On October 31st of 2006 the following handwritten document was recovered from the body of one Professor Alana Fowler, head of Acoustic and Auditory science at Reading University. She disappeared over three decades ago, in March of 1975, at the same time as her husband was found strangled in the master bedroom of their spacious home in the nearby town of Earley.
The Professor’s remains were discovered last week in a previously unknown space built underneath the house. This room is a kind of makeshift anechoic chamber, an acoustically null area designed to absorb sound waves, thus preventing echoing of any kind, in effect mimicking the properties of an infinitely large room. Professor Fowler’s colleagues speculate that she had it installed when the couple first moved in to the house sometime in late 1969, presumably so she could conduct research at home. The chamber remained hidden until the present owners had the building comprehensively surveyed with an eye to splitting the house into flats.
The only other thing found in the room beside the Professor’s now desiccated body and the note was a large drum, modelled in the style of a nineteenth-century Chinese Xiao Tanggu, or ‘thunder drum’. The whereabouts of this drum are, at present, unknown.
To whoever finds this letter,
First of all: I am sorry. Sorry for the pain I’ve caused. Sorry for the death of my dear husband Aiden. And sorry for any further chaos that may be unleashed after I’m gone.
How I wish I’d never set eyes on that damn drum.
This morning I received a large package in the post, from sender or senders unknown. There was no accompanying note inside, just the drum and two sticks. The drum itself was made of wood stained a deep shade of red, with animal skin stretched across it to make the head. The sticks were thick and heavy, apparently made of bleached oak.
There was nothing remarkable about them or the drum, no identifying insignia or characters written on them, no serial numbers or logos.
But when I beat the drum for the first time – oh what sweet sounds it made! The beat conjured up colours such as I’ve never seen before. Not just in the mind, but seemingly in the house itself. And the timbre! It bought feelings of joy and serenity, such as I have never felt in my life.
My first thought was that, somehow, the vibrations that sounded out from the drum were tuned to such a frequency as to resonate with some part of the brain, stimulating it into creating these wondrous visual and auditory hallucinations. What a discovery that would be!
I now know that I was wrong. So horribly, horribly wrong.
My husband, Aiden, returned home early that afternoon, finding me striking the instrument in a state of reverie. Unable to explain to him, I simply called him over, passed him a stick and together we beat out a rhythm together, a joyous rhythm to rouse even the dead. Flashes of gold and crimson and jade surrounded us, and we whooped in delight at such sights and sounds as they filled the whole house from top to bottom, bouncing off the walls and the ceiling.
For the rest of that day we struck the drum & marvelled at the feast for the senses presented to us. Eventually, fatigue & hunger forced us to stop.
But ceasing the beat was a mistake.
That night, as we readied for bed, the flashes of colour that had filled the house returned, but darker, thicker somehow, shadows swimming across the floor and ceiling, in & out of the corners of the room. And these shadows whispered… whispered terrible things, things that had been, things that were, and things that had yet to pass.
Aiden grew concerned. He said we should destroy the drum, destroy this terrible instrument that had come into our possession.
But I couldn’t let him. It was capable of such beauty, such light. We couldn’t waste such a gift.
He picked the drum up, threatening to smash it against the floor. I tackled him and he fell hard against the wall. He was dazed and hurt.
The next thing I know, the shadows were speaking to me, telling me to…
They said it was either him, or me and them.
I don’t know why, but I chose them.
I did as they asked. I strangled him. Strangled my dear, sweet Aiden.
What have I done? Twelve hours ago, everything was normal, and now… now this?
They roar now, they roar even as I write my confession. A thousand voices from the shadows. ‘Beat the drum!’ they shout. ‘Beat the drum and free us!’
I must do as they say, but I will not let these… these ‘things’ out into the world. I have brought the drum here, to my space underneath our home. I have locked myself inside, & I shall strike the damn thing, strike it until I expire, from exhaustion or dehydration, whichever comes first.
Even now they are calling to me. ‘Beat the drum! Beat the drum and free us!’
But I will not set them free. I can’t. You see, this room, this space, it doesn’t echo. I built it this way, and I reason that they cannot gather here, they’ll just flit out into the quiet to die.
So, to whoever finds this: Don’t be seduced. Don’t play the drum. Destroy it, before it harms anyone else!
I am not a religious woman, but this instrument was surely forged in Hell, and if it exists then Heaven must exist too.
I only hope that God may forgive me for the terrible thing that I’ve done.
No one was ever charged with the murder of Aiden Fowler in 1975. Since the discovery of the chamber underneath the house, the police have closed the case, chalking it up to a particularly macabre example of murder-suicide. Whilst the handwriting on the note has been confirmed as the Professor’s, it has been dismissed as merely the nonsensical ramblings of a person undergoing a severe mental breakdown.
Worryingly, no one knows the current whereabouts of this ‘thunder drum’. It was processed as evidence on the day that the Professor’s body was discovered, but appears to have never made it to the police station.
It has not been seen since.
As to its origins and who sent it, I do not know. I only hope it is in the hands of someone far less curious than Professor Fowler.
Dr Thomas Gotobed
– Another example of a cursed object? – C.R.