“The Cacophony” by Gabe Bogart

Rock-Cut Temple by Paul Klee (1925) via The Art Institute of Chicago.

There is a version of Purgatory where the only music you will ever hear is that of scrape and pluck. Groaning woodgrain; the stuff of sinking ships and drowning sailors. Strings manipulated beyond a heart’s connection; stressed just up to the point of failure.

There are bones that pack Purgatory to capacity, clanking and clicking. Giving off that marrowed, calcified tone of decay. They fashion a symphonic haunting that leaves Beethoven relieved to be deaf. It’s as if the army of the dead are having the most off-rhythmed dance party. Earworms of the most sadistic nature take root for days and you cannot escape amplified splintering bones. Every little chip and fracture compose sleep-depriving wind chimes, randomly arriving in the night. And when the fractures have remodeled, the ache of healing – if only for the purpose of breaking again – can be heard in stretched moans. There is no anesthetic for the pain of noise here.

Even the most demented of ears will soon lose the mind between them.

The air is suffused with a vehement beating of perseverance by roving gangs of discordant insects and ravenous packs of dissonant sonic teeth.

All of the pianos, on loan from Hell, are wretchedly out of tune. They are played only with arthritic digits and dead cats skittering through the middle of the night to crash upon the keyboard or chase rats between the soundboard and plate.

Ironically, Frédéric Chopin has never been released from this Purgatory and is chained to one of those pianos. Under duress, he has played, perpetually and without respite, for over 150 years, with fingertips worn quite literally to the distal phalanges. Chopin’s boney fingertips tap against ebony and ivory, impregnating each harrowing note with a petrified clack, like tiny gavels ringing out the finality of judgment for everyone, but him.

No one with any length of stay here and an investigative nose has been able to determine why God and the Devil chose to torture old Frédéric so mercilessly and tirelessly. It may be one of the grand mysteries of our known universe.

Every daily cycle, selected at random, is one quarter hour when the aural barrage ceases. At first, you may think this will come as relief, albeit brief. However, you soon learn that this amount of time was selected meticulously; with fervor and venom. Fifteen minutes of silent adjournment from the Cacophony is exactly how long it takes for the mind to push the envelope of unraveling. All of the anti-noise in those moments of supposed silence come rushing inside your skull and begin to turn it like a screw, straight into your sanity.

It is just long enough to hear every floorboard creak with a subtle anguish you wouldn’t otherwise notice through all of the clamor and clatter. The batting of eyelashes imbues every blink with the crash of an explosion. The horrifying racket of silence as the absence to noise is in direct correlation to the amplification of the fine hiss of space’s vacuum. You could clearly hear the lamentation of all damned souls ever. Pressed gently, hauntingly to your ears.

And just as you think you will be completely lost there, the real noise returns. You are thrust back into a world thrashing as loudly and incessantly as possible to keep you agitated and awake.

Even the wind here has a particularly unnerving howl. It is an unharmonious wailing of ten thousand tortured souls, which rips through the air with lashing flames of metallic pain, repentance, and agony. These souls are unanimously belting out their individual supplications for mercy. They go unanswered for excruciating swaths of timespace. When they are finally unleashed to the afterlife, another batch of unfortunate souls is rotated into this baleful chorus to Chopin’s featured solo. All of the choral souls are shuffled off to the most luscious of afterlives. Emollient melodies welcome them to a place that makes the Garden of Eden look like a neglected pea patch.

Then, towards the end of your stretch in Purgatory, your world begins to fill even further with noise. It’s as if a river were overflowing; after a monsoon or glacial melt. It is flush with the smash and destruction of every car wreck, plane crash, industrial calamity, the cracking of tectonic plates during every earthquake and how the earth (almost) undetectably cackles as it swallows tens of thousands of lives in a gulp.

Now, in full spate, the Cacophony is a confluence of every known tributary of auditory terror.

With the strength of an unimaginably large river, the sonic torrent pulls you asunder; a current of grating steel and fingernails on chalkboards. Broadcast past the threshold of a jet engine.

As the breadth of noise widens and its current has an ever-more-gravitational pull, you and countless others are swept into the raging delta. A stream of souls, at the collapsing point of exhaustion, being flushed out of Purgatory; apparitional salmon smolts headed to sea.

And where the headwaters off of the delta of Purgatory’s edge meet the deep ocean currents of the many versions of heaven, you are gifted with the illuminating realization that Hell, in the afterlife, does not exist. Hell is a creation of the living, for the living. All souls go to heaven.

Except, apparently, Frédéric Chopin’s dreary, piano-plunking soul.

Gabe Bogart lives in Seattle, Washington, where he patiently awaits the return of the Seattle Supersonics. He learned to love words in his senior year high school creative writing class and from his mom. His work has appeared in Pareidolia Lit, Hencroft Hub, Collective Realms, Fahmidan Journal, acloserlisten.com, and he pens baseball trivia for maxsportingstudio.com.

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