Play It Again, Daddy-O

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1

“Take it away, man,” said the first.

“Play it, daddy-o,” said the second.

“Gotcha,” replied the third.

Arwen took a seat on the bench by the fountain as the smooth jazz began floating through the air, notes dancing on the breeze like butterflies. She recognised the piece. Was that Brubeck? She thought it might be. She sat there, foot tapping to the odd rhythmic timings. The water steadily flowed. Ssssshhhhh.

Although she didn’t know it, things would soon be happening.

Arwen smiled and closed her eyes, sunlight falling gently upon her face. She inhaled deeply, tasting the rich bouquet of smells – from the freshly cut grass to lemon-flavoured ice cream held by the toddler who was walking past. “Summer,” she whispered on the exhale, the word reverently encapsulating all that was right in the world.

The trio wound down their song, to a smattering of light applause from those in the vicinity. Arwen joined them, softly clapping. “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, and a…” muttered the drummer before rat-tat-tatting a fancy intro fill on the snare to start a new ditty. The bassist did a swanky run down the neck of his upright and then the harpist joined in, seemingly plucking the delicate notes out of the air. Arwen grinned – they were covering that popular Toto song, harp following both the synth and vocal melodies.

“You dig it, man?” cried the drummer. Oh yeah, she dug it.

“Groovy, man, groovy,” said one passer-by, tossing several coins into the open case at the bassist’s feet.

“Hey, thanks, buddy!” called the bassist after him, without missing a beat. His voice was deep and smooth, like aged bourbon.

Had the woman’s shrieks not broken the peace, Arwen thought she could have sat there all afternoon, letting the songs and the sun wash calmly over her.

“HELP ME! OH GOD, WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME?”

At first, Arwen didn’t recognise that something was wrong. Not immediately, anyway. The scream sliced through the air like razor wire, but she was so relaxed – and her surroundings so calm – that it took her several seconds to register the sound.

She sat upright from her slouch, holding her hand above her eyes to shade from the sun. She looked around, left to right, a frown beginning to furrow her brow. The cries seemed to have come from down the street, to the right.

Arwen squinted in the direction of the disruption, looking for anything that indicated someone was in trouble – a crashed car, an injured pedestrian, someone collapsing to the ground, anything – but she saw nothing of the sort. Cars were stopped at the traffic lights, yes, but the lights were red, so that was right. People were milling about, some in the park, some on the pavement adjacent to the road, which was also normal. Nobody about her seemed to be reacting to the noise. There was neither panic nor people running, shouting, and phoning for ambulances and all that jazz. Had she imagined it?

It was only after a moment that Arwen realised the music had stopped.

She swivelled around, arching her back, to get a look at the band. Perhaps they’d spotted something that she hadn’t. Arwen wasn’t as knowledgeable as a nurse or a first responder, but she had a rough idea of what to do in an emergency and she wanted to help, if she could.

Her heartbeat faltered, a caesura biting into her pulse. Da-dum, da-dum. There was a panicked fluttering inside her chest, like a bird in a cage. A cold chill washed over her, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.

The band was still there. The bassist was still holding his double bass. The drummer was still holding his sticks. The harpist’s fingers were still resting on his strings.

But they weren’t moving.

The bassist’s hands were frozen in a blur, sliding up the neck. His eyes were screwed shut with musical passion. The drummer was grinning, one motionless stick striking a hi-hat that was perfectly still, the other hitting the snare. His wide eyes stared out at nothing, glassy and empty. The harpist was also smiling, lips pulled back in a smirk that seemed to say, Oh yeah, we’re good. The harp’s strings were paused, mid-vibration.

Arwen’s hands moved to her mouth. “W-what?” She glanced around, panic flooding into her lungs. She could smell sweat and blood. There was a coppery taste on her tongue.

She got up, spinning around in a complete rotation. Every single thing was static. The cars on the road were immobile, drivers gripping unmoving steering wheels. The birds were fixed in the sky, wings inert. Each person had eyes that were motionless and glazed, the whites looking too white; polished and shiny. “What…” Her voice trailed off.

Swallowing hard, an audible click in her throat, chest thrumming with the rapid beating of her heart, she began to approach the nearest people she could see – the jazz trio. “H-hello?” Tears were beginning to sting her eyes. She waved her hand frantically at them. “Hello?” she pleaded. “Please, answer me!

“Won’t you help me?” growled a woman’s voice.

Arwen inhaled sharply, now fully in the clutches of complete terror. On legs that didn’t feel like her own – rubbery and trembling – she turned around.

The woman was in a bad way. Something had happened to her face. Half of it was missing. A ragged, bloody hole occupied the space where there should have been an eye, nose and lips. She slowly opened her mouth wide, tendons visibly creaking through her missing cheek.

And then she started shrieking again.

Arwen began screaming with her.

 

2

“Has she completely cracked yet?”

“No, but she’s very close.”

“All right. Play it again.”

 

3

“Take it away, man,” said the first.

“Play it, daddy-o,” said the second.

“Gotcha,” replied the third.

Arwen took a seat on the bench by the fountain as the smooth jazz began floating through the air, notes dancing on the breeze like butterflies.

 

5th November 2019

 

Written for the November 2019 #BlogBattle

14 thoughts on “Play It Again, Daddy-O

  1. aebranson

    Ooo! That sent chills down my spine! As I started reading the happy beginning, I kept expecting something bad to happen, and you delivered. I was right there with Arwen as she tried to figure out what was going on. At first I wondered if she was caught in some kind of time glitch, and then I wondered if it was some form of sorcery. Discovering it was more like torture was scarier than my earlier theories. And I liked how she is listening to jazz music, and then you throw in the line ‘There was neither panic … and all that jazz.’ Wicked! BTW, is there any connection with her name and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings? In a way I half wondered if it really was Tolkien’s character being tortured by orcs! 😉 Another satisfying scare!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Hey, sorry for the painfully slow response, I’ve just returned from a family wedding in another country! Thanks so much, I’m really glad you liked it! I just wanted to give her a name with a Welsh feeling to it — November is LotR movie marathon month for my partner and I, so that’s probably why the name was the first thing that came to mind! I think it’s a lovely name. 🙂 Thanks again! I’ll be over to have a read of yours over the weekend — lots to catch up on, now I’m back! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • aebranson

        Glad to hear it sounds like you enjoyed your trip! It’s been awfully quiet on BB this month in general – I’m wondering if so many people are focused on NaNoWriMo they aren’t getting submissions in. Yeah, Arwen is a lovely name, I just had that previous association with it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. aebranson

    Weddings and travelling will do that! No, I always seem to be in the middle of REwriting when NaNo rolls around. I have thought the next time it’s book drafting time, I should choose a month and treat it like NaNo. Maybe you’ll have a free day where you can hide from everybody and catch up!

    Liked by 1 person

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