Mrs. Butler’s body was frail, but her vocal ability was on the level with golden-throated Valkyries from a Wagnerian nightmare. She assumed an awkward position like she’d been afflicted with a degenerative disorder and screamed at the top of her lungs. Usually, these outbursts would occur around 4:10 pm then she’d revert to catatonia. The first time it happened to her, Rhonda thought it was a sign of the apocalypse, or Mrs. Butler’s body had been possessed by a demon. Rhonda was practically convulsing from adrenalin when Brendan joined her in the break room. She had a weathered look like she’d been standing on the bow of a ship in a strong wind. She was still red-faced; tear tracks either side of her nose like of war paint.
“Was she possessed by Pazuzu?” Brendan offered.
“The demon from The Exorcist.”
Brendan had tried to keep the disbelief out of his voice, but he couldn’t. When he made eye contact again, he was met with a hostile gaze. Brendan assumed she thought he was making light of her reaction or religious beliefs. These misunderstandings happened pretty frequently. Her chair screeched back, and she was gone. Brendan removed the Saran wrap from his sandwich and took a bite more concerned with the fact she hadn’t seen the movie. He’d half-heartedly make amends later but ultimately knew she wouldn’t last long here. Stone Pines was one of the pre-eminent assisted living facilities on the East Coast even after the investigative reporter delivered the now nefarious three-part expose. However, the turn over rate amongst the volunteers, and some of the staff, was high. Medical professionals were seasoned and had dealt with enough during their residencies, so they tended to stay. But, the orderlies and admin? Most of those people couldn’t handle the continuous sense of foreboding and loss. Spending one day in the memory care ward was usually enough to send the uninitiated packing.
Brendan opened the door and stepped inside her room. Mrs. Butler stood near the far corner. She was a statue staring off into space. Brendan wondered whether she was cognizant of her surroundings. The first time he tended to her, he’d been ready for the screaming. Still, it was something to behold. While he wasn’t easily flustered, something was disconcerting about her presence. She simply existed. Vitals were fine. She ate, slept, went to the bathroom. She could be guided and helped to bed. But, she never spoke. She was not present; until she started screaming. After he had shut the door behind him, Brendan placed the tray on the round table in the corner of Mrs. Butler’s room. He gave the room a cursory inspection and changed the sheets. It was about ten minutes before showtime. He couldn’t lock the door, but he knew no one else would intrude, so Brendan went to the dresser on the far side of the room and removed a digital audio mixer and microphone he’d stashed. He’d found, in the limited time he’d been doing it, the best sound mix came from placing the microphone at the opposite end of the room. There was some dampening to do as well due to the cavernous quality of the room. Sound recording itself is often more art than science. He tested the levels and walked over to her. Her skin was liver-spotted and sagged. Her hair had gone prematurely white and was kept short to keep things easy. Cataracts gave her eyes a glazed quality; eyes the color of stained oak with a film. Hidden beneath her leathery exterior radiated an abyss. It’s at that point, the song title came to him.
“Pazuzu’s Petals,” he said half expecting the words to be the magic phrase which unlocked the fairy tale curse that rendered Mrs. Butler inanimate. Nothing happened. He pulled the folded piece of paper from his pants pocket and added it to the list of titles he’d already written down: The Weekly Animal Meeting, Satan – part 2, Gabriel’s Lament, and Unnecessary Surgery. Currently, the band was named Nepenthe; that one took three days of drinking, smoking, various arguments, and one fistfight to conjure. Mrs. Butler’s throat muscles began to undulate and pulse which signaled the arrival of her banshee’s wail. Her lips pursed slightly, and the scream erupted from her in a torrent. Brendan watched the needle levels jump to the right and quickly twisted the nobs like an adolescent boy too eager with his first sexual encounter. In a moment, it was over. Neither of them moved as though a post-coital act had just subsided. He sat back in his chair. Like a museum’s curator, he continued to appraise his most prized possession.
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found in links on his website: asdavie.wordpress.com