Crescendo at the End of the World
Under the shroud of darkness, my eyes had to adjust again. It had been a while since I was enveloped in anything resembling nothingness, except, it was pleasant. I could still see the slight hues of green and red swaying gently over gusts in the outside world. And I could imagine where the bridge was, where the railroad tracks cut underneath them, and it was vivid despite not emitting a single particle of light.
I had eternity to think upon why he wanted to visit. I wasn’t sure if he would ever tell me himself. I wasn’t sure if he was ready, or if he even wanted to. I wasn’t sure of anything, and some part of me told me that was the first step to being human.
Despite how tedious it may have made my job, it made me human.
The job I prescribed myself to help others was a fabrication, but it was something I wanted to uphold, and having something to uphold, was human.
In that darkness, I couldn’t help but think of all the ways I could be human.
I didn’t know how long I had spent in contemplation, but eventually, Celeste had shown up. As the door opened, a strict beam of light blasted its way in, a column of illumination only I would adorn as, I was sure, the room wasn’t in complete darkness from Celeste’s perspective.
“You seem be thinking hard?” She was carrying a metal sphere, a slight light oozing from its top giving its shape away. When I looked closer, it seemed to have a panel on its body, with words of instruction for the multiple buttons pressed onto its glossy shell.
“Oh? This? Well, as long as I’m not disturbing you, I brought something a little interesting for today. Well? It’s not like I have much time, but, I figured, I wanted some way to thank you.”
“To thank me?”
Celeste smiled, setting the sphere down, and looking at every corner of the room.
“Well? I should have probably realized there wasn’t a real way to turn off the lights in this room.”
I wanted to ask her what she saw outside of those glass windows, that if she turned on the device in her hands, I would be able to experience it in the comfort of the world I saw. That my world was the one in darkness, it was completely fine. But it seemed far too strange to explain.
“It does get dark here, but, you probably can’t stay long enough.” It was a small lie, but it wasn’t entirely wrong.
“I see. Well? That sucks, I really wanted to see how it would look here. It’ll still work, but, it’s not the same, you know? They say things about how the stars are the same no matter what sky you look at? I think that isn’t always true.”
The photos were tucked atop the piano, and as I moved towards the sphere, I wondered if looking at them in a starlit room might have changed their appearance. The object Celeste brought was undeniably a planetarium, the kind they sold at gift stores where people could bring stars home. I wondered if gazing at the past through starlit eyes would have given me some kind of answer. I didn’t wonder too long as Celeste continued.
“Anyway, it’s something that’s been on my mind lately. You know? The idea that the stars could be so different depending on where you are. It’s something I never really would have thought too much on if not for spending time with her. You know, she’s always so precarious, and lately she’s brought her sister along, showing her all the stars she’s now able to see, and she’s always happy to share.”
Celeste moved to the door, her time coming to a close.
“Her sister hasn’t heard my horrible singing yet, but one day, it would be nice, I think? It would mean she would have opened up all the way to share and indulge in the silly lullaby she made me sing. Well, she didn’t force me, I mean, I wanted to. You know what I mean. It’s like validation, that you did something right.”
She smiled, letting the short glow of the planetarium illuminate her expression, the way it shone even brighter, the way it made me feel everything in her world would only keep getting better, the way it made me feel her story would only ever develop into something beyond the time we spent in my room.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to sing for her someday.”
I meant those words as encouragement, not just for the short situation she found herself in, but for the other parts as well, for the parts in her life that went unspoken, left in the air between us, in the electronic glow dividing the room.
Stained against the ceiling, I watched as tiny sparkles blinked, the planetarium humming a short buzz as it operated, spilling those stars abound to a place beyond the laws of space. With the outside in reach through the glass window, to the short wind sways simulating reality, I imagined myself gazing out at stars, the way anyone would. The way I did so through playing music, through the way I brought Celeste with me to my imagined world and helped her along, trying my best to stay human, to show her how beautifully human she was, and how no matter how we sang our songs, the rhythm we produced was undeniably ours. But this time, it was real. Those stars were there with me, projected through a tiny sphere invented by the same humans who sought to reach them through any means possible, flying so close, and impossibly far. I closed my eyes, my hands tapping on the floorboards a faux piano.
Fanning all the photos in front of me made them hard to see in the darkness, but I was able to catch glimpses through the washes of fabricated starlight falling from the ceiling. I focused enough not to slip into his memories. It wasn’t an incredible amount of concentration not to intrude upon his life, but it was concentration, and in the space between my thoughts and the temptation to fill the vacancy of knowledge, I inserted the photos.
Everything I pieced together in that moment was sourced from what I saw and the incidental knowledge of the era, of the war fought in his time, but not the carbon copy of his life I had in my mind.
When time came to fight, when royalty had been assassinated on the whims of a few, nations readied ammunition, and pseudo-cemeteries waited creation, where the dead lay battles fought. Not everyone wanted to fight. Most didn’t know blood aside from their own, most hadn’t ever thought of taking another life and most didn’t know it was even an option. They marched not for the country, but for the law. Some of them attributed those to be the same. Some didn’t mind at all. It gave them purpose. Some smiled at the opportunity to be somewhere, even if it meant trading slivers of their lives. But not for the man who had visited me. He was never in any of the photos, and he might not have taken most of them either, definitely not any on the battlefields. The man who visited me couldn’t be conscripted.
There were a few exceptions to conscription, and they didn’t want the injured to fight.
Though I never asked him, and he never told me, and I suspected he would never tell me voluntarily, it was clear he either had or faked an injury. Though the extent of how severe that injury was wouldn’t matter as long as he wasn’t out on the battlefield.
There was a good chance none of my guesses were correct.
There was a good chance none of it mattered.
But I took those chances.
His friend, whatever relationship and lives they led before the war, would come to a halt. They would be forced to go their separate ways, but they would never be forgotten in the bullets that were fired across nations. His friend sent back photos of his time out at the field, smuggling a camera, and illegally mailing them home, where he would be able to respond with his own.
They had always admired taking pictures, with few taken when the two of them were still together, and a war wasn’t enough to stop their correspondence.
These photos were proof of their time, of the lives they led, and the bond they shared. They were images based in the historical bloodshed that ultimately led to another, but he never saw them as such. He would not know the severity of the lives lost, being lost before him. No one fighting would really know how far the bullets they fired would travel.
But they didn’t need to know.
He didn’t need to know.
The only thing that mattered was their existence.
But to give that away, to share their time with someone of that time, could have sprawled implications he didn’t want to deal with.
I wondered what Celeste would have said about the predicament.
If my guess was true, then the man who visited me, who went through a ritual he wouldn’t have been able to discern was true, to defy the logic of a time where they fought adamantly over ideals, though any period of historical unrest could have fit the same description, to talk with a being beyond his understanding, to share his innermost secrets not through his words, no, he couldn’t through his words, he couldn’t at all understand the concept of sharing what it was on his mind, but to share them incidentally with as much hope he had that I would understand, if my guess was true, then he came not to fix any particular problem.
Celeste might have lectured him.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what kind of person you are, you know? All that matters is that we’re here, we’re all the same. The things you feel, the way you are, it’s all the same.”
He just wanted someone to tell him that the way he felt was exactly the way things were.
Night did not turn to day outside my window. Instead, the darkness subsided to a late dawn, the sky a gray shade, coloring the proceeding landscape in dull waves of muted filters. For a moment, I thought I saw something fall from the sky.
Except, I was right, objects did fall from the sky.
Time wasn’t the only factor that the room permitted to change.
Though, despite the onset of snow falling onto the bridge, tracks and connecting roads, there were no cold winds to follow inside of the room. I was perfectly within my realm to watch as the world around me changed.