My demons were louder than usual tonight. But their voices were garbled, unintelligible. It was like listening to a record played backwards. I even tried that once. I was not even born in 1981, when a Michigan minister named Michael Mills (another Mike with issues) rambled at some Christian radio that phrases like “master Satan,” “serve me,” and “there’s no escaping it” were hidden in the grooves of the Led Zeppelin hit “Stairway to Heaven” when played backwards.
Of course, I don’t own a vinyl record player and moreover, I don’t have a Led Zeppelin record. And even if I had one, I wouldn’t subject it to such brutal treatment to move the needle backwards on it. No, I used a computer program. I loaded the song into it—its digital copy, anyway — and then pushed the reverse playing. Nothing.
But one thought was nagging me now. What if the digitization of the analog copy made the hidden messages to be lost? It made some sense. So, lately I had a new goal; to acquire a record player and the original Led Zepelin album. The tricky part is they are pretty expensive, even on eBay. I don’t have the money for that. I can barely cover my rent and my medication. Schizophrenia, they say.
I admit, I may hear voices. But mostly I hear the dated music from the old fart in the apartment 6D. The one next to mine.
Tonight, I had enough of that and I dared to knock on his door to ask him to turn the music down. The Sinatra songs made my demons restless. Since the old guy living there alone was also a kind of deaf, and he has not heard of the thing called ‘headphones’, my irritation can be understandable.
After a long pounding on his door–I was not gonna give up so easily–the old guy opened the door; just enough to let me see his wrinkled face and Einstein type, shaggy hair.
“What do you want?” he said in a gruff voice.
I wanted to say “Listen dude…” but my seemingly good upbringing stopped me and said, “Sir, I really need for you to ramp down the music. It’s not like I’m not a Sinatra fan, but it’s too loud. Can you do that?”
“It’s good enough for me,” he said and shut the door in my face, mumbling. I thought I heard a “Fuck off!” as well there.
“You have to whack him!” said Mark in my left ear. “The planet will be better without a guy like him,” he continued, seeing I am not giving him attention.
Hell, this building will be better without him, I thought. What do I care about the planet?
“Mark is right, you know," said also Sadie, with her little voice of sickly emo girl.
“All right, all right, just shut up!” I lost my temper. “That’s what I get for letting you speak? Constant headache for not being good enough?”
“Sorry, Mr. Sensible, added Mark. Just sayin’”.
Truth was, I didn’t have much of a choice there; I hated the numbness my meds gave me, so I stopped taking them. It’s just for a little while, I rationalized. I bet that’s what every junkie is telling to himself. The difference was that in my case everything was backwards: I wasn’t seeking to numb some pain. I wanted to feel it. Just to feel alive.
“Let’s go back to the apartment and get something for the old geezer,” pushed Mark.
I followed his advice or his mouth wouldn’t shut up. Once I closed the door behind me, I went straight to the kitchen cabinet. Only there I would’ve found something that could’ve been remotely considered as a weapon. I took a wooden roller almost two feet long and about two inches thick. That would have to do.
Here was me pounding again on my neighbor’s door. Of course, the music was flowing undisturbed. Wait a minute! A thought made me stop for a while. Why was I the only one who was disturbed by that? Were all other tenants old and deaf like him? I was living here only for half a year, but I didn’t meet many other tenants. Except for Paula. Oh, Paula! So hot, so enticing…so out of my league!
Come to think of… she was the only youngster I saw in this creepy building. I still didn’t find the nerve to speak to her. Nothing more than a casual “Hi!”, anyway. What would I say? “Hi! I am Mickey, and I hear voices…” Right?
As I heard the old fart coming to the door again, a new idea formed in my head. The door was opened, just a tad, being restrained with the locking chain.
“You, again!” said the old man with annoyance.
“Excuse me, sir, but I have a question this time. Do you play those Sinatra records on a record player, a turntable, I mean?”
“You bet I do!” he answered. “Do you expect me to listen to them online or something?”
“No, sir. That’s perfect. But can I borrow your turntable just for a while? And do you have, by any chance, a record of Led Zeppelin?”
“Fuck off!” he said, thinking I wanted to diss him and started to close the door again.
“You really think a guy who listens Sinatra is into Zeppelin? You’re really dumb, you know?” grinned my buddy, Mark.
“Why? Zeppelin is old, this dude is old…makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“No, you’re not making any sense at all,” intervenes also Sadie, peeved by something I would never guess.
There was the time for a quick action. I rose the wooden roller and blocked the door from closing with it. The old man tried to push away the roller so he can close the door. That made me mad. Made Mark and Sadie mad. “Give it to him, Mikey!” they shouted in both my ears.
So, I pushed with all my might toward the old guy. This sudden move caught him unsteadily, and the roller went right into his face. With a muffled groan, he brought his hands to his face to cover his bloody nose. Yeah, his face was a mess. My first impulse was to beg for forgiveness. But my friends’ voices were stronger. “He had it coming!” they said.
I withdraw my wooden roller and the old guy, who was still moaning in pain, closed the door.
“See what you made me do?” I ask them, my voice trembling with desolation and shame. “What if he dies?”
“Don’t we all die?” asked Sadie in her philosophical, trippy voice.
“At least you will be spared of those boring melodies,” added Mark, cruel as usual.
I really hoped no one saw what happened; good thing we don’t have hallway cameras in this old building, so I went back to my apartment. I sat on the couch, trembling and swaying back and forth. No, this was no good at all. Something bad was going to happen.
Suddenly, I noticed something. The Sinatra tunes were not audible anymore. That could mean the old guy got the message and complied. I was hopeful now… that was a good sign…right? Not a chance with my rotten luck!
Now a demonic voice was heard, even louder than Sinatra’s songs. Mark and Sadie were keeping their hands over their ears, trying to shut off the awful noise. I tried to make out what the low, garbled voice was saying, but to no avail.
“Guys, do you get anything from that?” I asked my companions. No answer. They were shaking their heads, their faces being just a grimace of pain. I just blinked, and they were gone. So much with that unshaken camaraderie they were bragging about all the time. When the things get tough, they get light, and let you face the music alone.
Only there was no music now. Just that voice from hell. I was convinced that the time of reckoning has come for me. I was a bad man, and I had to be punished. What I did to that poor old man was about to have dire consequences for me. It was no coincidence that the voice from hell started howling right after my evil deed.
I grappled my head in pain, waiting for the eternal damnation. But nothing was happening. Just the terrible noise, the howling and warbling and, on top of all that, the devil’s voice admonishing me.
Time passed without me knowing. Seconds seemed like centuries. At some point, the noise stopped abruptly. I rose my head, not believing that is all over. And I was still here. Moreover, no voices, good or bad, were heard.
Pricking up my ears, I found that there was not exactly a total silence. Some voices started to be heard coming from the hallway outside my apartment. Good! This time I knew the source of the noise, I knew they were real and I was not mad.
With a new hope, I opened the door. Some neighbors were gathered in front of apartment 6D. Paula was there too. Super! That’s your chance, I said to myself. I closed the space between us almost imperceptibly and once I was next to Paula and her feminine fragrance had drunken my senses, I dared to open my mouth.
“What is going on here?” I asked, looking into Paula’s brown eyes.
She eyed me with bright eyes and a hint of interest. That acknowledgment lifted my spirits.
“Poor Mr. Babel died. Police is in there with the building administrator.”
Her pleasant voice couldn’t give more bad news. I did it. I killed the old man.
“Do they know how it happened?” I asked.
“It looks like an accident,” the hot girl answered. “He may have tripped and fell.”
Phew! If they file it like an accident, it means I am out of the woods. I had to ask something, though.
“I know he lived by himself. How the police got here in the first place?”
She looked surprised at me.
“Didn’t you hear the horrible noise coming from his apartment? Someone called the police complaining about the noise. It turns out the old man was feeling bad and fell over his stereo and involuntarily cranked the volume to the maximum, and the speed of his turntable to minimum. And it was on a repeat on top of all that. Strange, isn’t it?”
Strange indeed. So, no voice from hell. Just that damn record player of the old man. I felt better suddenly. I was well, no voices, no imaginary people. My life was about to change for the better. I mustered the courage to ask Paula what I’ve played in my mind so many times.
“I don’t think we were properly introduced,” I said to her. “I’m…”
“Michael, I know,” she said. “I am Paula.”
“Nice to meet you, Paula. Not taking into account the circumstances...”
“Yeah,” she said, becoming pensive.
“What do you say if we have a drink and chat away from this sad scene?”
She eyed me carefully. I’ve put on my sweetest and innocent smile. Seemed to be enough.
“I don’t have anything in my place, unfortunately,” she said. “Maybe we can go to your place.”
I was sure my ears moved in an unbelievable way hearing this. Wow! Paula was pretty forward and nice. I was such a fool and wasted so much time making all kind of scenarios to approach her.
“Yes, I always have some beers in the fridge, although I am not much of a drinker.” You bet I am not! Alcohol and meds made a bad combo for me. Good thing I ditched the meds in the meantime.
“Beer is fine,” said Paula, smiling.
“Give it to her, Mickey!” shouted Mark in my left ear.