A Stranger Approaches! Mr. Harold Zo
The dawn just cracked. I’d never heard that before. Slinking out the door while the ghosts were still commemorating their communal sunrise moaning, I covered my ears with my paws. I normally stayed inside during these hours, since the baleful noises are harmful to feline hearing. Nothing like this cracking had ever happened before, though. Certainly not on Earth, not in tiger heaven, and not here in the underworld.
Braving the blizzard of dissonance, I ambled through town, dodging broken glass and scattered nails on the sidewalks. A curious ray of light reflected off the shards near my left paw. I stopped. A moment of peace came over me, and the sounds of hell’s wailing ceased. I brushed it aside and the ray of light dried up, retreating from the glass and burrowing its way back behind the clouds. I longed for it to return, but pushed that thought out of my mind for the time being.
Tigers know to trust their intuitions, and a strong feeling in my pancreas was leading me toward the edge of our disheveled town. I passed out of the grid of streets and came upon the hills that rimmed the edge of the road. The paved section of the road wound, two broken and jagged lanes, until it reached the hills, where it abruptly disappeared into static fields of crab grass. Refuse piles snaked their way up the slopes, at times appearing like splotches of black paint on the green hillside. I took great caution moving forward, because along with my intuition there was a more human dread that stuck like a pin in my stomach. I couldn’t put a single paw forward without its permission, and that was hard won.
After a time–curiously, I can’t say how long–I checked back over my shoulder. Little hellspawn town it was, and I could scarcely believe I had never tried to leave it before. the last few months, in retrospect, felt like a jail term, lived under no warden but my own timidity. I could feel a surge of regret, along with something like fierceness in my blood. I let out a small roar. Could they have stopped wailing for me? What an honour.
Over the first hill now. The wailing faded, and a new sound took its place. Wheels. Engines. Music thundering. Rock and roll. A ruckus I hadn’t heard since the collapse of heaven all those eternities ago. Clouds of dust flecked with reflective glitter sprouted up in the distance. I could see the silhouette of a vehicle bounding over the hills, stark black on orange. Maybe I was only seeing it because I’m projecting tiger stripes, but I swear it made lines on the sun.
I decided to sit and wait. It would arrive soon enough.
Around a minute later–obviously my sense of time was reasserting its powers–I heard some shouting and brakes squealing. A mighty pillar of dust, awesome to behold, swept over me. Covering my eyes with my paw and keeping my mouth firmly shut, I barely noticed the clatter of boots dismounting from the van, nor the muted murmuring of its former occupants.
I felt a slight kick on the flank. I nearly tore the man’s face off. I half-expected to see a shower of blood and hear screaming when my paws jerked toward the kicker.
Luckily, I have more restraint than that.
Introducing Mr. Harold Zo and his band, Zo Quivver and Quake
Alexius: Sorry, sorry, sorry about that!
Quivver: Goddamnit! It can talk! And it nearly scratched me to ribbons.
Quake: Yeah, we noticed. What came over you?
Alexius: Animal instinct.
Quake: (annoyed sigh) Not you. Quivver, keep your head on straight next time. If you’re not too weak from blood loss, I think you can help us unpack.
Mr. Harold Zo: We’re not even in town yet, guys. Cool it. The roadies are restless, and if you say, “unpack” they might do it, whether or not they need to. That’s how people work when they’ve been traveling for a long time. Eager for any little snatch of action. They just grab it!
Thus was I introduced to touring musical sensation Zo Quivver and Quake, commas removed for pizzazz (I assume, though I think commas have plenty of pizzazz). Zo, the obvious leader of the band, asked me whether there were any other “population concentrations with musical affinities” nearby. I told him of course not. This was hell, and what was a rock band doing down here? I seethed as I got a rueful laugh, which came off not as much a spontaneous reaction as rehearsed stage banter. After meeting a few of the hungry ghosts, accompanied by much eye-darting anxiety and awkward forced smiles, they retired to the upper floors of my house.
They left me a poster on the floor. I read it, eyelids heavy. Give me a break, the sun had been up for hours already.
It was a picture of the band onstage at some show. Zo was thrashing around with a guitar, Quivver (the short one) sat on one of the edge of those big synthesizer boards with a laptop open on his lap, looking serious, and Quake nested behind a complicated drum kit. So they use a synth bass. Fascinating. The picture was black and white and high contrast, so some of the stage lights looked like they could have been used to light up the real world.
I was tired enough by noon that I didn’t have the will to refuse them. Slumping into bed, I had a fevered dream about devouring a sheep with an anteater’s nose. I woke up with a start and swore to myself: “I will investigate this rag-tag rock group.” My will was iron, my body prepared, my mind set in its mission. Groggy but in a potentially lethal bad mood, I crept up the stairs and “interrogated” all of the members. After an hour, I left them petrified and relieved of the information I wanted. I licked my lips. I could always eat them if they became too irritating or I began to get hungry again.
Over the next couple of days, I’ll be introducing the members of the band one by one, starting with Zo, then Quivver, and then Quake. What are they up to? Why are they here? Who is this Mr. Zo, and why hasn’t he picked a better stage name? All these will be answered next time.