I Know My Name is Duncan by Aaron William

A heavy metal story of imprisonment, forced labour, extreme torture, and headbanging soul-shattering music.

Image generated with OpenAI
Here I sit on the edge of my cot, naked and pissing, the brown urine splattering against the concrete floor between my dirty, shackled, bare feet. I don't always piss this way. For one thing, I don't always have a cot, so I'm usually just lying on the cold concrete pissing whichever way I'm pointed. I used to aim for a corner in an attempt to keep my cell tidy, but quickly found out that when a tiny concrete cell only gets cleaned about once a week, the pee ends up everywhere no matter where the initial deposit is made. The shit, however, does not end up everywhere. Lucky me. The cleanings happen promptly every time I make a solid, and one solid per week is the best I can muster while on the constant brink of starvation.

My only permanent cellmate is a collection of four thick steel chains. Everyone's had an annoying roommate at one time or another, right? But this one is especially bothersome. They keep me facing the room, my back about two feet from the wall. One pair of the chains, like rusty tentacles, tautly lead from the floor on either side of me, to solid braces cuffed around my tattooed arms just above the elbows. Another twin pair again come from either side, and follow the floor to the bindings around my ankles. The lengths of the chains are precise, allowing me to lay, sit, or stand, but short enough to provide a gentle, constant tension, spreading my feet and arms slightly when I'm standing, keeping me from moving about my cell and becoming a danger to myself, or others.

My days are spent almost entirely in silence, other than my heartbeat, breathing, mutterings to myself, and of course my asshole roommate clanging in protest every time I move. My cell is a six-sided cube of damp, gray concrete, and on the wall to my left, a small steel door just big enough for your average beast of a man to duck through to tend to a gaunt prisoner. The wall opposite the door, to my right, is blank except for a tiny slit of a window, at the tippy top near the 15ish foot ceiling where there is no possible way I could ever see out of it. But I know it's there, because it talks to me. It tells me two things and two things only. The first; Good morning, Duncan, it's daytime now. And the second; Get ready for the darkness, Duncan, it's nighttime. Not a day goes by that the sweet little window doesn't make its announcements. I am grateful for it, and I cherish the conversation. Unlike my annoying steel chain roommate, that window, that lovely little slit of a window, is my best friend.

I'm so glad to have a cot, and so is my lower back, as it is noticeably quieter in its screaming when I have a cot. My unshorn tangled hair and greasy beard are grateful for the much-needed break from soaking piss up from the floor. The chains allow me to lay on it, sit on it, or stand either next to it or straddling it. Calling it a cot, though, is actually quite generous. It consists of three wooden crates, set together, with a soiled blanket draped over them, and another blanket to cover myself. Nevertheless, I will call it a cot, because today I'm feeling quite generous. You see, the fact that I have anything in my cell, other than my naked self and the rusty steel constraints, means something important. It means there is a show approaching, and I do still love the show, and I have big plans for this particular show. Not to mention, I will soon start getting double portions of moldy bread and rusty water. Probably even some burnt hamburger. What a treat.

I have no idea where I am being held, city, state... hell, country. But I know my name is Duncan, and I'm a player. A piano player, that is. I know this because I am constantly reminded of it by my masked, anonymous guards. Eat your bread, Duncan. Drink the water, Duncan. Say thank you, Duncan. Here's what you'll be playing this time, Duncan. You better play well, Duncan. Don't try anything stupid, Duncan. You'll be sorry if you try anything stupid, Duncan. You shouldn't have done that, Duncan. We have to hurt you now, Duncan. That last one is something I have heard too many times in my new life, often right before the pain. It's always a new level of pain too, just when I thought I'd felt the most pain one could feel.

It's funny, I thought my old life before this cell was hard. It was definitely mundane, disappointing, but compared to my life now, it was bliss. I wish I had known that at the time, but hindsight is 20/20, as they say. I complained, I criticized, I struggled, I suffered. Ha! at least I thought I suffered. Suffering then was: never enough money, never successful, never pursued by anyone. And always hungover, always downtrodden, always disappointed. Of course, I didn't know true suffering as I do now, but it was suffering I guess, just a different kind.



I spent my entire childhood in the foster system, bouncing between families and group homes. This resulted in a rather solitary existence. I never knew what family was. The closest thing I had to friends were other orphans or classmates that I felt weren't always trying to assess what they could take from me. I mostly avoided all social interaction. Despite my comfort in being alone and miserable, something dark was building, or more like growing, inside of me. I was becoming angry. I rarely showed it, and most of the time I could shove it so far down in my gut it seemed to go away, but only temporarily. No matter how many times I pushed it down, it kept coming back. So, I had to find an escape, and I learned if you really look hard enough, there is always a way to escape.

My first successful escape was music. Heavy music. The heaviest music. The hardest, loudest music I could find. The music that gave me that sweet adrenaline release with a touch of violence and anger, just like what was growing inside of me, begging to get out. The first band I found was Megadeth, and thus, heavy metal of the 80s and 90s consumed my soul. Megadeth had an album called Countdown to Extinction. I would close my eyes and listen to the song "Symphony of Destruction" on repeat over and over and over, to let every last demon out. I had found an escape, and it snowballed from there. Metallica, Pantera, Slayer. The music was screaming, just like I was screaming inside. They were angry, sad, fed up, just like I was. And not just the singers, every instrument was screaming. Hell, I didn't even know the lyrics most of the time, I just knew that the intensity felt good, and I craved it. I searched and explored all of the hardest hitting music I could find. I couldn't get enough.

When I was 11, I joined the school band and it was actually the band director that really forced me to "choose" piano as my instrument, because no one else would. The first time I sat at the immense instrument I just looked at the keys, most wide and white, some thin and black. I reached with one index finger and gently pressed one of the white ones, I don't even remember now what note it was. What I do remember is the feeling, the vibration that even though it was so soft, it traveled into my hand, up my arm and into my chest. I closed my eyes and pressed the same note again, only harder this time, and the feeling was like sliding into a warm bath. I had found my passion at that moment and I would never stop playing.

Of course, I couldn't practice outside of school, so I would stay after, every single day. It turns out I had natural talent, too. I quickly and easily learned every inch of the keyboard, and it wasn't long before I started playing my favorite metal songs. Jesus, it was even better than listening. It was as if my whole body became the music. I had found an even better escape. I had found my niche. I knew what I was. I was a player. Then it wasn't long until I first found Beethoven.

Beethoven? Yes, Beethoven. I thought I knew intense music with heavy metal, but I knew nothing. It all started with Beethoven. Of course, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, they were acceptable, and some of their keyboard pieces were absolutely amazing. But goddammit, they weren't fucking Beethoven. Beethoven shaped music into what it is today. As far as I'm concerned, the man invented heavy metal. He paved the way for the sounds of Slayer, Megadeth, and Pantera. He made it okay to have angry music, sad music, violent music. Music that was both jubilant and devastating in the same piece. He would bounce between quiet as a butterfly, and loud as a thunderbolt. He made it okay to lose ourselves in despair, intensity, and joy, through music. He used his suffering, embraced it, and exploited it. As clouds reveal to us the shape of air, Beethoven showed us the sound of passion.

As I hardened my taste in potent music, my playing style was shaped. I was fucking powerful, wild, passionate. And it was real. It wasn't a performance. The whole reason I wanted to play was my craving of a release. Stress, anxiety, anger, whatever you want to call it, playing was the relief valve. My music teachers tried to reign me in. But I did it without trying to, without even knowing it. The music got inside me and took over. I pounded the keys, I swung my arms, I grimaced, I destroyed those songs because the music begged me to. As I would destroy the songs, I would also destroy pianos. Breaking strings and hammers and pedals. It's what led me to be a Yamaha player. They wouldn't let me near the Steinways.

But I was good. That's what made me different. I wasn't some metalhead punk. Well, maybe a little bit of a metalhead punk, but I could play, and my instructors knew it. Even when I was lost in a berserk trance of fingers and notes and chords, the playing was flawless. The phrases I heard back then were: You are so amazing, James, you just need to calm down. Play with more reserve, James. Stop flailing your arms when you play, James. You are really going to go places if you learn to play softer, James. Another tattoo, James? Why the fuck did they keep calling me James? I'm really not sure where that came from, because I know my name is Duncan.

The word virtuoso floated from their mouths, too, but always just out of reach like an allusive trophy, because they knew I had talent but couldn't quite assign me that label because of my "vulgar" playing style. That word, vulgar, didn't float at all. That word fell like a rock and stamped me right on my forehead. But it really didn't matter because I didn't give a shit about labels. And I didn't give a shit about music teachers, and I didn't even give a shit about a career in music. Playing the piano was all I knew how to do, and I didn't even want to play unless I could play the way that felt right. It's what I needed as a kid and a young man, to lose myself, and is why I was drawn to it. It was my bliss, and that's all I cared about.

Things took a dismal turn as I went from child to adult. Unfortunately, heavy metal, piano, Beethoven, all started to wane in terms of the escape they had provided. Even though listening and playing heavy music was still my passion, it was as if I had built a tolerance. So naturally, I went in search of a new escape, a more potent rush. And as it so often does, for so many people, whiskey found me and scooped me up into its unrelenting arms. Sweet, reliable whiskey. It never judged, criticized, or abandoned. It never let me down, but it grabbed a hold of me and didn't let me go. That part of me was surely what sealed the deal for my eventual capture. I'm actually surprised more people didn't take advantage of the blacked out piano player at the end of the night, usually landing passed out on the bar, possibly in a puddle of my own vomit. But, then again, it's not like I had anything in my wallet. No money, no fancy car, I didn't even own a goddamn piano to put in my blank, grimy studio apartment. It took a special, sadistic person to recognize my value and what they could do with me. They must have been at the right place at the right time; one of my dirty, obnoxious, bar shows.

The shows back then were different than they are now. They were small, mostly informal. I gave college two years, but when I dropped out, I had no plan, and no place to go. I played for peanuts, usually at a dingy bar. Once in a while I would be hired by some gazillionaire to play soft Bach or Mozart, or smooth jazz, as background music for a fancy party. They could've cheaply and easily just played the classics over a PA system, but instead hired a desperate player just to prove to their friends how many gazillions of dollars they had. Little did the guests know, I got paid almost nothing. All of the shows were similar, people talked, few listened. At the end of each piece some would applaud weakly as a formality, like even their hands were sighing with boredom. I always had a tip jar. Jesus, a goddamn tip jar, like I was Billy fucking Joel or something. I played all 27 Chopin Etudes for my finals recital at age 19, and I had a fucking tip jar? Don't get me wrong, most nights that damn jar was full, and was actually quite a haul if I was able to stay sober enough to remember to take it with me at the end of the night.

I liked the filthy bar shows better; no tip jar, and the people watching actually seemed interested, even if it could have been because they were wasted. Eventually after too many embarrassing drunken scenes at the gazillionaire dinner-parties, and coincidently around the same time I got a flaming skull tattooed on my neck, bar shows became the only gigs I could get anyway. It was surely at one of these shows that my captor saw me, and saw an opportunity. They were the only shows I could be myself, and was free to play the way I wanted to. Most bar pianos were probably freebies, so if I destroyed it, the bar owner was never too pissed because they could probably have another freebie wheeled in within days. Not to mention, the money the bar made from booze sales when I played, made them more than happy to allow me to destroy a shitty, free, out of tune console piano once in a while.

It didn't matter if there were ten people, or fifty, or a hundred, the bar crowd ate that shit up. Always at least a portion of them were there just to see me, having heard about my raucous performances. Play some fucking Metallica, James! James again? Why did they call me James when I know my name is Duncan? Of course, I would oblige, and it would blow their minds. I often think back to the very last bar show, the night of my abduction, and remember it well, even after what I can only estimate has been three-ish years.

I was in my regular bar that night, The Dirty Bird. I wasn't even supposed to play, but the shitty punk band that was booked had to back out last minute because their drummer was missing, presumably on a crack bender. Yeah, it was that kind of bar. The owner called me at 8pm, and even though I was nursing a hangover, I agreed to come in and play for the restless punk crowd. After all, what's a better cure for a hangover than to go where the whiskey is?

I was playing for about 20 minutes with just warmups, some tunes from old rock hits mixed with some jazzy improvs just to get people's attention. I finally started Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, one I'd played many times before, and was especially good because it starts with a cocktail of somber excitement, drops to a quiet, comforting interlude, and ends in pure fury. By the time I launched into the raucous third movement, a crowd had gathered and was fully primed. I had captivated everyone in the bar. I had already done six shots of whiskey while playing so far, and was feeling my best. This was me in my element. I blocked out everything except the music. I was dancing on the keyboard with no doubt whatsoever. I was an extension of the piano. My nose was inches from the keys, sweat dripped from my intense face, my long hair disheveled and flopping as I banged my head to my own playing.

At the end of the piece, the peak intensity, the climax, someone held a shot to my lips and tipped it back. I only saw a hand, but sometimes wonder now if it was my new master that fed me that shot, making sure I was properly inebriated, even though I never needed help in achieving that. Regardless of who fed me the shot, I downed every drop without missing a note and before the glass was even away from my mouth, I shot to my feet, kicked the bench away Jerry Lee Lewis style, and immediately launched into the ripping Pantera guitar solo from the song "Domination". That solo absolutely shreds, and the whole bar erupted.

Beer was flying as people flung their hands and bottles up and pumped their fists. Most of them probably didn't even know what I was playing, they didn't even care, they just knew it was fucking powerful. Was there actually a mosh pit? To piano playing? I still don't know how that rickety old Wurlitzer held up to my pounding that night. I was lost, I was free. As I slammed a last 10-finger chord, I collapsed to my knees and was deafened with cheers and smothered with sweaty embraces. The rest of the night is a blur. It was a fog of whiskey, slurred speech, ridiculous rants and failed attempts to convince women to fuck me in the bathroom. I eventually went completely blank. It was the last night of normal life I would ever know.

Goddammit, I wish now that I knew who was watching. How could I blame them for seeing that a piano player could invoke such a response? Whoever it was, was convinced by that performance that it was time to make their move. I woke up the next day in my cell. My new home. Dirty, confused, hungover, scared, miserable. Embarking on a life of slavery that I never in my wildest dreams knew was possible. I was always told that the way I played is what kept me from success. Well, that and whiskey. But boy, were they wrong, and my abductor saw it. They saw the reaction my intensity could summon. Take me away from uppity classical assholes, and I will be unstoppable. That's exactly what has happened. They took what I had been told my whole life was my biggest weakness, and made it my biggest strength. They studied the type of drunken, tattered people who worshiped my performance, and turned those 50 people in a bar into 5,000 in a stadium. Now, I'm a fucking superstar. Liberace, eat your heart out.



My remembrances blast away as the thick steel door on the wall to my left unlatches, and a masked, black-dressed grizzly man enters and approaches. Like he had so many times before, he holds a moldy piece of bread up, tears off a bite, and mashes it into my mouth.

"Eat the bread, Duncan," he growls. "You have a show in 30 days, Duncan."

This piece has blue mold, and I know the taste well. Out of all the horrible atrocious, disgusting molds I had eaten, blue mold is my favorite. Better than the musty white mold, and SO much better than the black mold. The black mold makes me vomit, which isn't all bad because there is never all that much vomit, except that it stays in the cell for days before anyone comes to clean it, sometimes making me vomit again just from the smell. And whoever draws the short straw for that job gets in at least a couple jabs or kicks to my tender ribs to punish me. Wasn't it the mold's fault though? I would never state the obvious to an angry bear.

I munch the blue mold bread, as this bear jams bite after bite into my mouth, which is more than usual, as expected, seeing as there is a show coming. 30 days. They have started the now familiar switch from just keeping me alive, to the process of nursing me to show health. Soon I will get instructions on what I am to play at the coming show. It is always something I know well already, my captor knows me very well. I will just need to polish, figure out where I will improvise, and where I'll drop in some fucking metal.



Of course I didn't initially know my true purpose for being held captive. And I fought. Holy shit did I fight. I'd like to think I gave the guards a challenge, even though they remain undefeated. Those attempts only lasted the first few weeks. Their simple strategy was to beat me so severely that I would quit fighting them, and it worked. It's also when I was first introduced to the thick, complaining chains.

The beatings are interesting because I am only beaten on the parts of my body that are hidden by clothes. And certainly not on parts that would affect my playing. Ribs, stomach, legs. Oh god, have they beaten my legs. I don't think they have ever broken one, but they sure have tenderized the meat on the bone. I couldn't stand up for three weeks once. That's really when I learned that it doesn't matter where I piss. They beat my arms too, but not as bad, and only the upper arm. The elbow down portion is extremely valuable to them. Him? Her? They? Whoever owns me now. Also, they will cut me, pinch me, or burn me, but still nothing that causes life threatening damage. Only pain. Only pain.

The last time I was beaten for fighting, they had some sort of stick. It wasn't a heavy stick, more like a switch for whipping, and they whipped the ever-loving shit outta me with that switch. After the whipping, I was cut from the switch strikes, my flesh opened and bloody from my calves, up to and including my groin, my abdomen, and upper arms down to the elbow. The precision of the strikes was extraordinary; never from the neck up, never from the elbow down.

As I squatted on the floor oozing blood and shaking from the intense sting, relieved that the whipping had stopped, and as quickly as I thought the worst was over, another guard strode in with a gas can and doused me without a word. If you've ever gotten gasoline in an open wound, you know this pain, and it was over my entire body. I screeched and shuddered and writhed, only to be doused again. And again. And again. I was soon begging them to light a match and set me ablaze, as if somewhere in my pain induced madness I thought that would provide relief. They wouldn't do it, and it worked. I never fought the guards again.

Although I finally stopped fighting, it took much longer for me to give up trying to kill myself. I've tried to bash my own head in against the floor, hold my breath, refuse to eat. The suicide watch is truly impressive. I've tried three times to choke on the moldy bread. It's an interesting thing, to intentionally inhale bread, especially when it's stale and hard. But it's as if they expected it. They rushed in on me every time, administering the Heimlich within seconds.

My last punishment for the suicide attempts, as best as I can remember now, was much worse than the whipping and gasoline. It began with a trio of behemoth guards that held me down and spread my legs, then a fourth beast first stuffed a sock into my mouth to muffle my screams, and then, with a straight razor, swiftly and easily opened my scrotum. White hot pain bolted throughout my entire body, but the worst was yet to come. My mind so desperately tried to pass out, only to be thwarted with what I assume was smelling salts, or the like.

Once the testes were exposed, they abandoned the straight razor, which probably wouldn't have been painful enough to teach the intended lesson. So, out came the snips. Believe me, this particular guard was a pain artist. He opened the snips, placed my left ball between the two blades, and closed them, ever so slowly, to first squeeze and smash, then to pop into and cut. Snip, actually, would I guess be the more appropriate word, about ¼ of the testicle, then expertly managed the release of blood, and repeat the process for a second sliver, just to drive the message home. My throat was sore for days from screaming through that sock. Congratulations. Lesson learned. My suicide attempts ended there.

Smelling salts? Blood management? Pain artistry? Who the fuck were these people? Doctors? EMTs? They couldn't be human. They were monsters. Or, were they just excessively paid? Is it not by the almighty dollar that demons are born? And most of all, who was the person that put this perfect team of demons together? Someone, somewhere was doing this to me. Innocent, goddamn talented me. Just to make millions of dirty dollars.

During my time here I have been able to make some deductions. The mastermind is wealthy, really wealthy. Despite using me to make money, they had to have money already. Who could afford to seek out and hire men who were not only huge physical specimens, but also experts in multiple disciplines including emergency medical care, security, and torture? Also, they own some sort of facility with a secluded concrete cell where no one could hear or suspect. They have planes and vehicles to transport me to show venues. And, this is the most disturbing thing, they have exclusive access to some of the most revered theaters, stadiums, and arenas in the world.

Was it a celebrity? A politician? A corporate CEO? Goddammit! Whoever it was, one thing was certain, it was someone born with something missing from their soul. Born with a powerful need to hurt. A hunter. And they found me and turned me into a pathetic tool. Seemingly a celebrity musician, but really just a slave for a devil genius who had tapped my talent like a spigot on a keg full of money. But why me? Were there more, or was I the only one? God, I wish I knew. But all I know is that my name is Duncan, and I'm a prisoner.



Get ready for darkness, Duncan, it's nighttime. Here I sit, now 20 days until the show. Like clockwork, my dearest friend the window slit lets me know it's time to lay down on my lovely cot, and sleep. I'm feeling stronger now from the increased rations of bread. Twice now I've gotten a wad of beef, and although the second one was raw, it made me shiver with pleasure as I ate. More water has helped my general state too, and my brown urine has taken a delightful maize hue. The downside is that there is more of it, making my cell extra moist. The upside is that there is more poop too, from the increase in food, which means the cell floor gets cleaned more often. Every shit-cloud has a silver lining.

I clang and maneuver my way to a sleeping position on my back. When you are a prisoner in a concrete cell, with heavy chains attached to all four major limbs, achieving sleep can be a challenge, but over time gets easier. I'm at the point now that I can usually escape to sleep rather easily, but it's not always the escape I would hope for. Dreams can't hurt, but they can haunt, and can often be worse than even the most awful reality. And conversely, if I'm lucky enough to have a pleasant dream, as beautiful as that temporary escape is, it makes it even harder to wake up in Hell's hell. No matter what, I will wake up a prisoner, just as I was when I lay down to sleep.



After the abduction, when I finally stopped fighting and attempting suicide, the shows got ridiculously huge in a ridiculously small amount of time. The first one was shortly after the severe beating of my legs, after I recovered and was able to stand again. The beastly guards let me know that a show was coming and that the leg beating was nothing compared to what they would do if I tried anything funny. It was my first realization of why I was being held here. They told me I would be playing Chopin, and do what you do with the heavy metal. Which meant, mix in some hard-hitting metal perfectly with these classical piano songs. No problem.

It was a small theater, I have no idea where. It seemed like about a 12-hour car ride to get there, but without knowing where my cell is, it was 12 hours from somewhere, and nowhere. I had been marginally groomed before the show, my hair and beard cleaned but kept long, and I was given a sleeveless tux to wear. The guards escorted me, always hooded, into the theater and told me the whole way they would be watching me. Their threats and instructions were specific: Smile big to the crowd, wave, and act happy, Duncan. Play like you play in the bars, Duncan. Your tux is sleeveless to show off your tattoos, Duncan. Don't hold back, Duncan. I didn't hold back, and the mix of Chopin, Slayer, and some of my own rock-hard improvisations, had the crowd in a complete frenzy. It actually felt so good to play again, and for a few fleeting moments I lost the fact that I was being puppeted. All said and done, I regarded their threats, and followed their instructions, but deep down I was stewing. My legs still hurt and I didn't want to be a prisoner.

Funny thing about humans, or at least this human. No matter what the situation, the mind keeps drifting to escape. First, I'll fight my way out, or die trying. No? Okay. Then I'll kill myself. Easy. Oh, no on that, too? Okay, playing hard to get, huh? Time for my A game. I'll appeal to the crowd. My fans. They love me. I'll announce my situation in the middle of a show, to thousands of captivated spectators. It will make the news, the people will call the authorities, it may even ruin my "career". Win. Win. Win. Wrong again, Duncan.

It took me eight shows to finally get the courage to reach out to the crowd, and by that time I was playing in huge venues. This one was a packed amphitheater that resembled the Hollywood Bowl, but I didn't know for sure where I was at the time. How did they do it? How did they make me a superstar already? Who the hell ever heard of Duncan that they could fill a 15,000 seat amphitheater?

I was making sweet love to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14, and I had the whole scenario planned in my head beforehand. I would get to the final movement without a hitch and in the midst of the beautiful chaos of Beethoven at his finest, I would simply stop playing, stand up, and quickly explain that I was being held captive in a cell against my will, and please help. I did it just as I planned. I silenced the piano, calmly stood and faced the crowd, and cleared my throat. "Please help me. I was abducted several months ago, maybe over a year. I don't know who did it or where they are keeping me. Please, please, someone help." All I got was nervous giggling from the first few rows of the crowd, most of whom thought it was somehow part of the act. The rest of the stadium of course couldn't even hear what I was saying. The curtain fell instantly, and I was hooded, whisked away and brought back to my cell.

The result of that stunt was the clipping of my vocal cords. It was similar to the snipping of my testicle, with the sock in my mouth, the smelling salts, and the expert demon surgeon. And the snips. Those goddamn dull snips. It was easy to tell the instant when the snips finally hit their intended target because my muffled shrieks turned into painful rasps. There were moments I was sure the pain would kill me, but I learned pain doesn't kill. I've felt all the pain, and I'm still alive. Still fucking alive. Who does that win go to?



Good morning, Duncan, it's daytime now. Here I lay on my smelly little cot, now 10 days until the show. I smile up at my window as it announces its familiar greeting. I slowly sit up, my back crackling the whole way, sit upright on the edge of my cot, and begin another morning as I usually do, pissing. A few minutes after waking, the heavy, rusty door slams open, and a burly masked monster ducks in. He approaches me with not only a piece of moldy bread (Yessss! The blue mold again!) but also a plastic cup of light brown water. He speaks, his voice a rumble.

"Eat the bread and drink the water, Duncan. The show is in 10 days, Duncan. You will play the Appassionata Sonata, Duncan. Don't do anything stupid, Duncan."

It's almost comical how they feel the need to say Duncan at the end of every sentence. Don't they realize that I know my name is Duncan? It must be so I don't forget who I am. How nice.

The Appassionata! I will never know if my captor realizes the irony, that this was the piece I had played the night they took me, and will be the piece that sets me free. But it is also one of my favorites, and especially now that I have such a perfect escape plan for this show. This time, I can't fail. My escape is almost guaranteed. It makes my two previous attempts look utterly stupid. Oh God, the second attempt to appeal to the crowd, my last show until now, makes me shudder every time the grisly memory fights its way back to my mind. It seems like ages ago. When it does come back though, it's as clear as middle C.



It was at yet another stadium, although I didn't recognize it. I can only assume it was somewhere in Asia, judging by the distinguishing features of the crowd's faces. By then I had about a dozen big shows under my belt and was comfortable and confident on stage. I started the Hammerklavier, a fan favorite, widely regarded as one of Beethoven's most difficult pieces to play. I knew it well, and I nailed it, beautifully and on point. The fans, as usual, were mesmerized, and I played perfectly through the first three movements. The pause between the third and fourth was the type of silence that eardrums love to hate. Like that point during lovemaking, when orgasm is inevitable, the point of no return, but before the climax. It was the sight of a nuclear bomb before you hear the rumble. This pause was material anticipation. I could feel the collective eagerness of the crowd.

All at once, when even I didn't think I could take another second of silence, I began open-palm mashing the piano keys, in comical, cartoonish strokes with each arm. The sound was horror. Oh that poor, poor Yamaha. I really did feel bad for it, this inanimate architecture of wood, strings, hammers, and keys. I was perfectly fine hitting pianos when I was playing, but this was abuse. This $75,000 instrument, that I was so sure at that moment abusing it would save my life, if by ending it. So be it. That was my value, right? My ability to play? It took so long to think of it. So clever I was, to think that all I had to do was take my value away from my captor, forcing them to either kill me or let me go, surely the former, both an equally satisfactory escape from a pit of scum.

During my seemingly genius tantrum I was able for a few seconds to shoot a dumb pie-eyed glance toward the crowd. So many concerned eyes. So many hands over mouths. So many murmurs of probably What's happening? Oh my God! Is he having a seizure? A broad grin tattooed my own face as I pounded the keyboard harder and harder. I was sure this would work. My palms turned to fists and the sound was like shrieking children. Like shrieking children. Like shrieking children. Oh god, even now I shiver when I think of the sound, and the irony of it. Did I think of shrieking children at the time? It's hard to remember now, but doubtful. It was my punishment that tied it all together in a perfect gruesome package.

Needless to say, the curtain was immediately drawn to hide my display from the crowd. As soon as I was out of their sight, I was grabbed, hooded, and whisked away. The grin on my face lingered even under the hood. I thought I had won. I was so proud of myself. I was transported and roughly thrown back into my cube, stripped naked and left to my familiar situation between shows. I think I was even grinning then. What could my captor do now? My career was surely ruined this time, and just as surely, they would kill me for it. I was elated.

At what I think was about three days after my charade, and just as I was wondering when they would finally give the sweet relief of death and end all this, the door clanged, squeaked open, and a masked guard stepped in. This was it. I leaned toward my executioner, looking for death like a puppy looking for an ear scratch, when I was jolted back by the site of a small girl, pattering in behind the guard, holding his huge, gloved hand, and in her other, a perfect teddy bear. All at once I knew something was about to go horribly wrong. I fucked up. My plan failed. Oh god, what was about to happen?

After the girl, another guard entered, clad in all black, same as every guard I had seen. The girl was Asian, light skinned, velvet black hair in a bob, and perfectly straight cut bangs across the midpoint of her forehead. She looked scared and confused, but was clean, unharmed and cutely dressed in pink Oshkosh overalls, and a light blue t-shirt dotted with little yellow flowers. Jesus, it looked like the guard had just picked her up from goddamn daycare. She couldn't have been over five years old. At her first look at me, a stark naked, filthy, gaunt, adult man, she began to weep. I imagine she was told something, promised something, and was just now discovering she'd been lied to. She was terrified.

The second guard approached me and positioned himself behind me. He pinned both my arms in a jiujitsu hold with one of his heavily muscled arms, the chains singing as he rattled them and me. He put his other giant hand on top of my head hard, pointing my face toward the girl, his two peace-sign fingers jabbed in the spaces below my eyebrows, above my eyeballs, keeping my eyelids pried wide open. The guard with the girl positioned her precisely in front of my view, and reached behind himself to pull out the hammer in his waistband.

His first strike started with his arm and hammer raised high above his head, and came down hard right on top of her foot. The teddy dropped to the floor, and the sound she made was an earsplitting siren. "NO!" I attempted to shout. "NO!" But without vocal cords, my shout was simply a dull scrape, like dragging a stick through dry gravel. Another strike, this time to her tiny arm, rendering it oddly bent. Oh God, No! This is probably the point that the two memories, her shrieks and my idiotic pounding of the piano keys, melded. Like shrieking children. Like shrieking children. Her eyes were wide and insane with horror. Like my pounding, her shrieks were rhythmic, not constant, short bursts, one per breath, high pitched, deafening.

The direction of my face was at the mercy of my guard. I tried to shift my eyeballs away from the horror, but I couldn't. The sounds kept pushing my gaze back to her. The hammer wielder kept hammering her arms and legs, the parts that wouldn't kill her or render her unconscious, into misshapen deformity. She did pass out once, only to be instantly revived, a feeling I knew too well, but I was not a little girl. What could she be thinking? Where did they even get her? They kidnapped a little girl just to punish me? Who were these people? Jesus fucking Christ, I did this. I did this to this innocent child.

The first blow to her head likely killed her, she was silenced from then on. The wet, thudding hammering though, was not. It continued. I watched this little girl's head turn into something bloody, misshapen, broken, and inhuman. I learned that day that the most horrific part of seeing a human head destroyed, was the illusion of exaggerated facial expressions created by the deformation. Well done, my imprisoner, you win yet again.

To my surprise, they never did hurt me, at least not physically. The images of that event immediately went to work melting my sanity like snow. They left her in with me for days. Her skin was black from decay by the time they scooped her out, the stain on the floor where she was, remains today. The day after they removed her a guard came in with a phone, and held it in front of my face so I could watch a video. It was a newscast. A young woman in a beige suit jacket sat behind a desk, HEADLINE NEWS in the background.

The reclusive piano sensation known only as Duncan, was at it again with yet another bizarre performance in front of thousands of spectators. Not much is known about Duncan, but fans have been captivated by his flamboyant style of playing, and near perfect renditions of classical favorites, often combined with modern hard rock. Since he came on the scene, he has sold out several stadium concerts, the latest at the Wukesong Arena in Beijing, where he abruptly began pounding on the piano right in the middle of the performance. Here is footage of the event, captured by a spectator.

The video cut to a shaky view from a phone camera, and showed me looking like a complete idiot, pounding the piano, a ridiculous smile across my face. For a moment I was mesmerized by my appearance. It was the first time I had seen my whole self in years. I had never seen my own face with a full beard. And even though I knew I had lost weight, seeing myself that skinny was brand new. I looked sick and weak. And my behavior made the whole scene even more horrific. I was embarrassed to see it. My eyes inadvertently snapped to the awful stain on the floor, and I choked back the urge to vomit. I pried my gaze back to the video. The pretty anchorwoman appeared again.

No one really knows what prompted this strange display, but early reports suggest it was an act of protest, on behalf of the political prisoners of Tsongoli. And, this isn't his first act of unusual behavior. Early last year at a sold-out concert at The Hollywood Bowl, Duncan stopped the performance and briefly tried to convince the crowd that he had been kidnapped and was being held captive. It was written off as a failed attempt to perhaps add a comedic element to his performance. The anchorwoman paused and gave a chuckle. One thing we know for sure, it has only intrigued fans, and added to his mysterious appeal. His popularity is soaring and people are lining up all over the world for tickets to see the remarkable Duncan, hoping to witness whatever peculiar behavior he may exhibit next.

The guard stopped the video and calmly walked out, slamming the steel door behind him. I stood, shocked, for what seemed like hours. Not only did a poor innocent child suffer and die, but my stunt didn't ruin my career at all. It exploded it. It made me a fucking legend.



And now here I am. Here. Now. In the here and now, and tonight is the show. It has been weeks since the cot first appeared, and my health and general state is strong. My piss is a pale yellow, and my increased energy is evident. I have received bread and water four times a day instead of one, therefore my cell is getting cleaned every day, if you know what I mean. I also get a cup of onion soup, and a ball of either raw or burnt ground beef, every other day. They recently wheeled in a beat-up Baldwin Monarch console for me to rehearse the Appassionata. There is no bench for it, but they rolled it to my chained position where I can sit on the cot and play.

The Sonata is no problem, and to be honest, I didn't even need to rehearse. But I do, because I enjoy it. It is still my love, my bliss. I don't even have to think about playing the piece, it's completely preserved in muscle memory. Hell, my hands could probably play the song even if they were detached from my body. Yikes. I would never say that out loud, wouldn't want to give my captor any ideas. Ha! Of course I wouldn't say it out loud. I will never be able to say anything out loud again.

As I mentioned before, I am so excited, albeit nervous, about this show. My first two attempts to appeal to the crowd failed miserably, but my plan for tonight is flawless. Tonight, I make my escape, and no one will get hurt. It's a sure thing. The most perfect plan. As the plot runs through my mind, my thoughts are interrupted by a guard slamming into my cell, carrying a tuxedo, no doubt with the sleeves cut to elbow length so the crowd can see my tattoos. As he throws the tux at me and begins wheeling the piano out, he speaks.

"You better play well, Duncan. Don't try anything stupid, Duncan. You'll be sorry if you try anything stupid, Duncan."

He exits and another comes in. This one will unchain me and dress me. My scraggly beard is neatly combed, my greasy hair pulled back in a tight bun. They hood me and whisk me away again. This time I can easily tell we board an airplane. My captor's private jet, no doubt. But as usual, I remain hooded until the very last minute before I am announced and walk onto the stage. Little did anyone know, I would be escaping tonight. I couldn't wait, I was brimming with anticipation. Why hadn't I thought of this sooner?

It is many hours, maybe four to six, before we land. Again, no idea where I am, or who I am playing to. Even after all this time, I am impressed by the mastermind. Minions, vehicles, jets, complete control of the backstage at every major arena around the world. How many people were in on this fucking circus? Truly remarkable. And by the crowds, and the bigger and bigger stadiums, this person was making millions. An evil business genius the likes of which had never been seen in this world before. To recognize the perfect situation; an orphan, a drunk, a virtuoso, a playing style that appeals to the mainstream instead of stuffy parlors full of senior citizens. My only salary was life, and moldy bread. Bravo, master, but sorry to say, my escape is imminent. We will both just have to accept it.

The butterflies in my gut are fluttering feverishly. My palms are a bit sweaty, but I am able to conceal it from my handlers. We enter a building, and as we make our way through the corridors, a sound, a dull rumbling at first, reveals itself. We walk, me blind, left turn, right turn, right turn. Turn turn turn. The rumble grows louder as we wind and turn through whatever arena this is. Then we stop. The rumble now thick. Many minutes pass, and I quiet every nerve to avoid shaking with excitement.

Then I feel the warm breath of a mouth, an inch from my ear, and hear the whispered words, "We will bring infants in, Duncan. We will destroy them in front of you, Duncan. We will touch you with their body parts, Duncan. You better play well, Duncan."

I thank God they can't see the smirk on my face as I hear this. I smirk because I know, they will NOT be bringing any infants in. They will NOT be hurting anyone in front of me. Because I have a perfect plan.

The hood is yanked off of my head and I squint for several seconds to get used to the light. I am by myself just off stage, but my guards are surely close. I hear an enormous voice, boom throughout the arena.

"LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, IT'S DUNCAAAAANNN!"

Before the announcement even got my name out, the arena roars louder than I thought possible. The audience goes berserk knowing it is time to see Duncan. I take in a sharp breath and blow it right back out. As I had done many times before, I move the curtain aside, and with complete confidence, walk onto the stage. I would never have imagined that the roar could get louder, but ho-ly-shit, it does. It is a fucking atomic bomb. I stroll out and smile big, and wave to my fans. They're screaming at the tops of their lungs. There are signs peppered throughout the stands, I LOVE YOU DUNCAN, MARRY ME DUNCAN, DUNCAN ROCKS, PLAY SOME METALLICA! An actual explosion detonates behind me and I look up. In an amazing display of pyrotechnics, right above the piano a bright blue DUNCAN sign in flames and sparks is revealed, and the crowd loses it. I can't hear myself think, but I know it is time to carry out my grand scheme.

I sit at the piano, and launch into the beautiful Sonata, written over 200 years ago, by Beethoven, the greatest musical mind in the history of the world. I flail, I bang my head, I stand, I sway, I pound the keys, but only the exact notes to correctly play the music. I answer the sign holder's request and perfectly place Metallica's "Battery" between the first and second movements. I drop in my usual Megadeth guitar riffs and solos, provoking thunderous applause. I even sneak some Motorhead in there, something I had never done before, and I don't know if anyone quite recognizes it, but they lose their fucking minds. I kick the bench out, Jerry Lee Lewis style, right at the ending climax of the entire piece, just as I did the night I was abducted.

When I finish playing, the crowd loses control, and rips out the seats in the first three rows. They throw beer cups and bras and even phones, and some try to storm the stage. It is true and utter pandemonium. They play into my plan perfectly and they don't even know it. It is now or never. My next move is the apex of my strategy. It has to be perfect, smooth and deliberate. So, with supreme confidence, I lean forward and bow to the chaotic crowd, give a last wave and a smile, exit the stage and walk right back into the hands of my captors.

I did it. I pulled it off. I played the perfect show. I cemented my status as "Duncan: Reclusive Piano Sensation." I will never be beaten or tortured again. No children will ever be hurt because of me again. I will play more and more shows, just as my captor wanted, and in turn, get nourishing food more and more often. I made it. I escaped. I escaped the pain. I win this time, asshole. Fuck. You.



Now, here I lay on the cold concrete floor, naked and pissing, the darker yellow urine arcing into the air and spattering against the wall. As low spirits go, I am in high spirits. I surely pleased my master last night, and even though I am back to the concrete floor, back to one ration of bread and water per day, I am unhurt, and I am eager for the next show. I love the shows, perhaps even more now than before. They are a gift, and I'm thankful for them. They bring happiness to so many people, how on earth could I ask for anything more? Am I somebody now? Have I finally earned the title virtuoso? Was I nobody before, or am I nobody now? I don't know who I am, really, but I know my name is Duncan.

12 comments:

  1. The gory details of torture are 85 percent of this tale. For some people that is interesting or enlightening. For me it is repulsive. So, it's unfortunate that I can't say I liked this story. It felt like darkness for its own sake. I hope others will see it differently. It could be seen as an extended metaphor, but it escapes me what the metaphor is. Showing the murder of a child seems depraved. I hope others found value in it.

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  2. Aaron William’s tale of a madly talented, albeit rather self-involved musician, is but a facade for Aaron’s prurient, misanthropic ruminations on the worse, most Stygian aspects of human existence. Even then, his disquisition pales when compared to what victims of the Holocaust endured; so by this measure, Aaron fails. Recently, I commented that no writer worth their salt should write about animal, sexual, child, etc. abuse when the action isn’t instrumental in moving the plot forward. The systematic pounding of a five-year-old girl to death with a hammer is hardly justified when the plot resolution is nothing more remarkable than Stockholm Syndrome. Aaron, if your purpose in writing this wretched story was to shock, then you succeeded. If your aim was to open eyes to something new or disquieting or novel, then it not only failed – it failed absolutely! Shame on you! Abandon prose and take up self-flagellation or something. I usually like to say something positive about every story I critique: well, you didn’t misspell anything.

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  3. I like that Fiction on the Web exposes me to short stories across multiple genres.
    This story is clearly in the horror genre - it is a nihilistic combination of the subgenres “psychological horror”, “splatter” and “body horror”.
    It is NOT for me.
    I disliked the story, immensely, but do recognize it as a literary analog of death metal music.

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  4. Is it possible to say a story is inventive, but unimaginative? I didn't mind the long sections of torture, but they would have been more effective if not drawn out. I would have also liked this to be more of an allegory on social divisions and more given to the reader about this seemingly dystopian world where musical taste has become a matter of life and death.

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    1. You did it Paul! You reached over the bend and imagined this as allegory. I tried but couldn't. Thanks!

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  5. I loved the paragraph on Beethoven that ends, "Music that was both jubilant and devastating in the same piece. He would bounce between quiet as a butterfly, and loud as a thunderbolt. He made it okay to lose ourselves in despair, intensity, and joy, through music. He used his suffering, embraced it, and exploited it. As clouds reveal to us the shape of air, Beethoven showed us the sound of passion." This is a horror story, and yes, it is horrifying, but to show how James/Duncan is dismantled, controlled and made into "Duncan". Those commenting here seem to be reading with the lens of literary fiction and seemingly personally attacking the author behind the page. Taste is subjective, and perhaps each story published here is not intended for all readers, and we are always able to stop reading. For me, as a reader, I find myself considering the role of audience--what we demand as viewers, listeners, and consumers who think artists, actors, and musicians must create work that pleases and satisfies us. It also made me think about how we dehumanize others, those in the fields of entertainment who become celebrities, but also the ways we do it in small ways in our lives when we do not simply relate to those we encounter-even here-as whole human beings.

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  6. My highly subjective take on short stories is that the good ones are like icebergs, that there is a lot going on behind the words that stay with you long after you've finished reading the story. I did make it all the way with this one, hoping that there would be some pay-off after the gruesome and relentless passages, and I came away with, perhaps, some idea of consumerism and capitalism taken to an extreme, and the role of art. So, that's good, but it wasn't worth the length, or putting up with the description of the little girl's death ( I give any writer the respect due by reading with commitment). My suggestion is that it could be better edited down by half, and more variance introduced - it is mostly written in one tenor. And I agree with Barbara that not all stories published here should be for "all" readers. I'm off for a stiff drink now.

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  7. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and offer feedback. I'm so grateful to Fiction On The Web for giving this gruesome horror story a chance. I'm a horror buff. I love watching, reading, and writing genre horror. My idea for this story was first spawned by hearing about major record labels exploiting artists, offering them stardom and glamour, but really just juicing them dry for every dollar possible with no regard for their health. Duncan is my horrific exaggeration, where a talanted yet vulnerable artist is literally kidnapped and held prisioner, tortured and forced to entertain, his adoring audience oblivious, while offered nothing in return besides just enough of a dismal life that he can keep performing. I acknowledge that gruesome passages don't land well on some. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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    1. Thanks Aaron! I see your connection between performers and their handlers. Horror is not my thing, but it is your thing, and I understand that better.

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    2. Hi Aaron - I really appreciate your response and perhaps I was too critical rather than constructive. It is simply from my perspective, and it is only from that, and based on the fact you and I likely have different reading tastes. I do feel that your writing has excellent descriptive ability and the revulsion many have felt on reading it is testament to that. I also acknowledge that this is a genre you are much more au fait with than I am. I like in your comment how you say 'Duncan is my horrific exaggeration' - in that sense you have succeeded absolutely! Anyway, despite this story not being my personal taste (and it is only that) I do look forward to reading more of your work.

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  8. I was keenly interested to read the comments about this Monday’s FOTW story. I half expected to hear commenters strain to find something redeeming in the tale and was secretly pleased that few did. Made me feel like less of an outsider, and no one wants to be an outsider. Then Barbara L. took us to task for “seemingly personally attacking the author behind the pages.” My question is, what else are we supposed to do? I doubt any of us personally know Aaron William; we know nothing of his habits, his lifestyle, his personality. Does he personally bludgeon little girls to death with a hammer? Doubtful. How can we react but to his work; we can’t take out displeasure out on his gerunds, his conjunctions, his syntax, without attaching it to a writer. His apparent attitudes and worldview and what made him write this awful story didn’t materialize out of the ether. It is helpful that he addressed us personally in a reply; I’m thinking he isn’t the ogre I had him pegged at; just a disaffected writer. By the same token, I would NEVER prohibit Aaron’s work from being produced and read. But, it makes me wonder at a literary fiction platform that would censor other stories, which I find far less objectionable, and take zero action against this fiction. You’re right, Barbara: not every story is for every taste and we all must bend a little, in order to allow the broadest spectrum of tastes to be served. We must push, not retract, boundaries of what is acceptable. I blame not Aaron and not readers and not commenters; I blame FOTW. They made their choice, and they shall have to live with it, for good or for bad. I expected better.

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    1. Hi Bill - you raise a good number of very good points here. I certainly, for one, hope my initial comment was not a personal attack - knowing zero about Aaron I don't see how any response could be. The story wasn't for me, but I understand it is highly likely enjoyable to others. On my first piece published by FOTW, An Apprenticeship, I received a comment that expressed upset / revulsion at my story - I didn't agree with the comment, but completely respected it. For me this is the heart of it with writing - there is no way I'm going to like everything I read, but I absolutely agree it has the right to be written. Of course, Voltaire said it best: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

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