Black Petals Issue #93 Autumn, 2020

The Song
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Jude Clee: Notes from a Bathroom Stall-Fiction
M. W. Moriearty: Scarecrows-Fiction
Robert Masterson: Sharper Than She Ever Imagined-Fiction
Michael Steven: The Mirror-Fiction
Kevin Hawthorne: The Song-Fiction
Marlin Bressi: The Man on the Box-Fiction
Terry Riccardi: Winter Hunt-Fiction
Stephen J. Tillman: Angry Tammy-Flash Fiction
Andreas Hort: Pay the Price!-Flash Fiction
Sam Clover: Piety and Parm-Flash Fiction
Deisy Toussaint: Parasite in the Shadows-Flash Fiction
Outnumbered-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Mickey Sloan: Basement Beldam-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Grandmother Screamed-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Pumpkin Tanka-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Yellow Death-Haiku
Theresa C. Gaynord: The JuJu Man-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Widow Paris-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: Funeral at the Louisiana Bayou-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Old Hag-Poetry
Loris John Fazio: Halloween Prayer-Poetry
Marilyn Lou Berry: My Darling, My Sustenance-Poetry
Chris Collins: Nature-Poetry

93_bp_thesong_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2020

The Song

 

Kevin Hawthorne

 

Brendan Maxwell awoke in a cold sweat. The Song had played in his dreams again. For weeks now he had been hearing The Song every time he entered slumberland. It was hauntingly beautiful and despite him scouring the Internet, he could not find where it was from, or who had sung it. Every time he awoke after hearing it, he was covered in goosebumps and felt like he was on the verge of tears. Brendan looked beside him and saw that his girlfriend Mayra was awake as well, with her green eyes fixated on him and full of concern. “Did you have the dream again?” She asked.

“Yeah, I did, I heard The Song.”

“I’m getting a little concerned about this, do you think you should see someone about it?”

Brendan shook his head, “No, no, it'll be fine. I’m sure it’s just stress.” 

Mayra decided not to push Brendan just yet, after all, this was just a middle problem, if it continued and worsened, then she would put her foot down and try to get Brendan some help.

“Okay baby, I love you.” Mayra said. They kissed and then went back to sleep. Once more Brendan dreamed of The Song.

    Brendan awoke with Mayra the next morning and they both started their morning routines. Mayra getting ready for her day at grad school, where she was studying to get her pHd in Sociology and Brendan getting ready for his day as an accountant at the bank. Brendan and Myra had met at a frat party back when they were both undergrads and started dating shortly after. Brendan was content with his bachelor’s and secured a cushy banking job right out of school. Mayra decided to stay in college a few more years for her doctorate. Together they moved out of their shitty college dorms and into a small shitty apartment in the city, just like real adults. While they had their ups and downs, fights about money and other things that seemed trivial from a distance, they were happy.

Brendan, dressed in a slightly too big brown suit he had inherited from his father, kissed Mayra and left the house with his leaky travel mug filled with black coffee. His job at the bank was only 2 blocks from their apartment in downtown Lansing and it was a beautiful fall day, so he decided to walk. As he walked, he passed the normal stores he did every day: the coffee shop, the pet shop and the local bar already filled with early morning bar-flies. However, one store caught his eye, a brand-new music store. He saw Fenders, Les Pauls and Ibanez guitars lining the window. He looked at the glass and saw Al’s Music Store painted in large golden letters. For some reason he couldn’t explain, he was overcome by the urge to go inside. Soon, before he even realized it, he heard the bell chime signifying someone had entered the store. He looked around in a daze and realized he was that person and he was staring at basses, drum sets and more synths and keyboards than he could count. He sniffed and the warm smell of nickel from the strings, and the wood from the guitars filled him and he felt high on an ecstasy that he couldn’t explain.

“Hey there bud, can I help you?” a gravely cheerful voice said. Brendan turned around and saw a man in his 60’s with a long, blonde receding hairline, a line-covered face and smile that was yellow from years of too many cigarettes and too much coffee. He looked like the kind of guy who, 40 years ago would have been in the biggest hotshot metal band—lots of tight pants and leather. Now he looked like someone’s Dad trying too hard to stay hip, it baggy bootcut jeans and a worn flannel. “Just looking around.” Brendan said in a meek voice.

“Well what are ya looking for?” the man said with a large smile on his face.  Brendan thought and before he could think the words tumbled out of his mouth. “An acoustic guitar.” The man nodded.

“I can help you with that, what are you in the market for in terms of price?”

“Cheap” Brendan said bluntly. The man laughed hard and said “My kind of man, I’ll get you sorted out.”

Within 15 minutes Brendan was walking outside with a crappy 60-dollar acoustic guitar in a cheap softshell case. It was the kind of guitar you’d buy for an 11-year old, since you knew he’d probably play it twice and then promptly let it collect dust in the corner. This didn’t matter to Brendan, he knew this would come in handy one day. Brendan looked at his watch and muttered “shit” under his breath. He was late for work. With the guitar slung over his shoulder he sprinted the rest of the way to work and arrived out of breath. He stood in the gleaming hall of the city bank and quietly tried to scuttle to his desk before anyone noticed. Unfortunately, his boss Mr. King did, and he barked to Brendan, “Maxwell! You’re late!”

“Sorry Mr King. It won’t happen again.”

“It better not, or it’ll be coming out of your paycheck.”

“Yes sir. Sorry sir.”

Brendan hid his guitar under his desk and proceeded to attend to the line that appeared in front of him. After a grueling day of people yelling at him for things that were completely out of his control, he picked up his guitar and made his way towards the door.

“Music huh?”

Brendan stopped and turned to face Mr King, large, tall and mustachioed, sipping out of a large coffee cup.

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Music, you into music.”

Brendan stopped and considered this very odd question. He was no music fanatic, but he enjoyed music as much as anyone. A little John Coltrane with a cheap red wine and cheap pasta was one of life's greatest pleasures, thought Brendan.

“Yes sir, I enjoy music.” Brendan finally said in an unconfident meek voice.

“Not me. Never listen to it.”

“Why not sir?”

“It’s a drug, Maxwell, and I abhor any drug,” King said as he took an enormous swig of coffee.

“A drug?” Brendan said bewildered.

“That's right. As soon as you’re done listening you want more. You know what that sounds like to me? A goddamn junkie, that's what.”

Brendan was profoundly uncomfortable and said quickly, “I understand that point of view, sir. Well you have a good night.” Then he left before Mr King could say anything else.

    Brendan returned home and made himself ramen, the only meal he could make without Mayra’s help. She had class until 9 that night and he had three hours to himself. As he ate, he stared at the guitar he had purchased. “Why the fuck did I buy this?” he thought to himself. However, as he ate, The Song snuck up from the recesses of his mind and every note seemed so clear. He needed to play The Song. From his memories of the dreams he had been having The Song was one man and an acoustic guitar in one room. He could do it. He could learn The Song. He took the guitar out of its case and strummed it. It sounded like shit, but he’d figure it out soon enough. Brendan had never touched a guitar in his life and knew nothing about notes, tunings or any other facet that might be important in songwriting. However, Brendan wouldn’t let this deter him and he pressed on. He pulled up his laptop and looked up basic chords and soon he was able to string together a G to C with a clumsy ease. He played for three hours straight, never even coming close to playing The Song. He heard footsteps in the hall. Mayra was home. He rushed to hide the guitar, he didn’t know why, but he figured it was a good idea to not let Mayra know. Something in the back of his mind told him it was a good idea. Mayra appeared through the doorway flustered and red-skinned. She launched into a diatribe about how much of an asshole her professor for her dissertation was and how she was going to fail all because of his bullshit. Brendan smiled and nodded only half listening. All he could think about was The Song. 

    After Mayra finished her rant, the couple went to the couch and watched TV for a few hours in each others arms. Mayra felt warm and safe, but Brendan felt restless. He wished Mayra was gone so he could continue his quest for The Song. After an hour went by without Brendan saying a word beside little grunts and nods of approval to things Mayra was saying about the local news, Mayra grew anxious. 

“Everything okay?” Mayra asked.

Brendan was shocked out of his daze. He could not tell Mayra about The Song, for that was his and his alone. 

“Yeah, I'm fine. I just feel tired.”

“Let's head to bed then baby, we can cuddle there.”

Brendan gave a fake smile. “That sounds great babe.”

Their bed would be good, he could dream of The Song. It was funny he had used to dread the dreams but now he craved them. He liked them.

    Brendan fell asleep and the The Song came to him once more. The visuals of the dreams were always similar, it was almost always a simple black void with swirling bright colors. This time it was the same, but Brendan could swear he saw a red pair of eyes occasionally flash in the dark. The Song never changed. It always started with a quiet “1,2,3,4” before the gentle strums began and soft ethereal vocals began that sang in a haunting melody that brought tears to his eyes even in the dream. The lyrics told a story of man on the end of his rope,

I lost my job, lost my girl

I’ve got nothing left in this world

I’ve got a rope I’ll make myself a swing

After that you’ll never hear from me

 

Brendan awoke the next day with Mayra and repeated the same morning ritual they had repeated the day before. They kissed and parted ways, but then Brendan hid in the alley beside their apartment and watched as Mayra got in her car and drove to her job at the local diner she worked at when she didn’t have class. As soon as he saw she was gone, he ran back into the building and sprinted up the stairs and into their apartment. Alone at last. He retrieved the guitar from its hiding place under the bed and pulled it out of its case. Maybe today would be the day he cracked the code to The Song. He played for hours, only stopping to use the restroom. He didn’t even stop to eat, he felt no hunger, only determination. He played with all his passion, but he couldn’t get the song right. Every chord clashed with the melody he had in his head. He yelled in frustration and strummed, until his fingers bled and the blood splattered across the fretboard and the pick guard.

“STUPID FUCKING SONG” Brendan screamed in frustration. 

There was a knock on the door.

He turned and heard the knock again.

“Hello Mr. Maxwell? This is your landlord Mr. Fuchs? I’ve gotten some complaints about the noise. Could you keep it down?”

Brendan scoffed. These fools. They didn’t appreciate that he was the special muse for the greatest piece of music ever written. He ignored Fuchs and continued to play the guitar. 

“Mr. Maxwell? Maxwell, stop it! I must insist! You’re causing a racket.”

Brendan continued to ignore him. Soon Fuchs was frustrated and used his master key to open the door. He entered, shut the door behind him and saw Brendan’s bloody hands continuing to strum the guitar and felt a feeling of complete and utter disgust.

“Maxwell… what… what are you doing?” Fuchs said

 Brendan continued to play as if he hadn’t noticed his landlord enter the room. Soon Mr. Fuchs’ disgust turned to anger. He grabbed Brendan by his shoulders and yelled, “Boy, what the hell are you doing, have you lost your mind?”

Brendan stared up at Fuchs with cold dead eyes. He stood up and Fuchs’ hands fell off his shoulders. He raised his guitar and brought it down upon Fuchs’ head. Soon the middle-aged landlord was crumpled on the floor and Brendan continued to bring down the guitar, smashing it until it broke in half and even then Brendan took jagged debris and continued his assault. The fretboard, shattered into a crude wooden stake of sorts, was driven into Fuchs’ jugular. Brendan continued until the guitar was simply a pile of splinters and Fuchs was an unrecognizable bloody mass. Brendan, covered in blood, leaned over Fuchs body.

“You don’t understand, you stupid fucking peasant. I have been called to be the greatest muse and nothing, especially a Philistine such as yourself can stop me.”

Brendan quietly cleaned up the murder scene and stuffed Fuchs into a garbage bag. He threw him into the dumpster, not caring what happened to him. Next, he walked back to Al’s music. The old man was there again smiling.

“Hello again, need something else?” He said

“Guitar broke.” Brendan said in response.

The man’s smile didn’t falter.

“That's no problem bud, let's get you all set up.”

Once again Brendan left with a cheap 60-dollar guitar and headed back to his apartment. Brendan looked at the clock. Mayra would be back soon. He hid the guitar and prepared to act as if things were normal. He had bandaged his hand up and would simply lie, saying he’d fallen and hurt it that way. Mayra entered the apartment with her waiter's outfit on and her red hair in a tangled mess. She looked unhappy, no doubt from some asshole customer, but before she could vent to Brendan, he walked up to her quickly, kissed her on the cheek and said “I don’t feel well. I’m heading to bed early.”

Mayra stood in silence. She was worried about Brendan. Something was definitely wrong. 

    Brendan dreamt of The Song again. The swirling images of light and the red eyes were back, and now a strange body floated in the background. The body of Fuchs. The song was louder in this dream, he could make out the chords better. The melody was clearer. Brendan smiled. The Song was getting close, soon he’d have it in his grasp and he’d finally be at peace. When the morning came, Brendan pretended to sleep. When Mayra noticed she was getting ready alone she went up to Brendan to wake him. He muttered something about not feeling well and that he wasn’t going to work.

As soon as Mayra left, Brendan leapt out of bed and grabbed the guitar. Without breakfast or even a morning coffee, he began playing the guitar. Yet, The Song eluded him. Even though it played in his head nearly 24/7 he couldn't match what he heard in his head to what he played on the guitar. The bandages on his hand started to bleed once more as he strummed harder and harder. After a few hours there was a knock on the door.

"Maxwell? Get your ass out here, I know you're in there!"

It was Mr. King, Brendan's boss. Brendan ignored him and kept playing the guitar as if he had not heard the blustering asshole.

"Maxwell, open the goddamn door like a man so I can fire you in person!"

Still the only sound King received in response was softly strummed acoustic guitar. 

"You cowardly son of a bitch!"

Overcome with a rage that had been building ever since Brendan's truancy a few days prior, King started ramming his full weight against the door. Still Brendan ignored him. The apartment door was shoddily made, so it was only after three well-timed shoulder rams from the burly Mr. King that he was able to enter the apartment. He set his eyes on Brendan and charged at him with the ferocity of a rabid grizzly bear.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” King bellowed in Brendan’s face. 

Brendan’s face was blank and his eyes were dead. King felt more anger but was unable to articulate it, so he instead sputtered his rage, spit flying into Brendan’s face. King punched Brendan hard in the face and threw him to the floor. This fucking punk. This waste of semen. This completely fucked up little brat. King could not contain his anger as he beat Brendan with all his fury. After landing blow after blow, King stood up to see Brendan’s broken, bleeding face. “You’re fired.” he spat, and walked away.

As soon as he turned his back Brendan leapt up and charged at King. Soon, Brendan was on top of King, beating him with uncontained rage. What King had just inflicted on Brendan mere moments ago seemed like child’s play. Brendan grabbed a stone turtle ornament off the coffee table next to him. He grabbed it and proceeded to crush King’s skull in with it.

“You. Stupid. Man.” Brendan yelled with every blow. 

“Let. Me. Have. Some God. Damn. Quiet!” 

    Whatever remained of Mr. King’s head was gone. Instead there was a pool of blood with chunks of skull and brain matter. Brendan stood, cold and emotionless, and thought about how he needed quiet. He needed no distractions. He started making rounds in his apartment taking every single thing he could find to barricade the door. No one in, no one out. After about half an hour, the only thing left in the apartment was a single wooden chair, and his guitar. He could finally work on The Song. He set out again to perfect it and for the first few hours it went as well as before. Brendan grew frustrated, his murmurs to himself became a string of swear words and gibberish, but he would not be deterred. After a few more hours he was making progress, he had finally gotten the chorus down:

I lost my job, lost my girl

I’ve got nothing left in this world

I’ve got a rope I’ll make myself a swing

After that you’ll never hear from me

 

Brendan laughed in a harsh, broken voice as he finally got the chords to match the melody. He was almost there, and nothing would stop him. The Song was the only thing that mattered in life, it provided for him, it was the only thing that truly loved him. Everything was unimportant dogshit next to The Song. As Brendan started to chip away at the mysterious verse, he yet again heard pounding at the door. “Brendan! Brendan please open up!” It was Mayra’s voice, but Brendan no longer cared. All he cared about was The Song. If Mayra got in, he’d just kill her like he had the others. He ignored Mayra’s cries and pleas until she left and he continued playing. The verses were harder than the chorus and even after playing through the night he couldn’t figure out how they went. Brendan witnessed the sunset turn into moonlight and then into daybreak but never broke his concentration. He felt his stomach writhe in pain from lack of food, and his throat felt as dry as a vast desert, yet he did not stop. The Song still called to him. Every second he wasn’t playing, it was in his head. When he dreamed, it was all he heard. He could not stop. He would not stop. 

With a crash, Brendan’s focus was broken. He spun around and saw the window to his apartment was shattered, and he saw a man dressed in all black with a gun pointed at him. A cop. The cop looked around and saw the bloody body of Mr. King on the floor. Shock filled the officer’s blue eyes.

“Sir, put your hands up and get on the floor!” He shouted at Brendan. Brendan looked at him with cold eyes. He was not going to let this pathetic rent-a-cop ruin his journey. He charged, guitar held like a battle-axe towards the cop. The anticipation for blood was on his teeth. The Song craved blood, he realized that now. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) Brendan didn’t realize bringing a guitar to a gunfight was a pretty stupid move. The cop fired a bullet into his arm, and Brendan dropped like a fly. 

What happened to Brendan next was a blur to him. He was taken out of the apartment to hospital. Next, he was in a jail cell, where everyone looked scared of him. Next, he was in a courtroom where a judge was talking to him a whole lot, but the only word he made out was “insane.” He remembered seeing Mayra in the courtroom dressed in a black dress and crying. Then he was in an isolated room with a bed, and dressed in white. It was here his senses returned to him. He had murdered people. Murdered people for a song he didn’t even know was real. Why had he done this? Brendan broke down sobbing and as he did, he saw a monstrous shadow appear in the corner of the room. It was pitch black and formless, but it had red eyes and an angelic, yet terrifying voice. Over and over it sang

I lost my job, lost my girl

I’ve got nothing left in this world

I’ve got a rope I’ll make myself a swing

After that you’ll never hear from me

 

It was the only thing Brendan would ever hear besides his own sobs for the rest of his life.

 

 

Kevin Hawthorne is a Speculative Fiction author based out of the Metro Detroit area.  A graduate from Oakland University in History, he uses his experience from academia to craft stories with sharp characters and a social edge. He lives for all things spooky and macabre and dreams of what lies behind out the stars. 

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