by Jaeden Knight
The little yellow mallet, now red, was the gateway to his freedom. Michael threw it to the gusty wind and into the rushing river, too. He had to bite his bottom lip to keep the smile from spreading even further up his face. It was all over now, he’d won and there was no one that would be able to argue that. No one to stand in his way.
He picked the small golden medal out of the grassy river bank. He turned it in the moon light so that it reflected on the trees above. Etched on one side was a man beating on the drums with stylized music notes floating behind him. The other side was the name Kevin Daniels. Michael grasped it so tightly that his knuckles began to show white through the red wash that dried in the tiny cracks and creases of his skin -testament to what had been done late in the summer’s night.
Michael’s walk home was cheerful for him. It seemed that the fireflies lit up his path in short sparks of praise and the crickets sang like minstrels telling the world of his wondrous deed. Twice, he suppressed a giggle when he ran his fingers over the medal in his pocket. Indeed, it was a cheerful walk, though Michael would never admit it.
The studio was as he had left it, unfortunately, a mess. The xylophone and tympani had been overturned, mallets laid across the floor like a game of pick-up sticks from the struggle. Michael hung the medal on a formerly annoying nail, now a place of honor, which stuck out from the wall behind the sound board. It beat against the wall with a deliciously melodic dink that resonated in the metal like the haunting of a tuning fork.
It was a much different sound, Michael thought, than when he had hit Kevin over the head with metal. That was more of a sickeningly dulled, but loud crack as the mallet fractured the skull. Michael had considered himself lucky then, that he’d made an acquaintance with a welder. The two of them had talked for hours. His enthusiasm for rhythmic percussion was refreshing, and he’d been more than happy to provide Michael with some metallic mallets, two sets. One of them with a blue hollow end, and the other with a yellow solid end. It was to be a grand experiment in sound. Until Kevin stole the mallets.
The sheet music was absolutely everywhere. Michael frowned and righted the instruments and began to gather up the mallets and put them back to hang between the bars of the xylophone. For amusement, he alternated the placement of them between the blue and yellow mallets. He turned his back to the xylophone and surveyed the room, picking the best spot to start gathering the sheet music when he felt it.
He couldn’t quite explain what it was. It felt like a burning, a tingling, a paranoia of being watched boring itself into his back, right square between his shoulder blades. He rounded his shoulders to shake the feeling and picked up a sheet. It didn’t help, he shivered. The feeling was still there, like a slick, watery goo dripping down his spine.
“This is stupid,” he said aloud in an attempt to comfort himself with his own voice. He turned and nothing had changed. The xylophone sat where he’d put it with the mallets alternating–
“The hell?” One of the mallets was missing. There were two blues in a row. Michael knew without a doubt that he’d done it right. “Only an idiot could mess that up.”
He scanned the floor to see if perhaps, somehow, one would have fallen through. He got on all fours and looked under the instruments. His heart started beating heavily in his chest as his mind began to think of a dozen ways in which he could have over-looked the mallet, and it fell on and kept coming back to Kevin. Dead Kevin. Cut into small pieces Kevin. Floating down the Mississippi Kevin.
He was being ridiculous. Michael shook his head, as if somehow the action would rid him of the thought and continued picking up the sheets of music. Kevin deserved exactly what he got, Michael thought while glancing at a sheet that Kevin had made notes on. He should have been the one to win the medal and to be awarded with a place in the Philharmonic. Kevin always pretended to be encouraging and always smiled and wished Michael luck, but he knew better. Kevin was a thief, a liar and stole all of Michael’s great ideas to always keep him down. Now, even in death he’d come back to keep him down. He tapped the pages in a steady rhythm on the floor to straighten them.
Dink, dink, dink.
He stopped and looked around the room for the sound and saw nothing. He was alone, he was always alone this late at night, usually writing new percussion movements and trying to find a way to safe-guard them from Kevin. He listened for the sound again, and there was nothing but silence. He tried stacking the papers again.
Dink, dink, dink.
“Okay, what the hell!” He tossed the stack of music onto one of the tympani which thrummed in response. He took long strides across the room and poked his head back into the sound room. He thought he saw movement down the hall that led to the outside. He squinted and looked harder, but still wasn’t sure, he thought he saw something in the shadows, but it was so dark.
He moved stealthily along the wall trying to not make a sound. His heart was racing again, badum, badum, badum. He swallowed hard when he reached the last corner, after this point it was a straight shot to the door. He’d heard no one leaving, so whoever it was would still be inside. He poked his head around the corner and saw nothing but the door, lit up like it was the way to paradise. Michael let out a sigh of relief and was shocked that he’d been holding his breath in the first place. He felt like an idiot.
“It’s late, and you’re tired. That’s all, just relax. No one saw you do anything.” He took another deep breath and headed back to the sound room. He sat in the chair before the board and flicked switches and turned knobs, the monotone beat of a solitary drum wafted out of the headphones on the desk in front of him. Soon, the one beat was joined by another and another, the sound grew larger and more dynamic and Michael was lost in it.
Dink, dink, dink.
It came from behind him. Michael sat upright in his chair, staring straight ahead of him into the instrument room too afraid to turn around. Nothing stirred. He got the eerie sense that he was being watched again, and swallowed hard, still afraid to look behind him and dying a little to know if there was anything to be afraid of.
Curiosity won out, and Michael turned around and saw nothing but the wall, the nail, and the medal. It didn’t quench the fear, and the persistent paranoia he felt. He snatched the medal off the wall and rushed out of the studio letting the door slam on his way out.
The night was warm, smelled of wet dirt and so humid he felt that it was hard to breathe. Up above, he was relieved to see that clouds were forming and soon, the rain would come and wash everything clean. Everything would be fine, once the rains came.
A gust of wind pushed at Michael’s back and, cramming the medal in his pocket, the medal that should have been his, he let the wind push him where it willed. He closed his eyes and walked through the park, peeking now and again so he wouldn’t walk face first into a tree. Through the tiny slit in his eye, he saw something looming in front of him. Something defying laws of gravity, hanging there among the trees in mid-air, a sickly muted white.
His eyes went wide with panic. He’s come for me, he thought, the bastard came back from the grave for me. Michael stopped in his tracks, staring at the ghost before him.
“You won’t do it, Kevin!” he yelled, pointing his finger at the ghost. He tried to get a better look, but through the branches of the trees whipping wildly in the wind the best he could make out was the ghost wore a bloody shirt. It looked like the same shirt that Michael had taken off Kevin’s body before cutting him in pieces, the one he’d wrapped around his head before hurling it in the swift river’s waters and out into the gulf.
Michael began running. He ran straight for the bank of the river, the exact spot that he’d thrown the bits of Kevin to be carried off and eaten by whatever fish happened by. The wind whirled past his ears as he ran, whispering, “Michael. Murder. Michael. Murder.”
He ran faster, shouting into the wind, “Shut up! Shut the hell up!” Nature answered with a light drizzle which progressed quickly into a down pour. Michael was soaked to the bone in less than a minute. He kept running, his hair lashing into his eyes and stinging his temples.
“Shut up! Kevin, damn you, shut up!”
“Michael. Murder. Michael. Murder. Michael! Murder!”
Dink, dink, dink.
He saw the ghost out of the corner of his eye, and it was lost again in a bright arc of lightning.
“Leave me alone!”
“Go away!” he tried to run faster, his legs were burning, aching with strain of muscles he rarely used.
“Stop it!” he was nearly in tears now, so terrified, he could feel the blood rushing through his veins; in his ears. His heart beating so fast, he though it may explode. His breathing was ragged. There was a stitch in his side.
“Michael…murder,” the wind said it casually, in the same tone that parents use to remind their children to mind their manners.
Dink, dink, dink.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Michael screamed at the top of his lungs, while pressing his hands over his ears so hard his head hurt.
“Murder.” He could still hear it, he screwed his eyes shut and pinned his chin to his chest. The wind pushed at him, swirled around and pulled at him. It whipped his hair all of his face, poured the rain down in painful, stinging bucket loads over him. He was shivering now, despite the warm summer night.
He kept going, far away from the studio, from where he saw the ghost, far away from the memories. Kevin, smiling with that shit eating grin he always had when he’d won out. Standing in the crowd, watching him accept another award, taking the credit for his work.
“Murder.” Dink, dink.
His legs felt wet. More wet. He was shin deep in the river, the current pulled at the backs of his legs, and he gave in and went with it. He walked until his feet couldn’t hold him anymore, until the murky earth dropped from under him and he wouldn’t be able to keep his head above water any longer.
“Michael.” Dink, dink, dink, dink.
He let the river take him, out in to the gulf and the salty ocean waters. It tossed him. He ducked under the water to gain some strength and get his bearings.
He heard the swirling of the water around him, felt its cool embrace, holding him up, removing the weight. He couldn’t hear the wind, that incessant metallic clanging, he couldn’t see the ghost. The rain no longer matted his hair into sharp whips that tore at his eyes. Here, he was safe. Here he was free.
He had won. No one could argue that with him now. No one.
Copyright © 2009 by Jaeden Knight