The sun was setting.
She looked up to the sky and saw the eye again, the eye that had been gazing down at her for a long time. It was pure black, as if it had been soaked in ink, and fox-like, as slender as a blade.
She would never say that she lived an interesting life. “Life is just cigarettes and beers,” she laughed at herself sometimes, but she didn’t feel bad for herself and simply let life go on in this way. It was just ordinary. She didn’t know when she had started to feel this way. To her, life is just something that would come and leave in a snap. But when she looked into the eye for the first time of her life, probably when she was 28, she felt an emptiness, absorbing her into endless darkness. She knew right away that something that had been ripped apart long ago and now really left her. She looked around in vain, but had no idea what she was trying to find.
Something. She just lost something, and she needed it back.
So she began to wander anywhere she could possibly go. She went to several bookstores, a few cinemas, some theaters, and yet nothing was there. Sometimes she hoped that the eye would give her an answer, so she looked at it, but it never responded. Though sometimes, it seemed to try to converse with her through blinking. The eye did not speak. It only stared at her, blinked, and it seemed to urge her to find out what she had lost.
Her search ended in when she accidentally walked into a small basement where she found the drummer.
It was her first time being in that basement, it was probably for an underground band or something. The smell of cigarettes, alcohol, and sweat enveloped the room. There were too many people in a small room that they seemed to pile up. A band was playing heavy metal and people were dancing like crazy. All the band members screamed and yelled into the audience; the singer even looked like he was at the edge of breaking down.
The white walls were soaked by the flood and countless shadows of people swaying. And there was nothing left. Under that purple light, everything left her alone, the crowd, the eye. They were all blurred. Drumbeats dashed into her ears, and yet the only thing she could hear was her heartbeat. Her hands covered her chest and she found that her heartbeats coincided with that of the drums. Swaying, swaying, the people around her were swaying like people in a protesting parade and the band was taking the lead. But she stood there alone, and, crouching down slowly with her hands covering her left chest, felt her heart beating lively along with the ache that haunted her.
“Maybe I will die soon,” she whispered.
Bang, bang, bang, bang.
She looked up and saw the face of the drummer.
In that crowded room, with the heavy metal music, she faintly felt that people had been tear apart and it was all fragments of people floating in the air. She saw pieces of the drummer and surged into the purple light. Behind his drum set, his gaze lingered over her for a second and then slipped away. The lead singer threw his microphone into the crowd and caused a little commotion and he walked off the stage directly to grab some beer. The other band members remained on the stage started to play on and showed off their skills. Right before the drummer started to play, there were a few seconds of pure silence. The drummer stood up and looked down at the crowd.
The moment his drum sticks met the drum, she saw fire burning. Sparks were at the tip of his drumsticks, lighting up the crowd. She saw some people climbing to sit on other people’s neck. They raised their beer and started to pour them around. Some people simply stood there, faced upwards, hoping to catch some beer. Everyone started to jump and cheer and clap their hands to the beat. In that moment, all she could hear were drumbeats, beer pouring, handclaps, and people cheering. The drummer gave the last beat and kicked over his drum and pushed it off its stands. He walked to the front row and threw away his drum sticks as if he did not need it anymore. Then, grabbing someone’s beer, he poured it all over himself. Right at that moment, people in the front row rushed onto the stage and sealed the band in the middle of the crowd. But she did not look up. She was kneeling on the ground, like a pilgrim.
She was sure that something was different in this basement. Maybe it was the band, maybe it was the drummer. But something changed forever for her there, so she became a regular in that basement. She usually sat on the stairs outside, sometimes during the band’s rehearsal, sometimes during their concerts. Several times, there was only the drummer in the room playing around with his drum sets. She would go inside the basement, sitting on the ground, listening to the drummer practice. She felt like she was absorbing all the drumbeats and the drumbeats transformed into her heartbeats, powerful and lively. The ache never came back and the eye disappeared. She noticed that every time, the drummer had no expression on his face after he played. Yet he never seemed to mind her existence.
Then one day, the drummer left his seat and walked to her. He sat down right in front of her, as if they were old friends.
“I always see you here. We are not that good, you know.”
She didn’t know how to reply. “Good enough,” was all she could say.
And then a long silence.
“Do you know the misfortune of being a drummer?”
She did not respond. Somehow, the ache was sneaking back into her body. She dared not to look up, she did not want to check if there was an eye on the wall, watching her again.
“You give out all your energy on the stage, and you can’t take it back. You give out the beat for the band, for the crowd but you have to stay in control. Every time I talk to myself, in front of my drum, I say, ‘keep them out, keep them out’ and yet I couldn’t just not mind them. I have to give away my everything to them because the audience means everything to me.
“I saw the soaking wall, the swaying crowd, the thousands shadows that reflected on the wall and yet disappear so quickly. I saw everything like you did every time. I know what the audience thinks because I allow them to think that way, to cheer in that way, to be crazy in that way.
“But after the show, nothing is there left for me. As soon as the band leaves, I never could keep the drum beats going. I too felt something had lost and I know what that is. I didn’t know what to do but standing in an empty room, expecting to listen to another drummer, to collect all these things I lose every time. But there isn’t a drummer or a basement waiting for me.
“I don’t know if you’re lucky or not since at least you found a drummer. But the drummer has nothing to give out now.”
She did not move. Her old friends, the eye and the ache, were coming and trying to get her again as she gradually felt that her heart being grabbed by an invisible hand. She suddenly felt that she had been pushed and something forced her to lay plain on the ground. The drummer lit a match and laid it on the carpet on the ground. Then he went back to his own drum sets and started to play his solo.
And so the fire started burning, while the drummer played as if he was crazy. Every beat was so strong and hard, and she, lying on the ground, carved each beat into her bones. The beats echoed in the room and the air was gradually vanishing with every hit. She was pressed on the floor, yet the beat seemed to clash into her body altogether.
Bang, bang, bang, bang.
The flame was flying over the small basement burning the drums and consuming the drum beats. She was there on the ground, feeling that yet another part of her body had been ripped away.
She tried so hard to look up, maybe just to see the drummer’s face. Everything was lightened by the fire. But somehow, she could only catch his gaze. His eyes looked straight into hers. And she saw that the eye she had been seeing for such a long time was his.
Then she looked further behind him and saw the eye on the wall again. It was simply staring at both of them without any feeling, looking at the inferno, the burning drum, at the crazy drummer, at the inflamed basement and at her, struggling on the ground. And then it blinked, and tears ran out of it.
The drumbeat was burning. The drummer was burning, and he roared and kept the beat going. There was no purple light, no soaking wall, no swaying crowd. She knew when the beat stopped this time, he would no longer have anything to give.
She was pushed to the ground and, with the eye gazing down at her, she realized that what she had lost could never be found again. She felt thousands of hands grabbing different parts of her body. So she closed her eyes, determined that she was going to die in the basement with the burning drummer.
When she opened her eyes again, she found herself on the rooftop of a strange building. Driven by instinct, she started to crawl towards the edge of the rooftop. Somehow, she still heard the echo of the drum.
And then the drumbeat stopped.
She was at the edge now, her mind and conscious abandoned her and blurred away. Right at that moment, she saw the eye opens again, tearless, high up in the sky. In the far end of the sky, the red sun cuddles layers and layers of cloud.
“Maybe I will die soon,” she whispered.
The eye blinked and all the light fades away, leaving only endless darkness gazing upon the earth.
And she closed her eyes.
Nancy Hu is a sophomore at Indian Springs School. She is involved with theatre, loves reading contemporary literature, and started to write her freshman year. This is her first publication.