And then there were the drummers again, parading up and down and along streets, marching complex formations in open fields, drum majors with their gaudily decorated staffs at the front, flag bearers and matching sets of flag twirlers in front of them. Macy Fields ran screaming into her apartment, shut all the windows, and flung herself down on her bed, her hands pressed tightly over her ears. They were everywhere, like autumn leaves in a storm, migrating geese. A herd of cockroaches in her kitchen couldn’t have been any worse. Her head, her whole life, seemed to be spinning in interminable circles, an endless Ferris wheel, a perpetual carousel.
She climbed on one of the wooden steeds of the carousel, a white steed with a dark brown saddle and bridles, silver stirrups, colorful decorations. His mane was braided with bright red ribbons, his tail long and flowing to simulate the wind. She was holding on to the metal pole with one hand, to the saddle horn with the other, going around and around for no reason, without direction or purpose. She saw herself in the mirror of the carousel, and she felt like screaming again.
Without her noticing at first, the carousel picked up speed, going faster and faster as she tightened her grip on her steed. And then her mount simply slid off the platform with the steadily increasing centrifugal force and sailed out into a dark landscape where she couldn’t see where she was or where she was going. She couldn’t even see herself. She could hear the drumming of the hooves as if she were in the middle of a drum corps on the practice ground, except that a sharp wind was tearing at her hair and the drumming under her was the only sound. If she had only screamed while she still could.
And then she was suddenly back in her apartment again. She ran straight to her mirror to look for herself, but she wasn’t there. Instead, she found herself somewhere way out on a dusty plain, a vicious wind twirling around her so strong and persistent she could barely keep on her feet. She could hardly see out of her eyes. She wished she had her wooden steed to take her out of her predicament, but there were no horses out on the plain, no houses, nothing anywhere. The wind pushed and tore at her until she realized it would be easier to start walking than to try and resist. She turned away from the wind until she could see again, even though there was nothing to see.
Night fell quickly out on the dusty plain, and she found herself wrapped in darkness, without direction or knowledge of herself. She began to wish she were back with the drummers again, despite everything. At least she knew where they were. She realized that she was able to scream again, although there was nobody to hear her scream. She pressed her hands over her ears so that she didn’t have to listen to herself. For lack of anything better to do, she began to walk into the unknown presence of the darkness and saw a vague light not too far away.
She stopped screaming and headed towards the light until she could see a candle flickering in a window surrounded by a large, looming house, a mansion, she would have said, although she couldn’t be sure. She stepped into a sweeping hall full of couples in period costumes dancing to the medieval strains of an orchestra arranged against the far wall. In her confusion, she felt as if she had stumbled into a Shakespearean play, or perhaps a trick of her imagination, although the dancers and the orchestra seemed real enough.
She twirled into the middle of the dancers to the unaccustomed rhythm of the orchestra and made herself a part of the festive ball. Nobody seemed to mind, so she stopped twirling and looked around. It was then that she saw the strings. They were attached to the wrists and ankles and heads of all the dancers and the musicians, although they didn’t seem to go anywhere and there were no hands operating the strings. She looked at one of the couples dancing next to her and saw their waxen faces, their dead eyes, their stiff bodies moving to the music almost as if they were real. She screamed, but she didn’t scream in time.
Before she realized what was happening, she found herself dancing in unison with the other dancers even though she had no idea what the dance was all about. She felt as if she were simply being carried along by the music and the motions of the other dancers, but then she saw the strings attached to her wrists and ankles. Her scream stuck in her throat and her eyes went dead as she danced gracefully around the polished floor. Perhaps it would have been easier to get used to the drummers, or to the darkness on the plain, but it was already too late for that, much too late. If only she could have gone on screaming. It would have made everything so much easier to understand.
AUTHOR BIO: Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the author of ten books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His latest book is a collection of flash fiction entitled Inside from the Outside, a Journey in Sudden Fiction. His work has appeared in print and on-line in several hundred publications around the world over the past several decades. He writes, and has been writing all his life, because he loves to write and because it constitutes an integral aspect of his personal quest. He lives in London, Canada with his wife Viki and their three cats.