Crescendo at the End of the World
I wasn’t born human.
But, the near-infinite knowledge of how humans functioned was stored inside me, millions of personalities jumbled in my head, conversation routes branching like roots, extending until the Earth had no more dirt. When I saw her open the door, standing in the frame, these possibilities rushed through my mind, but I didn’t have time for lingering on an optimal persona. There was no way to know which was right.
I would just have to hope. That feeling welled inside me as she stood there.
I didn’t know what I had to hope.
I wasn’t born human. And humans had hope.
“Well? Am I allowed in? Or?” Her voice was rough at first, a sound I’d never heard for myself, found in my mind, but not in the flesh. The words were audible, registered as words I knew, words with meaning that strung together formed sentences. Each syllable was clear. The face that made the voice: hair strung down her shoulders, edged and spiked in unnatural ways, as if it was cut prematurely, or by accident. A single hairclip of a star held bangs out of her eyes, and she stood with a long white coat extending to her feet, regular shirt and pants followed. Hands in her pockets, she stared at me with a tilt, a questioning gaze remained as I didn’t answer.
I opened my mouth to speak, but the words I wanted to say couldn’t escape. Empty air, empty syllables, empty eyes.
“Well? I guess, those rumors never got this far. Told me about some place beyond dimensions, to do a ritual and open the first door I find. I guess I’m here? They told me someone would be waiting, but not what to do after. You’re the, uh, guardian? Or whatever. That’s you, right? Can you talk or?”
She smiled, and walked in, the light from where she came bursting through, not giving anything away until the door behind her slowly closed. For a brief moment, as the light disappeared, I saw an inkling of a room, a glass dome in the distance with a reflective floor just barely in reach.
Then there was nothing.
She stood in my room. The door closed with no knob for exit. The glass window didn’t change view. It was the same clouds and sky. The same as if everything in the world were always the same, as if I would go on living exactly the way it’s always been.
Except now, I had a visitor.
“Well? You look normal enough. I guess, this place looks normal? Doesn’t look like you use any of these.” She walked to the right, to the wall of instruments, staring them down as if she was looking at foreign objects. Her movements were slow as she paced from one end of the wall to the other, each step seemed controlled, her hands stalwart by her side.
“Not like I know any better. Being surrounded by, expectations? Burden? Ah, all of that is too abstract, you probably don’t get it?” She smiled at me with a short laugh, her breaths exaggerated. When she reached out to the wall, it seemed for a moment she might have been able to grab an instrument, but the more she tried the further she seemed to get. The wall was preventing her from reaching out. But she never seemed to notice, and kept trying. Falling short, until finally giving up.
“It’s like? How do I put this? Not knowing how to do any of them, not knowing what to do with everything around you, or? Not really caring. I guess. Ah, that doesn’t make much sense either, right?”
She gave her empty laughs, and with a slight lean, turned to me. For a moment, it seemed that her hair would have escaped from her pin, that the star she had couldn’t hold the encroaching darkness.
“Well? You should work on that whole quiet bit. But, it looks like you’re just as clueless as I am at how this can even exist.”
She took a large step, the wood of the floor resounding, but not creaking. It was a hollow stomp, and my mind told me that wooden floors creaked, that was the law of the world. But it didn’t, and it bounced her back with equal force, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“Well? This is a nice place you got here. It’s, homely? I’m not quite sure that’s the right word but, it’s quiet. It’s far from, everywhere else, quite literally. I’m not sure if you can even see the stars here. ”
She gave a short laugh, and I wanted to ask her how exactly she was taking all of this so easily considering the circumstances. But my words couldn’t find themselves.
Turing away, she looked at the glass window, at the endless sky and the clouds, I was sure it wasn’t anything like that in her eyes. I was sure, that whatever she could see was something beyond my world.
“I wonder? Have you ever seen the stars? In a place like this, it seems like, that would be something you would want, you know?”
I couldn’t convey anything to her, and all I could do was smile back. She looked down, gathering her words with a breath, and stretching her hands to the ceiling. Strands of hair curled onto her arms, wrapping around them like vines. At the slightest movement, they would uncurl, and when she brought her hands down they swept like comet trails.
“I guess, the way the ritual works, I should at least tell you why I’m here. Otherwise, we could do this all day. But, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind, I have a feeling you’ve been here a long time?”
I nodded, and she walked forward, a small step, small sound, no force.
“There really is only one thing I came here for. Can you guess what that is?”
Another step, the air rang again.
Though I couldn’t answer, I took her question seriously. There wasn’t any explanation I could give her, my realm of understanding the laws of the room was restricted. There had never been any indication of outsiders being able to enter.
However, I did know, from the way she was talking, why she might have found her way to me, to a place beyond understanding. It was only a guess, but I could at least pretend to assure her, I could at least mimic that much of a human.
“Great. Well? I don’t know what we’re going to do, exactly. I mean, I guess this’ll be in your court. I’m not too musically inclined. But this is a song most people already know. It shouldn’t be that hard, I think? Well? Either way. This is all I ask for.”
Clearing her throat, she stood in place; eyes closed, and took her hands out of her pockets. She hummed first, and found her hands to her chest, as if holding the breaths inside her, as if finding where they should belong. A second hum emerged, but the sound was even softer, and she seemed to mumble something of assurance to herself. Eyes locked to the floor, she kept humming and stringing loose notes, no semblance of music within.
When she finally found the notes she wanted, she held her breath for a moment, eyes shut, and then began.
“Twinkle, twinkle little –”
Off tune. She caught herself in the mismatched melody, her voice pitches too high, as if she was almost yelling, straining herself to find the right tone. After a brief pause, another throat clear, another attempt.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I –”
Although her voice never got better, she went a little further, realizing mid-note how far she was from where she wanted to be. She laughed, unable to look me in the eyes, clearing her voice, another attempt.
Her self-targeted laughter cut into the song, barely started. Deeper breaths, she clutched onto her shirt with a stronger grip, crimpling cloth.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.”
A completed measure of song, a sentence of words strung together to form something resembling rhythm and harmony, and she was right, it was a tune I knew, but how much of what she sang would have been recognizable as music; I didn’t have the words to tell her. Nor, at the time, could I conjure words to tell her. Instead, I waited. Her gaze was stuck on the floor, and her breathing had slowed, words, assuredly, jumbled in her mind. I already had a feeling what she might have wanted, and in the brief time as she tried to find the words to ask, I looked outside.
The world through that glass window began to change, little by little. It had been a pure sky with an empty field expanding into infinity. But that sky seemed even further now, and the grass flattened, with signs of roads cutting across.
I was brought back by her words.
“If I could sing, even just a little, for even a moment, that’s all I want. Well? Can you help me?”
Her hands were still on her chest, holding on, as if there was nowhere else to go.
I spoke through gestures, grunts, and soft hums, careful in guiding where the conversation might go, considering there was no way for me to answer complex questions.
“Well? I’m really the first one here?”
I nodded to confirm.
“And, you can’t talk, at all?”
I wasn’t quite sure if I could, if I would ever be able to. The more I tried to express that sentiment through words, the more I noticed a strain in my throat, sounds catching themselves, unable to form cohesion.
I shook my head.
“But, you’ll still help me?”
I nodded, though I took notice of the apprehension in her voice. We were sitting across from each other on the floor.
“Well? I came here to sing, and I’m asking for help from someone who can’t speak. I’m sure that’ll work great.”
Despite her words, she smiled. She sat back, gave a short laugh and let her eyes on the ceiling. Her hair curled inwards towards her, the unkempt edges dangling like willows.
“Hey? Do you think, it’s possible? That I can really get better at this?”
From here, the hairpin she had, looked as if dripping onto her face, as if the slightest movement will cause it to disappear, as if the glimmer it had, would only last a moment.
When I tried speaking again, only silence emerged. Even the slightest hum took a great deal of effort. Instead, I tried the method of communication I only briefly saw, and reached my hand towards hers, holding them as tightly as I could, letting her know that I was going to try my best. The warmth of her hands was foreign to me, they were human, and I focused on them, looking at the glint of the star over her head, and for a short moment, I almost let my mind slip. Tracing the image of her in front of me to the infinite database in my mind would have been easy, but something in me didn’t want that. I wasn’t quite sure what, but I stopped myself, and squeezed harder, as if I had more words to say.
For the first time since she came, we had locked eyes, and she smiled, without any pretense. I was going to try my best. That was all I had. At the time, that felt right, as if this was why I was created, as if everything in the world stored inside me could be used to help.
I convinced myself of this, though I wasn’t sure where it came from.
This was my hope.