Play It Again, Daddy-O

“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 to float through the air. The notes danced on the breeze like butterflies. She recognised the piece. Brubeck? She thought it might be. She sat there and tapped her foot to the odd rhythms. The water flowed. Ssssshhhhh.

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

Arwen smiled and closed her eyes as the sunlight fell upon her face. She inhaled and tasted the rich bouquet of smells — from the cut grass to lemon-flavoured ice cream held by the toddler who walked past. “Summer,” she whispered on the exhale. The word encapsulated all that was right in the world.

The trio wound down their song, to a smatter of light applause. Arwen joined them. “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, and a…” The drummer rat-tat-tatted 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. He plucked the delicate notes out of the air. Arwen grinned — they covered that popular Toto song. The harp followed both the synth and vocal melodies.

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

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

“Hey, thanks, buddy!” called the bassist after him. He didn’t miss a beat. His voice was deep and smooth, like aged bourbon.

Arwen thought she could sit there all afternoon as sun and song washed over her.

Then the woman’s shrieks broke the peace.


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

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

Arwen squinted in the direction of the disruption. She looked for a sign of trouble — a crashed car, an injured pedestrian, someone collapsed to the ground, anything — but saw nothing. Cars stopped at the traffic lights, yes, but the lights were red, so that was right. People milled about, some in the park, some on the pavement next to the road, which was also normal. Nobody about her seemed to react to the noise. There was no panic. Nobody ran, shouted, or phoned for an ambulance and all that jazz. Had she imagined it?

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

She swivelled around and arched her back to get a look at the band. They’d spotted something 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. She wanted to help if she could.

Her heartbeat faltered, a caesura bit into her pulse. Da-dum, da-dum. A panicked flutter inside her chest, like a bird in a cage. A cold chill washed over her and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.

The band was still there. The bassist still held his double bass. The drummer still held his sticks. The harpist’s fingers still rested on his strings.

But they didn’t move.

The bassist’s hands were frozen in a blur as they slid up the neck, his eyes screwed shut with musical passion. The drummer grinned, one motionless stick against a hi-hat, the other on the snare. His wide eyes stared out at nothing, glassy and empty. The harpist also smiled, 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 flooded into her lungs. She could smell sweat and blood. There was a coppery taste on her tongue.

She got up and spun around in a complete rotation. Every single thing was static. The cars on the road were immobile. Drivers gripped steering wheels. The birds were fixed in the sky, wings inert. Each person had motionless eyes — glazed and white, polished and shiny. “What…” Her voice trailed off.

She swallowed hard, an audible click in her throat. Her chest thrummed with the rapid beat of her heart. She approached the nearest people she could see — the jazz trio. “H-hello?” Tears stung her eyes. She waved her hand at them. “Hello?” she pleaded. “Please, answer me!

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

Arwen inhaled, now 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 opened her mouth wide. Tendons creaked through her cheek.

And then she shrieked.

Arwen began to scream with her.

“Has she completely cracked yet?”

“No, but she’s very close.”

“All right. Play it again.”

“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 to float through the air. The notes danced on the breeze like butterflies.

Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Harp” — 5th November 2019

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!

    • 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! 🙂

      • 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!

  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!

  3. floatinggold

    As per usual, you delivered a great story. At first, I thought it would be a superhero tale in which Arwen was either super fast or able to pause time. But soon I realized that she is far from in control.

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