Phil Richardson

 

Phil Richardson is retired from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He publishes genre fiction, flash fiction, and literary fiction. His short story, "The Joker is Wild," was nominated for the 2005 Pushcart Prize In Fiction by Storyteller Magazine. His work has appeared in Elf: Eclectic Literary Forum, Fantasy, Folklore and Fairytales, Northwoods Review, The Storyteller, Danse Macabre, Cafe Irreal, Digitalis Obscura, Big Pulp, Word Catalyst, Bending Spoon, Sonar4, Short Story Library, Love After 70 Anthology, Writing On Walls Anthology, Outa Side of LIfe Anthology, and The Love of Monsters Anthology.

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Drum, drum, drumming (November 20, 2009. Issue 11.)

It was just a nervous tic--drum, drum, drum--his fingers beating a tattoo on the table. Not very loud, something like the pattering of rain on leaves, but his wife looked up from reading the newspaper and complained, her mouth turning down at the corners. "Brian, could you please just stop that. I would like to eat my breakfast in peace."

"Sorry," he said. "I was just thinking."

"Most people think quietly."

He put his hand in his lap and, before he knew it, he was drum, drum, drumming away, but this time silently. He felt the beating rhythm on his thigh and he shut his eyes to listen. The beat was subtle, he could feel it through his skin and it was transported to his brain and a vision came. Dark nights with rain falling on the tin roof of their house. Summer breezes coming through the screen on the window. Dogs barking in the distance.

"Are you going back to sleep?"

"No, dear, I was just wondering. How long have we been married?"

"Ten years, almost. What brought that up?"

"I don't know, I was just thinking."

"Brian, why do you have your hand in your lap? Are you playing with yourself?" She asked this with a grin, but her eyes were not laughing.

"No, not exactly. I was just drumming, silently, like you asked."

"Well, stop it."

He got up from the table and went into his den and closed the door.

Can't a man do anything in this house? What's wrong with a little drum, drum, drumming? Last week there was no problem. No problems in ten years. This week it's a little thing like that.

He sat down and contemplated his desk. He pushed the green blotter away and exposed the antique mahogany top. It invited him. It invited his drumming The desk's solid surface might even resonate. He cleared everything off the top and sat down with his hand extended, his fingers flexed and then he began–first with a gentle tapping and with a counter rhythm from his thumb. He shut his eyes and imagined waves lapping on the sand, soft music playing from a band, sun shining. Tap, tappity-tap, TAP, TAP. His feet shuffled as though they were trying to dance too.

A knock on the door interrupted his pleasure. "Brian. You're going to be late for work. What are you doing in there? Do I hear a pounding? Do I hear a drumming?"

His hand poised over the desktop, the fingers stiffened. Ready to tap, but.. he let his hand drop. The visions disappeared and he stood up.

"I'm just getting some things together," he said. "I need some papers for the office."

He picked up a few random sheets of printouts and headed for the hallway. She stood outside the door as though she had been listening.

"You certainly are strange this morning. Did I hear you tapping in there?"

"No, dear. Now, I've got to get ready for work. I'll be in the bedroom after I shave and shower."

She looked at him and then glanced at his hand where his fingers were twitching. Without a word she turned and went back into the kitchen.

After about an hour, he left for work, looking forward to the privacy of his car and the long drive to his office. His hands gripped the steering wheel, and he tried to drum on it, but it was too soft. Leaning forward he reached out with his right hand and began a tentative tattoo on the top of the dash. The hollowness reflected his mood and as he turned onto the freeway, he drum, drum, drummed, but, this time with force, so that the sounds reverberated through the car's interior. His eyes stared glassily at the lanes ahead and the multitude of cars that raced before him. Now, with the heavy beat, he was transported to a tropical jungle, surrounded by gaudy, painted savages who were stomping their feet to the beat of his fingers. Inadvertently, his foot started tapping too, and the acceleration of the car sped up and slowed to the beat of his foot. Someone behind him honked in annoyance, but he could not stop. He needed no other music; he found the notes in the depths of his soul.

Suddenly, traffic slowed and, since his foot was in the middle of a downbeat, he couldn't stop fast enough and slammed into the car ahead of him.

"Oh, shit! I'm going to be late to work."

The woman in the car he had hit simply threw up her hands and began making a call on her cell.

He was sure she was calling the police, so he just sat there with traffic dashing by on both sides until the flashing lights appeared and an officer walked up to his window. Unfortunately, his hand had begun it's involuntary drumming on the dashboard again. With the engine off, it seemed even louder and when the officer tapped on his window, he adjusted his beat to match that. The officer tapped again and it was an angry tap.

"Sir! Please open the window!"

He opened the window with his left hand, but did not stop tapping with his right.

"Sir! Am I boring you? Why are you tapping like that? May I please see your driver's license?"

He tried to reach in his right rear pocket with his left hand, but it was impossible and he couldn't really stop the drumming with his right hand as he had the beat almost perfect now.

"Sir! Would you stop that drumming and give me your license." No longer smiling, the police officer rested his right hand on the top of his holster.

"I can't seem to reach my billfold with my left hand, " he said. "I can't stop drumming with my right. Maybe you could reach my billfold."

"Sir, step out of the car and put your hands on the roof."

The officer pulled the door open and tugged him out of the car. He placed his hands on the roof as instructed and immediately found the satisfaction of drum, drum, drumming on the metal roof. The metal reverberated and the tone was different as he moved his hand to different areas on the roof. This time he found himself standing with a steel band and his beat was leading the band and his foot was tapping and he didn't hear the officer and he didn't hear the traffic, but the beat was beautiful.

"I've got a problem," the officer spoke into his shoulder microphone. 'Highway 50 East, a wreck and a man who won't stop drumming with his fingers. Better send a tow truck and an ambulance."

The officer left him standing by the car and walked over to the woman's car. "Could you just be patient, Ma'am," he said. "We seem to have a problem and I'm going to need some help before I talk to you."

"But, I'm late to work. Can't you just write it all down and let me go on."

"No, ma'am. I don't have time right now. I've got a crazy person who won't stop drumming and I'm going to stop it."

The officer walked back to the car where Brian was drumming on the roof and kicking the door in counter point. Brian's body twisted and shook and his fingers were bruised from their frenzied contact with the metal roof. The door of the car had large dents from his kicking and his eyes stared into an unknown distance.

"Sir! Please stop that drumming. Put your hands behind you so I can put on these cuffs."

Reluctantly Brian stopped the drumming and put his hands behind him as the cuffs were placed tightly on his wrists. The officer led him to the patrol car and placed him in the back seat. Brian began kicking the seat with his feet and then turned over so that his fingers were against the door and, once more, he began a frantic drum, drum, drumming.

"Stop that," the officer yelled. "Stop that kicking and drumming or I'll taser you."

Brian ignored him. Drum, diddle, drum--he had found a new rhythm. Plumph, plumph with his feet. Now, he found himself in a deep dark place where demons danced around him. He knew if he stopped they would eat his soul. He picked up the beat and shut his eyes tightly.

"Zap" The taser wires entered his body. The rhythm was lost as his body responded to the 50,000 volts of charge, and he felt his soul being grasped by the claws of the demons, and his essence ripped from his body. An ultimate blackness consumed him.

***

The officer and the ambulance driver stood looking at the slumped body in the back of the patrol car. The officer looked grim. He was in for a long day of questions and reports.

"I don't understand it. I just gave him a jolt with the taser. He was acting crazy and I had to."

"Maybe he had a weak heart, " the ambulance driver said. "Happens sometimes. When I first got here, he was still shaking and his fingers were moving, and his toes were tapping, but then he died. Massive heart attack I would say."

"Well, at least that drumming stopped, " the officer replied. "He was the drummer from hell as far as I'm concerned."