Crescendo at the End of the World
I wasn’t born human.
Indents on the fallboard, carved with as much force I could muster from the piles of picks, were the only way I kept my age. At five, I decided to turn them into musical staff, stretching the lines all the way until my hands reddened and the picks chipped. No matter how many times they were discarded, leaving them on the floor behind boxes of music sheets or crushing them into pieces, they would disappear and be replaced the next day.
I wasn’t born human, and this room was a cradle.
There was no bed, sink, running water, or flowing winds, only a blank darkness staring back at me through a large glass window. The entire room was showered in this absence of light, but I found my way anyway, engraving every aspect on my fingers, tracing my skin the fabric of space around me. I had no idea what I looked like, no way for a reflection to find me. But I had hands, feet, hair, a body, and I breathed.
As If I was human.
But there was no way I could ever be human. In my mind, I held information about the outside world, the real world; spanning the entirety of human kind, and into the future, but there was always a piece missing. I never knew what happened at the end. I could trace the start of a human’s life, but I could never see where they would end. I could find a discovery, but never see if it amounted to anything. I knew, conceptually, that Earth would one day cease existence, but I never knew how, or when.
I was not human, but I knew everything to pretend if I was.
A door stood idly to disturb the window’s presence, wooden and worn, with cracks lining the frame, as if a single touch would cause crumble. There was no doorknob on my side, only an indent where it would be. To the right was a wall lined with instruments: guitars, violins, flutes, clarinets, recorders, cymbals, harps, trumpets, tubas, euphoniums, tambourines, xylophones and triangles.
I told myself if I could draw a note using a single stroke, then that would be my line, and so I practiced on the floor, edging as many picks as I could, forcing myself until exhaustion brought me away. I didn’t need to eat, drink, or sleep, but I would get tired, and I could feel pain, happiness, sadness, and my place parallel to the universe.
I wasn’t born human, yet aspects of them were inside me. I didn’t know why I was born. I don’t know why.
No matter how many times I stroke at the fallboard of the piano, it never healed. It wasn’t substantial enough damage to be repaired by the laws of this room, nor did it really affect the actual keys within. They would still play, and sound would still erupt. I tested this theory on a few of the instruments, plucking the strings of a guitar, and watching as it returned unscathed, but scratching the body lightly didn’t cause it to heal.
I wrote a short list of the rules on the lid of the piano, each stroke messier than the last, but it was worth having any way to keep information:
1) All serious damage to instruments or equipment that would impair them from being used for music would be replaced the following day
2) Time passed normally in the room, as if I really was on Earth, but I existed in every time at once
3) My body did not age or deteriorate
4) Information about the world existed in my mind, history and events vivid through loose images
5) I don’t have a name
6) I’m not human
When there was nothing to do, and often there wasn’t, I stared at the glass window, emptiness. That was how I spent most of my time, waiting for anything to happen, for a chance of seeing the world I knew in my mind. The world where people suffered and died, and also felt pure elation and bliss, where they built homes and had company, and existed because they could, most unaware that it could all disintegrate at a moment’s notice. But I doubted they would care, through the history I knew, most of them didn’t. They were human, after all.
I never looked at the music sheets tucked in the boxes strewn across the floor, having all the information about music notes, the raw understanding of what sounds each note made, I never grew an interest in forming them myself. I just lived the way I did, the only creation I could muster: the notes I carved into the fallboard.
I wasn’t quite sure why I wanted to trace my life like that. I sat once to filter everything out of my mind, to find a semblance of myself. It was an abject attempt. But, somewhere in those misaligned roots forming my knowledge, I knew I had to be there. After all, I had enough agency and care to put notes down into the world, my own creation. Though, I never sang or played them at the time, I simply wanted something.
At that point, I had already used five lines for the staff, four notes for the first measure, one stroke for a bar line, six notes for the second measure, one stroke for a bar line, four notes for the third measure, one stroke for a bar line, and was ready to start the fourth measure, only disturbed by the window gaining clarity for the first time since I was alive.
The world was beginning to form around me.
Shades of sunlight sank slowly until reaching the wooden floor. I spent weeks looking as the windows bloomed, as more pillars of light entranced its way into the room, introducing, for the first time, actual light. My eyes no longer needed to strain themselves, and the clear sky through the glass shone off of the piano’s lid, the only instrument not tucked away on the wall, the only instrument facing the door, the only instrument I could conceivably play if that door ever opened. I often imagined how it might happen, but those thoughts were filled with thousands of people I knew far too much of, and none of them ever remained with me.
I often dreamt when exhausting my body.
No matter day or night, when I was asleep, I would find myself in the world of my mind. I could never control it, never knowing where I would find myself. But they were the only moments I could feel tell me that there was a world beyond, that all the information I knew amounted to something. I enjoyed forcing exhaustion onto myself, the only way I could sleep. But, when the glass windows cleared, I no longer needed self-depletion.
Azure skies and cotton candy clouds now told me I was done waiting. I had waited long enough. For that year, I sat in the sun, letting its warmth blanket me, imagining the sounds of the wind, the smell of flowers, the bloom of water drops as rain washed over me in a meadow of quiet, the only disturbance the occasional wildlife inspecting me. I imagined all the animals passing by, how they would look, how they would sound, all of the conceptual information taking form.
I never slept that year, never having gotten tired, never exhausting in the sun, in those slow drifting clouds, imagining what it would be in a plane, to exist suspended in the air, in the contrails which wrapped through me, in the oxygen. For the first time since I was born, I was aware of breathing.
Somewhere in me, I hoped to leave the room, to find a piece of me in a world which may or may not have already ended, but I hoped.
With the endless amount of time I had in the pseudo world I idled, information on how to string notes to form a song rattled in my mind, and for the first time, I forced my voice, unable to find words, but humming notes, regardless, modulating pitch and tone.
There was no pattern to what came of my short song, and though my ears registered harmony and melody, it was nothing in the database of my mind.
Sleep came first before I could rationalize my creation.
Information entering my mind now became more vivid. From the conceptual theories that I would receive in blotches of loose images, shape and form propagated. Colors took shades, depth realized, and motion followed. Knowledge knotted its way to physical form, my imagination taking what I saw in full force, showing me how much I knew, and didn’t know.
From the infinite amount of images now present, I decided to follow one in particular.
A birch tree was growing in a forest flush with evergreens, its bark shone in comparison, marking itself away from its friends. It would wail when the winds came, calling out as loudly as it could, proclaiming itself a part of the world as much as anyone else, as anything else.
During rainy days, it listened to the insects taking shelter under its branches and leaves, an amalgamation of conversations jumbled together:
“It hasn’t poured like this in a while.”
“I almost died out there, you know a drip of that will swallow me whole.”
“My burrow got flooded, I have nowhere else to go.”
“When will it end? When will it begin? I heard the bees know.”
“Can’t forage like this.”
“The sound of rain, it’s so loud. It’s so loud.”
“Did you hear? Did you hear? The roar of the steel giants. They’re here! They’re here!”
“The children will die. They’ll all be swept away. The tall ones, they’ve already trampled over our homes, we tried to reach out to them but –”
“Enough. I don’t want to hear it. Please. Not right now.”
“How do you think this ended up here? It’s, not like the others.”
“Quiet. It can hear us. Though, if you really are there, you’re not doing a good job of speaking.”
“You think a home will be made? Tunnel in the roots or in the trunk? Or a nest somewhere? You think? You think?”
“No one but us will come under here. And when the rain is gone, we’ll be gone too.”
“Alright, alright, I get it. Stop it. I didn’t drag you under here to start a choir. First sun shine and we’re gone.”
“You’re not going to tell him? It only gets worse from here.”
Though, they didn’t speak in the say way I understood language. Communication was translated in a way I could understand.
During sunny days, it remained stalwart, watching as the sky moved on, much like I did, and it waited for anything to come its way. Soon, a couple did, skirting around the tree, laughing as if they had found something special. Their voices human, a language the tree couldn’t understand, but it listened anyway:
“You know, we’re the only two out here. At least, in this part of the woods, for as far as we need it to be, we’re the only ones.”
“We are. We really are. Like this, it feels like, nothing else matters.”
Focusing on them, they became clear, a couple stranded by their difference in height, the taller one leading, holding her partner’s hand, squeezing it as tightly as she could, eyeing the forest as if they had never seen a forest, as if this was the first time they could breathe, as if this was being free.
“You know, we can stay here, for as long as we want. We can move out nearby, come out to walk, and no one will ever find us. No one needs to find us.” The taller one never let go of her partner’s hand. Unable to let go, but no matter how she spoke her words, she was never able to look into her partner’s eyes. They couldn’t look at each other.
“But we. But we can’t have that, I know that.” The shorter one, who only reached shoulder length with her partner, spoke softly, her words finding the lone birch tree in shortened syllables, as if spurts of wind.
They remained quiet, hand in hand, the taller one’s hair often obscuring her face in the breeze, strands of darkness blocking her aquamarine eyes. The shorter one swiped it away, leaning over, the peak of sun through the leaves of trees trailing on her face, causing her to squint, and the taller one laughed at the motion. They laughed and they remained like that for a little while.
Their lives in this moment, stood along the birch tree, isolated, yet strong, in existence despite the world.
Out of curiosity, I focused on their future, sifting through all of the information that existed in my mind waiting for acknowledgement.
They never went back to that birch tree, it still standing alone.
They were gone.
While trying to locate and pinpoint the details of their story, I heard a creak by the door. The outside world through the glass windows had never changed, the sky and clouds moved at its own pace, and the sun grew tiresome. I had neglected attention to the door, having already forgone its usage, but the cracks lessened, healing as it rattled and shook, the sound of a knob on the other side twisting. When it opened, when a new light beamed in, I couldn’t help but hope.
And so, I saw the world.