Crescendo at the End of the World
The room was responding to every action I made. Playing notes made a flurry of lights explode in the void of the outside world. Each light was colored randomly, bursts of crimson, aquamarine, amber, beige, violet, viridian, turquoise, and no matter how many times I tried to trace them, new hues would find its way through. A song would coagulate the lights into a mess, sparking the room in a bright glow, and if I stared too long I was sure it would harm my eyes. I was sure it would sting in its random combinations of compliments and contrasting colors. At the same time, I knew my body would not deteriorate either, that I could watch the sound and visual stimulus blast through me as long as I wanted. But it didn’t make it any less difficult.
Without warning, I had a new set of rules to determine.
It had been a few weeks of testing, but I was able to deduce a comprehensive list of rules for the developments I was facing:
1) All sounds made were subject to being mimicked in a corresponding bloom of light
2) Every light made would be sustained for approximately 10-30 seconds, the length of which dependent on the source of the sound
a. For example, holding down a note translated to a longer light
3) Volume of sound determined the size of the light created, with louder sounds creating larger lights
4) Placement of light could be traced relatively to where the sound was made
a. If I played notes on a piano, those notes would travel throughout the room, causing the light to be created on the left and right of the outside world
b. If I walked to the right side of the room, and started speaking, the light would only travel to the ends of where my voice dissipated
5) There was no conceivable way to prevent the lights from being made, if the sound was audible, then it would be translated through to light
6) In that light, there was nothing. Illuminated through its sparks were emptiness, and the only tangibility the light had was traveling into the room.
I had no real place to store these rules, the lid of the piano already occupied, and so I made a conscious effort to memorize the experimentation. There was no sign for when the outside world would change again, but something in me felt it was going to stay for a while. Something in me told me that the changes being made were larger than I could ever realize.
But, I didn’t let them sway me.
As always, I waited for the world to rotate, for things to happen, for people to visit.
Filled with an incredible amount of time on my hands, all I could do was play soft tunes hum. And it felt human wasting those days away.
How much this reactive outside world would matter came into full test when Celeste opened the door. Beyond the light exerting into the room from her world, the sound of the door creaking created slight blooms that edged away from the doorway like veins. As usual, to her, there was nothing different.
“And that face tells me you’re thinking about something again. But? Not too seriously I guess? Maybe it’s more like, you’re trying to confirm something?”
The accuracy of her words was often scary.
“I’m not sure if I’m too easy to read, or if you’re just really good at it.”
Celeste laughed, shrugging, as she walked over to where I placed the planetarium. It seemed, by the look of the package in her hand, that she had brought another. Flander hadn’t commented on the technology being displayed, and I wondered if that was also a convention of the room. Being surprised at anything that went on in my world seemed futile. From the very moment I was born I was already in its clutches.
“Maybe a combination of both? Working and taking care of so many children at the observatory has made me, good at it? You know, being able to tell when a kid is happy or sad or is worried, it’s pretty easy. I’d be more surprised at a kid trying to hide what they’re feeling then actually showing it.”
She positioned my planetarium in the middle, all the sounds made eliciting slight lights from the outside world, but nothing was particularly blinding. Even our conversation didn’t seem much of a nuisance.
“You know, the last time I talked about her, the kid who I helped out? Uh, actually, have I ever actually told you her name?”
“No. But, it’s fine.”
She gave a soft laugh.
“I guess. But, it gets clunky having to word it all out, you know? Anyway, so, Ali, or I guess, Alison, but you know the kids all call her Ali, uh, she and her sister, have really been coming to the observatory often.”
“Right, she gave you that soup recipe.”
Celeste nodded, smiling.
“And, you know? She’s actually really cool, I mean, I don’t think that was ever in question, but, she’s really good for conversation, and spending time? Well, she keeps good company when the kids are being quiet.”
Un-boxing the package she brought exposed a cubic planetarium, with the same silver sleek of the sphere she had given me. It even seemed to be of the same manufacturer, as the buttons and font were identical.
“We talk about all kinds of meaningless things. But, it’s nice, you know? And, you know how I hadn’t sung to her yet?”
Positioning the two planetariums together, she aimed them such that their stars wouldn’t intercept. In a single flick, she turned them on, the soft electrical hum producing an equally consistent glow in the outside world. The stars of the cubic planetarium were larger and brighter, but they were sparse, still being overshadowed by those produced from the sphere. However, as she started to move them, she found that intermixing their pathways created a sky rich of complexities, large stars mingled with smaller stars, as if they all existed together without difference.
“It might not have been the best of performances, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care for a single moment. It probably helped that I was singing the lullaby to get some of the rowdier kids to sleep, but, you know? It felt good. Just to sing like that to someone new and, not to worry.”
Though I could see Celeste wincing at some of the more disruptive stars which blended into each other creating mutant shapes, she didn’t bother fixing them. She was completely fine with what she had done, and was content with the efforts she made. I was sure, if she were to try again, that she would take into consideration the angles the stars shot out, but I was also sure she wouldn’t have worried. Not a single thing led me to believe she would ever be the same as when she stubbornly held onto the perfection of notes in her mind.
She started humming.
All the notes a flurry. The outside world slowly gathering cadence in her song’s color.
We sat like that for a long time, admiring the faux stars, now filled with so much variety, and the softness of the music that filled the air.
Even if she was far from perfect, she didn’t need to be.
Like clockwork, almost as if the room had predetermined their visits in a chain, Flander was next. His calculated steps translated to softened glows, and, like Celeste, nothing to him was unusual. The planetariums were now snuggly waiting by the corner of a piano leg, but, with the lack of interest in the technology, I wouldn’t have minded putting them on display. Though, I wouldn’t have wanted any distractions if he had wanted his visit to be more relaxed.
“The year has passed.” He started. The umbrella he usually carried was missing. With his steps, though short and wide, were made in ways that could have drawn attention to his attire. The way his coat swung, exposing its torn parts. The way he kept his hands exposed to his sides, with the stains of work over them. The way he was able to find my eyes before starting the next point, seeing my reaction, waiting if I had anything to add, anything to confirm. All I could do was nod and confirm, tell him through the emptiness in the air that anything he said was fine.
“The year has passed,” he said again.
I answered, moving to the piano and placed a few notes into the air.
“The year has passed, and everything will come to a halt soon. That is what the common folk say on the streets. That is what the radio tells us in the morning. That is what the paper writes of the impending closure of the lives lost.”
When the lights he produced disappeared, covered in a gentle darkness, I wondered what to say. I wondered if he wanted anything to be said. He moved towards the wall of instruments, facing particularly at a trumpet, hinged a good deal away from the floor, but, enough that he could reach, if he could breach through the wall’s intentions.
But there was nothing of the sort. He had only stared and wondered.
“What will you do when it’s over?”
The light I produced travelled to the other side, landing just before him, creating a single distorted line of color which buzzed as it disappeared. Between us in that darkness, that illumination was the only thing I had and yet it wasn’t difficult to see.
“I wish to know that myself.”
When he turned towards me, his light lingering just longer than mine, it seemed obvious if the next words he spoke were to ask me to grant that wish. It was my job. It was the fabric of my creation.
And yet, that was not what he spoke.
“Maybe, when that time comes, I will have clarity on the future. Imparting such wisdom prematurely might be difficult, but when the tide has lowered, I will know. That much makes me assured. I am unable to find the right words to properly convey what I mean. But it makes me feel assured.” He laughed, a bloom of colors surrounding him, and his side of the room was unbelievably bright through the words which lingered. Through the things within him being exposed, even if he still kept them close, but it was enough. It was fine.
“And if you ever need a place to find your way, you know where to go.”
“That much is certain. Even if life will inexplicably change, I may very well find my way here regardless. Call it a compulsion, but I find my place here comfortable.”
I noticed the colors of the words he said being consistent. The outside world had never been so obvious in its intentions. Every sound made was a light shade of green, a peaceful and warm hue which made the afterglow soothing to exist within.
“Thank you. I hope this can always be a place of comfort.”
My words too, were unbelievably green, like large swathes of grass being melded together at its core, launched across the darkness of the outside world, flashing its shine for brief moments only to me.
When he reached into his coat, pulling out his pocket watch, I expected him to open it and admire the words he had inlaid. But instead, he threw it across the room, the chains attached to its handle rattling in the air, producing blooms of grey following it like a contrail.
I had managed to catch it, noticing that its faded bronze stained my fingers, its smell particularly sharp yet fading the more I held.
“Consider it a gift. Not one begetting any repayment. A simple gesture to show my gratitude, and –” he stopped, considered his words, but shook his head at whatever thoughts formed. “A small hope.” He couldn’t say anymore, the brightness of his words staining a large green, and that was enough. Though he would never really know, but the volume of his sound, the brightness of the color that formed, it was more than enough.
Despite the darkness of those days, there was so much light to be had. Even with the complexity added, I was quickly able to ascertain the added rules. But spending more weeks to thoroughly analyze the outside world wasn’t something I wanted to do. Instead, I positioned the planetariums, clicked open the pocket watch, which, despite its glass screen being swiped in all kinds of smudges, was perfectly functional, and watched as the stars flickered and time counted away. No matter how long I kept them operating, they never seemed to deteriorate, no extra batteries or tuning needed for these foreign objects.
I was under the impression, with my proceeding days, that a new guest may not actually arrive, that it had been long enough without anyone new that perhaps the room deemed my services sufficient and was calculating what it wanted to do with me next.
It was pointless trying to guess anyway. No matter how much I spoke to the room, listening to my own voice as shades of green and blue and red festered in scattered fireworks across the outside world, nothing came of it.
However, the next time the door opened, the guest who arrived, would shatter all expectations.