Music to the Ears

Dot Webster was down and out when it came to employment, so he had taken to doing odd jobs to buy his bread and coffee. He was hitchhiking down U.S. 99 towards Lodi because he had heard that a family was looking for a piano teacher.

He was someplace between Collierville and Acampo as the sun began to set. Webster saw a small orchard of disregarded trees and sought out a hollow in which to bunk down.

Along the way, he found a cluster of edible mushrooms stuffing the morsels in his jacket pocket. It wasn’t a steak dinner, but they would appease the hunger his stomach felt.

It was going to be another cold camp as he had no way of making fire. He had lost his flint and knife somewhere along the way, more certain they’d been stolen than lost.

After dining on his found food, Dot Webster pulled the remnants of his sleeping bag around himself and curled up. Though darkness settled, he found himself still awake.

While trying to get comfortable, he saw on a plateau across from him a strange ceremony forming. As close as he could tell, 26 figures chanted and moved in a counter-clockwise fashion around a large bond fire.

The words were unknown to Webster, yet musically hypnotic, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Silently, he watched and listened. To his amazement, he saw a Stygian shadow rise and a giant rock form into what he could only assume was an alter.

The ongoing chant and rhythmic dance soon had him feeling sleepy, and Webster found himself fighting to stay awake. It was a woman’s scream that aroused him.

It happened all too quickly for him to understand what he had witnessed. The entity had torn a pale figure in two.

Dot Webster closed his eyes in disbelief. He waited what he thought was less than half a minute before opening them again.

The sun was beginning to rise, and the plateau was now empty, save for several black stones set in a circle and a large rock in the center. He sat there studying the silence of the scene.

He had dreamed or hallucinated the nighttime events.

“It must have been the mushrooms.”

Awake, he made his way to the road and started walking south again. He had gone less than a mile when he saw a dilapidated house with a half-crumbled well beside it.

The roof was practically missing, and one wall stoved in, so Webster was sure no one lived there. Thirsty, he decided to see if the old well held any water.

A bucket lay on its side next to the well, still attached to a rope whose other end remained wrapped to a boom that stretched across the hole. Webster dropped the bucket into the darkness of the hole and listened.

A sickly plop came echoing up from the depth. Nearly dry, save for enough water to create a mud pit. He sighed and turned away, not bothering to raise the pail to the surface.

“Perhaps I can find something in the house,” he thought as he turned towards the building.

Webster peered in through the dirt-covered windows. To his delight, he saw a piano, and it drove his desire to play the moldering instrument.

The front door was not hard to push in, and the floor seemed sturdy enough as he walked over to the piano. He wiped a layer of dust from the bench tucked beneath the keys and sat down.

Flexing his fingers, still stiff from the morning chill, Dot Webster began to play from memory his favorite piece by Vivaldi, Spring. As he allowed his fingers to dance lightly over the out-of-tune keyboard, tears drifted down his face as he recalled his previous life as a music tutor.

Forty minutes later, Webster finished with a flourish, then stood and bowed to an audience not there. He sat back down on the bench, struggling to decide if he were happy or sad.

Sitting there, he looked out the filth-covered window he’d first looked through. The rope, which the bucket was still attached and hanging over the lip of the fallen well, was moving ever so slightly.

Curious, Webster left his seat and the house and approached the well. He looked over the edge into the darkness as the rope continued to jerk ever so subtly.

Carefully, he took the handle of the wench in hand and began to rewind the rope onto the wooden boom. Soon the bucket came into sight, and Webster could see something in it.

Retrieving the bucket, he set it on the wall of the old well. It was a large Raven, perhaps the largest he’d ever seen, and it looked dead.

Gently, he lifted it from the bucket and examined it. Without warning, it screamed an ear-shattering ‘caw’ at him and jumped from his hands.

It happened with such surprise that Webster fell backward on the ground. The giant black bird continued to hover over him, screaming its singular caw-caw in his face.

As it flapped its wings, mud flew from them, and soon Webster was covered in a dark thick slim. Because the stuff mired his face, he could not see that the more the bird flapped, the smaller it became until it disappeared entirely.

Thinking the Raven had finally flown away, Webster scrambled to his feet and wiped at the mud that caked his eyes. It had left him temporarily blinded, but the more he wiped, the more he realized he no longer had eyes or even eyelids.

In a panic, he screamed and stumbled about the tiny yard. His screaming drowned out the sound of the tentacled thing, with unsymmetrical human eyes that had climbed over the broken wall and moved with a squishy sound towards him.

In seconds, the thing rose taller than the man before it, and like a heavy curtain fell over him. Though muffled, Dot Webster screamed even more.

Soon, the screams ended, and silence followed as the thing reshaped itself into a malformed human. Blinking as if to focus, the distorted figure opened its newly acquired eyeballs, turned, and raced from the yard towards the plateau from the evening before.

That night as a gibbous moon raised in the eastern skies, a twenty-seventh figure took its place among the dancing and chanting group that encircled the old one, singing, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

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