It was two AM; it seemed like it was always two AM during those years I owned a studio. I always had far too much work for money, and the daytime was reserved for the non paying customers, musicians trying to hit the jackpot. So overnights were all I had left to cover the expense of my partner's dreams; that we'd one day break a record contract with one of his apprentices and all my labors recording and mixing industrial media would have been worth it.
The building had been a small
hardware store originally, it's only windows, street side. We'd bought
it as a media co-op, myself, a director, a couple photogs, programmers
and writers. My part of the space was far from streetside, a 20 yard
walk from the front door down a long hallway. I'd taken a third of the
square footage in the form of a single room that must have been where
screens and tires were fixed, the warehouse area. It was perfect in size
and shape, but with linoleum tile floor and block walls, too "alive" in
it's raw state; so we covered the walls in insulation and cheap
fabrics, and built a few sound reflectors to create movable walls when
The control room had been an office, a bit too small for
equipment and clientèle; so we kicked out a wall and expanded forward
into the studio room, containing the door to the basement stair in the
process. For some reason I had this grand idea that the window between
one and the other should be the size of a house, perhaps a testosterone
thing, I'm not sure. The glass was four feet tall by eight feet wide in
the end; great for seeing all the action beyond during sessions, but a
giant black hole when the studio was unlit.
And now it was two
AM, and the black hole was as pitch. I may have mentioned my fear of the
dark, a transient thing that I sometimes need to simply grit my teeth
and control in order to get anything accomplished in my life. One 2 AM
in the studio was fine, and the next, done with sweaty palms. I just
forced myself to deal with it as I could hardly tell a client "Hey
sorry, I missed your deadline but it was dark and I was afraid of
monsters; I'm sure you understand."
The room itself was done in
dark earth tones, the lighting, moody if not downright unusable. The
equipment itself was black and then there was the window. It's
interesting what the subconscious will do with peripheral images...as
example, how would it know the reflection on black glass that keeps
moving around in the backwash of my eyes is actually me, and not some
guy demon behind the glass doing some voodoo dance to attract my
attention, to be followed by his head peeling back and showing his bare
skull or some such if I actually did look up.
Like I said, it was
rare it even occurred to me there might be a demon behind the glass so
it was no big deal. But this night, this night started at 2 AM and
didn't end for quite some time.
I was fond of loud, so it was my
SOP to have my mixing board cranked up all the time, feeding maximum
signal to a few thousand watts of clean power and into these massive
speakers we'd had custom made and built into the walls. I spose again
it's some penis thing as nearly everything a male does seems to be
influenced by his penis, but I can't say for sure.
In any case it
was an industrial soundtrack mix I'd come in for, a voiceover
describing how the company in question was nearly Godlike in all ways,
and then the appropriate thumpy, horn blasting, hip classical, movie
music would be layered under...my particular specialty.
voiceover had been done by a local legend, Tom Barnard. You've heard
him, no matter where you live. For years he flew to both coasts
recording movie previews and McDonald spots; one year was the voice on
seven of the fourteen major sponsors commercials during the Olympics, a
feat that made him rich enough to stop commuting altogether. Let's say
his voice is that of God, with throat cancer; deep as the grand canyon,
raspy as a cheap steel file.
I'd recorded him during the
afternoon, and now had to edit. Understand, this was 1979; recording was
done on tape, editing done with a wax pencil to make the spot, and a
razor blade to zip out the offending portion. It was tedious, but I was a
master so it went pretty fast, I just had to be in the mood.
as I walked into the studio at 2 AM, just that tiny bit on edge I
sometimes am at first when walking into a cavern without bright lights
or windows to the real world, I swept through my beginning routines
without even taking my coat off. Master power on, tape reel spun into
place and leadered, editing block and tape moved into place and tape
deck started as I would listen to a few paragraphs to put me in that
special place between art and crass commercialism, where my best work
was done. It was sort of my standard flourish I guess, a middle finger
tossed off to my fears, ignoring the tingling in my spine and shouting
"AHA" like a Monty Python character might to a Frenchman.
last note, I'd been working on a job that afternoon that had required me
to lower the tape speed as quality was far less an issue than expense. I
did it so rarely that it's no wonder I didn't remember.
slipped off my coat, my back to the black hole, the voice began. Imagine
the deepest voice you've ever heard, in slow motion, half time
actually. Now play it at 120 decibels, about the volume of a jet passing
overhead so close you can jump up and tap the fuselage.
Had I not already been mostly bald...
this feeling I get that maybe everyone else experiences in exactly the
same way and we've just never told each other. It's pretty close to
those times when I've tried to change a light fixture without flipping
off the breaker because the basement's just too far away. It's that jolt
of electricity after which you still tingle, and quickly check yourself
out to make sure you're not smoking from any orifice.
say for certain that in the split second decision to whip around and hit
any switch that would end the terror, was a voice that said "remember,
the black hole is that way too"; but I'm betting it was there. I did hit
the switch, the voice did stop, and my mind's eye did catch the
(perhaps) reflected movement slightly stage left (maybe it was a
monster), and I suffered the same shock again only this time it nearly
sat me down as my legs couldn't take the banging together.
might have been a half hour before I regained my composure. Of course I
wanted to turn on more lights, but the studio lights were actually out
of the control room, down a little hall and then reach your hand into
the pitch dark of a room so large any number of miscreant malevolencies
could have been lurking; so I put that on hold for the time being.
always been a bit of a contest anyway, a sort of "you're too damn old
for this fetish so open that door and fling yourself into the dungeon
because if you don't I will shame you forever and ever." Otherwise I'd
simply acknowledge I have this childish perhaps, but nevertheless real
neurosis, and just turn the freaking lights on when I enter a room just
in case, shame be damned.
Well, too late now, did I mention it
was 2 AM? Well just about then I start smelling this odd smell, though
it was hard to tell through the cigarette smoke I was chaining together
like a squall line of serious angst. It was a little rotten eggy or I'd
not have paid it any attention at all, but that being the nasal color of
natural gas, I thought I should at least follow it a moment. Wouldn't
ya know it, it led to the basement door; a basement that had a light
switch certainly, but one I'd need to open the door to reach and it was
about that time I noticed that it wasn't really eggy at all, but
sulphuric, as if someone had been lighting match books because they'd
been walled into the basement like some Amontillado thing and all they
had to keep them warm was a stack of matchbooks with that draw Winky
contest printed on them. Or maybe it was a gate to hell that just opened
at the foot of the stairs; I couldn't decide without opening the door
to take a look and if it was Asmodeus... that would have really spooked
Well that kinda did it, I was really unnerved now and walked
back to behind my desk doing my best to not catch my reflection in the
window. I stood there wondering what to do, as my deadline wouldn't
wait, but my heart pounding in my throat was making it tough to breathe
and I was a little worried about being found face up, eyes wide in the
morning; just one more young heart attack victim to add to Journal of
I stood there, paralyzed, torn between
business reality and my reality, as fantasy as it is. And then something
really strange happened.
From the pitch black studio room came a sound like no other.
say you find this cymbal and next to it is a hammer and a little sign
says "break the cymbal, win a prize." So you grab the hammer and you
lift it behind you, rock back on your feet and then with every muscle in
your body you steer that hammer into its upward arc and drive down on
the handle with an extra push on the last few inches until contact with
the thin metal of the noisemaker is complete.
And it rings and it rings and it rings and it rings......
didn't know I could scream; well in fact, I couldn't. I did scream but
all that came out was this weird airy sound, like emphysema patients
wheeze when they sleep. I had to look of course, directly into the pitch
black window, directly into my reflected face, it's jaw open, eyes half
shut, skin stretched taught, funny noise emanating, vision. I screamed a
few times I'm sure, not that it helped much. I also had lost my footing
and was now seated, my joints locked in place, my head pounding so hard
I was sure there was a crowd inside my skull banging on locked exit
doors trying to escape the inferno within.
Yea sure, I
rationalized. We'd been in the process of moving, stuff was boxed and
stacked and otherwise strewn about. Maybe a cymbal had been set in an
uncomfortable place and just decided that at 2 AM it would jump from
wherever it was and hit the floor, standing on it's side so that it's
little rivets could vibrate a half hour or two. Maybe it just wanted to
crash one last time before we left the building; Should auld
acquaintance be forgot....
Another 20 minutes maybe and I
admitted the obvious. There was no way I'd be finishing that mix that
night. It was time to go and the only trouble was that I had to walk
toward the pitch black room wherein the cymbal lie at rest (for the
moment), the door swung wide open, leaking its pitch blackness into the
hallway, just to get to the alarm system in a tiny closet across from
that very room.
Another ten minutes maybe and I'd worked up the
courage to just do it, to walk the few feet and turn the key, and then
turn, back to the pitch black room, and walk down the quarter block
long, dimly lit narrow hallway with it's 18 foot ceilings making it all
too much like a Wonderland kind of experience.
I don't do horror
flicks often, for obvious reasons; but I can't always ignore their
promos which have in some cases been the grist of nightmares for years
thereafter. Well at the time there were a few that showed either beings
or objects flying down long, poorly lit, high ceilinged corridors in
search of the next living thing to snatch, knock to the floor and drag
screaming back into pitch black rooms with waiting cymbals and God knows
So every step was an eternity, a constant fight with
myself to not break into a run and destroy any vestige of personal pride
left in me. I thought about just walking backward, but of course,
"behind me" is relative; no matter how I did it, there would always be a
Obviously I made it outside and to the safety of 3
AM streets in a college neighborhood of a large city, and for the next
few minutes I stared at the glass door I'd just locked and visualized
all manner of beast slam up against it from the inside, all foiled by my
clever and hurried escape. I didn't really see anything and yes, I knew
that, (like I’ve said I'm not actually crazy, just...odd) but my
imagination played the grisly scene over and over as if it were trying
to vent the abject fear that had built up for an hour by spinning
supernatural sights until the venom had all been spent.
the night in a diner, well lit, plenty of company and coffee. I didn't
go home until day had sprung from dawn, and I slept on the couch just to
confuse the spooks in case they'd followed me home and hidden in my
bedroom closet. I couldn't sleep long as I did have that deadline, and
when I got back to work, I did find a cymbal laying on the floor; though
how it got there I couldn't explain for the life of me.
25 years behind me now, we moved from that building soon after and I
hadn't even thought about that night until the first time I wrote a
version of this tale a couple years ago. I do once in a great while pass
through that neighborhood, and I just can't resist driving by our old
building, now a mom and pop candy factory. But when I pass it at night, I
rarely take the dare and actually stare into the pitch black, glass
door as I pass; perhaps afraid that whatever chased me that night is
still inside, and my urge to drive by is no urge at all, but a response
to a calling.
Well, not really; but it sounds great in print.
if I can just move from this chair, make my way to the door, flip out
the light and shut the door fast enough to stop the spooks without
crushing my hand in the process, all this story telling would have been
worth it. Wish me luck, the electricity's already surging.