Published: September 22, 2015
Published by: Kindle Press
Melophobia: fear or hatred of music.
The time—now; the place—America, but in a world where the government controls all forms of art and creativity. Any music sowing the seeds of anarchy is banned—destroyed if found—its creators and listeners harshly punished.
Merrin Pierce works as an undercover Patrol officer assigned to apprehend a fugitive musician who threatens the safe fabric of society, only to confront everything she thought to be true – her values, upbringing, job, and future.
Can love survive in a world without music?
Publisher’s Weekly called it “a convincing alternative history novel and…an accomplished coming-of-age love story that asks big questions about freedom and expressiveness in the face of oppression.”
Melophobia: fear or hatred of music.
“Rock has always been the Devil’s music…I believe rock and roll is dangerous…I feel we’re heralding something even darker than ourselves.”
-- David Bowie, Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976
He stood outside, his hand lifted to bang on the door, when he hesitated for reasons he couldn’t name. Flush with adrenaline, his heartbeat accelerated; his hearing sharpened, and even his skin felt the slightest change in pressure. Desert air blew against his face, drying his perspiration, and his caged energy contrasted with his desolate surroundings: a lone warehouse on the outskirts of Los Angeles bathed in the glow of a Hunter’s moon.
He enjoyed the silence – his moment of Zen. It reminded him of playing football in high school, positioned across an opponent seconds before the hike, an eternity of stillness before acceleration. He took a deep breath and centered himself, hearing the breath move past his nostrils, expanding his belly and exhaling slowly.
He looked at his watch. It was time.
He banged on the thick metal door, breaking the monotony of the night. A small window clanked opened on the door revealing a man with a crumpled, fat face.
He cleared his throat. “I’m on the list. Anders Copeland.”
The bouncer looked at him from behind the safety of the barred window and scanned over a clipboard. A moment later, Anders heard a bolt slide and the door swung open. He walked into the warehouse, past the bouncer and descended a long flight of stairs funneling him down a narrow, darkened hallway. Echoing behind him, the door slammed shut.
A single light bulb dangled, casting shadows outside its cone of light. For every step Anders took, he moved towards darkness, leaving the safe cocoon of the outside world behind.
Rusty pipes dripped water onto the floor. His feet sloshed through the occasional puddle, wafting up the unmistakable smell of urine and stale beer. A large door awaited him at the end of the stairs, the decline steeper, like an entrance to a mammoth tomb. The air should’ve been cooler as he continued, but instead it was hot and sticky. Strange.
He heard it now.
Muffled thumps, like miniature explosions pulsed at regular intervals, growing louder with each stride, attacking his eardrums. He’d never heard it before. The cause of such noise sent his imagination spinning. What the hell was going on behind those doors? What kind of machine or monster – ?
He arrived at the door and patted underneath his jacket, satisfied to feel his revolver still safely hidden.
His stomach churned, and he wanted to run, taking the steps two at a time, leaving all this behind, but his pride kept him where he was. Like an automaton, he saw his arm reach out in front of him and open the door –
And immediately wished he hadn’t.
His senses retreated, on overload. There was no monster, only light & sound & motion –amped to an inhuman degree. A wall of hot air made him feel as if he was breathing wet oxygen; he licked his lips – if sin ever had a taste, this was it; the room smelled of illegal cigarette smoke comingled with sweat and desire; the pounding of noise at deafening levels, the treble notes screeching, more penetrating than a dentist’s drill, and all of it repetitive, without melody, the same eight bars again and again – the sound of insanity, loud and incoherent.
Finally, he witnessed an orgy of bodies “dancing.” Unlike any dance he’d seen – not ballroom, it was even worse than the kind his superiors railed against. Much worse. They looked out of control, spastics on drugs, whirling dervishes worshipping no one, falsely copulating each other, wearing so little as to be almost bare, seeking to leave this reality by sheer excess, and all to the earthquake beats which rose from the floor, through his shoes, up his spine, to his head where they pinballed in his skull.
There was no escape. Every time he felt as if the overwhelming assault was on a downward spiral to quietude, he realized it was only a pause, a hiccup, and it continued in its tornado fashion, crashing over all the people under its spell.
This was more than noise. This was sonic warfare.
The stories he’d heard from his elders were true. No longer fables from the past, but real. Now. This is how the War started last time – the anarchy, the flaunting of the law, the sense of freedom with no limit. He stepped back against the wall for support. The speeding strobe lights made him wince. Crunched over, his dinner spilled out onto the floor. Humiliated, he wiped the taste of bile from his mouth and rolling against the wall, scurried away, losing himself in the maelstrom of the dance floor.
The strobe lights made everything appear segmented, the dancers like ghosts, flicking in and out of existence every half-second. Facial expressions and body postures changed, the art of the grotesque – a hand in space one second, gone the next, a series of photographic snapshots. Blinking once, two women kissed. Blinking again, a man joined the two.
He wished Merrin would’ve warned him, prepared him, told him to stay away. In the corner of the room, he spotted an Asian kid with a hoodie, listening one-handed to headphones, a self-satisfied smirk on his face, commanding a turntable doing…what was the term?
It was so loud he couldn’t think --
“Spinning records.” That was it. The Asian kid was a DJ. More terms were coming back to him. He scanned over the “rave,” the amorphous bobbing of humanity and found a woman dancing in a cage dangling from the ceiling, straining against the “music,” her beauty and revealing black mesh outfit her saving grace. She was a lighthouse at sea attracting all eyes to her. Anders felt guilty lingering over the erotic snapshots of her stroboscopic image, but he’d never seen her like this before and had to admit he liked it. It was Merrin.
For months, Merrin Pierce had worked to ingratiate herself into the raver’s crew, loitering at known hangouts, learning the lingo, flirting with up-and-comers who introduced her to the established door-keepers, who introduced her to DJs who put together the vaunted invite lists. It was an exhausting process.
The raves changed locales every weekend, never held in the same place twice. Attendance was by invite only and invites were scarce, sorted by two categories – either those considered true fans or attractive young women. At 23 with a fearlessness that only comes from youth, striking blue eyes, olive skin and a mane of dark hair, Merrin easily fell into the later category. Invites came by hand to avoid detection from the authorities, oftentimes with just a simple nod.
Getting Anders on the list had been its own trial. But that’s what flirtatiously laughing at a few stupid jokes would do. Her first experience with the “music” was much the same as Anders, and she wouldn’t trade the world to see his expression. The sounds had been so foreign.
In her first forays into rave culture, she actually found a community held together by the ideals of “love, peace & unity,” even if there were no manifestation of them outside the four walls and time between sunset and sunrise. Come morning, the raves ceased to exist, vanishing mirages of the night, devotees dispersing like tendrils of smoke.
She could see how easily someone could succumb to the hex music weaved over them, the temptation to lose oneself within the hypnotic trance-like beats. No thoughts of the future, or the past, only the immediate present, as if life itself had condensed into a single moment.
The more raves she attended, though, the more she came to despise the noise and the whole lot of them, wasting their potential. They were the petri dish in which society’s bacteria grew, ideas formed into action, and action into revolution.
Earlier in the evening, she took a strategic position in the cage in order to survey the floor. When she saw Anders from across the dance floor, she smiled. Even with his athlete’s build and commanding face, he radiated discomfort. But the moment passed. The time was upon them. The charade of the past three months would end and she could go back to being Merrin Pierce, daughter, friend and citizen of the world, rather than “Melody,” raver and a liar at that.
She closed her eyes. In the center of her mind, the music faded away to silence as all of her thoughts compressed into a singularity of purpose, visualizing the next few minutes in excruciating detail. Satisfied – and to what appeared to onlookers as the rush of sexual excitement – she reached into her skirt and drew the hidden gun holstered near her upper thigh.
She looked forward to this part.
Merrin slipped out from the cage onto the dance floor. She ran past knots of dancers peacocked in bright colors and light wands, sucking on lollipops, to the turntables and jammed her hand down onto the vinyl, stopping it with a fingers-on-blackboard needle scratch.
The warehouse went silent. Strobe lights still flashing, the ravers looked like wind-up toys that suddenly lost battery power and slowed to a halt. With no music to accompany them, they truly looked spectral, all eyes on the DJ, zombies hungry for flesh. Any aural relief she felt was quickly replaced by an insidious high-pitched ringing burrowing deep in her ears – a continuous tone blanketing everything in her mind.
“The hell you doing?” It was the DJ, as he scrambled to re-start the music.
Merrin climbed atop the turntable and raised her badge, addressing the partygoers. “Nobody move! You’re under arrest!”
A cry emanated from the crowd. “It’s the Patrol!”
She read off the litany – congregating without a permit, decibel overload, transferring and distributing illegal music – but no one listened. The ravers were intent only on escape, clawing past each other, a whirlpool in reverse escaping from the center.
So much for love, peace & unity.
In seconds, Merrin found herself on the floor, looking up at the ceiling and a stampede of feet. The DJ had rushed her, forcing her to the ground. He sat atop her, her lungs crushed, her breath a memory, landing punches on her face. “I trusted you!”
She swiveled away and punches impacted her chest, pain radiating deep within her, spreading like fire. She had repeatedly requested backup, but had been denied, as her superiors considered ravers non-violent, unlike the “punks” or “rap” crowd. Never mind that a large group cornered could easily turn into a mob.
Darkness encroaching, consciousness fading, she stuck her gun into the DJ’s chest and pulled the trigger. A shot of non-lethal electricity sent his body flying off her, and he crashed into the turntable where he finally came to stop, convulsing on the floor.
Merrin scrambled to her feet, coughing, inhaling life in staccato bursts, and began firing. For a brief second, it reminded her of playing dodge ball in elementary school. More non-lethal shots dropped ravers in their tracks. Every shot offered release. She felt like Justice herself, offering mercy, but if her command to stop wasn’t heeded, then she offered sentencing of her own.
She looked over and saw Anders doing the same. A pile of writhing bodies encircled the only door leading to the hallway, growing larger as more people clamored over the fallen to escape. The warehouse was filled with the sounds of shrieks and chaos, until one by one, the mob became a multitude of people, and finally individuals willing to obey.
Someone opened the door from the hallway. Anders saw the exact moment in the bouncer’s mind when a look of horror crossed his face and he realized the gig was up and turned to run. Anders raised his gun.
The bouncer didn’t get far.
With the effects of the stun gun having worn off, Merrin and Anders, guns ready if necessary, escorted the ravers – now cuffed together with restraints in a processional of nearly 150 people – up the stairs and out into a waiting caravan of Patrol vans. Helicopters crisscrossed the skies, creating their own Broadway light show on the ground. Many ravers were crying, pleading not to be arrested. Promising better behavior. They knew what the future held.
As they passed the warehouse doorway, Merrin picked up the clipboard with the invite list. “We’ll cross-reference the invites with the ravers and pick-up anyone who didn’t show.” She looked up to find Anders staring at her. “What?” She eyed her skimpy outfit, torn in the melee showing a hint of cleavage, and embarrassed, wrapped her arms around herself.
Anders couldn’t look away. “It’s not the outfit. It’s your eye.”
It hurt to the touch. “Is it swollen?”
It was black.
Anders said, “You could say that.” He moved closer and pushed a strand of hair from off her face. “Who did it to you?”
She sighed and shook her head away from his hand.
“What?” he asked.
“When you try to get all Alpha Male on me.” They stood next to each other watching the results of their handiwork.
He asked, “Why didn’t you warn me?”
“And ruin the surprise?” She bent to the ground and picked up a fallen lollipop. “Here,” she said. “A souvenir. One day you can tell your kids you were here when.”
“Are your ears ringing or is that just me?”
“Like a church bell.”
“It’s more annoying than the music was,” he said. “And that’s saying a lot.”
She started walking to her car when Anders caught up to her. “Thought we’d go out and celebrate.”
She smiled, amused. “It never stops, does it?”
He shrugged. “Guy’s gotta try.”
She high-fived him. “Nice work, Anders.” Whether it was for his perseverance or the arrest, he wasn’t sure.
“Nice work, Merrin.”
“I know,” she said and smiled a devious grin that drove him crazy.
Anders watched Merrin drive off, her headlights growing smaller and smaller. Minutes passed and the excitement faded – vans and helicopters gone, the desert wind blowing away even footprints. Only he remained. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep that night; such were the after-effects of too much adrenaline and the muffled sounds around him, as if his ears were stuffed with cotton and his own breathing was like an echo chamber.
He held the lollipop in his hand, twisting it in his fingers, and then let it drop to the ground. For good measure, he dug his heel until the stick disappeared under the dirt. Then he walked to his car.
Driving to his apartment, he abruptly changed direction, not wanting to end the night by himself, and pulled into a hamburger joint.
Though it was late, the diner still had enough action to keep the cooks busy. Young professionals sat across from their dates in red leather booths. Laughter and chatter floated along the air, bits and pieces of everyday concerns. He stopped near the door, suddenly aware of a strange thought – envy. He wished he could be as oblivious as they, ignorant of the danger around the city, little infections he was tasked with lancing from the social body.
They have no idea who I am or what I do. Or that I spend my days saving their lives.
The spell broke as a young waitress in a white uniform breezed past on roller skates. Anders took a seat at the counter, surrounded and alone, ordering a coffee, his voice strange to his ears.
The waitress stared at him, then asked, “Cream or sugar?”
“I like a man who knows what he wants,” she teased and skated off to retrieve a coffee pot.
Anders was used to the reaction, though he was never comfortable with it. In high school he had friends who were jealous of his looks, and he had to agree – he’d done nothing to earn them, simply the product of chromosomes colliding in a pleasant manner.
But his looks meant nothing to the woman he coveted. Merrin didn’t give him more than a cursory glance when he came into work in his polished work blues. He knew he needed to move on, but he was used to getting what he wanted. Maybe that’s why he was so hung up on her. Merrin was the one and only girl who’d ever broken up with him.
He looked up as the waitress finished pouring his coffee. Her lips moved, her words mere mumbles.
He said, “Say again?”
She twirled a strand of her hair, her eyes devilish. “So, what are you doing later?”
He laid down a few bills. “Actually, I’m leaving. Thanks, though.”
Merrin drove home in her fern green Karmann Ghia convertible through the streets of Los Angeles. Driving at night was her favorite time – the skyline glittered with high-rise lights and she imagined who was up at such an hour. The traffic moved easily, as if the roads had been built just for her. Merrin had few vices, but the lure of an empty road prompted her to hit the accelerator. She lost herself, the wind whipping her hair, as the dividing lines on the road moved from individual lines to a near-constant strip of white.
The tinnitus kept hijacking her attention. She knew from experience it faded with time, but there was always a pang of anxiety – what if it doesn’t?
She pulled up to a large Tudor-style home in the monied area of Hancock Park with its 100-year-old trees and stately manses. She parked the car, hearing the soft tink-tink as the engine cooled. Taking a breath before walking inside, she enjoyed the scent of freshly mowed grass and penetrating silence of the night.
Once inside, she strode in the foyer, the barometric pressure somehow heavier, past the heads of elk, caribou and bear that adorned the walls from her father’s old hunting expeditions. For years, the animals had unsettled her with their glassy taxidermy eyes and unflinching poses.
Almost in time with the ticking of the grandfather clock came the wafting of her father’s snores. She found him asleep in his motorized wheelchair, his reading glasses perched on his nose. He looked like a wizened sleeping owl, a man for whom if not for his paralyzing injury would still retain the vigor of his youth. As it was, he was both paunchy in the belly and spindly everywhere else. Seeing him so snug and curled made her sad: this man, her father, needed – no, deserved – someone in his life. She wouldn’t always be around to look after him. Marriage would come to her – not soon she knew, but one day. And when it did, she’d move out and her father would be alone.
She hesitated waking him, but felt guilty leaving him awaiting her arrival. Assertive as she was at work, it was hard to be anything but his little girl in his presence. She knelt to him and whispered, “Daddy.”
He awoke with a start and after a cursory glance, averted his eyes. “My God, what happened to you?”
“It’s just a bruise. It’ll heal.”
“No, your…” He pointed at her risqué outfit from work, replete with its tear. “Is that what passes for fashion with those hoodlums?” Her father had often told her how much she looked like her mother and she wondered if her resemblance was a comfort or curse.
She took his blanket and wrapped herself in it, catching a trace of his Old Spice aftershave. “You didn’t have to wait up for me.”
“I had no choice. You’re my little girl.” He removed his glasses and bent them closed. “Though not so little anymore.”
Even though she was proud of her father, Merrin often felt her name was less “Merrin Pierce” and more “Tarquin Pierce’s daughter.” He was Minister of Broadcast Standards, one of the most powerful positions in the State, tasked with approving every piece of content heard over the airwaves. Every commercial, television show, motion picture, or the all-pervasive Musak heard in elevators and grocery stores nationwide funneled through her father’s office, and he deigned the work acceptable for public consumption or not. There were no appeals. Tarquin Pierce was by default the arbiter of appropriateness.
Tarquin yawned, his vigil over. “It’s late.”
They crossed over the mahogany floors towards an elevator that only went up one story. There they waited, two figures, one standing, one sitting, as the doors whisked closed.
From the hallway, she watched through the crack in his bedroom door, as her father lifted himself out of his wheelchair, nearly toppling over, before hobbling and finally falling onto the mattress. With the motion of a crab, he swung his legs into place and under the covers. Merrin hated watching him like this and fought the nightly urge to help him. She’d learned years ago the hard way, at the receiving end of his sharp voice, “I may be many things, but I’m no cripple.” It was a dangerous thing to humiliate a man. Still, she watched to make sure he was all right, though it never got easier. She turned and headed to her room.
Once in the shower, she closed her eyes. Rinsed of her raccoon eye make-up, ruby red lipstick, and free of her tawdry outfit, she was no longer a garish seductress, but a simple girl. Like shedding a false skin, she felt once again whole and true. The heat provided more than physical relief. After posing as someone else, whether as an undercover raver, or six months ago as a country music fan, the showers allowed her to rinse away the lies. As the soap circled the drain, so did the tension and guilt at the multitude of actions she had taken to maintain a believable cover. The showers became her personal baptism, reminding her of who she really was.
I am a good person. I am a good person. I am a good person.
Later, she lay down to sleep and tried to put the incessant squeal in her ears out of her mind.
About the Author:
James Morris is a former television writer who now works in digital media. When not writing, you can find him scoping out the latest sushi spot, watching 'House Hunters Renovation', or trying new recipes in the kitchen. He lives with his wife and dog in Los Angeles.