Thomas Fisher doubts his family's legacy, but maybe it's true.
|Thomas Fisher always heard the tales—from his grandparents, distant aunts and uncles, and even his own parents—but he had never heard the drums. For as long as the Fishers could remember, there was always the tale of the ghost drums, coming and coming until they reached you with their rattling, final beats, and then there would be silence, or at least until the thing came that the drums foreshadowed.
It had always been this way. Thomas remembered the day his Aunt Sarah told him about the day she met her husband, Michael Gardener. You always remember the moment you hear the drums. I could hear them back in May of 1972, she had said. But Mikey couldn't, he wasn't a Fisher. That was when he proposed to me. After the wedding, he asked why I said yes, and I told him it was because I heard the drums.
But the drums didn't always mean good things. Usually, the drums were an omen. Mom always told him she heard the drums before her miscarriage, and Dad said he heard them before he lost his job with the downturn. His cousin Carl said he heard the drums right before Thomas beat him in a game of checkers, although he might have just been using that as an excuse for losing.
So now here he was, late twenties in New York and still thinking about the drums. The story was always with Thomas, following him in his Outback down the choked arteries of the highway and its ramps and branches on his way to work, following him to the bar with the fidgety neon sign every Friday night. Sometimes Mom would call and ask how he was doing, and she would always tell him to listen for the drums when they hung up.
He tried to tell her that he never heard the drums, not even once. He doubted the whole of it, but he could never bring himself to express his skepticism. He figured Mom would just tell him he wasn't listening and Aunt Sarah would tell him it was because he didn't meet the right girl yet. The drums were the single thing that linked them all together, after all. If the drums didn't exist, neither did the Fishers.
Like most of his idle time, it was now that he thought of the drums, always the drums, as he jogged down the cracked, overgrown sidewalk parallel to Kidney Street. Every morning like clockwork he would jog down the block, turn left and go straight for a while, and then turn right until he was back at his apartment. The light at the intersection of Kidney and Broad Avenue had just turned green. There was a flock of sparrows overhead making their morning commute to the park downtown. The air was crisp but not clean, metallic with the fumes of exhaust. The local school bus had just passed him. It was then that Thomas Fisher heard the drums.
At first the sound was distant and small, like a loose screw rattling inside a started car. But he could feel it coming closer, louder and louder and more persistent. In his mind its cadence clouded out everything else. He slowed, looking down the street and back, his uneasy eyes darting like the sparrows, but there were only the cars.
Closer and closer they came, until he thought they should be right at the gray poll of the light, and then they rolled for a long, loud minute, every stroke magnified a thousand fold in his ear. He couldn't go to work today. The drums were going to kill him, he knew it. He wondered what his boss would say when he told him that he couldn't come to work today, sir. I heard the drums. Mr. Gerhing would probably tell him in no uncertain terms that he was fired and direct him to the nearest mental clinic.
And then the rusty pickup truck rolled by, its rubber wheels nearly flat to the rims, its bumper tilted and chipped. As it drove through the intersection, little more than a shaky forward motion that appeared more like a series of jolts and stops than anything else, Thomas heard the drums go with it.
“Hey,” came a voice, “Did you see that, man? Some dude's Outback just got a parking ticket. That kinda sucks.”