Denis Fine was destined for something—that much is certain in the opening lines of “Prelude to the Abyss” by Daniel David Froid, this week’s New Voices story. Equal parts funny and terrifying, Froid’s story profiles the world’s preeminent jingle-maker, Denis Fine, from his humble childhood, to, well, the end.
The world has not many very famous jingle-makers, for the art of the jingle is an obscure and lowly one. No, jingle-makers do not gain fame, but they do, sometimes, find fortune, if they are very good at their craft, and Denis Fine was, as we have established, infernally good.
As a young man, Denis Fine knew that he would one day do something very great and very terrible. This was no show of pride, of overweening and vainglorious ambition. No, it appeared to be a matter of fact, because he was told, or shown, and he tended to do as he was told.
But it was not until many decades had passed—not until the moment when he looked out upon the vast deep crater, surrounded by a ring of eager acolytes, holding hands and singing in concert—that he registered fully the great and terrible thing that he had done, the thing to which he had been led. As he gazed at the ruin that consumed first his city and gradually, he assumed, the rest of the planet, he felt a sense of relief.
Picture him as he was then, young Denis Fine, weak and pasty child, sitting at the dining room table in his parents’ home. Before him he had spread sheets of white paper and colored pencils. He had undertaken a drawing that proceeded according to the music of his mind. He heard a song—it entered his head fully formed—and then he did his best to record it. At this early stage of his life, drawing seemed to him a perfectly accurate and reasonable way to record the music that he heard.
His method was simple: to produce vivid, garish drawings that intuitively matched the music. He was just now nearly finished with one, which had taken a very long time to complete, for he had had to use the dark blue pencil to scribble all around the surface of the paper to its outer edges. The dark blue was the sea, and near the bottom was its bed. Beneath the abyssal plain, which he had colored in copper, slept the Great Dark Thing, which Denis saw perfectly well in his mind’s eye but which he struggled to capture with his pencils. He drew two spirals and a circle all in black. Might that have been its awful chitinous body, which rested across miles of the oceanic bed? Might those have been numerous limbs, slimy and covered in scales? And was that there a mouth, for does not the Great Dark Thing have a mouth with which it calls to the faithful? It was a mouth, Denis knew, for of course it whispered in his young ear the portents of an extinguished future.
When the drawing was done he showed it to his mother, who instantly fainted.
To anybody else—his parents, his teachers, one of the several child psychologists he would see throughout his long and interminable childhood—the drawings seemed to betoken a disturbed mind; signs, perhaps, of a sociopathic inclination. They found themselves all the more perplexed when Denis insisted that the drawings matched the music in his mind. They would then ask him to sing the music that had led him to create the fearsome drawings. And Denis would quaver in his little boy’s falsetto, a jangling tune without words, not particularly scary but annoying and infectious. Indeed, his parents found that Denis’s tunes would lodge in their ears for days at a time. Neither they nor any of his teachers or psychologists could bear the tunes and frequently commiserated about them. At some point in his childhood they would decide that there seemed to be nothing much wrong with Denis other than a perverse imagination, a deeply weird mind that produced both the most hideous drawings they had ever seen and the most singularly catchy and annoying melodies they had ever heard.
To continue reading “Prelude to the Abyss” click here.