Crescendo at the End of the World
An absence of light when the door opened was the first sign of oddity. I happened to be sitting in the middle of the room, fidgeting with the planetariums as it opened, not a single creak, not a single crack healed as it usually would. It was an uneventful occasion despite the enormity of what it should have been.
Invisible in the darkness, I couldn’t see who was standing in the doorway, but their presence was felt. When she stepped in, her feet made no sound, and as the door closed, the figure of her body was outlined gently as if a standing shadow. My eyes were well adjusted, being able to confirm her in front of me, but not able to determine any particular features.
Standing closer, she seemed interested in what I was tinkering with.
“These were gifts from a visitor. You know, it’s actually quite convenient.”
She didn’t give a response, but I watched as her head titled to the side.
“Nothing ever disappears, and that includes energy. So, having something like this here is kind of like cheating.”
I laughed, hoping it would defuse the atmosphere, but her continued vow to stay silent was a sufficient counter. Even with the slight lights created from my words, it wasn’t enough to properly reveal any aspect of her.
“Though, I’m not sure if given back it would retain the same properties. But, I guess, if anyone wanted, they could have an unbreakable, well, anything.”
The more she listened, the more I felt like I could keep talking for as long as I wanted. Directions for where I could take this one-sided conversation didn’t dissipate in my mind. Even with a blank body staring back, as I let my words continue, it seemed natural to talk.
“But, I’m not sure anyone would really come here just to exploit this room like that. Or well, I guess no one would really know.”
I hadn’t realized the extent of what I was saying, how I was openly talking about the room and the rules which would have been beyond understanding to a regular person. But, somehow, it just seemed right to talk about whatever was in my mind.
“But if that’s what someone came here for, I wouldn’t mind. I would be fine helping them in any way I could. That’s why I’m here.”
I smiled, realizing again that I may have been making all kinds of expressions but, without any word from her, I would never know if it was strange. But, it didn’t seem to matter. Somehow, as I kept talking, I was enjoying the company.
“Recently, I had someone arrive who, wasn’t exactly the most talkative. That’s not any fault of his but arriving in a place where my purpose is to help and not being able to really express that was, interesting.”
I waited for the slightest indication of her wanting to interject, but the longer I waited, the more it seemed she was patiently waiting for my next words. Her posture even straightened, with her arms behind her back as she tilted her head again, not knowing why I had stopped, or how strange her presence was.
The pocket watch Flander had given me was kept close to my side, the body I had mimicked to sustain my human-like appearance also came with pockets. Bringing it out may not have given it the best showcase in the absence of light for me, but I banked on the outside world being different for her. I had no reason not to believe every aspect of the room was still operating as it had for the previous two visitors. I had no reason not to believe in the consistency of the time I spent in that room.
But things had always been inconsistent.
“Thinking back on it, giving me a pocket watch was pretty fitting. He came from a time before the first guest, the one who gave me these planetariums.”
Turning them on, I expected to be able to catch her face, the slight glow of the stars flashing through the air, but, she took a step back to admire the stars as well, dodging the oncoming rays, and turning her face to shade against revealing any features. The way she stared at the stars, at their shines as they glittered on the ceiling, it seemed like it was the first time she ever watched anything close. Even without a clear image of her face, the way her body stood in place, the way her hands, still shaded in dark, curled towards her chest, holding close whatever it was she was feeling, seemed incredibly clear.
“And like that pocket watch, these stars were appropriate. A gift only fitting for someone who was so close to the stars. And her case wasn’t exactly the easiest either. I didn’t expect it to be. She was my first guest, and I may not have had much experience, but, I want to think that all the time I spent was precious.”
I stood, moving over to the piano.
“Each moment with them was something special. I’m not sure I know how to say it, but, it just was. Otherwise, I’d spend another eternity just waiting, in my mind. And now I’m not sure I could. Not anymore.”
She didn’t react when I played a note. Still lost in the stars, it reminded me of Flander when he saw them. For a moment, I wondered what would have happened if things stayed like that, if I could just leave the stars until the end of the world with someone who would just listen, and I could talk about anything, about meaningless things.
“But there was always a common theme in every case so far. It might sound silly, again, I know, I’ve only really just scratched the surface. I’m sure, if I’m allowed, I’ll find many more people, with many more things to learn, and many more time to be spent. I’m sure it’ll happen. It doesn’t feel like the world will end anytime soon, and I wouldn’t know it either. I would never know it.”
No matter how much I talked, my voice never got scratched. It didn’t feel tiring to whittle those words into the room; it didn’t feel tiring to talk so much about myself, and at that point, to myself. Playing another note, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to bring us, but some part of me felt it would have been fitting if she reacted to the music, but I also knew things weren’t that simple. Serendipity was not something that easily fell into my laps, and I felt it never really did for most people, and that was probably human.
“That common theme, whether it was direct or, just, a universal language that was always reliable, was music. Complex or not, it never needed words. It doesn’t need words.”
The notes I found were slow. She reacted with short movements. Her body turning first when my chords were strung to a more discernable rhythm, and I hoped the lights produced by my sound would find its way to her, but somehow they always missed. As if the room was actively pushing them away, as if I would never be able to get a clear view on this silent visitor. But I increased the speed, not slowing or stopping on any fumbled notes, letting every misplaced staccato, crescendo, and arpeggio flutter, and before I realized it I found myself thinking of winds rushing across valleys, but those winds would not know where to go, always fumbling, crashing into themselves, and yet, it was fine. Everything was fine as things fell apart, as they came together to try again, as they kept rushing towards nowhere, it didn’t really matter. I was just playing, and the sounds were swirling in the room, and at some point, all of that light dispelled onto her face, and I saw she was smiling too.
She still refused to say any words. But after having seen her face, the light hues of blue that stained the ends of her hair, as if she began to dye them but forget to go all the way, dripping below her shoulder, the roundness of her eyes as they sparkled in shades of hazel, and the softness of the color of her skin, I wondered if she really had any purpose in my service.
In that same light, which was now dissipating, I also caught the edges of her outfit, a short sleeved shirt, its design was barely visible, but it seemed to be a picture of something fading. She wore jeans with, either tears in the fabric or was painted over with washes of white. I couldn’t catch much else when the light disappeared.
She stood in place amidst the stars.
The absence of sound was comforting as we both sat in existence.
“If you can’t talk, you can try something else.” I figured it might have been a problem of vocals. It was something I was all too aware of, and if there was any way to communicate, I was going to take it. I couldn’t force her, I could never force anyone, but I wanted to try. That was all I could do, and some part of me knew that was all anyone could do. People living in reality, in the world beyond mine, were all just trying.
“Like I said, music is a universal language.” I stepped away from the piano, hoping she would accept, hoping she understood what I meant. And I waited.
We stared at each other, as if our wills clashed, but there wasn’t anything to clash. There was nothing to go against. I was just waiting. She was watching. The world outside remained stagnant, as the remainder of my colors disappeared, and before I could speak again, she turned her back and walked to the wall of instruments.
Before I could warn her that there would be no point, that it had been part of the rules of the world, to wait for me if she wanted a specific instrument, she had already started reaching. Something in me expected the rules to bend, that this would be the exception, that through all of the strangeness of her case so far, she would be able to defy the world.
But this wasn’t that kind of story.
Her preferred instrument was the guitar. After multiple guesses of pointing at the wall and seeing her shake her head, she landed on the acoustic guitar, its body a smooth brown, and the strings a sharp steel which would have inevitably glimmered if there was any reliable source of light. Hedging the instrument into her hands, she sat against the wall, unable to perceive how it repelled her, and strummed loose notes. She turned each tuning key to adjust, rolling her hands down the neck and finger board, pressing into the strings as she strummed using her fingernails as picks.
When the sound was adjusted to what she wanted, she started with simple chords. The strings weren’t tuned particularly well, each sound carrying the weight of the strings with them, but it didn’t detract from what she played. Instead, it seemed an integral part of what made her sounds so pleasant, and while the construction of what she played wasn’t any particular song, it was a soothing melody nonetheless.
What she wanted to say came in the form of her next few notes. The light by now had made enough blooms to reveal her body as she played, her hair falling down her face, nearly obscuring her eyes, but she didn’t seem to mind. Her fingers were rough, running across each of the strings without consideration of stopping, and though the body mostly covered her shirt, I noticed the print across was of two large interlaced circles dotted with footprints, and the letters of a person’s name mostly worn from wear.
She did not play with the intent to do anything but play, and while lost in the rhythms and colors splashing through I tried to discern any sort of meaning.
But all I could understand, as she drowned herself in her endless storm of playing with the blue lights showering her from the outside world, was that she seemed to cling to those notes, to the wonder of the music she played, almost to the point that if she stopped, she would never play again, and I felt it through the intensity, through the way she even cut her fingers on the strings yet kept going through the bleeding.
The storm of sounds grew to be a hurricane.