top of page

"Hex Beat" by Peter Emmett Naughton

When Christine woke on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, something felt different. It wasn’t that ethereal notion of being older and wiser; she didn’t suddenly possess some heretofore-unknown insight that had been absent the day before. The world simply seemed to have shifted slightly, and now everything was a bit askew in a way that was difficult to quantify.

Two weeks prior she had been battling a nasty cold and wondered if this might be some lingering aftereffect, but her head and stomach felt fine and there was no trace of the chills or achiness that had plagued her. This last symptom had taken the longest to abate, rendering her limbs sore and useless as she stared miserably at the purple-atmosphere-fade finish on her Tama Starclassic kit. The Tama wasn’t her first set. There had been the neon-green, plastic drums when she was four and then the children’s starter kit when she was eight. She’d worn through the heads on that second set more times than she could count. That’s when her parents realized she was serious. The Starclassic and accompanying Zildjian A-Custom cymbal pack had been a combined birthday/Christmas/junior high graduation gift in addition to Christine contributing all the money she’d saved babysitting the previous two summers. Playing on the kit felt like going from a Schwinn to a Ferrari, or what she imagined driving a Ferrari must be like. Even just looking at it made her happy, and it was without a doubt her favorite thing in the entire world.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, waiting to see if the sensation would leave, but it hovered in the center of her chest like a stifled sneeze.

Christine glanced at the clock on her nightstand.

Her parents would have both left for work by now and she had forty minutes before she needed to catch the bus. If she got ready quickly, she could squeeze in a run through of “Janie Jones” before she had to go.


Heading into sophomore year should’ve been familiar and comfortable compared to the social whiplash of entering high school, but in some ways Christine felt more adrift than ever. She’d been separated from her two best friends during middle school because of where they lived and when they all came back together as freshmen, she suddenly felt like a third wheel. They’d still hung out mostly on weekends, but it wasn’t the same. There was no more swapping stories about which teachers assigned the worst homework or in-depth discussions over the cryptic graffiti in the bathroom the way they’d done in grammar school. It was like they’d spent two years watching a television show with the same general setting and plotlines, but the characters in Christine’s version were all completely different.

Back when the three of them were besties, they’d shared similar taste in books, movies, and most importantly, music. Now Karen was pretty much only listening to mainstream radio singles and Beth didn’t care about any of it unless some pop celebrity with a fashion brand or a makeup line was involved.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault, and maybe it would’ve eventually happened anyway, but Christine couldn’t help feeling like she’d been exiled. Roving the hallways between classes, she often found herself counting down the hours until school ended so she could be back at home sitting behind her kit with her headphones on.

Mostly it seemed like she was simply treading water until college with the hope that things would turn around or start over as something new.


By the time she boarded the bus that out-of-body sensation had begun to fade. She was thumping the ball of her left foot on the scuffed rubber surface covering the floor and slapping the tops of her legs with her hands trying to figure out the pattern Terry Chimes played in the intro. It sounded deceptively simple, but the way that Chimes traded off single and double strokes between the snare and bass drum, keeping the rhythm the same, but switching back and forth between the two, made the whole thing more interesting and a bit tricky to pin down.

“We’re here.”

Christine looked up and saw that the bus was empty except for a girl two seats ahead with short, spiky black hair wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt.

“Oh, uh, thanks.” Christine said, grabbing her backpack up off the bench.

“No problem.” the girl said, making her way toward the front of the bus. She was halfway out the door when she turned back to Christine. “What were you playing?”


“The song you were tapping, what was it?”

“Oh, it was supposed to be “Janie Jones” by The Clash.”

“Cool.” the girl said and exited the bus.

Christine stepped onto the concrete of the school’s rear concourse and started toward the entrance, smiling to herself as she walked.



“For your semester project, I want you to document the history of something you consider a central part of your personal identity. This can be a family tradition, a religious practice, a hobby or pursuit, or any other aspect of your life that you deem significant enough to research and write about.”

There was a low but audible groan that rippled through Mr. Pearson’s classroom at this announcement. The dreaded projects counted for twenty percent of their overall grade and were reviled even more than final exams. At least with a test you could study like crazy and usually be okay, but with these assignments you didn’t always know exactly what the teacher was after, especially when they asked you to incorporate yourself into the thing.

Christine did have an idea for the topic that she thought might work. Percussion had history going back centuries; there were people all across the globe who had incorporated drumming into cultural events and spiritual ceremonies long before its modern incarnation in music. She had a book her parents got her for her birthday a couple of years back that had some basic information, but she’d need to find specific details on the different cultures and places. It’s something she’d been curious about and was actually glad for the excuse to dig deeper into the subject.

The bell rang and there was a chorus of metal chair legs scraping back against the floor as everyone made their way out into the hall to their next class. Christine couldn’t help but chuckle as she heard a few of her classmates comment on the project as they left.

“What the hell am I supposed to do, write about my mother’s seven-layer dip and the lucky sweatpants my dad always wears to our family’s annual Superbowl party?”

“Does my uncle falling asleep and drooling on himself at midnight mass every Christmas count as a religious tradition?”

“Ya think they’d let me do a paper about weed now that it’s legal here?”

“It’s still illegal for us, dumbass.”

“Even if my older brother buys it for me?”


Evidence of primitive percussion instruments has been found in civilizations going as far back as 6000 B.C. Some of these examples include hollowed-out gourds, tree stumps and logs, porous stones, and many other common objects that could be struck to produce a sound.

Christine giggled, remembering a scene from an episode of The Muppet Show where a character named Marvin stood in front of a row of fuzzy, spherical creatures that he proceeded to hit with a mallet using the different pitches of the creatures’ cries to play “Lady of Spain”.

“What are you laughing at Janie Jones?”

Christine peered over the top of her book and saw the girl from the bus staring at her from the end of one of the library stacks.

“Just an old Muppet Show skit. My parents pretty much banned all children’s programming created after I was born.”

“Dude, I love the Muppets! I still say it’s one of the most progressive things to ever air on tv. I mean think about how groundbreaking Gonzo and Camilla’s relationship was.”

“Yeah, and nobody body-shamed Cookie Monster on Sesame Street.”

“Seriously, any show with a Muppet on it was way ahead of its time.”

“My name’s Christine by the way.”

“Would’ve been pretty funny if it’d been Janie. I’m Nicki. So, you have a drum set or is it just a leg thing?”

“No, I have a kit at home, though the legs are a convenient substitute when I’m trying to figure stuff out.”

“You any good?”

“I’m alright.”

“Ha, that was a test. The people who can actually play never brag about it. My guitar is in the shop right now, but we should hang out and jam once it’s fixed.”

“Yeah, sure, that’d be cool. Who do you like, besides the Dead Kennedys I mean?”

“The Clash, of course.” Nicki said, gesturing in recognition. “The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, Runaways, Nirvana, Belly, Mud Honey, Bikini Kill, The Slits, and more current stuff like Skating Polly, Bully, Torres, Slothrust, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Screaming Females, pretty much anything with an interesting guitar riff. How about you?”

“A lot of the same bands along with my requisite list of drum-god groups, Led Zeppelin, The Police, Sleater-Kinney, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool.”

“What, no Rush?”

“I mean I like them, but it’s not really the sort of thing I play along with, mostly cause I can’t fit fourteen toms in my bedroom.”

“Shit, I thought they revoked your drummer card if you didn’t worship Neil Peart.”

“You just have to tell them that Moving Pictures is a masterpiece and they leave you alone.”

Nicki laughed. “You’re funny. Hey, I gotta get going, but give me your number so I can text you when I get my axe back.”



Christine sat in her bedroom flipping between browser tabs on different tribes and sects that used drumming in their celebrations and rituals. The sheer number of examples was staggering and trying to include even a brief description of each one would easily fill up half her paper. Ashanti rhythmical healing ceremonies, Burundi tribes that incorporated percussion into their native dances, circular frame drums used by both Celtic pagans and American Indian shaman, and Middle Eastern tablas that appeared in everything from religious services and weddings to informal social gatherings.

There were mentions of other more obscure examples; descriptions of songs from extinct peoples like the Picts and the Goitac. She found some videos online that claimed to be authentically Pictish, but it all turned out to be some slight variation on traditional drum and bagpipe music. Then there were the Zartuomes, who were believed to have lived in the Sierra Madre mountains in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds, where they bordered on another vanished tribe, the Xiximes. Percussion was a major part of the Zartuome culture, though there was almost no documentation of exactly what it sounded like or descriptions of the instruments that they employed. The closest Christine could find was an article from a defunct newspaper that had been archived online. In it the journalist said that Zartuome rituals would begin as gentle rhythms that were almost inaudible, then slowly build to a cacophonous din with the participants playing so aggressively that they often collapsed in exhaustion during the ceremonies.

An image of a ring of men and women dressed in the kind of animal skins that cartoon Neanderthals were typically depicted in filled her head. She could see them seated around a fire, the skulls of their slain enemies as their drums, savagely beaten upon with splintered lengths of bone. There’s a hollow thok as one of them begins to play, a sound that echoes like footsteps in an empty hall. This is followed by the player to their left striking the same solitary note, which is then repeated in turn by each member until it reaches the originator who plays a double stroke that is again mimicked by the others. The double becomes a triplet and then something that sounds to Christine like a herta, and on and on adding notes and increasing the tempo and volume until it’s the sonic equivalent of a swarm of bees.

She shook herself from this vision with her heart racing and her palms damp with sweat, quickly crossing the hall to the bathroom where she cupped her hands under the faucet and splashed cold water on the sides of her flushed face.

Christine looked at herself in the mirror. “Easy there, kiddo.”

It’s what her dad said to her whenever her playing got to be a little too much. It never bothered her because she knew she had completely lucked out in the parent department, with a mom and dad who not only tolerated her playing but actually encouraged it. In most universes Christine would’ve been stuck with a clarinet or a cello, but when her folks found themselves with a tiny Stewart Copeland, they gave her the thumbs-up instead.

She smiled and dried her face off with a towel next to the sink.

It seemed like a good time to pause on research for the night, but tomorrow she wanted to hit the library again to see if they had anything more on the Zartuomes.


There wasn’t anything on the Zartuome civilization at school, though she did run across a chapter in a book that detailed a Mayan subsect called the Zinacantán.

“Damn, so close.” Christine muttered.

“Is talking to yourself a regular thing with you?”

Christine flinched as Nicki stood up from the study-carrel behind her.

“Shit, sorry.” Nicki said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Are you stalking me or something?”

“I could tell you ‘No’, but that’s probably what a stalker would say.”

Christine laughed. “It’s just that I don’t typically see many people hanging out at the library after school. Are you doing research for a paper too?”

“Nah, just killing time before I head home. My mom and her boyfriend are making my place a bit of a nightmare right now.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.”

“It’s okay; dude’s a bit of a dick but he’s never been violent or anything; mostly it’s just the two of them picking at each other until one of them gets sick of it and leaves. At least I don’t have to worry about this one becoming my next stepdad.”

“Yeah.” Christine said, unsure of what else to say.

“What are you working on?”

“Semester project for History. Trying to do something on the origin of drumming, but there’s so much material I’m having trouble whittling it all down.”

“I usually have the opposite problem; taking some half-baked idea and stretching it out so it meets the bare minimum. Last year I did a paper about how Black Sabbath and women accused of participating in witch’s sabbaths were both holding up a mirror to society and reflecting its hypocrisy.”

“You seriously wrote a paper on that?”


“That’s awesome.”

“Sadly, my English teacher Ms. Iverson was not as enthusiastic. She didn’t see the connection of comparing Ozzy Osbourne to Sarah Osbourne from the Salem trials.”

Christine laughed again and this time caught a sideways glance from a passing librarian.

“I’m trying to dig up info on some of the more obscure percussion practices; there’s a tribe called the Zartuomes that have this interesting drum ritual, but I haven’t been able to find much.”

“Did you check to see if there are any primary source documents like journals from explorers who might’ve been around during the time?”

“They have that stuff here?”

“A few things, and the main library downtown has even more. Let me show you where they keep the collection.”


Christine didn’t have any luck in the specialty section of the school library, but she spent the time talking with Nicki about other bands they liked and before leaving she wrote down albums from Mitski and The Beths that Nicki suggested.

Back at home she spent another couple of hours sifting through various historical and percussion-related pages without much to show for it except a single mention of the word Zartomb. The spelling was different, and Christine assumed it was just a typo, but when she searched on the name it came back with the webpage for a band. The last update on the site was from nearly six years ago and the only other mention of the group was a small writeup in an online fanzine about a show they’d played in Dayton. At the bottom of the article was a link that led to a video hosted on a site she’d never heard of, and Christine almost closed it afraid of infecting her laptop with something nasty, but curiosity got the better of her.

The video was grainy, but the audio was surprisingly clean as she listened to the band perform on a stage that was barely big enough to hold the three of them. Their sound was a cross between black and sludge metal, though not as extreme as either style, and absent the theatrics some of those groups favored like a penchant for corpse paint. It wasn’t a sound she was usually into, most of her metal records consisted of eighties thrash bands and their descendants. Still, the group had something unique about them, particularly at the end of the set when the singer started droning something that sounded like Latin just as the song reached its apex. He was still repeating the phrase when the other two band members finished playing and joined him at the front of the stage. The three of them got down on their hands and knees, pounding on the plywood riser with their fists and creating a rhythm that was picked up by the audience who stomped along in unison until it seemed like the whole place might vibrate apart from the ruckus.

Christine backed up the video and played the ending again, grabbing a pen and a piece of notebook paper to transcribe what she was hearing.

1+ 2e+ 3+a 4+

It was a simple pattern that started soft and slow, becoming steadily faster and louder with each subsequent repetition. She played along with it on the edge of her desk until her fingers were warm from the friction.

“Ya know we bought you that drum set so you’d stop abusing your poor desk.”

Christine jumped in her chair and then wheeled it around to face her mother. “Sorry Mom, just looking up stuff for my project.”

“And I’m glad to see you getting an early jump on it, but I don’t think the designers at Ikea built that thing to withstand your assaults.”

Christine put her hands up in mock surrender.

“I thank you and your father thanks you. Also, it’s nearly ten o’clock, so maybe call it quits for tonight.”

“Didn’t realize it was so late.”

“You get that from your dad. The man could ignore a nuclear blast down the block if he was in the middle of something.”

“I’m not that bad.”

“Agree to disagree. Now get some sleep.”

“Night Mom.”

“Goodnight my little furniture demolitionist.”


Christine was standing in a hallway, lockers lining both sides and speckled beige linoleum on the floor. It could’ve been her own high school were it not for the fact that the lockers here were black instead of green, and that they seemed to stretch on forever.

She stepped forward, the rubber soles of her boots squeaking against the freshly waxed surface of the tiles. There were no classroom doors or other corridors branching off from this one, just endless metal rectangles reflecting a distorted image of her profile in their glossy obsidian facades.

“Hello? Is anyone here?”

Christine waited for a reply, and when none came, she began moving faster along the hall. In the distance she thought she saw a dim red light that she hoped was an Exit sign, but no matter how far she traveled the image never came any closer. She stopped and looked back in the other direction, thinking maybe she’d gone the wrong way, and that’s when she heard it.

…a loud banging from inside one of the lockers….

She closed her eyes, listening carefully to determine where the sound was coming from, when there was suddenly more banging behind her. Door after door joined the chorus until soon the corridor was filled with a metallic cacophony.

Christine covered her ears as legions of phantom fists pounded out the rhythm from the video. She winced in pain as the intensity grew and screamed, “Stop! Stop it!”

When she opened her eyes again, she was staring up at her ceiling fan.

She glanced around, still expecting to see locker doors and speckled tile, but it was only the interior of her bedroom.

The clock on her nightstand read 2:39 a.m.


“You gonna eat that?”

Christine blinked and looked over at Nicki. “Huh?”

“You’ve been gazing at your cheeseburger like it’s about to impart some ancient wisdom.”

“Sorry, I’m kinda out of it. Didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Up late working on the project?”

Christine nodded.

“The end of the semester is still three months away. Maybe pace yourself a bit.”

“It wasn’t that. I had a nightmare.”

“About the term-paper?”

“Sort of; it started out like a typical school-anxiety dream, can’t find your class, forgot about a test, but then mixed together with some of the stuff I’ve been researching.”

“Were you forced to write, ‘I will not play the drum solo from Moby Dick in Study Hall’ on the chalkboard a hundred times?”

Christine laughed and shook her head. “I found a band online with a similar name to that strange tribe, and I ran across a video of an old show of theirs.”

“Any good?”

“Not really my cup of tea, but they were decent at what they were going for. And there was this part at the end, a kind of weird drum circle where the whole band pounded on the stage floor and the audience stomped along with them.”

Christine pulled up the video on her phone, scrolled over to the last few minutes, and handed it to Nicki who watched with a bemused look on her face.

“Kinda reminds me of these parties my mom told me about. She went through a hippie phase before she had me.”

“Yeah, it starts out all kumbaya, but it ends up more like an earthquake.”

“Best part about small venues; you never know what you’re gonna get on any given night.”

“Have you been to many shows?”

“A bunch of all-ages places and a few bands at bars with relaxed ID policies so long as you don’t try and scam the bartender after you get in. You?”

“My parents just started letting me go to arena and theater concerts, but they’re still wary about clubs even if they don’t serve alcohol.”

“I get it, but it always makes me a little sad when some indie band I love starts playing bigger spots. Between the ticket price and the fees, it’s pretty hard to swing most of the time.”

Christine nodded, suddenly feeling awkward for bringing it up.

“My guitar is out of the hospital; you free this weekend to jam?”


“Awesome. I work Saturday until 3:00, but I’m good after that.”

“Where do you work?”

“Movie theater downtown a couple nights a week and matinee shifts on the weekend.”

“Sounds cool.”

“It’s alright. Pays better than most places willing to hire teenagers and the times I’m scheduled usually aren’t that busy, so I can read during the downtime. That reminds me, I wanted to give you this.” Nicki unzipped her backpack and pulled out a yellow-edged paperback that she handed to Christine. “It’s about a guy playing in a wedding band and his existential crisis over the fact that he’s probably never gonna make it big. The whole thing is hilarious and comes across way more realistically than most fictional stories about musicians.”

Christine looked at the title, The Wishbones. “Are you giving this to me so I don’t get my hopes up about us becoming famous?”

Nicki laughed. “Dude, we haven’t even played a note together. Superstardom is a long way off.”

“Well, it is with that attitude.”

“Just saying, you may want to slow your roll a little.”

“Fine.” Christine said and sighed dramatically.

The bell signaling the end of the period rang and kids began reluctantly rising from lunch tables and shuffling off toward their next class.

“I’ve got a quiz in chemistry, so I should probably motor.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks. Looking forward to this weekend.”

“Me too.” Christine said and watched Nicki as she headed down the hall, wondering what songs she should suggest for Saturday.


Christine looked over the songs in her ‘Drumming Playlist’ and grimaced.

A lot of the tracks were from bands she didn’t normally listen to but had put on there because the beats were challenging or just fun to play. Nicki had said something similar about her own music, but Christine doubted that her guitar list had Taylor Swift and Katy Perry on them.

She tore off a piece of notebook paper and started writing down possibilities:

The Clash – Janie Jones

Mitski – Townie

Wolf Alice – She

The Knife – Heartbeats

Fazer Daze – Lucky Girl

The Ramones – We’re A Happy Family

Grimes – Pin

The Police – Next To You

Girl K – For Now

Neon Trees – Animal

The Go-Go’s – Can’t Stop The World

Missing Persons – Mental Hopscotch

The Buzzcocks – Everybody’s Happy Nowadays

The Beths – Little Death

Christine scrutinized the list again looking for anything else that needed to be eliminated. She’d never liked the idea of guilty pleasures, but it’d also been a while since she’d opened her personal tastes up for inspection. The last time she’d tried to have a conversation with Beth and Karen about a new band she’d discovered, they’d both smiled and nodded before quickly changing the subject.

‘You’re being stupid; you’ve already talked about tons of bands. She isn’t going to suddenly think you’re a tool just because you disagree on some group.’

She knew this was true and was excited to have finally met someone who not only shared similar tastes, but who also played music. It was part of what made her nervous, that she might lose this opportunity by saying or doing the wrong thing. There were times she felt like a poser to the person she’d been before; that deep down nothing about her had changed at all.

This lingering dread of living as an imposter was still echoing in her head as Christine closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.


The circle of cave drummers returned in her dreams. Their faces were distorted into grotesque caricatures that only vaguely resembled human visages and the skulls they played upon had become equally monstrous. The rhythm this time wasn’t the round robin she’d previously envisioned but the pattern from the video and her nightmare.

And there was something else buried in the background; a thrum so soft and low that at first she wasn’t sure it was actually there. As the drumming increased in velocity and volume so too did the intensity of the reverberation, its former earthworm now a massive burrowing beast tunneling deep below the earth and steadily making its way toward the surface.

Both sounds slowly melded together becoming impossible to distinguish one from the other, but just before the dream ended Christine heard the percussive thrum transform into a silky baritone asking her a singular question.

“Can I help you with something?”


“You sure your parents are okay with this?” Nicki said as she plugged her amp into the outlet next to Christine’s desk. She was still wearing her maroon vest with Starlight Cinema stitched in silver on the left side and a black plastic name tag on the right with Nicole Francellno in white block lettering. Underneath it was an X-Ray Spex t-shirt that had faded to gray from repeated washings.

Christine was wearing a shirt her mom had found at a thrift store that featured a photo of Keith Moon sporting a mischievous grin that reminded her of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.

“They’re pretty used to it.”

“Alright then, ready when you are.”

Christine adjusted the height on her drum throne slightly and made sure her hi-hat clutch was tightened down. She gave Nicki a single nod and then launched into the opening snare fill of “Shiftless When Idle” by The Replacements.


“So what made you gravitate toward the drums?” Nicki said between bites of pizza.

“A harpsichord wouldn’t fit up the staircase.” Christine said and quickly hid her grin behind her soda can.

“You’re hysterical. Seriously though, it’s hard enough finding people to play with, and most of the ones I ran across were other guitarists. There were a couple of guys at school who were drummers, but one of them was a know-it-all dickhead, and the other was more interested in trying to feel me up than he was in practicing.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine; I can handle myself.”

“Doesn’t make it okay.”

“Pretty much nothing about that dude was okay. Should’ve never gone over there in the first place, but I was tired of playing along with my albums.”

“When I was little my dad used to worry whenever he put me up on his shoulders to see better at a parade or an outdoor concert.”


“Because instead of holding on like I was supposed to, I’d pound my pudgy little fists on his shoulders along with whatever was playing over the speakers. No matter how many times he told me to stop, I just couldn’t help myself.”

“That’s sweet.”

“Not sure he thought so at the time.”

Nicki laughed. “Maybe he got the drums to distract you.”

“It’s a distinct possibility. Alright, your turn. Why guitar? Why not violin, or oboe, or running track, or playing tennis?”

“You mean aside from the fact that guitar is much cooler than any of those other things?”


“My older brother Mitch took off when he was seventeen. He was fighting with my mom’s boyfriend at the time, who was way worse than the current guy, and he left a note on my bed saying he was going to look for our dad.”

“Did he find him?”

“…yeah, moved in with him for a while in Houston, but it didn’t last long. Mitch is in Seattle now; sends a letter every so often. About a week after he first left, he wrote me saying that I could have his guitar. I almost threw the thing in the trash I was so mad at him, but it also reminded me of him, so I kept it. Sometimes he’d mail me tapes with songs he said I needed to learn if I wanted to be great.”

“You must’ve listened, cause you sound pretty great to me.”

“Not so bad yourself there.”

“I’m gonna grab another coke, you want one?”

“It’s okay…I know my family’s messed up….”

Christine stood there in the bedroom doorway unsure of what to say.

“I’m used to people being weirded out, so seriously, don’t worry about it.”

“People think it’s weird that I get along with my folks.” Christine said. “I mean, most of the time anyway.”

“Honestly, it is a little freaky.” Nicki said. “It’s cool though, especially the part about letting us play here and buying us pizza. You’ve got pretty rad parents.”

“Yeah.” Christine said and disappeared down the stairs to retrieve more soda.


She heard the rhythm in the back of her head like an ear-worm pop song that buries itself in your subconscious. Christine found herself tapping the pattern with her hands whenever her mind wandered; on the bus ride home she’d been so absorbed that she’d missed her stop and didn’t notice until she was almost six blocks away. At night she’d sometimes hear the voice as she slipped into sleep, always with the same question. She hadn’t told Nicki about that part of the dream, or the fact that she’d continued to have them. It was all a bit much, and she didn’t want Nicki thinking she was some kind of headcase.

Christine stared at her notes for the paper and wondered if she shouldn’t just scrap the whole thing and start over with something else.

The lamp on her desk was a retro design, two metal gooseneck arms with violet colored glass shades that curved to a point like a pair of tropical bird beaks. She squinted, letting the shape distort as she imagined the strange animal springing to life next to her laptop.

“You still haven’t responded to my query.”

Christine’s eyes shot open and she darted them around the room looking for the source of the sound.

“I mean honestly, you go about repeatedly summoning me and then can’t be bothered to answer one simple question?”

She rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “You’re just tired.” Christine whispered to herself.

“Know what makes me tired? People who continually invoke my presence, but then refuse to say what they want. It’s like someone ringing your doorbell and running away over and over again.”

Christine stood up and crossed the room; she had her hand on the doorknob but stopped short of pulling it open. If she told her parents, there would be no going back. And what would she even say to them?

“Leave me alone.”

“Afraid I can’t do that. Upper management gets testy if we worker bees shirk our responsibilities.”

“But I don’t want anything.”

“Oh come now, everyone wants something.”

“You’re just a figment of my sleep-deprived brain brought on by too many hours spent obsessing over this stupid project. I just wish the damn thing was done so I didn’t have to think about it anymore.”

“See how easy that was.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Hello?” Christine said and was relieved when there was no reply.

She shut down her computer and crawled into bed, though the idea of sleep with its unwanted dreams certainly didn’t appeal to her at that moment.

Christine lay there covered head-to-toe under a combination of comforter, blanket, and sheet, trying to pretend that the outside world didn’t exist.


The next morning Christine tried again to convince herself that it had simply been some stress-induced hallucination that hadn’t actually happened.

She got ready for school and was about to head downstairs for breakfast when she remembered that she needed to email herself the outline she’d written last night so she could start organizing the material she’d collected.

When Christine booted up her computer, she saw the outline on her desktop and another file beside it that she didn’t recognize named Deonaithe. She double-clicked the icon and Word launched on her screen, opening a document that had her name in the upper-left corner with the course code and teacher of her History class under it and the current date beneath that. Centered on the page was a title, Mystic Rhythms – The Influence of Percussion in Global Culture. Christine glanced at the bottom of the screen and saw that it was ten pages long; she started scanning over the text and felt her stomach knot. The writing style was identical to her own and was filled with references from her research along with other sources that she hadn’t read. A wave of vertigo swept over her as she clutched at the edge of her desk.

“This isn’t possible.”

After a few minutes the sensation began to fade and she redirected her hands to the trackpad. She quit Word, dragged the Deonaithe file to the garbage can, then right-clicked and selected Empty Trash. Her head still felt a bit swimmy but calling out sick would mean lying to her parents since she still couldn’t face telling them the truth.

Christine took a few tentative steps to make sure she wasn’t going to fall over, grabbed her backpack up off the floor, and made a beeline for the front door before her mom and dad could ask any questions.


During the ride to school Christine kept glancing over to see if anyone was staring at her.

She was certain that they knew; that her classmates somehow sensed what’d happened despite the fact that she wasn’t sure herself. The voice was worrisome enough, but at least it seemed to be confined to the inside of her head with its questionable dependability. There was no convenient excuse to explain the existence of the file. She’d heard of sleepwalkers doing all sorts of crazy things while in a somnambulant state, but never writing an entire term-paper.

And the words had definitely been hers.

That was the most disturbing part. It felt like the contents of her skull had been pillaged and put out on display. Thinking about it made her squirm.

The bus came to a stop and kids started trudging toward the front. As Christine stepped off onto the sidewalk, she saw Beth and Karen leaning against one of the cylindrical support posts that held up the enormous awning above the concourse.

“Hey.” Beth said as Christine approached them.

“Hi.” Christine said.

“Was just thinking about you.” Beth said.


“You remember Sarah Gannon?”

“Didn’t we have a sleepover with her in like fifth grade?”

“And we put Karen’s hand in a glass of water after she fell asleep to see if she’d pee herself.”

“I did not piss myself.” Karen said.

“No one said you did, dear.” Beth said.

“Do you guys still see her?” Christine said.

“Hell, we barely see you anymore.” Karen said.

Beth shot Karen a look. “Which brings me to my point.” Beth said. “Turns out our old sleepover buddy is going to be sans parents for the weekend and she’s throwing a little shindig on Saturday to celebrate.”

“Hasn’t she seen any of the movies where a kid throws a rager while their folks are gone and it always ends in a total disaster?” Christine said.

“That’s why Karen and I are helping curate Sarah’s guest list to keep it free of less refined individuals.”

“Are you planning on inviting nursing home residents instead of teenagers?”

“I’d like to think that some of us are capable of not acting like assholes at every social gathering. Have you become an insane party animal in our absence?”

“Oh totally; I was actually headed to the bathroom to shoot heroin when I ran into you.”

Karen cracked a smile at this, and that made Christine grin.

“Can I talk to you about something?”


Christine recounted everything during their seventh period P.E. class.

“Wait, back up.” Beth said. “You listened to satanic music and then summoned up the devil?”

“No, it wasn’t satanic. Just a drum rhythm from an extinct tribe.” Christine said.

“But you’re saying that playing it did something to you?” Karen said.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m hearing things, noises and voices, and other stuff has been happening.”

“What stuff?” Beth said.

“There was a file on my computer this morning that I didn’t create. It was my semester history project, written like I would and using my research, but I hadn’t even started on the paper.”

“You’re fucking with us, right? Please tell me you’re fucking with us.” Karen said.

Christine shook her head. “I know it sounds nuts.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say—” Beth said.

“Yeah, it’s absolutely batshit crazy.” Karen said. “Though I wouldn’t mind El Diablo finishing my projects for me. Think he helps out with exams?”

Christine snorted out a laugh and instantly felt a little lighter.

“Why don’t you come to the party around 7:00 and we’ll sort this out.” Beth said.

“Yeah, okay…cool….”

“In the meantime, maybe get some noise-canceling headphones to drown out the demon voices.” Karen said and winked at Christine as she and Beth headed to their next class.


When Christine got home she turned on her computer and saw another new document sitting on her desktop.

This one wasn’t called Deonaithe. Printed beneath the tiny rectangular icon were the words, NO TAKE BACKS.

She didn’t bother to open it and instead deleted the file and shut down her machine.


“I thought maybe we could try learning something by The Blood Red Shoes. They’re a guitar and drum duo like us so we wouldn’t have to worry about missing parts.” Nicki said.

“Don’t they both sing?” Christine said.

“Yeah, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s not like I’m Freddie Mercury or anything. Mostly I just cover the vocals so I don’t lose my place in the song.”

“I think you sound good.”

“Thanks.” Nicki said and smiled. “Hope your opinion doesn’t change if we ever get a P.A. system instead of me just shouting the lyrics.”

“My voice doesn’t sound anything like what I hear when I speak to the point that if I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a completely different person. I honestly hate hearing it amplified or played back.”

“I think that’s common for a lot of people.”

“Suppose so. Any advice on getting over it?”

“My personal remedy is a daily dose of not giving a fuck.”

Christine laughed.

“Why don’t you try just doing the choruses with me next practice and see how it feels?” Nicki said.

“Hey, there’s this party after our jam on Saturday and I was wondering if you wanted to go?”

“Who’s throwing it?”

“This girl Sarah Gannon.”

“Don’t think we’ve met.”

“I don’t really know her that well myself. A couple of old friends told me about it when I ran into them the other day. Seriously though, no pressure or anything. If you had something else planned.”

“It’s true that my calendar is usually brimming with soirees and charity functions, but I’ll see if I can squeeze you in.”

Christine laughed again. “Awesome, I think it’ll be fun.”


The bell rang signaling the end of fourth period and Christine was headed toward the door when Mr. Melnick called after her.

“I wanted to commend you on your project. When a student turns in something early it’s often a cry for help, but certainly not in your case. I can’t give you your official grade until after the assignment deadline, but I can say that I found the work very impressive.”

Christine felt short of breath. The classroom suddenly seemed to be closing in on her.

“Are you alright?” Mr. Melnick said.

“Just a little dizzy.”

Mr. Melnick stood up from his desk and quickly repositioned his chair beside Christine. “Please sit.”

She did as instructed, resting her forehead against her knees until the sensation faded.

“I’m going to call the nurse’s office and have them send someone up.”

“No, really, I’m okay. I’m hypoglycemic and this happens sometimes if I forget to eat.” Christine said, hoping the lie sounded convincing. “I’ll be alright.”

“You’re sure?”

Christine nodded.

Mr. Melnick glanced over at the phone on his desk as if considering making the call anyway, but then turned back to Christine. “Your work in this class has always been good, and your semester project is exemplary, but never let academic pursuit cause you to neglect your health. No grade is worth that.”

“I won’t.” Christine said, trying to look both grave and thoughtful. It was a nice thing to say, even if it made him sound like an after-school special.

“You take care now Christine.”

“Thanks Mr. Melnick, I will.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur. She was vaguely aware of saying hello to her parents when she got home and participating in some perfunctory dinner conversation. After that she excused herself and headed up to her room.

She sat down at her desk and automatically reached over to turn on her laptop but then hesitated, afraid of what might be waiting for her.

“Why is this happening?”

The question came out as a whisper, but the reply was full voiced and so close that it seemed to be coming from an invisible face only inches from her own.

“Because you called to me.”

“I didn’t ask for you. I didn’t ask for any of this.”

“Of course you did. And I delivered.”

“But I didn’t need you to do my project.”

“Most people don’t actually need the things they ask for, but they’re still appreciative to receive them.”

“Fine, you’ve officially fulfilled my request; can you please stop pestering me now?”

“That doesn’t sound much like gratitude.”

“I’m grateful, really, don’t even want my other two wishes.”

“Ah yes, I was wondering when the genie joke was coming. You should count yourself fortunate that I’m not a djinn; those duplicitous rascals are always trying to trick you into something. I, on the other hand, play straight. You conjured me, requested something, and I provided that request. No hidden clauses or willful misinterpretations.”

“All I did was repeat a rhythm I found in a video. I wasn’t trying to conjure jack shit.”

“Oh come now, don’t be daft. You think just anyone could’ve tapped their fingers on a tabletop and *poof* there I’d be? If that were true, every fidgety nimrod with an internet connection would be a percussive summoner.”

“A what?”

“Percussive summoner, like those folks you were reading about for your paper, or should I say ‘our’ paper.”

“Chris honey, who are you talking to?”

Christine froze at the sound of her mother calling from the base of the stairs. She hadn’t realized until now that she’d left the door open. “Just video chatting with Nicki.”

“Well can you keep it down a bit?”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

Christine waited until she heard her mom walk away and then shut the door.

“Think she bought it?”

Christine didn’t know. She wasn’t even sure if the voice could be heard by anyone else.

“Listen, I guarantee you that I’m not a summoner. There’s no shamans or voodoo priests in our family and we don’t attend mass, or temple, or mosque, or anything.”

“Historically speaking, religion is really nothing more than individualized varieties of charlatanism. The people with real ability generally aren’t even aware of it until something like this happens.”

“Well I don’t want to be whatever the hell this is.”

“Unfortunately, that decision isn’t up to you. But look on the bright side. I’m confident that we aced that paper. Only thing left to do is discuss my fee.”


“There’s a break there.”

Christine stopped playing and muted her still-ringing crash cymbal with her fingers. “What did you say?”

“After the bridge we both drop out, and then you come back in and I follow you.”

“Right, sorry. Can we start from the beginning?”

“You okay?”

Christine placed her sticks on top of her snare drum and took her hearing protection out of her ears.

“Remember those dreams I was having?”

Nicki nodded.

“Well I started hearing a voice at the end of it.”

“What did it say?”

“Can I help you with something?”

Christine stared down at her boot resting on the bass drum pedal. “I didn’t understand what the question meant, not at first…then I started hearing the voice when I was awake. It kept asking why I’d summoned it, what I wanted from it. I said that I didn’t do or want anything and had just been researching an assignment for school, but it wouldn’t let up, and that’s when it happened.”

“What happened?”

“A document appeared on my computer with my finished paper on it. I deleted the file when I realized what it was, but it came back later that day. I trashed it again and thought it had worked that time, but then yesterday….”

Nicki switched off her amp and laid her guitar down next to it. “It’s okay, you can tell me.”

“…I was leaving history class and Mr. Melnick calls me over. He starts telling me how impressed he was with my semester project, and I nearly passed out next to him. I’d been trying so hard to pretend this was all in my head, but now it’s out in the world and….”

Christine suddenly burst into racking sobs.

Nicki quickly navigated between the cymbal stands and helped Christine off her drum stool, guiding them both down onto the carpet in front of the kit.

“It’s gonna be alright.” Nicki repeated over and over as she held Christine.

After a while Christine’s shoulders stopped hitching and her sobs transitioned into sniffles.

“…sorry about that….” Christine said in a congested croak.

“You don’t have anything to apologize for.”

“Really won the lottery, huh? Starting a band with a certified psychopath.”

“My mom once dated a guy who believed Jesus was sending him messages in his cereal, so this is honestly nothing new.”

Christine let out a phlegmy chuckle. “That mean you believe me?”

“Yeah, I believe you.” Nicki said. “Maybe we should skip this party and just stay in and watch movies or something?”

“I promised Beth that I’d go. She and my other friend Karen are the ones who told me about it. I mentioned some of what’s been going on and they want to help.”

“That’s great, but are you sure you’re really up for this?”

Christine nodded. “It’ll be a good distraction.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind just give me a signal and we’ll bail.”

“What should the signal be?”

“How about this?” Nicki said and wiggled her eyebrows up and down three times.

“Seriously?” Christine croaked, a small grin curling the corners of her mouth.

“Everyone’s a fuckin’ critic.”


Sarah’s house was different than Christine remembered.

In her head it had practically been a mansion, the kind of place where everything seemed too pretty and fragile to touch. That was back when things were financially tight for Christine’s family, far more than she knew at the time, though it was evident her folks were stressed. But then her dad had gotten a promotion and her mom accepted a position at a better school district. When they eventually moved it hadn’t seemed that different from their old house aside from being a bit bigger and in a slightly nicer neighborhood.

Walking around now though, Sarah’s place wasn’t that different from her own just with wallpaper instead of paint and fancier furniture.

“You okay?” Nicki said over the thump and rattle of some wordless dance track.

“Having a weird reverse-déjà-vu moment.”

“Not sure I follow you.”

“It’s nothing, just—”

“About time you got here. Going for fashionably late, are we?” Beth said. She was wearing a light gray pencil skirt and black leather boots that went up to just below her knees. Her top was silk and sleeveless with a bowed neckline, a pale beige the color of beach sand, and it fit her better than anything Christine had ever owned.

“Hey.” Karen said. She was seated sideways in an enormous leather armchair wearing a cranberry-colored cotton blouse, blue jeans, and white, low-top sneakers. It was the kind of thing Christine had worn before switching to t-shirts and Doc Martens. She and Karen had spent countless hours in department stores at the mall while Beth was off shopping at the designer boutiques.

“I see you’ve brought a guest.” Beth said.

“Beth, Karen, this is Nicki.”

“Nice to meet you, Nicki.” Beth said.

“Yeah, you too.” Nicki said.

Karen held up a hand in greeting that only lingered in the air a moment before returning to her lap.

“Can I have a word?” Beth said and motioned for Christine to follow her.

“Um, sure.” Christine said.

Nicki and Karen both watched as Beth and Christine dodged around knots of dancing and drinking kids before disappearing down the hall.

Beth opened a pair of glass paneled doors that led into the dining room at the rear of the house. The table in the center was a massive oval of polished dark wood adorned with a white lace tablecloth that perfectly aligned with Christine’s previous recollection of the place.

“You didn’t mention before that you were bringing someone.” Beth said.

“I hadn’t asked her yet. Why, what’s the problem?”

“The whole point of us helping Sarah is to make sure tonight doesn’t get out of control.”

“What does that have to do with me bringing Nicki?”

Beth paused for a moment to clear her throat. “This doesn’t really seem like her scene. Looks more like she’s headed to a punk show than a party.”

Christine glanced down at her own clothes, which featured black jeans and a red t-shirt with Jack and Meg White in reverse silhouette pointing at one another, and looked back up at Beth.

“I mistakenly assumed that you’d alter your attire for the occasion, but that isn’t the issue.” Beth said. “You were specifically invited. We know you.”

“And I know Nicki.”

“For how long? I mean I’ve never even seen you hanging out.”

“Right, cause you and I spend so much time together.” Christine said, more sharply than she’d intended.

“I’m not the one who decided to go all tomboy band geek and ditch us.”

“I didn’t ditch you.”

“What do you call blowing off plans and constantly claiming you’re busy?”

“I just got into other stuff; stuff that wasn’t makeup, or clothes, or guys.”

“And what, I’m suddenly just some vapid bimbo you can’t be bothered to call back? You pick up a new hobby and then act like I don’t exist?”

“That isn’t fair.”

“Fair? You think I’m the one not being fair? Who came crawling back looking for comfort with a story about disembodied voices and phantom papers?”

“Fuck you.”

“Oh, did the demon tell you to say that? A lot more spine than I seem to remember you having.”

Christine wheeled around and flung open the doors. She stormed out of the room and into the hallway, nearly colliding with a trio of guys drinking shots as she rounded the corner.

“…all I’m saying is that the Ripley in Aliens would’ve kicked the ass of the Ripley in the first movie.” Nicki said.

“Yeah, but Vasquez could’ve easily kicked both their asses.” Karen said.

“We need to go.” Christine said to Nicki.

“Okay.” Nicki said and turned to follow Christine who was already heading for the front door.

From behind Christine heard Beth bellow after her as she exited.

“Lovely to see you again darling. So sorry you couldn’t stay.”


Nicki wasn’t sure how much of her attempted consolation Christine had actually heard. The moment they got into the car she’d gone silent and remained that way until Nicki dropped her off. She’d wanted to stay and make sure Christine was okay, but if she didn’t get her mom’s Corolla back in front of the apartment before her and the boyfriend returned from the bar there’d be hell to pay.

It wasn’t until she was pulling into the parking lot that she realized it was only just past nine o’clock.

Part of her was relieved that she wasn’t stuck making small talk with strangers all night, though after some initial awkwardness Karen had seemed alright to her. Beth on the other hand reminded Nicki of every girl that had given her shit since grade school. Granted, she didn’t really know her, but whatever happened between her and Christine hadn’t exactly swayed Nicki’s preconception.

She was flipping through her keys, looking for the brass one that unlocked the front door, when she felt her phone buzz in her pocket.

“I’m really sorry about tonight. Should’ve taken your advice.”

Nicki opened the door and stepped into the small foyer, which also doubled as the building’s mailroom. There were only six units including theirs and the other tenants tended to turn in pretty early even on weekends. She leaned back against the wall containing the half dozen narrow, metal mailboxes and slid down into a sitting position beside a plastic recycling bin.

“Wasn’t your fault. Have you told your parents anything?”

Three tiny dots sprung up in a speech bubble and then vanished for several moments before reappearing.

“Afraid to.”

Nicki couldn’t say she blamed her. Over the years she’d given her mom more than her fair share of grief, especially regarding her mother’s less than stellar romantic partners, but there hadn’t been any devils or demons apart from the ones on the album covers in her room.

It was funny because Christine was the kind of person Nicki’s mom had always encouraged her to seek out rather than the cavalcade of tattooed, pierced, and mohawked friends she’d brought home in the past. Her mom would probably pull Christine aside and ask her where they’d met and what she was doing hanging out with someone like her daughter.

Nicki chuckled at this, knowing it was more than likely the truth.

“We’re gonna figure this out. Just try to relax and get some sleep.”

Nicki winced after hitting send. She hated whenever people told her to relax.

“Just hope I don’t have another nightmare.”

“If you do, kick that bastard in its demonic junk and tell it to fuck off!”

A face appeared with its eyes pinched shut and mouth spread wide in a laughing grin.

Nicki waited a moment to see if anything followed before going upstairs to her apartment.

She was only half asleep when her phone chimed at 12:37 a.m.

The text was from an unknown number, but Nicki tapped on it after seeing the message preview.

“Stop meddling in my affairs, or I’ll start acquainting myself with yours.”


Beth stared into the bathroom mirror with bloodshot eyes feeling absolutely awful.

Most of it was due to the rum and cokes she’d drank, which as best she could remember had ended at four.

Ordinarily she wasn’t much of a drinker, especially at events where she was helping play hostess. An image of Sarah Gannon hanging off her shoulder with a beer and a beaming smile drifted across her memory.

‘At least that’s something.’ Beth thought.

The party had apparently still come off despite her downward spiral after the incident with Christine.

Another memory entered her mind unbidden. The two of them in the dining room, sneering and sniping and then Christine leaving. Beth couldn’t recall what she’d said but remembered being filled with this overwhelming sensation of betrayal and rage and wanting to give that back.

“Felt good, didn’t it?”

Beth wheeled around expecting to find her little brother being his usual obnoxious self, but she was alone with the door closed.

“She had it coming. People who don’t keep their promises need to pay.”

Beth rubbed at her forehead with the heel of her hand. ‘Was she still drunk?’

“You and I have a mutual grievance that I believe we can assist each other with. Be back in a bit.”


The basement was Christine’s second favorite spot after her own room. It was a time-capsule from when the house was built in ’74 and hadn’t been redecorated with the rest because her parents didn’t want to spend money on a room that might get ruined if the sump pump failed, which was also the reason she got to keep her drums upstairs.

She sat on the floor with her back against the bottom of the old sofa, faded by sunlight and time from its original navy blue to something closer to cerulean. The shag carpet was made from a petroleum derivative and had kept its vibrant colors, a mottled mix of chocolate brown, lemon yellow, and burnt orange. Her parents laughed when they first saw it and her dad made a gesture that Christine didn’t fully understand, though she was fairly certain it had something to do with having sex or getting high, possibly both. The walls were covered in dark wood paneling and the drop ceiling was white acoustic tile that her parents had to get tested to make sure it didn’t contain asbestos.

She and Nicki sometimes had their after-practice pizza downstairs and Beth and Karen had practically lived down there when her family first moved.

Christine thought about everything Beth had said at the party, and as much as it stung, some of it was true. After she dove headlong into drumming and all the new influences and distractions that came with it, Beth had still attempted to include Christine. Granted, going to fashion store openings or trying out new perfume samples wasn’t really her idea of fun anymore, but she could’ve tagged along just to hang with them.

“Goddamn it.”

She needed to swallow her pride and call Beth to apologize before things lingered too long.

Christine stroked a patch of the fuzzy multicolored carpeting, pretending it was some strange extraterrestrial creature from a distant planet as she stared at the black screen of her phone.


Flowing in with the stream of kids exiting the bus, Christine had almost reached the rear entrance when a voice spoke behind her.

“There you are.”

She shuddered and turned to see Nicki who was wearing her own startled expression.

“I swear it was totally unintentional that time.”

“It’s not you; I’m just on edge right now.”

“Understandable, given the whole demon thing.”

“That and what happened at the party.”

Nicki nodded. “You want to talk about it?”

“Not much to say other than it wasn’t one of my finer moments. I have to find Beth so I can—”

“So you can what?” Beth said. She was wearing torn-up jeans with large, metal safety pins spanning the openings, a bright yellow t-shirt with Sex Pistols stenciled in pink across the front, and a black leather belt with chrome studs embedded into it.

Christine and Nicki stared at Beth.

Beth grinned back at them. “Thought I’d Sandra Dee myself to try and fit in better. Figured then maybe you wouldn’t be such a complete bitch to me.”

“Beth, look, I’m sorry for everything I said and for being a shitty friend.”

“Gosh, that’s awfully big of you. I had something I wanted to tell you too.”

“Okay, sure.” Christine said.

“After you decided that Karen and I weren’t cool enough to hang around with anymore, we made a game of cutting you up behind your back.”


“Honestly though, it wasn’t much fun considering how easy you made it. I mean Christ, just look at yourself. Hell, look at me.” Beth said, posing in her ensemble. “Felt like I was putting on a Halloween costume this morning.”

“Knock it off.” Nicki said.

“Oh, you want in on this?” Beth said.

“What I want is for you to stop talking.” Nicki said.

“Or what?” Beth said.

“I’ll stop it for you.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet Christine. Your new bestie sticking up for you.” Beth said before turning back toward Nicki. “She clearly idolizes you. What other explanation is there for her willingly becoming a fashion victim.”

Beth tilted her head to the side and smirked at Christine. “C’mon, spill it, Chrissy. How long were you stalking her before you accidentally bumped into each other?”

Christine stared down at her boots.

“Dearie me, I think maybe she really was spying on you. This whole thing is beginning to seem a bit desperate, isn’t it Chrissy?”

When Christine looked up there were tears streaming down both her cheeks.

“Been great chatting with you gals; we’ll have to do lunch sometime soon.” Beth said and sauntered past them into school.

“Let’s get out of here.” Nicki said.

Christine nodded and the two of them navigated around the throngs of students headed in the opposite direction as they quietly slipped off campus.


They’d been walking for blocks before Christine really stopped and looked around.

“Where are we?” Christine said.

“My side of town.”

“Guess I haven’t been down this way much.”

“There’s not much worth coming here for. It’s mostly industrial warehouses and construction materials places, but there is one thing that’s kinda cool.”

Nicki turned into a nearly empty parking lot and led Christine to the back where it was bordered by a line of trees and overgrown brush. She pointed to a gap in the foliage.

“There’s a trail that goes up to the railroad trestle.” Nicki said.

Christine peered into the shadowy tunnel made by the branches.

“The tracks don’t see much traffic anymore, and it’s all slow-moving freights dropping off loads to the construction yards. I promise it’s safe.”

Christine nodded and followed along behind Nicki as the path slanted downward for a few feet and then began to rise. Dirt, leaves, and crabgrass gave way to flat-edged stones of varying shapes and sizes with colors that ranged from gray-blue slate to a dusty pink that oxidized over time into a dirty reddish brown.

“Be careful with your footing, these things can slide around on you.” Nicki said, walking up the incline as easily as if it were a set of steps.

When Nicki reached the top she held out a hand that Christine gratefully grabbed onto and was pulled up the rest of the way.

“Watch out for the rail.” Nicki said as Christine carefully stepped over the narrow length of rusted steel. The tracks they were standing between clearly hadn’t been used in years but the other set beside them was still shiny on top and glinted in the sun.

Christine gazed out at the expanse of rail, stones, and wooden ties that seemed to stretch on forever in either direction.

“Holy shit.”

Nicki smiled. “Feels kinda crazy standing in the middle of it.”


“You haven’t even seen the best part.”

Christine followed as Nicki crossed over the second set of tracks and headed down the slope on the opposite side, which was considerably less steep than the other had been. At the bottom the path expanded out into a field with a little park at the opposite end that had recently been refurbished with new playground equipment.

Christine started off toward the park, but Nicki stopped her.

“No, it’s over here.” Nicki said, pointing at the underside of the trestle.

They carefully navigated down a winding muddy path and then clambered up onto the concrete embankment at the base of the bridge. Across from them was a mirror image of their side with a slow-moving creek running through the middle of it.

Nicki pointed to a pair of large concrete arches off to the left. “When it’s summer sometimes the water gets low enough to explore the storm drains.”

“Aren’t there rats in those?”

“Biggest ones I’ve ever seen; I’m talking chihuahua sized. But they generally don’t want anything to do with people. The real danger is if they release the water stored up after a heavy rain. Good way to get yourself drowned.”

“How do you know so much about this place?”

“Been coming here a long time. We changed apartments so often when I was young that I liked having something that didn’t move around. It’s also really fucking cool.”

“Yeah.” Christine said, admiring the graffiti that adorned the walls, particularly the unicorn sporting an uzi shooting a rainbow from its barrel.

“I wasn’t stalking you.” Christine said after they’d been sitting quietly for a while, feet dangling out over the water.

“And for the record, I was also not stalking you, despite your earlier accusation.”

“I did notice you; I mean, you’re pretty noticeable.’

“So why didn’t you come talk to me?”

“I dunno, guess I didn’t wanna be weird about it.”

“Dude, you’re kinda weird, even before the whole demon voices thing. Not many girls go from capris and boy bands to ripped jeans and Megadeth.”

Christine looked down at her reflection in the water.

“You can’t tell me that you actually miss the mall drones and dealing with dipshit guys who assume you don’t have a brain in your head?”

“I mean the mall does have a Cinnabon and a Doc Martens store, so it isn’t all bad.”

“They should combine that into one place and call it Boots & Buns.”

Christine laughed. “It wasn’t like I woke up one morning completely changed. I’m not even sure I realized at the time when things began to feel different. That’s been the hardest part about Beth and Karen. Maybe I am the one who drifted away, but I didn’t do it to hurt them, it just happened. Not that any of it matters much now.”

“Yeah, that was harsh. I’ve never seen someone go all cosplay just to be cruel.”

“I know things ended badly at the party, but what happened at school was just…we used to be so close….”

“At least you tried to fix it. She’s the one who acted like an asshole.”

“Guess so.” Christine said and shrugged.

“I hate to add to your already craptastic day, but I have to show you a message.”


Christine sat on the edge of her bed trying to wrangle all of the thoughts darting around inside her skull.

She’d never ditched school before; never even skipped a class unless she was sick.

They came back halfway through the day, drifting in with some seniors returning from off-campus lunch, but the attendance office would still be calling about the periods she missed. Christine had what she thought was a believable story about feeling woozy and going to one of the practice rooms in the band area to sit and rest because she was afraid she might faint before reaching the nurse’s office. It wasn’t a great lie, but she figured her attendance record up to that point and general status as a “good kid” was probably enough to sell it to the school. Deceiving her parents was trickier, but she’d developed a decent poker face since the demon entered her life.

“The same demon who’s now harassing my friend.”

She still wasn’t sure how much Nicki believed, but Christine was grateful for an ally and conflicted about dragging her into things.

“It’s rather unfair to disparage me simply for doing my job.”

Christine didn’t startle this time, but the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.

“Why are you messing with my friend?”

“Seems to me you’ve got things backward. I merely issued a warning about not interfering in my business, which wouldn’t have been necessary if you’d kept your end of our agreement.”

“I never asked you to write that paper, much less turn it in to my teacher. Never meant to summon you in the first place.”

“But you did summon me, and you also asked for something.”

“That’s such bullshit; I was just saying anything to get you to go away.”

“You specifically used the words ‘I wish’, not that it’s important since I’ve already explained that I’m not some degenerate djinn.”

“You know that wasn’t what I meant.”

“I’m not here to argue semantics or intent. All I want is what I’m owed.”

“You haven’t even told me what that is?”

“I’d assumed it was obvious.”

“Lemme guess, my immortal soul?”

“Not the whole thing, just a tiny sliver. I could give you ten thousand term papers and you’d still have most of it left. Hell, I once got a guy with a 1.9 GPA all the way through grad school and he’s still got more soul intact than the average CEO.”

“Does it hurt…having your soul removed?”

“Can’t say that I know, seeing as I’ve never had one, but from what I understand the extraction process is relatively brief and eminently survivable.”

“Not sure that’s a ringing endorsement.”

“Perhaps not but think of this. You’ve got dreams, the kind big enough to be barely more than fantasies to the average person.”

“Do you just hang around all day eavesdropping on my thoughts?”

“I can assure you that our interactions are limited solely to matters pertinent to our conducting business; anything more than that would be impractical in my line of work, not to mention hideously boring.”

“Then how do you know?”

“Because dullards don’t summon demons.”

“Even if you’re right, that doesn’t mean it’s worth the price.”

“All I’m asking for is a fragment of something most folks don’t even realize they have.”

Christine imagined being behind her kit on an arena stage before she had a chance to banish it from her head.

“Just think about what I’ve said. You only get one go-around and we could do a lot of interesting things with it. Why spend your days pining over what might’ve been when you could live it instead?”


“Are you gonna get those, or….”

Beth turned to Karen with a bewildered expression as if she’d just asked her why her feet were on fire. “What?”

“The pants you’ve been looking at for the past ten minutes, you buying them?”

She was still holding onto the label stitched on the back but wasn’t sure how long she’d been staring at it. “Ew, no, the legs have a weird taper.” Beth had no idea if this was actually true and was relieved when Karen shrugged and headed toward the store entrance.

Everything after they’d arrived at the mall was a blur and the harder Beth tried to remember the fuzzier it all became.

“You got things off to a good start, but she needs to be more vulnerable and desperate.”

Beth closed her eyes and massaged her temples with her fingertips. “Not real…you are not real.” she whispered.

“Are you feeling okay?” Karen said.

“Yeah, think my brain is just hangry at me.”

“Let’s hit the food court then.”

Beth nodded and followed along behind Karen, being sure to keep a bit of distance between them.

“Seems to me you’ve still got a lot of unresolved anger that could use an outlet. And if you do this for me maybe I can do something to return the favor, but I’m going to require your full cooperation.”

“Stay out of my head!” Beth hissed.

Karen glanced back over her shoulder at Beth who coughed hoping to cover it up.

Beth waited until Karen had taken her food and gone to look for a table, pretending to peruse the menu as if she hadn’t memorized it ages ago. “Could I have a number four with a Dr. Pepper?”

The boy behind the counter nodded and smiled at Beth as he punched some keys on the register. “That’ll be ten eighty-five please.”

Beth grabbed her wallet out of her purse and pulled out a twenty. She started to hand the bill to the boy when all at once she couldn’t move.

He looked at her quizzically as Beth stood there frozen in place, unable to so much as blink. She could feel sweat bead on her forehead and then slowly make its way down into her open eyes, stinging them.

“I can make this last for as long as I like, seconds, minutes, hours. My offer still stands, and I’d urge you to take it. Let. Me. In.”


“Hey, I just remembered I have to meet my mom for something.”

Karen stopped eating her bourbon chicken and looked up at Beth. “Right now?”

“Yeah, I’m actually running late, so you’re gonna need to find your own way home.” Beth said and was up and out of her seat before Karen had a chance to reply.

By the time she realized Beth wasn’t playing some bizarre prank, Karen was running after her, darting past people to keep sight of Beth who had just turned down a corridor to her left. She broke into an all-out sprint and clasped a hand on Beth’s shoulder just before she’d reached the exit.

“What the hell, Beth?!” Karen said between gasping breaths.

Beth shrugged off Karen’s hand and then turned to face her. “Was there something unclear about our last conversation?”

“You mean apart from all of it? And since when do you do shit with your mom on a Saturday?”

“That’s really none of your business. Why don’t you run along now and wait for the bus.”

“The next bus that goes anywhere near my house won’t be here for at least two hours, not that you’d know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh please, like you’ve ever taken public transportation anywhere.”

“You should watch your tone.”

“My tone?”

“Yes, or I might have to do something about that attitude.”

“Beth, the only thing I’m more certain about than you never having been on a bus, is that you’ve never been in a fight, which makes one of us.”

Karen wasn’t certain when her fingers had curled into fists, but she could feel her nails digging into the palms of her hands.

Beth approached her slowly, almost timidly, and then in one swift motion backhanded Karen across the right side of her face. Karen stumbled to the side a few steps and held her hand up to her stinging cheek.

“Should’ve minded your manners.” Beth said with a smirk before turning and heading off toward the parking lot.


Karen leaned her back against the brick wall that served as a transition between the bookstore and a shop that was currently vacant but had been a hair salon, or maybe it was a nail place, she couldn’t quite remember. She was staring at the glass doors of entrance seven and the rows of cars beyond it, her gaze focused on the spot where Beth had vanished from view.

They’d had fights before, but it was always just the usual bickering and petty bullshit. If anything, she and Beth had grown closer after Christine was gone. The dynamic shifted and suddenly Karen didn’t feel like a third wheel anymore. Even in their worst arguments there had never been a moment where they’d ever come close to anything physical. Karen recalled a conversation where she’d joked about smacking the crap out of her and Beth had feigned shock and pretended to swoon calling Karen a beast in her best southern damsel drawl.

She remembered how they’d both fallen into a laughing fit after that and smiled, which made her wince in pain.

The entire event felt surreal, like some kind of waking nightmare.

Karen reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. She thought about using one of the rideshare apps but wasn’t sure she had enough to get home. Instead, she tapped on her contacts and scrolled until she found Christine in the list.

“Hey Karen.”

“I’m stranded at Stratford Mall. Can you come and get me?”


Christine managed to convince her mom that she needed a book for an assignment due on Monday because she’d accidentally lost her copy. It was the second time she’d lied to her mother that week, and the compounded deceptions were turning her stomach into a knotted mess.

After they’d purchased the paperback, Karen pretended to coincidentally run into them as they were leaving the store; all she had to do was casually mention that she was waiting for the bus and Christine’s mom insisted they drive her home. Karen hadn’t told Christine anything about how she’d gotten marooned at the mall, thinking it best not to complicate an already strange situation, but when they stopped to drop her off, she turned to Christine. “Call me as soon as you get home.”


“She hit you? Beth?”

“Why do you think I had my hood up on my sweatshirt?”

“Yeah, my mom was asking about that after you left, wondering if you’d developed some kind of medical condition. I told her she was being paranoid.”

“Thank Christ for that; the last thing I need is our moms talking to each other about this. It’s gonna be hard enough explaining my face to my folks as it is.”

“I’ve never even seen Beth swat a mosquito.”

“Didn’t stop her from going all Iceberg Slim on me.”

“Surprised it wasn’t me.”

“Yeah, seriously.”

“Great, something to look forward to.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just heard about what happened at school.”

“I was trying to apologize, but nothing I said made any difference. And it wasn’t the same as our argument at the party. She didn’t seem upset or even angry, just mean.”

“The Beth who bailed and then bitch slapped me sounded like a headmaster in one of those evil boarding school movies.”

Christine paused at this. “Kinda like Oscar Wilde giving you a lecture?”

Karen laughed. “Yeah, sort of.”

“Oh god.”


“I think it went after Beth.”


Christine sat behind her drum kit and stared at the tom to her left, admiring the whorl of the grain that gradually became more visible as the color transitioned from purple to the natural hue of the wood.

This was the place she felt most at peace. No matter what was going on in her life or the world around her, this configuration of circles always made sense. She wanted to play something, play anything that would bring that happy mix of endorphins and dopamine to wash away the torrent storming inside her head, if only for a little while. Every time she scrolled through the songs in her playlist trying to pick one, or attempted some unaccompanied beats and fills by herself, it all felt wrong. She unplugged the cord of the bulky hearing-protection headphones from the jack in her phone and started to pull them off but then stopped.

Christine grabbed the sticks resting on her snare and started playing, slowly and softly at first, but increasing the tempo and force with each repetition of the pattern. She kept going until the muscles in her forearms ached and sweat saturated the back of her shirt.

“And here I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

This time the words seemed to be coming from the speakers in her headphones and the amplified effect on the voice was almost comical, like having a gameshow host living inside her skull.

“Does this unexpected invitation mean you have an answer about my offer?”

“What did you do to my friend?”

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s improper to answer a question with a question?”

“That’s cute, but how about you cut the shit and tell me what you did to Beth.”

“We’ve had a few interactions after you were kind enough to introduce us. She’s got some rather strong feelings about you; makes my job easy.”

“Why not just come after me directly; why drag Beth into this?”

“There’s a transactional relationship between the summoner and the summoned. You currently owe me for services rendered, which allows me a certain amount of leeway when it comes to collection, but I can’t simply extract the payment from you by force.”

“So instead you possess one of my friends and use her to torment me.”

“I’m not the one who welched on my end of the bargain.”

“You tricked me and twisted my words around.”

“Let’s not do this again, it’s all so dreadfully tiresome and tedious.”

“Fuck off, you foppish asshole.”

“Not exactly a genteel retort, but I admire the spirit.”

“Leave my friend alone!”

“Pay up and you won’t hear another peep from me. At least until you want something else that is.”

There was a mechanical rumbling below her and Christine looked out her bedroom window to see her parents pulling into the garage.


“We can continue this when you’ve come to a decision.”

“Stay the hell away from Beth.”

“That’s entirely up to you.”


School had only let out twenty minutes ago, but most of the kids were already gone with a few stragglers wandering by every so often as Christine waited on a bench outside the rear doors thinking about what to say.

She saw Nicki wave in acknowledgement as she approached from one of the side entrances along the building.

“Surprised you didn’t want to meet in the library.” Nicki said.

“Already looked up pretty much everything they had when I was working on my paper. Same with the library downtown.”

“The one in Meadowbrook is twice the size of ours.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

“How are you holding up?”

Christine shrugged.

“Who’s ready to wage battle with a demon?” Karen bellowed as she exited and walked toward them.

Christine glanced around for anyone nearby who might have overheard and then laughed despite herself. “Guess I can scrap the speech about why I asked you here.”

“I’ve seen some pretty outrageous shit.” Nicki said. “But summoning a demon with a drum solo has got to be the most punk/metal thing I’ve ever encountered.”

“Yeah, apparently I’m a literal hellraiser. Not sure where in the family tree that came from.” Christine said.

“And to think I knew her when the most hardcore thing she’d ever done was sneak out to the park after dark to smoke.” Karen said.

“That was totally your idea.” Christine said.

“Not to mention my dad’s Marlboros.”

“Aw man, you’ve been holding out on me; pretending not to be a delinquent this whole time.” Nicki said and the three of them burst out laughing.

Christine’s laughter trailed off and she cleared her throat. “…I’m sorry for getting you both mixed up in this…and for what happened to Beth.”

“I can’t pretend like I understand what’s happening.” Karen said. “But this isn’t your fault.”

“It only went after Beth because of me. It’s using her to get what it wants.”

“Which is what?” Nicki said.

“…a piece of my soul….”

“Fuck that.” Karen said. “You’re not giving that asshole a goddamn thing.”

“Damn straight.” Nicki said and put a hand on Christine’s shoulder. “No way I’m losing the only decent drummer in this town to a demon.”

Christine gave Nicki a crooked smirk. “Decent?”

“Just seeing if I could still startle you.” Nicki said, grinning back. “Now let’s figure out how to kick this thing’s ass.”


Christine, Nicki, and Karen boarded a bus headed for Meadowbrook strategizing along the way how to best split up the research.

“I know you’ve already looked online, but I’d like to dig through things and see what else I can come up with.” Karen said.

Christine nodded and turned to Nicki. “I thought I could check for any additional percussion history and ritual info while you go through their demon and possession stuff.”

“You’re on drums, I’m on diablo, got it.”

“Alright then.” Christine said as the bus pulled in front of the library and the three of them headed up the wide rows of cement steps.


Two hours into searching Christine had found a few books detailing alternative medicine and healing practices that employed music as part of the process as well as one volume that discussed ceremonial drumming and its use alongside psychoactive plants to induce trance states, but mostly it was the same information she’d found before. None of it mentioned any kind of summoning and Christine wondered if mainstream religions like Catholicism that acknowledged the existence of possession and exorcism, didn’t want to be associated with what they considered aberrant spirituality.

There was a book that discussed a practice in Haiti where a dancer in the center of a circle would be “consumed by the spirit” during the apex of the music, similar to Baptist revivals where parishioners were sometimes struck by God’s touch and went into convulsions or started speaking in tongues.

Christine sighed and rubbed her eyes.

She felt her phone buzz and saw a reply from Karen on their group text. “Think I got something. Meet me in the computer lab on floor three.”

When Christine got there Nicki was already standing next to Karen staring at the screen.

Karen clicked the play button on a video. “This is that band where you first heard the rhythm, right?”

“Yeah, that’s them.” Christine said.

“Turns out they broke up a few days later and this was their last performance.” Karen said. “A couple months after that the drummer posted a video on his personal site apologizing.”

“Apologizing for what?” Christine said.

“Watch.” Karen said and clicked on a video in another browser tab.

On screen was a twenty-something guy whose face appeared much older due to the dark circles under his eyes and waxy, sallow skin. His hair was blonde at the ends, the dark brown of his natural color having crept steadily back since the last dye job.

‘Dennis and Mikey are dead and it’s because of me. I can only beg forgiveness from their loved ones, both for what I did, and for not coming forward sooner. You have to believe that I never intended any of this to happen. That probably doesn’t mean much now, but I wanted you to know. I promise that no one else will be hurt by my actions. I’ll make sure of it.’

A third tab contained a brief news report about the apparent suicide of the drummer, whose name was Paul Gibbard. His body was discovered by his brother on the same day the video was posted.

Christine slowly backed away from the computer.

“That’s just great.” Christine said in a choked whisper. “First you all die and then I kill myself.”

“I know it’s awful, but there might be something in his posts we can use.” Karen said.

“And if there isn’t?”

“Why don’t you guys go and get some air.” Karen said. “I’m gonna see what else I can find.”

Nicki nodded and slowly guided Christine toward the lab’s entrance.

As they left, Nicki glanced back at Karen and exchanged a concerned look that she hoped Christine didn’t notice.


Nicki sat with Christine in a small brick alcove that housed bike racks and a pair of busted drinking fountains.

“How the hell did my life turn into this?” Christine said with an exasperated chuckle at the unintentional pun.

“Wish I could tell you, or at least had something better to say about it.”

“Maybe I should just take myself out. Put an end to this before Beth gets hurt or it goes after you and Karen.” Christine said, kicking at a stone and watching it skitter across the concrete.

“Don’t you ever say anything like that again.”

“I’m sorry, I just—” Christine glanced over and saw tears welling up in Nicki’s eyes.

Nicki shifted onto her side so that her back was to Christine. “Remember when I told you my brother lived in Seattle?”


“Well I hadn’t gotten anything from him in a while, so about eight months back I had my mom call the police down there and they did a wellness check at his last known address. …they found him in an abandoned house. Cops said it was likely an overdose because the place was a squat for junkies, but Mitch didn’t do that shit. His last letter to me he talked about being tired of gray skies and maybe moving somewhere sunny.”

“…god…Nicki…I’m…I’m so sorry.”

“Mitch always got me. Even after he left, it was still nice knowing there was someone out there who understood.” Nicki said and turned to face Christine. “I don’t have a lot of people like that in my life, ya know?”

Christine nodded.

“We’ll figure a way out of this. I don’t know how, but we will. Just promise me you won’t talk or think like that anymore.”

“…I promise….”

Nicki let out a long shuddering breath and wiped at the corners of her eyes. “Christ, I really wish I smoked right now.”


“I’ve been looking through Paul’s old blog entries and there’s one from a few weeks before his final post that has another video.” Karen said.

Above the video window was a single sentence. “I’ve finally figured out a way in.”

Karen pressed the play button and an image of Paul filled the screen. The boy’s face was still haggard, but there was a light in his eyes that hadn’t been present before as he sat on the edge of his bed with a practice pad resting on his lap. He grabbed a pair of drumsticks from somewhere offscreen and began playing a rhythm on the rubber-matted surface of the circle.

At first Christine thought it was the same pattern as before, but something seemed off about it, and that’s when she realized it was actually the inverse of the other rhythm.

She reached over Karen’s shoulder and closed the browser window.

“Do you know what that was?” Karen said.

“Pretty sure, and if he’s right, then I didn’t want a portal to hell opening in the middle of the library.” Christine said.

“Assuming Paul was able to open this portal, whatever he did after must not have worked.” Karen said.

“Is there anywhere else he mentions it?” Nicki said.

“There are a few more posts between this and the last, but it’s all ordinary stuff like talking about the band potentially getting back together.”

“…it tricked him….” Christine said.

“What?” Nicki said.

“This creature, the way that it talks, always saying things in a certain way that distorts the actual meaning. It must’ve somehow convinced Paul that he’d beaten it.”

“So then what do we do after we find this thing?” Karen said.

Christine thought about it for a moment.

“Figure out a way to fool it back.”


The phone call had been brief, and Christine wasn’t entirely sure she was actually speaking to Beth, but the voice on the other end agreed to come to her house.

Her parents were gone all day at an outdoor music festival, “recapturing their misspent youth”, and Christine had spent the afternoon with Nicki and Karen formulating a plan and preparing as best they could.

“As soon as Beth steps into the bedroom we’ll grab her and you start playing.” Nicki said.

“What if it’s just Beth? What if the demon isn’t with her?” Christine said.

“That thing at the mall didn’t seem like it had any intention of leaving.” Karen said.

“Besides.” Nicki said, “even if it isn’t actively possessing her when she gets here, it’ll come running once it realizes what we’re up to.”

“Assuming it works.” Christine said.

“Only one way to find out.” Karen said.

Christine nodded and wiped the sweat from her palms onto the front of her jeans. She’d moved the snare drum and stand from behind her kit and had it sitting off to the side next to her desk.

The doorbell rang. All three of them flinched in unison.

“Showtime.” Christine said and headed downstairs.

When she opened the front door, Beth was leaning against one of the awning posts in the kind of effortlessly casual pose that Christine associated with magazine ads.

“Hey girl, what’s shakin’?” Beth said.

“Not much, just hanging out.”

“You gonna invite me in?”

“Yeah, of course, come in.”

Beth stood up and crossed through the entrance in long, graceful strides that almost resembled a dance move. Christine smiled at this as she closed the door. Beth had always displayed a flair for the theatrical and relished any chance she got to add a little pizzazz to an otherwise mundane moment.

“You okay there?” Beth said. “Look a little lost.”

“Sorry, spaced out for a second.”

“So what’s this little impromptu get together all about?”

“I wanted another chance to talk things over.”

“You invite your new best buddy to mediate?”

“Figured it’d be better if it was just us this time.”

“Talked to Karen recently?”

“Not since the party except to say hi in the hallway. I’ve got some manicure stuff in my room. Thought we could do our nails and then veg out in front of the TV downstairs. My parents left money for pizza.”

“Lead the way.” Beth said and followed as Christine ascended the stairs.

The door was open as Christine crossed from the hall into her room, making sure not to hesitate or glance back as she stepped inside.

Beth was standing in the doorway, her head cocked slightly. “Your room looks different. Did you paint it since last time—”

Before she had a chance to finish, Nicki and Karen sprung from behind the door, each of them grabbing Beth by an arm and forcing her onto the bed. Beth thrashed as they fought to control her while Christine took the rope her father used for tying down the camping tent and bound Beth’s legs together. Karen and Nicki sat Beth up and pinned her arms at her side while Christine looped another length of rope around her wrists. Once the knots were tight, the three of them stood back from the bed and stared at Beth.

“This is a truly pathetic display.” Beth said in a voice that didn’t sound like Beth at all.

Whatever mimicry the demon had been using was gone now, but it wasn’t the deep, erudite voice Christine had expected either. What came out was a harsh burbling rasp that sounded as if Beth had been swallowing brillo pads.

Christine walked over to the snare drum and swung it around in front of her.

“How marvelous, abduction and a show!” Beth croaked.

“Shut up.” Karen said.

“Still haven’t learned any manners I see.”

“If you weren’t in the body of my best friend, I’d beat the living shit out of you.” Karen said.

“Don’t remember you faring so well the last time.”

Karen started toward Beth, but Nicki grabbed her arm and glanced over at Christine who nodded and began to play.

1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—

“Seems someone’s learned a new trick. Alright then, let’s you and I finally have us a proper introduction.”

Christine suddenly stopped playing and her sticks fell to the floor. She began to sway on her feet and Karen and Nicki got there just in time to help her down into the desk chair.

“Christine? Christine, can you hear me?” Nicki said.

Christine’s eyes had rolled back exposing the whites as she lolled in the chair like a rag doll.

Beth slumped onto her side, her long, blonde hair covering most of her face except for the left corner of her mouth, which was curled up in a smile.


She had the physical sensation of standing on something solid, but when Christine looked down, there wasn’t anything beneath her. In fact, there wasn’t anything anywhere. Not like closing your eyes or being blindfolded where there’s an awareness of your vision being restricted, but as if the world had simply been erased from existence.

Christine watched as Beth emerged from the nothing. Standing across from her it was difficult to tell how far away she was without any other reference point.

“Not what you expected?”

The demon’s voice had reverted back to its former euphonious tone.

“The frog in your throat seems to have cleared up.”

“I apologize for that bit of vulgarity, but I must admit that you caught me off guard.”

“Is that what you actually sound like?”

“You mean as opposed to this, or ‘this’.” The demon said the last word in Beth’s voice.

“You don’t need her anymore. I’m here, whatever the hell this place is.”

“It isn’t actually Hell, and it isn’t Purgatory either. I suppose the closest thing would be your concept of Limbo, though even that isn’t accurate seeing as how you aren’t dead.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“You’re presuming she doesn’t want to be here.”

“I think that’s a pretty safe bet.”

“Is it? Don’t you think it’s odd that I didn’t select someone closer to you? A person with more ready access like one of your parents or that irksomely interfering playmate?”

“You already bragged about this bullshit. Beth and I got in a fight and that’s why you possessed her.”

“Again with that garish term. What I do is not akin to some puppeteer yanking around a mindless toy. It’s symbiosis. The individuals I interact with have to be receptive vessels.”

“You’re lying; Beth would never willingly let you do that to her.”

“Admittedly our arrangement has become a bit contentious as of late, but before that the door was wide open. Why do think I’ve been able to stay for so long?”

“I don’t believe you.”

“The sheer depth of sorrow and betrayal that you brought out in that girl was breathtaking. I have to say that I’m really quite impressed with your ability to inflict misery.”

“…I’ll give you what you want…just let her go.”

“Afraid we can’t just rely on a verbal agreement. It’s going to require something a bit more substantive.”

“Release Beth and swear to leave her and the others alone, and I’ll do whatever’s necessary.”

“Very well.”

The reverberating thrumming from her dream filled Christine’s head and she grimaced in pain and dropped to her knees. Eventually the sound subsided and when she glanced up Beth was blinking and looking around.

“Christine?” Beth said and started walking toward her.

By the time Christine managed to stand up Beth had closed the gap between them.

“I don’t understand?” Beth said. “How are you in my nightmare?”

“It isn’t just yours.” Christine said, still feeling the creature’s lingering presence.

“Well I hope we wake up soon.” Beth said, blinking again as if trying to clear an afterimage from her eyes. “I don’t like this place.”

“Me neither.”

Christine put her hand on Beth’s shoulder. “I’m really sorry that I messed things up between us. I never meant to neglect you or abandon our friendship, and I should’ve been honest and talked things out instead of running away. You and Karen are my oldest friends and I love you; nothing will ever change that. Tell Karen for me when you see her.”

Beth looked at Christine bewildered. “Why don’t you tell her after you wake up?”

“…just in case….” Christine said as a tear traced down her cheek and vanished into the void below.

Beth grabbed onto Christine’s free hand and gave it a squeeze. Christine squeezed back and managed a small smile.

“You should go.” Christine said.

“What about you?”

“Not my time to stop dreaming just yet.”

Beth looked bemused but nodded and turned, walking back in the direction she’d appeared from.

Christine watched as her form slowly receded, becoming smaller and smaller until it completely slipped away from view.

“So what happens now? Do I prick my finger and sign in my own blood?”

“Oh no, it’s far more unpleasant than that.”


It wasn’t falling, but the feeling of being on the precipice, that moment when your whole body becomes aware of the imminent plummet and the certainty that nothing can be done to prevent it. Adrenaline coursed through Christine, her muscles reflexively tensing over and over as she relived the terrifying sensation in an endless loop.

Worse still were the scenes being injected into her head.

Her mother lying battered and broken on the living room carpet while Christine’s father crouched next to her holding a sledgehammer.

Her father strapped down to their kitchen table while Christine’s mother took a pot of boiling water from the stove and slowly poured it over him.

Nicki cradling her guitar as blood spilled down the fretboard and strings from the stumps of her severed fingers strewn about on the ground beside her.

Karen with her arms and legs bound trapped in the back of a garbage truck as the compactor crushed her body into a formless pulp.

Beth sitting in a bathtub, both wrists slashed with a razor resting in the soap dish; spelled out on the white tile wall behind her in crimson lettering the words, “Why Christine?”

“…stop….” Christine gasped. “…please…stop….”

But it didn’t.

The barrage of visual horrors and physical ills continued until Christine prayed that she would pass out, longing for the sweet relief of unconsciousness.

Time lost all conception as centuries seemed to slip past in her ceaseless suffering.

“This can all end.” the familiar voice whispered from somewhere out in the nothing. “I just need you to respond with your entire being that you pledge your soul in service to our dark lord.”

Christine tried to speak but what came out was a series of retching coughs.

“Why must I constantly repeat myself. You can’t simply say some words or sign a contract. It needs to be an act of sacrificial will.”


“Sweet Lucifer’s carbuncles, fine!”

That feeling of teetering on the edge of oblivion abated and the awful images faded away as Christine took a moment to recover herself.

“Did you really release Beth?”

“Despite your numerous aspersions about my character, I’m a creature of my word.”

“You think Paul Gibbard would agree with that?”

“He had the same opportunity to choose his fate that you do.”

“I couldn’t figure it out at first; why he needed the second rhythm to reach you. Why not just use the original pattern? But then it occurred to me. I might have been the one to summon you, but it was still your door that I opened. This one though; this doorway is mine.”

“Yes, yes, you’re very clever, but it doesn’t change a thing.”

“Paul figured it out too.”

“That he did, but what poor Mister Gibbard failed to realize, and yourself as well I’m afraid, is that once you’re here, there’s no way back except through me.”

“Well now, that isn’t entirely true.”

“Oh really? Pray tell, how do you propose to leave?”

“Just press play.”


Christine was staring up at her bedroom ceiling with three faces gazing back down at her.

“Did it work?” Christine said in a muzzy voice.

“You tell us?” Nicki said. “How do you feel?”

She straightened up in her desk chair and closed her eyes in concentration. There was a mild throb at the back of her head like someone gently pressing on the base of her skull. Christine focused on that area, visualizing a gray matter landscape with a tiny figure banging its miniature fists on the spot just above her cerebellum.

As if aware of her probing, the figure suddenly stopped its pounding and she heard it shout something, but the voice was too faint and far away to hear.

“I think we’ve got it trapped.” Christine said, expecting a collective sigh of relief, but instead seeing looks of concern. “How long was I out?”

“Only a few minutes. We played the recording as soon as Beth came to.” Nicki said.

“Shit, seriously? Felt like an eternity.”

“This is just a temporary solution, right?” Beth said. “Trust me when I say you don’t want that thing taking up permanent residence in your head.”

“It was the only way to make sure it couldn’t come back after you.” Christine said. “Sooner or later it’s gonna get sick of being stuck in there and then I’ll force it to negate our agreement.”

“You can’t bargain with it.” Beth said. “It’s a goddamn demon.”

“She’s right.” Karen said.

“Okay, everyone take a breath.” Nicki said. “Playing Christine’s rhythm and closing the door was the first step. Next thing we need is a contingency plan if the little fucker won’t play ball.”

Christine stood on shaky legs and turned to Beth. “I know you’re scared; I am too, but we’ll figure this out.”

“I’m just sorry you had to do it.”

“Pretty sure I’m the one who owes you the apology for getting you possessed in the first place.”

“Yeah, well, what are friends for?”

“This has to be the most fucked up reunion of all time.” Karen said.

“Agreed.” Christine said and tried to laugh but it came out as a mirthless chuckle.

“You sure you’re feeling alright?” Nicki said.

Christine nodded, but somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind she could hear that distant voice growing louder. It was still impossible to make out the words, but the tone of the message was clear.

The creature inside of her was furious.


“Can you see if they’ve got gaffer tape? The cable for the bass drum mic is all over the place.”

Karen gave Christine a thumbs up and stepped off stage, heading for one of the club’s black-shirted employees.

“Everything good?” Nicki said as she tuned the low E string on her guitar.

“Just need to secure this so you don’t trip over it during the show.”

“Good plan, what with my legendary stage presence and all.”

“Hey, I’m just trying to make sure they invite us back instead of worrying about a lawsuit, since this is one of the few places we can legally play that isn’t a gymnasium or a bingo parlor.”

“And that’s why you’re in charge of booking gigs. Always thinking of the big picture.”

“Damn straight, I—” Christine suddenly squeezed her eyes shut and grabbed the sides of her head.


“…I’m okay…little bastard just did that vibration thing again.”

“We should cancel.”

Christine shook her head. “No, it’s passing.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, just caught me by surprise.”

“What’s fuck-face’s latest diatribe?”

“Last night as I was falling asleep, he called me “A bag of rancid decaying flesh’ or something like that.”

“Stupid prick.”

“It didn’t last long. Those white noise headphones you got me really help.”

“Good. Oh hey, Karen said that Beth ran across something promising; a Tibetan cleansing ritual.”

Christine gave a little half smile.

Nicki put a hand on her shoulder. “We’re gonna beat this thing.”

“…I know….”

“You’re positive you still want to go on?”

“I always feel better after the pattern.”

“Alright, but if you need to bail, just give me the signal.”

Christine wiggled her eyebrows up and down three times. Nicki smiled and went over to check her pedals just as Karen came back with the tape.

“I can take care of it.” Karen said, extending a hand to help Christine up.

“Thanks Kar.” Christine said and carefully navigated her way back behind the house drums. She’d brought her throne and bass drum pedal from home, but still wished the rest of her kit was there.

“All set.” Karen said before hopping off the front of the stage to join Beth who was standing with the rest of the small crowd that had gathered.

Nicki checked to make sure Christine was ready and then headed over to the mic stand at the center of the stage.

“Thank you all for coming out to see us!” Nicki said to a smattering of applause and boisterous shouts from Beth and Karen.

“We are Hex Beat!”

A few more claps came from the assembled.

“Those of you who’ve seen us before know that we like to do a little instrumental invocation to kick things off, courtesy of our own Christine.” Nicki said and turned with a flourish of her arm.

Christine positioned her sticks over the center of the snare and began to play.

1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—1e 2+a 3e+ 4a—


Peter first fell into fiction penning stories to amuse his grammar-school classmates, which helped him overcome his shyness, but resulted in very few completed homework assignments.

He is an avid fan of horror movies, especially those with a sense of humor, food served from carts and roadside shacks, and the music of The Ramones, The Replacements, and other bands of like-minded misfits who found a way to connect with the world through their music and their words.

He was raised and currently resides in the Chicagoland suburbs with his wife and cats and his writing has appeared in various online and print publications. You can find out more about Peter and his writing at:


bottom of page