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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #530
Thumb Music
David Gunn

Midnight. One a.m. Two a.m. Three a.m. Each time the clock struck the hour, Jerome rolled over in his bed and groaned. His mind was racing and he couldn't sleep. He wasn't thinking of anything in particular; he simply couldn't relax enough to sleep. No, there was some niggling worry in the back of his mind, but he couldn't quite put a mental finger on it. How had Dr. Trampolino told him to fall asleep? Count backwards from a decillion? Yes, but when he'd tried that before, he got stuck almost at once. Although he knew that a decillion had thirty-three zeros, he could never recall what number had only thirty-two. A centillion? No, that had 303 zeros, except in France and Germany where it had 600. Or was that a millipedion? He'd spent countless wide-awake hours agonizing over the uncertainty.

Bong! The clock chimed half past three. Jerome threw back the bed covers and sat up. This was ridiculous! He had to get up in only four hours! But since he didn't feel tired, he might as well get up now. Wrapping a scrim shawl around his shoulders, he shuffled out of his room and down the stairs. The nearly full moon shone so brightly through the windows that he didn't need to turn on a light to see where he was going. And where was he going? He paused, thought about it, decided: the kitchen. Perhaps a little snack would help him relax, help him sleep. But as Jerome padded through the living room, he heard music. It was faint, and coming from somewhere in front of him. He stopped, listened. It was definitely coming from the kitchen. What the?, thought Jerome. There was no radio in the kitchen. No television or CD player, either. That little niggling worry abruptly shifted to the front of his mind, and his prefrontal cortex buzzed like an Africanized bee on amphetamines. He crept up to the doorway, listened again. The sound was louder, but still muffled. The hinges creaked as he eased the door open. Several things were out of kilter here. Although moonlight streamed brilliantly through every other window in the house, it somehow didn't penetrate those in the kitchen. However, the refrigerator was itself bathed in an eerie greenish glow, a glow that Jerome correctly intuited originated from inside. As did the music--which was now loud enough to identify. Jerome shuddered, for it was a type of quasi-organized sound that he hoped he'd left far in his past. It was "thumb music."

He knew it was thumb music because Tack and Nail, the big, opposable digits on each of his hands, tingled in sympathy to the sound. Plus the stylized little blue and orange thumbs emblazoned on his pajama tops writhed this way and that, perfectly out of sync with the music, so much so that they nearly escaped the confines of the flannel fabric. The creepy movement of the pajama thumbs caused the skin directly beneath them to crawl, too. Even the normally orderly clock began to chime an arrhythmic backbeat to the music.

Music. Jerome had a hard time giving it that distinction--for though it possessed harmony, rhythm, and a rudimentary sort of melody, the blatant carnivorousness of its timbre reminded him more of timbrewolves. Even now, Tack and Nail, his normally well-mannered thumbs, were starting to nip at the other fingers while howling in creepy parallel fifths.

It all started years ago when Jerome was temping for Professor Warbler Hadley Blackmoor in the Calamitology Lab at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire. Based on lyrics from an ancient East African hunting song, Blackmoor had theorized that vibrations from a lamellaphone were on the same frequency as those of many basic catastrophes. The lamellaphone, or thumb piano, was a small sound box on which were mounted a series of tuned, metal strips. When plucked with the thumbs, they produced weird twangs that, Blackmoor conjectured, had "calamity" written all over them. Jerome shivered--so, too, did his thumbs--when he recalled the Lincolnshire-wide catastrophes that resulted from Blackmoor's extramusical experiment. As the laboratory complex around him collapsed, Jerome managed to escape only by the skin of his thumbs.

For weeks thereafter, his thumbs seemed to have minds of their own. So discombobulated was his normally excellent physical coordination that he often felt that he was all thumbs. But, after time, his thumbs gradually reverted to their typical opposable digitdom, he moved far from Lincolnshire, and life assumed a sort of safe regularity. Until now.

And now he was in his kitchen as the same sounds that accompanied Blackmoor's reckless experiment emanated from the refrigerator. What the thumb music was doing in there was a mystery that Jerome was not yet prepared to solve, because he had no intention of opening the door. He didn't have to. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw that the music was seeping through the refrigerator's rubber door seal. It rose up and pooled against the windows, blocking out the moonlight. No, it was attracted to the moonlight. It was trying to get out! Jerome knew this because Tack and Nail, yowling in utter disharmony, yanked him off the floor and carried him up to one of the window's latches. Their howling at a fever pitch, they forced his other hand parts to prize it open. The refrigerator door sprang open then, and Jerome was aghast to see hundreds, thousands of little musics pour out of the crisper compartment. They joined with the other thumb music in the kitchen as they all burst through the open window, coalesced into a blurry mass, then rapidly rose towards the moon. Tack and Nail tried to follow, but Jerome was wedged tightly against the windowsill. Oh, how his thumbs wailed! Again and again they struck against his other fingers, but this time, the rest of his hand fought back, finally subduing his thumbs when his left ring finger popped a boil on the base of Tack.

Weeks have now passed since the thumb music headed off into space towards the moon. The refrigerator is back to normal: it gives off no unearthly greenish glow; a lone coconut inhabits the crisper; the compressor's familiar hum is its only sound. Tack and Nail are again behaving as thumbs should. The clock chimes regularly on the hour and half hour. And Jerome hears it strike often during the night because sleep still eludes him. No matter he can now count backwards from a decillion--the number that preceded it was 999 thousand nonillion--he nonetheless is kept awake by the fear of a lunar calamity. Occasionally, he tries to make himself believe that he had dreamed it all, that he'd never even been to southwesternmost Lincolnshire. But how, then, to explain the absence of thumbs on his pajama tops?

Well, we sure don't know, but we're only the proprietors of this 530th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. What we do know is that the calamitousness of thumb music pales in comparison to today's special feature in which two composers, representing the musical equivalents of matter and antimatter, square off and trade catastropes. Who will win? You be the judge. As the opponents hunker down in their corners and thumb their respective noses at each other, we go to the center ring for the introductory announcements from Kalvos.