Denis Fine was destined for something—that much is certain in the opening lines of “Prelude to the Abyss” by Daniel David Froid. 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.
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.
As a result, one might assume, of his disposition, as well as of his gifts, Denis was a shy and quiet child. On the whole adults liked him, because he was shy and quiet, because he was accommodating and caused no trouble, bar the questionable artistic talents about which, it seemed, there was little to be done.
Denis moved through the world with the lightest of steps. It is difficult to know how else to explain it. It seemed as though the world were something that were done to him, a burden he quietly bore. He seemed only lightly tethered to the world, and he seemed like he would be grateful when the tether came undone. This fact, this feature, put his fellow children off. They could sense a mind ill at ease, a body held apart from the world’s slow turning.
So young he was, seven or eight, when first he heard the music, along with his name, carried forth across the wind from wherever it was—the abyssal zone?—to his ears. This music was the force that weakened his tether.
That first time, outside, he played in the dirt. All alone—he liked it that way. Outside there was the thing he called the treehouse, which was not really in the trees but level with them. It was a large wooden box on legs, with a long wooden arm from which swings swung in the wind. The legs of the box formed a second box, open to the air, where he preferred to sit.
He sat in the box. He played in the dirt. He was all by himself when he heard his name, Denis, carried on the wind. He looked up.
No response. The voice did not talk back.
“Hello?” he repeated.
He felt now a new sense of unease. Where he was once alone, he was now no longer so. He was saddled with the weight of his fear.
In the open-air box, the little enclosure of dirt, a sprawl of toys surrounded a widening hole. Denis had been very slowly plunging into the earth. He wanted to see how deep he could go. With a flimsy green shovel, colored a translucent lime green and paired with a bucket to match, he dug. Shovel in hand, he plunged it in. He piled dirt into the bucket. Once it was full, he poured it out beyond the borders of the box. The hole was shallow: no more than three inches deep. But his progress was arrested by the voice that called his name.
Once it was gone—once he thought it, whatever it was, had gone—he tried to return to the hole, to his work. He tried to continue to dig, but it wasn’t the same. Newly self-conscious, he could no longer focus. He had a flash of something that felt like shame and fear.
Shame: What he felt was awfully like those times in school when, in a kind of daze, he felt his face grow hot, and he couldn’t explain it except that it felt like he was suddenly naked for all the world to see, and the mortification descended powerfully upon him, exactly the same as if he really were naked, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t, and then he would register an unclear but powerful sense, a booming in his mind: that he should not be there, that he was all alone in this world and especially here in this room and he needed to leave, now, right now, as fast he could go.
In the box, then, he felt shame’s hot flare. He shuddered. He took the lime green shovel in hand and struck it on the earth: anger, futile and fleeting. When it hit the dirt, the shovel snapped. He was not an angry child as a matter of course, but here his helplessness came up against the brew of things inside of him, and his equilibrium shattered. Dread and shame rose like a tide, coming up and over him and receding again, only to come back when they would, according to the push and pull of forces he could not comprehend.
He sat in the dirt in this peculiar state of mind, the broken hunk of plastic clutched in one hand. And then, in this shattered state, he once more heard his name: Denis. Closer now, and along with the name was a tune, a jangly little melody. When he heard the tune, he felt compelled, for a reason unknown to him, to peer at the hole. He did peer, he looked inside, and as he heard the tune a flash went off within his brain, and suddenly he felt that he was there, down on the bed of the abyss, and he saw in the corner of his vision a shape that might have been a limb, thrashing. And the limb might have been attached to something bigger, something so big that his mind was unequipped to grasp it.
He screamed. He stood up and looked around. He ran around the yard’s back edge, where a chain-link fence divided the house from the alley. Peering into the alley, both ways, he looked for the source of the sound, of his name, of the music and the vision from the bottom of the sea.
Nothing. There was nobody there.
Now he was well and truly scared. He could feel it, the old dread, the lurch in his stomach. The shame was gone but fear had decided to stay.
He returned to the house. The voice departed for a time, but now and then throughout the evening Denis heard the sounding of the tune in his mind.
His parents forbade him to go outside the next day and the next; rain had made the ground too wet. For a moment the thought crossed his mind that the mud would make for easier digging, but he did not press the issue. He felt no small amount of residual fear, of the voice, the tune—all the things the music caused him to see.
When he finally did go outside once more, he returned to the box, to the hole. The ground was still damp, and he wanted a chance to make it, the hole, deeper. The shovel was there, snapped in half, caked in mud, but usable nevertheless. He relished the ease with which he could plunge into the mud, wedging the shovel’s blade into the earth, nudging it back, forth, plunging it deeper still. When he pulled it out, mud flew onto his face. Marshalling the mud into neat little piles, he dumped the piles into the pail and emptied it beside him. The hole grew and grew.
He had embraced, since his ordeal, a renewed determination, a commitment to the project of digging the hole. It meant something to him, even if he could not say what, and so he continued to dig.
It was after an hour or so of work that he heard his name once more. Denis! And again the music, and again, almost immediately this time, his mind flashed to that vast deep place he had seen once before. But now he thought he knew from where it had come: the hole. It came from the hole and fluttered out into air. At least, it did that time, he was certain. The same old fear held on tight, did not let go. And yet a sense of satisfaction bloomed inside him: now he knew the provenance of the voice and the music and the vision.
But then another voice called out: “Denis! Dinner time!” It was his father. And now the shame crept back, for he heard: “What are you doing?”
“Just playing,” he said.
“Well, come on! Time to eat!”
At school the next day, the feeling was especially intense, the feeling of shame, not-belonging, naked vulnerability before the rest of the room. It was an ordinary school-day, and the class had gathered at the back of the room before a pale green armchair. Crisscross, applesauce, they all sat before their teacher and listened as she read. Denis sat with them and, while he listened, he felt again the flooding of red across his face. He felt his pulse rise. He couldn’t hear her. It was something—he would think this later, from the vantage point of age—about being near people, about grasping the gulf that divided him from all others. He felt it now as he had the first time he heard the voice. But, here, in the classroom, surrounded by his fellow children, listening to the teacher as she read some story he could not follow, the shame reached its zenith, and suddenly he felt himself stand up and run from the room. He ran past the vast open cavern of the lunchroom, past the bathroom. He did not want to stop. He realized that this school had no corners, no quiet dead ends that did not lead to a classroom or a door to the outside. On he ran, eventually stopping at a door that, he knew, opened into a storage room. Once his class had sat there during a tornado drill. He pulled it open and scurried inside and, finding a corner, sat and drew his arms about his knees, the concrete floor cold against his body.
Slowly his breath returned to normal, his pulse slowed. He breathed in and out in the cold dark room. As he sat and wondered, again he heard the now-familiar voice, which said, Denis! He nearly shrieked—but stopped himself in time. His eyes moved about the room and settled on a drain in its center. He wondered: Is that where it came from? And, despite his fear, he felt himself crawl on his hands and knees toward the drain, and all the while the voice said, as in a chant, Denis! Denis! and with it was the music, a different tune this time but just as infectious. And as he looked into the drain, he felt himself move to a different place and time: he was, perhaps, within a dormant volcano. Within, he knew there were other things there, which he could not see, that despised him yet would not destroy him. He seemed to float then, inside the dead mass of rock, and he listened to the voice and to the music, and he believed he had grasped something quite important then and there, wherever there was.
A few minutes later, a teacher opened the storage room door and found him lying on the floor, eyes open but unresponsive. The school nurse checked him and believed he would be fine; soon, his father came to pick him up. On the way home, his father tried to talk to Denis, to ask him what had happened, in a voice that was calm but palpably—even to Denis—controlled with substantial exertion. Denis insisted that nothing was wrong. Instead he asked if he could draw for a while, and his father agreed.
At home, that day, Denis did the first of his drawings. He sketched and, though far from the hole, any hole, he heard the tune play in his head. He produced a crude cross-section of a great volcano, inside of which was a beast the likes of which he had never seen, which had a head that might have been the head of a jackal, though its body was decidedly different, its limbs far too long and pliable. Its teeth were long, its hide thick and shaggy. And was that a tail?
His father, when he saw the picture, screamed and felt himself grow weak. Inside his heart he felt a swelling of fear, of alarm, and more than anything he wanted to run outside and leap before an oncoming car, to rid himself not only of the feelings that had descended upon him but of the world entire. But then he put the drawing aside, facedown, and shook his head, and wondered what it was that troubled his son.
Of Denis’s synesthetic efforts, the key details have already been addressed. He drew persistently and with relish, certain that this was the only way he could release what he heard inside his head. His parents rapidly learned to stay away from the drawings that repulsed and terrified them. None of them were hung on the fridge, displayed lovingly to family and friends, none tucked into scrapbooks as beloved artifacts of a cherished age. No. Discreetly, his parents would destroy them, a choice that Denis never questioned and scarcely seemed to notice at all. But he was not unaware that his drawings disturbed them, along with his teachers, who begged him to take on other subjects for his art projects, and psychologists, who simply did not know what to make of them.
And, of course, none of them wanted to hear the music either, when Denis would chance to sing, for the tunes threatened equally to drive them mad.
Several years later, when Denis found himself in a music class, he discovered the existence of musical notation. A complete system: Who knew? A system, which he could learn and use himself, a way to record particular notes, capture them on paper with precision and permanency. It was as though the sky had opened up—but perhaps this is not the right metaphor to use, for Denis had heard whisperings of the sky opened up more than once, and the things that came out of it were neither celestial nor cause for celebration and joy. Still, that such a thing existed provoked deep satisfaction.
Music fully absorbed him, arrested his attention completely. It enabled him as well to cease his drawings, to put aside a hobby that only caused upset anyway. Now, when he heard his whispered name and the tunes it carried with it up from the vasty black bottom of everything, he could set pen to paper and share precisely what he heard.
As it turned out, his musical talents were uncanny; he had perfect pitch, an absolute recall of any music he heard, and an ability to reproduce it precisely. He was able to pick up nearly any instrument and master it within a few hours. “A little maestro,” his teacher said. “A prodigy!” his parents whispered. His parents were delighted, and they all believed that this was the solution to their problems—that, in music, Denis would find happiness and peace, that the wrongness his drawings seemed both to evidence and to foretell would be diverted and even, perhaps, eradicated forever.
Yet they soon came to hate the uses to which he put his tremendous gifts. For as soon as he learned to record his own music, he recorded the same tunes he had always sung. Though everyone agreed it was preferable to his artwork—they were at least tolerable and did not appear to cause immediate psychological harm—Denis’s musical output was melodious, repetitive, and irksome beyond all measure. And they were memorable, those tunes, every one, which was how his teacher, Audrey Lincoln, found herself a handmaiden to his craft. (Indeed, his first initiate, though she did not know it.)
Audrey Lincoln recognized her student as highly gifted, with a predilection for writing songs that simply would not leave one’s head. They granted no quarter, took up permanent lodging. In this she saw the path to financial, if not artistic, success—success that could even include her as his first and most dedicated instructor. She had in her youth attended a rather prestigious academy for the musically inclined and as a result moved in the orbit of other music teachers, professional musicians, conductors, and composers. She knew more than one of the last group who worked in television and radio. And she knew that they, too, would recognize Denis’s infernal talent for what it was. Something came over her. She worked according to her station and ability and did what she needed to do.
With his parents’ permission, she called and arranged a meeting between them and Lucas Jones, one of her well-connected friends. Lucas had agreed to meet them with some skepticism, for, though he had known Audrey for years, he found it odd that she would so aggressively insist on a child’s talent for writing commercial jingles. An odd discovery, an odd ambition—but he would indulge her and meet the child and his parents.
At the meeting, which took place at the Fines’ own home, Audrey was enthusiastic, zealous even. In the living room, before a small coffee table that held a tray of cookies and a pot of tea, Audrey gushed about her pupil. In fact, she surprised Lucas with her frenzied behavior, she who was typically rather demure, rather quiet.
“Oh, Lucas, you’ll die when you meet him,” she said. “Denis is so smart. He can play anything. If you hum three bars of Mozart he’ll reproduce it exactly on any instrument you want. Piano, violin, xylophone. Whatever. Give him a cowbell. He’s that good. And I have to say”—here she lowered her voice—“his own little songs are quite memorable. You see, he has so much talent, but the songs he writes tend to be short and sort of—jangly. But they won’t leave your head. Don’t you agree?” She glanced at his parents, who nodded. His father said, “Yes, they’re very catchy,” and his mother smiled.
She continued to speak, arms waving as her excitement grew: “He has a real talent, and the thing is—I think he’d be a slam dunk for writing—professionally. It’s a feeling I have. If he wrote a jingle, say, for a new dry cleaner’s, or a car wash or whatever, well, it would never ever leave your head until you finally drove there to see what all the fuss was about. I just can’t explain it, but it’s the truth. You’ll see.”
At this point, Denis’s mother went to his room to retrieve him, and Lucas spoke to him for a while and listened to him play on the family piano. He asked Denis to play a couple of his original compositions. And, almost instantly, he could see what had driven Audrey to rave as she did. The songs were simplistic, a little annoying; they could use some refinement. But Denis was at this point twelve years old. He had time to learn and grow. And the songs were fiendishly catchy. His eyes lit up with possibility, just as Audrey’s had, and, like Audrey, he hoped that some of that inevitable success might trickle down to him, somehow. Something came over him, and he did what he needed to do.
Everything was coming together. Denis Fine was at last, at twelve years old, becoming who he was supposed to be.
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. Of the remainder of his childhood little more can be said, except this.
Lucas Jones offered to make the requisite connections, and, at thirteen, just a few months after their initial meeting, Denis Fine sold his first jingle to a local coffee shop, The Morning Brew. Denis wrote the music and even added lyrics: Wake up in the morning and what do you do? / You’ve got to come on down to the Morning Brew!
When he played the composition for management, the effect was remarkable. Though the owners’ initial impressions were restrained, if a bit more theatrical in their desire not to offend or disappoint a child, the owners soon found that they quite literally could not stop hearing the song. It was irritating and seemingly forgettable—nothing special.
And yet: For forty-eight hours those two lines endlessly rattled around their heads. They found themselves, in quiet moments, at home or on an errand, walking toward their shop, as if drawn by magnetism. (The precise phenomenon is not so different from magnetism, not that one has time to delve into such parapsychological minutiae.) When away from the shop, with the music never ceasing in their heads, they felt instead a sort of desire, a sad miserable inexpressible longing that could only be assuaged by their return. And so it was easy for them to recognize the arcane potential of young Denis’s jingle. Soon they confirmed that they would like to buy exclusive rights to the jingle, to his family’s delight, and they produced a professionally recorded version for use in new commercials—though they tried to avoid listening to it themselves. Customers heard it when they called the store by phone, and it was even piped into the drive-through. The Morning Brew is, of course, now known as one of the most successful and fastest-growing franchises of coffee shops in the country. And if customers feel a curious dependence on and loyalty to the store, which goes beyond mere preference, beyond an addiction to caffeine or to sugar, and toward something both more fundamental and more cosmic, well, then, is that not the proof of the brand’s triumph?
After this first success, Denis felt the rightness of what it was that he did. He recognized that this was his first major step in a much larger journey. The details may have been fuzzy, but the conviction was powerful. He did not spend too much time at his craft, now, because his parents wanted him to finish school. But he heard the voice and he bided his time, the voice that whispered his name and fed jangling melodies into his ears.
He had by this time developed a peculiar habit, which was to take long solitary walks and listen to the voice. And he would look for holes: sewer grates, manholes, animals’ burrows. Near holes he could pause and listen most clearly as the voice whispered: It told him of the deep, of the bottom of the world and the things that slithered and crawled there, and of the many shades of dark that sprouted from within that abyssal zone, and of the Great Dark Thing whose home was the abyss, and it told him how one day the abyss could be filled with throngs of the fervent who would genuflect before it. No shame, no fear: Denis knew it was true and right, and he came to understand his role as the abyss’s own pied piper. He could even see himself wandering about down there, grasping in the dark, looking for the center, the place toward which it was his duty to lead others. The lifelong feeling of disconnection from the human race was something in which he reveled, recognizing his fate.
The rest of the story of Denis’s youth can now be passed over. He spent it. Time passed in waves that washed over him and broke, and sometimes the waves came to a halt, and it was only at those moments of no-time that he felt truly alive, at one with the void, and of those moments enough has been said.
Denis Fine finished his time at school, and very soon he found suitable employment. He wrote freelance jingles here and there, for a number of local businesses that, with an astonishing quickness, became the most successful of their kind. A couple of years after that, he landed a more permanent job. For several years he wrote the music for a now-obscure soap opera, Eagle’s Nest, and even, in its final season, briefly acted in it. Its creator and producer was a deeply weird woman named Ernestine Boggs who, she said, wanted her television series not only to reflect reality but to transform it for the better. For a woman with such ostensibly high-minded ideals, she wrote plots full of contradictions, histrionics, false leads, dead ends, and cheap thrills. But she paid handsomely, and for five years he wrote first the theme song and then the incidental music for the series. And her drive inspired him: It led him to understand with greater clarity how he could train his own work toward a greater purpose, the purpose, he knew, for which he had been born. That time, too, passed quickly, and soon enough he had moved on, closer to the future and his destiny, too.
While it is true that fame eludes the majority of jingle-makers, Denis found it. A freak of industry, Denis quickly became highly sought-after, not just in the Midwestern city where he lived but in larger regions. At twenty-four, he made a deal with a national grocery-store chain, Valu-4-U, which had been steadily growing in the Midwest. Its owners wanted the company to expand, to compete on the national stage, and they recognized that no small part of that growth would have to be a memorable brand, an ineradicable presence, a way to get themselves stuck in people’s heads and, consequently, their lives. They wanted a jingle, and they wanted the best.
Denis Fine was it, and he agreed to do it. He wrote for them one of his trademark compositions: brief, simplistic, unexceptional. The jingle went as follows: Valu-4-U! Where we always have a great value—for you! When the CEO, Clive Harrelson, heard Denis’s demo, he thought he might laugh. He thought, Is this it? Is this what he’s asking a six-figure fee for? He thanked Denis for having made the demo and went home early, planning to tell his assistant in the morning to let Denis off as easy as he could. But when he got home, he found himself humming the tune. He thought, Okay, this isn’t so bad. It’s catchy. He took a shower and found himself singing it. Later, he went out to eat with his wife and daughters. At the dinner table, he actually sang it aloud, to his family’s embarrassment. He tried explaining that the board of directors wanted a memorable jingle, that they had hired an odd young man who was supposed to be the best. He told them that he truly could not shake the song from his mind. He said, “Listen, it doesn’t seem like much but I actually think it’s pretty good!”
In the car on the drive home, he played the demo tape for them. Soon his wife began to hum, and his daughters joined in. By the time they got home, they all felt distinctly disturbed, struck by a peculiar longing. They felt sad, out of place in this world. But then his youngest daughter asked if they could go to the grocery store to get some ice cream. The rest of the family immediately, enthusiastically agreed, practically knocking each other over to get to the car. It was only inside the nearest Valu-4-U that they could feel anything close to peace, anything like a sense of ease. After they purchased the ice cream and returned home, again the disturbing feeling descended upon them. The youngest daughter cried and said she wanted to return. The rest of the family did, too, and it was only propriety that prevented Clive Harrelson from driving back as soon as he could.
The next day, Clive got himself ready and drove to work as fast as he could, where he played the demo for every employee he could find. Soon the entire office was filled with humming and singing, and everyone agreed that this jingle would revolutionize the store’s brand forever. The board of directors approved it, Denis got his payday—far higher than his requested fee—and soon every one of Valu-4-U’s one hundred and fifty stores piped the song into the building.
Within two years, it seemed there was a Valu-4-U on every block in America. The company had grown to become the most successful of its kind in American history. Nearly every American knew the jingle and shopped at the store, and, after leaving and returning home, would feel the shroud of sadness and alienation take hold. Everyone would long to return, to wander once more beneath the bright fluorescent lights and find something, anything, to buy.
(Of course, there is some exaggeration at work here. On some very small number of people the music seemed to have no effect. Some could not hear it. Some were simply immune. Abyssal music has diverse effects, and few of us are fortunate enough to be resistant to them. But the fact remains that Valu-4-U exerted a spectacular hold over the lives of many millions of Americans. Something came over them. They did what they needed to do.)
In fact, with the growth of Valu-4-U came another growth: expensive luxury apartments built near the store. It was in fact another arm of the same company, for every single employee recognized not just the attractiveness but the absolute necessity of staying close to the store at all times, of keeping the building in sight. It seemed that, as soon as the apartments were finished, they were completely full, every last one rented out. The residents loved their homes, secure in the certainty that they could stand within a Valu-4-U in minutes—that they could peer out their windows and confirm that it was there. It began to seem the only thing that gave their lives meaning.
Denis Fine was young to be so successful, and he was in fact a multi-millionaire thanks to Valu-4-U and its infamous jingle. But wealth was not what he sought. Still he heard the voice whisper: Denis! Still he heard the voice from the bottom of the world urging him forward with its plans. And now he recognized that the time was upon him.
Denis contacted the company, and he told them that he had produced a new version of the jingle. He thought it was just the thing to revitalize it, not that that was truly necessary.
The effect was immediate. Once it had been distributed to every store in the country, its effect was palpable, alarmingly so. Many refused to leave the store. They formed bands congregating in aisles, some near the bread, some near the yogurt. They slept there and woke to wander the aisles in bands. After a time, they began to don shapeless blue robes. Within their minds, too, they felt not just the need to be in the store, to be soothed by the irritating, jangling tune, but something else. They felt driven by forces far beyond their ken.
Picture him as he is now: pale frail ordinary-seeming Denis Fine. In his hometown, a large city in the Midwest, he witnesses a ring of acolytes, each person in head-to-toe blue, holding hands, forming an immense circle, miles in circumference. All the acolytes are singing. They are off-key, discordant, yet they sing the same song, over and over again. They sing for hours and, eventually, their hoarse voices cease to sing the words and rasp out the melody alone, which flows out of them and into the circle. The song is familiar to Denis, the first abyssal tune he ever heard, so long ago now.
They are singing, and they will not stop until they are done. They are summoning the Great Dark Thing.
Denis stands at a distance and watches, and this is what he sees: the immense circle that covers a mostly suburban region of the city. There are houses here, and apartment buildings, and people inside them, cars and trees and parking lots, the city’s mundane furniture. But suddenly the circle gives way; the bottom falls out. The region becomes a crater, and still the acolytes who surround it are singing, hands joined—chanting, really. And now Denis watches closely as the thing that for so long existed in his mind’s eye alone rises up from the depths of the circle. And it is as fearsome as he always knew it would be, even if he also feels something else stirring, something like relief. He gazes at the limbs now, which will soon thrash and destroy everything in their wake. He gazes at the immense body and the horrible face, which he cannot even describe, which nobody can, much less look at for long and stay sane.
The cacophony, the chaos, spreads everywhere around him—there is no end—and he knows that he too will soon be absorbed into the writhing, moaning mass. Denis gazes at the Great Dark Thing, at the end of the world it has wrought—the end of the world for which he was the chief instrument—and what he feels is a sense of peace. He is relieved because he did as he was told, and he carried out the task that was allotted to him. The sadness, the longing, all that he felt as a child, were but a premonition of this, here and now: the hole, out of which rises the first movement of the great abyssal symphony that ushers in the end.
Daniel David Froid is a writer who lives in Arizona and has published fiction in Lightspeed, Weird Horror, Black Warrior Review, Post Road, and elsewhere.