Crescendo at the End of the World
It wasn’t long until someone else had found their way to my room.
Over the course of a few months, Celeste had periodically proven the ritual was still permitted by those who knew the method. As long as she was consistent about what to do, she wouldn’t have a problem about visiting. When I asked her about the ritual, she said she heard about it in passing, through the halls of her campus, it was whispered in low tones like a rumor. However, after the first visit, those rumors stopped, and when asking about them, information was scarce.
When asked to describe what she did to arrive, she couldn’t recount a single detail, as if it was being taken away in real time. But, when acted on it, it was engrained on her body, she said, to the very fabric of her being.
Regardless, we talked about nothingness whenever she visited, and I mostly listened, only interjecting with stray thoughts and answers. I was just glad I could talk, and that even past my obligations, someone would be there. It felt human.
It felt incredibly human.
“You know, I was thinking the other day, you don’t have a name, do you? I mean, you couldn’t really tell me one before, but you know?”
“I don’t. I wasn’t born with one, I guess.”
We were sitting across from each other, her scouring a star map she brought. It seemed anything was fair game for being inside, but testing if any of the instruments could be taken outside hadn’t been done yet.
“I see. Doesn’t that get lonely?”
“I don’t see how it could be.”
Celeste thought for a moment, her hand hovering over a particular spot on the map.
“Think of it like this. There’s millions, billions of stars out there, beyond our solar system. And, we can’t name them all. We can try, but, it’s impossible, and we don’t even have the capability to find the edge of the universe, it’ll just keep going, with so much more out there.”
She pointed at a single spot on the map, near the corners.
“If every other star had a name except the single star that we can’t see, well, how do you think it’ll feel? It’ll be the only of its kind, but, it’ll be isolated. Different, not by virtue of being different, but just because.”
“I see. But, my existence is nothing like yours.”
Celeste looked at me for a moment.
“Right. Right. I, often forget. But, you’re just about the same anyway, right? You don’t really feel different.”
“I guess like this, I’m not.”
She dragged her hand across the map.
“You know, the kid you helped me sing for? Well, at one point she had been completely new to being there, before we became so friendly. And it had been the first time she had ever been able to see a star up close with a telescope.”
Then she went back to where she was before, drawing imaginary lines, connecting them in her head.
“At first, she got embarrassed when the other kids overheard her say it was her first time. Everyone had made the rounds, some of them even getting tired of seeing those stars.”
I tried to follow the shape she was making, but made little progress.
“She was different, unlike everyone else, but, still the same. She was just a kid, it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, you know? Whether you’re different or not, the only thing that matters is that you’re trying, and that you’re here. That’s what I think.”
She seemed satisfied with the asterism she made on the map, folding her arms together and nodding at the creation only she could see.
“Hey, if you want one, I could come up with something, I don’t know if you’d like a name by me? But, you know, I could. Only if you want.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. There had never been a part of me that had considered my name important, and I wasn’t sure if I was even allowed to have one. It seemed, to me, that if I did, that the room would reject me. I wasn’t quite sure how those thoughts formed, but I didn’t have time to linger on them anyway.
The door was opening again.
It wasn’t long until someone else had found their way to my room.
He strolled in with an umbrella, the world behind him drenched in a rain storm, blocking out any actual view of where he could have came from. As if the most common occurrence, he folded his umbrella, and tapped it on the wooden floor, letting some of the droplets flicker away. He didn’t seem surprised at where he was, instead, he wiped away loose spills of water from his face. He wore a large brown coat, his face worn, adorned with hair on his chin, and a nearly clean shaved moustache. His shoes were dark and sleek, and the suit underneath his coat seemed heavy in its beige brightness. In a single movement, he reached into his coat for a pocket watch, ascertaining whatever it showed, and nodded.
“And so, I have not been lied to.”
It would have been easy to find him through the endless amounts of people living in my mind, but, just like with Celeste, it didn’t seem appropriate. Even meeting him for the first time, even the haughty attitude he brought on arrival, the way he strolled without remorse, didn’t warrant an intrusion on his life. Though, it didn’t take long before I realized he might not have been from the same time of Celeste.
The first indication was the surprise he had at the star map. When he waltzed in, tapping his umbrella with every step, holding his stature stalwart, a towering man who towered over nothing in particular, as neither Celeste nor I felt any sort of the aura he was attempting to pull on us, he gravitated towards what we were doing on the floor.
His brows raised at the elaborated diagram of the universe, and, before either of us could speak, he spoke.
“The rumors stipulated a single person awaited me in this room. However, after having finished the necessary preparations, I have in fact, arrived in this room. To that, I have not been lied to.”
He took a breath.
“But to that effect. I will have to ask. What is the manner of this mess?”
Celeste, having enough time to take in the new turn of events, answered.
“Well? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because those rumors seemed, pretty fair game for anyone. So I won’t even question what’s going on.” This seemed directed to me. She then turned to our new guest. “As for you, you’ve never seen a star map before?”
He kept his brows raised.
“I cannot quite say that I have. Nor would I know why we might need a mapping of something as pointless.”
A nerve struck within Celeste. She held her cool for a moment, smiling at the words she just heard, taking a breath.
“Do you mind, saying that again?” She looked at me, trying to find some way to decompress.
“I find it particularly pointless to spend time on something quite as impossible and mundane as the sky.”
In a single motion, Celeste was up, face fuming red, and breaths staggered, but before she could launch an attack, the man was already disinterested, instead looking to the wall of instruments.
“You see in this world, there is nothing more useful than the objects we can touch and quantify. Going to the moon? Blasphemy. As if we do not have our own wars to fight on the ground, worrying about something so intangible is pointless.”
The man pivoted towards Celeste at her confusion, a sharp look in his eyes, and with a more focused breath, lowered the animosity of his gaze.
“I see.” His voice simmered from the roar he started with, a more gentle intonation following. “No. It is appropriate. The young do not have to fight, they should not, and they should not watch as men bleed for each other, as they settle differences with not words but steel and vitriol.”
Lost in his words, none of us could answer back, and we stared at the pained expression he gave, at the way he seemed to grow tense as his words carried the atmosphere.
“If we could go to the moon, we would.”
His eyes went to the glass window, to whatever it projected to him, and the only sound for a while was the loose drips of rain falling from him.
Celeste, realizing that she had to leave, quickly packed her things, and whispered that she would be back, and to be careful. I didn’t think there was any harm to be done, or any possibility of harm from any of the visitors, but I appreciated the warning.
With just the two of us remaining, he took a large breath, leaning on the glass window, but, not physically leaning, as the room repelled him, and so from my perspective, he was leaning on air. Though, he never noticed.
“I had a conjecture that I may have been the first to discover the gateway to another world. In my time, this would be allotted to fiction, and yet, here I am, defying all conventional logic.”
“Logic might be an understatement. What year are you from?”
He raised his brows, digesting my question, before walking to the wall of instruments, no attempts to reach them, but a careful eye glided over each body.
“I see. I see. Giving you a concrete answer, might not be appropriate then. Asking me so directly seems rather trite.”
“What makes you think that?”
His umbrella had found a spot perched on the empty wall behind us, its canopy shriveled in grey. Each step he took was calculated, weighted with as much heft he could muster. It seemed any break in concentration would cause him to collapse.
“A hypothesis. I presume you know much about me. Religion could not stop a war, I would not be caught diluting faith into any matter, but, you are like one, are you not?”
Everything he said might have been true to some extent. I could know everything about him if I wanted, and as to whether I was an all-powerful being capable of the feats written in scriptures spanning multiple cultures, I would never know. I existed in a room, and knew things. To my knowledge, that was all I was.
“Your lack of answer is tantamount to an answer.”
He gave a short laugh, searching for his pocket watch, ascertaining whatever it was he needed, and closed it in a click.
“My time here is limited, as it were. But I do have a desire to use your service eventually, if it may be called as such.”
He walked to the piano, its fallboard open, revealing the keys underneath, never having gathered dust, and so, I never had a reason aside from carving my song to close it. He smiled, and without sitting, played a single note.
“This is not at all relevant to why I have decided to be here. But may I ask a question?”
“There’s no need to ask for permission.”
“I suppose not.”
He played another note, letting the sound carry throughout.
“This war of ours. How does it end?”
Answering his question would require information which would have been easy to gather in a single moment of thought. But I still didn’t want to. I wanted him to talk. It only seemed right. Something in me told me that was how everything should operate. Something told me that was the only way I could help.
I hoped he would understand, but hoping didn’t do anything, and it seemed difficult to convey that. But the longer his question lingered, the softer his face grew.
“We have fought three years. My children know of smoke from factories and tobacco, ovens and burnt bread. But I know of smoke from barrels and canons, watching from trenches as they call to us.”
He played another note.
“Can you tell me, when will all this end?”
From the tiny bit of information he let slip, I knew exactly which time he was from, and at least, a little glad I could answer.
“In a year’s time. Your war is fought on a death, and will end in life.”
I spoke as I stared at him, trying to find his eyes, the roughness of them stern against mine, and once he mulled over my words, he nodded.
“Thank you. It will be a long year. More sons will die, more families broken, but I will count every moment until that year comes.”
From where I was, at the center of the room, I had a good view of the outside world, of the bridge and vegetation, and noticed figments of red growing, blending with the green. Those stout flowers, I knew, would one day be found in fields beyond mine. And I hoped, the man in front of me, would be able to see them too.
“The actual reason why I am here,” he continued. “Might be less intense than a war.”
“My track record so far has led me to believe so. I’ll be glad to help in any way.”