Crescendo at the End of the World
“Actually, I don’t know your name.” It really had been soon the next time I was able to see him. I thought he might have warmed up to the idea of visiting after I had solved the case. In reality, it was more likely the change in season allotting him more time to visit, as, over in his timeline, it was winter. The trail of snow he brought upon entering, and the blanket of white over his umbrella’s canopy was enough indication. Though I wondered if the room responded by this shift in time, and was why it had snowed and settled. I wondered if the room had any sort of logic to its creation, but those thoughts wouldn’t matter. Already conceding the idea of being able to interact with the room or understand its concepts, I was just glad to have company.
“I suppose not. It did not seem needed as I considered the possibility of your already knowing any of my personal information. Is that not true?”
I still hadn’t explained the extent of my powers. Keeping secrets, some part of me agreed, was human, though that same part didn’t particularly find it enjoyable to act openly coy with people who I enjoyed having around.
“It would, regardless, be appropriate to properly introduce us either way.”
He gave a short laugh. I was sitting on the piano chair, while he was brewing tea in the middle of the room, accompanied by baked cookies that he held in a plate stationed nearby. Though he considered them to be burnt failures, their smell was far from that intonation, only mildly stinging and giving discomfort, but as a whole, pleasant.
“I suppose it would. It is very human of you to consider, I would presume, such a meaningless task. My name is Flander.”
I still didn’t have a name, and hoped through a lapse in the conversation, he would forget. To continue feigning ignorance, I began a short melody over the piano. Knowing his name, it made it all the more appropriate the sound I produced to accompany this revelation to be somber. Slow notes strode the air, connecting through the sustain pedal, sounds bumping and clashing and released, and back, bumping and clashing, building gently upon each other as if the slightest break in rhythm would cause collapse. I didn’t have any particular place in my mind for the performance, but I played and I hoped to bring the conversation elsewhere.
It didn’t work.
“Though I appreciate the music and ability you possess in being able to play so well, I not being anything more than a novice, I believe this is all a rouse to avoid telling me your name. As if that holds far too great a weight.”
He took a bite of a cookie, wincing at its apparent taste, but washing it down with a sip of tea. Somehow, telling him the truth felt embarrassing, as if I would lose some fabricated authority over him. Such petty thoughts roamed my mind, though it was also incredibly human, and so I relished in it all the more. However, I wasn’t one to feign basic knowledge of myself if given the chance, and so I simply told him.
“I don’t have a name.”
“I see. That would be something to keep clandestine, it would lose you authority.”
I gave a half-laugh at how accurate he was.
Sitting there, laughing away at meaningless banter, with the proof of winter outside the world, with the gentle sway of tea in the air, I almost forgot where we were. I almost forgot who I was, what I was, and for that moment, I simply sat, and continued to play, finding meaningless chords to string together, just to pass time.
“Have you ever considered leaving this dimension?”
“No, she hasn’t, and for good reason. Also, you don’t have to be so interested if you don’t even care, you know?”
Flanders was hunched over, this time, chewing on a candy cane, as he crossed his arms and examined the star map Celeste had brought to examine on her free time. What neither of them expected was their presence together. Watching from the piano, a safe distance away, I couldn’t help but smile at the growing presence of the room.
“What reason may there be to confine herself to this desolate dimension?”
Celeste paused for a moment as she was in the middle of tracing a line from one star to the other. Both of them referred to me specifically based on how I looked, but I wasn’t too sure if I could be considered either gender. The body I had, the voice I could produce, they were all taken from memory, from the people who I spent time with, from the very moment I began to explore the possibility of being human. But I didn’t correct them. It felt right.
“Uh, well? You know, um, hey, help me out here.”
“I might not be able to return.”
“There! That’s it.”
She continued, satisfied with the explanation, and continued with her finger, dragging it across until satisfied.
“That would indeed be a conundrum, though the extent at which an ultimate being would worry about such an inconvenience is beyond me.”
“If I were to help people,” I began as I pressed a few lone notes, quiet enough not to disturb Celeste’s loose concentration, but enough to at least sustain some echo in the room, “It would have to be done here.”
“I suppose you are right to that regard. Neither of us would be here if not for this room.”
That was something Celeste and Flander could agree on, and they nodded in unison.
“In the future, will we be able to reach beyond Earth?” Flander took a big crunch from his candy cane, the sound resonating between us.
Celeste, not quite realizing the difference in their time, didn’t understand the full sentiment of Flander’s words, and I laughed as she tried to explain.
“Well, duh? I mean, you know, people say it all the time, the sky’s the limit, but, for the space-bound, it’s the galaxy. The galaxy is the limit, and we can go anywhere we want, as long as we keep trying.”
Despite how ardent she was in her words, and how serious she made them be, they would be lost on Flander, who, in his timeline barely breeched flight. Flight, by all logic, by all practical usages, were for human transport and intelligence, machines of war, and it wouldn’t be for a long time that they could be fathomed for any other purpose.
“Such fanciful dreams I am unable to dispute. But to see it be enacted, to think it be anything but tiresome for those involved, I am also unable to reason.”
Celeste took his words seriously, not outright reacting to the objections he posed, but thought on how to challenge them. Tucked to the side of the piano was the planetarium, still hiding in plain sight, but Celeste had easily noticed where it was. Before I could object, or even tangentially express why it might not have been a good idea to openly expose technology that wasn’t within his time, or that he wasn’t from the same time Celeste had already made her way and brought it out.
A part of me realized it might serve some use to properly explain the convolution of the two of them in the same room separated by a generation’s worth of time, except, it would never make any amount of logical sense, and it would have produced more questions than answers. A different part of me found it amusing to keep the string of misunderstandings loose, to have those affairs be beyond the time we spent. It didn’t matter where they were from, it didn’t matter who they were, it didn’t matter who I was or what I was.
We were there, and we existed, and that felt human.
As Celeste turned on the planetarium, I noticed the world outside slowly changing. It wasn’t all at once, not like before, but parts of it began to evaporate, starting with the vegetation and snow. Colorless particles began to float into the sky, leaving behind stark emptiness. There was nothing to fill in the world, and I wasn’t sure what the room’s intentions were by showing me this change while Celeste and Flander were visiting. I wasn’t sure of anything in the room, of anything about myself either. No reasons yet had given me any pause for concern as to these changes to that outside world, and no one else had noticed any discrepancies.
No matter what happened in this world beyond theirs, they could leave and nothing would change. I had already helped and given my support, and they had no further obligations. As the stars expunged from the sphere onto the ceiling, capturing their attention, the silence in my mind was filled with those thoughts of abandonment. Escaping elsewhere in my mind might leap me into someone else’s life, and that possibility of intrusion stopped me from thinking. It must have shown on my face, and I wasn’t accustomed to it yet, or able to distinguish what face I was making, but Celeste had looked at me with worry.
“You’re doing it again.” Celeste stood, not disturbing the trance Flander was found as he watched those faux stars. She took slow steps until facing me head on, her expression softening as she smiled.
“If you keep that up you might really make me forget about what you are.” She turned away, looking towards the childish wonder being expelled in the middle of the room.
“You’re no different than he or I. From what I know of you, not a single thing sets us apart. For all I care, not a single thing can ever make you different from either of us.”
She placed her hands over the keys, making sure not to press into them, but to feel their material, sliding her skin off as if wiping away dust.
“Well, maybe you can sing better than I can,” she giggled. “And you can play piano way better than me. But, that’s about it.” She reached over, holding my hands, and pressed into my fingers, not hard enough to cause pain, but enough to ascertain the body as mine. The warmth of her hands presided over mine, and if I concentrated on the sensation of touch, I could feel the blood rushing throughout my body. The softness of her skin cooled over my hands, and as I looked into her face, only softly illuminated by the floating particles of the outside world crumbling, I could feel my breaths. Awareness of living washed over me, and by then the bridge of the outside world was beginning to disappear, but I only wanted to exist in that moment with them. In the silly nonsensical mixture of delight from Flander watching stars, and the care of Celeste.
“So? Isn’t space something beautiful enough to seek out?” Celeste turned her attention to Flander, letting go of my hand and placing them onto her hips as she gave him a snide smile.
“It is something beyond this this world, that much with certainty I can give you. I wonder if those who know only of bloodshed would even fathom a place among the stars. ”
He laid himself onto the floor, closing his eyes, engraining those fabricated stars into his mind.
“But I am willing to try.”
My hands gravitated to the simple tune universally equipped for occasions of rest and respite, catching even Celeste off guard as I softly sang the lullaby of stars, not adding any extraneous complexities to the piece. I didn’t dare bring us anywhere in the music, only wanting to punctuate the moment the only way I knew how.
It felt human.
“May we meet again. I share no animosity towards you, only the appropriate scrutiny any dream should deserve. But I thank you. I had never bothered to think of anything above ground. My past self would not have either. He would have perished the thought immediately. But, lately, I feel like it is only correct to be more…”
“Open?” Celeste laughed and teased him.
“Fair. But, I will accept your answer as well.”
They left one after another, as if unable to leave at the same time, as if the room compelled them to wait, to have their timelines be independent of each other.
Alone, my thoughts didn’t stagnant to brandish negativity, but instead, I watched as the last of the outside world vanished.
There was nothingness.
No image remained. No world left to greet me. For the first time in a long while, I was completely alone.
I figured, with endless time at my disposal, that I might as well fill it in the only way I knew how, in the skill I used far more often than I realized. Focusing on the piano again, I made sure to keep my eyes ready to catch any change in the outside world.As if answering my thoughts, the first note I played, light sprouted from the glass window.