Peer into DARKNESS with Lucius Shepard’s “A Little Night Music”



With award-winning, superstar editor Ellen Datlow’s “superb sampling of some of the most significant short horror works published between 1985 and 2005” Darkness being featured as part of the Humble Horror Book Bundle, we’re sharing excerpts from nine select stories over the next seven days.

Our next glimpse comes from “A Little Night Music” by Lucius Shepard.

Dead men can’t play jazz.

That’s the truth I learned last night at the world premiere performance of the quartet known as Afterlife at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard.

Whether or not they can play, period, that’s another matter, but it wasn’t jazz I heard at the Vanguard, it was something bluer and colder, something with notes made from centuries-old Arctic ice and stones that never saw the light of day, something uncoiling after a long black sleep and tasting dirt in its mouth, something that wasn’t the product of creative impulse but of need.

But the bottom line is, it was worth hearing.

As to the morality involved, well, I’ll leave that up to you, because that’s the real bottom line, isn’t it, music lovers? Do you like it enough and will you pay enough to keep the question of morality a hot topic on the Donahue show and out of the courts? Those of you who listened to the simulcast over WBAI have probably already formulated an opinion. The rest of you will have to wait for the CD.

I won’t waste your time by talking about the technology. If you don’t understand it by now, after all the television specials and the (ohmygodpleasenotanother) in-depth discussions between your local blow-dried news creep and their pet science fiction hack, you must not want to understand it. Nor am I going to wax profound and speculate on just how much of a man is left after reanimation. The only ones who know that aren’t able to tell us, because it seems the speech center just doesn’t thrive on narcosis. Nor does any fraction of sensibility that cares to communicate itself. In fact, very little seems to thrive on narcosis aside from the desire…no, like I said, the need to play music.

And for reasons that God or someone only knows, the ability to play music where none existed before.

That may be hard to swallow, I realize, but I’m here to tell you, no matter how weird it sounds, it appears to be true.

For the first time in memory, there was a curtain across the Vanguard’s stage. I suppose there’s some awkwardness involved in bringing the musicians out. Before the curtain was opened, William Dexter, the genius behind this whole deal, a little bald man with a hearing aid in each ear and the affable, simple face of someone who kids call by his first name, came out and said a few words about the need for drastic solutions to the problems of war and pollution, for a redefinition of our goals and values. Things could not go on as they had been. The words seemed somewhat out of context, though they’re always nice to hear. Finally he introduced the quartet. As introductions go, this was a telegram.

“The music you’re about to hear,” William Dexter said flatly, without the least hint of hype or hyperventilation, “is going to change your lives.”

And there they were.

Check out the Humble Horror Book Bundle which includes works from  Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Joss Whedon, Joe Hill, Max Brooks, Robert R. McCammon, and Dan Simmons.

For more info about Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by Ann Monn.