Thursday, 6 December 2012

Death Serenade - Friday Flash

I was accustomed to singing when lying prone. Usually counterpointing the hissing bombination of bullets as I hit the deck. Since my stomach was usually pressed against the ground, impulsively trying to burrow into it, I only sung from my throat. It may not have been loud, but it was powerful all the same. Talismanic powerful.

For in firefights I perpetually sung to myself and perennially emerged unscathed. Whereas my foes and comrades alike who didn't sing, paid the price with everlasting sleep. Even those who absurdly raised their voice in song to Heaven, managed to escape with their life intact. But it had nothing to do with summoning any numinous saviour. Same as I wasn't serenading my supposed natural ally the Devil. There was no such thing as Lucifer, other than what resided in our own psyches. Still as I brushed myself down and reloaded my clips, they claimed I only survived because the Devil wouldn't collect on me and thereby allow one of his crack troopers to pass over from the mortal field of combat. I always countered that couldn't be the case, since intoning towards god after a lifetime's unholy behaviour, they themselves couldn't in all conscience expect true absolution and redemption? Yet here they stood safe and sound.

There were no bullets flying around me now in the quiet of my house. And I was recumbent on my back rather than my belly. Yet my warbling was scarcely audible. I possessed scant energy to inflate my ribcage with silent breath, let alone pushing out fluctuating air jangling against gravity. My throat rasped dry, drier than the rest of my desiccated body. But I could not allow myself to stop singing. For not to sing was to beckon death with a bony finger.

I didn't know how it worked. But singing had always kept Death at bay. My mother had demonstrated that to me as a child. How she was always singing to herself, blazoned in bruises and welts. It didn't head off the violence, but it helped steel her to hang on until I was old enough to kill her fucker of a husband. Relieved of him, she had no more reason to descant her songs of affliction and clearly she didn't know any upbeat numbers. So she wasn't singing when I killed her for her deficiencies.

Unlike her, I expected to meet death at every turn. And that was before I actively made it part of my professional life. Cashiered from the army, I sought to continue a campaign of decommissioning of my own. Undertook bespoke stealth missions, paid to hunt down one man to another. I always endeavoured to get in a little pre-emptive singing. The sole thing with which I could get the jump on my adversary, if he heard me coming right?

Yet strangely the singing turned into a weapon. I developed a reputation as the triller killer. A male banshee. My signature solo which didn't just presage your death, it announced it. The sound of an air froze them dead in their tracks. Like a cobra hypnotising its prey. Made it easy for me. Their mouths too busy convulsing to be able to hold a tune of their own.

Every night in front of the bathroom mirror I used to take roll call of my tattoos. The names of every one of my victims inscribed all over my body, turned inside out by the reflective glass. Fitting, seeing as I had despatched them to the other side. All present and correct, they could rest easy in the repose of the dead and I too was safeguarded a peaceful night's sleep. No need for self-lullabying.

Maybe it was because singing reverberated your whole body. Set all your bones and cavities aquiver. Maybe Death was a touch short-sighted, or perhaps just lazy and faced with a vibrating target indicative of life and vitality, would instead plump for the easy option and snatch the guy next to you. How else to account for the cull of innocents and bystanders?

Except that only worked when you were operating in a crowd. When someone else could stand in for you by falling to the ground stone dead. Here I am exposed by being alone. Isolated in my death bed. I raised the effort to increase my volume, just so there could be no uncertainty on Death's part. Myopic, indolent, or not.

Death in all likelihood was sat perched at the end of my bed. Bating his breath, waiting for roll calling me off his list. Palpably my body was failing me. My skin hanging loose from the armatures of my skeleton. Was I actually singing, or more like a set of bagpipes being palpated? I rubbed the skin of my forearm. The tattoos there no doubt now stretched along the sagging canvas. Faded ink leached beyond its wrinkled up border. The names of my marks no longer legible, distorted beyond my own recognition even as they had vanished off the earth at my hand. This was an ineffable body clock counting me out. If I went, I would take them all down with me for a second time. Their fates were ineluctably still bound up with mine. But I didn't owe it to them to keep their memories alive, only that of my own.

God I was so tired though. My eyes, milkily unseeing anyway, just wanted to lid over. But I knew if I fell asleep now, I would stop singing. And if I stopped singing, then I would never wake again. The dead used to be buried with bells which they could ring in cases of being mistakenly buried alive. Perhaps it was as simple as that. If you were still vocalising for all you were worth, then Death knew you weren't actually dead and ripe for collection.

I knew I was in a struggle to the well, death. That again only one of us would stride clear of the detritus of life and despite the ruin of my body, I had to make sure it was me. It had to be possible. I may have harvested bodies in return for payment, but Death willingly cropped souls for nothing other than their own reward. That doubt caught in my throat and my singing stopped momentarily. I choked it back and roused my singing once again. Not yet Death you fucker. You're not stripping me of my body and whitewashing me for fresh canvas just yet.

Taken from the Flash Fiction collection "Long Stories Short" available on Amazon Kindle


Tony Noland said...

Fascinating obsession. He doesn't know that Death takes all the codas.

Steve Husted said...

Interesting... thought-provoking. The thought of being buried alive with bells gives me an idea for a story.

Hawksword said...

Interesting - what makes him want to to cling on to such a life? Fighting to be top dog to the very end.
Such a cold, matter-of-fact account of his deadly career, yet he holds on to this one superstition.

Richard Bon said...

Too bad he didn't try to make a career as a singer, a lot of people may have lived a lot longer. Then again, I suppose that depends upon the quality of his singing voice.

Helen said...

The lengths one will go to, to put off the inevitable moment. Totally obsessed. I found this line chilling:
" So she wasn't singing when I killed her for her deficiencies."

Icy Sedgwick said...

I think this one has to be one of your best flashes yet. There's something truly unsettling about it.

JC Rosen said...

"... the cult of innocents and bystanders." Your use of language is so fine throughout this piece. It's disturbing in such a good way.

Take care,

Steve Green said...

A riveting piece of writing, plenty of punch in this story Marc. Brilliant!

Dawn Huddlestone said...

A disturbing yet lovely piece, Marc. I, too, wonder what is making him cling to this life. Unless he knows what waits for him next...?

Larry Kollar said...

I agree with Icy, this is one of your best. It's much more approachable. I like the metaphor of song as life, and the contrast with one who has dealt so much death makes it that much more exquisite.

Can he find a tune that will kill Death itself? That's the question.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Nice one. I really like the line, "So she wasn't singing when I killed her for her deficiencies."

Katherine Hajer said...

Your stories tend to be strong anyhow, but this was was stronger than the usual. The part where he mentions that he killed his mother after killing his father to protect her is especially chilling.

Somehow the ending reminded me of how Elizabeth I supposedly refused to lie down when she was dying, but stood up for as long as she could to stave off death.