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To Strike a Timeless Chord

by David Niall Wilson

 

The streets were empty, vacant and lonely. Clarissa stared out from beneath the old blanket she'd found. She felt the trembling begin to shake its way through her bones once more as the wind wormed its way into her make-shift shelter, pinching at he

She couldn't remember how long she'd slept in alleys, nor could she recall if she'd ever slept in this one before that night. She remembered her mother, and she remembered finding the blanket, days, months, perhaps years before. She remembered a ros

She watched nothing in particular; there was nothing that mattered enough, nothing that could have dragged her to her feet, or out of the alley. Not even the hunger that ate away at her insides like a cancer, or the encroaching numbness that slowly c

There was nothing left -- nothing but cold, fear, and the night. She shifted slightly, dragging the blanket a bit more tightly about her legs, and it was then that she heard it.

There was the shuffling of booted feet, the slinking, metallic clang of chains. There was muted, heavy breath that would be hovering, floating on the icy air. She didn't look up, but she knew he was there -- knew that he'd seen her, and what it woul

As the chain swung through the air, it's passing created a hollow, humming note of bittersweet music, biting through the blanket, casting aside flesh and slamming into bone. Clarissa felt herself letting go -- releasing the moment. In that second, s

* * *

Johnny was late getting home after school -- really late. He pedaled furiously, forcing his old Schwinn to new limits, new speeds. He knew his mother would understand -- he'd been working on the sets for the school play, painting and designing trees

His father did not care about school plays. He cared about very little, in fact, beyond beer, supper, and having his own way, and a part of that was "my family waiting with open arms when I get back from bustin' my ass all day." Johnny had not been

He knew his mom wouldn't let it get out of hand, not while he was in the room, anyway. It wasn't himself he was afraid for. She always took the pain on herself, always turned his father's anger away from Johnny and bore the weight of it herself. Someho

Johnny pedaled like mad -- he was racing for his mom, a white knight flashing down the street and through the darkness -- a savior.

Bertie Jones was in a hurry too. He'd been at Big Sid's since knockoff, nearly four hours now, and he'd been drinking straight through. He knew how Karen was going to take it, could hear her high-pitched, ear-piercing bitching echoing through his mi

He slid around the corner, narrowly missing the curb and grinning to himself. He could still handle the old Dodge, that much was sure. Nobody knew these streets like he did -- nobody. He slammed off Oak and onto the main drag at Crescent Drive, bar

Johnny watched the car as it closed in on him. He knew it was in the wrong lane, could see the figure hunched over the wheel clearly, but he didn't move out of its way. His arms wouldn't turn the handlebars. His mind wouldn't respond. It couldn't

Bertie saw the boy on the bike, and he honked his horn. Damn kids. The punk had plenty of time to get the hell out of the way, though, and if he knew what was good for him, he'd be doing some getting real quick. Damn quick. Bertie punched the gas

In slow motion Johnny felt the bike, finally answering the call of his mind, turning to the side. He felt the tires slip, felt his right foot dragging behind, felt it skid on the road, bounce up, then collapse. The car never hesitated, never turned

The metal of the bike gave quickly under the grinding force of the car, scraping on the road with a high, keening whine that seared its way through Bertie's brain. It was like the screeching notes of super-amplified guitars, the feedback at a mega-wa

Nigel stared at the pile of white powder on the table beside him. It was there, just waiting for him, waiting for him to get the balls. No fear in that powder, he thought, no hesitation. It knew what it wanted -- it wanted him.

He was already flying. There was enough combined Coke and Heroin in his veins to kill three average men, but he knew he'd live. He knew it with bittersweet certainty, knew it as surely as he knew that one day he would die.

Why not today? Why wait? He'd seen the edge, how about the other side? A little Morrison philosophy for the masses, a tribute, if you will, to those who'd gone before. Truly gone.

He scanned the walls of his apartment, letting his gaze linger on each photograph, each album cover, each memory and each pain. Melissa. She was gone, too, more truly gone than even Morrison, because Nigel could follow where ol' Jim-bo had gone, Mel

There had been one time, with enough Coke, when he'd thought that one of the endless string of groupies that had paraded through his room and across his bed was Melissa. His warped-out mind had told him that she'd slipped in with the other tramps to

Then reality had kicked him in the balls, slamming back into place with finality and mocking laughter. The drugs had faded, the girl had been so stoned she had to be carried to a taxi and sent on her way, and the memories that had surfaced in her pas

Nigel Waters, man with everything, man with nothing. Already gone. All that remained was the image, the plastic mannequin image he'd formulated to hide himself from the cameras and the world. Now it was empty, and they didn't care. Image was every

The heroin glittered in the dim light, mocking him, calling out to him. He felt his hands moving as if in a dream, following the commands of his mind, but not at the time they were issued. He was fascinated -- possessed. He managed, somehow, to get

Setting the needle aside, he reached for the red bandanna that lay across his knee. A dirty red bandanna. He smiled crookedly. Still holding onto that trademark, that rock, roll, and who-gives-a-damn image. Shit, he should have looked through the

He wrapped the bandanna tightly around his bicep, pulling one side tight with a trembling hand, the other with his teeth. Not a rubber hose, but it would have to do. He'd been searching veins out of skin for years -- no problem. He'd find one. He

He grabbed the spoon next. It had some residue left from his previous hit, but he splashed it onto the floor, momentarily fascinated as light glittered across the arcing droplets. Shaking his head, he lurched to the table once more, nearly knocking

He tipped the bottle back, taking a big slug and letting it wind its fiery path down his throat to his stomach. Then he tipped it once more -- slowly, catching a spoonful of it and tossing the rest of the bottle aside where it shattered against the

The amber liquid in the spoon quivered once, twice, then was still as he rested it beside the needle on the chair's arm. And now for the flames and the finale, the grand show-down.

He grabbed the spoon again and began to heat it with the candle that burned beside him, mesmerized by the flame, watching the red-gold flickers rise and fall, shifting about with a life of their own. It wasn't until the handle of the spoon began to g

He reached into the pile of powder and grabbed a large pinch -- a very large pinch, dropping it into the whiskey. He watched it beginning to dissolve, then said, "What the hell," and tossed in a second pinch. He worked it all around with the tip of

He was creating a way out, a doorway to another place. When it was all one consistency he dipped the needle in and drew up several CC's of the mix -- several too many. The bandanna, almost forgotten by then, had done its work, cutting off the flow o

"Good thing I only need one for this," he said with another grin. He stared at the largest poster on the wall. Jim Morrison stared back at him, one hand out in front and beckoning, calling out for him. He plunged the needle through his skin.

"I'm coming, damn you," he said. As the drugs hit him, he slumped to one side, his eyes spinning back into his head, which lolled backward aimlessly.

The spoon and the needle crashed and tinkled to the floor together, a brittle sound that rang through his fading senses like the peal of a broken bell, the notes of a twisted banjo. It all blended then, a single note, a single tone, blending with oth

* * *

The hospital bustled with activity. There were quiet wards, of course, but it was never quiet in this one. There was too much happening, too many smiles and cries, surprises and miracles. Sandy pushed her cart quickly down the hall and stopped befo

She peeked around the corner first, making sure she was interrupting nothing. She'd been to the Lamaze classes, knew what they taught people in there. There was no telling what the couple inside might be up to, nipple massage, something more intima

The woman was sitting up, the blanket held in white knuckled fists, and the husband looked up quickly as she came in, a nervous smile on his face.

"I think it's time," he said breathlessly, turning back to gaze into his lover's eyes. "I think he's coming."

Nodding, Sandy moved quickly, buzzing the desk and at the same time moving to the foot of the bed. With practiced hands she lifted away the blanket, eliciting a small gasp from the mother to be, and leaned forward to check.

No doubt. This one was coming, and coming fast. There would be no hesitation, no waiting for the world to come to him, he was ready to come to the world!

A nurse hurried in, the doctor not far behind, and Sandy moved aside with a smile, taking the woman's free hand in her own and murmuring encouraging words. The fingers she held tensed, but the young mother's eyes were clear and bright.

It took only moments, and as the father moved to the side, staring lovingly down into the pinched little face, the sound came, beautiful as any church choir, bright and full of light and life. The first sound, the "cry of life," as Sandy liked to cal

The baby's cries blended with the happy sobs of the mother, the mumbling, incoherent babbling of the father, the compliments from nurse and doctor alike, forming a note of hope, a harmony -- insinuating themselves among other sounds that seemed to flo

* * *

The old man sat on the street corner, as he always sat, his flute in his hand and his battered hat turned up on the ground before him. The dark lenses of his glasses reflected the lights of the early evening, the glowing neon, the passing headlights.

He held his instrument like a lover, caressing the length of it, his fingers flickering and dancing across the keys. His music was sad, but moving. You could see his world through that music, if you listened long enough, could imagine others. It ca

Lovers stopped to listen, staring at the stars and forgetting the concerns of the day. A prostitute leaned against the lamp post on the corner, watching and dreaming, stealing back a moment of time no longer her own.

Cars came and went, snatching silvery bursts of sound through open windows and carrying them off to other places. Echoes of the sound drifted through the alleys, across the streets and into windows. Then it was silent.

The old man cocked his ear to one side, listening intently. None could hear what he heard, but then, none could see what he saw, either. He lived inside the music, in places far and near, but hidden. He frowned, then grew sad. His eyes drooped and

He lifted the flute once more, and a smile crept back across his face. Listening for just an instant more, he chose his moment and added his own note, a single crystal-clear tone, to those he heard.

Those nearby were amazed. They saw a blind man, and a flute, but they heard so much more. A chord, a single chord -- sad with ending, bitter with defeat, alive with promise. It was no sound born of a flute, though none could say from whence it came

The old man let the flute drop to his lap, and he sat in that silence, dreaming his dreams and letting the music play on within his soul. Darkness claimed the city, but at its heart a light burned bright and steady.*

 

*   *   *

 

Story copyright 1998-99 by David Niall Wilson <shadows@erols.com>

Artwork "I Feel Something" copyright 1998-99 by Noel Bebee <outofnk@mts.net>

 


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