“The Drums” – Short Story

There was rain. On a Hallows’ Eve, that meant something. In the shadows of the manor Whitewine, it meant something more. Whitewine was a cobweb of antiquity, and one could swear it was that way from the beginning. But there had been people once. A family of five and however many generations preceded them. Noel was a Whitewine, so she knew it to be true, even if that was long ago and time had since filled the manor with desolation. Noel was trusting and altogether knowledgeable in the stations most considered worth having knowledge. But she was also young, frightfully empathetic, and tonight, very much alone.

There was rain and it came hard. Against the ceramic shingle rooftop of the manor, it struck like an army of drummers. This was a good thing. The drone of their fall helped muffle each creak in the aged manor floor as Noel stepped within. It muted her imagination, which would have otherwise suggested there was somebody walking through the upstairs. But Noel’s mind was prone to remembering, and it remembered awful things at the worst of times. Whitewine was a family, one of her own blood. And in a time before hers, they were considered very much unholy. She would never have thought to thank the rain, because she underestimated its kindness. For without the rain, she would have heard the moans from the basement cellar. Moans very real, despite her being alone.

There was rain, but soon it might stop. Nobody was allowed in the manor without rain’s company, especially during the after dark hours. Noel knew this, but decided to take the risk regardless. The family Whitewine was notorious for their business of stealing people. Noel had learned such in the news columns of decades passed. When finally the family had been caught in evidential movements and the manor was searched for missing persons, the town militia did not understand how sundered the minds of Whitewine truly were. Their discovery led them to a home for bones and things which bled out slowly. The kidnapped persons were not wholly themselves any longer. Through rigorous and generous torture, only parts of their minds and bodies remained intact. Many were stripped nude, strung up by manacles in the cold cellar until their feet had gone black and flaky. They would beat their heads back against the cellar wall, trying to lull themselves into death. Some succeeded, others simply cracked their brains. Some were missing their tongues, eyes, lips, or ears, later found assorted in the children’s bedrooms. There were worse things than this, things that would make the devil proud, but those memories were dark and the worst representations of man, so Noel dutifully tried to forget them. But these crimes were not easily forgotten. Not by man, by God, or by time.

There was rain, and it made the air cold. Noel wondered sometimes if God forgave people like these. Did Heaven also delight in their company? She was unsure what to think of it all. But that wasn’t important now. The manor was important. Basking in its history and acclimating to its macabre silence. Except it wasn’t silent. There was always a sound of drums. The rain now making earth its pasture. There was something more to the noise, but it was lost in the rain, to her benefit. Young Noel would find the Whitewine legacy on her own very soon. Once the dust guided her down to the cellar. All in time, all in time.

Still there was rain, but it was drawing to a close. The yearning patter began to crawl to a stop, leaving all natural life refreshed and thankful. In this saturated world, hope was as alive as it sounded. And that was beautiful. But though the rain reached the manor, it held no cure for the bitter memories within. Those memories of pain and hatred and cruelty of the greatest sort. Noel remembered them from her readings, and for years her imagination had played with her, trained her for this moment. This was not good, nor beautiful, as she would soon find out. Not that she expected different from God’s worst sinners. But within her dark dreams came a whistle, something entirely unexpected because of its ferocity. Dread crept onto her the way only it knew how. With a smile and slow courtesy. The whistle was not in her mind, like she first believed it might have been. It came from the boards between her feet, twenty feet into a grave of the earth and the black heart of the Whitewine manor. Noel flinched and stepped forward, quickly finding the door to the basement cellar.

The rain died and ceased its pounding. The new absence reminded Noel of an old heart, finally giving up its struggle. There was quiet, but only for a moment, until the girl reached for the cellar door. As she did, the drums dawned again. Rather, she only finally began to hear what had always been. These drums belonged more than the rain and it was their right to stay. They thudded like a dull fist striking a table and echoed twice as deep. Noel spun the knob and yanked open the door. She was welcomed by a years-old stink. Something like wood rot and disease. The clouded light from outside filled in the cellar as she descended. There were windows, veiled by the webs of a hundred dead spiders, and everything was of tattered stone. It looked and smelled as unhallowed as she’d imagined. But the drums were different. They were a raw beat, unsettlingly alive and visceral. With the bravery of a fool, Noel began to search for that rhythm growing ever louder.

There was no rain, but still the drums sounded. As she lurked ahead, Noel was increasingly aware of her thin frailty. She was a scarecrow. All straw and thread, no spine or substance. But the drums had her. For a breath she reconsidered if it wasn’t all in her mind. That would be simple and explanative, but it would also be very untrue. In the furthest back, towards the darkest end of the basement, she found a man in suffering. Iron shackles arrested him, and they lay at his sides. Noel cringed at the slope of his body. It was as though his spine had been pulled apart and fastened into a stretch, with only his upper torso and head supported by the cellar wall. An unsettling gray crust had baked over his skin, while his jaw seemed broken and slack, swaying back and forth with each toss of his head. Both of his manacles were affixed by chain and nail to a slab of wood behind his head, forever preventing escape. Noel shivered.

Where was the rain? She wanted it back. Again and again the dead man would crack its head against the wood. It was a dull thump, thump filled with resigned defeat, something Noel took to mean that he’d wanted to die for so long, only for death to never come. Thump, thump it continued, just like the rain. Thump, thump went the drums. It quickly became too much. Maybe Noel cast herself away from that horror, that godless tomb. She couldn’t remember, even years later. Again she tried to counsel herself into believing that the Whitewine’s sins had long since ended. The dead man was just as he was, dead. A disaster of her mind, fabricated from long nights of reading Whitewine lore. It didn’t really matter. Every moment the rains came thereafter, she remembered the drums. And of course they remembered her, too. Goodnight, Noel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s