop it, Ron.” Ms. Yuri said, flicking another switch. “Something this big can’t just be smashed up.”
“Oh, so you can hear what I’m saying! Great. What the hell are you doing?” I shouted, my words drifting against the tidal wave she was moving.
“I can hear so much more than your voice. I can hear you. I can hear it all, and its time to add a few notes to song.” Ms. Yuri continued , flicking another switch. A fire flared up outside. I could see people screaming and running about, the city crumbling apart. But I couldn’t hear it. In this house, there was only music. And Ms. Yuri’s voice.
“I’m not going to be mere maggot meal, a memorial waiting for worms.” She said slowly, looking up at me. “Jack’s gone, everyone goes. Everyone. But not me. I’m not staying and waiting for that nonsense to take me. I heard it, that first day. A missing note, a sudden disharmony, can’t you hear it?”
“Lea, that’s insanity.” I said, backing up a bit.
“Insanity is taking any option but this one. There’s a choir, an orchestra, a whole symphony waiting for me out there. And I will add myself in, I will join that immortal, invisible, eternal melody.”
“Your killing people, Lea. You’ve…you’ve kiled people.” I said, it slowly settling in, the lines crossing in my head. Even before she spoke back, I gave up on that line of reasoning. You don’t cause the damage Lea had, you don’t break roads and collapse buildings, start fires and ignite riots, if ‘you’ve killed people’ was going to stop you.
“I’ve ended a few lines, yes. To make room for mine. You can’t just expect something to fit, without making room. Listen to it, Ron? Can’t you hear it, waiting for me? So close, so close and I’ll be free.”
For the first time, there was a sound from outside the house. A clap of thunder shook the very ground. A couple more followed, and soon it was a growing drumbeat.
A good man would have tried talking her down, maybe. Trying some reason or something. I, for my part, tried shooting her where she stood.
The bullet melted before my eyes into drops of iron on the floor.
“The world hears me, Ron, and it would rather me not stop my singing.” She said, smiling through the lines of strings. “You can’t break this. You can’t overpower all this, not with your voice or that old rickety horn. This is the cosmic song. You are barely a single note in front of all this.”
I turned out the door again. It was shaking and shifting so much that it was almost a blur. I looked at the chords again, strumming along as they went. I had one left card to play.
Even without anything else, a normal piano string could do a nasty number on you if it suddenly sprung free. Its thin and durable and thus very sharp. I weighed exactly how numb I would get if I got close. How much momentum would I need. See, a bullet didn’t work, but that might not mean much. Slow something down fast enough, and it collapses. But if it’s just thick, I might be able to push through and do something …more serious.
So I slowly walked towards it, lowering my shoulder to better bear the weight of the song. It was immense, as I pushed through it. It was mountain, it was valleys, it was fire and freezing. I felt my body bruise as I got within a foot of the strings, I felt rashes and pains spread in a few inches. I nearly buckled, my legs bending and my knees crying out for relief. I forced my hands forward, even as the blood seemed to stop flowing to my palms.
With my last bit of strength, I grabbed the strings. I held them so tight my knuckles were white. And then, since my arms were exhausted, I yanked my back. A giant lever, I failed to break a single string, my hands still resting on the strings.
But I heard the note I had made resonate through the house. A sudden disunity. The burden was a little lighter. I yanked again. And again. With each yank, each out of step note, each effort, the song weakened.
“What are you doing?” Lea shouted suddenly. “Stop that! Stop that now! If you damage it now, who knows what will–”
And then, at last, I pulled one free. With a loud snap, a piano wire was tore free, cutting deep into my hand and then my back. I toppled over in pain, face down as the ground quaked.
The rolling thunder didn’t stop. It was one long clap, that went on forever. The shining in the sky continued, all the colors of the world. It glared down still, I could feel it on my back. The ground churned, waves of dirt and stone rising and falling as my consciousness faded.
I woke up in an empty lot. The city around me was broken, heaps of rubble instead of buildings. As I stood, the pain in my back flared up and pushed my back down. Looking around, I saw a few people pulling themselves out of the rubble. The dock was gone, utterly consumed by the water that had come nearly to the small house. Everything around was ground down.
I grabbed a cane and tossed off the torn up remains of my Pinkerton coat. It wasn’t any use anymore, as I limped around, gesturing for people to help me move some of the large pieces. It was all rubble for now. But it’d get better.
This story has a problem of pace still, and I feel that my lead isn’t active enough. The conspiracy theorist at the end would work better folded into the main character, and more intreactions with Yuri would help. Adding some smaller incidents and a more concrete main story before the ‘twist’ would be better as well. But that is all the time I had with this one.
Next week, we’ll examine places you should never go, never build on, lest it be haunted.
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.