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Horror and Scary Story - The Session


Paranormal Novice
The thought fluttered through her head, borne on a torrent of notes, as her mind drifted, her fingers left on autopilot. Her bow hopped and dragged across the fiddle’s strings, coaxing drones and triplets from the instrument; the fingers of her left hand flickered, fast as lightning, in rolls, cuts and trills. Beside her, Ciarán threw his head back and laughed, not out of malice or amusement, but simply from the sheer joy of playing; the local musicians smiled and nodded at him even as they played, racing through the second part and suddenly the tune ended. Shauna was caught on the hop; she was left playing on her own, frantically trying to find the keynote there.

She dragged it out into a suitable finish, double stopping it for effect, and smiled shyly to gales of applause. Ciarán compressed his concertina; she rested her fiddle on her knee and sipped her water. The pub’s owner set a platter of sandwiches on the table in front of her.

Oh you shouldn’t have.” she said, cursing her accent as ever.

It’s all right, dear, we always do this when we have trad sessions.” the owner assured her in a thick Cork brogue. “Eat up quick, before that greedy lot get it.” Sure enough, the local musicians had dropped their flutes, fiddles and accordions and were ravaging the unfortunate sandwiches. “Ireland has the world’s highest sandwich mortality rate,” Ciarán used to joke about the Irish love affair with sandwiches. Luckily for the locals, at one in the morning, Shauna hadn’t much of an appetite.

Shauna!” She turned her head. “Shauna!” Ciarán whispered. “Let’s play Punch, while they’re eating their sandwiches!............

“It’s all right, dear, we always do this when we have trad sessions.” the owner assured her in a thick Cork brogue. “Eat up quick, before that greedy lot get it.” Sure enough, the local musicians had dropped their flutes, fiddles and accordions and were ravaging the unfortunate sandwiches. “Ireland has the world’s highest sandwich mortality rate,” Ciarán used to joke about the Irish love affair with sandwiches. Luckily for the locals, at one in the morning, Shauna hadn’t much of an appetite.
“Shauna!” She turned her head. “Shauna!” Ciarán whispered. “Let’s play Punch, while they’re eating their sandwiches!”
“Yes, let’s!” she laughed. That was what she liked about Ciarán; he loved the music almost as much as she did. That, and he always had time for the foreign musician.
The pub grew silent as her fiddle and Ciarán’s concertina launched into Cooley’s Reel. One by one, the local musicians dropped their sandwiches, wiped their fingers, and joined in. It was a poor choice to start on, really, was Cooley’s Reel; it was too well-known. She stuck to it, though her consciousness fading into the music. Only when she was playing did Shauna really feel at ease; most of the time she was caught between two worlds.
Ciarán dropped into the next tune with ease, a gorgeous reel in A major that Shauna never could remember the name of. She missed the first low A and grimaced involuntarily, but Ciarán winked at her and kept on playing. Ciarán definitely didn’t phase out while he was playing.
Around the tune went, and its time approached. She wet her lips, her pulse raced and Aah! yes. Punch in the Dark, her favourite tune. The sound of her fiddle wove gracefully into its syncopated rhythm, mixing with Ciarán’s concertina to create a piece of music of unsurpassed loveliness. The local musicians dropped their instruments and just listened.
That’s all there was to say. She finished on an up-bow, smiling broadly, and the pub erupted in clapping and cat-calls.
“You play very well.” someone whispered into her ear.
It’s difficult to convey the level of fright engendered by such an innocuous statement when it is delivered so directly. Shauna nearly fell off of her seat, prompting Ciarán to yell “Mind yourself!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” the man smiled. “I’m Michael.” He held out his hand.
Shauna grasped it absently, entranced by his face. It was neither pretty nor hideous, but rather average, and topped by an average head of combed brown hair but…
“My God,” she stuttered, cursing her accent again, “you look just like Michael Coleman.”
“I am a distant relative,” he answered, in a Sligo accent which only heightened the resemblance. “I’m not nearly so talented, though.” She laughed haltingly.
“Do you need somewhere to stay tonight?” he asked, suddenly.
“Oh – yes, for two. Do you know somewhere?”
“My mother runs a bed-and-breakfast just outside town. Sure I’ll take you there.” He smiled winningly. He had very white teeth.
“Oh – okay, if that’s all right. Just let me tell Ciarán.” She turned, tapping her friend on the shoulder.
“What?” he shouted, over the pub’s noise.
“We need somewhere to stay tonight.”
“We’ll sort that out in the morning!” Shauna worked through this before eventually deciding it was an incidence of Irish humour.
“This man says he knows somewhere. I’ll call you when I find it.”
“Is he trustworthy?” But she was gone, vanished into the press of pubgoers. Ciarán craned his neck -and then thought, Sure what the hell. She could take care of herself.

* * *
Shauna clambered into the beaten-up old jalopy that served Michael as a car, her fiddle-case on her back – that was a bad idea, she thought, as the case’s end jammed into the small of her back. Michael got into the driver’s seat, turned the ignition, and eased out into the empty Irish road.
“Where are you from yourself?” he asked, as the light and laughter of the pub faded behind them.
“I was conceived in Dublin.” she answered, dropping her gaze.
“But you’re not Irish.”
“…No. I am German by birth. My father, when he heard the Dubliners, he was hooked on Irish music. He learned the fiddle – or he tried to, and he insisted that my mother learn the flute. She wouldn’t, and eventually, she left him. My brother and my sister gave up their instruments too. He and I came over here, and we tried to be Irish – we learned the language and all; but people would always ask us where we were from. I’m caught between worlds, I suppose.” She gave a start when she realised how much of her heart she had spilled out to this stranger. He chuckled, smiling as he did so. He really had very white teeth.
“I’m not so torn, myself. My dad, God rest his soul, he raised me to be a traditional musician.” He took a corner. The trees, black against the purple of the sky, were leafless and crabbed, like bent old men’s hands. Shauna shivered at the lightning-bolt-like realisation. “I got into music he didn’t like, though. Have you ever heard the music of Erich Zann?”
“I cannot say I have.”
“He’s German, actually, like yourself. He was active late in the nineteenth century, early in the twentieth… His music… well, his music is like no other. It stirs feelings, emotions… other things.”
“Is it classical?” she asked. Michael laughed. There was no mirth in it.
“The music of Erich Zann transcends – transcended – genres, Shauna. You might enjoy playing his music. You might enjoy it a lot, actually.”
“I don’t know.” Why am I so scared? That is so ridiculous, she thought to herself. But the gelid slug of fear that had chilled her spine refused to leave.
“He played the viol. I try to play his music, sometimes, but I play the flute. His music isn’t the same on the flute at all.” Michael turned the steering wheel. The battered old car careened into a shadowed driveway. A dirty B&B sign, stark white against the carbon-black Irish sky, swung soundlessly in the wind. “Would you play with me? Just the two of us.”
“I really don’t know…”
“What could happen? It’s only music.” Michael got out of the car, slammed the door. Shauna followed suit, getting her fiddle from the back with an increasing feeling of apprehension. Was this man mad, had he picked her up only to carve her or kill her like some psychopath? All he’s done, she thought, is talk about some dead musician from Germany.
His house – certainly for a B&B – was tiny, a little white-painted bungalow with two black windows and a slatted wooden door. It looked like some kind of twisted grey face in the darkness. Shauna closed her eyes, leaned on her fiddle case, and pinched the bridge of her nose. Stop it. Just stop it, Shauna.
“Mam? Mam, I have a guest for us.”
“Ah, do you, Michael? That’s grand. Business hasn’t been the same since your father passed away…” Shauna opened her eyes to see a little, bent old woman, grey as her sign, at the door of the B&B. She gave Shauna a sickly, rotten-toothed smile, and beckoned her inside.
Shauna didn’t want to go. But Shauna went.
The B&B was actually surprisingly clean, if pokey, on the inside. Michael pushed a stray hurl back into a coat stand and gave Shauna his white-toothed smile.
“Would you like a cup of tea before you go to bed?” She smiled back; her smile was sick and weak.
“I – I must call Ciarán. He will be worrying.”
“Grand. I’ll have your tea ready for you when you come back in.”
* * *
Ciarán swore and dropped his concertina – gently – as soon as he heard the phone in his pocket ring. He wended his way through the packed pub’s crowds, the vibrating machine in his hand, until he popped out the front, into the cool, quiet night.
“Shauna? Did you find somewhere?”
“Yes, I did. It’s a little B&B outside of town – clean but small.”
“Is that Michael fellow still with you?” Ciarán asked, sending a glance down the road Shauna and Michael had taken. Only the houses, windows glowing butter-yellow, greeted him.
“It’s his mother’s B&B.”
“For Christ’s sake…” Ciarán ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t like that man, Shauna. I wouldn’t spent a minute in his company, much less a night.”
“What could he possibly do?”
“Rob you, drug you, rape you, murder you…”
“Realistically, Ciarán. This is the twenty-first century. That kind of thing went out with the Bean family.”
“Gah! Do what you want, then. I’ll meet you in the morn – who’s that talking?”
“Shauna.” an unfamiliar voice, faint with distance, said from the phone. “Shauna, come here and play music with me.”
“Michael, I’m on the phone.”
“Won’t you play with me?”
“I’m on the phone – ”
She screamed. The line went dead.
* * *
Michael’s mother set a cup of tea down gently in front of the trembling German girl.
“I’m sorry if I frightened you.” Michael gave her that white-toothed smile again. This time, Shauna didn’t bother smiling back at all. “Let’s talk about the music of Erich Zann.”
“I don’t want to talk about the music of Erich Zann. I want to sleep.”
“Just a little longer. Do you remember I told you that the music of Erich Zann stirred things other than emotions?”
“I don’t want to listen – ”
“Best if you do, child.” Shauna looked around, past the wizened, bony hand resting comfortingly on her shoulder to the grey, wrinkled, fleshless face of Michael’s mother. “I didn’t want to listen either. All I wanted to do was sleep in the earth. But he made me listen. Don’t make him make you listen.” Shauna looked back at her host. He was giving her that creepy smile again.
“The music of Erich Zann echoes beyond the confines of our world, Shauna. Even from where he was, the gods and demons that live beyond the mortal realm heard his music and came to his shadowy room, on the Rue d’Auleil, to hear him play his unearthly melodies and weird harmonies. Erich Zann gave concerts to all the hordes of infinity.
“But he was constrained by his location. Paris is a place of humanity, where Zann lived, far removed from the darkness, a mortal place full of life and light and sound and vitality.
“We are in a very different place now.
“Ireland has always been on the edge of the world, on the edge of Europe and beyond the edge of the world lies the otherworld, where the Fomori and the De Danaan and all the other creatures of night lurk. The Romans with their legions and their roads and their decadence, they feared to come here, as did the Franks . Only the bravest of races could stomach coming to this dark place – the Vikings, the Normans, the English, and even then, they paid for every inch in blood.
“Where better, then, to play the music of the devil than on the edge of the otherworld?”
“You’re mad.” Shauna breathed.
“Yes.” he admitted, simply. That was probably the worst part – the way he simply admitted it, chilly and coldly. “Come with me.” He pushed open a door to reveal a flight of stone steps.
She followed him tamely. All the fight had gone out of her.
“Shortly after I first started playing the music of Erich Zann,” he said, as he descended the slimy steps, “we discovered these. I did my homework, I looked dating techniques up on the internet. They predate the Celts by at least two millenia and possibly up to five.”
Shauna said nothing. The steps ended: a stone-flagged room opened in front of her, shrouded in darkness.
Michael struck a match. The flickering flamelight gave his face a demonic look.
It shows his true face, Shauna thought.
“Behold.” he whispered, and dropped the match.
A brazier sprang to life. It lit the room, to some degree. On the opposite wall, in this room deep in the earth, was a window. Beyond it was blackness.
“He didn’t like my listening to the music of Erich Zann, my father.” Michael commented, looking at the thing in the centre of the room. “He didn’t like it at all. Do you know what his last words to me were? No, of course you don’t. His words were ‘give up that damn music’! Or something like that. So I dragged him down here and made him into that. Here.” Michael put something in front of her but Shauna was still looking at the thing in the centre of the room.
“Look!” he commanded, and she looked. It was a stand, she noted, a music-stand, with sheet-music on it – strange music, music she had never seen the like of before and hoped never to see the like of again.
“The music of Erich Zann.” he whispered.
“I guessed.” she answered. He smiled that damn smile again.
“The kitten has claws. Get out your violin.”
“It’s a fidd – ”
“It’s a violin if I say it is, Shauna. Understand?” She nodded once, miserably. He went to the thing in the centre of the room, jammed his arm elbow-deep into it and pulled out -
Shauna almost fainted. Michael had said he played the flute.
He’d made the flute out of a leg.
“Play, Shauna. Play so as the creatures of the otherworld can come and hear.” She closed her eyes, gulped. She thought a silent prayer, a plea for aid from whatever benevolent entity might rule the heaven.
When she opened her eyes, she began to play.
It was nothing like the pub had been and yet it was horribly, macabrely similar. The weird notes of the palaeologaean melody that the demented German musician had composed arched off into the shadowed blackness of the room, bouncing and reverberating and combining into a vicious, sickening canonical harmony even as she played. Horribly, the flute began to sound next to her. The bone made a poor material for a flute. As she played, her focus began to drift from the thing in the centre of the room to the window set, bizarrely, into this subterranean chamber and the blackness beyond it which, now, was not featureless, but rippled in time to the music, waves of purple and black-blue coursing through it as her bow arched and flowed through the scraping, demonic tune. Mesmerised, she watched the window – how am I still playing the tune if I can’t see the notes?? but the music had taken on a life of its own, commandeering her hands, willing itself to be played – as the darkness twisted, contracted, waved -
The brazier blew out.
Cén fádh ar eisíodh mé?” a night-dark voice roared. The music reached a new high.
“Hear me, lord of the dark!” the mad Irishman’s voice cried out shrilly. “I have summoned – ”
Cén teanga é seo?”
“I – I don’t understand – ”
“Shauna!” a voice shouted, a different voice – Ciarán’s voice. “Shauna! Where are you?”
Cé thú?
“Get out!” Michael roared hoarsely, his voice fringed with insanity. “You have defiled the ritual, fool! You fool!” There was a roar, a meaty thump, the sound of a struggle. Shauna may have screamed, she didn’t remember, memory isn’t good in that kind of blackness, but the music just went on and on and on, the damn music it wouldn’t stop – and there was a roar, an inhuman roar, and something hit Shauna, something scaly and cold and ancient and inhuman and terrifying, knocking her against the wall. Her fiddle hit the wall too, and smashed to flinders, but the damn music, it wouldn’t stop. Shauna could hear the shattered instrument still vibrating as it played itself, the mad German’s music coming out of it, and she could hear screams and roars and speaking in a language older then civilisation, and Ciarán shouting her name and Michael bellowing hoarsely about the ritual, you fool, the ritual, and something else, something in the darkness that was not of this world – and she tried to maintain consciousness but she hurt, oh how badly she hurt and she closed her eyes to sound of shouting and tearing.

Today, Shauna lives on her own in a flat in one of Berlin’s poorer quarters. She refuses to touch a fiddle or even listen to music, claiming that the memory of that night haunts her still. When the Irish police broke into the B&B, guided by some of the local musicians who Ciarán had asked for directions, they found little that could not be logically explained. The steps – apparently having appeared spontaneously under the bungalow some years before – were indeed older than Celtic civilisation, and led down to a chamber where the bodies of Michael and Ciarán were found, as well as Shauna’s cold but somehow still-living frame, who was cleared of blame as she did not possess the faculty to cause any of the disturbances observed in the chamber. The thing in the centre of the room was conclusively identified as the remains of Michael’s father, dismembered and rebuilt into some kind of grim shrine. There was also a window, faced with ancient glass, but it showed only earth and worms. When the police showed her some ways in which the phenomena she claims she observed could have been faked, she agreed that it was possible that this was an explanation. Yes, clever use of sound systems could have created the voice and the music, and any amount of props could have been used to knock her out of the way. Michael’s mother, who was found nowhere in the house – unsurprisingly, considering she was thirteen years dead – could have been the production of suggestion and hypnosis. Less probably, Ciarán, a healthy young man, could have spontaneously suffered a heart attack, though the expression of rigid fear he was wearing was less easy to explain. The marks on Michael’s face and torso could easily have been caused by Ciarán’s attacking him, and Shauna agrees this is the most likely explanation.
In fact, there is only one thing which is truly inexplicable, which neither Ciarán, Michael nor Shauna could have done.
Michael’s head wasn’t ripped off his shoulders by itself.