Archive for December 25th, 2009

Book Beat

December 25, 2009

by

Deirdre M. Murphy

At first, it is just a soft rhythmic sound, like someone dropping three books on a table, one after another.  Then it is repeated, three beats and a pause, three beats and a pause, a deliberate rhythm intruding on the quiet, continuing like an alien heartbeat, barely muffled by the aisles of books.  The tired librarian looks up from the circle of numbers on the reference desk telephone, startled.  She’s been answering urgent questions about fairies, and magic, and transformations all day, and has been wondering if the whole world has gone crazy.

Then another beat is added, this unmistakably a drum’s voice, a higher sound, unlike any that she has ever heard in the library.  This beat is faster, staccato, calling feet to tap, to dance.  Her feet hear the beat, start twitching.  But this is a library—her library—and Marcia sets her feet to walking toward the disturbance instead.  Her feet walk to the beat, safe, controlled steps, and she frowns, planning what to say.

Then another drum joins in, then a soft rustle, reminiscent of rain, and some kind of bell or cymbal.  Marcia walks past dancing teenagers; their books forgotten on the tables.  They do not notice her walking past, though on another day, the mere sight of her would have settled them down.  Other patrons continue reading, but tap their feet or tap on the tables, adding to the noise.  There is a feeling of exhilaration—of life—in the air.

Resolutely, Marcia smoothes her features, tries to compose what to say to stop this invasion of exuberant sound into her quiet halls.  It is hard to think through the noise, hard not to feel as timid as she always feels everywhere else.  But she concentrates, plans her words:  This place is for reading, not dancing.  This place is for quiet, not noise.  This place is for books.  Get out.

Marcia rounds a corner, and stops, her foot tapping to the beat, unheeded.  Her planned speech is useless.  She cannot tell these musicians to get out and leave the place to the books, for they are books.  Nine improbably large books with impossible fold-out arms and legs—even the drums and cymbals seem to be a part of the books themselves, ready to fold neatly back inside when a page is turned.  They have heads too, and they smile at her, and one winks, all the while keeping up the beat.

Marcia has a sense of surreality—as if this were a dream, though she knows it isn’t.  Her dreams are quiet things, little adventures set in some book she has read, with herself cast as the dashing hero or, more rarely, being swept off her feet in the kind of romance she’d stopped hoping for in real life.  She looks around—no movie cameras, and no team of actors to operate book-shaped muppets, either.  So it isn’t some unsanctioned movie crew that has invaded her library, uninvited.

“Stop.”  Her voice, pitched to carry over whispering and antics, is completely drowned out by the books’ drums.  She takes a deep breath and mentally crosses a barrier she hadn’t even realized was there.  “Stop!” she yells, breaking a taboo, being loud in a library for the first time in her life.  She feels embarrassed, but also alive and powerful.

The books stop and look at her expectantly.  The silence feels empty, which disorients Marcia.  All her life, the silence in a library had felt full of dreams and stories, research and play.  Now people are staring at her, and she gets stage fright, and forgets her lines.  What should she say?

The silence stretches on; Marcia feels her face flush.  Finally, Marcia takes a deep breath.  “You—you have to stop.”  She feels silly—they have stopped, and her voice is too loud.  She lowers her voice to its usual quiet pitch.  “I mean, you can’t start again.”  Now, her voice is familiar, comforting, and she feels more confident.  “This is a library.  A place for people to read books.”

One of the books turns a page, and a soft voice like the sound of a turning page, says, “A place for people to experience books.”  It is a quiet voice, a sound that would have fit comfortably in the library, before.

A book flips open on a table nearby, the pages opening out and unfolding both downward and upward into a tall presence with small drums.  “We want you to experience us,” it says in a soft high voice, like the sound of pages being ruffled, and starts drumming. 

“Wait!”  Marcia protests.

A teenager in patched blue jeans and a papery-looking loose shirt walks up, nodding—his?  her?—head in time to the music.  Marcia looks at the outfit, which includes paper flowers in the long hair and embroidered flowers on the shirt and jeans, and decides it must be a girl.  But the teen’s voice is low enough to re-establish uncertainty.  “Let them play.  Isn’t it beautiful?”

Marcia shakes her head firmly.  “It isn’t proper.  This is a library.  Not a—a—”  Two patrons are dancing in the aisles.  “place for drummers,” she finishes lamely.  What do you call a place where drummers go together to perform?  She resolves that once she gets things settled, and gets back to her reference desk, she will look it up.

“But these are books.”  The teen smiles at her.

“Excuse me.  I have to make them stop.”

“Why?”

Why?  The question echoes in Marcia’s head.  She’s always been taught that library patrons should be quiet, silent if possible.  But why?  So people could concentrate?  But she concentrates better with music, or a cat purring, or at least little everyday noises that reassure her she isn’t alone.  But it is her job to enforce the rules, the standard of quiet in the library.  “Because!” 

“Oh, you poor thing, you’ve become trapped!”

“I’m not poor!  I have a good job.”

But the books gather around, expressing sympathy and patting her on the back or shoulder.  At least it isn’t as noisy as the drumming.

“Can you—”  One of the smaller drummer books leans in to whisper to the teenager.  “Can you free her, too?”

The teen smiles.  “We can try.”

“Free me?  What do you mean?”

“I think we should start with your clothes.”

Marcia looks down at her plain, blue dress, hose, and loafers.  “These are my work clothes.”

“They tie you to your preconceptions.  They limit you, just as much as Cinderella’s ash-stained rags.”

“What?”

The teenager pulls a wand from her clothes somewhere, and waves it around her head, then toward Marcia.  A sprinkling of sparkles, glints and stars and hearts and flowers, flow from it and down over Marcia.  Her breath catches at the beauty, and she tries to gather some of it in her hand.  It swirls around and becomes a bracelet of bright stones.  There is weight around her neck—a matching necklace, with a peace-sign pendant.  Several other necklaces, all bright-colored, bright enough to be called loud.  Under them is a soft, flowing shirt the color of a summer sky, with bright butterflies embroidered on it.  Below that is a long denim skirt, embroidered with hearts, peace-signs, and the words “make love not war”.  And that is all she is wearing, no shoes, not even her underwear or support hose. 

“How’s that?”  The teenager smiles.

Marcia shakes her head, and realizes her hair is down, loose.  “Where’s my clothes?”

“These are your clothes.”

“Change them back!”

“You can do that, if you really want to.”

“What?”

“Perhaps I can explain.”  The tall book points at the teenager.  “This is the Ontological Fairy.  Her magic can make you more you, but not less.”

The book with the big bass drum hits it enthusiastically.  “He helps your outer self match your inner self, your dreams.  If you have more than one aspect to your dreams, you can choose.”  The book folds inward, swallowing the drum and becoming just a book on the table.  Then it folds back out again.  “I am a book, and I am a drummer.  I can manifest as either, now.”

“Then you should go back to being a book.”

“But I wish to drum.”  And it starts to drum, and the other books join in again. 

Marcia’s foot starts to tap and she tries to yell over the noise, “Stop!”

The teenager leans toward her.  “Is that what you really want?”

“Of course.”

“Then change your clothes back.”

“How?”

“Just wish for it.  If your wish is true, it will happen.”

“So I could wish myself a millionaire?”

“Probably not.  Money is—superficial.  Impersonal.”

“But—”

The teenager waves the wand, and glitter collects in Marcia’s hand.  “Wish.  Picture what you want, and wish.  See what happens.”

Marcia closes her eyes and imagines her properly quiet library, her boring proper clothes, and a huge bank account, and wishes as hard as she can. 

She opens them again.  Not much has changed, she still wears the pretty, bright clothing, though now she has underwear.  Then she looks again—her hair now reaches to her knees!  

The teenager is waving her wand over a shelf of books.  Most of them just sit there, but a few fold out, start to drum, or dance, or paint.  Two stand there arguing passionately, unfolding charts and graphs.  She?  He?—The teenager looks up.  “Interesting.”

“Are you a boy or a girl?”  Marcia asks.

“I am potential.”

The word is like a key in Marcia’s brain, opening up possibilities.  “You—you’re the reason for all the calls I got this morning.”

The teenager smiles and waves her wand sending sparkles to every corner of the library.  “We are come to awaken the world.  Once you are awake, it is up to you.”

And then the teenager vanishes.

Books crowd around Marcia.  “Librarian, what do we do now?” one asks.

“I guess that’s up to each of us.”  She realizes her foot is tapping, and she’s wanting to join in.  She wishes for a drum and picks it up, finally admitting to herself that, for years, she’s wanted more out of life than a quiet library.

She looks around at the chaos and smiles.  Under the circumstances, that’s a very good thing.

BIO:  Deirdre Murphy is a writer, musician and artist who has spent most of her life squeezing her creative pursuits into whatever “free time” she could create.  You can find more of her fiction, art, and poetry on her blog, Dandelyon’s Worlds.  Recently, she has been awarded a Superior Scribbler Award for her blog, and won the artist category of the first Torn World Wiki Contest.  She has been published in MZB’s Fantasy Magazine and has a story in the November issue of Crossed Genres.  She also has poetry in the November issues of With Painted Words and Moon, an EMG-zine.

Deirdre’s flash fiction on her blog is listed here:  http://wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com/64422.html  and her ongoing serialized story, Fireborn, starts here:  http://wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com/35869.html

Deirdre lives in a Victorian house with purple trim, which presides over a garden hosting roses of many colors and a variety of herbs.  She has three cats and an ever-changing number of tropical fish, and dabbles in taming feral kittens.

The Thirteenth Drummer

December 25, 2009

by

Jim Wisneski

The triangle.  A strange intersection in the main part of my small town, where five roads somehow crossed each other with only one set of traffic lights.
     This was the place where every Christmas the town put up their annual Christmas tree, where Santa Claus came to town on a horse and buggy, and where hot chocolate and Christmas carols were shared with holiday smiles and handshakes. 
              The triangle was that, a triangle.  A grassy section that in summer boasted a water fountain, in fall had an empty cylinder where the water had been replaced by litter and left over lo mein noodles from the Chinese restaurant across street, and in winter became the base that held the tree. 
              During the “first night” festivities, it was a tradition for the town to sing the traditional 12 Days of Christmas song.  To spectators it was fun to see children dressed up as three French hens or four calling birds or five gold rings.  Most of it was designed for younger children with the exception of twelve drummers drumming.  This was because twelve snare drummers were needed for when the song ended; the twelve drummers in a beautiful unison would hold a snare roll while the townspeople counted down from ten to light the annual tree. 
              Being thirteen, this would be my last Christmas as a middle school student and my last chance to gain a spot in the snare roll. 
              This was a big event – a picture was taken that would be used in the local papers, the town newsletter, and many small businesses would have the picture posted all year round. 
              I spent the entire summer practicing the snare drum.  While others were setting up water balloon fights and chasing the ice cream truck down the street like a dog after a bone, I was huddled in my room perfecting the art of creating the snare roll.  I practiced by balancing drumsticks between my thumbs and middle fingers while my ring fingers ever so slightly tapped the sticks oppositely to create a roll. 
              By the end of summer I could hold a roll for four seconds.  It beat my previous record of zero but still wasn’t good enough for the ten count, not to mention the time before the count while the chosen speaker got the crowd excited for the big moment of seeing a large Douglas fir illuminated.
              “Let’s hear that roll,” my Dad would say poking his head in my bedroom.  His neck tie would be half undone.  His eyes would be worn out, deep pockets formed under his eyes.  It was funny to me because the second I started hammering on the snare drum, his eyes became normal, almost twinkling.  I knew it was because he was in a band when he was a teenager and had hoped the same fate for me. 
              “Sounds perfect,” he would always say.
              The twelve drummers’ part was such a big deal for the town that there was an actual tryout.  It was always held in the second avenue Laundromat.  Mr. and Mrs. Chen would move the washers and dryers for three hours on the last Saturday in November to hold the tryouts. 
              I spent Thanksgiving pounding the drum.  I could now roll for almost twenty seconds, which to me was more than enough time for the part.  My fingers had blistered, busted, and healed three times already.  In the center of the snare the once perfect white head was now worn out. 
              My mother offered a second helping of pumpkin cheesecake, my favorite holiday treat, but I declined.  Too full of a belly and I wouldn’t be able to stand holding the snare drum properly.
              That was the other hard part, standing.  I had perfected, or at least what I felt was perfection, the sitting and playing part.  Standing though was almost like learning the entire snare drum over.  But I did it.  No way was I going to let my father down.  He even joined me on numerous nights.  It was a refreshing sight for me to see my father sitting on the edge of the bed and not lecturing me about a bad grade or looking at the girls part of health class book or why I wasn’t allowed to have a crossbow.
              When the big day came, I was ready.  I woke up at ten, early for a Saturday, to prepare.  I wore my lucky jeans, my favorite t-shirt, the black one, and my lucky shoes.  Well, I only had one pair of shoes, but they had seen me through three bullies, an attempted river jump, and last Halloween when it snowed a foot. 
              I asked my father for privacy during the tryout, which he said he would respect.  I knew he parked around the back of the building and listened anyway, but I felt better standing with mostly people I didn’t know.  The line stretched down the block to Larry’s Hardware.  I sat on a hundred pound bag of salt, stuck my drumsticks in my socks, and rested my snare on my lap.  I looked at it as if it was a book containing the meaning of life.  By the time it was my turn to audition, I could have played the snare with my mind.  That would have been a shoe in for the part, but I decided I should use the drumsticks just in case my new mental powers failed.
              I was given about a minute to play my snare.  Freestyle too.  Anything I wanted to play.  Once my minute was up, a bell would be rung and I’d have to complete a drum roll.  Was it my best drumming audition?  I wasn’t sure, because it was my first.  I felt it went well, but the judges were stone faced.  I was almost confident that if I was able to pull off playing drums with my mind they still would have been stone faced.  The one thing that did lift me a bit was the sound of my father cheering from behind the Laundromat. 
             Monday the list was posted around town and in school.  Like I said, it was a big deal.  The list at school didn’t have my name on it.  I figured it was a typo and they had forgotten (even though there were twelve names on the list).  After school, I spent a full two hours looking around town at all the sheets.  They all said the same thing – I wasn’t one of the twelve drummers.  When I came home, the look on my parents face suggested they had read the list somewhere around town.  That night, my favorite dinner, meatloaf, was nothing more but an over cooked hamburger and the pile of corn in the corner of the plate was nothing but little, yellow pebbles.
            Christmas wouldn’t be ruined, just different.  I still focused on the list for that year – the toys, the games, the goodies, but no clothes.  My father, however, was taking it hard.  His tie wasn’t straight, his eyes looked confused, and the usual whistling of Christmas songs non stop faded to silence.  Then the night of the tree lighting came and my father didn’t want to go.  The free hot chocolate and adults’ only eggnog that Mr. Peters brought in a thermos each year gave my father enough strength to pull himself together and go.  I knew that not so deep down he was hoping to sip from the eggnog while watching me drum.
            During the first half hour of listening to the band play, I picked out what I felt were miscues and wrong hits in the drumming section.  It made me feel better until I realized Christmas wasn’t about picking on third graders for their mistakes.  Maybe if I had taken up drumming at their age, I’d be good enough to play for the Christmas lighting.  That thought hurt.  Then when I saw my father wave off a cup of eggnog from Mr. Peters, I needed to take action.
            Our mayor gave his yearly speech of prosperity and togetherness while I crept around a small set of bleachers.  The mayor started the song. . . “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me. . .”
            I walked slowly looking for the section of drummers.
            By the time “five golden rings” was chanted the first time, I grew nervous.  By the time “eleven pipers piping” rang out across town, my hands were sweating and I was waiting for my cue.  Then it came – “twelve drummers drumming. . .”
            The song countdown continued and I grabbed a spare snare drum, some sticks, and jumped up on the bleaches at the far end.  It took everyone a few seconds to realize what was happening, but they kept singing.  I watched, as people’s eye grew wide, they looked at each other with half smiles wondering if they were counting right.  My father saw me and at first shook his head. 
            Too late now, I thought and stood there proud.
            “And a partridge in a pear tree. . “
            And in perfect unison, I and the other twelve drummers held a perfect snare roll as the crowd counted down.  I saw my father smile.  He grabbed the thermos out of Mr. Peter’s hands and drank from it with joy.  Then the tree was lit and I jumped down from the bleachers and walked up to my father.  I wished him a Merry Christmas and got a free hot chocolate.
            I felt the moment was over, but the town didn’t.  From that night forward every small business and townsperson had the article from the newspaper with my picture above the caption:  THE THIRTEENTH DRUMMER.  My father bought four copies of the paper and had it laminated to preserve my achievement.  And if that wasn’t enough, the town now holds tryouts for thirteen drummers for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  For me, I never tried out again for any musical gathering – my fifteen minutes in the spotlight were well lived. 

BIO:  Jim is the mastermind behind the 12 Days of 2009 project along with countless short stories, novellas, and novels. He also writes music – lots of it – and some of it can be heard at 1album1month. His projects other than the 12 Days project include his album(s), Soft Whispers Magazine, his A Line at a Time weekly project, and of course participating in #fridayflash. He doesn’t sleep, drinks lots of coffee, and listens to lots of Guns n’ Roses. His main site to keep track of all this fun stuff is Writers ‘n Writers on Blogspot.

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