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"Hex Beat" by Peter Emmett Naughton

When Christine woke on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, something felt different. It wasn’t that ethereal notion of being older and wiser; she didn’t suddenly possess some heretofore-unknown insight that had been absent the day before. The world simply seemed to have shifted slightly, and now everything was a bit askew in a way that was difficult to quantify.

Two weeks prior she had been battling a nasty cold and wondered if this might be some lingering aftereffect, but her head and stomach felt fine and there was no trace of the chills or achiness that had plagued her. This last symptom had taken the longest to abate, rendering her limbs sore and useless as she stared miserably at the purple-atmosphere-fade finish on her Tama Starclassic kit. The Tama wasn’t her first set. There had been the neon-green, plastic drums when she was four and then the children’s starter kit when she was eight. She’d worn through the heads on that second set more times than she could count. That’s when her parents realized she was serious. The Starclassic and accompanying Zildjian A-Custom cymbal pack had been a combined birthday/Christmas/junior high graduation gift in addition to Christine contributing all the money she’d saved babysitting the previous two summers. Playing on the kit felt like going from a Schwinn to a Ferrari, or what she imagined driving a Ferrari must be like. Even just looking at it made her happy, and it was without a doubt her favorite thing in the entire world.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, waiting to see if the sensation would leave, but it hovered in the center of her chest like a stifled sneeze.

Christine glanced at the clock on her nightstand.

Her parents would have both left for work by now and she had forty minutes before she needed to catch the bus. If she got ready quickly, she could squeeze in a run through of “Janie Jones” before she had to go.


Heading into sophomore year should’ve been familiar and comfortable compared to the social whiplash of entering high school, but in some ways Christine felt more adrift than ever. She’d been separated from her two best friends during middle school because of where they lived and when they all came back together as freshmen, she suddenly felt like a third wheel. They’d still hung out mostly on weekends, but it wasn’t the same. There was no more swapping stories about which teachers assigned the worst homework or in-depth discussions over the cryptic graffiti in the bathroom the way they’d done in grammar school. It was like they’d spent two years watching a television show with the same general setting and plotlines, but the characters in Christine’s version were all completely different.

Back when the three of them were besties, they’d shared similar taste in books, movies, and most importantly, music. Now Karen was pretty much only listening to mainstream radio singles and Beth didn’t care about any of it unless some pop celebrity with a fashion brand or a makeup line was involved.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault, and maybe it would’ve eventually happened anyway, but Christine couldn’t help feeling like she’d been exiled. Roving the hallways between classes, she often found herself counting down the hours until school ended so she could be back at home sitting behind her kit with her headphones on.

Mostly it seemed like she was simply treading water until college with the hope that things would turn around or start over as something new.


By the time she boarded the bus that out-of-body sensation had begun to fade. She was thumping the ball of her left foot on the scuffed rubber surface covering the floor and slapping the tops of her legs with her hands trying to figure out the pattern Terry Chimes played in the intro. It sounded deceptively simple, but the way that Chimes traded off single and double strokes between the snare and bass drum, keeping the rhythm the same, but switching back and forth between the two, made the whole thing more interesting and a bit tricky to pin down.

“We’re here.”

Christine looked up and saw that the bus was empty except for a girl two seats ahead with short, spiky black hair wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt.

“Oh, uh, thanks.” Christine said, grabbing her backpack up off the bench.

“No problem.” the girl said, making her way toward the front of the bus. She was halfway out the door when she turned back to Christine. “What were you playing?”


“The song you were tapping, what was it?”

“Oh, it was supposed to be “Janie Jones” by The Clash.”

“Cool.” the girl said and exited the bus.

Christine stepped onto the concrete of the school’s rear concourse and started toward the entrance, smiling to herself as she walked.



“For your semester project, I want you to document the history of something you consider a central part of your personal identity. This can be a family tradition, a religious practice, a hobby or pursuit, or any other aspect of your life that you deem significant enough to research and write about.”

There was a low but audible groan that rippled through Mr. Pearson’s classroom at this announcement. The dreaded projects counted for twenty percent of their overall grade and were reviled even more than final exams. At least with a test you could study like crazy and usually be okay, but with these assignments you didn’t always know exactly what the teacher was after, especially when they asked you to incorporate yourself into the thing.

Christine did have an idea for the topic that she thought might work. Percussion had history going back centuries; there were people all across the globe who had incorporated drumming into cultural events and spiritual ceremonies long before its modern incarnation in music. She had a book her parents got her for her birthday a couple of years back that had some basic information, but she’d need to find specific details on the different cultures and places. It’s something she’d been curious about and was actually glad for the excuse to dig deeper into the subject.

The bell rang and there was a chorus of metal chair legs scraping back against the floor as everyone made their way out into the hall to their next class. Christine couldn’t help but chuckle as she heard a few of her classmates comment on the project as they left.

“What the hell am I supposed to do, write about my mother’s seven-layer dip and the lucky sweatpants my dad always wears to our family’s annual Superbowl party?”

“Does my uncle falling asleep and drooling on himself at midnight mass every Christmas count as a religious tradition?”

“Ya think they’d let me do a paper about weed now that it’s legal here?”

“It’s still illegal for us, dumbass.”

“Even if my older brother buys it for me?”


Evidence of primitive percussion instruments has been found in civilizations going as far back as 6000 B.C. Some of these examples include hollowed-out gourds, tree stumps and logs, porous stones, and many other common objects that could be struck to produce a sound.

Christine giggled, remembering a scene from an episode of The Muppet Show where a character named Marvin stood in front of a row of fuzzy, spherical creatures that he proceeded to hit with a mallet using the different pitches of the creatures’ cries to play “Lady of Spain”.

“What are you laughing at Janie Jones?”

Christine peered over the top of her book and saw the girl from the bus staring at her from the end of one of the library stacks.

“Just an old Muppet Show skit. My parents pretty much banned all children’s programming created after I was born.”

“Dude, I love the Muppets! I still say it’s one of the most progressive things to ever air on tv. I mean think about how groundbreaking Gonzo and Camilla’s relationship was.”

“Yeah, and nobody body-shamed Cookie Monster on Sesame Street.”

“Seriously, any show with a Muppet on it was way ahead of its time.”

“My name’s Christine by the way.”

“Would’ve been pretty funny if it’d been Janie. I’m Nicki. So, you have a drum set or is it just a leg thing?”

“No, I have a kit at home, though the legs are a convenient substitute when I’m trying to figure stuff out.”

“You any good?”

“I’m alright.”

“Ha, that was a test. The people who can actually play never brag about it. My guitar is in the shop right now, but we should hang out and jam once it’s fixed.”

“Yeah, sure, that’d be cool. Who do you like, besides the Dead Kennedys I mean?”

“The Clash, of course.” Nicki said, gesturing in recognition. “The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, Runaways, Nirvana, Belly, Mud Honey, Bikini Kill, The Slits, and more current stuff like Skating Polly, Bully, Torres, Slothrust, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Screaming Females, pretty much anything with an interesting guitar riff. How about you?”

“A lot of the same bands along with my requisite list of drum-god groups, Led Zeppelin, The Police, Sleater-Kinney, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool.”

“What, no Rush?”

“I mean I like them, but it’s not really the sort of thing I play along with, mostly cause I can’t fit fourteen toms in my bedroom.”

“Shit, I thought they revoked your drummer card if you didn’t worship Neil Peart.”

“You just have to tell them that Moving Pictures is a masterpiece and they leave you alone.”

Nicki laughed. “You’re funny. Hey, I gotta get going, but give me your number so I can text you when I get my axe back.”



Christine sat in her bedroom flipping between browser tabs on different tribes and sects that used drumming in their celebrations and rituals. The sheer number of examples was staggering and trying to include even a brief description of each one would easily fill up half her paper. Ashanti rhythmical healing ceremonies, Burundi tribes that incorporated percussion into their native dances, circular frame drums used by both Celtic pagans and American Indian shaman, and Middle Eastern tablas that appeared in everything from religious services and weddings to informal social gatherings.

There were mentions of other more obscure examples; descriptions of songs from extinct peoples like the Picts and the Goitac. She found some videos online that claimed to be authentically Pictish, but it all turned out to be some slight variation on traditional drum and bagpipe music. Then there were the Zartuomes, who were believed to have lived in the Sierra Madre mountains in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds, where they bordered on another vanished tribe, the Xiximes. Percussion was a major part of the Zartuome culture, though there was almost no documentation of exactly what it sounded like or descriptions of the instruments that they employed. The closest Christine could find was an article from a defunct newspaper that had been archived online. In it the journalist said that Zartuome rituals would begin as gentle rhythms that were almost inaudible, then slowly build to a cacophonous din with the participants playing so aggressively that they often collapsed in exhaustion during the ceremonies.

An image of a ring of men and women dressed in the kind of animal skins that cartoon Neanderthals were typically depicted in filled her head. She could see them seated around a fire, the skulls of their slain enemies as their drums, savagely beaten upon with splintered lengths of bone. There’s a hollow thok as one of them begins to play, a sound that echoes like footsteps in an empty hall. This is followed by the player to their left striking the same solitary note, which is then repeated in turn by each member until it reaches the originator who plays a double stroke that is again mimicked by the others. The double becomes a triplet and then something that sounds to Christine like a herta, and on and on adding notes and increasing the tempo and volume until it’s the sonic equivalent of a swarm of bees.

She shook herself from this vision with her heart racing and her palms damp with sweat, quickly crossing the hall to the bathroom where she cupped her hands under the faucet and splashed cold water on the sides of her flushed face.

Christine looked at herself in the mirror. “Easy there, kiddo.”

It’s what her dad said to her whenever her playing got to be a little too much. It never bothered her because she knew she had completely lucked out in the parent department, with a mom and dad who not only tolerated her playing but actually encouraged it. In most universes Christine would’ve been stuck with a clarinet or a cello, but when her folks found themselves with a tiny Stewart Copeland, they gave her the thumbs-up instead.

She smiled and dried her face off with a towel next to the sink.

It seemed like a good time to pause on research for the night, but tomorrow she wanted to hit the library again to see if they had anything more on the Zartuomes.


There wasn’t anything on the Zartuome civilization at school, though she did run across a chapter in a book that detailed a Mayan subsect called the Zinacantán.

“Damn, so close.” Christine muttered.

“Is talking to yourself a regular thing with you?”

Christine flinched as Nicki stood up from the study-carrel behind her.

“Shit, sorry.” Nicki said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Are you stalking me or something?”

“I could tell you ‘No’, but that’s probably what a stalker would say.”

Christine laughed. “It’s just that I don’t typically see many people hanging out at the library after school. Are you doing research for a paper too?”

“Nah, just killing time before I head home. My mom and her boyfriend are making my place a bit of a nightmare right now.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.”

“It’s okay; dude’s a bit of a dick but he’s never been violent or anything; mostly it’s just the two of them picking at each other until one of them gets sick of it and leaves. At least I don’t have to worry about this one becoming my next stepdad.”

“Yeah.” Christine said, unsure of what else to say.

“What are you working on?”

“Semester project for History. Trying to do something on the origin of drumming, but there’s so much material I’m having trouble whittling it all down.”

“I usually have the opposite problem; taking some half-baked idea and stretching it out so it meets the bare minimum. Last year I did a paper about how Black Sabbath and women accused of participating in witch’s sabbaths were both holding up a mirror to society and reflecting its hypocrisy.”

“You seriously wrote a paper on that?”


“That’s awesome.”

“Sadly, my English teacher Ms. Iverson was not as enthusiastic. She didn’t see the connection of comparing Ozzy Osbourne to Sarah Osbourne from the Salem trials.”

Christine laughed again and this time caught a sideways glance from a passing librarian.

“I’m trying to dig up info on some of the more obscure percussion practices; there’s a tribe called the Zartuomes that have this interesting drum ritual, but I haven’t been able to find much.”

“Did you check to see if there are any primary source documents like journals from explorers who might’ve been around during the time?”

“They have that stuff here?”

“A few things, and the main library downtown has even more. Let me show you where they keep the collection.”


Christine didn’t have any luck in the specialty section of the school library, but she spent the time talking with Nicki about other bands they liked and before leaving she wrote down albums from Mitski and The Beths that Nicki suggested.

Back at home she spent another couple of hours sifting through various historical and percussion-related pages without much to show for it except a single mention of the word Zartomb. The spelling was different, and Christine assumed it was just a typo, but when she searched on the name it came back with the webpage for a band. The last update on the site was from nearly six years ago and the only other mention of the group was a small writeup in an online fanzine about a show they’d played in Dayton. At the bottom of the article was a link that led to a video hosted on a site she’d never heard of, and Christine almost closed it afraid of infecting her laptop with something nasty, but curiosity got the better of her.

The video was grainy, but the audio was surprisingly clean as she listened to the band perform on a stage that was barely big enough to hold the three of them. Their sound was a cross between black and sludge metal, though not as extreme as either style, and absent the theatrics some of those groups favored like a penchant for corpse paint. It wasn’t a sound she was usually into, most of her metal records consisted of eighties thrash bands and their descendants. Still, the group had something unique about them, particularly at the end of the set when the singer started droning something that sounded like Latin just as the song reached its apex. He was still repeating the phrase when the other two band members finished playing and joined him at the front of the stage. The three of them got down on their hands and knees, pounding on the plywood riser with their fists and creating a rhythm that was picked up by the audience who stomped along in unison until it seemed like the whole place might vibrate apart from the ruckus.

Christine backed up the video and played the ending again, grabbing a pen and a piece of notebook paper to transcribe what she was hearing.

1+ 2e+ 3+a 4+

It was a simple pattern that started soft and slow, becoming steadily faster and louder with each subsequent repetition. She played along with it on the edge of her desk until her fingers were warm from the friction.

“Ya know we bought you that drum set so you’d stop abusing your poor desk.”

Christine jumped in her chair and then wheeled it around to face her mother. “Sorry Mom, just looking up stuff for my project.”

“And I’m glad to see you getting an early jump on it, but I don’t think the designers at Ikea built that thing to withstand your assaults.”

Christine put her hands up in mock surrender.

“I thank you and your father thanks you. Also, it’s nearly ten o’clock, so maybe call it quits for tonight.”

“Didn’t realize it was so late.”

“You get that from your dad. The man could ignore a nuclear blast down the block if he was in the middle of something.”

“I’m not that bad.”

“Agree to disagree. Now get some sleep.”

“Night Mom.”

“Goodnight my little furniture demolitionist.”


Christine was standing in a hallway, lockers lining both sides and speckled beige linoleum on the floor. It could’ve been her own high school were it not for the fact that the lockers here were black instead of green, and that they seemed to stretch on forever.

She stepped forward, the rubber soles of her boots squeaking against the freshly waxed surface of the tiles. There were no classroom doors or other corridors branching off from this one, just endless metal rectangles reflecting a distorted image of her profile in their glossy obsidian facades.

“Hello? Is anyone here?”

Christine waited for a reply, and when none came, she began moving faster along the hall. In the distance she thought she saw a dim red light that she hoped was an Exit sign, but no matter how far she traveled the image never came any closer. She stopped and looked back in the other direction, thinking maybe she’d gone the wrong way, and that’s when she heard it.

…a loud banging from inside one of the lockers….

She closed her eyes, listening carefully to determine where the sound was coming from, when there was suddenly more banging behind her. Door after door joined the chorus until soon the corridor was filled with a metallic cacophony.

Christine covered her ears as legions of phantom fists pounded out the rhythm from the video. She winced in pain as the intensity grew and screamed, “Stop! Stop it!”

When she opened her eyes again, she was staring up at her ceiling fan.

She glanced around, still expecting to see locker doors and speckled tile, but it was only the interior of her bedroom.

The clock on her nightstand read 2:39 a.m.


“You gonna eat that?”

Christine blinked and looked over at Nicki. “Huh?”

“You’ve been gazing at your cheeseburger like it’s about to impart some ancient wisdom.”

“Sorry, I’m kinda out of it. Didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Up late working on the project?”

Christine nodded.

“The end of the semester is still three months away. Maybe pace yourself a bit.”

“It wasn’t that. I had a nightmare.”

“About the term-paper?”

“Sort of; it started out like a typical school-anxiety dream, can’t find your class, forgot about a test, but then mixed together with some of the stuff I’ve been researching.”

“Were you forced to write, ‘I will not play the drum solo from Moby Dick in Study Hall’ on the chalkboard a hundred times?”

Christine laughed and shook her head. “I found a band online with a similar name to that strange tribe, and I ran across a video of an old show of theirs.”

“Any good?”

“Not really my cup of tea, but they were decent at what they were going for. And there was this part at the end, a kind of weird drum circle where the whole band pounded on the stage floor and the audience stomped along with them.”

Christine pulled up the video on her phone, scrolled over to the last few minutes, and handed it to Nicki who watched with a bemused look on her face.

“Kinda reminds me of these parties my mom told me about. She went through a hippie phase before she had me.”

“Yeah, it starts out all kumbaya, but it ends up more like an earthquake.”

“Best part about small venues; you never know what you’re gonna get on any given night.”

“Have you been to many shows?”

“A bunch of all-ages places and a few bands at bars with relaxed ID policies so long as you don’t try and scam the bartender after you get in. You?”

“My parents just started letting me go to arena and theater concerts, but they’re still wary about clubs even if they don’t serve alcohol.”

“I get it, but it always makes me a little sad when some indie band I love starts playing bigger spots. Between the ticket price and the fees, it’s pretty hard to swing most of the time.”

Christine nodded, suddenly feeling awkward for bringing it up.

“My guitar is out of the hospital; you free this weekend to jam?”


“Awesome. I work Saturday until 3:00, but I’m good after that.”

“Where do you work?”

“Movie theater downtown a couple nights a week and matinee shifts on the weekend.”

“Sounds cool.”

“It’s alright. Pays better than most places willing to hire teenagers and the times I’m scheduled usually aren’t that busy, so I can read during the downtime. That reminds me, I wanted to give you this.” Nicki unzipped her backpack and pulled out a yellow-edged paperback that she handed to Christine. “It’s about a guy playing in a wedding band and his existential crisis over the fact that he’s probably never gonna make it big. The whole thing is hilarious and comes across way more realistically than most fictional stories about musicians.”

Christine looked at the title, The Wishbones. “Are you giving this to me so I don’t get my hopes up about us becoming famous?”

Nicki laughed. “Dude, we haven’t even played a note together. Superstardom is a long way off.”

“Well, it is with that attitude.”

“Just saying, you may want to slow your roll a little.”

“Fine.” Christine said and sighed dramatically.

The bell signaling the end of the period rang and kids began reluctantly rising from lunch tables and shuffling off toward their next class.

“I’ve got a quiz in chemistry, so I should probably motor.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks. Looking forward to this weekend.”

“Me too.” Christine said and watched Nicki as she headed down the hall, wondering what songs she should suggest for Saturday.


Christine looked over the songs in her ‘Drumming Playlist’ and grimaced.

A lot of the tracks were from bands she didn’t normally listen to but had put on there because the beats were challenging or just fun to play. Nicki had said something similar about her own music, but Christine doubted that her guitar list had Taylor Swift and Katy Perry on them.

She tore off a piece of notebook paper and started writing down possibilities:

The Clash – Janie Jones

Mitski – Townie

Wolf Alice – She

The Knife – Heartbeats

Fazer Daze – Lucky Girl

The Ramones – We’re A Happy Family

Grimes – Pin

The Police – Next To You

Girl K – For Now

Neon Trees – Animal

The Go-Go’s – Can’t Stop The World

Missing Persons – Mental Hopscotch

The Buzzcocks – Everybody’s Happy Nowadays

The Beths – Little Death

Christine scrutinized the list again looking for anything else that needed to be eliminated. She’d never liked the idea of guilty pleasures, but it’d also been a while since she’d opened her personal tastes up for inspection. The last time she’d tried to have a conversation with Beth and Karen about a new band she’d discovered, they’d both smiled and nodded before quickly changing the subject.

‘You’re being stupid; you’ve already talked about tons of bands. She isn’t going to suddenly think you’re a tool just because you disagree on some group.’

She knew this was true and was excited to have finally met someone who not only shared similar tastes, but who also played music. It was part of what made her nervous, that she might lose this opportunity by saying or doing the wrong thing. There were times she felt like a poser to the person she’d been before; that deep down nothing about her had changed at all.

This lingering dread of living as an imposter was still echoing in her head as Christine closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.


The circle of cave drummers returned in her dreams. Their faces were distorted into grotesque caricatures that only vaguely resembled human visages and the skulls they played upon had become equally monstrous. The rhythm this time wasn’t the round robin she’d previously envisioned but the pattern from the video and her nightmare.

And there was something else buried in the background; a thrum so soft and low that at first she wasn’t sure it was actually there. As the drumming increased in velocity and volume so too did the intensity of the reverberation, its former earthworm now a massive burrowing beast tunneling deep below the earth and steadily making its way toward the surface.

Both sounds slowly melded together becoming impossible to distinguish one from the other, but just before the dream ended Christine heard the percussive thrum transform into a silky baritone asking her a singular question.

“Can I help you with something?”


“You sure your parents are okay with this?” Nicki said as she plugged her amp into the outlet next to Christine’s desk. She was still wearing her maroon vest with Starlight Cinema stitched in silver on the left side and a black plastic name tag on the right with Nicole Francellno in white block lettering. Underneath it was an X-Ray Spex t-shirt that had faded to gray from repeated washings.

Christine was wearing a shirt her mom had found at a thrift store that featured a photo of Keith Moon sporting a mischievous grin that reminded her of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.

“They’re pretty used to it.”

“Alright then, ready when you are.”

Christine adjusted the height on her drum throne slightly and made sure her hi-hat clutch was tightened down. She gave Nicki a single nod and then launched into the opening snare fill of “Shiftless When Idle” by The Replacements.


“So what made you gravitate toward the drums?” Nicki said between bites of pizza.

“A harpsichord wouldn’t fit up the staircase.” Christine said and quickly hid her grin behind her soda can.

“You’re hysterical. Seriously though, it’s hard enough finding people to play with, and most of the ones I ran across were other guitarists. There were a couple of guys at school who were drummers, but one of them was a know-it-all dickhead, and the other was more interested in trying to feel me up than he was in practicing.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine; I can handle myself.”

“Doesn’t make it okay.”

“Pretty much nothing about that dude was okay. Should’ve never gone over there in the first place, but I was tired of playing along with my albums.”

“When I was little my dad used to worry whenever he put me up on his shoulders to see better at a parade or an outdoor concert.”


“Because instead of holding on like I was supposed to, I’d pound my pudgy little fists on his shoulders along with whatever was playing over the speakers. No matter how many times he told me to stop, I just couldn’t help myself.”

“That’s sweet.”

“Not sure he thought so at the time.”

Nicki laughed. “Maybe he got the drums to distract you.”

“It’s a distinct possibility. Alright, your turn. Why guitar? Why not violin, or oboe, or running track, or playing tennis?”

“You mean aside from the fact that guitar is much cooler than any of those other things?”


“My older brother Mitch took off when he was seventeen. He was fighting with my mom’s boyfriend at the time, who was way worse than the current guy, and he left a note on my bed saying he was going to look for our dad.”

“Did he find him?”

“…yeah, moved in with him for a while in Houston, but it didn’t last long. Mitch is in Seattle now; sends a letter every so often. About a week after he first left, he wrote me saying that I could have his guitar. I almost threw the thing in the trash I was so mad at him, but it also reminded me of him, so I kept it. Sometimes he’d mail me tapes with songs he said I needed to learn if I wanted to be great.”

“You must’ve listened, cause you sound pretty great to me.”

“Not so bad yourself there.”

“I’m gonna grab another coke, you want one?”

“It’s okay…I know my family’s messed up….”

Christine stood there in the bedroom doorway unsure of what to say.

“I’m used to people being weirded out, so seriously, don’t worry about it.”

“People think it’s weird that I get along with my folks.” Christine said. “I mean, most of the time anyway.”

“Honestly, it is a little freaky.” Nicki said. “It’s cool though, especially the part about letting us play here and buying us pizza. You’ve got pretty rad parents.”

“Yeah.” Christine said and disappeared down the stairs to retrieve more soda.


She heard the rhythm in the back of her head like an ear-worm pop song that buries itself in your subconscious. Christine found herself tapping the pattern with her hands whenever her mind wandered; on the bus ride home she’d been so absorbed that she’d missed her stop and didn’t notice until she was almost six blocks away. At night she’d sometimes hear the voice as she slipped into sleep, always with the same question. She hadn’t told Nicki about that part of the dream, or the fact that she’d continued to have them. It was all a bit much, and she didn’t want Nicki thinking she was some kind of headcase.

Christine stared at her notes for the paper and wondered if she shouldn’t just scrap the whole thing and start over with something else.

The lamp on her desk was a retro design, two metal gooseneck arms with violet colored glass shades that curved to a point like a pair of tropical bird beaks. She squinted, letting the shape distort as she imagined the strange animal springing to life next to her laptop.

“You still haven’t responded to my query.”

Christine’s eyes shot open and she darted them around the room looking for the source of the sound.

“I mean honestly, you go about repeatedly summoning me and then can’t be bothered to answer one simple question?”

She rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “You’re just tired.” Christine whispered to herself.

“Know what makes me tired? People who continually invoke my presence, but then refuse to say what they want. It’s like someone ringing your doorbell and running away over and over again.”

Christine stood up and crossed the room; she had her hand on the doorknob but stopped short of pulling it open. If she told her parents, there would be no going back. And what would she even say to them?

“Leave me alone.”

“Afraid I can’t do that. Upper management gets testy if we worker bees shirk our responsibilities.”

“But I don’t want anything.”

“Oh come now, everyone wants something.”

“You’re just a figment of my sleep-deprived brain brought on by too many hours spent obsessing over this stupid project. I just wish the damn thing was done so I didn’t have to think about it anymore.”

“See how easy that was.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Hello?” Christine said and was relieved when there was no reply.

She shut down her computer and crawled into bed, though the idea of sleep with its unwanted dreams certainly didn’t appeal to her at that moment.

Christine lay there covered head-to-toe under a combination of comforter, blanket, and sheet, trying to pretend that the outside world didn’t exist.


The next morning Christine tried again to convince herself that it had simply been some stress-induced hallucination that hadn’t actually happened.

She got ready for school and was about to head downstairs for breakfast when she remembered that she needed to email herself the outline she’d written last night so she could start organizing the material she’d collected.

When Christine booted up her computer, she saw the outline on her desktop and another file beside it that she didn’t recognize named Deonaithe. She double-clicked the icon and Word launched on her screen, opening a document that had her name in the upper-left corner with the course code and teacher of her History class under it and the current date beneath that. Centered on the page was a title, Mystic Rhythms – The Influence of Percussion in Global Culture. Christine glanced at the bottom of the screen and saw that it was ten pages long; she started scanning over the text and felt her stomach knot. The writing style was identical to her own and was filled with references from her research along with other sources that she hadn’t read. A wave of vertigo swept over her as she clutched at the edge of her desk.

“This isn’t possible.”

After a few minutes the sensation began to fade and she redirected her hands to the trackpad. She quit Word, dragged the Deonaithe file to the garbage can, then right-clicked and selected Empty Trash. Her head still felt a bit swimmy but calling out sick would mean lying to her parents since she still couldn’t face telling them the truth.

Christine took a few tentative steps to make sure she wasn’t going to fall over, grabbed her backpack up off the floor, and made a beeline for the front door before her mom and dad could ask any questions.


During the ride to school Christine kept glancing over to see if anyone was staring at her.

She was certain that they knew; that her classmates somehow sensed what’d happened despite the fact that she wasn’t sure herself. The voice was worrisome enough, but at least it seemed to be confined to the inside of her head with its questionable dependability. There was no convenient excuse to explain the existence of the file. She’d heard of sleepwalkers doing all sorts of crazy things while in a somnambulant state, but never writing an entire term-paper.

And the words had definitely been hers.

That was the most disturbing part. It felt like the contents of her skull had been pillaged and put out on display. Thinking about it made her squirm.

The bus came to a stop and kids started trudging toward the front. As Christine stepped off onto the sidewalk, she saw Beth and Karen leaning against one of the cylindrical support posts that held up the enormous awning above the concourse.

“Hey.” Beth said as Christine approached them.

“Hi.” Christine said.

“Was just thinking about you.” Beth said.


“You remember Sarah Gannon?”

“Didn’t we have a sleepover with her in like fifth grade?”

“And we put Karen’s hand in a glass of water after she fell asleep to see if she’d pee herself.”

“I did not piss myself.” Karen said.

“No one said you did, dear.” Beth said.

“Do you guys still see her?” Christine said.

“Hell, we barely see you anymore.” Karen said.

Beth shot Karen a look. “Which brings me to my point.” Beth said. “Turns out our old sleepover buddy is going to be sans parents for the weekend and she’s throwing a little shindig on Saturday to celebrate.”

“Hasn’t she seen any of the movies where a kid throws a rager while their folks are gone and it always ends in a total disaster?” Christine said.

“That’s why Karen and I are helping curate Sarah’s guest list to keep it free of less refined individuals.”

“Are you planning on inviting nursing home residents instead of teenagers?”

“I’d like to think that some of us are capable of not acting like assholes at every social gathering. Have you become an insane party animal in our absence?”

“Oh totally; I was actually headed to the bathroom to shoot heroin when I ran into you.”

Karen cracked a smile at this, and that made Christine grin.

“Can I talk to you about something?”


Christine recounted everything during their seventh period P.E. class.

“Wait, back up.” Beth said. “You listened to satanic music and then summoned up the devil?”

“No, it wasn’t satanic. Just a drum rhythm from an extinct tribe.” Christine said.

“But you’re saying that playing it did something to you?” Karen said.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m hearing things, noises and voices, and other stuff has been happening.”

“What stuff?” Beth said.

“There was a file on my computer this morning that I didn’t create. It was my semester history project, written like I would and using my research, but I hadn’t even started on the paper.”

“You’re fucking with us, right? Please tell me you’re fucking with us.” Karen said.

Christine shook her head. “I know it sounds nuts.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say—” Beth said.

“Yeah, it’s absolutely batshit crazy.” Karen said. “Though I wouldn’t mind El Diablo finishing my projects for me. Think he helps out with exams?”

Christine snorted out a laugh and instantly felt a little lighter.

“Why don’t you come to the party around 7:00 and we’ll sort this out.” Beth said.

“Yeah, okay…cool….”

“In the meantime, maybe get some noise-canceling headphones to drown out the demon voices.” Karen said and winked at Christine as she and Beth headed to their next class.


When Christine got home she turned on her computer and saw another new document sitting on her desktop.

This one wasn’t called Deonaithe. Printed beneath the tiny rectangular icon were the words, NO TAKE BACKS.

She didn’t bother to open it and instead deleted the file and shut down her machine.


“I thought maybe we could try learning something by The Blood Red Shoes. They’re a guitar and drum duo like us so we wouldn’t have to worry about missing parts.” Nicki said.

“Don’t they both sing?” Christine said.

“Yeah, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s not like I’m Freddie Mercury or anything. Mostly I just cover the vocals so I don’t lose my place in the song.”

“I think you sound good.”

“Thanks.” Nicki said and smiled. “Hope your opinion doesn’t change if we ever get a P.A. system instead of me just shouting the lyrics.”

“My voice doesn’t sound anything like what I hear when I speak to the point that if I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a completely different person. I honestly hate hearing it amplified or played back.”

“I think that’s common for a lot of people.”

“Suppose so. Any advice on getting over it?”

“My personal remedy is a daily dose of not giving a fuck.”

Christine laughed.

“Why don’t you try just doing the choruses with me next practice and see how it feels?” Nicki said.

“Hey, there’s this party after our jam on Saturday and I was wondering if you wanted to go?”

“Who’s throwing it?”

“This girl Sarah Gannon.”

“Don’t think we’ve met.”

“I don’t really know her that well myself. A couple of old friends told me about it when I ran into them the other day. Seriously though, no pressure or anything. If you had something else planned.”

“It’s true that my calendar is usually brimming with soirees and charity functions, but I’ll see if I can squeeze you in.”

Christine laughed again. “Awesome, I think it’ll be fun.”


The bell rang signaling the end of fourth period and Christine was headed toward the door when Mr. Melnick called after her.

“I wanted to commend you on your project. When a student turns in something early it’s often a cry for help, but certainly not in your case. I can’t give you your official grade until after the assignment deadline, but I can say that I found the work very impressive.”

Christine felt short of breath. The classroom suddenly seemed to be closing in on her.

“Are you alright?” Mr. Melnick said.

“Just a little dizzy.”

Mr. Melnick stood up from his desk and quickly repositioned his chair beside Christine. “Please sit.”

She did as instructed, resting her forehead against her knees until the sensation faded.

“I’m going to call the nurse’s office and have them send someone up.”

“No, really, I’m okay. I’m hypoglycemic and this happens sometimes if I forget to eat.” Christine said, hoping the lie sounded convincing. “I’ll be alright.”

“You’re sure?”

Christine nodded.

Mr. Melnick glanced over at the phone on his desk as if considering making the call anyway, but then turned back to Christine. “Your work in this class has always been good, and your semester project is exemplary, but never let academic pursuit cause you to neglect your health. No grade is worth that.”

“I won’t.” Christine said, trying to look both grave and thoughtful. It was a nice thing to say, even if it made him sound like an after-school special.

“You take care now Christine.”

“Thanks Mr. Melnick, I will.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur. She was vaguely aware of saying hello to her parents when she got home and participating in some perfunctory dinner conversation. After that she excused herself and headed up to her room.

She sat down at her desk and automatically reached over to turn on her laptop but then hesitated, afraid of what might be waiting for her.

“Why is this happening?”

The question came out as a whisper, but the reply was full voiced and so close that it seemed to be coming from an invisible face only inches from her own.

“Because you called to me.”

“I didn’t ask for you. I didn’t ask for any of this.”

“Of course you did. And I delivered.”

“But I didn’t need you to do my project.”

“Most people don’t actually need the things they ask for, but they’re still appreciative to receive them.”

“Fine, you’ve officially fulfilled my request; can you please stop pestering me now?”

“That doesn’t sound much like gratitude.”

“I’m grateful, really, don’t even want my other two wishes.”

“Ah yes, I was wondering when the genie joke was coming. You should count yourself fortunate that I’m not a djinn; those duplicitous rascals are always trying to trick you into something. I, on the other hand, play straight. You conjured me, requested something, and I provided that request. No hidden clauses or willful misinterpretations.”

“All I did was repeat a rhythm I found in a video. I wasn’t trying to conjure jack shit.”

“Oh come now, don’t be daft. You think just anyone could’ve tapped their fingers on a tabletop and *poof* there I’d be? If that were true, every fidgety nimrod with an internet connection would be a percussive summoner.”

“A what?”

“Percussive summoner, like those folks you were reading about for your paper, or should I say ‘our’ paper.”

“Chris honey, who are you talking to?”

Christine froze at the sound of her mother calling from the base of the stairs. She hadn’t realized until now that she’d left the door open. “Just video chatting with Nicki.”

“Well can you keep it down a bit?”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

Christine waited until she heard her mom walk away and then shut the door.

“Think she bought it?”

Christine didn’t know. She wasn’t even sure if the voice could be heard by anyone else.

“Listen, I guarantee you that I’m not a summoner. There’s no shamans or voodoo priests in our family and we don’t attend mass, or temple, or mosque, or anything.”

“Historically speaking, religion is really nothing more than individualized varieties of charlatanism. The people with real ability generally aren’t even aware of it until something like this happens.”

“Well I don’t want to be whatever the hell this is.”

“Unfortunately, that decision isn’t up to you. But look on the bright side. I’m confident that we aced that paper. Only thing left to do is discuss my fee.”


“There’s a break there.”

Christine stopped playing and muted her still-ringing crash cymbal with her fingers. “What did you say?”

“After the bridge we both drop out, and then you come back in and I follow you.”

“Right, sorry. Can we start from the beginning?”

“You okay?”

Christine placed her sticks on top of her snare drum and took her hearing protection out of her ears.

“Remember those dreams I was having?”

Nicki nodded.

“Well I started hearing a voice at the end of it.”

“What did it say?”

“Can I help you with something?”

Christine stared down at her boot resting on the bass drum pedal. “I didn’t understand what the question meant, not at first…then I started hearing the voice when I was awake. It kept asking why I’d summoned it, what I wanted from it. I said that I didn’t do or want anything and had just been researching an assignment for school, but it wouldn’t let up, and that’s when it happened.”

“What happened?”

“A document appeared on my computer with my finished paper on it. I deleted the file when I realized what it was, but it came back later that day. I trashed it again and thought it had worked that time, but then yesterday….”

Nicki switched off her amp and laid her guitar down next to it. “It’s okay, you can tell me.”

“…I was leaving history class and Mr. Melnick calls me over. He starts telling me how impressed he was with my semester project, and I nearly passed out next to him. I’d been trying so hard to pretend this was all in my head, but now it’s out in the world and….”

Christine suddenly burst into racking sobs.

Nicki quickly navigated between the cymbal stands and helped Christine off her drum stool, guiding them both down onto the carpet in front of the kit.

“It’s gonna be alright.” Nicki repeated over and over as she held Christine.

After a while Christine’s shoulders stopped hitching and her sobs transitioned into sniffles.

“…sorry about that….” Christine said in a congested croak.

“You don’t have anything to apologize for.”

“Really won the lottery, huh? Starting a band with a certified psychopath.”

“My mom once dated a guy who believed Jesus was sending him messages in his cereal, so this is honestly nothing new.”

Christine let out a phlegmy chuckle. “That mean you believe me?”

“Yeah, I believe you.” Nicki said. “Maybe we should skip this party and just stay in and watch movies or something?”

“I promised Beth that I’d go. She and my other friend Karen are the ones who told me about it. I mentioned some of what’s been going on and they want to help.”

“That’s great, but are you sure you’re really up for this?”

Christine nodded. “It’ll be a good distraction.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind just give me a signal and we’ll bail.”

“What should the signal be?”

“How about this?” Nicki said and wiggled her eyebrows up and down three times.

“Seriously?” Christine croaked, a small grin curling the corners of her mouth.

“Everyone’s a fuckin’ critic.”


Sarah’s house was different than Christine remembered.

In her head it had practically been a mansion, the kind of place where everything seemed too pretty and fragile to touch. That was back when things were financially tight for Christine’s family, far more than she knew at the time, though it was evident her folks were stressed. But then her dad had gotten a promotion and her mom accepted a position at a better school district. When they eventually moved it hadn’t seemed that different from their old house aside from being a bit bigger and in a slightly nicer neighborhood.

Walking around now though, Sarah’s place wasn’t that different from her own just with wallpaper instead of paint and fancier furniture.

“You okay?” Nicki said over the thump and rattle of some wordless dance track.

“Having a weird reverse-déjà-vu moment.”

“Not sure I follow you.”

“It’s nothing, just—”

“About time you got here. Going for fashionably late, are we?” Beth said. She was wearing a light gray pencil skirt and black leather boots that went up to just below her knees. Her top was silk and sleeveless with a bowed neckline, a pale beige the color of beach sand, and it fit her better than anything Christine had ever owned.

“Hey.” Karen said. She was seated sideways in an enormous leather armchair wearing a cranberry-colored cotton blouse, blue jeans, and white, low-top sneakers. It was the kind of thing Christine had worn before switching to t-shirts and Doc Martens. She and Karen had spent countless hours in department stores at the mall while Beth was off shopping at the designer boutiques.

“I see you’ve brought a guest.” Beth said.

“Beth, Karen, this is Nicki.”

“Nice to meet you, Nicki.” Beth said.

“Yeah, you too.” Nicki said.

Karen held up a hand in greeting that only lingered in the air a moment before returning to her lap.

“Can I have a word?” Beth said and motioned for Christine to follow her.

“Um, sure.” Christine said.

Nicki and Karen both watched as Beth and Christine dodged around knots of dancing and drinking kids before disappearing down the hall.

Beth opened a pair of glass paneled doors that led into the dining room at the rear of the house. The table in the center was a massive oval of polished dark wood adorned with a white lace tablecloth that perfectly aligned with Christine’s previous recollection of the place.

“You didn’t mention before that you were bringing someone.” Beth said.

“I hadn’t asked her yet. Why, what’s the problem?”

“The whole point of us helping Sarah is to make sure tonight doesn’t get out of control.”

“What does that have to do with me bringing Nicki?”

Beth paused for a moment to clear her throat. “This doesn’t really seem like her scene. Looks more like she’s headed to a punk show than a party.”

Christine glanced down at her own clothes, which featured black jeans and a red t-shirt with Jack and Meg White in reverse silhouette pointing at one another, and looked back up at Beth.

“I mistakenly assumed that you’d alter your attire for the occasion, but that isn’t the issue.” Beth said. “You were specifically invited. We know you.”

“And I know Nicki.”

“For how long? I mean I’ve never even seen you hanging out.”

“Right, cause you and I spend so much time together.” Christine said, more sharply than she’d intended.

“I’m not the one who decided to go all tomboy band geek and ditch us.”

“I didn’t ditch you.”

“What do you call blowing off plans and constantly claiming you’re busy?”

“I just got into other stuff; stuff that wasn’t makeup, or clothes, or guys.”

“And what, I’m suddenly just some vapid bimbo you can’t be bothered to call back? You pick up a new hobby and then act like I don’t exist?”

“That isn’t fair.”

“Fair? You think I’m the one not being fair? Who came crawling back looking for comfort with a story about disembodied voices and phantom papers?”

“Fuck you.”

“Oh, did the demon tell you to say that? A lot more spine than I seem to remember you having.”

Christine wheeled around and flung open the doors. She stormed out of the room and into the hallway, nearly colliding with a trio of guys drinking shots as she rounded the corner.

“…all I’m saying is that the Ripley in Aliens would’ve kicked the ass of the Ripley in the first movie.” Nicki said.

“Yeah, but Vasquez could’ve easily kicked both their asses.” Karen said.

“We need to go.” Christine said to Nicki.

“Okay.” Nicki said and turned to follow Christine who was already heading for the front door.

From behind Christine heard Beth bellow after her as she exited.

“Lovely to see you again darling. So sorry you couldn’t stay.”


Nicki wasn’t sure how much of her attempted consolation Christine had actually heard. The moment they got into the car she’d gone silent and remained that way until Nicki dropped her off. She’d wanted to stay and make sure Christine was okay, but if she didn’t get her mom’s Corolla back in front of the apartment before her and the boyfriend returned from the bar there’d be hell to pay.

It wasn’t until she was pulling into the parking lot that she realized it was only just past nine o’clock.

Part of her was relieved that she wasn’t stuck making small talk with strangers all night, though after some initial awkwardness Karen had seemed alright to her. Beth on the other hand reminded Nicki of every girl that had given her shit since grade school. Granted, she didn’t really know her, but whatever happened between her and Christine hadn’t exactly swayed Nicki’s preconception.

She was flipping through her keys, looking for the brass one that unlocked the front door, when she felt her phone buzz in her pocket.

“I’m really sorry about tonight. Should’ve taken your advice.”

Nicki opened the door and stepped into the small foyer, which also doubled as the building’s mailroom. There were only six units including theirs and the other tenants tended to turn in pretty early even on weekends. She leaned back against the wall containing the half dozen narrow, metal mailboxes and slid down into a sitting position beside a plastic recycling bin.

“Wasn’t your fault. Have you told your parents anything?”

Three tiny dots sprung up in a speech bubble and then vanished for several moments before reappearing.

“Afraid to.”

Nicki couldn’t say she blamed her. Over the years she’d given her mom more than her fair share of grief, especially regarding her mother’s less than stellar romantic partners, but there hadn’t been any devils or demons apart from the ones on the album covers in her room.

It was funny because Christine was the kind of person Nicki’s mom had always encouraged her to seek out rather than the cavalcade of tattooed, pierced, and mohawked friends she’d brought home in the past. Her mom would probably pull Christine aside and ask her where they’d met and what she was doing hanging out with someone like her daughter.

Nicki chuckled at this, knowing it was more than likely the truth.

“We’re gonna figure this out. Just try to relax and get some sleep.”

Nicki winced after hitting send. She hated whenever people told her to relax.

“Just hope I don’t have another nightmare.”

“If you do, kick that bastard in its demonic junk and tell it to fuck off!”

A face appeared with its eyes pinched shut and mouth spread wide in a laughing grin.

Nicki waited a moment to see if anything followed before going upstairs to her apartment.

She was only half asleep when her phone chimed at 12:37 a.m.

The text was from an unknown number, but Nicki tapped on it after seeing the message preview.

“Stop meddling in my affairs, or I’ll start acquainting myself with yours.”


Peter first fell into fiction penning stories to amuse his grammar-school classmates, which helped him overcome his shyness, but resulted in very few completed homework assignments.

He is an avid fan of horror movies, especially those with a sense of humor, food served from carts and roadside shacks, and the music of The Ramones, The Replacements, and other bands of like-minded misfits who found a way to connect with the world through their music and their words.

He was raised and currently resides in the Chicagoland suburbs with his wife and cats and his writing has appeared in various online and print publications. You can find out more about Peter and his writing at:

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