A drum beat starts behind me and the scene of the dancers wavers, comes back again, and then collapses into itself, disappearing in a pinpoint of light as bright as a star at midnight. Its effect on me is enlivening, the room returns to full brightness and the violin music seems less oppressive. Every time DeeDee picks a new melody, changes old assonances for new dissonances the drum beat switches, keeping track, pulling my mind away from the notes. I can see that DeeDee’s starting to look strained, even old. I try to stand, and find that I can, though my legs are shaky. I look round, and there, at the back of the auditorium, is Bark and one of his female colleagues. She’s drumming, using a tabla that’s covered in tattoos just like the violin, her hands beating a syncopated rhythm that seems to anticipate the violin music. Bark’s expression as he sees me becomes resigned, and he motions at me to sit down. Then he picks up a flute from his lap, and joins in the concert.
The fluting is painful to listen to, shrill and aggressive, notes that seem to scythe through the air and tear apart the melodies and musical constructs that the violin is creating. Every chord is cut, abbreviated by sharp counterpoints, every sustained note is shouted down by the attacking flute. The audience are stirring but not waking, they are reacting to the aural battle being fought around them. People near me moan softly, their eyes rolling around in their heads, their faces slack and mindless. I start forwards, staggering as my legs try to obey me, the violin and the flute, and then I have control. I struggle down the tiered seating, holding onto chairs as I pass them, checking each footstep for solidity before I continue. Before I reach the bottom though, Bark walks past me as though none of this is happening, still playing that infernal, demonic flute.
He stops in front of DeeDee, lowers the flute from his lips, and plucks the violin from her hands. She doesn’t resist, and I’m close enough now to see that her eyes are milky-white, as though cataracted over. She’s screaming; very, very quietly, impossible to hear until we’re this close.
“Take her, sit her down,” says Bark to me. His colleague, whose name I can’t remember is down with us now. “Push someone out of their seat, it doesn’t matter.”
I tip a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit out of his seat and guide DeeDee to a chair. Her legs move, and she sits when I push her shoulder down, but it seems robotic. Not knowing what else to do I pick the man up and find him an empty seat.
“Over here!” Bark’s colleague has the soft, gentle voice that surprised me. She’s found Nico, also slumped on the ground. His dark glasses have fallen off revealing the holes in his head where his eyes should be. Clutched in his hands is an odd, geometric shape. Bark picks it up and peers at it, tilting it this way and that until there’s a sudden flash of green light; green like decay, like decades of rot built up, layer upon layer, that catches the unwary, embraces them as gently as a lover and suffocates them.
“What now?” I ask. I have a headache.
“We take these,” Bark indicates the violin, the geometric object, and Nico. “You should leave, I think. You being here will raise too many questions as soon as the police realise that you were at the concert where people lost their ears. Just let this get written down as a gas leak, or something. They’ll find a reason why it happened.”
“What about DeeDee?”
“What about DeeDee?” His expression is not friendly.
Steve calls me the next day and tells me that DeeDee’s in the hospital, in a coma. He doesn’t say much else, but the fact that he’s called, that he’s told me this, tells me all I need to go over there. I go straight away.
DeeDee is in a hospital bed, looking too thin. The bones in her arms stand out, and her cheekbones are sharp enough to cut glass. Tubes run from her arms and face into softly-beeping machines, and there’s a strong smell of disinfectant in the air. Melanie is sat at her side, holding her hand. Dark circles around her eyes tell me she’s not slept, and she seems slightly too bright, slightly too brittle.
“Damian,” she says when I come in.
“The doctors say... the doctors say that she’s alright, really. They say that she just needs to sleep.”
I nod, and sit down next to her, and take her other hand. I will wait with her until DeeDee wakes up.