Authors: Daniel Braum
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Horror, #Mystery, #Science Fiction, #Short Stories, #Speculative
THE NIGHT MARCHERS
and Other Strange Tales
by Daniel Braum
Cemetery Dance Publications
Copyright © 2016 by Daniel Braum
“Music of the Spheres,”
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet
, April 2010
Full Unit Hook Up #5
, Spring 2004
“Mystic Tryst,” Farrago’s Wainscot #8, October 2008
“Across the Darien Gap,”
Cemetery Dance #55
“Spark,” Dark Recesses Press, April 2007
“The Ghost Dance,”
Electric Velocipede # 8
, Spring 2005
“The Green Man of Punta Cabre,”
Cemetery Dance #71
, Summer 2014
Cemetery Dance #67
, August 2012
“The Night Marchers,” Original to this collection.
“The Moon and the Mesa,”
Midnight Echo #4
, Fall 2010
“The Sphinx of Cropsey Avenue,” Original to this collection
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cemetery Dance Publications
132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7
Forest Hill, MD 21050
The characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Front Cover Artwork © 2016 by Lynne Hansen Design
Digital Design by Dan Hocker
To my family. For everything.
I would be one of the lost without you.
THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS
by Nicholas Kaufmann
Full disclosure number one: As of this writing, Daniel Braum and I have been friends for twelve years. That’s hard to imagine, and yet it’s also not. After all, we’ve both been through so much and done so much in that time, frequently while in each other’s orbit. Relationships have come and gone. Friends and loved ones have passed briefly through our lives before moving away or, mercifully rarely, passing away. Countless books, TV shows, and movies have been discussed and dissected ov
er countless meals. Through it all, it’s been my pleasure to witness Dan achieve milestone after milestone in his career. You’re reading one of those milestones right now, in fact. This is his first story collection, but believe me, it won’t be his last.
Let’s rewind to a dozen years ago. It was 2003, and after attending an enjoyable and productive class at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop I was itching to keep that workshop atmosphere going. I knew I didn’t want to join a pre-existing one; I wanted instead to put my own workshop together, one filled with New York City-based writers whose work I admired and whose opinions I respected. Among the people I asked to join the group was Lee Thomas, a talented author who has gone on to achieve quite a few career milestones himself, and it was through him that Daniel Braum became both a part of the workshop and a close friend. I had never met anyone so gung-ho about writing before! Dan exhibited an impressive raw talent and an unmatched creative energy that kept him turning out story after story. That hasn’t changed. He’s still one of the most prolific short story writers I know, with a fertile imagination that never ceases to amaze me.
Full disclosure number two: Dan makes a mean mojito. He has been known, on occasion, to bring the ingredients with him to conventions and writers’ conferences to mix for anyone who’d like a drink. And I have been known, on occasion, to partake of them. Not just at conventions, but also at parties, at his house while watching Godzilla movies (we share an abiding love for the big green lizard). What makes his mojitos so perfect? As any mixologist can tell you, it’s all about using the right ingredients.
Which brings me, in perhaps a somewhat hamhanded segue, to Dan’s stories. What makes them so special is also a matter of the right ingredients. While no two Daniel Braum stories could ever be accused of being the same, within these pages you’ll find him playing with certain ingredients, experimenting with them, finding new ways to mix them for different flavors. You’ll find yourself visiting exotic locales—the Central American jungle in “Across the Darien Gap,” for example, or the Hawaiian Big Island in “The Night Marchers”—places where history still breathes and the air is filled with a dark mysticism. You’ll find examples of hot, deadly struggles between the old world and the new, perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the haunting agricultural nightmare tale “The Green Man of Punta Cabre.” Music is an important ingredient in these stories as well, from the classic rock of “Mystic Tryst” to the freeform celestial jazz of “Music of the Spheres,” one of my personal favorites. Sprinkle liberally with broken men, crushed romantics, dangerous women, secret societies, demons, magicians who are in over their heads, and maybe a crocodile or two.
I guarantee you’ve never read anyone quite like Daniel Braum. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Turn the page (or swipe the screen, or tap it, or whatever it is you crazy kids do with your electronic devices), jump in with both feet, and find out for yourself. As for me, I’m going to drink this mojito and think about which Godzilla movie to watch next. But you know what? Between the two of us, dear reader, I think you’re the one who’s about to have the most fun.
Nicholas Kaufmann, August 2015
MUSIC OF THE SPHERES
The song was a year long and had been playing for months when I stumbled into the room. Sometimes I imagine I’m still there, my hands chasing the Shepherd’s up and down the keys. On late August afternoons, especially when the cicadas are singing, I think I’ll never drive the spiraling refrains of his song from my mind…
A couple of weeks ago, one afternoon before rehearsal I sat at my piano waiting for Jack. The top was open and the mikes were set up, the back room where we recorded was full of gear—but no Jack. Ancient oaks shaded the yard and my old house from the late afternoon heat. Hidden among the summer green leaves, cicadas buzzed symphonies.
A Long Island Railroad train was rumbling into the station down the block. Hopefully Jack was on that train. We had a CD to complete, and after that, a show to put on. We weren’t getting any younger, and life, rock and roll especially, waits for no one. The problem was that an hour here, an hour there didn’t seem like much, especially to easygoing Jack.
After months of rehearsing and recording after work and on weekends I had recently admitted to myself, and to Jack, that something was missing, even on the tracks we both liked. I could hear that elusive “something” in my mind but we could never translate it, never hit it when the tapes were rolling. Jack knew it too. He was born ready to be a rock star but the hard work of laying down tracks and writing focused songs didn’t come easily to him. Session by session, as he realized all the sweat that went into making an album, a sadness grew in him.
We loved to play and sing. When we clicked, which more often than not we did, it worked pretty well. The dream was alive. Another candle lit against the darkness. Each song more fuel to keep us going another day.
The gate opened. Jack and a slender African American guy with thick, long neatly tied dreads walked past my window. Their instrument cases were slung over their backs. There was always an element of chance to every session with Jack. He might show up one day high as a kite, the next on no sleep with a trio of exchange students he had met the night before at the Knitting Factory. Other times he was bristling with energy, brilliantly nailing his parts after only a few takes.
I let them in through the back door into the kitchen and offered them the iced ginger tea with lemon and honey I had ready for my vocals.
“Dave, this is Roger,” Jack said. “I was practicing my parts, singing them on the F train and we got to talking, talking about the project. He plays with Noah Sol.”
“Nice to meet you, brother,” Roger said in a rich, deep baritone with a humble smile. “Thank you for having me today.”
,” I said.
Noah Sol was a serious old-school big-band leader, from the fifties and shit, which meant this guy probably had serious chops.
“Noah Sol?” I said. “You look a little young to be playing with that crowd. He’s still alive?”
I wasn’t sure why Roger was here but I trusted Jack. I also trusted him to make colossal, yet heartfelt mistakes.
“Shall we?” I said. Some of my hesitation must have showed, though.
“I’d be honored,” Roger said. “Noah encourages all his players to expand their horizons and experience what other music is being brought into the world by our brothers and sisters.”
He spoke like some hippie-Rasta; hopefully he didn’t play like one.
“Cool,” was all I said.
Jack plugged in. Roger opened his case, and took out his slender soprano sax.
“Cue up the rhythm tracks to ‘Sacred Spiral’,” Jack said. “We can jam over it.”
“Sacred Spiral” was our most ambitious song. It started out slow and built up into a long instrumental meant to symbolize the desert waking up and the creative awakening we had felt when we’d gone on a road trip last March into the Utah desert near Moab.
I cued the tracks and let them roll. I knew from the first harmony that Jack was on. Roger came in with whispery, breathy notes acting as a third harmony. I liked it. By the time we came to the crescendo, we were locked in. Roger was making runs and trading trills with Jack as if they had been playing together for ages.
“Run it again, run it again,” Jack said. “This time roll the tapes.”
“Already on it,” I said.
We recorded our next take and it was good. Real good. Not what I originally had in mind for Sacred Spiral, but I thought it might be even better. We put down our instruments and went into the kitchen for more tea.
“Nice playing, man,” I said. “Where you’d learn to play like that?”
“Jupiter,” he said, matter-of-factly.
After an uncomfortable pause I smiled, realizing he wasn’t going to say anything else.
“Jupiter as in Jupiter?” I asked.
“Yeah, brother, as in I travel the space-ways, learning music as I go,” he said.
A cicada careened from the trees, buzzing and clicking against the window.
“Come on, man,” Jack said, smiling. “What kind shit is that? You’re from Jupiter and I’m Mork from Ork. Nanu, nanu.”
If I had said the same thing, it would have sounded all wrong and hostile, but Jack could speak his mind like that and get away with it.
Roger laughed. “Of course I’m not
Jupiter,” he said. “Though sometimes I can feel its eye upon me, its great storms alive with energy. I say I’m from Jupiter in recognition that we all come from the same place. The stars. Not in spaceships, no, no, no. But you and me and everyone and
around us were all born in the stars. Right?”
I nodded and listened, letting him go on.
“Our bodies are organic machines made of carbon and water and heavy elements all born in the hearts of stars. The stars burn hydrogen into helium and then it gets older and older and hotter and hotter forming every element ever known. When it dies, it blows up, spouting them into the universe. That’s how we are born. Everything. So when I say we are brothers, I do not say it lightly. We may have once been molecules side by side waiting to be born in the womb of a star or traveling the space-ways together.”
“Whoa, dude,” Jack said. “Sacred Spiral. He gets it.”
Roger laughed. “Yes, you could call it a sacred spiral. I feel an echo of it in your song.”
“I hear you, brother,” I said. For some reason I was uneasy with his praise. “Sacred Spiral is just about feeling free in the desert. All this peace and star-love is cool, but I just don’t buy it. Look at the world today. I don’t want to talk negativity under this roof, but look around at what a mess is out there.”
Jack was listening intently.
“It doesn’t care whether you buy it or not,” Roger said. “The universe is one whole. Fractured at the beginning of time. All this fussing and fighting, it is just the universe trying to find its way back together again. You may not know it is so, but it is so. You touch this truth in every pure moment you have ever experienced. In everything true, like our playing just before.”
I didn’t have anything to say to that but Jack look really awestruck. Roger packed up his case and thanked us for the jam. “Our ensemble meets at fifty five Saint Robinson, at the corner of Tenth,” he said. “We’re always there.” He shook my hand, hugged Jack, and left whistling the melody to Sacred Spiral.