Friday 11 January 2013

Dark Fiction - Cacophony

Dark Fiction Image


By Casey Douglass

for #fridayflash

A low groan brought his consciousness back, the sound pitiful and gut wrenching. Opening his eyes, he struggled to see anything in the gloom around him. He tried to lift his hand to rub his eyes but found that his arms were pinned tightly with some metal contrivance.
‘Lilly!’ he shouted.
‘Shhhh!’ came the reply from his left. The quiet male voice whispered, ‘Keep it down or it will go badly for all of us!’
He tried to turn his head to look at the speaker but found a sharp cold piece of metal near both cheeks, making any movement nearly impossible. As awareness flowed back to the rest of his body, his limbs began to send back messages detailing his current position. He felt like he was upright, but his arms were cruelly pulled behind his back and clamped into something. His legs were folded under him, his behind resting on his heals. A metal collar held him firmly around the neck, his skin felt hot and itchy against it. All he could see ahead were the metal bars of his cage, framing the darkness ahead.
‘Oh my God where are we? Where is my wife?’
‘Quieter for goodness sake, they’ll hear you! There are some women here. How large is your wife?’
‘How large?’
‘A little shorter than me and much slimmer.’
‘She’ll be at the other end then.’
‘The other end?’
‘Hush. It’s about to start. The first time is the hardest but it gets easier. You and your wife will be okay, trust me. I’ve been here two years now. If you don’t misbehave, they treat you well. If you do misbehave...’
‘Who’s they?’
‘You’ll see in a minute. Listen.’
He listened. Faint music was playing somewhere not too far away, the sound of chairs moving and instruments being tuned and wrestled with.
‘Why can’t I move?’
‘You are in the machine.’
A dazzling light came on above them making his eyes sting. The metal around him began to rattle and squeak as he felt the structure move. He heard the odd whimper from various points around him, followed by much shushing and pleading.
He whispered, ‘We’ve been kidnapped! We went to bed as normal last night and now we wake up here!’
‘That’s usually the way.’
A large velvet curtain loomed into view now, whatever contraption contained him pushed fully up to the material. It smelt dusty and damp, like a drape in a run down church. The vibrating metal around him settled to a standstill. He panted quickly, his heart making his chest feel like it wouldn’t contain it for much longer.
A few chords from a violin sounded from somewhere. With a sudden rustling, the curtains jerked open, rapidly vanishing from the edges of his vision. The sight before him made him open his mouth in utter horror yet no sound escaped his lips. A massive space yawned ahead of him, the columns supporting the ceiling dark and mottled with ivy, the ceiling itself some dark abyss that his eyes could not penetrate. It was not the room that held so much terror for him. It was the occupants. Row upon row of chairs climbed away from him, his location seeming to be a stage of some kind. In each and every chair, a large human proportioned cat sat upright, pupils large and black, nose wet, whiskers quivering, ears pricked forward as when enjoying the thrill of the hunt. Some turned to the others next to them and meowed and purred, furry heads nodding or shaking as they conversed in their inhuman language. They were all wearing evening wear, some wore hats or scarves. If not for their faces, it could be any run-down theatre in the world, but the many cats!
A shadow fell across him as a large cat walking upright on its hind legs strode past, its back to him as it bowed to the audience, its black suit and trousers immaculate and with not a crease to be seen. It disappeared from sight behind him and there shortly followed the sound of mechanical levers clunking into life. A violin sputtered a few notes somewhere to the side, other instruments joining the maudlin music. He mustered himself to scream when somebody beat him to it. It was female and sounded off to the right of him.
‘Lilly!’ he cried.
A wooden stick pelted the metal bars in front of his face, the impact making his ears ring. A low warning growl gusted fishy breath into his face making his neck muscles strain fruitlessly to pull back from the whiskered silhouette in front of him. The shape moved to the side and away once more.
‘Keep quiet you bloody fool! What did I tell you!’
Another scream sounded nearer to him, and another. Each one mere moments after the previous.
‘I don’t know what’s happening!’ he whispered.
‘You will soon, just-’
The whispered voice changed tone into a shrieking scream that lasted for some seconds.
‘Are you okay?’
There was silence.
‘Answer m-’ his whispered voice became shrill as the metal either side of his face pressed tightly into his cheeks. Pain flared across the inside of his mouth, a warm metallic tasting liquid dripping down over his teeth. The blood dribbled from the side of his mouth as the metal plates relaxed and then tightened once more. He screamed again, his voice joined by others near and far on either side of him. Male, female and child, their cries merged into a cacophonous sound that threatened the sanity of any who might hear it.
A final whimpering scream sounded far to his right and the violin music ended. The strange audience stood in a rush, a flurry of furry paws making muffled claps, tongues licking noses, meows and growls ululating into the dark space above them.
The velvet curtain swished closed in front of him once more, the metal frame around him jostling and jiggling around as it was dragged back, the light finally going out once more.
Silence closed in around him like a warm blanket, the darkness in front of him giving his mind a rest from the sights that had so disturbed it. The momentary calm was soon punctuated with sobs and quiet cries for help but there was no movement, no comforting hand nor shoulder to cry on. The whispering man to his left coughed thickly and spat before speaking. ‘It gets easier, really it does.’

The End


My inspiration for this story came from a macabre instrument that appears in a number of historical stories. The ‘cats’piano’. Various cats would be put into cages and the ‘musician’ would then play a keyboard that jabbed a nail into their tails to make them ‘sing.’
Descriptions have popped up a few times, so it is unclear who refined what with the design. In 2010 a version of the instrument was recreated by Henry Dagg, utilising squeaky toys instead of live animals, and was played at a garden party attended by Prince Charles. I thought it might be nice if the cats got some revenge.