By Neil Peart and Kevin J. Anderson
(used book purchase)
Published in February 1994 by Pocket Books, ISBN 0671870882
out of print
KEVIN J. ANDERSON
A Stoker award nominee for his first novel, Anderson credits the music of RUSH as being instrumental to his writing. The Californian has written short fiction for The Ultimate Werewolf, The Ultimate Zombie, and other publications, as well as The Trinity Paradox, and Afterimage, co written with Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Peart, an Ontario resident is drummer and lyricist for RUSH, a platinum-selling group with fourteen studio albums, several live recordings, and numerous worldwide tours to its credit. Peart is a devoted Afrophile whose bike trips to Cameroon and other exotic locales painted the background for "Drumbeats".
After nine months of touring across North America----- with hotel suites and elaborate dinners and clean sheets every day----- it felt good to be hot and dirty, muscles straining not for the benefit of any screaming audience, but just to get to the next village up the dusty road, where none of the natives recognized Danny Imbro or knew his name. To them, he was just another White Man, an exotic object of awe for little children, a target of scorn for drunken soldiers at border checkpoints.
Bicycling through Africa was about the furthest thing from a rock concert tour that Danny could imagine-----which was why he'd done it, after promoting the latest Blitzkrieg album and performing each song until the tracks were worn smooth in his head. This cleared his mind, gave him a sense of balance, perspective.
The other members of Blitzkrieg did their own things during the group's break months. Phil, whom they called "music machine" because he couldn't stop writing music, spent his relaxation time cranking out film scores for Hollywood; Reggie caught up on his reading, soaking up grocery bags full of political thrillers and mysteries; Shane turned into a vegetable on Maui. But Danny Imbro took his expensive-but-battered bicycle and bumped around West Africa. The others thought it strangely appropriate that the bands drummer would go off hunting for tribal rhythms.
Late in the afternoon on the sixth day of his ride through Cameroon, Danny stopped in a large open market and bus depot in the town of Garoua. The marketplace was a line of mud-brick kiosks and chophouses, the air filled with the smell of baked dust and stones, hot oil and frying beignets. Abandoned cars squatted by the roadside, stripped clean but unblemished by corrosion in the dry air. Groups of men and children in long blouses like nightshirts idled their time away on the street corners.
Wives and daughters appeared on the road with their buckets, on their way to fetch water from the well on the other side of the marketplace. They wore bright-colored pagnes and kerchiefs, covering their traditionally naked breasts with T-shirts or castoff Western blouses, since the government in the capital city of Yaoundé had forbidden women to go topless.
At one kiosk in the shade sat a pan holding several bottles of Coca-Cola, Fanta, and ginger ale, cooling in water. Some vendors sold a thin stew of boney fish chunks over gritty rice; others sold fufu, a doughlike paste of pounded yams to be dipped into a sauce of meat and okra. Bread merchants stacked their long baguettes like firewood.
Danny used the back of his hand to smear sweat-caked dust off his forehead, then removed the bandanna that he wore under his helmet to keep the sweat out of his eyes. With streaks of white skin peeking through the layer of grit around his eyes, he probably looked like some strange lemur, he thought.
In halting French, he began haggling with a wiry boy over a bottle of water. Hiding behind his kiosk, the boy demanded eight hundred francs for the water, an outrageous price. While Danny was attempting to bargain it down, he caught sight of a gaunt, grayish-skinned man walking through the marketplace like a windup toy running down. The man was playing a drum.
The boy cringed and looked away. Danny kept staring. The crowd seemed to shrink away from the strange man as he wandered among them, continuing his incessant beat. He wore his hair long and unruly, which in itself was unusual among the close-cropped Africans. In the equatorial heat, the long, stained overcoat he wore must have heated his body like a furnace, but the man did not seem to notice. His eyes were focused on some invisible point in the distance.
"Huit-cent francs," the boy insisted on his price, holding the lukewarm bottle of water just out of Danny's reach.
The staggering man walked closer, tapping a slow, monotonous beat on the small cylindrical drum under his arm. He did not change his tempo, but continued to play as if his life depended on it. Danny saw that the man's fingers and wrists were wrapped in scraps of hide; even so, he had beaten his fingertips bloody.
Danny stood transfixed. He had heard tribal musicians play all manner of percussion instruments, from hollowed tree trunks to rusted metal cans to beautifully carved djembe drums with goatskin drumheads------but he had never heard a tone so rich and sweet, and such an odd echoey quality as this strange African drum.
In the studio, he had messed around with drum synthesizers and reverbs and the new technology designed to turn computer hackers into musicians. But this drum sounded different, solid and pure, and hooked him through the heart, hypnotizing him. It distracted him entirely from the unpleasant appearance of its bearer.
"What is that?" he asked.
"Sept-cent francs," the boy said in a nervous whisper, dropping his price and pushing the water closer.
Danny walked in front of the staggering man, smiling broadly enough to show the grit between his teeth, and listened to the tapping drumbeat. The drummer turned his gaze to Danny and stared through him. The pupils of his eyes were like two gaping bullet wounds through his skull. Danny took a step backward, but found himself moving to the beat. The drummer faced him, finding his audience. Danny tried to place the rhythm, to burn it into his mind-----something this mesmerizing simply had to be included in a new Blitzkrieg song.
Danny looked at the cylindrical drum, trying to determine what might be causing its odd double response------ a thin inner membrane, perhaps? He saw nothing but elaborate carvings on the sweat- polished wood, and a drumhead with a smooth, dark brown coloration. He knew the Africans used all kinds of skin for their drumheads, and he couldn't begin to guess what this was.
He mimed a question to the drummer, then asked, "Est-ce-que je peux l'essayer?" May I try it?
The gaunt man said nothing, but held out the drum near enough for Danny to touch it without interrupting his obsessive rhythm. His overcoat flapped open, and the hot stench of decay made Danny stagger backward, but he held his ground, reaching for the drum.
Danny ran his fingers over the smooth drumskin, then tapped with his fingers. The deep sound resonated with a beat of its own, like a heartbeat. It delighted him. "For sale? Est-ce-que c'est à vendre?" He took out a thousand francs as a starting point, although if water alone cost eight hundred here, this drum was worth much, much more.
The man snatched the drum away and clutched it to his chest, shaking his head vigorously. His drumming hand kept its unrelenting beat.
Danny took out two thousand francs, then was disappointed to see not the slightest change of expression on the odd drummers face. "Okay, then, where was the drum made? Where can I get another one? Où est-ce qu'on peut trouver un autre comme ca?" He put most of the money back into his pack, and stuffed the remaining two hundred francs into the fist of the drummer, the mans hand seemed to be made of petrified wood. "Où?"
The man scowled, then gestured behind him, toward the Mandara Mountains along Cameroon"s border with Nigeria. "Kabas."
He turned and staggered away, still tapping on his drum as if to mark his footsteps. Danny watched him go, then returned to the kiosk, unfolding the map from his pack. "Where is this Kabas? Is it a place? C'est un village?"
"Huit-cent francs," the boy said, offering the water again at his original price.
Danny bought the water, and the boy gave him directions.
He spent the night in a Garouan Hotel that made Motel 6 look like Caesars Palace. Anxious to be on his way to find his own new drum, Danny roused a local vendor and cajoled him into preparing a quick omelet for breakfast. He took a sip from his eight- hundred-franc bottle of water, saving the rest for the long bike ride, then pedaled off into the stirring sounds of early morning.
As Danny left Garoua on the main road, heading toward the mountains, savanna and thorn trees stretched away under a crystal sky. A pair of doves bathed in the dust of the road ahead, but as he rode toward them, they flew up into the last of the trees with chuk-chuks of alarms and a flash of white tail feathers. Smoke from grass fires on the plains tainted the air.
How different it was to be riding through a landscape, he thought-----with no walls or windows between his senses and the world------rather than just riding by it. Danny felt the road under his thin wheels, the sun, the wind on his body. It made a strange place less exotic, yet it became infinitely more real. The road out of Garoua was a wide boulevard that turned into a smaller road heading north. With his bicycle tires humming and crunching on the irregular pavement, Danny passed a few ragged cotton fields, then entered the plains of dry, yellow grass and thorny scrub, everywhere studded with boulders and sculpted anthills. By seven-thirty in the morning, a hot breeze rose, carrying a honeysucklelike perfume. Everything vibrated with heat.
Within an hour the road grew worse, but Danny kept his pace, taking deep breaths in a trancelike state that kept the horizon moving closer. Drums. Kabas. Long rides help him clear his head, but he found he had to concentrate to steer around the worst ruts and the biggest stones.
Great columns of stone appeared above the hills to the east and west. One was pyramid-shaped, one resembled a huge rounded breast, yet another a great stone phallus. Danny had seen photographs of these inselberg formations caused by volcanoes that had eroded over the eons, leaving behind vertical cores of lava.
The road here to was eroded, a heaving washboard, which veered left into a trough between tumbled boulders, and up through a gauntlet of thorn trees. Danny stopped for another drink of water, another glance at the map. The water boy at the kiosk had marked the location of Kabas with his fingernail, but it was not printed on the map.
After Danny had climbed up hill for an hour, the beaten path became no more than a worn trail, forcing him to squeeze between walls of thorns and dry millet stalks. The squadrons of hovering dragonflies were harmless, but the hoards of tiny flies circling his face were maddening, and he couldn't pedal fast enough to escape them.
It was nearly noon, the sun reflecting straight up from the dry earth, and the little shade cast by the scattered trees dwindled to a small circle around the trunks. "Where the hell am I going?" he said to the sky.
But in his head he kept hearing the odd, potent beat resonating from the bizarre drum he had seen in the Garouan marketplace. He recalled the grayish, shambling man who had never once stopped tapping on his drum, even though his fingers bled. No matter how bad the road got, Danny thought, he would keep going. He'd never been so intrigued by a drumbeat before, and he never left things unfinished.
Danny Imbro was a goal-oriented person. The other members of Blitzkrieg razzed him about it, that once he made up his mind to do something, he plowed ahead, defying all common sense. Back in school, he had made up his mind to be a drummer. He had hammered away at just about every object in sight with his fingertips, pencils, silverware, anything that made noise. He kept at it until he drove everyone else around him nuts, and somewhere along the line he became good.
Now people stood at the chain-link fences behind concert halls and applauded whenever he walked from the backstage dressing rooms out to the tour busses------as if he were somehow doing a better job of walking than any of them had ever seen before....
Up ahead an enormous buttress tree, a gnarled and twisted pair of trunks hung with cable-thick vines, cast a wide patch of shade. Beneath the tree, watching him approach, sat a small boy.
The boy leaped to his feet as if he had been waiting for Danny. Shirtless and dusty, he held a hooklike withered arm against his chest; but his grin was completely disarming. "Je suis guide?" the boy called.
Relief stifled Danny's laugh. He nodded vigorously. "Oui!" Yes, he could certainly use a guide right about now. "Je cherche Kabas--------village des tambours. The village of drums.
The smiling boy danced around like a goat, jumping from rock to rock. He was pleasant-faced and healthy-looking, except for the crippled arm; his skin was very dark but his eyes had a slight Asian cast. He chattered in a high voice, a mixture of French and native dialect. Danny caught enough to understand that the boy's name was Anatole.
Before the boy led him on, though, Danny dismounted, to take out raisins, peanuts and the dry remains of a baguette. Anatole watched him with wide eyes, and Danny gave him a handful of raisins, which the boy wolfed down. Small flies whined around their faces as they ate. Danny answered the boy's incessant questions with as few words as possible: Did he come from America, did black boys live there, why was he visiting Cameroon?
The short rest sank its soporific claws into him, but Danny decided not to give in. An afternoon siesta made a lot of sense, but now that he had his own personal guide to the village, he made it his goal not to stop again until they reached Kabas. "Okay?" Danny raised his eyebrows and struggled to his feet.
Anatole sprang out from the shade and fetched Danny's bike for him, struggling with one arm to keep it upright. After several trips to Africa, Danny had seen plenty of withered limbs, caused by childhood diseases, accidents, and bungled inoculations. Out here in the wilder areas, such problems were even more prevalent, and he wondered how Anatole managed to survive; acting as a "guide" for the rare traveler would hardly suffice.
Danny pulled out a hundred francs-----an eighth of what he had paid for one bottle of water-----and handed it to the boy, who looked as if he had just been handed the crown jewels. Danny figured he had probably made a friend for life.
Anatole trotted ahead, gesturing with his good arm. Danny pedaled after him.
The narrow valley captured a smear of greenness in the dry hills, with a cluster of mango trees, guava trees, and strange baobabs with eight-foot-thick trunks. Playing the knowledgeable tour guide, Anatole explained that the local women used the baobab fruits for baby formula if their breast milk failed. The villagers used another to manufacture an insect repellent.
The house of Kabas blended into the landscape, because they were of the landscape----stones and branches and grass. The walls were made of dry mud, laid on a handful at a time, and the roofs were thatched into cones. Tiny pink and white stones studded the mud, sparkling like quartz in the sun.
At first the place looked deserted, but then an ancient man emerged from a turret-shaped hut. An enormous cutlass dangled from his waist, although the shrunken man looked as if it might take him an hour just to lift the blade. Anatole shouted something, then gestured for Danny to follow him. The great cutlass swayed against the old man's unsteady knees as he bowed slightly-----or stooped-----and greeted Danny in formal unpracticed French. "Bonsoir!"
"Makonya," Danny said, remembering the local greeting from Garoua. He walked his bike in among the round and square buildings. A few chickens scratched in the dirt, and a pair of black and brown goats nosed between the huts. A sinewy, long-limbed old woman wearing only a loincloth tended a fire. He immediately started looking for the special drums, but saw none.
Within the village, a high-walled courtyard enclosed two round huts. Gravel covered the open area between them, roofed over with a network of serpent-shaped sticks supporting grass mats. This seemed to be the chief's compound. Anatole took Danny's arm and dragged him forward.
Inside the wall, a white-robed figure reclined in a canvas chair under an acacia tree. His handsome features had a North African cast, with thin lips over white teeth and a rakish mustache. His aristocratic head was wrapped in a red-and-white-checked scarf, and even in repose he was obviously tall. He looked every bit the romantic desert prince, like Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik. After greeting Danny in both French and the local language, the chief gestured for his guest to sit beside him.
Before Danny could move, two other boys appeared carrying a rolled-up mat of woven grass, which they spread out for him. Anatole scolded them for horning in on his customer, but the two boys cuffed him and ignored his protests. Then the chief shouted at them all for disturbing his piece and drove the boys away. Danny watched them kicking Anatole as they scampered away, and he felt for his new friend, angry at how tough people picked on weaker ones the world over.
He sat cross-legged on the mat, and it took him only a moment to begin reveling in the moment of relaxation. No cars or trucks disturbed the peace. He was miles from the nearest electricity, or glass window, or airplane. He sat looking up into the leaves of the acacia, listening to the quiet buzz of the villagers, and thought, "I'm living in a National Geographic documentary!"
Anatole stole back into the compound, bearing two bottles of warm Miranda orange soda, which he gave to Danny and the chief. Other boys gathered under the tree, glaring at Anatole, then looking at Danny with ill-concealed awe.
After several moments of polite smiling and nodding, Danny asked the chief if all the boys were his children. Anatole assisted in the unnecessary translation.
"Oui," the chief said, patting his chest proudly. He claimed to have fathered thirty-one sons, which made Danny wonder if the women in the village found it politic to routinely claim the chief as the father of their babies. As with all remote African villages, though, many children died from various sicknesses. Just a week earlier, one of the babies had succumbed to a terrible fever, the chief said.
The chief asked Danny the usual questions about his country, whether any black men lived there, why he had visited Cameroon; then he insisted that Danny eat dinner with them. The women would prepare the village specialty of chicken in peanut sauce.
Hearing this, the old sentry emerged with his cutlass, smiling widely at Danny, then disappeared around the sidewall. The squawking of a terrified chicken erupted in the sleepy afternoon air, the sounds of a scuffle, and then the squawking stopped.
Finally, Danny asked the question that had brought him to Kabas in the first place: "Moi,je suis musicien; je cherche les tambours speciaux." He mimed rapping on a small drum, then turned to Anatole for assistance.
The chief sat up, startled, then nodded. He hammered on the air, mimicking drum playing, as if to make sure. Danny nodded. The chief clapped his hands and gestured for Anatole to take Danny somewhere. The boy pulled Danny to his feet and, surrounded by other chattering boys, dragged him back out of the walled courtyard. Danny managed to turn around and bow to the chief.
After trooping up a stairlike terrace of rock, they entered the courtyard of another homestead. The main shelter was built of handmade blocks with a flat roof of corrugated metal. Anatole explained that this was the home of the local "sorcier", or wizard.
Anatole called out, then gestured for Danny to follow through the low doorway. Inside the hut, the walls were hung with evidence of the sorciers' trade-------odd bits of metal, small carvings, bundles of fur and feathers, mortars full of powders and herbs, clay pots for water and millet beer, smooth skins curing as they hung from the roof poles. And drums.
"Tambours!" Anatole said, spreading his hands wide.
Judging from the craftsman's tools around the hut, the sorcier made the village's drums as well as stored them. Danny saw several small gourd drums, large log drums, and hollow cylinders of every size, all intricately carved with serpentines symbols, circles feeding into spirals, lines tangled into knots.
Danny reached out to touch one------then the sorcier himself stood up from the shadows near the far wall. Danny bit off a startled cry as the lithe old man glided forward. The sorcier was tall and rangy, but his skin was a battleground of wrinkles, as if someone had clumsily fashioned him out of papier mâché.
"Pardon," Danny said. The wrinkled man had been sitting on a low stool, putting finishing touches to a new drum.
Fixing his eyes on his visitor, the sorcier withdrew a medium-size drum from a niche in the wall. Closing his eyes, he tapped on it. The mud walls of the hut reverberated with the hollow vibration, an earthy, primal beat that resonated in Danny's bones. Danny grinned with awe. Yes! The gaunt man's drum had not been a fluke. The drums of Kabas had some special construction that caused this hypnotic tone.
Danny reached out tentatively. The wrinkled man gave him an appraising look, then extended the drum enough for Danny to strike it. He tapped a few tentative beats, and laughed out loud when the instrument rewarded him with the same rich sound.
The sorcier turned away, taking the drum with him and returning it to its niche in the wall. In two flowing strides, the wrinkled man went to his stool in the shadows, picking up the drum he had been fashioning, moving it into the crack of light that seeped through the windows. Pointing, he spoke in a staccato dialect, which Anatole translated into pidgin French.
The sorcier was finishing a new drum today, Anatole said. Perhaps they would play it tonight, an initiation. The chief's baby son would have enjoyed that. From the baby's body, the sorcier been able to salvage only enough skin to make this one small drum.
"What?" Danny said, looking down at the deep brown skin covering the top of the drum.
Anatole explained, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, that whenever one of the chief's many sons died, the sorcier used his skin to make one of Kabas's special drums. It had always been done.
Danny wrestled with that idea a moment. On his first trip to Africa, five years earlier, he had learned the wrenching truth of how different these cultures were from is own.
"Why?" he finally asked. "Pourquoi?"
He had seen other drums made entirely of human skin taken from slain enemies, fashioned in the shape of stunted bodies with gaping mouths; when they were tapped, a hollow sound came from the effigies' mouths. He knew he was wrong for trying to impose his Western moral framework on the inhabitants of an alien land. I'm sorry sir, but you'll have to check your preconceptions at the door, he thought jokingly to himself.
"Magique." Anatole's eyes showed a flash of fear------fear born of respect for great power, rather than paranoia or panic. With the magic drums of Kabas, the chief could conquer any man, steal his heartbeat. It was old magic, a technique the village wizards had discovered long before the French had come to Cameroon, and before them the Germans. Kabas had been isolated, and at peace for longer than the memories of the oldest people in the village. Because of the drums. Anatole smiled, proud of his story, and Danny restrained an urge to pat him on the head.
Trying not to let his disbelief show, Danny nodded deeply to the sorcier. "Merci," he said. As Anatole led him back out to the courtyard, the sorcier returned to his work on the small drum.
Danny wondered if he should have tried to buy one of the drums. Did he believe the story about using human skins? Probably. Why would Anatole lie?
As they left the sorcier's homestead to begin the trek back to the village, he looked westward across the jagged landscape of inselbergs. As always at sunset, the air was filled with hundreds of kites, their wings rigid, circling high on the last thermals. Like leaves before the wind, the birds came spiraling down to disappear into the trees, filling them with invisible flapping wings.
When they reached the main village again, Danny saw that the women had returned from their labor in the nearby fields. He was familiar with the African tradition of sending the women and children out for backbreaking labor while the men lounged in the shade and talked "business".
The numerous sons of the chief and various adults gathered inside the courtyard near the fire, which the old sinewy woman had stoked into a larger blaze. Other men emerged, and Danny wondered where they had all been that afternoon. Out hunting? If so, they had nothing to show for their efforts. Anatole directed Danny to sit on a mat beside the chief, and everyone smiled vigorously at each other, the villagers exchanging the call-and-response litany of ritual greetings, which could go on for several minutes.
The old woman served the chief first, then the honored guest. She placed a brown yam like a baked potato on the mat in front of him, miming that it was hot. Danny took a cautious bite; the yam was pungent and turned to paste in his mouth. The woman reappeared with the promised chicken in peanut sauce. They all ate quietly in a circle around the fire, ignoring each other, as red shadows flickered across their faces.
Listening to the sounds of eating and the simmering evening hush of the west African hills, Danny felt the emptiness like a peaceful vacuum, draining away stress and loud noises and hectic schedules. After too many head-pounding tours and adrenaline-crazed performances, Danny had been convinced he'd forgotten how to sit quietly, how to slow down. After one rough segment of the last Blitzkrieg tour, he had taken a few days to go camping in the mountains; he recalled pacing in vigorous circles around the picnic table, muttering to himself that he was relaxing as fast as he could! Calming down was an acquired skill, he felt, and there was no better teacher than Africa.
After the meal, heads turned in the firelight, and Danny looked up to see the sorcier entering the chief's compound. The wrinkled man cradled several of his mystical drums. He placed one of the drums in front of the chief, then set the others on an empty spot on the ground. He squatted behind one drum, thrusting his long, lean legs up and to the sides like the wings of a vulture.
Danny perked up. "A concert?" He turned to Anatole, who spoke rapidly to the sorcier. The wrinkled man looked skeptically at Danny, then shrugged. He picked up one of the extra drums and ceremoniously extended it to Danny.
Danny couldn't stop smiling. He took the drum and looked at it. The coffee-colored skin felt smooth and velvety as he touched it. A shiver went up his spine as he tapped the drumhead. Making music from human skin. He forced his instinctive revulsion back into the gray static of his mind, the place where he stored things "to think about later". For now, he had the drum in his hands.
The chief thumped out a few beats, then stopped. The sorcier mimicked them, then turned to Danny. "Jam session!" he muttered under his breath, then repeated the sequence easily and cleanly, but added a quick complicated flourish at the end.
The chief raised his eyebrows, followed suit with the beat, and made it more complicated still. The sorcier flowed into his part, and Danny joined in with another counterpoint. It reminded him of "Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance.
The echoing, rich tone of the drum made his fingers warm and tingly, but he allowed himself to be swallowed up in the mystic rhythms, the primal pounding out in the middle of the African wilderness. The other night noises vanished around him, the smoke from the fire rose straight up, and the light centered into a pinpoint of his concentration.
Using his bare fingers-----sticks would only interrupt the magical contact between himself and the drums------Danny continued weaving into their rhythms, trading points and counterpoints. The beat touched a core of past lives deep within him, an atavistic, pagan intensity, as the three drummers reached into the Pulse of the World. The chief played on; the sorcier played on; and Danny let his eyes fade half-closed in a rhythmic trance as they explored the wordless language and hypnotic interplay of rhythm.
Danny became aware of the boys standing up and swaying, jabbering excitedly as they danced around him. He deciphered their words as "White man drum!" "White man drum!" It was a safe bet they'd never seen a white man play a drum before.
Suddenly the sorcier stopped, and within a beat the chief also quit playing. Danny felt wrenched out of the experience, but reluctantly played a concluding figure as well, ending with an emphatic flam. His arms burned from the exertion, sweat dipped down the stubble on his chin. His ears buzzed from the noise. Unable to restrain himself, Danny began laughing with delight.
The sorcier said something, which Anatole translated: "Vous avez l'esprit de batteur." You have the spirit of a drummer.
With a throbbing hand, Danny squeezed Anatole's bare shoulder and nodded, "Oui."
The chief also congratulated him, thanking him for sharing his white man's music with the village. Danny found that ironic, since he had come here to pick up a rich African flavor for his compositions. But Danny could record his impressions in new songs, the village of Kabas had no way of keeping what he had brought to them.
The withered sorcier picked up one of the drums at his side, and Danny recognized it as the small drum the old man had been finishing in the dim hut that afternoon. He fixed his deep gaze on Danny for a moment, then handed it to him.
Anatole sat up, alarmed, but bit off a comment he intended to make. Danny nodded in reassurance and in delight as he took the new drum. He held it to his chest and inclined his head deeply to show his appreciation. "Merci!"
Anatole took Danny's hand to lead him away from the walled courtyard. The chief clapped his hands and barked something to the other boys, who looked at Anatole with glee before they got up and scurried to the huts, apparently to sleep. Anatole stared nervously at Danny, but Danny didn't understand what had just occurred.
He repeated his thanks, bowing again to the chief and the sorcier, but the two of them just stared at him. He was reminded of an East African scene: a pair of lions sizing up their prey. He shook his head to clear the morbid thought, and followed Anatole.
In the village proper, one of the round thatched huts had been swept for Danny to sleep in. Outside, his bike leaned against a tree, no doubt guarded during the day by the little man with the enormous cutlass. Anatole seemed uneasy, wanting to say something, but afraid.
Trying to comfort him, Danny opened his pack and withdrew a stick of chewing gum for the boy. Anatole spoke rapidly, gushing his thanks. Suddenly, the other boys materialized from the shadows with childish murder in their eyes. They tried to take the gum from Anatole, but he popped it in his mouth and ran off. "Hey!" Danny shouted, but Anatole bolted into the night with the boys chasing after.
Wondering if Anatole was in any real danger, Danny removed the blanket and sleeping bag from his bike, then carried them into the guest hut. He decided the boy could take care of himself, that he must have spent his life as the whipping boy for the other sons of the chief. The thought drained some of the exhilaration from the memory of the evening's performance.
His legs ached after the torturous ride upland from Garoua, and he fantasized briefly about sitting in the Jacuzzi in the capitol suite of some five-star hotel. He considered how wonderful it would be to sip some cold champagne, or a scotch on the rocks.
Instead, he lifted the gift drum, inspecting it. He would find some way to use it on the next album, add a rich African tone to the music. Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel had done it, though the style of Blitzkrieg's music was more..........aggressive.
He would not tell anyone about the human skin, especially not the customs officials. He tried without success to decipher the mystical swirling patterns carved into the wood, the interwoven curves, circles, and knots. It made him dizzy.
Danny closed his eyes and began to play the drum, quietly so as not to disturb the other villagers. But as the sound reached his ears, he snapped his eyes open. The tone from the drum was flat and weak, like a cheap tourist tom-tom, plastic over a coffee can.
He frowned at the gift drum. Where was the rich reverberation, the primal pulse of the earth? He tapped again, but heard only an empty and hollow sound, soulless. Danny scowled, wondering if the sorcier had ruined the drum by accident, then decided to get rid of it by giving it to the unsuspecting White Man who wouldn't know the difference.
Angry and uneasy, Danny set the African drum next to him; he would try it again in the morning. He could play it for the chief, show him its flat tone. Perhaps they would exchange it. Maybe he would have to buy another one.
He hoped Anatole was all right.
Danny sat down to pull the thorns and prickers from his clothes. The village women had provided him with two basins of water for bathing, one for soaping and scrubbing, the other for rinsing. The warm water felt refreshing on his face, his neck. After stripping off his pungent socks, he rinsed his toes and soles.
The night stillness was hypnotic, and as he spread his sleeping bag and stretched out on it, he felt as if he were seeping into the cloth, into the ground, swallowed up in sleep...........
Anatole woke him up only a few moments later, shaking him and whispering harshly in his ear. Dirt, blood, and bruises covered the boy's wiry body, and his clothes had been torn in a scuffle. He didn't seem to care. He kept shaking Danny.
But it was already too late.
Danny sat up, blinking his eyes. Sharp pains like the gash of a bear trap ripped through his chest. A giant hand seemed to have wrapped around his torso; it would squeeze until his ribs popped free of his spine.
He gasped, opening and closing his mouth, but could not give voice to his agony. He grabbed Anatole's withered arm, but the boy struggled away, searching for something. Black spots swarm in Danny's eyes. He tried to breathe, but his chest wouldn't let him. He began slipping, sliding down an endless cliff into blackness.
Anatole finally found an object on the floor of the hut. He snatched it up with his good hand, tucked it firmly under his withered arm, and began to thump on it.
As the boy tapped out a slow, steady beat, Danny felt the iron band loosen around his heart. Blood rushed into his head again, and he drew a deep breath. Dizziness continued to swim around him, but the impossible pain receded. He clutched his chest, rubbing his sternum. He uttered a breathy thanks to Anatole.
Had he just suffered a heart attack? Good god, all the fast living had decided to catch up to him while he was out in the middle of nowhere, far from any hope of medical attention!
Then he realized with a chill that the sounds from the gift drum were now rich and echoey with the unearthly depth he remembered from the other drums. Anatole continued his slow rhythm, and suddenly Danny recognized it. A heartbeat.
What was it the boy had told him inside the sorcier's hut------that the magical drums could steal a man's heartbeat? "Ton Coeur c'est dans ici," Anatole said, continuing his drumming. Your heartbeat lives in here now.
Danny remembered the gaunt, shambling man in the marketplace of Garoua, obsessively tapping the drum from Kabas as if his life depended on it, until his hide wrapped fingers were bloodied. Had that man also escaped his fate in the village, and fled south? "You had the spirit of the drummer," Anatole said in his pidgin French, "and now the drum has your spirit." As if to emphasize his statement, as if he knew a White Man would be skeptical of such magic, Anatole ceased his rhythm on the drum.
The claws returned to Danny's heart, and the vise in his chest clamped back down. His heart had stopped beating. Heartbeats, drumbeats----------
The boy stopped only long enough to convince Danny, then started the beat again. Anatole looked at him with pleading eyes in the shadowy light of the hut. "Je vais avec toi!" I go with you. Let me be your heartbeat. From now on.
Leaving his sleeping bag behind, Danny staggered out of the guest hut to his bicycle resting against an acacia tree. The rest of the village was dark and silent, and the next morning they would expect to find him dead and cold on his blankets; and the new drum would have the same resonant quality, the same throbbing of a captured spirit, to add to their collection. The sound of White Man's music for Kabas.
"Allez!" Anatole whispered as Danny climbed aboard his bike. Go! What was he supposed to do now? The boy ran in front of him along the narrow track. Danny did not fear navigating the rugged trail by moonlight, with snakes and who-knew-what abroad in the grass, as much as he feared staying in Kabas and being there when the chief and the sorcier came to look at his body in the morning, and no doubt to appraise their pale new drum skin.
But how long could Anatole continue his drumming? If the beat stopped for only a moment, Danny would seize up. They would have to take turns sleeping. Would this nightmare continue after he left the vicinity of the village? Distance had not helped the shambling man in the marketplace in Garoua.
Would this be the rest of his life?
Stricken with panic, Danny nodded to the boy, just wanting to be out of there and not knowing what else to do. Yes, I'll take you with me. What other choice do I have? He pedaled his bike away from Kabas, crunching on the rough dirt path. Anatole jogged in front of him, tapping on the drum.