HERE is the introduction to one of the zaniest characters in my six Daniel Jacobus novels: Shakespeare-spouting Drum Stick Man, a denizen who lurks in the murky recesses of the New York City subway system in Danse Macabre. Jacobus, with his mind other things, wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing and has gotten himself lost, when he hears some odd tapping.
As he mulled over just what he would say to Hennie, Jacobus suddenly realized that the usual sounds and smells of humanity had ebbed into the ether. No voices, no scuffling, no car horns, no sweat, no perfume, no exhaust fumes. All he could hear was an echo of dripping water, some jazzily rhythmic tapping off in the distance, and his own uneven footsteps. His arthritic hip responded like a barometer to cooler, musty and dank atmospheric conditions. Where the hell am I? he thought. I shouldn’t try to do two things at once, dammit. He stopped to reconnoiter, instincts momentarily befuddled. He decided to turn left.
“Hold Mortal, lest thou will surely perish!” declaimed a voice, followed by a drum riff on what sounded like a set of paint cans and cement.
Jacobus stopped. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
“A yawning abyss beckons ye, of which thou art presently astride.” Bdop-bah.
“Who the hell are you?” asked Jacobus.
“Men have called me the Drum Stick Man, and honored be I to make your acquaintance. Welcome to my dark domain. ’Tis dark here, yea, but I perceive ’tis darker for you still. Thou canst not see this dormant track bed unused, lo, in the memory of man. One more step and thine earthly coil will surely be kaput.” Bop-bop-bop, bop-bdop-baaaah.
Jacobus turned to his right.
“Egad! Go not that direction, neither, gentle Sir.” Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-op.
“Why the hell not? And knock off that ridiculous tapping.”
“But ‘tis my very nature to tap, Sir! I tap on cans.” B-dang, b-dang, b-dang. “I tap on walls,” Knk-knk-knk. “I e’en tap ’pon my head. Ow!!
“‘The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.’
“If thou goest right, M’lord, thou wilst ne’er return. Right is wrong. A community of Gatherers awaits ye yon.” Bp-bp-bding.
“And what, may I asketh, gather they?” asked Jacobus.
“Everything, kind sir. Everything . . . But fear not! For I will lead you from these things of darkness and this precipice, just as stout Edgar did lead the orbless Gloucester. Follow me. Perchance my tapping will please you now. Dawdle not! It be not far.”
“You live down here?” asked Jacobus, following the Drum Stick Man’s tapping.
“Verily. Long has it been since the light of day has crossed my path. Passageways without number abound within these dank, dark depths. Forsooth ’tis a world unto itself. Aha, here is the end of the line for me.
“‘Walk now thou straight and true,
and the world above ’twill be there for you.’”
Within moments Jacobus began to hear the familiar sounds of civilization within easy distance.
“How much do I owe you?” he asked, putting his hand into his pocket.
“Never a beggar nor chooser be! Now get thee to a bunnerie. I am awaaaay!”
Jacobus heard the tapping nimbly recede into the distance. Now again with the type of humanity to which he was accustomed, in short order he was shoved up the escalator towards what was—for everyone else but him— the light at the end of the tunnel.
Walking the few short blocks from the station to the Bonderman Building, jostled by people in too much of a hurry to slow their pace even for a blind man, Jacobus contemplated the nature of insanity. On one hand was this individual he just encountered who lived underground, talked funny, and liked to bang on things. That person had undoubtedly saved his life out of the goodness of his curiously perverse heart. On the other hand was a society which killed people, occasionally the wrong ones, as punishment for killing other people. BTower and Allard, for example. Jacobus wasn’t sure which side of the sanity fence he was on. He had little need for creature comforts and since the world was black to him anyway—in more ways than one—the prospect of living a peaceful subterranean existence, like Ziggy’s, far away from all the things which daily annoyed him, didn’t seem all that unreasonable. That’s one reason he had never given up his hovel in the Berkshires. No one bothered him except for those who he desired to bother him, like Nathaniel and his dwindling cache of students.