FICTIONAL FRIGHTS: Sean Keller’s “Red Noise”

SKSean Keller is a jack of all trades, and if you disagree with that statement, chances are that you don’t know the guy. One helluva singer/songwriter, a screenwriter who has written for horror legends Dario Argento (GIALLO) and John Carpenter (the GREAT L.A. GOTHIC, which sadly fell through), Nicolas Cage (Keller co-wrote one of Cage’s best films in recent years, RAGE), and is continually working and writing with fervor. Did we mention he was also on Jeopardy once?

While we were planning on originally kicking off our FICTIONAL FRIGHTS column with my drugged out race to the death, “I’m Tired of Dying,” when Icons of Fright friend Keller sent us one of the most rock n’roll horror stories around, “Red Noise“, we couldn’t resist but to kick things off with one hell of a story. So, put on your leather boots, dust off your record player and get red to go mad, with Sean Keller’s “Red Noise“!


 

RNSK

RED NOISE by SEAN KELLER

Terry pulled a gold record off the control booth wall and lowered it gently into a cardboard box. The recording studio was smaller than you’d think. Three chambers separated by double-paned soundproof glass. A drum kit sat mic’d in one room, a piano in another. A rather large analog mixing board seemed to swallow the control booth.
A month had passed since that last day on tour and he figured that the something new for which he was so desperate would never roll around until the old had been swept away. He reached for another framed record, this one platinum, and paused. The Thrill – “Thrill Me Deadly.” He chuckled, looking at the younger version of himself alongside Duke, Bill and Eric on the album cover. Eric was an ethereal beauty, part Bowie, part Plant, part something else, something new Terry thought he was something new.

Danielle stepped into the booth sipping a beer.

“Last waltz down memory lane?”

She was in that perfect state, a woman at the peak of femininity, full and soft and lived in. Confident in a way no young girl could be, confident enough to know that the road is the road and home is home – two separate worlds with separate rules.

“It’s harder than I thought it would be.”

“You don’t have to do it, you know. There’s nothing wrong with leaving it up. You should be proud.” She smiled and sipped her beer.

“It’s just, it was his band. I’ll always be the guy in his band.” Terry pulled the record off the wall and placed it in the box.

“No. You aren’t going to do this, I won’t let you.”

“You won’t let me take it down?”

“No, I won’t let you get all self-pitying on me. It’s horse shit and you know it.” Danielle took his face in her hands. “You wrote the music, you’re a brilliant musician and what about Maldoror? What about The Brothers Grimm?”

She was only half right. Terry had been the front man of the other two bands, and they had done well, but it was because they were fronted by the guitar player from The Thrill, and they both knew it.

“Not the same thing, baby” he said. “So let me do this my way, all right?”
She stepped back and nodded. “Fine, wallow in your past. Perfect way to start that “something new” you keep talking about, huh?”

Fuck her for being so smart.

Danielle turned and started out the door. “Aaron called. He said he’s got someone who’d love to meet you.”
“Who?” Terry’s heart leapt, nervously. His manager, Aaron, was less than thrilled when Terry told him that he was hanging up touring life and needed something new. Was this it?

“Didn’t say. Give him a call.”

*

Ken Hallowell was seated and sipping a cup of tea when Aaron showed Terry into the drawing room. Leave it to a Hollywood queen to call his living room the drawing room. Hallowell was short and round, not so much fat as cherubic. And yet this gentle, soft-spoken man was responsible for creating some of the most soul-shatteringly terrifying films of all time: Post Mortem, The Night Man, Salad Days, the list goes on and on. Terry struggled to recall an odd anecdote about the director driving one of his stars to madness or murder or something like that, but the thought was derailed as Aaron cleared his throat.

“Terry Ryan I’d like you to meet Ken Hallowell.”

Terry stepped forward beaming. “Mister Hallowell, it’s an honor. I’m a big fan. I’ve seen Post Mortem like, a
dozen times.” That was cool, way to look like a dipshit.

Hallowell shook Terry’s hand barely muttering

“Likewise” under his breath.

Aaron wasted no time. “Mister Hallowell would like you to write the score for his latest film.” Aaron gave a proud nod to Terry “What do you think?”
Terry swallowed hard as he took a seat.

“I’m not sure. A film score? I’ve never…are you sure I’m the right guy.”

“You’re perfect,” Hallowell spoke with a quiet authority “because I chose you. Making a film is about casting. Trust me, you’re perfect.” He leaned forward, sliding a script across the coffee table to Terry. The title, written in dripping red lettering read: “Red Noise.”

“Red Noise?”

Aaron jumped in. “It’s brilliant. There’s this thrash death-metal band that holes up in a house on Loch Ness to record their masterpiece. Two weeks later, the cops show up and it’s a blood bath. The band, their producer, recording engineer everyone is dead – brutally murdered. The only clue is the album they’ve been recording. The cops play it and it drives them all crazy, they end up killing each other. The album captures evil in such a palpable way that it drives the listener into murderous rages…”

“The house in question used to belong to Alistair Crowley,” Hallowell interrupted. “That’s why the band chose to record there, thinking they could tap into the history of the location for inspiration. And they do.” Hallowell shifted in his seat. “The music is everything to this film. The album recorded by this fictional band has to sound like madness, like homicide, but it also has to sound legitimate, like it was composed by a real rock star. You will make the music that will drive men mad.”

“Why me?”

Aaron’s eyes went wide with a panicked look of what-the-hell-are-you-doing which amused Terry to no end. “I don’t do scores and I certainly don’t do thrash death metal.”

Hallowell continued. “You’ve seen the darkness. You found Eric’s body didn’t you?”

That was unexpected. He should have seen it coming, but the cold slap of reality caught him off guard. “Yeah” was all he could manage.

Hallowell wouldn’t let it go. “You cut him down. There was a note right? A note to you?”
Aaron cleared his throat again. “That was a rumor.” Hallowell pushed further. “The note, what did it say?”

Terry could feel his head spinning. The meeting wasn’t supposed to go this way. He was supposed to pick up a gig and move on. He didn’t come here to relive this shit.

“It’s like Aaron said, that was just a rumor” Terry muttered “his life was a waste and so was his death.” Hallowell set his cup down, wiped his mouth and rose.
“Perhaps I was wrong; you aren’t the man for the job after all. You clearly don’t have the requisite darkness in you for this job.” He nodded and stepped to the door. Terry could feel a burning sickness in his stomach. What the fuck is this little man trying to do to me?

“He blamed me.”

Hallowell stopped in his tracks.

Aaron stared at Terry incredulously. “You said…”

“I never told anyone.” Terry lit a cigarette. Hallowell turned back to Terry.
“Blamed you for what, exactly?”

“Everything. The fame, the drugs, the madness. He said that I wrote songs too beautiful for this world and that singing them was a curse. That we’d offended the very…” Hallowell interrupted “…offended the very angels in heaven.”

Terry turned to Hallowell, his eyes burning holes right through the manipulative bastard. “What the fuck?”

“I have my sources.”

Terry leaped to his feet and pushed passed the diminutive director. Aaron chased behind him, his pleading falling on deaf ears. At the door Terry spun around to face Hallowell. “He was strung out, it was all bullshit.” He fumed “And fuck you for bringing it up you little prick!”
Aaron panicked “Terry, calm down.”

Terry continued on “To think I was actually excited to meet you. You’re a real piece of shit, you know that?”

Hallowell smiled “When was the last time you wrote something with that kind of emotion to it? Can you do it again? Do you dare? Or is everyone right about you? Are you just going through the motions these days?”

Terry stared the little man down. What a dick. He spun on his heel and stormed out the door.

Hallowell turned to the stunned Aaron with a satisfied smirk. “Told you he was perfect.”

*

Sweat rolled in rivulets from his brow and armpits as Terry pummeled the five-piece drum kit. He was lost in it. Total focus. The beat was hypnotic, tribal and his head swayed, eyes closed, with the rhythm. His face screwed into the tightly pursed grimace of a man struggling with his own skill level.

Danielle allowed her eyes to linger on Terry’s shirtless frame. He’d lost weight in the past two weeks and, even though she hated him not eating, she had to admit to herself that he looked good. Really good.

He hadn’t heard her enter the control booth, hadn’t looked up, hadn’t even opened his eyes in the past fifteen minutes. She loved these stolen moments, seeing him creating, happy, “lost in it” was how he always described it to her, as if there were any accurate way to relay the sensation of creative bliss to the uninitiated.
Colored lights jumped on the equalizer, pulsing into the red with each rhythmic thump of the kick drum. Her hips moved unconsciously to the beat. It was a good, strong beat; dirty and primal. Terry leaned into it. His grimace twisted tighter, his eyes pinched as if the driving force had moved from pleasure to pain.

Danielle’s nipples grew erect inside her bra. Terry bit down hard on his lip as he continued to thunder away on the kit; the fury of the blows intensifying with each bar.

Danielle leaned into the corner of the mixing board, pressing her crotch against the padded vinyl corner of the console. The music was doing something to her, all right, and she was close to falling into a thrall when something clanged, followed closely by a tirade of profanity as Terry rose fast yanking the headphones off his ears.

“Fucking shit!” He exclaimed, kicking over the high hat. He stormed through the carpeted, sound-proof door and into the booth. “Fucking floor tom!”

“Jesus, Terry.” “What?”

“You’re bleeding.”

He looked down to his bare, sweaty chest that was suddenly quite covered in blood. Danielle moved to him, concerned. She touched his lower lip. He recoiled, suddenly aware of a burning sensation and a throbbing. “Must’ve bit my lip.”

“I think you need stitches.” She reached for the lip again. It was gushing. Terry pulled back. “Just hold still.” She examined the wound closely. Terry’s teeth had obviously met just inside the lip, leaving a half-inch slit of flapping flesh. The taste of blood and her flesh swirled together in Terry’s mouth…He wanted her. He grabbed her hips and pulled her close.

“Um…no. We need to get you to the hospital and get that lip taken care of.”

“It can wait.” He started at her jeans. She pulled back. “Come on, give me a little lovin’.”

“No baby, we need to fix you up.” She pulled back from him.

“If you’re not going to help me then get the fuck out of the way. I have work to do.” Terry snapped. He pushed her away from him little too hard. She fell back into the black leather sofa along the back wall. Terry grabbed a handful of tissues from a box on the mixing board and, stuffing them into his mouth, began rummaging through a cupboard filled with odd musical instruments. He pulled several drum heads from the cupboard. No floor tom. “Damn it.”

“Terry.”

“Not now, I gotta run to Sam Ash and get a new floor tom head.” He grabbed a dirty Rolling Stones t-shirt and threw it over his bloody chest. He pulled the wad of bloody tissue from his mouth and tossed it in the trash.

“Terry, wait.”

“I’m close; really close I just need to…” He grabbed another handful of tissues and stuffed them into his mouth.
“They aren’t open.”

Terry glanced to the clock over the mixing board.

“It’s four thirty-five. Traffic will be getting shitty, but

I can be there and back in like twenty…”

“It’s four in the morning.” Danielle smirked. Terry paused, processing the information. “It’s Thursday morning. You’ve been lost in it for half the week already. Now please, come with me…” she took his hand, leading him slowly toward the door. “We’re going to the emergency room and I’m going to have the doctor prescribe something to help you sleep as well.”

Terry yanked his hand free. “No.”

“Honey, please. I know this is important to you, but you’re starting to scare me.” She tried to take his hand again, but he turned his back on her.

“You don’t have to be so fucking dramatic.” He sneered.

“You’re the dramatic one. I’m the sea of calm, remember? Listen to me. You’re going a little over the edge here and you need a break. Besides, you can’t get the equipment you need for another couple of hours…come on.” Danielle pleaded, hand outstretched.

“Leave me the fuck alone, I’m working here” he barked at her and plopped down at the chair behind the mixing board.

“Terry” her voice cracked.

“Are you fucking deaf? Get out!” He hit the playback. Drums thundered, He brought up the levels on several other tracks and a droning, grinding noise joined the pulsing rhythm. It was a slow, repeating wail that lagged, unsettlingly behind the beat.

Danielle knew the routine. He’d come crying to her later, apologizing, begging her to forgive him like he’d done a dozen times before. And she’d do it. She knew she’d forgive him, but right now she just stared at him with a burning anger, a rage that threatened to bubble over. The music was maddening. It was a wall between them. A thought rose in Danielle’s mind, an ugly, vile thought; something she’d never felt before.

Kill him.

It shocked her, terrified her, but remained in the back of her head. A glowing ember of rage that wouldn’t die. Kill him.
Terry killed the track and turned to her, snapping

“Dani, please… I have to finish.”

Danielle backed away from him. A feeling of shame and guilt washed over her as the homicidal instinct slowly receded. She stared at Terry, unable to move or speak.

“God damn it, I said get out!” His eyes had lost the kindness she had come to depend on. The sharpness of his tone forced her to instinctively backpedal out the studio door. Terry turned back to the mixing board and hit the playback again.

Danielle slammed the door and stepped backward to the pre-dawn quiet of the poolside patio. She plopped down into a striped chaise, her mind reeling. What the fuck just happened?

*

She washed the Xanax down with a bottle of water and sat on the edge of the bed, staring out the window at the red light over the studio door. The sun was coming up. She was truly worried about him. He’ll be done soon and be back to normal, she thought, just like before. Just like all the other times. But this wasn’t like all the other times. There was something different going on, something almost foreign about him, about that music, it seemed…evil. Stupid. It’s just fucking music; it can’t possibly be good or evil. Can it? Stop it, you’re overreacting.

The Xanax was kicking in and her anxiety started to fade into the soft, warm fuzz of acceptance. She spread out on the bed and was asleep before the next thought could completely form in her head. I really wanted to kill him, didn’t I?

*

Terry looked like death; hollow eyed and rail-thin. He hadn’t eaten anything more substantial than an apple in two days, and that was just to shut the bitch up. Well she wouldn’t be getting in here again, he thought. No more distractions.

A wooden board that apparently used to be part of the now-shredded sofa had been nailed across the studio door. Terry lit a cigarette with his blistered and scabbed-over fingers. He shouldered the Les Paul, slinging the strap over the deep red welt where the guitar strap had cut into his flesh. He couldn’t feel a thing now; nothing but a yawning chasm of need that could only be filled by the work, the sound.
He reached for the standby switch on the Fender Twin Reverb as a knock came from the door. He pushed the intercom button and screamed. “Can you not see the red light? You almost fucked-up a take! Leave me alone!”

A thin voice crackled through the speaker. “Mister Ryan? Is it done yet?”

Fear flashed across Terry’s eyes. It was Hallowell. “Almost. I’m just polishing it up. I’ll have it ready for you any day now, honest.”

Hallowell’s voice chimed again “I would very much like to hear a sample, may I come in?”

“No. Soon.”

“When?”

“Soon, come back soon. I’ll have it all done.” Terry’s heart pounded in his chest. The pressure was going to crush him, he could feel it.

Hallowell piped up again after what seemed like a full minute. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Tomorrow? Shit, that’s too soon. “Can you make it the end of the week?”

“Tomorrow is Saturday. It’s been more than two months.” He paused. “How does it sound?”

What kind of question is that? You can’t describe a sound! Terry pounded his fist against the intercom, trying to reach through the devise and crush the little man’s smug fucking face. “It’s good. It sounds really fucking good, all right?”

“Is that what Eric would say?”

Terry went white and looked up to Eric, who swung limply, creaking from the exposed rafters in the control room, his purple tongue bulging from the lifeless lips.

Outside the studio door, Hallowell waited for a response. Danielle stood behind him, putting on the brave face, trying not to appear concerned. A patch of white was creeping almost imperceptibly into her blonde locks.

“How the fuck did you know Eric was here?” Terry’s voice crackled over the intercom.

“Oh god.” Danielle cried as she pushed past Hallowell, pounding on the door. “Come out! Please come out of there! You’re killing yourself!” The sea of calm was gone replaced by panic. Hallowell simply smirked and strode off toward
the driveway. She chased after him, jumping between the little man and his car. “Go back there and tell him to stop!”

“But you heard him, he isn’t finished yet.”

She slapped him hard. “He’ll listen to you. Tell him to stop and come out. Tell him there isn’t going to be a movie, that you’ve moved on to something else.” The tears were flowing fast as she pleaded with the director. “Please, you have to help him.”

A red hand print blossomed across Hallowell’s cheek. “He isn’t done yet.” Danielle collapsed to the flagstone path weeping.

*

The guitar squealed over the speakers. Terry sat at the console, listening to the isolated guitar track. He tweaked the equalizer the tiniest bit and then unclicked the isolation button. The force of the full orchestration filled the room. Terry closed his eyes tightly, cranking the volume. He put his head down, adjusting levels, bringing up odd clanking counter-point percussion. A screeching, wordless vocal track shrieked over and over. The repetition of the beat, the off rhythm guitars and the droning mad calliope sound all blended into a nightmarish cacophony. But something was missing. Something vital.
Terry’s eyes popped open.

*

The bedroom door opened silently. Light streamed across Danielle’s sleeping body. She sat up quickly, disoriented. She barely gasped at the sight of Terry’s skeletal silhouette in the doorway. “I’d like your help…if that’s okay?”

She leapt from the bed, throwing her arms around Terry, practically knocking his weak frame to the hardwood floors. “I’ve been so worried. Are you all right? You look terrible.”

“I’ll be fine.” He voice was cold, distant. “I just need a little help and I can be done. You’ll help me won’t you?”

“You’re still not done?”

“Almost. I just need some help,” He repeated. “You will help me right?

“Of course. Anything.”

Taking Danielle’s hand, Terry stepped slowly down the hall. “It’s going to be beautiful, you know. It’s going to be like nothing anyone’s ever heard before.”

*

Hallowell stepped across the back patio toward the studio’s open door. Terry appeared in the doorway, a disc hanging limply in his bloody hand. Hallowell paused, but made no outward expression of fear or disgust or anything other than professional curiosity.

“Is that it?” He inquired. Terry nodded. His bare chest spattered with a fine mist of blood. “May I have it?” Terry handed the disc over and turned back into the studio without a word. Hallowell followed, wiping blood from the disc and tucking it carefully into one of the over-sized cargo pockets on his pants. Looking up from his task, Hallowell froze in his tracks.

A ring of various microphones surrounded what was left of Danielle’s body. A long, skinny SM57 was stuffed halfway down her throat. Hallowell couldn’t help but think the hundred tiny flaps of skin flayed away from muscle and bone made her look like the piñata he had purchased for his daughter’s birthday last summer. The coup de gras was evident from the pool of blood spread out from a deep slit across her throat.

“She isn’t tied down?”

Terry looked up from behind the mixing board. “She said she’d do anything for me…she helped me finish.” He managed a weak smile and drummed his fingers on a bloody straight razor. “I love her so much.”

Hallowell nodded. “She must have loved you very deeply indeed.” He allowed his eyes to linger once again over Danielle’s mangled frame. He patted Terry on the shoulder. “Well I have some music to listen to. I trust you won’t be available later for my notes?”

Terry laughed. It was a surprisingly hearty laugh, bigger than his frail frame should have been able to support. “I don’t suppose I will.”

“Then I thank you for your diligence. I’m looking forward to hearing it.” Hallowell smirked again and strode out of the studio. Hopping into his car and firing up the engine, he slid the disc into the CD player and pulled down the twisting driveway, music blasting from the speakers of his convertible S-Class Mercedes.

*

The music kept blaring long after Hallowell’s Mercedes plowed through the crowd at the L.A. Farmer’s Market and slammed into the trolley. The impact that sent Hallowell’s body flying sideways out of the wreckage seemed to have no effect at all on the stereo. That’s quality German craftsmanship for you.
It was difficult to hear at first. The cries of the mauled and those grieving the dead rang for several minutes before the music began to rise above the din. But soon, Terry’s haunting, cacophonous dirge echoed across the scene as angry victims and witnesses alike descended en masse to see what maniac could have done such a thing.

The shoppers never knew what hit them.

The madness repeated in waves, starting over again every time the screams subsided enough to hear the music. By noon, the disc had replayed three times and gutters ran red with blood.

THE END

*All rights reserved to Sean Keller. Used with Permission.


You can stay up to date with Sean Keller’s work and thought processes at http://www.twitter.com/_seankeller

NEXT UP:

The next chapter of FICTIONAL FRIGHTS is the drug-addled tale of redemption and murder, “I’m Tired of Dying“, written by Icons of Fright’s Editor in Chief, Jerry Smith (http://www.twitter.com/JerryisjustOK). As always, if you are interested in submitting a story for FICTIONAL FRIGHTS, e-mail Jerry @ Jerry@iconsoffright.com

 

Leave A Comment