Jerry and Mike had never gotten along. They were the kind of neighbors who lived in constant seething hatred of one another through paper thin apartment walls. They were both relatively selfish and inconsiderate people, but both too committed to the dirt low rent to consider moving away from the constant stress. Most of their other neighbors rotated through after the first year was up, worn out from having listened to screamed insults bouncing through the hallways for an entire year. The landlord could have stopped them, but having guaranteed rent month after month was too much to pass up in this roach motel. So Jerry and Mike continued their age old feud in the dingy place.
Mike had a list of complaints a mile long to berate Jerry. At the top of the list was the constant barking of Jerry's rotten dog. The thing yipped and yelped all day and night in the response to every real or imagined noise or scent. Mike was a dog person, and he hated that four-legged noise maker. And it definitely didn't help matters that Jerry chose to ignore the numerous posted signs regarding his dog's fecal matter. Mike had ruined enough shoes to know that nothing would change that man. Falling just behind the barking dog was Jerry's penchant for playing new age free form jazz late at night when he had downed one too many bottles of cheap wine. While Mike was certain someone, somewhere who could appreciate the sounds of off key saxophone and clanking piano keys at four in the morning, but Mike was not that man.
Jerry had his own list. It was probably longer than Mike's, but Jerry was typically a forgiving guy. He forgave the bags of trash that sometimes set outside Mike's door for nearly a week before shuffling themselves to the dumpster. He let it slide when Mike's guests sometimes rang the wrong buzzer, interrupting his otherwise pleasant evening. He didn't hold it against Mike if he was sometimes a few days (or weeks) late in returning misdelivered mail. But the parties got to him. Had they raged across a weekend, Mike might have even been able to overlook that, but since they seemed to always fall the night before Jerry had an early morning conference call in the office, he was beginning to suspect it was done purely out of spite. Thunking bass and high pitched feedback sounds somehow were supposed to harmonize into some form of enjoyable music, but Jerry didn't get it. Not at all. And to top it all off, there were the screaming matches. About once every week or two, Mike would find Jerry at his door, fuming about something, a kettle ready to whistle away its steam.
To be honest, the two probably would have kept at each other's throats for five or ten more years, at least until one of them finally died from an aneurysm, had events not taken an inexplicably dark turn.
Jerry's beloved pooch turned up sick. Antifreeze poisoning, to be specific. While the dog pulled through with only minor complications (and a couple thousand dollars in vet bills), Jerry finally found himself on Mike's doorstep ready to unleash.
Now, for his part, Mike would never hurt a dog. He had grown up with Roxy, a lovable retriever, and he could distinctly remember how she had broken his fourteen year-old heart when she went to that great dog park in the sky. Even if he was selfish, he couldn't do that to another person. He guessed the dog had probably lapped up some leaking fluids from the old rust bucket owned by 16C. That didn't stop Jerry, though.
Jerry was in a tizzy. He stood, pounding on the door, his face red and sweaty already with the thoughts of his words alone. As soon as Mike opened the door, those thoughts took flight. The normally pulled together Jerry now flew into a rage. Spittle flew from his sneering lips as he yelled expletive after insult after accusation. His shirt was untucked, flapping sharply with each rapid and enraged gesture. Jerry snarled and raged, flinging his hands and arms about in some wild dance, fire snapping in his eyes.
Doors opened up and down the hall, tiny eyes peeking through the cracks before disappearing back into their homes to turn up the TV.
Mike tried to plead his case, but there was no breaking through the barrage of words being thrown his way. To be honest, he could barely understand most of what he was yelling. He gathered enough to know it was about the dog and to get a good idea of Jerry's opinion of him.
"You'll pay! You will pay!" screamed Jerry as he finally marched away down the hall, his shirt still flapping in anger as he stomped down to his door and slammed the door. Mike just closed his door back, and went to the fridge for a beer. What a night.
Jerry's revenge started that night as he began to hang picture frame after picture frame along their shared wall. At 2:30 in the morning. Mike began to suspect he was just pounding nails into the walls at this point. About 4 was when the vacuuming began (apparently of the wall rather than its typical job on the floor), and by 6:15 Jerry had transitioned to the surround sound with some particularly interesting choices of video. Mike realized they must have very similar taste in late night bachelor pad entertainment. It was obnoxious, sure, but it also wouldn't be the first time Mike went to work without any sleep, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.
The next night was much of the same, but Mike had dealt with pissed off neighbors before and made sure to stop in to a hardware store for earplugs on his way home. Some of the chaos seeped in through the little foam barriers, but a couple of beers and Mike slept like a baby. He caught a glimpse of Jerry the next morning and could tell that he obviously wasn't enjoying his revenge any more.
The third night was blissfully quiet. Mike assumed Jerry had given up on his vendetta. The dog was alive, so how long could one man hold a grudge? He kept the earplugs in all the same, but it almost seemed as if no one was home next door. Mike awoke rested and ready for another day, assuming whatever had happened was now behind them. He wasn't the kind to hold a grudge for long, and it was hard for him to believe a sick dog and some vet bills would push someone to ruin their own life in pursuit of his downfall.
The day was uneventful, the evening was looking to be another lazy night around the tiny apartment. The trash was full, so he cinched the bag and set it in the hallway; he would get it in the morning when he left, but his apartment stunk enough without an added bag of garbage.
Drums. Quiet, but there. Constant. He tried to ignore it, because they weren't really that loud, but he heard drums thudding slowly on the other side of his wall. They just stayed stable, pounding out the same beat every moment, never wavering. They weren't quiet, but they were loud enough to be distracting. Mike assumed the sound would eventually fade into the background, as stable and quiet as it was, but it didn't. It stayed there, knocking at his thoughts, shuffling his brain around with every. Subtle. Beat.
He couldn't take it. First, he tried knocking on the wall. Things had just been mended between the two of them, and he didn't want to sleep in earplugs for a third night in a row.
Thud. Thud. Thud. There wasn't a pause, not even a subtle acknowledgement of some disruption. The drums continued their steady beat, and Mike felt his jaw clenching. Maybe he could just let it go? It wasn't that loud, so surely it would be okay. He turned from the wall and dialed up the volume on the TV.
It wasn't so much that the drums got louder as they just superseded the television. It was like his ears were locked to that frequency, and there was nothing that could break that link. He clicked the TV off and chucked the remote into his chair, suddenly feeling like the walls were too tight and the air was too heavy.
"Jerry!" he screamed at the door, pounding on the frail wooden door. The tiny man pulled the door open a crack, just enough to provide Mike a glimpse of the offending drums and Jerry's sweaty face.
"Enough with the drums tonight. You're killing me." Mike noticed grimly that he still seemed to hear the drums, some ghost of a sensation that would not leave him alone. It was a feeling akin to having a song stuck in your head, but one that insidiously asserted itself in front of every thought.
"Sorry Mike," muttered Jerry, sheepishly looking at his shoes. "I'll keep it down." Mike swore he saw a smile as Jerry closed the door. So, maybe things weren't good between them. Maybe Jerry was just a passive aggressive prick.
Back in his own apartment, he could still hear the drums. It seemed Jerry had not decided to cut the noise for the night. Mike sighed and turned the TV back on. For one night, he could deal. He would have to.
As the hours dragged on, Mike finally dragged himself to bed, settling the earplugs snugly. They did nothing for the drums. Maybe the bass tone was so deep that the earplugs just didn't block it out well. Maybe the whole building was now reverberating to those infernal drums. Maybe his ears were just too tired to realize that noise was gone. Maybe the drums were really the sound of silence. Mike felt his thoughts wandering farther and farther from reality, pushed out of logical thought by the constant thundering of drums. Such a simple beat, but one that seemed to grate against his very soul.
He turned over, wrapping his pillow around his head in the hope it could do what the earplugs could not. He had no such luck, but he couldn't go and grovel at Jerry's door, beg him to stop. He had gone without sleep before, and he would do it again. Maybe tomorrow night he would invite some friends over and let them drown out those drums, if Jerry had not given up by then.
Mike spent a sleepless night following the steady beat of drums deep into the darkness, watching as they heralded in the rising sun early in the morning.
Mike was out of his apartment early for work for the first time in years. Anything to escape those drums. He noticed they followed him into the hallway. He was honestly amazed that Jerry had been able to keep it up all night. Maybe it was a recording or something.
The drums still seemed to pursue him as he walked down the street towards the bus stop. They followed him like a lost puppy, chasing his shadow and nipping his heels. Still those drums. They wouldn't go away, they never paused, but they constantly rained down beat after beat on his ears. He felt as if his nerves were rubbed raw by the constant noise, worn to frazzled ends by such a repetitive thundering. Mike began to wonder if he was going crazy, because not only had they not stopped once he left the building, they seemed to be getting louder.
He stopped and put on headphones, turning his music up as loud as it would go in hopes of drowning out whatever this sound was. Instead, he was amazed to hear it playing through every song, a phantom beat that refused to give him peace. It poured over the sound of the bus, the chatter of the passengers, the lyrics to his song. It seemed to be filling every part of him with inescapable noise. Mike had never been one to seek solitude and silence, but he realized how important those escapes were. And now it was nowhere to be found. Drum beats all around him, fillings his head with their taunts.
He made it into work, barely holding on to the pieces that kept him sane. There were the drums, growing steadily louder, some form of predator creeping up on its prey. His job was simple: sit and answer the phones in the call center, read the script to answer questions, and move callers up the ladder when necessary. He sat down in his cubicle, pulled out his headset, and hoped that work, mindless though it was, might pull his thoughts away from the drums banging around his brain. It was early yet, and normally he would dread the first call, but he pounced on the call the moment it rang.
"Technical Reporting Services, this is Mike. How can I help you?" He waited with baited breath, praying that this human voice would somehow break through the slow and steady drumming. At first, nothing. The line was silent. Mike went to disconnect when he heard it, quiet at first, but growing, the same slow drum beat slipping through the phone lines to his infected ears.
He didn't remember leaving the building, though security footage clearly showed him screaming, throwing his headset, and rushing from the building. He didn't remember the streets he took to get home or where he lost his jacket along the way. Mike simply found himself back in front of his apartment, the drums having grown louder on his forgotten journey. He was halucinating, he decided. That must be it. Something or someone had screwed him up real good this time. Maybe he had eaten something? Maybe he really was going crazy. Mike didn't know, but he knew he needed help.
He climbed the stairs to his apartment, aching as his feet seemed to pound up the stairs in the exact rhythm of the blasted drums. Each step only reinforced his own personal hell. The drumming grew louder as he climbed as well, only adding to his agony. He would call the hospital and have them pick him up and admit him. Hopefully after a few days of medication and treatment, this would be a distant nightmare.
Mike slumped onto his couch, certain that his head was soon going ot burst from the constant pounding. It was like standing in front of those giant speakers at a concert, his entire body now seemed to pulsein time to this awful beat. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911, ready to admit that he desperately needed help. The phone chimed in with each number, adding to his pain.
When he put it to his ear, all he heard was the drumming. No dial tone, no ring, no friendly operator's voice. Just the drums filling in every crack of silence.
Mike threw the phone into the corner, staring at it as if it were possessed. Maybe it was, he thought briefly before casting aside such foolish nonsense. He was sick, that much was obvious. Maybe if he could sleep, maybe that would help. He went ot the cabinet and grabbed a bottle of sleeping pills he had bummed off of a friend years ago. One or two of those and he would surely be out, he reasoned, tossing back his head and swallowing the pills.
Six hours later, wide awake and unable to stop the constant drumming no matter what he tried, Mike heard a door in the hallway slam sharply. Jerry. He must have something to do with this.
His fist pounded on the door, and Mike was terrified first to find it moved to the same beat at the drums in his head and second that he couldn't hear it over the drums. Jerry opened the door, and Mike began yelling, noting that his voice sounded muffled and dimmed by the racket of drums. "Stop with the drums! Stop it! I didn't hurt your dog, now let me be!" Mike wasn't sure if he was crying or not, but he was dimly aware of something wet and hot falling down his face. Jerry just smiled.
"I don't know what you're talking about, pal. I haven't been playing all day." Mike pieced together his comments from a combination of distant sounds and lip reading, barely able to turn his attention from the deafening drums to even talk with Jerry. But that smile, that smile was the last straw. Mike felt something inside of him snap as he threw himself full force into the door.
As he barged into the room, he was only distantly aware that the drum was still in the middle of the room, sitting in a circle or feathers, chalk, and candles. His mind noted it, but was trained on Jerry's terrified face and bug-eyes. Somehow he had done this, and Mike was going to silence the drums once and for all. He locked his hands around Jerry's tiny, pasty throat, and shoved him to the ground. Now he could not only hear the drums, but he felt them thundering through his hands. Here was the source of this drum. He was going to end it.
Up and down he slammed skull into the cracked linoleum in time with the drums echoing through his entire body. His hands were slick with blood, slipping from around his neck, but still able to feel the pulse of the drum. Again. Again. Up. Down. It took a moment, but suddenly he noticed that the beat was no longer pounding through his hands. His ears were no longer captive to this one single beat.
The drumming had stopped. There was quiet for a brief moment, followed by absolute darkness and inescapable silence.
The coroner's report would be unusual. It was an unusual case. Pieces of it were quite obvious, such as the fact the victim, Jeremiah Somersmith had died due to severe head trauma. That was obvious enough when technicians were scraping brain matter off the cabinets. The odd part was the second body, that of the perpetrator. Michael Norton was a healthy 34-year-old male whose heart simply stopped moments after he killed Jeremiah. There was no trauma, no sign of any defect. There was no medical explanation to explain why his heart stopped beating, just that it did. In mid-beat, his heart simply ceased to beat.
A/N: I would really appreciate constructive criticism on this concept, especially the pacing and atmosphere of it. Also, any notes on language (such as too repetitive too descriptive, etc.) would be much appreciated. Thanks!