Strings of Madness
By Micah Castle
I quickly walked into Jordan’s house. The stench of stale weed made me cough. He said on the phone that he wrote — or found? — something that I had to check out. It wasn’t just another thrash metal riff, or deathcore breakdown, or power metal guitar solo, it was something completely original and new. I doubted it, but I decided to entertain him — what else did I have to do on a Wednesday night anyway?
“Jordan?” I called, shutting the door.
He was in the living room, sitting on the old, plaid couch his grandparents gave him when he finally moved out of his parents’ basement. The band t-shirt he wore was torn near the collar, and the faded blue jeans looked older than me. He had his guitar sitting on his lap, while the knee-high amp hummed with white noise. A bud burned in a gray ashtray on the stained coffee table in front of him.
There was only one chair in the room, an old recliner he picked up from Goodwill. I sat down and quickly noticed that my favorite show was on T.V., but muted.
“So what’s this thing I needed to see?”
“Dude, you won’t believe it.” He picked up the bud from the tray, took a drag, then set it back down. He coughed, gray smoke shooting out his mouth. “You know those books I bought a while ago at that yard sale?”
Even though it was muted, my eyes kept drifting to the T.V.
“I-ah, yeah, what?”
“Those books,” he said, flatly.
I nodded, focusing on him. “Yeah, I remember them. Got about a dozen for five dollars from that weird old lady, right?”
“Three dollars, but yeah. Anyway, last night I got around to looking through them. There’s one called Gloria furor Domini.”
“Gloria furor Domini, it’s Latin. I looked it up online. Apparently in English it means, Strings of Madness. Cool, right? Anyway, in the book there’s sheets of music, tons of them. Mostly for violins, lutes, shit they use to play back in the medieval days. But there’s one, at the back of the book, that I think I can play on the guitar. It’s called ‘Ductus dirige Antiquae.’”
“In English?” I asked.
“‘Feverish Dirge of the Ancient.’”
“Uh huh…” I nodded, glancing back to the T.V. “And is this just a normal sheet of music or…?”
He shook his head, smiling. “No, no. Listen.” He picked up the glossy, black book from seemingly nowhere from the ground, opened to a page near the end. It had a weird symbol at the top, sort of like a pentagram, but also like a splitting, twisting cross.
“‘Ad illos qui ab Ecclesia Antiqua corde pulsum tangite fructum ex antiquis ignota; praeteritum aut futurum, aut solem et stellas caeli Imago Antiquae veniet iterum qui reliqui fuerint auferentur. Tantum insipientes mihi ut facerem,’” he read, then picked up a small sheet of paper, lying it atop the page. “I translated it and wrote it down.” He grinned. “‘To those who pluck the Strings of the Ancient will bring forth the Ancient from the unknown; past or future, moon or sun, stars or sky; the Ancient will come once the Strings are plucked. Only the foolish would do so.’”
“So… you think that if you play that song, it will do what? Summon an ancient being, like Cthulhu or something?” I’ve heard him say some dumb shit before, but this was something else entirely.
“No, not exactly, but I’d like to at least play it. It might sound really, really cool.”
A prickly cold sensation settled over me. Something in the back of my mind was telling me to get back in my car, go home, stay the hell away from all of this, but I pushed it aside. It was just an old sheet of music, just like anything else I could find online. Even if he played it backwards, in the center of a pentagram, bathed in sheep’s blood, reciting biblical hymns in reverse, nothing would happen.
“All right,” I said, sighing. “C’mon, let’s hear it.”
He grinned, and quickly tuned the guitar, then adjusted the amp. “Everything has to be perfect,” he muttered.
Once he was satisfied, he grabbed the remote from the coffee table and switched off the T.V. Then, took a final drag from the bud, surprisingly still burning, then flicked it into the ashtray. The book was laid open before him, and he leaned over as he placed his fingers on the correct strings.
“Okay,” he said, looking at me for a moment, then back to the book, “here we go.”
It wasn’t music.
It wasn’t anything that could be considered music. High, shrill, ear-piercing sounds erupted from the amp. It was like waves upon waves of needles on a chalkboard, knives scrapped across glass plates, the whine of a hot coil but amplified by a million. I clapped my hands over my ears, wincing. My feet and legs throbbed from the vibrations coursing through the floor.
“Stop!” I shouted to Jordan, but he didn’t hear me. “Stop for the love of God!”
His finger played the strings faster. The music sped up, becoming more high-pitched. I gritted my teeth, and shoved my head in between my knees, squeezing my ears. Even there, the music was as clear as it was before. My vision began to blur, so I closed my eyes.
There was a sudden sharp pain behind my eyes that made me sharply inhale, and tears fell onto the floor.
What the fuck is happening?
As I sat up, opening my eyes, blood gushed from my nose, fell over my chin, my shirt. The music moved down in octave, to a deep, droning, powerful strumming that made my insides rattle.
“Almost done!” he mouthed, grinning.
I wiped my nose on my jacket, then took it off, revealing long, sweat stains soaking through my shirt. Blood still trickled from my nose, into my mouth.
When did it get so hot? Why am I bleeding so much?
The music was never ending. The cascading hellish sounds continuously overwhelmed my mind like waves in a storm forcing water down my throat, into my lungs, not giving me to chance to breathe, to live.
“Can’t do this anymore…” I muttered, standing up.
The room swam, twisted, and I stumbled forward but caught myself on the coffee table before falling onto the trash littered floor. Slowly I turned and shuffled to the entryway.
Jordan didn’t notice me leave the living room, didn’t realize I was at the front door, gripping the knob.
The music stopped the moment I opened the door. The sudden silence threw me off balance, as if I had lived with it far longer than just a few minutes. My car was parked only a few feet away. I could leave now, I thought, and apologize to Jordan later…
I glanced over my shoulder. The hallway was empty.
“Jordan?” I called. “Think I’ll be heading off, got a massive headache. That okay?”
I didn’t receive a reply.
Again, no reply.
“Goddammit…” I whispered, turning, not bothering to shut the door, and walked back into the living room.
He wasn’t there, but his guitar was lying on the floor among the empty chip bags and soda cans. The amp hummed with white noise.
“Hello…?” I walked over to the amp, switched it off.
I jumped, nearly fell, when the T.V. suddenly turned on. It was just static at first, then the black pixels became solid lines, outlining the white ones, forming a stretching backdrop with rising plains and mountains, jagged cliffs hanging from the sky, and weirdly shaped structures that floated in the air, spiraling endlessly. Drawn to it, without noticing, I weaved around the coffee table, sat onto it, and leaned forward.
The picture dissipated, another formed. The black pixels created a symbol that took up the whole screen, the same one from the book but now I saw it more clearly: splitting lines, dotted empty spaces, sharp, sudden diagonal turns from top to bottom, left to right. It made no sense, no matter how much I tried to figure out what the symbol was, but oddly, unknowingly, it did in a way, as if it was the answer to a question I didn’t even know I had or one I couldn’t yet understand.
I couldn’t pull my eyes away, couldn’t focus on anything else by the jutting, black lines; the strange shape.
“Dude?” I heard Jordan call in the distance, as if he were miles away. “What’re you doing?”
There was weight next to me. The coffee table creaked.
“When did you came back? I heard you leave an hour ago.”
When did I return?
What did the song do to my head?
Or did I remain here, like I was supposed to? For this, this symbol and its words that filled my head, for what’s to come.
I tried to form words, but my mind couldn’t create them. I groaned.
“What channel is this?” he asked.
The symbol sunk into the whiteness, and a black lined ran down the center of the T.V.
Was the line inside or outside the screen?
“Huh, weird…” Jordan said.
“So anyway… Sorry about the music…”
Cracks spilled over the screen, spider webbing to the television’s bezels.
“…I didn’t mean to make you leave, really…”
Piece by piece, the whiteness fell inward into a blackness beyond. I wasn’t staring into a T.V., I was staring into a hole, a portal, a bottomless well fixated in our world, catalyst for another.
“…If you want I could order some pizza or something. Is that cool?”
A white pinprick appeared at the end, or at the bottom, of the void. It grew — no, became nearer. It rose like water swelling in a well.
“Dude? Why’re crying?”
Jordan stood before me, blocking the television
“You’re a fool,” I said, sobbing, gripping my head.
Black speckled, ivory white tendrils burst from behind Jordan, snapped onto him, coiled around his body, and yanked him into the hole. He didn’t have the chance to become wide-eyed, to scream, to wonder what took him or where he was going, didn’t even have the time to imagine what he had mistakenly summoned.
Frozen by terror and an odd curiosity, I sat, crying, moaning. They spilled out in droves, as if shoved from the other side into this one. They writhed on the ground, oily, wet, smelling of seawater and soil. They expanded, stretched, gripped my shoes, socks, began climbing up my legs underneath my jeans.
Soon they would consume me, consume the house, consume our world.
See more of Micah Castle's work here: https://micahcastle.com/