Consequences Part 1

August 26th, 2011 by Wordsman

As Peter dropped down onto the subway seat, and the doors slid roughly shut behind him, he could not shake the feeling that not all was right with the world.  Being woken up against one’s will at four in the morning is a crime that no just, caring universe would permit, but he thought that there might be more than just that.

The encounter with the woman was unsettling but not entirely unexpected; as his father liked to say, you can’t have a city of a million and a half people without getting a few unusual characters thrown in.  And it seemed like he had made a clean getaway.  But as the train pulled out of the station, he couldn’t help but wonder: was it an escape, or a retreat?

Peter Hamlin did not run from a fight.  Even on days when he hadn’t spent hours giving a speech persuading people to charge the Black Gate of Mordor or march on Washington or turn their car into a cake, he liked to think that he did not back down from a challenge.  He really didn’t understand the woman’s situation; after all, she hadn’t done a very good job of explaining her problem and was probably crazy to boot.  He had no idea whether he should be fighting against her or the people who wronged her, whoever they were.  In either case, it was hard not to see leaping on the subway just as it was leaving as a way of avoiding the issue rather than facing it.

He told himself that the woman had nothing to do with him, that she probably gave that same crazy speech to everyone who walked through there.  You have to pick your battles, and he had gone for the one he felt had much more to do with his own future.  Peter finally took the glance at his watch that he had first attempted when the woman snagged his arm.

7:56.  He wasn’t going to make it.

No wonder the train was so empty; ordinarily he shouldn’t have been able to sit down, much less have a bench all to himself.  He was going to have to face the wrath of Abrahamson.  He had no idea what it would be like, because none of the clerks had dared to be late before.  His lack of information, however, did not stop him from imagining what fate awaited him when he got off the elevator on the 12th floor.  A lifetime of service as a chained oarsman on an ancient Roman galley?  Or worse, a life sentence to be spent proofreading everything composed by Misters Victorino and Wachowsky?

It would be safe to say that his lack of sleep was affecting his judgment and preventing reality from getting much involved in his imagining the potential punishments.  Sulfur and brimstone may have even made an appearance.

With a groan he dropped his head into his hands—so forcefully, in fact, that it hurt, at least on one side.  He held his left cheek, which still stung a bit from the slap.  That little old woman sure packed a wallop.  His ears were even ringing.

Or was it just ringing?  Between the sound of his own thoughts and the rattling of the train on the tracks, he thought he could just recognize a tune echoing softly.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

He looked around to see where the sound was coming from, but he couldn’t spot any obvious source.  The itinerant musicians and obnoxious stereo-toting teenagers didn’t usually start to ride the rails until later in the day.  The car was so empty that it would have been blatantly obvious if someone was singing, whistling, or even humming, but the other passengers were just as sullenly inactive as one would expect on a pre-8 AM train ride.  It certainly wasn’t being produced by the PA system, which only ever spat out things like: “MFYXT (static): BRRPON BEEEEEEEEEP” (NEXT STOP: THIRD AND WALKER).

If it wasn’t coming from outside his head, then there was only one other possibility.  It didn’t seem very likely either, because Peter couldn’t think of any place he had ever heard the tune before.  He supposed that was often the way when you get a song stuck in your head, but no matter how hard he thought about it, he couldn’t identify its origin.  It wasn’t from a movie.  It wasn’t a song that regularly came up on the radio in the carpool.  It wasn’t the annoying jingle from an even more annoying TV commercial.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

The tune itself wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but it was short, and it kept repeating over and over again, and the more he heard it the more it got on his nerves.  Where did it come from?  Peter was positive he had never heard it before, not even as the background music from a cartoon he had watched in elementary school, which had  lain dormant for the past fifteen years before suddenly reappearing that morning.  He did another, more thorough check for external sources, looking out the windows, under his seat, into the creepy room at the end of the car that seems like it should have someone in it but never does.  He even searched the other passengers (from a distance—thankfully he wasn’t that out of his mind) for headphones, thinking it was possible that someone had turned them up to an eardrum-rupturing, blood-vessel-bursting volume that could be heard across the car, but no luck.

And as he searched, he could swear that the tune was getting louder.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

He tried humming another song, otherwise known as the Escalation Method of Song Unsticking.  The ones he tried were real doozies, too, tunes so horrifyingly catchy that it would be inappropriate to repeat them here.  But no matter what he tried, the moment he stopped humming, the mystery tune came back, louder than before.  He wasn’t even sure how a sound that was only inside his head could be louder or softer, but it was definitely louder.

After a couple minutes he gave up.  The only way to get a song out of your head, he decided, was to think about something else entirely.  So he stopped humming other things and focused on baseball: a depressing topic for a Crescentonian, but also one that it was really easy to get worked up about.  Surely, with his mind distracted by thoughts of how terrible the Gems were, the unknown tune would eventually work its way out of his system, right?  Right?

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

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One Response

  1. Flamingo's heart Says:

    Was it an escape, or a retreat? It’s a good question.Your description of the tune is fascinating.

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