Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Stick Man

"The Stick Man" is roughly based on a true story, in that everything in this is true up until I see the second flier. There was no second flier.

This was written at Halloween 2003, my and Travis's freshman year at MTSU.

Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment.

The Stick Man

Looking into a practice room, I saw my buddy and fellow music theory/composition major Travis plinking away on a piano, no doubt working on one of his brilliant pieces of music. How does he do it? He has a million ideas! He’s always working furiously on some awe-inspiring idea while I’m whiling away my hours on the word processor of my computer. Why can’t I get ideas for music the way I get ideas for books and short stories? I’d be all set then.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had a small number of great ideas for pieces of music, but Travis has three dozen for every one of mine. In truth, I admire that. Of course, if you look at it one way, he and I are going to be competition someday. We’re both composers, even taking into consideration that we’re just college freshmen, and we’re both barely scratching the surface of what we will undoubtedly be able to do someday.

I was so deep in thought that I hadn’t noticed Travis get up from the piano and open the door to the practice room. “Hey, Gus.”

“Hey, Trav. Working on your march?”

“Nah, just messing with one of my other pieces.”

See what I mean by a million ideas?

He motioned to the euphonium case in my hand. “Practicing?”

I set the case down. “I should be. I have a lesson here in about twenty minutes. Hey, how’d you do on that theory test earlier?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Meh.” Just like Travis to not divulge his grade. I’d surely find out later.

“Well, I guess I’ll catch you later in Symphonic Band, man. I have to warm up for my lesson.”

“See ya, Gus.”

“See ya, Travis.”

He closed the door and went back to his piano.

I re-adjusted my backpack, hefted my euphonium up and headed into the next empty practice room. Just a quick warm-up, then to my private lesson.

I left the practice room ten minutes later, euphonium back in the case, backpack on my back, and headed for the stairs to the second floor of the music building. If you’ve never lugged a euphonium upstairs, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you don’t know what a euphonium is, look it up; I won’t go into a lengthy description here– once you get me talking about my instrument, it’s hard to stop me– but I strongly suggest educating yourself. My instrument is really of little importance, but if you’re like me and love knowing stuff, do a little research and find out what a euphonium is.

Anyway, the stairs are the kind that go up about five steps, turn 90 degrees, go up five steps again, turn 90 degrees again, and so on. There are four sets of five stairs in the stairwell, so there are a few little landings where you have to turn. The landings are also places where lots of people put notices for upcoming recitals and concerts and things, and the Halloween Flute Concert was coming up, so seeing an orange piece of paper taped to the wall of the first landing was no surprise. On the piece of paper was a drawing of a little stick man. It was just a circle with arms, legs, and a stick body. No face. “HEY, YOU!” was written in big letters. That was it.

I figured it was a little setup for another piece of paper on the second landing, that would say “Come to the Halloween Flute Concert” or something like that. But when I got up to the second landing, I didn’t see anything. Maybe on the third landing I told myself. Taped to the door was another orange piece of paper with the same faceless little stick man, only this one said “YEAH, YOU!” I looked down over the rail to the first landing. The first orange piece of paper was gone. Instead there was a flier for some guy’s composition recital on Sunday.

Now when I’m confused (which isn’t very often, thankfully) I tend to tilt my head towards the floor, furrow my eyebrows and shift my eyes left and right until I figure out what’s going on. This I did for a moment, and I figured that the first paper had been my overactive imagination. Looking back up at the door, I saw the same piece of paper and the same stick man, but now the message said “I’M TALKING TO YOU, GUS!”

Using one of my catch phrases (Holy crap!) I threw open the door and quickly left the stairwell and got onto the second floor of the music building. In an attempt to calm my pounding heart, I took a few deep breaths while walking the six steps to Dr. Loucky’s office. Dr. Loucky is my euphonium professor (and one of my two favorite teachers, for that matter) and I have a private lesson with him for half an hour each week. I was early, as usual, so I sat on the floor outside his office and tried to calm down.

My lesson went well– as they usually do– and as I left his office, I was suddenly reminded of what had happened on the way up the stairs. Now I had to go back down. There were around three or four stairwells and an elevator in the building, but I don’t really like elevators, and I figured that one stairwell is just like any other, so I walked the six steps to the door leading to the stairwell and opened it slowly. I poked my head into the stairwell and craned my neck to see the other side of the door. Nothing. Stepping fully into the stairwell, I peered over the rail at all the landings. The walls were blank except for the bottom one, which had the composition recital notice.

It was just the creativity of an overactive imagination. I have been stressed these last few days.

I went down the stairs as fast as I could– which isn’t very fast when you’re lugging a full backpack and a euphonium– and heaved a sigh of relief when I reached the first floor. Taking a deep breath to regain my composure, I went to the instrument locker room and unlocked my locker. I put in the euphonium and set my backpack on the floor. Unzipping one of the compartments, I took out my four method books and put them in the locker, too. Then I finally looked up to close the door, and taped to the back wall of the locker was an orange piece of paper.

“HELLO, GUS.” The stick man, who up until now had been faceless, had a tiny little smile.

Using my catch phrase again, I slammed the locker shut and hastily closed the combination lock. “What do you want from me?” Looking back on that moment, I realize that that was one very overused line. I grabbed my backpack and ran out of the instrument locker room.

I went to my other classes, and eventually to my acting class, where my mind was drawn completely away from orange paper and the stick man. I was deeply immersed in my monologues and watching the scenes my classmates have been working on.

After acting class I have Symphonic Band. That meant I had to play. That meant I had to open my locker and get my euphonium and music out. It wasn’t until I was standing in front of my locker that my thoughts went back to the stick man and the orange piece of paper. I stood in front of the locker and stared at the combination lock for what seemed like a long time. Finally, I reached out a shaking hand and turned the combination. Clamping my eyes shut, I opened the locker.

I don’t know if I was expecting a monster or something to jump out and attack me, but when nothing happened, I forced my right eye open and saw only my euphonium and the books and things in the locker. No orange paper. I grabbed the folder with my Symphonic Band music in it and my horn and hurriedly slammed the locker shut. I went to my seat in the rehearsal hall and set my music folder on my stand. Kneeling next to my case, I opened it, and inside, sitting on top of my horn was an orange piece of paper. Now the horn is a tight fit in the case, and whenever you put a piece of paper on top of the horn and close the case, the paper gets really wrinkled; I’ve done it before. This piece of paper was smooth, as if it had just been taken out of the package. The stick man was still there, just a stick body and a smile, and now he said “I’M GETTING CLOSER.”

I grabbed the paper and crumbled it into a little ball, then I threw it into one of the trash cans. Shaking, I returned to my seat and started warming up for rehearsal. I lost myself in the music until rehearsal was over. I dreaded putting my horn away, but nothing happened when I opened my locker. I put away the euphonium and my music, and there were no little stick men or orange pieces of paper there when I closed the door and locked it.

Then I felt a tap on my shoulder and jumped. I spun around, and there was Travis, trumpet case in hand.

“Whoa, Gus. You jumped a mile. Are you okay?”

“Walk with me.” We went out to one of the music building lobbies and I told him about the stick man and the orange paper.

“That’s freaked out, man.”

“You have another class now?”

“Yeah, I’m supposed to go to English, but I’m going to skip it. I was up until two last night studying for the theory test this morning.”

Crap. I was going to see if he wanted to go get some dinner. I hadn’t eaten since seven that morning. “I guess I’ll see you in theory tomorrow morning, then.”

“Yeah. See ya.”

“See ya.”

I left the music building, got my bike from the rack and rode as fast as I could to my dorm. When I got to my room, I tossed my stuff on the bed and turned on some music. I was going to relax if it killed me. I sat through that song, and another, and another before getting up and leaving to get some food. After eating, I returned to my room and sat on the bed to do some homework. I opened my backpack and got out my notebook. I had some assignments in my literature class, so I decided to get them out of the way before studying for tomorrow’s music history test.

But when I opened the notebook...


The stick man had eyes and angry eyebrows now. I snatched up the paper to crumple it up and got a paper cut. The tip of my first finger started to bleed. I looked down at the paper. The stick man had a little knife.


I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the paper into confetti. I threw some in my trash can and some into my roommate’s trash can. Then I ran across the hall to the bathroom and flushed the rest.

“There,” I said. I washed my hands and put a little band-aid on the paper cut. It stung.

I went back to my room. Tacked to the cork board above my bed was the paper and the stick man. He still held the tiny knife. “DID YOU REALLY THINK THAT WOULD WORK?”

“What do you want?” I screamed.

The words faded and more appeared. “YOU KNOW ABOUT HORROR STORIES.”

“What?” I screamed.


I grabbed my scissors again. “What do you want?”

The window in my room suddenly flew open, letting in the chill air of the late October night. The papers on my cork board fluttered, and the orange paper came off the board and fell onto my bed. It rippled from the wind gusting into the room, and I suddenly saw something rising from the paper. It was a little black figure, about an inch and a half tall. The stick man. He jumped, and the wind carried him all the way to me on the other side of the room. I heard his tiny battle cry as he landed on my shoulder. My body tensed in surprisingly excruciating pain as the stick man plunged his minuscule knife into that soft spot between my collarbone and my neck. I swatted at him, but he hung on, pulling the knife out and plunging it in again. I brought my hand down on him– pushing the knife farther into my shoulder– but I managed to get a hold on him and pick him up. He squirmed in my hand.

Moving to a mirror, I carefully located the knife and plucked it from my shoulder. The knife was about as long as the first joint of my pinkie finger. I crushed the stick man in my hand. His head and arms were sticking out of the top of my fist, and he was trying to pull and push himself free. I took the tiny knife and used it to cut his tiny head off in a last act of desperation. The body fell limp in my hand. The head fell to the ground. There was no blood, but I don’t know why I expected any.

I crushed the head under my foot and twisted it into the floor. When I picked my foot up, the head was in tiny particles, like when you crush a dry leaf. I dropped the body and knife to the floor and crushed them under my foot, as well. I gathered the dust onto a piece of paper and flushed it. When I returned to my room, the orange piece of paper was gone from my bed and the window was closed and the blinds were drawn.

I went to fencing club like always on Tuesday night, and when I came back, I studied, watched TV, and went to bed as usual. Nothing strange happened with orange paper or stick men, and I fell asleep worry free.

From the thoughts of Travis Clem


One of my classmates died last night. Gus was the other freshman music theory/composition major, and we shared a lot of ideas for pieces, and we joked around in theory and music history.

They say she died in her sleep. Like she had one of those dreams where you
die, and she just didn’t wake up. I know better. She was attacked. Of course, if I were to tell what I know to the police, I would probably be put into a mental institution. It’s a secret I’ll keep forever.
I’m saddened by Gus’s death, but I have another idea for a piece:

Gus and the Stick Man.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I never realized how much I read on Veren 5.

    All of that seems so long ago. I = nostalgic for the next few hours.

    Man. I was dumb back then.